Rosie always felt at her most hopeful in Bunnings Hardware. Especially this Bunnings. The blue one with the huge external drain pipes that looked like oversized trombones. She wasn’t even inside yet; she’d only made it as far as the sausage sizzle. This was unusual for her, she didn’t really go in for the sausages. But someone had installed a contraption that lifted slices of bread over the heads of the scouts and into the waiting hands of the scout mistress. Once there, of course, the bread fulfilled its usual role as part of the sausage, bread, onion and sauce combos that were the signature of a Bunnings Saturday. The contraption made the whole sausage experience special. It was built out of old paint cans, offcuts, bits of what probably used to be a push mower, and other things that were less easily identifiable. It clanked a little, but it worked very efficiently and there was certainly no diminution in either sausage production or demand.
The scout mistress held up a sausage with a pair of tongs and looked at Rosie questioningly, but Rosie shook her head and went inside. The smell of onions and oil had become a little overpowering. And she wasn’t here for food. Just for once, she wanted to get in and get out. A man, probably a Bunnings employee, was offering advice a few steps inside the front door, but Rosie didn’t stop. She could see the aisle she wanted: electrical. And if she stopped, she would be here forever. It was always a challenge to remain focussed in Bunnings. Sometimes it was even hard to remember the reason you’d come here in the first place.
But, unfortunately, if not unexpectedly, when Rosie arrived at the electrical aisle or what was advertised as the electrical aisle, things had been moved around. There was nothing electrical here at all, only a seemingly random collection of door knobs and stapling guns and enticing looking tools. She stopped, disconsolate, and told herself not to get distracted. Some kind of multi-purpose cleaning, drilling, sanding, stapling, nailing, painting device was being demonstrated in an alcove just ahead. A small crowd had gathered and Rosie wondered whether she should manoeuvre past them or turn around, go back, and ask for directions.
‘Can I help you?’ asked someone.
Rosie looked at their feet. You could always tell a genuine Bunnings employee by their shoes or lack thereof. Tricksters tended to have bare feet. She had no idea why, it was a dead giveaway and you’d think tricksters would have cottoned on to that by now. But this person was wearing boots. Boots and an apron and a somewhat weary look. Rosie felt she could trust them.
‘I was looking for electrical,’ she said. ‘I need some starters. You know, for fluros .’
‘They’re in aisle seven now. Sorry about that, we haven’t got around to changing the signs.’
‘No problem,’ said Rosie. She took herself out to the end of the aisle – avoiding the alcove and the ongoing demonstration – and saw she was in aisle twenty-three. She had a bit of a journey ahead of her.
She moved quickly past the paint aisles (twenty-two through eighteen). Paint was simultaneously promising and depressing. Easy to do, at least in the imagination. But so many choices. Too many for one person. And usually, in Rosie’s experience, it ended up being the wrong choice. The green window frames in her study were testament to that.
Rosie kept on.
To her right was a separate room, the part of the building where they held DIY workshops. A smiling Bunnings employee wearing bright red boots tried to entice her in.
‘Rube Goldberg machines,’ said the woman. ‘They’re so much fun.’ The woman smiled knowingly. ‘You look like the kind of person who’d enjoy a Rube Goldberg machine.’
Rosie took that as a compliment. ‘They do look good,’ she admitted. But before the woman could inveigle her inside, Rosie shook her head and took a few steps away to demonstrate her disinterest, or at least her lack of time. Nevertheless, she couldn’t help but notice the workshop’s featured device. A machine which intermittently shot out an arrow A machine mounted at head height on the back wall of the workshop room. Something like a ball machine, only far more dangerous. She hoped the device was well-calibrated. It did seem a slightly cavalier choice on the part of the Bunnings staff. As she watched, an arrow shot out and pierced a polystyrene ball balanced on top of a cone-shaped climbing frame. The frame toppled gracefully and fell onto a wooden box which was resting on a narrow shelf. The box also tipped, and a flurry of ball bearings descended onto a gently sloping floating floor and made their way towards a small tunnel. Several Rube Goldberg enthusiasts followed their path. Rosie didn’t wait to see more. She was resolute. She needed to get to aisle seven.
She had taken only a few steps before she realised something was happening up ahead. Aisle fifteen, by the looks. A stream of people, mostly women, kept appearing at speed and then disappearing into that aisle. She knew better than to investigate. Besides, a few steps further on and a possum perched on top of a nest of empty boxes in the junction between aisles sixteen and fifteen told her all she needed to know. ‘An adonis,’ it said in its squeaky voice. ‘Probably best to stay away.’
‘Thanks,’ said Rosie.
‘There’s a siren in thirty-three,’ suggested the possum. Its tail curled luxuriously around what looked to be a stolen fuchsia from the garden section. ‘Up near the water features.’
‘I wondered what that noise was,’ she said.
The possum didn’t really have great eyebrows, but it managed to convey both surprise and disbelief anyway. ‘I think she might be having some trouble with a trickster,’ it said.
Rosie empathised, but she kept on. The last time she’d been at Bunnings, a trickster had fooled her into purchasing a giant-size set of Allen keys. They were still sitting in their box at home. She was too ashamed to return them. But as she passed aisle fifteen, she allowed herself a glance. The adonis was hard to see. He must be short; all she could make out was a hairy arm. He might even have been signalling for help. He’d be OK; he wasn’t in any real danger.
But she did fall a little in love at the very end of aisle ten. A man with thinning hair and a paisley shirt was kneeling down in front of the solar-powered garden lights seriously weighing up the options of dragonflies versus butterflies.
He looked up at her as she walked past. ‘What do you think?’ he asked.
‘Dragonflies,’ said Rosie. She could have told him that dragonflies are small killers with independently operating wings, and thus always the better option, but she kept that information to herself.
‘OK,’ said the man. ‘Dragonflies it is.’
‘Good choice,’ said Rosie.
He stood up, but he didn’t put the butterflies away. He kept looking at the box. A little sorrowfully, it seemed.
‘You could always get both,’ suggested Rosie.
‘Perhaps I will,’ he said. The man bowed in thanks and Rosie was once again smitten by the small bald patch on the top of his head. But, she told herself, if a man couldn’t make a decision about garden lights, even after receiving some sound advice from a charming stranger, he wasn’t likely to prove overly decisive in other arenas. Rosie smiled at him but sighed internally. When he disappeared in the direction of the self-service checkouts, her determination reasserted itself.
Only three aisles to go!
She could smell catastrophe as she passed aisle nine and its origins became obvious as she neared aisle eight. An arrow, possibly an escapee from the workshop room, had punctured a bottle of turps. Liquid was seeping into the boxes below. And now, as Rosie approached, a cluster of small, ceramic pots clanged onto the floor. Ordinarily, she would have picked up those pots, done something about the turps, even claimed the arrow, but aisle seven was so close. She stepped to the side. And just as well, because another arrow hurtled past her and struck the metal shelving with a sproing.
Rosie grabbed a metal garbage bin lid to use as a shield and turned. There didn’t seem to be any immediate danger. No deranged attacker brandishing arrows. In front of the DIY workshop room, was somebody Rosie guessed was the adonis. Rosie doubted that he had been this dishevelled at the start of the day. His group of admirers had definitely grown smaller. A bemused group of Rube Goldberg enthusiasts was also gathering, although they remained inside the confines of the DIY workshop room.
But the arrows?
Rosie heard a peculiar sound, a combination of war cry and song. The siren, of course. She emerged from aisle fourteen brandishing two large watering cans and she looked angry enough to use them. A makeshift bow was slung across her back, though thankfully it appeared she’d run out of arrows.
A posse of Bunnings employees sprung out of aisle seventeen and handed the onlookers various plastic items, including, Rosie was pleased to see, some black bin lids. As the onlookers donned their makeshift armour, Rosie noticed a pair of large, unwashed feet dangling above them all. A trickster was sitting on a supporting beam happily taking in the chaos. No-one else seemed to have noticed him, despite his high-vis vest. He winked at Rosie and she held her bin lid higher to block his gaze.
The adonis stepped towards the siren, hairy arm and hand outstretched. The siren twirled ceremoniously, letting the contents of the watering cans fall where they may. The smell suggested the siren had got hold of some worm tea from the showcase backyard organic garden. The adonis backed off. But then a brave Rube Goldbergian came forward and, in a surprisingly simple and efficient manner, constructed two pedestals with easy-to-install decking material and a touch of duct tape. The siren graciously stepped onto one, the adonis onto the other. If the siren’s pedestal was slightly higher, no-one was commenting. They both received a round of applause, as did the Rube Goldbergian.
A truce had been achieved, though Rosie doubted that the adonis was at the heart of the siren’s troubles. She lowered her bin lid and saw that the trickster had disappeared. She was annoyed with herself for stopping. There’d been no danger, only another distraction. Typical Bunnings.
Rosie took the final steps into aisle seven. She was unsurprised to see that the same trickster, still wearing his high-vis vest, was busy rearranging the merchandise. She was having none of that. She picked up a fluorescent tube, poked the trickster with the pointy end and, while he was writhing on the floor in completely exaggerated agony, located the starters she needed. She put a couple of packets in her pocket for safekeeping. Then she went back to the ceramic pots, picked up as many as she could carry, and used them to construct a circle around the trickster. In fact, she made two trips. Most of the pots were clean and unbroken, but the turps smell was strong.
‘That’s not going to work,’ said the trickster. Though he didn’t move.
‘No?’ said Rosie.
She retrieved the punctured bottle of turps and put it on top of a stool, which she placed close to the shelf and above one of the pots. The trickster still hadn’t moved. She found a length of thin rope and ran it around and through the pots, the trickster watching her all the while. And then she lit a candle and placed it on a shelf just above the turps. The trickster could, of course, jump over it all and no-one would come to harm. He could even blow out the candle and tidy things up. That seemed unlikely.
‘See if you can resist,’ she told him. Then she went straight to the checkouts. She told someone about the trickster and the possibility that there might be a small fire in aisle seven and they responded by offering her a courtesy trailer. Rosie said thank you, but no. She did, however, promise to fill in a short online survey about her shopping experience today. She thought she might give it a seven.