Gotta Look Good

Karo Preston

I gotta look good for Trace. She’s a real beaut, and on the most important aisle in Pak’n Save. Trace is the express lane: twelve items or less. I gotta look good cos she’s one fine bird. She finished fifth form. Like a kakapo, she goes for small shiny objects, so I don’t like my chances. I am a real bloke and a big bloke. I like birds, but I like both types. I don’t tell me mates, but I walk into the Kikorangi Bush and sit still, listen and watch. Birds are great. Neither notice me though, cos I can keep that still.

My Trace is never without her rings. I like the ring on her belly. I saw it up town once when I was parked up bird-spotting; so did all the other blokes on Main Street. Word is she’s got them all over the place. She has a real silver-plated choker, and dozens of bracelets that look silver too. When she moves to hand me back my EFTPOS card she sounds like change in my pocket.

Trace loves animals, like me. She has Frederick her pet ferret and, unfortunately like me, he likes native birds too. But if Trace likes Fred maybe I could get to like him too. I just couldn’t take him into the bush with me.

That girl looks after herself real well too. Chews Freshmint – sugar-free – and I would consider it an honour to chew it after her. Her blue top is surely the best fitting of all the girls on the checkouts. Her ‘Welcome I’m Tracey’ badge brings her up and close to customers without her even trying. If I wasn’t such a cosmopolitan man I could get jealous. Yeah I read as well.

That fine blue top Trace wears is like the one my sister Marleen brought for me a few years back. The Hawaiian sunset still shines bright as ever, though. It’s only when you get to the fourth button that my singlet makes an entrance and the sun disappears, like the curtain opening at the pictures. I tried a safety pin but it just turns sideways and those damn curtains part again. Our Marleen reckons I’m in my third trimester. I say to her that my belly was made not just by beer but for beer. I tell her I don’t need no table to rest my handle and there’s even room for a pie plate too.

Well I reckon it’s time to ask Trace out and wear my fancy army shorts – brand new from the Army Outlet Store. They’re sure to impress, except for the bit of rust on the catch. Two dollars a pair and three ninety-nine for two. I know a bargain when I see one. I’m wearing the second pair, because it’s got my name sewn on the inside of the band – twice. Brian O’Brien. I hope Trace says my name like that cos it’ll sound like she’s in love.

The Brian who owned the shorts must have had bony pegs and liked the odd beer like me. This suits me fine because my mates down at the tip call me ‘Puku’. I think it’s short for pukeko on account of my best blue shirt, my skinny legs and my walk. My steel-capped boots look humungous and I have to lift my legs high as if I’m plodding on a mud flat. I reckon my mates should stop calling me ‘Puku’, cos my knees are knobbier than that bird.

I can get the catch closed on Brian O Brien’s shorts if I just pull them under my belly, but Marleen says be careful cos round the back Trace could get a fright if they’re too low. Might crack her up, she says. Not look so good. Our Marleen says I have to get down there soon or I’ll be a great uncle and not just an uncle.

Now I look so good I’m gonna drive down to Pak’n Save in my good lookin’ Ford Escort and ask Trace out. I finished the paint job on my car yesterday and she looks better than the day she came off the production line. ‘True Blue’ is the name on her back window. None of those fancy boy additions – just a natural classic all for me. I only hope when Trace sets her bright kakapo eyes on it, she’s still got time to admire my shirt.
I drive real slow over the speed bump into the car park and spot Trace through the plate windows. She doesn’t see me though, even when I park right outside the window where her counter is.

As I stand smiling at her smiling there’s a rubber-burning squeal. A breaking scream. A spray of sparks. A thumping thud. It sure ain’t music to my ears, what pulls up too close to my True Blue.
It’s Judder Jenkin’s Holden. Red. So weighed down with additions it makes its own Guy Fawkes as it flies over the speed bump. I see Trace caught right in the glare of those headlights – and the truth is they aren’t even on.

Last time I set eyes on that adolescent, chest-pounding gorilla was at Cinema 7. He was sitting right in front of me with Belinda Bettersby and I can tell you he was all over her like hot caramel on an ice cream sundae. She just disappeared, yep, melted underneath all that syrup. In fact he was not so quiet about it all and nobody could concentrate on Arnie even when his guns were blazing. I just leant over and tapped him on the shoulder, and I reckon he thought it was his Belinda and with no word of a lie he damn well licked my hand – the hairy side. Being the real man I am, I screamed. And being the pretty boy he is, he screamed back.

Judder also said some nasty things about my Hawaiian shirt. Said the sun had set for me a long time ago. That was the last time I saw him, but it wasn’t the last time I heard about him or poor Belinda. Apparently she had to leave town a couple of months after seeing Terminator 2. Judder had terminated his relationship with Belinda … and Belinda the baby. She’s now working at her Uncle Jim and Aunt Beryl’s dairy in Napier. Everyone thought she was going to varsity. I guess she wasn’t bright enough, anyway, if she couldn’t pick Judder.

Now here he is leaping from his car (which has a bumper sticker reading ‘Fireballs’) and looking right through that glass window at my Trace. His tongue is lolling out ready to lick something again. I keep my hands fisted by my side and, cos of this, run kinda funny to get a trolley.

I want ta pick a fight, but the first is with my trolley. I’m fighting hard and long just to free it from the line and then it keeps wanting to turn right all the time. The back wheel can’t even be kicked straight and I’m in too much of a hurry to get another. I just walk quickly past the fruit and veg, wheel-standing on the front axle, like a manoeuvre Judder would pull in his Holden up Main Street.

I grab my box of Lion Red stubbies on a bonus buy, a packet of Huntly & Palmer crackers and the kind of Chesdale cheese you don’t have to put in the fridge, Wattie’s tomato sauce, a loaf of white Budget toast bread, a dozen of Pam’s eggs, frozen baby peas, straight-edge chips and a Toilet Blue. With under twelve items there is only one aisle you can go. Just as well, cos I’m getting a sweat up just thinking about Trace as well as trying to hold my trolley’s back wheels up.

I swing into aisle ten to check the way is clear. Judder’s still outside, sprawled across that red bonnet just hypnotising Trace with his eyes. I just hope she can see that they’ve got cloud cover.

I let my trolley go and the sound of those back wheels hitting concrete brings her right back to me.
‘How’s it going, Trace?’
‘Well Bryan’, she says with that cute proper voice of hers, ‘I am feeling quite in the holiday mode now I’ve set eyes on that tropical shirt of yours.’
I feel the glow sunrise damn well slide right up my neck and light my ears. They’re probably blinking at Trace too, like Christmas lights. Thinking of my neck I look at hers (well really just the bits below). Now I’ve already told you, how up front my Trace is, well that front was on the move and I’m not talking weather. I thought I’d really excited that girl until I see her ferret stick its head right out of that form-fitting blue top and straight back down again. One smart ferret.
‘Meet Frederick, Bryan. He’s my little baby. I just brought him into work as the little darling’s a bit off colour today and I want to keep him warm.’
Just shows you what a great girl Trace is, because not only does she keep me warm, but a poor wee ferret that’s sickening for something. I wouldn’t put it past the ferret if he wasn’t though.

Cutting sharply into my thoughts and into my ankles is a trolley. Judder is heaving his Waikato Draught onto the counter and leans forward and presses up against her ‘Welcome I’m Tracey’ badge.
‘Just buying our refreshments for Friday night. For you, me and Fireballs, baby.’
‘I don’t know about it now, Judder. Frederick … he’s not well.’
‘Who the hell’s Frederick?’ Those eyes of his send lightning bolting out of the clouds.
Frederick has to come up for air sometime … a bad time. Same as in Arnie’s film – Judder screams; Frederick screams … and Frederick runs a direct line from his warm twin hospital bed along the counter onto the floor and out the main doors.
I can see Trace is in shock so I tell her not to worry, I’ll find him.
‘Have you finished giving the old boy his pensioner discount, Trace?’
 Judder tries to finish me off on a low note but I’m getting out there for friends and ferrets.

I see young Frederick out by the lines of trolleys are and he’s hunkered down beneath four rows of fifty and I’m thinking this might be a case for Chesdale cheese when Judder saunters out. He reckons he’s got a better way of catching him.

Next thing Fireball is right beside the trolleys and Judder lets go his air horn. It’s like a wild boar with bad breath and young Frederick is off with Judder nipping his heels.
Last I see of poor Frederick is the last Trace sees of him too.
He’s racing over the speed bump, but Judder is racing too. Takes him out with his fireworks display.
The Verminator.

I go back to comfort poor Trace, but she says she’s much too upset to go out with me – but wait for it – YET! I’m upset too, but I’ll be okay. It’s getting dark now. I might just head out to Kikorangi Bush, cos I bought a new halogen headlamp and I’ll be able to spot the birds more easily. It would be great if I could spot a real kiwi. I’ll put it on now cos Trace is bound to think ‘Cool’, and I might just pop into Rod and Gun and get a new shirt too, cos I gotta look good.


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