Pete put his acoustic guitar in his locker and pulled the worn trucker’s cap from his back pocket before heading to the loading dock. He swung himself into the old tractor’s seat. Pumping the pedals he turned the ignition and waited for the engine to clear its throat like an asthmatic 2-pack a day smoker. He shifted his weight in the seat avoiding the pointed vinyl sticking through the tattered kludge of gaffer’s tape and an old lounge cushion. It didn’t insulate from the engine’s rumble and made Pete’s butt feel like it had received a thorough massage of the most uncomfortable kind. Idling the engine he spun the cap off the Coke bottle and drained the last mouthfuls.
“Time for the round up,” he said. Surveying the vacant black asphalt of the car park he spotted the lost members of the herd. Sunday School lessons echoed, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.”
The morning routine meant singling out the abandoned trolleys, the strays left behind by late night customers and returning them to the herd. In the designated lots, trolleys collected in long chains. Pete wrangled the herd onto the trailer behind the tractor before delivering them inside to the supermarket. All morning Pete circled the car park, rounding up trolleys and taking them to market.
He decided on a last pick up run before lunch. After parking the trolley tractor in the loading dock Pete pushed through the double doors into the food court where the human throng sat at feed troughs.
Picking his way through to the sandwich shop he spotted Cassandra behind the counter. Today her straight black hair was pulled back into a bun, a black polo shirt advertising the sandwich shop worn over a three-quarter sleeve t-shirt. Her tattoos slipped further down like another sleeve. She nodded at Pete as he approached the counter, waiting in line as she served another customer.
“Hey Pete, you want the usual?”
“Hi Cassie. Yeah, same old, same old.”
“Dare you to try a different sandwich one day,” she heckled.
“But I like my routine.”
Cassie prepared the order. “What’s the weather like outside?”
“Getting a bit dodgy. Think it’s gonna rain this arvo.”
“You coming to jam night at The Collector Tavern tonight?”
“Yeah. What time you heading down?”
“Getting there about eight. You going to get the guts to play tonight?”
Pete shrugged. “Dunno.”
“I’m gonna keep asking till you do. Everyone knows you can play and the only people down there are your friends.”
“It’s just that I’ve never played in front of people before.”
“Sure you have; you do it at parties all the time and you’re bloody good.”
“But this is different.”
“You are so predictable. Take a chance. I mean why don’t you ask Jewellry Shop Girl to the jam tonight? I’ve been watching you checking her out, pretending to look at watches in the window.”
“I don’t even know her name.”
“See, no balls.”
“Piss off.” Pete shoved his hands deeper into his pockets pretending to find his wallet to pay for his lunch.
Cassandra laughed. “Just having a go at ya.” She slid the sandwich into a white paper bag, twisted the corners and flipped it over. Reaching over the stainless steel counter Pete and Cassandra performed the retail dance in the exchange of cash and goods.
“I’ll catch you tonight,” said Pete.
Stashing the sandwich in one pocket and a Coke in the other, he headed through the double doors into the truck-loading zone. Two semis nestled close to one another, their rear doors open. Beside them, the blue tractor and its trailer looked miniscule.
“You’ll grow up one day,” Pete said to the tractor, patting the engine cowling. Leaning back against the tractor he chewed on his sandwich and heard the first few spots of rain hit the concrete outside. Pushing himself off the tractor he wandered to the dock entrance and watched the frantic scurry of pedestrians seeking shelter and shoppers swiftly dumping groceries into the boot of the car, hoping their eggs were still intact.
The rhythm of the downpour started up in the down pipes and the whoosh of car tires. Heading back into the dock, Pete walked past the tractor and into the little office. From his locker he pulled out his wet weather gear and his guitar.
The remains of his sandwich sat on the dash of the tractor while Pete made a rough tuning, plucking at the nylon strings and twisting the pegs. Satisfied it was in tune, Pete turned the guitar towards him and examined the scuffed surface. A pawn shop bargain, even if a little beat up, its worn façade offered a richness of tone and warmth.
Hesitantly, Pete plucked at the strings, unsure of the tune he wanted to play. He made minor adjustments to the tuning before resting his right arm on the body of the guitar, watching the rain.
Notes in a minor key echoed the solemnity of the rain pouring down outside, the plucking and strumming of the strings in parallel with nature. Changing key the notes celebrated the rain, washing away the grit and grime of the day. Pete closed his eyes and let the rhythms of the rain and the guitar merge in unison. Hearing the rain ease to a drizzle he slowed his pace before letting the final note resonate.
Pete jumped at the voice and saw a truckie standing at the door of his cab. “Thanks, man.”
“No, thank you, mate. Good to hear some great music. Really made my day.” The truckie opened his cab and climbed inside. The engine roared into life, reverberating in the cavern of the loading dock.
Pete returned his guitar to the office, donned his wet weathers and headed back to the trolley tractor. While it idled he thought about his impromptu performance and the audience of one. Dropping the clutch the tractor lurched forward, propelling Pete into the light drizzle of rain.