The Girl in the Automatic Clown Jacket

The giant baby wears a necklace and has freckles.
His temples are large and milky-white,
Like satellite dishes in the moonlight.
Tether the softest goat on the outskirts at noontime,
Don’t look back,
Even when you hear the crackling of limbs,
First in the tree line and then
In that well tended clearing
Where the stakes have been driven into the ground.

Don’t turn around when you hear
The sound of untrained masticating.
It’s ok for the giant baby to smack his lips.

Bring forth the dancing girls and virgins!
Make sure that they are all pretending to be happy.
The giant baby must not be displeased.
Make sure that their sad eyes shine in the moonlight,
And the bells on their pretty ankles jingle,
So that they may be located and retrieved
By men with pitchforks,
Whose faces shine in the firelight,
When they run away, into the forest.

There isn’t a single person in the village who is not terrified of the giant baby!
He must not be displeased,
Or he will crawl to the village gates
And reach into houses
Through front doors and windows.
The baby is masticating!
Stretching the bounds
Of reality to nearly snapping point.
It’s rude to stare.
Don’t ever point.

Anoint the baby with a blessed urn.
Fill the pig swill troughs with
Mother’s milk and step back!
There will be slurping noises!
Who will rub his back to make the burping noises?
One hundred buffalo,
Each eighty centimeters tall,
Ready on plastic hoofs,
With bated buffalo breath
In time for nap time.
This is not the time to tie the virgins to the stakes.
Who employed that wretched hunchback?
This is not the middle ages.
This is nap time.

You will not roll over and
Crush the giant baby while you snooze.
This baby will knock the wind out of you.
He will smash your chimney pots.
Good luck settling in this village.
People will think you are crazy,
Moving here with your seven busty teenage daughters.
They will smile in your face
But behind your back they will talk
About the well tended tethering patch
And snicker.

Baby don’t like it when mum and dad argue.
He will squeeze you
Until your hair follicles produce much thicker locks.
Use one hundred ewes to fashion socks!
Patch many mohair sweaters to make a baby grow.
When this baby grows up you better build another village,
Much further away.
Submit the planning applications today
And await approval in the form of
I heard there’s another valley over that way,
They had a giant otter there but he moved away.
Something about a giant beaver dam bust-up.

The giant baby will not be televised!
The giant baby will not be throw away,
Or fobbed off with no bath water.
You, the idiot with the teenage daughters,
Don’t move here.
It is not a very good idea.

Hush! Shuddup!
Nap time is over.
It’s time for bath time
And then the rolling in the patch of clover
Which acts as a towel:
Super absorbency.

For the rest of the story wait and see,
It hasn’t happened yet,
Please replace the hand set and back away.
Keep your elbows tucked in and your wits about you.
When you are far enough away you may run.
I permit you.
If you are dumb enough to return one day
You may see the smoking stumps of wood
Rising form the packed mud streets.

Go in peace.
The giant baby must not be underestimated.
Go in peace.


Nothing Happened

This is me: I work really hard, the rest of the time I sleep. Sometimes I play poker or spend time with Meg. Mostly I work.
Physically I’m bigger than I ever have been, stronger, fitter, faster, browner. I don’t smoke cigarettes any more. Sometimes I run, purely because walking takes so long. Running doesn’t hurt my lungs any more.
Usually I work in confined, uncomfortable places, small bathrooms and attics. I wear shorts, boots, earmuffs and a respirator, nothing else. I sweat litres. I am covered with dust. My hair stands on end and my hands bleed.
I work with an aggressive intensity, and when I stop I pant like a running dog. I like my work. I like big power tools and the constant cycles of chaos and order, chaos and order, but the fact that I’m low on society’s pecking order gets to me, it pisses me off and I’m more intense and aggressive because of it.
After I get home and shower I usually soften up. I snuggle with my Mrs. We drink tea and I tell her about my day, the little defeats and victories, and she tells me about hers. She’s studying to become a lawyer. That makes me feel better about my low social standing. I feel noble because I’m paying for our present while she works for our future. Just being with her makes me feel less dirty.
I feel like I’m changing.
I’ve stopped masturbating and my hair is longer than it has been in years.
I’ve been overwhelmingly sad lately.
I don’t feel sorry for myself.
I don’t feel damaged or hurt or angry,
Just overwhelmingly sad.
Meg was worried, but with surprising clarity I explained what I was feeling: “It feels like I’m releasing stuff,” I explained, “like I’m defrosting”.
She didn’t really understand. I didn’t really understand. Sometimes you just have to ride these things out and see where they take you.
I feel better now. I don’t want to cry any more. I still feel different though.
I want to be a writer, I always have. Sometimes I think I have to be a writer, I have no choice. I get so highly strung when I don’t write. It’s almost as if I punish myself for not creating, examining, analyzing, regurgitating. I’ve always been the same.
Maybe I don’t want to be writer at all, maybe I have psychological issues; a built-in overbearing stage mom desperate to live vicariously through the rest of me.
I started a blog so that other people could read what I write. I don’t think I was being egotistical. I wanted to help the world. I wanted people to feel less lonely and alienated. Now my blog haunts me. It’s just another thing for my internal pushy parent to hassle me about. If I don’t write the blog I become almost unbearable.
A couple of weeks ago I emailed a few magazine editors, detailing my literary achievements and prowess, asking for work. I heard nothing back. I suppose my approach was laughably unprofessional. I know about plugging away doggedly. I know about the time and energy it takes to move even the shortest distance along this road, but I cringe when I think about my innocence.
I’d like to be a foreign correspondent. I’ve got it all worked out: I’ll bring an emotional clarity and honesty to disaster reportage, without being hysterical or biased. I’m strong enough to deal with war, I’ve always known that about myself.
Sometimes I cringe while I write. Imagine: the boy who always wanted to go to war. Maybe I spend so much time facing fear and pushing myself forward because I’m actually a coward. Maybe that’s the only reason anyone does anything.
I’m getting better at playing poker. I usually make the final table now. Not quite good enough to win money, but close. When my luck changes and the bad beats stop maybe I’ll start turning a profit. At least I have fun, at least I have a hobby.
I don’t think I’m depressed. I don’t think I’m even unhappy. I have a good job and a fantastic woman, I write well and one day I might make a career out of it. My main problem is that I don’t like society much. I don’t like our culture. I think we’re greedy and selfish, willfully ignorant and short sighted. We stole this country from the Black Fellas. Stole it!
Now it’s ours.
There’s something wrong with us, we’re sick. We need to take the blindfolds from our eyes. It hurts to do it because we’ve really made a mess of things, but it feels so good to tell yourself the truth. It feels so good to see clearly, even if what you see is all crooked and tainted. There is beauty everywhere, and sadness and pain and birth and death. That’s what’s good about the world: it’s real. When it hurts the pain is real; physical and immediate, when you love or feel joy it’s the same; tangible and inescapable.
We spend too much time wanting, missing what we don’t have, cluttering reality with more and more stuff. We shop because we’re lonely. We frantically consume to make ourselves feel like we belong to something. We worship celebrities because maybe, just maybe some of their magic dust will rub off on us by association. THERE IS NO MAGIC DUST!

I sit, I write, I complain. Sometimes I make tea, walk barefoot to the bathroom or visit Meg in the kitchen. Sometimes I watch the clouds move above the palms outside my window. I know I’m writing clichés. I know a thousand people have already said what I just said. I don’t care. It’s just the way I feel. One day I’ll live in the country and grow children and vegetables. Then I’ll be further away from the idiocy of white men and maybe it won’t hurt me so much, but for now I’m young and fit, honest and strong, and I can practice what I preach because I’m loved and I can cry like a man. I don’t need much else.
I hope one day to make a difference. I don’t think I’m being naïve.
I try very hard to keep my eyes open, to see the woods and the trees. I hope I’m not being naïve.
I’ll probably cringe when I read through what I’ve written, but that’s ok, because I’m allowed to be a little naïve.



So make for me a bed of fear,
That I may lie upon it,
And wring from troubled, restless sleep
Cold sweat and wicked dreams.

I often dream of bad fish, salmon covered in white fungus mites, oily rivers, sluggish black water, hag fish, snake fish, wispy eels. I dream of hurting bad people, of gouging eyes and stabbing, and when I wake up bathed in sweat, the dreams themselves vanish, leaving only a ring of scum where the dark water once stood, which sometimes lingers for hours.
This morning I tried to splash through the last of the dreams as they drained away, to reach happier ground before I started my day, but they found me some time after Meg left for school, and they were angry that I’d tried to give them the slip.
I mooched and didn’t write, didn’t sort out my taxes and didn’t wash up. Then I didn’t catch a bus into the city and sat in traffic, watching a cab meter click slowly upwards while we didn’t go anywhere.
By the time I reached the city I was hot and angry, stupid-looking, soft-looking, normal-looking; one of a thousand other goons all feeling the scratch of sweat and bus exhaust on our worthless necks: worthless lives made more worthless by the fact that we’re here, encased in this, this throbbing, angry, embarrassment of a metropolis, ‘marks of weakness, marks of woe’.
I pick a tower block at random, push through the glass doors and ask a heavily-built Indian receptionist for directions. Then I walk down the street to another tower and repeat the process, then again, each time getting closer, each time hating more and more the pea gravel and egg plant reception areas, the shiny marbled man-made stone and dirty air-con vents, the humming termite mounds of dirt and waste and heat and the whole shitty show.
Eventually my lift pings open on the 21st floor and a simpering desk-boy breaks off his smutty conversation long enough to point his cheap ballpoint at a door left ajar, emitting the familiar sounds of fashion in its larval stage: click, pop, whirr, chatter.
I breeze on in and start my apologies. I am fifteen minutes late, the busses coming form the beach were all full, the traffic was terrible… At $500 an hour the least I could do is be on time. But they don’t care. I am ignored. I am shown to a chair and clipped, powdered and ruffled. My eyebrows are plucked, my ears are shaved, my bags are bronzed. It isn’t until I’m suited in pin stripes and gleaming like a basted roast that anyone takes any notice of me at all. Then I am shown another chair in the center of a ring of lights and busy little people, facing a floor to ceiling window overlooking a hundred other termite mounds. Outside the ring of lights and busy people is another ring of people who aren’t very busy at all. They lounge like sea lions and natter absentmindedly about expensive phones and coffee beans, fine wines and exclusive resorts. These are the bloated ones, the executives.
In front of my chair is a desk, on it is a blank computer screen, a pad and pen and a phone. I am told what is expected of me, shown a drawing of a man doing what I’m expected to do. He’s sitting at a desk, looking important, talking to four other business types on a split computer screen. Once they’re sure I know what they want of me I’m ignored again, so I dutifully sit and read my book while busy little people busy themselves around me. They don’t speak to me, I don’t speak to them. I am a unit which hasn’t been activated yet. I am expected to remain dormant and passive until it’s my turn to shine.
Outside I do my job very well, I am the very picture of passivity, but on the inside I am alert and watchful. I am listening with glee to the conversations of the executives, and I am very, very critical.
“I left my Blackberry charger in the hotel.” One heavily groomed is man is bleating.
“Oh what a coincidence,” an agent is crooning at an art director, “my parents own a vineyard on that road, they have that exact same coffee machine in their pool house.”
I sit and listen, and although the book I’m reading is very good, I’m reading very little of it, so immersed am I in the worthless lives in the window and the worthless lives in the room. And then SHA-BLAM! It’s my turn and all eyes are on me. I know what I have to do, now is the time to do it. Someone darts out of the shadows and fixes the ripples in my suit. Someone else darts out and flicks my hair into a state of near perfection. The photographer’s assistant checks the lights, the photographer looks through the lens, tells me he’s ready and pops off a shot. There is silence as the image is squeezed onto the screen of a nearby Mac. Then the whole show pauses again for half an hour as lights are moved and things are pulled and tugged until SHA-ZAM! It’s my turn to make it happen and I turn on like a Christmas tree. My hair is touched, my bulges are debulged, the lights are checked, the stage is set and then… nothing happens for another half an hour.
By now the execs aren’t fun to hate and the view from the window is soul destroying. I want to cross my legs but I’m scared of crumpling my suit. Thank god for Philip K. Dick, thank god for age and experience and 500 bucks an hour, only a third of which I’ll see after agent’s cuts and taxman cuts and all the other little cuts, a third which will be about a week’s wages on the building site. I look down at my hands, creamed and pampered though they are the calluses stick out a mile, my knuckles are fat and scarred. I smile down at them, they wink back at me, our little secret.
And then, KA-POW! It’s me again and this time it’s for real. For half an hour I earn my money. I shine like I’m supposed to. I put on funny voices and the busy people laugh. I talk to imaginary business men and the execs think it’s priceless.
“Buy, buy, buy, Kevin!” I yell at the blank screen on my desk, mimicking a handsome business man. “Buy caves, fucker, lots of caves. The worlds fucked and we’re moving back to the stone age.”
“Charles!” I yell, “We’re doomed! Business is booming! Throw yourself out of the window!”
They love it. I look great. So animated. Brilliant.
“The ice caps are melting,” I point at the screen with my expensive pen and furrow my brow, oozing mean and moody sex appeal. “We’ve raped the planet and now we’re all going to hell!”
My audience guffaws. It doesn’t matter what the model is saying, there’s no sound on a stills shoot, silly, just look how good looking he is! Look at the fire in his eyes! This will sell us a million units for sure. This is dynamite!
When we break for coffee I slip out of my chair and my character and hide behind a rack of clothes, next to a distinctly normal-looking stylist. She looks me flatly in the eyes for a second before asking: “Are you the funny one?”
I’m not sure what to say. I look back at her, looking for clues, but I can see none.
“Not always.” I say, a little defensively. “Are you the dead-pan one?”
“No.” She says. Suddenly she looks very tired.
“Are you the tired one?” I ask her, warmth in my voice now.
“Yes.” She nods, and her eyes smile at me. We sit in silence for a while then, enjoying our shared hiding place. Then it’s time for me to shine a little more. Sha-blam.

I leave and shake a lot of hands, not ignored any more, and smile at the bus driver who smiles back. People where filing past her like sheep, acting as if she didn’t exist. She looks tired too.
The bus is full and all the sheep look tired and angry. Outside I smile and keep a calm bearing. Inside I’m imagining what the world will be like when all the humans are gone. Peace, perfect peace.


The Fish Changes Everything

It’s summer now, it really is. The tourists have come, the sculpture show on the cliff path is on, the sea is warm, the sky is a pale blue and we all smell of sun screen and hot skin.
In the morning I pack a bag and walk barefoot down the gulley steps to the beach. Day ten, no cigarettes. Meg and I got drunk last night, two chilled bottles of white and two glasses, wandering among the sculptures, playing art critics, giggling and staggering, critiquing rubbish bins and dog turds, me in straw hat and bare feet, Meg in ripped jeans and a skirt. Into the second bottle we were as much an attraction to the tourists and art lovers as the welded bits of scrap and Henry Moore rip-offs were, living the dream, brown and young and reckless, golden glow in love.
We argued before I left the house this morning, maybe just so we could spend some time alone, maybe just so I could spend some time alone.
I cross the road, hopping from one foot to the other on the hot tarmac, and walk quickly through the park to the beach. I find a spot without too many people and dig in. I saw a Japanese guy do it once: he dumped his bag, fell to his knees and quickly and efficiently dug a bum shaped hole, piling the sand to make a back rest. Then he laid his towel over hole and mound and sat down like a sandy armchair ninja. Ever since that day I have done the same. Now I distain those who lie flat, it’s just so one dimensional.
Twenty minutes of sun is all I need, so after my swim I pack up, flatten my mound and wander over to the cliffs. The tide’s high and the big rock pool where dogs and kids swim and piss together has temporarily become part of the sea. I paddle, ankle deep around its edge, wincing as barnacles spike my heels. Then I see a fish, as long as my forearm, swimming lopsidedly in the deepest part of the pool. I wade in for a closer look. I don’t know what kind of fish it is, but it looks quite normal, compared to some of the weirdoes we get out here. I walk slowly towards it, until I’m nearly on top of it, then I reach down into the thigh-deep water and make a grab for it. It bolts away from me and tries to ride a small wave back out to sea. I leap after it like a bear leaping after a salmon and pounce! It slips away again, but again I pounce. This time I manage to get a finger in one of its gills and pull it flapping out of the pool. I wade back onto dry rock and examine my prize. It looks healthy and tasty enough, apart from two puncture marks on its back which are seeping blood. I stand looking at it. Has it been poisoned? Will I die if I eat it? Two young local blokes have walked up. They’re standing in the pool, looking at me, looking at the fish.
“What you going to do with that?” One of them asks.
“Eat it?” I answer. It’s quite normal to answer a question with a question here.
“Good man”, the other bloke says.
Now that I’ve got their approval I feel better. I show them the two seeping puncture marks. One of them pokes the fish. The fish wriggles. Neither of them says anything about deadly poisons. I nod decisively, thank the blokes and stalk off, holding my pray before me like a prize marrow. I’m not sure what to do with myself now though. My plan was to set up camp on my favourite cliff ledge and read some more. The fish changes everything. As I pass an older, blonde, crazy-looking surf bum, he accosts me loudly:
“What you going to do with that?”
“Eat it”, I tell him confidently.
“Good”, he says. Maybe he’s a bit deaf. I’m about to move on when I have an idea.
“What is it?” I ask him.
“Taylor”, he says.
“Good eating?” I ask.
“Good enough. Bloody fish though. Have to bleed him first.”
“Hmm”, I say, “got a knife?”
I shrug and start to walk away again.
“Wait!” He bellows after me.
I walk back to him. He’s rummaging frantically in his bag. Triumphantly he produces a red plastic surfboard fin. “Use this”.
His eyes widen as I take it from him. I lay my fish on the rock and examine the fin, find the sharpest edge and make a test cut in the air above the fish’s head.
“Not that way!” He yells at me, “Underneath!”
“You think so?” I ask meekly. I turn the fish over and do another little test cut in the air.
“Not near me clothes!” The surf bum roars, sun-bleached eyes protruding.
I turn my back on him and jam the fin into the fish’s throat. It thrashes and squirms, but I cut it good. Blood runs through my fingers. The surf bum is standing really close to me, breathing in my ear. As I sever the spine he whispers: “bloody good”. His voice is full of awe and admiration. We stand, very close together, watching the fish die.
“Now you’ve got to clean him!” He shouts. I jump at the inappropriate volume of his voice. He motions towards the sea and mouths the word: ‘go’.
Still wincing I dutifully take fish and fin down to the sea to wash them off. The man watches me from his rock, his blonde hair buffeting and twitching in the wind. Other people watch me too, tourists, dog-walkers, the parents of toddlers. Proudly I clean my kill and my weapon, then I limp back across the barnacles to the surf bum. He starts to ask me how I caught it but then his phone rings.
“Hello!” He screams. I stand for a minute, still holding my dripping fish, listening as he bellows into his phone. I’m not sure why I’m still here. Maybe I want to discuss my victory against the sea, my prowess with leap and blade. I start feeling a bit silly though, so I gather my possessions and walk off. He yells after me: “Bloody good one mate!”
I wave without turning and hop from rock to rock back to the cliff path. On the path there are so many people gawking at sculptures I can hardly move. I hold my fish like a battering ram and charge through them to one of the plastic bag dispensers meant for picking up dog shit. I pull out four bags and wrap the fish. A Chinese couple stop and gawk at me, as if I too was art work. I smile at them.
“Fish”, I explain, nodding encouragingly.
“Yes. Fish”, they agree, smiling and nodding also.
I spend the rest of the morning on my ledge above the bay, reading, puffing on a little pure one and watching the surf. Occasionally I lean over, open my bag and touch my fish, just to check that it’s still there. It is cold and firm, sometimes it twitches slightly or its muscles ripple; just a little life left in its nerves.
At lunch time I take my fish home, steam some veggies, boil some rice, make friends with Meg and cook it, with an orange, ginger and coriander sauce. Then I wait a while, and when I’m convinced I haven’t been poisoned, I rub my belly and thank the universe I don’t always have to write about the darkness.



There was a fire in the abandoned building across the street last night. It was about 1 am but I was up anyway, working late. "Hey, there's a fire!" my housemate yelled. It was big, a real one, flames and all. As we ran out to our fire escape to watch, the first fire trucks were already arriving. They broke through the windows and brick on the ground floor with their pressurized hoses, and a big plane of orange flame rushed out.

More and more trucks arrived, ten or more parked down the street and around the corner. The fire fighters seemed in competition to break shit down. Dozens of them swarmed the front, like a mob pillaging a store. They piled into the building and up the building and onto the roof and down into the building. They broke through the brick, sawed through the metal shutters, even broke into the building next door and then broke through the wall. They got up on ladders and shattered all the windows on the front of the building. They got up on the roof and broke through all of the skylights and trapdoors and vents.

All the while great clouds of sooty smoke billowed out the gashes in the brick, an upside down goth crinoline. Through the thick gray veil, the orange of the fire and red of the sirens and yellow of the streetlights mixed took on an alien look, or an ancient look. Something out of movie anyway.

The scene was dramatic and visceral. Stuff got damaged, a mark was made, it felt like something was happening. Our view was perfect.

The next day the whole area smelled of smoke. "Did you see the fire last night?" I asked the morning guy at the cafe downstairs.

"No," he said. He handed me my coffee.

I felt like it should have been more important. But it wasn't. I took my coffee, mixed in plenty of half and half, and got back to work.

Spanish Moss

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
instead of this workhorse, workman, working stiff.
Working nights now, asleep through the day, waddling off to work when everyone else is waddling home, or drinking beer, when everyone else is asleep.
My steel toe caps pad the floors of labyrinthine department stores, behind the scenes, back where no customer can see, under and above, creeping like a rat, with the rats. Hours of dust and guardless grinders, face powdered ghost-white, sitting on the midnight pavement, eating lunch from a greasy pot with Chinese painters squatting all around and Scottish carpenters discussing the price of Iron Bru. And me no longer smoking so, tense and intense, I keep my eyes flashing bloody murder in my goggles, my ears in muffs against the whine and mimi-mimi nonsense of the radio, my nose and mouth porotected, filtered, bearded in sweat.
Cavelike and cavernous the building. 6th floor: Toys. Rows and rows of gender specific colour coordination, pink unicorns and pastel Barbies, grey, black, red warriors Action! Robot! Doom! Collision! Smash!
I left dusty footprints on the 6th, and opened the secret door and scratched a teddy bear under his chin. 5th floor lingerie: I would have stopped to perv the models and scratch a couple of chins, but the cameras are everywhere. 3rd floor 4th floor building site.
“Keep this door closed. The customers don’t need to see our mess!”
The customers don’t need to see that behind the scenes glamour is shamefully held together with masking tape, and all along the walls and secret passageways there are mocking signs, partial paw prints in the mud, bones in paper bags, magpies crying: ‘The customer is always wrong! The customer must never see the mess they’re in, the dirt and rats and dusty working stiffs!’

I have no time to write pretty things dressed in friendly structures. I’ve slept through most of my weekend, and have no stories to tell which can’t be compressed, flattened and discarded. Most of what I have can fit in two dimensions on a city wall, over a corporate sponsored piece of graffiti, McDonalds packets, cups and wrappers whirling in the wind: THE CUSTOMERS DO NEED TO SEE THIS MESS! IT IS OUR MESS! IT IS THEIRS!
The beach on Saturdays and Sundays is enough to make me want to cry; McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut packaging sown roughly in the sand, bodies brought up by the tide, the water boiling red, immigrant wars, water shortages, uprisings, downturns, revolutions, starvation, corporate sponsored fucking graffiti, Nike shoes a meter high, ‘In Yo Hood’. The death of the planet, rib cages like bleached roots in the sand, flesh like Spanish moss:
The customers don’t need to see our mess.

What words of hope and solace to finish this one off?
None. Let it hang until it is limp, then gently let it fall, face first into a hole, and sleep.

No. That’s not right:
Be kind. Be gentle.
Be fierce and tough and as angry as you like.
Don’t take no shit, but give none either.
And clean up after yourself
In such a way that
Others will see you and say:
“Wow that person looks like they’ve got their shit together,
Maybe I’d like to be like that some day.”
Smile, enjoy life and keep your eyes open
And don’t ignore the mess!


But Always In The Light

I’m working on a renovation up in Longueville, smashing up old floors and laying new ones. It’s hot, dusty and bright. Cockatoos and kookaburras screeching and cackling in the gum trees, spiders and lizards in the overgrown garden, these leafy suburbs are straight out of the Australian soap operas.
It’s Friday, the boss and a couple of the other lads have gone up the coast for a long weekend, there are only three of us left on site. Me, Ashley, a half-Malay carpenter, and Digger, a dodgy hammer-hand with red hair and a tattoo of a fish hook on his right bicep.
We’ve been working together for a couple of days now and our system runs like clockwork. I cut the boards with the drop saw and glue the joists, Digger lays the boards and calls out measurements to me, and Ashley works the secret nailer, a big air powered staple gun attached to a compressor. It’s hot, splintery work but we’re making it fun, laughing and telling stories.
“-Finished school in tenth grade,” Digger tells us, lighting another Styverson, “Me teacher said to me: ‘Trouble is, mate, you never bloody turn up. Either you re-do the tenth grade or,’” He leans towards us, winking conspiratorially, “‘I could get you a job on the boats if you’re keen. Me cousin owns the biggest fishing company on the East Coast.’ That was on a Monday, by Friday I shipped out of Melbourne and never looked back.”
I grin. Ashley rolls his eyes. He’s been telling stories like this all morning; how he catches goats with his bare hands and spears sharks in the nature reserve. We both like him well enough, but he’s one of those mildly dangerous characters you have to laugh at, if only to keep him at arm’s length.
We break for lunch and sit on the section of floor we’ve just finished, chewing in silence, smoking or pulling splinters from our hands.
“Let’s get this done and bugger off down the pub,” Ashley says.
“Uh-huh,” Digger nods.
“Good,” Says me.
We finish our ciggies and get back into it, bust arse for another hour, then clean up, lock up and pile into Ashley’s battered Ute.

The William Wallace is an old, two-storey building on the corner of two narrow lanes with a wraparound terrace and an aging dog tied to a lamppost. It’s as dilapidated as the rest of the suburb, but homely too.
People smile as we walk in. Ashley and Digger seem to know everyone. I buy the first round and drain a good quarter of my beer before walking over to where the others are sitting, the condensation-frosted glasses cold in my hands. I sit back and look around: pool table, open fire, dirty carpet, old men at the bar, a peeling mural on the wall depicting the pub almost as it is now, but with a leopard skin carpet and a tiger skin by the pool table.
“When did they get rid of the leopard skin?” I ask.
“-Never had one.” Ashley tells me.
“It’s a tiger skin.” Digger says.
I start to protest that the carpet is actually leopard skin but a group of Northern Irish guys join us and I shut my gob. They’ve been rendering on the Longueville house, five Irish guys: beer bellies, football shirts and the kind of eyes that smile because they know you but look granite at anyone else, big lads with heavy paws and even heavier pasts, brown and happy here. Their leader nods and winks at me and I grin, the others smile too. As soon as they’re settled Digger turns to one of them, a smaller, shyer man of about forty, with dark, curly hair.
“Hey there John,” he says, then turns to me. “You know John don’t you, Wil?”
I nod, keeping it cagey though, Digger’s up to something.
“John’s what I call a Sex Liar. He told us about this Welsh girl he shagged- snorted coke off her tits and rooted her in the arse and stuff.”
John grins sheepishly, the others go quiet and watch, smiling too. Digger goes on:
“Well, it turns out she never bloody existed- Turns out it was just the same old tart he’s been rooting for years.”
We laugh and John laughs too.
“There’s nothing I hate more than a Sex Liar.”
He’s enjoying himself now, there’s a nastiness coming into his eyes.
“-Almost worse than a rapist. Imagine if that poor girl walked in here and we were all looking at her, thinking that he’d done all those things he said. It’d be almost like she’d been abused without having the fun actually being abuse.”
Our laughter’s a bit halfhearted now, and John’s beginning to look uncomfortable.
“That’ll do now.” The big Irish leader says, the twinkle still in his eyes.
Ashley gets up to go to the bar and I walk outside for a ciggie. The pub’s fuller, mostly tradies now, all with that same smiling granite look. Even in my six feet of bone and muscle I feel a bit small, but I keep my eyes smiling and my shoulders back, any fear I have tucked well out of sight.
I stand on the pavement next to the tethered dog and watch the landlady watering her flowers. Digger and a few of the Irish lads join me, a couple of Aussies I haven’t met yet. We’re introduced and we talk about work and the weather. Then Digger starts again, this time on me. His attitude is softer though, as if he hasn’t quite worked me out yet.
“Imagine, Wil,” he says, “If you woke up in the middle of nowhere with a condom full of spunk hanging out of your arse. Would you tell anyone?”
I smile at him and keep quiet, looking from one eye to the other. The others giggle. He shrugs and says:
“You’re supposed to say ‘no’, then I say: ‘Do you want to come camping with me this weekend?’ or, if you say ‘yes’ I say: ‘I’m not taking you camping then.’”
“Very good,” I say, laughing along with the others, feeling like I’ve passed my stupid test.
We troop back inside after that and the beer flows steadily, the laughter grows in volume and Digger’s nastiness does likewise. Eventually, when someone turns up with a bag of coke and John the Irishman’s nearly crying, I swill the last of my beer, smile, nod to the men and leave.
As soon as I’m back in the sunshine and out of sight of the pub I feel better. I love a few beers after work and I love the company of dodgy characters, but that kind of nastiness, that bullying banter makes my skin crawl.
I ride the bus back to Town Hall, then catch a train to Bondi Junction, feeling tipsy and still a little dark inside. Meg calls when I’m still on the train.
“Where are you?”
The sound of her voice makes me feel even darker, almost as if I’d been cheating on her lightness, her clearness of spirit. I try to keep my tone upbeat:
“Nearly in Bondage. Where’s you?”
“I’m in Woolworth.”
“Hang on five minutes. I’ll come and find you.”
I hang up and crowd off the train with the rest of the rush hour traffic. I have to almost force myself not to barge through them all. I feel aggressive and disdainful of these sheep, these homogeneous clones. On the escalator I have a word with myself.
‘Be nice, Willy, don’t be a prick. Be kind and gentle.’
I’m drunk though and I can feel the battle slipping out of control.
In the massive, five storey mall I walk fast and swagger a little, in my steel toecaps and work clothes. Then I manage a full five minutes of upbeat, hyper chit-chat with Meg before the cracks start to show.
We’re walking past the pet shop on the third floor, surrounded by shiny things and heavily made-up salespeople, tinny mall-music and nauseating perfume, and puppies in glass boxes in the window.
“I can’t stand this fucking pet shop,” Meg says, frowning with righteous anger, “They leave them in there at night. I heard them crying once when they were closing the mall.”
“They do it on purpose,” I say grimly, “So you feel sorry for them and get your wallet out.”
“It makes me want to cry.”
Instead of empathy, blackness comes out of my mouth:
“You can’t let it upset you Meg. What about all the poor buggers who made all this worthless crap for us to spend our money on? What about the millions of dying kids and AIDS victims and war zones? If you start feeling sorry for one thing you have to feel sorry for everything. You might as well just shut up and consume like the rest of ‘em.”
I bite my tongue and force the other 99 per cent of my rant back down, scowling at a dollybird in hot pants who tries to hand me a flyer. Then I catch Meg’s sad look and I sigh.
“Sorry Meggie” I say, softening, “I don’t mean to be a nutter. These places…”
She’s pissed off, angry at me for yelling. I shut my gob and follow dutifully, occupying myself with an imaginary assault rifle and a bag of dynamite, blowing up coffee shops and banks, picking off business men and senseless shoppers. I know I’m being a twat, but I can’t stop myself. The calm voice has been crowded out by advertising and special offers, only the militant remains. At least he has the good sense to keep quiet and push the trolley, instead of taking it all out on Meg.
On the way to the bus stop I try another apology. This time Meg forgives me. Then, on the bus, I try to explain:
“I just hate all this braindead consumption, these zombies shuffling from one array of worthless crap to the next. It’s all just so…”
“Are you going to be like this all night?”
That shuts me up. For the sake of both our sanities I go into sulk mode and press my face against the bus window. The calm voice is battling its way back in:
‘What the fuck are you doing, Wil? You know she hates that crap almost as much as we do. It’s not her fault. Stop being such a prick.’
The bus stops and we get off. Meg ignores me. I hang back and let her stalk off. Then I call her phone and tell her I’ve got to get some Tally-Hos from the bottlo. On the way home I breathe and relax, and the darkness seeps away.
Then we sit on our bedroom floor and argue for a minute.
Then we cling to each other and cry.
“It’s not your fault Meggie,” I tell her, “I’m just tired and nasty and full of stored-up work crap. I know you don’t need this shit from me, you work so bloody hard s well.”
“Oh Willy,” She whispers and strokes my head. “It’s not your fault either. I know you’re a weirdo. That’s why I love you.”
“I may be a weirdo,” I tell her, laughing now, “but when the shit hits the fan, this weirdo is going to take care of you no matter what.”
“What if it never does?” She’s laughing now too.
I think for a second.
“Well I’ll just have to take care of you anyway.”