Pub Passout.

There were concerned, freaked out even, people gathered above me. All recollection of a vivid, pleasant dream, immediately gone. I’d felt dizzy. Stood up to try and shake it. Couldn’t. Sat back down. Gone. Bruised skull and ego, but glad I’d been sitting down. The bar staff gave me a lemonade, then I went outside to be picked up by my used to the madness but not this particular type girlfriend. We fell asleep at my place to my mutterings about too many cigarettes and weird conversations and how much I enjoyed running into my grandparents earlier in the Friday I had off due to Deb the Bogan Cyclone.

My brother and I are making a habit of frequenting this particular southern Gold Coast tavern on Friday afternoons after work. It’s an enjoyable weekend beginning ritual, from which he departs my company after one mid- strength and two-light beers – on account of him working Saturdays. I tend to hang around afterward, if not seeing my girlfriend or someone else or having something else more constructive to do other than drink and smoke and talk with local characters and play the pokies – the latter of which I’d quit due to inadequate returns on my many, but modest investments.

It was the smoking and talking, together, that did it, I reckon. I’m normally a smoker, for hopefully not too much longer. And especially while boozing. I’m not normally a conversationalist, but can become so while drinking and smoking and being in the right state-of-mind. Which I was last night. Plus there was a band playing, with saxophone and errthang, so I guess I can blame over-stimulation, too. Not that I didn’t enjoy it at the time. So my brother had left. And I’d wolfed down a kebab from the shop next door. And returned to the bar. Then to the smoking area, where I was to later embarrass myself.

There was a brunette girl, covered in tattoos and cheap gold jewellery, of 27 there the entire night. Up until I passed out, when she was the only other person present and the most freaked by my loss of consciousness. More on her later. The first person I began talking to was a portly teacher with a unique laugh; a regular feature of the pub, with a penchant for Long Island iced-teas who I’d become acquainted with in my semi-regularity. Conversation was struck with him when I joined in poking fun at him for the shorts he was wearing, which I referred to as “yachting boardshorts” due to their horizontal white stripes over navy blue. But he has fascist-tending opinions – he’s a Trump supporter, which puts him massively in the minority in Australia, if possibly not the Gold Coast, for one – so we grew weary of each other’s irreconcilable yet eloquent differences soon enough, upon which time I began speaking with the second of this episode’s characters: a 27-year-old from Tamworth named, of course, Dustin.

Dustin was a jittery bastard. Like something was busting to get out of him. Or he just didn’t feel entirely relaxed or comfortable. Before we even started talking I overheard him saying he’d had his last beer. Then, a few hours and four or five or six pints later, he finally had his last beer and we parted ways with a fist bump. Ended up liking him. He didn’t like country music. Or once had, but had heard it to death growing up in Tamworth. His mum used to rent out his room during annual Country Music Festivals, but he didn’t mind because he spent most days of most weeks surfing mates’ couches, anyway. He’d moved around a lot since leaving north-central NSW probably about 10 years ago. Even done jail, possibly juvie, time, for reasons I couldn’t get out of him. Now he was camped out at one of the Mould Coast’s many corporate-owned bar/pokie/bistro wallet emptiers, with the likes of me. And this girl. Whose name escapes me. Think it started with a D, too.

At first she was just sitting in the corner for the first hour or two, on the phone, engaged in some vague drama with what seemed to be various family members. As is the way with taverns, she got talking to us – mainly me and Dustin. Turned out her mother had brain cancer and her brother was a junkie (So badly a junkie, it seemed, his life was as or not much less than imminently over as his mother’s.) Her dad had been kept from her for most of her life so far, under the false pretence, perpetuated by her mother, that her father didn’t want to see her. And that she didn’t want to see him. One of the last things I can remember is her crying. I asked her if she was ok and she responded, “Yes”, in such a way that I knew it was a polite lie to a sympathetic stranger. We talked for a few minutes more, until I started to feel dizzy.

It might have been too many cigarettes. Was less likely many, but no more than often for me on a Friday night, drinks. I think I was overwhelmed by the sheer, not entirely humorless but certainly tragic humanity of the experience.

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Ghost Country Las Vegas

We were slumped deep in the Circus Circus’ bar, when the drugs began to wear off.  1pm – early morning by Vegas time.  My amigo Samo was taking the effects of the previous night hard.  He looked angry, bestial, yet defeated, like a coyote road-killed while mating.  We’d just returned to base after recovering his wallet from the southern strip’s Luxor Casino; his ID and credit card from downtown’s Girls of Glitter Gulch gentleman’s club.  His watch and one shoe were still missing.

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‘Oh my God!’ he suddenly yelled, red-eyes directed hatefully toward the omnipresence of casino ceiling security cameras.  And then, head in his chewed-fingernail hands, muttered something like: ‘I lost enough money to put a deposit down on a high class brothel.’  Then he started sobbing like a recently divorced, impotent insurance salesman.  ‘And where’s my watch!?’  His missing shoe apparently gone unnoticed thus far.

‘He ok hon?’ asked the ex-call girl weary barmaid serving our breakfast bloody marys.

‘He’s fine,’ I replied, levelling my own night white light bloodshot eyes at hers.  ‘My friend has suffered a death in the family.  A murder.’  I looked at him and sighed.  ‘Gang violence, you understand.  He’s a foreigner.  Probably Columbian.’  I threw what paper money I had left on the table and the floor, in front of her.  ‘Are you prejudiced?’ I questioningly accused through clenched teeth.

‘No, I, er, I’m not. . . .’

I interrupted by waving her away and she scuttled off with a fistful of assorted cash.  ‘Get it together, you miserable bastard,’ I muttered.

Hiccupping sobs were his only reply.

I lit a cigarette, drew, exhaled and said, defiantly: ‘We’re not done yet.’  It was about this time an enormous man of Pacific islander appearance emerged, stumbling, bellowing like a castrated bull, from behind a row of poker machines; wearing a two-man-tent-sized pink bowling shirt unbuttoned to his bulging stomach revealing a thick rug of jet black chest hair.  He was followed by a shorter, slighter, balding man wearing aviator sunglasses, a Hawaiian shirt, khaki shorts and sneakers, smoking swiftly from and chomping feverishly at an ivory cigarette holder that slid between grinning teeth; beneath wild, lighthouse eyes.  The pair sat at the bar.

‘We can stop here,’ I began, shaking Samo’s shoulder.  Who looked up in the direction I was.  ‘This is freak country,’ I finished.

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The big man at the bar suddenly stood erect, waving oak branch arms around, screaming: ‘AAAAAAAAAAUERRRRRRRRRGAH!  Why are female sports journalists’ voices so deep!?’

‘You fool!’ the little man yelled while jumping up, his stool hitting the floor behind him.  ‘Most of their colleagues and bosses are men.  They mostly cover men.  They’re infected by the natural testosterone and brutishness of the proverbial Big Game.  They’re fellow beasts at the atavistic competitive feast.  How else do you think they avoid being treated like the dessert bar at a police convention?  Now sit!  Down!’

The big man complied.  His partner left his original chair lying fallow.  Took another.  Samo put something in his mouth.  I made my wary move to yet another stool close by.

‘If only old Dick Nixon was here,’ the little man continued, leaning over his partner who’d resorted to short, muted screams and, with his head in his folded arms on the table, looking around in fear at the air above him.  ‘He’d put you right.  He’d march a couple of his goons right up to you, and they’d stomp the bile from your stomach lining before dragging you off to some medieval-esque torture dungeon for democrats, hippies and foreigners.’

‘What about Trump?’ I ventured.

‘TRUMP!?’ he yelled, so much as he could with the cigarette holder between his lips.  Then he grinned at me, the holder clenched in the corner of his fiendish mouth and its ember whipping into the air.  ‘If Nixon is a whore beast, Trump is his and the devil’s mentally enfeebled hate child.  If Nixon rolled back the tide of the American Dream, and Reagan funnelled it into the hands of a privileged, bloated few – Trump will drink the dregs and then piss it into the mouths of his insanely moronic followers.’

Then suddenly, his knees drew up into his hands.  ‘The muck!’ he yelled, looking at the floor.  ‘The steaming, stinking liquid refuse of this unholy election year of our dark lord satan two-thousand and 16!  It’s everywhere!’  He jumped on to the bar stool.

‘Hey!’ the barman yelled, his attention pulled from merely shaking his head while cleaning a glass with a filthy rag.  ‘Get down from there!’

‘Impossible to walk!’ ignored the little man, who started jumping from stool to stool along the bar.  The barman came around to give chase.

‘AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!’ the big man groaned, standing up and knocking over his stool – which the barman fell over at speed, knocking himself unconscious.

‘You wretched sonofabitch!’ the little man yelled a few stools down, perched on it like a cat.  ‘The floor is contaminated by the rotting carcass of western democracy!’

The big man scrambled on to the bar, stood and smashed his head into hanging wine glasses.  He screamed once more, ran along the bar collecting and destroying more glasses with his large head and kept running off the bar and out of the room.  The little man followed, gingerly coming down from his perch and walking away as if in thick mud, holding his nose from the imagined stench.

Samo came and sat next to me about when I heard screeching tyres and a woman’s scream from the street.  ‘The fuck was that?’ he asked.  He was chewing his bottom lip and looking around the now empty bar, except for us and the motionless barman, as if surrounded.  Sirens blared from outside.

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‘That?’ I started, reaching over the bar for a bottle of Johnnie Walker and two glasses.  ‘I’ll have two glasses of whiskey, neat,’ I said, looking at the barman’s unconscious figure.  ‘That was nothing.’  I poured the drinks.  ‘Just your imagination.’  I took a sip.

‘Didn’t look like nothing.’  He took a sip.

‘It was literally nothing.  The fuck’s wrong with you?  You took too much man.  Too much too much.’

‘Maybe.’

‘One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small,’ I said, turning to look at him, my head starting to swell up.  Samo stepped back off his stool.

‘And the ones that mother gives you, don’t do anything at all.’  My head doubled in size, turned orange.  Samo started screaming.

‘Go ask Alice, when she’s ten feet tall.’  Quadrupled now, topped by a golden retriever sized, combed forward wig.  Samo raked his face and continued screaming.

‘And if you go chasing rabbits, and you know you’re going to fall.’  My eyes caught fire, dripped lava, and a forked, purple tongue emerged from between my eggplant-sized and coloured lips.  Samo backed against the wall, howling in agony.

‘Remember what the doormouse said: feed your head.’  Samo’s screams reached fever pitch as my orange head exploded and horse manure flew in all directions.

‘Feed your head.’

Rebel Without and Within

Visiting foreigners and returning expats apparently see Australia as a bit of a mythical place.  Our larrikinism and disdain for authority is much vaunted, while in fact we’re a pretty conformist bunch.  Pete, our protagonist, has noticed he might be standing with a few others at a pedestrian crossing, no cars in sight, yet most will still wait patiently for the little fluorescent green man to light the way.  With that in mind, and leading by the hand a girl he’s on a first date with, Pete crosses – on a red man.  ‘Wait,’ she protests, pulling him back.  ‘You can’t cross now.’

‘Why not?’

‘That’s jaywalking,’ she lectures, literally pointedly at the luminous red-coated crossing guard.

He scoffs, releases her hand, says goodbye and crosses the street – leaving her obediently bewildered on the other side.  She was probably pro-life, too, anyway, he reassures himself.  None yet had passed the red man test.

Mug shot

‘Ews ya team?’ asks the thrice divorced looking, well-worn Jack Daniels jumper wearing bloke at the pub.  Normally Pete would respond with a white lie, and quote the football club from the city he was born – at least for the purposes of believable predictability.

Instead, this time, he takes a generous gulp of his schooner, and replies: ‘Don’t have one,’ then places the glass back on the bar, eager for JD’s response.

‘Wh-whaddya mean?’

‘Well,’ he readily starts to explain, while avoiding a self-righteous tone he worries might get him glassed, ‘I believe commercial sport is a shiny but meaningless distraction for the masses, not unlike religion, which keeps us focused on trivial matters so our not so subtly malevolent overlords are left free to openly – if you’re paying attention, which you’re probably not – exploit us.’

‘I don’t follow ya,’ comes the surprisingly eloquent yet still baffled response.

‘Didn’t expect you to.’

‘What?’

‘Plus,’ Pete ignores, ‘watching a bunch of well-muscled men in short shorts and tight tops chasing a ball around, to quote Bart Simpson: “Seems kinda gay.” ‘

‘You’re gay,’ he derives.

‘Yeah, didn’t mean it literally,’ he mutters just loud enough before finishing his beer while rolling his eyes at the ceiling.

‘What!?’

‘Look!’ Pete furiously points.  ‘The bikini waitress is bending over!’  Then he sneaks out while JD’s perving at nothing over his shoulder.

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Pete leaves the house smoking a cigarette, wearing a clean Big W t-shirt but unwashed ever Trade Secret jeans and knockoff wayfarers minus those obnoxious little diamante-looking metal or plastic things usually found on the upper outer edge of the frame.  He gets into his never cleaned, rarely vacuumed and weathered paint 15-year old Korean hatchback.  He almost lights another cigarette, because a Bob Seger song starts playing, but instead resists.  He winds down the window, because the air-con hasn’t worked in five years, and starts driving.  There are no cars in sight from the other direction, but the right-turn arrow remains red.  So he just goes, after checking the vicinity for the cops.  Someone beeps him.  He sticks his middle finger out the window.

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It’s hot as hades down the closest community centre, on local government voting day.  Which seems appropriate.  Pete foolishly makes eye contact with a political pamphlet packer, then politely declines her advance.  He tries looking around a little more, while avoiding shirts with faces on them, but spots a couple of Southern Cross tattoos. So he spends the rest of the line to the democratic sheeple shearing staring into the clear blue sky.  He does actually vote for someone, while wondering why he bothers.  But on the referendum as to whether state government ministers should have massaging parliament house chairs, he ticks yes (‘cause shit, who wouldn’t want them too) and also writes on it: ‘The more you let income inequality grow, the sooner the revolution will come.’  That’ll have them shaking in their not yet massaging chairs, he not at all seriously thinks as he leaves the building past the line looking at the ground so as to not realise who or what he shared his community with.  Then he follows an eight, no kidding, eight-children my family stickered beat up Tarago on the way home.  And instantly thinks of Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now: ‘The horror.  The horror.  The horror.’

Thought I had the #hipster #combover going #pretty well without #product, but here it just looks #like a #regular combover #hipsterfail #cigarette #aviators

He claims he knows the earth is flat because he’s a construction worker and somehow he can tell by using a spirit level.  Pete’s already horrified, because he just wants some time alone in the Brunswick Street bar’s smoking area.  But seriously!?  The earth is flat and you can tell by using a spirit level?  Surely he jests.  He bites anyway, and throws a couple of arguments back at him, mostly about how there are photos of the earth from space and what would anyone have to gain by conspiring to lie to us about something so big yet at the same time inconsequential to everyday, individual life.  But it’s no good.  He believes the lie too truthfully, or hopefully enjoys the joke too much.  Pete walks away, then drags his wine drunk (and pro-choice and jaywalking fan) girlfriend up Fitzroy St to the flat of the mate he was staying with.  He does leave the spare key in the door that night, but in the morning consoles himself with the fact that he at least respected the many years of research and experiment that people smarter than him put into discovering facts that he could barely even comprehend.  His mate says a spirit level would have to be kilometres long to prove the earth was flat.  That’s true.

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The customs officers are belligerently baffled.  Just because Tiger Airways don’t have a smartphone boarding pass system doesn’t mean Pete can just take a screenshot of his boarding pass, then walk past the boarding stewards and on to the runway when they refuse his documentation.  Just because it isn’t stated that it’s illegal to smoke on the tarmac, merely that it isn’t allowed, doesn’t mean he can light up for a pre-flight smoke beside the plane.  And just because they haven’t taken off yet, doesn’t mean he can join the, well, about 20 metres high club with his girlfriend in the on-board bathroom.  ‘But why?’ he asks.

They look at each other.  Then reply in unison: ‘Because you can’t.’

He meets their exasperated stares with a blank one.

‘But wh. . .’

‘Get out!’ they interrupt, again in unison, pointing toward the door.

So he gladly obeys, takes his girlfriend’s hand, walks out of the airport, and after waiting five minutes gets in an Uber.  It’s a brand new Mazda 3.  The driver’s a chainsaw sculpting, beret sporting former radical from a country that doesn’t exist yet, he says.  Bullshit, Pete thinks, while smiling broadly.

Julie Falling

She can only hear wind rushing past her ears.  Her mind couldn’t avoid what it tripped over until it was too late.  It was a very small rock, fixed firm in the ground.  It took the form of a child’s giggle over what she perceived to be her weight.  Even though her size is, now, what most would consider healthy.  Regardless, she fell.  Spiralled downward like a dead leaf.  When she fell, she plunged over a cliff.  A high cliff built of all her life’s woe.  She plunged through all her hoarded hurt.

She’s falling now.  ‘I’m sorry Julie,’ her boss said, at the end of yet another week in which her anxiety and depression had swung like a wrecking ball through her productivity.  ‘It’s just not working out.  We need to let you go.’  It was her dream job.  She studied years for it.  Struggled.  Sweated.  Suffered.  Built what she thought were strong, unassailable foundations.  Yet, she fell.  She’s falling still.

Falling further.  ‘I need time to myself,’ Bill said.  Her boyfriend of three years.  Now, fiancé.  Now, what?  ‘I love you, I want you, but I need some time to think about whether this is what I need.  Whether this is what we need.  I can’t believe I’m going to use such a cliché, but it’s not you.  It’s me.’  She yearned to change his mind.  But let him go, thinking another cliché: that if you love someone, let them go.  If they come back, they’re yours.  He still hasn’t.  So she’s still falling.

Falling fast.  Julie went in to the psychology sessions thinking they would achieve nothing.  She just wanted medication.  But in the end she believed the meds were a waste of money.  And the sessions: lifesaving.  Her pain washed over the initially seemingly cold, distant psychologist.  She feared the shrink would use her pain against her, or be brought as low as she by it.  Instead, he held up a mirror.  Its reflection said one simple thing about her suffering: that it was normal, rational, human, and she need no longer be afraid.  Still, free falling.

No parachute.  She screamed for the first time, thinking of growing up the fat girl as a child.  Then, as a teenager, anorexic.  The mirror was always against her then, because she held it up against herself.  In it she would always perceive ugliness, because that’s what she thought others saw.  Regardless of her actual physical beauty, the mirror would appear cracked, covered in spots, discoloured, warped; hideous.  More relaxed now.

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Yet, still falling.  Julie had always escaped into other worlds.  Books.  Films.  Magazine articles – at least those she knew wouldn’t stimulate her inadequacies.  The pain of existence wouldn’t stop.  It would only be pushed aside momentarily in favour of pleasant fantasy.  She’d wander giddily through the worlds of Huckleberry Finn, Atticus Finch, Winston Smith, Oliver Twist, Bilbo Baggins, and the like.  She’d draw comfort from those worlds, even if her own was torturous.  No longer relaxed.

Falling through razor blades.  No more screaming.  Now, howling in agony.  She sat atop the courtroom’s mahogany witness chair, reliving all the horror her step-father had put her through.  Adding tear stains to those probably countless other victims of sexual abuse had, on the glazed wood.  Red eyes pleading with the judge, the prosecution, her mother, to end the further pain his defence’s cross-examination was putting her through.  But knowing it was no use, it was all part of the process.  The system of victimisation of the weak and vulnerable.  She goes limp.

All resistance to the fall, such that it would have achieved, gone.  On her back, through golden hair fluttering Heavenward, Julie sees her father.  He died when she was five.  Only one memory remains.  Of him reading to her.  She can’t remember the book.  Just his face.  Unshaven but warm, crow’s feet smiling behind blue eyes twinkling as he gives her alternate reality gifts from his gentle, loving lips.  She’d sought him in those other places ever since.  But hadn’t found him.  Had instead fallen.  Wanted nothing but to fall.  Continues falling.

Turned over mid-fall.  Now facing the ground.  Close enough, ever closer, quickly closer, to see it for what it is: hard.  It takes the form of her mother’s face: no less hard.  Her saviour upon throwing her stepfather out, to be jailed, besides.  But she couldn’t bear the shame.  Or, more tragically, denied it.  Cast out Julie, too.  Felt her daughter had somehow encouraged her own abuse.  Retreated into never properly dealt with mourning of her dead husband.  Father dead.  Mother lost.  Julie became orphaned.  So she fell.  Is still falling.  Is, blessedly, almost finished falling.

Falling through faces.  Her own, in an ugly mirror.  Her father’s, smiling crow’s feet, azure sea and sky sparkling eyes, loving lips.  Her mother’s, turned away, eyes downcast.  Her school friends’, taunting.  Her boss’s, confused and cold.  God’s, quickly vanished, but a fictional phantom.  Faces seemingly within reach flash across the ground beneath her.  Full of unasked for hatred and prejudice.  Unjustified revulsion.  Then, finally, Bill’s.  He catches her.  But too late.  Too late to save her.  Instead holds his lost love Julie’s lifeless, finally at peace body in the bath as a crimson river snakes down the plug hole.

(If this has raised any issues for you that you feel the need to discuss, please talk to a loved one or call such counselling services as Lifeline on 13 11 14. Or by all means comment below. You’ll not be judged here.)

Building 12 2_22.

poeTRY@noodlehaus

No cheesburger – or fries – or chocolate thickshake, 

could possibly describe her as they would obviously mistake.

Her infectious smile for a cheeky smirk, 

and her fantastic nature as a faulty quirk. 

Her eyes shine bright and big and bold,

her hair hangs long – it’s brown not gold. 

I knocked – she answered – it was a match made in heaven,

and now I see her twenty-four seven!

Her confidence and presence is hard to miss, 

and I bet that all the boys be steal’n a kiss.

From this very special girl I know,

who’s taught me how I need to show.

The world – myself and all mankind,

Exactly how we need to find.

The joy – the love and all the noodles.  

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Faraway Fred

Tick, tock.  Tick, tock.  An otherwise silent room.  Lying on the master bed is a man old, once young.  All his life he’d been one to look forward – to milestones, achievements, joy, and even sorrow.  But he’d been recently reminiscing.  And as he was wont to do, he started at the beginning: his first memory.

Four years old.  A one-time gold-rich town in western Queensland that exists now as little more than a long-haul petrol station, pub, and general store and post office servicing a handful of nearby – to use the word loosely – farms.  A hill.  And very young Fred, as his parents called him, a tiny-training-wheel-bike atop blur literally screaming down said hill, as his father shouted from its summit: “Hit the brakes!  The brakes!”

Then a void, for a while.  Fred’s memories of recovering from the injuries, ultimately learning to ride, and attending his first couple of years at primary school not deemed significant enough to swim into his consciousness.  Then Mildred.

Grade 5.  Both aged 10.  Fred put dirt in Mildred’s hair, she gave chase, Fred fell over, grazed his knee, started crying, and Mildred comforted him.  Fred got the cane.  Mildred comforted him some more.

Focused now.  Or perhaps distracted, as men are often both made to be by the fairer sex.  Fred’s reminiscence jumped forward and over other perhaps worthy life-events, to more Mildred.

Her face was obscured by a white shroud.  He could see nothing else, and hear little but the blood rushing past his ears.  From somewhere far away he heard “Do you, Fred, take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife?”  To which he responded: “I do.”  Then a return to singular focus on the white veiled figure in front of him.  Until the veil disappeared, from his to be tear-blurred vision.

Tears from this recollection had still not dried beneath his eyes when Fred’s mind turned to later, but presently much earlier, years.  Years of solitude, for example.

Sunlight would have somewhat penetrated the giant redwood forest’s gently shifting canopy, if not for ever-present northern-Californian fog obscuring it.  Fred walked without hurry, his only companions a gnarled, scavenged walking stick, songbirds, and the wind.  He looked at a counterfeit, as it turned out, Rolex won in a back-alley Las Vegas poker game.  Then wondered why he’d bothered, and instead concentrated on the clearing up ahead.  A grassed clearing, still glinting surprisingly bright in the low light from morning dew.  A single deer.  A fawn, seen upon entrance.  It looked up, munching lazily on the wet undergrowth, straight at Fred as he paused in its gaze.  Then as he took a single short step forward it bolted, and he smilingly watched it disappear into the trees.

And years of companionship.  Of brotherhood.

John lay on a sun-lounge in nothing but his boardshorts, holding a salted margarita glass in sips to his lips.  Fred lay beside him, equally boardshorted, waiting for his third drink to arrive.  Both watched the ocean heave from beneath a grass umbrella and the noon sun.

“Whack,” simply said John.

“Buckets,” added Fred, as such a generous amount of spray threw from a wave.

“Barrel!” exclaimed John.

“Wooooooo!” shouted the surfer upon exiting the barrel about 100m from the two friends’ view.

“What a morning,” said Fred.

“One of the best,” added John.

“What should we do now?”

“More of this,” John emptied his glass and raised his hand to resort staff for another.

“And after?”

“More waves.”

“Then?”

“Bars, then a 7am flight.”

“No sleep?”

“Hell no.”

“Fuck no,” said Fred, as a drink appeared in his hand. “Life’s too short,” he concluded to himself before taking a sip.

The group of surfers boiled happily in the warm water during a lull in swell, in anticipation of more to come.  The pair on the beach watched with empathetic enjoyment.  John decided it was a time for a question of his own, as his drink arrived.

“Have you been thinking about her?”

“No,” replied Fred, lying only in terms of recent past-tense, as of course the question swam Mildred to his mind.

“And now?”

“Of course.”

“She can’t be tamed.”

“I don’t want to tame her.”

“What do you want from her?”

“To love her.”

“I asked what you wanted from her, not what you wanted for her.”

“I, also, want to be loved by her.”

“Good.”

Uncharacteristically impatient now, Fred’s thoughts rushed without labour but not complete dismissal over a litany of his life’s triumphs and tragedies.  To both his greatest, centered atop a hospital bed.

The two younger siblings, a boy and a girl, stood silently and uncomprehending.  The two older, both male, soundlessly shed tears down their as yet beardless cheeks.  Their respective mothers, having said final goodbyes to their own mother, wailed on their knees at each bedside; comforted by their standing husbands.  And Fred seated quite prostate at the bed’s foot as the hospital machinery sounded its droning detached death knell – he cried yet smiled as he held Mildred’s now lifeless but once so seemingly immortal feet.  And decided, inevitably yet indefinitely, to chase his sometimes elusive love one final time into the unknown.

 

Tick, tock.  Tick, tock.  Broken now by a gasp, from his younger daughter Milly (short, or perhaps modernised for, of course, Mildred).  Right hand over her mouth, she approaches the old man on the bed, Fred, who has reminisced his last.  And Milly can’t help but lower her hand, and subtly smile.  Because so is her father, no longer breathing, clutching a photo of a not yet middle-aged couple.  The man: wearing a tuxedo and a broad, perhaps relieved grin.  And the woman: all in white, Fred’s arm over her shoulder, and a veil thrown back to reveal her also and no less smiling face.

Another Party

Another party.  They’re all the same, to me.  Sure, some people vary apart from the inevitable regulars who inhabit my surrounding social circles.  And the music.  That of course depends on whose party it is, and the type of crowd in attendance – until everyone gets drunk and starts obnoxiously commandeering the speakers without even waiting for the previous person’s song to end.  Otherwise: constants.  Banal constants.  Especially the almost total disregard for yours truly.  If it wasn’t for Facebook, and its figuratively endless literal list of colleagues past and present, borderline strangers, and neglected relationships, I’d likely not be here.  They’re laughing and talking about I don’t know what, and I might care if it didn’t seem to appear to them that I was but a beer by a wall occasionally being lifted up as if by a ghost or air current and poured, vanishing liquid, into thin air.  Such a moment strikes, so I lift the last of my current drink and focus closely on the frothy amber liquid gurgling toward my lips.  In the distance, a pretty blonde talking excitedly to a swaying drunk brunette.  Just as my focus deepens she makes eye contact with mine as her friend turns to grab her drink.  Then just as quickly turns back as her friend does to her.  I know that it wasn’t an accident.  I know I should go over to her.  That I’m at least superficially attracted to her and if I would just say ‘hello’, who knows what might happen.  But I don’t, confidence lacking.  Another constant.  Instead I put my drink on the nearest flat surface, manage at least to say goodbye to who I’m not even sure is one of the hosts, and leave.  A rerun of a TV show I never enjoy but feel obligated to watch.

I like big cock porn the best.  A friend of mine once said he didn’t like dick in his porn, like it was a homosexual line he couldn’t cross.  But to me the point always lay in the nature of fantasy: that you could imagine it was your own penis mostly thrusting hard and deep or, less often, tenderly and measured into a shrieking, moaning or wide-eyed, impossibly beautiful woman.  There’s nothing romantic in it.  Similar to shaving, it’s merely a regular and somewhat necessary, yet pleasurable, bodily function quite quickly taken care of then, on with life.  But now, to bed.  I dream of high school.  Of the time a tall, freckled frizzy-haired brunette talked to me for the first and last time by the school gate.  Lazily twirling her fingers through to the ends of her hair, which would then bounce back toward her head – I understand now but didn’t then have a clue what she was thinking.  Perhaps she didn’t either.  It was hormones.  At once innocent but pleasingly dangerous stirrings of what was at the time maybe ambiguous but now recognised in three throbbing fluorescent letters: S.  E.  X.  So I took her to the toilets.  (Not then, but in the dream.)  In the fast forward way of dreams we were suddenly in a cubicle, and then our clothes were gone, we were all over each other, and then I wake up.  Rude awakenings.  Another mainstay of dreams.  My alarm is sounding.  It’s time for work.  After the erection makes its slow departure I put on some around the house shorts and begin the morning routine.  

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When I get to work – the delicatessen at my local supermarket – I find I’m working with Courtney today.  And my younger, taller, arguably better looking and more muscular brother, Tom.

The smiles and suggestive conversations and not-so-casual brushes, between Courtney and Tom, of course, make me cringe but the shift surely ends and I walk to my car.  

‘Keen to head out tonight?’ Tom says, from the passenger seat.

‘Sure, why not?’ I rhetorically feign interest without averting my attention from the road.

‘Courtney’s coming,’ he adds.

‘Courtney?’ I can’t help turning to inspect him.

‘Yeah,’ he grins toward the windscreen at my not so subtle interest.  ‘And Sarah,’ by whom he means her fuller-figured, plainer-featured friend.

‘Oh, ok,’ and I return my interest to the sallow suburbia slinking past.

Smiles and suggestions and brushes, instead among others at another party, again between Courtney and Tom.  I stand holding another beer, as disinterested as ever, instead beside Sarah.  And feel undeniably as if I’ve drawn the short straw.  We must be at that point, between six drinks and 16, when consciousness blurs, when suddenly Courtney is in front of me or Sarah or both of us, saying something about ‘skinny dipping’.  And Tom is beside her, grinning.  Then we’re at the lake on a cloudless new-moon of late-summer.  Tom and my clothes disappear and the girls’ all but their panties.  The water is warm and Courtney is in Tom’s arms and Sarah must still be on the bank but then Tom’s gone and I’m holding Courtney then the water around us is frothing green with a strange fluorescent light reflected from the moon onto algae in the water.  And she’s moaning: ‘Biggest cock.  The biggest cock!’  All flashes green and black and pleasure, and voyeuristic silver crescent moon.

Then it’s cold and a little muddy, then dry and warm.  I’m back at the party.  Tom and Courtney are gone.  Sarah’s talking about I don’t know what and couldn’t care less to a large bloke with flashing eyes and frantic hand gestures.  A rock song plays, cut short by some electronic music, cut short by some reggae.  I recognise some faces in the crowd but they don’t acknowledge mine, as I finish my beer and leave it on a coffee table on my way out.  Another party.

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The Appointment

A Victorian Young Writers Award 2014 shortlisted entry, by James Noonan

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‘Is it cancer?’

It seemed only natural to bring up. He’d wanted to break the silence somehow, and when your pants were by your ankles and there was another man’s hand fondling your testicles, small talk was kind of out of the question.

Phil had expected to be shot down, waved off, even laughed at. But when he got no immediate response, a shiver of unease spread through him and he felt his balls contract even further, like pupils to bright light.

‘Well, there is something there—possibly a tumour,’ the radiologist finally said, and then as if to allay Phil’s mounting apprehensions, he added, ‘but there’s no way of knowing yet whether it’s malignant.’

Phil swallowed. ‘I see. So what’s next?’

‘Your urologist will want to discuss the results with you. He may want you to have some blood tests done.’

‘And if it’s …’

The man breathed and hooked the transducer back to the machine. ‘I’m really not at liberty to say. But, look, your lymph nodes are normal. Which means, worst case, if it is, at least it hasn’t spread. And this particular type is nearly always treatable.’

With the air of a man who had said too much, he got up and retrieved some paper towels from a tray. ‘I’ll leave these here for you to clean up. Take this form out to reception when you’re done. Take care.’

Phil lay there, not really knowing what to think. Minutes passed, perhaps hours. The slimy stuff on his groin had seemed to numb most of his body. Eventually he wiped himself and pulled up his jeans. Then he looked at his watch.

He was running late.

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The cold, grey streets of North Melbourne drifted by in fragments. Inside the train, figures fit for a funeral struggled to shake off their morning fatigue. Gulls circled idly above the entrance to Southern Cross Station, which appeared cavernous and swollen like the carcass of a giant whale. Phil wondered whether this was how he’d view the world from now on: his mortality externalised like a glaring, inalienable truth.

He felt ill. A hollow ache had settled in his stomach. He didn’t want to think about treatment. He wasn’t sure if he could go through with it. If it were anyone else, he wouldn’t hesitate in throwing his support behind it. But about his own welfare he was largely apathetic, in the way he felt most men were about their health. He was content with being alive; he just didn’t know how hard he’d fight to stay that way.

When he considered the possible months ahead, Phil thought of the colour yellow. The look and feel of it, whatever the fuck that meant. It was as if in his mind it were linked inextricably with images of sickness, of chemotherapy, sore nuts and no hair. He remembered what his mother used to say about him, how he’d come out the colour of piss. Extreme case of newborn jaundice, the doctors had said. Phil couldn’t imagine loving something like that, something so sick-looking.

He re-read the text from Dana, confirming the location of the café. He hadn’t seen his daughter in nearly a year. In that time she’d got a new job, or had had something published. Anyway, she’d moved out of her mum’s place and was living in the city with a friend, starting a new life. One in which her father should probably play more of a part.

Phil got off at Flinders and walked down a tiny side alley called Degraves. He couldn’t remember the last time he was in town, despite living so close by. He already felt out of place here. This was just the type of scene Dana would feel at home in: young, lively, European. Neon signs and smoky garage cafes gave the impression of tiny opium dens, and it felt like he’d stumbled upon an unknown inner world. Waitresses no older than Dana were dressed in frumpy sweaters and beanies, some sporting nose-rings, others luridly inked. Among this crowd, he spotted her, huddled in the front corner of a café or a soup kitchen—he couldn’t tell which—her wave possessive of the same qualities of her mother’s greetings: cool, calm and aloof.

He stepped inside, sucking in his gut as he passed the coffee machine.

‘Sorry I’m late.’

She smiled, as if wincing of pain. ‘This is Andrea.’

Phil hadn’t noticed the girl sitting beside his daughter. Her hair looked like someone had taken a pair of shears to it, hacking at random. She was wrapped in what appeared to be a rug, like what Phil had seen those Mexicans wear. She appraised Phil, taking in his entire form before turning sweetly to Dana. It dawned on Phil that his daughter could be a dyke for all he knew.

‘I thought it would just be the two of us.’

He knew he’d said the wrong thing, had started wrecking this already. He braced himself for a row, in which Dana would list all the things she thought would be different. But his initial fear that she had recruited a back-up of sorts in Andrea, a witness to the proceedings, quickly dissolved; Dana, he realised, would not want to cause a scene, not here. She wasn’t sixteen anymore—she was a young woman with greater things to occupy herself. Perhaps that’s why she’d brought her friend along, to keep the conversation light and impersonal. Regardless, Phil was grateful on some level for Andrea’s presence.

A waitress arrived, half of her head shaved. She smiled at Dana and Andrea, and looked expectantly at Phil.

‘Ah, I’ll have a flat white. What do you guys want?’

‘We’ve ordered,’ Dana stated, and sure enough two half-drunk lattes sat before them.

‘I like your glasses,’ he said, wondering why the rims were so thick. He didn’t think they suited her. ‘Since when have you needed specs?’

‘Oh, they’re not prescription. They’re only frames.’

Phil didn’t know what that meant, or what to add. He became conscious of his hands, and where to place them.

‘Here’s the book I was telling you about.’ Dana had produced a slim publication, and she handed it to Phil. Its cover was a black-and-white photograph of an empty room save for a rocking horse, its shadow extending up the wall. The title ‘Blank Canvas’ looked to have been inscribed graffiti-style, much like the alley walls around them, above the words ‘A Scrapbook for Emerging Melbourne Artists’.

‘It’s our inaugural edition, the launch was last week.’

‘Yeah, this looks great.’

‘Andrea covers all the editorial and online production, I do the design and marketing.’

Phil flipped through the book and stared at the back, a continuation of the front image, a cracked concrete floor. ‘Always knew you had a knack for this stuff.’

Andrea finally spoke, her voice the texture of silk. She’d launched into a spiel about injecting life into the moribund marketplace, saying words like ‘reconceptualise’ and ‘avant-garde’. Phil found her insufferable.

‘How’s James?’ he asked, turning to Dana and sampling the coffee that had just been laid down.

‘Good. Almost finished his apprenticeship. Booked a trip to Europe with Jess in September.’

Jess … He’d heard his son talk about her before. Dana, as if reading his mind, her eyes on the coffee in his hands, said, ‘Jesse. His best mate?’

‘Yeah, yeah.’

Now came what he had been fearing most, arriving a lot sooner than anticipated. They’d both sensed it, both tried to avoid acknowledging it. It was the kind of silence that felt dimensional, like a solid presence had joined them with all the weight of the past.

Phil cleared his throat. ‘And your mum?’

Now Andrea shifted in her seat, finally sensing, Phil thought, a terrain in which she wasn’t welcome. She stood and announced she needed to use the bathroom. Dana smiled after her.

‘Works too damn hard, same old Mum. I worry about her.’

‘Why’s that?’

‘She just looks haggard all the time, like she’s aged twenty years. She’s gone grey, did you know? The only day she’s away from the office she’s tied down with Grandpa—you know what a handful he can be.’

Phil did. Julie’s father, a former academic, had progressed to late-stage Alzheimer’s, and in recent months had grown increasingly unpleasant. He now loathed his own daughter, whom he blamed for incarcerating him in the prison that was his nursing home. Phil had gotten snippets from Julie via texts, believing she wasn’t telling him the full story.

‘You should hear some of the stuff he calls her. It’s vile. Things like “cunt” and “whore”. I feel so sorry for her.’

Phil winced, holding up a hand—but what right did he have to be spared such obscenities, such realities? When he and Julie had split, the role of caretaker had fallen solely to her—even though he offered numerous times to help out, to be present. She’d mentioned that it would just make things worse. That worn-out, defeated sigh of someone too old to be perpetuating a lie. He grimaced at the memory of him telling her she needed to get out more, meet some people, get laid. For some reason he thought it’d be that easy, to go from a thirteen-year marriage to mere buds exchanging tipsy banter over each other’s sex lives. She hadn’t spoken to him since.

‘So, how are things with you?’ Dana said, rather earnest.

‘Good, yep.’ He drained his coffee. His daughter stared at him.

‘And Michelle?’

‘Nah,’ was all he said, a stiff shake of the head, holding the cup up for any more foam to slip down.

Dana’s friend returned—he’d already forgotten her name—and remained standing.

‘Well, we should get to the office,’ Dana said, reaching for her bag. ‘Hard at work on the next issue. You can keep that one.’

Phil felt the queasiness in his stomach return. ‘You sure you don’t want to have another?’ But even as he spoke he knew the answer.

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‘It was nice seeing you, Phil.’

Dana had always called him that, a habit James picked up in his mid-teens too. They said it was from The Simpsons, that the son—Bart?—referred to his dad as “Homer”. It felt borrowed when they were younger, adopted, but he was able to accept it as he did any other fad they’d taken to at the time. This one had stuck, though, and he wondered whether he was always destined to become who he now was, known to them not as Dad, but a man named Phil.

‘You too, kid. Listen, I’ll get this.’

‘Nah, it’s all taken care of.’

‘I insist.’

‘Phil, they’re friends of ours. It’s on the house. Relax.’

‘Well, at least … take this.’

He stood, fishing for his wallet. He withdrew a fifty, paused and then took out one more. He cursed himself. He’d wanted it to be a quick, seamless exchange—the kind of familial gesture for which it wasn’t necessary to state a reason, but where she would simply extend her hand and accept the offering. A single, fluid motion. But it was clumsy, an act clanging with inexperience, and it seemed all eyes in the café were now fixed on the image of a man trying not to make it look like he was paying for his daughter’s time.

Dana hesitated, her mouth half-open, then enclosed a hand around the notes.

‘Thanks.’

Phil stepped forward and put an arm around her. She reciprocated in part, patting his side, and at the last second, just as she was pulling away, he kissed her hair and heard her say something like ‘Yeah’.

He watched them leave. What’s-her-name stopped to peck the ponytailed barista on the cheek; Dana brushed a loose strand behind her cheek, now a light crimson. Then they walked up the narrow lane, lost almost among the bustling crowd. For a moment he thought they’d gone, but then he saw her again, camera out, focusing on the art-washed wall that led back to him. Phil leaned away from the opening, thinking how odd it would be to see someone like him, Dana’s father, distantly in that shot, sitting alone looking lost. Maybe she’d wanted him in it, who knew? By the time he looked back out, they had gone.

He considered ordering another coffee, but his presence here seemed bloated, alien, and he had no reason to remain.

The day had fined up, but in that ambiguous way of Melbourne’s. It was only a matter of time before that bright ball of yellow in the sky was snuffed out by gathering cloud. Knowing it wouldn’t last, he savoured the sliver of sunlight, the momentary warmth it provided as he emerged from the laneway. It was then, walking up Flinders St, that he spotted the pub on the corner, Young & Jacksons, his old watering hole. He went there nearly every Friday before picking the kids up from school for the weekend, sometimes spending hours putting away the drink. Absentmindedly he fiddled in his pockets, but then remembered he’d given the last of his cash to Dana. All his loose change was gone too, spent on his train pass. And so, as he waited on the curb for the lights to change, to cross over to the station, he peered inside the pub, at the sleek, restored furnishings, the gilded mirrors, the silent laughter and clinking of glasses. He stared long enough to notice his reflection in the window, a solitary figure around which other shapes and shadows passed with purpose.

The lights turned amber and then, languidly, to red. The walk signal flashed. He guessed he was headed back the way he had come.

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Ignorance is Piss (Weak)

The suburban Southport share house did not, theoretically, offer ideal living conditions for someone of my disposition.  My name was the only one on the lease, when I first moved there in order to take up a geographically convenient position as president of a political group not officially engaged in domestic Australian operations; but whose main focus was to raise financial and in-kind support for our colleagues in Greece.  The rotting, rusting, overgrown backyarded Queenslander had three other bedrooms I wished to fill mainly for financial, but also socio-studious purposes.  The housemate wanted ad I put on Gumtree requested only a passport-sized photo, and answers to three questions: what is your sexual orientation, what is your political affiliation, and of what denomination is your faith?  I well knew the questions alone risked legal action.  But it was a risk I needed to take.

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Shaima arrived slightly smiling of bright white teeth for our lunch interview at noon on a summer’s day, her high-cheek-boned face encircled by a green hijab highlighting lighter coloured, feline-shaped eyes.  After placing a bowl of tofu salad between two plates facing each other across my dining table, I asked her to sit, then took my place opposite.  Follow-up questions elicited these responses: Shaima was 23, the general manager of a local women’s shelter, single, attended the Arundel Islamic Society of Gold Coast mosque once a week, and on special occasions, and was able to provide the house with a fridge.  I had been using a large camping esky, and was eager to cease walking to the local service station for ice every morning.  When I asked what brought her to Australia, she said she was an Afghani Hazara who’d paid people smugglers for a three month journey to Australia that ended by boat.  An ordeal her husband and one-year-old girl did not survive.  I gave her a set of keys and she responded with promise of a month’s rent in advance and an equal amount of bond money.  Then she thanked me for lunch, bowed slightly and left to immediately start organising moving in.

My second housemate-to-be arrived by bike in the mid-afternoon, wearing bright yellow Lycra and a broad, reassuring grin.  Tim vigorously shook my hand while never losing contact between his blue and my brown eyes, profusely thanked me for the cup of black coffee, and we settled in for an interview on the cooling front balcony.  We – or, more accurately, he – talked for two hours.  The highlights were that he worked at a bike shop.  Which made sense.  He was also studying a graphic design diploma at TAFE.  And a good hour of our exchange involved hearing about his partner Matthew, to whom he said he was openly devoted but wished not to live with yet as they’d been together only two months.  Plus, neither of their parents were entirely supportive.  Tim was 19, and said since moving out of his parents’ home he’d lived at only one sharehouse – whose other occupants he described, simply, as misguided.  But, and with a wink I interpreted as indicative of a healthy sense-of-humour, he reassured me that he was mature for his age.  He also said without prompting that he’d paint the aging Queenslander’s peeling interior.  I welcomed him to his new home.

Janelle was candid with me, as we started talking in the local park after a tour of the house in which she’d remained almost totally silent.  She looked up at the tree branches dancing in the wind, smiled, levelled her now serious gaze at me and said she’d just been released from prison.  It had been a one-month sentence after an arrest for protesting logging in her native Tasmania.  I responded that the only crime, in my eyes, was that she had been persecuted for her beliefs and convictions.  Her smile returned.  Janelle absent-mindedly played with her dirty-blonde dreadlocks as she went on to tell me she was recently 21, had secured part-time work tutoring environmental engineering at Griffith University, and was looking for a more full-time role in the local construction industry.  When I joked that our backyard was overgrown enough to be deemed a national park, she promised to turn a section of it into a vegetable garden she would maintain and we could all enjoy.  I said her tenancy had my “green thumbs up”, she laughed, said thank you and left.  I remained in the park long enough to enjoy a cigarette, savouring the prospect of returning to a house that would not for much longer be so empty.

‘I’m president of Golden Dawn Australia – an organisation which does not officially exist in this country,’ I replied when queried as to my employment, during our first dinner together as a full house.  Naturally, a period of stunned silence followed during which I took a bite out my taco.  Tim, being the one who asked about my job, was the first to enquire further.

‘So,’ he started, slight creases forming between his eyebrows, ‘what are your principles?’

‘Well, I’m anti-homosexuality,’ I replied, looking directly into his wide-eyes width-ways across the rectangular table.  ‘I’m anti-immigration and multiculturalism,’ I said looking left toward Shaima, who avoided my gaze.  ‘And I’m all but militantly socially and financially conservative, pro-development and anti-conservationist,’ I concluded while shifting my gaze right toward Janelle, whose relaxed expression, to her credit, did not falter.

‘Do you not . . . I mean, do you think that I fully deserved, sacrificed for and have since earned my new life in this wonderful country,’ Shaima said, and from whom I was shocked to hear first.

‘I do, now, since meeting and living with you.’

‘Do you think we should wipe out every tree on this planet, every animal, every living thing except those other humans who share your, and I won’t apologise because they are, hateful views?’ Janelle chimed in.  ‘What will you eat when there’s nothing but buildings, roads and money?’

‘I’ve learned much from what you’ve told me.  About what we’re, by which I mean humanity, doing to the world.  And that much of it is needlessly destructive.’

Tim then coughed, and attracted my attention.  ‘Go on,’ I encouraged.

‘I love Matt.  Deeply.  And, within a romantic context, exclusively.  You don’t respect that?’

‘I don’t share your sexuality.  But yes, I do respect your relationship.’

‘Well how can you not just belong to, but be the president of a national chapter of a far-right and, to any reasonable mind, neo-Nazi and fascist group?’

‘Well’, I began, before rising, collecting our empty plates and heading for the sink, ‘I’m going to write a letter to my Greek colleagues tomorrow.  Within it, I will tell them your stories.  And also tender my resignation.’

Writing Process Poem

I should be asleep,

Instead I’m awake.

Hands on keyboard,

Head a dull ache.

Arse planted on seat,

Eyes the screen rake.

Give much tonight,

And tomorrow take.

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A bipolar existence,

So much is at stake.

Will it successful,

Me one day make?

That is not the issue,

Just a focus mistake.

Rather I’ll write,

Until I do break.