Matt has just ordered his coffee but the waiter has not yet brought it over. He is sitting on the timber bench with his back to the wall, considering whether he ought to have some toast. This involves staring out the window at the passers by, which is how he comes to notice the thalidomide woman. She has a magnificent head of blonde hair and she’s wearing very funky sunglasses. She stops to talk to someone she knows, a frowny woman walking a big shaggy dog with a lumbering gait. It is a sort of miracle that Matt notices any of this actually, because she is the fifth thalidomide person he has seen in as many days.
On Monday it was the guy at the car wash, on Tuesday the fellow in front of him at the deli buying goat’s cheese, on Wednesday the woman who sold him the tickets at the cinema, yesterday the man who cycled straight through the almost-red light, which was cheeky and dangerous, but Matt had noticed his missing arm, and the tiny stump coming off powerful shoulders, and he’d repented of any urge to curse him as he flew past the cars in front of him, streaking up Cleveland Street like a Lycra clad demon.
Matt is a little freaked out. It all feels very David Lynch. Like they have been sent. The Thalidomide Five. He waits for his coffee with a growing sense of unease and a political awkwardness, because you would, wouldn’t you?
Sometimes you just know when a relationship is over. When you’ve done your dash, tried your hardest, drifted apart, grown adrift. Sasha knows this is true of him and Francis. They met three years ago at a record fair browsing through A-K. He was looking for early Elton John and she was after David Byrne, his post Talking Heads stuff which is not always commercially successful but generally pretty interesting. They bonded over Godley and Creme. There was a long time where they connected. They used to find each others’ quirks adorable, her double denim, his neckties, his always making the orange juice with ginger, her calling out the answers to the cryptic crossword. It was charming once, but now all that seemed to grate, and that morning Sasha knew it was time. He was wrestling with it in the shower and that was the problem. Francis had the most amazing shower he had ever stood under, shaved in, scrubbed beneath. The perfect pressure, the perfect temperature, and these fabulous tiles, dark ceramic, the colour of oyster shells with cuttlefish white grout between them. He loved staying over at Francis’s place so he could enjoy the thrum of the warm water on his eyelids, and since the drought broke, the guilty pleasure of the long shower. He had had a lot of girls but none of them had a shower like this. Sasha was resolved. All relationships can be salvaged with roses.
It is a Sunday morning and Graham is very busy being offended. He is at the beach and it’s early because that’s the best time to get there he always says. It’s not too hot yet and not madly crowded. These things are true but he takes no great satisfaction in this because he has seen three young men (and one pot bellied middle aged fellow who has really let himself go) wearing t-shirts or singlets that feature the logos of beer brands. Bintang. Heineken. VB for God’s sake. And one of the younger blokes, the slightest of the lot of them, he’s gone with Jim Beam. And why not? wonders Graham in a sarcastic voice in his head. Why the hell not wake up and put on a shirt that celebrates a toxic substance that you possibly over indulged in last night or some time anyway? Because that’s lovely, to wake up and think about drinking straight away. And these drinks, Good Lord. These guys in the t-shirts are so clearly bogans and proud of it. Graham decides then and there to get a t-shirt printed that says ‘Hunter Valley Semillon 2005’, which – if he recalls correctly – was a very good vintage. Nice one, he thinks. Graham is a plonker alright, but he’s in a better mood already.