Anne Miller left school when she was eighteen to look for work. She was still looking a year later. But to her mother it seemed she didn't look at all.
   'Anne, you've been sitting there watching television all afternoon. You're getting fat and you sleep till after ten in the morning. Are you ever going to get a job?'
   'I'm looking Mum. What else can I do?'
   'Looking! The only looking you do is at the TV. You're bone lazy, girl. You never help around the house, and you only go out to spend your dole money.'
   'I went for a job interview last week!'
   'All you do is hang around with those ... slackers.'
   'Jesus Mum--it's not my fault there's no jobs! Why do you keep picking on me?'
   'Well how come Brenda is working? How come your brother is studying his heart out at school? And how come Janet got a full-time job? I'm ashamed of you, Anne.'
   'Well, I'm ashamed of you for picking on me when I'm trying to get a job. Don't you understand I have really tried? It's just that they don't have any jobs, and when they do a hundred people turn up for them. I want a job! I hate sitting around here bored and broke, with you attacking me every time I turn on the TV.'
   'Where are you going?'

   Anne seethed with anger: feelings of guilt, shame, and hopelessness took their turn raging through her mind. It wasn't her fault the economy was stuffed--it wasn't her fault everything was made in Japan and China, yet she got the blame. Her mother was an unfair bitch.

   Angry and miserable, she walked towards the shopping centre. There seemed no point to life; everyone else was in control, and they just wouldn't give her a chance. She had no money, no friends, no job. She should have gone on to university, at least she wouldn't have had to look for work for a few more years. Besides, she told herself, with a degree it would be easy to get a job anywhere.

   At the shopping centre there was no indication that the economy was stuffed. People indulged themselves with expensive clothes, video recorders, bought scratch-it tickets by the box-full, CDs, two hundred dollar Reeboks, and pushed trolleys loaded to the baby-seat with food.

   Where did they get all this money? Life was so unfair! Some people had everything, others had nothing. Perhaps she would never get a job. After all as she got older, without experience at anything, she became more and more useless. She knew she was useless. At school she had been befuddled by maths; when she came home with a "D" Mum said she was hopeless. So she tried hard with chemistry, but before long this had also befuddled her. That proved she was hopeless. Then as a last try she turned to English, at least there were no mysterious symbols, no obscure mathematical concepts that you were expected to know from birth. Yet even here there were difficulties. The rules for punctuation, which she thought she understood, turned out to be more and more vague. Exactly where did the commas go? And the grammar! What was a prepositional phrase as adverbial?

   She had ended up feeling defeated. English, maths, chemistry, physics, it was all too difficult. Well she got one good mark, some average, but mostly poor. It seemed hopeless, what was the point in studying hard if you were going to fail? Why bother? If you didn't try, no one could say you failed. It was because you didn't want to.
   That's what was becoming clear in Anne's mind: she was a failure; school, unemployment; even her mother hated her. Everyone thought she was worthless. Guys didn't even take a serious interest in her. She didn't have any nice clothes, so they wouldn't take her out. All they wanted to do was grope and poke. They treated her like she wasn't worth spending any money on. Twice Scott had taken her to the movies, then on the way home he took her to his room in the house he shared. Her first sexual encounter lasted twenty minutes from shoes off to shoes on. Eventually one of the other guys in the house asked her out--to the pub. Afterwards it was a similar story, back to the house and into his bedroom. Grope and poke. See you later.

   Anne thought about her life as she walked through the shopping centre. The fact was she was a failure. No one cared about her, no one believed in her, no one loved her. On TV everyone desperately loved someone else. They had their problems but things always worked out. A new love would come along. They would always be invited to eat at swank restaurants. The men wore suits and were polite and made love gently, slowly, and with passion. The women had important jobs, executives or owned dress shops, or were in charge of hospitals.

   It was a quarter past three in the afternoon when Anne walked into the private bar of the Railway Hotel. She stood nervously glancing about, hoping to spot a familiar face. But it was nearly empty. She walked over and ordered a rum and coke, found a seat by the window and sat at a circular table. She could see everyone who entered, and from the same position could stare vacuously into the street.
   She had enough money for two drinks, after that she would have to return home. Dad would be home at five-thirty. Rodney would be telling him how many runs he made at cricket. Brenda would be skiting about all the men who asked her out, all the money she was saving for her new car. Mum would snipe at her the minute she got in the front door: 'Why don't you look for a job?' As if she could simply pluck one from the air!

   Scott, her first boyfriend--and that was stretching the imagination to call him her boyfriend--walked into the public bar. He saw her through the glass partition and waved. He was with two mates. She waved back and smiled warmly, she turned and looked away hoping she didn't appear bored.
   Anne was down to the last mouthful of her last drink. She swirled it around in the glass, hoping perhaps that Scott or someone would come and talk to her--perhaps buy her a drink. She wondered if she dared to go into the public bar and say hello. That way one of them was sure to get her a drink and talk to her. Things would be better with company. Maybe one of Scott's friends might like her. If only she could find a steady boyfriend. Someone who would take her out, be her friend, love her--and listen to her troubles.

   But no one came. She swallowed the last mouthful and stood up. She could see Scott's mates laughing and drinking, their backs turned to her. She headed for the exit. Scott, wearing jeans and a clean tee-shirt, was coming up the steps.

   'Hi Anne! You leaving?'
   'Yeah, I guess.'
   'Like a drink with me?'
   She looked at her watch. 'Okay, I've still got time.'
   They sat down at another table, there were blotting paper coasters and scratches on the wood. Scott went to the bar, his strong back turned towards her while the barmaid served him. He brought the drinks back. His dark hair needed cutting, but he had shaved and looked casually neat.
   'What are you doing these days?' he asked.
   'Oh nothing much. Looking for a job. I've had a few offers, but nothing suitable. I might try for a place at uni. Or maybe go to Sydney. I hear there's more work there.' She smiled brightly as if it were all of little importance.
   'What sort of work are you looking for?'
   Maybe Scott did care about her. Maybe he could help her. 'Oh, whatever comes along. I'm not one of those fussy types. So long as it's a steady job.'
   'Hmm. You know I manage a video store these days?'
   'Yeah. My uncle owns it. I manage it full-time. It's working out pretty well. Maybe I could find a spot for you.' He raised an enquiring eyebrow. She sensed he was hinting something. A job? A trip to the bedroom?
   'Wow, that'd be great! Even part-time. I'd love that, and I know the names of all the movies.'
   'Well ... have another drink?'
   She glanced across to the public bar and noticed his friends had left.
   'You know I've missed you Anne. We always got on well together, didn't we?'
   'Sure Scott.' She smiled warmly at him. She felt happy that someone talked to her--missed her. A friend at last who wasn't down on her because she was unemployed, but tried to help.
   She thought of going home and was disgusted at the thought. Mum would be asking her where she had been. Did she know that Francis was working as a computer programmer and had her own car? Dad would come home and look at her as if she'd failed him once again. Each day was the same. God she was desperate for work.
   Scott was smiling at her and holding her hand. She liked him immensely and felt very relaxed. 'What are your plans for this arvo?' He was looking at her eyes, her lips, her breasts. She shrugged.
   'Like to come around to the house? The others will be out. We can ... go to bed ... then have a sleep. I don't have to be at work till eight o'clock.'
   She smiled at him. 'Okay. It sounds like fun, let's go.'
   They stood up together and walked hand in hand out to the car park.
   Scott drove a battered Falcon built the same year men first walked on the moon, and it had travelled as far as the moon since then. He let her stand at her door while he got in his side first. The engine whined and coughed, blowing a cloud of blue-grey exhaust out the tailpipe as they took off through the suburban streets. It was only a kilometre, the engine had hardly warmed up when they stopped outside the rented house he shared with four other men. Two of them had been with him at the pub. The weatherboard house was perched on wooden stumps; a latticed veranda gave shade to the bedrooms. The paint on the western wall blistered and peeled in the Brisbane sun.

   She went to the loo. Penthouse photos lined the walls: women with extraordinarily large breasts and shaven pubic hair. All was revealed. Anne wondered why they had these photos in the dunny. Was it to masturbate with?
   In his bedroom, Scott had already stripped to his underpants. She closed the door nervously behind her.
   'Um, I can't stay long.' She meant she didn't know if she still wanted to go through with this. What was in it for her? Pregnancy? The clap? A job at the video shop?
   He came closer and put his arms around her. Warmth. He needed her, someone needed her. He kissed her, his tongue in her mouth. His hands slid beneath her loose blouse. She wore no bra, and the touch of his hands on her nipples was intense. He led her to the bed.
   She undressed and got beneath the sheets with him. He smelt somewhat of sweat, but was almost panting with desire for her. He was groping around, rubbing, sucking, kissing. Then she remembered. All those advertisements had not been wasted.
   'Uh Scott. You got a thing? A frenchy.'
   'Yeah, I guess so. But well--do you think you might have caught something?'
   'Don't know.'
   'I've got one, but ... if you're clean I'd rather not.'
   'Please yourself,' she said sullenly. She was taking the pill, even though she had not had sex for nearly four months. Men hardly seemed interested in her. They didn't date her like on TV. Oh, she got the usual offers, mostly for the back of a car, or to go into a bedroom, for sex. A running start: no movies, no dinner, no talk, no thought.
   She felt annoyed with Scott. How could she admit she wasn't clean? 'What about you?' she had wanted to ask. But now she saw him unwrapping a condom and rolling it awkwardly down his erect penis. He almost looked embarrassed. She smiled. Scott was okay, he really did care about her.
   And then he was on top of her grunting; softly at first, but within two minutes building up to a climax that she wouldn't have. He groaned alongside her ear, then gave an ebullient moan of pleasure as he ejaculated. She panted quickly before he came to a standstill, imitating the women she had seen in those silly movies. Super Stud. The Big Whipper. It was all too quick for her. They had only been in bed six minutes.
   'Did you like that Anne? Did you come?'
   'You're one up on me.'
   She felt embarrassed by her lies and closed her eyes. She didn't understand. Was it his fault that she didn't feel much, or was it that she was cold? One more failure to add to her list. Still he had his arms around her. For the first time in months another person held her, comforted her, made her feel she was worthwhile again. She might not have felt much herself but at least she had no doubts that she was good for Scott. He snuggled onto her breasts and fell asleep.

   She was staring at the ceiling, the feeling of worthlessness creeping over her again.
   'Anne.' He had just woken up.
   'Time for me to get dressed. Look, why don't you come down to the video shop tonight? I'll see if I can get you something. We're quite busy on the weekends.
   'You mean it?' A glimmer of light.
   'Of course. I'll talk to you later. It's just an idea. But I think we can work something out.'

* * *
   'Mum, I've got to go out tonight.'
   'You only just got home. You're always wasting your time. Why don't you study or--'
   'Well, I won't tell you if you're going to be rude.' Anne's mother looked at her shrewdly.
   'A job offer at the video shop. I've got to do an interview tonight. It'd be weekends, nights mostly. I guess that's when it's busiest.'
   'Is this true?'
   'Of course. I've got to have a shower.'
   'Where did you--'
   'I'm in a hurry Mum. I'll tell you later.

    Anne was nicely dressed in her yellow blouse and pink skirt when she arrived at the video shop. Scott was behind the counter.
   'Hi Anne! Just wait in the back room. I'll be with you in a few minutes. The place wasn't all that busy at eight, but it was sure to pick up--especially when the pubs closed.
   In the back room, she sat down. There was a sex video playing on the TV screen: people were having intercourse, she watched fascinated. It seemed an endless loop. Penises going in and out of vaginas. The rear view, the underneath view, the front view. The women moaned in perpetual pseudo-ecstasy, and the men took forever to come. They changed partners, more of the same. Grunts. Ah Ahh Ahhh! Penises going in and coming out. Grunts. Ah Ahh Ahhh! Change partners.
   She opened the door and looked in the next room. There were more pictures of women in most unflattering positions, openly displaying their innards as if to a gynaecologist. Look doctor, here's the problem, I have no pubic hair.

   Scott came into the video room, and shut the door.
   'Look Anne, this might seem a bit odd to you--but I know you badly want a job.'
   'Of course.' She looked at him steadily to see where this was leading.
    'Come here. Sit on my lap.' She did so, still puzzled, and he put his arms around her waist. 'Anne you're a sexy girl. Really--a gorgeous sexy girl.'
   'Um--thanks.' She laughed self-consciously.
   'And well ... some of the customers who come here are pretty randy. So I was thinking of us going into a partnership. I'll pay you a thousand dollars a weekend. Friday night to Sunday night.'
   'Wow! A thousand ... doing what? I don't understand.' But she was starting to.
   'What do you think? There's nothing to it. Just the same as you did with me this afternoon, only now you're going to get paid for it.'
   'Scott! I couldn't! I just couldn't do that.'
   'Of course you could. Just like this afternoon. You'll enjoy it once you get used to it. Men desiring you, desperate for your body. You just shut your eyes and it's all over in three minutes. Think of the money!'
   'Scott, when you said a job--I thought--I thought ...'
   'Anne, I don't need anyone in the shop. And if I did I'd only be paying two hundred dollars for the weekend, not a thousand. It's entirely up to you Anne. I was just trying to help you. I thought you wanted a job. It's your chance to make some money, be independent. You don't have to do it forever, just a couple of weeks if you like. I'll collect the money from them, so you won't have any hassles, and then send them in. You'll soon get used to it. Have a few drinks--come on Anne. At least it's a well-paid job.'

   The next morning Anne's mother found a note on the kitchen table.

   I finally got a job. The one I told you about at the video shop. I worked till two a.m. so please let me sleep in. It's only on weekends, but it pays well. I hope you'll be satisfied now,


© Copyright Marcus Clark 2002

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