In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. In the land of the vehicleless, the shoemaker is king.

With the complete exhaustion of oil resources and the death of horses in the great horse plague, humanity took to its feet in earnest. Folks hadn’t done this much walking since the invention of the ox cart in Mesopotamia three thousand years in the past. Now, everybody walked. In the small town of Legume, Kansas, Jack made their shoes.

Jack liked to say that he knew twice as much as anybody else in town, because he knew all the right feet as well as all of the left. The doctors sent their foot patients to Jack. He could cure a foot with a shoe.

Jack wasn’t married, but he was secretly in love with Lorrie, because of her right foot. There was something about it. He couldn’t put his finger on exactly what. He hadn’t told anybody, not even her left foot, but when he had that right foot in his hands, he dreamed of getting together with Lorrie. Maybe going for a walk with her. Jack’s thoughts along these lines, while intense and exciting, did exhibit a modicum of sexual confusion.

Life was good in Legume until war broke out with Nebraska. Suddenly, everybody wanted army boots. Even Lorrie’s delicious right foot was to be covered with hobnailed leather. Herds of cows were slaughtered for their hides. The situation made a mockery of cobblery. Even as Jack fumed, army officers arrived to draft, or dragoon, him into service. Shoemakers were needed at the front.

The front was a nightmare. Soldiers with severely injured feet were stretchered in to Jack’s MASH tent in droves. It was his job to remove the feet and try to save the boots. He worked day and night but he could never catch up. Too many feet. Too many boots.

He stuck it out until a truce was called. Then he staggered out of his tent, took off his own army boots, and announced that he was a pacifist. He would wear no more shoes forever. Then he walked out of camp, the skin of the soles of his feet pressing into the earth.

“Oo. Ow. Ouch,” he said as he made his way down the rocky road before him. He turned his back on Legume and headed south, where, he had heard, cowboys rode their cows.

In the old days, Jack had laughed at men who had no shoes. After walking a mile barefoot, he knew that he wouldn’t do so again. He thought for a moment about laughing at men who had no feet, but then realized he could end up that way himself someday, so he wouldn’t laugh at them either. Coincidentally, later that day as he passed through old farmland that was reverting to its original state as prairie, he came upon a man with no feet, sitting under an oak tree eating fried squirrel.

“A guy was giving me a ride back from the war in his dog cart,” the fellow said, “but the dog got tired so the man put me out. Did give me this squirrel, though.”

The man’s name was John Brown.

Jack constructed a primitive travois using dead branches from the line of elms in a dessicated windbreak beyond the field, and strips of cloth from his shirt and trousers. While he was at it, he caught another squirrel. The two men cooked and ate it.

Jack dragged John for miles on the travois, until they came to the abandoned farming town of Norbert on the Smoky Hill river. There they set up camp, with no intention of going farther.

When John Brown’s ankle stumps had healed sufficiently, Jack crafted a pair of boots for him, with artificial wood feet inside them, and straps to hold them to Brown’s calves after he pulled them halfway up to his knees. Although Jack had foresworn shoes and their making, he felt that fabricating artificial feet was another matter entirely, even if they were pre-shod in shoes that he had cobbled.

The two men moved into a ramshackle farmhouse and fixed it up. They lived off the land and the river. With the depopulation of the area, and of the state generally, waterfowl and other wildlife abounded. The men did a little trading with folks trekking through on the road. Jack’s abilities as a maker of false feet was remarked upon and in due course, amputees began showing up to take advantage of his skills. In some cases, they stayed on and the town became something of a haven for the variously limbless.

These arriving included a young woman named Samantha. She was a lovely young thing, save for her feet, which were missing. Jack fell for her and she for him. However, in intimate moments together, when Jack’s hands slipped down Samantha’s only-too-willing body, perhaps unconsciously, Jack would be jolted back to reality when his paws reached “paydirt,” only to discover that the paydirt, or feet, was gone.

“Hey, I’m up here,” Samantha would say jocosely.

Jack had to learn that even when your beloved is missing her most exciting part, or parts, it is still possible to have a deep and mostly satisfying relationship with her, notwithstanding. The couple married.

Jack became Norbert’s first mayor, or first in a very long time, at any rate. He founded a company, Jackboot, which first fulfilled the needs of the town and then exported replacement feet around the country. What with the frequent little wars across the continent, which were a symptom of the dissatisfaction of a pedestrian populace, business boomed. “Jackboot” became synonymous with the pacifist spirit. Samantha managed the finances and advertising. John Brown retired to a sod dugout on the prairie.

The army passed through, seeking cannon fodder for a flareup with Missouri. The citizens of the town were mustered out, so that likely candidates could be pressed into service forthwith. Everyone without exception removed their Jack parts and lined up on their crutches and stumps. The soldiers forebore to reenlist those who had already lost one or more limbs in the cause of Kansasonian freedom and now represented a potential impediment to rapid action.

Norbert became a town known for its stumped residents and known for Jack, the man who kept it on its feet, figuratively speaking. In a world that, with the passing of mechanized vehicles and Equus ferus, depended absolutely on its feet, Norbert became a shining symbol of Man’s unquenchable spirit and determination not to take adversity lying down.

Humans across the country and the world seemed to keep whittling away at themselves. On a trip up to Sampson on the Victoria, Jack and Samantha noticed that, in addition to a decline in population, there was a corresponding decline in the number of domesticated animals – cats, dogs, cows, and chickens. At the same time, wildlife thrived.

The short grass and long grass prairies returned and with them, the buffalo. Apparently, towns were emptying out their zoos and garden parks, because it wasn’t unusual for travellers to spot elephants and giraffes out on the Prairie. Hippos abode in the Platte.

Jack and his footless bride strode into the future unafraid. Whenever they came to a metaphorical patch of pricklers or bullheads, Samantha would take Jack onto her back and lug him across it, since he was barefoot and she, of course, wasn’t.

Double Dawg Dare Contest

My 6 entries plus 16 others.




“Sir? Hello?”

“zzzzzzzz… Huh? Wha?”


“Hunh. Must have dozed off. Big lunch… What can I do for you?”

“The man at the bus station said I could get some money here for a bus ticket. I’ve got to get to Devil’s Tower in Wyoming.”

“From Area 51 to Devil’s Tower, huh? You some kind of extraterrestrial fanboy?”

“I’m not sure what a fanboy is, but perhaps I am.”

“Well, that’s a thousand-mile trip, my friend. What have you got on your person that’s worth the price of the ticket? And how much would that ticket cost?”

“$184. It’s a twenty-four-hour trip, the ticket seller said, on the big gray dog. He told me I could pawn or sell this. See?”

“Do you want to sell it or pawn it? Are you going to want it back?”

“I won’t need it back, I guess. I won’t be around these parts.”

“Then you’ll want to sell it, not pawn it… What is it, anyway?”

“It has many uses.”

“Like what?”

“It is my principal weapon.”

“Oh, yes? It is one strange-looking gun… Is it loaded?”


“Will it shoot? Will it fire?”


“Then get out of the store, Pilgrim! No loaded guns in a pawn shop! That’s a firm rule everywhere. Take that thing outside and remove its bullets. Don’t come in here with ammo, for Cry-eye! Not in your pocket and not in your gun.”

“I’m sorry, Sir. I misunderstood. There are no bullets in this… this gun.”

“Then why did you say it was loaded?”

“Earlier today, I tried to buy a car. The man told me it was fully loaded. It didn’t mean there were bullets in the car.”

“Say, you speak English real good, but you aren’t from around here, are you?”


“You’re just in the U. S. to see Area 51 and Devil’s Tower and places like that?”

“Well, those are two popular sites, yes.”

“You didn’t buy the car?”

“No. The man wanted too much money. That’s why I went to the bus station. That’s why I need enough money for a bus ticket.”

“O.K. Well, give me the license for that baby. I’ll need to make a copy. I’ll pay you for the weapon and put it up for sale, and in case you might change your mind and want it back, I warn you, with all the sci-fi freaks around here, this baby will move fast.”

“A license?”

“Don’t tell me, let me guess. You don’t have a license. What is that thing, anyway? Where was it made? Is it military? Israeli? Rumanian?”

“Listen, it’s not a gun, per se. It has many uses. I just meant that, well, it could be used as a weapon, if need be. Please forget the gun appellation.”

“Say, what do you take me for? You want $184 for what? A toy? Give me something to work with here. What’s your name?”

“My name. Um. Brad.”

“Brad. You’re a Brad. Uh huh. Well, Brad, put that thing through its paces.”

“O.K… It can make food.”

“You’re kidding me.”

“Look. I press this, and…”

“What is that, a tomato? Hold on. I’ve gotta call my wife out here. Trixie! Trixie!”


“Come out here. There’s something you gotta see!”

“I’m watching my show in here!”

“Tape your show in there! There’s something you got to see out here! Get a move on!”

“What’s so important I gotta miss my show? This better be good.”

“Wait, look. I press this doohickey here…”

“What is that, mashed potatoes? All over the counter? Are you nuts? Don’t call me out here again unless it’s a stickup or you won the lottery.”

“Aw, baby… She didn’t get the point, Brad. Like, how did these mashed potatoes get here, you know? Hold on while I pile them up… I can make… I want to make…”

“You’re making Devil’s Tower.”

“Oh, yeah? I’ve never seen it.”

“Let me clean this up…”

“Hey, my tower… At least you left the tomato. Say, that thing is amazing. What else can it do?”

“Music, like d e c c g… Re, me, do, do, so.”

“Oh, yeah? That’s the music from that space movie, right? What else can it do? What about that thingee there?”

“Time travel.”

“How does that work?”

“I’ll show you.”

“What about that thingee there?”

“Time travel.”

“How does that work?”

“I’ll show you.”

“What about that thingee there?””

“Time travel.”

“How does that work?”

“It’s hard to demonstrate, I guess. Let’s skip that one. This one over here lets you read somebody’s mind. It’s not half as much fun as you would anticipate.”

“Can I try it out on you?”

“No, I don’t have a mind, not the way you would think.”

“Hey, Babe! Get out here!”

“I’m not comin.”

“I mean it! I’ll horsewhip you!”

“You and what army, you old fool? Alright, what is it?”

“Hold on while I press this button… Lordy, Mister. You were right. It ain’t much fun after all. Go on back to your show, Babe… How about this slider, Brad?”

“It predicts the future.”

“How often does it get it right?”

“It’s never wrong.”

“Let’s try that one, then. Hang on while I call my man in Reno… Jose? Put a hundred down on… hold on… I slide this doohickey over… and more… a hundred down on Drizzle Foot in the fourth. Going off at eighty-to-one.”

“Be careful with that slider. If the evil-doers find out you never miss in your predictions, they’ll descend on you in a flash.”

“Don’t worry about that. I ain’t greedy. What about this thingamabob?”

“Don’t touch that one! Only touch that one when the environment is maximized for reproductive activities.”

“That would be never. You saw what I have to deal with.”

“I assure you, press this button in the dark of night, alone in your bedroom with your spouse, and serious, furious congress will occur. Repeatedly.”

“Hang on. Let me get this cash drawer open. I’m giving you $200 for the thing. That’s enough for your bus ticket and some meals along the way. Have a nice trip.”


“And now,” the celebrity auctioneer announced, “storage space two nineteen.”

He studied the list in front of him on the lectern.

“It says here that storage space two nineteen contains… the cure for pancreatic cancer!” He looked up at us. “I’m sorry. That’s all the information I have, except an added note to bring something to the locker to write with. Pen and paper or your laptop or smartphone.”

A ripple of laughter ran through the audience. It was a televised charity auction. I wasn’t there to make a lucky bid and win some amazing lost treasure. I just wanted to contribute to the charity. Donate. I was happy to settle for something goofy. These lockers were large enough to hold a VW bug. I didn’t really want to bid on a storage locker full of abandoned junk.

I bid high. There was no competition. I went to the back of the hall and paid and took my receipt. I now owned the contents of locker 219. My cost, above the worth of the contents of the locker, was tax-deductible. I had done a mitzvah for the charity. I went home satisfied.

In the morning, I drove down to the storage facility to claim my prize. An attendant at the front gate handed me a card key with “219” stamped on it. He showed me where the locker was located on a map in his hand. I drove into the facility. Other charity bidders were scattered here and there, opening their lockers.

I parked in front of 219. I got out and walked over to the roll-up steel door. Swiped my card key and heard a click. Rolled up the door. As it opened, I saw a pair of feet, then legs… A man standing at a device attached to the back wall. Someone right behind me cleared his throat. A red light blinked on the device. Tape on the floor marked out a semicircle around the device. The man was standing within the semicircle. Pinned to the wall next to the device was a piece of paper with the words TIME MOVES BACKWARDS INSIDE THE TAPE written on it. The man inside turned. He looked like a scholar, wearing a tweed coat. He waved, with a big smile. Turned back to the device.

“Hello?” said the fellow standing behind me. I looked over my shoulder. He was identical to the man in the locker.

I gawked.

A news crew from the TV station was gathered behind us, shooting the action. Everyone was grinning. Several applauded. The man behind me gave a little bow. The man in the locker had turned back to the device.

“Do you have something to write with?” said the man behind me.

I handed him my iPhone.

He stood, typing in text with his thumbs.

“Is that the cure for cancer you’re typing?” I said.

“As a matter of fact, it is.” He turned to the camera. It was the moment when the world changed forever.

His name was Alex Former. He taught physics and did research at M.I.T. He had a brilliant student named Kalyan Das Jain. Jain was last seen on a Monday night. Tuesday morning, when Professor Former arrived at his office at the university, he found an email waiting for him from Jain.

“Professor,” read the email, “when you receive this, come immediately to storage locker 219 at the You-Store-It site on Broden Street.”

Professor Former asked his teaching assistant to take his class. He drove over to the You-Store-It. The gatekeeper had instructions from Jain to give Former a card key and let him in. The professor found unit 219. Got out of his car. He swiped the card and rolled up the door. Inside, he saw a device attached to the rear wall. A red light winked on it. There was a semicircle of tape on the floor in front of it. The locker was otherwise empty. Pinned to the wall next to the device was a piece of paper with TIME MOVES BACKWARDS INSIDE THE TAPE written on it.

Professor Former stood staring. Suddenly, he felt a sort of wrench, as if half his substance had been plucked from him. He had an abrupt moment of second sight, as if he were walking backwards from the other side of the tape, backwards toward the device on the wall, where he now stood looking back at himself outside the tape. He waited several minutes, standing outside the tape and looking in at himself, and then stepped over the tape, into the semicircle, as, at the same time, the Professor Former inside the tape walked backwards to the tape and stepped back over it, thus merging with him. He crossed to the device. Looked back and saw himself standing there, outside the tape. He had a faint sense of himself, out there, looking in at him. He turned and waited several minutes and then stepped back outside the tape, into himself again.

Professor Former stood staring. Suddenly, he felt a sort of wrench. He had split vision, as if he were one-quarter over by the device. He waited several minutes and then stepped over the tape. He had a strong sense of himself, outside the tape, looking in at him. He understood then that he was in a time loop, going forward several minutes, then stepping over the tape and going back those same minutes, all the while divided in two. He crossed the locker and stepped back outside the tape.

Professor Former stood staring. Suddenly, he felt a sort of wrench. He felt perfectly split, as if he were half over by the device looking back at himself. In a time loop. If he stepped in over the tape, he would come back to the moment he stepped out. He did not step in. The sense of division evaporated. The space inside the tape was empty. He had broken the loop.

Kalyan Das Jain must have found himself in a similar loop, Former thought. Either he was still stuck in it, the night before, or he had broken his loop and moved forward normally again, on a different space/time track than Former himself was now on.

The professor considered stepping in over the tape a second time, but he hadn’t felt the wrench again. A wrench would signal the moment when he stepped back out over the tape. As long as he didn’t feel divided, he wasn’t traveling back on the other side while traveling forward on this side.

He returned to school in time to teach his second class. Later, he went to Jain’s apartment. The manager let him in but he found nothing of interest. He called the police and reported Jain missing. They told him to call back after the student had been gone for seventy-two hours.

He thought about turning off the device, or leaving it on but announcing its existence to the world. However, Jain had left no notes. There was no sign of Jain. What if the young student were stuck in a loop in the past and turning off the machine would doom him to remain there? Professor Former did not want to take that chance.

Two days had passed since Jain’s disappearance. Professor Former worried about what to do next, but was unable to come up with any concrete plan of action. Then, he felt the wrench and knew that he had just stepped out over the tape after coming back from the future, merging into himself somehow, returning from whenever he would step over into the semicircle in the future. He faintly sensed himself in the semicircle, which meant that he was in the first cycle or so of a loop. He sensed that he was returning from a mission. Couldn’t tell more than that. He drove down to the locker, which he had renewed in his name for another year. Rolled up the door. Saw himself in there, with his hand on the dial on the front of the device. There was a second notice on the wall: TURN DIAL TO SPEED UP.

Should he step over the tape? Why? He’d just go back to the moment the feeling started and step out again, to no purpose. He closed the door and locked it. He went home and put up with that faint feeling of otherwhereness. Ignored it as best he could. For two years.

At the end of those two years, he was diagnosed with Stage Four pancreatic cancer. Prognosis: one month to live.

Immediately, he scheduled a sit-down with Dr. Aaron Feldman, the leading expert in the Boston area for pancreatic cancer. Dr. Feldman taught and conducted research at Tufts Medical School. He met Professor Former as a courtesy to a fellow academic.

“Please tell me,” said Former, “in summary form, what you’ve worked on and what you’ve learned in the past two years. Let me take notes. Imagine that you’re telling me now what you most would have liked to know two years ago.”

Dr. Feldman obliged, with a quizzical grin. Former took notes. He memorized the notes over a period of days.

With the notes firmly in his head, Former drove to the storage locker. He opened it and entered the semicircle. He examined the device more closely than he had before. There were a dial and a counter which appeared to display seconds, minutes, hours, days, and years. He pinned a note to the wall: TURN DIAL TO SPEED UP. He turned the dial. The change rate of the display accelerated. He turned the dial some more. Soon, two years had passed on the display. He stepped out of the semicircle.

Two days had passed since Jain’s disappearance. Professor Former felt the wrench and knew that he had just stepped out over the tape after returning from the future. He clearly felt himself in the semicircle, which meant that he had gone beyond the first cycle of a loop.

When he stepped in, and made the trip again, he’d strengthen the loop and the memories of his returning half. He’d remember why he was coming back.

Two years later, he was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer. Prognosis: one month to live. Immediately, he scheduled a sit-down with Dr. Aaron Feldman. He took notes and returned to the locker.

Two days had passed since Jain’s disappearance. Professor Former felt the wrench and knew that he had just stepped out over the tape. He paid attention to his thoughts in the locker. Concentrating, he was able to write down Doctor Feldman’s progress in cancer research for the coming two years. He met with Feldman and shared the key results of this progress, without telling him the source of the data. Feldman was amazed and, once he had thought through what he had learned, delighted.

Two years later, Professor Former was diagnosed with Stage Four pancreatic cancer. Prognosis: two months to live. He went to Feldman, who remembered him from his surprising visit two years earlier. Thanked Former for the help he had so mysteriously provided, and updated him. Former then memorized the data, returned to the locker, and stepped over the tape.

When he felt the wrench, two days after Jain’s disappearance, his divided self knew what he was up to. He met with Feldman and shared the key results of his next two year’s progress, without telling him its source. Two years later, his cancer prognosis: six months to live.

He repeated the process.

His prognosis: a cure was available.

When he felt the wrench, two days after Jain’s disappearance, he called the storage company and donated the contents of #219 to the up-coming charity drive. He attended the auction and saw me bid on #219 and pay for its contents. The next morning, he drove over to the facility and stood behind me as I opened the locker. Time for him to share, not just the cancer cure, but Jain’s incredible discovery as well.

Letters That Cross In The Mail

My eight entries in a “Letters that cross in the mail” contest, plus a couple more.

Out the Office Window: Ginger

Backstory for a character in Out the Office Window.

Ginger was born in the town of Gore on New Zealand’s South Island. Gore is a small, rural town which is not getting any larger. Ginger’s father spent the greater part of his adult life working for Fleming and Company, makers of Creamoata porridge. When the company moved to Australia in 2001, he switched to dairy-equipment sales and service. He was never happy about the change. Ginger’s mum was carried off by cancer when Ginger was only two.

Ginger was a pretty girl with five older brothers, who raised her and treated her like a little princess. This had the effect of nourishing her feminine side; she didn’t grow up to be a tomboy. She was a bright penny, an innocent flirt when she got older. She had high hopes for romance and adventure in her life, despite the countryside around her, mostly inhabited by cows. She would visit Invercargill and Dunedin with her family, but neither was the big city she had in mind when she daydreamed about her future.

A young fellow named Aperahama Snow came down to Gore from Tapanui in the forests at the foot of the Blue Mountains, after graduating from Blue Mountain College. He moved to Gore to continue his education. He became close to Ginger’s brothers, hunting and fishing with them. They’d bring home brown trout from the Mataura river and Ginger would clean and cook them and serve them to the boys, including Aperahma. In time, Aperahama was spending more time with Ginger than with her brothers.

Before they became absolutely serious, however, Aperahama began missing school due to a peculiar lack of energy.

“Are you ill, do you think?” Ginger asked him.

“It’s Tapanui flu,” he told her, from under the covers in his bedroom. “I’ve had it before and now it’s come back. I’ll need to go home to the clinic for treatment.”

“Oh, Appie, I do hope you’ll get well soon!”

“She’ll be right,” Aperahama said weakly, not moving in his bed.

Ginger knew of this flu, which was in fact chronic fatigue syndrome, and understood her young man’s need to go home. Rather than waiting for his return, Ginger realized, she wanted to leave Gore too.

Home life was gloomy with her unhappy father, who was short with her and her brothers. None of Ginger’s girlfriends – the girls she had grown up with – seemed interested in doing anything other than marrying local boys, setttling down, and starting families. How could they stand that, Ginger wondered. Didn’t they want to see the world, have adventures? She understood that she had grown apart from these young women. She realized that all along, while they had enjoyed listening to her talk about her plans, none of them had ever had any intention of joining her in them.

With her boyfriend gone, she was ready to leave. She wasn’t interested in country music, cows, or any other of the blandishments of the area. She craved crowds and lights and department stores. Especially department stores. And boutiques.

When she graduated from St. Peter’s College and found herself doing no more than mooning over her lost love and imagining herself in a big city, it was away with the fairies and off to Auckland for her. She left home with a hug for each brother and the greatest of delight, off to a place that in her mind had acquired the status of Oz. She was ready and anxious to make new friends, learn about the latest trends and fashions, and shake the dust of the Southland region off her new Overland fashion boots.

Out the Office Window: Brittany

Backstory for a character in Out the Office Window.

Brittany put in a long stretch as a homeless, or disadvantaged, person in “the world’s most livable city.” Being an energetic soul, she was one of those itinerant window washers who hung out in the winter at the big bus shelter under TVNZ headquarters on the corner of Victoria and Hobson Streets. She was there when Auckland Transport initiated its anti-roosting campaign, during which AT began removing all the benches it could lay its hands, or tentacles, on. This did not cause Brittany and her friends to push off, only to move into doorways and stairs when they needed to rest or sleep. Brittany took her meals at the Auckland City Mission when she ate, but more often she drank. She was gregarious and could make friends with anybody; contrariwise, she was quick to defend her turf and her rights against all comers. Her best pal was old Haeatatanga, who would match her bottle for bottle when they took a break from window washing to binge. The Future Focus Policy, which went into effect in January, reduced her welfare benefits by half. Most of her friends were also affected. The purpose of the policy was to encourage single parents and other recipients to find employment, but between childcare needs, transportation difficulties, mental illness, substance abuse, lack of work skills, so forth, most of Brittany’s acquaintances sank even further into destitution – with no benches to sleep on, thanks to the relentless AT. Perhaps on those occasions when Brittany and Haeatatanga sought help from the Sallies, Shirley’s occasional contributions to the Salvation Army were used to assist them. Brittany had a daughter who she didn’t talk about. The girl lived with her poppy in Manukau City. That winter, old Haeatatanga had been complaining of the dreaded lurgy. She carked it the day after her benefits were halved. Her passing was not easy. Brittany held her hand at the end. Alone with the woman’s body, Brittany experienced an awakening. After seeing to it that her friend’s remains were properly collected, she made her way over to the Methodist Church on Pitt Street to wait for the next Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Suddenly, she had a desperate craving to lift herself up out of the cold, damp street. Her transition and recovery were hard. She attended many AA meetings. When the time for restitution arrived, she made the journey out to Manukau and found that her father did not want to see her or for her to see her daughter. Brittany remained on the street. There were no AA meetings in Manukau, so she attended those held in the Old Central School in Papakura. In time, her father let her spend time with her daughter. This proved to be a healing process for both mother and daughter; they helped each other. Brittany’s greatest fear had been that her daughter would hate her and be filled with anger. It wasn’t so. Her daughter was an angel. Once Brittany felt that she had reestablished some sort of relationship with her father, and with her daughter, she returned to the city. One day soon after, she was on the street in front of Sean’s building. It was hosing down and she stepped close to the building’s entrance to wring out her cardy and drip on the mat. A sympathetic maintenance woman, the same one who helped Shirley get in, held the door open for her and arranged a spot in the building for her to call her own, if only temporarily. The woman fixed her up with some castoff clothes and Shirley, renewed, took thought of her future.

Out the Office Window: Shirley

Backstory for a character in Out the Office Window.

Shirley was born in Auckland and grew up in a Mount Eden villa, an only child with an emotionally distant mother and a father not often seen. She was never clear whether her family was comfortable or simply hanging on, as she heard her cousins say that her dad was a bit of a bludger. She knew, at the least, that her parents weren’t welcome in the old-money mansions of her great aunts and uncles in Epsom and, more recently, Remmers.

She had a view from her bedroom window over Grey Lynn as she grew up, and developed a taste for views in general. For this reason, and perhaps because of her father’s absence – he was supposedly downtown attending to business – she found herself attracted to tall buildings. She’d trek downtown, find a window high above the city, and settle in front of it to meditate on her lonely life.

Her father was short and bald. Shirley herself had an unruly mop of black hair. Maori hair, according to the kids at school, including those who were Maori themselves. Everyone respected her temper and strength and attributed both, like her hair, to the mixture of blood types they imagined to be flowing in her veins. She believed that her mother knew the provenance of that mop of hair, but her mother would not speak of it. Clearly, though, it did not come from the pipsqueak who was her titular dad.

Because Shirley was a big ‘un and her father was diminutive, he would step up onto her foot on his rare visits home, and give her a hug. She came to associate these moments with deep feelings of happiness and contentment, perhaps as compensation for her concerns about her true parentage. Later, young men learned to step up onto her foot and Bob’s your uncle. Contrariwise, let her step up onto your foot and you might expect the same, but let your hand wander and you’d be well and truly smacked.

Once she was out of school, Shirley found a job downtown in a fitness center on Queen Street. As a personal trainer, she was in great demand by men and women alike. She was approached by operators in the wrestling game. She was drafted by the Auckland Storm, the women’s rugby team. She passed on these opportunities. Despite her physical prowess and tendency to lash out when provoked, she was not naturally aggressive or combative. Instead, she was drawn to meditative pursuits – those of an only child left to her own devices. When she found those high places downtown to which she was attracted, she would sit and gaze out over the city, and think. And brood.

She was no nun. She was familiar with the male landscape. At the gym, she found herself on several occasions in the wrong shower room with the wrong co-worker. But in the final analysis, she lived more in her mind than in her body, despite the daily use of that body to earn a living. She was attuned to the world around her, concerned about the planet. Perhaps one of her donations to the Salvation Army found its way as aid to Brittany during Brittany’s homeless period. Perhaps as Shirley drifted through the city, she passed Sean leading one of his walking tours.

On the first day of March, exploring during her lunch break, she spotted a tall building that intrigued her. With the help of a maintenance woman (who also helped Brittany), Shirley took a lift to the penthouse on the 38th floor and there found a windowsill that suited her.

Out the Office Window: Sean

Backstory for a character in Out the Office Window.

Sean was born in Warkworth on the Mahurangi River. One quarter of his DNA came courtesy of an American soldier stationed in Warkworth during World War II. Another quarter originated in Cambodia, perhaps explaining the yellowish tint to his skin. The providers of the final half were exclusively colonial.

Sean suffered from early-onset Alopecia universalis. The disease, benign in other respects, renders the individual completely hairless, including eyebrows and eyelashes. Teased by his mates at school, Sean developed into a shy and socially awkward young man. He decamped to Auckland at the earliest possible moment, anxious to lose himself in the anonymous society of the big city.

Like many of the most bashful, Sean was at his best when performing before a crowd. Something about his odd appearance appealed to tourists. His first job in Auckland was narrating eight-hour bus tours. He would entertain the passengers with facts on the ride though the inner city, out the Waitakere rainforest, and, on foot, across the black sands of a beach. He was a bit of a dag and the customers liked that and were satisfied and smiling at his final gidday.

Nonetheless, did he not have a heart that could love and break? Did he not have the desires and needs of a man, albeit a man without hair? Was he not ready to reach out to others, not as a guide but as a simple human being? Yes.

To increase his contact with others, he left his bus gig and guided walking tours instead. He would lead his flock up from the waterfront through the lower city to Albert Park and back. He’d introduce his audience to a thousand years of history, beginning with the Maori, who settled Tamaki Makarau, “the land of many lovers.” Other times, they would stay down by the water, covering the area’s history from Polynesian migration to the early Europeans to the life of Sir Peter Blake. For the fit, he’d choose the Coast-to-Coast Walkway with its ten miles of neighborhoods, vistas, and volcanos, all the way to Onehunga, with a bus back.

It’s quite possible that he passed Brittany on some of these rambles, as she was living on the street at the time.

Sean met a number of women in the course of his work, and formed a number of brief relationships. However, because he was lonely, or needy, or motivated by some other deep-seated psychological condition, every time, with every woman, he took a step too soon, so to speak.

“That’s crook, mate,” said Rachael, an Aussie from Sydney. “Try that with the wrong woman sometime and she’ll break your jaw with a left hook.”

“I misread your signals.” Sean said.

“There were no signals. Forget the signals. Keep your paws to yourself. You can’t go too slow with a woman.”

“No worries, mate,” Sean said, but in a lugubrious tone. “She’ll be right.”

Every slap was an occasion for introspection and self-searching and depression for Sean. He resolved never to jump the gun again. Resolved it repeatedly. Where did this inappropriate optimism come from, which caused his hands to venture onto and over forbidden territory?

It was at such a time of self-doubt that Sean abandoned his guide work. Satisfying – fun – as it had been, he withdrew into himself and sought work in one of the tall buildings of the city, where he could gaze out over the society that made as if to draw him in, only to reject him with a ringing blow to the head as one of his nerveless hands fell away from some ripe hip or buttock.