May 27, 2014 § Leave a comment
by Conrad Babayaro
May 8, 2013
IT BEGAN WITH A MISSING PERSON’S REPORT TO THE GANTON-TURSERVILLE DISTRICT POLICE, something Perry Doer would never have dreamed himself being at the centre of.
Eadie Furrows, she who came forward, wondered about the whereabouts of her next-door neighbour, the aforementioned Perry Doer, a fellow resident of low-cost Banskia Mews in east Ganton, unseen for weeks by the time the report was lodged; days shy of a month really. She and Mr Doer weren’t achingly close or chummy in any sense of the word, but they saw enough of each other to expect to see each other often and with little fail. Fleetingly, yes; awkwardly even, but often.
She also had a favour to ask of him, soon.
“What was the name again?” said the lady at the desk who did not look like a cop but was in fact a cop, a senior sergeant; Snr. Sgt. E.B. Dell.
“Perry…?” Eadie asked herself, asked the lady, asked the universe, wondering how it was that she could not state with any certainty what she felt so certain was his name, no, knew to be. The lady’s eyes pressed for more: a last name, a middle name, an initial, anything.
“I had nothing, only Perry — that was all I’d bothered to know. I just stared like a moron at the receptionist lady [sic]. She had a look on her that was like, you couldn’t come up with a more creative way to waste my time, sweetie?”
Yet seeing the speckle of urgency in Eadie’s manner convinced Snr. Sgt. Dell, despite a creeping tension headache, to ensue with a standard stream of police questioning: did Eadie have a photograph of the missing? No, they weren’t nearly that close. When and where did she last see the missing? A little over three weeks ago, in a stairwell. At Banksia Mews? Yes, at Banksia Mews. When did she last hear from the missing? A little over three weeks ago, in the stairwell — he didn’t say much. Any particular place or places the missing might visit? No idea. Did the missing have any medical conditions or require any regular medications? Wow. Wouldn’t have a clue. Any friends or contacts the missing associates with or might associate with?
“She shrugged, pouted her lips, shook her head. I was tempted to ask why she even cared,” Dell recalls. “I think I was even tempted to tell her to eff off, stop wasting my effing time — I had such a headache.” She reconsiders. “Maybe I did.”
Eadie nonetheless insisted that she could provide an accurate identikit of this fellow Perry, which so goes: tall (over six foot) with a very lean build; skin, a dusty, even, unblemished gray; long neck with a prominent apple; close cropped hair of the negroid persuasion; cheekbones high but blunt; apologetic brows roofing the blackest brown eyes; a gaping doorway between his two front incisors; full brown lips of equal size, often dry; something attempting to be a moustache rimming his top slightly pinker lip — otherwise, he is clean shaven; and of all things, an aquiline nose, broken. He has small, low set ears on either side of his head, free-lobed, and a strong, masculine chin — a jaw. Not the most or second-most handsome face by any means, but a strangely pleasant one.
“Oh, and frown lines,” says Eadie, as though she’s only just remembered, no, realised.
“It wasn’t an unpleasant face as it turned out,” recalls Vin Campesino, police sketch artist, nodding. “Yeah, very non-threatening. Forgettable. Something about it was vaguely familiar though. I was sure I’d seen it before. ”
When Campesino casually questioned Eadie regarding her relationship with the missing (was he a loved one, so on, etcetera) she stated that he was just a neighbour albeit one she quite liked, and that she had a civic duty to report his noticeable absence to the relevant authorities. In truth, a truth she could not bring herself to air to the police, she had only knocked on the door to Perry’s flat five days that week on account of her dog, Karl, an aging white-haired Puli who needed baby-sitting.
KARL, A FRANTIC WET MOP OF A POOCH, SEEMS TO HOVER GIDDILY OVER THE LIVING ROOM RUG, letting off little Morse code yaps here and there, suspicious of my shoes yet curious of their scent. Eadie tickles the back of his ear and then shoos him away, looks around her flat, and kneads her hands with a pathos one can’t quite get a handle on. And then Karl is back again, yapping.
“I didn’t want to come off like a selfish, dog-obsessed bitch. I genuinely did wonder where he was, you know, not just for my sake. I mean, you live next to someone for some time, they become part of your — I don’t know — your normalness; your normality? Yeah, sure, it was a little bit about me I guess, but it was definitely about him too.”
What Eadie failed to tell the sergeant and the sketch artist was that, as had been the case on numerous occasions, she wished to leave Karl in the care of Perry while she spent a few days out of town in the coming weeks, reasons for which varied from year to year, some years being writers’ festivals, professional-development workshops (she is a defected bookkeeper), weddings, wakes; other years family get-togethers, school reunions; in the latest instance, some kind of women’s retreat. Eadie always gave fair warning and he always agreed, “as though he couldn’t not.” She was inclined to consider theirs a symbiotic arrangement, but one might call it more a form of commensalism.
A few days passed and Perry persisted in being a no-show, and Eadie still hadn’t a contingency plan regarding Karl should Perry’s reappearance have become indefinite and up in the air.
“I always take siesta,” says Eadie, “don’t ask why. I was taking siesta after lunch and the phone almost rang itself off the receiver, so I rushed over to it all sleepy and it was some lady from the missing persons unit, but not the one I’d spoken to when I was there, at least it didn’t sound like her.”
Ruth Paisi was an intern at the unit and this was one of her first solo deliverances of unsavoury news, over the phone, “which I thought was heartless. At least let her come in to the station in person. I asked her if she was Eadie Furrows, which she was, and if she’d filed a missing person’s report regarding a Perry Doer, which she had.”
“Hearing his last name made me sort of well up,” Eadie says. She has a moment. “Anyway –”
Ruth then proceeded to inform Eadie that Perry was deceased. That he had been involved in an accident roughly three and a half weeks before, run down by a newspaper truck careening through the streets in the wee hours of a Tuesday morning. He was dead on impact. Body had been unclaimed, stowed in the city morgue and later incinerated. It might have ended up in an anatomy lab had the skull bones not been so thoroughly splintered, had it not been a coroner’s case (as are all road fatalities). Perry might have at least been useful in his demise.
Both ladies recall a shrieking silence at the other end of the line punctuated by the odd intake of breath, and closer to home an unease much less bearable, right where they were, where they sat so very still, clutching their phones to their heads.
Eadie couldn’t cry. Crying didn’t make any sense, as though she hadn’t any right to. Her mind was a fog, visibility zero. She was clueless as to where her responsibilities lay with regards to Perry, his remains, his personal effects — the artefacts of his existence, and those by whom he was survived if in fact he was survived by anyone. Legal matters had always raised her pressure, made her fidget, even though she was no more than an acquaintance of Perry’s and no more responsible for him than the street vendor from whom he habitually purchased freshly-pressed waffles.
Wasn’t this the kind of thing that happened to strays, Eadie wondered, dabbing at dry eyes with Kleenexes as though this might inspire them to seep. To die and be scraped off the streets and thrown into a fire? An odd sense of complicity held her captive for some time and she felt driven — compelled — to atone.
“I’m a keen blogger, have been for a year or so,” she says. “I felt as though I owed him a tribute, and an apology for not knowing his last name. I thought I might do a post; say a few words about him, like an online eulogy, a eulogy blog.” A eublogy? “He was the sweetest man; boiled but sweet. He was a — how would you say it — a gentle soul, really gentle, like one of those monks. He didn’t say much, I don’t know why. Maybe he was shy.” She cocks her head in reconsideration. “He didn’t seem that shy; just kept very much to himself. Wouldn’t mind you telling him your whole life story, but wouldn’t so much as tell you whether his day had been okay or not so okay. He was always up to nothing. Nothing much was ever up with him.”
OUR INTERNET IS LIKE A SEWAGE SYSTEM PULSING WITH EVERYTHING IMAGINABLE. FLOATING AMONGST THIS MUCH, of course, are gems and masterpieces of the information era, dynamic, intelligent discourses on politics, science, arts and culture, big business and bigger personalities, this thing the economy, sports, life in the public sphere and all things plebeian, and those beloved Bushisms; there are our watering-holes of knowledge that render our world ever more so a village, yet one progressive and informed. There are these. Then there are the thousands upon thousands of opinionated, well-meaning folk who publish their thoughts and whims in blog form, freely available to whoever might fancy a wander through. The likelihood of being heard, of having a hit, varies. Who knows: perhaps it comes down to nothing more than mere luck. But there clearly is some skill to it, some knack. This is generally understood.
Furrowed Brows is Eadie’s baby, a blog she has maintained for some months, on which she routinely deposits nuggets of amateur social commentary. Much of it is quite readable. Some of it has valid points to make as evidenced by the thoughtful comments she receives, forgiving their grammatical shoddiness and rickety spelling. But most of it is unseen as she has very few subscribers and nary a promotional bone in her being. Consequently, it remains very much a private journal.
So when she laid down a few words in memory of Perry it was no surprise that no one seemed to care by way of simply not knowing. It was at this point that Eadie’s guilt sparked in her a sort of guerrilla creativity.
PETER RICHARDS WALKS BY THE OLD, BOARDED UP REVIVALIST CHURCH ON PENNANT STREET EVERY MORNING, on his way to the Pennant Street bus stop where he waits for the bus to work. outside the church is a large notice board that once sported posters with slogans such as “Don’t let Christians put you off Christianity” and “You think Jesus holds onto your sins? Take a look at his hands”. When the congregation packed up and moved to snazzier premises the board became public property and fell victim to people selling puppies, students wanting roomies (read: fuckbuddies), nightclub party promo, a thousand and one indie bands playing at the local pub, neo-communist clarion calls and flyers insisting that you “VOTE DENNIS CURTIZ”. There is no courtesy amongst people who use this board. Things are pasted over things, things are scrawled over with crayon and sprayed over with spray paint, things are torn down for the heck of it. It’s a fight just to be seen.
“I never take notice of it,” says Peter about the board. “I never took notice of it when it was about God and I didn’t take notice now that it was about rock and roll. And raves. I just walk by and stand and wait for my ride.”
Peter Richards works in Water and Sanitation and puts in his nine to five, and like most ordinary folk he has developed a way of engaging with the world and its inhabitants, at arm’s length so as not to rouse its underlying viciousness. He is perfectly content riding the 442 into the city with the same people, day after day, getting off at the same stop as them, walking down the same stretch of sidewalk to the same coffee cart and sipping from the same type of cup. And he won’t know their names or what line of work they are in. And it won’t bother him. And it didn’t.
“It didn’t. Why should it have? I had my own life and they had theirs.”
He shrugs. He means it.
Weekly meetings are held on Thursday mornings at the office. It was sometime past eight and Peter was half-jogging to the stop when he came to a halt in front of the old, boarded up church. Something on the notice board had stolen his eyes’ attention.
“I remember thinking to myself, I know that man,” Peter recalls. “I must have stood there a full minute – people were already queuing alongside the bus, taking out their passes. I knew I should get going but I wanted to know why this face meant something to me.”
There it was. Vin Campesino’s imperfect but precise greyscale representation of Perry Doer stared at the passing public, its starkness standing out from the spastic papier-mâché mess surrounding it. It was black on a plain white background. The words ‘HAVE YOU SEEN THIS MAN?’ hung like a manifesto above his head. Underneath, in slightly smaller font, it read: IF NOT, GO TO furrowedbrows.blogspot.com.
No number, no police contact, just a blog.
If Peter had ever been hook-line-and-sinker, he no longer was. He had no patience for juvenile silliness, so he went on his way. Decided to think no more of it. But that face…
It was at work, in his spacious-enough cubicle, that Peter realised. He felt like he’d just free-fallen ten metres.
The same thing would happen to almost a dozen people over the next couple of weeks. But back to Peter for the time being: “Three months earlier my wife had walked out on me,” he says. “She didn’t fight for the house, not for anything. Didn’t once raise her voice or blame me or hold me accountable for anything. All she wanted was out. Said she’d decided to wait for our youngest daughter to leave home before she came clean. Like it would hurt her any less. It was clear that she was seeing someone else; that she must have been for some time. And it killed me.”
Peter spent weeks holding back tears. But in his line of work this doesn’t matter. Anonymity is such that even a severe flaky skin disease might have gone unnoticed for some time. Funnily, this applies to the wider world just as much even though, to the grieving man, everyone’s eyes are watching. Add to this the fact that standing in line, waiting for the bus to work, only magnified his self-pity.
“I was trying to keep it together, make sure my look wasn’t any more miserable than anybody else’s.”
Not that anyone would have cared. Anyone besides Perry, who wound his neck round to look at the man to his left, a little to the rear. It was a long, heartbreaking look. He then asked Peter, in the most tentative voice, if he was okay — sir.
“Of course I said I was fine, and gave him a bit of a look. I was a little annoyed that he didn’t mind his own business.”
So what was his impression of Perry Doer?
“I don’t know. He struck me as ragtag, calling me sir and all. Not like a homeless person or anything, but he wasn’t the first person I would want prying into my affairs — it made me uneasy, the look of him. He could have been the nicest person on earth but he could have also been bad news. But I guess that’s true of anybody, I guess.”
Whilst taking a piss at work, Peter broke down: “things like that eventually get to you — someone you don’t even know caring enough to give a shit.” The man at the adjacent urinal made a note to quicken his stream and promptly left Peter to his tears.
Twice, thrice, four times, five, Peter walked past the poster of Perry which was surprisingly undisturbed, probably as a result of unanimous respect for the missing. He spared a glance each and every time. The lucky sixth, on his way home, Peter copied the website onto a loose Post-It and later that night paid a visit to Eadie’s blog.
“What I read made me sick. I felt sick at myself, knowing what I’d thought of him. I felt I should post a comment but I didn’t. Not that I knew how anyway.”
Peter hit up Furrowed Brows with increasing frequency, especially after he conceded to moving out of the house he shared with his then wife and shacked up in an inner city apartment not dissimilar, one could imagine, from the one in which he currently resides.
“I wouldn’t say that it was a phenomenon from what I could tell…I mean, I wouldn’t have known how to know, but when you read a bunch of people expressing regret for never learning the name of some guy who showed them some kindness at some moment…you begin to think. Like…who the fuck is this guy?”
Peter apologises for the expletives and offers more tea. I reject the former and accept the latter.
“I never did leave a comment,” he says after pouring two more cups. “Sometimes I still tell myself that it would have been perverse if I had said a big heap of nothing about a man I had totally written off one time and I kind of still believe that, sometimes.” We observe a moment of silence.
“For all that internet stuff I wonder if anyone actually knows who he was and what the fuck he was really about.”
I waive away his second apology and prove how much I don’t care by drinking some of that tea.
While Peter chose to pay his respects by being silent, others opted to offer tentative public tributes to an individual who for all intents and purposes thrived on not being recognised. What follows is a tiny selection of these e-bituaries, errors left uncorrected so as to honour the spirit in which they were written:
“just ti let you know, i really appreciated it. thanks” j_stamos
“rest easy, Dude” not_THE_anonymous
“Sorry for looking at you weird. I just didnt expect anyone to give a damn. I feel as though you’re at peace. Mad appreciation vibes, Leia” lcmahmood24
“Hey. Why d’you leave before I could say what’s up? Peace” G. Paul Oneros
”RIP strange beautiful man” DDparsons
“I was tempted to feel sorry for those who knew and loved you. then I realise, they were the lucky ones.” patstamp
“doer of good things, lame but true. rip” bleachmeRingo
“My dad asked of you – yeah, I told him about you. I’ll tell him you say hi. wish I could have gotten to actually know you or at least say thanks or something. lesson learnt: notice the people around you and say shit now. Rest inn peace” Argoss
“Heaven clearly wanted it’s angel back. Enjoy!xxx” Dana Brand
“good people should never die bad deaths but they sadly do. So rest now, good sir.” Mrs amherst
“Thank you. our thoughts go out to your family, many condolensces .” sadmangladman85
“ENJOY ETERNITY PERRY DOER! X” randy_dogette
Interestingly, none of the tributes or anecdotes gives evidence of grand sweeping gestures of philanthropy. Nobody publicly declares that they would be dead this very day if not for Perry’s generous donation of a kidney. No one was pulled out from the base of a debt mountain or saved from an assault in an alleyway.
In the spirit of journalistic inquiry, emails were sent to most of the authors of the above tributes, but while roundly received with a decent sprinkle of enthusiasm, there seemed to be a general poverty of memory when it came to reminiscing about what Perry Doer actually did so as to mean so much to so many people he hardly knew, who practically new nothing of him.
“Its kinda disappointing when you think of it,” writes Patricia Stampton in one of the more heartfelt emails, “disapointing because you think this person has had such an impact on you but when you’re pressed to talk about it your mind goes blank, at least mine does. and it’s not because there’s nothing there, but it’s like how things are more defined when you’re in the moment, more concrete than when you think back on it and it seems vague even though you know it was actually significant at the time. He was a guy I would run into years ago, maybe 8 years, cause we lived on the same bolck and would run into into eachother because we went to the same pizza place or laundromat. But we never became friends. We were hardly aqcuantiances but when I look back I realise how unhappy I was and how I felt okay being unhappy after sharing a word or two with him, or lend him some coins for laundry or whatever we did back then. It sounds weird, but I felt as though he allowed me to just feel and be human and miserable and not care about seeming okay — I didn’t feel I had to smile and be happy like I had to with my friends, or felt I had to. And he was the kind of person you noticed, you know? like there was something about him that you remembered, something physical. Maybe it was his skinnyness. Or maybe it was because he seemed sad himself and I gravitated to that. Who knows.”
It seems that Perry’s contribution was to notice that which most people have gotten so good at hiding out on the street while it erodes them from within, and which so many people are so good at not noticing.
Noticing, it seems, was Perry’s gift.
A LITTLE AFTER 2:30 IN THE MORNING, JANUARY 23RD, THE STREETS WERE AT THEIR DEADEST. LAST NIGHT’S OWLS HAD GIVEN IN TO SLEEP and whatever bars were still open closed up. Unsuccessful prostitutes put out their last cigarettes and reported to their pimps, and brief light breezes rolled empty bottles of booze off the sidewalks and into the gutters where they could be a little more comfortable.
Llewellyn Slater was finishing off his coffee while taking two aspirins while doing up his buttons while watching infomercials on mute so as not to wake anyone. He remembers thinking “that’s a pretty sweet deal”; considered ordering a pair of the super-absorptive dish towels for Julie, the woman he was living with, the mother of his second child. For a change, he decided to do his hair up in a bob instead of a ponytail, and ended up looking like a middle-aged samurai, thanks in part to his balding crown. A quick piss and a gargle of mouthwash later and Llewellyn was ready for work.
The big man quietly left the apartment and walked eleven blocks to the head office of the Greater Ganton Gazette, to the back of the building where the loading dock is. For the hairdo, he copped some congenial teasing from co-workers that were filling his truck with bales of newspapers, ready for delivery to 47 outlets across the district. All to be done before 8 am. It’s a rush hour most people don’t know about — trucks loaded with ‘fresh produce’: bread, fish, milk, the morning paper; rushing to provide what the consumer has come to expect in the same way they do the sunrise.
“I’d been feeling pretty poorly for a while to tell you the honest truth. I didn’t know why at the time and I didn’t want to see anyone about it because I didn’t know that it was actually a thing and I didn’t want to have to take any time off work if there actually was a thing and it wasn’t compatible with work. Turns out it was something not so great, but I don’t really want to go into it too much.”
Llewellyn is however willing to go into the fact that he had been passing old blood with his stools for some months by that point. He was, at the same time, plagued by dreams of having a colostomy bag like his granddad and having to empty it several times a day only to fail at it horribly and get watery shit all over himself.
“That’s the kind of stuff that was going through my mind, plus I’m thinking, what if it’s worse than that, you know…my kids, what happens to them if a bag is the least of my problems? I’m thinking all this as I’m driving. I really shouldn’t have been driving but I know guys who drove with bad appendicitis and broken hearts so I got in the truck like a man; like a delivery man. They say ‘don’t drive drunk, don’t drive tired’. What about ‘don’t drive anxious and anaemic?’”
Llewellyn shifts in his chair, quietly enjoying his line, and his new partner, Margo, watches him do so with an air of very gentle supportiveness.
“No wonder I hit him. I was fucking anaemic.”
Margo smiles at Llewellyn. She then smiles at me. “Are you going to run all these cuss words?”
I tell her that I’ll try and we share in the laugh.
By around a quarter to five that morning Llewellyn had covered a very serviceable proportion of his route and was making his way along the southernmost half of Milton road which is in a part of the district of Ganton-Turserville in which the Gazette has never had much popularity for reasons unclear. Llewellyn had two paper drops which he completed relatively on schedule and therefore had no undue need to hurry. Being that he had encountered next to no traffic whether meat or metal for most of that morning shift, Llewellyn was utterly blindsided not just by the fact that there was a man at the side of the road on Milton road at that hour, but that this man had – in half a blink – walked into the grille of his moving truck.
“I don’t doubt that he intended for it to happen now that I think of it. I was there, I saw it. I mean, I didn’t see his face enough to say man, that guy is suicidal, but when I found out that he wasn’t deaf or blind or retarded or anything I figured it had to be that. I could be wrong but what does it matter now anyway? He stepped off the kerb, in front of the one truck in sight on a super long road at four in the morning. And I hit him.” He glances at Margo. “I remember thinking he timed it really well, for like maximum impact.”
Was he speeding when he hit Perry Doer?
“Was I speeding? Maybe. I don’t know. Probably. The limit was seventy and I may have been five over or something. I try not to think about it. I honestly couldn’t tell you because I honestly don’t remember if I even knew at the time.”
According to the coroner’s findings there was no evidence of intoxication on the part of the victim or the driver, no evidence of foul play, and there was definitely no mention of deafness, blindness or mental retardation. It was noted, however, that Perry Doer was in generally poor health which may not have given him the best chance in the face of such a physical insult. On initial impact some ribs were snapped by the truck’s bonnet. The thing which killed Perry, however, was a large and fast intracranial bleed. Perry’s virtual anonymity certainly helped to ensure that the case was wrapped up with little ceremony. A cremation was organised and within three weeks Perry Doer went from carbon-based life form to carbon and a couple of other bits and pieces. The coronial verdict was probable suicide.
“Some insensitive prick – I don’t remember who – said that it was like hitting a really sick dog. Even the slightest knock just ruins it beyond repair. Maybe he was right but I didn’t think the wording was great.”
The incident did very little to derail Llewellyn professionally, something which didn’t sit right with the lapsed Baptist.
“I remember being a little…” he smiles to himself and then his face falls serious again in an equally quick instant. “I remember being a bit hysterical, in like a quiet way, like quietly freaking out. Because I remember going up to my boss and asking him what was going to happen…whether I would have to face some disciplinary board hearing or lose my license or whether the state or district or whoever was going to bring some kind of charge against me. Even though the only thing I could remember having done wrong was having bled out my ass — god, my mouth is really trashy today.”
Margo tells me that he brushes his teeth three times a day but that maybe he should just wash his mouth out instead to which Llewellyn responds with an absent-minded grin.
Llewellyn’s boss told him not to worry too much about the matter and within a fortnight he was back on the road earning his keep and worrying about his health. Soon after, his then partner Julie convinced him to get his bowels checked out.
“I really don’t want to talk about that.”
I assure him that this is fine. I’m here to talk about Perry.
“Well,’ he says, scanning the carpet as though it is his mind, “that’s kind of all I know about the guy, what I’ve already told you. I was kinda hoping you’d tell me a bit more.”
REINER’S PEOPLE REALTY AND HOUSING IS A GANTON-BASED ESTABLISHMENT THAT’S BEEN IN BUSINESS SINCE THE LATE EIGHTIES, PATIENTLY BOLSTERING ITS REACH from local to regional to statewide over the decades. Debbie Reiner derives a measure of pride from the fact that – even as she is both president and CEO of RPRH – she still hosts showings and open houses just as she did when her fledgling company was still scrounging around for a market share. Admittedly, humility is built into RPRH’s particular real estate niche and, admittedly, she engages in the grassroots aspect of the business far less often than she would ordinarily have herself do.
“We’ve always had an issue with destitution and bummery in this part of the world,” says Debbie as we sit in her not so humble office, “and after twenty-something odd years in this business — I still couldn’t tell you why that is. But my philosophy, our philosophy, the RPRH philosophy is that sometimes a roof over one’s head is exactly what some people need and that’s it, at least for a start. I’ve been passionate about low cost housing for quite some time because it seems like such a practical real-world solution to such a pervasive problem in our little locale. No one should sleep out in the cold, not even dogs. Maybe cats; they kind of deserve it.”
Debbie doesn’t remember personally handling the rental application that Perry Doe submitted when he first moved to east Ganton from out of state, but she is more than accommodating with whatever records are available. Together we peruse these.
“…so it was a shared rental, him and someone else — Carson Manit it says, don’t remember him — they must have met through work maybe…which probably made it doubly difficult because they were both new to town with pretty low-paying jobs and zero rental history we could base any of our decisions off of, so we had to get co-signers for both of them who themselves weren’t super watertight …and the landlords at the time didn’t care that their properties were basically four walls and a floor and a ceiling and a door and maybe a window if you were lucky…they just weren’t willing to take the risk and they made things unnecessarily difficult even though they’d eventually cave and randomly approve one of the damn applications. They’d say who are these kids?! And I’d say these aren’t kids, these are grown men that deserve every chance in the world. They never really got my point, but they quickly came to realise that these kids were the only ones willing to sweat out a double shift just to pay for their little brick boxes.” Her fingers ski across the dully white application papers.
“7/45 Inverness Avenue…” reads Debbie. Perry’s unit in Banksia Mews was obviously not his first home in Ganton-Turserville district.
She continue: ”Yeah, there’s a bunch of super cheap flats there, super basic, but we try to get good people in there so it doesn’t turn into a ghetto too quickly.”
That was when ago?
So would it be safe to say that the neighbourhood is now a ghetto?
“Well…I don’t think it would be unsafe to say.”
Perry’s co-signer was his mother Eloise with whom, it can be assumed, he was living prior to his migrating. His first employer in the area was the proprietor of a local fuel station chain who hired Perry as a cleaner, mainly of restrooms and diner kitchens. The position paid poorly but it paid well enough for him to make the rent slightly late, provided roomie Carson pulled his weight which it seems he frequently did not.
And it seems that, towards the end of his time on this planet, Perry was struggling to pull his weight too. The most recent five years’ worth of rental records is news to Debbie, who goes on to postulate that Perry must have been a “shit of a tenant” what with the scores of rental reminders, threats of eviction and incomplete bond refunds. At the time of his untimely passing, Perry had placed an appeal with the department of fair trading regarding his tenancy, the details of which are unclear but which could not be far removed from the picture of rental discord Debbie and company at Reiner’s have dug up.
“So he killed himself?” she asks. I explain that it is the predominant theory.
“Theory?” she says as she draws the mess of paper back into one pile and rounds up our session.
Mohan Emerson, manager of Motormouth Fuel & Food Co circa 1993 declined an interview on the grounds that (a) he was no longer affiliated with the struggling company and therefore did not feel comfortable accepting the role of “spokesperson”, (b) he could not for the life of him remember hiring anybody that went by the name Perry Doer and (c) that even if he could recall such a person, what could he possibly say about a man he’d hired to wipe up piss and spilt gravy?
In deference to Mr Emerson’s rhetorical skills the interview request was pursued no further.
Obviously, Perry’s portfolio of jobs grew with time, but horizontally as opposed to vertically, almost always menial and frankly a bore to investigate. He did a lot of cleaning, a lot of stacking, some hammering and screwing, a bit of packing and the devil’s share of heavy lifting. Whether this vocational stagnation was for a lack of effort, ambition, aptitude, fair opportunity or fortune is any man’s guess but suffice to say, Perry did it tough and did so for quite some time. During the six months predating his untimely slaughter, Perry landed a job, through an employment agency, as a nightwatchman in a largely industrial neighbourhood that had fallen victim to artless graffiti and assorted vandalism. This nocturnal posting was his steadiest job in years though it lasted only seven weeks on account of the appearance of some arguably artful pieces of street art on various walls in the area.
Lydia Korsakoff, acting manager for vOKation, an apparently not-for-profit undertaking that sources employment for those without much of an ego to stroke or lifestyle to maintain, states that the only feedback received from the strata group that had employed Perry to watch their premises at night, was that he was “abrasive and argumentative” and that he “display[ed] little evidence of remorse for his incompetence.”
This will be the first explicit mention of Perry Doer’s aggressively less pleasant side.
IT’S NOT OFTEN THAT A NEWSPAPERMAN IS EXTORTED BY A POTENTIAL INFORMANT, AT LEAST NOT IN THE MANNER that Cosmas Nero goes about it, exchanging a bit of scoop for grocery supplies.
At the risk of stereotyping, for a grubby blue-collar man scrapping a living as a low level council worker, a job that mainly involves him holding up “slow” and “stop” signs during late night roadworks, Cosmas’s requests are surprisingly gourmet. The shopping list he submits, which really finds him pushing his luck with admirable success, feature foodstuffs like kielbasa and ackawi and an assortment of spices, many of which this newspaperman has never heard.
Cosmas (“Call me Cossie”) shrugs as he fries up some haloumi. “I’m a foodie, I like to cook. It’s the only good thing my mum taught me. Unfortunately she also taught me to hate women, which I’m trying really hard to unlearn. That’s off the record by the way.”
Everything’s on the record; it was our deal when he agreed to have his shopping done.
“Fine. But I’ve never been a sexist, just a sometimes misogynist. That’s got to count for something. You know, Perry wasn’t a bad cook either.”
Is that right?
“Yeah, after a long night we’d sometimes head over to one of our places, either his place or my place, and we’d cook up a bloody storm for breakfast. We figured the heavier we ate the heavier we’d sleep. He was into cooking common dishes well, with a bit of zing. I’m into the weird stuff; goat’s brains…Polish food.”
Is Polish food weird?
“Where I come from it is.”
On and off for years, Perry was on the Ganton-Turserville Council casual payroll and would spend many night holding up signs alongside Cossie, striking up a nocturnal friendship in the process, something at which it appears Perry was not a natural, that is to say, friendships, whether at night or during the day.
“I’d talk and he’d listen, that’s usually how it went. When he did say something though it was kind of…” he thinks for a moment. “You couldn’t really just shoot the shit with him and tell him your stories and hear him tell you his stories. Like…I think it was cooking that got us being friends because, now I think of it, food was the one thing he could talk about without sounding like he was going to, I don’t know, cave in, like his soul was going to cave in. I can’t explain it.”
What kind of things would he say?
As we eat our haloumi – and it must be said that Mr Nero can fry his haloumi excellently – Cossie considers what to tell me, perhaps in order that he may portray a dead man with honesty without painting him in an excessively defamatory light, one in which the man in question is too dead to contest. By the way, Cossie’s reaction to the news of Perry’s passing is understandably subdued. Shocked and saddened, sure, but in muted tones.
“I remember him once saying something like…” Cosmas begins to speak with the rubbery cheese rolling around his mouth, “…something about how the most honourable thing he can do is to not let the inside of him get onto the outside, or something like that. He’d say to me, Cos – he called me Cos – he’d say, Cos, when I’m in my apartment, sitting on the couch, I hate everybody, I hate myself, I hate you, I just hate everyone. But I can’t take the hate with me out my door. I just can’t. I walk out and I care about people. I want to protect them from me and from all this dark stuff I represent. That’s almost word for word. And then he says, I’m Mr Jekyll and Dr Hyde [sic], I’m a two face. Shit, I’d hate to have been in his head, but somehow I liked the guy. He was honest is what I thought at the time.”
Can one be both honest and two-faced?
Cosmas thinks about this one for a while. Tired of waiting for a response, I dig back into the relish he’s ladled onto my plate, lapping it up with oily slices of fried haloumi.
“I don’t know,” he begins, out of the blue. “I’m not a philosopher but…if a man is actually two people, is he a liar by being this guy one day and that guy the other day, or whatever?”
He offers more haloumi and, to be honestly, refusal is close to impossible.
“MY BOY WAS ANGRY AND I DON’T DOUBT THAT HE DIED THAT WAY.”
ELOISE DOER SPEAKS OF HER DEAD SON with a resignation so dignified you’d think he was born to die by newspaper truck. If she is grieving, then she grieves like a person who believes sadness is as essential as joy, like someone who does not deem themselves fit to question pain. Or perhaps Perry’s death is a tragedy for which she has been long prepared.
She is one of those people who can hold a stare so strongly that one feels as uncomfortable looking away as they do matching it. But it’s not so much a questioning stare as it is one that forages and scratches at the sand covering another’s soul. And her face is concurrently younger than would be expected for a late septuagenarian and old beyond her seventy-plus years: younger in that she has a certain aura, a vital glow; older in that her face is a maze of shallow wrinkles and shadows.
She doesn’t offer me tea or water or Digestives. We simply sit on old couches, facing each other across a short oak coffee table, hearing the grumble and beep of what sounds like a garbage truck that slept in and decided to do its run in the mid-late afternoon.
“Did they tell you the details of how Perry died?” she asks me.
Being too unsure to open my mouth and speak I decide not to speak, to which she responds saying, “it’s okay if you can’t or won’t say, I shouldn’t put you on the spot like that.”
“But…” she continues, “the truth is, whatever you tell me would only make me feel a bit better because all I can imagine is him dying in fear and being so very angry, and it hurts, to think that those were his last feelings ever as a person. So if you told me the truck hit him so hard that his — that his brains came spilling out too quickly for him to know that it was all over…if you told me that, I’d take some comfort. I’d like to think I would.”
What a large intracranial bleed or a brain splatter would do to the consciousness of a man is probably a mystery to most people, but mentioning this as a if not the cause of death seems to please or reassure Eloise somewhat, although not enough for her to offer a drink.
458km northwest of Perry’s place of death is his place of birth, 116 Quinn Street, Trimsolna, or rather the place to which he was brought when he was torn out of Eloise’s belly at Trimsolna Civic Hospital in the same way that his three older siblings were welcomed into the world.
“I know it sounds wrong but when they cleaned all the jelly off of him and checked that he had an anus or whatever they do when they pull babies out, they wrapped him up in a blanket and handed him to my husband at the time, Perry’s natural father, and he brought him over and I took one look at him and I knew he would be the kid that made my heart heavy. There’s always one in every litter, every decent-sized litter. I have sisters and they’ll know what I mean. You just look at a child and you know that this kid and this world are not going to get along. And I knew it; as I was lying there while they were sewing me up I had his head against my bare chest and it felt so heavy, supernaturally heavy. His eyes were open in a way you don’t see on most newborns and he looked at me but in a way he didn’t look at me, and I just got this overwhelming sense of sadness and I began to sob. Of course everyone thought I was overcome with happiness so I just let them think that. How was I supposed to say, oh, my son’s a sad baby and I don’t know if he’ll ever be happy? How do you say that?”
Eloise’s is an old terrace nestled amongst similar terraces populated by old folks whose kids have left home either for good or with a return ticket tucked in one of their back pockets. All five of Eloise’s have flown the coop and none have yet come a-calling. Perry never did and certainly won’t be doing so now.
Contrary to the picture of lifelong hardship that this profile hitherto seems to paint, Perry was not born into disadvantage but into the middle class from which he would eventually drop out. Unlike him, Perry’s siblings either remained hovering around the median-most social stratum or – in the case of brother Nathaniel and sister Lux – ventured into the dollarsphere with mixed success, the point being that Perry was not necessarily fated to suffer and die as a flag-bearer of society’s underclass. So why then is this where he ended up? And why he of all is siblings?
Perry is survived by all four of his littermates. Apart from Lux, Perry’s immediate elder with whom he shared a close bond in childhood, the Doer children were essentially a pack of boys, and boys’ boys at that. Rough and tumble and gregarious by constitution, the Doer brood required a firm hand if they were to be moulded into men and woman of reasonable social conduct. Perhaps as a habit or due to some inborn belief that mild religious influence in the early stages of life contributes positively to the task of child rearing, Eloise and the Doer kids’ two main father figures (Leroy and Davidson) took them to church on most Sundays. Of course, once they had departed the church grounds, god was simply a figurative entity though it must be said that an element of the concept of a Beneficent Deity would eventually play a large part in fostering in Perry a rage and disillusionment of the kind that makes Eloise still quiver inside. Some of those who bore witness to the very peak of Perry’s meltdown prior to his leaving Trimsolna and heading southeast remember a man who was so internalised as to be virtually absent. Perry frequently wondered what he had done to displease a god for whom he’d honestly rarely spared a thought and he seemed to have an on-and-off belief that the universe had a malicious streak, randomly honing in on people who were already doing it tough only to twist their nipples just that little bit harder. He raged against everything from his apparent ugly duckling status in the family to his tongue-tied ineloquence to the gap between his front teeth to his natural air of aloofness.
Gabby Homan is an ex-classmate who still lives in Trimsolna and still calls in on Eloise every once in a while for the sake of neighbourliness. She and Perry were childhood friends of circumstance; the circumstance being that Gabby lived close-by and was one of Perry’s few peers lonely enough to put up with his brewing unpleasantness. She would frequently present at the Doer home on her bike and ask if any of the kids wanted to ride with her. Eloise, desperate to rid the house of Perry’s gloom for even a good half-hour, would force her second youngest onto his squat little dirt-collecting BMX and watch him ride off down the street in the straightest line, Gabby on her taller mountain bike swooping around his peripheries like an eager bird. A sort-of friendship eventually developed though Gabby denies any romance: “I was lonely, but not that lonely. Besides, he would not have responded well, if at all.”
“He wondered why he couldn’t relate to anyone,” Gabby goes on to say, “but people were spooked by this brooding angry black dude who was constantly muttering to himself all pissed off and whatnot; not like a crazy person but someone who was perpetually frustrated and down on himself. It just wasn’t the greatest combination to be perfectly honest.”
“It was bad,” says Elouise. “There were days when I was certain he would stab someone with something; maybe not there and then, but someday. He wasn’t very external about it, the rage; he never threw tantrums or fits or punches, but you just didn’t want to be around him too long, the intensity of his anger…you could feel it. But at home we didn’t talk about things, especially if it was something that was a little uncomfortable, and none of Perry’s teachers ever mentioned anything to us to make us think that he was struggling. As far as I knew and still know, he sat and did his work and didn’t cause any trouble.”
In fact Perry was a moderately bright student, or rather, a bright student with moderate grades. No one was ever particularly certain of what dreams or plans young Perry had for himself, but it seems no one really asked either. The Doer household was not big on dreams and fostering self-esteem and giving due praise let alone undue praise; you just got on with life and followed where it took you, a philosophy which was likely championed by both his fathers, neither of whom were particularly aspirational men to begin with.
Older brother Lanyon Doer recalls Perry’s possible interest in the electrical: “he was always fiddling with Walkmans and radios and wanted to be like Benjamin Franklin or something. He’d take them apart and put them back together again but they wouldn’t work after that. I remember my father shouting him down for wasting money just because his fingers couldn’t sit still. After a while he stopped talking about Benjamin Franklin and electricity. I didn’t hear him talk about too much before or after that.”
Lux Doer works in airline catering in an administrative and logistics capacity and has been based in the UAE for the last seven years. She hadn’t spoken to Perry much in the last thirteen years when I contacted her by phone. Like her mother there is a determined resignation in her voice but it’s obvious that her line of work does not encourage such passive fatalism and so there is a business-like can-do quality to her speech.
I did not expect to be the one to inform Lux that her brother was dead, and great care was taken to slyly gauge how informed she was of the tragedy that had befallen him. Unfortunately much of the Doer family are estranged from one another to the point that nobody, not Eloise nor Nathaniel nor Randy nor Lanyon and certainly not Lux, has a clue in hell as to whether any of the others know about anything, take your pick of what anything is. So when I explain to her that I am writing a feature article about her brother, Lux asks if he is okay.
There is a dreadfully long pause. “Is he hurt?”
I answer saying, “I’m extremely sorry.”
After the silence that follows I expect to hear a slow wail or sudden deluge of tears, but there is simply a shuddering intake of air and a plain “what happened?” I provide the details within the limits of my knowledge while she quietly listens.
“So this was definitely Perry…” are her first words after my storytelling has concluded.
What about the story strikes her as unconvincing?
“Perry and I don’t talk much, but we did speak in the last year and he was in a pretty bad way. He had to convince me not to fly down to see him. I‘m not saying that things couldn’t turn around in a year, but I’m just trying to figure out what all this online tribute business is about. What’s the blog URL please?”
Who would think that listening to the over-the-phone silence produced by a somewhat estranged sister as she peruses a blog page dedicated to the memory of her recently deceased younger brother would contain such dramatic tension, and one so sustained?
“What exactly did he do for these people that they feel the need to write obituaries online with bad spelling?” Her voice is tinged with anger; I wonder if there is an element of guilt somewhere in there as well. “Hardly any of these say anything about what he actually did. Like, what did he actually do? It just feels like a bunch of people who don’t want to feel as though they contributed to the death of a stranger. Not that they did, but he died, possibly intentionally, after he’d met them all. If he had such a positive effect on them, then why didn’t they have a positive effect on him? Why did it have to take him being hit by a bus (I abstain from correcting) for anyone to notice that he had even had an impact on their lives?” She exhales. “I’m sorry, I just finding it hard to reconcile what I’m reading with what I know. For the love of god, people use the word ‘angel’. I just don’t see it.”
Does she at all wonder if Perry’s apparent rage was related to his home life, his up-bringing?
“But he’d been away from home for years, years, when I spoke to him, and he sounded terrible still. Everyone blames everything on childhood, it’s such bullshit, no offence. I mean, ours wasn’t perfect, but most of us turned out reasonably okay. I just can’t help but feel that this website is getting him wrong. These people obviously don’t know him.”
But does it negate the possibility that he had some sort of a positive effect on them? Or even the possibility that he had found a way to exorcise himself of rage and frustration and whatever else was eating him up?
“No, of course not, I’m not saying that. But, he was so troubled and for this to be how he’s remembered at the end of the day seems almost like an insult to his life. You were talking about negating; doesn’t this blog negate all the pain he went through, painting him like some kind of ghetto saint or something? No, not even that, saints at least suffer. It makes him look like he was kind of simple, like a holy fool or something. I don’t know. I just feel so bad for him, which is so unfair because on the surface this looks like a good thing.”
“What did he want from life; do you know?” I ask.
“Look I don’t know.”
If silences can ever get pregnant, this one has quintuplets. I wonder if that small stuttering breath I can hear for the briefest moment is the remnant of an aborted sob.
Lux quickly apologises for having to hang up on me as she has some errands to run and some places to be, but she is deeply appreciative of the call and would be very happy to be contacted once again if there are any further questions or developments.
Randomly perusing Eadie’s blog some weeks later, I notice that the tributes dried up quite some time ago. But a new post sits at the bottom of the page without any comments or likes or shares:
“Should have flown down back when we talked about me coming down, I kick myself every day but anyway, hope you’re in a better place now, or at least happy wherever you are as long as it’s not hell, lol. Love you much, as always” anonymous