The Passengers

Have you ever had that feeling you're a passenger in your own life?

The catamaran made its way across a stretch of sea that looked as if Moses had upgraded his technology and parted it by laser light. The passengers lying on the deck shielded their eyes. Even the quiet couple sitting in the shade at the back, were partially blinded by the strength of the light the skipper was navigating them through.

The couple in shade had been very reclusive on this 3 day trip, either they were the type of people who liked to keep to themselves, or possibly their marriage was in trouble. These were the conclusions Lucy was rather loudly making on the deck to her husband, Robert. Robert wasn’t even vaguely curious about the state of the quiet couple’s marriage. They’d been polite, and they would only share this vessel for another night then, they would part ways and Robert would never see them again, so spending the five minutes his wife had been rabbiting on about them seemed wasteful in terms of thinking time. Robert rather suspected Lucy’s theories were way off anyway. The couple’s body language told Robert something words didn’t need to translate, they sat close to one another, they talked little but touched often, not demonstratively, just as part of a reflex that almost insinuated they were one and the same.

Lucy rarely shut up. She needed to be heard constantly, and she was forever talking about strangers he would never know or third cousins he would never meet as if he might be interested in what their experiences, ailments, and daily encounters had been. He wasn’t. Robert had a private name for her, Loud Lucy but he’d never divulge it or his life would be more miserable, for Lucy did not accept criticism, not even the slightest. Ever. They’d been married for 32 years. He was 57, fast approaching his 60th hour and he’d agreed to this trip, because he generally agreed with what Lucy proposed. Mainly because Lucy viewed rejection of her proposals in the same way she did criticism, and the consequences for Robert would be the same. But an event in Robert’s life a few months ago had started him thinking and this cruise seemed as good a farewell arrangement as any.

Robert’s life and continuing on with Lucy were ceasing as an option. He was a builder and had been his whole adult life. Robert took pride in going to every site almost daily and checking in with his crews. Once there he’d workshop problems with the tradies, and most importantly make sure they had all the materials they needed for the next day’s work, if not he’d get it delivered. Efficiency was something Robert revered. His men had become his troupe over the years, they liked the streamlined, calm nature in which Robert worked with them and the developers, who could be arrogant son of bitches sometimes. Robert’s tradesmen got very little grief because they were effective, worked hard and Robert shielded them from the petty shit that generally made a worksite shit to have to come to daily. As a result Robert had made a good career and living out of what he did.

A couple of months back he’d been on a site and stuck his head out a window to see what the commotion going on in the laneway below was about. They were on an apartment high rise site. From his vantage position Robert could see one of his boys, Stevo having it out with the driver of a truck who refused to move. With trucks banking up it was Stevo’s job as Site Manager to ensure everything got done in an orderly manner.

From above Dave Kernahan was also curious about the shit fight happening in the lane way below and one floor above where the boss stood, he stopped transferring a piece of sheet metal to look over the edge to see what the fuck was happening. He’d not heard Stevo this riled ever. In looking over the edge Dave perched the sheet metal on a very thin lip. When Jacko who was waiting for the metal shouted at Dave he turned to respond and lost his grip on the sheet of metal that went skiing off the top of the building.

Robert who had stuck his head out from the second storey to observe the hullaballoo happening with Stevo and the driver, just withdrew his head into the building, about to go downstairs and back up his Site Manager with this arrogant fucking driver when a piece of metal, that made a breeze ruffle his hair went shimmying past. Seeing the hurtling tin, Robert then stuck his head out again, having just been missed being clocked on the head by it – to see where it would land. He didn’t have long to wait. The metal speared its way toward Stevo’s neck which he had angled into the passengers side of the truck. Stevo’s head and hard helmet were in the truck when the sheet hurtled guillotine like and actually decapitated him.

Robert vomited out the window immediately as the blood spurted skyward such was the force of the metal sheet’s trajectory.

Davo let out a noise only a wounded animal could make and the driver, now bespattered in their Site Manager’s blood began screaming uncontrollably. A second lapsed and someone, not Robert yelled, “Call a fucking ambo now!”

Robert realized it was Jacko taking control.

This was good because Robert couldn’t find his vocal cords. His legs were rubber and wouldn’t move, all he could do was clutch the rudimentary window frame and pray he didn’t faint, which was highly likely.

After the metal had sliced Stevo’s head into the truck’s cabin, his body had remained upright for a beat or two then slumped down the side of the truck once Stevo’s heart came to the understanding that all ties had been cut. Jacko was the only one with instincts in this situation.

Jacko ran down the five flights and was at the truck before anyone else, including the other drivers who’d been pressing for movement in the laneway only minutes before, but who all now remained frozen. For some macabre reason, Jacko must have thought heads are like fingers they can be reattached and he grabbed Stevo’s head rammed it back on Stevo’s neck, pulled his shirt off in one movement and began winding it around with his shirt to try and stem the blood flow which was still prolific.

“Someone get bandages.” Jacko yelled. “And where’s that fucking ambulance?”

No one got bandages. No one responded.


Stevo’s wife, Helen held her two little girl’s hands at the funeral and appeared still in shock. She didn’t cry but you could see by the state of her eyes that she’d been doing quite a bit of that on her own. The girls Jessica and Sarah were too young to know what was going on and one even did a little jig in the church when they played some of Stevo’s favourite tunes. When Helen stood and bravely gave the eulogy. Robert had been shocked, not by the fact that she’d do the talking, no that was a precedent well established in their house, Lucy was the talker, but by what Helen said. She said many people don’t even get 12 months happiness in their marriage, but she’d had 12 years. They’d never so much as had a disagreement. Stevo had once got a bit pissed off with her mum, but he got over it so fast, Helen couldn’t keep up. Then she’d apologized to her mum and everyone had laughed. While people were laughing, Robert was thinking about his 12 months. They’d been happy for the first couple of months he supposed. But having never lived together, he’d never realized just how organized Lucy liked to be at home, and what that involved. That she was masquerading as the minister for health also didn’t help with how long everything took to achieve. A quick wipe of the kitchen bench, was a half hour process in Lucy’s world.

Robert had seen to every funeral arrangement with the type of zeal he wasn’t known for in organizing social events, but which he pulled off every time where work was concerned. Usually Robert’s idea of a night out with the boys was rocking to a site with a slab and suggesting a parma at the pub. That worked for him. It didn’t for Lucy. She enjoyed intricate and fussy. Everything she saw to was done with a precision that made sure he didn’t get to see any sport all weekend and involved lots of prawn peeling. He’d spoken up a couple of months before the funeral, not because it was true but because he was fucking sick of peeling kilos’ of prawns telling his wife, “Luce I don’t like prawns.”

To which she’d responded “None of this is for you!”

Her tone suggested he was absurd considering even momentarily that the food he paid for, the friends she invited were there for his amusement. This had enraged him so much he abandoned his post at the kitchen sink and went to watch footy. She shouted his name repetitively for a bloody long time but he failed to answer and eventually she found him in front of the box watching footy.

“What are you doing?”

“Watching footy.”

“I can see that! You haven’t finished the prawns.”

“Yep and I’m not gonna.”

“What!” Lucy went bright red, he could see it out of the corner of his eye, her face vermillion.

“Why not?”

“They’re not for me. Do it yourself. None of this is for me. It never has been. I pay for it, but what I want never counts. Tonight I’d rather have Roge and Bevvy for dinner, we’d sit down after and watch the footy while you girls went outside for a smoke and a chat. But you don’t do simple, we’ve gotta have all those other fuckwits I don’t even like. I’m not sure you do, but they’re people who haven’t heard your stories I guess. I’m not moving.”

“Well if that’s how you feel!” She fled the swirling truths in that room as quick as possible. Robert smiled and sat and watched the footy uninterrupted for the first time in 32 years.

That might have been a turning point in their marriage, but it only lasted that one night. Guests had filed into his domain to watch a little footy and say hello. Sure Lucy told them he wasn’t feeling well, which was a complete lie, he was feeling extraordinary, but it was only to be a temporary arrangement. Lucy was powerful and no one was taking that from her. She understood that she must wrest power back immediately if she was going to maintain the status quo, wherein she was obeyed. The next morning, at 5.30 as Robert was trying to capture that precious hour of weekend sleep in Lucy started pulling the sheets out from beneath him.

“What the fuck?”

“Language Robert. I’m off to Palattes and I have to get the sheets on before I go.”

“I’m sleeping.”

“Go sleep on the sofa. Now you won’t do anything to help I’m going to have to stick to a tight schedule to get everything done.” If that’d been all she said he might have been able to go back to sleep, but it was Loud Lucy at work and her verbal diorreah went on so long he moved to the couch willingly in the end. That Saturday there had been no lunch or dinner and by Sunday he’d been willing to call a truce. Robert apologised and things went back to the way they were on Sunday brunch.

A nagging feeling kept at Robert though for the next few days. What would Lucy have done if he’d gone on with his coup? By the time Stevo died he’d almost forgotten his moment of power ascendancy in his own home, but not quite.

Robert began by dropping into see Helen every other day. Daily would have been too much. He’d help by picking up Jessica from dancing, getting some milk from the shops. Unlike Lucy, Helen seemed to have no order in her world, and Robert believed it was a result of the shock of losing her husband till one night when Helen had said.

“Thank you Robert. Stevo used to do these things for me. I’m a real scatterbrain I hardly ever have everything we need or think in advance what I’m going to have to accomplish the next day. He’d laugh and say I was the only women he’d ever met who lived in the present and didn’t give a toss about the future.”

Robert made a noise to acknowledge he’d heard her but didn’t really know how to respond.

“In many ways I’m glad for that now. I loved him, while he was there, and he didn’t give a shit that I’d forgotten to buy milk, he’d just laugh and grab his car keys and say back in a minute. We were happy, genuinely happy. I’m not sure that happens for everyone.”

Robert drove to every site for the next two weeks and the only thoughts that filled him was how lucky Stevo had been and why hadn’t he kept his head out the window and had it sliced off instead of poor Stevo. He lived a hell with Lucy and Stevo had literally had heaven and now he was gone. Loving a woman like Helen who was gentle and funny would have been something. Even now under all this pressure he’d seen the funny side of her and it was clear her little girls loved her and were secure in their house, even if it had run out of milk. Robert wanted to protect Helen. He knew he was way too old for her, but even to be her friend and buy her milk every other day would be a fulfilling life. He could get a flat, watch sport all the time, and pop over and help Helen with the kids when she needed it.

Their kids were grown up. Graham was an accountant who was quiet and dry and hated all forms of sport while Linley had gone overseas and married an English banker, which Lucy considered a triumph, over any duty to god, was Queen and country and Lucy saw her daughter conquering that and she couldn’t have been happier every year when they visited for a week to the Cottswolds. Robert hated the journey, couldn’t bare that Linley had stopped introducing them to any of their friends and kept Malcolm’s family who clearly thought the Wingard’s rubbish from Australia at bay as much as possible. The family get togethers had dwindled from dinner, to lunch to morning tea which was a 15 minute obligatory catch up on their way somewhere more important. It was clear Malcolm struggled with Lucy and the moments he tried to seek out a conversation with Robert, Lucy would interject. “What are you two gossiping about?” And she’d join them. So eager was Lucy for Malcolm’s company she’d bully her way in anywhere. Even Linley seemed to despair and last year she’d called to tell her mum, we’re going to be away when you come. It was very dispiriting for Lucy who was eager to see Angus her 2 year old grandson. But apparently Malcolm had a conference in Switzerland and Lucy and Angus could go. When Lucy suggested going along to look after the baby so they could enjoy themselves, Linley made it perfectly clear the conference was in a remote location and only delegates and their wives were allowed, when Lucy said they must let Nanny’s in, Linley countered she would hardly palm her own mother off as a Nanny, so Lucy and Robert had travelled to England then gone to France for a change and rather unusually Lucy was speechless the entire vacation. She couldn’t grasp the simplest “Bonjour” and people just turned from her when she spoke English, which she railed against but without any of her usual flair or venom. France had been Robert’s happiest holiday in 31 years.

Now here they were on holidays again, because Linley had given advance warning that they were on a tight schedule with the new baby coming along this year and it would be better if her mother came when she really needed the help, after the baby arrived which Lucy had swallowed. Lucy had booked the catamaran through the Whitsundays before Robert knew anything about it. Six months had passed since Stevo had died and Robert knew Lucy popped in from time to time with a casserole. Robert had decided to leave Lucy. He was going to buy an apartment he’d built for a developer years ago which was in the street adjacent to Helen’s that way the kids could pop over and see him whenever they liked. There was a communal pool in middle of the garden of the apartments and little Jessica and Sarah would love swimming in. Helen had lately told him she needed to go back to the work. That they’d borrowed a couple of times on their mortgage while she’d been having the girls and that the insurance money for Stevo could take up to another year to get, which was making things tight.

Lucy was still carrying on far too loudly about the absence of dialogue happening between their only other travelling companions. The skipper made out he was Dutch and couldn’t understand Lucy but Robert had a nagging feeling that they wouldn’t have hired a Dutch speaking captain with no English whatsoever. Still he didn’t blame the bloke. Tomorrow they would disembark and he intended telling Lucy it was over – he knew she’d initially think he just meant the holiday but he couldn’t take it anymore. The noise was driving him mad. He longed for quiet. He wanted to sit and watch a film with Helen knowing the kids were quietly sleeping somewhere. Lucy looked at him. She’d just said something but he had no idea what.

“Well what do you think?”

“What do you mean what do I think, what do I think about what?”

“About Helen and the girls?”
“What about them.” He looked at Lucy incredulous, it was like he was having an outer body experience. Could she now read his thoughts or had he said it out loud already, in prepartion?

“About them coming to live with us?”

“I thought seeing how good you’ve been to her, you wouldn’t mind. I know you feel guilty it wasn’t you that metal got.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about Lucy. I’m really lost.”

“Helen told me she’s having problems paying the mortgage.”

“Yes I know.”

“So I told her to rent her place till the insurance money comes through and come and live with us. The girl’s in one room, Helen in the other. I didn’t think you’d mind, but you look as though you do?”

Robert stretched back, grim mouthed.

“Robert say something?”

“Lucy. You always get in first. I’ve gotta give it to you.”

“What do you mean? I thought you’d want to help?”

“Lucy you always do everything you want. This is the same.”

“I can’t believe you’re being so uncharitable. He was your Site Manager.”

“I’m not being uncharitable.”

“I told her to settle in while we’re here.”

“As I said, you’ve done it now.”

Robert lay back and closed his eyes. The one comfort he was picturing moving into his old age, an avenue of quiet refuge had been closed off to him. Now he would never get to watch that movie quietly with Helen, sure the little girls would be asleep in the other room, but the TV room would always be filled with Lucy’s loudness. He couldn’t leave her now or Helen would think it was the strain of her being around, making him feel guilty. Everyone in their world knew he’d withdrawn his head which had been fatal for Stevo. He was trapped. He closed his eyes and the sun razored into his closed eyelids.

Disembarking the next day, Lucy had fled the gangplank and made it onto land quickly to answer her buzzing mobile. The quiet couple were just in front of him. The woman had an arm on her husband’s shoulder to steady herself in regaining her land legs. Lucy was yelling some inane rubbish to someone when the quiet lady turned to him and asked, “Are you ok?”

Robert nodded in the direction of his wife and asked, “Would you be ok?”

The quiet woman smiled somewhat ironically “Not really. I recommend ear phones.”

Robert laughed.

As they made their way through the airport, Robert stopped in the Apple shop and bought 4 different coloured headsets, all matching the different coloured ipods he’d purchased.

When Lucy finished in the duty free she found him. “What do you want 4 ipods for?”

“I bought some for Helen and the girls.”

“There’s only three of them!” Lucy looked incredulous as if he’d completely stuffed up his maths, and in light of Stevo having just departed it seemed insensitive.

“I know. I thought they looked so wonderful I got myself a set.”

“Oh Robert.”

“Oh Lucy.” He said and started laughing. She didn’t join him, looking rather pissed off that he was having a joke she couldn’t fathom.

mildred issue