Lauren Somerville (La Trobe University, Australia)
Margo awoke to an eighties power ballad every morning. Her logic the previous night was that setting her alarm as ‘Love is a Battlefield’ or ‘The Reflex’ would pleasantly electrify her at 5am. She never failed to learn that there was no nostalgic, boppy pop song that could help the situation. But she was often optimistic at night.
Margo swiped ‘dismiss’ and rolled into Franklin’s warm, broad back, accidentally dislodging the cat. She heard Cordelia’s disgruntled thump as her feet hit the carpet. Tomorrow Margo would get out of bed instantly and do some yoga. Today she’d savour the peace and darkness of a warm bed. There was a chance Frankie might get up soon. He’d turn the heater on, make coffee and feed the animals. Even in unemployment he was infinitely better than her in the mornings. It didn’t seem fair.
Her second alarm went off, followed by the third at 5:30am. Margo burrowed further into Franklin, who sighed in his sleep, rolled over and put his arm around her. The spurned Cordelia returned and transformed into a purring loaf on his chest. Margo thought about bread. “What’s the difference between ‘spelt’ and ‘sourdough?” was a common question from customers. Margo made up a lot of answers or brazenly admitted ignorance. It depended on the variables of her mood and the customer. Working in a bakery really wasn’t that different from working in a wine bar.
Margo missed the fake glamour of working in a restaurant. She yearned to pour wine, shake cocktails and read out specials that no one listened to. The transformation of the wine bar into a bakery came with the addition of a steady stream of managers jetting about the venue. But recently Margo had been able to breathe a sigh of relief. The other fashionable restaurants in the Melbourne conglomerate had reopened and the entourage of managers dispersed elsewhere to furrow their brows. However Stage 3 lockdown returned last night. This meant the second closure of the restaurants and the return of the army of managers to the bakery. She was doomed to again be micromanaged and harassed for at least another six weeks.
Franklin showed no sign of getting up to pamper her. She had told him last night he wouldn’t be able to get to sleep if he stared at that computer game before bedtime. With dread, Margo extracted herself from their bed at 5:50. There was no time for breakfast, certainly not for yoga. But if she moved efficiently she could still get out the door by 6:25am and be on time for her 7am start.
Cordelia also extracted herself from Franklin, trilling as she trotted after Margo. Margo gave the cat a consolatory pat on the head before going for the heater. She squinted under the kitchen lights as she scrapped the seafood matter into the cat’s bowl. She could hear Smokey shaking his ears awake as the cat munched and chomped. Her shower time was slowly dwindling.
She put the kettle on and found Smokey’s brekkie in the back of the fridge. Margo called him outside where frost predictably coated the backyard. Smokey circled her knees excitedly as his big, smiling boofhead looked up at her with expectation.
“Sit,” Margo attempted to command sternly.
The dog obeyed. It was one of his neater sits.
“Good boy!” Margo relinquished the cubed kangaroo muscle and beef entrails to him and he chomped away with gusto.
Inside she checked her phone, 6:06. Faaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrk!
The dog’s bowl scraped the concrete as Margo snapped off the boiling kettle and she bolted to the shower. She was blessed with a coffee and toast delivery when she got out.
“I don’t want to talk about bread for seven hours Frankie.”
The left side of his mouth twitched a little and his eyes smiled. The wry silver lining was coming.
“But think of all the Collingwood hipsters! Without you, they couldn’t get their croissant and almond chai latte.”
He rubbed her shoulder and kissed her cheek before leaving her with his morning gifts. The trick was to finish the toast before eye makeup application. You can chew while applying foundation, but not eyeliner. Coffee, the life blood of the winter bike commute, can always be sculled at the end.
Margo was fully dressed, with her high vis on by 6:32am. If she ran out the door that instant she could be on time by the skin of her teeth. But she stalled. She complained to Franklin a bit more about the customers and managers, and hinted that he should start looking for work. She stomped around trying to find her woolly, red gloves and drank a glass of water.
Finally, she tickled the contented Cordelia under the chin goodbye with her index finger. Smokey’s thick tail thumped as she approached his corner of the rug closest to the heater. She patted and rubbed his belly, and unleashed a torrent of shubba-dabba, good dog noises from her mouth.
The last goodbye and kiss on the lips was Franklin’s prize for being human.
“Have a good day!”
Margo stifled a groan. “You too, love you!”
She caught “I love you Margarita” as she slammed the front door. He took pleasure in calling her by her full name. King Franklin and Queen Margarita of Reservoir is what he liked to call them. Margo preferred Frank and Margie. It made them sound like a daggy couple who spent their weekends drinking light beer and chardonnay at the local RSL.
Margo threw on her backpack and retrieved her bike from the garage. She should give the tires a pump and grease the chain but that would have to wait until tomorrow. Thankfully her lights still had plenty of juice. She checked the time. 6:41. Fuck-knuckles. She was definitely going to be late.
Stacey was managing today. She’d taken to making passive aggressive, snarky comments when Margo inevitably showed up five to fifteen minutes past her start time. Margo didn’t think she had the energy required to pretend to be sorry this morning. It was emotional energy she had to conserve for smiling at customers who leant over the social distancing barrier to get a better look at a brownie. Or telling people repeatedly, that even though it was freezing and pissing down with rain outside, we could at this stage, only allow two people at a time inside the shop. Margo escalated between fear of losing her job and despondent boredom.
She sent a quick text, “Just getting on the bike now, might be 5 minutes late.” It was going to be more than that, but Margo would apologise profusely and invent a delay. Chain popped off. Haven’t used that one yet.
Margo caught sight of the saucepan and the crescent moon as she took off from the top of the driveway. She felt her belt bucket pressing into her tummy as she clutched the handlebars of her faithful steed. She should probably hold off on eating an unsold cheesecake today.
The icy air hit her face and crept through her woollens as he flew down the hill that led to the Merri Creek trail. Fog hung over the football oval and hugged the creek while the gumtrees swayed in the wind. Some mornings she was comforted by the pretty gloominess. Today it felt apocalyptic and lonely.
Margo snaked along the path, contemplating unknown assailants lurking in the bushes. “I ride too fast,” she thought, “and it’s too early for them. All the perverts have been up all night, perving hard, this is their bedtime.”
Margo saw a figure in the gloom. Friend or foe? It was one of those lunatics that get up before dawn in the middle of winter to go for a run. The remainder of the bike ride would be comprised of conflicting instincts. To not get raped and thrown into a bush half dead versus the urge to avoid barrelling into an unsuspecting health nut on her rusty, fast moving, metal vehicle. Plus the knowledge that she was extremely late but had no desire to go there at all.
Margo reached Moreland Rd, found no cars for miles and sailed across. Now warm, she fiddled with her coat buttons and unwound her scarf as she approached the wonky narrow path that adjoined back onto the creek path. Margo made out two figures with their heads down, as if in deep conversation, walking towards her slowly. Margo caught sight of a grey beanie as she rode by.
In her bike light a little white whippet, splashed with grey, appeared. Margo swerved twice, and in the middle of thinking how lucky that was, caught sight of a black whippet. Margo tried to swerve again but the little creature seemed to be attracted to the light, like a moth. Margo rammed right into the animal’s side and they let out a blood curdling yelp. Margo fell in a heap on the concrete path, entangled with her bike.
Her left arm tingled and she immediately began sobbing and hyperventilating. She cast her eyes around for the dog, who’d run off. A woman with cropped hair and big, kind blue eyes crouched down in front of her.
“I’m so sorry! The bike path was so quiet this morning… Are you okay?”
“Yes…. It’s jus…t my arm… and I’m… hav… ing a… panic att…ack.” The last part, “Is your dog okay?” came out in a whoosh.
Grey Beanie crouched down on the path too, “You just try and breathe. I think he’s okay.” Margo imagined he meant well but his patronizing tone annoyed her. The little black dog appeared and was rubbed and patted. Their graceful neck shifted anxiously from side to side. The dog was okay.
“What about your arm?” Asked Kind Eyes anxiously.
Margo, still hyperventilating, bent her arm and rubbed it under her tartan coat.
“Do you want us to call an ambulance?” This was Grey Beanie.
“No… noth… ing’s bro…ken… I’ll… be… okay.”
As Margo’s breathing returned to normal she realized that her eyeliner was in a stream that reached her neck. Even if her arm was fine, she couldn’t turn up to work like this.
She picked up her bike with the help of Kind Eyes, whose name was Bella. The black whippet was called Quincy. Margo didn’t catch the names of Grey Beanie or White and Grey Whippet.
She rummaged around with her good arm in her backpack for her mobile and sent Stacey a text, “But dog fell off bike call you I’m a min.”
In case Margo’s arm gave her any ongoing trouble, Bella suggested they exchange numbers. Margo told them it wasn’t necessary, she shouldn’t have been riding so fast and her arm would most certainly be fine. It felt too hard and she just wanted them to go. She hoped Franklin had his phone close by.
Bella insisted, “It’s the right thing to do.”
“Yes,” said the Beanie, “it’s the right thing to do.”
Margo had no choice but to submit.
Once it was firmly established that Margo had a partner to come help her, the couple and whippets set back off along the path under the bridge.
“I hope your day improves!” Bella called out tentatively.
Margo instantly regretted shooing them away. The hyperventilating and sobbing started again. She called Stacey.
“Oh yes of course hun, don’t even think about coming to work. How are you getting home?”
Once again it was reiterated that Franklin would come.
She tried to steady her breathing and called Frankie.
“Jesus, Margie. Where are you?”
“By that spot… you know… we walk Smokey here, then turn around… Just over the bridge.”
“Guess you won’t be making any hipsters’ day today after all!” For fuck’s sake, could he not? “Okay, I’m coming to get you.” He hung up.
Margo had sat herself on the only bench she could see. Unfortunately it faced the bike path. It was nearly light and anyone passing would be able to see her tear stained face. She tried to keep her head down.
She waited. There was no way she was getting back on her bike. Her arm throbbed. She supposed that she should go to the doctor at some stage today. She’d need the medical certificate. The idea of waiting any longer began to outweigh the thought of moving. She looked at her bike in the grass. It, like Quincy, had remained intact.
Margo stood up, picked her bike up and slung her backpack over her good arm, using it to guide her bike to the path. As she approached the road she’d sailed over before running into the whippet, she caught sight of Franklin’s worried face. He’d taken the speedy option and ridden his bike. Margo tried to wave unsuccessfully and kept steering her bike with one arm.
Margo knew she was one of the lucky ones and today she had escaped a day of talking about bread. She’d choose something from the 90s to wake up to next time. A dance track. “Automatic Lover” or “Finally.” That would make her excited to get out of bed.
Lauren lives in Melbourne with two small animals and a partner. She’s very close to completing a Masters at Latrobe Uni. This is her first piece of published fiction.