The Essential Worker
  Stories by Jane Turner Goldsmith
  1  Chicken
 Dumpster Zone
3  Roadkill
4  Floral Arrangements
5  Shiny Shoes
6  Temporary Repair Only
7  Steady White Light
  About the Author  |  |  Summer 2023 Fiction Issue


Essential Worker #3: "Reddy"

“Reddy, got a copy?”

“Roger, Jed.”

“Roos in the centreline. Big fuckers.”

“Thanks, mate. Gotcha.”


Roos. They got a death wish. Especially at night. Dumb stupid bastards, stare at you from the edge of the road, jump right in front. What stupid creature on God's earth jumps right INTO a massive B-double belting down, not back into the saltbush? Red flash of their eyes, that’s all I see, then thump, flipped in the air, deady bones. Happens all the time on the road to Broken Hill. Gotta clean the front of my truck, blood on the windscreen. Emus, a coupla camels in the mist one time. Nearly dropped a wheel in the fogline and just about went into a jack-knife. No joke, double trailer, snaking over the road, watch out. Then you blow a tyre and all bloody hell breaks loose. Gotta keep your wits about you when you’re driving.

See a lot of death out here on the road. A cat the other day, heading out from the depot. Poor bugger, felt for the cat.


“Reddy. There, mate?”

“What now?”

“Hairdryer pointing at you.”

“Remember I’m going slow cos of the roos!”


We look out for each other on the road. Pretty bloody simple the job, you don’t need a fucking degree. Load, weigh, hitch the trailers, fuel, do the books, drive. Do the books, rest, drive, arrive, unload, get paid. I can’t afford to fuck things up. Got a swimming pool I’m building at home, see. My lad’s a bit of a swimmer.

Some blokes, they got a death wish too. It would be so fucking easy. If you wanted to, like. Seen plenty try to murder themselves on the road. Mad bastards driving their cars full bore into the prime mover, not a chance, or some looney tune on the side of the road, falling like a plank. Thank the Lord that’s never happened to me. Bloke on UHF the other day. Real shook up he was. Thank Christ for one thing, he told me, he never looked me in the eye.

You hear about it all the time. Old bastards, like me—think they know it all. Don’t need to slow down for hazards. Or young blokes not long for the road, on uppers to pass the time. Speed and speed, that’s it. They get sucked down the plughole, down they go, whirling and swirling, but can anyone tell them? They gotta find it out for themselves. See a few front-end pileups, prime movers ramming into cars at cross-roads or sliding off into the lanes. A few of those before they get charged and chucked in the clinker and that’s the end of their bloody careers.

Whereas me, fit and surviving. On the road twenty years. Fit and Reddy.


“Got a copy, Lou?”

“Yeah, Red.”

“What’s with this fucking virus?”

“Moving in on the scene. Lockdown, they reckon.”

“Nah, no way.”

“Yeah. Padlock our doors.”

“Big bloody ginormous conspiracy if you ask me.”

“They’re gunna close the borders.”

“Nah. Won’t happen.”


Jeez that would cock things up. Can’t afford hold-ups. Crack in the hose: hold-up. The shockers are shot: hold-up. Highway Patrol intercept: hold-up. Critters on the road, Jeeeezus! Please, no hold-ups. Arrive on time, that’s me. Code name is “Reddy” cos I am. When you’re delivering for The Fresh Bread People, no point delivering it stale, is there? The Stale Bread People, that sounds bloody good—not.

Won’t happen, it’ll all blow over.


“Reddy, got a copy?”

“Gotcha, Rodge.”

“Candy Car.”

“I don’t speed mate. Remember.”

“Just FYI.”


Jeez, there it is, the bloody Double One flagging me down, fucking disco whistle and all. What is this shit? I’m not speeding. Usually it’s just smile and wave, they smile and wave. They know me. No, I don’t have fresh fruit or veg or grapevines, sir, I never have any bloody fresh fruit and veg. If you’re unlucky it’s the fucking National Heavy Vehicle Feds. Want to hoist you up and check your joints, your brakes, your shoes, your tyres, they’ll always find something to fine you for. I’m going to have to issue you an infringement, sir. For what, pray tell? Cos my buckles were a millimetre loose?

I pull my whole screeching machine to a halt. These guys don’t look like they want to check out my rig. They want to tell me something. The cop is in super heavy hi-vis armour. She’s got a mask on like she’s an ambo. Wants to find out if I’m going over the border. Yes, Madam, as usual, I’m going just the other side of the border, to handover my rig, is that a crime? They’re just warning, she says, because there’s about to be a lockdown or they think there might be, so they just want people to know and maybe make other plans in case the borders shut. What kind of other plans? Fuck me.


“Lou, you there?”

“Gotcha, Red.”

“You heard?”

“Yeah. Now we fill out a form to prove we’re essential.”

“You were always essential, Lou.”

“Thanks for the compliment, Red. You’re a lot smarter than you look, too.”

“Is that a compliment?”

“You work it out.”

“I’ll get back to you. You on time?”

“On time, mate.”

“See you then, usual spot.”


Lou is always on time for our handover. Reliable, one hundred percent. We used to be two-up drivers together. Bloody brilliant, long-haul interstate. Lou doesn’t give a shit. Fitter and stronger than any bloke. Lifts and loads faster than me. The two of us, great two-up. Same rhythm. Same philosophy. Arrive on time, easy as she goes. Bloody brilliant, Lou.


The missus back home will be freaking out about the situation.

She doesn’t pick up.

She’s having a bit of trouble with my girl, but that’s another story. Reckons she needs her dad around, but what am I supposed to do about that? Can’t be here and there at the same time. I’m not a bloody Houdini. So she’s givin’ me the cold shoulder, Pauline is, and my girl, she’s allergic to people is what I reckon, age fourteen and what the bloody hell am I supposed to do about it, anyway?


“Reddy, get a room.”

“What d’ya mean?”

“You been talking to yeself again.”

“Passes the time.”

“Can you ever crap on.”

“It’s a long road, Lou.”

“Well, turn your phone off.”

“It’s off. Woops no, it isn’t!”


Unload at Peterborough. Blokes call me over. They’re all shitting themselves in the café. Sticking their long bloody faces into their noodles.


“You out of squelch or something?”

“Bloody sick of the bullshit on the radio.”

“You missed the doomsday proclamation.”

“It’s all bullcrap.”

“The bloody Prime Minister, man.”


I fill out my driver diary, tap the wheels, check the ties, check the rattle. Call Pauline again. No answer. Reckon it was the carnival today and I forgot to call Damian. I’ll have a black bloody mark for that. Text Damian. He doesn’t answer either, but that’s no surprise. Kid never answers straight-away.


“Where’s Denise?” I ask the cashier on the till. “Out for a smoke already?”

Normally Carly would give me “that look.” But tonight she’s rattled.

“Denise isn’t coming in. She’s shit scared of catching something.”

I laugh. Denise is hardly known for her caution when it comes to, well, you know. I don’t say this. They know me here. I’m clean.

“We all gotta stay a metre and a half apart.”

I slap her on her forearm. I dunno, trying to lighten the bloody funeral chapel atmosphere.

“No joke,” Carly says. “Keep away.” She passes me my coffee without a glance. Fuck, what is happening in the world?

“Might have to get your quick empty in some hick town off the radar.”

“It’s not a fucking quick empty. We’re friends.”

“Yeah, right,” she says, rolling her eyes, like she knows something. “Anyway, dunno where she is and I’m not substituting.”

“Nah, I never invited you.”

“Yeah, you did.”

“Nup. You got the wrong bloke.”


Mind, the missus wouldn’t have a bar of me mucking around.

She trusts me, right. To arrive alive and not stuff up and keep us afloat.


Just out of OodlaWirra. Done the chat with Lou about the rig since there’s now some uncertainty. Bored with the talk on UHF. Ask me, does a driver get bored with a road? Yes. No. Sometimes. Try to call Pauline. Sounded like she picked up...not sure.

This chick steps out, just about RIGHT in front of me. Black stringy hair blowin’ in the wind, dusty and twiggy, like she could snap in half. Like she really is going to step forward, got a death wish. Suddenly straightens up—flags her arm like an umpire at the footy, wants a bloody lift, in the middle of nowhere, hitching. Young, with her flappy dress, just a kid, not much older than my own. I wasn’t gonna stop. You know—they got your back on the GPS. They can tell at any minute your exact location due to your Personalised Dongle Thingy. What speed you’re at, what gear you’re in, whether you got your headlights on, whether you just farted. You might be stopping for a piss, can’t take too long (some blokes use a coke bottle, LOL) or you have to slow for stock on the road. You gotta have a reason, like, so I do hesitate. But I stop. Pull the whole screeching catastrophe up short. Twenty-eight fucking metres of chrome and steel, it’s hardly short. Exhaust brakes are bloody brilliant but. Pull up in no time and haul down the window.

“Are you goin’ to Yunta?” The chick screams at me. I can hardly hear from the roar of the wind.

“Where d’ya reckon I’m going on this road?”

“Take me to Yunta?”

“Get your skinny arse up here and sit tight and shut up, you’re on.”

I am not much of a talker, see. Except to myself, haha. Why I don’t normally take hitchers.

She clambers up and arranges herself on the passenger seat. Like it’s a harem or something. For sure, it’s cool up here, king of the road, on bloody pleasant air-lift seats, looking down. She casts a longing glance at the mattress-bed behind. Knows her way around, you betcha. At the same time, TBH, she doesn’t look all that with it. Sort of drippy and limbs everywhere. When she talks it’s slurred and drunk, but weird, not exactly drunk either. She’s dirty, slept rough. Imagine my kid sleeping rough, I think when I’m on the road and see walkabouts and looney tunes. I think of my kids a real lot when I’m away. My lad, I’d like him to come with me, one time. Says he wants to, has to grow up a bit, but. I’m never there for his carnivals, Pauline reminds me, thanks Pauline, I can’t be here and there at the same time, can I? One day I’m gonna take him to the Blinman Pools, that’s a pool he’ll never forget.

Anyway, this kid, this chick. Before two minutes are up, she leans over and says, like, not even sexy. Do you want a blow job?

I should have expected it, dumb bastard that I am. It would just be so fucking easy, no need to even stop.

“How old are you?”

“Eighteen,” she comes back.

“Bullshit. Show me your ID, kid. You got ID, and I’m a fucking monkey’s uncle.”

She says nothing. Course she doesn’t. She’s got fucking nothing.

“You got food?”

“I’m not hungry,” she says.

“Sure you are. Help yeself to a coke. Maybe a sausage roll there.” I pull out the little cabinet drawer to my left behind the driver’s seat.

“Have you got some other shit?”

“Listen girly, you got the wrong bloke. I’m gunna drop you off here in Nackara and you’re gunna have yourself a nice clean-up in the public toilets and here’s twenty bucks to go buy yourself a pie for dinner. Not enough for any shit, right? Just a pie and a fucking custard tart.” This is what I say to the kid.

She looks right pissed off. I screech up my great fucking machine again and turf her out.


When I am home, I get the evil eye. Pauline is great, but she’s in her zone with the kids and I come and upend all that. I try to plan stuff, but she doesn’t want to do it. She has her craft, her school run, her mum, her friends. Tracey’s putting it on a bit, pouting and sulking and allergic to any other human being within a millimetre. Oh, Gross! she says all the time. No more shopping, not even with her mum. Normal teenage stuff maybe. Damian’s into his own thing. Gaming and all that shit. When I get home, I just want a tinny and the footy, no questions. I’m not one for talk. I sit and wait to be told what to do. Then I'm a lazy bastard because I’m sitting, waiting. Or I’m not popular cos I want a tinny and to watch the footy and I don’t want to play the kid’s game and my daughter would squeal if I even glance at her, gives me a look that says you are just a dumbfuck truck driver, what would you even know?

She’s in Year Ten now, so bloody smart, and I never finished mine. One time I tried to do an IT course. If you can understand fucking global tracking systems, you can understand the basics of IT, don’t have to be a genius. I’m not pretending to be a genius, but I was just trying to not be a dumbfuck truck driver for once. I got into trouble for that cos I was on the computer, doing IT. So I gave up and I’m still a fucking dumbfuck truck driver.

You gotta feed them still.

You can’t win, either way.

I try to call Pauline again. No answer. Pisses me off actually, with everything happening, we need to have a bit of a chat. Damian has some gooby message on his voicemail. I won’t bother trying Tracey’s. Thanks, guys. I’m the one on the road bringing it all home for you. I am now, even, apparently, eligible for an Essential Transport Number, the cops tell me. Whoopy-Doo. Not just a dumb truck driver!


“Got a copy, Lou?”

“Gotcha Red.”

“Not going to make it, mate.”


“Roo with a death wish.”

“Into the bullbar?”

“Kamikaze. Fucked the air-lines.”

“No can fix?”

“Not this time. Mechano can’t make it til tomorrow. Some hold up at the border.”

“Just on borders. Not sure what is going on. Think we’re stuffed.”

“I’ll just dump it in the middle of the desert, right?”

“Yeah, insane. Sorry Red.”

“I’m the sorry one. Stuffs you up big time. I’ll let you know.”


Looks like I’m just going to have to stretch myself out on my fat arse and wait. I go to text Pauline, but she gets there first.

dont go over the border, there gunna shut down U heard

im not on the bloody moon

were packing it down here

didn’t make it to the border anyways fucking suicidal kangaroo fucking air-lines

dont swear

righto then an adorable but stupid kangaroo the all important airlines

jeez your an idiot

thanks for the sympathy

should watch out for them

do you have any fucking idea


She doesn’t reply for a minute. Then:

wot are U going to do now

wot do U reckon im gunna do can’t do a fucking thing til morning anyway they wont get their daily bread now.

dont worry about us then

wot the fuck do you want me to do about it

your never here when it matters


Jeeezus Christ. I whistle.

Thanks for the love, love.


I leave it a good few minutes. Usually, she comes back. After ten minutes I get:

you left your phone on

what do you mean

i heard it all

fuck, pauline I turfed her out

sure you did

so you didnt hear that bit then


After a minute or so, I text again:

you didn’t hear that bit???


No reply.

Pauline, wot the…?



don’t bother

wot do U mean

coming back just dont bother


She’s a mad raving looney tune. What did I do wrong?

She’ll calm down, she always does.


Now what do I do? I mean a bloke’s put under temptation all the time, what’s he supposed to do about it? Does the Fatigue Management Board of the National Heavy Vehicle Register have a bloody recipe for that? They send out the Arrive Alive and the Rest and Refresh shit, what about a solution to the primal problem?


0100 hours:

I resist, don’t I? You can betcha someone will track you down whatever you do, on your phone, on your laptop, in your vehicle, just peacefully driving or surfing and minding your own business. There’s always someone looking over your shoulder and there’s always someone won’t be happy.


02:00 hours:

I’m a fucking idiot leaving the phone on. Which bit did she hear? Search her Facebook posts. Just the kids and that. Nothing. Unless she’s leading a double life. But nah. Not Pauline. No way would she call it off just cos I picked up the chick and then kicked her out. You’re not always rational in the dark of night in the middle of shitsville. You’re, like, suspended in space and time and in the wrong bloody sleep cycle and you get to thinking weird thoughts.


02:30 hours:

Search the news. Fuck, New South Wales border is closing.


03:00 hours:

What about those apps? For a bit of a laugh. Tinder, RSVP, whatever? One of my mates reckoned he hooked up, no problem, but how much are they taking the piss? Give it a try, what the hell? Make up some dude. Some smart young IT guy, just for a laugh. Jason or Dylan, how about that?


03:30 am.

News again. Western Australia closing borders. They were always bloody lunatics in WA.


03:45 hours:

What was the bloody cat doing on the main road? We keep ours inside. Pauline makes sure of that. I fully agree, inside, so they should be. That’s what I reckon, or they get birds and lizards. Or themselves; killed, deady bones.


03:47 hours

Quite like cats. Not as much trouble as dogs. Cat videos, then. Funnier than porn.


03:49 hours

Arrester beds. How fucking easy it would be, driving up an arrester bed, and just keep going. Jeezus Christ.


03:53 hours.

Lou U awake? What is the fucking point of the stars, staring down at me, like they’re fucking accusing me or something


04:00 hours:

Ha! Message just now on meetup app. Request from an international student (yeah, sure!). Please help I am imprisoned in boarding room. University ignorant of my presence. How to get data connection on laptop?

Sounds like google translate or something. No photo, not even a photoshopped one. Send a reply? For a bit of a joke. Dear Joo Hee Seo. I am a young student of Information Technology. What trouble are you having with your data connection, pray tell? Can’t help a laugh. Wishful thinking. If I had my time over again.


04:30 hours:

Text Pauline:

U awake?


I sit staring at my bloody laptop. Logic tells me if I get a bit of kip, I could reverse my sleep cycle and be compos at sunrise for the mechano. I reach for my flat useless pillow from my drawer and stuff it under my neck. Stretch out.

The laptop pings and I think maybe Pauline, but that’d be the phone.

It’s the Asian chick.

You are so kind to reply. I arrive and isolation. My C of E problem. No one meet me from the University.

Seriously? What the fuck is she going on about? I can’t help her.

I check my phone. No text from Pauline.

It’s deathly bloody silent in the cabin. Excluding the road trains bouldering past of course. But waiting for a text from Pauline is like, really silent.

Ping. Shit it’s her again. Joo Hee. Or could be a boy. Sounds too polite for a boy.

Please Jason? Can you help?

I shut down my laptop and snap it close. Fuck, that was close. I thought no one ever answered those message boards except punters looking for a hook-up.

I lay out horizontal and haul my jacket over. Toss it off again. Too hot. All I can hear is the laptop trying to shut down but telling me it won’t cos the fucking dating app is preventing it from closing. My phone has a blaring red light and the laptop screen is all blue.

I have a blackout mask in my drawer. Give that a try.


Beep. It’s Lou.

fuck, reddy, U alright? wots with the stargazing shit wot do U mean your a fucking pinprick?

I think about texting Lou to calm down.


Another beep. I must have slept an hour or two. Three! I get vertical. It’s 7.30 in the morning.

Beep. Text from Pauline. Thank Christ, finally. Except when I read it.

damians swimming carnival cancelled


What the fuck am I supposed to do or say about the swimming carnival being cancelled? There’s no reply I can think of and there’s no message from the mechano.

The stupid crushed cat moves in. Curling up in my brain and settling right down, purring even. The laptop whirrs. I want to smash it against the window screen.

I lever myself up and prise it open. It never even shut down.

The message from the Asian chick sits there like a freakin blank pleading face.

Can you help, Jason?

What the…?

I swing my legs around and get the laptop in position.

I type slowly, don’t want to seem too keen: What seems to be the problem?

I wait. Surely the kid can get some help closer to wherever she is? Isolation, Jeez.

In seconds, no joke, there’s a reply:

How to hotspot to laptop?

Is that all she needs? Carefully I tap out my prompt.

“Hey Hee Jooey? Do you see your settings icon on your laptop?”


I might as well wake up properly now. Face the world. Razz up the mechano and get the fucking brakes fixed and deliver the bread and the school supplies and figure out where or whether to leave the load for Lou, in all the bedlam and then fucking turn around and come back home. Figure out how to console Pauline. She can’t mean it. Just an artefact of weirdness, as Lou is given to saying.

Pauline’ll be right. It’s not that hard, is it? Order a bit of takeaway and some bloody loo paper. It’ll all be over in a coupla weeks.


On my way back into Playford on freakin’ empty freeways, there’s roadworks that mean I have to pull off to go the lower road. Roadworks with, like, no workers, not a soul in sight. Just blocked highways and detour signs. I drive past the intersection where that cat became peanut paste on my bullbar. Fuck me, there’s a poster on the stobie pole. I can see it as I wait for the lights. Some kid has stuck it up thinking they’re gonna reunite with their lost cat. As the lights turn green, I see the kid, in the house with the orange door on the corner. It’s gotta be that kid. Can’t see if it’s a he or a she, it’s just a kid, standing there with a roll of posters, with the mum yelling at it to get inside, the only two people out, when the rest of the world has gone freakin’ completely, weirdly, silent.

By the time I get to my own place, it’s past seven in the evening.

The house is all closed up. Like every other house. Bloody eerie, like a dead world from a movie. Usually, I beep my horn. My kid used to come running when I got home. Not my daughter but then remember she’s always been allergic to everyone.

A light goes on inside. Then off again.

I could go in. But I don’t. It will be The Fucking Fresh Home Delivery service before Pauline shows her face.

Even then, I don’t want to see her. I don’t want to talk. I don’t want to know.

No one comes out of the house, though they know I’m here. Not then and not for all the rest of the fucking long night, which I spend in the cabin of my ute.

The phone rings. It’s Lou. I press green.

talk to me you moron dont you dare fucking kill yourself, or Ill kill you



  © Jane Turner Goldsmith, 2023

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