Sunday, 16 December 2012

The Imperial

I hate my readers. I have written twenty-two books and nobody knows my name. No authors write words of praise on the covers. No-one says “his prose is reminiscent of a young Tom Wolfe,” or “his descriptions of Calcutta really capture the lingering smell of cow shit.” If I held a book signing no-one would show up because they liked my overview of the Mauritius bar scene. After 10 000 rupee of scotch I didn’t much like it either.

But I don’t hate you, obviously, for I am letting you in on the joke.

I am held up in the Imperial Hotel, Cielo, with a laptop and a case of cheap tequila. If you haven’t heard of Cielo, it’s because I’ve made it up. There is no old town square with a statue of St. Josephine. Josephine was a whore I picked up in Honduras. There are no boulevards of gridlocked motorbikes tumbling like river pebbles under the Arch de Chuck, or perfect beaches of bare-chested supermodels or waves that hang up long enough for you, dear reader, to remark at their beauty.

There is, however, a good bottle shop down the road.

Cynicism found me when I was penniless in Uganda. It followed me to my first Iranian brothel and had me head down over a toilet in a Monaco casino. I’ve eaten salmonella in Florence and E. coli in Ethiopia. I began inventing restaurant reviews because I was sick of people’s hospitality.

After six hundred hotel rooms I can write reviews based entirely off the name. ‘Nationals’ are soulless. Kids piss in the pools at ‘Oases.’ ‘Budgets’ are budget. ‘Imperials’ are “for the tired traveller looking to relax after a long day.”

Maybe it was my disappointment with the real world that had me inventing my own. My first invention was Dumpool, a Lancashire town so abhorrent that no-one would dare visit. My editor passed it without question and the publishers received no complaints from disappointed tourists. I was in awe of the repulsive power of my fantasies.

So from my hostel in Havana I planned my utopia: a patch of farmland on the south coast of Cuba called Cielo. I stole impossibly airbrushed photos from the internet of supermodels and hairy men in tight bathing costumes. I invented bars with invented drinks made from invented fruit. I built a red light district and shallow fountains you can scoop coins from to take to another casino. When I was finished I felt empty knowing that such a paradise could only be constructed from disappointment.

In my fantastical excitement, I finished compiling my Cuba book a week before deadline. So to fill the time I hired a car and, persuaded by my imagination, decided to drive to Cielo. I guess I was curious to know what was actually there. It was the most excited I had felt about travelling since my first book. I remember my anticipation as I drove around that last bend in the sugarcane. I imagined myself winning armfuls of peso at the Saint Guevara Casino and taking beaming photos underneath the Arch de Chuck: a monument dedicated entirely to me.

In a way it was exactly what I had expected: sugarcane plantation all the way to the horizon.

And so here I am. I’ve parked the car and walked along Desnudo Boulevard. I’ve sat on my balcony at the Imperial Hotel and watched the waves come and go until the noise felt like a logical metaphor for the stupidity of my life. I’ve thought about my Cuba book falling off the printers into shelves and shopping bags to be carried onto the planes and hire cars of hopeful tourists who would inevitably feel as silly as me.

And suddenly it doesn’t seem so bad, because if enough people come to Cielo on the same delusions that brought me to this “sunburnt eye candy” of a beach, then maybe we can build Cielo after all.

And maybe people will know my name.


Look at me. Right now I am two letters on a page. But I’m not. I am so much more, so much you don’t know about, wont care about. I am tempted then to casually say fuck you and move on. But I won’t. Because I am interested in you; where you are three letters and so many possibilities. We may have so much in common (in spite of no common letters). So I want to know you. Generic you.  Let us try to become friends. But how do we know when we are friends? How many indents in out dialogue categorises as conversation. How many conversations will it take until we, as a collective, are granted access to this label? I hope I’m not boring you; I’d hate to get off on the wrong foot. I already feel so pretentious, little old me, talking about myself in the third person.

Thursday, 6 December 2012


What is most painful is knowing how vivid those final images must be for her. I sat in the field hospital beside her and watched thoughts ripple and break across her forehead. She will remember holding my hand at the market and the air raid siren howling like a woken baby and each thudding footstep tripping and stumbling over the darkness through the rose gardens where we had stopped to pick flowers and everything is smeared in a teary snot-clogged paste that catches in her throat. She will remember the swastikas watching from the windows along the Bautzner Straße as the night roared and flickered and we heard the thumping of giant’s footsteps. She has lived in the house we broke into. She has painted dust on the steps to that wine cellar and vineyards on the blood red bottles and when the bomb hit she saw the light shining off the splintered glass like rain.

When the doctors saw that her eyes were irreparable they sought to discharge her immediately but I convinced them to let her stay one night. Each hour she awoke and each hour I told her was the morning of a new day.

I began to believe myself. It was strange to see the darkness turn to grey then to know the sun could rise after the world has ended.

In the morning I led her between the rows of camp beds that lined the old warehouse. We stood outside so she could feel the February sun.

“Where are my roses?” she said.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I dropped them. But we can pick more.”

She was silent. Her head pointed at her shoes.

“A letter arrived from daddy while you were asleep,” I said.

“Really?” she said. “What did he say?”

“He said we pushed the Soviets out of Budapest. He says the Soviets are falling back like they have always done.”

She began to cry. She cried until blood appeared in her bandage. I placed my arms around her shoulders and held her head to my chest.

“I want daddy home,” she said.

“Daddy will be home soon,” I said. “You have me. We’re going home.”

“Ok,” she said.

I took her hand and we walked into the street.

“What do you see?” she said.

“I see the Bautzner Straße. I see the beer hall and it is open and there are men drinking and laughing in the street and waving flags. There are flags up and down the street. They know Germany is a strong proud country. They’ve heard about our victory in Budapest. They know the Fuhrer was right: ‘our unbreakable will and our capabilities will allow us to prevail.’ The sweet shop is closed but there are children playing hopscotch in the street. They are using debris as stones. Some houses were hit with bombs but there are Hitler Youth repairing them.”


“I’m your brother. I wouldn’t lie.”

“Tell me more.”

“And the rose gardens. The roses have bloomed. They are turning their heads to watch the sun.”

She loved to pick flowers from the rose gardens. She would wait until there was no-one around and take daddy’s scissors from her coat. She would spend hours arranging the roses into the vase on her window sill.

But she doesn’t ask to stop. She just smiles.

“Tell me more,” she says.


I carry a jigsaw piece in my pocket
because I’ve lost the other nine hundred and ninety nine pieces.

I don’t remember what it made
or where it went.

But I look at it sometimes
and hold its tiny arm between my fingers.

It has a red corner (but don’t we all?),
and it’s blue at the bottom (if you hold it the right way),

and the rest is purple
which is really just red mixed with blue.

It could have been the lips that join a kiss.
It could have been the dagger in the dead man’s back.

It could have been a picture of happiness
or maybe I’m holding it upside down.

It doesn’t matter what it was.
But I keep it with me

because I am looking for other lost jigsaw pieces
to link arms and make a picture

where red becomes green and yellow and blue and
when I look at it, it could mean something or everything or nothing

 if only I had another piece.

Monday, 26 November 2012




The Americans are coming. They arrive in big white safari cars that make my ears hum and the gazelle break through the scrub like fork lightning. We are used to Americans because Americans built the orphanage and the school. Sometimes groups of Americans arrive in trucks to look at the school and stand in front of it with their thumbs pointed at the sky. I used to worry that the Americans would unpeel the timber from the walls and load the school back onto the trucks and take it away again.

            The Americans leave their safari cars in a long snake tail along the road. They unload tools and animals that I do not recognise and carry them to the chieftain’s hut. The chieftain pokes at the animals and hits the tools against the dust.

            He lets the Americans stay.




The Americans assemble tents by the river. They unfold chairs and build a fire then sit down and watch it until dusk. They talk loud American. We lie in the scrub and listen for words we recognise.

            An American gets up from the fire and walks towards us. He fumbles with his crouch and his torchlight jerks about in the grass like a dying lizard. My friends giggle. They get up and run away. But I am entranced by the whiteness of his penis as he urinates into the grass.

            He has tucked it away when he notices me. I can feel his eyes over the blackness of my skin and the tick-like braids in my hair.

            “Hello,” he says in American.

            “Hello,” I say.




The man takes my hand and brings me to the fire. The Americans stare at me. They smell of flowers and drink from long glass bottles. They speak in American for a while then lose interest in me.

            The man speaks my language while reading a book. His name is Sam. I ask him if he is here to see the school and he laughs.

Then he asks about me. It excites me to be a curiosity. I tell him about my mother’s death and school and about the work trucks that will take me away next year to the farms. He nods as he listens. He licks his smile and picks skin from his knuckles.

I ask him about America and his smile widens. He leans into the dust and draws long tree trunks poked with windows. He says that America is a forest of trees and he lives in the top-most window. He says that everyone owns a car and they drive over bridges made of steel.

He says that you can have whatever you can dream of in America. The problem is deciding what that is.




The Americans don’t leave. More Americans arrive until there is a whole village formed by the river. We watch them sit and talk and bring supplies back from the horizon. Gossip has begun as to why they are here. They say there is a war being fought. They say fire fell from the sky onto America and the Americans fled like ants from an anthill.

            They say the Americans are refugees.




I ask Sam if this is true. He laughs and says yes. But he says that America will recover. He says that America is an idea and ideas can’t be beaten from his mind. He gives me a slice of chicken meat and I nibble it into fine threads.

            Then I ask if he will take me to America with him. He laughs and laughs.

He says yes.




There are new Americans in the village but these Americans are different. Some have yellow skin like old paper with slits cut for eyes. They don’t speak American but a strange bubbly gibberish. Others have dirty brown skin or pale white skin and sunny hair. Soon there are tent villages on all sides divisible by the colour of skin.

            Sam says the tents by the orphanage are the Asians. There are the British by the game reserve and the Russians further along the river. There are more people but they are more names for me to forget. 

            Then he stops smiling and his face becomes frightening. I can see creases like war paint fold across his cheeks. He points at the Asians. He tells me they are dangerous because they don’t agree that people should be allowed to have whatever they want.

            He says they dropped fire on America.




In the night-time I drop fire on the Asian tents.




The Asians must have known I would come. They put out the fires with long hoses as I watch from the scrub. They shout at themselves. They shout at their friends and the darkness and the shouting spreads from tent to tent until the village is surrounded by snarling and barking of vicious pack dogs. Out of every safari car comes guns. Guns are fired into the air and the sky screams back in agony.

            Men from the camps come into the village holding guns and fat torches. They shout at each other in their region’s American. We hide in our huts and watch. I see Sam with his scabby fist curled around a pistol and the torchlight catching in the creases of his cheeks. He is shouting American into the night.

            They shout until the grey fuzz of dawn nibbles at the darkness. They speak in hushed tones until light.

            By evening the safari cars are packed and gone.




Sometimes I sit in the dust where Sam’s tent once was with flowers against my nostrils and know that Sam will come back for me when the trees sprout again from the ash bed of American dust. I imagine ridiculous things, like drinking from long glass bottles and placing one shoed foot against the pedal of a safari car as it follows the other cars to wherever it is that people go.

            Safari cars drive along the road but nobody stops to look at the orphanage. Sometimes, when my mind is weak, I wonder why people who have everything ever bothered to stop at all.

Around me

The city is wrapped around me like a blanket tonight. The cars wait in long cues for me to pass by shopfronts and hookers and office windows that shine down on me like stars. I see shadows in the darkness that reach out and pull me through doorways into empty bars and sex clubs and parties of strangers huddled around the heat of a cigarette in lofts over empty banks and open planned warehouses that dement the soul and pump out babies on conveyor belts. I am drunk, stoned, depressed, on a train in the darkness going around and around and the people around me stare at their reflections in the windows and see only the city as it wraps around them like a blanket and slowly they dissolve.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

To my doona

How can you recluse from something you’ve never seen.
Life doesn’t live in darkness.
It throws coins at the homeless and hates the government
and finds love and loses love so it can find love again.

Come with me. Come outside.
I will tuck you around my shoulders as we drink coffee and talk to Margaret
(remember her? You liked her).
We can laugh at all the different types of soy milk.

So what if people talk about us? People talk about a lot less.
People will talk about anything. You will learn that quickly.
And they do it with their heads held high
as the wind cuts into their necks.

Maybe we will start a trend.
Then you can tell all your new friends
that you were the first doona on the street.
Then you will know what it actually feels like

 to come home and really feel tired,
to lie with me and really feel warm.
I need you, doona. And you need me
because without me

 you’re just a cotton bag on a bed.

Saturday, 10 November 2012


You and I ascend the painted nights
and sail adrift from isles of smearing lights;
Beneath smooth gentle waves cavort
strung to my unconscious thought.

Alight our solo voice entwines,
Memories twist around the dotted lines;
And elated we distort remiss
reflections on the steel abyss.

Sullen stills of life abide
and blur into the perpetual tide;
At nil but peace, where we begun
You dissolve against the morning sun.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Tails and Fins and Angel Wings

Let’s say that my life is a work of fiction. If this is true then it has a structure: a backbone to which hundreds of years of evolution have attached tails and fins and angel wings. Now I, Chelsea Moore, am a construct designed to fulfil some purpose. Every time I miss the train or get called scag in the corridor or even breathe, it means something, like God is twitching my limbs with his pen.

            Now maybe I can make sense of it all.

            My story ends simply. I am lying on the tiles in the toilets bleeding thought bubbles from the back of the head. My eyes are closed. My mouth hangs open like the lips of a milk carton. I am not dead but I should be. And since this is fiction, let’s say that I am.

            There is Gloria Cupbottom shaking me, lifting my head then not knowing what to do with it, retreating as the blood edges closer to her school dress. She has an epiphany. She starts to cry.

It doesn’t matter what she does next.

I spend so much time in those toilets but I don’t remember a thing about them except that the bowl smells like the canteen’s Tuesday chicken rolls and I can see my fat cheeks in the water’s reflection before I throw up.

That’s where I am when she finds me. I don’t even know she is there. Something just grabs me under the arms and pulls me up and everything goes white and squiggly, like someone is changing the channel behind my eyes. I am flying. My legs go limp and something—the roof—hits me in the back of the head and I die.

I don’t know if it is chance that she finds me there, but this is fiction so let’s pretend she followed me. She has followed me since she the story’s beginning—when we sat me down in the canteen at the start of lunch. She opens her bag and pulls out two sandwiches. Ham and cheese and lettuce and tomato and mayonnaise on sourdough.

“I noticed you never bring lunch,” she says. “So I thought maybe we could eat together.”

I’d like to pretend that I’m poor, that I got into this school on a scholarship and my dad doesn’t have two slices of bread to stick together with peanut butter. But that wouldn’t explain why I say no.

I say no because she is a loser. She’s a loser because she has no friends. She has no friends because she doesn’t try to make friends. She doesn’t try to make friends because she’s fat.

“I’m really worried about you,” she says. “You’re so thin.”

“You know nothing about me,” I tell her.

“Oh come on Chelsea,” she says. “Everyone can see it.”

I stand up and everything turns squiggly. I try to walk away like nothing is wrong.

So that’s it. Now I have a character trapped in the walls of a story. Now I can pull apart the letters that hold her together and pass judgement on her like the idle gossip of the lunch-time corridor.

No. Here’s a more interesting story.

There is a girl who thinks that stories can exist without someone to read them. She thinks life can be summarised and changed and that it amounts to something more than a stream of thoughts that are thought of and forgotten. She can write and think and pass the day until the next day begins and she will stand on naked on the bathroom scales at 7:15 worrying about the weight of her thoughts until the needle stops and she sighs zero grams of relief. She can grow skinnier and escape into books but she will never leave her own head.

In the end she puts down her pen.

The Girl Under The Bed

I know this girl. She lives next to me in a ramshackle house where the front door doesn’t fit in the doorway and the floorboards are full of holes where nails should be and the last time they tried to mow the lawn the grass was so thick and long that it jammed the mower blades. Sometimes I play at her place. She is a total tomboy. We play-fight in the backyard and hide and seek and pretend to be adults. Sometimes she stays over at my house. She likes to sleep under my bed. We never tell my parents.

            One night when the stars are all shining and the moon is fat and heavy in the sky, she appears at my window.

            What are you doing?

            Nothing, I say.

You can’t be doing nothing. That’s impossible.

Then I was daydreaming. Daydreaming about the moon.

Where do you think the moon goes during the day?

I think it lies on the ground somewhere, and it gets ready for the next night.

Do you think people fix it?

I don’t know. I don’t think so. It’s full of holes.

I’ve built a rocket ship, she says. It’s in the backyard. Do you want to find out where the moon goes?


She disappears from the window and I follow her down the lattice where the vines grow thick and twisty and across the lawn and then through the gap in the fence that dad is always complaining about at dinner. Her garden is lit up in the moonlight. She takes my hand and her skin is soft and damp and she pulls me into the grass that grows high over our heads and the stars dance between the blades and I can’t see where I’m going but follow her tugging on my hand and everything around me is dark and the dark pulls away into more dark and then we come out at a clearing where the clothesline hangs overhead.

There, she says. And under the moonlight is a spaceship, just like the ones off TV. I follow her inside, to a room where the walls are buttons and the floor is sloped and through the windscreen all I can see is sky.

Do you know how to fly it?

Of course I do, she says. With her back to me she taps at buttons with both hands and the spaceship lurches.

Hold onto something, she says and then the machine jolts and sputters and we are flying high above the grass, then the estate and the city and the country, but I can’t see them because we are pointed straight at the moon.

Do you think it is made of cheese? I ask her. And do you think there is a man in there? What do you think he will say when he sees us? Do you think he’ll be nice? Like that man who hangs around out the front of the milk bar?

I don’t know, she says. We’ll find out.

The spaceship is slowing now that we are getting close. I can feel the smile on my face pulling back my cheeks and I am almost laughing and my hands just keep moving but I can’t stop them. I think about my family, asleep at home, with no idea what I am doing now. I can’t wait to tell them in the morning.

We’re here, she says. She taps at some buttons and the spaceship stops sputtering and the door opens and the whole wide moon is there before me.

But there is something not right as I walk out onto the ground.

There is no cheese here, I say. And there is no man, there’s no-one at all. And I can’t walk, I’m floating.

What are you talking about? She says.

And the moon can’t rest on the ground because the world is round.

No, it’s not!

And it can’t go anywhere at night because it is always night up here!

Please, she cries. Just stop it. Stop saying these things. And she is crying and I feel like crying too.

And your space ship is just a cardboard box!

And then suddenly I realise I am upside down and I fall out of the sky and I am falling into nothing, looking up as she looks down.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

The Fanny Show

Act 1.


Fanny Eagleton was created by the simple chemical reaction of silicon and oestrogen under a bright light. In a puff of Chanel no. 5 she appears in the sepia glaze of Collins Street behind her Ray Ban prescriptions. Like her middle-to-menopause-aged divorcée after three glasses of red and a bath bomb target audience, we follow her up the concrete catwalk. Mike holds the boom over his shoulder like he’s gone fishin’. Marty’s head is down, hoping desperately that no-one recognises him from his university days. I’ve got the camera trained on Fanny’s straining bra-strap.

            But up ahead the top-heavy totem pole of flesh has stopped. Like shadows we pull up behind her.

            “Marty!” she says. “Can we get a shot of me giving money to that bum?”

            She points a $150 fingernail at a hobo wrapped in charity bin off-cuts and slanting a cardboard sign across his lap. The whole show relies on keeping Fanny happy and she’s already asking Mike if he has change for a fifty. Marty approaches the hobo gingerly.

            “Hi,” he says, offering a hand. “Martin Sherwood.”

            “Do you want me to sign a petition for something, Martin?” asks the bum.

            “No,” says Marty politely. “I am the director of The Fanny Show.” Marty knows better than to pause after that statement. “We were hoping that we could film Fanny giving you a… donation.”

“What sort of show is this?” asks the bum.

“It’s a reality show.”

“What, so you film this broad going about her life?”


“See, this is why I don’t bother owning a TV.”

Marty watches the bum’s brain moving through the gaunt outline of his forehead, asking himself why out of all the hopeless dropkicks in this city too lazy to hold up a Big Issue, did we stopped at him? Does he look the most harmless deadshit on Collins Street? Or the most pathetic? Maybe he’s the most photogenic? His parents did tell him he looked like a young Mickey Rourke.

“Alright,” he says. “I’ll do it for $200.”

“What?” stammers Marty. “Listen mate, we’re giving you publicity here. You’re going to be that homeless man off the TV. Fans of the show will be lining up to give you money.”

“That’s why I want you to give me the $200 off camera and her to give me a dollar on camera. No, two dollars.”

This shrewd bastard has too much business sense. No wonder he’s at the Paris End of Collins Street. Thommo at the office will shit himself if he hears that his Monday night stocking filler blew two hundred bucks on a bum.

“Hold on,” says Marty. “I’ll talk to Fanny.”


Act 2.


Fanny is rubbing lipstick on lipstick while Jock holds a mirror.

            “Listen Fanny,” says Marty. “I think it is wrong to exploit this poor man on television. The audience won’t believe you are doing it from the goodness of your heart if there are cameras trained on you.”

            “But…” says Fanny. “But Jock just lent me ten dollars.”

            “If you want to give him the ten dollars,” says Marty, “then you are doing a wonderful thing. But I just don’t think we should film it.”

            With a flick of her eyelashes, Fanny begins dropping Lois Vuitton bags across the pavement.

            “What are you doing?” asks Marty.

            “I’m looking for my phone,” says Fanny, “so I can call the network and tell them what you’re doing.” The scattered bundle of bags is blocking pedestrians and a few people who have recognised Fanny’s breasts from television have gathered around to watch.

            “Fanny, don’t make a scene,” says Marty weakly.

            “I am the fucking scene!” says Fanny. She locates her phone and furiously mashes the screen in an attempt to unlock it. After several painstaking seconds she turns to her small crowd of women built from sausage meat.

“Do you all want to see me give money to this bum?” she cries.

Spasms of noise blurt from the crowd. Marty turns to me.

“Alright,” he says. “Roll film.”


Act 3.


Fanny approaches the bum. She has taken off the Ray Ban’s so the bum can see the eyes that wooed fame and fortune.

            “Hello,” says Fanny. “I’m Fanny Eagleton.”

“I know who you are,” says the bum.

Fanny smiles, clearly flattered by the breadth of her notoriety.

 “And what’s your name?” she asks.

The bum holds his cardboard sign below his face and stares long into the camera lens as if maybe he can see the audience on the other side.

“Martin Sherwood,” he says.

Fanny glances at Marty.

“Really?” she says.

“Yep,” says the bum. “After I flunked film school I got a job filming star-struck celebrities going shopping. When it was noticed that I was a total fraud at life, nobody hired me again. So I ended up in the street.”

            Fanny’s newly lipstuck mouth hangs open in shock.

            “I was going to give you ten dollars,” she stammers. “But now I’m not going to give you anything!”

Then she turns and walks back to the camera. She takes Marty’s hand and pulls him away down the street.

            “Don’t listen to him, Marty,” she says. If he’s going to make a living sucking pity out of people then he has to learn some respect.”


“Stop!” says my editor. I click pause on the furious expression eclipsing Fanny’s $400 eyelashes. “We can’t use any of this.”

            “Why not?” I ask him. “It’s the perfect scene. It’s almost too good to be true.”

            “Firstly, it makes Fanny out to be the hero. It breaks with her character as a one-dimensional bimbo. Secondly, it draws attention to the Fanny Show for exploiting Fanny as a one-dimensional bimbo. Thirdly, Fanny would never be seen with a bum and even if she was, this bum has neither the charisma nor sex appeal to pull off prime time. Would you like me to go on?”

            “No. I think you’ve made your point.”

            “Look kid,” he says with a hand on my shoulder. “Marty is your boss, and it’s pretty heartless to make him look like an idiot on primetime television. Delete the footage.”

            But my editor is a spineless chain smoker who never aspired to anything higher than The Fanny Show. When he is gone I slip the tape into my pocket.

The Snake and the Bag of Apples

This hobo’s moved into the old nightsoil alley. He sits there all day staring at the cobbles like maybe if he looks pathetic enough then God’ll come down and give him a hug and tell him everything’s gunna be alright. I watch him from the window as I eat my Weet-Bix just hoping that I might see him do something. For a while I thought maybe he knew something that nobody else did, that by sitting still forever you found inner peace or something. Then I thought he was dead. But this morning I can see his breath plume and disappear into the cold.

Walking to school, I decide I’m gunna try and talk to him. I haven’t said a word to him since he showed up one day and I thought he was gunna ask me for money, like because I wear a tie I must be privileged. I stand there, right in the middle of his eyes so that my feet tread on his cheekbones and my forehead holds his eyelids open. And still I’m not sure he sees me until I speak.  

“Hi,” I say.

“Hi,” he says. His voice is coarse as a fart. He stares me in the face but his eyes look too bloodshot to see anything.

“What’s your name?” I ask.

Brandon.” Shame. He looked like a Stanley.

“What are you doing here?”

“I live here.”

“Why don’t you live somewhere better?”

He smiles and his teeth point everywhere like brambles.

“Where would you recommend?”

It’s so weird that someone can have nothing, not even a history. I run inside and find an old box of biscuits and a bag of apples. He thanks me and places the apples on his lap.

“My mother told me not to accept food from strangers,” he says.

I sit in English class and wonder how Stanley ended up here. I mean, he can’t have been homeless his whole life. He was probably abused as a kid and stuff. You know, sex and violence and all that shit you see on TV. Grew up stealing stuff from charity bins (I mean, isn’t that why they call them charity bins?). I bet he broke into a couple of houses too. I wonder what he thought when he was in there. Probably patted their dog and sat on the couch with a packet of chips and watched Oprah repeats thinking the whole time that you had to be born into this respectable lifestyle. He’s wrong though. I fight bloody to be respected at this school. Like at lunchtime, Peter Carson throws his sandwich at me in front of the lockers and everyone is laughing at me. So I knock him down and sit on his chest and shove sandwich down his throat. He makes gagging noises and his limbs jerk like he’s trying to escape in all directions at once until the principal pulls me off him. He takes me to his office and shouts at me for a bit. Then he sends me home.

I’m pretty riled so I have a smoke down by the creek and walk home slowly. Stanley’s asleep and the biscuits and apples are gone. I stand over him and look for crumbs in his beard and wonder how someone with nothing can piss all over a favour. I find the biscuits and apples in Mr. Finch’s bin. The arrogant bastard hasn’t gone more than six steps to dump them. Now I know he can walk I wonder if he can run.

The first apple catches him in the temple. Juice and apple gore spatter across his dry-as-a-bone and his eyes snap open. The second apple bounces off the fence above his head.

“Hey Stanley! Is something wrong, Stanley? Why don’t you do something about it?”

I get him a good one in the nose and he’s up on his feet and I reckon behind that beard and hair he looks scared. He turns and legs it up the alley and out of sight.

I stand there until I’ve calmed down a bit, then I go inside and grab a bag of chips and sit by the window. The alley looks so empty and useless without him. I wonder where he’s gone. I wonder if he’s found another alley by now and a new cobblestone to stare at. The chips taste like nothing and all I can see through the window is chunks of apple. I wonder how long it will take for them to rot or wash away or for someone else to pick them up.

In the end I do it myself.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Ticket Booth

When I get out of here I’m Stephen. But right now I am Cameron. I haven’t spotted the name before. Two or three months I’ve been working here and today its finally dredged out from the bottom of the tag bucket. There’s a confidence to the name which I like. It reminds me of a kid I knew way back in Primary School. The name looks decent in my reflection off the ticket window so I decide to stick with it for today. Last week I was Joseph. One week, when I was really riding on some giddy stupidity, I was Sarah.
It is Sunday morning so the lobby’s empty. Through the ticket window you can watch the inkblots of scum forming on the carpet before the cleaners come through tonight. On the window I can see Dale’s bloody eyes and fluro thermos that is leaking a ring of coffee onto the bench. It’s Dale’s regular Sunday dress. It is common knowledge that his liver can be rung out like a tea towel. Dale Parsons’ crinkled 12th Form tie and crew cut are local legend at school. When I decide to ask him how he is faring I reckon its Cameron’s confidence that makes me say it.
Ya feeling any better yet? The ticket booth is warm and sterile and it always makes me feel better.
            Almost. Dale hitches up his jumper and drags his fingers through the thatch of shaggy black hair that descends from his navel into his belt. I shouldn’t look. Its sick and wrong and invasive. I’m a good person really. People tell me that and they would have a much better idea than I do. But it doesn’t look like Dale has noticed.
Tell me something, he says.
Anything. Just get my mind out of my skull.
C’mon Stephen, I tell you everything. What did you do last night? He lifts the thermos and again I can see the ring of spilt coffee on the countertop. It could seep through the wood and leave a ring there forever.
Nothing. Got assignments due Monday.
Tenth grade’s a bludge, Steve; ya trying to hard. Go get shitfaced. It’ll do you some good.
S’pose so.
Tell me about something else then. Tell me about Laura. Dale has enough tact not to talk too much about school.
What more is there to know?
I don’t know. What did ya do when you were with her? It feels like Dale was after some salacious detail but I’ve got more class than that.
Back in Gosford, Laura and me would piss around on the groynes and toss chips into the harbour near where Mum used to take me for walks as a kid. Laura was always pale and in the wind off the sea her skin turned turquoise. In peak season we’d sneak into motels and moonlight as guests to use the pool.
That is what I tell Dale. I just wish it were true.
Sounds grouse, Dale says. And you don’t even talk to her anymore?
No. We broke up pretty bad just before I moved down here.
It doesn’t sound like you’re too over it.
I guess not.
            My pocket starts vibrating and it breaks up my mood. Its Mum and I hang it up almost straight away. Store policy. I feel pretty stupid though that for a second I believed it could be anyone else.
            Who was that?
            Didn’t recognize the number.
            They’re the most fun to answer. No strings attached. Dale has this way of talking where his saliva sloshes about on his gums. His nose has a kink in it from where he tripped into an elm tree after a ‘particularly big piss up’ as he calls it. It is hard to make out the minute puncture on the side of his nose where his stud should be.
            Next time I’ll hand it to you then.
            He grins and picks up the thermos. I wipe up the coffee ring before he even knows what’s going on. There isn’t a stain on the bench. I’m not even sure the bench could stain.
            You’re a bit protective of this place aren’t you? I always feel like I’m coming into your bloody home.
            I like it here. And I do. I like the massive cinema issued jumpers that hide my gut. I like watching kids come out of the theatres and dance around their parents feet or fire blanks from finger guns. I like sneaking into the theatres during my break and watching anything, I really don’t mind what. I do particularly like the double decibel narrators who’s minds are a monologue with an audience. And I like my name box.
            I can feel Cameron’s confidence in me. If I have to share all of this personal crap then Dale should too.
What happened to you last night? Dale waggles the thermos in response. Exactly, I tell him. How’d it go? Dale doesn’t look to keen to talk. Dale is royalty at school and I know much better than to piss him off. You don’t have to tell me.
            Nah, that’s alright. I trust you. And its not like anyone listens to you anyway. It almost sounds affectionate. Got trashed. It was a house party at Jason Cardigan’s. Dianne Peterson was there. His house backs onto a park, so I snuck out the back and threw up into a bush for twenty minutes. I feel I should be making sympathetic noises but they don’t seem to be what Dale wants. Then I didn’t want to go back inside, and I didn’t want to go back home. So I had the car there because I thought I was gunna stay the night and I just got in and drove.
            North on the highway. I’ve got an uncle in Port Macquarie. I was so drunk I thought I could get that far. I was so drunk I thought I could drive. Didn’t get too far though. Dale trails off as a girl approaches the counter. She has a broad grin which parts across her face.
            How’s it going? opens Dale. It is as if he never told me anything. There is that familiar fucking bravado back in his voice that makes it sound instead like she’s going to help him.
Fair right, says the girl. There are little red pimple bumps falling from her hairline and collecting on her eyebrows. She has eyebrows peaked like Laura’s. Once Laura tried to show me her newly sculptured eyebrows. She covered her eyes with her hand and tripped over a bedroll on her floor. This girl has spent a lot of time on these eyebrows from the way they are plucked and groomed. They obviously mean hell of a lot to her.
What can I do ya for, then?
A second girl is approaching my counter. She looks a little like Molly Rhoeder from the old High School. Her dress is crinkled at the front like palm lines and there are freckles across her neck which fall into her cleavage.
How can I help you?
Do I know you? It must be the surprise because for some reason I suddenly feel guilty that I don’t.
            No. I don’t think so. Sorry.
Why are you sorry?
I don’t know. There is really no need to know me. It is only after this sentence has been released from the factories of my free forming adlibbing mind that I realizes its inadequacies, its stupidity, everything it neglects and collects. Every bit that is wrong with my fucking brain.
Well, I’m Penny. And it is a pleasure to meet you, Cameron.
It’s Stephen. I certainly doesn’t feel like Cameron any more. I drop the badge on the bench. Not even that sounds right. It takes too long to fall.
Stephen then; I didn’t think you name was Cameron; you didn’t really look like a Cameron anyway.
What can I do for you? I can see myself talking on the glass. I can see her too. It feels like I’m talking to both of us. But I’m professional. My eyes will never leave her face.
Are you sure I don’t know you?
Pretty sure.
Do you go to Hornsby High? There is a fluorescent fucking pimple on my chin.
Ninth grade? I scratch down my fingers down my face and one nail is able to catch it. I hope she hadn’t noticed it but I’m not sure how she couldn’t have.
Tenth. But there is too many assignments and crap on at the moment.
Ten’s a bludge. You’re trying too hard.
Thanks. She is laughing and her hair slides across her face. Her hair is blonde and brown so it can’t be told which is natural. Its probably neither.
Still got pencils at home from tenth grade. Chewed them right down to the graphite. Made my teeth black. Have you ever done that?
            Are you new around here? I reckon I can make out her breath through the glass. Something fruity, strawberries maybe. It is always berries in books. There is definitely a fiction in her.
Moved down from Gosford few months ago. Her skin is pale and clear. It is almost like Laura’s except Laura’s skin is paler so any mark or mood shows up very clear.
And you chose this dump?
My mother wanted to live by the hills. It was after dad died.
I’ve been to Gosford, she starts suddenly. Me and some friends took the train up and got trashed on the beach. Then we wrote treasure maps and love letters and rumours and stuffed them into cruiser bottles and piffed them off the dunes when the tide was up. Did you ever do that?
You should. It’s liberating. Do you go back up there much?
No. I don’t think I’ll be going back for a while.
Do you like it here?
Why are you asking all of these questions? I can see pores pop across her forehead and drape down her cheeks.
Am I making you uncomfortable?
No, no. There is a cloudy yellow in her eyes, like paper left in the sun.
Its alright, then; I know you now. Do you like it here? I like it here. Its such an easy place to dislike though. The main street reeks of smog and the derros always wolf whistle a mouthful of smoke and spit at me whenever I’m at the train station.
I like working here. Behind the counter. My gaze is snagged on the point where her eyelid comes together and the pinky grey slug skin and cyst on the edge of her socket. It’s like I’ve found some secret on her face that no one’s supposed to see.
            What is it like back there?
Warm. Predictable.
Ha. I doubt that.
It seems so.
I’d love to work back there. It feels more like a compliment than a statement.
Can I help you with anything?
            Penny? It’s Dale. At some point his customer has gone.
            Hi Dale, just having a chat to your friend here.
            Can we get you a ticket or not? Dale looks really pissed off.
            Orright then, she concedes. She shuffles over to Dale’s counter. I can’t look at her so I start wiping down the bench tops. Dale has the same Adidas runners as I had back in Gosford. Mine had a series of welts in the side where I scraped them on the rocks by the headland. The shoes got ditched in the garage sale before we left. Only one car load of stuff is going south, Mum said. I’m not doing another fucking trip. When they are done Penny calls out “see you later boys.” I look up so I can watch her legs swing around the corner.
            I think she likes me, I tell Dale. As I say it I realise it is ridiculous. Dale is tossing scrunched up ticket stubs at a poster against the back wall.
            We used to go out. She’s just getting back at me.
            Are you sure. I feel stupid for asking. He’s pretty fucking sure.
            Drop it. Seriously.
            Ok. The stubs are bouncing off the wall and across the floorboards. The ink has smudged on the sweat and force of his fingertips. Something in me thinks he is lying. I don’t know what to do or think. So for some reason I start talking.
            Hey, what happened when you decided to turn around last night? The timing feels wrong and I’m already regretted asking.
            Nothing. Just came back. Realised I was broke. Completely broke. Not enough time here with you.
It seems best to leave him alone. So I finish wiping the countertops in silence. Since he’s still pissed off I wipe out the slots in the cash register, pull the loose tacks off the cork board and restocks the brochures. I pick Cameron off the bench and toss him below the counter. There isn’t much else to do so I rearrange the gift cards into rainbow order until it is time for his break. The whole time my mind is filled with the pores of her forehead.
Well, see ya later then.
See ya.
Outside the booth there’s a draught is blowing through the front doors and I can feel it the flabby rolls of my gut. It makes me think even more so that Penny was just some practical joke or misinterpretation. Even if that’s true I still want to see her again. In my head I am walking her to the station past the California bungalows and the derros at the station. Then on the platform we kiss.
The escalator is broken again so I have to take the stairs up to the cinemas. The grand red carpet is stamped with the blackening shell of old bubble gum. The building is a big empty mess. With the Multiplex opening at Karringal, it won’t be long before the whole place packs it in.
Cinema 3 is third down the corridor. I go in and pull the door closed because I like seeing the rim of light snap out. The screen blares out its own glow and two dozen patrons stare back dumbly like roadkill in a headlight. I can’t see her. From back here all the haircuts look like Penny, short and long bobs of muted hair. They all look like Laura too.
I never thought it could be like this, Don, Says the screen.
Julianne, I always thought it would, replies the screen. Always, it adds. The man and woman kiss. The two heads, minds and powdered cheeks move in slowly together. Their brows meet gently and then pivot about the nose.
Suddenly I feel ill, like someone is clamping my throat. I quickly leave the cinema and head for the staff bathroom. Someone has spilt toilet paper and piss all over the rim and it takes a few minutes of cleaning before I can sit down. My fucking phone starts ringing halfway through and I hang it up without it even leaving my pocket. If I feel like dealing with Mum then I can just play the conversation out in my head. Some drippy crap about how I’m fine and then something about dad, etc. I don’t want to think about Penny or Dale or Mum or anything in Hornsby that’s not the bleach coloured door in front of me. Instead I try to think about when on some warm day me and Laura climbed Mount Rumbalara in the middle of town. If you jump the fence near the car park and bash through the conservation reserve then you get to the top of the cliff that hangs above Johnson Street and the Woolworths. From there you can see the whole town centre and the station and the lawnmower shop where Dad worked and the clinic where Mum was a nurse when she wasn’t on one of her 9 to 5 smokos. Behind the highway and the cheap motels, the town falls away over the groins and into harbour.
            I can’t imagine ever living away from the sea, says Laura.
            Me neither.
            Laura picks up a rock by her feet.
            I bet you can’t get this onto the roof of Woolies.
            What if I missed? I could hit someone.
            C’mon. I reckon you can do it. She hurls the rock and it crosses the street to bounce along the supermarket’s roof.
            See. Nothing to it. She hands me a rock. C’mon. Will you do it for me?
            I throw hard. The rock clears the road easily and scuttles across the middle of the roof. Laura holds my hand. We sit down in the brush and kiss for a long time. Then I am looking into her pale face and all at once I can see the cysts in her eyes.
            I want to be sick again but my stomach wont let me. I put my head into the bowl but nothing is coming. I stick my fingers down my throat to where my tongue is rough and bubbly and my head begins to throb. The toilet reeks of piss and bleach and suddenly the whole thing feels stupid.
Someone outside is fiddling with the combination lock on the door. I climb into a ball on the seat in time to see Dale’s Adidas traipse past under the door to the urinal. I listen to the steady force of the liquid hitting the ceramic. I know I shouldn’t but I don’t care. He never has to know I am here. I lift off my jumper and place it on my lap, then my shirt. Looking down I see my confetti skin and enormous flabby gut still slowly eclipsing over my cock. I listen to Dale finish up. He leaves without even washing his hands. Outside the cubicle I look at myself in the mirror over the basin.
Julianne, I always thought it would, I tell the mirror. It sounds fucking hilarious. I spread my fingers across the gut and change my tone. I always thought it would. It just sounds so ridiculous any way I say it. I put on my shirt but leave the jumper off. The shirt is somewhere less than skin tight and was the only size they had. There is another pimple on my chin and I decide to leave it. Then I go outside to wait for Penny.
Dale has already gone for his lunch break when I get back behind the window. I pick up all his stubs scattered across the floorboards and carpet and wait until the crowd begins trickling down the stairs. There are Mums squinting in the light and clumps of teenagers staring into the carpet. Penny’s not there. I watch through the stragglers, a middle-age couple who can’t keep their hands off each other. I don’t even care that I’m watching them. It’s probably what they want anyway. She is not coming and I get to feel stupid again for believing she would. There is a fingerprint on the outside of the glass near where her hand was resting. I can’t help but think its hers. I can’t help but think where else her fingers have been. I don’t normally clean the windows from the outside but this spot is particularly offending me.
 Outside with my cloth I wipe clear the fingerprint and look back in through the glass. I can see the canary yellow counter and the roller chairs and the bin and where I sit and where Dale sits and how we move behind the rectangular window. I can see myself on the reflection. I put my fingers to my chin and decapitate the head of the pimple so it falls triumphantly into the carpet. Then I put on my jumper and go back inside to wait for Dale to return.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Lego Town

My son is God. Standing by the window, he looms his six-year-old shadow over the town of Lego houses on the edge of the great shagpile plain. The plastic people look up at the dark sky but do nothing.
My son has never left the city. I do not know where he obtained his perception of towns or that the city has an end or that anything exists on the other side. He must have seen it on TV.
He stands on the edge of the little town, glancing over everything he has created with an eagre smile splitting his cheeks.
“So what happens now?” I ask him.
“Now I destroy the town!”
“Why?” I ask suddenly. And I do want to know. I try to be a good father: I bought him the Lego and play with him when I’m not too tired after work; but sometimes I do not understand him, this creature I made.
“I built it,” he says. “So I’m allowed to destroy it.” His foot hangs like a dark cloud over the church on the high street.
“No!” I say, but I cannot think of a good enough excuse as to why he should not drop his foot except that he is God and I hope that God would show more mercy. “It seems such a shame to destroy it.”
“But I’m bored with it. Now that I’ve made the town there is nothing to do.”
“Then why don’t you make something happen in the town?”
“Because smashing the town will be more exciting.”
I wonder whether God really had a gripe with Sodom.
“Look!” I say. “Look at this man!” I kneel down and point to a Lego man standing at a Lego bus stop smiling an infallible Lego smile even though he is waiting for a bus that has not been built. “We could make a whole life for him. Let’s give him a name. What do you want to call him?”
“I dunno.”
“What about Peter? Do you like the name Peter?”
“Peter is a stupid name.” He picks Peter up by the neck between his thumb and forefinger and throws him across the town. Peter collides against the police station and his smiling head falls off and rolls onto the street.
“Don’t do that to Peter!” I pick up his body and reattach his head and place him back at the bus stop.
“You can’t do that, he’s dead!”
“Yes I can,” I say. “I’m your father!”
In reply he rams the toe of his school-shoe through the nearest house. People scatter across the road.
“Go on!” he screams. “Fix that, Dad!”
I stand up to my full height and loom over him.
“Go to your room!” I shout. “And don’t come out until you have learnt some respect!”
“Fine. This is boring anyway!”
I stand there, listening to his footsteps stamp down the hall and his bedroom door slam shut. Then I kneel back over the broken house. Two of the walls are collapsed inwards and the roof lies across the single room. I reach down to pick up the pieces. I think about how to fix the house, where the bricks should go and the people should stand. But before I can pick up a block I’ve stopped. I’ve realised something. I’ve realised that this meaningless destruction was merely an act of God. I’ve realised that none of the Lego people seem to care. I’ve realised I could destroy the whole town and they would still find reasons to smile. Suddenly it all seems so pointless.
So I leave the whole mess on the floor and turn on the TV.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Swanston Street. Midday

At the very bottom

 Down! Down, hand in hand, slaps against the tiles. Pulls himself over me, curls long around me, wet, sweaty, nose in my neck and knees in my knees, hand in hand. Lie still.
            Lying, listening. Listening for trains. Honk. Honk. Honk. Near me. Close. Fragments of bright blue sky fall across my face.
Stops. Looking at me, breath on my lips. Touches me. The damp on my eyes. He says ‘God,’ and then he says I need to get to a hospital and his breath smells like mint. Silent.
Hand in hand. He pulls me up and the sun is on my face and my arms and somewhere an alarm is whirling around and a woman is screaming and screaming and his hand is soft and his arm pulls my arm and out on the street everything is so loud. Alarm. Screams. Ground drops.
Says he is Peter, says it means rock. Coming up Swanston Street where the midday traffic hums and hollers and splits down Flinders and we are running to catch a green light, he says. Says he knows the way.
Clouds blot the sun on my neck and my shoulders and my feet ache and thud and trip-trap and stumble across tram tracks and he pulls me out of the way. Away from the bombs, from the hundreds of bombers I saw on the sky.
Pulls me down. Fingers down my cheek. Bloody and sticky and snot and I want to cry and shout but my throat is bloody and gargle instead. Instead I wipe my cheeks with his fingers, hands, wrists, arms, fall into his chest and it is warm and heaves up and down and all he says is ‘It’s ok. It’s ok.
‘We are in Mc Donalds and it is lunchtime and it is busy and kids and stoners are pulling food from trays and staring at the street, like something is going to happen or something. Anything.’
Fingers in my hair and I convulse and cough into his lap, pulls me in and his ribs poke out and the skin on his neck is dry and his cheeks jut out from his cheeks and he takes my fingers in my fingers and says something. Something like ‘I know, I’m thin. But I sure beat the obesity crisis.’ Laughs. Some hollow laugh. Convulses. Up and down. Scares me, his knee bones and hips and shoulders and he holds me and laughs and says it’s ok.
‘We’ll get up and we’ll walk out of here and down Swanston Street, past the town hall and we’ll get caught in the crowds in the footpath and if we are lucky then we will get a tram and we’ll ride the tram past the Asian restaurants and the hipsters in the alleys and the businessmen and Chinatown and the creeps in Club X (laughs) and QV and Melbourne Central and then on to the university and we’ll walk through the crowds of sleepless students and the buzz of endless conversation and across Royal Parade beneath the big oak trees to the hospital and it will all be okay,’ and he touches my cheek with his cheek in a clap of thunder and his ribs against my breast and his shouders and my palms in his palms and my knees and I’m up—
Running and the doors open into the street and the thunder is falling, between cars, swerving, across the road, up the road, past the adult bookshop and across Collins Street and past the town hall and the claps of thunder and trains and screams and sirens and soon I will lose him in a crowd trying to get out of the rain.