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Prologue and First Chapter

Prologue of How the World Works

Grace felt Kate’s hand on her shoulder. ‘It’s time.’

‘The druggie versus the suit,’ said Grace. ‘I’ve got no chance.’

Kate steered Grace to the first row and they took their seats. Lew, sitting at the front table, winked at Grace. Beside him Skye opened her laptop, ready to take minutes. She gave Grace a thumbs up. Lew banged his gavel. ‘Friends of the Green Door, welcome to our annual general meeting.’

Grace tried to listen as Kate delivered her CEO’s report, but her eyes were drawn to the other candidate, Tim Howard, with his tanned skin and business shirt with red stripes. And that poncy gold band with its little diamond. She touched the sharp points of her nose ring. I should have taken it out, she thought. And instead of this old black Hugs not Drugs T-shirt I should have worn a nice fucking blouse, with long sleeves to cover up the scars. I should have compromised if I want to be President of the Green Door.

She heard Lew inviting her to address the meeting. Do it, she told herself. She took the microphone and faced the crowd.

‘Before I came to the Green Door I used to collect diagnoses. Drug-induced psychosis, borderline personality disorder, depression, bipolar, loony. I was homeless and using, in and out of hospital. When I was nineteen I nearly died from an overdose. That’s when I found the Green Door. Kate didn’t want to know what was wrong with me, just what I could do. I thought my only strength was cutting myself. But the Door turned me around. I stopped using. I’ve cut down on cutting. I haven’t been in hospital for three years. Now I’m doing science at uni. I’ve been on the Green Door board for a year. I’m passionate about the Door and I want the best for it. If you elect me I’ll work with everyone – members, staff and board – to make this place even better, so it can help as many people as possible like it’s helped me.’

Loud applause and cries of ‘Go, Grace.’

Then it was Tim Howard’s turn. ‘As you know, I’m deputy CEO of IndyLife, one of the biggest non-government organisations in Queensland, promoting independent living for people with disability. I have fifteen years’ experience in the not-for-profit sector. I believe my expertise has been invaluable to the Green Door during my time as a board member over the past year.’

Grace suppressed a snort. Wanker. All he did was get in our way. And now he’s droning on and on:  ‘… quality assurance … policy development … financial management … progressing the organisation.’ At last, he’s winding up: ‘It will obviously be in your interest to have a representative from a major player like IndyLife as your president. I look forward to working with everyone in your organisation as we move forward.’

Softer applause, but Grace thought, they can’t knock back all that quality bloody assurance and what else. He’s in for sure. I stuffed up, should’ve pitched my vision for the Door, not all that crap about me. Stop biting your fingernails. There’s Tim, looking so superior with his smug smile. Bastard.

Waiting, waiting. Beside her, Kate was frowning and shifting around in her chair. Finally, a scrutineer handed Lew a piece of paper and the room became quiet. ‘Members and guests,’ he announced. ‘I declare Grace Durrell elected as President of the Green Door Society Inc.’

The crowd whooped, whistled and cheered. Grace stood and raised her arms, watching Kate’s eyes fill with tears. She knew she had made Kate’s dream become real. One of the people for whom the Green Door existed was now the President.

Kate jumped up and hugged her. ‘Madam President, you are magnificent.’

Chapter 1. A Wolf at the Door

Grace rolled out of bed, stood at the window and greeted the big mountain with its TV towers. ‘Morning, Mount Coot-tha, I’m President Grace.’ She looked across the cemetery spread out below her, to a distant corner near the Milton Road entrance. ‘Hey, Emma, they made me President.’

President Grace! Awesome. Suppose I gotta be nice to people now, talk to them, pretend I like them. Gross! Kate can do that, but she actually does like them. Yeah, I’ll do it. For the Green Door. It’s given me a future. Oh shit, shouldn’t have thought of the future. Back comes the pain. Fucking cold voice whispering success is a delusion, there’s no future, just more holes for me to fall into. So easy to head straight for the holes. Grab the mobile, call up the smack fairy. I’ll always be a user, even if I never use again. And I’ll always be a cutter.

She studied the white skin of her arm. Pick up the blade, chase that beautiful pain.

Holy shit, what am I doing, deluding myself I can be President? What if I do call the smack fairy? Easy, focus on breathing. Can’t start using again – that’s exactly what Tim Howard would want me to do. Big headlines. JUNKIE IN CHARGE OF REHAB CENTRE. I can’t do that to the Door. Think of Kate. Snuggling in close to her, her arms wrapped around me, my face nestling against her boobs. My little fantasy. Love at a distance. It’ll never happen, Kate’s so straight. Not just hetero, but professional straight. No way she’d get involved with anyone at the Door, guy or chick. But I love her, hadn’t even been able to hate her when she banned me for a month, though I screamed at her that I did.

So hold me Kate, help me push those thoughts back down to their dungeon. Gotta do an assignment. Linear algebra, my cutting substitute. Beautiful pain.

 

I must believe in Grace, Kate told herself. She was thinking of her moment of panic when Lew announced the election result. It’ll be too much for Grace, she’d thought. She’ll stuff up, call her dealer, start using again. Kate had squashed that reaction immediately to hug Grace in genuine delight. But it’s humbling to stumble upon one’s own prejudice – the negativity that had been hiding beneath her great desire for Grace to become President.

Grace stomped into Kate’s office and plonked into a chair. Kate swivelled to face her. ‘Finish your assignment?’

Grace nodded and grimaced at the same time. ‘Fucking linear algebra.’

‘How’s that tutor working out?’

‘Gave him the arse. He treated me like an idiot. I’ve had it up to here with maths. Talk about something else. Like me being President.’

‘An excellent topic. And this is our first President-CEO meeting. What’s on your agenda?’

‘I want it all, Kate. I want to make the Door famous so everyone who needs it hears about it. So everyone’ll see how great we are and give us more money. Lots of rich capitalists on our side, sponsoring us, giving our members jobs. And we gotta look after our members better. Set up an outreach unit to keep in touch with people we haven’t seen for a while. And make the place more woman-friendly – most of the members are men. Welcome all genders, not just guys and chicks. And get more young blood. More social stuff, concerts, parties, art classes. And ethnic diversity. Can we put an extension on the shed for a gym? And we gotta stimulate our brains, too. Did you know that learning to juggle makes your brain smarter? Let’s get someone to give us juggling lessons.’

‘And will all this be done by next Tuesday?’

‘I know, I’ve gotta pick one, work on it. Take it to the weekly Door meeting. Get the members and staff excited about it. Get the Board on side. Plan who’s doing what. Review progress and all that crap.’

‘I’m looking forward to your presidency. It’s going to take the Door to a new level.’

Grace frowned. ‘I dunno. I tell myself, I can do this. But then I think, what the fuck? How can a druggie be President?’

‘Entirely natural thoughts to have.’

‘Yeah, I guess. And I’ve got you as my wise old mentor. You’ll turn me into a President, won’t you?’

‘We can work together, support each other. Let’s have a look at your agenda. Rich capitalists. How do you want to tackle them?’

Grace scratched her head. ‘Haven’t thought about that. Can we make an appointment? Go and see them, tell them how great we are?’

‘You can do better than that, Grace.’

‘I know. Weasel out way onto the speakers’ list for Rotary. Or the Chamber of Commerce.’

‘And how do we convince them to support us?’

‘Hmmm. Suppose just telling them who wonderful we are is not enough. And asking for money – that’s not gonna work, is it? But we can do something for them. Give them good workers. What do you think?’

‘Brilliant. And we can take our successes with us. Like Angus.’

‘Yea! He still working for the painting contractor?’

‘He’s been doing 20 hours a week for nearly two years.’

‘Hey, would his boss come too?

’Good thinking, Grace. He would. He loves us.’

‘Holy shit! Never thought I’d get excited about talking to a bunch of business dudes. Spose you want me to get presentable. Whip out my nose ring, ungreen my hair and wear long sleeves until the scars heal.’

‘I don’t care what you wear. It’s up to you to decide how to best represent the Door to the outside world.’

Grace chewed her lip. ‘Okay. I’ll workshop that in my green head.’

 

A quiet coffee at Mary Ryan Bookstore – that’s what Kate needed. But an event was in progress in the café section. A man with a boyish face and short dark hair was telling the crowd about the miracle of free markets. Why was this happening in her favourite bookshop?

‘Any questions?’ asked the speaker.

A woman in the audience stood up. ‘On the back cover of your book it says you explain why people become drug addicts or criminals. But you’re an economist. Shouldn’t you leave that to psychologists?’

‘Economists can predict what people do by assuming they’re rational, that is, they weigh up costs and benefits. The surprise is that this works not only for economic decisions, but in other areas of life – deciding whether to smoke or eat junk food or wear a condom. So we’d like to share this finding with psychologists.’

How magnanimous of you, thought Kate. There was a large poster promoting the book:  How the World Works by Ben Forster. Where had she heard that name? She studied him as he leant forward, smiling, head tilted, listening to the next question.

‘You extol the virtues of free markets as an answer to everything. But is it? What about health? In America it’s a free market and it’s a shambles.’

‘Sure, it’s a bad move to get sick in America, but it’s also unwise in the UK. The government can replace the market, but it’s usually better to fix it, like Singapore’s done.

‘Mental Health’s an example – ballooning costs, poor outcomes. I’m working on a report for the government on how we can inject market forces into the mental health industry, so that we get more efficiency and choice for consumers.’

Of course, thought Kate. Health’s been sending emails about this guy. His ideas could determine the fate of the Green Door. She made her way to the display table and picked up a copy of his book. On the front the title stood out in large red font against a pleasant green background. At the bottom of the cover was a reviewer’s recommendation: ‘Read this book and you will understand the economics of everything.’ She flipped through the book and found a section on rational drug addiction and another on choosing a life partner. She looked for the dedication in his book, something she always did – it gave her a feel for the author. Spouse, children, parents, mentor, friend? But there was no dedication in Ben Forster’s book.

She bought a copy. Standing at the counter, she watched the economist sit down at the book signing table, where a long queue of people had formed. He looked up, straight at her. She smiled at this man who thought that economics could explain love, then turned and left.

In her unit Kate made the coffee she’d missed out on at the bookshop, took coffee and book out to the verandah, and settled into her squatter’s chair. She had been switching from paper to ebooks, but with a book like How the World Works she wanted to be able to write scathing comments in the margins and lend it to other people. As she read, she was surprised to find herself being entertained by his style. She had always thought of economics as boring and difficult, but this was fun.

She put the book down, googled Ben Forster on her tablet and found his website. He posted most days – comments on current affairs, cartoon characters explaining economic theory, links to his columns in The Australian. She read the short bio on the About page. A Brisbane boy, he had completed an honours degree at Queensland University and a PhD at the University of Minnesota. In America he’d published a text book on economic development. He now worked as a “Senior Research Fellow” at the Invisible Hand Institute, which turned out to be a right-wing think tank.

There were dozens of short videos on the website and she watched one that showed him zipping into a parking space in a BMW.  He hopped out and pointed to the sign: ‘Limit 10 minutes’. ‘All the other spaces nearby are taken,’ he said, ‘and I’m late for an important meeting. So I weigh up the cost of finding a free space against the risk of a ticket, and decide to leave my car here for an hour. This is a rational crime, and I’m a perfectly rational criminal.’

Quite the libertine, thought Kate. She wondered if the benefits would still outweigh the costs if it was a disabled parking space.

She looked at his Facebook page: over 400 friends. And not one of them significant enough to dedicate his book to. There were several posts a day, some similar to those on his website, others about music, rock climbing and travel. On Twitter his tweets became a blur as she scrolled down. She stopped and read one:  ‘The minimum wage creates the very poverty it is supposed to mitigate.’ She shuddered.

Lew’s a retired economist, she thought. He might know this idiot. She texted him: ‘Ben Forster is reviewing our funding. Sounds dangerous. Know him?’

Lew replied: ‘He’s a wolf at the Door.’

 

By the time Ben arrived home, he’d forgotten all the people he had signed books for. But he had a clear picture of the woman he had seen at the counter, who had smiled at him. He had felt that all of her, not just her mouth, was smiling at him. It was as if the two of them were sharing an intimate moment together.

He picked up his book. He liked the feel of it, the substantial weight. His one regret was that it had no dedication. He wished he could have found Robbie, so that he could have dedicated the book to him. He felt baffled that someone so well-known could disappear so completely.

He thought of the smile again. Intimate moments. The only intimate moments he had now were with Rita, but he only saw her every month or so. He hoped she would soon need another consultation.

 

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Jill permalink
    May 15, 2015 3:21 pm

    You have my interest Byrce, – I like your style of writing

    • Bryce permalink*
      May 16, 2015 9:43 am

      Thank you, Jill, I appreciate your response.

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