Untitled short story I wrote many years ago

Burdened by inflamed senses, like an alcoholic pack-mule, I cower under the heat of the midday sun and oppression of the noisy tos and fros of the neighbourhood. My odour, and that of my present company, lacking the recent attentions of a shower, causes my stomach to heave as if it contains a violent storm from an old pirate movie. “I’ve never needed water so badly in my life,” I complain self-consciously, to no-one in particular. Of course I have been in this situation before, and will again in the future. We’re sitting, hung-over, at a bus-stop surrounded by cigarette-butts, yellow-grass and social degeneration.

“So … what’s your plan for this fine day?” the voice to my right mutters, with not-so-subtle sarcasm.

“Not sure,” I reply lethargically, while pulling my mind from the depths of a depressing inner-monologue. “It’s a nice-looking sort of day, but I just don’t feel quite right.”

“Yeah, well, you only really stopped drinking between pubs last night and you went to sleep with half-a-beer in your hand,” he chuckles at my expense.

“Nah, it’s not that. I mean, yeah I’m hung-over, but that’s not what I mean about the way I feel. It’s as if there’s something that I’m meant to do, but I have no Idea what it is. I’m missing something.”

“Yeah, brain cells,” he concludes, followed by more subdued laughter.

A woman sits down silently to my left. She’s attractive but bears signs of age in the corners of her eyes and the slump of her back. If only for the purpose of a momentary distraction, I glance at her, as if to begin a conversation, however her eyes are down-cast and seem to be staring through the concrete at her feet, off toward distant people, places and problems.

“Rough night?” I query. She doesn’t reply, nor does she react, and I interpret her silence as an answer. He chuckles at my social ineptitude, pauses to take yet another drag on yet another cigarette, then continues to laugh through poisonous clouds fleeing inhospitable lungs. The smoke seems as eager to leave as a refugee from a country torn apart by years of war.

“Looks like we’re all on the same page here,” comes his inevitable garbled comment.

I turn to him and reply, “The problem between any two people, is that far from being on the same page, they are very infrequently even reading the same book.”

“Look at those people,” he says, ignoring me and gesturing to inhabitants of passing cars and pedestrians traversing the opposite side of the road. “They don’t care about us, and we don’t care about them. They’re most likely travelling with, or heading towards or away from somebody that they do care about and will go out of their way to avoid those who they don’t.”

“We’re just extras in their lives and they are but extras in ours,” I contribute.

“A bleak soap drama indeed,” he concludes.

The woman softly chuckles at our hung-over philosophy and I turn to face her again. Unfortunately, her foray into the land of comprehension was short-lived. The chewing-gum-speckled concrete has once again captured her apparently undivided attention.

Credit: Ross Dudgeon

Credit: Ross Dudgeon

Losing interest, I turn my own attention to the road, watching cars sliding past and wondering just where they might be taking their fragile passengers. It suddenly occurs to me that the faces in the windows belong to people who I will never know, never talk to, laugh or cry with. While rubbing my face with my hands, I stand and walk out of the shelter of the rusting bus stop under the harsh noon sky and peer up the road. My ride is approaching, so I remain standing in the heat as his voice returns.

“So, you’re headed back home then?” he asks incredulously.

“Well, yeah,” I answer, turning to face the source of the question. “I’m hungry, hung-over, a little bit tired and maybe suffering from heat-stroke. Where else would I go?”

He doesn’t react for a moment and stares at me as if attempting to climb inside my head, have a look around and figure out what is going on in there, as if I would have any other intentions after the pre-ceding night out. He’s the sort of person who is difficult to get on with during the sobriety of daylight hours.

“How long have we been doing this for?” I ask, with a sigh. “Five, six years?”

“Feels like about ten at the moment,” he retorts.

“You’re ten years older than me,” I begin to lecture. “You have no wife or partner, no children and your friends all grew up and got serious with their lives years ago, pretty much leaving you behind.”

“Your point?”

“What you do with life is up to you, but surely you don’t plan on living like this for ever. You’re gonna grow old one day.”

“Maybe I don’t need a wife, two-and-a-half kids, a mutt and a desk-job.”

“I didn’t say you needed those things. It’s just … well … a rolling stone gathers no moss, y’know.”

Suddenly, he asks, “Do you think that going home will provide you with happiness?”

It’s a very odd question, even for someone like him, and as I’m no longer in the mood for a philosophical discussion, I give a blunt answer: “No, I think that home will provide me with food, water and sleep. Some people would call that happiness; others would call it the basics of life,” I pause for a moment. I can almost feel the little hang-over demon inside my brain wrench my hands from the intellectual and emotional reigns, and spur newly formed anger into a full-gallop. “Personally, my opinion on the issue lies somewhere between those extremes, and as you must be painfully aware of by now, my idea of happiness is destroying my brain-cells with copious amounts of liquor while enduring the company of losers and de-generates, not answering difficult questions in thirty-five degree heat and waiting for a bus back to my shit-hole apartment!”

As I finish my self-absorbed rant, he looks away up the road as if offended. I realise that the woman at my left has disappeared, the road is silent, void of traffic and the entire area around us seems to have become still as if holding its breath in expectation. The atmosphere seems to hang like this for a while, like a moment captured in a photograph, and is broken suddenly by a passing car. His eyes follow its journey past me and off into the distance. Immediately upon losing sight of it, his eyes lock back onto mine and linger uncomfortably. I stare right back, ready to defend my comments but also considering an apology.

Breaking the staring contest by returning his attention to the perpetuity of the tarmac, he asks, “So, same time same place next Friday then?”

After brief hesitation, I simply answer, “Yeah,” as the bus comes to a stop behind me.

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Apple of Our Isle

ASTA_2013

Asta’s the kind of singer-songwriter who makes you grateful there’s much more to pop vocal life than X Factor’s cookie-cutter commercialism. These days you’re probably hearing more from New Zealand’s Lorde, who has, willingly or not, all but hit the mainstream.

But since gaining indie diva darling status by winning Triple J’s Unearthed High of 2012, our own Asta has been out there shaking worshippers from venue rafters with her infectious dancing and alto crooning.

Read more

On Women

My first kiss was in Grade One. This physical act would prove somewhat symbolic for my future romantic life up until now, as it was not reciprocated. I vaguely remember one day crawling under my desk, which was joined in a crude rectangle with a few other desks, and kissing the leg of a girl I apparently had a crush on. It is one of my earliest memories, if not the earliest. A deviant act, you might cynically conclude. But, please, I was five-years-old and simply engaging in an innocent act of affection. I can’t remember her reaction. I believe it went ignored, or perhaps simply misunderstood by an equally innocent mind.

I’ve wished to write about women for a while now. Of course I have already written about them in short stories and through countless other media. But never as exclusively as this. And not in quite such a context. I became inspired to write at length about them because of an epiphany I had: women are like the English language, in that they are complex, delicate, strong, sophisticated, beautiful, and impossible to ever completely understand. Which I’ll die trying to do, anyway. For I love them both, deeply. It so happens this inspiration was crystalised while I was reading the (King James) Bible, of all things. A particular passage of the Bible, about a thirsty man sent by God to find a wife. He finds himself in a field, and approached by a beautiful, virginal young woman. She gives him water, then waters his camels, then takes him into her home to feed and house him. After which they marry.

It seems almost a cliché, it is so appropriate that I was reading about such an event while becoming inspired to write about women, but not that the passage directly inspired me. My love for the written word had intersected with my love for women, at a time in which both were foremost in my mind. Yet I was still left dissatisfied. This speaks to the mysterious nature of women: they unpredictably weave their way in and out of mens’ lives in ways we’re simply unable to comprehend. Take the first woman I loved: my mother. I was born 10 weeks premature. You could argue this was my doing, but I believe it was more her, unconsciously of course, seeking to bring me forth into the world earlier than predicted. And that too symbolically set the scene for the rest of my tumultuous life with women. Not that my mother is unreliable. She’s certainly unpredictable, as all her kind are, but a more caring and loving mother I could not have found.

I have loved quite a few women, now that I think of it. And they, me, but rarely at the same time. As in should I love them, they should not love me. And vice versa. Often these emotions have in fact been shared, reciprocated; but more often they have not been shared, reciprocated. And I am quite without bitterness about this. Because women truly are like the English language. Or more specifically the countless books I’ve read written in English, because almost never can you prejudge what might happen in a book. A book cannot be steered. You can only experience and interpret it as your eyes pass over and absorb the words on the page. It is the same with women: prejudge them and you will almost always be committing a grievous error. You should instead simply either find pleasurable or painful your experience of them, depending on the impact they desire to make and the manner in which you interpret their actions.

I do genuinely or, at least, philosophically love all women. It’s just that in my every case of unrequited affection toward them, all have appeared to underestimate just how deeply the rejection has stung me. My second kiss wasn’t until nearly 15 years later. It was a full moon, it was with a girl of 17 whom I loved unconditionally, and she did reciprocate. Due to my inexperience, it was more like a vacuum cleaner coming across a throw rug than a perfect romantic moment. Practicably, it was my worst kiss; romantically, it was my best. About two weeks later she called me to “end it”. I was heartbroken. The weeks and even months afterward constituted the most intense physical and emotional pain I will ever feel. I believe, and in fact have been told, it was a far from painless experience for her, too. It may have made me less naive, even a little healthily distrusting and cold-hearted, but it did not diminish my empathy, my romanticism, my love for the fairer sex. A thousand such metaphorical stabs at my heart would in fact kill me before they could kill my love.

Since then besides an almost two year relationship that need not be addressed due to what I’m sure you can infer from its length, my romantic encounters with women have been brief, at best. Nothing but chance encounters with small, fast-moving sources of light in the vast darkness. It’s to my great personal tragedy that I’m a walking dichotomy: at once introverted but bursting for the most superficial and fleeting, at least; or deepest and longest lasting, if only, shared affection from females. For the bulk of my life women, from a romantic perspective, have stood on distant shores from mine. So often I’d row to their island, only to find they’d moved to another one and had failed to even notice the perilous and doomed journey I’d taken to seek their companionship. I’m now a much better kisser, lover, empathiser and companion, but with not nearly the amount of consistent practise I desire. My interactions with people over the years have been dominated by women. Women as family, as friends, as bosses as colleagues as customers as passing strangers as acquaintances as sexual objects as intellectual stimulators. As inspirations. But too rarely as romantic companions.

I feel like I’ve failed to adequately convey my feelings on this subject. But again that makes sense. How do you explain your feelings on a subject that you plan to try to understand for the rest of your life but know you never will? How do you draw conclusions on a topic to which so much mystery still stubbornly attaches itself after almost 30 years of investigation? All I know for sure is that when I look in a woman’s eyes I feel the most extreme sense of awe relative to the circumstances of my connection with them. Whether I find a woman intelligent, idiotic, beautiful, plain, insightful, demanding, intransigent, submissive, aggressive, boring, hysterical, polite, rude or all of the above, it is felt with a keenness that I have never been able to attribute to men. And though I’m quite comfortable with my heterosexuality, I’m not trying to defend it through outlining this intensity of feeling. I’m thinking all men regardless of sexuality feel it too, when engaging with a woman in whatever context. “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”. Indeed, but such extreme seems to go to everything about women – whether positive or negative. A beautiful woman sitting alone on a beach and reading radiates, to me, simply dazzling levels of energy that surely are more than the result of my hormones reacting to external stimulation.

Ultimately, though the lines are more blurred in a modern context, women are man’s other half. Our balance. And us, theirs. The vital component in what makes us human is them, and what makes them human is us. But not just because of procreation. Surely whether physically, emotionally or intellectually there can be a no more enduringly beautiful occurrence than when a man and woman connect. I mean not to come across as homophobic with that last sentence. Gay men and women probably feel the same way about other gay men and women. My point, and I struggle to make it as it floats on its metaphorical island away from my furiously paddling canoe like so many phantasmagorical women, is that it really is that flawed human desire for the unknown that attracts me so much and so often without reciprocation to women. I know even with the most passionate physical love, with the deepest emotional connection and the most profound intellectual understanding between myself and one member of the opposite sex, there will always be so much on all counts I yearn to discover in, from and about her. Forever. And I’m comfortable with that. Understanding a woman is the greatest journey a man can take; a journey made more enjoyable than any other for having a destination that can never be reached.