Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

05 October 2013

Check Out

'So how's your day been?'

The checkout girl didn't look at him; probably didn't yet know whether she was serving a he or she. She said it to everyone as they passed her.

He deliberately didn't answer. She ran a tin of rich red tomatoes (chopped) over the scanner window, a bleep to match all of the other bleeps bleeping from similar checkouts, twelve of them, lined up in a row like exit doors of a shearing shed. He'd often wondered whether if Beethoven had heard those sounds he might have found inspiration for a tenth symphony. Probably not.

'So how's your day been?'

Should he tell her? If he told her she would miss morning tea. That's what was really on her mind. 'So how's your day been?' was just a rote incantation. She'd get a brick load if he told her.

What if he told her about last night, for example? Only three hours ago he'd rolled out of bed, his body aching in every joint. Should he tell her how, at his age, you never got out of bed refreshed, you just ached. The peripheral neuropathy that had been worsening for some years was so nasty this morning that the moment his feet touched the floor it felt as if he were walking on small, sharp chips of marble. Damage from the disintegration of the protective sheath covering each nerve rather like rotted plastic insulation over copper electric wires.

Should he tell her about a night of demons and dragons? Unconsciously re-enacting the quadruple by-pass of four years ago; frightful images of a pulsating heart in an open chest, the diseased arteries cut away while a machine, relying on a tenuous electricity supply, took over its function, hi-jacking blood before it got to the heart, processing it remotely, then restoring it to the circulatory supply while a surgeon whose skill came with all the baggage of human frailty as well as ability, stripped veins from his right leg in four places and used them as grafts in place of the old tubes.

Might he apprise her of the scene change to a wife whose courage in the face of a double mastectomy made him feel cowardly? Or how he ached for the health of his children and grandchildren; no child should die before its parent. His unachievable desire to take any of their sufferings to himself?

'So how's your day?' Would this child care that he woke several times in the night his mouth dry as if full of blotting paper wondering whether that was a symptom of the type two diabetes he'd been diagnosed with two years ago? (As was the peripheral neuropathy, but he'd had that for far longer believing it to have been induced by chemical particulates from surrounding farms and the diesel traffic that passed his front gate).

What about dying? Who would go first? He or his wife? If she went first where did she keep the bed linen? Where was the handbook for the washing machine? What should he do with her clothes? Who did you call when you found a lifeless body in the next bed? What would he say at the funeral? Would he break down? Would he survive alone?

And if he died first? He hoped in his nocturnal phantasms that she wouldn't be fleeced by lawyers; that she would know where the money was. That she could keep the place going. That she wouldn't fall (she sometimes fell) and break her hip with nobody there to help. The dog lying loyal beside her, the cat, disinterested, leaving in search of food and warmth.

His sleeping, waking, half-sleeping, half-waking fuddled mind had tracked down the years last night. People he'd worked with; forty-two years of working; duty; sacrifice. People who'd ill-used him. Thankless people. People he'd loved and lost: so many old friends dead. He couldn't talk to them; share memories, laugh. Old age is bloody lonely.

What if he told her of the awful shock of waking when you thought it time to get up but then saw the green figures of the bedside clock showing 3.15 a.m. and then you went back to sleep only to awake again and find that the figures had changed to 3.25 and you groaned and turned restlessly never expecting to sleep again until you woke once more to find your whole torso bathed in sweat, your rib cage cold and slick, the sheets wet, clammy, revolting?

Would she understand the relief of morning despite the aching body, the painful feet? Could she appreciate how, only now, three hours after rising, were the comforting realities of the day washing away the fearful fantasies of night.

'D'you have Fly Buys?'

He clicked into the present. Yes, the little blue card in his leather wallet. She took it, did something with it, then immediately handed it back.

'Credit card?' Yes, the maroon coloured Mastercard. He slipped it into the slot.

'Pin or sign?'

He tapped in the four numbers. She gave him the white web-fed paper receipt. He thanked her.

'Not a problem. Have a happy day.'

He walked a step or two away as the customer following him loaded her purchases on the rubber conveyor and confronted the check out girl.

'So,' he heard her say, 'How's your day been?'


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By Don Donovan

About Me

My photo

Don Donovan: Biography

I was born on 20 January 1933, nine days before Hitler came to power in Germany, I grew up in south London. Although evacuated during the phoney war and the quieter times I lived in and out of air raid shelters during the blitz and experienced both V1 and V2 attacks on London. Left grammar school in 1948 aged 15 substantially undereducated. I wanted to go to art school but because of family ‘poverty’ joined a commercial art studio in the West End. I was, thereafter, variously a messenger boy, commercial artist and typographer. I was in the Royal Air Force from 1951 to 1953 when the only useful thing I did was to take part in King George VI’s funeral parade.

In 1955 I married Patricia O’Donnell, a RADA graduate, at that time playing opposite Derek Nimmo, they were juvenile leads in a touring repertory company. He went on to great success because he had a funny voice.

We came to New Zealand in 1960 where I worked in advertising. At length I became managing director of one of the companies of whose holding company (the largest domestic advertising complex in New Zealand) I was also a proprietor and shareholder. I left the industry in 1990 when my company was bought out by American interests. My timing was brilliant, at that point my first book had been published and the next was on its way.

We have two daughters and four grand-children.

Now, apart from writing, I function as a self-educated grumpy old man.

Books & Writings

‘New Zealand Odyssey’, with Euan Sarginson, Heinemann-Reed, 1989.

‘One Man’s Heart Attack’, New House, 1990. (A special edition of this book was purchased by CIBA-Geigy for distribution to NZ doctors).

‘Open 7 Days’, Random Century, October 1991.

‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’ by Saint Publishing in 1995 followed by:
‘New Zealand House & Cottage’ in 1997. (Saint Publishing have also published calendars for the years 1994 to 2004 using my watercolour illustrations).

‘The Wastings’, my first novel was published in July 1999 by Hazard Press. Although an international subject it had very limited distribution, only in New Zealand, and the rights have reverted to me. (Colin Dexter read 'The Wastings' and wrote to me: 'I enjoyed and admired "The Wastings"... a beautifully written work... a splendid debut in crime fiction... More please!'.)

Also the texts of photographic books:
‘Colourful New Zealand’
‘New Zealand in Colour’
‘Top of the South’
‘Above Auckland’
‘Hauraki Gulf Destinations’
‘Bay of Plenty’
and a compilation of photographs and quotations titled ‘Anzac Memories’ 2004 all published by New Holland.

My written and illustrated book, ‘Country Churches of New Zealand’ was published in October 2002 by New Holland, who also published ‘Rural New Zealand’ 2004 (photographs and text), and a series of four humorous books of photographs and quotations in 2004 and 2005 titled ‘Woolly Wisdom’, ‘Chewing the Cud’, ‘Fowl Play’, and ‘Pig Tales’. My most recent book was published in August 2006 by New Holland, titled ‘Political Animals’.

Over the years I have written for NZ Herald, Heritage Magazine, Next Magazine and various local and overseas travel and general interest media.