figured i’d just put this here, not sure i’ll really return to it
Lost Profits Followed; or, the Phenomenology of the Road.
Chapter One: The Phenomenology of the Road
Although I’m pretty sure you found the note I left, you shouldn’t’ve come after me, and for that matter, come after me so quickly. Then again anything I’ve ever recommended to anyone has been so lathered with selfish negligence, and your entire life has been one so constituted by upright duty that there was no chance you wouldn’t try to find me. For some reason I thought you’d ring the police, and that they would show up at where-ever I was staying, handcuff me in the strobing blue and red lights of their car’s alarm and deliver me to a ninth circle of never-ending ironic punishments.
To this day I still don’t know how you brought all those people out of the woodwork to moralise me back to the cradle of my hypocrisy and decrepitude, and still, to this very moment the reason why their terrified and often explosively distraught pleas over the phone all those months never succeeded in having me return is because I have radically and fundamentally changed as a person. I suppose the most apparent evidence of this is that I’m now able to write all this down coherently; I look back on the memories I have of my writing, much like entirety of the life I used lead, with utter humiliation.
But that’s not enough proof that I’ve changed (I suppose in many ways I haven’t changed, although I’m still deliberating, which is self-reflection, which probably is evidence I’ve changed), which is why I’m writing you. The first reason why I disappeared was that I wasn’t sure what had happened to me. In fact that was the same reason why all four of us brothers left everyone; we all agreed to leave, some of us indefinitely, some only for a time, obviously. After what happened all four of us felt as if we’d accrued superpowers, and I guess we really did. One moment didn’t possess any kind of moral engine, totally lacked any semblance of a super-ego, and the next we became fully-fledged moral agents. Of course none of us have become grand philosopher-kings or realised we have a sudden calling to become priests, we’ve just become proper people now. This really should emphasise what monsters we were, how we were both simultaneously capable of destructive vengeance and of pettiness for which we were incapable of rousing any empathy in anyone. We all left because we weren’t sure whether what we were experience was real and permanent, or real and temporary or some illusion capable of penetration. I am convinced I am really permanently changed, and this is also why I am writing this letter to you.
The second reason I never returned for so long is because I wasn’t sure of the effect of this change. None of us knew what the extent of the consequence of our newly-developed humanity was, and we weren’t prepared to return ‘home’ to our ‘lives’ without a more complete understanding of our new-found powers, we were definitely not willing to discover that we were still deficient in critical ways having once returned, only to find that we were really just back again to our old selves, draining the life out of all of those around us.
I could continue to analyse the reasons why I did what I did, but I think doing so would only push you further away, like I had been doing all those years. I do not want this anymore, if I ever have. I want you back Tracy; I want to draw you in. I suppose this is what love is meant to do. Love is meant to be like perpetual motion, forever lasting and always growing, at the same time powerfully binding but the most incredible fountain of boundless freedom. I hope for my dear life that this is not too little too late. I hope I can both account for and irreversibly repair the pain I have inflicted on you and the kids, and I long to being trying. I wonder endlessly whether this promise is enough to make you want me back, but perhaps the only way is to tell you what happened, to try and seat you in my position in the unfolding of this transformative cataclysm. Let me tell you about the very moment I realised I cared about something—anything—other than myself.
I was being driven across the country in a big car—an old panel-van like a Tarago—my eyes rolling around in the searing light pouring in onto my face through a big lopsided window. As the trip went on I slid further and further down into my seat, it not taking long for the landscape to disappear, the mysterious alchemy that the road practices at freeway speeds, the trade of concrete for scrub one sees out of car windows at the beginning of trips into the bush. From then on the sky hovered in my dozing vision for some hours as half my face baked under the sun. The infernal jewel seemed to dance around the clouds, and as my ear and neck grew redder and redder, those shapes in the sky grew dark on an exposed, swollen retina of mine, the sky transforming into a dazzling white canvas, inhabited by sinister black objects that mixed with my other view of the car door latch.
I may or may not have been asleep by then, but I can declare with certainty that at that point all my personal beliefs about anything and everything unified and precipitated out of the swirling bourgeois flux in which they had existed, until that moment, my whole life. At that exact moment in time I realised that everything anyone ever needs to know in order to live a good life comes from contemplating what it is to be on the Road. Hopefully this metaphor doesn’t appear ridiculous. I sometimes rub my face in shame at the idiocy of the simplicity of the idea, but its effect on me is inescapable.
The mighty sun that bathed me in light in the back of that old moving bucket showed me the image of the paths of men, the beaten track of human-kind through the wilderness of meaninglessness. This is what it said:
‘Consider the idea of the Road. Roads are everywhere. Everything is reducible to the idea of a Road.
‘A Road is obviously a defined or recognised path on which things change from being one thing to another. In this manner Roads can be benign, serving to transform something for the sole purpose of achieving a more radical transformation along another road, or of course they may be the latter—utterly transformative, capable of rendering something unrecognisable from that of its original constitution.
‘Therefore a Road may indeed be a road or a street, a construction used to transform the location things from one place to another, or a method of doing something, or a series of events that operate to possess a defined beginning and end. A Road may of course exist of many Roads of lesser transformative effect.
‘There is, however, one fundamental issue with this idea. In order to transcend being subject to the limitations of being subject to a Road one must understand this key principle, and that is that there exists a dualism that, when properly illuminated to the enlightened mind, renders all attempts to reduce the world into the Road insufficient to explain the nature of everything.
‘This dualism is that the thing that moves from one end of the Road to the other exists in exclusive separation from that Road. By adhering to the idea of the Road, one denies that thing the possibility of being its own Road.’
The circularity of this reasoning was both beautiful and absurd. Somehow, in order to escape the clutches of my own meaningless existence, I had to, however irrationally; reject the existence of the effects of the outside world on myself. As I thought about this, I immediately and incontrovertibly believed that I had to give up the wanton disregard for others that had so characterised my life hitherto, and free myself from the tyranny of the hedonism.
I was—and am—my own Road. I immediately recognised that I was not only an indivisible being charged with the responsibility of acting to bring about good, but that I belonged to the plight of everyone else, by continuing to harm others (however ludicrously pious this may sound) I only continued to harm myself.
By the time this bizarre and incredible premonition was over the sun’s rays had well and truly waned, and it was fast sinking into the horizon. Those words that the burning mass of gas so far away had so clearly (and of course impossibly) transmitted into my mind had finished enunciating themselves, and the whole experience was so exhausting that my one-eye-open-dazing became a deep, day long sleep. I was again visited by the circling black sun as I dreamed, but it didn’t speak. Instead it proceeded to pour through the contents of my mind, assessing my memories in a molesting Dickensian fashion, unrelentingly showing me the errors of my ways, translating the protests that I had ignored or misinterpreted of the people that I had again and again morally abused.
When I awoke the big, room-like car in which I was travelling was still moving and one of my brothers had swapped with the other for the driver’s seat. It had been my turn to drive but they couldn’t wake me—we were on the way to a hospital because they were worried I’d slipped into some sort of coma. When they told me this I began to suspect they’d also been in communication with the sun. This wasn’t the case, but, even though they hadn’t taken part in such an out-of-body experience, it definitely was.
The[B1] concern on their faces was boundlessly confounding. I felt as if I had at once gained three great old friends. They said it was lucky we’d recently entered a city because they wouldn’t have known what to do if we had still been stranded in the desert, I wasn’t able to be fed or given water, and I had without a doubt been very badly sunburnt. They took me directly to a[B2] hospital in the city, carrying me into its emergency waiting room. By that time I was again unconscious, but you should’ve seen the mottled brown concrete entrance, and the brown stains lingering on the automatic glass doors from the bore-water used by the reticulation just outside.
The rest of the hospital was much the same; I managed to spend a bit of time walking around here and there once I’d recovered. Everything was some weird shade of brown, and on some floors the linoleum would peel in fantastic patterns that I would take time tracing in an attempt to discover the cause of the flooring’s premature deterioration. After spending about half a week there I really came to enjoy the colour brown. My brown saline drip must’ve been injecting the very colour right into the fibres of my circulation.
Most of the action that happened at the hospital happened on the first day: I was carted into some quiet corner of the castle thanks to Mick’s real gift for sweet-talking, and I must’ve been connected to thirty drips of saline by the time I came to because my arms felt as if they’d been butchered. You know me though; those things’ve never worried me. The nurse who had attended to me (and my arms) was gangly and scabby-kneed but genuinely one of the most pleasant people I’ve ever met. She lived where-ever the window next to the nurse’s station happened to point, which was more frequently than not the brown, smudged view of the twinkling greeny-brown river some kilometres away. Every now and then you’d hear a sigh come out of her before the supercomputer-rivalling panel of panic buttons and brown extension phone lights would bleat and flash into life, her knobbly arms reaching for some receivers as she bolted to whichever rooms she could reach without having the cords stretch too far.
Late on the first day a doctor about our age (Should I say ‘our’ age? I should probably not push it, and instead say ‘my’ age)—my age—came into the room which I had been inhabiting in an incredulous un-brown manner. It was the nurse’s job to come in too, and she did.
‘He’s been having seizures,’ she volunteered, and this was ignored by the doctor who plunged his balding head into the clipboard that contained all the information that the medical staff had managed to observe about me.
‘It appears you have been having seizures!’
I traded faces with the nurse and we agreed neither of us would do any good against the doctor, so she left. The doctor spent some time pouring over the creamy-brown leaves of the clipboard before grunting,
‘You’ve been feeling alright?’
‘Dunno, been asleep most of the time.’
The doctor’s demeanour appeared to change, upon seemingly hearing this, and he produced a small torch, and examined my eyes, and then he suggested I should have my brain examined with a machine. When they came back a couple of hours later Kosciuszko said he didn’t mind paying for it and almost exactly at this utterance I found myself being pushed towards the ward that contained the radiology department. I left the poor nurse behind in front of her trap of brown phones and buzzers; she looked up with a sort of chagrin to see me go.
Leaving the three in some politely pilfered chairs in my room, I steadily began to decipher the nurse’s embarrassment as I was being transported to the other side of the hospital. I was pushed by faceless sergeants through flapping ceiling-tall doors, past receptions, past faces of brown, brown glass. I was being kept in block B (B for Brown), radiology being in the next, I had to be pushed outside. Outside was like a circus; it was strange to see anything that wasn’t brown.
The real shock though, was the block in which radiology was housed. Block D shone white, white. Everyone in the parlour grinned and gleamed, somehow constantly facing everyone in the building face-on where-ever they were, beaming! People in block D went by the name of ‘technician’ and not nurse, and there seemed to be this air of excitement hanging over all the desks, where I’m fairly sure there also hung cash registers. Electrical cables ran right overhead to where we were going, power metres passing thick and fast. As I entered the scanning machine room, I was introduced to the technicians who would conduct the brain scan. It was Melbourne Cup Day and they were dressed up in suits and dresses, great big wide ties and gravity-defying fascinators:
‘We didn’t expect to come in, but since we were on our way we thought we’d drop in! We’re told this is a pretty routine measure in any case, so it should be over quickly, which is just as well!’
They watched the Cup on a television set behind some dark panes of glass as they performed the brain scan, and I can still remember the winner because the TV channelled the footage’s radio waves of the race into their operating console, through the machine and into my brain. I’m still surprised that when the (rather annoyed) party-goers had left, and I was being shown the negatives of my brain, that there weren’t horses and jockeys sprawled out all over my cerebellum.
There was, and is, nothing wrong with me, the scans turned out fine—the hospital is important for another reason. Somewhat similar to this experience, but more critical to the path which all four of us brothers took to getting here today, was that of Paul’s grandmother. I’m still not sure why Paul had a different grandmother to the other three of us, and why she was so young—I remember your suggestion that we might’ve had a different father to Paul, and I think you’re probably right. There’s no way of telling though, not with our parents anyway.
As you know, Paul’s grandmother died of cancer, and although I regret never finding out what kind of cancer, I suppose that shows you just how much I cared at the time. I remember the path from the car to her room perfectly, because what she did to me still remains pressed in my mind. The thing that dominates my memory of that single time I visited her while she was in hospital, besides the fact the hospital was built into a hill, is that the place was literally swathed in carpet. Cleaners would chase you around with vacuums to stop the staff from developing allergic attacks from what you brought in on your feet and all the halls and walkways were dead silent from their obvious acoustic properties—so the slow, leg-after-leg trip I still undertake in my mind over and over was, and is, both jarringly loud and chillingly silent. I remember Kosciuszko nearly tore Paul’s ma’s ward a new skylight when a patient coughed in an adjacent room as we were exiting the lifts—the videotape-like recall I have of this procession still leaves me unprepared for this happening.
To tell you the truth, what Paul’s ma did to me wasn’t so much something she, as an exclusive, positive act, did to me, but what she did to Paul. Paul’s ma has always irked me, mind. To me, and for some reason, nobody else, there’s always been this air of pretension and hidden meaning hanging around Paul’s ma. This last meeting I had with her topped all of that suspicion off, you could say. Paul got teary as her condition was inevitably brought up for the umpteenth time between them, after we’d spent a bit of time talking about nothing in particular. As that happened, the two seemed to look into each other’s eyes, and Paul’s ma said to Paul, ‘I love you darling’.
At first the moment seemed nothing but necessary, given the circumstances, but I kept watching on. From how I feel about it now, I feel like I was looking on deeper, delving and discovering more into this woman who I had known just as little as I had known my parents. Much like the slow heaviness of the memory I have of walking into her room, time seemed to take a break for a short while as I started to observe her fading grey irises. It then occurred to me that I, or perhaps Paul, more accurately, was being lied to. It was a strange feeling to behold because all I could remember of Paul, the youngest of all of us, and his ma’s relationship over the decades was that of an intensely happy and joyous union between those two, despite my abject contempt for and uncomfortableness with the woman. The observation was almost indisputable—the woman didn’t love Paul at all. Behind her I seemed to imagine wads of cash and an army of lawyers rubbing their hands and fiddling with nervous excitement with their black briefcases. The sulphurous fires of hell seemed to have frozen over in her silvery irises; indeed her aluminium hospital bed suddenly seemed to resemble a propane gas jet.
What I saw struck me because I normally didn’t give a rat’s arse about what it meant to say to someone, ‘I love you’. I normally used the phrase to cap off what I thought had been a couple of days that had put me in somewhat less bad favour with you. Funnily enough, this stretch of time was usually time [B3] we’d spent away from each other.
This woman’s evil eyes transfixed me. Everything was in the eyes and there was, for the mere seconds I lay charged under their power, nothing outside. Nothing else mattered. All universal truth proceeded therefrom, and anything else I had an opportunity to regard collapsed into axioms that I would have derived from the grey-irised eyes of Paul’s insipid grandmother. The lies spewed forth without relent in waves, and after each one passed my mind gasped for some kind of virtuous air, only to be fed more filthy, salty, disabling lies. I resolved to look away, only to set sail into a kind of meaningless dead-wind—I simply had to keep looking in. I saw the cradle of her consciousness within, all her motives and deepest horrid self-kept secrets, the things she took from others, hearts she broke, social machinations she calculated and forced into collision. All the lives she wrecked, but also all the accidental happiness she caused, and regarding that, I too saw the bitter annoyance and later ignorance with which she came to consider those unintended anomalies. I never realised that Paul’s ma was such a scaly dragon.
Poor Paul! Poor old Paul. He would never see this truth, the truth that both she and I knew. I can only (somewhat stupidly) confess that I never discovered how she and Paul were related, but I can tell you with complete certainty that the great matriarch of Paul’s identity did not love him one iota. Little baby Paul, the youngest of all of us, did not have his greatest, most complex love returned. This knowledge almost mocked me. The now slowly reanimating, blurry grey hoola-hoops of fraud danced a merry jig at me over her caster-wheeled breakfast tray, her paper bucket of melted ice-cream curdling under the heat of the propane gas, Satan himself playing craps with the molecules of gelatine in her cup of lime jelly. I never believed Satan existed until that moment, but there he was, undergoing Brownian motion like the rest of the room, serpent-tail flicking without a care in the world. I remember he looked up and studied the fluorescence of the television set above our heads ever so slowly rescanning.
When the passage of time was finally released to its normal pace I was left reeling. The proceeding conversation we had about an ocean-liner that had recently moored itself in Fremantle flew right over my head because I was studying the taste of my own saliva in my mouth through my own sheer insanity. The woman’s skin—Jolene’s skin, I’m sorry—seemed to form a translucent film over the inner workings of her face (to be fair, by that stage it probably did, chemotherapy really does wreak a terrible havoc on a cancer patient’s body), and I thought I could see, retransmitted, the terrible messages I had just received from her dark, mirror-like irises. If we had at some stage addressed each other then, as she sat up in bed, her pupils would have flickered creamy light at me from the vertical blinds just nearby, the blinds themselves slicing the room into ribbons of (startlingly) orange-brown.
I never wanted to see Jolene ever again, and I most surely didn’t, except for the time that I saw her at her viewing, but that’s not really seeing someone, is it. You were right not to come; Paul wailed and moaned, it was terrible. Mick, Kosciuszko and I sat there in the pews looking sideways at each other awkwardly as he was consoled by some of his work colleagues. I guess it never occurred to me that I should have at least patted him on the back.
All this hallucination was caused by something—not anything wrong with me, although you could probably see how all the drinking I did might’ve had something to do with it—even though Jolene came well, well before ‘what happened’, that ‘transformative cataclysm’ that all four of us brothers underwent was invariably the cause.
My theory on the Jolene incident is that the change I underwent altered my memory of the visit, and this is the only conclusion one can really reach in order to conclude that what I saw—or what I remember—forms part of the overall process, the overall ‘Road’, you might say. Jolene is the very earliest out-of-body experience I can detect over this three-year fiasco, the very end of it all being the brain-scan I had somewhat recently. It seems the overall adventure begins and ends with a hospital. Somewhat unexciting, really. You might find this whole manifesto entirely unfulfilling. I suppose, at the height of my most indefatigable pessimistic moments, this is the reaction I expect you to have to the explanation I have for my absence, and to even the slightest part of the forgiveness for which I entreat you. Well there’s no use dwelling, is there! I have absolutely no idea how you’ll react to this, so I better get on with it.
I never fully explained to you the reason why I lost my job, did I? It is probably also the most foggy mystery to you how it came to pass that it wasn’t just myself, but that my three other brothers along with me, came to be employees of the Yokine Polka-appreciation Society. I remember the look on your face when you were told by the Society’s secretary over the phone that Sunday. If I hadn’t been asleep I would’ve scooped the phone up before you’d taken a slight inwards-breath to get up from the newspaper. I waddled in groggy-eyed to hear your cheerful good-bye, and to really get it. Of course I took all the disbelief the way I usually did:
‘I can’t believe you lost your job and didn’t tell me!’
‘That’s right! Yeah that’s right! Yeah, yeah that’s right! I can’t do anything right can I? I can’t do anything properly!’
‘How did you lose your job!’
‘…can’t do anything right at all!’
‘Tell me how you lost your job.’
‘Why? So you can just have it against me like everything else? You’ve just got it in for me. You just want another little stone, don’t you Trace. Just another stone for your glass house smashing endeavours.’
At this you screwed up your face the way you always did when it came to this nonsense. By this time the kids were at least all ears if they weren’t hanging around the doorframes already.
‘Why didn’t you say anything? And to become a … a … musician?’
‘You can have any reason you want, Trace, and if you don’t like it, I’ll just quit and you can have me do any damn job you like. I’ll just quit! I’ll just ditch it all in the gutter, that’s what you want, isn’t it. You want me to fail.’
I really remember what you said directly after this, it’s stuck in solidarity with the shame I have for my past life: your eyes had become wide as wide by this stage of the argument, wide with insult and disbelief, I could practically hear the whites of your eyes trembling. You said, and I still regard this to be the moment I reached the lowest of the low in your books:
‘You’ve gone completely insane. You’ve just lost it. Just get out now. Just get out. Just take all your shit and get out.’
I had yelled over most of this—in fact throughout the whole episode I had never stopped yelling—but it is pasted onto my mind with powerful memorability. Instead of yelling deranged mockeries and accusations, I wish I had yelled this. I lost my job in the office because I deliberately and wilfully approved a series of enormous money transfers. There was nothing dishonest about the transactions themselves, they were quite necessary, there was nothing wrong about them at all. The problem with them was that they were done without the proper authority. My department needed to meet some sort of productivity quota by the end of a specified period of time, and we weren’t going to make it, so literally got the red rubber stamp of the head of the office and processed these payments. If they had been payments for, or to, anything else, I would’ve gotten away with it. The fact that they were so important literally sealed my fate the moment I had the forms dispatched by courier the day they were stamped: mobile phone calls that must have at first been congratulatory, would have set in motion the ad hoc inter-office investigation that had me fired.
I hadn’t lied so impetuously for so long I doubt I would’ve been fired. It’s a funny thing that cowardice will often put one to emphatically lying, but it’s a thing even funnier that sheer idiocy will always ensure that outcome. I knew that they knew that I had done it, but I clung on to the idea that I could make it out of the fiasco by fixing the wrong-doing on someone else, and with as little and as ill-informed effort as possible. Here and there my accusations flew, and before long I had attempted to blame practically everyone I knew with the approval of the office’s payments. They sent me packing in much the same manner as you did. The reason why I didn’t pay the electricity bill that quarter was because it had been on my desk next to the phone, and I had been marched out of the office then and there, leaving practically everything I took to work that morning behind. It’s a damn shame I never put any pictures of ‘the family’ on my desk to leave behind and never see again that day.
I think I was fired at about eleven in the morning, a week-and-a-half after I had done the deed. A couple of hours later I got a call from Kosciuszko, and this should explain how I became a bassist in a Polka band.
Right[B4] in the middle of Yokine there’s an old salmon-brick building behind a crispy mass of dried lawn, and on its wall facing the street is a peeling white sign with moveable plastic type that says ‘POLKA SOCIETY’, below which there’ll usually be the time of the group’s next set, and possibly the name of a headline act that might be featured, or a particular popular piece that might be playing. The ultraviolet light of the last forty years or so has gotten to the moving Perspex windows covering the letters, the clear substance has now become a bit creamy, obfuscating the sign a bit, but no-one in the Polka group has the heart yet to replace it, the shape of the sign and the particular typeface of the letters has come to characterise the place—people walking their dogs still stop in to grab a pamphlet about the next set, inquiring about which seedy characters we might be importing for a couple of weeks from central Europe.
It’s a serious legend amongst those in the appreciation society that the group’s premises rose out of the concrete mass of the suburban Yokine to fulfil the world’s insatiable need for Polka music. Like a righteous volcano it was raised, so the myth goes, from the blazing molten centre of the Earth, lime cement, window frames and all, presenting itself to the newly-arrived German and Eastern-European immigrants that comprised the Polka group. This was, definitively, so we four delinquents were informed, the second Mecca for Polka on Earth. Where the first and original Mecca existed was a subject of virulent dissent among the appreciation society, so I suppose no-one really knows. I think Manny (the jug-playing janitor) maintains that Polka was indirectly received by mankind through revelation—when Australia was still joined to Antarctica. I won’t outline Manny’s support for his theory, but let me say I found it pretty convincing. Think: musical dinosaurs.
What Kosciuszko’s call had to with the Polka society was fairly innocuous. The group were getting their back veranda doors replaced with those of sliding glass, and they’d found Kosciuszko in in the phone book. How they found him still baffles us all—the new books that had been issued to everyone across Perth had been printed smaller than before—the writing in the books was tiny. They must’ve borrowed Manny’s bifocals. When I arrived with Kosciuszko, Jürgen, the proprietor, greeted us brandishing a distinctly un-curling, un-yellowed phonebook, yelling in an almost incomprehensible German accent,
‘This thing’s impossible to read! Altogether impossible to read! I assume you’re Kosciuszko Trappers!’
The work required needed an extra pair on hands to get rid of the old frames that housed the doors to the veranda. The frames had been set so firmly in place, never having been intended to be removed, that the job almost became a heavy demolition procedure. This was the explanation Kos gave upon being asked why I had arrived along with him, although I think it was probably the business attire that prompted the question. The difficulty of the job struck the Polka society, somewhat. Standing around, holding warm cans of cheap beer, Kos showed them the heavy setting that the doors enjoyed. They stood there a bit after the show and tell, scratching the faded stains on their Wednesday afternoon wife-beater singlets. They looked a bit worried; they didn’t have a lot of money. Soon, after some deliberation, Jürgen reported back,
‘We’ll go ahead. It’s just too hot around here in summer. Doesn’t matter how good the band is on hot days, people can’t stand the heat. Some people faint and hit their heads—you know how it is.’
At the risk of discussing the peculiarities of the construction of the Polka society’s hall at far too much length, ventilation could only do so much for the place. I had some suspicions about what Kos was charging them for the job, but looking back on it now, I wouldn’t have changed a thing about my involvement in renovating the society’s hall. For the couple of weeks or so that Kos took me on for the job, and the month that I spent learning to play Polka at the society before you were unexpectedly alerted of my activities, I had the time of my life.
Working on the building was the first step in my seduction by Polka. The aged structure exuded an earnest warmth that it seemed to absorb from the ground. Jürgen’s insane ramblings about the volcano-like origins of the building began to gain coherence after these observations, and the hall slowly obtained a high and dignified character in my mind as the work progressed, creeping ever closer to completion. The hall’s roof hung on an angle, slanting from one side to the other, and it took on the form of a giant, tenement-sized blade of justice. I suppose creatures that lived in the Earth’s mantle, the architects of the prehistoric Polka society hall, substituted one of their ancient tools to fashion to the roof, not knowing that it would have the ability to turn the place, once on the surface, into a virtual furnace for humans in summer. The slope of the supreme temple of Polka, just in its grand design, imparted itself on my conscience. By working on the property, I gained an avenue into the lives of those who composed the Polka society.
One afternoon, after we’d propped up the load-bearing beams of the hall and taken the old frames out, Kosciuszko and I joined some of the Polka group in the backyard for a few hours—the skeleton-crew that manned the society’s premises in the middle of the week. At the slightest intimation of accepting their invitation, my brother and I were awarded each with a warm can of the state’s true blue flightless bird, the sweet, life-giving nectar of the appreciation society, and the members got right down to work.
‘Do you know what we do here?’ Those that were with us were Jürgen and Manny, who never seemed to leave the place (Manny in fact having lodging behind the lobby), Mrs Strickland, the society’s book-keeper and inscrutable event-coordinator, and John—John X, one of two Johns—the in-house band drummer.
Kos took a swig from his can, ‘you’re musicians, you guys play a bit of music.’
John seemed to twitch at this response, but the others seemed to expect a bit of ignorance.
‘We’re the southern hemisphere’s foremost Polka Society, Mister Trappers,’ sipped Mrs Strickland.
Kos seemed a bit absent at this, but then insisted, ‘oh please, just uh, just call me Kos—Kosciuszko—either, or.’
‘Well,’ said Mrs Strickland, somehow still sipping.
Jürgen broke the impasse, ‘we, here, are torch-bearers of one of the purest and dignified cultural practices known to man: we here are the custodians, stewards, players, of polka. Have you ever heard polka before?’
‘I think we had an uncle with an accordion. Wait, no, my wife’s (forgive me for including you, but this is what happened) grandfather had one,’ I replied.
This wasn’t the worst answer either Kos or I could’ve given, so Jürgen seemed somewhat encouraged, ‘an accordion! The tamed, living, breathing instrument of a polka-player, no?’
‘I suppose he was.’
‘Do you know what it is that lifts the polka up an above all other forms of music? Above the—what is it called?—rapping of those with the boom boxes, why polka is deeper in meaning, and more beautiful than even the most exquisite symphonies and sonatas?’
‘No, I, I wish I did.’
Jürgen pushed on with liveliness, ‘the polka soars above all other art-forms because it calls one to dance! Nothing is more powerful and soul-penetrating than that of music to which one can dance, and the dance that the polka summons is infinitely [B5] mysterious and inspirational.’
‘Almost like a way of living,’ Kos furrowed his brow.
‘Exactly,’ John nodded. ‘They say we’re all characters inhabiting some dream in a sleeping man’s mind, and that polka music is the pulse of that creature’s heart—learn to play polka, and you free yourself from the oppressiveness of what one might term the “human condition”.’
The sound of the crickets in the bushes suddenly took over the thoughts of those present. They whipped up a formless white-noise between and around us, glazing our eyes over and turning them inwards, we studied the words we’d spoken to and heard from each other. A sullen cynicism crept into the back of my mind. The passion and mysticism of the group was patently earnest, but I felt reserved as to whether I was prepared to start following their meaning. Luckily Kos saved me from the embarrassment of having to divest myself of these attitudes,
‘you know I was sent with my brothers, in my childhood, to these church groups. We sang and danced there and practiced psalms. Never got much out of the experience. I don’t consider myself a learned man, but from what I’ve read, and where I’ve gone, I consider such things not to be the truest words ever spoken, if you can excuse me for so saying.’
The appreciation society members looked down at the feet, across at the Hardi Board, and the amorphous cloud of the crickets still lingered. Kosciuszko went on,
‘In fact I remember coming back from Sunday classes once, and I remember at that stage the parents of a friend of one of my others brother, Mick, and I, would let us come across to their house for a couple of hours afterwards. Our friend had a fish-tank in his bedroom in which he kept these rare, exotic kinds of goldfish and that whole family was enamoured by these fish, bringing up the taxonomy of their sub-genus and such things, and I used to look at these sabre-toothed things in cold sweaty fear! They had eyes like dinner plates, and I suppose the only reason they didn’t leap out of the tank and drink my blood as I hovered there in front of it was that those putrid, jellied photoreceptors of theirs weren’t good enough to resolve images of their prey through thick panes of fish tank glass.
‘One morning over at our friend’s house, I saw one brightly-coloured fish eating another. The struggle didn’t take too long to resolve, but it did cause the tank-water to swirl and froth, tossing around the aquarium’s plastic kelp and a scuba-diver figurine violently. After the bloody consumption had ended, and all the other fish had long since astutely decided to hide in a hollow clay log, the carnivorous fish appeared to survey the tank as some sort of conquered land, tilling the rainbow-coloured pebbles that lined its bottom, and inspecting the water-filter in a dignified, statesman-like manner. While the other fish quivered, out of their minds, fearing for their lives from this scaly psychopath, the conqueror fish assembled a morbid crown out of the bones remaining from its late dinner, propping up the bones it didn’t use for the crown into a sick mound that reminded me of a priest’s crook.
‘What I saw disturbs me still to this day. I see the same “dance” on building sites such as these, if not predominantly in offices where people use words to arrest the minds of their enemies, where anything is a weapon and death and defeat is not an observable state of existence, but a yet terminable living nightmare. When I think of these people I think of the quivering fish I saw in that tank, their wounds diffusing red into limey-green water. You see, power and violence makes knowledge, wisdom and truth—open your eyes and spy the Loch Ness hanging over your own lives, the jealous, cold-blooded moron stupid enough to fail to be other-regarding, possessing your lives as its own.’
The crickets roared as loud as ever now, but we drinkers of warm beer apprehended Kosciuszko’s meaning. I recall Mrs Strickland was none more so engaged with Kos, now.
Neatly cradling her now-empty red and white can in her hands, she announced,
‘but what a pathetic existence that’d make, Mr Trappers.’
‘That’s no argument against what is very possibly true.’
Manny, silent until now, unable to contain himself, jutted in, ‘have you even heard any polka before? You merely haven’t received the revelation one acquires in participating in polka! This is a society of revelation, Kosciuszko, and from the looks of it, it’s something from which you might benefit. What a pathetic refutation of the virtues of polka—Jürgen, help us out, go get your accordion.’
He had been studying the spines of his moustache thinking, but answered immediately, ‘gladly.’ He mentioned he’d have to head home to go get it, which was luckily just down the road.
After Jürgen had dismounted the red-brick retaining wall on which we were all sitting, hobbled around to the front of the building, and then off down to our left down the road in his shredded thongs, Manny decided he wanted a bit more of a piece of us.
‘Who are you guys, anyway?’ He took a gulp, ‘where do you come from?’
I admit the question took both Kos and I by complete surprise. Nobody had ever asked us this, and I swear no-one has ever asked it since. Such an inquiry had us totally disabled.
‘Hm? Who were your parents? This might explain these ideas of yours.’
‘Didn’t really have parents,’ I echoed from the bottom of my can. I suppose I also have this to explicate to you—you know this much, that I only really had legal guardians for parents, but I really was defensive on the matter. How we got married, you knowing nothing about me, really does highlight how you loved me. You waited for me to be ready to tell you, and as things dragged on, I broke that trust, much the same way I broke all the others.
‘Want another?’ John shot both me and my brother a wary set of eyes, noticing the lightness of our cans. We both nodded, and he reached into the esky.
‘Really, no parents.’
Both Kosciuszko and I scratched our stubble, trying to find the words. Kos got to it faster than I did,
‘Our father was insanely rich. He owned copper mines and airlines. I remember we all met him a couple of times, and both times he wore this white suit and his eyes were shielded behind these incredible outward-mirrored glasses, so we never really got to see his face.’
Mrs Strickland stared unblinkingly.
‘He had lots of cars,’ I said, lamely. ‘I can’t remember if we had a mother. I like to think we were born in test-tubes, I think dad would’ve been rich enough to do that then, he owned laboratories and bought scientists like football cards. If all of us brothers were born like everyone else it might’ve been to a supermodel or something, although that doesn’t really make any sense because a supermodel would have doubtless had us aborted the very morning she would’ve woken up, children and pregnancy have nothing to do with being a supermodel.
The crickets subsided and the clouds slowed overhead. One passed under our view of the sun, pouring us into a brief shadow, causing everyone to have a bit of an awkwardly-timed shiver.
‘If you knew your father better than you mother, what was your father’s name?’ Manny kept on.
‘Gormund something,’ Kos looked at me.
‘Gormund Keller,’ I said blankly. ‘I have no idea why we got the last name Trappers.’
‘He was German?’
‘Where did you live?’
‘In houses,’ Kos rubbed his face. ‘We had nannies at first, and then we were left with people we were taught to call uncle and aunty. By the time of the last aunty I think Paul was about, what, seven? Mick was pretty old by then, but not even Mick knew Gormund. I think Mick must’ve been the guinea pig for the old guy’s ability to alienate children, he had it pretty rough. I think he was treated like some sort of pet until he grown up.
‘Anyway Gormund’s mother, who I assume, in any case—and I mean this no disrespect whatsoever, the woman was a saint—is our biological grandmother, won us off him in court.’
‘How?’ John lit up what looked like a stale cigarette.
‘The judgment’s reasons relied on evidence that we’d been starved for some time, but I don’t remember starving.’
‘You could say.’
‘Is he dead?’
‘Yeah, he’s dead,’ Kosciuszko borrowed one of John’s cigarettes.
‘Did you get anything?’
‘Now there’s a funny story,’ said Kos, coughing a bit of a laugh. ‘He had everything stripped from him when that lot,’ he stuck out a thumb over his shoulder, ‘got in.’
‘No shit! All allocated away?’
‘We saw him a third time, actually, the last time we saw him. All four of us kids were shepherded by limousines from an airport in Britain to this giant glass box in the middle of a big city—I honestly don’t know which one—and we were taken to his bedside. He was spluttering and hacking and was guarded by these two suited goons. They kept adjusting the blinds, and as our father wheezed out these gaseous words that we couldn’t understand, the room got dimmer and dimmer until we couldn’t see the dying bastard, let alone hear what he was pontificating about.
‘Turned out he was trying to placate us about not being included in his will. We got the last laugh on that one, didn’t we? Our grandmother told us the government took it right out of his bank accounts. Resourceful eh? They just reached into the Cayman Islands and plucked out what they thought belonged to Western Australia—stamp duty for all those flats in which people bummed with no running water, I bet.’
Kos always got excited when he talked about how dad, Gormund, whatever he was, ‘finally got his’.
‘But your nana was a nice lady, wasn’t she.’
‘Yeah gran-ma was a legend. Before we went and lived with her we all gorged ourselves on attention and approval. We were constantly tantalised by the thought that a nanny, or later, one of our uncles or aunties, would communicate anything positive about us upwards through the filial substratum on top of which Gormund lorded. Gormund was like a god to which we prayed, and over which we fought and scrambled for favour.’
Looking back on that now, we weren’t just neglected children, but little selfish little rats that hoarded from one-another anything good we possibly could. Food used to be important property between us, and mealtimes, when we still had meals together, became disputes for territory on tables, or over the apportionment of the sizes of our servings. Everything must’ve grown out of this wanton pettiness. Life was a commodity one tried to abuse both ways simultaneously, as we so malignantly dreamed: to be both jealously protected and consumed with fleeting relish. What surprises me so much is how base and simple it was, how life was all about, and ever more covetously became to be, the idea or pursuit of having the thing, and not the thing itself. I never truly noticed I had brothers until I was transformed, and I’m adamant that this was true also for my brothers. All of those monumental fights into which we were drawn in our teens, where we busted out each other’s teeth and clawed at our fellow brother’s eyes, should never have happened because life was all about appearances. The fights we had as grown men were never any different.
‘We [B6] fell into lives that resembled something normal when we arrived with gran-ma,’ Kos said. ‘But I don’t know what she saw in us, and I suspect towards the end she wondered that same thing. A part of me actually wants to believe that she eventually regretted taking us four on, because we were so abusive and emotionally moribund. Thinking that satisfies a guilty pleasure of mine to believe that it wasn’t her own vices that killed her, but ours. She was a nervous wreck when Paul finally turned twenty one, the slightest whiff of a problem floating on her temporal horizon conjured up for her steely-eyed demons that caused her slave menially over the sinks in the laundry and the kitchen. She used to screw her eyes up when we turned the knives. We really took it out on gran-ma.’
John took a drag, ‘my dad got a bicycle to ride to work when I was a kid. He told me not to touch it but I took the thing off for a ride and smashed it up. I smashed that thing up good. When I came home my legs were bleeding that badly that when my father saw me and the shiny heap of crap to which I’d reduced his bike, he said nothing and did nothing about it. I’m not sure whether he understood whether I’d learnt my lesson or whether he didn’t really care about the bike. I’m sure he would’ve cared, that was a damned expensive bike. You’d be hard-pressed to find a bunch of kids that weren’t a pain to their elders, Kos.’
‘We were pretty bad though.’
‘It’s all in the past now, though, mate.’
Their old cigarettes were pretty musty, when Jürgen returned we four were sort of shrouded in a flavoursome white cloud contained by the clicking of the now-resurgent bush-dwelling insects. The soon-to-be-performing performer parted the wavy clouds with his third lung, disturbing their eddy currents, waking us all up. We snapped to as the air cleared, the cloud overhead retreated, and our cold cove became flooded with light. It must’ve taken me a while to get a clear view of Jürgen, because he was bathed in a pool of golden-white light, from which he emerged to sit back down where he was on the retaining wall.
‘I’ll play you something special,’ he said. ‘Because I think you two are probably going to need it.’
The very second the accordion croaked into life, I was incensed. Jürgen and the machine merged into one rhythm-hugging creature, spinning what was probably an ancient yarn that had snowballed over some centuries from a sacred whisper strung to the time of fealty. The limits of the fabric of space and time that I’d seen tested in Paul’s grandmother’s room some months ago were now being discarded altogether. I looked over and Kosciuszko, in his seat, stars and planets the harmonic frequencies that resonated all-between, and he was doing his best to hide a silly grin of enjoyment. I communed with the Higgs boson, unravelled the mysteries of quantum mechanics and after some time, saw a silvery bright light on the outer ridge of my spectral adventure that I dearly hoped was the answer to, or meaning of life. I felt the presence of a set of two cautious, mind-reading eyes staring at me from locations all and none. The eyes cast out the images of stern, strong, secret-keeping seals, bright, meaningful lamps, and foul, sinister sheets of sack-cloth, with which the seals and the lamps were associated in binary opposition.
It occurred to me that I must accept these images even though they propagated from an as yet indiscernible fallacy; how can there be things that are opposites? Looking back on this sample of my consciousness now, I readily understand that the opposite of a hospital is the red, red bush, and the opposite of a white, shiny boat is a wet, dredgeable, watery public grave. I remember from that moment believing that we are inextricably surrounded by opposites, even though they do not exist in materiality. Jürgen’s song taught me a small amount, and also a great deal. It taught me, irritatingly, everything and then nothing at all. It was like a smooth drug, hugging my internal organs with two gigantic intoxicant hands, against which I protested, ‘surely, if opposites are not real, then they must be an illusion of perception! I think the cause lives in a small portion of one’s brain—locate this portion and you’ll see!’
The eyes beyond the lamps and the seals and the endless sack-cloth stared on with insistence. They seemed to suggest that my rebuttal only provided further evidence for its mystical proposition,
‘Things can be discriminated and set apart from one another,’ the eyes flashed. ‘These discriminations will be undertaken by your brain. However, as to your objection that there cannot be any certain truths, one cannot approach this assertion without a sense of irony: it’s entirely possible that you’re not exactly arguing from a position of good faith.’
As the booming words ceased, so did Jürgen’s song. He looked up at us uninitiated, starry-eyed cadets with a bit of a chuckle, stealing a cigarette from John. I looked over again at Kos and I could tell he had seen a different vision than that I’d seen, because his expression was warm and placid, what he’d seen probably hadn’t involved a mild, somewhat extended rebuke from a disembodied voice.
‘Do you see things too?’
‘That was a particularly wistful Polka, I suppose we were all contemplating the things that trouble us most.’
The sun had begun to set, ‘staying for dinner?’
Kosciuszko’s elation had subsided, but he was in a quiet, contemplative mood, ‘yeah, yeah let’s stay.’
So we stayed and ate some terrible, oily take-out food. As we ate, I felt strange that we weren’t talking, and after chirping all afternoon and evening, I suddenly regarded the crickets for the first time. We moved inside for dinner. Kosciuszko and John dragged in a laminated collapsible table out from a storage room and we placed it right in the middle of the performance room. Manny called it the ‘ball room’ but Mrs Strickland dismissed this as ‘hopelessly misleading—we’ve never conducted a ball in here’. Mrs Strickland seemed to eat with her mouth open, I could see it in the corner of your eye as you looked down at the table, but when I spun my head every now and then to pretend looking up at the humming sodium lights up above between the rafters, I couldn’t see her mouth moving at all.
‘When did you all start playing polka?’ Kosciuszko was always belligerent over meals.
‘A long time ago.’
‘And when did you set up this society?’
‘Some time after we began to play polka,’ Mrs Strickland sniggered through seemingly flapping jowls.
Kos looked a bit crestfallen at this, he had actually been quite excited, ‘I saw things in the music Jürgen played this afternoon. You found out—and now know—everything about us, and then reached into us and detected our deepest thoughts, I somehow consider you all very close friends now, I’m quick considering to do all this work,’ he threw a balding forehead towards the retaining wall past the flapping tarpaulin, ‘gratuitously. I’ve been upset about something for weeks past, now, you solved that problem but I think I might be soon upset about something else now—for once, I sheepishly admit, not out of spite—please, tell me who you lot are, and if possible to divulge, as an ancillary matter, where can I acquire membership to your family?’
Mrs Strickland was flecking food everywhere, I just knew it, ‘Jürgen bought the place. Your family were a long line of princes, weren’t they?’
‘Yes. Our principality was usurped, mind. Besides, we are no longer princes.’
‘You fought in terrible wars, though, didn’t you?’
Jürgen practically rolled his eyes, ‘with nerve gas and terrible consequences if you were captured by the enemy.’
Kosciuszko said nothing; he just looked on in expectation. Jürgen saw this and he knew.
‘There was a small, unknown state in the middle of Europe from which I come, which was subsumed by many different armies over a period of months during the Second World War. It no longer exists—I think it’s a part of Germany now, I’m not sure. During the confusion of the advancing and retreating, my family’s ancient reign over that small hill was stolen by some clever guerrilla fighters. They killed many people in my family, under the pretence that we were conspirators with every kind, Nazis, Soviets—Shark-finned tuna, eh?—and my parents fled here, my brother and I just infants.
‘We played polka in our principality, everyone danced and was happy. We had carefully avoided every kind of war up until that point, I don’t know how. I’ve returned to the place, which is, hilariously, governed in one form or another by the usurpers. Life is difficult for the people there now, though. It’s like the fairy-tales I was told as a child—I’m sure we were all told these little lies, that the King comes back to his Kingdom and Conquers Righteously, and all the little evil cretin that infested the annals become happily forgotten, and everyone lives happily ever after, no?
‘We took a lot of money with us and I used the last of it to buy this, what I consider the last bastion of my legacy as a prince, and I think everyone accepts I have a selfish connection to this property, aside from and despite the fact that I use it for such charitable purposes. It is hypocritical: old money, extracted through exploitation, paraded around like it belonged to everyone. In that respect I’ll never cease to be a fraud. I’ve spent my life playing liberating polka, and this fulfils me, but I am visited by the sins of my parents. We should’ve died; we were complicit in the enslavement of our people by saving ourselves and not doing more, we should have at least sacrificed ourselves.’
‘But surely that in itself is a fatuous, bourgeois morality, what on earth would that have achieved?’ Food, food flecking everywhere. The woman was talking with her mouth open (that’s not to say I don’t, and that I wasn’t, but I was taking exception to this!).
‘Nnn,’ a veritable landslide of food.
Almost ignoring everyone else at the table, Jürgen asked, trying to clear something out of his teeth, ‘what about you though, Mrs Strickland? Something hangs over your life, doesn’t it? There’s a big black dog chasing you somewhere, I just know it.’
He had made this last remark in jest, and Mrs Strickland sat up, somewhat superciliously, a little straighter as a result, ‘no. My life was and is remarkably normal.’
‘What you think I’d lie? My father was a labourer and my mother was, perhaps somewhat unsurprisingly for the time, a nothing.’
‘Your mother was a nothing? Like theirs?’ John poked a badly broken chopstick in our direction. ‘No offence.’
‘That’s how I’d put it—none taken.’
‘No I mean she cooked and cleaned.’
‘My father was a cleaner,’ Manny said flatly.
‘And so was his dad and the dad before that,’ Jürgen smirked.
‘But his dad, was an Earl,’ John said, looking at us with raised eyebrows.
‘All this royalty!’ Kos declared. ‘Why the sudden spell of serfdom?’
Manny seemed to search himself. He said, ‘decided to become a cleaner.’
Jürgen laughed, ‘he had it taken off him, Manny, you read the thing the librarian gave you. They revoked his Earldom and all his land and oxen and letters patent. They sold all these things and bought a shiny new warship for the English fleet.’
‘That may have happened but we were always cleaners.’
John scratched his head with the broken chopstick, looking at Mrs Strickland, who was purposefully ignoring his inciting gaze.
‘We had teams of peasants and retainers and we were charged with the responsibility of cleaning up the borough all through the ages. We were always poor though. Can’t say cleaning has ever been the best lot in life. I think things are getting better—for instance—the bleach I use in the lavatories has a fragrance of pleasantness par excellence, you can’t even small the chlorine, the stuff’s magic, I love it.’
‘You’re insane, you know that.’
‘I’m damn proud to be a cleaner! I do a damned good job for you guys. I waxed and vanished this floor, I take all of the possums out of the roof cavities…’
‘There haven’t been any possums in the roof!’
‘There sure as hell has! Colonies and colonies, they had printing presses and they were going to use them to let it be known that our roofs were inhospitable! We really do need to get some proper batts up there.’
Mrs Strickland shook her head but he ignored this, ‘I do a good job around here. I pay my way.’
‘You’re a funny man,’ Mrs Strickland said. ‘You wouldn’t catch me being a cleaner, look at your hands.’
Everyone glanced at Manny’s hands, the mottled things. Years of removing things with chemicals, and then applying things to surfaces with chemicals had virtually destroyed whatever resemblance the club-like objects attached to Manny’s somewhat less destroyed arms bore to a person’s hands.
‘It’s an honourable station in life,’ Manny assured us. ‘I endure the hardships because I have a deep love for domestic surfaces. Concrete floors and plaster ceilings are especially my favourite to which to attend. If I had to choose between the two I’d opt for concrete in a heartbeat, it’s the stuff of Plato and Aristotle.’
John was looking at Jürgen now, pleading with him, come on, this has got to be one of his best bouts. Just have a laugh. Come on, you’ve got to laugh too, to let me!
Kosciuszko, however, was taking this pretty seriously, ‘what’s so great about concrete?’
‘It’s the purest substance ever known to man,’ Manny answered.
‘Without a doubt, everything comes from concrete; it’s the timeless fabric of the universe.’
“I - ’
‘Ah-ah-here me out, this lot have closed their minds to the truths I stumble on as I take care of this place, don’t you go and ruin it for yourself too,’ Manny had the takeaway food brochure in his hand, and was waving it rhetorically.
‘You see it contains all of the fundamental substances of the universe. Earth, fire, wind, water and the properties of the heavenly spheres, he pointed to the stars. ‘They’re all inside substance. It’s both the beginning and the end as a subject of the study of physics, just as the study of the companies that make both ice-creams and deodorisers are the touchstone of sociology.’
I could see Kos making slow attempts to find a way to cover his face.
‘Concrete is a very sacred substance. The Romans knew this. They knew this and they used it, and they became great! We forgot about it for a long time, and when we found it again, didn’t everything suddenly become great again? All the buildings and footpaths and movement. All of this is contained within the concrete, waiting to leap out and crystallise into a final form. Just to further prove this all to you, and make sure you’re clear about what I’m getting at, consider concrete that’s been badly made—too much water, not enough sand, not enough heat—Aristotle really had it on the mark!’
‘But what about atoms, Manny, sand and water are made out of atoms,’ Mrs Strickland levelled her eyes at the enigmatic cleaner.
‘Tell me,’ Manny paused, the brochure in his hands quivering. ‘Have you ever seen an atom?’
‘Manny you can’t surely -’
‘Ah-ah-ah! If you can’t see it, how do you know that it’s there?’
‘Manny, even if you can see something, how do you know that it’s real? Besides, you can see atoms’
‘No-one has yet seen an atom, Mrs Strickland, and furthermore, all the microscopes in the world will only ever serve to prove that concrete is the purest and best substance. Spend some time scrubbing, and find out!’
The conversation subsided after this, Manny’s desire to refute his objectors became somewhat impossible to satisfy, he’d bring up millennia-old, toga-wearing philosophers at every turn of the subsequent conversation, and it was difficult to talk about anything else. By that time it was very late anyway, we all ended up staring tipsily into our plastic cups, grease smeared all over our faces.
Everyone hung around out the front except Manny, who stayed inside to go to sleep. We all studied the stars, whatever we could pick out from the ones not hidden by the terrible light pollution—moths hung around the illustrious street light singing a warm fifty-hertz ballad to whoever would listen. Thanks to the tall light, we all acquired second selves, attached to our feet, as Jürgen struggled with the front door.
‘I’ll call the locksmith tomorrow!’ I could hear from inside.
‘Oh no! No no! I’ll call the locksmith, don’t worry I’ll call the locksmith.’
‘Yes Manny. Good night.’
We left much of Kosciuszko’s building tools on the premises in order to fit everyone inside, and we drove everyone home, one-by-one, Mrs Strickland off in Osborne Park, John at the train-station there so he could return to Clarkson, of all places. Jürgen merely came along for the ride, sliding out of his seat and onto the kerb when we returned to the appreciation society’s street. He hung onto the panel van’s passenger seat door, looking down at its rubber mat. Nothing happened for a while, and I leaned over to check what was going on.
‘You all right, Jürgen?’ The sound of the engine’s rattly idling dissipated out into the T-junction just nearby, and I could feel the prickly heat of tomorrow’s feisty, cloud dodging sun coming on up my neck. He looked all chopped up through the grating behind the front seats, like a sliding puzzle just about primed to become all scrambled, and remain that way for years in the bottom of a chest of drawers.
‘If you’re uh, serious about the polka, start rocking up and we’ll give you some lessons, if you want,’ he stared somewhat awkwardly out over the windscreen. ‘Thanks for tonight boys; it’s been a long time since anyone with a fresh face has turned up on our doorstep. The chances the lot of us are going to get to meet new people are slipping pretty quickly now, and they’ll continue to slip even faster as we all get more and more stooped into our own drool, hopefully you didn’t have to put up with much tonight—sorry about Manny, incidentally. The old coot’s got no-one behind the,’ he paused, ‘you know,’ he raised a hand to his ear and looked at us both.
‘Not at all,’ Kos said. ‘Haven’t had that much fun in a long, long time.’ These sorts of congratulatory after-party moments used to be events that formed indelible memories that we would use to bolster our idiotic confidence for fights, but strangely, the self-effacing subtext for such assimilation was here not present, everything seemed to flow, to be in a state of flowing, a dense and flexuous snapshot of the cosmos.
‘So you two want to learn some polka?’
‘Guess we’ll be seeing you tomorrow.’
It seemed like Jürgen’s German accent had disappeared. He limped a bit to his house, and once he was in we saw a few different lights go on and off, the house finally going dark completely. Kos had to get out of the van and close Jürgen’s door, and once we’d taken a moment to say absolutely nothing to each other, collecting our thoughts, we took off right after Kos uncharacteristically stalled the motor vehicle with a resounding crunching of gears.
Work [B8] continued throughout the following week apace, the frames for the new glass doors going in right after we’d taken care of the building’s structural integrity. Every now and then a society member would come out for a few words or an occasional smoke, usually always starting with a comment on the now cloudless, blistering hot weather hanging over this part of Perth, and ending with a terrible pun before wiping their brows all the way back inside. There must have been twenty stand-fans going on in there, anything fixed to the back of the hall flapped languidly for several seconds, then hummed with the airflow like all-get-out, driving me wild as I worked. The sweat sleeted clear off me while I worked on those back doors, washing the sunscreen I had applied in guilty anxiety clear off me—I haven’t a single clue how my lies about my walks on the foreshore might have gotten past you. You must’ve been drop-dead busy, or either known, and simply not be bothered enough to have me storming around the house, accusing everyone else of ridiculous things, as I usually did, just to make you give up. I was as red and peeling, you must have known I wasn’t at work.
It was just as likely that we didn’t see each other much for those weeks, you arriving home late at night quite a bit during that half of the year. Things were pretty bad, even then. I watched you hang out the washing on the weekend. It piled up during the week, and you tracked it all down, having memorised what particular articles of clothing were to be used on which days, and at which times, because the kids left would always leave their sports-gear at home. When this happened you’d go driving, or get your sister moving on it on the odd occasion, I remember the way your voice would trail off when you’d ring me, only to have me, as you would always expect, yell right back down the line.
I’m sorry for all those times Tracy. You stopped ringing me because I’d either yell at you or go on long, nebulous rants, asking you about the level of the cars’ break-fluid or the next time we might have to go have dinner with your parents. You used to make it really difficult for me to ring you, because anything would set me off. In my mind I constructed a web of people’s phones to contact, emanating outwards from your mobile. The fifth on the list, your office’s reception’s phone, was the one that usually always worked, but I still rang the more important four in their corresponding order of importance without fail whenever I felt the compulsion to get slimy on you, telling you, ‘gosh, I hope everything’s going okay for you’. I think you’d sit there, and have your mobile, then cubicle, then section phone all ring out. If they were positioned anything like the phones in my office, I must have had them ring long and hard in each of your ears.
Your mother was fourth on list because ringing her was guaranteed to have her talk to you about the call later, it was an ingenious form of punishment that I had invented in the hope that it might coerce you to pick up you mobile. The only problem was that she’d never get to the old yellowing thing hanging in her kitchen in time for me to concoct a series of important-sounding statements for her to hear and immediately man her battle-stations.
We stopped talking even though we lived in the same house. How pathetic did I make your life? I would refuse, repeatedly, to pick you up after seven because it was ‘too goddamned late’. I didn’t pick you up because I thought you were avoiding me. I would always learn, later, why you would be arriving home late, usually from your amiable boss. He would chortle over the canapés which I would funnel into my mouth at your work functions, bullshitting about some huge deal that he’d secured ‘against all the odds, all the odds!’ right after squeezing out some praise about you. This seemed to push him to almost crippling physical pain, now that I think about it, but at the time I supposed his bodily contortions were related to the same indigestion from which I would always suffer at these things. I still wouldn’t pick you up, though. Coming home late was a heinous crime, it didn’t matter how important it was for your job, or your bastard boss, I wouldn’t do it, I wouldn’t drive you home. I’d make your feet swell all the way from the office to the bus, bus to the fifteen minutes I would always hear you spend in front of the front door, fumbling in the dark for the keys. I would pretend that I wasn’t there, that way you’d come to me—I’d make you come to me, you would have to ask me how I was.
I’ve changed Tracy, I promise I’ve changed. I can prove to you I’ve changed. There won’t be any more of this. There can’t be any more of this because I am different now, the same but different—‘better’ different. I’m new now, I’ve regenerated, and I’ve received another chance at everything. It was in part the friendships of everyone at the polka society that catalysed this change but the real reason must come later, I need to lead you into it.
Kos and I started having music lessons with the appreciation society before the glass for the sliding doors arrived. Kos was donned with his own accordion, something old, admittedly; it had been in storage on the premises for some time, but, by the appreciation society, it was a great honour. I was, like I said, given a bass guitar.
‘We’d prefer a double-bass but there’s no sense in that,’ John and I had sat down to restring the black, cudgel-like thing. ‘But the bass-guitar has a range unparalleled by any other musical instrument. It’s also really groovy. The drummer and the bass guitarist stick together; we’ll be following each other’s lead.’
John paused as he plucked the highest string, checking a battery-powered tuner, ‘all that said, the stuff we usually play these days is pretty tame, you might only have to play three or four notes just to complete a set.’ He said this without resignation, and because he mentioned this in such a matter-of-fact manner, the idea didn’t strike me at all. The state of decline in which the appreciation society found itself took time to sink in, the fact that they had been neutering any experimentation with their music dawned on me later, when Kosciuszko and I had become good enough to play, and had gone off with the appreciation society’s ‘Band One’ to go play some gigs.
It was still summer, but long after we’d completed the renovation, and somewhat of a fair deal of time after you kicked me out. The heat was still unbearable even though the calendar was leaving the season-designated months, I’m not sure why we still use the words in Perth, it will barely rain here in winter, and then the whole place will flood just as spring is passing over the baleful crucible to summer, I’ve never understood it.
The appreciation society had a fleet of old, trusty white vans that were equipped for gigs to which we had to travel, depending on their size. More often than not we just piled into a single van, cradling our instruments at first, but after someone would reveal a deck of cards on their person they were hastily discarded and those in the back would sit cross-legged, arthritically, wagering cigarettes. The world whisked by under the high windows above our heads, and the time would pass quickly and childishly, we’d always have a band member in the van that hadn’t showed up at the hall for a while for reasons very saliently apparent, but strictly unmentionable. The reasons were almost always medical—the group was aging, trips to the hospital or bumps getting out of bed were becoming more of a frequent affair. Nobody wanted to give away these distressing truths, and yet everyone was talking about them.
Many of these people had known each other for years—they recalled sport victories, pub-brawls, ballroom dances, romantic forays—and no-one wanted to admit that they were a slave to the sands of time, that their sinews were hardening, their minds were slowly waltzing to and fro on the verge of senility, that they were in any way not unencumbered personally. Kos and I felt a bit out of place with such concerns, and at times I did feel like I was trading my (relative) youth for their age, but their company was invaluable. The majority of the group was, to some degree, more advanced in their years, but their wit was acerbic. Snide remarks flew across the cramped panel van during trips, causing there to be someone always laughing.
The society’s most popular clarinettist, Leonora, was once the brunt of a terrible running gag started by Nico, who played brass instruments. The joke was simple enough but its cult snowballed: all Nico had said was that she was ‘dumpy’. The man’s heavy accent was the drive of the humour and you’d have van-loads of people in tears, even Leonora, laughing in complete hysterics, as the joke became less about Leonora and more about outlandish the word ‘dumpy’ really was.
‘Say “Dumpilumpil”, Nico, go on!’
‘No no! Together! Say it together!’
We had a gig at an RSL in that late part of summer, which may or may not have cast the spectre of a question of a doubt in the back of the minds of Kos and I about our fraternisation with people just a little bit older than us, but this in turn I doubt—it really wasn’t a problem. The club possessed a big bronze replica artillery cannon out the front and the block was situated somewhat humorously, as someone pointed out, close to a primary school. The sea of bull-grass surrounding the cannon, the club’s plaques had been as neatly trimmed as many of the veteran’s crew-cuts. Indeed they had steely greetings that made it seem like there were rules about everything governing life in the RSL.
We played some pretty pathetic music, by the society’s standards. Our audience, however, was veritably stunned. I was expecting the absolute worst, getting up on the stage they’d fashioned out of milk-crates; I honestly thought these guys (and their poor thirty-year-old kitchen lady?) would want to listen to something—by their standards at least, because polka really does innovate in this area—a bit more edgy. Maybe we could only cast the spell outwards? Perhaps as I progressed, I wanted to chase the very frontier of the polka art form. Performances would be predictably frequent, and each one did seem to roll into the next, but every now and then someone would really pull off a solo, or add in a cheeky turn to a couple of notes that would keep you guessing. We all played off one-another during performances, so we really had different two audiences during gigs.
It[B9] became an unwritten rule between Kosciuszko and me that we would waste on alcohol almost all of the money we’d earned for a gig. Our band-members always politely ignored our steady descent into loutishness after we’d finished a set, when we would come down off the stage and mingle with the crowd. I think our drunkenness turned us into rabble-rousers most of the time; I like to think that we were both lively and well-received, but this is more than likely our view from behind the beer goggles—as an aside, I don’t think I’ve ever had a greater appreciation for swan draught.
We weren’t expecting anything out of the ordinary to happen at the gig at the RSL, so Kos and I got pissed as usual. In fact I think we got John to join in, we had a pretty good time along with a couple of RSL guys, spilling the noxious stuff we drinking everywhere, catching our breath from laughing about functionally nothing. It turned out Mick was there.
Mick, as he always did, slug-like, crept up behind us drunks, announcing, ‘chaps.’ I inhaled the mouthful I was drawing in, spraying it slightly, causing everyone within a certain cone to receive a wonderful shower of lager.
‘Heard Tracy kicked you out.’
‘Heard you’re still a wife-beater.’
‘Want to make something of it?’ Mick snarled. ‘What about you Kos, little shit, I suppose you were looking for me.’
‘What?’ Kos searched himself. ‘Yeah look, not really interested Mick, why don’t you go flog your vacuum-cleaners somewhere else.’
Everyone seemed to back away, upset at this. The three of us were hastily ushered outside by a couple of veterans who I was either too drunk or too sorry to identify. We stood out in the failing bituminised car-park, staring at each other.
‘You too are a real piece of work.’
‘We’re here on business.’
‘Fixing leaking sinks?’
‘Got some debts, Kos, debts—ever heard of a debt? You ever owe anyone?’
‘Do you regularly terrorise pensioners?’
‘Ever been terrorised by a pensioner?’
‘Quit talking like you’re the lift-out cryptic crossword.’
‘Alright, why are you here?’
‘We’re in a polka band.’
There seemed to be, suddenly, a moment of great, impenetrable silence, and those words rung in the air like tintinnabulation from a belfry. Mick’s ears seemed to sniff at its melody, taking a few quick whiffs before sucking it all in with ear-lobed nostrils. His face twisted and his eyes began to water. Within seconds he was on haunches, almost rolling around in the blue-stone that had been freed from the crappy asphalt. I can’t say I expected the response, and I was a bit offended. The only way I had to deal with this at the time was to take a sudden avid interest in my surroundings—the pattern the wire made on the fence, the speed at which the cars lazily passing seemed to be travelling—my face glowing red-hot in disgrace.
‘Alright,’ Mick said, panting. ‘I believe you.’
‘We’re pretty good you know—we played a good set.’
‘Just,’ Mick’s face started twitching, like there was another person in there, clawing at his receding hairline. ‘You’re killing me, don’t make me start again.’ He was gulping, desperately trying to consume something stoic from the atmosphere. ‘Okay, I believe you, jesus, why would anyone lie about that.’
‘Why did you – ’
‘Just give me a moment, I never thought anything like this would ever happen.’
‘What would happen?’
‘I hoped it would but I never, ever, thought it would happen,’ he finally stopped leaning on his thighs. ‘You guys have gone bat-shit mental. Completely lost it.’
‘What are you doing out here, in an RSL, Mick.’
Mick hated it when Kos would take that tone, and his attitude crept back into his badly-ironed suit, ‘some shit has gone down, alright’, he spat, his head turning slightly, neck leering, leering, growing thicker, as if the person under his forehead was pumping it full of poison.
‘I was owed some money and now I need it.’
‘And you decided you needed it after something happened,’ I said innocuously, not realising that I’d just joined the inquest.
Mick almost emptied his stomach just to have me silenced, ‘of course things happen, things happen and you need mo – ney, to buy things, ever heard of that?’
I would always be disabled by these assaults; Mick would have me by the gullet, choking for my pride when he wanted it, and he would never want it because he desired it, but because he wanted it disposed. We had rarely ever talked because he was a fair bit older, crawled out of the nest and into the logger’s chicken sandwich. He must have swum in that logger’s belly for years because he had been saturated with bile his entire adult life.
It was the middle of the afternoon, the home-time siren of the primary school sounded, Mick nearly hit the deck.
‘When was the last time you went to the cop shop, Mick?’ Kos’s eyes narrowed.
Mick looked like he’d been bitten, he wanted to fight on even though it was pointless, ‘just call the brass already.’
‘You’d probably stick it on us.’
He glanced off into infinity for a moment. He’d do his best. I figure he then decided he had nothing to lose, because he spat on the ground and then looked up at the sky, appearing to curse it in his mind, and then he confessed,
‘The patrols are getting tighter. I don’t know where they get the resources. They’ve assembled a fleet of police circling the entire coast from Hillarys to Mandurah, the waves are churning from the enthusiasm of their outboard motors, and I can’t get anything past them. I tried a couple of weeks back and I lost a boat. Can you imagine that?
‘I spend months co-ordinating the movements of commodities out of Asia just to have them sunk a few hundred metres from some douche’s beach house. I don’t know why I’m in this business. It’s too much stress on the nerves! I can’t take the pressure anymore, I’m getting shingles—look.’
Kos and I took a step back.
Mick continued on, unfased, ‘we were smuggling in electronics—computer parts—it seems people have located better software for all of their terminals, and most of those terminals need a bit more … oomph if you get what I mean. We developed a contact in Taiwan and we managed to march all of this stuff through Indonesia without losing too much, loading it onto tankers that were to be stationed off here, off the coast, for a few weeks at a time. We had to keep paying people at every step of the way, everyone wanted in, everyone wanted a little bit. More often than not the real costs we incurred were borne because we had to pay off the police. Time and time again the poking beavers would get tipped off by a rat we’d refused to take on. The only reason we didn’t turn over the merchandise was because we thought all of the trouble was worth it. We thought that if we laundered all of the circuit-boards and network adaptors enough, we might even be able to get what we were transporting into some of the regular outlets. We honestly thought we had a chance on this; I would never have extended myself this far because this job—and you’ve got to admit it—was huge.
‘Things started to go wrong—somewhat cruelly—just when the time was right. When the tankers in which we had stashed all of the computer parts arrived off the coast, the crew stayed on board for a few days, mulling over everything, checking pressure gauges, clanging metallic things with other metal things. I heard all this from the stern as we waited by the ships every night, anxious for a chance, surveying everything, scanning their telemetry transmissions. Then, finally, like the shining golden fleece the entire crew embarked from the vessel, we couldn’t believe our luck. We busted in there like heroes, and if it had been possible to laud our success prematurely by casting our contraband up into the air and having it fall down, raining around us, we would’ve done that.
‘We had only just secured the first part of our load when some competition arrived. We get trouble from these sneaker-wearing Mafioso tweakers who always manage to swoop down on us while we’re taking care of something. These clowns have gargantuan motor-boats that rise out of the murky tributaries like the jaunty teeth of some great big sunken mother-in-law that spins around in the middle of the swan river, itching to drag you down into the depths. We heard the whining of their boats from inside the tanker’s hull, and we were soon engaged in this ridiculous gun-battle that drew the police in. We must have sunk ourselves because we feared getting caught by the authorities here more than anywhere else. You can’t buy these guys here, they’re zealots, evangelists. I tried to buy them once and the whole thing got pretty hairy, I barely escaped from that situation.
‘I don’t know what struck so much fear into us that night, we should not have fallen into the trap that was engaging that gang. It seemed we did so out of paranoia, not because we loved our property—hah!—so much, but because it was instilled in us by the night. The moon seemed to wink this treacherous glint at us as we boarded the big tanker. As we escaped from the police, but before we dragged ourselves onto the shores of some dog-walking beach, that treasonous moon revealed something to us. Two of my men were shot dead that night, and I didn’t think anything of their deaths, but I saw the aftermath of a killing I’ll never forget, swimming for my life in that chilly ocean. The moonlight lit up the water-bed below us, and we passed over the body of a guy who had been tossed into the water set into a concrete block.
‘When I saw that my already adrenaline-fuelled swimming-strokes carried me fidgeting to dry land. I’ve been spooked ever since; I’m convinced that the water patrols would have found the body, waving with the currents of the water for everyone to see. They might link it to us: what if the man had only just been murdered there? The authorities, once they dredged it up, would almost certainly conclude that our boat was big enough to facilitate such a thing.
‘When I said something went down, that’s what I meant. I was referring to that.’
We wasted no time, ‘a couple of your guys were killed?’
‘Yeah, shot on the deck of the tanker,’ Mick replied, confused.
‘You might’ve shot one of the guys from the gang, or maybe even the police.’
‘The guy in the concrete was different. I do acknowledge that I would feel immensely satisfied in topping some brass, and that doing so would be very dangerous, but this man on the bottom of the ocean really[B10] is different. There was something behind the murder, it stood for something—the sunken floating body is a talisman or a relic for something. I can’t imagine what the guy did but it must’ve been right up there.’
Most of the appreciation society’s band had assembled on the threshold of the car-park as it bordered adjacently to the RSL club, watching nervously the end of the conversation Mick, Kosciuszko and I had been having. Kos and I finally noticed them, pacing on the spot from foot to foot, not knowing what to think, but at the same time imagining the worst. We had been watching Mick intensely as he had been gesticulating throughout his story; I imagine we looked like stalkers.
We instinctively turned to leave, and Mick asked me, ‘where’re you staying?’
Mick, not disingenuously, took some time to think this arrangement over, ‘okay. Kos, aren’t you…’
‘Between…’ Kos wobbled a hand palm down. Kos was always between women. He was between everything, Kos was the jack of all trades. In contract, Mick was always in the middle of everything. There’s a difference between being between things and being in the middle of them, the former has got to mean Kos can’t ever seem to engage with anything, the latter obviously being the opposite: Mick can’t worm his way out of anything, constantly burrowing into life’s minutia.
‘If you guys need…’ Mick seemed to have killed the beast by getting his story off his chest.
We had a quiet drive back that afternoon, Kos and I had most likely put a dampener on things. I stared at the peeling upholstery for most of that ride before John piped up,
‘Friend of yours?’
‘Our older brother.’
‘Ah!’ John sat back, relieved. As he relaxed, so did everyone else. In fact the cards were brought out and the bets, it seemed, had come back on.
Nico leaned over, kindly coughing coal-fired choke into our faces, ‘I had a big public fight with my cousin once, and we did it in a bar. I can’t remember what the hell we beat each other’s brains out over, but we haven’t talked since.’
‘That’s because you’re a thug,’ Jürgen chuckled in the driver’s seat.
A dastardly frog-like smile plastered itself on Nico’s tobacco-stained face, this comment transporting him elsewhere, back, probably forty years, maybe back to his mother’s old cooking, maybe back to that frenzied fight.
‘We fought with whatever we could get our hands on,’ Nico could barely cover his wooden teeth. ‘I used to club people with glass jugs; they made my favourite sound, against people’s faces.’
Before either of us had to deal with the way things were going with Nico, Jürgen called out again, ‘what does he do?’
‘He’s a crook.’
‘Looked like a crook.’
Nothing happened for a while, following that run-in with Mick at the RSL. Trouble really reared its ugly head about a month and a half after; it felt like everything was happening at once. We had spent a lazy afternoon at the hall with John, who was spinning tall stories for both of us brothers, Manny and Mrs Strickland. We were in the kitchen, smeared on its tiled surfaces, slumped all over the place, smoking like we were greased engines that belonged at the speedway. Mrs Strickland was doing some dishes. She was staring out of the tiny window there, out into the backyard, watching the weeds roast in cereal. She slopped the dishwater slowly, meditating on something as we made right fools of ourselves. She would say something every now and then, parrying someone’s light-hearted insult with a pun, pushing one of us aside just as frequently to read the innards of a cupboard.
When she finished she disappeared. She didn’t say she was coming back—she just left the kitchen, leaving us unsupervised and able to get into the drinks fridge. The conversation finished as the sun began to turn deep orange on the back fence, and we started to wonder where Mrs Strickland had gone. I found her in the study, out the front, pouring over bank-books and receipts, and I was soon joined by the rest of us. We watched her furtively as she sat there flipping pages and shaking her head. The study was as dim as you could get it with the late sun pounding its heavy curtains. The woman used her x-ray vision to read all of those documents, and she, like the study’s back wall, was made to be glowing by that sun.
We were caught out principally because the combined pressure of our clandestine glaring caused her to become aware of our presence.
‘Gosh I could feel my neck getting hot,’ she yelled, tipping her chair over. ‘Grown men acting like children!’
She’d been counting the appreciation society’s pennies. The society had barely been able to pay Kosciuszko for his efforts, because we accepted, in part, payment for our work in the form of music lessons. Jürgen had also mortgaged the place years ago, the terms of the instrument, Mrs Strickland told to us, were to her mind,
‘the most fanciful I’ve ever seen. The bank took extreme caution upon giving the loan when they were told that it was being paid off from proceeds earned by performing music. The money-lenders really got the upper hand with this one,’ she waved a curling wad of paper with her left hand. ‘We’ve never been late on our repayments, but I fear we’re heading towards making a default. Even though it wasn’t much—and you two shouldn’t take this as any sort of slight against either of you—that back door we had put in has put us on a crash course for something awful.
‘We’re going to lose everything,’ looked at us all. ‘Unless we find a lot of money very soon.’
I can still remember feeling my heart thumping in my ears and my extremities, trying not to keel over in front of the study doorway. I balanced on my feet as if they were stilts, tottering around, waiting to crash. My short-lived world was crumbling. The hall and its’ members had received a part of me, working and performing there. Some stiff in a suit with shoulder-pads loomed over all of this now, the trills of the clarinets. Mrs Strickland’s off-hand assessment of me sums it up best: I was a child, who was contemplating his recently-received fairground balloon bursting, little bits of wet rubber flecking everywhere all at once. The impending mortgage default was something pressing absently on its surface, the pop would be invariably the gears of the bank: the phone-calls first inside the offices, then from inside straight to Jürgen’s ear, then the forms, maybe even some powdered wigs if we struggled. Either way there would be suits on the front lawn, no stopping it. I feared this happening unlike anything I had ever felt in my entire life.
This might have been the first time I was ever not selfish, although I’m not sure how much empathy you could say I was showing at that moment. I think much like a child without a balloon, I was more shocked about losing something than worried about the plight of anyone else.
My[B11] memory fades out here. I could’ve fallen over and become unconscious at that point, but I believe this has more to do with what happens later. From my view of the small warm room I find myself standing on shore at City Beach, at night in a storm. To my left is a groyne, at out in the churning waters float thousands of wooden televisions, bobbing in the water. The ocean, pitch-black inky stuff, is oily on their laminated wood. Rivulets of the poisonous-looking liquid stream off their peeling laminated chassis, clinging to areas on the tube screens.
Lightning rides off in the distance, and when it strikes the water, the water lights up like a mirror; the tee vees turn on and shoot grey columns of pictures of bounding phantoms against the waterbed, clouds, the beach. It’s not possible to hear the sky’s thunder over the roar of the televisions when this happens, the sounds of the images of the creatures are too loud: bounding! bounding!
All sense of time seems to leave me when I put my mind to this recollection (hallucination?). My [B12] stomach is/moves upwards, and I’m thrown into the world on the phosphorescent screens. It’s a dark park with wet grass, invisible black clouds groaning silently and yet with a present existence, overhead, and the phantoms that were moving as projections before, outside the phosphor world are real, now. They are big grey dogs, galloping in perfect lines past me. All around the border of the park prickle pin-pricks of light that I cannot reach, and the dogs run into the regularly-distanced points of luminescence. The dogs kick up the water on the blades of grass as they thunder on the ground, and the stench of their breath is unbearable. The silence of the park, apart from the incessant bounding, and the dull glow from the unreachable (assumedly) incandescent lights cause the glinting eyes of the dogs to take my interest time after time when I set my mind to this stream of suspended sanity.
In the beady eyes of the dogs lingers the raucous shuddering of a train traversing cliffs near the sea. The sea is populated with the televisions, smashing together in the water, full of chop, way below the train-tracks. When I reach the train I am suddenly aware that I have been moving in a specific path through the reflected images: into each of them; at the same time cross-sectional to them, disturbingly perpendicular to their self-containment. The train is corroded from the sea-shore air, and it leaves the tracks and flies into the air, and my vision transcends into another dimension:
I now see the road I have taken from ‘the top’: a line through the middle of three circles, which, paradoxically, extends to the circle through which I view these three circles.
This is when I am returned to my ‘normal’ memories—I am plunged backwards to the stormy beach with the tee vees, like a the images on a videotape in reverse, and I am flecked with the spray of the salt-water waves—when Mick, Kos and I all went out on a motor-boat off the coast to look for the sunken, waving body on the bottom of the ocean. We found it easily, as it flashed at us in the moonlight. I’m sure anyone could have been able to find because the rotting body was like a mirror for that silken moonlight, somehow sterilising and legitimising the wretched corpse; if it hadn’t been for the moon, I would not have been able to look upon the woman. It was a woman, not a man, contrary to Mick’s observations.
Kos had brought some goggles
Chapter Two: Following All Those Profits Lost