DANVILLE GIRL by ANTHONY MAY
Bob was sitting on his hands. On a milk crate outside the garage doors, he watched the sun light and warm the shop fronts along Campbell Street in Danville. People came along and opened shops. Some nodded and some kept walking. He smiled at them all. Not a lot was said.
He looked at his shoes, dirty from the long walk. His mother had told him to always buy the best that he could afford. He got them at Shoe-Biz these days. It didn’t matter to him.
He had the impulse to watch things more closely. The dawn unfolding over the town, but it was too late for that. He’d seen the dawn on the road, the town waking up, but it had already woken up and was mostly about its business. He didn’t really care about these things but he did notice that there were no runners. Where he lived the hour after dawn was full of people running and walking their dogs.
Two dogs, a cattle dog and a labrador, walked along the street without owners. He watched them closely and hoped that they would stay away. His mind raced ahead to their crossing the street, sniffing his ankles and legs. Getting too close. Feeling tense and knowing that they would sense that. They walked on without looking at him.
The quiet surprised him. He thought that the noise would rise with the town but things seemed to prepare themselves in a calm and quiet way. Shops opened without alarms going off. Cars rolled by without sounding their horns. People nodded and waved without calling out. He wondered when the noise came, or if it did. He tried to think back to when there had been noise in Campbell Street. He could only think of sharp accidental noises like something being dropped or a car backfiring. He had never thought of the place having such a well-developed sense of decorum. It just seemed like a quiet town.
Back in Brisbane, a few weeks ago, he saw a young man, late teenager, jump feet first at a plate glass window. Two of his friends caught him by the arms and pulled him back but his feet still hit the glass. It wobbled. And it was the noise that he was waiting for. The explosive noise of the glass but it never came. They just went on, drunk, having fun.
Bob closed his eyes for a while. He was tired of thinking. He had been in his thoughts for, he looked at his watch, three hours. He was very tired and wanted to lie down but there was nowhere to lie. Just wait for the garage to open.
After a few minutes he tried to listen to the street but things were too busy now. Earlier he had been able to separate sounds, listen to sounds grow and diminish, place sounds with activities and directions. Now everything was too busy. He moved his hands and rolled his shoulders. He stood up and sat again. His suit felt uncomfortable and he felt out of place.
Twenty minutes later the mechanic arrived driving a sedan. He began his routine of opening the garage, looking over at Bob and smiling.
“Good morning,” he said.
“Good morning,” Bob said, “I’ve got a breakdown about eight kilometres out of town.”
Bob and the mechanic climbed into the breakdown truck. The mechanic, John, took a large mug of coffee with him. He started the truck and pulled up at the edge of the apron.
“Left or right,” he said. Danville only had one road in and out of the town.
Bob explained how he had tried to get an early start to get back to Brisbane. About eight kilometres from town he had felt a bit peckish and thought about the chocolate biscuits in his backpack in the boot of the car. So he pulled over. He got out, got the biscuits, got back in the driver’s seat and the car wouldn’t start. Nothing. He tried all the things that he knew, checked the connections to the battery, made sure that there was fuel going through the line, all the standard things. Nothing. So he had walked back to town and waited for the garage to open.
“Have you got any left?” John said.
“What?” Bob said.
“The biscuits, have you got any left? I thought they might go well with the coffee.”
Bob felt in his pocket and brought out three chocolate wheatens stuck together in a torn packet.
“That’s cool,” John said. “They all get mixed up inside anyway.”
“Are you from Danville?” Bob asked.
“I am now but I’m from W.A.. Me and Rolf Harris and Greta Scacchi. But they don’t live in Danville, just me.”
“What brought you to Queensland?” Bob said.
“Long story, mate. Too long for this trip. Still it’s a good place to be a mechanic. Shit of a place for anything else but it’s OK for me,” John said.
“Have you always been a mechanic?” Bob said.
“Always. Sometimes I think I was born in motor oil, y’know, like one of those tins of sardines that you open and the little fishes are all covered in olive oil. Well with me it was Valvoline 20/50. Just joking. But I always loved my cars so it was gonna happen. Always,” John said.
John finished the biscuits while Bob looked out at the road for the third time that morning.
“I’ve never connected with cars. I understand how they work, I can fix a few things but there’s always something stopping me getting in there. Don’t know what it is,” Bob said.
“I always loved them. I remember when I turned seventeen and got my licence. I went out and bought two old Morris 1100s. They didn’t work, either of them. Had them on the front lawn in Balcatta. I was going to take them apart and build a working car from the two of them. I thought I was smart. I figured that I could build a car for myself and sell what was left over for parts and make my money back and get a car for free. I was a seventeen year fucking stupid genius,” John said.
“What happened? Did you do it?”
“My mates came over before I got out of bed and they fucked it all up. Started taking everything to bits, losing bits. It was a nightmare. My dad made me take it all to the wreckers. They didn’t want it so it went to the tip. Lost the lot,” John said. “Should have learned then, eh?”
Bob’s Camry came in view and John began to pull over. It was the only car in sight.
John opened the door and popped the bonnet. Bob just stood and watched. He watched from one side and then he walked around to the other. He walked down the road for a while. He was curious but he was a little afraid of the efficiency with which John handled the engine. When he got back, John had the Camry hitched to the back of the truck and was sitting in the cab.
“I can’t fix it here but I have some Toyota parts in the garage and I can get you back to Brisbane,” John said.
“Shit hot,” Bob said.
On the way back Bob began to feel a little less foolish and started to talk again.
“How long have you been in Danville?”
“Ten years come October,” John said. “And five years to go.”
“What do you mean?” Bob said.
“I’m going to retire in five years time. I’ll be fifty and that’s it for me. I’m out of here,” John said.
“Going back to W.A.?”
“No way. I’m going home, buddy, back to Montenegro. Monte-fucking-negro. Most beautiful place on this planet. I’ll be fifty and I’ll be cashed up and I’ll buy a little house and watch the sun come up over the mountains and then watch the same sun go down over the sea at the end of the day. It’s heaven. Ever been there?” John said.
“Never been out of Australia,” Bob said.
“I’ve been three times now. My family comes from there. Jeez, it’s beautiful,” John said. “There’s a little town called Dobrota about 5 kilometres north of Kotor, which is a bigger town, and if you get a house on a rise then you can see over an inlet to the Adriatic. Monte-fucking-negro, mate, it’ll make you cry it’s so beautiful.”
Bob looked out at the flat grey-red dirt.
“Aren’t they fighting and shit over there?” Bob asked.
“That’s over now but then again…it’s never going to be over, really. But nobody beats the Montenegrins. Only people to kick the Turks’ arse. Only country in the Balkans to boot out the Turks, did you know that?” John said.
“Well they were. Told the Turk to shove his Ottoman empire up his arse. Monte-fucking-negro. I can’t think about it too much or I just want to go now. It is so beautiful. Still Danville’s OK, been all right to me,” John said.
They pulled into the garage and John checked his parts. He could fix it but it was going to be a busy day and Bob should call back about four-thirty. It was nine-forty seven.
Bob left the garage and walked down Campbell Street. He had his head a little to the side and hanging down. He knew that he would go back to the tea rooms if he stayed in Danville and he didn’t want to. The Danville girl would be there. Last night he’d told her that he would never see her again. He’d said, “The best of friends have to part some times so why not you and I?” She hadn’t replied to that. She didn’t seem to care. That’s why he had to go back to the tea rooms. He couldn’t really believe that she didn’t care.
This morning he walked back down Campbell Street to the tea rooms. If she was there he would see her one last time even though he had said to her last night that he would never see her again. He stopped at the newsagency to buy cigarettes and found that he didn’t have a wallet. He had lost his wallet. He couldn’t buy cigarettes, he couldn’t buy coffee. He couldn’t go in the tea rooms. He felt quite dizzy and was unsure of what to do so he turned and walked back to the garage.
“You back?” John said as he walked into the shade. John was hoisting a ute into the air.
“I need a favour,” Bob said, “can I sit down for a while?”
“Not a problem, Bob, there’s a bench seat over there behind the table. Put the kettle on and I’ll be with you in a minute,” John said.
Bob walked to the back of the shop. There was a low coffee table made from four milk crates and a door, the bench seat of a retired sedan, a couple of stools, an electric jug, tea, coffee, sugar, spoons. It looked welcoming and safe to Bob. He filled the jug and sat down on a stool.
When the jug boiled John wiped his hand on an old rag and came over.
“Coffee, tea? I’ve got English Breakfast, Irish Breakfast, Russian Caravan, Peppermint, Camomile, Lady Grey, whatever. This is my favourite at present, Moroccan Mint, very nice. There’s milk in the fridge.”
“Lady Grey please,” he said. “Do you ever drink green tea?”
“The Moroccan Mint has a green tea base but I can’t say I notice anything different.”
“You need to try the Japanese green tea. It’s completely different to the Chinese. I’ll send you some when I get back to Brisbane,” Bob said.
“What’s the favour?” John asked.
Bob moved on his stool as John sat down on the bench seat.
“I’ve lost my wallet and I need to hole up somewhere for a couple of hours. So there’s a couple of favours. Can you lend me, say fifty bucks, to get back to Brisbane? You can put it straight on the price of the repairs, I don’t mind.”
“Not a problem, I’ve done that before. This is going to be a company job anyway, right?”
“What’s the second favour?”
“I need somewhere to close my eyes and have a rest and I need not to be walking around Campbell Street. Can I stay here for a little while until I go and eat?”
“Not a problem,” John said.
“Oh yes, one more thing, can I ring my office and tell them about the car?” Bob said.
“That’s three favours,” John said.
“Think of the phone call as customer service,” Bob said.
“We aim to please,” John said.
“I met a girl,” Bob said.
“Aren’t you the lucky boy?” John said.
“Not really,” Bob said, “can I tell you about it?”
“Hey, I’m just standing here getting dirty. You can say whatever you like,” John said.
“I came to Danville three days ago. It’s my job. I tour Western Queensland looking for sales, fencing mainly, and then go back to Brisbane with as full an order book as I can manage. The fencing comes out later on trucks. I hate doing this. I didn’t used to. I used to like it, travel, people. I’m just indifferent these days. People are people and I’m sick to death of driving. Most of all I hate my order book. I travel with it locked in the boot of the vehicle. I’m like a secretary to the fucking order book.
“That morning was a short drive from Boulia. I went into the Tea Rooms to have some breakfast. It was almost empty and I sat by the window so that I could look out on the street. I remember I saw some boys who probably should have been in school rolling a 44 gallon drum down the footpath. It made a terrible noise.
“From the moment that she came to my table, the waitress, I began to behave out of character. I flirted with her and she seemed to respond. I tried to look important and she seemed unimpressed. I tried to act compassionate and listen to her but she went quiet on me. Then out of the blue, I just gave her my motel room number. And she wrote it down. Like it was an order for coffee and cake. I left, went to the newsagent and bought cigarettes and a couple of magazines. I went to the motel and waited. I showered, smoked, read. Then I showered again. She came by just after lunch. I did no work for three days but I fell in love with the Danville Girl. I didn’t know myself, man.
“Now this is not me. I am a married man. I love my wife and I love my son. I did not choose for this to happen. But I can’t pretend it didn’t and I can’t stop thinking about her. And them. And it all. I’m stuffed, I can tell you.”
“This is a no-brainer, mate. I fix your car, you drive home, you don’t come back here and you never tell anybody about it again. Live your life, man,” John said.
“I’m in love. I didn’t choose it but I’m in love.”
“Get real. Are you going to wrap it all up in Brisbane for a Danville waitress? I think not. Are you going to come and live in Danville? I think not. You have a choice, mate. Choose the drive home quietly option. Why would anyone fall in love in Danville?” John said.
“Choices and options. Shit. I just don’t see them. Maybe I’m tired. I am tired. Can I get that lie down?” Bob asked.
“There’s a cot in the back, stay as long as you like.”
Bob took off his shoes and settled onto the cot. He was asleep in a couple of minutes and dreaming not long after that. He was on a cycling tour in Kashmir. High in the mountains the weather seemed always slightly damp. Combined with the perspiration from riding, he was wet.
He was wearing the fancy bicycling shirt and the tight shorts and behind him in single file were all the guys from work decked out in the same way. They were impatient and shouting at him to go but he was at an intersection and couldn’t move. The passing road was full of military vehicles, small trucks with soldiers on the back, wagons full of provisions. He couldn’t find a break in the traffic and all the guys were shouting. “Fucking move it, Bob,” “Bob, shift your fucking arse,” “Bob, go, you stupid twat.” He could see the faces of the Indian conscripts looking at him as they went by.
Some shouted, some wanted to change places, some were just blank.
He was thinking about his wife and son at the hotel. He knew that they were waiting in the dining room, sitting at the table. They wouldn’t start eating without him but he couldn’t get there. They looked up at the clock and discussed whether or not he would turn up. His wife would be thinking that the mealtime would be over and that they would get no lunch. His son would be moving knives and forks and spoons around the table playing navies. Fully armed destroyers on a white cotton sea.
The screaming from the guys was getting intense and he knew that his job was on the line. And then there was a break in the convoy. And Emberley from accounts shot past him, and so did Pash from dispatch. And then they all went, in little bunches, spreading across the road, racing to make up time. He waited until it was safe.
On his right he could see a small shrine at the edge of the trees. He knew that he was late. He knew that his family was waiting to eat. He knew that if he didn’t catch up then he would probably lose his job. But he wanted to see the shrine. He thought that it might be something beautiful. So he got off his bike and walked over in his bicycle shoes to look at the shrine.
It was overgrown with creepers and he had to pull them back to see. In the middle of the shrine was a little platform for offerings and he could see something shining there. Something like a piece of coloured glass was reflecting the light that he was allowing to pass through by pulling back the creepers. The vegetation was harsh and had little thorns in it and tore his skin as he tried to free the shrine. He had to kneel to get a grip of the deeper shrubbery and as he did he cut his knee on a sharp stone.
But he did the job. He got it clear and on the small platform in the centre of the shrine was a Casio digital watch with a black plastic strap. He didn’t want to move it but he could see the time and he had missed lunch.
He woke up at the back of the garage and went to wash his face in the grimy sink.
There was an old Brisbane Broncos tee shirt to dry himself. He couldn’t see John in the garage but there was a fifty dollar note on the table under his mug. He took the money and went for a walk along Campbell Street.
It was 1.47 p.m. when he thought of getting something to eat. Campbell Street had a high pavement and as he tried to step into the road to cross it, a black Monaro zipped by and nearly hit him. He jumped back and the car was gone. He looked both ways and crossed to the pub. The front bar was clean with only a few afternoon drinkers. The pool table was around a corner so that kept the bar quiet.
He asked the barmaid if he could get some lunch but she told him that the lunches ended at 1.30 p.m.
“It’s 1.48,” he said.
“That’s right,” she said.
He asked for a beer with a splash of lemonade and a pie. She put a foil-wrapped pie in the microwave and poured him a beer.
“Just a splash?” she said.
“Right,” he said.
The pie was too hot to eat right away so it took him three beers altogether to finish his lunch. He walked out to the DOSA and had a cigarette and then went back and daydreamed at the bar. After a while he could hear the noise of school children in the street and looked out of the door to see them walking around Campbell Street in groups of three and four. Across the street he saw the Post Office so he collected his cigarettes from the bar and went over.
At the public phone he rang his wife. He knew that she would be at work and that his son would be at a friend’s house so he wasn’t surprised to get the machine. He left a message saying that the car had broken down and he would be home tonight or early in the morning. He told them that he loved them and that he would eat before he got home so don’t bother saving anything for him. He thought that they should go away for the weekend but he didn’t tell them that. Then he hung up and walked back to the garage.
“You’re back,” John said.
“Your car’s finished and you can escape. Time to go home.”
“Thanks, John,” Bob said.
“Have a cuppa before you go? Lady Grey?”
They sat at the coffee table and Bob lit a cigarette. He pulled an unopened packet of chocolate wheatens from his pocket.
“I’ve got something for you,” Bob said.
“I’ve also got it worked out.”
“Got what worked out?” John said.
“The thing with the Danville girl.”
“You should leave that alone, mate. Just get in your car and drive. That’s what they were made for. Hit that dusty road, brother.”
“I’m going, don’t worry. And I don’t think that I’m coming back but I know what happened now. I know what was going on,” Bob said.
“I don’t know if I want you to tell me. But go on, we’re doing nothing else.”
“It was a nocebo. The whole thing, a nocebo.”
“A what-what-bo?” John said. He put the tea mugs on the table.
“A nocebo,” Bob said. “You know what a placebo is, right? Well a nocebo is the opposite. You give somebody something like plain ordinary water and you tell them it’s poison and they feel sick. The opposite of a placebo. Instead of feeling good they feel bad. And that’s what happened to me.”
“Somebody gave you poison?” John said.
“Nobody gave me anything. I took something, something happened to me, the Danville girl happened to me and I thought it was going to be bad. I thought it was going to fuck me up and so it did fuck me up. When I realised that it was a nocebo, it had no effect. Simple, eh?” Bob said.
“And where did you work this out?”
“In the pub.”
“No, seriously, I didn’t do anything bad. I just did what anyone would do. But it’s only going to be bad if I let it be bad. It’s a nocebo. Once you know what they are then they don’t work on you any more.”
“I’m not arguing but it seems to me like there might be other points of view on the matter. Like, you’re not going to discuss the no-see-thing with your wife, are you?” John said.
“That would just be letting it go on being a bad thing. Wouldn’t make sense,” Bob said.
They finished their tea and did the paperwork for the car and Bob thanked John and got ready to go.
“You don’t think that Montenegro might be a nocebo, do you?” John said.
“No way, man. You’ve got the real thing.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
ANTHONY MAY teaches Writing and Cultural Studies in the School of Humanities, Griffith University, Brisbane. He has published in the fields of popular music, film, literary studies and publishing. He also publishes short fiction. He is currently co-writing a history of pop music since 1945. His interviews with Elmore Leonard appeared in the second issue of Contrappasso.
Header photo (cc) Tamsin Slater @ Flickr