'Grey Matter'

Nick Belton

I woke up looking for something. As I became conscious, I could no longer remember what this thing was, and finally all that remained was an uneasy feeling. I imagined that perhaps what was lost might re-appear later today.

I had arranged myself perfectly amongst the tangled heap of blankets and sheets. It seemed the height of injustice to have to disturb my brief serenity.

Two pieces of toast rose from the toaster, interrupting my contemplation of the corrugated iron fence outside my window. The weather has been grey for the past two months, long enough to believe that it will continue so forever.

There are two things that I use to forecast my prospects for the day ahead. The first is the power meter, which I hope will have enough money remaining so that I can have a hot shower. Today it shows $5.60. After a five-minute shower, only .60 remains flashing a warning of impending darkness.

The second portent is how late I will be for work. The morning radio cheeps and the car groans. White lines and traffic lights guide me on my short trip.

I drive into a five-acre tarseal parking lot. Sitting in the middle of the smooth black surface is a large concrete store with yellow iron around the entrance and roof. I park my car next to a struggling tree, who stands imprisoned behind a metal fence erected to protect it.

I am only two minutes late, but then I have to find my identify card. I am six minutes overtime when I swipe my card through the electronic clock. I turn the store lights on and watch the dust stirred up by the feet of rats as they scurry away to the dark corners. I then change into my uniform that proclaims me to be bright and optimistic about the prospect of selling cheap imported products.

In my team meeting, I am voted the second least productive member. I take the pledge to reclaim my lost bonuses.

Today is "Weekly Winner Wednesday," where those customers who have spent more this week than their normal weekly average are welcomed into the store. I stand in line with my team and we clap and cheer as the customers are presented with discount vouchers and a signed photograph of the owner.

I am rostered to customer service. I wander amongst the mothers, small children, and the elderly, pointing to the bargain snares, directing towards the price traps, reconstructing them after customer attention. I was supposed to be security, but thankfully the agency has sent a retired policeman, who is scrutinizing the exits for hidden T-shirts and lollies.

At lunch I normally go to a small open space between the Auto-Mart and the drainage stream. It is a sad little spot surrounded by a chain-link fence which filters out plastic bags and wax-paper wrappers from the wind. Some benches have been cemented into place among the weed clumps that emerge from the pounded earth.

Yesterday, I was sitting about to eat my lunch when a man arrived dragging an old dog behind him. The man was shouting...words I can't name...the dog is moaning...louder...the dog is whining...straining backwards...no match for the leash and the strong hand...the dog is howling now...until stopped by the man's heavy boot... the dogs eyes are bulging as the leash bites into the neck...the man takes the leash in two hands and pulls...here is the heavy boot...the dog howls miserably...running forwards and backwards in panicked steps...the man grunts in effort as he kicks again...a noise comes from the dog…pure desperation...a chill in my bones...the boot strikes...the head snaps...silence...the man is panting...still holding the slack leash...silence...the man stoops and removes the collar... picks up the dog...walks past me...drops the dog into an overflowing rubbish bin...the head and the front paws dandle over the side... blood and froth collects...collects into a drop...which falls to the ground...

.....I can't think.......I can't think......I can't think.......