A Chance Encounter

(Note: the following is an excerpt from my debut novel, Canswer. It is a work of fiction and based on no one of any note. It is a comedy about death and how society deals with it. It is available as an ebook from Amazon.)

I fill up on salted peanuts at the bar while I wait for the bartender to acknowledge my presence and serve me. A young woman sidles up next to me and is approached immediately. She orders a Bloody Mary and isn’t charged. Vagina really is a currency of seemingly unlimited value, I think to myself.

“You might want to serve this guy,” the woman says to the bartender as she looks in my direction. “He looks like he might die of thirst.”

The bartender asks what I want. “Pint of Heineken, my good man!” He slinks off and fixes my drink.

“Thank you,” I offer to the woman as I munch on a handful of heavily salted nuts. “I was beginning to wonder if I was ever going to get his attention.”

“You do know,” the woman starts. “That the bowl of salted treats you’re eating from is basically a petri dish of bacteria?”

“It is?” I say, looking down into the bowl. “How do you figure?”

“Do you wash your hands after you use the bathroom?”

“Religiously,” I nod. “But I’m pretty OCD with that sort of thing.”

“Then you’re definitely in the minority,” she says. “At least as far as personal hygiene is concerned.”

“Oh?”

“That bowl is practically nothing more than heavily salted salmonella. Health wise, you’d be better off eating your own shoes than whatever’s lurking in there.”

The bartender places the pint and the Bloody Mary down in front of us and I hand the man a twenty-dollar bill. He looks at the note, at me, over at the woman then back to me. “Forget it, Mate. It’s on the house.”

I thank him as I put the note back into my wallet and acknowledge my new friend by raising my pint to her. “It really pays to have you as a friend, doesn’t it?”

I take a sip and savour the crisp chill of the Dutch beer. “Oh, you have no idea!” she smiles cheekily.

“Name’s Dylan,” I say as I place my pint down on the counter and extend a hand. She shakes my hand and beams warmly. “Julianne. Nice to meet you, Dylan.”

She sips her drink through the straw and I take her in. She has crooked teeth that I find unusually charming and a nose that is slightly too wide for her face, which is equally as becoming as her askew chompers. Her left eye is a touch lower than her right. The eyes are dazzlingly bright and brimming with vitality, their hue landing anywhere between chestnut and hazel, depending on how the light bounces off them. Unruly shoulder length curls frame a lightly freckled alabaster complexion.

“That’s an interesting choice of drink,” I remark. “I don’t think I’ve seen anyone under the age of fifty order a Bloody Mary before.”

“What can I say, Dylan,” Julianne says. “I afraid that I don’t follow trends. The day you find me sipping on an appletini is the day I’ve stopped fighting the good fight. Sex and the City has a lot to answer for, most of all the deplorable sheep the show spawned.”

“Don’t get me wrong,” I offer, sipping my pint and wiping the foamy head from my upper lip with my sleeve. “I actually admire you for your stance.”

“In what way?”

“Well,” I say. “Just the sheer originality of it all. Sadly, it’s an increasingly rarified commodity these days.”

Julianne laughs; not the response I was shooting for. “You’re not from these parts, are you?”

“Actually,” I counter. “I was born here. Moved up to Perth straight after high school.”

“Couldn’t wait to see the back of the place, huh?”

I pause and ponder the question for a moment. “Something like that.”

“Well,” Julianne says. “You’ll be pleased to know it’s exactly as you left it. I’m afraid things don’t change much around here.”

“I don’t know about that,” I say. “It seems to have changed an awful lot since I was a kid. Now its all KFC’s and McDonalds’, wine tours and selling out to the tourist ideal. At the risk of coming off like someone double my age, it didn’t seem that way when I was younger.”

“Maybe you’re right,” Julianne says. “But you’re talking about business, and those come and go, but the people here will never change. They can’t change. They fear it like a pandemic.”

“I guess.”

“Yep,” Julianne sighs wearily. “In Busso, a Big Mac followed by unprotected butt sex is considered a great night on the town.”

I almost choke on my beer. “An opinion not gleaned from personal experience, I hope?”

Julianne laughs.

“Perth really is no different,” I suggest. “The same crap goes on up there too, just on a bigger scale and with more sleeve tattoos.”

Julianne holds out her drink. “I have a good feeling about you, Dylan from Busselton, via Perth. I can tell we’re going to be good mates.”

I meet my pint glass to hers and chink. Julianne is already the most interesting person – male, female, animal or vegetable – I’ve encountered in a very long time. She is the type of person that makes you happy just to be alive and within her proximity. “Yeah,” I smile. “Me too.”

“Now onto the idle chit-chat portion of the evening,” Julianne grins. “What do you do?”

“I don’t know,” I say.

“Sorry?” Julianne says. “How can you not know what you do?”

“I work in an office, or at least I go to an office and pretend to work. I really don’t understand my job, or should I say, I didn’t understand it.”

Julianne tucks a tuft of errant strands behind her ear. “Didn’t? You don’t work there anymore I take it?”

I shake my head.

“So what do you do now?” Julianne asks.

I feel my face burn red with a sudden wave of slight shame. “You’re looking at it.”

“Ah, the drinking and talking racket. Good work if you can get it.”

“I’m just going to exist for a while, see how that goes. I want to be the human equivalent of that plastic bag in American Beauty, you know the one that gets caught in the wind storm?”

“Never seen it,” Julianne says. “But I think I kind of get what you’re saying, as abstract as the concept may be. Good luck with it, and hey, if you can get away with it without resorting to grand larceny, I say more power to you.”

“And you?”

“Me what?”

“What do you do?”

“Oh. I’m a dancer.”

“Interesting. Tap? Ballet?”

Julianne looks away for a brief moment.

“Something like that.”

We order another round of the same – not on the house unfortunately this time around – and continue talking. The whole time I’ve been wondering whom Julianne is here with. She can’t be alone but if she were part of a group, surely they would’ve come to check up on her by now?

Things I discover about Julianne that instantly restores my hope for humanity as a concept:

  1. Her favorite film: Manhattan, a Woody Allen Joint (bonus points: Julianne actually refers to it as a film, not a movie! What a woman!)
  2. Her favorite TV show: Curb Your Enthusiasm (currently), Fawlty Towers (all-time)
  3. Her favorite band: The Cure (though she claims her all-time favorite album is Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks)

Julianne boasts that her Cure fandom is at such a pathetically high level that not only can she recite a track-by-track listing off every studio album the band ever produced – in play order no less – she can also reel off random trivia about many of the tracks themselves. I tell her I can do likewise, only with the work of Wesley Willis instead, to which Julianne laughs, asking who he is. I offer to make her a tape.

“People still do that?”

“Some do.” I say. “We’re a dying breed though, unfortunately.”

Being a fan of The Cure in my own right (though admittedly not quite to the extent of Julianne), I decide to test her claims.

Pornography,” I say. “Track three.”

Julianne shoots me a look of mock-disapproval. “Come on, Dylan! Seriously? Track three would be A Hanging Garden, commonly referred to by fans as A Single due to its release as a gatefold double pack of seven inch singles.”

Her use of the word ‘gatefold’ in context made my balls tingle just a bit, a fact I’m perfectly content to keep under wraps for obvious reasons of maintaining pristine social etiquette.

Julianne continues. “Covered by awful emo band A.F.I. at some point in the nineties.”

“I’m impressed!” I say. “Though I really have no idea if any of that is correct. I’m not even sure I could name any track from that album to begin with.”

Julianne laughs and tells me more about herself. At fifteen, she wanted to marry Robert Smith, until he “got tubby”. At nineteen, she wanted to run off with Morrissey. I told her I’d probably have more luck than her, if his lyrics were any indication of his sexual leanings. In her twenties she had a Nick Cave/Jeff Buckley fixation. Julianne is currently saving as much money as possible so she can move to Barcelona for a year and, as she puts it, do very little. “I want to wake no earlier than ten every morning, wander down to some pokey little café off La Rambla and take as long as I want to enjoy my coffee and just watch the world go by.”

“Sounds good,” I say.

“I’m going to write shitty poetry,” Julianne continues. “Do some sketches, photograph the works of Gaudi. Most of all, I’m going to meet people that have more going on in their lives than drinking beer, getting stoned and watching footy on the weekend. I want to meet people that are genuinely passionate about life and love.”

I nod empathetically. “I hear what you’re saying. Travel can really broaden the mind. I truly wish you the best of luck with your travels. Spain is lovely. Great people, fantastic food.”

I say all this knowing full well that not only have I never set foot in Spain, I’ve never even left Australia. I am just trying to meet her unbridled excitement half way.

“That’s what I’m looking for,” Julianne enthuses. “People with a pulse, with a real thirst for life. Sadly, you just don’t get that here – or at least, not the people that I know.”

“Couldn’t agree more.”

“People here just go through the motions. They rarely challenge themselves, take a look at what might be on the other side of the fence.”

I lean closer to Julianne. “I totally get what you’re saying – I really do – but don’t forget that this is a bar. You’re getting way too deep and we’re nowhere near drunk enough.”

Julianne chuckles. “Sorry! I get a bit overheated whenever I talk about Spain. These days, it’s the only thing that keeps me motivated.”

Julianne glances over to a table in the far corner, curses to herself. “Oh, shit!”

“What is it?”

She calls for the attention of the bartender, who scurries across and leans in to take her order. Julianne asks for three Jaeger Bombs. He prepares the drinks.

“I completely forgot about the people I came with!” Julianne explains, motioning to the aforementioned table in the corner. “If they’re not projectile vomiting by midnight they turn into pumpkins.”

I squint over at the table in question, where I notice three (or is it four?) nebulous shapes, the fuzziness a result of the fact that I forgot to put in my contact lenses before I left the hotel. “I must admit,” I say as I raise my almost empty pint for affect. “That I can relate to their plight. It’s like the t-shirt says: ‘the liver is evil and must be punished’.”

Julianne grins. “Bad t-shirt slogan humour? Don’t make me take back all the nice things I said about you earlier!”

The bartender places the drinks down in front of Julianne and she hands him a fifty, to which she gets back a few gold coins. “Okay, Dylan,” Julianne says as she drains her Bloody Mary and picks up the three glasses for her friends. “T’was a genuine pleasure for you to meet me, I’m sure. Hopefully our paths will cross again at some point.”

“Hopefully,” I say. “I’ll be around for the next few days at least.”

Julianne smiles again as I melt once more, then she heads over to the blurry table-shaped object in the corner.

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