I want to savour this, because I probably won’t get to say it again for some while, if ever; so believe me when I say, cheeses priced on a popsicle, you will not believe the day I’ve had!
It all started with a newscast. It could have been just an ordinary day at the office, but someone decided to let slip that the deaths in Sydney last week were confirmed as blood flu, and this led to a series of events that placed me in my current situation: holed up in the security booth, the sole occupant of my former workplace, while Canberra goes to shit around my electronic eyes and ears.
Some local reports will tell you that I started the panic buying. That’s a lie – they were rioting before I even came on the air, I just turned a random stampede into a choreographed ballet of loot and run. Who knows how bad it could have been without me? I can relate word-for-word my almost-entirely-improvised announcement, because I recorded it for posterity. It was my finest hour, my greatest performance, my tribute to Boal’s Invisible Theatre and, in all probability, my legacy, and it went like this:
Greetings shoppers, I’m Elaine, and I’m here to enhance your looting experience on behalf of Colmart on this, our last day of business.
The recommended items of the day are cough-drops and booze, but I can see the more discerning shoppers are headed for the tinned goods and the pasta & pulses aisle. As I speak, I see on security screen 2 that there’s an altercation going on over a 2kg bag of tri-colour fusilli, and — yep, clean-up on aisle — too late, there goes a shopper and a trolleyful of corned beef and — come on now, shoppers, no fair looting her while she’s down — instead, I’d grab your last carton of semi-skimmed longlife before the security guards grab you, yes, you with the oh-so-flattering cycling shorts, on your bike, they’re coming round the back of aisle 3, no, THE OTHER WAY, where the cereal used to be…that’s it, keep running! He got away, Dorothy, he got away…
Here come the reinforcements, and I can announce… They’re coming for you, lentils and jellybeans, and the tills have been closed, I repeat, the tills are off, and staff are being evacuated. I’ve been asked nicely to get my arse off the air, but don’t worry, people, I’m barricaded in here with the shut-off switch, I can see the security screens for inside and out and I’ll be announcing when the cops arrive, so keep on looting — it’s like the Christmas rush and the January sales all rolled into one, here, people, you gotta stock up like there’s no tomorrow, because the rumour has it there’s no tomorrow.
At this point I left them with a stirring dose of an aptly titled REM track, turning it up loud enough to drown Jezza’s frantic banging on the office door, while I finished off my own preparations.
I’ve been squirreling away supplies in the DJ booth for weeks, and I’d made out I was going camping after work to explain the sleeping bag, water containers, camp stove and large rucksack, which I’d filled with gas canisters, a small crate of tinned food, sundry luxury items, various locks, bolts and latches and a cordless drill. The aluminium sheet for securing the skylight had been hidden behind the sound desk about a week back. I’d already secured the office door, so I took care of the roof, removed the security tag and cork from a large bottle of vintage Moët and sat back to watch the show. When Jezza started using the fire extinguisher as a battering ram, I texted him a photo of myself, champagne and cigar in hand, D-locked round the neck to the door handle.
“Leave me be or it’s going on the store socnet,” I called. The story was already on the store socnet, as it turns out, and was doing the rounds of the local newsnets until they took down everything but the evacuation procedures.
Jezza was shouting that he didn’t give a fuck if it injured me, it was his fucking door and they should hack it the fuck down. He’d managed to wrangle the assistance of the fire brigade, but they didn’t seem too happy with that idea, and after telling Jezza they were a little busy to sort out his industrial disputes, what with the looting and rioting around the city, I heard their footsteps retreat. Twenty minutes later the security screens showed Coll striding towards the fire escape, blowtorch in hand, Jezza dragging himself along after with a face like a ripe tomato. I watched them climb roofwards.
There were several loud thumps from above before the smash and crackle of the skylight shattering onto the metal sheet, then the brief hiss of an oxyacetylene flame, but the aluminium didn’t even get glowy before it fizzled out into swearing.
Coll’s tones were a little too low to make out, but after Jezza’s thundering “Whaddya mean it’s outta gas? Where the fuck do you keep the stuff?” I patted a desk drawer, smiled to myself and poured another glass of bubbly. Then I listened to Jezza alternately fume, cajole, threaten, plead and insult me for a full 43 minutes before he finally gave up and left me to it.
They cut off the cameras, then the power, and I’d just filled my fifth container before the water went, too. I got enough charged batteries to run essentials like a light and a handset for a few weeks. When I was sure they were really gone, I ventured out to turn the power and water back on, arrange the cameras to my satisfaction and secure several other doors on the way up here.
I hear that hostels and hotels are being secured and set up for quarantines. I prefer to sit out the epidemic from here. Whatever Jezza and Coll are doing now, I expect getting me out of this room has fallen a few steps lower on their to-do list. The days from here on in will be mainly uneventful, and also numbered. Don’t let me get gloomy, my macaronis; talk to me, sing to me, entertain me as I record my further descent into madness for your delight and edification. Let’s try to make the coming weeks pass like a fart, not a kidney stone.