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The Grain of Truth is at the end of that run-down row of shops before the highway. It’s here that K buys his daily bread (and an occasional caramel curl). And Jacob, with all the cunning of a paranoiac, darts about the counter disturbing our view of the lovely Nina. Every time we try a smile or a flirtatious line there’s jack-in-the-box Jacob: ‘Mr K, have you tried the pumpernickel?’ ‘What do you think of this praline I’ve been working on?’ ‘Could you fill out this satisfaction survey?’ K is easily distracted but not me; my compass turns magnetically, unerringly towards Nina.
Day after day, through long meetings, cafeteria lunches, office intrigues and droning afternoons where minutes are recounted and seconds proposed, I can only think of Nina.
We tried everything: sending in decoys, phoning the shop while he was out, all sorts of ploys but the greater our efforts the more frenzied Jacob became. Once we tried to pass her a note but Jacob snatched the correspondence and, without even reading it, popped it straight into his mouth chewing loudly and then opened wide to show us what a soggy cud he’d made of our plans.
K was discouraged and decided that this was all too much trouble but my ardour burned bright: I had to see her, be with her. So, as night rolled on I left K sleeping and ventured out, down darkened streets to the alley behind the bakery. Tap on the door. It opens a crack and there she is dusting flour from her hands. We didn’t speak but there in the fertile warmth I found myself rising as I followed the flush from her bosom to her neck to the bloom on her cheeks.
Breathing heavily we came together, she took me in her hands and we made love right there on the sacks of cereals—
— or we would have but for her father’s tread on the stairs.
‘Hide,’ Nina hissed. ‘He’ll kill me, he’ll kill us both.’
Before I could think, she had opened one of the unbaked rolls and pressed me into its yeasty darkness.
‘What are you up to my girl?’ he started. ‘Did I hear voices? Who were you talking to? I saw you looking at that fool K this morning, flirting like the slut you really are. You’d better tell me or so help me…’
I was about to spring forth but Nina hefted my tray into the oven and slammed the door.
What was happening? What cruelty was Jacob now enacting? Would she defy him at last or cling to his knees weeping? All I could hear was the roaring of the gases, crusts cracking and then nothing.
…until hours later, the barber opened his breakfast bun and out I popped onto their kitchen table.
From the bridge
So here I am morose in the barber’s pocket. A few crumbs still adhere but my hopes and dreams have been brushed away. Say it out loud: we can never be together, her father will never agree. So go on, you cabbage-headed razor-wielder, let’s end it. To the bridge! The waters await. Maybe I will Jonah a while in the belly of a carp or be lake-changed into some coral knob or encased in mother of pearl. Dimly iridescent, I will peer through columns of light at the world above.
Sweeney couldn’t even get that right.
Having braced himself with several long swallows from the bottle in his coat, he set off on the short walk to the bridge. But even before he reached the corner of Empire Circuit, there was Colonel Lovett who announced that he’d be in for his short back and sides on Tuesday, 9.15 sharp. Then it was the Macalister twins, Deano and Robb, wanting the new gangsta cut and Mr Lonsdale, (who had been completely bald for years but came in every fortnight for a tidy-up) and Mrs Onegin and her son Yuri (‘You can see he really needs a trim.’ ‘Next week? You couldn’t fit us in this afternoon or even this morning?’)
Everyone was out; everyone had time to waste, to chat about the frost or the footy or whatever.
Eventually, we arrived at the bridge.
And there I was perched on the railing hyperventilating, preparing for my dive, when a voice calls out: ‘Hold there barber.’ A policeman has pulled his car over on the far side of the bridge and is hurrying towards us across the traffic. Sweeney groaned and threw his arms up in surrender and there I go…
…over the side…
…to the lake below.
And then out of the blue a gull, mistaking me for some tasty morsel, swooped, intersected my trajectory and mid-air gobbled me into its gullet.