Short Stories

 A CHANGE OF HEART

 

The notice in the front window of the house said, ‘Room To Let’. Accommodation in the city was not readily available and I couldn’t afford much, so I knocked on the front door.

A woman of about 60 years opened the door and said “Yes”.

’I see you have a room to rent,” I said quietly.

“That’s right,” she replied.

I looked at her and noticed that she had bright orange hair, her full lips were covered in scarlet red lipstick and the lines on her face indicated that she had seen many sides of life.

“There’s to be no smoking or eating in the room and definitely no visitors.”

“Is that understood?” “Oh, and by the way, it’s one week’s rent in advance.”

The shared bathroom was down the hall and the maximum time allowed in the shower was ten minutes. I didn’t intend to stay any longer than necessary and probably wouldn’t take a shower.

Standing in the room I couldn’t help but notice how small and slightly shabby it was.  Furniture was sparse with a bed, chest of drawers and a chair against one wall. As I placed my bag on the bed, I couldn’t help but see the holes in the lace curtains at the window as they fluttered to and fro in the light breeze or the three stains on the faded quilt on the bed.

My belongings were so minimal that I didn’t need a suitcase and I had managed to pick up this vinyl sports bag with the Bulldogs logo on the outside from the Op Shop when I went to buy some clothing. The woman behind the counter told me that this bag had belonged to Joey Williams, front row forward for the Bulldogs, who had been fired from the team during the recent drugs scandal.  How ironic, a sports bag coming from one disgraced person to another. I took the suit from the bag and put it across the bottom of the bed along with the shoes and the pantyhose. I left the rest of the items in the bag. I sat down on the edge of the bed, my elbows resting on my knees, my head in my hands, and wondered how I had got myself into this situation.

Life began to unravel for me not long after I had been promoted at work. My new position now required interstate travel for conferences and the representatives from the many branches of the company Australia wide would come together to brainstorm. I didn’t like to be away from my partner and two children for any length of time but realised that this was expected of all area sales managers. At the end of the day, we would meet up for dinner and then go into the bar for drinks to finish the day. There was great camaraderie amongst these people as the wine flow freely. I didn’t drink alcohol, so always found myself on the fringe of the conversation and revelry. One night after I’d made my excuses to leave and head back to my room, I walked through the foyer and looked into a room where many people were sitting on stools continuously feeding money into and pushing buttons on machines. I walked in for a closer look. The lights were bright and coloured, music was emanating from the machines and the faces peering at the screen were either elated as the coins dropped into the scoop below or glum as, yet another twenty dollars had been swallowed down its throat. I felt some loose coin jangle in my pocket and thought “why not, what harm can it be”. Second push of the button and fifty coins dropped out. Too easy, I thought. I could have stopped right then but I didn’t have this money to begin with, so I continued on. My luck ebbed and flowed for the next hour until finally I had nothing left. I wasn’t worried. It was just a game. I strolled into the lift and went up to bed. After dinner the next night, while everyone headed for the bar, I went back into the Poker Machine room to try my luck once more.

This pattern continued whenever I went away from home and then I started to find excuses to patronise local hotels and clubs in surrounding neighbourhoods. Before too long, I was spending more time gambling than working.

As soon as I arrived at the office one Monday morning, my PA, Helen said “Boss wants to talk to you ASAP.”

I went cold, my hands were shaking.

I knocked on the boss’ door.

“Come in” she said, “have a seat”. Would you like a coffee?”

I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold the cup, so I said “No, thanks. What’s the problem?”

“It’s your sales. You haven’t reached target for the last 3 months and there’s a number of deposits not handed in.  What’s going on?”

My life had spiraled out of control. I had stolen money from my workplace and emptied our savings account, always believing I would win and replace it. Eventually, it all came crashing down around me. I was fortunate nobody pressed charges against me, and I escaped jail. I can still hear the magistrate telling me that I was not to have contact with my children.

Now there I was. Alone. In a shabby room in an undesirable part of the city hoping that what I was about to do would turn my life around. A friend of a friend had asked me if I wanted a job. Of course I did. He outlined what this job entailed and asked if I was a professional. I told him I’d had no experience in what he was telling me, but I was a fast learner, and I was sure I could pull it off. If I was successful, I could repay my debts, move back home and take the kids to Disneyland.

I looked at the suit, the shoes and pantyhose across the bottom of the bed wondering if this is what I should wear. Maybe a more casual look would be better. I wanted to look right. Nothing that would make me stand out in a crowd. I looked in the bag to see what else I had bought. There was a tracksuit and a pair of Volley OC tennis shoes with bright green laces. I couldn’t even afford a decent pair of trainers. No, I didn’t think that outfit would be suitable. Someone would be sure to notice those laces.

Sleep eluded me all night and I found myself pacing up and down the room, occasionally looking out the window as sirens screamed along the highway. At first light, I made a hasty visit to the bathroom to splash water on my face. The face that looked back at me in the mirror appeared as a stranger, not the confident person I had always been.  Back in the room, I carefully put the suit on, noting that, by coincidence, the pantyhose was one shade lighter than the suit. With the tracksuit and sandshoes back in the bag, I zipped it up and quietly left the room. It was essential that I arrive at my destination on time, so I walked the few blocks through the city. I felt anxious, my heart was pounding, and my palms were sweating. I wasn’t sure whether the sick feeling I had was because I was nervous or that I hadn’t eaten for 24 hours. Keep going, I told myself.

I arrived outside the building at exactly 8.57 knowing that the doors would open in 3 minutes time. I took the pantyhose out of my pocket and as I was about to pull it down over my face; I looked through the glass doors at the young women who were getting ready to start their day. They were talking and laughing with each other and I thought about my sister who worked as a teller in a bank. How traumatic it would be for her if someone came in and threatened her while all she was doing was going about her day’s work. I couldn’t do it. I thought about the money. I just couldn’t do it. I stepped back and leaned against the wall. I had a change of heart. What had I been thinking?

Stumbling across the road, I headed for the park as the faces of the people walking through on their way to work became a blur. I saw a bench. I slumped down on it. A woman sitting at the other end eyed me suspiciously, then rose and walked away. She left a newspaper on the bench and after a while, when I felt a little better, I picked up the newspaper. It was folded over to the section Positions Vacant. My eyes were drawn to an ad which read – Tennis Coach required for after school lessons at the YMCA. As a junior I had reached the finals at the Australian Open and had continued to play throughout my life. I unzipped the bag, took out the Volley OC tennis shoes with the bright green laces, tucked the paper under my arm and walked away in the direction of the YMCA.

Jan Pike © 2018

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