Jim – Part 1

The tears won’t come.  My eyes’ drought is paradoxically the result of life’s storm clouds sucked dry poured over my heart leaving me wondering just where the moisture has gone as if it packed its bags and departed with the setting sun.  So I start cutting myself.  The blade bites for blood and gets just that.  There’s the moisture.  There’s the evidence of those damned storm clouds.  Tears finally fall on my wrist diluted with sweat an angry red life-force.  I have so much to do but the pain’s what I’m doing now.  I spend the evening lying in my own blood and tears crying and crying then screaming and screaming then I pass out.  Not death not what I really want not what I’ve tried to do.  It’s not really what I need.

 

‘I could lie like this forever.’

‘So could I.’

‘But we can’t.’

‘No, we can’t,’ Jess says, and separates herself from my arms.  It pains us both, we both cringe a little; we’re selfish in our selflessness.  She removes her naked back and yellow panties from the room, then returns with lemonade just for me.  I sip and share a stare with her that has no need for obvious emotion.  We know what we’re both thinking, feeling, but she startles me with her laughing words: ‘Give me a sip!’

 

I play video games almost all day, when I usually play them all day, while she’s at work.  At about 4.30pm I decapitate another dots-per-inch representation of the power bill she always pays, then I throw the fucking Xbox out the nearest window; the cost of the glass will be worth the savings to my mind and our electricity costs, but I still watch trashy afternoon TV as a way of coming-down off the fantasy-world high.  I stopped wondering what she sees in me years ago, but the fact I remember such thoughts is ironic, and comforted only by the fact I’ve prepared dinner as she walks through the door.

‘What happened to the window?’

‘I gave up video games.’

‘Oh,’ she says, with more relief than surprise.  ‘Good.  What’s for dinner?’

‘My undying devotion for you.’

‘Mmmmm, well it’s a little corny but I must admit it’s my favourite,’ she advances on the couch under my arse.

‘How was work?’

‘Who cares?’ she says and envelops me like a delicious, natural high.

 

The room reeks of stagnant tinny blood as my eyes peel open.  Back against the side of the mattress arse in a pool of pain eyes and body all out of tears and blood but craving more.  I throw-up in my lap disgusted with the fact I’m still alive but dead inside like the ineffectual black sheep of an otherwise well-nourished zombie family.  I watch and watch and watch and watch the doorway hoping she’ll emerge topless with pancakes in the morning but she doesn’t and I dry retch while raising myself to my feet to escape the floor of agony.  Falling back onto the bed I tell myself I didn’t fail and it was my plan all along to stare at the ceiling breathing blood and sinking into previously unknown depths of depression.

Overdue Encounter – Part 2

‘Cheers!’ Jack charges his glass into the air enthusiastically, spilling more than a little head over the side.  ‘To old friends.’

‘To brothers,’ Paul retorts, with less enthusiasm, equal sincerity and a commanding gaze across the table.

‘Brothers,’ Jack agrees and clinks his glass gently against Paul’s, a wave of solemnity passing through their moods for a moment.  They both drink a quarter of their schooners, realising their thirst simultaneously as the first droplets of amber liquid reach their tongues.  Jack places his glass heavily on the table and lets out a loud ‘Ahhhhh’ in appreciation of the drink.  Paul rests his drink carefully on the paper coaster and wipes his mouth, while staring into the glass with a toothless smile on his face, as if an answer to a troubling question lies within one of the effervescent bubbles.

‘So,’ Jack begins, snapping Paul’s attention from the drink.  ‘Did the trip help?’

‘Yes, and no,’ Paul replies, letting his eyes wander away from his friend’s once more, presently to the sticky floor.  ‘Where’s Candace?’

‘She’s with her Grandmother.’

‘That’s good,’ he half-lies, having never genuinely gotten on with his mother-in-law.  They’d actually had a worse relationship since; possibly though hopefully not only because of her uncanny, even for a mother, resemblance to Stephanie.  ‘How is she?’

‘Who, my mother?’ Jack firstly asks, incredulously, ‘Or Candace?’

Paul takes another swig of the beer with his eyes closed and shakes his head as he enjoys it.  ‘Candace, of course,’ he says, returning his glass to its coaster.

‘She’s perfect.’

‘Good.’

‘Do you want to see her?  I’ll drive.’

Yes, and no,’ Paul thinks, as the other man looks on: confusion and vexation written on his face.

Standing in front of the tombstone, wind whips the two mens’ coats and trousers, briefly biting their exposed calf-muscles like insects borne of the coldest winter.  With tears, handshakes and sobbing hugs, the crowd drifts away in a pool of black coats and dresses draining into dark sedans and limousines.  Once the cars disappear, their only company is each other, a deceased loved one and unforgiving wind.

‘I miss her already,’ Paul laments in a monotone voice, staring at the grey cross.

‘I miss her too, y’know,’ Jack contributes in a voice part anger, part grief.  ‘You’re not the only one who has been affected by her death.  She was not just a wife, but a sister, a daughter, a friend and mother.’

‘I can’t relate to her through any of those other connections, except maybe as a friend.’  Paul bends down and lays a bouquet of white roses onto the centre of the mound of dirt, creating a ray of reflected light amid indifferent earth.  While raising back up, not before allowing a single tear to land on the grave, he continues: ‘But she was more than even that.  She was my wife – that’s how I loved her and that’s how I will miss her, forever.’

‘And I’ll miss my sister forever,’ Jack puts his arm over Paul’s slumped shoulders, which straighten at his offering of support, and the latter returns the favour.  ‘C’mon, let’s have a beer and speak of happier times and those to come.’

‘You’re right,’ Paul agrees, and they leave the grave, climb into the sole remaining car, and accelerate into the future.

‘Hello Paul,’ Stephanie’s mother says as she opens the front-door.  ‘It’s good to see you again.’

‘Hi Maggie, good to see you too,’ he replies, sincere at least for sentimentality’s sake.  ‘Candace?’

‘Of course.  She’s in the nursery at the end of the hall.’

Maggie withdraws into the house in order to allow Paul to enter.  He does so and immediately, though hesitantly, begins to head down the hallway.  Jack and his mother’s voices become muffled as Paul wanders the carpet, perusing its intricate greens, browns and blacks; reminiscing on his short marriage as if the carpet is an increasingly macabre parchment dedicated to its memory.  Appropriately, the story ends at the entrance to the nursery and an uncertain, cream-coloured weave begins, carrying an ornate, mahogany crib in the far corner.

I remember your smell, my beautiful Candace,’ Paul introspects and, for the last time, permits the terrible thought to manifest itself on his lips, as he moves toward the crib.  ‘If it weren’t for you, my wife would still be alive.’

The thought is swept away finally, like a house which has seen too many evil years under the blows of a wrecking-ball, as Paul grips the rails and peers at the fragile form on the mattress below.

That pale skin, that lock of red-hair.  You’re every bit your mother’s daughter, little Candace.  You must be six months old by now.  I’ll never forgive myself for abandoning you.’

Candace opens her eyes and begins to bawl, but Paul has never heard such a wondrous sound; like the singing of angels in the highest reaches of heaven.

‘Those green eyes.’

He raises her up gently in his arms, kisses her forehead and says, ‘You’ll never bear the cost of my pain again.’

Overdue Encounter – Part 1

At a summer market, after rain, conversation is dominated by complaints about the oppressive humidity as the casual crowd avoids gloomy puddles.  Jack ambles more casually than most, navigating the throng, glancing left and right at the various crafts and cookeries of bored, but relaxed-looking vendors.  Not really interested in purchasing anything in particular, he’s found himself drawn to the market by the geographical convenience of his home and the lure of the sun-drenched beach, running parallel to the market and offering the tantalising promise of refreshing immersion.  A curious mood: surrounded by so many people, yet a simultaneous feeling of loneliness and contentment.  The faces in the crowd become a brush-stroke-smear of human features, in the manner in which all city-dwellers can relate, on a background of mud, grass and cheap-goods-stalls.  Like focal colour on a painting, one face begins to stand out, approaching from the opposite end of the laneway.  ‘Paul’, Jack recognises, as less distracted people dance out of the way of the two men approaching each other.  Recognition manifests itself in a broad smile on his old friend’s face.

One of the last of the old pubs in the city; the sun begins its final descent behind the building, into the hills and rain leaks slowly through the ceiling, threatening the pool-tables.  Men and women of weary but brightening moods begin to drift through the doors in order to begin one of the more pleasant routines of the week.  Jack and Paul lean against weathered bricks, adjacent the entrance.

‘So your sister wants to join us?’ Paul asks with curious intent.

‘Yeah, she’s had a rough week,’ Jack says and pulls a packet of cigarettes from his back-pocket, taps one between his fingers and offers the pack to his friend, who declines with a dismissive wave and a shake of the head.

‘What’s happened?’

‘Not sure, just said she needs a drink pretty bad.’

‘She’ll be in good company then.’

While people-watching, Paul muses on the specifics of the pedestrians’ week, pondering their possible ups-and-downs and how they’ll use the weekend to reflect, if not working through, of course.  A respectful sapling grows in his mind at the thought of a seven-day working week, but turns brown and withers as he wonders when it is that you begin to truly live, if all you do is work.

‘Here she is,’ Jack motions with the crimson tip of his cigarette past Paul, and the latter turns to see a veritable diamond of a lady; reflecting uncompromising beauty through her green eyes, auburn-hair and skin the colour and texture of fresh cream.

‘Paul,’ Jack says, gesturing to the man with his cigarette, for the benefit of the new arrival.  ‘This is Stephanie,’ he gestures to her for his friend’s benefit.  ‘My sister.’

They embrace among the crowd as brothers, albeit minus blood-ties, attracting curious, sideways glances from random passers-by.  Jack proceeds to push Paul away, then hold him by the shoulders, and look him up and down with an elated smile.

‘Still in one piece I see,’ Jack says, darting his head around the other man in mocking examination.  ‘I’ve heard they have great-whites as big as mini-vans in Western Australia.’

‘I saw sharks in New South Wales and South Australia, and witnessed a near-fatal attack in Victoria,’ Paul begins, with a mischievous smile.  ‘But the scariest things I saw in WA . . . were the locals.’

Jack laughs as if he’d been storing them up, which startles an elderly couple, then throws his arms around his friend once more in a fierce, relieved hug.

‘C’mon, I know a great pub that’s just over the road,’ Jack says, leading the way beside a cake-stall towards the road, the sweet aromas refining the atmosphere.

‘What’s so great about it?’ Paul says, as they watch for gaps in the heavy traffic.

‘The schooners are fifty-cents cheaper than at the place three doors down.’

‘And what about the regulars?’

They cross the road with a light jog and Jack begins to chuckle as they ascend the three-steps leading to the entrance, then turns to Paul.

‘Yeah, they’re definitely cheaper too.’

‘She’s beautiful,’ Paul says, meaning his words more sincerely than he ever had, or would again.

‘She is beautiful,’ Stephanie agrees with a touch of exhaustion, gazing at their daughter with that limitless-as-the-universe type of love only a mother can rightly possess.  The child is healthy, sleeping; perfect.  Stephanie moves her attention to her husband, ‘I love you.’

Paul lingers his gaze on their daughter for a moment, not in an attempt to avoid his wife’s proclamation but due to a paranoid thought that the longer his eyes rest on his child’s sleeping fragility, the longer she will be happy, the longer she will be safe; the more significant and joyous her life will be.  Finally, he returns his wife’s expectant stare.

‘I love you too.’

Stephanie winces momentarily, under the duress of stabbing pains.

‘Are you ok?’

‘Yes, I’m fine,’ she replies, having apparently recovered.  ‘How do I look?  Like I’ve given birth?’

‘You’re gorgeous.’

“Thanks honey, but I know I never look good when I’m tired, and I’ve never felt this exhausted.’

‘What can I say?  I’m biased.  Are you sure you’re ok?’

‘I’m fine,’ she lies.

A double-knock at the door and a nurse enters, followed by Jack, who’s grinning so broadly it looks as if he’s trying to catch his ears under his molars.

‘Where’s my little niece?!’ he shouts loud enough to set back progress in the ear-trauma ward for an entire month, spreads his arms and advances on the couple who begin shifting uncomfortably in the path of his approach.

Left – Part 2

I wake about 10am.  Jess has already left, in keeping with the normal routine of her lifestyle of which I’m aware our family depends.  The flow of my day consists of the usual splattering of paint, interspersed with scrubbing and bleaching.  I hope with each whiff of cleaning product and acrylic paint our problems can be kept at bay like the advance of a determined yet bettered army at the gates of an impenetrable fortress of steel and stone.  Though perhaps the chemicals are producing in me some kind of delirious, drug-induced optimism.  The same phone-call and the same, possibly paranoid, assumptions of ulterior motives ensues in the afternoon.  This time, over steak as it’s a Friday evening, another . . . discussion, rudely interrupted, as an unwelcome change of pace, with a man’s cologne of which I’m unfamiliar and not a subscriber to.  Childish lyrics emanating from the unseen television take on an offensive tone in my mind, when mixed with the pungent odour stinging my nostrils and heart.

‘That’s an interesting perfume you’re wearing, Jess,’ I remark casual of tone, and dagger of eyes.

‘I don’t wear perfume.’

‘I know. . . .’

Another tense, dinner-time pause is endured.  The only sound is of two-pairs of knives and forks scratching at gilt-edged, porcelain dinner plates.  Strangely, the lounge room’s music ceases for a moment then returns at a higher volume.  I examine my nails: the red paint simply won’t leave, regardless of how hard I scrub or for how long my hands are immersed in dish-washing-water.  Like an errant, unshakable thought the stain remains, partially concealed, below my cloudy appendages.  Similar to the blank pages at the end of a novel, devoid of any ostensible function but still there; curious things, finger-nails.  ‘I may need to pry them off,’ I ruminate to myself.

‘Well I’m finished,’ she begins, attempting an easy exit.  ‘Thank you for dinner, Peter.’  After arranging her cutlery neatly and with ettiquette on the plate, she rises and turns toward the stair-well.  In her wake, I rise as well, throwing my implements loudly onto the table, causing Jess to pause in her journey to the stairs.

I stride at her back in a fit of anger and shout in increasingly violent tones: ‘Whose, cologne, CAN, I, SMELL!?’

She turns, her face flushed red with barely contained anger, ‘I’m surrounded by cologned men all day Peter!  The boss put me under a great deal of pressure today; through my phone, my email and in person!’

‘You’re lying!’ I yell and raise my right arm from the left of my waist and, in one movement I can recognise as sickening but not stop, strike her across the face with the back of my hand.  The sound of the impact is a thunderclap and my hand comes to a stop in the air to her left.  Immediately breaking into tearful convulsions, she flees my wrath in ascendance of the stairs and slams the bedroom door, locking it behind her.  I witness her flight in the peripherals of my vision.  The red paint commands my predominant attention, more shocking and scarlet-blood-red than I previously noticed.  A whimper to my left; I turn and see Maddie standing under the arch between the dining and lounge-rooms, and her cheeks are stained with tears.  She shuffles dejectedly past me while sniffing back emotion and follows her mother’s path up the stair-well with an anguished-bawl only silenced by the close of her bedroom door.  My heart breaks and I wish the pain in my hand was more profound; more physically consequential.  I crash onto the couch and fall asleep with only self-pitiful tears for comfort.

 

The diminishing sound of a car’s engine reaches me on the back patio, from the generally quiet street.  ‘She’s home early,’ I realise, prying myself from the canvas with gleeful surprise.  Almost breaking into a run, I journey to the front door, open it and am surprised to see a black-BMW, rather than her green Toyota Camry.  The car is sleek and intimidating, like a jaguar ready to soundlessly pounce and tear out its victim’s jugular.  Jess exits the car gracefully and turns in order to mutter something inaudible to the mysterious driver within.  The jaguar removes itself from its offensive position in my vision with an equally irritating screeching of tyres and she walks up the stairs toward me, her tight mini-skirt shifting from leg to leg with each step as if enjoying some kind of erotic ride.  ‘Hi hon,’ I begin tentatively, noticing the purple bruise around the right corner of her cherry lips.  ‘How was your day?’

‘Hi Peter,’ she returns evasively, then slides past me through the doorway, maintaining the greatest possible physical distance between us.

‘Who was that?’ I query as she reaches the foot of the stairs, unsuccessfully hiding a jealous tone.  My only answer is the sound of ancient, creaking steps.

 

She huddles in one corner of the bedroom like a frightened mouse, with a fresh bruise already appearing below her right eye.  My head swims in a cocktail of anger, denial and regret at what I had once more done.  The moment seems to drag for eternity as I stand at the foot of the bed, breathing heavily while gazing first at her shivering, leg-hugging form in the corner, then my bunched right-fist.

‘Where’s Maddie?’ I ask at a dinner of sausages and bread, with cheese as a rare treat; I can’t even taste it.

‘At my mother’s,’ she replies curtly without glancing up, as if speaking to a ghost.

I glance at the chandelier’s sharp crystals playing with the dim light and realise that, if it were to fall, I would throw myself under it.

 

‘Where are you going?’ I ask as she packs, feeling like a man overboard watching his ship disappearing over the horizon through the gloom of maturing dusk.

‘I don’t know,’ she mutters distantly while busying herself with clothes and toiletries.

‘I’m keeping Maddie,’ I selfishly state.

‘You can have her,’ she begins after a momentary pause.  ‘Good luck bringing her up on paint, canvas and physical abuse.’

I’m startled no end by her response.  She continues moving articles of clothing from the well lacquered, mahogany chest of drawers to her duffel bag.

‘I’m keeping the house,’ I say, becoming obstinate.

‘It’s all yours,’ comes another muttered group of syllables which anger me through their calm, arrogant-tone.  ‘I’ll concede that you’re a talented painter, Peter, but you couldn’t pay the mortgage on this place if you painted day and night and your revenue tripled.’

At those words she finishes packing, zips up the bag with a flourish both triumphant and melancholy, stands up while holding its strap in her hand and eyes me intensely; accusingly.  As she begins to walk past me through the bedroom door, for the final time, I bunch my fist in a physical manifestation of rage and she notices.

‘Oh please hit me again, Peter, that’ll put things right,’ she says and cocking her head condescendingly at me.  I relinquish the tension in my fist with all the ease of resisting the scratching of an itch.  She leaves the room, descends the stairs and I follow like a neutered dog which has dug up some prized roses.  Indeed, I haven’t simply dug up some flowers; I’ve managed to destroy the entire garden.

‘When are you coming back?’ I shout through the front-doorway as she hastily departs the property.  No discernable answer reaches my ears and I slam the door hard enough to shake its frame.  I simply stand there for a moment, with feelings of denial, anger and loss engaging in a free-for-all, bare-knuckle fight inside my head, before slamming my fist into the hard-wood door with sufficient force to shatter my knuckles and break the skin.  I examine my hand; small red-rivers ooze out of the fissures in my skin and drip from my hand to settle in the cracks in the floor-boards.

Left – Part 1

‘When are you coming back?’ the anxious voice reverberates from the door-way.

‘Never,’ I mutter under my breath, as the door slams and I skip down the stairs with a scowl on my face.  Stopping upon reaching the footpath, I look around the quiet street and ponder my next move.  I turn around and see the old Queenslander-style-house looming over me like a protective but vindictive parent.  Although not the first time we’ve argued, it’s the first time one of us has stormed out of the house.  Like mould on abandoned food, it seems ill-feelings have a way of growing and evolving.  I turn my back on the house, pull a cigarette packet and lighter out of one of my jeans’ pockets and a coin from the other.  I light a smoke eagerly, take a deep, gratifying-drag and look around the street once more while releasing toxic fumes into the atmosphere.  ‘Heads: left; tails: right,’ I assure myself and flip the coin high in order to delay the result as long as possible.  The shiny, 20-cent-piece twirls into the air and plays in the evening-light, then falls into the centre of my palm.  I slap it onto my arm in my fashion.  ‘Left it is then.’   I hoist the duffel-bag onto my right-shoulder, take that first step down the road, and have no idea where each subsequent step is taking me.

Enjoying the feeling of the generic dishwashing liquid and warm water on my hands, I place each dish on the drainer with a small smile at the corners of my mouth.  I look out the window and spot the Hill’s Hoist clothesline; bristling with t-shirts, trousers and underwear, as if a squat, metal pine-tree patriotic shrine to Australian fashion and inventiveness.  My smile deepens.  I’m as alone in the home as a solitary mouse in an abandoned warehouse.  Jess is at work in the city, toiling over balance-sheets and boardroom presentations, and Maddie is at kindergarten, toiling over finger-paintings and story-times.  I was always frustrated with the idea, presented to us during school, of a career.  It seemed a career was something to be feared like the hang-man’s noose, and school was the hourglass full of classes falling like sand until the moment of doom.  Because of this the only classes I paid attention to during school were those of art.  With each stroke of the brush, painting helped me ignore my thoughts of dread and also reinforce in me the fact that a life with a keyboard at my finger-tips, or a nail-gun in my hands, was not for me.  Appropriately, I received a terrible overall mark, with exceptional individual marks for art; met a beautiful, career-minded young-lady; made love to her under the purple-flowered jacaranda in her university’s massive, grassed-courtyard; and married her just in time for her to give life to our beautiful daughter.  And begin her career, leaving me to dispense with litres of paint and miles of canvas while taking care of household duties.  I find scrubbing the shower, or making the beds, is the perfect balance to my artistic pursuits; a kind of domestic Zen.  I’m interrupted in my task by the ringing of my mobile-phone and pull my hands from the water in order to answer, noticing red-paint still sits under my finger-nails.  A common occupational hazard.

‘I’ll be home late,’ says Jess’s distorted voice from the depths of the city.  I’m neither surprised nor particularly disappointed, as this is a routine occurrence.

‘I’ll prepare something special for dinner,’ I remark and she laughs, as the entire country is in the grip of a recession and all we can afford is sausages on bread, with a meagre salad.

‘Maybe some avocado on the bread?’ she says, hopefully.

‘Tomato sauce as well.’

She laughs again, ‘Cheese?’

‘Now you’re dreaming honey.’

Her laughter is more addictive than any drug, ‘Ok babe, I better go.  Can’t wait for dinner, love you.’

‘Love you too,’ I return sincerely as the line goes silent.  I complete the dishes, retrieve five sausages, place them on the sink for de-frosting, snatch the keys from the table beside the front-door and head out to pick up Maddie.  The red paint under my finger-nails again attracts my attention, perhaps perilously, as I grip the steering wheel.

‘Why do you always come home late from work?’

She pauses in chewing her grilled collection of random animal parts, makes momentary eye contact with me and finishes her food while staring at her plate.

‘I always call ahead.’

‘You didn’t answer my question,’ I fire back.  Neighbours five-doors-down can feel the tension between us as we sit across from each other, length-wise, at the oval-dining-table.  The up-beat children’s television show coming from the adjacent lounge-room provides a strange contrast to the mood within the dining room.  As the child of an abusive home, I didn’t want Maddie to witness this.  The innocence of child-hood may be fraught with naiveté, but my commitment against her exposure to some of the harsher realities of adult-hood is as staunch as a mountainous island against turbulent seas.

‘Peter,’ she only uses my full-name in instances such as and similar to this.  ‘I’m a financial consultant for a large corporation, and we’re in a financial crisis.’  A piece of carrot enters her mouth swiftly, via a silver fork, and is crunched noisily but in decreasing volume before she makes eye contact and continues.  ‘I don’t think you understand how hard I have to work, in order to guide our young family through this mess.’

Her emphasis on the word ‘work’ bounces around in my consciousness like a steel-sphere in a pin-ball machine.  As another piece of vegetable is processed behind her pouty lips, I accept my technically subordinate position within the confines of the current . . . discussion.  I’m unable to consider a conversation between us an argument, perhaps through denial.

‘I just miss you sometimes, and I love you.’

‘I love you too Pete.  Always have.  Always will.’

I’m unable to disbelieve her, as it is in her nature to avoid the truth, but not openly lie.  Pangs of jealousy and distrust leave like an un-welcome visitor and I smile.

‘Thanks for dinner,’ I say.

‘Thanks for dinner, babe.’

After prying Maddie from her DVD, we retire to bed.  Never any conflict there, just the sweet pleasure of physical, marital-bliss.

Feel It All – Part 6

‘Jim!  Calm down!’  I was thrashing wildly and strong yet gentle hands were holding me down.

‘Dad!  I can’t stay here!  I have to get back!  I’m sorry. . . .’

‘Jim, I’m not your dad, I’m a paramedic.  My name’s Rob.  You’re in the back of an ambulance.’

I opened my eyes, then ceased thrashing.  The eyes looking back at me weren’t those of my late-father; they were foreign, unknown.

‘How do you know my name?’ I asked, exhaustedly.

‘Well, you did have a wallet on you, but I know you anyway.  You’re a journalist, right?’

I nodded.

‘You did a story not long ago, about country paramedics working criminally long hours and endangering patients’ lives.’

‘Yeah,’ I admitted.  ‘I’m sorry.’

‘It’s ok,’ he smiled, ‘you heaped a lot more shit on the New South Wales health system than you did on us individually and, anyway, you’ve lucked out as I’ve had a full night’s sleep.’

‘That’s a relief. . . .  Rob?  How did you find me?’

‘A truck-driver reported your accident to us.  You’re very lucky.’

‘Lucky?’ I said in disbelief.  ‘A truck drove straight past me.’

‘That was the guy.  He was out of radio-range and needed to keep driving closer to Tamworth in order to make the call.  There’s not enough people out here to warrant a strong frequency.’

Freakin’ redistribution of federal representative boundaries, I thought.

‘We’re about one-hundred k’s from Tamworth.  Just lie back and relax.  You’ll be ok, but your arm and leg are . . . not good.’

I did as he said and relaxed, not worried about the right side of my body as I already knew it was fucked.  I was just glad to be alive.

My little heart friend is starting to get just a little bit too jumpy.  ‘Hey, calm down fella,’ I think.  ‘I’m not a young man anymore.’  I shift my thoughts to the uncomfortableness of the wheelchair, which calms my heart a little, then shift my arse in order to get comfy.  The song ends, and I sigh.  Why do all beautiful things have to end?  My housemate, and best mate in the world, Josh, yells from the kitchen: ‘Hey Jim, you want me to change the music?  How ‘bout some Doors?’

The right side of my body tenses up, ‘No!  How ‘bout some Aqua!?’

‘Yeah . . . right,’ he laughs, I’d spared him no part of that story, or at least what I could remember.  ‘I’ll put on some Nirvana!’

That’ll do.  It’ll be nice to reminisce about surf trips: driving around depressed ‘cause the surf’s no good, getting up to drunken mischief, then waking late to discover we’d missed some perfect, morning-glass.  And of course listening to Nirvana to give the mood just that little bit more of a sharpening.

‘Hey dude!’ he yells.  ‘She’s here!’

I turn and look into the house as the heavy base from Come As You Are starts flooding the house.  She is here.  I turn back and pretend I’m reading the paper.  It’s hard: there’s nothing but wars ‘n’ crime ‘n’ rate rises in it.  The screen door opens, closes, and her hand’s in my hair very quickly.  Her touch sends wave after wave of pleasure down the side of my body I can still feel.  Just like Lisa used to, ‘cept it was twice as good with her ‘cause I had total feeling back then.  ‘How’re you doin’ today hon’?’ she purrs.

‘Goo . . . good,’ I croak, still as ill-at-ease around beautiful women as I was an eternity ago, as that 12 year old in the still-life painting.

‘You’ve been taking your pills, doing your exercises?’

‘Well, the pills taste awful and the exercises make me think I’d’ve been better off with a double-amputation, but yeah, mostly.’

‘If you took the pills without complaining, you wouldn’t feel so much pain.’

I couldn’t argue with her, she reminded me so much of Lisa.  Raven-black-hair, blood-red-lips and a slight-curve to her figure I just couldn’t help but linger my eyes on.  Her eyes are different, piercing green, while Lisa’s had been a soft blue.  The nurse’s uniform is obviously a difference too.  She sits down opposite me.

‘Jess?’ I started.

‘Yeah hon’?’

‘It’s probably not in your job description, but could you do me a favour?’  She eyed me suspiciously; I could be a bit of a sleazy-old-man from time-to-time.  ‘It’s nothing like that, I assure you.’

She relaxes, ‘Sure babe, just name it.’

‘Grab the bottle of wine off the bench, get yourself a glass, put some Mozart on the stereo and join me out here for a moment, as a friend instead of a nurse, just for a few moments, please?’

She hesitates for a moment, then smiles, rises and goes inside.

‘And tell Josh to go do some shopping or see that bird he’s always talking about, if she actually exists!’

I smile and light a cigarette.  Dad’d be proud of me.

Feel It All – Part 5

My buck’s party was awesome. . . .  Did I say awesome?  I meant tragic.  Well, it was both.  It was the standard fare: a night-out in Surfers Paradise, lots of skolling and shots and cheering; no strippers, as I really couldn’t see the point of having a beautiful, naked woman gyrating in front of me when the lady I was marrying in forty-eight-hours was infinitely more beautiful than any stripper, clothed or not.  And when she gyrated. . . .  So the lot of us went out and did the buck’s thing.  The guys who were already married disappeared early on, summoned back to headquarters by their feminine overlords.  The guys with girls lasted a while longer, though my stripper-avoidance was lost on them, and they ended up at one-or-two joints before slinking home with guilty consciences.  By 3am it was just me and the single-blokes; my best mate Josh and a couple of others.  A bad scene: soon-to-be-married guy left with a bunch of guys who could barely comprehend the idea of marriage, let alone support it, but there was no way in hell I’d let them drag me to a strip club.  They found another way of punishing me for doing the ultimate ho’s before bro’s thing, in the clandestine form of just another couple of pints of the black-ale, in an Irish pub overlooking an equally black Pacific Ocean.  I came-to as the first rays of light penetrated the clouds hanging on the horizon, and the last-laughs of my drunken compadres disappeared into the dawn.  I distinctly heard Josh yell, ‘Now you’re really tied down, Jimmy!’ to the backdrop of more laughter as I blinked, shook my head and realised my arms were restricted.  They’d been taped behind me, around a light-pole on the esplanade.  I tried to yell out something like, ‘Come back ya bastards!’ but all that came-out was something more like, ‘Hmmmmph, mmmmph, HMMMMMPPPHHHH!’ because my mouth’d also been taped.  I gave up struggling pretty quickly, and just stared out-to-sea thinking that marriage couldn’t possibly be any worse than this.  The beauty of the sun’s dawn-reveal was actually quite reassuring, like I was entering a new, drunk-on-love chapter of my life, after the old, standard, drunk-on-booze one.  A council clean-up guy was sweeping in front of me.  It was quite hilarious: he took one look at me and continued sweeping while chuckling to himself.  I guess I’m not his job, I thought, but at least I’m making it more interesting.  He looked north for a moment, hesitated as if something had captivated his attention, turned around abruptly and started sweeping back south.  I glanced north.  Oh, I thought.  Now my attention was captivated.  It was Lisa, my fiancée.  She strode toward me in the half-light of the morn’ with not a look of anger on her face, but amusement, which wasn’t surprising.  She heroically checked her amusement from breaking into open laughter as she approached.  Amazing, I thought, because I’d just realised I was completely naked, ‘cept for the duct-tape of course.  She kept striding closer to me and I felt more uncomfortable around her than I’d ever been in our two-years together.  She stopped directly in front of me, looked me up and down, and smirked as if to a private joke.  My eyes pleaded with her for help.  ‘Let me help you,’ she said, and proceeded to rip the tape from my face and plant the most passionate kiss I’d ever experienced on my sore lips.  It was indeed a kiss for sore lips.  She separated herself from me, resealed the tape, and took a step back.  ‘See you at the altar, Jim,’ she laughed, finally losing her incredible self-control.  She continued laughing while sauntering north and after disappearing ‘round a corner.  ‘I love that woman’, I thought, relaxing in my bonds.

‘Jim.’  I groaned upon hearing my own name.  ‘Jim.’  Where was it coming from?  ‘Jim, can you hear me?’  It was a man’s voice.  ‘Jim, if you can hear me, squeeze my hand.’  I realised there was a hand under my left-hand.  I squeezed.  ‘Good, good: you’ll be ok.’

‘Dad?’ I ventured.  Silence, but there he was, my late-father; this must’ve been Heaven.  We were standing on an eternal glass floor, facing each other, my father holding my hand and smiling serenely at me.  Wasn’t I on the side of a road, dying?  I couldn’t remember.  Then mum appeared, behind dad, walking up beside him, transparent at first, becoming solid by the time she sidled up to my father, then stopped, reached out and held my other hand.  ‘Mum?’  She didn’t answer, just offered a relaxed smile.  What was mum doing here?  She was still alive . . . wasn’t she?  She was back in Brisbane, running the restaurant, not going a day without standing for five minutes in front of the photo of dad, herself, me and my brother Pete.  Pete, there he was, on the other side of dad, not smiling serenely, but laughing like he did that time I came back from a third-date without so much as a kiss to show for it.  Then my grandparents—still living also—appeared behind me, holding a shoulder each.  Then my half-brother and sister, nieces, nephews, cousins, uncles, aunts, running out of room to hold me and just standing there smiling, laughing, or scowling, depending on the nature of their relationship with me.  Suddenly the glass was flooded with people as far as the eye could see, family or not, some I’d not seen in years and may not have particularly wished to; some I’d missed every day.  Everyone in front of me abruptly turned around.  I looked behind and noticed everyone there was looking past me.  Josh alone was looking me, soberly, in the eyes.  He nodded over my shoulder.  I turned.  The crowd had parted, leaving an endless path before me.  Someone was walking down the path towards me, someone female, someone . . . Lisa.

Feel It All – Part 4

I was at university back then.  In my third-year at the Queensland University of Technology: a glass ‘n’ concrete structure overlooking the Brisbane river, on the outskirts of the central business district.  I’d just finished my final tutorial for the day and was dawdling outside campus, waiting for a bus, and was pretending not to perve on the young ladies all around me; wishing I had the nerve to talk to them.  It’d rained recently, thankfully during my evening class and not on my way to the bus stop.  I loved the city after rain.  Cities become dirty, gritty and stuffy pretty easily, especially in such a hot clime as Brisvegas.  The rain comes along and makes everything radiant like newly cut and polished paintwork on a car.  It also cleans the air.  QUT sits astride the botanical gardens, which creates the added benefit, after rain, of giving the trees an opportunity to fight back more easily against the accumulated pollution, yet the all-too-common succession of dry, hot days quickly turns the tide back in favour of human-induced corruption of the atmosphere.  The bus rumbled to a stop in front of me, and I checked my wallet and smiled to see enough change to get me home, but not enough to do a lot if the fridge happened to be empty of all but the most mould-ridden used-to-be-foods.  I stepped in, slipped on the wet entrance and only saved my nose from damage by grabbing the barrier around the driver.  On my knees, I hoisted myself up and thought, ‘It’s ok, just brush yourself off and hand over the change’, but I could hear some sniggering from the rear of the bus.  It started to move before I could sit, though there was no way I was going to slip again, so I grabbed one of the overhead-handles and lowered myself into one of the seats facing the opposite window, near the front.  I was sitting next to a guy, just a guy; there was nothing particularly significant about him.  Mid-30s, business attire and a tired look on his face.  Just a guy.  I was feeling in a talkative mood, ‘Tough day at the office hey?’ I empathised.

‘You could say that,’ he replied exhaustedly.

‘At least you got paid,’ I returned.

‘You didn’t get paid?’

‘No, I’m a student, I only get paid for the odd-hours I work in retail, and the government fills in the gaps.’

‘Fucking taxes,’ he spat, starting to get a little unsettling.

‘Yeah, fully,’ I said, searchingly, ‘that’s why I try to work as much as possible, so I can, y’know, do my bit for society.’

‘You’ve got it so hard, don’t you?’ his hardly-veiled sarcasm rang in my ears like a smoke-alarm.

I decided silence was the best way to end this unfortunate exchange, and did just that, starting to think about tomorrow’s media law exam, and the cute girl in my tute I sometimes caught looking at me.  There was a young Indian guy sitting across from us.  He looked familiar and probably came from uni’ too, studying medicine or something, not that I liked to stereotype people.  You didn’t see too many Indians studying journalism.  I guess he’d overheard our conversation, ‘cause he was looking, alternately, at me and the guy.  I risked a look at the guy, and he was staring straight at the Indian.  I turned to look at the Indian, and he was looking straight at the guy.  Shit, I thought.

‘What-the-fuck’re you lookin’ at!?’ erupted the guy.  The Indian bloke immediately looked away.  ‘Hey, I asked you a fucking question Ghandi!  What the fuck’re you lookin’ at!?’  I was already reeling from the fact this guy’d used the Mahatma’s name in such a hateful way, when he rose from his seat.  ‘Well!?  I’ll tell you what you’re lookin’ at!  You’re lookin’ at a guy who doesn’t want his kids growing up in a country where towel-heads take their jobs!’  Fuck I wanted to point out that the term ‘towel-heads’, aside from being racist, was more relevant in reference to middle-eastern, not sub-continental, persons.  He took a step closer to my vilified friend.  ‘You’re lookin’ at a guy who wants you the FUCK, out of this country!’  Most of the bus was frozen solid, and I must admit I was rooted to my seat in shock, if not fear, though the bus driver finally yelled: ‘Shut the hell up back there and sit down!’  The guy glanced at the driver, then swivelled his head to look me in the eyes.  I couldn’t look away.  There was some kind of glazed, yet purposeful madness in those eyes which fascinated me like, well, like a crash scene.  He pinned me to my seat with those eyes for what seemed like an eternity, then turned his attention back to the Indian.  That’s when the flick-knife appeared.  He advanced on the Indian, whose face assumed that of pure terror, and I knew I should do something.  The guy was in striking range when someone tackled him, knocked the knife from his hand, then punched him out stone-cold.  The police took the guy away not long after the bus stopped, and I remained rooted to my seat the entire time they interviewed me, telling me I might be required as a witness.  The driver took an early night, understandably, and another bus took me home.  I went to bed without dinner and cried myself to sleep.  Probably wasn’t anything edible in the fridge anyway.

I missed that crow.  I regretted scaring it away.  The contrasted loneliness after the crow’s departure, and the inexplicable passing of that bastard truck-driver, was simply devastating.  I just sat there, depressed of all things, listening to the various music and inane advertisements that flitted along the radio-waves, dying.  I knew I was dying.  It was kind of like looking for the shops in a new neighbourhood though: you never really know how far you’ll have to go, or how long it’ll take.  If I was a doctor I’d probably have been able to give myself a prognosis as to an approximate time-of-death.  Perhaps it was better I wasn’t a doctor.  Being a journalist sure wasn’t helpful; some other journo’d write-up this story, Bill Citizen’d read it during his morning coffee the next day, and Crackers the loud-mouth parrot’d be shittin’ on it by the afternoon.  I didn’t think I was passing quickly.  My right-arm and leg weren’t cut at an artery or anything, they were just crushed and slowly oozing blood, probably causing all sorts of problems with my system.  I sighed.  Never thought it’d end like that: a crash.  Always thought I’d die in a bomb-blast in Afghanistan, an execution in North Korea, or at the hands of my crazy ex-girlfriend, Patricia.  Or my editor.  I think, at the time, I almost wished I’d died in those other ways; well, except for Patricia.  What was the point of it all?  Where was I going?  I’d always been devoutly agnostic, rejecting the idea of an interventionist God, but hoped, if not believed, I’d be reunited with my loved ones upon death.  Figured it’d be like a party: you walk through the pearly gates or whatever entrance Heaven has, and everyone you’ve said goodbye to in life is there, clapping, cheering and lining up to give you a hug.  Dad?  You there?  I thought Mum’d see you again first.  How ‘bout your first-born instead?  This occasion definitely calls for a hug.  My imagination was getting the better of me.  Fuck it, I thought.  I might’ve still had some opportunity for survival and here I was planning out my entrance to the netherworld.  I seriously felt like calling someone and telling them how stupid I was being.  Calling someone.  My phone.  My phone was in my pocket!  I reached for my right pocket and, in the first sign I decided to ignore, pain shot towards my brain like lightning as my stricken arm refused to move.  So I used my good arm.  I reached across and dug my hand into my pocket, sending another bolt of lightning past my waist, through my right arm, and into my brain once more.  I refused to give up.  The phone was deep in the pocket, and it was awkward reaching in there with my left.  My rapture turned to despair as I fondled the the phone’s smashed remains.  Smashed, like everything else on the right side of my body, and no less painful.  I pulled out what I could anyway, threw it onto the road in a black rage, sat there breathing heavily and actually started to enjoy the pain out of some kind of sick masochism.  When I calmed down a little, I managed to hear the sound of plastic crunching under something. . . .

Feel It All – Part 3

Every single fucking thing just seemed so beautiful.  I was 12 years old, appropriately naive and certainly not supposed to utter such words as ‘fucking’ at my age, and hopefully didn’t.  I remember, around that time, my brother and I discovered the ‘C’ word—public schooling—so mum sat us down, told us what the word meant and not to utter it within ear-shot of her or any other female for the rest of our natural lives, on pain of castration—well she might not have said that last part.  I was sitting on an ageing jetty in a trawler-harbour.  Not a cloud in the sky, crystal clear water, with rainbows of oil playing across its surface, and a breeze that was perfect for dispersing the summer heat, without being a nuisance.  I wasn’t in love with the girl sitting next to me, swishing her delicate toes in the water, but I thought I was at the time so that’s all that matters.  I was uselessly inarticulate, stumbling over and through my clichéd, pre-teen attempts at romantic conversation.  She didn’t seem to care though; she had as little idea of what she was doing as I.

‘We . . . we’ll be together forever, right Mary?’ said the poor fool, somehow managing to look at her at the same time.

‘Yes Jimmy,’ she giggled, not looking up from the water but increasing the speed of her foot’s play in its sun dappled surface.

It was a beautiful still-life painting in time, and I mean that almost literally both because we barely spoke nor moved due to shyness and stupidness, and I saw her walking ‘round with another guy’s hand in hers the very next day.  I still gaze at that painting sometimes, not because I’m hung-up on some chick from before I was old enough to illegally smoke cigarettes; because it’s a constant, and sobering, reminder that the firmest ground can disappear from under one’s feet in an instant.

 

After another firework up my right-side, then another, then another, like it was the goddamn Chinese new year, I’d managed to flop myself over the gears to the passenger seat.  I actually had managed to get the radio to work.  I’d imagined that ‘This is the end’ by The Doors would be playing, cynic that I was, but instead it was ‘I’m a barbie girl’ by that pop group, Aqua.  So there I was, thinking about my next move out of the car to the tune of Ken propositioning Barbie into going partying.  Whatever, I thought.  If I could find my way out of this fucked situation, and move the right-side of my body again, ever, I’d think about partying.  It probably wouldn’t be with a girl the calibre of Barbie, but I’d take what I could get just for the chance to live, much less celebrate the fact.  Pain was my only companion right then.  I used my functioning leg to push the ruined car door, and propelled my head into the passenger door.  Ouch.  I couldn’t see it, so I fumbled around for the lock near the window, lifted it, fumbled some more for the door-handle, released it, and shoved the door open with all the might I could manage with my functioning hand.  The sweet smell of country air hit my nostrils like a drug as it invaded the car.  ‘Don’t fence me in’ by Bing Crosby’d started up on the radio.  Much more appropriate, I thought.  Inspired by the song, I started flopping around in an attempt to move backward and outside—the driver’s door was out of reach at this stage and I’d nothing else to push against, really.  This, along with feeble attempts at pushing with my leg against the driver’s seat and grabbing whatever surface I could with my hand, seemed to work and I eventually gave one, last, mighty push against the gear-stick and flew onto the grass beside the road.  Had to lie there for a few minutes, as all the flopping and kicking had set a fire straight from the depths of Hades in my right-side.  I managed to vertical myself eventually, and just sat there in the afternoon sun, sweating and patting myself on the back—with my left hand, obviously—for having escaped the car.  Then I heard the horn.  It was a big one, like from a truck, coming from the direction I had.  I squinted a little and blocked the sun with my hand, and saw that, yes, a truck was driving towards me, blaring its horn like mad.  I started frantically waving and calling, ‘Heeeeyyyyyyy!  Stoooooooop!’ I yelled hoarsely, the increasing pain reminding me of the importance of this turn-of-events.   I stopped waving and screaming as the truck came closer, and pulled to the side of the road.  But it didn’t pull over, it kept going, and never stopped blaring its horn until it disappeared from ear-shot.  I was gutted.  My rational mind had just been blown out of the water.  Was it a dream?  What possible reason could the driver have had to not stop?  A crow finally appeared from the west, and started picking at some road-kill not far from where I was slumped.  I kinda empathised with the squished rabbit, or whatever it was, at that moment.  I mean, I was probably not far from becoming a larger version of it anyway.  I threw my head back and screamed, gutturally, at the fucked up cocktail of fear, pain and anger within me.  The crow took off back towards the west. . . .

Feel It All – Part 2

My dad had cancer. Lung cancer. He was a pack-a-day, Winfield Red sort of man, with the odd self-rolled durry—minus filters—so no-one was terribly surprised, though this didn’t temper the devastation. Mum assumed battle-stations after the diagnosis. She was a strong woman. He was a strong man too, but he could fight his own illness as easy as he could punch his way out of a steel box. So dad more or less became Poland during the Nazi blitzkrieg of cancer, and mum became the Polish soldier with outdated weaponry, poor training, but the anger and tenacity of 10,000 men. It read just like the history books: defeat. Like I said, dad was a strong man, but stubbornness goes hand-in-hand with strength, and he refused to go to hospital until he eventually couldn’t control his bodily functions enough to resist anymore. It became pretty fucking bad during his last few weeks at home. I remembered my eyes fluttering open at 3am one night, and hearing noises reverberating from downstairs. I was 22. I could make out the groaning and sobbing before I got to the lounge room, but kept going regardless. I was obligated to witness this. First I saw mum, sitting on the coffee table with her head in her hands and her elbows between her knees, like she was trying to swallow herself up into a black hole and disappear. She was bawling her eyes out in a consistent, almost noiseless, despair. Fuck. Dad was lying on the couch groaning and groaning and groaning, with occasional shrieks—I’d never heard him shriek before—signifying stabbing pain. FUCK. I mean, it was, it was fucked, it was the most fucked up thing I’d ever seen and all I could do was stand there like a dumb shit and gawk. Then dad started screaming; not in a feminine way, but like a dog in a junk-yard before it rips out the jugular of some trespasser. And, on cue, mum’s despair also turned to screaming. I managed to get my legs moving, and walked closer to this tragic symphony. I went to dad first. We were never big huggers, ‘cause I had more of a respectful than buddy-buddy relationship with him, but I tried to put my arm over him. His screams increased in pitch as he batted my arm away. I turned to mum. We’d always been huggers, but this situation just couldn’t be fixed by them. I managed to embrace her though she didn’t stop screaming, and didn’t take her hands from her face or her elbows from between her legs. I like to think I was helping just a little before she spoke, through the sobs and screams. ‘Oh Jim,’ she whisperingly wailed, ‘just go to bed, please.’

‘I love you,’ I said, loud enough for dad to hear too. Neither replied but their groaning and crying decreased in volume. I let go of mum and went back to bed. Fell asleep pretty easily; always felt bad about that. Dad went to hospital the next day and lasted three more weeks, fucked up on drugs and shit to the point in which none of us knew if he heard when we said goodbye.

 

Apparently, piling tragedy on-top of tragedy has a predictable outcome. I began screaming in pain. The entire right-side of my body felt as if it was on fire. Coupled with the memory of my late father, the screams were interspersed with uncontrollable crying. I was a crying, screaming, pain-paralysed machine. I eventually managed to get control of myself. The pain didn’t go numb like before, but I guess I was able to distance it or get used to it or something, because I started thinking about something other than the pain; namely: how the fuck do I get out of this heap of twisted metal? It was about noon, though it didn’t matter, as saying I was in the middle of nowhere wasn’t much of an overstatement. I was somewhere about 300km north of Tamworth, on the New South Wales north coast. North ‘coast’ is definitely a loose term, as this part of the north coast happened to be about 700km inland. Like I said: middle of fucking nowhere. I was out here because —apart from getting into a serious prang—I was heading back to the regional newspaper at Tamworth to belt out a story about the redistribution of federal representative boundaries, because so many people were moving to larger, more coastal urban centres. The story would be late, the story was quite simply boring, yet the story was ironically the reason why I wasn’t expecting a rescue any time soon. There wasn’t nobody nor nothing out in this here part of the wide-brown land but me, myself and any imaginary crows I could dream up. Alright, time to do something. The car door hadn’t wrapped itself around my arm and leg or anything, it’d just crushed them, so I knew I’d probably be able to move them, but was simply scared. By crushed, I mean, CRUSHED; I, again out of fear, hadn’t looked directly at them yet, but knew there was something seriously wrong ‘cause of all the blood and the pain. I used my good leg to shift my weight to the left just a little. The pain shot like a firework from the tip of my right-foot, to my brain where it exploded into a celebration of agony. But I knew I had to do it again. . . .