Arik Abelson had been nothing if not a prudent man.
His investments had paid off handsomely, befitting such a personable individual.
Just what his design for life deserved. As much as for his doctor, it would seem.
For, Arik was dying; or that’s what Dr Lang insisted and the test results would not belie such authority or bedside manner.
Thankfully, the treatment had been able to prolong his life and enabled him to give back in the form of his philanthropy for funding further research into his condition, Weltschmerz Syndrome.
A selfish act really, as it would seem everyone else was not in the least downcast.
Far from it, the rest of the world had never seemed happier, jubilant even.
Synonymous with the after effects of a mass delusion that they were all trending in their respective fields of endeavour. Failure was now outmoded. Unnecessary.
Life had never been more comfortable. Neither had impending doom.
For Arik, that is.
His fortune meant he could sustain the levels of comfort to which his life had been made accustomed. Almost bespoke, really.
What was the point you might ask? Well, it was symptomatic of his need to find fulfilment and self-worth in his own immodest eyes. Spend like there’s no tomorrow. Arik could not help himself; he could not resist a bargain, which made him no different to the hoi polloi he found so confounding.
It was akin to throwing money away or caution to the wind. The only thing was his impetus was like a boomerang and always came back to flaunt itself at him.
He just couldn’t shake his luck, but still he was dissatisfied. It was never enough. He craved. He was prone acquisitive. Not content with being simply a card carrying Capitalist, he was a sucker for appeals to his artistic proofs.
He called it a ‘temperament thing’. A predisposition to being his own demagogic demographic. He called the shots even if he was the target. Arik considered his options and sighed wearily at the prospect.
What’s the use bemoaning my servitude to myself in this day and age? he asked aloud of no one in particular.
As part of his therapy Arik had been given strict instructions to maintain his mobility, get out and about, see the world around him rather than remain reclusive. Spread the love around and perpetuate the delusion.
Arik was essentially a misanthrope. His fellow man and woman were simply designated to facilitate his whim, even if the consequences were only fleetingly rewarding or gratifying. He got enough perverse pleasure out of the interactions and transactions on a subconscious level to feed his habit and re-route his routine.
I suppose I’ll have to leave the safety of my estate and venture forth to see what can tempt me now that the last hit has worn off. A fully serviced outdoor kitchen and entertaining area only goes so far when guests are a thing of the past. How did I ever manage to keep up the pretence? At least it was tax deductible insofar as I was able to determine with my accountant’s advice. The whole reality TV cooking bonanza was beginning to wear a bit thin, anyway. My channel has tended to cater for the lowest common denominator with which I have finally lost patience. Time to sell to the highest bidder, perhaps?
Arik raised himself up on the mound of pillows on his king size bed and pressed the off button on the remote control. The busy imagery on the huge flat screen was sucked back into itself and disappeared. He’d had it on all through the night as a kind of solace or companion. Sometimes with the sound down, when he would tune into talk back radio or listen to a classical music score as a counterpoint to the late, late, movie or 24-hour news channel. He seldom watched his own.
Time to face the inevitable. He couldn’t loll about in bed for another day longer without the lethargy motivating him to something unparalleled in the annals of medical case treatment and going against the doctor’s wishes. He had to prove him right. He was paying enough, after all. And what better way than to indulge the fancy that so dispirited him – committing himself to being commercially viable in order to promote his vulnerability to external forces greater than himself? ‘Down, down, deeper and down’, came the refrain from that infernal advertisement for the latest supermarket chain savings. He would comply, but only on his own terms.
He’d have to fetch his own breakfast, as he’d dismissed the last of his staff the previous week. It dawned on him that he’d even have to do his own shopping; or at least order it online and have it delivered. He preferred the impulse buy. Nothing could beat the rush, except maybe late night shopping on Christmas Eve or clamouring for a bargain on Boxing Day.
Arik had considered himself the type of person who thrives on knowledge in advance of the action to put the theory into practice. A list kind of guy. It had been a way of controlling an outcome. That was before the diagnosis.
Now the only list in the making was his last will and testament. I must speak with my solicitor, he mused to himself as he contemplated the rigours involved with maintaining personal hygiene. Now, when had he last showered?
I wonder what day it is? What is the date? How long do I have left?
Such questions necessitated the use of a calendar or diary, which was tantamount to a list of sorts, a compilation of time’s cruel accrual and loss.
Let’s just wing it, he proposed to himself as he tried not to get into a flap over such seeming irrelevancies in the face of apparent insurmountable odds (or evens) that time and tide would overwhelm him in the wash-up of his personal history. Following his ablutions, Arik toddled down stairs dressed in his any day best attire of tailored lounge suit to avail himself of the pantry.
The fact that he still wore his scruffy house slippers was of no crucial consequence, as it was a habit he had upheld since returning from the Orient and his last posting as new emerging media magnifico responsible for meddling in affairs of states other than his own, to determine the best allocation of funds to further favours based on winks and nods. What a system! It was all about rights, other than the human kind.
For, one must be cruel to bring about change to benefit self-interest, in the guise of munificent munitions to the cause celebre. After all, any half decent uprising needs coverage in exchange for ratings.
In the age of the internet, the rules of engagement were being re-written and Arik had been determined not to miss out on his share of the spoils.
He had considered himself a news maker, creator of current affairs and events worthy of subscription to an affiliate rather than competitor. He liked to think of himself as his own man on the ground. A roving rorter of the system.
The slippers were a keepsake and a reminder of simpler times, when a deal was a deal and comportment translated to the comfort afforded by crumpets and honey.
Just the thing. When is a pip not a pipe?
Just as well it wasn’t marmalade, or his wry self-opinion as a poohbah would require a poo bear makeover.
Arik resisted the urge to turn on the kitchen TV as it would only be the same old drip-fed drivel as he himself had been directly responsible for. He had no more time in his life for the likes of Fox News.
He was akin to an addict who reflexively reaches for another hit, except the medium was virtual. Digital uppers or downers depending on share of the mood space.
He had recently effaced himself from Face Book as he no longer cared to ruminate on the recriminations of one-time business partners who still counted him as a friend.
The Twittersphere left him bewildered as much as he could not account for the opinions of the misinformed.
A trend is here today and foregone tomorrow, as he liked to remind himself.
He did get a kick out of the preoccupation with FOMA. The concept of being constantly plugged in had become anathema to him, which seemed ironic as he had given instructions that he should be turned off if he slipped away into a braindead state.
Animal, vegetable, mineral?
He was becoming an endangered species, just like a whale or panda, affordable crops after a natural disaster or fossil fuel touted as the future.
Arik couldn’t even bring himself to turn on the radio.
Too much babbling on.
Music couldn’t sooth what ailed him and only served to compound his melancholy as associated with certain movements or phrases.
For some people their sense of smell could transport them. For others a sound. Arik suspected he might be on the spectrum (now that had been trending lately), but this thought only conjured images of rainbows and unicorns.
Far too fanciful.
His preferred genre was classical, but every now and then an earworm would invade his consciousness and he would be back in the latter half of last century acutely attuned to the soundtrack of his generation.
‘Blinded by the light, revved up like a deuce Another runner in the night…’ Or was it?
Better just to boil the kettle, make the tea and toast a crumpet.
Who needs a tweet when there is already birdsong on the go? Those infernal crows. And those intolerable squawkers at dawn with their nyuck, nyuck, nyuck.
Rossini used to come into his own on such occasions when Arik would turn up the William Tell Overture, the Thieving Magpie or anything by the previously revered composer. Until, that is, he had undergone a transformative round of aversion therapy at the suggestion of Dr Lang, who considered it may alleviate concerns about any aural fixations. All well and good, but it also meant he could not watch A Clockwork Orange anymore without feeling bilious.
Well-conditioned in one peripheral respect, but underdone in an elemental other.
Life. Bah, humbug!
There was nothing for it but to keep moving until the mechanism finally wound down. He still had impulse drive enough to function and range between the nearest points on his celestial charts, even if he didn’t believe in God or an afterlife.
Today would involve a different kind of therapy.
A trip to the stock exchange, a little idle banter with his commodity broker just to keep him on side in addition to his commission - the all too human touch could still work wonders, and he detested the grubby theatre on display - before lunch (it was after 9 after all) at a non-descript café on a main thoroughfare lacking in all savoir fare and decent coffee, and an amble along the pre-loved boulevard of broken dreams to lose himself in the vortex of the mall complex. Then an attempted soul transfusion at Dr Lang’s rooms in time to return home to his self-imposed solitary confinement.
‘Tonight’s the night…’
The next consideration was his mode of transport. Just as he had done with the other staff, Arik had dispensed with the services of his chauffer. Never having bothered to learn to drive, Arik was at a loss as to an alternative until he suddenly recalled the app which his secretary had added to his smart phone.
It had been her departing gesture of despair at his behaviour of late. She had not been able to reconcile any of it and gained some solace at the thought that he would retain some dignity by still arriving in comparative style in the backseat of a car.
What would be the use of the fabled cabbie ‘knowledge’ in this day and age if they were told the way to go by a GPS?
That much he did know. He’d tell them where to go. Fortunately, he had paid sufficient attention when shown the app and could summon the memory for the process of requesting a vehicle to his address.
That in itself was a pain, but he supposed he deserved it.
What kind of a name is Uber? That reminds me, I must pop into Aldi for the latest specials…
Arik was at least reassured that he did not have to make a phone call and actually have to speak to a dispatcher. Anything that kept contact to a bare minimum and avoided the slightest chance for confusion.
Apropos of absentia, algorithms, ameliorations…
Whatever happened to Amelia Earhart? Al Gore at least looked presidential, never mind his shtick.
Arik made ready for his excursion into the outside world. He checked the weather by peering out the window.
Overcast by all accounts. So, the word of the day is ‘drab’.
He was also attuned to the seasons, in his mind at least.
Summer was an abomination of bright light and heat, hedonism and even more lethargy. Whereas even in winter he found some consolation when the weekend or public holiday was ruined for others by inclement weather. Easy to anticipate or predict according to the weatherman, this nevertheless always brought a smile to his face.
Rain on their parade, rain on their manicured lawns, which reminds me I should arrange for someone to mow the grounds, rain on their picnics, rain on their bike rides and hikes, rain on their camp sites, rain on their rallies…
Arik loved a good downpour. It was biblical, diluvial, a sweeping away and cleansing, comforting and condensing.
So much hot air.
He did wonder about climate change from time to time, but would put it from his mind as yet another symptom of the age that would need to be cured with a good dose of invested interests. Why couldn’t the climate become a commodity?
Maybe the future is in biospheres, depending on your fears…
Anyway, Arik would not be around to see the ramifications of human progress and neither would his children.
Ironically, with no heir apparent to breathe the air aberrant, he could selfishly squander his surplus resources on whatever whim he deemed a good fit. Like a good pair of shoes or gloves. Research and patronage. Speaking of gloves, his time overseas had reinforced a dormant trait to give more thought than usually warranted to issues of sanitation that would impinge on his sanity.
Not that he considered himself obsessive compulsive. This had been a topic broached by Dr Lang in the early days of his treatment, but had been neatly sidestepped as just another distraction from the underlying malady or malaise.
Any focus on a particular revulsion was attributed to his not being in control in another area of his life and so would amplify itself in his mind as an assault on his senses.
Gloves were reassuring as they provided a buffer between himself and the pestilence of the great unwashed. Just as well he had bathed. Arik positioned himself in the hall where he kept his shoes in order of category for their purpose. Arranged in array from black to brown, sued to leather, dress to leisure in a cabinet designed to display his nimble footwork. Relieving himself of his slippers, he chose a pair of charcoal loafers to offset his beige corduroy suit. Colour coordination had never been his forte.
His one concession to aplomb was a handkerchief and tie. He did have his own peculiar style to maintain in the face of the fashionistas.
Today he had selected a turquoise hanky and peppermint tie.
Still no need for old school connections and he never wanted to be caught out should he acquire a sniffle, which his hand sanitiser would hopefully keep at bay.
The loafers would also be soothing on his bunions. He was surprised he didn’t have bed sores.
A shoulder hoisted portmanteau would contain his miscellaneous items such as diary, notebook, pens (blue, black, red, green, almost like a bruise), back up hanky, hand towel, sanitisers, reading glasses, sunglasses (two pairs of each just in case), lozenges, pain killers, bottle of distilled water, apple and tangerine, extra pair of shoe laces, chopsticks, fan, reading material (one fiction, one non-fiction) and reusable shopping bags, etc.
Arik went through the inventory of its contents on his mental checklist and once all was in order he clasped shut the bag with a decisive reappraisal.
Velcro be damned.
On his head he wore a grey fedora and as an aid to fending off not merely acid rain, but to keep a safe distance from unwanted incursions into his personal space, a large black golf umbrella.
Cars, dogs and children beware!
He knew he was putting it off, so composed himself and swiped the app on his android. He enjoyed the notion of a robot with human appearance. Biospheres seemed passé compared to robotics or space tourism, but he’d left his run too late.
He had considered leaving his body to science, to be cryogenically frozen and then revivified at some future date when his temperament might be more compatible to advances in human dreams and relationships, however virtual that may be. Something about being put on ice unnerved him, like being a shrimp cocktail or the catch of the day when he had a certain distaste for being the raw prawn in the mix.
Pescetarianism had always seemed like a faux denial of the flesh, rather flash in the pan. Even the Japanese consumed red meat.
Oh, give me a home where the wagyu cows roam And the venison and Bovidae play...
Logic would have it that using Uber was a ‘no brainer’ for someone in Arik’s position. How else would he perform his errands? He was accustomed to travelling in a certain style, after all. No yellow cabs or state sponsored taxis for him.
How uncouth. How outmoded.
He had to get with it before it was too late. Even for the sake of keeping up appearances.
For perpetuity, in remembrance…With smart phone at the ready Arik swiped on the app and put in his location and details of the destination.
Preferably a round trip, as I do not want to be stranded without a sure way out. Just like my predicament. A way out…
Now to get out of the house. With booking logged, confirmed, and payment made, his Logos had been assuaged.
Debit me softly with these account details, debit me softly…
Now to time the wait.
A stickler for his own punctuality, Arik expected the same of others upon whose arrival he awaited.
Sure enough, as estimated, the car pulled up at the gate within the safe margin of error.
The intercom was buzzed and Arik checked his CCTV to confirm the licence plate matched the one he received in the confirmation message, before he opened the gates from the safety of the vestibule and stepped out to meet the driver who pulled up right opposite the front door on the gravel driveway.
He was greeted by a sleek silver Tesla with tinted windows that made it difficult to make out any occupant. Closing the security door behind him, Arik approached the car which seemed to respond automatically to his presence and opened the rear passenger door nearest the house.
Arik appeared to bow as he stooped to slide into the car’s interior. The passenger door closed with a swish and solid clunk, without so much as his raising a finger.
Unlike the days when he’d had a chauffeur, who would actually get out of the car and come round to personally hold the door open for him, Arik merely considered it a natural transition from his previous status in the eyes of others to his status in his own vapid estimation.
What he wasn’t prepared for was the voice that announced his driver.
“Can’t say it’s every day I have to be buzzed through gates and follow a long drive before the trip has even commenced. I could get use to this.”
Arik snapped to from arranging his bag beside him, stowing his umbrella behind him on the rear parcel shelf and removing his hat, before putting on his seatbelt. The voice was warm, mellow, a little husky and decidedly female. Another difference compared to his former chauffeur. Leonard had certainly been a man’s man, with a cultivated politeness masking a true blue character.
Arik’s gaze met that of another pair of eyes in the rear vision mirror, looking expectantly back at him. The skin around the eyes began to crinkle, suggesting that their host was smiling in welcome or had found something to amuse them.
Crow’s feet. Pick a bird, any bird. A plucky specimen it would seem.
Arik composed himself and nodded at the reflection. The crinkling began to slacken before he realised that a mere nod would not do.
"Good day to you", he managed to enunciate from deep within. Talking to himself was not ideal preparation for actual communication, but occupied his mind and kept him entertained.
"As good as they get these days", replied the driver in a flippant reference to not only the prevailing international political tensions but more importantly the weather.
"I know it’s winter and we do complain, but I don’t recall such overcast conditions hanging around for so long. Feels like eternity…"
Now that is a long time.
"I’m afraid I haven’t been paying much attention."
"Well, I’m out in it nearly every day, so I suppose I can’t avoid it, can I?"
"That would seem logical."
"Anyway, there’s nothing for it but to just keep ploughing on through, right?"
Such a sunnily nonchalant disposition in the face of the inevitable.
"At least it’s not snowing."
The thought sickened Arik. Snow was like sand – you kept it about you for an unnatural amount of time even after being removed from the groundswell of its crystallised carpeting.
He preferred floorboards. Perhaps permitting strategically placed rugs as a concession to ambient climate control.
"I have only seen snow a few times. I prefer the more temperate climes. But, if I had to choose, I’d say give me warmer weather any day of the week…"
Now this was an admission.
Sand chafes and is an unwelcome lodger. Snow melts and is an unhealthy dampener of the spirit. Not to mention requiring overshoes…
"Not too hot. I grew up in the northern hemisphere and don’t cope too well when the temp gets above 25 degrees. Snow was an occupational hazard where I’m originally from, but I suppose it’s easier to turn on the air con that shovel snow every morning."
No discernible accent.
Arik suddenly became aware of having a conversation that did not revolve around his condition or stocks.
He was also acutely conscious of the fact that the car was still stationary.
"We shall become a permanent fixture here if we don’t get into gear."
This reference to a component of torque, not talk, amused him greatly.
"Not like you need any more statues, eh?"
With this, his driver turned in her seat and looked at him over her shoulder.
What is the etiquette with this thing?
Square in the eye.
My god, did she just wink?
"Well, in this weather I could conceivably turn to cold stone porcelain if left outdoors. I’m more of a fountain man, myself."
"You mean like Duchamp?"
"You know, Dada?"
Arik stared blankly back at his examiner, who idly tossed her shoulder length hair out of the way of the question.
"I can’t say that I do."
"Bet you can identify a Mont Blanc?"
"Now, you’re talking. Never leave home without one."
"I do not gamble unnecessarily."
"Oh, I beg your pardon."
"No offence taken."
Is she really smiling in the face of a faux pas?
"I’m Anita, by the way. At your service."
She is blonde, and blue eyed. Almost Aryan in her features. Befits Uber…
"No need to remind you to belt up, I see. I like a passenger who takes precautions."
Could this be misconstrued as flirting?
Anita resumed her forward facing role, adjusted the rear view mirror, selected from the console the windshield wash function, triggered the jets of water and switched on the windscreen wipers for a few swishes to clarify her vision of the moment.
The car had been in neutral the whole time during the pick-up, but the idle was so smooth it had been hardly noticeable.
Anita slowly pulled away from the porch, crunching emphatically over the gravel drive.
"Don’t worry, the gates open automatically when approached from the inside. No need for a buzzer in the glovebox."
"How very 21st Century."
"It does the trick."
With that the gates parted and drew aside to let the car leave the estate grounds and head out onto the main road.
In the rear vision mirror Anita could see the gates closing again sharply and what she thought she could detect as the trace of a smile from her passenger.
One cannot skimp on precision.
"Would you care for some music back there?"
"I’m quite alright, thank you."
"There’s water in the door holder, if you’re thirsty."
"I’m fine. I always hydrate before I head out."
"Very sensible of you."
Little does she know I BYO.
"How’s the air flow and temp?"
"Hopefully sustainable. Permanently conducive to a life running its course."
Anita couldn’t help herself and released a chirrup like laugh.
Most unlike her speaking voice.
"That is funny. You’re quite a joker, eh?"
"My dear, my nature is serious to a fault. So, no, it was not an intentional play at levity. You could say I am preoccupied. Nothing personal. To rephrase my answer, I would say that the air temp is just fine. Thank you."
"Sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude. Maybe I have a quirky sense of humour. I won’t explain why I thought it was funny because that would ruin the effect. You should never have to explain a joke."
"It’s like the ‘show, don’t tell’ rule."
"Having said that, I do tend to talk too much. I suppose I am nervous underneath it all. Most passengers don’t mind a little chat. I can tell pretty early on if they're open to it. I was told my personality would suit this job. What do you think?"
Arik squirmed and hoped the leather did not sound like a natural bodily function.
"Truth be told, I try not to."
"I know what you mean. Too easy to get bogged down in all the muck of existence."
I wonder if she’s read Nietzsche? Or too much Hegel?
"Anyway, I try not to impose myself on others. It pays the bills and I get to meet some interesting people along the way. Kinda like life, eh?"
Arik forgave himself in advance before mustering his verdict.
"I would say, to use the modern parlance, that this seems to be a ‘good fit’ for you."
"Haha! I’m only glad I’m no taller than I am."
A modest exemplar of the statuesque.
"Have you seen Game of Thrones?"
Arik cleared his throat and thought about his purified water.
"I don’t watch a lot of Television, really. Especially quiz shows and the like."
Anita seemed to freeze in her seat and became momentarily becalmed upon the surface.
That seems to have shut her up.
Arik thought too soon.
"I don’t believe you. You mean to say you haven’t heard of GOT?"
"I’ve got to admit I have not."
"How does it feel to be in the minority?"
"I would prefer to be nowhere else, if I’m perfectly honest."
"OK. Your loss. You don’t know what you’re missing out on."
"I think I do."
"Well, let me tell you that I have been compared to one of the characters in the series. Actually, the actress who plays the part."
"I see. And who told you this?"
"My friends all say the same thing."
"How convenient for you."
"I know, right?"
Does no one beg to differ anymore?
"You tell me…"
"Her name is Brienne of Tarth."
Sounds like a cheese.
"And what do you prefer?"
"I did toy with the idea of changing my name to Brienne, but mum is still alive and I don’t want to hurt her feelings."
"Yeah, we’re close, but she is a bit more conservative than me. Besides, it wouldn’t suit my surname and I don’t want to lose all my family identity."
"Brienne Bruns? It sounds like a dessert or tart to me…"
Arik nodded his assent while chewing on the inside of his cheek.
Odin be tamed.
"I trust that my requirements came through with the booking. I have several errands to make and will need you to remain in my vicinity until my business is concluded before we return to my humble abode."
Anita adjusted the GPS on the dashboard.
"Coordinates are confirmed for our first sop. The Australian Stock Exchange?"
"Correct. It should only be a brief meeting, just to transfer a transaction into whole human hands."
Arik could not help noticing that Anita’s hands gripped the steering wheel in a precise fashion, left hand at eleven o’clock and right at one o’clock and did not waver in their position unless she was making adjustments to other controls.
Seems quite methodical to me, even if in a somewhat slipshod, offhanded variation. I wonder…
"So, does it work?"
"Does what work?"
"The market. Does it work for you?"
Arik paused for thought and looked at the cuticles on his left hand whose wrist supported his watch.
"I suppose you could say I do play it. One has to play it at its own game. Win or lose I play to play. I’m lucky in that respect."
Anita smiled to herself and peered back at her passenger in the rear vision mirror.
"If only. I get flustered putting a bet on a horse. Always need someone to place it for me. They must think I’m such a silly filly. That’s only once a year. I still manage a ticket in lotto every week or so."
"All you need is a good financial adviser and the discipline to follow their lead."
Anita let out a little whinny of resignation.
"Can’t say I’d have anywhere near enough to interest any advice in my futures."
Nice play of words. I’ll give her that.
"I know it’s up to the individual, but we all need a break now and then."
Please don’t say tax break…
"Not to mention superannuation."
"I try not to."
"You seem to have landed on your feet. Any advice for a struggling artist?"
Here it comes. A struggle town guilt trip.
Arik was becoming a little overheated.
"Any chance I could get a little air back here?"
"Of course. A pushed button and away we go…"
"I don’t know about artists, but any advice I could give anyone would be the same. No secrets to be had from me. Hard work, determination, discipline and frugality. These traits always pay in the end."
"Don’t worry, I know all about hard work. Never liked that word though."
"Frugal. Always reminds me of 'feudal' in a sense."
"Is this all you do for a living?"
Anita withheld her confidence while she paid attention to the merging traffic at the onramp.
"A living? Yes, you could call it that. A license to drive is my only real permit to being a nearly free agent at the moment. There’s always my passport, but I need the price of a fare first."
"One also needs a destination to work towards. The goal creates the impetus to reach it. Or that’s what I’ve found."
"I suppose you could say I’m between jobs. As much as I like the comparative freedom, this is not my idea of a career. I also deliver groceries and work in a cinema ticket booth, just to break up the tedium. I forgot I also have a truck license. I studied film at Uni. Gave up the idea of being an actress a long time ago. Writing other people’s lives seemed less a cheap forgery than being in front of a camera. Well, that’s my excuse for what it’s worth."
"What would be easier – writing the lines or being handed a script?"
"Is that a trick question?"
"Not at all. I am not out to deceive."
"Well, for me the writing is easier as I inhabit my own words, whereas the actor pretends at being someone else. I know it’s just dress-ups, but I’d prefer to create an authentic language than just fit the part."
And what separates the clever from the stupid?
Anita commented as if she had read his mind.
"It’s not always talent, that’s for sure."
The traffic had begun to become noticeably more congested as they approached the outskirts of the metropolitan area, headed for the CBD and Arik’s first appointment.
"Sometimes, it’s just being in the right place at the right time."
Note to self: add ‘being where you are meant to be when you’re meant to be there’ to advice spiel.
"I’m nothing if not punctual. Don’t worry, you won’t be late. Not if I can help it."
Arik suddenly shifted his gaze from the blurring, branded scenery outside to the just visible speedometer on the dash.
What’s the limit in this zone?
"I must say it is hard to gauge how fast we’re travelling. This car is a very smooth ride."
"Cruise control. A cool feature. This car is the future, if you ask me. Not that I’m into cars, but it’s more about being environmentally friendly. Saves on petrol too."
That’s not answering the question.
"Don’t worry, I’m a very careful driver. Never had a single demerit point. Or a prang."
"I’ve never lost a passenger, yet."
"I should hope not."
Good time was made and Anita got Arik to his appointment with ten minutes to spare. He wanted to go straight up anyway.
"No time like the present", he posited as he gently closed the car door, insisting unnecessarily that he was still capable of such chores.
While he was inside conducting his business, Anita was able to remain parked in the basement of the building as Arik had clearance to access this space while he was in town, being such the valued investor that he was.
Nothing like perks, she had reflected upon watching him walk towards the elevator and disappear between its doors with what she was sure was a smirk.
Anita had been tempted to google her quaint customer. She hated to think of herself as a service provider, but couldn’t escape the truth, no matter how she rationalised it.
Still, it put her in an uncustomary position.
Nothing like the perks.
She resisted the urge to find out more. What would it change?
He didn’t seem like someone who would be on Wikipedia. A good old fashioned conversation would do, within the polite boundaries of the transaction, naturally.
Anita had a love-hate relationship with the internet. She had been susceptible to using it as the go-to tool while writing on the hoof, but had tried to deter herself from not trusting her imagination and general knowledge. What was the adage? ‘Write about what you know.’ Funnily enough, she had read online a reference to Will Self (or was it Jonathan Franzen?) refusing to write using a computer that had an internet connection.
Now that was discipline.
Arik’s name seemed familiar, but she could not place it. Maybe it just had a certain ring to it.
He hadn’t seemed all that interested in her identity. Never even questioned if she was actually the car he had requested. A little too trusting in not being taken for a ride.
She helped herself to the salmon baguette and iced coffee packed for just the occasion, concealed in the small picnic basket on the front passenger seat.
Arik had said he would be 30 minutes, 45 at tops, but would call her if he was delayed. Enough time to eat, turn on the radio to Classic 2 and tune out for a while and recharge her batteries.
She was her own boss and could choose how she fitted in her stints as an Uber driver with her shifts for Coles and the Nova. Some thought it an odd arrangement, but she couldn’t handle doing the same routine day in, day out. Besides, the variety was great inspiration and she thrived on the competing commitments. Not that it altered her personality. That was the subject of her latest plotline. Dissociative personality gave her terrific scope to invent and invest in the characters.
In what seemed like only two movements of a Haydn string quartet, Arik reappeared in the rear vision mirror when she stirred and opened her eyes to find him standing with bag in hand at the rear of the car, seemingly admiring its lines.
She made to move and get out of the car, but Arik motioned for her to remain seated and came round to the passenger door on her side. She complied with the unspoken implication and released the door locks.
Arik got into the car, repositioned himself and his bag, before ceremoniously reapplying his seatbelt.
He appeared distracted and at first did not respond to her unusually muted greeting.
I’ll bet she’s been sleeping.
He’d been thinking about more than just interest and dividends. A different aspect of curiosity had aroused his brainwaves.
Charts and graphs were synonymous in his line of business and more often than not it bored him senseless. However, this did not prevent him from subconsciously devising his own quotients and scales to quantify his continuum of proof.
In people, their usefulness and fate.
He was only too well aware of his own. How demoralising.
What diverted his train of thought went beyond the design of the car in which he sat, to encompass something more seamless or rarefied. Almost like the air in the cabin.
He assumed that the day would come when he would include in his bag of tricks cylinders of oxygen, should the need arise to stimulate his neuronal activity and remember to breathe.
Today he was reminded of beauty.
It strikes at such an indeterminate time and place.
Just like her age.
There’s no denying she is possessed of naturally appealing qualities.
She hints at the stark reality of contradiction.
A secure fragility that outweighs our concepts of what remains when we are gone.
More than just a token of nature.
Definitely no trace on the All Ordinaries Index.
He visibly shook his head to rid himself of such thoughts in the face of looming depreciation of his own net worth. But who was he to judge himself so relentlessly?
His own worst enemy?
Let the good doctor be the judge of that.
"Pardon? Oh, yes. Couldn’t be happier."
Anita had turned off the radio and there was no trace of her snack.
"Glad to know everything’s going to plan. That didn’t take as long as we thought."
"No, I mean yes. You’re quite right. In and out, no mucking about. Sorry if I was not fully present. Preoccupied with opportunities."
"OK. Where to now?"
"I made a call and rescheduled an appointment, so we can go earlier. I might also skip a lunch stop. I am now due at the consulting rooms in East Melbourne."
"We’re on our way."
With this, Anita began to back out of her spot and head out of the basement car park.
"It’s very quiet isn’t it?"
"Well, we are in a basement."
"No, I mean the car. I didn’t even hear it start."
"Kinda like Blue Thunder meets KITT from Knight Rider, eh?"
Arik did not get the reference, but gave her no time to explain before he began to elaborate upon his scheme.
"I made a couple of inquiries while I was upstairs and it turns out the makers of this car are discernibly reputable. I was so impressed I invested some stock."
Enter the Ethos.
"If you're swayed by the whole responsible sustainability argument, I suggest you do the same and invest in their vision. You’d be in a nice position to share in the future. Let me put you in touch with someone who can put you out in front."
Anita paused at the security boom gate before heading out onto the street.
She seemed awkward and at a loss for words.
"Are you alright?"
With a nod from the guard, the gate was raised but still she sat idle.
"You can proceed. It’s OK to go."
Arik’s assurance had the desired effect and the car swung out into traffic.
"Don’t take this the wrong way, but I’m not sure I’m comfortable with the idea."
"What do you mean? I can guarantee it’s not a scam."
"Oh, I don’t doubt it. I am all for the ethical movement around resources and modes of modern comforts we all take for granted, but the whole financial universe unnerves me a bit."
"Just a bit?"
"What happened to your GOT?"
Anita rocked back in her seat with laughter.
"That’s a whole different return on suspending disbelief."
"I’m sure you’re right in your estimation of that, but as far as I’m concerned the crisis to which you refer was an aberration."
Anita remained silent.
"Just some friendly advice, that’s all. I am in a position to know."
"Well, it’s a good little earner for FOX at the moment. I should know, based on the subscription rates."
"Well, let’s just say it’s a complicated business, just like political allegiance."
"Can’t say I really have time for the state of politics these days, I’m afraid."
"You mean to say you don’t feel as if you can make a difference in the world?"
"Not on my own, no."
Arik thought better of his outright effrontery to the person in front, in whose hands he’d placed himself for the day.
"My apologies. I did not mean to overstep the mark. This is not the time or the place."
Anita had busied herself with checking the coordinates on the GPS for the next location.
Arik took this as a sign and retrieved his android from his bag. He would do the googling in this arrangement.
I need to allay her fears and alloy her chances.
There are always ways and means.
He had her details and with a few swipes had sent certain contacts the information they would need to include her in the proceeds of any such venture.
I’m sure she’d get over the shock of any new balance in future. Can’t imagine anyone would refuse such a gesture once it’s too late and they see the results on the board.
Can’t knock back a kickback, especially when it’s out of the remaining goodness of a philanthropist’s rotten heart, or so went the reasoning in his mind’s eye.
I’ll be well gone. Let my lawyers deal with it if she kicks up a stink. Can’t abide the ungrateful younger generations these days. If only they knew what’s good for them.
"OK. Looks like we’re just up ahead."
Hah! Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, please.
"Fine. You can let me out at the front. There is parking round the back for visitors. This should be on the hour. That I can guarantee."
The consulting rooms were in a three storey Victorian terrace near Jolimont. Just up the road from that mecca of the city’s rigged identity – the hallowed turf of a sporting arena that resembled a huge old grey battleship.
Heart and soul be damned.
Salvation in a boot?
Anita matter-of-factly broached the notion that she might use the time to run an errand of her own and promised she would return in time.
"Only down Bridge Road."
Arik consented that this seemed a wise use of her time and exited the symbol of their unintentionally accorded union to take himself and bag inside the building.
Anita noticed the name of one of the ‘specialists’ on the plaques beside the solid entrance.
Dr F. Lang – Clinical Neuroscientist.
She wondered about the significance of the professional description and what it might mean for her passenger.
This sparked an amusing association in her mind and she rifled through her CDs in the central compartment.
Once selected, she popped it into the player and pulled out from the kerb to the strains of ‘The Passenger’, by Iggy Pop.
Way too boffo. I wonder if’ he’d mind?
Oh, the passenger He rides and he rides He sees things from under glass He looks through his window's eye He sees the things he knows are his He sees the bright and hollow sky He sees the city asleep at night He sees the stars are out tonight And all of it is yours and mine And all of it is yours and mine Oh, let's ride and ride and ride and ride
Exactly one hour later, the sleek grey Tesla reappeared out front of the consulting rooms.
Five minutes passed.
Still no sign of Arik.
Anita considered putting the CD on again, but thought better of it. She wanted to keep it together, especially outside a shrink’s office.
Ten minutes had elapsed when the front door swung inwards and out came the recognisably stern figure of a certain finely appointed gentleman.
And he seemed to be on a mission.
He acknowledged Anita with a nod and got in the passenger door nearest the footpath.
"Didn’t want to tempt fate by navigating the busy traffic."
I’ll go the way I want.
Safely ensconced within the liberating confines of the car, Arik no longer felt any need to unburden himself. Dr Lang had helped with that task.
Physician-patient confidentiality strictures being what they are, Arik had no reservations about his plight being widely reported until after he had made his final grand exit. And then for the sake of his bequest to the enduring knowledge of medicine. Even in the present circumstances of his standing the tests of time, any interest would be rebuffed out of hand as mere conjecture.
His driver was no different. She suspected that all was not well.
A need to know basis and she did not presently need to know.
Unless she could make herself useful.
Let them talk. Let them eat cake. Let them talk with their mouths full, for all I care.
Rumour. Hearsay. Gossip.
I doubt she would be so careless as to make a mess in her car.
Although, it was obvious to anyone who took an interest that he was in a downward spiral. His cast was bent out of shape. One reason he limited his contact with others.
He still had some pride in reserve.
Just like fuel efficiency.
"Thank you for waiting. Apologies for going slightly over time."
"No apologies required. It’s all part of the service. I knew you weren’t going anywhere without me."
Needless to say.
"Where to now?"
"If you don’t mind I’d like to make a detour on the return home. There was maybe one other appointment, but this was cancelled in the interim."
"Not a problem."
"So, back to Warrandyte via…?"
"Well, we’re in the area, so maybe via Richmond where I can pop into Aldi and pick up some provisions."
"Out for a bargain as much as me, eh?"
"Well, you do save a hell of a lot shopping there as I can make out. It’s almost half as cheap."
"Seldom a word in my vocabulary."
"No, I wasn’t implying…"
"It’s about the product. Aldi stocks some brands and labels unavailable at your Coles, let’s say. Imports. Very good quality too, I might add."
"Oh, so, a value added experience, Anita teased."
"Yes, you could say that. In a manner of speaking."
"I use to love shopping at Dimmeys. There was a great old store in Richmond that I never passed without going in to see what I might find. They rotated the stock so often you were always in for a surprise."
"I don’t doubt it."
"No, truly. Don’t you remember it? It was a local institution."
"I vaguely recall a TV commercial years ago featuring a footballing thug."
"There you go."
"Can’t say he ever enticed me to visit."
"Your loss, I’d say. You don’t need Dipper to prove it."
"I would never entrust my decisions to any particular constellation, big or otherwise."
Anita refrained from comment, lest she erupted into mirthless hysterics at the thought.
I wonder if they ever shot any of those ads at Lunar park. Dipper rides the Dipper. Now that’s a fit.
"No. Of course not. Neither would I. I hate all that cosmology nonsense."
"Glad to hear it."
"OK. Let’s get you where you want to go."
"A perfect solution."
The car pulled out into the steadily flowing traffic and headed further away from the CBD.
"Almost 3 o’clock. Schools will be out soon, so we can expect things to become a little congested as all the four-wheel drives hit the roads on pick-up duty. They really annoy me. Too big for the suburbs and a real menace if you ask me."
"I can imagine."
"They should be driving one of these."
"There you go."
Ten minutes later they were doing the rounds of the main shopping drag and the side streets on the lookout for a parking spot.
"They’re at a premium this afternoon."
"So it seems."
"We might have to try our luck at the car park on Church Street, if you don’t mind the walk."
"That might have to do."
It was only a ten minute stroll to Aldi where Arik was intent on acquiring some truffle pesto, horseradish and select condiments for his nearly depleted pantry. He still managed to derive some pleasant stimulus form cooking, even if only as a consequence of the very act of eating itself. He had his tastes, after all.
He always did the rounds of the central aisle where an odd assortment of articles could be had; a couple of which could be found in his carryall.
The main target of his foraging foray was the liquor section at the front of the store, where could be found an impressive selection of moderately priced table wines.
One in particular was a mainstay. Admittedly not a local product, the Baron Amarillo Reserva 2011 at only $10 a bottle was not to be sniffed at. Well, not derisively anyway. A dozen was essential. Not that he needed one, but his excuse was that it went swimmingly with Portuguese sardines and red peppers. He sometimes scrimped and bought the tinned supermarket variety instead of from the deli, but they still had the stamp of authenticity.
Armed with his provisions, which he placed in the same trolley to transport back to the car, Arik set off back down Bridge Road at some inconvenience to other shoppers and pedestrians.
So far all but one of his proofs had been met this day. Never something that he deliberately set out to achieve, but if it happened then so be it.
No sooner had the thought flashed across his cerebral cortex than he stopped dead in his tracks in front of a boutique’s large display window.
Low and behold, there was the answer.
A direct appeal to his emotions.
In full view of his impulsivity.
Not in proportion to the market value of recognition for services tendered, a simple and elegant gesture of gratitude nevertheless.
Arik could not help himself and entered the shop with his trolley and carryall slung over his shoulder like an itinerant with more taste than good sense.
The automated sliding doors parted to admit him and his haul.
The entire transaction took no more than five minutes and he was back out on the street with a newfound though slightly worrying purpose to his gait.
A foolproof fourth proof had been entered into.
Add Eftpos to the protocol as an abiding alternative to freewheeling wherewithal.
Arik returned to find the car with the utmost of ease, almost as if it had a homing beacon for him to lock onto.
In his absence Anita had been making a couple of calls on her mobile and locking in pre-booked clients for the next 48 hours of her Uber life.
She only realised Arik was back when he gently tapped on her window and motioned for her to release the trunk.
Now for a look inside.
Anita obliged and the trunk snapped ajar for Arik to lift all the way open on its hydraulic hinges.
He’d pushed the trolley to the rear of the car and proceeded to transfer his case of wine and reusable shopping bags into the smart space.
Arik was a believer in the maxim that you could glimpse the truth about someone’s state of mind from merely looking at the state of their shoes, how they left a desk or workspace, the contents and arrangement of a fridge, the composition of a bag or suitcase, a supermarket trolley and a car’s interior, especially its trunk.
The unseen testament or proof of innate disposition.
To say Arik was pleased with what he saw would be an understatement.
There was plenty of neat space for his haul.
The trunk was exceedingly efficient in its division of purpose.
Running around the edges, including what would be the rear of the very passenger seat he had been sitting in, was a segmented netting pouch that held an assortment of items including a first aid kit, tool box, Dolphin torch, recharging cable and attachments, picnic rug, a floppy floral sunhat, extra 350 ml water bottles, thermos, recycled shopping bags (most reassuring), a raincoat, duct tape (this was disconcertingly evocative), and a pair of sensible high-heel shoes, if that was not a misnomer.
Heeled pumps. I wonder if that’s a knowing wink in the face of post-feminist ideology.
A golf umbrella had even been attached to the underside of the trunk’s hatch, held in place by snap-in clasps.
He could only assume that the spare tyre lay beneath in another compartment covered by the flooring.
Arik resisted the urge to sneak a peek, overwhelming as it was.
Trunk resealed, he reappeared at the driver’s window to mime that he was going to return the trolley to one of the nearby trolley bays for collection.
He’s nothing if not considerate, reflected Anita as she smiled and then mouthed OK.
Arik deposited the trolley in its allotted alley and was back at the car in the apparent brisk instant it took Anita to wonder at what he’d purchased.
"Yes, quite. Thank you."
"I suspect you know the way."
"I hope you found everything you wanted at Aldi. It reminds me I’m due to do some shopping. Only, I have to drive myself."
Arik saw all too clearly her intent, but did not permit himself to address the irony of the situation.
I will not be party to such undeserving inverted mockery.
"I try to do mine in one big go so I can avoid being on the supermarket treadmill."
"An admirable approach of which I approve."
"Thank you. I try."
"I’m sure you do."
"Now, let me get you home."
"Warrandyte, here we come."
The drive home was uneventful. The traffic not too bad. The conversation now more sporadic.
One reason being that Arik had asked Anita to put on some music, preferably classical for the trip back.
She confessed that she had none in her collection today, but suggested ABC Classic 2 as a sublime substitute.
Arik was not displeased with the choice.
"Might I make a suggestion?"
"Perhaps I could contribute a couple of discs for our next excursion."
"By all means. Please do. Whatever makes you happy."
Forty minutes later and they were back at Arik's estate.
This time he could not discourage Anita from helping him with his belongings and they unloaded the trunk together and placed the items at the front door.
"Would you like to come in and use the bathroom?"
Hold on. Too far. Too much.
"I’m fine, really. I used the public convenience next door to the car park in Richmond while you were on your spree."
Arik supressed a nagging guffaw at her expression.
"I managed to go at the consulting rooms myself, but completely neglected to ask after you."
"That’s OK. I’m a big girl and can answer nature’s call when I need."
Anita extended her hand and Arik accepted.
"A pleasure doing business with you Mr. Abelson."
"Please, you can call me Arik."
"Only if you call me Anita. And I promise no more GOT references."
"If you say so."
The handshake was mindfully disengaged.
"So, same time next Thursday, as discussed?"
"Yes. That would be perfect."
"I’ll book you in and you’ve got my number if you need to change plans."
"I don’t expect I will."
"Just in case. You never know."
"I would always do you the courtesy."
Anita turned towards the car and opened the driver’s door, by which she stood and said goodbye to her passenger and new acquaintance.
"I prefer au revoir."
Anita beamed approval and got into her car, put on her seatbelt, put the car in gear and slowly drove back up the gravel drive towards the double gates.
A quick double beep on the horn and she was away.
Arik had stood by the front door with his shopping and carryall at his feet.
He waved awkwardly in response to the beep-beep.
If she’s as punctilious as I think she is, she’ll be checking the trunk well in advance of our next meeting. I hope it’s a pleasant surprise. I thought it a most suitable and practical gift. I just hope they’re the right size.
Arik had taken the liberty of purchasing for Anita a pair of deerskin driving gloves at the boutique.
He had sneakily secreted the gift-wrapped token of his regard in the trunk of the car.
Then it dawned on him.
A card. How could I have forgotten a card?
Oh, the passenger He rides and he rides He sees things from under glass He looks through his window's eye He sees the things he knows are his He sees the bright and hollow sky He sees the city asleep at night He sees the stars are out tonight And all of it is yours and mine And all of it is yours and mine Oh, let's ride and ride and ride and ride
By Michael Haward.