Breakdown in Brunswick

That hot day? This week? I’m in Brunswick, making a delivery. The details of the delivery are unimportant.

After I hand over the contraband, I retreat to the car to make a quick phone call before I head off to find a café or bar to wile away some time before dinner with the troops. There’s Peter Carey’s new book in my bag for pleasant time-wiling, and a lemon syrup semolina cake and some cream, on ice in the back of the car; my contribution for dinner.  

I make the call and while I chat I turn on the air con. The call is done and so is the car battery. In those few minutes I have drained it, completely.

I ring the RACV. It’ll take a good hour, I’m told.

I sit on the kerb, under the shade of the melaleuca on the nature strip, and read. Small ants begin biting the backs of my thighs. I take the tea towel from the cake and sit on it, my knees up around my shoulders.

A car pulls up a few houses down. A dad and a couple of kids in school uniform stare at me as they come along the footpath.

Just waiting for the RACV, I explain, when it becomes evident this is their turf.

The dad nods at me, sympathetically I think, and a few minutes later the girl comes out of the house. Do I want a cold drink, she asks?

That’s nice.

But no, I have my own, thanks all the same, I tell her.

The ants have figured out how to overcome the tea towel barrier and are now back nibbling at my flesh, so I take myself across the road and perch on the brick fence of the house opposite. I read, have a swig of water from my bottle, consider the echoes in my belly, realise I forgot to have lunch and how, if I was in café or bar, I’d be nibbling at something (olives, a little cheese, a biscuit, maybe).  I open the back door of the car, tear off a bit of cake and return to the fence with a sticky fistful of lemon semolina.

A moment later, I feel water on my back. I don’t think the man with the hose, making a great show of watering his straggly plants, is all that keen on me being on his fence.  

I resume my position on the tea towel under the melaleuca.

A woman parks nearby, walks over, looks quizzically at me.

Waiting for the RACV, I say, which is just enough encouragement for her to tell me, as she checks the letterbox, she is worried about her kids at after school care and whether her husband got the message to pick them up.

Oh yes, he did, I say. Everyone is inside.

Her head swivels about. I can’t see his car.

I point it out to her. Behind the Golf, over there.

Your girl very kindly offered me a drink.

I can see that makes her heart sing, just a bit, thinking about her good girl.

Been waiting long, she wants to know.

About an hour.

Shouldn’t be much longer, she tells me, as if she has come straight from the RACV’s call centre.

Another chapter along, and I get a text. The breakdown van is approaching me. Ten more minutes pass and here it is. The bonnet’s up, the leads are on, the battery’s charged, and no, there’s no need to sign anything. I’m good to go.

I drive about a bit to add some more juice to the battery, through Coburg and Preston, before turning back and making my unhurried way to the troops.

That’s a pain, in this hot weather, says one, when I tell my story.

Really, it wasn’t, I say. I made the delivery (details of which are unimportant), and I had a drink and something to eat and a good read to fill in time while I waited for the troops to be home from work. That I spent the time – not in a bar or a café – but on a kerb and a fence, doesn’t really make much difference when it’s all said and done.

I think I may be developing patience.

(Oh, and this photo? These are treasures in a shop window in Saint Raphael on the Cote d’Azur which I photographed, but didn’t eat. There is no pic of the slightly mauled semolina cake.)

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