A Fairytale of Kings Cross

Frank Walker was just another face in the crowd swirling up and down the ‘strip’. Nothing distinguished him from any of the numberless pilgrims on the streets of bright lights and neon promises. Kings Cross drew people from all over looking for good times, a night on the town, fantasy, or company to keep the loneliness at bay.

Hookers gave him bright plastic smiles as he went past, their invitations as real as any Frank Walker could remember. In his city business suit, the badge of nine to five dedication, he was just another seeker.

Except that Frank Walker was going to die tonight – he’d made up his mind and nothing on the pavements of Darlinghurst Road would make him change his resolution. The way he saw it there wasn’t any choice, and the whole messy tangle of his life had become too involved. It was all far too much trouble.

He was not the first to take his last night on earth along the crowded pavements of The Cross and he would not be the last. It seemed a fitting thing to do, to be with people trying to have a good time before calling it a day. He had a vague plan at the back of his mind to take one last walk among the bright lights before returning to his car and driving out to the Gap.

If anyone had asked him, he’d have told them something about his business on the brink of going bust, about the bank ready to foreclose at any hour and about Janine, his wife who up and left him yesterday, this time for good. But no one asked him and no one would.

He was passing the entrance to a small side street when he noticed a brightly lit flashing sign outside an ice cream parlour – The Happiness Ice Cream Company. For the first time in many years Frank Walker felt the urge to eat an ice cream. It appealed to his bitter sense of irony to make his last meal an ice gelato.

A small grey-haired man stood behind the counter. Under glass the range of flavours rainbowed through every conceivable variation.

“What flavour you want?” asked the man to Frank’s vague request.

“It doesn’t matter, anything at all.”

Frank wanted an ice cream but he didn’t want any choices, not now. He stood defeated in the bright light, a picture of dejection and despair.

“Maybe the house specialty? It’s a very fine flavour I developed myself. I call it Kings Cross Happy,” said the man.

Frank waved his hand. “Anything.”

From a container at the very end of the row the ice cream man scooped some gelato into a cone. It had a hint of green, an almost luminous glow, emanating from it.

“How much?” asked Frank taking the cone.

“For you, tonight, nothing. You can’t buy Kings Cross Happy,” said the man smiling broadly at him.

Frank registered a faint sense of surprise but he didn’t take it any further. Tonight anything seemed possible. Eating the ice cream he went back up the street to merge into the endless passing crowds. It had a peculiar taste, hard to describe, something between walnut and hope.

There was a singer on the corner, a young man with long hair and a guitar singing A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall. Frank threw a coin as he walked by. He hoped the busker had a good night. It was a tough way of making a quid.

Frank also hoped he’d meet someone he knew, a friend, an acquaintance, someone. After all he knew lots of people, had lots of friends, this was his city. Even if his business was going bust it wouldn’t mean the end of the world.

He thought of Janine and her boyfriend. Maybe it was better after all. Things hadn’t been going so well between the two of them for years. He hoped she’d be happy in her new life.

Strange the taste of hope, he thought. Slightly bitter but quite pleasant, with the merest hint of possibility. It was possible if the bank did not foreclose right away he might be able to trade his way out. In fact, if he called a couple of people right now it was possible he could raise a loan to carry him through.

Yes, it was quite possible he realised, and suddenly, for the first time in months, he felt hopeful.

He looked at the last bit of ice cream in the cone and popped it in his mouth.

The pavements were a kaleidoscope of colour. He brushed past a laughing group of trippers, smiling at their good natured exhuberance. From a doorway across the road came the sound of a saxophone, playing as if God had created music first.

Frank realised he was hungry, he hadn’t eaten all day and the ice cream had put an edge on his appetite. He turned around and headed back the way he came. At the small narrow street he again turned down towards The Happiness Ice Cream Company shop. The grey-haired man was no longer there; a young girl with long black hair was reading a book behind the counter.

“A Kings Cross Happy please and make it a double,” he asked.

“I’m sorry, we don’t have that flavour” replied the girl.

“But of course you do, there it …” Frank’s voice trailed off as his pointing finger indicated a container at the far end clearly labelled vanilla.

There was no luminous gelato anywhere among the many brightly coloured containers.

He looked at the girl and smiled. Even a little taste of hope and possibility, he felt sure, would prove more than enough.

“It doesn’t matter. Have a good night,” he said.

He walked back up the street towards his favourite restaurant.

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