And Now For Something Completely Different… David Oxley!
To a dear friend, John Oxton.
This is for you.
Our many conversations continue to be a great source of inspiration for me in writing the story of one of my favorite fictional friends and characters, David Oxley.
David Oxley’s life seems to be going from bad to worse. He’s divorced, lives in a share house with the landlady from hell and his boring dead-end job is literally driving him around the bend…
Then, after a young woman goes missing in the dead of night and a chance encounter in a rundown café early the next morning with a blond woman called Tracey, everything changes…
On the road, you never know who you’re going to meet!
Chapter 1 – Life As We Know It
David Oxley has a pretty uneventful life really.
It isn’t a bad life, all things considered. Things could most certainly have been a hell of a lot worse if David chose to think about it. And he did, often, but it never got him anywhere.
Dave’s a healthy forty-year-old guy with a weakness for potato chips and a glass, or two, of red wine – a beer on a hot day. So, to combat such vices, David swims lengths at the public pool and works out at the gym a few days during the week – time permitting. On Monday nights, he goes into the city to learn how to dance – Gene Kelly style. None of that dirty dancing that Patrick Swayze made so popular in the eighties. On the weekend, he picks up an old guitar, has a couple of beers and sings away until the neighborhood dogs join in or his landlady starts banging on his bedroom wall. As much as he would like to be as talented as rocker Jon Bon Jovi… he most certainly is not!
He has a job that most would think was boring – selling par-baked bread products, and generally; that assumption would be correct. Yes, I know what you’re thinking… ‘And I thought my job was boring…’ No arguments there on either account. Maybe your job is boring… but enough about your problems, we can talk about that another time. Right now, it’s about David and his enthralling world of par-baked bread. You would be surprised at how many people complain about the size of a bread roll. I know. It’s mental, right? However, some days even a complaint about size, get your mind out of the gutter, can be seen as a welcomed change of pace to Dave’s otherwise soul destroying daily routine.
He has an ex-wife you know, Laura, and two great kids, Ben and Sarah. Well not really kids, young adult, I believe the preferred term is. Ahh, to be twenty again and know what we know now. Wouldn’t that be nice?
Anyway, let’s not dwell on things we cannot change. As much as we would all like to turn back the hands of time, it isn’t going to happen. And believe me when I tell you, that I have tried.
David resides in a basic run-of-the-mill three-bedroom house in the suburbs that he shares with a landlady named Bess.
Bess was about fifty, so understandably she was set in her ways and had her own view on life. She was also of the opinion that her view on life and how it should be lived was not only the right way, it was the only way.
For instance, everything was to be switched off on the wall at night. Kettle, toaster, microwave, television… you name it. The refrigerator is the exception to this rule. Dishcloths have to be spread out, not folded on the kitchen sink. No dirty dishes were to be left in the sink, and the clean dishes were to be put away immediately.
When water restrictions are in full swing, Bess has been known to stand outside the bathroom door with her eye on the clock. A sharp rap on the door would let you know that your three minutes were up.
The lawn was to be mowed in a particular way… All windows were to be kept locked. Even though each and everyone was fitted with security screens to keep out any would-be burglars.
With all these rules and routines, you could easily be lead to believe that Bess is a bit of a fusspot, a perfectionist. However, with all of Bess’s perfectly organized procedures, Bess does in fact have a flaw. She leaves floaters in the dunny!
Yes you heard me right. Bess. Leaves. Floaters. In. The. Dunny. Dave can’t count the number of times that he’s gone in the loo to find a chocolate colored water python coiled in the porcelain pond staring up at him. And on a hot day… one whiff of that and you’re a glutton!
On Tuesday nights, if Dave is home, he barricades himself in his bedroom. Because on Tuesday nights, Bess is visited by a small group of like minded women whose ages vary from thirty-five to sixty-five.
Laden with Tupperware containers filled with homemade scones, lamingtons, banana cake, mini meat pies and ANZAC biscuits. Some sported folding chairs under their arms. Once the usual pleasantries were over, they positioned themselves on chairs in a circle in the center of the lounge room. One by one, they would voice to the group life affirming and motivational quotes. Bess always began the Tuesday evening ritual by standing up and entering the center of the little group.
She tucked a strand of her short graying hair behind her ear, clasped her hands together and gave a little cough to clear her throat. “Firstly, ladies, let me thank you all for coming this evening. And a very happy birthday to Louise who turned fifty-five yesterday.” Bess waited until she received a small applause and a “happy birthday Louise,” from the other guests. After a few moments, Bess held up her hand to silence the well-wishers. She cleared her throat once again then glared at Dawn, who was still chatting with Louise. Louise, noting Bess’s displeasure, gave Dawn a nudge with her elbow to silence her.
Bess smiled, held her head high and said, “Let loose of what you can’t control and Serenity will be yours.”
The circle of women all smiled and nodded agreeably.
Bess returned to her seat and motioned to the woman, Margaret, on her left to take the floor.
I can’t help but feel that the path Bess has chosen to travel in her bid to find this serenity she speaks of, in her case, is the path less traveled.
Dave drives a company car, a Mitsubishi station wagon. And he is glad about that; it’s one less expense that he has to worry about.
There are two things Dave misses more than anything in the world since the divorce from his ex-wife Laura a few years back. Not the house, not the car, not even the widescreen television that he had only just bought before Laura spat the dummy and tossed him out. He missed spending precious time with his kids… Sorry, young adults, and Bruce Springsteen, the family pet Alsatian.
Then there’s David’s best mate, Patrick Madigan, a Detective for Queensland’s fraud control. A good-looking charismatic fellow with a body to die for and a singing voice that actually does sound like Jon Bon Jovi. And who just happened to go missing about three years ago. Patrick Madigan, not Jon Bon Jovi. And who just happens to be, me.
So, you get the picture, life is pretty ho-hum for our David on any given day.
Then out of the blue, during a run-of-the-mill sales trip to Darwin in the Northern Territory, David’s uneventful life took an unexpected turn when he offered a ride to Tracey, a pretty young blond woman he met in a corner café early one morning.
2 – The Flying Horseman
A piercing scream rang out into the darkness of the starless night, awaking David Oxley. He wiped the beads of sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand and cursed the stifling temperature and the useless box air-conditioning groaning in the wall.
The suffocating humidity was typical during this time of the year in the Northern Territory that was aptly named – ‘Troppo Season’.
Every living creature, man and beast alike, lay in wait for the heavens to crack open and unleash their much-anticipated bounty, rain. The powdery earth below gagged for just a spit of moisture to quench its cracked, parched crust.
David sat up on the still-made bed dressed in a pair of white cotton boxer shorts, a recent father’s day gift from his daughter Sarah. His mind was foggy, vague from another restless night’s sleep, a by-product of the seething humidity.
He looked at the bedside table. One empty wine glass, a Citizen wristwatch and a worn 1947 paperback novel he had been reading by James Hilton titled A Double Life that was coming apart at the spine. Three a.m. glowed fluorescent green on the face of the built-in clock. He cursed again, this time at the hour as he rubbed his face in his hands; oblivious to what had woken him.
Another scream and the sound of running feet on the loose gravel outside his motel room woke him up completely this time. He quickly snatched a black sleeveless t-shirt up off his bed and pulled it over his head; it was inside out; it didn’t matter.
He swung his long legs off the edge of the bed, cursing again as he knocked over the half-empty bottle of red wine that he had been drinking before dozing off sometime around midnight. The pool of Merlot merged with the previous stains on the blotchy carpet, making it impossible to determine the new stain from the old. Something to be grateful for he decided; the owner of the place would have only been too happy to add carpet cleaning to his bill. He cringed as a big, black cockroach scurried across his foot and disappeared into the darkness under his bed. He didn’t want to know how many others were scurrying around under there gleefully.
He reached the door, unlocked it and ran out into the night. Dark clouds hung heavy in the air, threatening to burst at any moment. Frogs croaked noisily, excited by the pending rain. A flash of lightning lit up the sky. He could smell an exhilarating freshness in the air, the scent that preceded rainfall. He sucked in a long breath and filled his lungs with it.
That’s when he saw her, Maggie; the aging manageress of the motel complex, The Flying Horseman, sitting sprawled out in her floral nightgown on the half-dirt-half-gravel driveway in motel car park.
The years had not been kind to her. Deep wrinkles creased her tanned leathery skin. She was struggling in a battle against gravity to get back on her feet. Her rotund body wasn’t making the task any easier for her.
David reached down to help. ”Are you okay? Here, let me help you -”
“Bastard!” She spat, in her stale coffee-coated breath, when she eventually stood. Her marshmallow feet were crammed tight into a pair of equally pink, I’ve-seen-better-days, slippers. The ones with the woolen fleecy trim that kept your feet warm in the winter. David’s own feet began to sweat just looking at them.
“Hey, I was just trying to give you a hand.” David said indignantly as he took a step back and dumped his hands on his hips to glare at the ungrateful old woman. “Sour old cow,” he muttered just as another rumble of thunder rolled overhead.
She looked up at him as she dusted dirt off her nightgown. “Not you, you fool, the bastard that pushed me over just now, one of Tiffany’s friends. I knew that girl was trouble the first time I laid my eyes on her. She’s always coming and going at all hours of the night. Didn’t you hear her scream just now? Scared the friggin bejesus out of me she did.” Maggie continued to grumble as she headed off like a bull at a gate towards Tiffany’s ground floor room toward the end of the brick two-story complex. She waived her arms around above her head as if she was waving away an angry swarm of bees. “Always late with her rent, and I can do without that headache. I’ve got bills to pay too you know.”
David fell in silently at a safe arms-length distance beside Maggie. No need to upset the old broad any further he figured. Not that she would have heard what he had said anyway. He could hardly hear himself think over the hullabaloo she was making. He glanced around, expecting to see the lights in other patrons’ rooms flicker on, but none did. Probably didn’t want to get involved. He was starting to think that they were the smart ones.
You wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of Maggie, Dave thought making a mental note. As angry as a rabid dog would be the perfect way to describe Maggie’s current state. Probably pissed off from years of being pushed around and abused by arsehole ex-boyfriends and ex-husbands David thought wearily. That or she was angry about being interrupted from the late night movie she had been watching on television.
He stole a sideways glance at Maggie as they strode closer to the end of the motel complex towards Tiffany’s room and decided that Maggie had probably been a beauty, once. He could kind of see a fleeting evidence of it there on her round face. A beauty that had long since been swallowed up by the deep crevices drawn in her leathery skin. The culmination of long hours sunbathing in her teens, before melanoma had become a household word. Alcohol and cigarettes had contributed too over the years no doubt. And then came the binging on fatty junk food in front of the TV when youth and all hope of something better was eventfully lost. Suddenly his life didn’t seem so bad.
Then he also noticed something else about Maggie, and he couldn’t help but feel a slight twinge of respect for the woman. Maggie was neither upset nor scared by the ordeal that had just befallen her like most women would have been.
He didn’t realize how correct his assumptions were about the ex’s and the interrupted late night movie.
David had a God-given talent of being able to read people, well most people. It had certainly been an asset in his line of work as a salesman over the years; however, no such talent was evident with his dealings with women.
Years spent on the road as a travelling salesman had taught him how to fine-tune his sales skills, not his husband skills, not as far as his ex-wife Laura was concerned.
After spending just five minutes with potential customers, David could usually tell if he was wasting his time with them. And time was money. And David didn’t have enough of either. Not since the divorce five years ago when Laura, his bottomless money-pit ex, had taken him to the cleaners. She had ended up with everything including the two kids, the house, the car and Bruce Springsteen, the family dog. His old guitar, a garbage bag full of his clothes, and a breadbox with a handful of belongings had been left on the doorstep of his ex-house waiting for pick-up.
David wasn’t great at reading women, not where his heart was concerned.
David turned his attention back to Maggie just as another flash of lightning lit the night sky. The heavily pregnant clouds burst open, dumping torrents of rain on the dry powdery ground below, forming clusters of puddles instantly. By the time they reached Tiffany’s room they were both drenched from head to toe.
Maggie’s nightgown had become completely transparent and clung to her round form. Thank God she’s wearing underwear, David thought and cringed nervously. A naked Maggie was not a sight he wished to behold on this night, or any other. He wiped his hand over his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose, thankful for the respectable coverage provided by big-girl pants.
He remembered an ordeal, when he was about seven, when he had walked in on his mother naked in the shower; it took him several years to erase that from his mind. And it took an eighteen-year-old Laura posing naked in the shower roughly ten years later to obliterate the nightmare that he had titled ‘woman in shower’.
The Laura encounter, however, delightfully rewarding at the time, was the reason he was now in his current financial predicament. The moral of this story, beware of naked women in shower bearing gifts. They too, like the Greeks, have their Trojan horses.
The skew-whiff numbers on the powdery green door read 16, but only because a missing screw from the number 9 had let it swing down making the 9 look like a 6. So inevitably, room 19 appeared to be room 16.
David felt an eerie tingle at the base of his spine as he moved closer toward Tiffany’s room. There was no light spilling through the door that had been left ajar. Just a yawning dark shadow. Maggie stepped forward and shoved the door completely open. The powdery green paint from the door stained her hand and she rubbed it off on her wet nightgown. David edged forward and looked over Maggie’s shoulder. A feeling of dread knotted in his gut. He knew that whatever it was he was about find, he was not going to be returning to his bed anytime soon. His gut had not let him down. His senses were right on the money!
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