The Man and His Till
by Annie Blake
It was weird. I felt like I knew him all my life. I worked for him. I needed money. I was young and still went to college. I had music exams to pay for too. And I tutored after hours. He was not the sort I expected wanted to learn, but he wanted to pass this test. I went through some basic English with him. He told me he wanted to learn to understand books. He was a bit of a hillbilly, but his verbal English was fine. I knew his kind. Even though we were raised very differently, we were both working class and I understood where he was coming from.
After the lesson he asked me to stay and eat with him. I trusted him. His place was trashed. He had kids he saw on the weekends. His sink was always full. It was just a kitchen with a corner where he sat and read and then there was his bedroom and a bathroom. His laundry was outside. He had an extra bedroom for the kids down the hall. And his shop was at the front. He wasn’t into keeping things in order. He just sort of worked and ate and slept. And he read a lot. His books were everywhere. Good books—classics and he wanted to learn.
I also helped him make sandwiches and hot rice dishes and packed boxes full of condiments for companies. He fixed his kids’ lunches every day and it was my job to take them to their school in the mornings. I liked his kids, they were loud and always gave me huge hugs. I trusted him because he really loved his kids. He worked long hours and was always on the phone taking orders or washing things down. He worked at full-speed and was efficient.
He would be the type of guy who would go to the beach in the middle of winter. He would run in with his board shorts and dive into six foot waves and jump around like a crazy man. He carried heaps of things in his arms and between his fingers when he worked and he always seemed big and complete. He had strong shoulders and thick wrists. He happily banged things down and clanged utensils together. And threw non-breakables into the sink from a mile away. He was a machine.
He was an ‘all in’ or ‘all out’ sort of guy and anything in between confused him. Nothing about him was half-assed. Even his trust in life was loud. He always went on like at the end of the day everything would sort itself out.
I saw his ex a lot. She always asked for money. She still saw him almost every day and he gave her money most of the time. They fought sometimes. I had to take over for him for a couple of hours the other day while they went into the house to yell. Thank god, no one came in for orders. I heard things smashing inside and he came out later with a cut on his face. I never asked him anything about anything.
Once I came back at night to pick up some musical tickets that I left behind. Everything was locked up. I had my own key. I heard someone moving. I twitched. He was just sitting there drinking coffee by himself in the dark. He told me to sit with him for a while and he made me a coffee.
He talked about being married. About his kids. He said he didn’t know what was happening to them—where his kids were sleeping half the time. And he was worried. If he didn’t give her money, she would punish him by lashing out on the kids. He told me his ex could be a really nice person. And that he wasn’t sure if he still loved her. But he couldn’t bring himself to live with her again. He said that when he lived with her his head would spiral out like a failed rocket launch. He told me he wasn’t sure if he was doing the right thing. He asked me what I thought.
I looked into the distance and started tapping my lips for comfort. Why was he asking me? He didn’t care that the silence was awkward. He wanted an answer. He just kicked back in his chair, put one leg up on the other chair and waited. A lot of people do that to me. At the doctor’s or at college. They talk to me for five minutes and start telling me their whole life story.
Once a lady at the park started telling me about her life with her husband and how he didn’t want more than one kid, but she desperately did. And then she left him. I almost gave her my phone number in the end. I felt so sorry for her; she just looked so damn sad.
I had no experience with kids. I had no experience with marriage. And I wasn’t particularly interested in any of it. It was hard enough looking after myself. I just looked down and nodded in acknowledgement. I hoped he appreciated that at least I could listen. I started to feel guilty. If I told him my honest opinion, what would he do? Could he handle it? And anyway, it would just be my opinion in the end. He should answer that question himself. I told him to give himself time. He would know what to do when things cleared up a little.
He told me he wanted to take over the kids. But he didn’t know the best way to go about it. I always helped him fill up complicated forms from the courts. He seemed pretty grateful. I only had another few weeks in the shop with him. I had exams and had to study and then I planned to apply to as many teaching jobs as possible. I wanted to start full-time work so I could buy a place of my own. I told him about my plans.
‘You sure?’ he said.
He nodded quietly. I felt strange. Like I knew him for years instead of only a few months. I almost wished I wasn’t going to graduate. For some reason I felt like I was being left behind. I wasn’t sure how I was going to cope without him. I observed him all the time. His energy saved me like a life jacket. He was pretty unbreakable. What felt like a major life crisis for me was just a temporary interruption for him. Sometimes he got sad but he always pepped up. No matter what. I spent hours analyzing him.
That night, as I lay in my bed, I imagined I was watching him die. In a field with spring flowers. And we were playing in it together like two ghost children. I couldn’t bear it if he died. But I had to make something up in my mind because I couldn’t bear leaving him either.
As I sank into a hypnagogic state, I saw myself put him to sleep to spring his belly out like a till. I reached into the part of him just under his heart. His insides looked like a coruscating summer lake. He felt warm and I exhumed all the gold pieces he had, like I was taking money from a wishing well. I clicked him shut again. He didn’t know what I was doing and it didn’t hurt him. I took his gold coins and swallowed them—one by one. I felt his stalwart arms around my small body and his big hands carrying me off to sleep.
Annie Blake is an Australian writer, thinker and researcher. She is a wife and mother of five children. She started school as an ESL student and was raised and, continues to live in a multicultural and industrial location in the West of Melbourne. Her main interests include psychoanalysis and metaphysics. She is currently focusing on arthouse writing which explores the surreal/psychedelic nature and symbolic meanings of unconscious material. You can visit her on annieblakethegatherer.blogspot.com.au and https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100009445206990.