WORDS | Jack Cameron Stanton
I patched Frankie’s scalp using scissors to cut the hair around the wound, ignoring his cries when the alcohol dosed the sore. Roach came outside with another six-pack of Three Gents.
‘Damn, you weren’t kiddin, the fucker’s a mess.’ Roach sat by the bannister. ‘Got anything to show?’
‘Any what?’ I asked, sitting next to Roach.
‘Don’t gimme that, the man with the poor memory has an excellent pen, right?’
‘Shame, I lack both right now.’ I reached into my jacket and retrieved the paper. I had to close one eye to tame the blurriness enough to decipher my scrawl:
‘Maybe I should tell you how hungry I am,
or how the days of sloth –
– made my chest flabby and fingers deflated.’
Frankie peered over my shoulder. ‘Ah, ‘ow come ya writin is all over the joint?’ I stopped squinting. White blotches twinkled in my periphery, then dissipated.
‘Couldn’t see so well in the dark, and the pen kept running dry on me.’ I kept at it.
‘Yesterday, I stared at my belly, watched raindrops cascade down my stomach, greasy gruyere melting in the fryer, my mind runs on reveries –’
Roach cut me short. ‘Jaheesus-fuckin-christ, I thought you were writing a story, not homage to Plath.’
I shoved the notes back into my pocket. ‘Just raw ideas. Hadn’t planned on using them. Wrote them last night at the beach.’
‘I mean, they’re not bad. But, you know,’ he drained a beer, grabbed another, ‘they lack resonance, know what I mean?’ Here we go, more fuel for writing myths. Stories aren’t written, they’re discovered. Drink coffee, smoke Camels, fuck women. Grab a glistening suit while you’re at it, Jack, my boy, there’s hope for you yet.
‘Show ‘im the one with the girly an’ all that,’ Frankie said. The words came out muffled between his grinding teeth. ‘To me, it migh as well be fuckin poetry.’
‘Alright, yeah, lemme hear it,’ Roach said. He cracked his Three Gents and another for me. I pulled out another set of notes. I could wet my appetite for melodrama later.
‘I knew Melanie for years before I loved her. It happened without contemplation. Some call it poetic…’
‘Yessir, poetic to the fuckin gills.’
‘. . . but I think it’s the plague. Your hands sweat, the hairs on your chest become repulsive, and better go easy on the whiskey, Sonny Jim. I remember her German accent, enchanting, stumbling. One Sunday, in bright seven-in-the-morning sunlight, Melanie tip-toed towards me. Her lapis-lazuli eyes widened when she grew excited, drooped in crescents the night after she drank. ‘She asks me, “Jack, please, I want to spend time away, adventure to further places. Maybe the central desert, or a farm in the backwaters of the cities. I found a place wanting work for the season fair, way West of Melbourne.” We had discussed this before. She knew I couldn’t come. Work at the bookshop was demanding and the pay handsome.’ I stopped to smoke. ‘She played the silent coercion card, and I had to fold.’ My dormant heart reignited, palpitating with anxiety.
Roach interrupted. ‘Skip over a bit, get to the crux of it. I’m itching for some tequila then dig into the blotters.’
I did as he wanted, scanning past the aimless digressions of the loveless, want in neglect, pacing of rooms, so on. Then I found it.
‘She called close to 11:00pm. She may have been drunk, I couldn’t tell, couldn’t see her eyes. . . some party was raging atthe farm, nothing “too rowdy,” she assured, “but enough to let loose.”
The next section had been washed with beer and become illegible. ‘ – she blamed distance, I heard her sweet German voice. She accused the impossibility from the beginning, I saw rosebuds in her cheeks.’ My hands shook venomously. I lost my place again. ‘When she spoke of the Canadian boy, after all the bullshit, she said, “I think it’s love this time.”’
‘Ahhhh, don’t let her get the best of you, my brother,’ Roach said. ‘She’s just another woman living in her insulate world.’
I lit another cigarette. I believed him. ‘Think I loved her too much to resent her now. Can’t stop loathing the emptiness, the ennui. Don’t know how to write fiction anymore, either.’
‘PITTER-PATTER PITTER-PATTER CAN YA HEAR THE SKELETONS ON THE ROOF? CAN YA? GET MAH CAMERA OR SOMETHIN, WOULD YA JACK, WOULD YA CHIEF?’
‘Be cool Frankie,’ I said. ‘It’s just the possums. Last owners built a wooden house in the jacaranda right next to the roof gutters. Goddamn philanthropists, those ones. No wonder they sold the place.’
‘Alright, I know what’ll cheer you up,’ Roach said, face transparent as drenched tissues. The drink had taken its hold on him, but I felt sober and cold in the descending darkness. His feet tippity-tapped and his hands jittered on the bannister like hungered eels. ‘Think about it my brothers,’ he began. ‘Plenty of space in my basement to brew it. All we need to do is sack the couch and then we have room for a fermenter, condenser, big-ass mahogany barrels, you name it.’
I mulled it over. ‘I guess we wouldn’t worry about selling chess pieces for grog?’
‘I knew you’d like it my brother.’ Roach’s eyes bulged like those of a praying mantis. ‘Whadda bou you Frankie?’
Frankie stood up, one hand nursing the back of his head, the other holding an unopened Three Gents. ‘Ya fuckers aint ever catchin me, no sir, I aint ever goin for no lerbotermy, no sir, not ever.’
And I wondered, sculling my own Three Gents, feeling the drink invade my system, whether a diligent nail through the skull could allay these horrible memories, gnawing in my skull. On paper it seemed a quick fix indeed. Maybe I should write that down, could make a story one day. When I escape from here.
Roach stood up and passed through the screen door, returning with blotters and a bottle full of amber tequila. There was nothing left to do tonight, my pendulum man, except keep swaying back and forth, back and forth . . .