As Max drew closer to Clifton he began to drive more slowly, wanting to savour each image of his new home and etch it into his memory. He had visited once before, on a holiday but today was the beginning of a new life; a chance to be someone other than the Max Taylor he’d been up to now. A new Max Taylor.
As the late autumn Saturday afternoon sun presented the Clifton harbour at its most glamorous, Max idled his heavily weighted station wagon along the old Harbour road, rather than the traffic-lighted main street. The bluestone and flaking render pubs of the seafront gave more of a sense of moment than the plate-glass and cream brick of the main shopping drag; at least so thought Max as his mind went on etching.
Two streets back from the foreshore, he pulled into the driveway of the small fisherman’s cottage that was to be his home until he found something else. Rented from friends of friends, the neat little weekender would suit his needs. The original four room cottage had had a modern kitchen and bathroom added at the rear. The front rooms were largely original, with the requisite brass beds, door handles and light switches, and colder than Max had considered imaginable for this time of year.
His first instinct was to go out for dinner at one of the local pubs but, remembering one of his myriad resolutions, he opened a special going-away-present red and lit the griller for his steak. Throwing a token halved tomato and a couple of lettuce leaves on a plate, he sat and toasted himself, curbing the thought that the only thing special about this red was the supermarket price. The steak grilled and eaten and the plate pushed aside, Max pondered an evening alone as a new man and wondered if what he was feeling was a panic attack.
Taking his bottle into the barely warmed lounge room, Max slumped into the holiday armchair, adjusting around the broken springs as best he could, surveyed the peeling wallpaper and the obvious signs of rising damp and contemplated this job he’d charmed his way into.
Pacific Paper were setting up a pulp mill at Clifton, which would double the town’s population, at least during construction and possibly in the long run as well. A local action group had warned of a disastrous impact on the social fabric of the town and wanted a grant to employ a community development worker to help them deal with the mess.
What they got was a government welfare worker with a community development background and they were angry. They’d wanted an activist and been sent a pacifier, they said. Well, Max Taylor would show them. He’d done his time on the right side of the barricades, although he hadn’t been too forthcoming at the interview about that part of his life. There was a time when he wouldn’t have been caught dead working for Welfare but this was important; this was a chance. And the money was more than anything he’d seen before.
If the locals were right, he’d help them get what they needed. Politically, the project had to work or the Government was in trouble. If the locals were exaggerating, well, it’d be a nice cushy number for a few years while he saved enough to go overseas.
He knew that a lot of his colleagues wouldn’t touch the job because the mill project was funded by multinational money, others because the locals were divided. Others again had thought the Environmental Impact Study had been ‘modified’. Some even thought the project was already dead in the water because of the international paper pricing structure.
The project was beginning to smell like a Government desperate to be seen to be generating jobs by subsidising a financially dodgy multinational and jeopardising the lifestyle of the locals into the bargain. The fishermen were worried about the effect on their catches from the discharge from the mill, while the tourism operators were worried about the effect on local beaches.
But Clifton would die anyway without this project; it was either the mill project or a slow, inexorable, terminal cancer from the drift of young people to the cities. Farming had become ‘get big or get out’, fishing was mostly trawling now, the abattoir workers had priced themselves out of the market, and even timber-getting had now gone high-tech. The mill was a chance that Clifton had to take and they weren’t going to be talked out of it by a bunch of city red-raggers and dole bludgers.
He woke early the next morning to an enticing sun and breakfasted with the door open on the lit gas oven. When he could feel his feet again, he decided to go walking in the sunshine and explore the town. Within minutes, the knifing wind seemed to be whistling through his ribs, despite his thick jacket, and he guiltily returned to the car for the brief drive to the harbourside shops.
Tourists or no tourists, it was Sunday and there were no early opening coffee shops, so Max went looking for his new office. A few minutes later, he stopped in disbelief in front of a tiny transportable.
The sliding door opened on to a kitchen/lounge area (which was presumably meant to be the reception/waiting area and then a narrow corridor led to two tiny bedrooms to be used as offices, separated by a toilet/shower room barely big enough to turn in. While surveying his new princedom, a strong gust of wind seemed determined to lift the building off its supports and deposit it in the Police carpark next door.
The old Max Taylor had taken a significant risk to create the new Max Taylor. And, as he looked out of the aluminium sliding window and watched the waves crash into the pier, he realised that the new Max was not going to have a charmed life after all.