The teenagers at the next table were laughing at something and Max was convinced that the something was her.
The hilarity of her situation somehow escaped Max. She was sitting at a table right in the middle of one of the biggest food courts in the city, eating a plate of overpriced and undercooked noodles as she read her cheesy horror novel.
The teenagers whispered among themselves, glanced over at Max and started laughing again. Pushing her plate away with half the food still on it, Max went to leave.
“Hey lady,” said one of the teenagers as she walked past. “Good book?”
Max shrugged. “It’s all right.”
They started laughing again and Max rolled her eyes as she walked past. She heard one of the girls in the group chuckle as she asked the others who bothered to read books anymore.
Max decided to move on from the mall. It was raining outside, but the mall offered a thousand different kinds of banality along with its shelter. Max could usually handle them for a while, but after a short time the tinned music, recycled air and crowds looking for cheap deals always got to her.
Tucking her novel into the back pocket of her jeans, Max wandered past the generic bookshops, giant chain stores and faceless franchises that populated the mall without any urge to browse through them. She reached the exit out of the building and stepped outside.
It was still raining.
Max thought about her options. It was a Tuesday, but she had spent the last of her spare cash, so any entertainment would have to be on the right side of free.
She didn’t even have to go for work today. She had been rostered on for a public holiday several weeks ago and had been given the Tuesday as a day off. Unsurprisingly, her friends had all headed off for a good time on the holiday and she had little to do today.
She wasn’t even sure why she had bothered leaving the house, but she had tried watching daytime TV and had actually felt her brain cells dying as she watched terrible soap operas, infomercials and children’s programmes which treated kids as if they were brain-dead morons who wouldn’t be able to string a coherent thought together if it wasn’t put into the form of a song.
So she had set out into the world. It had looked like a nice enough day as she left home, so she had left her jacket behind, but the rain clouds had soon set in and it had come bucketing down.
Still standing in the door to the mall, Max looked up and down the city street, trying to figure out which direction to head. Eventually she turned left, reasoning that the courthouse was nearby.
The court was not one of Max’s favourite places to hang out, but it offered some shelter and she could sit quietly in the back of the public seats as a dreary case rambled on. Max had used the courtroom as a quiet spot to get away from it all before and intended to use it again.
Besides, thought Max, who knows? This might be the one day in a hundred that something interesting actually happened.
But by the time she had walked the two blocks in the rain to get to the court building, she discovered the doors sealed shut tight. A security guard with an extremely sullen expression on his face stood in the doorway, huddling backwards as he tried to keep out of the downpour.
“Hey,” Max said to the guard. “What’s happening? Why is it closed?”
The security guard sniffed and looked Max up and down before replying. “Murder.”
“Murder?” repeated Max. “But isn’t that the kind of thing the court should be open for?”
“Nah,” replied the guard. “Divorce proceeding this morning went bad. The wife whipped out a knife and stabbed her husband through the eye. Whole building is shut down while they sort it out.”
“Damn it,” hissed Max. “I always miss the interesting shit.”
The guard looked at Max like she was the worst person in the world, and under his gaze Max began to feel like he was right.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” said the guard. “Push off. Before I get angry.”
“Okay, okay,” said Max, backing down the courthouse steps. As she retreated the rain seemed to intensify, only increasing her misery.
With the eyes of the security guard burning into the back of her head, Max walked off into the rain.
The library had offered a short period of relaxation, but the way things were going for Max today, she wasn’t surprised when it all came to an end.
For a city of its size, the library in the center of town was surprisingly small. Two levels of books and periodicals, with a token amount of CDs and DVDs in one corner on the second floor.
But that was enough for Max. She had settled in to one of the darker corners of the room with a handful of books and magazines, spending a happy half-hour reading about philosophers and movie actresses she would never meet.
After retreating from the courthouse, it had taken more than 20 minutes for Max to get across to the library and by the time she had got there, she was soaked. Her clothes were only just starting to dry out when the busload of schoolchildren arrived at the library.
One minute it had been quiet and peaceful, the next there were crowds of eight-year-olds running around. Max could not believe that for such creatures they could make so much noise, but they still managed to.
Max tried to tune them out and continue with her reading, but it was no use. A group of the children had set themselves up near his sanctuary, loudly arguing over their favourite character in some book about a magician. Any feelings about ever having kids in the short time available to her evaporated even further.
They finally destroyed any sense of peace Max had and she left, leaving her books and magazines behind, walking back out into the rain.
She was standing under the cover of a shop awning when a large drop of rain dripped off it and went right down her back. Max shivered as she felt it make its way right down to her backside.
“Right,” she muttered to herself. “That’s it.”
Max decided to cut her losses and head back home. She could heat up some leftovers, watch some more rubbish television and head back to bed.
Max suddenly realized how sad it was that the thought of going to bed was the best idea she had heard all day.
“Hey Max!” cried a voice from behind her, just as Max started to take the first step back home.
Max turned to see Brian, one of her oldest friends, walking down the street towards her. They had known each other since they were kids, lost touch over the years, and then met again at a pride parade when she first moved here, even though she knew Brian was 100% hetro. As far as Max knew, Brian had not ever had a job of any kind, but with multiple piercings, long blonde dreadlocks and some of his many tattoos creeping up onto his face, Max just could not see Brian sitting behind a desk.
“What’s up, man?” asked Max as Brian came up to her.
“Nuthin’ much,” shrugged Brian.
“Shit, I haven’t seen you in weeks. Must be something to tell.”
“Nah, not really. I just been chillin’ out. Anyway, I ain’t seen you in a while either, brother.”
“Well hell, maybe if you ever bothered to get a phone, you might be easier to get hold of.”
Brian shrugged again. “Never really needed one. So, what are you up to right now?”
“Aw, just heading home. Take it a bit easy.”
“Fuck that. Come have a few beers with me.”
“Can’t. Totally fucking broke until Thursday.”
“Ah, don’t worry about that. I got me benefit today. You can borrow some money off me until then.”
“I dunno, man. I don’t like to start the week off under debt, you know?”
Brian grinned. “Man, I’m always in debt. Ain’t no worries.”
His argument and logic sounded strong to Max, but compared to sitting at home in her empty apartment eating the rest of last night’s meat pie, heading out with Brian was a very, very good idea.
“Yeah,” she said. “Let’s go.”
“Fuckin’ groovy,” said Brian, pushing Max in the general direction of the nearest bar.
“Man, I fucking love this song!” cried Brian, returning to the table with two full glasses and falling down into his seat as the jukebox sprang into life.
A little sloshed, Max took her beer with more care than was really needed and sipped it as he listened to the tune. “I dunno. Sounds like the same old crap to me.”
“Aw, you’re just blinded by the hype,” said Brian. “Just because everybody is talking about it doesn’t mean it’s any less worthwhile.”
“But I don’t listen to the hype,” protested Max. “I never heard this song before.”
“Really? You need to get out of the house more, Max. This has been in the charts for fucking ages.”
Max listened some more to the song, but couldn’t see the appeal. “Nah. Doesn’t do anything for me.”
“Dig the bass, my friend. Dig the bass.”
Brian nodded along to the tune for a bit longer, his dreads falling around his ears, but stopped as a girl in a tight green top walked past. “Whoah,” he said, almost spitting out his mouthful of beer. “Look at the titties on that one.”
Max followed Brian’s gaze. “She’s okay, I guess.”
Brian turned back to Max, a quizzical look on his face. “You all right, Max?”
“What? Yeah, of course.”
“Cos you don’t sound all right.”
“What are you talking about?”
Brian sipped carefully on his beer as he put his thoughts into order. “Time was, you would be dancing up on the table to this sublime tune trying to get that chick’s attention. Now you barely crack a grin.”
Max opened her mouth to argue, but then realized that Brian actually had a point. “Well, I don’t know. I guess you’re right. I just can’t get as excited about shit as I used to.”
“Gettin’ old, sister.”
“You ain’t wrong there. I turned 33 this year and what do I got to show for it? Nothing.”
“Aw, you’re just down at the moment. Things will get better.”
“What makes you think that?”
“Well, they have to, don’t they? Shit, look at me. I’m 18 months older than you and I got even less. No job, no prospects. Hell, no money either, this round did me in.”
“Oh shit,” said Max, suddenly feeling guilty about the beers. “I’m sorry, man.”
“No worries. I still got 30 bucks coming from you on your payday.”
“Besides, I got some good shit from the Funk Man earlier today. Let’s finish these beers, head back to my place and have a quick, big session. What do you say?”
Max could not think of any reason why she shouldn’t.
“Yeah,” she said, draining her glass. “Why not?”
The rain had disappeared when the sun went down, but the streets were still slick with the day’s downpour as Max staggered home.
The short session that was promised had stretched into hours as more people had shown up at Brian’s place. Max had not known any of them, but they had seemed good company as the night had got longer.
Now it was the wrong side of midnight, she had to be at work in seven hours and Max was totally wasted. Her head buzzing, she decided to have a quick sit down before making the final push home.
Sitting down on the curb, Max felt her backside instantly get wet, but she just couldn’t be bothered by it. She looked up to the sky, where an almost full moon peeked out through the clouds and howled softly.
A cat Max had not even seen shot out of a bush behind her and took off down the empty street. Max watched him go.
Her day off had turned out better than she had originally thought, but the more she considered it, the more she realized she had not actually done anything constructive. At all.
“Fuck it,” said Max, deciding not to think about it any more and just enjoy the buzz. She had work in the morning and still had a pretty big walk home ahead of her.
Standing up with a sigh, Max started off on the walk home along the empty city streets.