There was a shopping trolley on the pavement, abandoned, overturned, its wheels pointing to the sky. A blue jumper and black jacket, heavily stained, were crushed underneath the carriage. The street was well travelled and dirty and completely accepting of any injustice that had been, and was to be, dealt to it. He had walked by this trolley for several days in a row.
“Wait! I want to take a picture of you. A picture of you with the trolley.”
She obliged with his request and posed by the metal frame, with her foot planted on top of a wheel and her leg cocked. She stared into space, the empty coffee cup in one hand and her notepad in the other. He took a photo. She delicately balanced on the cart, straddling the frame, her leg stretched out, seemingly about to fall at any moment, and sipped her coffee, indifferent to her vertigo. He hadn’t expected her to pose and appear so confident. He finished with his photography experiment. Her face did not react.
“Did you notice how I puffed my cheeks out? I was trying to look like you.”
At the entrance to the laneway where he had met Linney the sausage dog, and, several days later, the blonde woman who had unsuccessfully propositioned him, there lay a pair of red high heel shoes. Rachel stopped and knelt by the shoes. The coffee cup dropped by her side. She picked up one of the heels and squeezed the toe and ankle in an obsessive grip. She ran her gaze down the length of the footwear. The shoes were not to her liking and she dropped them back onto the street. He watched and waited, several steps ahead of her. Her scarf was slipping again and she wrapped it through the hoops in her jeans, tying the two ends together in a big pink bow. She stood up and followed him, clutching her notepad.
Neither of them spoke. A thought hit her about conversations to be had and she frantically scribbled some more notes, continuing her ongoing, imaginary dialogue.
To their left, Woolloomooloo dropped away thirty feet and afforded a view of an enclosed, city playground.
She took notice as they walked past. Children swung in swings and slid down slides. Anonymous parents watched in their dotage. Faceless children’s voices floated over them. Rachel paid strict attention to the goings on. He watched what she looked at.
“They’re a liability!” she roared out venomously.
He ignored her. He was somewhat convinced she was putting on a show for him. She didn’t break pace and her gaze did not falter from the proceedings.
“They’re a LIABILITY!”
She unreservedly hated children, but was not exactly sure why.
At the back of the Woolloomooloo Waters, on the opposite side of the laneway, in an alcove that was a driveway, outside a roller door, drawn shut, and underneath the collected letter boxes adorned with apartment numbers, a batch of Yellow Pages Telephone directories had been delivered to the residents of the building. One set of the directories had been stacked twenty-four books high in the corner.
The books were covered in shrink-wrap. The plastic was buckled at the top and burnt pitch black at the bottom. The contents, baring close inspection, appeared to have been untouched by the flames, long since died out.
The rest of the books were the aftermath of a makeshift fire pit. A few had survived and were mildly toasted. The rest were yellow and black and roasted to their spines with the odd page obscenely spread. Melted shrink-wrap, now dry, stuck to the paper and cardboard. Wind or an errant foot had kicked the ashes across the concrete driveway.
Sean was struck by the tableaux. He had to take a picture. He framed several shots and fired away, stopping every so often to wipe the mobile’s display clean of sweat and squint at the screen through the dark of his sunglasses, trying to discern if any of the images were worthy of his time.
Rachel stood at the entrance to the driveway, crossed her arms and yawned loudly.
“I can’t believe you live in a hotel.”
“Well, it’s not exactly cheap.”
He curled a lip.
“Is that why you’re moving back?”
“How much is it?”
“It’s not good to talk about money amongst friends.”
“You can move in with me.”
He sighed melodramatically. She flicked the remains of her rollie into the gutter.
At his hotel, several stories up, he could see a group of men standing outside on a balcony. The men held bottles of VB and Corona and the occasional cigarette. Heavy music – digitally compressed, bland, ready for radio – blasted from within their apartment. They scanned the street below and nudged each other and nodded and smirked. Sean rolled his eyes and counted the steps to the foyer entrance. One of the men, he could have been a Maori, looked at Rachel and pointed.
“Pinky!” he called out.
She looked at her jeans and then her shoes. One of his friends joined in.
“Hey, up here!”
Sean slowly lifted his head. “Don’t fall.”
“Don’t fall!” Sean shouted louder. “It’d be a real crying shame if you fucking fell!”
He held her hand and the foyer doors slid open and the hotel sheltered them from the propositions of the men.