First published in Three and Three chapbook 2o17 by the Slow Canoe Press. Read at Live Journal – The Slow Canoe, Winter 2017, Friday 9 June, Sundry Studios, Fitzroy.
I ride past his flat above the shops each Saturday morning. There are other streets I could turn down on my way home from the pool, streets where I’d be less likely to be crushed between an opening car door and a tram. His grubby white polyester curtains drawn in the middle of day are my only assurance that he still lives there. He is a late-sleeper. If I pass in the early evening the curtains will be tied up in a knot and the windows pushed up halfway, but nothing else can be seen of the dark interior. Along with Yah Yahs, Sonsas and the second hand record shop, his flat has become my orientation point. But I know that in a story I shouldn’t say it represents safety. He would just say, affectionately, that it’s stalking. I haven’t seen him for years.
He’d been a fixture on the street for half his life, in one of those old arrangements where the landlord fixes nothing but the rent doesn’t go up. I had one of those arrangements, too, in my Californian bungalow in the mid-eastern suburbs till they razed all the trees in the backyard and sold the block off to developers. Now I live closer to the river in a neighbourhood which just breaks the blue shadow of Ikea and where old grey money still has the muscle to fight off high-rises. At times, the oft-triggered car alarms are far enough off for me to mistake them for birds. In his front room, on two old desks, he’d set up two typewriters on which we were going to write a mystery set on the islands of Greece. We’d even visited Naxos once, climbing a goat path up the mountain above Filotti, but were so unfit we couldn’t make it over the crest and down to Zeus’s cave. We’d clatter away at our desks but get distracted by queens dressing in the upstairs window across the street, pulling on wigs and fitting breast-inserts, for their show downstairs in the spaghetti bar. Or I’d start wondering again about the leopard skin bra that dangled off the top of his bookcase, high up near the ceiling. He couldn’t recall whose it was. The twin typewriters would fall silent, and he’d start rolling cigarettes or we’d end up in the galley kitchen boiling the kettle to make heart-stopping Turkish tea. While the tea was steeping, I’d study the cans of soup and baked beans lined up on his shelf, Andy Warhol-straight. He used these minutes to roll more cigarettes.
Sometimes when I ride by the flat, I wonder if he’s still like a Triffids’ song where everything I ever touched, he keeps locked away. The narrators in his stories were shadowy, but now I don’t believe that he was obscuring the identity of a real person from real life. Sometimes you just don’t know what you’re hiding, and even if you dig there’s nothing there – no lost objects, nothing. I am still like a Go-Betweens’ song, scared of finding our bed in a second-hand furniture shop window. One day I look up to see that the curtains have vanished. A lone aluminium A-frame ladder stands inside the window. I pull into the kerb between the parked cars and haul my bike onto the footpath. I can see where, one night, his teenage daughters clambered out of the window with spray cans and scrawled their names on the brickwork above the awning, but there’s nothing else left. The flat interior is light and unmistakably empty. I gaze at the ladder. Once I said that the city was his and he said, well if it’s mine, then you are my council. I used to run up his stairs. And then the infrastructure crumbled. He said you can’t have a honeymoon forever, and you know you speak way too much about your ex. Right now I would overlook all the subject shifts in his stories to be up in that room drinking tea at his teak coffee table with his hand on my thigh. Slowly I wheel my bike around the corner, hop on, and sail down the hill, not looking for car doors opening out into the bike lane, or broken glass or nails. I’m lucky this time.