May 18, 2015 § Leave a comment
My once good friend Benets has this place in Tangier; an apartment that isn’t all that cosy, that has a pair of bedrooms sized like halls and a balcony that overlooks a skyline of cracked still-cracking walls and peeling paintjobs, domes and lanky minarets. We rest our elbows on the stone balustrade and run our eyes along clotheslines that span buildings, bridging windows, hard to tell from telephone lines or lines strung up for reasons long forgotten. We drink our drinks, he scotch and I port. We admire the remains of Spanish-run days and of the sun, and then we move inside to take ease on his leather settees, in the evening heavy and cool.
‘Couldn’t you just eat this view?’ he says to me.
I tell him I doubt it could fit in my mouth even if I tried. I take the two-note noise from his throat to be some sort of a chuckle.
‘Scotch?’ he says sitting up and holding a position.
‘It’ll do me, Benets. I don’t mind port.’ We call him Benets to his face.
Benets grunts his way out of the hollow in the settee made by his ass. The patter of his loafers peters off into silence, but I know he’s only a little way off, by the coat stand pouring what he wishes was a scotch and what I’m hoping is just port.
I look out towards the balcony at the purple sky and I see a pair of minarets peeking over the railing. Below, between the uprights, I can see the rest of Tangier and it looks glorious as far as the bay. Has a rundown charm even in silhouette. I pull back my focus and fix it on the womanly curves of the balcony’s plinths. My gaze washes over the whole thing, balustrade and all, and I think – in a fit of melancholy – that I haven’t a thing in the world to stop me throwing myself off of it.
‘What was that?’
I say, ‘what was what?’ surprised that my thought could have somehow been made word.
Benets is back with scotch on the rocks in one hand and port in plain glass in the other, wearing an uneasy face.
‘I didn’t get everything but I don’t think I liked the gist of what I think I heard, Moss,’ he’s saying as he struts to his spot on the settee.
‘Benets,’ I laugh, ‘I didn’t say a thing.’ I really want my port and want it in me now.
I laugh. ‘No.’
Benets sits the glasses on the glasstop table but doesn’t sit. Gives a one-note chuckle.
My breath is cordoned. His gaze lacerates me, but then its edge blunts and his face softens and he picks up his drink and seats himself stiffly; glances at me and then away.
I watch him suck on the tan booze, see ice hit his lip and melt a little. He groans (perhaps from pleasure), elbows rested on his knees. Leaning forward I slide the petite glass my way and lift it and knock back a drop; my eyes they never leave him.
‘Must be so nervous I must be hearing things,’ he says to the darkening outside. To the crystal glass at his mouth.
I pitch in by clearing my throat and sipping more port. Benets asks if I ever hear things when I’m nervous.
‘No,’ I say. ‘But my bowels they go funny sometimes.’
Benets says, ‘that’s not so odd.’
I don’t feel quite settled where I’m sitting, like my ass is in the clouds. I ask him what’s gotten him so unnerved; if it’s not just the wedding.
‘Bah…! Anouk’s a big girl and so am I,’ he says.
So as not to laugh at this slight misspeak I roll booze round my mouth. But I find that I’m really not that amused.
I say, ‘maybe the bigger the girl the bigger the nerves. Is that something people say?’
Benets silently shrugs.
‘I’m not nervous,’ he says with sudden verve, after an extended post-shrug silence. ‘Do I look nervous? Maybe anxious, but that’s a different thing to nervous.’
‘Well,’ I say, ‘I hope it’s just anxiety and not nerves.’
Anouk, Benets’ bride to be, hasn’t an anxious bone anywhere anyplace. She’s a French expatriate whom Benets met on a boating trip, the kind well-off folk take to remind themselves how well-off they are and how much less well-off they could be. They talked as they sailed from Boumerdés but that’s all I know of how they encountered.
My first encounter with Anouk was at a newsstand, on the cover of a magazine. She would later disarm me with her deathly sense of humour and her dissertation on the benefits of being underweight. Benets is crazy about her and I think I am too.
The laces draped over the French doors leading onto the balcony beat softly in the tepid sundown breeze as though fanning Benets. I watch Tangier blacken all around him, watch the laces fall still again, still as he stands. For whatever reason, I get up and amble here, amble there. I eventually stop and stand.
‘I wish there was some way I could say thank you,’ I say.
‘You could just say it.’
‘Been saying it since yesterday, since the airport.’
‘And you think I don’t think it’s enough.’
‘Enough. Such a shit of a word. Is it ever enough for anybody?’
I feel like a hatstand he’s hung his gaze upon. And then I feel naked when he reclaims it and casts it upon the view from the balcony. All is silent for not too long. I’m briefly amused that the glint of the city might outdo that of the stars.
Now past my amusement, I give a quaint laugh. Benets doesn’t ask ‘what?’ as I’d hoped. I step forward once, twice, till we are in effect level-shouldered. I clear my throat of muck. ‘I’m still trying to figure out the catch,’ I lightly say with a hint of a put-on chuckle.
Benets quarter turns and I can see, in the glass he’s holding, a thin film of gold clinging to the rocks now reduced to mere hailstones. His look is blank as he says, ‘what catch?’
‘Feels a little like winning the lottery. Being your best man.’
Benets stares at me. ‘You want out.’
‘Alec,’ I declare. ‘Alec. Please. Not at all. I’m just saying.’
‘I’m just listening.’
‘It’s only – it was odd that you found me, is it not? Hell, remembered. What were the odds?’
‘You forgot me.’
‘If I ever did I can’t recall when. All due respect, but how could I forget? I’d hear your name around…the names of the women you were with…blah, blah. I’d read it in the paper and think to myself I knew that guy. A tower your namesake…Then I’d remember how we were friends once.’
‘You say once as if it’s permanent. I’m not so changed, Moss, just not so stupid, and broke. For sure not broke.’
‘No.’ I feign a smile. ‘It’s just — this is the kind of good thing that doesn’t happen in forever.’ Suddenly, the melancholy.
He has this way of stating questions.
‘Maybe I exaggerate.’
‘Come outside with me for a sec.’
In the darkness of the night on the balcony we are without drink and it all seems so very honest. Far, as far as the bay, I see something queer on the water and think it would be nice if it were the sail of a yacht that was out for a late stroll.
Fifteen floors underfoot on a two-way street that should be a one-way, two cars duck each other like ex-lovers in a grocer’s aisle. I choose to follow the one on my right with the one dead taillight that’s readying for a left turn but then slows at a junction for a stop sign. Benets chooses to rest his chin on the hair-darkened arms he’s lined up on the balustrade, like a child gazing down, taken with heights.
‘If you leapt,’ he says out of nowhere – and my ears prick – ‘that’d be it.’
I consider the drop with a welling pulse and it is truly quite a drop. ‘So much time to think.’
‘If you leapt you wouldn’t be thinking.’
‘No. But two-thirds down you’d begin.’
‘Huh,’ he says. ‘I wonder what of. Maybe,’ he continues, ‘all the things you’d be leaving behind.’
‘Maybe for some,’ I say despite my suddenly leaden throat, ‘all the things you don’t have to leave behind.’
Benets’ brows collide and his forehead creases and he frowns. ‘You don’t have to. Then why do you?’
‘No no. You leap because there’s nothing to leave behind. Because you don’t have love or money or a daughter or a son or something to fight for, and you don’t have a clue about anything.’
I notice my lungs have emptied and that I am without breath. But I let air leak slowly in as though I don’t need it so much.
Slowly Benets’ lips ease and his forehead skin smooths out and his brows tease apart. Now he is upright and his hands are nestled in his pockets, hidden from this cheeky breeze, this breeze that carries with it the rumpus and spices of Casa Barata, the thieves’ markets. I can almost hear it, the heckling and friendly insults.
‘It’s a sad thing,’ says Benets, ‘that you had so much to gain.’
I’m thinking it’s a sad thing that I still do.
‘A sad thing,’ he says,’ but a good thing. Somehow.’
I look at him.
Two days before the wedding, Benets throws himself from the balcony and drives his skull into the ground. People can’t believe that he fell, how on earth he could have fallen, how drunk he must have been. I can’t believe it either because I know for a fact that he threw himself.
He is survived by a few things ¶.
I was meant to spend the next five days celebrating a marriage. These I end up spending wandering the thieves’ markets or lying in bed reading, in my bedroom in a four-star chain motel. This is when I’m not being summoned to the police station to confirm answers to questions that I’m certain I’ve already been asked.
I know no-one, none of the other guests, certainly not anymore if once upon a time I in fact did. And, from what I hear, none of them are eager to stay much longer in Tangier.
But for me this is free time that I could never pay for out of pocket, and I find that I’m unable to complain, but for the tragedy.
Five days later, I board the return leg that Benets paid for and I fly back to where I’m from, with the knowledge that he chose me to be his best man but ended himself before I had the chance to do him the honour.
¶ Benrhine Systems Inc., currently down 0.38 per cent on Bloomberg, the presidency of which is soon to be filled by one of a number of very worthy candidates; 714 100 in-car GPS systems worldwide, two million units of a now discontinued line of android smartphones, roughly 8300 sets of security gates installed in stores all along the west coast of the United States and spreading, the IFE (in-flight entertainment) systems of the entire fleets of two international and seventeen regional airlines, the patronage of a well-known Perth-based oil exploration company; Benets Towers in south Seattle, home to 86 offices and 115 residential units including a penthouse featured in Luxury Home Magazine last year; two ex-wives, both of whom remember him as a good man but a bad husband, and barren; nearly three dozen ex-lovers (a love affair being arbitrarily defined as having lasted more than a month), most of whom would describe him as a decent man and a good lover, but incompatible with commitment; a Cessna Citation Sovereign business jet, and a Cessna Corvalis TTX that he was learning to fly with, which looks avocado green in the right light, usually late in the evening; two godchildren; homes in 5 out of 6 major continents numbering 8 in all, homes being properties that do not earn rent in the owner’s absence – his personal property investments number in the tens and fetch tens of millions; a weeping, head-turning beauty of a fiancée who I suspect will never again betray her vow to never invest herself, her time or her heart in people, fickle people.
June 9, 2014 § Leave a comment
I got on me knees and looked in the cupboard under the sink. Mum said why would she keep them under the sink, they were in the next one over, behind all the pots and pans she abandoned when she got the Teflon non-stick ones. So I pulled all the plastic plates and bowls out from behind the pots and pans and stacked them up but mum said why did I put them on the bloody ground. Now she’d have to wash them again.
Dad said it said in The Advertiser that the Africans were dentists.
Mum said, ‘all of them?’
Dad said just the bloke was a dentist. ‘Got a wife and three kids it says here.’
Mum was scrubbing the plastic china with Palmolive and a sponge and I stood and watched because I thought I deserved it. Dad twisted his neck over the back of the sofa.
‘Em. Emily. Oi! The bloke’s a dentist, they can afford their own crap,’ he said but mum said that third world dentists weren’t like dentists here. That’s why they came to Australia. Besides, a church ladies group was behind the whole thing, just to make the Africans feel at home. And to add to their congregation she guessed. Said it wasn’t her idea, calling dibs on the new people. Just that she thought she didn’t want to waste decent dinnerware.
Dad said what about a garage sale, he’d been thinking about having a garage sale. Mum said that was another story, put the soap and the sponge back under the sink and said we might as well throw in the pots and pans too. Dad said what if we need them one day.
Mum said, ‘it’s not a gift, Roger, it’s just a bloody loan.’
We’re playing handball in the quad, me and the other retards, because that’s what they call us, the other kids, because they can’t be bothered talking to us. There’s ten squares crushed into the cement with chalk some dickhead nicked from roll call. Shetty’s in king, Trent the ranga’s in queen and I’m in jack but I think the ranga’s trying to get me out because he’s hitting all these low fast balls at me. It’s like everyone’s trying to get me out ‘cause they’re all hitting low fast balls at me. Brendan Carter’s just got out but he won’t get out and people are yelling at him, ‘get out of it!’ But Brendan’s saying ‘nah! Bullshit! Nah!’ throwing his arms around and pushing everyone away. But then the principal walks out of the office with one of the Africans mum was talking about. A boy. Brendan is so busy looking he gets shoved out of his square and everyone up to that square moves up one. Some of us are also looking at Mr Woz(niakiewicz) and the African boy. I’m one of the ones also looking.
Turns out he’s in me roll call, him and his sister. They look heaps like each other, not like twins, but they’ve got the same nose and lips sort of. And apparently their hair’s like carpet, at least his is. They sit right up front in front of Ms Jarra’s table, talking to each other so quiet you can’t hear them. You can’t even hear them say yeah when Ms Jarra says Tu-Too-Toondie? Where’s Toondie? Ne-Nu-Na-Nagozie? Maybe because she’s saying it wrong or maybe because they can’t understand Australian. But their names aren’t even Australian. A few names later Ms Jarra says Matthew, Matthew Rusk, and I say yeah. That’s the only thing I say the whole time because I’m up the back and no one is talking to me.
The African girl Nagozie ends up being mates with Bec Dunner and Kayla Redman and the other sluts but I don’t think she knows they’re the sluts. Toondie’s all over the place, hanging around with the boofheads that reckon they’re awesome-as and the careers lady’s weird son. I even see him talking to some of the cooler retards between class because he’s in the same classes as them, all the harder ones, like harder Science and harder English and yeah all the harder ones. After like a month the African kids don’t talk to each other as much ‘cause they’ve got their new mates. But it’s still a pretty quiet one for me, roll call, ‘cause I’m up the back and no one’s saying anything to me.
Dad’s back from the mine because I can hear him stomping his steel-cap boots outside the front door. I’m in the kitchen pouring some lime cordial because that’s all that’s left. Luce finished off the raspberry I reckon, and I can’t stand lime, but I can’t get enough of Cottees. I don’t know why but I sneak off to me room before dad comes in but I listen to him rumbling to mum about work as I sip me cordial and wait for me PlayStation to startup. But mum yells tea before it starts up.
We have lasagne for tea, the one we had for tea yest’y and the day before. Mum’s passing dad a massive plate when she says did he hear what the Africans did with all the stuff the church ladies rounded up for them. Dad says what and mum says the Africans said they didn’t need it because they had their own stuff coming by ship from South Africa and besides they were living in the Keenans’ old house on Colin street because the dad knows Mrs Keenan and she’s renting it out to them and it’s fully furnished and everything. Dad’s up for another plate after mum’s said all this. So I pass him the casserole dish.
‘Heard their boy’s in your year,’ dad says to me as he shovels lasagne with the cake scoop. I nod with me mouth full. Mum says do I know him and I say not really. But I seen him around.
Mum says, ‘don’t you want to invite him over? Show him your PlayStation?’
I stuff me face again when she says this and I think dad notices because he says ‘Matty’s not into inviting people over much, are you mate?’
‘Be good to know the new dentist in town,’ mum says into her plate. Dad says yeah, if it happens it happens, if it doesn’t it doesn’t. Lucy isn’t saying anything. She never says much round the house, only when her mates are over, then she’s talking loud and acting like she’s king shit. Mum’s just drank some water and she’s picking her teeth with her tongue.
No one says anything for ages, and then mum says why don’t I take me bike and ride over to Colin street tomorrow and give them new people some cassette tapes or something, just a taste of real Aussie music and hospitality, maybe a bit of Farnsey for the grown-ups and a bit of INXS or Barnesy and maybe some of me own CDs. She says the boy is probably wanting to make some friends but I reckon she means me. Dad says what about some Troy Cassar-Daley but mum says they might not get it; what about all that Aussie rap I’m always playing in me room and I say um…like I don’t know, but I think she means The Herd.
Sweat’s running into me eyes it’s so hot. And every time I stop me bike at a stop sign the flies are all over me like those stars when a cartoon gets whacked in the head. Our town’s streets are wide like highways, and the sky’s blue like it didn’t want to be blue but was forced to be blue and now is like you wanted blue so here it is. The road’s so hot it’s like I’m looking through water and as I’m riding I’m wondering will he know who I am, will he remember. I’m thinking why did mum have to make me do this.
Once when I seen Toondie in the corridor at school I said how’s it going and he said ‘good and you?’ He sounded not how I expected him to sound. He didn’t sound that African. It was weird. Then once, he came over to where we retards eat lunch and play handball and he was sitting with Glen and Spandy Lachlan and they asked him did they have TV in Africa and he said yes like it was a stupid question and they asked him like what shows do they have and he shrugged and said the usual like The Simpsons and Buffy and CSI and Egoli and Carte Blanche and Jam Alley but I don’t know if he was making it up ‘cause I’ve never heard of them last ones. Then Toondie said he saw a dead roo on the road, are there heaps of them around town hopping down the streets and someone said nah it’s not like in South Africa with the lions and all that. Then Glen asked Toondie if he wanted to come to youth group on Frid’y (‘cause Glen and Spandy are churchies) and Toondie said he’ll think about it. I stopped listening in and kept eating me ham cheese mustard sambo. Then a tennis ball rolled up to me feet but I was too busy eating me sambo to pick it up and Bowdy said ‘Oi, Rusky! Rusky, you ugly cunt, chuck us the ball!’
So I turn into Colin street and keep an eye out for the Keenans’ house cause I seen it before. Looks pretty much the same now, just that the front lawn’s now sand. I ring the doorbell with me free hand. Toondie opens the door but not the flyscreen so I can’t see his face too good because of the glare. I say g’day and he says hello. I think he remembers who I am. I hold up me hand with the CDs and tapes and say just wondering if they wanted to have a listen to these, they can keep them for a bit if they want. He looks at the stuff in me hand and says no thanks, they’ll be fine. Then he slowly shuts the door but he doesn’t even touch the flyscreen because it’s already shut in me face.
‘Decent bloke. Got a bit of an accent on him. Good thing he doesn’t talk much.’
Dad had a pretty bad toothache the other night. Heard him from me bed yelling bloody fucking this and bloody fucking that and mum saying bloody fucking watch your language.
‘They’re arrogant,’ mum says as we watch Eddie McGuire trying to throw someone off the answer they’ve locked in: B, Bay of Pigs. She says they just walk in and act like they own the place. We’re just trying to make them feel at home. Dad says yeah. ‘Good dentist but. Fixed me tooth up.’
I’m on the floor with me back and me head against the hard chair arm. I say something about youth group on Frid’y night and dad’s like, you’re not a churchie now are ya. Mum’s like, let him. If you want to go you should go, Love. Like it’s me last hope of being cured of something, some disease.
‘Why don’t you go to the disco thingamajig with Luce, meet some real people?’ dad says, but I can’t dance for shit and I don’t want to do it with me sister.
So I turn up at the Uniting Church with me bike. The parking lot’s almost empty and there’s light coming from an open door. It’s almost eight but it’s like the sun doesn’t want to move from where it was at five and it feels like someone is breathing in me face it’s that stuffy and warm.
Spandy calls me Ruskie when I walk in. Ruskie’s what everyone calls me because they reckon I’m an idiot. There’s about eleven people and that’s about it. Eight kids and three grown-ups. Spandy’s dad says dig in, there’s plenty to go around so I stuff me face with lollies and pizza and weak-as cordial and pretend to listen to the churchy stuff. Toondie and Nagozie and their little brother I never seen before look how I reckon I looked when I fell asleep on CountryLink and missed me stop and ended up in Gunning. But the grown-ups are trying to get them into it, like it’s a matter of life or death. Because when they come to school to talk about God and stuff all the kids think it’s a bunch of shit even though they act good and pretend to listen.
We play games all night and eat sour worms and I’m drinking cordial like I’m me uncle Lance and Cottees stands for Tooheys.
When I’m chucking me plate in the kitchen Toondie’s getting a plastic cup so I ask him how’s he liking it here and he says it’s alright, then I say has he got a PlayStation and he says no and I say I’ve got one and he says cool. After games Mr Lachlan gives us a talk. Says Jesus says we should come to him with all our problems and that he wants to be our friend and that he’ll be the only friend we ever really need. But I reckon if Jesus was here he’d call me Ruskie and not talk to me ‘cause he’d reckon I was an idiot.
Maybe if people knew who he was they’d be sad and not just act it. I never seen him before but he sounds like he could of been one of us even though I never seen him or heard of him or remember him playing handball. The whole town’s going on about it but out of respect or something it’s not in The Advertiser. But I reckon one day they’ll have one of them notices in the back with all the birthdays and weddings and old people who died and hot country girls looking for love.
They say his nan saw something in a tree across the paddock and thought it was just a big branch that lightning had snapped that was just hanging on by the skin. After the coppers took him down they say his dad stayed up all night hacking down the tree with a chainsaw and his mum can’t walk past his bedroom without having a scream. Heard all this from mum ‘cause all dad can say is that it’s bloody disturbing just thinking about it.
Luce says I should of seen Mr Driscoll at assembly today, he was spewing, but in his quiet Mr Driscoll way, like he’s a bottle of coke that someone shook hard, and he said that this is a lesson for everyone, that we should look after one another and we should have respect for one another and compassion and this is a bloody disgrace. One of them boofhead bullies was having a guilty cry and Mrs Callaghan told him to go do it outside. I wish I’d been there to see him crying like a poofter but I went shithouse in me School Certificate last year so now I’m working at the sausage factory. Dead set, it doesn’t stink as bad as it makes the rest of the town stink.
‘Funeral’s Monday week,’ mum says to I don’t know who. She loves this kind of thing, the kind of thing she can shake her head at and wish she’d never heard. Me head’s in the fridge, so I don’t say anything. I just grab a bunch of seedless grapes and close the fridge door and am walking to me room when mum asks did I know him and I say the one who necked himself and she stops mashing potatoes and says what’s wrong with me, why would I say that.
I say, ‘never seen him. Maybe I seen him once.’ Me head’s down when I say it.
Mum’s looking at me funny and I wonder what she’s doing. It’s not like I’m sick or anything ‘cause that’s her sick face, the face she has on when I have the flu or gastro and am spewing me guts up.
The doorbell’s just rang and mum says go get it. She probably reckons it’s Luce come back from Nagozie’s house ‘cause they’re mates now. I been to their house once. They’ve got a new house and a pool and everything so we went for a swim but Toondie never come in because he doesn’t like water much. But I reckon he doesn’t like me much. I reckon his mum said I could come round just to be nice. Yeah, the swim was good but Nagozie kept saying I peed in the water. I don’t know how she knew, it was just a trickle.
Saw Toondie in IGA the other day but. Buying spinach for the old lady ‘cause I saw her parked in the car park waiting, and he nodded his head at me and walked past and I spent the next minute trying to figure out who he was nodding at until I figured that maybe it was me.
It’s not Luce at the door, it’s me old man in his orange Hi-Vis shirt and his Hard Yakka pants and his boots. He’s about to stomp when I open the door and he looks at me through the flyscreen and I say dad and he nods, still looking at me.
‘Thought you might be having a beer with the boys from work,’ he says through the flyscreen.
I say I didn’t feel like it and he just looks at me through the flyscreen with the sick face. His sick face is different to mum’s sick face but it’s dead-set his sick face and he’s looking at me with it.
That’s pretty much all he says. Then he looks down at his Blundstones and gets on with stomping the dirt out from under them.