Mark cancelled the dog walker. He had never understood why they had one in the first place, he liked walking the dog. He didn’t like the dog, but he liked the solitude the walk provided. That was before the pizza shop (Mark’s Pizza) closed. Now all he had was solitude, at least ‘til six fifteen when Kate got home.
It was a hot and humid Brisbane November. For three days’ clouds had hovered and swooped but never released their load. So the moisture just hung there, thick and groggy.
The last time the dog walker had come Mark had felt judged. Judged for his rapidly growing facial hair, judged for his stained tracksuit pants and slippers, judged for his ‘Best Uncle’ mug of coffee. ‘Just take the fifteen dollars and fuck off,’ Mark had felt like saying. Instead he had paid the girl in coins from the piggy bank on the kitchen counter. That’ll show her.
The pizza shop had never really gotten off the ground. Six months of slow business had resulted in a single Yelp review: ‘smells like grease’.
The worst part was that after Mark’s Pizza had closed for good, they were actually doing much better financially. Kate had bought Mark a new set of knives for in the kitchen (which were still in the box), and the Jack Russel (Winnie) a new studded collar. They were even thinking about getting a Foxtel subscription so Kate could watch more of the reality TV she liked. Without the burden of the bills and the wages and the broken oven, they could afford these luxuries. Kate’s salary at the Australian Bureau of Statistics was more than enough to support them. The shop it now seemed, had simply been an expensive hobby.
Mark loved his wife, but he hated her mathematical outlook. When it had come time to shutdown the business, she had puit in cold terms: ‘the numbers don’t add up any more Mark.’
That was almost three months ago. Since then, Mark had watched a lot of movies, (the first Iron Man twice) and eaten enough rotisserie chicken to feed a rugby team.
There would be no more movies or chicken today, at least not until this afternoon.
The sun was magnified by the humidity, and even though the clock read a quarter to eleven, Marks t-shirt was soon drenched. Winnie scampered ahead on her extendable lead, careful to stay on the grass as not to burn her paws on the concrete. Half-way between the house and the river the dog relieved itself. It was hard and dark. Winnie revelled in the experience; tongue out, eyes full of glee. Mark ignored it. Judging by the scattered remains left by other canines, (most much larger than little Winnie’s) this was the new norm for the dog owning community.
On the golden pebbled concrete by the river there was a slight wind. Not enough to stop Mark from sweating, but enough to cool his temples. Pink flowers hung off of grey metal arcs, couples rode bikes and smoked cigarettes in the shade. Across the flowing water, ‘The Tower of Power’ protruded over the growing skyline of cranes, unfinished buildings and the winding, dipping highways. Brisbane was once known for its brown stained river, but at some point had become defined by the bridges that extended across at every bend. The mangroves tangled underneath, and between ferry stations, a reminder of how it had been when Mark’s house had been his father’s.
The bridges were not the only signs of change. Elaborate playgrounds of pink, yellow and silver; yellow and silver; barbeques emanating the smells of diversity and pools shaped like beaches full of children’s laughs and surrounded by palms. It wasn’t just the infrastructure either, people didn’t walk anywhere anymore it seemed, instead opting for golden Lipton sponsored rental bikes. Mark didn’t really get what the bikes had to do with iced tea, but god, he could go for one right now.
Mark studied the faces of people when they walked past. What mistakes had these people made? A woman in wrap-around sunglasses who smiled at him, a man sweating harder than Mark in a blue business shirt with a taut face who didn’t. Anonymous strangers, Mark hoped he seemed the same.
If given another chance, Mark thought he could remedy his mistakes. New location, new crust, maybe get on Menulog or Foodora. If only he had chosen another name, his own restricted him to only one shot. Mark’s Pizza: Mark’s failure. On the footbridge that launched from the rocks and mangroves next to the Maritime Museum where the Diamantia would be docked forever, the wind was stronger. Further up the shoreline Mark could see the stark brown cliffs where he and Kate had walked after a wedding years before, tipsy and floating from champagne and dancing. Kate had held him tight, then run ahead For him to catch, the LED lights illuminating her face and shadowing her velvet dress, a frangipani behind her ear.
Winnie slanted to the right with the north-westerly, dragging her lead in front of walkers headed in the opposite direction. Most smiled at Mark, Winnie was too cute and small to be mad at. Some people were headed to the faux-beach on the far bank, they carried towels and wore thongs, faces shimmering with sunblock. Many had ice creams dripping down their hands. Soft serves - the kind you buy from a van that have twirls of chocolate sticking out and melt prematurely. Winnie skittered around, pleading for a taste, but they laughed her and her begging eyes away. One little girl with a plain vanilla cone allowed the dog to lick her hand, her father waiting patiently. Once the drips were gone, Winnie danced around her, asking for more and tangling her small legs in leash. She couldn’t have been more than five years old. She giggled and almost tripped.
‘Sorry mate, she’s a bit of a tricky one,’ said Mark, attempting corral the small dog with little success.
‘So is she,’ the man laughed, lifting the girl out of the mess of string with ease and untangling her ankle. They kept walking but Mark kept watching them. He envied the look on the man’s face, the pure adoration. Marks stomach panged. The man had a daughter, Mark had a dog. A dog he didn’t even like.
When Mark (and Winnie) got to the other side, the ice-cream van was waiting. Blue on the bottom with a white high top, window slid open. The only aspect ruining the age old cliché was the petite Chinese woman in the place of the overweight moustached man.
The van did not play its tinkling tune but the line was long. Mark (like the others) decided today was a good day for a cream. While he waited amongst the chattering tourists, Mark thought about the man and the girl. He thought about Kate too, in a dreamy way he had almost forgotten what was possible. When he got to the front of the line he ealised he had a dumb grin on his face, and blushed.
‘I’ll get a single serve please.’