Monday, February 28, 2011

Changing Times

Tuscany was practically begging me for a walk. She was sitting, eyes mournful, at the back door, gazing at me with every step.
I succumbed to those eyes, and she and I set off.
I had five dollars in my hand, and I had a plan. I needed mints, that much was certain, but I was aching for chips. It’d be enough if I bought them at the corner shop. Who knows, I thought, I could even buy some warheads.

Tuscany pranced along the road and I practised my gymnastics trying to remain balanced on the gutter. We walked along, past the paddocks that had become a bypass. Alongside the newly-made hills, sprouting off tentative but vigorously green sprouts of grass, set against a Tiffany-blue sky with patchy clouds seeming to mar the perfection. Tuscany snuffled at the dead butterfly on the loose, shiny black bitumen. She paused at a crack in the seam where two gutters met. She ate a dandelion, and pottered along looking pleased with her efforts.

We were reaching the store and Tuscany began veering towards it, her nose glued to the ground. Even with shoes on, I could tell that the pavement was hot. It steamed up along my legs, along my face, around my glasses which were smeared with fingerprints.
And as we neared the store, something didn't seem right.
Tuscany didn’t notice my faltering steps – or, if she did, she paid it no mind. She marched straight to the pole where she usually waited while I shopped for the two of us. I dropped her leash, and looked in the dirty windows.
The shop was bare.

Instead of rows and rows of sweets and chocolate, hidden behind a gleaming glass counter and cupped gently in flimsy packaging cases, there were grimy shelves and unpolished glass. There wasn’t the bucket of lollipops that Gemma and I would scrounge through after primary school, counting ten cent pieces slowly. There was a small cupboard, door unscrewed but rusting hinges left wonkily to age more. The magazine stand was gone; the candy-striped ice cream fridge was absent (only brown water-stains indicated its past place).
I brushed my hair from my face, and Tuscany looked up at me at last. She nestled into my legs and thumped her tail once, twice, on the ground. I let one hand drop to her head, my eyes returning again to the store. No Coca-Cola and Norco fridges standing side by side, boasting 375mL soft drinks and two-litre milks in tetra cases. No chips, with the prices carefully inscribed on shiny white cardboard in permanent marker and more rhombus-shaped than rectangular.
Tuscany impatiently barked, though softly.
“Okay,” I said quietly, “let’s go.”

We walked only a few metres further to the adjacent petrol station. Tuscany settled outside, not moving while I tied her leash to the gas cylinder cage. I went inside to the mints.
“How much are Eclipse mints?” I asked, handing over a peppermint case.
The woman behind the counter scanned the emerald-green tin and said, giving me back the mints, “Three twenty-five.”
I nodded my thank you, and went to the ice cream fridge, a luridly promotional Streets case, wondering what I could choose. The petrol station was not kind with information, and in the end I handed over two sweaty coins and thanked the woman.
Tuscany looked expectantly at me as I exited, and I peeled the plastic off the tin case. One green-and-white lolly dropped to the floor and her tail wagged as she ate it. I unravelled her leash and we began the journey home.

Past the corner shop, where the plastic seats and red and yellow umbrella were conspicuously absent, and past the house next door. Its picket fence was cracked and stained with red dirt. A car, rusting at the taillights, sat in a dirty driveway. Branches on trees that I never learned the name of hung low, brushing into my face.
Our neighbour across the road turned into our street, and tooted his horn and waggled his fingers at me. I waved back.

Tuscany and I went back home.
I felt oddly resentful of the now-flowering frangipani tree in the backyard.

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