When Martin woke he thought, Fuck – should I go in today?
He took the dog for a walk along the creek. She whined and jumped against the glass of the back door when she saw him with the lead and wriggled under his hand while while he tried to fix it to her collar.
Sit, he said. Sit still while I get this thing on you.
She was still young and not at all trained. When they started out, she pulled at the lead and gambolled along in a strange kind of slow motion. Odd, Martin thought, how such a small creature could be so strong. But the real question was: How hard did he want to pull back on the lead?
There was a thing to do in the office that day that promised a particular kind of boredom: an executive summary for a progress report on a developing situation.
Fuck it, he thought. Adams can do that.
But Adams couldn’t write. Adams took care of the charts, the graphs, the presentation slides, but he left the actual writing to Martin, even though they both did the reports.
You’ve got a blog, he said one day. You do the writing bit.
The sky was a blue bowl over the city, washed clean by rain the day before but for a few stray wisps of cloud. At the Catholic church Martin wondered what the priest would be doing at that exact moment: lying in bed with a cup of tea in the low, red brick presbytery, or murmuring mass to himself in the silence at the altar, the space around him lit through amber windows by the rising sun. The schoolyard was empty, the astroturfed playground waiting for small children in neat blue uniforms who would soon be walking its edge for their morning workout; in the front yard a celeste-robed plaster virgin stood lonely vigil over a pretty garden where no child ever played.
The creek ran behind the back fences of suburban houses; how nice it would be to live in one of them, Martin thought, to make coffee in a 1950s kitchen (ready for renovation) and drink it on the balcony in the morning while the dog barked at some other dog beyond the warped wooden palings.
There was a little forest of eucalypts that had been planted not quite in rows, straight-trunked, like a grove of totem poles with leafy tops: they weren’t exactly nature, but they hid the power lines strung overhead on giant metal pylons.
The dog ran around the trees in frisky circles and barked. Martin picked up a stick and threw it; she looked at him and ran off. He took his iPhone from his pocket and tapped an email to Gus: At home with sick kid. But I can work on that report. I’ll call you later.
Gus’s wife would no doubt like him to stay at home with a sick kid sometimes, but he never did: that was one reason he was the boss.
The phone glowed weirdly among the trees. He should have left it at home.
Adams didn’t have kids, but he always had the latest iPhone. He queued at the store when they came out. Then one day he turned up with an old Nokia.
My original and first, he said. But still the best. It’s a telephone, right? What more do you want.
Other people came along. A woman, with two dogs at her heels, stopped while the animals sniffed at Martin’s dog, then strode on without a word. The dogs followed, and Martin’s dog went after them, though they had lost interest in her.
Women walking dogs along the empty path were one class of problem, women jogging another. Women walking alone were something else altogether.
Adams was always throwing bombs into conversations. Martin might mention something going on where he lived.
Coburg, Adams said. Keeping it real, eh.
Martin scrambled up a rocky rise. Twisted pieces of metal and old bluestone cobbles poked out of the creek bank below. The water was green and high with the rain. On the other side a soccer field stretched to a hill where more houses rose up the gentle undulation among trees.
Adams is a cunt, Gus said once, apropos of nothing. It wasn’t a word Martin would use, even though it was true. It wasn’t the kind of insight he would have into another person’s character, either. That was Gus – he cut through: another reason he was the boss, though he was five years younger than Martin.
Two cyclists sped along the path on the other side of the creek; a man threw a ball for a dog on the soccer field; the cyclists dodged a headphone-wearing jogger who didn’t hear their bells. The dog leapt, caught the ball, ran back to the man and dropped it. The man threw it again, using a long plastic thing. More cyclists came along the path, more joggers, more people walking.
If Adams was a cunt, why did Gus put up with him? Why didn’t he fire him?
Martin followed the dog down to the stepping stones poking out of the water. She looked at him. The water was a bit high. But he skipped across and scrambled up the other bank, the dog at his heels.
Fuck it, he thought. I’m not going in today.