Preach

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Our cat was run over by a red Nissan Skyline on Wednesday, and by Thursday morning the rotten nasty fucker had clawed itself up out of the patch of dirt behind the shed. He walked into the kitchen caked in dirt and blood and making a noise like an un-tuned radio. My mother knocked her tea into my lap and screamed.

‘Jesus Christ, Mum!’

My sister took it as her latest sign from God. She bathed the screeching demon and applied herself more rigorously to practising her street-preaching in the bathroom mirror after school.

‘And though Lazarus rose, had he not fallen? Was Lazarus not welcoming of his second death and second judgment?’

If the cat’s resurrection was a sign of anything it was of my poor grave-digging abilities and I was offended.

‘Don’t forget to turn off my straightener, Virgin Mary.’

Maryanne had taken to wearing floral dresses that were too big and too long for her, with boots worthy of stamping on sinners. I caught her searching through my makeup for blush. She wanted to look flushed with the gravitas of the Lord while she stage-whispered about Heaven and Hell at the bus stop.

I had been waiting for her to grow out of the Youth-Group phase and move steadily on to casual sluttery and gothic romance novels. For her birthday she asked for a Bible small enough to fit in her purse, so she could bang on about coveting thy neighbour’s wife at a moment’s notice, but asked that it be second-hand, and not too flashy. I went to Gould’s and found a pocket Bible, dropped it in the gutter and kicked it the rest of the way home so it would look humble enough for her liking. Elated, after blowing out the candles but refusing to eat any cake, she hugged me.

‘Soon you’ll see the light too, Jess, but you won’t blow it out.’

‘Profound.’ I took my cake to the living room to watch Law & Order. ‘Hurry up or you’ll miss the jogger finding the body.’

When it was my birthday she bought me a brand new King James and squealed about having saved up all her pocket money for it. Mum got angry when I threw it at her head and demanded to know where my Cosmo subscription was. She had promised me it before that stupid cat had gone and defied mortality.

‘Those women are examples of modern impropriety!’

‘You don’t even know what that means!’

Mum had to calm her down in the laundry where the covetous neighbours and their wives were less likely to hear her howling. I slammed my bedroom door behind me, startling scrappy little Lazarus himself.

‘This is all your fault, you dumb shit.’

 The cat yawned and stretched. I could hear Maryanne through the walls, wailing about Rachael and Leah. I scratched the demon behind the ears.

‘The next time I bury you, you better stay in the ground.’

I Have Friends Who Are Growing Gardens

A Private Tour of David Finnigan’s Computer

I have friends who are growing gardens – they want tomatoes and herbs – and while I don't have that impulse to grow and tend something, I do sometimes feel as if my computer's interior is a garden, and that I tend my desktop, my files and folders, my email and other online accounts the way they tend their fruits and vegetables. My digital space sometimes seems to grow of its own accord, it flourishes and withers in unexpected ways, I trim it and sculpt it and try to keep the weeds from growing.

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The Lost Hat

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Of all the things that get lost, the lost hat is the most memorable. Seawater all over the world is not the same seawater. You sit here shirtless. You could compose an entire corpse of a novel by writing only what comes to mind. One presumes one is not young. The back aches after a certain year. (Try to remember this is written for the second person.)  

In the murderous hills of the place in Italy where Baci chocolates are produced you spotted an actor, of some retort, and a band of Italians climbing the mountain singing The Internationale. At the top of the mountain in the middle of the square there was a gypsy girl and her gypsy baby. The actor used to play a spy in a television series. You thought when you saw him, ‘That’s him'. Immediately you questioned his motives for being in the same mountainous region as you. You were bored and had made plans to leave the following day. The actor looked as if he had settled in for a few months, even years. You thought, ‘He is having an affair. Perhaps with his wife'. You ducked into the little store and bought a green hat. You had one last dinner to get through before descending the mountain for good. You arrived at that quasi-theoretical position one reaches on the food in Italy only if you were foreign and had consumed much of it in restaurants in recent weeks. You wondered if the striking workers came up the mountain every day. It was just after their collective siesta. Their collective spirits were perky. You had not had a siesta. You are resistant to the cultural norms of others, unless they involve alcohol. You went back to the convent dorm and took a late nap. When you woke you didn’t know where you were. This had happened once before. In your own bed in your own mother’s house. It felt like a lesser déjà vu. You took Ellman’s biography of Oscar Wilde with you to the restaurant so that you would not be unarmed against the solicitations of the waiters and could bonk them over the hand with the book. When the gypsy family came in, begging and stealing, you wanted the waiters to dismiss them at once, but they tolerated them to the point where you had to dip into your purse. Naturally you did not order the tiramisu. You thought of the long night ahead at the convent. You did not always sleep in a straightforward fashion. Sometimes insomnia fell upon you, or built up inside you like an insurmountable wall. But you had not yet memorised all the insomniac prayers and poems. What if you ran out of pages of Oscar Wilde? The night passed. The next day, as planned, you boarded the train for Rome. You knew that you would visit the Vatican in the coming days. You dreaded the feeling of feeling overwhelmed by a lack of appropriate feeling. ‘Just make it up,’ you told yourself lavishly.

The Collector

11 mattresses

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She suggests they go to her father’s house. He hopes he has been able to impress her so far, with his close connection to a disabled sister, his weekly trips to the dog hospital to give them one last good walk. But he cannot hide his hardened mouth against the father. In the year they have been together he has only met the father once. It was a trip to his house in February, when the air in Victoria grows dull and wide and will not dance with the heat. The father lives on a farm that no longer produces, and calls himself a collector.

8 car engines

Now they are driving back there. He feels sick, and she tells him she feels sick too. When he asks where she feels sick she shakes her curled head and slides her hand between his legs, even though they are driving and she worries more than him about the road. Halfway there in a town called Birchip (he asks her to stop near the Big Mallee Bull so he can place his forehead against its cool painted stone) they stop to get something to feed the sickness, but just end up with congealing coffees sitting between them. He wants to ask her if the house will be full of stuff like last time. Whether they will have to stand on top of rubbish and pretend they are sitting on a comfortable couch. He is not very good at pretending. Every time he decides he will ask her he is given a small waft of her sweat. It is coming out of her in trickles that have dampened the creases of her blouse. Then he remembers that this is her father, and that he is just the pretend couch in the room until they leave.

2000 dried up Biros

Her father doesn’t answer the door. They knock and knock and she yells Bruce through the keyhole and Bruce through the windows and Bruce against the door. It’s hard to see inside because of the photocopiers and lamps and wheelie bins and drawing boards piled up like kindling waiting for a match. She tells him that she didn’t get an answer when she rang her father last, or the time before. She is already crying, heaving, as she walks with him over to the shed that is split open with sewing machines and half-renovated dollhouses. They open the sagging door and she says Bruce again, this time a statement, for no human could fit in there amongst all the things. He is thinking of something to say when she starts running fast towards the tractor that waits lonely in the field. He stands limp, doesn’t know what to say. In the distance he can still see her, crushing the wild wheat as she wanes.

Janine

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Once, this girl at my café, Janine, came in looking flushed and said, ‘Well, I’ve found out the reason why I’ve been feeling so shit. I’m pregnant.’

‘Oh, fuck,’ I said. ‘Wow. Fuck.’

‘No it’s fine,’ she replied, nodding, ‘I’m taking it as a good thing. I’m happy about it.’

She stood there nodding, biting her lip, until I said, ‘Shit, I’m sorry. I’m being a dick. Congratulations!’ Then Janine burst out crying.

I told her at least she’d finally be able to quit smoking.

Janine blew her nose and said, ‘Oh. Yes. Good point. Thank you.’ Then she took her pouch of tobacco and her lighter from her handbag and gave them to me. After I asked a couple of times whether she was OK, I went outside for my break and rolled a cigarette. I blew these big, fat blue-grey smoke-rings and got that under-the-covers feeling when I thought about how I would never, ever have to worry about what Janine was going through.

Then Janine came outside and sat down. She didn’t say anything and I didn’t say anything. The pouch was open on the table, the sun giving the clumps of tobacco a red-brown sheen. In a measured, reverent way, Janine reached forward and took out some tobacco and held it in her hand. She looked down at it. Two thick clumps. I watched her chest rise and fall for a moment. And then she reached forward, grabbed a paper, and rolled the cigarette with speed and precision. She put it to her lips.

‘No filter?’ I said

‘Well, if this is going to be my last cigarette for nine months,’ Janine said, I really want to taste it.’

‘Makes sense.’ I held out the lighter for her. She looked at the flame for a second, and then cupped her hands around it, bowing her head slightly so the cigarette could meet it.

Janine took her time with the cigarette, held the smoke down deep, and breathed it out slowly. She was a beautiful smoker. She looked away from me, into the sun, and either didn’t notice or didn’t care that I was watching her. When she stubbed the very last of it out I saw that her hands had stopped shaking.

I got up to go back to work, reaching for the pouch.

‘Can you leave it?’ Janine said, not looking at me.

I tried to think of something to say. Even in my silence, Janine wouldn’t look at me.

I couldn’t think of anything, so I said, ‘Sure.’

Janine sat there for most of the morning, smoking her cigarettes. I covered for her as best I could, and took her a coffee or a tea every couple of hours. She didn’t say anything to me when I brought her the drinks, and after a while I noticed she’d gone back to using filters. We didn’t speak about it after that.

Life Sentence

She saw her life as a long sentence broken up by commas in just the right places, like after her first day of school, the day her dog died, her first kiss, graduating high school, dropping out of uni, the first time she cried in front of a stranger; each clause seemed to carry on to the next without stopping, though sometimes there would be an exclamation mark like when she saw the bus crash into the building (!) or when her parents split up (!) and somehow in between all of that the fully-capitalised, colossal HIM slipped into her life like an outrageous interrobang, but before she knew it there was an ellipsis in the middle that felt so empty … and then she was wrenched apart and left with a kind of heart-brokenness that was ! and ? at the same time – but not together – so she took up painting with watercolours, won a local art show, gave up talking to her father, saw her first shooting star; she discovered that an ellipsis didn’t have to mean empty forgotten space but could be packed with wonder until she was ready to reach a full stop.

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Poems by Adriane Howell

‘Never feel guilty about pleasure,’ she tells me, presenting her slow-roasted pork belly: tender, fat-softened meat with viciously crunchy crackling. I can almost taste the fat that dribbles gold down the pork’s exposed flesh. My stomach quivers and my taste buds swell. But it’s only a photo, a partitioned strip, a hint to pleasures that can be mine if I buy her whole book.

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On Men

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One night at the Chook ‘n’ Snag Cambo ended up in the loo next to Razor.  Cambo hadn’t meant to. He got up without thinking and wandered down the hallway, over the threadbare carpet by the pokies.

‘Hey Cambo,’ said Razor, holding the door to the men’s open. ‘You followin’ me or somethin’?’

Cambo looked up with a start, saw it was Razor.

‘Yeah,’ said Cambo, making a face. ‘I’m followin’ ya.’

They were the only two blokes at the urinal – one of those wide troughs that stink of men and soaking mothballs. Razor unzipped, rolled his shoulders back, stared at the wall. A stream gushed and drilled into the metal sheet. Cambo was sure he could feel blasts of air eddying about down there; the kind that billow at the bottom of big waterfalls. He groaned in great relief, did Razor; shut his eyes and smiled.

‘Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about.’

By this stage Cambo had been eyeing the wall for several seconds, arms akimbo, member out, waiting. He’d drunk four schooners in short order, on an empty stomach to boot. He was dying for a piss and yet … nothing. Had he lost his effing nerve?

Razor knew what was happening. And Cambo knew that Razor knew. The only thing for it was to shut up, stare straight ahead and wait for Razor to finish. The seconds felt like hours.  Cambo’s face crimsoned. Shit!

‘I tell ya what,’ Razor said, shaking out the final drops. ‘That was glorious.’

Cambo turned away a touch, hid himself from view.

‘Sometimes,’ said Razor, ‘it’s the little things in life.’

‘Mmm,’ said Cambo, burning. A trickle? Not a single trickle?

‘Be with ya in a tick, Raze’.

Razor didn’t move an inch, just kept on standing there.

‘Meet ya out front in a tic, mate.’

The smell of Razor’s piss rose, soured the air, made Cambo’s eyes water.

‘Get us a beer, Raze. Golden Ale?’

Razor sucked his teeth, shook his head. ‘Member that time you told Jill Finch I couldn’t, ah, you know?’

‘Huh?’

‘She let it slip to all her friends.  Elle Kay, the biggest mouth in town, Jane Spencer, Curly Wurly.’

‘Curly?’

‘Finch couldn’t believe her eyes the night I finally did-a. She said to me, she said: who knew?  Ha! Who knew? I tell ya mate. That was some rumour.’

Cambo didn’t know whether to zip and run or go on with the farce.

‘It’s gunna be one helluva story though,’ said Razor, making to leave.

Cambo looked over his shoulder.

‘What is?’ he said, to a closing door. ‘Oi Raze, what’s gonna be?’

 

EGGS

‘Well Bukowski lived off eggs,’ he says.

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They’re in Woolworths. He’s piling the trolley with cartons of eggs.

‘Yeah, that and yeast. All the fat bastard ever did was drink.’ She pulls a bag of pasta off the shelf and throws it in.

‘Hey, no carbs. No carbohydrates. Put it back.’

‘Whatever.’ She rolls her eyes and pushes the bag back onto the shelf. ‘Egg-head.’

‘Bukowski never cooked,’ he says. They’re in the canned goods aisle. ‘Eggs, cans of tuna, beer. These are the things a writer needs,’ he says. ‘Cooking? Who has time for cooking?’

‘He wins a prize and now he thinks he’s the next Bukowski,’ she says to the bottle of tomato sauce she’s holding in front of her face.

He keeps talking as if he hasn’t heard her. ‘I mean, carbohydrates. What the hell even is a carbohydrate?’ He scratches at his knee and feels the tough little hairs. ‘Whoever needed carbohydrates?’

‘So what, you’re gonna start drinking now, is that it?’

‘Maybe I will. Why do you care? You drink. Why shouldn’t I drink?’

He remembers when they were fucking on the bed, her legs up over his shoulders. He sees the roundness of her egg-white breasts. The panting, the sweat, the rattling of the bed against the wall. He remembers when he had her from behind, her perfectly shaped arse. Sweat like dew on a pair of eggshells. Now that, he thinks, that right there.

It’s late. The house is empty. He’s standing at the window in the kitchen, looking out over the yard. The grass is invisible in the dark. He’s so hungry he’s practically shaking. The money’s run dry. The publishers turned away. She’s gone. The pronounced shape of her silence is scalding.

His last two eggs are boiling in the pot. The cupboards are empty. Maybe I could rob a McDonalds, he thinks. Maybe I could do that. But then he remembers he doesn’t have a car. No wife to act as getaway driver. He puts the golf clubs away.

The eggs are rattling around in the pot. The sound is tremendous. The cupboards are rattling, he thinks. The rats will be scared away. And all that steam. He’s lost in it.

Two eggs. Two eggs are all that remain.