By Kevin du Plessis
He did not quite know who the girl was, what she looked like or whether she could write, for that matter. She had merely made it apparent to one of the currently employed journalists that she wanted to write for the paper.
The editor-in-chief of a small community newspaper, that was either hated or loved in the small town of Port, was in dire need of writers, or rather of writers of a certain breed; those who had the absolute audacity to claim that they are better writers than most while also being able to admit that they cannot write at all.
Whatever the case was with Luanne Keith, she must have somehow got a foot in the door.
“Yes, I hear that you have been wanting to apply for a job with us but missed out on our previous vacancy?” the editor-in-chief asked trying to establish a sense of this being a formal interview, though it was happening over the phone.
“True,” said Luanne. “I would like to write, there are quite a few things that have caught my attention in this town and I want to break the stories.”
Reginald was taken aback by the girl’s serious tone. A good first impression, yet something about it was annoying. “Is that so?” he asked.
He could hear her voice falter as she attempted to make him understand what she had meant. “Well, all I’m saying is that I would like to write for you. I will prove my worth through my work. Really, you should see me as the female Henry.”
Reginald looked over to the desk where Henry was feigning work as he tried to read the telephone conversation on his boss’s face. Luanne’s remark had cost Henry one of Reginald’s disapproving frowns, which he was not used to since they were reserved, with a few nasty cutting swear words, for those who sent in really shitty work. Luckily, there was no denying that Henry was the best reporter on the team, and even the possibility of getting another one of the less idiotic reporters who never made it with the bigger city papers was something that an editor of a humble paper with a low 10 000 reach couldn’t refuse.
“A female Henry. I will be sure to remember that description when you send in your first piece the day after tomorrow.” With that they said all of the appropriate things before hanging up and when the receiver was back in its place, Reginald got up from the second hand armchair which was awkwardly placed at his desk for maximum comfort during the long hours at office.
“And?” asked Henry in his usual inquisitive tone.
“A female Henry. What utter shit,” Reginald said and left Henry without asking whether he would also like a cup of instant coffee.
The office of The Post Wagon had a few interesting characters, though the faces changed so often that Reginald did not always bother to get to know too much about any of them. The exception, of course, being Henry, a thinker and on the whole a good investigative journalist who would not stay on the team forever when eventually he’d gotten enough experience.
There was also one other: Daniel, though he was always called Dan at his own request. Daniel was just too formal.
“I got us another draught from Violet,” Dan said as he placed three Black Labels on the table and took his seat in their regular booth at their regular bar across the street from The Post Wagon office.
Henry and Reginald accepted the beers, as they always did when it was either one of the three’s turn to buy drinks after work. This does not imply that they each took turns buying a single round after work, just that they were all too lazy to get up every time they had finished with another golden foaming refreshment during their extensive daily visits to Violet’s bar moving either to the bar, the toilet or eventually moving on to more exciting places when it was time for the pub to close its doors for the day.
“Give us another Princeton there,” Reginald said knowing that he did not need to thank Dan every time he got up from his chair. They had been friends for so long that these things were a mere bother no longer to be paid any attention to.
“Sure thing,” Dan replied and flicked a cigarette over to his friend and boss (though, the latter term was one that came to its full effect only at random intervals; depending on the mood and how the paper was coming along).
“When is she coming?” Reginald asked again.
“She will come,” Henry said reassuringly and looked over to the door.
“Well, I am not going to be impressed if what she brings to the table is going to cost me doing most of the work for her. I don’t need another writer with Ruda Landman-aspirations who can’t even report a damn charity event without using the words ‘It’s that time of year again’.”
Dan sniggered at the comment. While being a good writer himself, he was never very eager to do much more than was expected of him. He’d rather spend his days in the garage fighting the endless battle of mastering the guitar. Nevertheless, he enjoyed the challenge of writing from time to time and he needed the money.
“You will see for yourself, she is good at what she puts her mind to,” Henry said. “Luanne is one of those people who immerse themselves in their work and never goes out for a drink in fear of missing out on some grand opportunity.”
“Oh joy,” Dan said, “is she going to bring her cat along?”
Dan had barely uttered the remark when the door of the pub squeaked open and slammed again behind a young woman with good posture, a pretentious scarf and long rich dark hair protruding from beneath a somewhat childlike pink woollen hat. She had papers clenched beneath the pit of her one arm and an overly large handbag stuffed with lord-knows-what hanging over the other.
She came to a standstill as the paper with the words ‘DOOR CLOSED DUE TO COLD’ printed over it in Wordart gently settled itself back against the window. She gathered herself, looking around the room for the now slightly tipsy party waiting for her in their drinking booth.
Henry waved and she waved back as she started moving in their direction.
Reginald and Dan exchanged a look that only they understood. Their first impression of Luanne Keith had been communicated and though it wasn’t an eye roll (or instant death according to Reginald), it wasn’t far off.
Before taking the time to rid her of the baggage awkwardly hanging around her body, she stuck out her hand first to Dan and then to Reginald, repeating the phrase, “Luanne Keith, pleased to meet you”.
She sat down after that and wasted no time before diving into the work. She had a flustered expression and you could see in how desperate she sounded that she was going to explain exactly why her work wasn’t done. From whom she’d seen, step by step to how she was waiting for replies and confirmations. How she had stalked out her prey for a moment where she could speak to them face to face.
“The audacity,” Reginald said stopping her in mid-sentence before any of this could be uttered.
“I- Excuse me?” she said glancing at Henry.
“How dare you interrupt our afterhours winding down time with your bullshit?” Reginald continued in a condescending yet calm voice.
The expression on her face was priceless. She did not know what had hit her, she couldn’t believe her ears.
“Well, I didn’t mean to do that,” but before she could continue her sentence Dan, no longer able to hold it back, grabbed her shoulder reassuringly and smiled.
“Let him finish,” Dan said fixing his eyes back on Reginald.
“Thank you, Dan,” he said and placed his hands on the table. “As I was saying –bothering us with your bullshit, without getting a drink first?”
She relaxed and smiled, slightly tilting her head. At this moment Luanne took off the woollen hat revealing her bangs. Instantly more a woman than a girl. More an intellectual than a career junkie. And certainly more interesting than before.
“Is your hair coloured?” Dan asked immediately.
“No,” she said wrinkling her nose as she smiled. “Never have, never will.”
“Dark, isn’t it?” Reginald remarked peering over the rim of his beer glass.
She opened her mouth but she didn’t get the opportunity to release what she had on the tip of her tongue.
“No one cares. Beer. Now.” He smiled.
She responded with another smile and wrinkling of the nose as she left them behind to see what Violet had to offer at the bar.
“You shouldn’t be too hard on her, you know,” Henry said smiling knowingly as he always did. “She’s not like you two. She comes from a respectable family with some slightly far back notions of the proper way to talk and walk and sit-”
“And fart,” Dan said and he and Reginald sniggered.
Henry rolled his eyes but did not deny them his warm teddy bear-like smile. “Always with the fart jokes. If I didn’t know you two, I’d say you were right idiots. Anyway, just don’t scare her away just yet.”
“Oh calm down Henry, this isn’t a funeral,” Reginald said. “Here she comes, so no more of your farting business Henry.” Henry snorted and ignored them putting on a happy face for Luanne returning with a milky white drink in a bottle.
“Oh no! I also want one of those,” Henry said excitedly leaving the booth before Luanne could sit down. She naturally shifted into Henry’s spot in the corner so that no one would have to get up when he returned.
“Good, now you look more human,” Reginald said satisfied.
“I’m glad you think so,” she said. Amazingly, Luanne wasn’t uncomfortable or intimidated by the two strange men at the table with her. In fact she seemed to be enjoying the company, keeping a constant smile on her face. “So about the story, as I was saying before, we definitely have something good here. I just have to push on a few more buttons to get there.”
Reginald nodded. “Yes, tell me something, what have you been doing with your life?”
“I don’t follow?”
“Well, all I mean is I can see you’re a hard worker, and you live for success and all that. But what is it that you do for life?”
“Good question, Reg,” Dan said. “What do you do for life, mind not a life, but life?”
“I don’t quite follow?”
“Well, for instance, we are sitting here drinking. We like doing that. We bitch about stupid things people say and do, we laugh, we carry on,” Reginald said.
Dan laughed. “And we do bitch. But we live. I like music, that’s my life story really. You know, that kind of thing.”
Henry, returned satisfied with his purchase.
“Oh don’t tell me they’re putting you through one of their ‘think about the world’ torture sessions,” Henry said as soon as he realised what was going on.
“It’s alright. I’ve got this,” she said silencing Henry, who like Reginald was fond of rolling his eyes at people. “I do art.”
“I do ink drawings. And I have travelled quite extensively. My favourite place so far has been India,” she said and started going on about why, despite the smell and dirt, India was her number one destination.
“You write about India?” Reginald asked surprised that she so loved the one country that he too found most fascinating, though he had never been.
“Extensively. I always try and get a piece done when I visit a place.”
“So it’s work?” Reginald asked.
“Well, I suppose everything in life is work, isn’t it?”
Reginald got quite worked up at this. “Absolutely not. Work is a necessary evil we must endure. We should not be aspiring to great careers, but to great lives. We should at all times strive towards being able to manipulate the world into allowing us to spend our time exactly as we wish to. If you sigh more than once a day, you are being stupid, letting the superficial circumstances of a manmade community tell you what you should think and feel and aspire to. I find the notion of a world where your work is the sum of your worth horrifying, don’t you?”
Henry intervened. “Well yes, of course what you’re saying makes a nice little hippie sketch of what you dream about for yourself. But, are you not also driven by work? Are your days not filled with sighs and contempt for the clueless drones who criticise The Post Wagon every day?”
“A necessary evil, like I said before. But that’s not the point here. We both know that we won’t be in this place forever, right? Some things are worth doing, even if its worth is lost on most. Even if it makes me sigh for now, in the long run I will have made a change to some one person’s life through the work at the paper. For that I would do it over again.”
“You would?” Dan asked.
“No, not really, but I tried.”
Everyone laughed after that. Luanne loosened up considerably and the rest of their evening went from one discussion and made-up philosophy to the next. She kept saying how she enjoyed the conversation and even she did not mention work again, at one point sliding the stack of papers into her already full bag and hiding it all under the table.
Eventually the background music died down and it was only then that they realised everyone had left and that Violet was silently waiting for them to finish their drinks and be off.
“I think it’s time for us to move our party elsewhere,” Dan said downing the last of his beer and slamming the glass against the table. “And you?” he asked Luanne who was already gathering her things.
“Oh, I think it is high time for me to be heading home. Lots of work.”
“Nonsense! None of that. You will accompany us gentlemen to our next destination and that’s final. Don’t forget that you are still on trial, missy,” Reginald said lighting up a final cigarette as he struggled to put on his coat.
“I don’t know,” she said looking at Henry for support, knowing that he would understand her plight for the sake of work.
“Don’t be such a prude, unbutton the blouse a bit and let’s go,” Henry replied looking at her high collared shirt through the slits that were his eyes. He laughed, satisfied with his attempt at humour. Reginald and Dan also laughed at this, but much more at Henry than the remark.
“Oh alright. But, one more drink and that’s that,” she said and when they all agreed very solemnly that one more drink would be the end of it, she only shook her head at their blatant lie.
They greeted Violet and filed out of the pub. Before going through the door, however, Reginald pulled the “DOOR CLOSED DUE TO COLD” printout off the window and stuck it to Luanne’s back, sniggering and wondering how long it would take for her to notice and pull it off once and for all.