by Simon Graham
You pulled up to the house just after nine. You turned the engine, collected two pizzas from the heat bag on your passenger seat, and took off your work cap before stepping out onto the driveway. You always took your cap off before making deliveries, as if without it, customers might forget you worked for that cheap franchise. Remember that time on New Years Eve when those girls asked if you wanted to party with them when you finished your shift? They never would have asked you if you had been wearing that pink and black abomination would they? You always were insecure, afraid of jeopardizing the image you thought you had.
The house’s letterbox was shrouded in overgrown plants. You pulled them back and shone your iPhone light on the numbers to make sure you had the right house. The box was bursting with rain soaked mail. As you walked up the driveway, a woman smoking among the bushes stopped you.
“Are you delivering pizzas to Steve?”
She giggled. “He’s in there,” she said, pointing to a side door.
You went in to the living room where four men were watching Rugby League and wading through cigarette butts on the couch. Steve attempted to pay in joints. You told him that as tempting as it in you can’t accept that form of currency. He dug into the crevices of the couch and pulled out a red note.
Outside, the smoking woman was leaning against your car, clutching a bottle of Eristoff.
“Can you give me a lift?”
“Just a few metres up the road, I have to pick up my daughter and bring her back here. She gets scared at nighttime.”
“I’ll give you five dollars, it would make my night.”
It was cold. Even though the rain had passed, most families had already primed themselves for an evening indoors, preferring the warmth of their Friday Night Football and reality TV over the unseasonably low temperature outside. You looked down the suburban street and the only movements came from eucalyptus trees rustling in the wind. You unlocked your car and the two of you hopped in.
“Do you mind if I drink my Vodka in here?”
“Do you mind if I smoke? It’s only a cigarette, no weed.”
“I’d rather you didn’t,” you said, trailing off once the smoke drifted into your field of vision. You wound down the window.
“Thank you so much for this. It’s so hard being a single mum…she’s more like my sister to be honest! She’s eighteen. Actually, she’s only fourteen but she looks older.”
“Don’t they all.”
“I’m only twenty eight.”
“Well no, I’m thirty two.”
She looked at least fourty but you still believed her.
“When do you finish work?”
“Half an hour.”
“When you finish do you want to come back here and help me finish off this bottle? I could give you your five dollars then.”
“I’d rather it now actually.”
You pulled up in front of her house and lifted the handbrake as she leapt out of the car.
“Put some clothes on!” she yelled at her house. Five minutes later, mother and child returned. The daughter, fully clothed, slumped into the back seat.
“Well this is awkward,” she said. You can still remember what she looked like can’t you? That photographic memory of yours has her permanently on file. Blonde, slightly overweight, pulled on the cuffs of her sleeves relentlessly.
“I told you she was sexy as fuck for a fourteen year old,” said the mother. You let that one slide. You drove as fast as you can. You turned on the radio.
Do you remember how in that moment as you were speeding down that suburban street, with the radio as your soundtrack, the whole experience felt kind of cool, kind of revolutionary? Like you were gazing into another world, like you were Hunter S. when he lived with the Hell’s Angels. You weren’t boring anymore were you? You had seen things now; you had seen some shit. You had a story to tell the kids in your homeroom class. On Monday, you told them and they laughed, bawked, awed, and made comments like ‘fuck that shit’ and ‘that’s heavy’. You remember when you spoke like that don’t you?
“What’s your name?” asked the mother, turning off the radio.
You told her your name.
“Well, me and you should meet up one night and go out. The only people I hang out with are the stoners you gave the pizza to. I broke up with my boyfriend six weeks ago.” She said the last part as if it was an achievement.
You stopped the car in front of Steve’s place.
“Oh my god, I forgot my purse.”
You still can’t believe you didn’t see that coming.
As they hopped out, the daughter and you said ‘I’m sorry’ to each other, but you said it with your eyes fixed on the steering wheel, because you knew she needed those two words a lot more than you did. As she walked back into the house, trailing behind her mother, pulling on her cuffs, you wanted to scream out to her, say something, do something, but you didn’t, you just added her to that list of people you wanted to save but never did.