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.

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