ARTLOOK #13 | July 2005
SHORT STORY: SEEING IS NOT BELIEVING
BEING A WRITER, I'M interested in people. I like to analyse my subjects, scrutinise their dress, body language and speech before categorising them into my mental pigeon-hole system. It's an exciting challenge to delve into the unknown. Surely you have-in silence and with tact, of course-checked out people and wondered about their occupation, marital status, general intelligence level, perhaps astrological sign, and, maybe, made an instant decision whether you liked them or not? Of course, if the person under scrutiny appears depressed, somewhat down at heel, has that tired, red-eyed look and stares into space, it's probably a fellow writer tortured with self-doubt. Leave well alone. Move on to someone who will provide a bigger challenge. We all know what writers are like.
I once kept company with a lady obsessed with astrology. Her proud boast was that she could tell a person's astrological influence, nine times out of ten, by observing physical traits and personality. She got my immediate attention-and later won my heart-when, two minutes after we'd met, she correctly told me I was an Aquarian, had conservative leanings and was a dreamer. At the Club, one day, I applied my lady friend's system to Iron Jaw at a nearby table. He was a huge man, of sixties vintage, knurled, scarred hands and thick fingers. If anyone looked like an old time pugilist, it was Iron Jaw. I studied him with a series of discreet glances. Once, he intercepted my observations and I thought his eyes narrowed and his jaw tightened. I looked away, visualising a punch from those huge fists that would send me into oblivion. You do have to be careful studying people. Some sensitive souls get the wrong idea.
Anyhow, I had enough signals from Iron Jaw to prepare my summary. I decided he was retired, an ex-wharf labourer, had won a few fights at the boxing stadium, was of average intelligence, was single-this was a safe bet as I'd never seen him with a woman-could be nasty when riled and was an Earth sign. My lady friend had always taught me that Scorpios are over-sexed and, as Iron Jaw didn't appear the type for amorous aerobics, I settled for a Taurus. How to confirm my findings? The ferret-faced club secretary claimed he knew everything so I put him to the test.
'I know who you mean,' he gave me a suspicious appraisal. 'Why do you want to know?'
'I'm doing an article on Club patrons,' I lied.
Welcoming any free publicity, he brightened and told me about Iron Jaw. 'He's single, never married, brings his mother in every so often.'
'What did he do,' I probed. 'A labouring job, eh?'
'You're joking,' Ferret-face scoffed. 'He was principal of a high school for thirty years. A great teacher; and he played the piano too.'
With those pugilistic hands? My forecasting ability was in tatters. I clutched at straws. 'But he was a boxer, wasn't he? Had a few fights?'
Ferret-face exploded into laughter, beady eyes glistening, enjoying my confusion. 'Nah. Not his caper. He's a gentle giant, couldn't kill a cockroach. Who's been telling you this rubbish?' He was unkind enough to keep sniggering until I interrupted him. 'You wouldn't know his birth-date, I suppose.' This was the last kick of a dying swan.
'As a matter of fact, I do. It just so happens that he was born two days before me. I told you there's nothing I don't know about this place.' He thrust out his chicken-chest and gave me a patronising appraisal. 'Birth dates are confidential, you know.
I couldn't tell you that.'
'Well,' I said, 'When's your birthday? That's not confidential, is it?'
'The eleventh of November is my birthday. Armistice Day. The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Remember?'
I ignored his old-soldier pretence. I knew for a fact that he'd never been one. 'So he was born on the ninth of November?'
'You're saying that, not me,' Ferret-face smiled, but not with his eyes. 'I'd like to see that article you're writing before it goes to print, okay?'
I watched him stride away. Over my dead body I'd ever show him an article. I sauntered back into the club lounge. Iron Jaw sat at the same table, square jaw resting on those huge hands. A Scorpio. Iron Jaw was a Scorpio. Well, at least he was an Earth sign but a gentle giant? A teacher? A piano player? The doting son who brings his mother to the Club? Where had I gone wrong? I felt rather than saw Iron Jaw watching me. I glanced up, meeting his gaze.
'You wouldn't be a writer, would you?' he asked.
Astounded, I shook my head. 'How did you know?' he laughed, the huge jaw plunging like a pile-driver at work. 'Sorry to put you under the microscope. I just like to analyse people. It helps to pass the time, you know.'
I nodded, smiling in agreement. The mystery man had been uncovered. I wondered if my ex-girlfriend would have picked the real Iron Jaw as a Scorpio, a school teacher and a person analyst.
RAYMOND W CLARKE, Taigum QLD.