“Darl? Would you take a look at this?”
I hand over the envelope to Barry, although what I expect from him I will never know. Gord love ‘im, he’s a couple of snags short of a barbie. Thirty years we’ve known each other and he’s never been a bright one. Aussie Rules football, now that was Bazza’s strong point. Tinkering with the car. The cryptic crossword was not.
The note’s quite clear – the note, stuck to the receipt, stuck through the letterbox of our two-storey palazzo (pool out back, eucalyptus out front, rumpus room by the carport) in Largs Bay, along with the K-Mart catalogue and the latest deals from Sprint Auto Parts.
“What’s this, love?”
“I dunno, darl.”
Barry takes a look in the envelope, takes the note and the receipt out, screws his face up in confusion.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I dunno, darl. Maybe it’s some newfangled advertising thingy? You know how clever these marketing blokes are getting.”
“Yeah, maybe. Who would think a receipt makes good advertising though? It’ll just confuse the poor sods round here. Chuck it. Love, I’ve just gotta pop down the bottlo to get ready for the boys coming round this arvo. Saints v Swans. It’s a big one – it’s the finals!”
I fake enthusiasm (something I do a lot with Baz these days) and push him out the door. I call after him.
“Make sure you take the Cortina, darl – I’ll need the Commodore. I’ve gotta get groceries!”
Crikey, Barry’s gone downhill. Twenty-two years I’ve stuck by him, watched the belly grow and the hair go and the legs get skinny. But today I can really notice it – maybe it’s the way his gut is hanging over his Stubbies or the fact the sweat of this 40C day shows under his arms. He’s never been the sharpest tool in the shed, but he’s good to me, and I’ll stick by him as long as that continues.
But this thing– I’ve got no idea what this thing is. A note: Seek and ye shall find. A receipt for a movie at Tea Tree Plaza. One of those big action flicks that Sly Stallone used to star in. Ahhh Sly... now there is a man who knows how to age well! We always loved gonna see Rocky at the Gepps Cross drive-in; Barry would shadow-box his way between the cars to get us more popcorn. Those were good times.
There’s Tracey, coming up the drive in her new little Honda. (Bit flash, I thought, when she bought it.) She might have a clue about this receipt thing – that university education’s gotta be doing her some good. I call out to stop her going straight to her room; if she gets up those stairs she’ll have the Acca Dacca blasting and we’ll hear no more from her til she leaves for the pub. It’s that age where all they want to do is get pissed and root. I miss those days...
“Darl – would you take a look at this?”
“What’s this mum?”
“I dunno – would you take a look at it?”
Trace takes a look at it.
“Christ! Those ad agencies are getting a bit cryptic these days.”
“So you reckon it’s one of them newfangled ads too?”
“Who else said that?”
“I thought it might be. Yer dad had no idea.”
“Let dad stick with building rumpus rooms and let the marketing student tell you something: those ad blokes these days, they’re dead clever. Remember when we got that newspaper through the door and the personal ads had been circled? Turned out to be for the Connections service. I reckon this is a teaser for some movie.”
“Right you are, darl. You always were the smart one, Trace.”
“I’m gonna go up and try on my new dress. I wanna make sure it’s not too tight and just short enough. It’s Chezza’s birthday. We’re gonna hit Hindley St and get pissed. She reckons the footy team will be there!”
“Right you are, Trace. Have a nice night. Have a nice night, love.”
“Darl? Would you take a look at this?”
Baz is rushing down the stairs in his best stonewash.
“Not right now, love. I’ve got to meet Dave, sort out the shockers on his Hilux.”
“Oh, right you are, darl.”
“I’ll talk to you tonight. We’ll head to the footy club too so it’ll be a late one.”
“Righto. Bye, darl.”
I hold my cheek out for a peck, then Barry’s on his way. That’ll be the last sense I get out of him today, what with them two hitting the club later. To think I got my perm done and got that new frosted pink lippie hoping he’d take me out. It’s been so long since I had a good night out; Barry’s always running off somewhere these days.
I look back down at the envelope in my hand. Jeez but those movie ad blokes are really pushing it. I don’t give a pig’s arse about their movie and these receipts are really starting to get my goat. I’ve now had four of ‘em.
‘Cept, not all the receipts have been for movies. The first one was. And today’s is a Blockbuster receipt – someone rented The Castle. But in between has been dinner (that fancy new Eye-talian on Salisbury Highway) and booze. Each one has had a note, told me to look or seek for something. “Seek and ye shall find” – that’s a bible quote I think. Maybe Shakespeare. Well, it’s very old. My nan used to say it all the time. “Nan, why won’t Neville (my then-boyfriend) leave my knockers alone?” “Seek and ye shall find.” Silly old bat. It didn’t make sense then, either.
“Love, I’ve gotta go. The Cooper’s patio roof caved in with that hail storm, and they’re blamin’ me for shoddy workmanship! Can you believe the fuckin’ liberty of that! Gi’s a peck, love.”
The best stonewash are today paired with his favourite flannie shirt. And he’s shaved. I think last time I saw him looking so suave was when we were heading to Dave’s engagement party. He got himself one of them Thai brides, had a big do in Munno Para. Baz spent most of the night chatting to Jono’s girl Lisa; hadn’t seen her in a while and she always did have a bit of a thing for my Baz growing up. Such a smart girl, and talented – always doing some play somewhere. She ended up in Japan teaching English and drama.
So I didn’t get a chance to ask him. That’s what this one says – ASK HIM. The note, I mean. Another envelope through the mail! There’s got to be something to this. This can’t be a coincident. There’s got to be a meaning here. I asked around. I went down the street and knocked on the doors and chatted to all the girls. Deirdre hasn’t got any, or Tammy, or Maureen, or the camp bloke in No 23. None of them had seen anything like it. If it was advertising, they’d be dropping them in every letterbox in the neighbourhood. I know that much.
Deirdre pointed out that they’re all look like the same handwriting. Each of these notes, they were printed in such beautiful hand that I thought it was done on a printer – you know how the fonts they use these days can look so much like handwriting. But this was done by a real human with a real pen. You can see where the ink blotted on the third e in yesterday’s “seek and ye shall find”. No computer printer would blot that way – only a fountain pen. Jeez, I didn’t think anyone used them anymore.
I took it down to Nev – he runs the newsagent these days. He reckoned it wasn’t a pen at all, but instead done with this type of East Asian ink made from soot and binders. You’ve got to rub it with water on an inkstone until the right consistency is achieved, Nev said. Seems like a lot of effort to go to just to do some advertising – and handmade too! That’s what Nev said and I agreed. I didn’t tell him about my suspicions it wasn’t an ad anymore. He only broke up with me in the first place coz I stuck my nose in, that’s what he said.
This latest note and receipt, the note says “ask him”. Him who? Someone’s been to the movies and rented The Castle and had a posh dinner and got pissed. Good on them. Who gives a toss?
Ask him, it says. And a receipt. For a pregnancy kit, from the National Pharmacies.
Fuck me, it better not be Jase. If that little...
“Jase! Get your bony arse down here right now!”
The stamping on the stairs, the plodding on the floor. Then my darling teenage son appears with his Port jersey on and his inability to look up through his long greasy hair.
“Jason Gough Hawke. What is the meaning of this?”
The envelope. The note. The receipt. All shown to the randy little shit.
“Well I don’t know what it is.”
“But it says it – right there. Ask him. So?”
“So, mum, not me. Don’t know anything about it. Why would I write a note like that? And what’s with that ink? My handwriting’s not that neat. Mrs Cook always says-”
“I don’t think you’ve written it, you dill. Someone is trying to tell us something. You haven’t got Doreen into any trouble have you?”
“What?! Mum! No. What?!”
“Because you’re too young, Jason.”
“But I’m 15!”
“Yes, but that’s too young. Keep it in your pants until you at least graduate.”
“Mum, I’m going now.”
And he trudges back up to his blacked-out room to masturbate.
I look down at the receipts again. An action flick. A fancy meal. Drinks at the footy club. Renting The Castle from the Ingle Farm Blockbuster.
The Castle... that’s Barry’s favourite movie.
Right, I'm really getting sick of these receipt-notes. Three came yesterday, one during the night at god knows what time, then one with the post, and another at dinner time. I took to waiting by the window to see if I could see who was putting them through, but nothing. I asked the old bat across the road to keep an eye out for me – after all, she spends her days staring out the window anyways – but she saw nothing as well. I felt a right busybody peering out the curtains all day. Y’see some sights though...
Yesterday's offering really did get the old noggin working overtime. No more are the notes telling me to seek and showing me the good times someone has been having. Now it's turned sinister. I'm not looking hard enough, apparently. I've had enough time. And now: “Time's up”.
The one that came with the post yesterday, its receipt was for the local hardware store. I know Daz, the bloke who runs it, quite well – after all, my Barry is one of his best customers. So I got meself dolled up and made sure there was plenty of cleavage and I went down and played the dumb blonde with him. I found this receipt with Baz's stuff, I told him, but he can't remember buying the darn thing and I'm worried he's been using the credit card drunk again, I told him. Would he mind helping me look up his CCTV from that time, so I could check it out? It says the time purchased on the receipt here – see, two days ago at 3pm – so it should be quite easy.
A bit of cleavage and a wink goes a long way. Daz cued up the video.
“Looks like he might've had his card number stolen, love,” he said to me. “It's been happening a lot lately – a real epidemic of card crime, says the Mail. I mean look here – the only person in the store was this young blonde chick, and I don't think Barry has a liking for women's clothes.” He winked at me then, cracking on to me. I played along, put my hand on his arm and giggled.
“What is it she's buying with my hubby's corporate credit card, Daz, love?”
“Looks like a nail gun. What would she need with one of them?”
“Maybe she's a carpenter or something.”
“A carpenter you say? Who'd have thought we'd get sheila carpenters...”
I made the appropriate noises, asked him if he minded printing out her picture for me to take to the cops – which he did, on account of the cleavage – then I wiggled out of the store and blew him a kiss as I left.
So I've got receipts of good times – very good times, considering the pregnancy kit – and now the most recent lot - receipts showing purchasing of wigs, stage makeup and various prosthetics. Then there's the CCTV footage of some blonde buying a nail gun. Or a real gun?
What this has all got to do with me, I’ll never know. What’s it got to do with anything?
I hear the sound of the brass mail slot banging back into place. It makes me jump. I don't even need to know what it is – I run to the window to see a figure running down the street. I run to the door, pull it open and reach the street just as the figure disappears down the laneway running alongside next door's fence.
Barry interrupts me, calling out to the street.
“Love, what's going on?”
I run back up the drive, notice he's picked up the envelope. I rip it open and see. See the note:
He should've done the right thing. Now he'll pay.
No receipt this time, though. Just a photo of a blonde girl at a stage mirror – the sort with lights all around it – putting on a prosthetic nose. She's smiling the most horrible smile I've ever seen – a sort of maniacal grin.
She's clearly pregnant.
I hear the pool fence's gate clip shut, and run to the kitchen. The floor-to-ceiling windows were a major selling point for us – gives us a good view of the whole backyard, the decking, the pool, the shrubbery... the lane at the back...
I can see a figure, dressed in black, staring at us from behind the pool gate.
The first time we notice the gun is when she raises it. I wonder if it's the nail gun, but the shot that rings out tells me it's full of bullets.
A warning shot.
She calls out. “ASK HIM.”
I hear Baz drop the rest of the mail behind me. I look around and he's lost all his colour.
I turn to look at Barry, and hear the glass shatter behind me.
I wonder who in Japan taught Lisa such a beautiful script.