Sal is a flight attendant and a poet. She offers travellers drinks and cheese platters with the quiet dignity of someone who writes gentle haikus at altitude. She writes a poem about ‘Mr Whisky’ in business class with the kind eyes and the dimpled chin. She writes a poem about the dark haired girl sleeping over three seats with her red Explorer socks on. She writes poems about the smell of rubber on hot tarmac. She writes poems about the tenderness of honeymooners. Sal composes the poems in her head. She gives herself five rows to compose in and then keeps on repeating the complete poem for the length of the aisle. That’s how she does it. Sal’s poems waste no space, they squander no time. And when everyone’s been fed and had their second cup of tea, when the lights go down and we all huddle under those tiny blankets, Sal carefully squeezes her finished poems into the gaps in the overhead lockers.
Tracey sits in the big tent at the music festival watching the band. Irish or Celtic, something like that. The music is good. Not so loud, the quality that it has above all is clarity. It rings like a bell in the night air, and the crowd is under a spell. Tracey is listening but more than that she is watching the family sitting in front of her, the very next row. Dad has just got back with two glasses of wine, and the mum is holding their child who must be maybe a bit shy of two, Tracey guesses. The mum is bouncing the child on her knee and the music is heart-achingly sweet and the child is so close, Tracey could reach out and touch him. She wishes for a moment that the woman would pass her this child, take a break for herself and her husband, kick back for twenty minutes with their wine and relax, and let her take care of this small, small boy who is wrapped up in a woolly blanket and a beanie and has sleepy eyes. Tracey sits and listens and aches and makes wish after wish.
Marcus had come up with the idea on a holiday at Byron. He and four old mates from indoor soccer woke up beyond dusty one sticky morning and Stephan, who was the weather man on a commercial free-to-air network, fixed everyone a drink made of vodka, tomato juice, beetroot, spinach and chilli. Apparently he had got this secret recipe from the actor who plays the long-suffering patriarch crime boss on that show. Not the Sydney one. The Melbourne one. They got into a conversation about it at the Logies. Chris the goalie had challenged Steph straight up. That’s practically a Bloody Mary. Steph reckoned it was called a Bloody Oath, and Marcus didn’t care because he was thinking about his idea, the book he would write. A Guide to the Hangover Cures of the Rich and Famous. Stephan could be his introduction, Marcus’s way in to the world of celebrity drinking. He would take a micro-recorder and place it carefully on the bar – with their full consent of course – and he would capture the spritz of their conversations, the wit and the thrilling anecdotes full of names and faces. They would confide in him as if he were a bartender, worldly and simpatico and discreet. Marcus would listen to their secrets spill out of them. He would put an understanding hand on their shoulders and he would get them to tell him about the things they were ashamed of. As well as their tips for hangovers. Bloody oath, it was a good idea.
Adam is not at all sure what to make of Hamish, even though Hamish just bought him a scotch and last week he paid him a compliment about his taste in shoes. Why the suspicion? Is it because Hamish is tall and muscular with a chest like a bar fridge? Is it because – not in looks but in some other hard to grasp way – Hamish reminds him of Morrisey who reminds him of Sebastian Flyte who reminds him of his uncle’s old, sad wolf hound called Tristan? For Adam, Hamish is always giddily receding down a hall of mirrors, a glass of Glenmorangie in one hand, and the other deep in the pocket of his linen trousers. Thing is, trust him or not, Hamish has a laugh that makes him very hard to resist.
She is in the eighth row back from the stage watching the band. Listening to the band. It’s early afternoon and everything has really got going now. The queue for coffee is slackening off and the queue at the bar is getting longer. She has a cider, and why not. It’s a festival. There are sausage sandwiches and gozleme. There are kids running around the tent poles and teenagers and an old couple dancing up the front and a guy with hair like Michael Bolton. The cider is cold, the sound is good, and it’s so hot she takes her socks off surreptitiously. Michael Bolton turns at the precise moment she’s doing this, their eyes meet and then his travel down to her still hot bare feet. She flushes and the heat travels to her cheeks. She doesn’t fancy Michael Bolton at all, not a bit of it, but she feels caught out and kind of awkward. Suck back on the cider, love. Michael Bolton so doesn’t mind.
Terry is turning 43, but he doesn’t feel very much like a grown up. Most of the time even when he’s at work, even when he’s in a suit and tie, for heaven’s sake, he feels a bit like a gormless teenager. Naive and awkward. Goofy even. Terry’s wife Anna wears a suit to work too, but she is spookily efficient and seriously mature. Terry imagines what it would be like if they weren’t married. What it would be like working with her. He imagines her saving her secure files to come out of her office for his birthday cake and ten dutiful minutes of workplace bonding with the team. She’d have a thin slice and a cup of tea and she’d wish him many happy returns while assessing Terry’s haircut and shoes and thinking up clever questions for his performance review. Thank God we are just married he thinks, but the doubt has begun. Terry longs for Casual Friday and his oxblood red sneakers and doesn’t realise that the rot’s setting in, the way it does, the way it will.
There’s a bit in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet where Hamlet writes a letter to his girlfriend Ophelia, and signs off with a heartfelt valediction ‘while this machine is to him’. The ‘machine’ is his body, and this bit always makes Len feel like Hamlet is Robocop. Or the Terminator. A more bionic sort of man. Steely arms and a hard stare. Legs like pistons. Less room for philosophy and more for action. The very thing Hamlet lost the name of. Len thinks about this in period six on a Wednesday afternoon and imagines his Hamlet as a vengeful cyborg, a creature that is half human and half manufactured to have superior strength and power, and not a lot in the way of a moral compass. And he’s not much for soliloquies. But he has GPS and that’s how he tracks down Claudius way before any bout at fencing or poisoned chalice. In Len’s Hamlet Claudius is dispatched in Act II and everyone gets an early mark, which is good because that means Len can get his machine to footy practice ahead of time.