C C Canning
Roger Saville left his Mosman house at 7.15am. It was a beautiful, sunlit morning that promised a perfect day; a morning that might normally have inspired him to open his car sunroof and sniff the scent of his wife’s garden as he drove down the tree-lined driveway and out the sandstone pillared gates.
The sun had been up for nearly an hour and was already forming rainbows in the sprinklers that watered the lawns, adding lustre to the golden real estate that perched above the still, deep waters of Sydney’s Middle Harbour. Rosellas swooped between the palm trees as he passed and a kookaburra, which started each day in the Moreton Bay fig on the street corner, stretched its neck and laughed hilariously.
None of this registered with Roger. His nostrils were closed to the honeyed scent of the late-flowering daturas, his ears deaf to avian salutes and his eyes blind to the yellow and red bracts of heliconia glowing in the emerald green shade of Frank-the-Gardener’s Balinese border. His focus was obscured by the bitter, green flavour of his own bile, the source of which he hadn't yet identified.
Like the sun, he’d been up for nearly an hour already, but unlike the sun he had not warmed to the day. Anxious not to disturb his wife, he’d slid out of bed like a cat burglar making a silent escape, tip-toeing his way to the shower with the unresolved anxieties of the night still clinging to his skin. He’d taken those anxieties to bed with him so he shouldn’t have been surprised to find them still there when he arose.
For the second time in eight hours he’d stood with his head bowed in supplication while stinging jets of hot and cold water pulsated through the massaging shower head, sluicing his hair and skin, but still the elusive odour had clung to him. What was its source? Not guilt, for God’s sake? With obsessive care he’d scraped each newly-emerged hair from his neck and chin and sprinkled after-shave over his chest and arms before buttoning them into a crisp white cotton shirt. He’d brushed his thick black hair away from his high forehead and squinted down his aquiline nose for any facial imperfections in the mirror, but all to no avail. Nothing had made him feel better.
The house had been silent. His wife’s head had lain, light as fairy down, on her pillow, breathing invisibly through half-opened lips. There was no sound from his daughter or from his father-in-law in the guest room, and with luck, he'd thought, he could escape the house without having to speak to anyone. He’d knotted his silk Armani tie, slipped on his black Bally shoes and descended quietly to the kitchen.
He’d thought about eating something, because he knew he had a big day ahead, but he was anxious to get on the road. His cell phone had sat in its charger on the kitchen bench and, spurred by an ill-defined unease, he'd checked to see whether there had been any missed calls before opening the outside door to retrieve the morning paper as usual from the back step.
That's when the source of his displeasure had revealed itself. It was Anzac Day. He’d momentarily forgotten. On the front page of the newspaper there was a colour photo of an old man in the last stages of decay, his parchment-dry skin stretched thinly over atrophied flesh and illiquid veins, his dry crusty eyes and mouth devoid of life. 'Gallipoli’s last man standing', read the caption.
Roger had shuddered in distaste. Why did they have to shove this crap in people’s faces every year? And why did the world have to stop for it?
To make matters worse Joanne had suddenly swept into the kitchen, carrying with her an air of unfinished business from the night before.
‘At least let me make you some breakfast,’ she argued, taking up from a conversation he must have chosen to forget. ‘You can’t go off on an empty stomach.’
And despite his impatience he’d surrendered and let her make tea and toast.
‘Listen to this crap,’ he’d exclaimed, spreading out the front page of The Herald in an effort to direct conversation into a neutral corner: 'Price fixing executives deserve jail, says Fels'. Have you ever heard anything like it? Who does this bastard think he is? He’s supposed to be a consumer watchdog, not the head of the FBI. How the hell can you sell petrol if you can’t agree on the price? Business is such an easy target for politicians and academics. It makes me sick.’
Not that price rigging in the petrol industry had anything to do with him.
To which she’d replied: ‘I don’t understand why you need to go to work early when it’s Anzac Day and the whole country is on holiday.’
And he'd snapped.
‘You just don’t get it, do you, Jo? Business doesn’t stop just because the fucking Government calls a public holiday. Business never stops. It’s time you got used to it.’
Then he’d pecked her hurriedly on the cheek and left before she could think up some other complaint.
So it hadn't been a good start to the day, yet, as he stopped at the lights waiting to get onto Military Road, he knew she wasn’t the source of his annoyance. She'd been justifiably angry that he’d forgotten her father was coming to dinner the night before and had arrived home late. What could he say? Business was business, for God's sake. Surely everyone understood that? He may have been late, but at least he’d made it in time for the main course. Besides, they'd all be seeing each other tonight at the Anzac Day charity dinner. There was a lot riding on that dinner and it was no small thing that he’d included his family – not to mention the fact that it was costing $1,000 a head.
There, that was it; that was the explanation for his mood. It was the argument that had ensued yesterday when he’d presented the bill to Lawrence Beck for payment and Lawrence had tut-tutted as though it was a gambling debt that he was being ordered to settle, rather than a measly $10,000 tab for the year’s most important charity dinner. If the city’s top property developers couldn’t afford to buy a table, then who in God’s name could? What was it with Lawrence? Yes, that was why he was pissed off. It had been building for a long time.
The traffic along Military Road was lighter than usual and he made good time on the approaches to the bridge. Anzac Day falling in the middle of the week was a bloody inconvenience but at least the lack of congestion was one positive he could take from it, and because he’d left home early he’d be at his office before they started erecting the barricades for the morning street march. Alright, he wouldn’t dwell unnecessarily on Lawrence, and he wouldn’t allow himself to feel guilty about Jo, either. It was meant to be an agreeable day, a day filled with high expectations, for if things went as planned it might easily turn out to be the defining day of his business life.
At 7.35am, therefore, as he pulled into the basement car park of his office building in Phillip Street, Roger Saville’s distaste for life had somewhat abated. He parked his Jaguar in the usual space next to the elevator, turned off the ignition, checked his reflection in the rear view mirror and reached behind him to retrieve his briefcase from the back seat where he always placed it before going home. That’s when he was forced to recall the reason he'd returned home late the night before; the reason he’d scrubbed his skin so vigorously in the shower.