Driving into a glare of headlights on the Tullamarine freeway at 5.30 am, this the dead of winter in Melbourne and I am talking on a mobile phone to a client parked by Ayers Rock whose kids won’t “go” behind it, who is demanding instruction on what to do when the council toilets are locked, the motor home’s toilet blocked and “the wife” insists I send the van doctor. “She” will otherwise, logically, file for divorce.
The van doctor knows everything, I agree. You will need to learn, a sales manager told me, years ago as we were about to parachute together out of a plane, how to diffuse argument. I hope, first, diversion of my client from his anxiety attack. We discuss the pedestal on which I place the van doctor. The latter, I recall, I refered to at the depot as knowing everything anyone can, although I meant about vans not absolutely everything.
The contrast between the results of my solicitations (but don’t give anything away, I was told by the same sales manager) and my client’s original disinterest in niceties between us lends me belief a moment suggested no other before than his life’s entirety in vain. “Wow,” later in the day he yells into his mobile, “The van doctor is a helluva good bloke. Now about the toilet?”
I hasten to recommend my readers make LifeLine a primary source of reference in crises. I’m no counsellor. You might say Pete’s a roadie, roughly. Fact: anything that’s got wheels, I drive, although done my share of rigging. Six months shooting crocs I don’t usually let on about in a fit. I unlock the depot, thinking what it was like in the Daintree those days, check the night’s vehicles in and the early morning’s out, and in.
Time to traverse the gleaming rows of snub-nosed metal hides, check the polish before helter skelter take vehicles to mechanics, for tyres, petrol, clients at the airport and fax service sheets. I’m literate. Writing a book in my spare time. Easy, service sheets. Fax refrigeration unit details, diagrams of accident damage. I stock take linen, cutlery, frypans, saucepans, microwave dishes… check diary and ring the van doctor. See if he’s a deal on the toilet valves.
A mechanic two doors down is dropping dead of a heart attack in the late afternoon, just before sunset fades. The junior calls by to advise in of course, the retrospect. Tears trace in the oil on her face. “I kissed him,” she says, “I didn’t know what else to do.”
That’s right, the van doctor… He’s always under a motorhome, seems, his arm is up the sewerage outlet. I’m stretched out, flat on a ground cover in the loom of the home. My head is pillowed on a knee pad lying next to the sink fill unit with the glue still drying on the old outlet ring seal and it’s 3.00am.
“I see you did the flyscreens in 531. Any hope of this working?”
The answer is a bout of swearing. I reel off lists of alternative parts distributors.
Check statements of monies owing.
The van doctor and I leave the depot at 4.30am to drive in convoy to my unit on Ascot Vale Road and déjà vu, steak and eggs. I brew coffee. My mobile rings, repeatedly. Tempted crack a tinny. Jim’s wife wants to know where is he. I say, “Here.” She doesn’t believe it. She is at the end of her tether and Jim at his.
Jim muses, “It’s my birthday, Pete.” I retort how amazing it is. “No, every year today,” he snaps and swears, volubly, the minute I tell him it’s my birthday. I think he is kidding he is upset. No, he is upset. Thinks I made up that it’s my birthday. Bloke’s nerves are shot.
The new ‘John’ is at the foot of my ladder. I’m washing a home. No small deal on an hour’s kip. “Who knows,” I hear and look down on my swirl of drive-wayed suds. ‘Jack’, in its middle, personally would, cunning, if he could for me, but no guarantee… best friend… boss… years… watch the water… bloke changes his mind like underwear… every day sometimes… business comes first! The spruiker brandishes a knife out of a hip pocket, shouting he hates Melbourne. The shout is at his mobile even as it rings and he queries, “Van? Doctor?” The thrown knife embeds in the wall of the motor home.
“Where? Who? What? Why? Strikin’? Parts? So’s Santa Claus! S’up the LADDER!”
The mobile sinks under white froth, tossed to the ground.
‘Jack’ turns my way. Least s’pose he did, chewing over this bit. I’m out of the equation, closest reach. Gone. Done a scarper. Quick and the dead.
Previously published in: Creative Writers: anthology of poems and stories/edited by Christina Wilson, 1950-/Noarlunga, S. Aust./Christie Downs Community House 2003,  p. ;21cm