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The Caretaker

Kylee Clements always came home from work to an empty kitchen. She came from her work as principle of the Hudson Street Primary school always in an agitated manner, primarily because of certain incidents that bedevilled her at the school, mostly concerning the behaviour of students and parents reacting to certain students there, or because her husband, now recently unemployed lacked what she considered “attention to her implicit instructions” to fix this or that maintenance problem or purchased the wrong brand of product from the supermarket when she had made it perfectly clear that if he’d just looked at the nutrition values there on the label, he would have seen that the carbohydrates per hundred grams were by far too many for one with her condition!! … If he’d just had taken time to read the label.

“Heaven knows it is not a difficult matter for one to do,” she insisted. “And heaven knows how many times I have been there with you as I purchased the product! … And haven’t I showed you as much? … anyone would think you did it on purpose just to vex me! … and on this day of all days, when I’ve had nothing but trouble at the school” … Kylee again read the label on the offending item … she then placed this item to the back of the upper cupboard with other miscellaneous offending items.

“God only knows how difficult it is to deal with the everyday conflicts between those tenacious little terrors and their fussing mothers on any given day … really … the way some of those mothers fuss … you’d think their offspring were forged in a jeweller’s diamond tiara rather than some random spray of semen after a night on the Pimm’s number two and lemonade!” Kylee herself never had the enthusiasm toward childbearing or children in general that her position as principle of a primary school demanded of her … it was an act of professionalism, not maternal instinct that guided her career.

“Did you see this list of jobs I put on the fridge?” she called out to her husband upstairs … “The tap over the bath keeps dripping and it drives me to distraction when I am trying to do my make-up … and for heaven’s sake … can you please do something about the shade cloth over the rose garden before it completely blows away and that ‘blue moon’ gets thrashed by the damn flapping thing!”

Kylee filled and placed the electric kettle in its cradle and prepared her regular afternoon cup of soothing tea … she extracted a shortbread biscuit from a container and placed it on the rim of the saucer … this biscuit was her reward after what she considered a trying day … the one small “allowance” she would make in an otherwise strict diet …

“That caretaker at the school, Martin, pulled a whammy today … caused an awful fracas with one of the prep’ teachers … Pammy Shorren … the prep’ teacher who is married to the footballer chap … You’ve heard me mention Martin before, I’m sure … Can’t be far off retirement himself … usually a witty, congenial fellow … good with the kids … you know, he sometimes gives these impromptu little stories to a gathering of kiddies when they come to his janitor storage room to ask him silly things … you know how kids always ask the most silly things … like … oh … why do you do that? … or why is water wet? … those sort of things .. and he’s never short of an interesting yarn to spin to the kiddies … sometimes so ridiculous that you just have to smile … and he’d catch me lurking there and he’d give me a wink as he finished and shoo’d the kids away or he’ll never get any work done … ”

Kylee cleared her handbag and an assortment of files from the table and sat down to enjoy the “one peaceful moment in an otherwise troubled day” … she placed a sweetener tablet into the teacup and stirred, making sure to chime the spoon on the side of the porcelain cup … a chime that resonated throughout the stillness of the room and injected a sweet sensation into the silence … She pondered aloud on the day’s events that now vexed her.

“Yes … a real whammy … that’s what it was … Pammy came to my office in a tizz accusing Martin of making a suggestion toward her that she found disgusting … especially from one as old as himself … I had to sit back in shock at her accusation … for I had never heard Martin even make any double entendres of any sort to any of the female teachers … being aware as he has informed me of his sensibilities toward the “placid nature of the feminine gender of the species” … He has a way with words … and I have always held him to that knowledge … as I have to all the staff … one cannot let the least infringement go unanswered lest the whole situation get away from one … not in the least.”

“By the way … What did the mechanic say about that grating noise as you put the brakes on in the four-wheel drive? … Is he going to keep it there for another week? … heaven help our chances for that trip down the coast if he does … I have to wonder sometimes if we should’ve taken it to that Greek fellah over in Croyden where we used to get our cars fixed … George was a good mechanic … never pressed for quick payment like they do now … I sometimes wonder if moving to the Eastern Suburbs was a good move … what good is a better post-code if your Range Rover is worse off?”

Kylee picked up a brochure from the days post and perused the items offered … “Don’t know if we need a garden mulcher just now … hard enough to get something to just grow let alone cut things down to feed the blasted machine … ” She heaved a sigh of weariness and took a delighted sip of her drink.

“Anyway, I had to bring Martin into the office to explain himself … but between you and me, if Pammy’s account was anything to go by, he was skating on thin ice … I don’t want to sack the fellow this close to his retirement … but there it goes … if he had done the deed, there could be no other way ..

So I dragged him into the office, sat him down and gave him the floor to tell his side of the story …

“I didn’t suggest anything really” he started … ” I thought I made a rather innocuous statement, considering the situation,” he said. “Well tell me,” I replied … Martin shuffled a bit in the chair and said that thinking back on it, it may have seemed like that sort of thing a younger man might use as a pick-up line, “But I certainly didn’t mean it as such … give it a go! … at my age? … and Pammy’s age!?” … I just raised my eyebrows enough to show him I was getting impatient … He began; “I was there just outside my storeroom with the mop and bucket as one of the little kids had dropped and broke their water bottle there and I was clearing up the mess … the kids had just gone home and I thought I was there alone in the classroom block … but as I was finishing up, I saw Pammy … Ms Shorren come out of the end classroom and start walking toward me … She was walking toward me down the corridor past the other three rooms like she was walking down a modelling catwalk … and I have to say that those micro-miniskirts she wears and the black stockings that ascend to … to … where my memory forgets … and the high heels that went a tap-tapping like some sort of Morse code upon the tiles did create an image in my mind that I should have just let pass by … but as she drew nearer, I leaned on the mop handle and contemplated the scenario … she stopped just away from me and looked at me in silence … and I don’t know what made me think of it, but as I leaned there on the mop handle with this image in front of me, I said; “You know, Pammy … I’m not a religious man, so I don’t believe in a God … But when I look at you, I sure as hell believe in the devil” … and I swear to heaven that was it!

“You do know that Ms Shorren and her partner are quite the religious couple don’t you? … I told Martin … Pentecostal … every Sunday without fail … down at the centre, singing to Jesus … I believe it is she that leaves those religious pamphlets anonymously at the front counter from time to time? … It was the reference to her having association with the devil most offended her … ”

“The long and short of it was that I would have to give the situation some thought and I sent him home … ”

“To be honest, I did contemplate sacking him and I was needing a bit of time to frame my response … But then a strange thing happened on my way home to change my mind … I was there at Donahue’s Hardware getting those hose fittings that I distinctly remember asking you to get and there was Martin walking down the footpath by that line of high school buses that park there … I was getting into the Holden and there was Martin slouching along looking just a bit careworn … as those older men look … perhaps the burden of the day’s events weighing on his shoulders … and as he walked past this bus, there was a young man … oh around sixteen or seventeen years old, leaning out of the window of the bus calling and whistling to the high school girls … like young men do; “Hey blondie! … What’s your number? … give it to me … ” … those sort of things and the girls tittering and giving him the finger … little good it did to dissuade him though … and through this noisy back and forth calling, just as Martin passed, the young fellow leans out the window of the bus, looks to Martin sympathetically and says; “G’day old timer” … in a confederacy sort of way … like two mates from the same background, but with one just came off the field of battle while the younger one goes on; “G’day old timer” … I mean really … men!

And I suddenly had a glimpse into that male world where there are behavioural expectations and rules that define their manner toward women … and it does not change from one generation to the next … a strange world of driven demands upon their own expectations … and I thought … “I could sack him and bust him and make him regret even thinking what he thinks about women” … but I could never change that male desire within that makes him … and that young man behave … or at least think … the way they do … it is a choice between cause and effect … Oh the choices one must manage to keep the ship on a steady and even keel … What is it with you men?

So I have decided instead to play the mediator and get Martin to apologise to Pammy, after all he is a very good caretaker … and to make an edict about the placement of non-education literature in the school and perhaps even make a suggestion for a dress code for teachers and pupils at the school … really, the needs of caretaking in one’s working life demand a continuous review … ”

Kylee finished her cup of tea and called for her husband to ask what he had prepared for dinner that evening as she was famished.

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  1. Joseph Carli

    From ..: “The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas”..

    ” There were not a great many people in and out of Vol-lard’s but once Gertrude Stein heard a conversation there that pleased her immensely. Duret was a well known figure in Paris. He was now a very old and a very handsome man. He had been a friend of Whistler, Whistler had painted him in evening clothes with a white opera cloak over his arm. He was at Vollard’s talking to a group of younger men and one of them Roussel, one of the Vuillard, Bonnard, the post impressionist group, said something complainingly about the lack of recognition of himself and his friends, that they were not even allowed to show in the salon. Duret looked at him kindly, my young friend, he said, there are two kinds of art, never forget this, there is art and there is official art. How can you, my poor young friend, hope to be official art. Just look at yourself. Supposing an important personage came to France, and wanted to meet the representative painters and have his portrait painted. My dear young friend, just look at yourself, the very sight of you would terrify him. You are a nice young man, gentle and intelligent, but to the important personage you would not seem so, you would be terrible. No they need as representative painter a medium sized, slightly stout man, not too well dressed but dressed in the fashion of his class, neither bald or well brushed hair and a respectful bow with it. You can see that you would not do. So never say another word about official recognition, or if you do look in the mirror and think of important personages. No, my dear young friend there is art and there is official art, there always has been and there always will be.”

  2. Joseph Carli

    Sure, an’ I’ve got to comment on my own post because one does not like to interrupt the ingrained hobby of navel gazing that occupies so many these days…

  3. Joseph Carli

    While I am here, I’d like to make an observation concerning the conversation of Left-Wing Politics that I see more as a reaction against The Right than a new way of addressing social problems…I believe we have been corralled and yarded into the insanity of Right-wing rhetorics…I am beginning to think the Left needs to take the conversation away from a reaction to Right-wing ideology into a wider realm of future thinking…ie; creating an ideal for the future more through a desire for a better society rather than demanding change via straight policy changes…in other words changing the conversation from Demand Politics to Desired society…to dream the dream of a better way…I’d go so far to claim that Whitlam/ Dunstan had that dream and indeed implemented some of those desires that were of great benefit to the whole of society..AND they DID move the imagination of huge amounts of people to also want those desired outcomes….whereas Howard/LNP forced “Demand Politics” upon us and that is why we have such division today.

    It’s why I continue to post my stories up on this site…I am trying to create a new artistic movement (no..NOT a bowell movement!) ..a movement away from the post-modernist cynicism to a more positive desire of a future…I call it now..for want of a better title..: The Artistic Romantic Movement..

    It is why I seek to make all of my stories finish with at least a brighter hope for the future…We need to lift ourselves out of this bog of cloying pessimism……..ONWARD EXCELSIOR!!

  4. Anne Byam

    The dictatorial wife, the affronted religious Pentecostal teacher who wears mini-skirts and black stockings – such hypocrisy. The ‘sameness’ between the older and young man … the understanding between them ( or at least I read it that way ) … and the expectation of the career woman who incidentally enacts a form of misandry and proves it with no empathy, the explosive word “men”, and the expectations and treatment of her husband. !!

    And then she explains it clearly ending with “what is it with you men” … denoting a hint of understanding but a preferred return to her career woes and perceived responsibilities above all else.

    Quite a lot of ‘hidden’ ironies in there.

    Excellent writing ,,, enjoyed every word. Thanks again Joseph.

  5. Joseph Carli

    Oh!…out of the blue…Thank you Anne…you saw it all…of course..I was aiming to reproduce a certain equivalence to James Joyce’s “Counterparts” from “Dubliners” where the father is bullied by his manager at work and then comes home to bully his child…But of course, these days there are more than just one set of players “in the game”…and in this “enlightened age”, there seem to be so many who like to bully others…there can be an attraction toward a certain viciousness in some people.
    Again…thank you for your comment…I was beginning to think I was shouting into a void!

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