By David Goodwin
Click here to send comments
Click here if you'd like to exchange critiques
The four of us are winding along Great Ocean Road in Jimmy’s dad’s antique Merc’. A one-car funeral procession. Sweat’s gluing thigh to seat. LSD’s cooking brains into God knows what. My legs are tingling scarlet with the early stages of sunburn.
It was Jimmy’s idea, this expedition. A spread-the-ashes-get-high-and-contemplate-how ------up-life-is kinda gig.
‘Killin’ a flock full of birds with one huge stone,’ he rather aptly termed it.
Brass knobs and polished cedar-pine hung in my memory like some virulent disease. People trying to act sombre, coming up and saying how dreadfully sorry they were, like it was their responsibility to try and stop it. ‘How the fuck do you stop cancer?’, I felt like saying to the monotonous zombies.
I wonder if she would’ve liked her funeral. If she’d’ve wanted black roses, respectability, and some hastily-arranged priest who didn’t know her, telling the stale church how ‘alive’ she’d been.
Of course she ----' wouldn’t’ve. She would have demanded that we hold a drunken orgy of carelessness in her honour. Some good mates, sharing a bottle of Jimmy and some tears. A littering of acne-spattered, angst-ridden teenagers shouting drunkenly at the sky: ‘Why? Why her God?’
Yeah, she would’ve loved that.
The ocean glints below us, blindingly yellow; a brilliant shining mirror for the sun. Kids run up to the waves, dwarfed by the new body boards they got for Christmas, that are tucked under their arms like the provisions of some great explorer, eager to conquer nature, but at the same time too scared to try. Dozens of drunken dads are playing beach cricket, throwing themselves recklessly into the air, trying to catch tennis balls that are too far away, while others lie as lobsters, slowly cooking in the sun, silver hairs sprouting from their chests like a virulent disease. Their wives recline like lizards, covered in coconut tanning oil, their sunglasses glinting almost conspiratorially. The new arrivals emerge from their weighed-down station wagons and glance uneasily at the crashing waves and sunburn, their flaccid white bodies not yet caressed by the sun, sand and surf.
Dekana’s head’s been on my lap for as long as I can remember. I try to remove it, but it's stuck like velcro...
Dek's the dreamer of our group; a girl who's kinda... not always there. She's a smart cookie, but likes to appreciate the seedier things in life, but then don't we all? She's currently deciding whether to be a graphic designer, freedom fighter or murdering her parents for giving her a name that makes most people think of respective choices for the colour schemes of kitchen bench tops.
Anyway, currently she's fulfilling expectations by, well, being... not exactly all there. She did a few too many lines of coke (not the caffeine variety) with some acid back in Lorne. Said the world had ended for her. Time to enter another one. Yeah, 'live fast, die young.’
Like Jodie did. Thirty-five years squeezed into twenty. A life that told the ---------- shove it. A life that was so much better than this world - the way it is now. And now all that’s left of it is sitting in Jimmy’s dad’s boot, in a ------ urn bought from our local Op Shop – for twenty-three dollars and ninety-five cents. Cheaper than a coffin, she’d said. It’s what she wanted.
Out of the corner of my thoughts, I saw Dek producing a mystery pill from a secret stash she’d presumably hidden away on board. I sensed she might fulfil her wishes sooner than expected, with a one-way-trip to her other world. I chucked ‘em out the window. Not realising the pills are gone, she grabs a cask of cheap wine and tries to wash them down, but she misses her mouth. The wine drizzles down her neck in iridescent veins of gold, staining her red t-shirt into a tired burgundy. Outside, the seagulls swarm on the pills, bloody things. I told Jimmy to stop so I could go pick ‘em up but he was in this other world too. Dek was pissed off from losing her last pills so she was trying to hit me but she’d ran out of strength, precision, whatever. There wasn’t much fight left in anyone today.
Turns out there wasn’t much fight in the old Merc either. The engine died just as we reached the top of a winding cliff overlooking the sea. It was a nice spot to rest; sit in the sun and contemplate life, until the car started rolling backwards. I reminded Jimmy about the wonders of hand braking but all I got was a groan so I did it myself. Didn’t really want to, though, would’ve rather let it go.
The Mercedes stops with a jolt, which wakes Phil in the front seat. He’s demanding to know what’s goin’ on. He took some evil-looking purple, triangle-shaped tablets a while back and has probably just been waken from some really nasty hallucinogenic dreams.
Phil, to me, is like one of those guys who likes the Backstreet Boys, but will never admit it, and hates himself because of it. He prides himself on knowledge, but is too lazy to acquire any; he almost kills himself trying to act like the most suave, James Bond-ish, mature person he can be, but forgets that he's only 21, and has the brain of a four year-old. He looks like a cross between Osama bin Laden and Bert from Sesame Street, but his eyebrow attests that he's a little more evil than those two. Personally, I see him in fifteen years, as the rogue leader of some Third World nation, releasing the Ebola virus on humanity then realising that he's misplaced the cure.
‘We’re -------- he surmises, realising the gravity of our situation.
Dekana moans, possibly in agreement, as I push her clammy face off my legs. Her head bounces off the crusty sheep-skin seat cover and ends up below the seat, her ----- sticking up in the air, practising some tripped out version of car yoga.
I take a swig of wine from the carton sitting on the seat. The warm fruity wine seems to almost facilitate remembering: I’m drowning in memories again. Foolish, but fun memories, when life was simpler than now. More alive.
There were memories of staying up all night and drinking myself stupid. Sometimes with friends, sometimes with Jode, or sometimes only a fuzzy sense of self-pity to keep me company. Alcohol wasn’t life. That was its main appeal, and, of course, its main danger. It tasted like memories. It tasted like all those times when I was younger, and drinking was an escape from being older, if only for one night.
There was a time when drinking was fun, because life was fun. There were parties. Night after pulsating night of marathon celebrations; celebrations of being young, of being cool, or at least of attempting such folly. Nights of blurry, unscripted madness, punctuated by the incessant clinking of half-empty bottles and throngs of teenagers, revelling in the ultimate loss of control, but all the while, trying to ignore a pestering little voice at the back of their heads, a voice that probed deep into their subconscious wells of fear, asking, 'is this all there really is?'
Alcohol tasted like the fuzzy joy of losing control for the very first time, feeling as though I was in the possession of the most amazing sense of clarity. Sitting there, fuzzy and bubbly, but at the same time amazingly perceptive and alert, feeling that, if only I could sustain this frame of mind, I’d eventually devise some brilliant way in which to conquer the world.
There were too many blurry nights, hunched over some stranger's toilet bowl, kept company by bottles of 2in1 Shampoo & Conditioner and a shocking realisation that that a mere liquid could have such an effect over my senses. I remembered waiting... and waiting... to spew, feeling that vile liquid slosh around in my overworked kidneys, while my brain was scolding me for allowing it to turn itself into this pathetic, inebriated fool, but at the same time urging me to get on with its business so that we could triumphantly rejoin the festivities and ha--
‘I think Phil’s right. We are --------, says Jimmy, bringing me back to the surface.
‘Ah… yeah…you got a map?’ I ask Jimmy.
‘Let’s see it.’
‘Give me a sec’.
He rummages through the glove box and eventually pulls out some ancient map that looks like the ones that were used when the world was ‘flat’. A big, dumb grin spreads across his face when he realises that, for some reason, he’s holding a map of Southern Lebanon. The grin turns into one of those killer, drug-induced chuckles that are so dangerous, solely because of their relentlessness. Once you pop you can’t stop, in the words of the advertising moguls of one of mankind’s’ greatest ever products.
Soon enough, he’s infected me too. We laugh until we can’t breath. Until big whooshing gasps are all that escape from our mouths and these, of course, make us laugh even more.
Phil calls us childish and goes for a drug-induced piss.
The laughing feels good, too good, so I stop, thinking of Jodie lying in that sad hospital. Shaven head, emaciated, ravaged by the f---’ thing, but her eyes still so bright. Radiant, defiant, like two cold steel ball-bearings, willing Death to take its best shot. I feel guilt scythe through me like a knife would hot butter. Suddenly nothing’s funny at all. Me and Jimmy both realise that no matter how hard you try, there’s nothing funny about a wasted life sitting in an urn in the back of your car. Just anger. Like the kids at the party. Why? Just f----’ tell me why.
Me and Jimmy leave Dekana practising car yoga and go to check on the urn. In the trunk we make a discovery. Jimmy’s old man has left his antique clubs – that seem even older that corny old map of Lebanon – in the car with a bucket of balls. We’ve got a bit of time to kill…
We set up shop near the edge of the cliff and begin slicing balls and the occasional club into the ocean. The water’s sparkling like bright yellow icing still, which seems a bit too happy right now, all things considered. There's bright red rocks jutting out of the water, sorta like icebergs, in a weird kind of way. The sun shines off them and creates this cool red haze along the water.
I go back to check that Dek isn't dead yet. Meanwhile, I find an old tape in the glove box. I fit it into the even older tape player and the tired strains of Jimi Hendrix waft through the car. The wailing guitars sound like they’re being tortured; crying out for a better tomorrow. Jim’s singing about sand, or something, so I sit and listen for a while.
‘…And so castles... made of sand, melt into the sea… eventually’
I start drifting off again…
…there were parties with thumping music and pissed off neighbours. Parties where the room would revolve around you mercilessly, like an insane merry-go-round, and you had to look at your drink to make it stop; your head feeling like a balloon as it drifted towards the lonely heavens. There were times when, lying in a King-sized bed belonging to some stranger’s parents, telling yourself to go to sleep, but not wanting to close your eyes because it felt as if you were falling; that a deep hole had suddenly, inexplicably become your pillow, and you were falling uncontrollably into somewhere you knew you didn't want to go.
There was a feeling of unorthodox freedom, a sort of inebriated emancipation, where people were affronted by what they imagined to be truth; where everybody would say what they really thought, regardless of the consequences. Feelings of reality slipped away: the ordered world of school, popularity, parents and teachers was superseded by an oasis of muzzy mirth and merriment, in which one experienced these... sensations, these ideas that they were certain were lucid assertions of brilliance, if only they could be grasped onto long enough to form properly.
It was as if you had stumbled upon an opaque window that looked upon another world, but upon reaching the window you could not see through it for all the sludge, grime and muck. You didn't even have the strength to smash through it and meet what you imagined to be revelation. You then wondered again, if this was really it? If this bleary excitement was to be the peak of your life's happiness. Then you pushed it back down once again and rejoined the party.
I remembered shyness becoming completely obliterated. Quiet, pimply guys suddenly becoming barbarians, marching up to the best-looking girl in class and starting a meaningful conversation with her, when all they could do in class was snatch shy glances in her general direction, for fear of being exposed and ridiculed.
There were also those murky mornings, where you waddled like a confused duck through the mire of empty clinking bottles and immobile, temporary corpses, all groaning and cursing last night’s blur of stupidity.
Sometimes, these memories seemed good, almost fun. They resonated with a carefree exuberance, something that I’m fairly sure existed before the weight of the world had crushed me. Those were days before Jode, when I was still in High School and had a crush on the hottest girl in class. Those were days when no one died; when I still liked the taste of McDonalds and I felt that he could stay young and cool forever.
Now, when I really thought about it, these memories ate at me, ‘cause I knew I'd never be able to go back to them. I knew that that was all they were now – memories, crazy stories to ponder over as I struggled through today.
Drinking and memories were a powerful combination of escape. But this also meant they were dangerous: they were two wrongs that didn't make anything near resembling a right.
I eventually struggle out of my memories and my velcro-sweat-seat and re-emerge into reality.
Jimmy does a Happy Gilmore and pulverises the ball, sending it half way towards New Zealand.
‘As good as she’ll ever be I s’pose.’
‘How you coping?’
‘Figured. Me too’
Another perfect smash.
‘You’re a fair golfer.’
‘Jodie taught me.’
I felt like a Russian locomotive had just rammed into my guts. Another thing I’d never get to know about her.
‘Jodie played golf?’ I asked, stupefied.
‘Yeah, she could’ve turned pro, if…’ he trailed off.
‘Yeah’, I said, finishing the sentence for him.
‘The average golf ball has exactly 420 indentations.’
‘Yeah’, I say, staring blankly at the hungry swell.
It cools down heaps all of a sudden. Or maybe it was just the drug-induced changes of temperature from the eccies. I see a huge embankment of clouds building to my left and figure it’s gonna piss down. The sky’s getting very dark very quickly. Too quickly. Thunder, or my insides, rumbles somewhere. The air’s an electric silver as darker clouds bank up in the distance, threatening. Rain hasn’t fallen but the air feels tense in expectation of it.
Small strokes of lightning flicker across the distant sky. Jode would have liked this sky. It wasn’t blue and boring. It was dynamic; a thousand different shades of steel, with bloated, charcoaled clouds churning together in unison, surrounded by rings of blinding silver light. I smile.
I eventually run out of clubs so Jimmy flings the bag into the sea and spits after it, and I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s pissed off by all of this. It floats there, the bag, like a stale piece of shit; a dark brown piece of past. It suddenly fills me with a rising hollowness, a massive sense of futility rising up through my bowels, past my chest and up into my head, buzzing around maliciously.
Jimmy’s taking a few final swings when suddenly Phil’s standing in front of us, like some righteous preacher, like those ones who stand in the middle of the desert, on TV at four in the morning, telling us that Armageddon’s just ‘round the corner, unless we buy their tape to cleanse our sinful souls.
He’s saying that golf is a bourgeois, elitist symbol of the evils of capitalism, leading to 8 year-old girls in Taiwan working for 20 cents an hour. He claims that he must cleanse us from this petty waste of time and fill our souls instead with revolutionary fervour.
Now I know that he’s an International Politics student and he’s eaten a few too many purple triangles, but now’s not the time to be talking politics. Phil was in Jode’s class before the cancer strengthened its hold on her. Been friends with her since they were five.
I’d known her for seven months and I felt the same.
We tell Phil that socialism, if it ever truly existed, died a long time ago with Che, Mao and Uncle Joe.
He reels from the blow, changing tract to his other specialty, sea horses. He says we’re monsters, hitting golf balls into the sea like this. Like, ‘like ballistic missiles’ he decides. ‘To the poor sea horses.’
I tell him that there are worse things than ballistic missiles. Like cancer.
I thought that’d shut him up but he keeps raving. He says one of those sea horses we hit could be a baby sea horse’s mum.
‘What about the baby?’ he asks, now screaming. ‘Doesn’t the baby have rights too? Is there an orphanage for baby sea horses? Killed by your capitalist luxuries?’
Jimmy steps in before I knock Phil off the cliff with the remaining golf club. He says that all of the Sea Horses on Australia’s South coast are Capitalist pigs, exploiting the labour of the Starfishes and Crabs, and the day is fast approaching when they will join with the Squids and rise up in inky defiance, claiming Communist victory in an underwater revolution all the way from Melbourne to Perth.
He's good like that, Jimmy. Sorta like an explosives specialist, defusing a car bomb. Although at times Phil's more like an unstable hydrogen bomb in the middle of New York City.
He digests all of this for a while, along with his purple triangles, apparently weighing up whether human rights and communist ideology apply underwater. He mutters something about irony and capitalism collapsing on itself, just like the Twin Towers, with this really scary grin spreading across his face, that can’t be just the purple pills, ‘cause he’s thinking downstairs too, as the bulge in his pants proclaims.
‘I think Jodie would have liked to see those towers crumble. She had balls, man.’
Jimmy does my work for me and has a swing at him with the five iron. Phil somehow grabs hold and yanks backwards. They fall over.
Over the cliff.
Emptiness claims me. But on solid ground.
After a minute or two I get up and look over the cliff. Jimmy’s a few feet away from his dad’s bag. Face down. Bits of Phil are hanging off some sharp rocks.
I go to the back of the car and get Jodie out of the boot. I take her lid off and surmise this is as good a place as any to free her spirit. It only goes up, anyway. A spirit like hers has nowhere else to go.
I upturn her and she flies out over the ocean, sprinkling herself with petite grace. But there’s another part that’s soaring. Soaring up towards the silver lining of the angry storm clouds high above. I smile again.
I go back to the car and get Dekana out, kiss her on the head.
Not long now.
I’m flying up and over the cliff now, chasing after Jodie. And it’s wonderful. For the first time in my life I feel free. She didn’t like easy ways out. She’s gonna be pretty pissed.