For two months, a bird’s been attacking my window with gusto. In fact, I now call the bird Gusto because I’ve never encountered a creature with such tenacity and mindless courage.
The first time Gusto slammed into my window, feet, and headfirst, I almost shat myself because I was doing the dishes and the window in question is about two feet from my face. When Gusto hit, I did that thing from Jaws where Brody sees blood in the water and the camera performs a dolly zoom, AKA a Hitchcock shot. That’s when the camera is dollied either forward or backward while the zoom on the lens is pulled in the opposite direction. A bit like life. Easy!
After ten seconds I reached for the bottle of whisky that’s no longer there because I’m a recovering alcoholic with a ghost addiction. I regard these reactions in the same way that amputees claim to still feel a missing limb. I sometimes wake up with a phantom hangover on Saturday mornings.
Apparently, Gusto is a Pee Wee and part of the Magpie family. In the realm of birds, I’ve always regarded the Magpies as the traditional 1920s mobsters and the Indian Myna Birds as the Eastern European gangsters. So, Magpies and their ilk are getting fucked over by the Mynas and that’s why I’m not too bothered by Gusto. The poor fucker’s the last of his kind and I feel a bit like that too.
And why? Because I’m drowning in a sea of miserable absurdity. I understand why Gusto is smashing himself against my kitchen window because he’s done with it all. It’s an existential crisis, poorly disguised as a reflective territorial dispute. We all have territorial disputes in our minds. Think paranoia versus reality, seasoned with good old-fashioned vitriol. But life’s not bad, it’s just problematic. Well, that’s what I tell myself in the dead of night as Gusto continues his attack on my kitchen window. Neither of us knows what’s next. My dreams absorb his attacks.
But we are at one, that concussed bird and me because I get his absurd task, and I hope he never stops, or at least stops before he breaks his neck. Before he does break his neck, I want to invite him in, have a sneaky whisky with him and tell him all my hopes and fears.
Maybe that line of communication will make him realise that all is not lost, it’s just a wee bit out of reach for now.
BTW this is a dolly zoom: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u5JBlwlnJX0
It’s been a long time since I’ve written about Melbourne bogans and I’ve been extremely interested in how my bogan mates from the old days spent lockdown. There are numerous assumptions I could make involving bongs, smoking inside, Studio 10, KFC, and four-litre casks of wine from the local BWS but that’s all hearsay and outdated stereotyping. So, what I did was contact a friend of mine who is a self-professed, card-carrying bogan from way back. Let’s call him Ed.
Ed owns a Jim’s Mowing franchise because he likes being on the road and working for himself. He has an offsider called Spoons, who’s his mate’s eldest son. Come lockdown and the end of all non-essential services, Ed and Spoons were temporarily out of a job. And so, began Ed’s long, dark descent into Netflix and kidney failure.
Ed lives alone. He’s divorced and sees the kids every second weekend. He and his ex are on good terms but not mates. She moved on, while Ed stood still in his one bedroom flat in Melbourne’s outer north and smoked a dart while looking out of the window at a dog sniffing around a dead bird on the pavement.
On the first day of lockdown, Ed got up, showered, brushed his teeth, got dressed and grabbed the keys for his ute, only to remember that he was in lockdown and had no lawns to mow. So, he sat down on the couch, flicked the cap off a stubbie, and turned on the telly. He’d never watched free to air morning TV before and promptly signed up for Netflix.
Within a week, the world of Netflix became Ed’s entire world. When mates called him, he talked about stuff he’d watched on Netflix, when he talked to the kids he talked about Netflix and when his mum called him to tell him her sister died, he talked to her about Dead to me on Netflix. Ed was transfixed by the haze of the Big Red N and he spent his days and nights bathing in its warm glow.
After a week, Ed stopped going to his local supermarket and started getting his supplies delivered via the endless array of online delivery services. At first, it was groceries from Safeway and alcohol from Jimmy Brings. And then one day he gave up on cooking altogether and started to rely on Netflix’s partner in crime, Uber Eats.
Ed’s flat had become a one-stop delivery destination and the thought of going outside didn’t even cross his mind. At this stage, the phone stopped ringing and Ed’s home looked and smelled like a compost heap but at least he was up-to-date with Vikings and Peaky Blinders, and he’d been smart enough to panic buy toilet paper at the beginning of the pandemic.
What Ed didn’t realise, was that for everyone else, life was slowly getting back to normal. With Netflix and Uber Eats in his life he didn’t need things like outdoor activities, a job, or the news. He had new friends in his life because Netflix had every episode of Friends available to watch whenever he felt like watching his new friends having madcap adventures in Manhattan’s West Village.
And it was during an episode of Friends that Ed first noted a dull ache in his lower back that he attributed to hours of sitting on the couch.
The ache got worse and worse and one morning he looked at himself in the mirror and his eyes were bloodshot and his skin looked mottled and his lower back now felt like somebody had battered him with a sledgehammer.
When Ed woke up in hospital, he had no idea how he’d gotten there. Apparently, Spoons had come round, knocked on the door got no reply, so had a look through the kitchen window and saw Ed in a heap on the lounge floor next to a pile of Uber Eats bags and a bottle of Penfolds Port. He called an ambulance and the rest is history.
Ed tells me he’s getting better but has lost a lot of his kidney function and has type 2 diabetes, so Spoons and his mate are running the business until Ed gets back on his feet. Since his hospitalisation, he’s canceled his Netflix account and deleted the Uber Eats app from his phone, and now gets all his food delivered by Light n’ Easy every Monday morning. He’s completely given up on TV and now listens to a lot of true crime podcasts and sometimes Russell Brand.
I talked to Ed on the phone yesterday and I asked him if he had any regrets about how he spent lockdown and if he had his time back would he do things differently. He paused for a moment, drinking in the question, and then said: “Well, obviously there are the health concerns and all that but I did get to watch some awesome stuff on TV and Spoons has said that he’ll give me one of his kidneys if I get desperate. So, things could be a lot worse. At least I’m not starving to death.”
And that’s Ed’s lockdown story. I was looking for a funny bogan story but instead, I found a story about a man who fell foul of laziness and all the online products and services we have that prop this pandemic of laziness up.
So, the next time you find yourself in a pandemic/lockdown situation, think about Ed before you get comfy, switch on Netflix, and brush your index finger over the Uber Eats app. Kidney failure is only a 30-minute wait away, and you can track its progress on your phone, while you watch Friends!
Once upon a time when I was a commuter …
The 19 tram is a fickle beast, prone to fits of madness, rage, and the inevitable delays of Melbourne public transport. For the most part, I like my tram route because it goes up Royal Parade past Princes Park and glides up Sydney Road spewing commuters onto the pavement and into the many bars and cafes along the way. It’s like a Mallee Ringneck feeding the road with tiny morsels of consumerism.
I can’t remember my first ride on the 19 tram but I do know that I’ve used it almost every day for the last nine years and I can even hear it clanking away at night, as I eat my dinner up in my wee flat amongst the trees.
I think it was the Bedroom Philosopher who wrote about the 86 tram a few years ago and he captured the spirit of the journey perfectly and some of the pretentious shitehawks who use the service. The 19 tram has a slightly similar ambiance but it’s also different in many ways. The main difference being that the 19 tram has a strange sense of nobility, particularly if you watch it stop and start, as it makes its way northward up Sydney Road from Brunswick Road. I love watching it slowly crawl up passed Blyth Street and disappear into the Land of the Hookah, the sun reflecting off its back windows. It reminds me of being a kid in Scotland, watching my Dad walk up David Street with the day’s takings tucked under his arm, in an old biscuit tin. Just a reassuring feeling of familiarity that makes us all feel at ease when perched on the edge of perpetual trepidation.
However, on a bad day, the 19 becomes my biscuit tin of nightmares. I only catch it a few stops down the road but when I see it approach my stop with its windows misted over and people packed in around the door I’m filled with dread. Why not walk I hear you ask? It’s only a few stops down the road. I’m constantly running late, so I end up having to squeeze myself in and just take it like a commuter. It’s that feeling of impending doom as I mount those stairs and squeeze myself into that jigsaw puzzle of arms, legs and torsos that pisses me off the most. Being stuck next to the person with a bag that’s far too big for what they really need to do that day. Music from earphones that’s too loud and never my cup of tea. Sour coffee breath, cheap deodorant, bullshit conversation, and that erratic pulse of unease from people just like me.
Poor morale is infectious and a bad start to the day.
But on the whole, I like the 19 tram. No, I love the 19 tram. It’s frequent, double carriaged, has mostly un-vandalised upholstery, runs most of the night/morning on Friday and Saturday nights and there’s something reassuring about coming home on the tram and getting off on Sydney Road and navigating your way across the road to Barkly Square. Crossing Sydney Road is an art form and is definitely an example of real life Frogger (see Seinfeld, season 9, episode 18).
So, next time you’re on the 19 tram have a think about its strong links to Sydney Road. It dominates that strip of road, which unfolds between Brunswick Road and Bell Street; a huge metal worm muscling its way up the asphalt in all its glory. One of the few trams in Melbourne with a soulful journey, as it passes through the ever-changing history of Brunswick and Coburg, disappearing into misty mornings and reappearing somewhere just beyond the Phantom Tollbooth.
And now, a poem about the morning commute on the 19 tram, by Bianca Frost:
The steel spine of Sydney Rd
as night gives way to yawning day
the e-class grumbling awake
into the electric current
inertia into motion
soiled steel bones grating scapular over knee
out of the old depot
resentfully onto old road Sydney
shuddering sputtering spat
the hacking paroxysms
mimic the percussion of smokers
splattering oily phlegm pocked
pearl purple green
with petrochemical carcinogens
on the daily lug every morning
up and down
arterial route 19
stop starting staring weary down the hill from Coburg
the twin lumbar spines of Moreland
stretching each articulated vertebrae
along the track
like a great glob of cholesterol
choking the straining heart
of commuters up the rabid carriageway
festooning turning rims with sprays of carbon grit
as it meets the expectant faces
of passengers ready to ride
not such a bad way to start the day
rumbles the tram with pride
Image of 19 tram courtesy of Bianca Frost (2015).
The supermarket is now a dangerous place to be. People who might be sick move up and down the aisles searching for hand sanitizer, pasta and a way to wipe their arse. It’s a depressing sight, watching people navigate their way through a human obstacle course. However, today I’m not going to dwell on the doom and gloom of a pandemic, instead, I’m going to write about something that brings me joy.
There’s a coffee shop, well a window, down the road from me that sells coffee, cakes, and muffins. And yes, it’s an open window right on the pavement that’s part of a residential property. Apparently, it used to be a DVD nook at the east end of their lounge that’s been converted into a takeaway coffee shop. You’d never know. It’s now called Capulus and Co.
It’s run by a family who make the best coffee I’ve ever had (I write this with conviction). They’ve secured the beans, the good stuff, the primo brown gold, and I’m one of their caffeine disciples. Most mornings, I walk 100 metres to pray at the altar of their divine brew. I order a regular latte, and after a wee chat with the barista, I respectfully maintain my distance from the other disciples on the pavement and attend to my emails.
After a couple of minutes, the barista gives me one of the highlights of my day, a regular latte in a brown and tan cup. Then I walk home slowly enjoying each sip until I reach the stairs that lead me to my place of isolation, where The King of Queens seems to be playing on repeat.
But those 100 metres to the window and back keep me sane and I’ll always remember that walk and the life-affirming coffee, as something that got me through this thing.
We all need something like that walk in the morning because it’s those slivers of joy that give us something to look forward to. And when this is over, I’m going to give the barista a big hug, hail a taxi, and get the fuck out of dodge.
Capulus and Co can be found at 9 Sydney Rd, Brunswick, Victoria and is open from 7am – 2pm, Monday to Friday, and 8am – 2pm on Saturday and Sunday.
As I slide further and further into unknown territory, there’s only one thought that keeps sliding around my head: How many animals live in my attic? I’ve also gotten paranoid about any noise outside the front door. I keep a hammer there just in case, but somehow, I know I’ll never use it. Too much time on my hands invites all sorts of paranoid delusions.
However, my sanity is kept intact by watching Salvage Hunters with Drew Pritchard and his trusty sidekick Tee. Drew Pritchard runs an antique business in Conwy, Wales and he and Tee frequently travel all over the UK checking out antique and vintage stashes in stately homes, other antique dealers’ lockups, and all manner of other establishments. It’s the antiques roadshow for people under the age of 60.
Drew’s ex-wife, Rebecca, claims that he’s built a career around his personality, and I agree with her. His personality is like an advent calendar and his cheeky chappy, could be a bit of a dick, disposition is interesting to watch. I also enjoy the banter between Drew and Tee, however it’s during these interactions that Drew can sometimes come off as a bit of a dick. A lot of banter finds its roots in the heart of bullying.
Anyway, the dynamic duo spends a lot of time on the road in a white Transit van, scouring the nation for hidden treasures/bargains. They arrive at each destination, where Drew shakes hands with the client before Tee, and gets to work finding stuff to haggle over and eventually sell on his website for an inflated price to Americans and collectors (the most vulnerable of buyers).
Watching Drew rummaging around in a pile of antiques is like watching a stoner getting the remnants of marijuana residue from the pipe section of a bong with a butter knife. Tee tends to look on hoping the object isn’t going to be too heavy because it’s his job to carry it to the van and load it up, while the vaguely confused client looks on in wonder, as Drew dazzles them with his industry knowledge.
Once Drew has found an object he wants to buy, the haggling begins. Depending on the client it’s usually over quite quickly and invariably they meet in the middle. However, if an elderly client starts the bidding too low this is an opportunity for Drew to show his compassionate side and insist that they start the bidding a little higher, allowing the viewer to love Drew for a few seconds before he makes a crack about Tee’s weight and we’re back to square one again.
With all the goodies loaded into the back of the van, Tee and Drew drive back to Wales. Oh, by the way, Tee always drives because apparently Drew’s banned from driving after a drink driving conviction, which was slapped on him after a big night at his local, which he’s also banned from now, along with every pub in Conwy (I can’t whole heartedly vouch for this because I got this info from the internet but it adds so much to the story).
As they arrive back at Pritchard HQ, the team assemble to see the goodies that Drew has procured. Drew stands with the team as Tee hauls out each piece for them to review. This represents Drew’s moments of glory and you can see the narcissism glowing in his beady little eyes. Every once in a while, the shot shifts to Rebecca in the warehouse, who gives her pounds worth on each piece, which is always positive. Sometimes I wish she’d say something negative like: “they saw the little prick coming on this one!”
So, with everything hauled into Pritchard HQ the restoration team set to work while the narrator, Finchy from the UK Office, runs us through what’s going on. Then it’s over to the photographer to get snaps of the pieces to be placed on the website.
Somebody like Hannibal from the A Team would love Salvage Hunters because the plan always comes together, and Drew runs a tight ship. With his flat cap and trendy scarves, Drew strides through the world of antiques doing it his way. He definitely knows his stuff, which is one of the highlights of the show, but you can tell that Drew will die alone with a bottle of whisky on the nightstand and only Tee will attend his funeral just to make sure he’s dead.
I like cooking but I can be a right lazy bastard. The main thing I dislike is washing up. It puts me in a dark mood, even though I’m exceptionally good at it after a series of dishwashing gigs in the 90s when I was young and made no plans for the future. However, one time when I was washing dishes in a Chinese restaurant in Galway, I had a vision of my death in the diminishing suds. But enough of that, let’s take a gander at a quick meal with minimal washing up.
My main rule is that everything else should take as long as the base. For example, if the pasta takes 10 minutes everything else should be ready at the same time. If it’s not, give up and order in. There’s enough disappointment in this life without homemade meals letting you down.
Let me hit you with my favourite quick meal, Moroccan spicy chicken cous cous sprinkled with lethargy and some diluted, lonely love. When you cook alone, you’re truly alone, unless you drench it all in cheap whisky and terrestrial TV, and then get on Messenger to bother people who have a functional domestic life. Anyway …
Step one: go to a supermarket for chicken thighs, cous cous, spring onion, fresh chili, garlic, parsley, cherry tomatoes and Moroccan spice.
Step two: come home and smash down a couple of cheap whiskies.
Step three: step out onto your roof terrace and gasp at the sun setting in the west.
Step four: smash down another couple of whiskies.
Step five: splash some olive oil into a frying pan and cook the chicken and garlic.
Step six: put the cherry tomatoes into a wee oven dish, season with salt, pepper and olive oil and put into the oven at 180 degrees for ten minutes.
Step seven: chuck on an episode of Salvage Hunters, with Drew Pritchard, who’s banned from every pub in his hometown, Conwy in Wales.
Step eight: add the Moroccan spice into the chicken and garlic and add in the chili and spring onions aka scallions.
Step nine: cook the cous cous (see the back of the packet for instructions you lazy fucker).
Step ten: crush a Sudafed tablet with your maxed-out credit card (times are tough) and snort, using the shell of a ball-point pen.
Step eleven: remove the cherry tomatoes from the oven.
Step twelve: add the cous cous into the frying pan, along with the cherry tomatoes and parsley and mix through.
Step thirteen: cover the frying pan, smash a few more whiskies, snort another line of Sudafed, send a message you’ll regret in the morning, smoke a spliff and pass out.
Step fourteen: wake up at 3am, check your sent messages for potential legal problems (death threats etc.), drink some fizzy water and heat up a serve of the spicy chicken cous cous.
Step fifteen: enjoy your homemade meal in bed, while watching Ray Donovan, smash another couple of whiskies and call a mate in a different time zone.
Step sixteen: repeat steps one to fifteen ad infinitum.
See, a simple 16 step guide to feeding yourself and assuring the kind of death George Michael experienced because he quite simply gave up, a bit like Paula Yates. However, you never heard them complaining about washing up.
For more information about other quick recipes, please contact me in hell, or as Alfie Solomons in Peaky Blinders calls it, Margate.
“If you can hear me, open your eyes,” the voice says as I come to with a sharp breath. My head is spinning, lying here on this bed in a room that immediately fills me with the frustration of not knowing where I am. Everything hurts. The woman tells me that she managed to get me back into the car before we escaped.
I glance over my arms to see bandages and gauze blotted with seeping blood. My cheek is swollen too. She tells me not to move. I’m breathing heavily and my eyes begin to dart. “Breathe”, she says, “breathe”. It’s happening again but I know it’ll pass. I don’t know what’s happened to me this time. All I can remember are glimpses of my former life, a house, a job, an existence that was somehow leading me to this point now with the outline of a woman I don’t know telling me to take it easy. It gets worse and my eyes squeeze themselves shut. A few other memories flash in front of me before my breathing starts to slow. A few more breaths and then it passes.
“You’re safe,” she says, but I want to know where I am. “In my house,” she answers. “No one knows we’re here.”
I try to get up to get to the window, but she raises a hand.
“We’re well off the track. No one can see us for miles. It’s thick bush out there. We’re safe.”
I lie back down. She stares at me for a moment and moves to touch the bandage on my arm but I pull back. I look at her in a way I’m not used to.
She tells me that she doesn’t know much about me. I don’t answer. I killed my best friend not so long ago.
She’s removed my boots, which I don’t like, and I fumble to put them back on. She tries to stop me, but I react. This bothers me because I used to be a different person. I tell her I’m sorry, I’d just like to put them back on. I don’t lie down again, but I thank her anyway.
I can see a dim light squinting through the blind. It’s either early morning or late afternoon. I ask her if she has any food and she hands me a tin of beans. I’m careful to not eat any more than half for now. I can see she notices.
“Do you have any family?” She asks.
I tell her no.
She’s silent, thinking something over. “We were building this house together,” she says, “when it happened.”
I nod a few times.
“I was a school teacher. I used to love my job.” She has dirty hands and she wrings them. She adds that she doesn’t like seeing kids treated that way. She says she’s not happy with herself that she had to leave them like that, but everyone has had to let go of everything normal.
Before this everyone liked to think that they’d always do the right thing. Everyone worked so hard to find meaning, to live a life that would seem complete, to be noticed, to be respected, to be taken seriously, to be liked and loved. But most of those people are dead now, with nothing left behind but a memory.
It’s easy to think you’re one of the good guys if you’ve never been challenged, but with a gun at your head you’ll find out pretty quickly where your strengths lie. The blood and guts wash away, but that moment will stay with you forever.
I’ve lost touch with who I used to be.
I realise the woman and I have been staring at each other in silence. She barely flinches when she hears the car approaching in the distance. I keep looking at her until eventually, she says that we were followed.
I’m already halfway to the door when I tell her she needs to come with me. But she doesn’t move. Her voice is shaky when she says, “Maybe they’ll reconsider.” As I exit the door I catch one last look. I see her slowly turn her head to the sound of the car and then I’m gone.
They pursue me for three days. I don’t stop running. I take them through the thick bush, into the hills where they can’t follow me by car. It rains one day, thunderstorms the next but they stay close. I can hear them moving at night and it scares me.
By the third day I need to stop. I find myself on the edge of a cliff where I prop myself down against a tree. They’re behind me somewhere but I haven’t heard them in a long while. I don’t know if it’s over yet or not. The wind on my face calms me. It’s strangely peaceful.
I stare out over the cliff, emptiness and beauty, loneliness, and hope. I start to drift off and I let it happen. Wind and trees. Another time in my life long ago.
When I feel something touch my face I don’t have the energy to jump. I open my eyes to see a dog sniffing my cuts. I brush his snout with the back of my hand. Good boy. I had one just like him. Slowly he sits down next to me and together we watch the sunrise.
Cam’s a very good friend of mine and a great writer. He has a dog called Mickey and he gets up at 04:30 every morning to run 37 kms. Cam’s strength of character is an inspiration to me. One day he hopes to have a Peregrine Falcon, called Patrice Mersault.
It’s been an odd few months. I quit my job, woke up into a new world after a four-week drinking session, swapped red wine for stout, spent a lot of time on my own thinking about stuff and now, two significant people in my life have found significant others in a post-apocalypse landscape of hope and uncertainty.
Significant person 1: Can’t go for a walk, having breakfast with the dude from next door.
Significant person 2: I had a date last night, he works in tiger conservation!
I got both messages within the same half-hour. The first one while I was having a Poogle and the second as I had my first sip of coffee today on my terrace in the sun.
So, for the first time in years, I’m on my own and I’m kind of sad and excited at the same time. These seismic shifts in life offer us the opportunity to move on and that’s exactly what I’m going to do. The old me would have bought three bottles of cheap wine, got self-indulgently drunk, and listened to Joy Division on the terrace until I passed out on my cacti. Cacti, you are safe.
I have self-indulgent tendencies. Bad ones. Ugly ones. Ones that become crazy monsters in the dark. I can drink an entire bottle of whisky and stare at the floor for hours and hours. Like when my ex left me in 2005 and I came home to an empty house and a note. I went straight out, bought a bottle of whisky, put OK Computer on and stared at the floor until the sun rose into an empty house on Rose Street. I showered, didn’t shave, didn’t pray for my sins, and went to work, where I lost my temper and threatened a co-worker with a hammer. I got sacked, went home via a whisky purchase and put OK Computer back on. Repeat, repeat, repeat, fucking repeat ad infinitum.
But I’m getting self-indulgent again. I need to avoid that state of mind or I’ll wind up back at the Sisyphean drawing board with an Albatross around my neck. I talk to my therapist about the Albatross a lot, it’s a strong theme in our sessions. She’s become the wedding guest that I’ve stopped in the street to tell my story. She has the face of an angel and this uncanny ability to deconstruct my bullshit and throw it back at me like a chimp in a zoo. Sometimes during our sessions, I stop breathing and she tells me to breathe. I like that. I’m not in love with her. She’s a lifeline, end of story. Let’s move on …
But what’s next for this tarnished jester who “struts and frets his hour upon the stage?” Now, this could be an opportunity to be a sad self-indulgent twat. No. Never. I’m taking the bull by the horns and driving that beast into the land of milk and honey. I’m going to build a beach bar in Samoa with my bare hands and “give up the booze and the one-night stands, then I’ll settle down in some quiet little town and forget about everything. Full of sound and fury, signifying” something.
And to my significant people who have moved onto significant others. Dance on. Be happy. Please call me sometimes. I’d like that.
NB. Anything with quotation marks is by Shakespeare and Gerry Rafferty. I can’t work out how to do footnotes in WordPress.
Photo compliments of Nadine Ross
The taxi ride home from the civil court was civil. Emma sat in silence, wringing her hands while I stared out the window at homes, I would never live in. It was my second trip to the civil court in six months and I vowed never to return. But when you’ve just taken restraining orders out on each other, a trip to the civil court is in order. Three months in jail if we’re caught together. Three months of Dostoevsky and sexual enslavement. Emma picked a piece of loose skin off her thumb and flicked it out the taxi window. Sometimes she’s so beautiful I can’t look at her.
Back at our house, I poured us both a large vodka and soda with ice and real lime. Emma retreated to the backyard for a smoke. We had rats. One of them had eaten an entire tube of Berocca and I imagined him freaking out in the walls doing chin-ups ‘til, he collapsed and puked his rat guts all over the plumbing. When I was a kid, we used to wrap rats in electricians’ tape and throw them off my mate’s 6th-floor council flat balcony. He’s now a famous parasitologist in America and he denied my friend request on Facebook because we grew apart and he’s ashamed of what he did. People do that.
I went out the back to join Emma. She was crying again. The first time I saw her crying was on a bench next to a drive-through bottle shop. We’d been together for two weeks after meeting in a writing class called Writing through trauma. She was crying because she’d dropped the bottle of gin we’d just bought. I wasn’t that bothered because the bottle shop was still open. I asked her why she was so upset, and she said something about a guy called Liam and a trip to Sydney. She was incoherent, so I bought another bottle of gin and called a taxi. Always taxis with us.
This time, as I went into the backyard, I knew why she’d been crying. It was my fault. Her cigarette butt was covered in red lipstick. Emma reminded me of the women I worked with at the Royal Hotel when I was fifteen. They all smoked cigarettes in the kitchen and left lipstick marks on cigarette butts and glasses. I find it reassuring, like the click of pool balls or heavy traffic when I’m trying to get to sleep. I sat next to her and put my hand on her right shoulder. Emma would never survive in this world if she stopped being a victim.
Later that night we watched House of 1,000 Corpses. We were drunk by this stage and used the film to avoid talking.
Teddy’s love muscle
Emma used her teddy bear’s nose to masturbate. She’d been doing it for years, but the bear’s nose was ok. I’d been suffering from acute psoriatic arthritis, so I was glad the bear was around to fill in the gaps. The bear was threadbare, and ochre and his eyes looked like they’d witnessed a genocide or two. I was never surprised by the bear’s sexual function because that’s the way Emma had always been. Idiosyncratically tragic. She was consumed by psychoanalytical interpretations of fairy tales and I was the limping, well-read thug. Every week her mother rang to plead with her to break up with me. Emma called her Mummy and promised to break up with me, but it only brought us closer together. I asked Emma why she didn’t follow her mother’s weekly wish. She told me that her mother was lonely and out to get her.
I came into the bedroom to find Emma in bed, eyes closed, knees up and Teddy’s nose gliding up and down her rock-hard clitoris. I was holding two cups of Lady Grey tea. She opened her eyes and told me that she and Teddy had already started and that I should join them immediately. I put down the teas and explained that my arthritis was painful and that I would not be joining in tonight, but I’d be back in the saddle in the morning after the anti-inflammatories had kicked in. She closed her eyes and kept rubbing Teddy’s nose into her clit.
I got into bed and picked up my book.
Emma had a little white fluffy dog who she loved more than me. His name was Snuffy, and he had a red collar. I used to take Snuffy to work. The dog adored Emma to the point of morbid obsession. He used to frame me for things I didn’t do, like broken glasses and piss on the bathroom floor. I’m a very careful urinator. Snuffy also had a dubious relationship with Teddy. The two had co-existed on Emma’s bed for eight years without incident. Snuffy was like the friend who’s giving and compassionate when it’s one-on-one but turns into a prick when other people are around. He reminded me of myself. The relationship was harmonious.
We were drunk again watching more TV to avoid more pressing issues. Drinking and TV are a wonderful combination for the couple who are not meant to be together anymore. My own parents have based their entire relationship on this ritual, and I have a feeling that Emma’s parents followed the same guidebook, locked into their mud-brick fantasy on the hill, a cigarette burning in the breezeway.
Snuffy had been gone a long time. I assumed he’d gone outside to do a quick perimeter recon or stepped into the bathroom to set me up for a fall. After some time had elapsed and Emma was nodding off on her Chesterfield, I got up to have a look for him. I checked the backyard. The toilet. The side of the house. The spare room. I even tried calling his name and shaking his chain but to no avail.
I walked down the corridor, the big red door getting more and more Jack Nicholson.
I opened our bedroom door. Darkness. I switched on the main light. Snuffy the dog wonder had chewed Teddy’s face-off, leaving only the precious nose, which he was now attempting to extract from Teddy’s mutilated face. I shouted at him and he stopped and stared at me like I was interrupting an ancient sacred ritual, foam, and splinters of wood smeared around his mouth.
I shall fear no evil, for I am an evil motherfucker
Emma insisted that her ex-boyfriend take Teddy to the doll hospital to have his face sewn back on. His name was David and he lacked social skills. Emma liked to keep him around to perform tasks like this. He was her plan B.
‘Let me present, FISH BOY!’
Work had been hectic. I’d taken on too much again, mainly to avoid thinking about my life. Work, TV, and drinking were my salvation. If they’d been taken away, I’d have stripped naked and plunged a screwdriver into a tram driver’s neck. I sometimes pictured myself after killing the tram driver, crouched on a seat like a psychopathic Puck, knife in one hand, erection in the other and probably fantasizing about Monica Bellucci in Irreversible. I spend so much time keeping my shit together by imposing banality into my routine. One sniff of freedom and I’d be famous for at least two weeks.
When I arrived home, I could hear loud, forlorn music from the 80s. I opened the door and the noise shifted the skin on my forehead, slightly to left and maybe half an inch upwards. Emma was standing in the middle of the lounge room swaying with a glass of red. I shouted her name. I turned off the music. Nothing.
Over dinner Emma abruptly stopped eating and told me that the best thing ever had happened today. That today was the best day of her life. She told me to go to the bedroom. My arthritis had cleared up, so I was hoping this meant we’d fuck like normal on a Wednesday night in the most livable city on earth. I left her staring at her last piece of steak and went to the bedroom.
I have seen some fucked up stuff in my life. It all started when I pulled a nail out of Douglas Boag’s foot and blood sprayed all over my neck. Or when I shot a raven, smashed it with a brick and its guts flowed from its arse and into my face.
Teddy was back. He was sat against the double pillows on Emma’s favourite white Egyptian linen. His face had been sown on again but it was lopsided, like a victim of Bell’s Palsy or that Teddy had murdered another Teddy, carved its face off, and attached it to his own as a vehicle for poetry.
My breath was trapped in my throat. The only part of Teddy that was still part of Teddy was his nose. That round black marble surface, glinting under the chandelier. The piece of Emma’s childhood that allowed orgasms to flow through time, colliding with atoms and nova stars and airborne disease. The best part intact. I removed my clothes.