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A group of people in a time and a place try and find something more than they are. Through the parties, the scenes and relationships he seeks any solace by any means. But over the course of the summer he finds less and loses more and in the end realises much will always be beyond his control. Slow Dive.
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First the material environment has been largely replaced by the social environment...; second, this crucial social or human environment has no stable or reliable structure...; and third, there is no widely shared and seriously accepted ideology or vision, which could decree how things should properly be arranged.
Man now lives in a local community which is optional...It is people who constitute his environment, and make or unmake his life, but exactly which people, and how they are to comport themselves and how he should view and treat them, is not prescribed, and often not greatly regulated. Consequence: though he is no longer at the mercy of natural forces and accidents (or at any rate he feels he no longer is), he is, more perhaps than ever before, at the mercy of people.
Faint and hollow screams drift through the thick stillness. The water is flat and tepid. She floats on her back and looks very peaceful. Just floating with the gentle shifts of water now and then. Further off the moan of a jet ski angrily peaks and wanes. I wade over.
“Let me do something okay.”
She remains floating with her eyes closed.
“I’m going to put my hands under you and move you around, okay”
“Relax. It’s really cool. Just keep your eyes closed. You have to keep them closed.”
She stops floating and she stands. The water reaches to her shoulders. She pulls the mass of skinny black braids behind her. Her dark eyes are warm. The white ball of the sun is directly above her.
“Float on your back. Just do it. You’ll see.”
A moment of hesitation freezes her before she relents and floats on her back again.
“Close your eyes.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know. I don’t trust you.”
Behind her colored sails billow and speckle the horizon. A tanker edges across the bay from the city side. I push her through the water. I feel her reluctance thaw and her body become more limp. The heat from the sun smothers my shoulders and I feel myself perspiring.
“This is so weird.”
“It’s good isn’t it?”
“God it’s such a weird feeling.” She sighs and then laughs. “What are you doing? This is so freaky.”
I don’t say anything and she grows quiet and I keep moving her through the water, in circles and long slow weaving patterns. The water softly churns in her wake. I watch her slender figure, the mound of her pubis through the wet cloth, the small breasts, the delicate proportions of her face. I have always found her very pretty.
“This is the best part.” She stiffens a little. “Stay cool. Relax. Have some faith.”
“How do I know you’re not going to make me crash into something?”
“How can you think that?”
She says my name in that frail endearing tone and I feel her body relax once more. A bird dips and sweeps overhead. I build up her speed and then with a final shove cast her off. For a few moments the propulsion carries her afloat and then she gradually sinks. She is gone briefly before she slips back up through the surface. She smiles. I wade over to her.
She keeps smiling as she waits for me to obey her. I know what is happening. The days are folding into one another and in the evening the sounds of voices and traffic drift through the wide open windows. She flicks some water at me and I smile.
I let myself fall backwards and suddenly everything is quiet.
F R I D A Y
I answer the telephone.
I say, “Hello.”
She says in a crisp tone, “Hello.”
I say, “Hi. How are you? I was actually thinking about you today. What have you been up to?”
She says, “Nothing much.”
Her voice is dull and there is a brief pause before she continues.
She says, “The usual.”
I say, “I was down the shop the other day. I didn’t see you. They were shooting a film in front of the shoe shop. Looked like a big film.”
She says, “I think you’re talking a whole lot of bullshit.”
Then there is silence. I realise my mistake and in the hallway, on the phone, I feel awkward. I have been talking to someone else. This is not the person I thought it was. I think about the last time we saw one another and I remember us kissing in the doorway.
She says, “I’m not really sure why I rang.”
Again there is an uncomfortable pause.
Finally I say, “Where are you now?”
She says, “At work.”
I imagine her seated at a desk in an office, the desk light on and the quiet that must envelope her, the residents at this time in their drug dreams.
She says, “I’m not really sure why I wanted to call you. I had to. I didn’t think you were a shit.”
I say, “I’m sorry.”
She doesn’t reply.
I say, “I made a mistake. Okay.”
She says, “Thanks.”
I say, “Well, you know. You let me.”
She says, “Yes, I let you.”
I say, “Yes you did.”
We had got drunk at a bar in the city. I had even instinctively calculated the moment when I would capitulate and another part of me would want her without any thought. I had to do this.
She says, “I really don’t know why I rang you. I thought you were nice. I liked you. I just had to call. I don’t know why. I had to call and now I’ve done it. It’s done. I’m going to hang up now.”
As she speaks I can feel her again. I can feel the soft folds of her skin, the loose flesh over her hips and stomach. This had surprised me at the time and disappointed me. The legs unshaven for a few days. It had all come undone in these moments and I could not ejaculate. Instead I felt repulsion and I only wanted to leave.
I say, “I’m sorry.”
Outside a car horn punches through the traffic and voices.
I say, “Maybe I made a mistake. But, look. It was never going to work, was it? I mean, your situation.”
She says, “Really.”
She has two children and lives with a man she is no longer in love with. She told me this at the bar as I slowly worked on her. She said they stayed together because of the children but even this was going to have to change. I couldn’t understand how she could have two children and never know what this man really was. It seemed such a high price to pay. Out on the street some people pass laughing.
She says, “I’ve said what I wanted to say. That’s all.”
I say, “I did the wrong thing, but I needed to.”
She says, “I’m going to hang up now.”
I go to say something, like sorry again, but nothing comes out. Instead there is just the breath of the line hanging there. And then there is a heavy click and nothing.
It was summer.
Phones ring. People drop by. The bottle is passed around. There are drugs. Speeding through pink and blue neon and glittering landscapes the world is transformed and tilted. Nothing matters. We are swept along by the unfurling of expectation. What will tonight bring us? What episodes and meetings will we have? Then we are walking fast and our voices are loud, excited. A plastic and wan light fills the streets and ahead there is a line of people all the way down the stairs. Some stare as we glide by. No-one smiles except for the girl on the door who wears a shiny black dress that reaches to the top of the thighs. The rope is unhooked and the black doors open.
I grab her elbow as she crosses in front.
“You’re not getting away this time.”
She smiles. Her face is long and angular and she has pale skin and the latest haircut, the fringe cut high and straight. I like this.
At the same time, as I am grabbing her by the elbow, he continues on, without the slightest pause, into the next room. This is our arrangement and he shoots me a quick grin before disappearing. He will wait for a while and then afterwards carry on alone.
I turn back to her and I find her looking at me with a confused expression. All around us thin streams of people weave through one another and from downstairs a monotonous thump beats through the laughter, screams and shouts.
“I was at that party. Remember. With the empty pool. A few weeks ago.”
“Oh right,” she says, “You were with that girl weren’t you?”
“Yeah, that’s right,” I say. “Anyway, I have a confession.”
I take a swig of vodka and she waits.
“I really wanted to see you again, but, well I was with. I was almost going to ask you for your phone number. You know how it goes.”
She seems flattered and she gives me a faint smile.
“You were very funny.”
“I thought you were.”
“Thank you,” I say and I smile. “I have another confession. Do you want to hear it?”
Her eyes take me in and she appears interested. I note her slender neck and beautiful delicate shoulders. I want to glance down and look at her legs but I stop myself. I know from the previous times when we have seen one another. When her eyes have stayed too long on my inquiry. She will fuck me. I am not so concerned if it is tonight.
“I think you’re very pretty.”
“Thank you,” she says.
“I’ve thought that for ages actually.”
In our similar habits we have crossed paths a number of times. On a street, at a party in the autumn chill of a back garden, the time I saw someone wrap their arm around her waist. What I am looking for I don’t know anymore and sometimes I think it will always be like this.
“Your face looked familiar,” she says.
“Have you been here long?” I ask.
“A little while,” she says.
“There’s not much point coming before one is there?”
A dreary blonde, who has bright red lips, and who has hair clips in her short spiky hair, stops in front of us.
“Can you get this,” she says to her, ignoring me. “You know the jerk I use to see, right. What is he doing?”
She smiles for her friend.
“He’s sleazing isn’t he? He is the most pathetic. I don’t know why I ever went out with him. I really don’t.”
“Where did you see him?” she asks.
“In the back bar. Honestly, he’s such a jerk.”
They start talking and for a little bit I hover on the edges of their discussion with really nothing to say. Then I leave them.
“Nice meeting you,” she says as I start to go.
I nod and raise my eyebrows even though I’m not really sure why.
“See you around,” I tell her.
And I quickly take her in one last time, again noting her slenderness and the white stockings she is wearing stick in my mind. Then I am in their flow, being carried along into the other room where I find him. Layers of cigarette smoke hang over the pool tables and a couple of ceiling fans slowly turn.
In a long nasal draw he says, “Heh buddy, pissed again.”
And he toasts me. I take a large mouthful of what remains of my drink and let my gaze aimlessly wander the people and small incidents, seeing what I might find.
“What happened?” he asks.
“You know, its cool,” I say. “No rush.”
He toasts me again.
“She’s cute mate,” he says “I’d fuck her.”
“I want this to be a good night,” I tell him.
“It’ll be a good night mate.”
“Good,” I say.
Shifting colors and blurs of light. Those glazed faces glimpsed, swaying through the pale spectres of smoke. Moving through the sounds and force fields. I follow him dutifully. Outside in the warm air everyone is wearing t-shirts, skinny arms, shorts, gay boys, an anaemic velvet cool everywhere I look. We go to sit on a table that is over on one side of the large balcony and watch the spectacle. He rolls a joint and as we smoke it we point out to one another the one’s we want. He is wearing a white t-shirt that has had the sleeves ripped off. He wears it because it shows off his muscular arms. He has told me a lot that women like this. He has a tattoo high up on the right shoulder. It is of a black sun. Nearby a girl breaks off from her group and comes over to us.
She says, “I have a drink card. At Delirium. If you come on Thursday night I can get you any drink. Free.”
“Promise,” I say.
“Any drink?” he says.
“Any drink,” she says.
“If I give you a go of this.” He offers her the joint.
“Ta,” she says taking it, “Any drink you want babe.”
She takes a long drag. Behind her I see the night sky seasoned with stars. I know I should find this scene pretty but instead I find nothing. I only hear the loping monotony of Hip-Hop coming from the speakers and the steady hum of excited voices everywhere. I look at her there. I want to fuck her. I want to start with the shoes and work my way up. The black patterned stockings. The short black dress. Black hair slicked down and pulled into a knot. Black circles under the eyes. She ashes the joint with her thumb.
She says, “I’m a promoter there. I met the guys from Primal Scream last week. We get bands and actors there all the time. Carl Cox is coming out to play in a couple of weeks.”
“Really,” I say.
“Carl Cox,” he says like it means something.
“You guys should come down. Just come and see me. It’ll be wicked.”
“I saw Mark Seymour in the milkbar the other day,” he says.
“Who?” she asks.
“Mark Seymour,” he repeats, “The singer.”
“Oh,” she says. “Bring him along too.”
He glances over and we smile.
“Great night,” she says paying us no attention.
She swings her hips lightly from side to side and passes the joint over in his direction.
“It’s a horny night,” he says and she smiles.
“I just want to dance,” she says and her hips roll in a soft ellipse.
Security brushes past and he calls out to him. They shake hands like they might be arm wrestling, thumbs curled, and he says, “Tell her me and Mike, like that, go on tell her.”
Security just laughs while she simply stares off somewhere, swinging her hips in those soft ellipses.
“You’re the one they should have found,” Security says moving off.
“Who?” She asks like she was far off in other thoughts.
“Michael Hutchence,” he says.
“They reckon it might have been one of those hanging things where you get a sexual thrill,” she says. “He was always into sex anyway, wasn’t he.”
“Too many drugs,” he says like he knows better.
“Maybe,” she says.
“I like the dress you’re wearing,” I tell her.
“Thank you darling,” she says and she looks down at it. “It’s a Bettina Liano.”
“Really,” I say.
“You’ve got it,” he says, “no doubt about that.”
She asks if she can feel his tattoo and he says yes. She traces a finger slowly over the outline. I finish the joint and drop the butt onto the ground.
“I want to get a tattoo,” she says.
“They hurt,” he says.
I stand up and start to leave. He quickly glances over at me and our eyes meet. I brush against the cloth of her dress and place a hand lightly upon her back.
“Are you going for a dance?” she says.
“Maybe,” I say.
And then I am gone. Navigating the swell of 4am.
When I next find him he is excited. He keeps telling me there are ‘babes’ everywhere. He careers through the dense fabric of bodies. On E, or whatever, tranced in the groove. A surreal blue pallor hangs above their unremitting energy and heat. They burn bright. Everyone is consumed. Finally at the foot of the staircase, amid the crush, I find her.
“She wants you,” he says as he starts to peel off, “I can tell. Go for it mate.”
And he pushes me as he leaves me to it.
“I have another confession,” I tell her when I reach her.
She ascends the first step and crosses her arms and rests them on the thick banister pole. I look up.
“Keeping secrets is as good as lying.”
“You have a nice presence,” I add, “I mean. You give off a warm feeling I think.”
“You’re being very kind,” she says.
“Don’t, you know, I’m just saying what’s on my mind.”
She says it’s okay.
The dreary blonde cruises up again and stops to tell her she is going home. I’m not sure what will happen now. I want her to stay, know this will be a good sign, but I will not be surprised if she leaves. She smiles gently at her girlfriend and tells her she is staying. Her girlfriend never looks across at me and merely says she is fucked. That she will see her tomorrow or whenever.
I see a table draped with a black cloth over by the entrance. I ask her if she wants to go over and sit there and she says sure. There, sitting side by side, watching the fresh arrivals and those who have had enough, leaving alone and in boisterous groups, we talk about things, like what we do, favorite places, favorite music, people we might mutually know. I tell her I know she does some modelling and that last year she went overseas for a while.
She looks at me patiently as I tell her all this and when I’m finished she says, “How come you know so much about me?”
She is not malicious.
“It’s a small town,” I say. “Just a bigger version of a village.”
“I suppose so,” she says.
“It’s just a matter of asking around.”
She doesn’t reply and she stares straight ahead. A weighted silence finds its way between us and I think to myself how did this happen?
“I want to see you again,” I say.
I turn and look at her and she faces me and those eyes look at me as if I am a stranger now. Out of the corner of my vision I see the black doors opening and closing. She looks away.
“Look, I have a boyfriend okay.”
I go to say something but I have nothing to say. The winding pitch and thud of the music flattens itself through the foyer. Someone comes lurching down the staircase. And then she is pushing herself off the table and leaving. She walks off in the direction of the staircase and she does not look back.
I watch her reach the top and then disappear.
Outside the last stars are fading in the dark blue sky. Small groups cluster near the stairs softly talking, smoking joints, laughing. The thump of music bleeds through the walls. A girl who has short peroxided hair stamps one leg out in front of her and pops her body up, down, back and forth. She stops. A cab pulls up and they raggedly spill out. One of the girls holds a champagne glass and she is wearing a tiara. They go inside. He slaps my shoulder and says he’s had enough. I know there is not much point but I could stay until the very end. But I have nothing left. He puts his arm around my shoulder. Come on mate, he says. Far away I hear a siren gradually fading.
Here there is much time for reflection. Here the stillness brings that strange acuteness to our memories. The grey light of dawn. I roll, smoke, recall.
After being tied to the chair by K. and blindfolded, I became submissive to her whim. She would go down, stop, ask if I liked that, did I want more? She taunted me. She straddled me and slowly let it go in and every time I started getting into it she moved off me. She would stand away from me and wait so that the only sounds were the occasional swoosh of a car passing by outside
She said, “You like that, huh, you like what I’m doing to you?”
In the late afternoon room, killing our time. Untied I followed her to the bed. She opened her legs and wrapped them around my waist. Many afternoons were spent that way. In sex we were good.
Afterwards she wore a white bathrobe and sat on the green couch. Curled into the corner.
She said, “Sometimes I feel sordid. I feel I have tainted you.”
I told her no.
I said, “No, it was good. I enjoyed it.”
“It’s like I’m corrupting you.”
“You’re not corrupting me okay. I wanted to do it.”
I couldn’t understand her sadness. I went over to her and held her. I told her I wasn’t Galahad. I told her I could say no.
“But we haven’t even been going out that long,” she said.
“So?” I said.
“You don’t understand.”
I didn’t understand. I didn’t want to. I just wanted her.
S A T U R D A Y
The cars and vans with blacked out windows wound up when it is so warm. I imagine two teenage girls being taken to a lonely spot where they will be raped and murdered. In the back they cry softly and wish they had never been so stupid. They know they are going to die. They see out the tinted windows the dull shapes of what remains for them in these final moments. Before they are hauled out and punched in the face and then raped. And then one of them is tied to a tree while the other one is led off into the darkness. And bleeding, distraught, maybe she hears her friend’s scream. She will know anyway what has happened. She will see him return alone.
“Have you got those sunglasses?” he says.
Her sunglasses that she left behind on the day we went swimming. I tell him I have them and I remember our games and me pushing her through the water as she floated on her back. I also recall her chasing me and swimming after me and me swimming away. I didn’t think she would try to catch me. I thought she would give in. So I swam away from her again. Good long strokes that took me further out. But she came after me again and once more she nearly got me and I admired her persistence then. Her face was bright and mischievous and she was laughing. She moved toward me. I felt her leg brush against me as she clumsily grabbed my shoulders.
“I hope she doesn’t turn up tonight,” he now says.
Just like the other night I think. Her absence has become more conspicuous recently. What does she do on those nights I wonder, when he tells her he just wants to do his own thing and I end up meeting him somewhere.
“Why?” I ask.
He winces and he scratches the black sun tattoo on his shoulder.
“I just can’t handle her at the moment,” he says.
I say nothing.
“Look I’m cool,” he continues, “I’m committed. I reckon I’m doing really well. It’s just...”
He pauses. I look out the window and catch a glimpse of someone opening the gate to a terrace house.
He says, “I’ve been really good lately. I’m really trying. She just can’t handle me having any female friends. It’s fucked.”
“Why can’t you have any female friends?”
I look up at the streetlights and watch them gliding above us.
“Because she’s basically fucked,” he says. “She gets so jealous. You wouldn’t believe it mate. Then she gives me a totally hard time.”
“It’s true mate. She fuckin’ goes right off. You should hear her.”
I am confused. I find it difficult to see her in this light that he portrays her in. With me she has always been on her best behaviour. I stick my arm out into the warm rushing air and feel the promise of this night.
“What does she say?”
“Everything,” he says sharply. “Don’t be sucked in. She doesn’t mince her words.”
“Yeah, but what exactly does she say?”
“You know, like, who’s that fuckin’ bitch.”
He powers up the hill and weaves through the traffic, changing lanes continuously.
“Really,” I say.
“I’m telling you,” he says, “Be warned. She has a dark side, believe me mate.”
“But she must have a reason.”
He turns and gives me a long look.
“She’s just a very jealous person,” he says.
“Who isn’t?” I say.
“There’s jealousy and jealousy,” he reprimands me. “We’re talking about someone who is pretty insecure here.”
“Really,” I say.
“Really,” he repeats almost sarcastically.
A soft warmth hangs through me and I tell myself it is all the same in the end. Everyone has it worked out one way or another. He is no different. I am no different. And like all the other times I feel it there, that whisper, which says what I really want. Everything has been predicted.
“Yeah, but it’s okay if she has male friends,” I offer.
“Exactly,” he says “Sometimes I wonder. She’s so jealous. There’s nothing I can do.”
“Oh well,” I say.
“She better not be there tonight,” he says.
“She won’t be,” I say not knowing any better.
“I hope so,” he says. “I really hope so.”
Cars with people arrive. Their expressionless faces stare out like they might be unsure about something. Faces that will be submerged inside. Under an arch a long black corridor carries you to a door where at the end a red light burns, illuminating a portion of a fire escape. All along its length murky figures clutched in groups speak softly to one another and the orange tips of cigarettes glow through the dark. On the door a bouncer dressed in a black tight fitting t-shirt stands rigidly with his arms crossed in front of him. Inside a tall and slim woman with long slender legs and wearing hot pants inspects us.
She smiles and says, “Hi guys,” like we are something special because we meet the criteria. Every so often she sways insouciantly to the driving beat that saturates the room. We pay. We go to the bar and get a drink. We take a wander.
When I find her she is leaning with her back against the wall, arms behind her. She is here every week. I have known her for a few weeks. She likes to touch and to take my hand and lead me around. This is what she has done the last couple of times. She is wearing a bright red dress that has two thick straps and it reminds me of a butcher’s apron. She asks how I am. I tell her I’m fine. She says she saw me on the street a few days ago and I feel unsure and pleased about this news. I ask her where did she see me and she says she saw me coming out of the bank. We talk about what we have been doing that week, a film she has seen, and I tell her I like the dress she is wearing. She smiles and says it is her favorite. I reach out and touch it.
I say, “So, have you had sex yet?”
Her initial mixture of bewilderment and disappointment gives way to titillation and she can’t help grinning slightly.
She shifts slightly and says, “What are you asking me that for?”
She raises her eyebrows.
“Come on,” I say, “I want to know. I don’t think you have, have you?”
She keeps the grin and her dark eyes do not stray from mine. I like this. I gaze down and look at her legs.
“What do you need to know that for?” she says.
“Because I don’t think you have,” I say. “Am I right or am I wrong?”
I roll the ice around in the glass and I move a bit closer to her.
“I bet you haven’t.”
“I really don’t know why you’re like this tonight,” she says. “I really don’t see why you need to know.”
“Because I need to know,” I say.
I emphasise the final word and now I step very close to her to allow a group of people past. The steady pound of music fills our moment of silence.
“What does it matter if I’ve had sex or not?”
“You’re a virgin, aren’t you?”
She laughs uncomfortably and she crosses her arms behind her back.
“You’re a virgin,” I say again and I use an emphatic tone because I am wearing her down.
I do not wish to be denied tonight. She still keeps the half cocked grin. Her breasts form a cleavage. The top of the material is lace with an intricate embroided pattern. I find this pretty. Like the eyebrows that are dark almost boyish lines.
She says, “Why do you need to know all of a sudden?”
I say, “Let’s go to bed.”
“Come on,” I say.
“It’s none of your business,” she says.
“Come on,” I say “Let’s have sex, let’s go.”
Her gaze drifts over my face.
Her eyebrows knot suspiciously and I sense an unease inching over her. She shifts her position and she looks away.
“I knew you wouldn’t,” I say.
She remains at bay, pressed against the wall and I take in her prettiness. She has dark skin and gold streaks extend through her crimped dark brown hair. She has a slightly hooked nose and her mouth is not too small.
She says, “You are pissed.”
I swig the last of the drink.
“I bet you haven’t had sex yet,” I say. “I reckon you’re repressed.”
“Repressed.” She looks away quickly. “What does that mean?”
I show her the empty glass.
“Forget it,” I say and I leave.
I see deals. I see them sniffing from vials as they are dancing. Someone with long hair throws a glass over his shoulder as he walks past and into the press. Everywhere their eyes are dead and hollow and roaming. In the toilets I hear their claims and which one they will fuck. “She fucks,” he says. “She’s a fuckin’ nympho mate.” They want to know if she swallows and they all laugh. A door on one of the cubicles opens and they come out smiling, sniffing. I know one of them and he says, hello, how’s it going, take it easy, in one smooth action. I see my reflection in the mirror and it is soft and grey in the dim light. I stare back at myself and it feels like this person isn’t quite me. I feel tired suddenly. I would like her to appear when I go back out even if he doesn’t want her to show up. I go outside and sit on one of the stairs of the fire escape and smoke a cigarette. I watch them arrive and leave. I think about just disappearing. Getting all my money together and just vanishing completely. I wonder if I could do this. I think of all the ways I would be traced. Credit card. Travel details. I wonder from what I would be disappearing.
Afterwards we go to an early morning bar. Music videos play on a large screen behind the bar and the windows have been blacked out to stop the dawn light getting in. It is quite crowded and the music is loud, but not as loud as where we have come from. We settle at the bar and buy a drink and just watch it all. I see a few people I know but I don’t go over to say hello and they don’t come over to me. We pretend we are busy, absorbed, indifferent. He leaves me after a while and goes to play a pinball machine over in one corner. I find a stool and absently watch the videos. I like this time, these moments. I am tired or coming down or just gliding along. There is a timelessness to things.
I am tapped on the shoulder. I look around and find a tall fat person who has frizzy hair standing there.
“It’s okay if I take the sugar?”
“Sure,” I say.
“Your mate, over there.”
He flicks his head in the direction of the pinball machine as he reaches over to get the sugar.
“Yeah,” I say.
“I think I’ll go over and punch him out.” He smiles and I am not sure what is going on. “Yeah, that’s what I’ll do,” he says.
He hovers there for a moment and I go back to watching the videos. That’s when he comes over to us. He pushes himself between me and the fat guy and stands there and he scratches the black sun tattoo. Then he looks at the fat guy square in the face.
“Sorry mate,” he announces to the fat guy. “Just need to get a drink.”
The fat guy looks at him serenely, like it’s all a big laugh and smiles.
“No problems,” the fat guy says and he glances across at me.
I don’t pay the fat guy any attention.
“You want another drink?” he says looking at my glass.
“Why not,” I say.
“To the brand new day.” He looks over at the fat guy and shrugs his eyebrows.
A long moment settles where the three of us say nothing to one another. It’s just the fat guy smiling, me watching the videos and him there, at the bar, waiting to be served. Finally the fat guy leaves.
“He wanted to punch you out,” I tell him.
He laughs and shakes his head.
“He wanted to punch you out,” he says.
His sticks his top lip out and nods.
“Bullshit,” I say.
He shakes his head again and gives me the crinkly smile.
“Bullshit nothing,” he says. “When I was playing he came over to me and said he was going to thump you. That’s why I came over here when I saw you two together.”
I find this hard to believe and I ask him why.
“Who knows,” he says. “The guy just didn’t like you.”
I look around the room but I can’t find the fat guy now.
“How do you know it wasn’t you he wanted to deck?” I ask him.
“No it was you,” he says. “He said you had a big head. You thought you were something special.”
“Fuck that,” I say.
“Be flattered mate,” he says, “the guy was obviously threatened.”
“So,” I say.
“Chill out,” he says. “It’s no big deal.”
“Yeah,” I go.
“I wasn’t going to let anything happen,” he says. “Why do you think I came over?”
He wasn’t going to let anything happen. The words annoy me and I look back up at the videos.
“Mate,” he says.
I pay him no attention. I just keep staring at the videos. Waiting to go home.
S U N D A Y
I dream I am swimming effortlessly across the ocean. I can’t see land on the other side but somehow I know that if I keep going long enough everything will be okay. It’s cloudy but the water is calm and I feel good. I don’t feel tired. I think about swimming back but I don’t. Then, without warning, the ocean becomes choppy. I don’t know why because there is no strong wind accompanying this change. I keep swimming but it is much harder now. I know I am not going to make it. Yet when I turn to see how far away the shoreline is I see nothing but water. I have gone much further than I thought. A dry fear overcomes me and I feel weak. I tread water and look out into the endless void and now I see gigantic black snakes twisting through the water. I start swimming back. But the ocean becomes rougher and the black snakes, which are all around me, are even bigger. A dark elongated funnel appears on the horizon. A crackling static hisses above my head. Everything goes black.
As I pass I see their faces erratically revealed in the firelight. They congregate under the low spread of branches of a fig tree. Flames shoot up over the barrel and bright orange embers see saw into the blackness of the foliage. They are getting pissed, like every other night, and they scream and shout at one another. The night-sky yawns above. The blinking lights of aircraft pass silently through the scattering of stars.
I am in no hurry to get there. I lose myself in the crowds, the bright neon, the flashing lights. The traffic is ceaseless. Police cars slowly cruise the kerb. Taxis glide past. The drone of arcade games spill out and mix with the buskers singing Radiohead and The Verve. Kids wearing baggy trousers and baseball caps chop through the swarms on their skateboards.
At the end of the strip the road sweeps up into the esplanade. I cross the road and I stop and lean on the wall and look out into the black abyss of the ocean. Tiny lights speckle the void as those ships and tankers edge toward the heads. The city glows and further along cars and trucks streak across the coiling Westgate Bridge. I just stand there watching the cars and trucks and unseen ships. It’s warm and there is a faint breeze.
I turn and look at the figures in the huge windows of the pub a short distance away. I cross back and as I’m about to enter the bottom bar they fall out through the doors.
“Ya fuckin’ know, that fuckin’ barman ‘ain’t going to give you anything, he ain’t going to give you anything, ya fuckin’ know that.”
“I was just asking him, that’s all I was doing, asking him,” she pleads.
He’s grizzly, has a squashed nose from too many fights, and she has dyed blonde hair and dark roots and her face is gaunt and lined from all the years of destruction.
“You’re a slut, that’s what you are,” he froths. “A fuckin’ whore.”
“Why can’t I ask him, why?”
They sway past me and she stares at the lumpy pavement stones as he continues his tirade.
“Ya shut up ya bitch, shut up, you’re a fuckin’ whore, that’s what you are.”
I go inside and get a drink and then look for him. The dingy and smoky interior is crowded and loud and music blares from the jukebox. I notice a couple of prostitutes roaming the proceedings. One of them is wearing a military cap and jacket and she has long black hair and I think she is okay looking. She has that dark face that I like. I watch her moving slowly like treacle and meeting the gazes of those who stare at her too long.
I find him at the back, at one of the pool tables. He’s finishing a game and he moves rigidly and confidently around the table. It occurs to me then I haven’t seen her all weekend and this disappoints me a little. He comes over and he lifts his chin up.
“You took ages,” he says.
“I know,” I say.
“I’m winning,” he says with a big grin.
I find a seat and wait. I watch the prostitute I like. She wanders through the men and shares her brief conversation. Finally she gets a customer. He’s wiry and has short black hair and he looks like he might be part Maori. She takes his hand and as they cruise past I take in her sleepy eyes that stare straight ahead. I wonder how much it is. I know on the street it can be as cheap as fifty.
He wins. He is diplomatic, shakes the guy’s hand and says it was a good game. He comes over to where I am and he collects his drink.
“So what was the story with that chick last night?” He arches his eyebrows and makes out he is indifferent. “Having a bit of a deep and meaningful.”
“I put the hard word on her,” I tell him.
“I asked her if she was a virgin.”
He rolls his eyes.
“Mate,” he says, “you shouldn’t say those sorta things.”
“Why not?” I say, “she’s a cocktease, you know that.”
“Mate,” he chastises me.
I look past him and shrug. In one corner, suspended from the ceiling, the TV shows the Sunday night movie. A skinny girl with peroxided hair and with a blue tattoo on her shoulder blade moves away from the bar with her drink.
“Fuck you,” I go.
“You can’t say those sorta things.”
“Right,” I say, “and who’s got the girlfriend and is cracking the fats over some chick.”
I glance over at him and see the self-righteousness tighten his features.
“I’m allowed to look. I ain’t going to do anything.”
He doesn’t like that.
“I’ve only fucked 3 girls in the last 5 years,” he sermonises, “and one of them is my girlfriend. Of course I’m going to look. The thing is, at this moment I’m really trying to get into her, I am.”
He always is. And he is always right. And I don’t particularly care tonight. I gaze past him again and see his new opponent setting up the balls. It is a familiar face, someone with long hair and drooping eyes. I figure they must live around the area.
“So why don’t you just fuck this chick and don’t tell her?” I say “Leave it at that, kill the curiosity.”
Behind the guy sorting the balls I notice a girl, seated. Her face is covered in pale make up and her eyes have been blacked out and if they weren’t she would be pretty.
“Why would I do that?” he says.
“Because you want to.”
“You don’t have a girlfriend.”
I look up at him and he has a ruthless smile wiped across his face.
“That’s right,” I answer.
“You don’t know how it is.”
“No I don’t.”
“You don’t know what a relationship is all about.”
“Whatever,” I say.
“You don’t even want a relationship,” he says, “it’s as simple as that.”
He looks at me and waits for my confirmation and I turn away and everyone I see strikes me as being tedious and smaller than me. I believe they don’t see it. I claim they are at the mercy of one another and the stupidity that goes along with this.
The table is ready and he leaves me. I go back to watching the slowly unfolding scenes, the groups of friends laughing at one another’s jokes, the two gothic barmaids cheerlessly pouring drinks, the lonely men standing at the bar with their beer and conversation if you stand too long too near them. Outside the dense choke and roar of a motorbike pierces the din.
I have heard many of his stories. I have sat up late with him enough times. The carnage after leaving home at 15. The addiction. When we pass a man in a white Stetson on he street.
He says, “If he looks at me I’ll hit him. I hate him. It’s an old score.”
The drugs. The time an old woman walked in front of his car one night. He tells me he was a bad boy back then.
“Believe me, I did things that were fucked and I hurt a lot of people. I had the most beautiful girlfriend and I cheated on her, and then my best friend told her. Cunt. I lost a lot back then. And I gave a lot away. Like my self respect.”
I listen and don’t say much. I have not lived in as much danger as he has. He goes on about hitting rock bottom and having to pull himself back up. He claims there are things he did he cannot tell me. They are secrets. I try to imagine what they are but there is nothing that seems shocking enough.
I see neglect in him. I even see it when we later go and get something to eat. He eats like he is starving. He takes large ravenous mouthfuls and as he is chewing he goes on about one of the guys that is in his band.
“He’s fucked mate,” he says, “he won’t try anything. It’s always his way or no way. We do one of his songs. Completely different. Different story.”
“If you’re not going to accommodate,” I say.
“Exactly mate,” he says. “I’m always into suggestions. I’ll always try something. Ya have to, but with him, fuck. No way, you’re wrong, its gotta be like this. No cooperation mate. He’s fucked.”
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