“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.
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.
It was pretty much as I expected. When the apocalypse came he was a liability …
And when things got bad, he came to me because I was his friend. He trusted me. I’d always looked out for him I suppose. When you’ve already had experiences together you get a good sense of what they’ll be like, whether they’ll panic, stand their ground or run away maybe. Whether they’ll do the right thing or take care of themselves. The coward’s way or the right way.
He knew me pretty well in that sense. But soon we were playing by different rules and he just wasn’t cut out for what was to follow.
We spent the first wave at my place. It was still busy and there was lots of confusion. It wasn’t too dangerous back then. He showed up on my doorstep with a backpack, a torch and a box full of canned food. I could see there was a part of him that thought this would be an adventure, but I knew better than him, and that’s why I was worried. Keep away from the windows, I told him, and never leave the door unlocked. Not even for a second. Not even if you take only five steps outside.
But the writing was already on the wall. He wasn’t cut out for it and he was going to cause problems.
When the second wave came we had to leave town. The killing had begun and it was too dangerous to stay put. We moved only by the night, sleeping whenever we could during the day. He was already starting to struggle then. Weight loss, sleep deprivation and threats of ambush. The first man I killed only got near us because he fell asleep during his watch. I told him not to fall asleep. Never fall asleep during your watch.
Sorry, he told me, I’m so sorry, I only closed my eyes for a moment.
It wasn’t long before he became desperate and brought a group of survivors to our camp. He wanted food and they had some but you can’t trust people anymore the way you used to. I stayed calm and let them sit down. They told us how they’ve been moving about, not staying in any one place for too long.
Yeah, I said, looking them over. I tried to press them for some answers of where they’d been but they wouldn’t tell me.
“Just around,” they said, and I nodded back. Before long they took what we had and tried to kill us.
“You can’t do that,” I told him afterwards, “Not even if they look like good people.”
He just cried and said he was hungry, but now we had to move on. I was angry at him for that. Everyone is scared of what’s out there but the real danger comes from within. People aren’t good when they’re confronted. I was tired of being the one to pick up the pieces and I was tired of being right all the time.
We walked for days. We’d hear gunshots, distant screams, a car revving somewhere and then silence. We came across a plane wreckage, we saw a house burning on the horizon, signs of muted horror we’d never know.
We’d both lost things since it happened. I know I can keep going, but it will get worse. No one gets to live like this and keep on being the person they wanted to be; or thought they once were.
Three more times we came across survivors and each time we had to fight, the first two as night ambushes, the third when he let slip that we knew of a nearby stash of military rations.
The writing had been on the wall for a long time. We’d find bodies hanging from trees or lampposts and he would just look at me silently.
I said goodbye to him in my own way, and then I let it happen. I looked out to the distance and held on as tight as I could. It was over quickly.
There are no more barriers to cross. I’m a passenger in my own body now. But I’m glad it was me who did it and not one of the others. I wouldn’t want him to go that way.
I’m alone now, and I’m a different person, but somewhere down there I still exist. My purpose is survival but it brings no or less meaning than it did before. The hunger distracts me from the danger, the pain numbs the loneliness. And the sky still turns blue from time to time.
Perhaps people will come across the scene at the top of that hill and maybe think of what happened there that day. But they’ll be busy fighting their own battles which I will never know. And I know mine is no more important.
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. Cam’s strength of character is an inspiration to me. One day he hopes to have a Peregrine Falcon.
A good kicking on the way home from the pub, by the hobo chic quartet (excerpt from a novel – The exit line)
I’m being repeatedly kicked in the ribs by four pairs of feet. I can feel blood pouring out of my mouth. It’s pissing down with rain. I remember people telling me you stop feeling anything after a while when you’re being beaten up, and I thought they were talking shite. They’re right.
For some inexplicable reason, I have the song My Old Man’s a Dustman going through my head. I wonder when they’re going to stop. It feels like they’ve been kicking me for such a long time. I’m going to be a right mess in the end. Cindy’s being held back by two women. She’s screaming her head off. A good lass that one, probably the best woman I’ve ever met.
I really hope I live through this because I want to spend more time with her. Come on fuckheads, finish up and let me bleed on the pavement while Cindy holds my head up and tells me she loves me. That’s my cue to be all debonair and smile, then tell her that everything’s going to be alright. Deep down I’ve always been a gentleman.
Stuart’s final words to me as they finally stand back are, ‘That’s what you get when you mess with us’. What an idiot, he’s stolen lyrics from the chorus of Karma Police by Radiohead. The irony is mind-blowing. They walk down the street and I roll over onto my side and moan very loudly.
I’m really fucked up. Cindy’s immediately by my side holding my head up and kissing me on the cheek. The rain’s stopped. I don’t want the rain to stop; it feels more cinematic that way. Somebody’s shouting, ‘Fuck you, you Pommy cunt!’ I think every one of my ribs is broken. I haven’t lost any teeth, which is a total result because dentistry is expensive in Australia.
Cindy’s crying really loudly and swearing. I tell her everything’s going to be alright. My heart rate’s quickening, I can’t fucking breathe. Cindy’s stroking my head. I’m going to pass out.
Dark red vapour trails wandered across the after-work sky. The yard was dry for a change and the glasshouse looked like a gigantic Fox’s Glacier Mint, under the pale blue sky. We all left the factory together for a change, slagging each other off, as we traversed the yard to our caravans.
‘Hey Billy!’ said Pat, ‘Get a fucken spliff rolled now!’
‘Whoooaaaaaaaaaah!’ replied Billy, ‘We’re gonna get a ride tonight lads.’
‘In yer dreams’, said Ger as he jumped onto my shoulders, spilling cigarette ash on my hair.
‘Get off ya fat cunt ya’, I said, straining, as my knees buckled.
Even Shaine looked happy with himself, holding his head up, cigarette dangling by his left side. Jerry was chanting his ‘hey jiggy, jiggy’ mantra, high on the prospect of a long drink with Harry down at the Hookie Bar, surrounded by an abundance of young, unattainable women. Michael was silent as we walked, planning his weekend foray into the red-light district of Amsterdam.
Liam broke free from the pack and ran towards the football that lived in the gutter.
‘Come on lads!’ He said, ‘I’ll go, goalie.’
‘Not a chance, Liam’, replied Pat. ‘It’s spliff time. Isn’t that right Billy boy? Eh? A three-papery fucker, with three grams of Special Skunk and just a sprinkling of that Afghan.…Shit lads, look at those fuckin vapour trails. Fucken mad shite! Hey Lachlan, you get into all that nature crap. Have a look at the sky.’
‘I know’, I said, staring up at the sky. ‘I fucken love those things.’
Huge, ragged, bloody gashes lay across the sky. A fine blend of natural sunlight and good old-fashioned pollution. The rest of the lads looked up and passed the appropriate ‘isn’t the sky wonderful’ comments, before lowering their heads again and then directing their vision towards Ger, as he bounced out of his caravan with a pile of tell-tale glossy magazines.
‘Wha, ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha’, he said. ‘Look what I picked up at the Aldi last night, while ye were all buying bog roll and cans ah beans.’
Ger bounded over with a pile of Russian porno mags, showing women in various public service uniforms, looking bored and sultry. Cold war knock-offs from the 70s. Meanwhile, Billy plucked, as if by magic, a three papery spliff from the interior pocket of his company issue body warmer and toasted the correct end with a battered Hell’s Angels Zippo lighter. We stood in a circle, waiting for either a toke or a visual poke, while conversation and smart-arsed comments spiralled up into the sky and joined the aerodynamic works of art.
For the first time in seven weeks, we stood together as a cohesive group without the threat of verbal violence. I hadn’t felt so good in years. It was like being back at school again with all my old mates. That empowering feeling of us against the world, before the world kicks you in the bollocks and laughs in your face. A faint glimpse of what things should be like between people, no bullshit, no lies, no hate, no promises, just a sense of need for one another, without the usual emotional VAT. I loved them all and cursed myself for slighting them in the past. A plane moved slowly above our heads, creating fresh vapour trails. For once I didn’t long to be on it, eating over-cooked broccoli from a rectangular plastic container and sipping gin from a ribbed plastic cup. Things were ok for a change and I was willing to go with the new flow, no matter where it ended up stagnating.
I thought about my girlfriend. She’d be home from work by now, feet up on the sofa, drinking coffee from one of our mugs. I needed to write to her more often and tell her what was going through my mind, tell her that I loved her even though the music hadn’t been obvious enough. The music had always been so important. She asleep, or pretending to be asleep, while I sat on the edge of the bed, half-pissed and passionate from the fingers up, my guitar wide awake on my right knee. I knew she’d be wondering what was going on, wondering why I hadn’t written every week like I’d promised that morning in the Stella Maris Hostel, the morning before I left to catch a bus to Holland from Innis. But we all promise to write every week at some point in our lives. It’s like some inevitable cliché that snatches the reason from our tongues when we can’t think of the right thing to say at the moment of departure. A stupid promise that ends up on the pile of promises that promises to sail us away to the easy way out of a difficult goodbye. Goodbye good intentions, hello spineless fucker, your time is up, row back in please, we’re all eagerly awaiting your next line of bullshit. But I couldn’t allow my shallow conscience to destroy this moment of clarity because the band, as it should always do, must play on.
I’ve always had a bad track record with relationships. I don’t know where it started or how it got so bad but it’s always been that way. Or so it seemed to be. There’s a moment in everybody’s life when something decisive happens, and it changes us forever. Whether the change is for better, or for worse, it’s a turning point that we take to the grave.
I was talking to a friend of mine about relationships and he said he’d only ever had one relationship in his life, and I got the impression that this made him feel less experienced than me. I looked at him and envied his inexperience because if relationships have taught me anything, it’s that people turn into toxic beasts during a difficult break-up. My soul would be stronger without those memories.
When love transmogrifies into repulsion, you lose a part of yourself. I lost a part of myself a few years ago when I took my eye off the ball and made a terrible mistake. Some people call it the ‘Magpie Syndrome’, that shallow pull towards shiny objects. And the problem with shiny objects is that they often lack depth, so once you’ve rolled them in your hand and seen yourself reflected in them, you’re faced with a difficult decision. I made the wrong decision, and the shiny object wormed its way into my soul.
She was a shallow, soulless person with no internal fortitude. An emotional leech obsessed with consumerism, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, and she truly believed that mascara is a god given right. Add a dash of designer goods and you had the perfect recipe for mindless narcissism. Needless to say, I learned a lesson in true beauty and saw that a coy smile and cutesy shoulders that shrug on cue, hide nothing but a brittle husk.
So what the fuck does that say about me? Nothing good. And that’s because I’m the bad guy in this story, not the so-called narcissist, she’s just a foil for my villainous shite. If I met me in the street now, I’d break my nose for being a moron, and tell me to be out of town by noon.
But it’s what I left behind that’s the greatest tragedy in this story and makes me a despicable villain. She’s the opposite of the leech and me. She’s the most beautiful and caring person I’ve ever met in my life and I hurt her to the very core because I saw a shiny object, and was hypnotised by my own reflection. I remember walking down the street and she called me and told me she’d had to clear all of my stuff out of her flat because she found it physically painful to think about what had happened. I’ve never experienced that kind of pain and I can only imagine how awful it must feel.
So, this is my apology to you. The words of a fool who’s led a frivolous life and is willing to sacrifice everything, to let you know I’ve changed and I regret everything.
Our Creative Director, Jesse Kingsley, used to be a pool attendant in the 90s. He talks fondly of the position; halcyon days, simpler times, all sprayed with chlorinated water and discount confectionary from the pool kiosk.
The other day, I was having lunch at my desk, when Jesse came up to me and said: “Gary Sweet was my swimming teacher”. I lifted my head up from an exquisitely baked chicken pie and told him that I once had a parking altercation with the lead singer of Dexys Midnight Runners. A weird stalemate developed where neither of us knew which story was better. That’s when our Head of Business Development chimed in with a story about dating Sting’s cousin’s daughter.
Later that day, Jesse wondered if Gary would remember him if they ever met on the street. I asked Jesse if he’d done anything out of the ordinary during the swimming lessons, and he said no, he hadn’t. But then he smiled and said: “Yes he would remember me! Because back then, my last name was Beaver!”
Brian Cho sits behind me at work, and calls himself The Brian. He’s the kind of person who strolls into meetings he’s not invited to and contributes like he’s organised the meeting, while everyone else sits there, too polite to say anything.
The other day, I was having lunch at my desk, when The Brian swivelled around on his chair and said: “Callum, I got your email about looking at your friend’s website and I wanted to know more about your relationship with her. What does she mean to you?” I told him she’s one of my closest friends on the planet. To this, The Brian replied: “Then I will make sure I give it my complete attention”.
When I gave my friend The Brian’s feedback, I told her what he’d said, and she teared up and said: “What a lovely man, he must be great to work with”. I nodded, took a sip of my drink and ordered a tin of sardines.
was bat shit crazy
his wife was a jehovah’s witness
loud, white haired: thief beater
me one question:
‘what’s in the bag?’
and his wife,
at night the cabin boy hid in the shadows
they told me
was going to a school for
where there were
sat on the edge
of single figures
no chocolate biscuits?
no fizzy drinks?
this was my first deal breaker
put down the
went to bed.
I had captain pugwash wallpaper to look at
hill primary blues
as the bad Andrew
in the other class
bad person/boy/pestiferous fumarole
spit on another boy’s back
he grew up to be
with good taste