"I think this must be the way,"
said Debbie Williams, leading the other two women down the thin
The three women had stood in
the large reception area for ten minutes waiting for someone to
help them, before deciding to wander off by
The two areas were in stark
contrast to each other. The reception area looked like an
American television caricature of a football team's changing
room: the walls covered from floor to ceiling with plaques and
pendants. The much smaller corridor, on the other hands was too
thin for two people to stand side by side, and both walls were
painted lemon yellow and covered from floor to ceiling in
ultra-modern frescos, collages and abstract paintings. Every
few metres along the wall were inlaid small niches to hold small
sculptures, some in the traditional vein, others looking like
nothing more than handfuls of clay thrown together then toasted
in a kiln.
At the entrance to the
corridor, near the reception area, hung a black plaque with a
yellow arrow pointing down the corridor. It was this that had
led Debbie to make her remark.
"How do you know?" asked the
third woman, "It might be just another weirdo
Norma laughed, remembering her
one other expedition into a place of higher learning. Norma,
her husband, Jack, Jack's brother, Kevin Smith, and Kevin's wife,
Pauline, had attended a college arts display, which included a
statuette by Kevin and Pauline's daughter, Jamie. Kevin Smith
had shocked the campus intelligentsia by referring to one of the
displays as, "A classic example of neo-surrealistic bullshit," to
the chagrin of Pauline Smith (who considered herself a minor
authority on modern art), since none of them had ever been
invited back to the college.
Norma hoped things would get
off to a more auspicious beginning this time.
The three women walked for ten
minutes, rounding three corners, before reaching a door. Norma
wondered whether the entire labyrinth-like walk had been
constructed solely to ensure that the college had enough wall
space to cope with the creations of all of the budding young
artists who passed through the school? Or whether it was an
example of what the television tourist companies referred to as a
They tried the door, which was
locked, and so they continued along the walk for a few more
minutes until they reached a second door, which was also locked,
but which had a small note pinned up reading, "Applicants for the
TAFE leather craft class, please continue on to the next
"I was going to suggest that,
myself," said Debbie, not to be outdone by any mere
At last the three women found
the craft room, which was a large open room, with racks of small
tools around the four walls, and rows of knee-high wooden work
benches in the centre of the room. Nearly seventy jeans-clad
women, aged from sixteen to eighty, worked away at the benches,
trying to create the next best thing to Gucci for a fraction of
the cost of the real thing.
Norma could not help thinking
that most of the women seemed more intent upon killing the
leather they handled, than upon crafting it into anything useful.
Many of them appeared to be doing their level beat to knead the
leather, rather than anything else. "Perhaps the poor dears
think they're still in their kitchens at homes kneading dough for
bread?" thought Norma. She was tempted to shout out to them,
"Don't roll it any more, you won't get it to rise any more than
it will already!"
On the right-hand side of the
door stood a small reception table, just within the craft
A couple of metres away from
the table, a tall, emaciated girl leant with her back against the
wall, gazing into the room, while talking into the receiver of a
telephone that hung upon the wall. The tall girl was chewing
gum, like a cow chewing cud, while she talked. Norma wondered
how the person on the other end could understand a word that the
After half of a minute, the
tall girl looked around and noticed the three women standing
together just inside the room.
"Yeah?" asked the
"We were interested in joining
your leather work class," said Debbie.
"What? All of you?" asked the
girl, making it sound as though there were fifty women standing
there, instead of three.
The third woman turned to see
if anyone else had followed them down the corridor, and Norma
thought, "No, two of us just came for the scenic
Debbie said, "Yes all three of
"Could you hang on for a
minute?" the girl said into the receiver. She left the receiver
dangling down and went over to the reception table.
Bending down, the girl opened a
drawer under the table, and pulled three forms from the drawer.
She handed a form to each of the three women and said, "You've
got four choices. You can join up for a course of ten lessons,
fifteen lessons, twenty lessons, or thirty lessons."
"We didn't actually want to
sign up for a course," said Norma. "We were hoping to be able
to just come along on a casual basis, and pay at the
"Oh," said the tall girl. She
collected the forms back from the three women, returned the forms
to the drawer, and then went back over to the telephone. She
picked up the receiver, turned her back upon the women, and went
back on with her conversation.
The three women exchanged
nonplussed glances for a few seconds, and then Debbie called out
to the girl. "Excuse me! But we'd still like to join your
leather work class."
"Why don't you make up your
minds?" demanded the girl, looking back over her shoulder. Into
the receiver she said, "Would you hold on again?" she dropped the
receiver before the person had a chance to say yes or
The girl walked back to the
reception and handed the three forms out again. She said,
"Right, you've got four choices. You can join up for a course of
* * *
Collecting the forms from the
three women again, the tall girl slowly looked around the craft
room for a few seconds, After what seemed like minutes to Norma,
the girl said to Debbie, "Right you can go and start working over
there of pointing toward a space at a bench, on the left-hand
side, near the back of the room, "You," she said to Norma, "can
go and start working over there," pointing toward a bench on the
right, at the back of the room. "And you," she said to the
third woman, "can go and start working over there." She pointed
toward a bench at the front of the workroom.
There were exactly three dozen
benches in the room, laid out in six rows by six columns, with
two women to each bench, so there would be at least four benches
between any two of the three women.
"We're sort of together,"
pointed out Debbie.
"We were hoping to be able to
work together. Either on the same bench, or at least adjoining
benches," explained Norma.
"Look," said the girl. She
sighed to herself and thought, "Why do I always land up with the
trouble makers?" Out loud she said, "The class started nearly a
quarter of an hour ago. It's strictly first come catch as catch
can, so if you want to hold hands while you work, or whatever,
next time try to get here on time!"
Seeing she had cowered the
three women into submission, the tall girl continued in a more
cheerful tone, "But for now, you can go and start working over
* * *
Looking around at the array of
women bashing leather, Norma was dismayed to see there was no
indication that they were going to be given any
She looked across toward
Debbie, who stood helplessly by her own bench. Debbie shrugged,
picked up a small mallet, and began to beat-up a piece of
cowhide. "I'll have to remember to thank her for loaning me the
money to enrol," thought Norma. When Debbie had offered to lend
Norma the money, neither of them had reckoned upon having to pay
fifty dollars up front for a ten-week course. The $150 outlay,
for the three women, would put a great strain upon Debbie's
Norma looked over toward the
front of the room, for the umpteenth time, and saw that the
teenage girl was still chatting away on the telephone. "At this
rate," thought Norma, "we'll get nothing at all done in the first
She looked toward Debbie again,
then, unable to bring herself to kill defenceless leather without
at least the pretence of knowing what she was doing, Norma turned
to face the third woman. Pat Patterson was every heterosexual
man's dream come true: tall, beautiful with flaming red hair, and
the traditional hourglass figure -- which might be out of fashion
in the opinion of women, but would never be out of fashion in the
opinion of men. "And not a completely brainless twit either,"
thought Norma. When they had first been introduced by Debbie'
Norma had asked incredulously "Patricia Patterson?" Pat had
replied, "Don't blame met It was my parents who picked it out, I
was too young to have a say in the matter at the
Norma supposed that Pat would
be about forty-eight or fifty. She had broached the subject
earlier, without success. When Debbie had, for the umpteenth
time, suggested that Norma go to work for her, Norma had passed
the offer onto Pat, who had earlier mentioned that she was
looking around for work. "Oh, I would find working in a laundry
all day much too boring!" Pat had insisted. "Debbie always
tells me that I'm old enough to do the mature thing and settle
for a boring, but steady job," Norma had replied. "Surely you
can't be more than a few years younger than I am?" When Pat had
stared, seemingly from horror at the suggestion, Norma had
hurried to add, "I'm not as old as I look. Really."
Norma looked around at the
mallet-wielding women, who were panting and gasping so hard that
it sounded as though they were doing aerobic exercises rather
than murdering leather.
"Now I know why it's called
aerobics," thought Norma, "because it leaves you gasping for
Returning her attention to the
redhead, Norma found herself wondering what Pat's relationship
with Debbie really was. Jack had always insisted that Debbie
Williams was a lesbian, but then, Jack was part of the old
vanguard who would always equate the Women's Liberation Movement
with lesbianism. "Radical Bull-Dykes" as Jack liked to call
In the thirty-two years that
Norma had known Debbie, Debbie had never made any sort of sexual
play for Norma. "But that doesn't prove anything," thought
Norma. "I suppose lesbians can have platonic relationships with
other women, the same way that a heterosexual man doesn't
necessarily jump into bed with every woman he ever knows."
Although not unattractive, Norma knew that she was not in
Patricia Patterson's league. Norma had never heard of Debbie
dating men and Norma thought that if she had been a lesbian, the
luscious Pat Patterson would be the woman that she would like to
go to bed with.
Blushing in shock at her own
thoughts, Norma looked back to the young girl who was still
talking into the telephone.
"Yeah, well I don't know," said
the teenage girl as Norma walked up behind her. "Not after the
last time, I won't. What do you take me for? Yeah I know,
whatever you can get!"
"Excuse me," said Norma,
tapping the girl on the left shoulder. "Can I have a word with
"Can't you see I'm on the
phone?" demanded the girl.
"For the last three-quarters of
an hour!" said Norma.
"The college pays for the phone
bill, not me," explained the girl. "So who's counting the
"I am," said Norma. "I didn't
pay my money just to stand around while you prattle away on the
"So who's making you? Why
don't you go over to your bench and beat up on some poor
unsuspecting cowhide, the same as the rest of them are doing?
Just be sure to get in a clean kill, leather can turn nasty when
"Well, for one thing, I don't
know the first thing about leather work."
"So what's to know?" asked the
girl. "You take up some leather in one hand, and you take a
wooden hammer in the other hand, then while the leather has its
back turned to you, you beat its brains in with the hammer...I
means what do you expect for a lousy five bucks a week? Lessons
"Quite frankly, yes," said
"Well, I'm afraid that you're
out of luck, because I don't know any more about leather work
than you do," admitted the girl.
"What?" asked Norma, genuinely
shocked. "Then how are you supposed to teach us
"I'm not, I'm supposed to keep
an eye on you to make sure that you don't flog any of the
expensive tools. I mean, have you ever checked to see what
leatherwork tools go for at McEwans these days? It's bloody
murder, and the hardware stores if anything, are even
"If the school thought that it
could trust you lot not to flog anything they wouldn't be paying
me to turn up here every week, let alone paying out real money
for a trained leather work instructor to teach you."
"But there must be seventy
women here," said Norma, doing a quick calculations. "At five
dollars each, that's $350 you get per session. Surely you can
afford the cost of a skilled instructor, out of that?"
"Not me," corrected the teenage
girl. "I only get a crummy ten bucks, the college gets the rest
"You mean to tell me that you
actually get paid ten dollars each week, just to talk on the
phone for an hour?" asked Norma.
"No, I've already told you, I
got paid to make sure that you lot don't flog any of the
"And what about us?
"What about you?"
"What are we supposed to do for
an hour each week, if you aren't going to teach us anything?"
"Look, what's the beef?" asked
the girl. "It's not as though you get to keep anything that you
"We don't?" asked Norma,
"Not unless you want to pay for
it. Otherwise the school sells anything good you make, at one
of its various fund raising stalls. So what's the point in
knocking yourself out, just to make money for those
"But what is the point of me
just bashing defenceless leather with a mallet week after
"Well, I tell you what, don't
look at it as a pointless waste of time, look at it as an
athletic workout. The harder you bash leather, the more sweat
you build up, and the more sweat you build up...."
"The more we smell," Norma
finished for here.
"No! The more sweat you build
ups the more weight you burn off," said the girl, "If you like,
you can think of it as a TAFE-sponsored Gloria Marshall weight
reduction course in leather."
"Sounds kinky to me," said
"And the five bucks you pay
here is probably less than Gloria Marshall charges per
"Except that Gloria Marshall
would have all sorts of weight reducing machines, that you don't
"That's true," admitted the
girl. "But we do have all kinds of expensive leather work
"Remind me to flog some when I
leave!" said Norma.
"And let's face it," said the
girl, "you could stand to lose a few kilos."
"At least I'm not a stick
figure woman!" said Norma, "Frankly, you could stand to gain
about twenty kilos, just to look like a human being, instead of a
"Well, that's about what you
need to lose," said the girl. "So how much will you take for
While the teenage girl giggled
at her own joke, Norma conceded defeat and returned to her
Speaking into the telephone
receiver, the girl said, "Are you still there? Oh, just some
fat old bag complaining about me neglecting the lessons...Yeah,
that's what I said to her, 'What bloody lessons?'"
The girl brayed like a donkey
at her own jokes then said "I don't know, I'm not sure if I can
trust you at the drive-in. What say we go to the local cinema
instead? There's a good film on tonight, The Sludge Monster
Meets the Son of Gammera...No sitting up, say near the front
of the cinema, It's a bit hard to see the film with your ankles
over somebody's shoulders...Well...I don't know...I guess we can
go to the drive-in. But if we go in your panel van, you have to
park it facing toward the screen...."
* * *
"Well, so much for that," said
Pat Patterson as the three women left the craft room at the tail
of the herd of exiting women.
"I haven't been so bored since
I accidentally turned the TV to an Aussie Democrats policy speech
during the lead up to the last federal election," said
"I know what you mean," agreed
The three women walked single
file through the scenic walk, back toward the front of the
"Look at this one," said Pat.
She stopped in front of a canvass, which contained inane splashes
of vivid red, orange, green, and blue. "I wonder what it's
"Vomit by Pablo
Picasso," suggested Norma.
"What say we all go around to
my place to drown our sorrows in a sea of Baccardi and coke?" suggested Debbie, as they stepped
out into the reception room.
"You can tell that she's been
inspired by navigating the scenic walk twice in one days," said
"Count me out," said Norma.
"I have to get home in case poor Jack gets home to an empty
"Yes, we can't have him waiting
upon himself," said Debbie. "That's woman's work." She
laughed, then put an arm around Pat's shoulders and said, "Well,
it looks like it's just you and me, kid."
"Shouldn't you be getting back
to your laundry?" asked Pat.
"Don't nag me, kid," said
Debbie, giving Pat a pat on the backside. "We're not married
you know." To Norma she said, "Actually we're just good
* * *
A Week Later
"Well, what did you learn
today?" asked Norma, placing her handbag on top of the kitchen
The three women, Norma, Debbie
Williams, and Patricia Patterson, had just returned from their
latest leatherwork class.
Norma felt the side of the
electric kettle for warmth, Pat and Debbie slumped, exhausted
onto two metal-framed chairs at the table, and Norma filled the
kettle from the hot water tap, and then took cups and saucers
from a cupboard above the sink.
"What did I learn today?"
echoed Debbie, "Well, I learnt what a pain in the arse certain
people can be."
"Yeah," agreed Pat.
"Particularly leather work teachers who never get off the phone
long enough to teach you anything."
"I'm thinking of making a
leather strap, to use upon her, next lesson," said Debbie.
"Maybe that will help her to get a bit motivated."
"Kinky baby," said Pat, "but
"Well, I don't know about you
two," said Norma, "but I learnt a valuable lesson today. Namely
how tiring it can be to stand on the one spot, without moving,
for an hour."
Norma started ferreting around
in the drawers under the sink. After a moment she said, "Damn,
where is it?"
"Have you lost something?"
"Yeah, I can't find our
"Will this do?" asked Pat.
She reached into her large handbag and took out a pointed
"Where did you get that?" asked
Norma, taking it from her.
"I flogged it from the leather
work class," said Pat.
"You are a naughty girl," said
Debbie, giving her a playful spank on the behind.
"Well, I figured we had to get
something back for all the money we've paid. Since no one's
actually teaching us anything," said Pat.
"Thanks," said Norma,
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