The Car Crash
Rod thought it'd be a good idea to get some people along for the ride and save money on our petrol costs. He'd been practising a trick at gas stations whereby he put the petrol in the tank to say $20 then took the nozzle out and repeated this again to the same amount. Apparently the till only registered one of the transactions and so we'd had two for the price of one since Victoria. His uncle, who owned a gas station in Perth, had complained about the scam in a phone call and Rod, enterprising as he was, had tried it out. However, every dog has its day and after a few weeks it wasn't working any more. We were approaching the northern territories and had about 8000 k to go so Rod could reach Perth in a few months time and get his plane back to the Netherlands. I had no deadlines, only lifelines, songlines.
So, Rod put cards up in some hostels and after just a few days he announced that we had two contenders for the journey; an English rose called Emily and an American, Felstein.
Emily seriously wore a bonnet for the whole time she was with us. It was a proper bonnet that tied under her chin. She had a sort of picnic basket too, that she guarded staunchly; pursing her lips at the hundreds of impolite flies. She hadn't known Felstein before the trip and they didn't seem to click. Felstein was OK but had this thing about eating Philadelphia cheese and crackers which he refused point blank to eat in the van and would only partake at given rest stops. "Guys, I kinda need a rest stop. Is anyone wanting a rest stop? I'd really like to eat my Philly right now. Could we get a stop?" They also both wanted showers on a daily basis and shops, so they could continue believing in an idea of civilisation. They were what you might say 'high maintenance'.
Rod and I had considered ourselves the ride of the century. I mean, we had a stock of grass and beer, played Lou Reed and The Doors and we loved to take it easy and stop when we saw something wild; like a lightening storm across the desert or a breath-taking sunset or just to sit on that jewelled red earth, in the singing darkness and let the ancestral hum come up through your body and whisper ancient stories. We didn't give a shit about showers or rest stops; in fact rest stop wasn't in our vocabulary. Neither did we care about what products we could buy if we stopped by a milk store. OK, we liked finger ices; but only for interesting sexual reasons.
Getting back in the van after one of Felstein's Philly Fits, Rod said he wanted to take a nap in the back. He wanted me to drive for a bit. He said all this out of earshot from the other two as he knew my reaction; "But Rod, I can't drive." He turned to Emily and Felstein and told them we were just going on a quick run for 10 minutes to build my confidence in driving the van as I'd not driven for a while. So we got in the van, me in the driving seat, and he began the master lesson. "Just keep your foot steady on that pedal, look, look Linda, look at the dial here. Keep it at about 70. You'll be fine. OK. Just straight. See, there's nothing to it." And then he handed me a joint, told me to stop the car, and we took advantage of being away from the stiffs as we called them.
Not too long later, we returned. Emily came up front with me, clutching her basket and Felstein shared the back with Rod, who'd gone straight to post coital sleep.
It was going fine for quite some time. Emily got a bit worried about me trying to change the tape over and she said the volume was a bit anxious making. "But it's Jim, Emily." No. Emily was not a Jim fan. I don't know what turned her on. Mr Rochester probably. At one point I noted that I seemed to be fine keeping straight on the right but on the left I was going towards the verge every now and then. I started with an out of balance brain hemisphere theory but I could see Emily was getting uptight. I began, "I'm not saying I think I have got a problem, I'm just musing on it. I mean the main thing is that I don't drive.." She retorted, "Haven't driven for a while, you mean?" "No", I said,"don't drive. I've never driven before." Emily sank into her chair a little and went a paler shade of alba. "Well, I do hope you'll be OK with the left turn that's coming up?" she said. Left turn? I thought wildly. Rod hadn't said anything about making turns; left or right. He had definitely instructed me to go straight. Going straight was no problem, but a turn. "Well as long as you tell me when it's coming up," I said. "Why do I have to tell you, won't you see the sign?" she asked me in a voice that rose by the vowel. "Erm, no. I can't really see anything. I don't have any glasses, I lost them. So, if you could just tell me. Thanks." Then suddenly Emily began shouting, "Turn, turn Linda. Here! Now!" She panicked me and she was so insistent that I just turned the wheel. I didn't think about how fast one was supposed to go around a corner. I'd never driven a car around a corner in my life. Or driven a car. Or watched what speed other people did it at. Sensible people with driving licences and normal lives. So I turned the wheel at a 90º angle and at about 100k an hour.
We shot across the road, in front of the path of a roadtrain coming the other way and hurtled into the scrub. I went into slalom driver mode and dodged all the trees that were in our path in a way that could have got me into the Grand Prix. Then an 8ft termite mound loomed ahead. My foot had got jammed onto the accelerator by a stupid wooden ashtray Rod had made that had slid off the deck. We hit the termite mound and the car flew for a glorious few seconds then it crashed onto the earth and went into its second race forwards. I could see a sandbank coming up and made a decision to crash headlong into it rather than continuing for god knows how long with my foot jammed on the pedal. The van embedded itself, it had stopped. We sat, dazed, for a moment. The sound of steam hissing outwardly from the engine. The scene was soon punctuated by Rod sitting up in the back and saying in a sleepy voice, "Did we just crash?"
We got out unscathed. It was a miracle really. Not even one scratch. Emily still had her bonnet on, Felstein was holding on tight to his Philadelphia. I stood blinking in the sunlight and began to shake. Then Rod came around and before he looked at me he inspected the van. His van. His mashed up, smashed up, good for nothing van. Oh god I thought, this is it, he's going to go ballistic on me, he might even hit me, I've just written off his transport and we're marooned in the outback with two stiffs that hold us, me, personally responsible for their predicament which is entirely reasonable as I just nearly killed everyone. And we owed them money. Rod walked slowly towards me, I closed my eyes, waiting. His strong arms locked around me and he started to laugh like a maniac. My god I thought, he's gone mad, next he'll get violent for sure. But he didn't. He just laughed and laughed and then I laughed and we kissed madly and I knew then, that this, was love.
Restless Need a work in progress
The voices are always worse inside. On long, summer days they literally scream at me to stay outside – but one of them is a trickster and tries to stop me from doing the Timings. The Timings are important to the order of everyday. Without them everything will fall apart. And I mean everything. It's not just a case of me and my flat, it's a situation that affects the whole world. The Timings keep everything running.
I have to go out on 7 separate occasions throughout the day. It starts from 9.30am and ends about 5.30pm. Like a job. When I come back from any one of the ambles I stay in for maybe 15 minutes then go out again. I have the same circuit walks each day; up to town and back through the public garden, down the alley to the sea and along the prom then back. Up to town and into the library or a shop – but not for long. Along the alley and back along the prom. And combinations of those walks.
Sometimes I wait for her. I know some of her times; she talked to me more at the beginning – so I know at least a few times when she has to leave the house to give a class, or whatever it is she does. I wait in the courtyard and when she comes down the steps she has to see me whether she likes it or not. On those days I feel brave and wonderful. But I also feel angry afterwards because she never stops to talk to me properly. Today I tried to talk to her about the things she has in her windows but she couldn't wait to get out of the gate.
When I know she's gone for sure sometimes I get my paradise keys and go into her flat. The landlady forgot she gave me those keys before the flat got re-rented and it was being repainted and workmen were in and out. When I go in I am very quiet because I want to feel her through every part of myself. Sometimes I sit on her sofa for just a moment and imagine she is sitting with me, laughing and talking as we relax after a busy day. I always do one thing when I am in her flat; one small thing to show a visit was made; today I moved one of the plants; one tiny change to how everything is.
To be continued..
A Certain Kind of Love – a short story on kitsch
She was crying onto the knitted doll toilet roll holder when Robin popped by. "Oh Robin, I'm so pleased to see you," she managed to staccato out between sobs. "He's left me."
It had all started out as a beautiful romance. They had met in the old people's home that Sandra visited, every now and then, to pick up the clothes of deceased clients. Her friends found her resourcefulness amazing; they contented themselves with rummages around markets and 2nd hand clothing shops but Sandra went straight to the source. They would marvel at her nylon A lines, her brown patent leather brogues, her flannalette nightwear. She had a pretty nifty sideline in severe spectacles on the go too; those e-bayers were mad for them.
So, Sandra was picking up dead womens' clothes when she met Trevor.
"It's so fantastic! He looks like a nerd and he's got this name; Trevor!" Yes, Sandra was beside herself with joy. She had waited her whole life to meet someone like Trevor. A guy that wore wing collars, mustard coloured tank tops and looked like he was an eternal 40. He even had a bit of a stutter and avoided direct eye contact. He liked geography, ice skating and reading groups; where the others would sit patiently and wait for him to finish a paragraph.
Trevor visited the home every week to see his Aunt Wilma; who would berate him at length for bringing stale Battenburg cake instead of French Fancies. As he was leaving on that fateful day he literally stumbled over Sandra as she was rooting through a bin liner out by the back of the home. Hot with excitement at her polyester finds, the sight of Trevor tripled her zing-a-zing and she pushed him against a wall, her hands all over his hand knitted top.
Trevor had never had a girlfriend before; not a real one. He had had a cartoon lady for a few years that he would draw into various situations of friendship and passion; always mindful of keeping an equilibrium of gender power but secretly wanting to be dominated. Trevor's lack of experience with the fairer sex had only added to Sandra's desire and when she at last had put him in the frame of her lemon formica kitchen, she knew she had found 'the one'. Maybe it was the way he praised her mini quiches, or the jigsaw puzzle he suggested they did, maybe it was the small brown plastic comb he kept in his top shirt pocket or his embroidered hankerchief; but whatever it was, Sandra was in love.
Then Aunt Wilma died.
"Trevor, lovebud, I noticed that your aunt had quite a few portraits of herself in that room at the home. I need them." The statement set the tone for the Grand Plan that Sandra had been concocting since Aunt Wilma's death had ecstatically co-incided with finding a heap of plastic flowers and flashing heart lights at the local Indian stall. Sandra was going to build shrines throughout her flat; shrines of wonder and beauty to the dear departed aunt.
No-one had yet died in her own family; well, no-one of any significance and Sandra was beside herself with a burning need for quasi religious devotional practise. She already had bottles of holy water and statues of the Virgin Mary dotted around between the chintz sofa and the blow up plastic armchair (that Trevor was made to sit in "because you look so natural in that chair Trevor, it's incredible!" and he would fidget and sweat and squeak and consider taking up smoking so he could pop the monstrosity). Sandra had even got 'dot to dot' religious drawings up on the wall that she'd managed to swipe off her friend's four year old that attended Sunday School. Her absolute source of pride was the 'painting by numbers' Jesus on the Cross that she had done herself and even though some of it had evidently gone wrong and the Crown of Thorns was nowhere near Jesus' head; she still felt a real happiness everytime she looked at it. All the Icons put together couldn't surpass the beatification of that Lord of the dance; not even Elvis in his GI era, not even Ricky Martin (that strictly speaking wasn't of the right 'circa' but bloody hell; his La Vida Loca was HOT).
Trevor tried to explain that his aunt had fiercely spoken out against dogmatic religions and if anything had leanings towards socialism. "Cool!", exclaimed Sandra, "I'll place her altar next to Che!" So it was that the kidnap of Trevor's aunt's soul took place and after a lifetime of attending political meetings and reading existential material Aunt Wilma ended up with a large fluffy pink heart around her, the lights winking almost in jest, the plastic of the flowers smirking at the vulgar faux.
"Then he just...he just...he...", Sandra was almost hyper ventilating with sorrow, "What? What did he do Sandra?" asked Robin who was a Virgo and couldn't bear unfinished information or for that matter to be in the garishness of Sandra's flat for more than five minutes. "He said...he said..that..", "For fuck's sake Sandra! Quit the drama and tell me!". Sandra inhaled so deeply that Robin worried she'd have to do some medical manoveure, "He said that he hated everything about me and...and...he wanted his cartoon girlfriend again...and...that she...she was much more understanding of him...and ... and that I was as horrendous as my embossed flock wall paper..and I..I only got that wallpaper to go behind his chair because...because...the orange contrasted so crazily with his skin". Robin looked over to the blow up plastic chair that had been Trevor's seat for three months and then behind to the embossed orange flock wallpaper, "Well, I can see his point, I mean not many people suit orange Sandra, you know you have to be so careful with those citrus tones". Sandra looked over and clearing her sobs she said, "Well I suppose I could change it for a flowery print?" and with that she took a breath in, straightened her hair, got out the ceramic country house teapot, the wartime tin mugs, the tupperware plates set with paper doilies and started to prepare high tea.
He had a thing about faces, he wanted to watch her as he fucked her, see her mouth gasp, sometimes when he turned her round he would hold her head so he could watch her face sideways as he rammed from behind. She wondered if he knew this about himself, if he was aware of his signature moves – she doubted it. She knew it wasn't love yet she somehow wished for it, he knew it wasn't love and hoped she wouldn't want it. It was all easy enough – playing out the roles. His lines didn't seem like lines; because he believed them. She found the diversion welcome and thought naively that choosing a man for his lack of creativity would amount to a simple and honest character.
What neither of them had reckoned on was the chicken arriving on the balcony one day.
OK, scratch that, there was no chicken
Damn, now I've blocked myself with the chicken thing
The truth is he just stopped seeing her. Or he saw her for 40 minutes on two occasions in 7 days. She knew it was 40 minutes because she noted the time on his watch when he checked it at his arrival and then a few moments before his departure. He phoned each day and told her to phone if she went out and phone when she got back but he had no time to see her, he said. When she asked about when they might meet and go to all the places he had enthused about in the first weeks he said she was being controlling.
I lost my principles in this city
some type of corrupted honesty
my skin shed to become so smooth
yet my hair became as wool
I have been a wild animal
because of the abandoning
a childhood of nightmares and ghosts