Sunday, 1 January 2017

Probably Dishonest

© Denis Fitzpatrick, 2014

‘Faaark! Faaark! Faaark!’ Thus have three crows constantly awoken Constince, Constince Mwebi, each morning for the past two years. It was just another annoyance about birds, thought Constince, so eager to start the day so they can all strut around chirping about how brilliant they are. Easily fed, shelter anywhere, companionship unquestioned: bloody birds. Pigeons especially were annoying, yea, the most annoying. They were everywhere, pigeons frolicking around and getting a free feed. Bludgers. Constince, it must be said, knew that her dislike of all birds was irrational but she pursued the delusion nonetheless.
     She turned over, opening her eyes.
     Before the crows could get started again in their high, shrieking way she got out of bed and looked around the mattress on the floor for her tobacco pouch. Found it. The crows were quiet.
     ‘Bloody birds,’ she said after the first drag on a rollie. She put on the kettle for a coffee after the smoke, this squat being the only one she’d been in with working electricity. And thus after the regulation coffee and three smokes she headed out to beg up a few bucks for breakfast.
     Outside, Newtown was in splendid form, alluring houses snuggled somehow intimately together under bright, dry and clear sunshine. Indeed, Newtown was perhaps Sydney’s belle. At least that’s how Constince felt. It was the start of summer, 2014, and Constince, stepping through the gap in her squat’s fence, felt that today’s dazzling morning sun promised things would be different; today was there mighty bounty possible.
      It was the instant she stepped into the public domain that something dropped onto her head, bouncing off. She looked up. A pigeon whirled away. She looked on the ground where the object must have fallen.
     It looked like chicken, a cooked piece of chicken. She picked it up. It was chicken, a tender cooked morsel. She ate it. Tasty, very tasty.
     Needless to say Constince was confused. Why had the pigeons now begun offering her food? Was it deliberate? Was it accidental? Were they making a peace offering on behalf of their avian brothers, sisters, and cousins? Were the birds somehow seriously disturbed by her irrational distaste for them, seeking conciliation? After all, Constince was really in the same boat with them.
     Nah, they were probably being tricky, enticing her to let her guard down and so make a simple mistake that would eventually turn fatal, all because she had decided to trust the freeloading birds. Yep, their overture of peace was quite probably dishonest. Bloody birds.
     Thinking about all this, walking up Newtown’s main drag of King Street and begging up a few bucks for brekkie, Constince decided she was going to make the birds pay for their duplicity, make them verily rue the day they had all crossed her. Bloody birds.

*

Constince had no sense that she was sleeping through the next morning, an important morning when she was supposed to hand in her regular welfare application. To be paid the following day she had to hand her ‘form’ in today to Centrelink, the Aus federal welfare agency, stating that she had looked for work in the past two weeks and was unsuccessful. Accordingly she was entitled to government monies to assist her in the further search for work. But to be paid tomorrow she had to hand her form in before 1pm today. Mind you she blew most of it at once on tobacco, bottles of wine, and what little was left over had to go on takeaway meals, having no fridge.
     Constince continued sleeping, blissfully through noon, the crows still silent, sleeping lightly through 1 pm, and awaking just before 2. She was instantly aware of her error, confirming it on the clock beside her mattress.
     Waiting for the kettle to boil after the ‘morning’s’ first smoke she tried not to think that she would probably be desperately poor for an extra day. Such was invariably the consequence, at least in Constince’s infrequent experience, of handing her form in late. Sure, she was bound to receive the welfare, but that extra day! A day that she needn’t to have begged. Maybe she should just hand in her form now and sleep until her pay went in. It really was the only answer.
     But, after a large breakfast of some hot chips, with chicken salt (she begged up enough for a large serve, comfort food for having to wait the extra day for cash), Constince, despite needing to hand her form in, decided on a post-prandial nap. She was soon home and easily settled down to sleep. She had plenty of time to hand her form in, even by 1 pm tomorrow, at the latest, would be fine.
     But the three crows wouldn’t allow her repose and did not look like they would let up with their screeching. She soon sat up, listening to them, wondering how she could fight the bastards. Bloody birds.
     The solution was fairly obvious: she could just shoot up some of her fortnightly harry, heroin, which she had saved up. It started out accidentally, but one fortnight she had bought some harry, didn’t have it, and the next fortnight she decided to treat herself to some KCF fried chicken. She found the harry when she was looking through her backpack for a napkin of some sort after the KCF. Ever since she’s had harry after KCF, setting it up so that it was a fortnightly treat, just before she accessed her fresh welfare payment. The arrangement made her feel like The Goddess, partying so high, and with more coming.
      So she injected the harry and soon welcomed a spreading numbness. She lay down. The crows thankfully decided to keep their nasty beaks shut.
     Things would be much better though if there wasn’t a dog barking, a new dog by the sound of his yelping. The poor dog must have also been terrified of his new environs for he or she didn’t let up all day. The crows’ returned cawing at the beginning of the twilight was the last straw; she got up, still slightly smashed from the harry, and made herself a chamomile tea, with two teabags; then all the friggin’ birds can chirp, call, tweet, or caw to their heart’s content, she’ll be peacefully numbed again. Not having had handed her from in didn’t bother her as doing so wouldn’t bring the welfare any closer. By 1 pm tomorrow would be fine.
     She fell asleep while the kettle was boiling. She slept soundly, the dog obviously having grown tired, and the shifty crows were quiet also. She slept the entire night, through noon the next day, and she slept through 1 pm, arising, suddenly, just before 2 pm. She cursed the crows for not waking her early. Bloody birds. Once again if she were to hand her form in now it would be at least 36 hours before she would be paid. So much begging!
     The only choice that seemed reasonable to her was to hand her form in now and stay awake until payday. Thank God she had coffee grounds, a plunger, and electricity. She set off instantly, stubbing her cigarette and gulping her coffee, and felt the beginnings of hope once the form had been lodged. It was just a matter of time.
      She managed to remain alert until dawn the next morning, with copious coffee and drawing in her sketchbook, but as the sun arose she was sure she needed some guarana to get her to the ATM as soon as the money was reasonably in there. And then a loose several hundred bucks!
     Getting a guarana drink she expected to be no problem and so was quite naturally surprised to see a dog charging her, on her way to a local shop, intent on fury. She didn’t believe it until she had to extend out her right forearm for the dog to grapple, whom then pulled her this way and that. A stranger rescued her, bashing the dog’s snout. A small crowd then developed to banish the mongrel.
     When the dog had vanished Constince’s initial rescuer thought it fit to call for an ambulance and the paramedics soon took her to nearby Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. The paramedics could see that it was a fairly clean bite but considering that Constince was obviously living rough an adverse reaction was more likely to any bacteria in the wound.
     She had always been scared of hospitals, more so now knowing that living on Shiraz, bananas, and water was not at all ideal for one’s immune system in an environment that held germs, though those germs be at bay. Nevertheless she agreed to stay overnight for observation when the nurse admitting her noted that the swelling from the bite was more pronounced and bruised than normal. When, the next day, the bruising was worse instead of better, she was admitted as an inpatient.
     She took the news that she had developed Methicillin-resistant golden staph very well. But things soon became terrible for her. For the first time in her life Constince had, deliriously beset with medical woes as a result of an experimental medicine to treat the staph, become so sick and neglectful of her Centrelink requirements that she was cut off of the dole. She learned the day before her eventual discharge from hospital that she had no welfare to rely on. She could reapply of course but, God!, it would take ages to get her money.
     She returned to her squat, somehow burned down, and wondered, ‘Now where’ll I sleep?’ Funnily enough a priest came to mind, someone who could take her out of these squats, begging, and placating Centrelink. True, she had entered her life of homelessness willingly, not wanting to pay rent to ‘the man’ in her idealistic early twenties, but four years of unrelieved poverty, filth, and her increasing wine problems had recently made her wish for an easier life. A cleaner life. Well-fed, comfortable, like of those she saw about her when she went begging.
     ‘A nice Protestant priest,’ she said to herself, outside her burned down home. ‘A priest who can marry must know the love that regulates each our core.’ She had never been religious so it was unusual that she should suddenly think of a Protestant priest for help: still, desperate situations call for desperate measures.
      Constince found her priest, a rector whom she consulted by chance in Surrey Hills, and he has taken things very much in hand. Constince now has safe shelter in his, Rector Thomas’, home while she looks for work and more stable housing. All the good Rector asks in return is that she attend to his menagerie, and a well diverse menagerie. Constince expects better yet.


~~~

If you have been enjoying Fitzpatrick's stories here you may also enjoy his short story collections, and other books, available online as both Kindle books and paperbacks (go
to http://amzn.to/1NfodtN). Other ebook and paperback options are available at  http://bit.ly/1UsyvKD Fitzpatrick is also having a collection of short stories, Aberrant Selected, published by Waldorf Publishing and you can follow its journey at www.aberrantselected.blogspot.com


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