A Bit of a Bastard

He was a new boy in town. By town he meant a city, Melbourne was then a couple of million plus. By boy he had to remember he was in his late twenties. It was a warm overcast November Saturday and he’d no place to stay. He didn’t fancy repeating anything like last night sleeping in his beaten up old Jag in a field halfway between Colac and Geelong. He bought an Age and scrolled down the columns of Flats to Share. ‘Female 20s’ sounded promising. He didn’t know South Yarra from a bar of soap but it too sounded promising.

They met in a ranshackle triple-storey pub in Toorak Road at five o’clock. She was a tall, slim olive-skinned brunette wearing a navy blue blouse over tight jeans.

He was nothing remarkable.

He bought her a white wine and a pot of beer for himself. There was some tinny rock n’roll providing ambient sound.

She supposed he’d like to see the place so they walked around the corner to a four-storey 60s concrete block. The flat was two bedrooms part-furnished first floor. The part meant he needed to get a bed, the robes and dressing table were built in. She provided a three piece vinyl lounge suite and a coffee table.

Two issues of Cleo magazine lay on the coffee table.

She asked what he was doing for dinner and he noted that she said ‘dinner’ and not ‘tea’. He didn’t have any plans so she said he could share a tuna mornay she’d cooked up. He appreciated that.

They ate the tuna mornay.

She asked what he had planned for the evening.

Nothing.

She said she’d like to catch a band back at the pub. He thought that sounded OK. She said she’d take a shower and change.

He rifled through the Cleo’s wondering which footballer/actor/stockbroker/winemaker would be the Most Eligible Bachelor of the month.

She emerged from the shower wearing a short sky blue towelling robe. She was free if not easy this girl. He was aware of her ease

He freshened up without changing his clothes. For the sake of description a blue linen shirt, cotton trousers, a light wool jacket and desert boots. He didn’t exactly qualify for the Most Eligible Bachelor class.

She dried her hair and slipped into ‘something comfortable’, a short light green frilly dress which accentuated her best features, her lovely, long tanned legs.

(They’d only just met for Chris’sake. There were two million stories in this city and this was one of them.)

The pub was pretty packed but the band was shithouse, poor men’s Status Quo and he was never a Quo fan in the first place, crap speaker system and all. They danced a bit and while she drew a lot of male glances it wasn’t for her dancing which was strangely subdued. They didn’t talk. In this atmosphere there was little to say. He bought here a hock, lime and lemon. They left at eleven.

Back at the flat she poured an ouzo – two glasses – and they each had seconds. She said her flatmate had moved out the previous week, scooted off with a boyfriend leaving her share of a month’s rent owing. She herself worked as a secretary for a real estate company but had been put off. She wasn’t quite sure where the money was coming from.

She poured him a third glass and said she was turning in. He could spend the night on the couch. She tossed him a pillow and a rug. There was a Sunday market down the road where he could find a well-made bed for a good price.

She turned in.

He couldn’t sleep. She had a good heart (and great legs) but this money thing started to get to him. He’d yet to find a job, he had limited cash and didn’t feel disposed to alleviate someone else’s debts, someone he’d just met, no matter how good her legs were. He’d be out of there. First light. Out.

He wondered what she thought when he was gone the following morning, no message and failed to return during the day. He imagined her telling a girlfriend about this bloke rocking in from out town, eating her mornay, drinking her plonk, dossing down for the night and then pissing off before the crack of dawn, no note, bugger all. He reckoned she’d say he was ‘a bit of a bastard’.

And she wouldn’t be far wrong.

A Feather for the Hat

There’s only one thing worse than a bad loser and that’s a bad winner. Graciousness was not his strong suit and quiz nights brought out the worst in him.

He remembered the first quiz night he’d attended. The first question in the first round was, ‘What is the alternative title of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night?’ He knew it. He’d studied it at school, He’d even played the part of Sir Andrew Whatshisface. It was What You Will. When they finished the round and were marking the scores the quizmaster said it was As You Like It 

‘Bull-shit!’, he cried out, ‘As You Like It is a different play’, but the quizmaster wouldn’t hear of it. His wife told him to settle down. His team told him to settle down. He said, ‘There’s a principle involved’. The other tables told him to shut up. He stewed but he continued. He stewed as he continued. Round after round he stewed. His team lost by one point. He raised a final objection but was howled down. His wife said he was a disgrace. 

When he got home he went straight to his Collected Works of William Shakespeare and found the title page of Twelfth Night and there it was in black and white – What You Will. ‘You see’, he yelled triumphantly. ‘Whatever’, his wife said, she wasn’t interested and went to bed. ‘Don’t think you’re getting any tonight.’

The second quiz night he and his wife went to they again lost by one point. The last round was sport and the last question of the last round was, ‘What was the name of the 1981 Magarey Medallist?’, a cinch of a question. He had written the history of South Australian football, he had published magazines on the game, he had interviewed all the living Magarey Medallists in the twentieth century and some of the dead ones. He knew the list of winners off by heart, everyone at his table deferred to him, but on the night when it came to the crunch he said Tony McGuinness instead of Michael Aish. He was there at the official dinner, he’d jostled with other photographers at the end of the night for Aish’s photo as he did for McGuinness’s picture a year later. All this and he got it wrong. He felt a deep personal responsibility for the defeat and he couldn’t get it out of his mind. ‘And don’t think you’re getting any tonight’, his wife said and went to bed. 

He and his wife gave up quizzes for a while until there was one organised by the Conservation Foundation so it was for a good cause. All quiz nights are for good causes. The only trouble is that this was a terrible quiz. Ninety-nine per cent of the questions were botanical, all about stamens and buds and pistols and variegated leaf patterns and Latin names for loveliness. He didn’t know anything about plants and neither did anyone else much except for one very annoying woman on his team and one other bloke from somewhere else. 

He murmured to his wife, ‘My main satisfaction tonight will be if we lose by one, just to see that woman’s face!’ They did. He went home relatively happy. He put his pistol in the flower that night. 

The next quiz night he attended was with his wife and another younger couple. The young man was a sort of protégé and highly competitive like himself. It wasn’t much of a night as there were a whole lot of questions about acronyms and logos that were as boring as platypus shit. His team fell behind. With no chance of winning came a question in the last round, ‘What is the name of the third book of the Bible?’ He couldn’t restrain himself. ‘At last, A REAL QUIZ QUESTION!’ he bellowed. There was no extracurricular activity that night either. 

Then there was the quiz organised by the University History Club. He was on a good table and a special bonus was a young woman who knew all the actors in all the soaps and who was rooting who according to Woman’s Day or New Idea or Who Weekly even if those esteemed journals didn’t put things in quite those terms. 

The night was a runaway success with a personal highlight being a Who am I question. ‘I was born on 16 April 1889 four days before Adolf Hitler …’ He sensed where it was going, knew it would lead to The Great Dictator (the movie), was on his feet in a flash – ‘Charlie Chaplin’. There was a terrific round of applause and he milked it for more than it was worth. He won an encyclopaedia but when they got home there were no further rewards. His wife had a good book instead. 

A decade passed. There were stresses and strains. Finally there was a quiz night without a good cause. He went by himself. The publican probably reckoned selling a few parmies and a lot of grog was a good enough cause. He was in top form and it was obvious after a couple of rounds that there were only two teams with a chance. 

The barmaid had asked him to come up with a team name and he said, ‘Leviticus’. Although she’d been a good convent girl she was puzzled, ‘What’s Leviticus?’ ‘It’s the third book of the Bible’. ‘I didn’t take you for a Bible-basher’, someone else put in. ‘There’s a lot of sex in Leviticus’, he said. ‘A lot of begetting goes on.’ 

As the night progressed it became a two-horse race. ‘Chips Ahoy’ hit the front with two rounds to go but Leviticus fought back. An inspired answer in the final round came in response to the question, ‘What is the actress Goldie Hawn’s real name?’ Answer, ‘Goldie Hawn.’ 

The publican generously awarded prizes to all the teams from the seventh to the first. Our hero said, ‘Let’s give a big cheer to the silver medallists provided it’s not us’. When Chips Ahoy gained that honour the acclaim was loud and long. Too loud and too long. He was a bad winner. When the trophies were dispensed one of his team-mates thoughtfully presented him with a nice surprise, a cute little straw hat. 

He went home alone but he would find a feather for the hat.

 

Bernard Whimpress

© 2010

Fishnets

The girl crossed her legs. 

She wore fishnet stockings. She held a crossword on her knee. I love fishnet stockings. I moved to the seat opposite. 

‘Can I help you with any clues?’ 

She smiled and tossed her hair back on her shoulders. 

‘Why not?’ 

We worked our way through some clues but to tell the truth I was clueless. I’d made an opening and searched for a meaningful second line. 

The train rattled through several stations. We passed the sewage farm and the industrial works of British Tube Mills. We crossed Grand Junction Road and hurtled by the salt flats.  

‘You know I didn’t really come over here to help with a crossword’, I said. 

‘I didn’t think you did.’ 

An opportunity beckoned. 

Again I didn’t know how to seize the moment. 

‘I’m getting off at the next stop’, she said. 

Here was another clue, another opening.  

I paused. 

The platform came up with too much of a rush. 

‘I’ll see you around’, I said. 

‘Yeah, see ya’, she said.

We never did.

 Bernard Whimpress

 © 2010

Your place? Mine?

That his first car was a Riley Pathfinder might have seemed a strange choice. He was 26-years-old and finally needed to be more mobile than public transport allowed.

How did the Riley cross his radar? He was only in the market for something second-hand. Aesthetics played a part.

He favoured smooth flowing lines and a Mark I Jaguar would have been his first choice but they were out of his price range.

He became attracted to English cars of the 1950s and 60s, Rovers, MG Magnets and Wolseley 444s, an Armstrong Siddeley even. Wolseley also had a larger version, a 690, which was more like a Jaguar.

Then a mate told him about the Riley he’d found for $295. ‘Riley’s shit all over Wolseleys’, his mate said. ‘In their day they were a more impressive marque than Jags. If you don’t buy it I’ll buy it myself.’

He was a young man who wanted to make his marque.

His mate added that in truth the Riley Pathfinder wasn’t a real Riley because it inhabited a Wolseley body – same as the 690 – but it had a genuine Riley engine and a genuine Riley engine was something.

The interior of the Pathfinder was special too, wood panelling on the dash and leather seats. The luxury of 1955 might have been twenty years past but it was still Luxury with a capital L.

It not only looked good, it smelt good.

It also had one really cool feature. A four-on-the-floor right-hand gearstick.

He thought you’d normally associate a right-hand gearstick with a left-hand drive so this was awesome although people didn’t say that then. He was sold.

It made his day.

Just a fortnight later it also made his night when he picked up a spunk from his local pub.

A spunk who liked a bit of Ol’ 55.

A spunk who reckoned a four-on-the-floor right-hand gearstick was ‘Real cool’ as she kicked up her legs and laid back luxuriating in the leather, smelling it, tasting it.

He drove her to where she wanted to go. To where he wanted to go.

He gave her a choice, ‘Your place? Mine?’

‘Yours’, she said.

 

Bernard Whimpress

 © 2010

A Cut Lunch

The bloke at the tennis club reckoned I’d ‘cut his lunch’.

I had no idea what he meant. He wouldn’t explain. He just kept repeating ‘Cut Your Lunch’ and then adding my surname. He hailed from Hawker or somewhere outback. I reckoned it must’ve been some bushie term. I asked a woman I knew who came from the West Coast. She said she’d heard of it but not for a while. Not for a few years, in fact.

So.

So then I did what every curious early twenty-first century urban person does. I googled. Bingo!

Two definitions came up.

  1. To get involved with someone’s partner or possessions.
  2. To bed someone’s crush.

The first had a biblical ring. Recast it a little and you’ve got the ninth and tenth commandments. ‘Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife’ and ‘Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s goods.’ I preferred the second but preferring the second did not mean I committed the second.

According to the bloke I’d cut him out of some sort of relationship  with a girl. That was the gist of it.

He had to be dreaming.

He’d never got near to having a relationship with a girl, any girl, in the twenty-five years I’d known him. He was socially awkward, he was a lumbering presence with a nervous tick of a cough. And he’d had that cough for twenty-five years too. It wasn’t an attractive feature.

Susie.

Susie was the name of the girl whose lunch I’d supposedly cut him out of, from, to. I dunno. I can’t work out the proper preposition. I remember her vaguely now. She was part of a crowd I used to hang around with, a tennis crowd as it happens, and the bloke loomed on the edge of the crowd. If there was gaiety in the group the bloke was the dark cloud.

Susie might’ve been keen on me, I migh’ve bought her a drink or two, I might’ve even kissed her. Yes, now I think of it, we did slip out of a party one starry night and kissed lightly and lovely leaning against the boot of my D series Citroen. But that was it!

I never asked her out. I’d no idea the bloke harboured feelings for her. If he harboured feelings for her he should’ve summoned up the courage to ask her out. Perhaps he did. Perhaps she told him she had the hots for me. But if she did they weren’t requited or nowhere near fully requited.

And if the above is true, if any fraction of the above is true, it all happened a long time ago. It’s a long time to remember.

Cut your lunch, cut my lunch, cut his lunch. It makes/made no sense.

Either then or now.

 

© Bernard Whimpress

March, 2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As it happens

As it happens the lead guitarist was late for the gig at the pub. Half an hour late. As it happens I was on my last drink, bought for me by the publican. As it happens this bloke had tatts on the right forearm, tatts on the left forearm, a fat arse, and a supposed designer rip in the left knee of his jeans.

          I say ‘supposed’ because it’d be a ‘designer rip’ if he was twenty, nay twenty-five, nay maybe thirty, but not forty.

          I felt sorry for the bloke. Initially. Felt sorry for the bloke, not because he was a dad but because I was wondering whether he was truly acting or looking like a dad. His daughter was around about twelve. She wore jeans but she didn’t have a designer rip.

          I felt sorry for the bloke. But maybe that was because of the wife. Bottle-blonde, square-jawed, fat-arsed, outer suburbs Australian drawl.

          As it happens the band was tuning up. Taking a sound check. A female vocalist I’d heard a couple of weeks ago, good, very good, helluva range was singing tonight. She was tuning in. I was tuning in to her tuning in.

          As it happens the bottle-blonde, square-jawed, fat-arsed wife thinks I’m tuning in to her. For Chrissake she’d be the last woman in the pub, city, state, country, world, universe – OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration! – I’d be interested in tuning in to. But it’s not far off the mark.

          She tells her husband, tatts, fat-arse, non-designer rip – non-designer drip I’d say – that I’m ‘giving her the willies’. That I’m lookin’ at ‘er.

          For Chrissake she’s in my line of sight. To where the band are tuning up. If she doesn’t want me to look in her general direction why doesn’t she fuck off to the back of the bar? With her hair-colouring, her jaw, her arse, her voice, she should be so lucky if anyone looks at her. Ever.

          As it happens I’ve just about finished my shiraz merlot. I go to the fat-arsed couples table and ask just where the hell they got the idea that I was looking at her. ‘For Chrissake’, I say, ‘it’s not like she’s good looking’.

          I like to make my point but I fuck off because it’s not worth waiting for a response. Because beneath the tatts are a pair of powerful forearms. Because I’ve finished my shiraz merlot as it happens.

          As it happens I never did get to hear that first song.

 

© Bernard Whimpress 21 October 2009

Little Dog

You’re going about your business. It’s been a dull day and you’re walking back from your local fish n’ chippy with your evening meal. You could’ve driven there but it’s not far, a kilometre and a half return. You’ve done bugger all exercise all day so this is something. You’ve got two grilled garfish and a bowl of coleslaw. You’ve dispensed with the chips. You’re feeling a little holy because you’ve dispensed with the chips. You’re eating a life-extending meal. You’re less than 100 metres from home and you’re feeling good about yourself when …

          When you sense something at the back of your right heel. You reckon it’s a dog but dunno how big, how small. You’re startled. You’re near the edge of the kerb, a slight drop, nothing to worry about normally but you jump a fraction to your left, and when you come down your left foot hits the ground and you tilt, and you hit a slope tilting further the same way and you’re falling. You’re a big man and you have an image of a skyscraper toppling on an angle, only it’s you, and you crash. And your hands and left knee hit the asphalt taking skin from each. And a man comes to your assistance and say’s he hopes you’re OK, and you catch a glimpse of a teenage girl twenty metres away talking on her mobile, and she keeps talking on her mobile.

          And you look at the dog and it’s a Jack Russell. And there’s pain in your palms of your hands but you’re not angry. Or not as angry as you oughta be. And you say, ‘It’s only a little dog.’ And you get to you’re feet and check your pants looking for a hole in the knee where your knee feels sore but there isn’t any hole. That’s something. You guess that’s something.

          And the man with the dog is saying how friendly his dog is, how it wouldn’t hurt anyone. And you notice he’s riding a bike and he’s got his dog on a long lead. He’s riding his bike on the footpath with his dog on a long lead and he’s wearing a helmet. He breaks two laws and he obeys one but he’s getting exercise, and his dog is getting exercise, so he’s probably feeling good about himself until …

          Until what happens happens. But as for changing behaviour will there be any change? You’d like to think so but because you didn’t blast him he might just feel he’s had a let-off and carry right on as before. You didn’t blast him because of the size of the dog. You don’t want to seem ridiculous. ‘Me ridiculous!’ ‘Little dog’, as you said before.

And so he pedalled home and you limped home and put a couple of band-aid adhesive plasters on each palm and ate your garfish and coleslaw and couldn’t find your glasses and realised you’d slipped them in your top shirt pocket when you’d gone to the fish shop. So you walked back to the scene of the fall and found them on the edge of the road. They’re only cheap glasses but at least a car hadn’t run over them so there was no damage done. No damage done.

          You sat down at your computer and answered a couple of emails. You were able to type OK, there was just the stinging in the palms and your knee. You’d been going to have a grog-free day but an email from a friend in Coober Pedy so vividly described the perils of a dust storm that you began to feel an aggravation in your throat. And you didn’t have any painkillers on hand so it was a trip to the pub for a couple of soothing bottles of Cooper’s stout. You wrote to your friend about the soothing qualities of stout.

          An hour or so had passed and your left arm wasn’t hanging as straight as your right and you felt a sort of muscular twist on the inside of the arm. You thought about trying to straighten it out by swinging a golf club on the back lawn. Wisely you resisted the temptation.

          Instead you went to bed with a book and thought that maybe after some rest things would settle down. You felt the muscular twist getting worse and pain increasing at your left elbow which now began to bend to ninety degrees. It became more difficult to hold the book. You turned out the light around 10 o’clock and fell asleep but woke after midnight and couldn’t get comfortable. You balanced being uncomfortable until making a visit to a GP the following morning, against the discomfort of driving one-handed to the Emergency Department of the Flinders Medical Centre a few kilometres away in the middle of the night. You drove to the medical centre.

          It was 2.30 a.m. when you arrived and there was a young bloke with his girlfriend in front of you. He had blood all over his right hand. She had big tits and wore a short black skirt. He joked a lot with the reception clerk who joked back about him having ‘merely a flesh wound’. You said it was good to hear Monty Python getting a re-run in a hospital at that hour of the morning. The reception clerk asked whether you still lived at Torrens Park. ‘That was thirty years ago’, you said.

          And you remembered that you had been admitted with pneumonia back then. How you’d been coughing up phlegm for a week or so and taken to drinking Cooper’s stout for medicinal purposes. You’d ignored what was obviously bad bronchitis and the stout hadn’t proved much of a medicine. You recalled how a friend and his wife helped admit you and they’d come in a couple of days later to find you all covered in tubes and getting nutrients intravenously. You were surrounded by a lot of old men coughing and spluttering. Your condition looked more dramatic than it was. But you lost a couple of stone in a couple of weeks and you were lucky that you had a nurse for a girlfriend and when you got out she used to come around to your flat and beat the shit out of you. Phlegm actually.

          The clerk told you that it shouldn’t take long because there was only one person ahead of you. The bloke with the bloody hand had an accident with a bottle of Heineken and kept up a lot of patter with the girl with the big tits and short skirt. Then the girl went home and his mother arrived and there was more patter. A black and white movie played on TV without sound. You tried to read your novel. You and he waited. A lot of clerks, a lot of cleaners, a lot of security staff, odd friends or relatives of patients went by or to and fro, but no doctors. You thought about asking, ‘is there a doctor in the house?’ and you recall that Doctor in the House was a 1950s English film starring Dirk Bogarde and Kay Kendall and James Robertson Justice and …

          After two hours he was called. After three hours you were. You’d read 100 pages of your novel.

          When you finally see a doctor she asks you to rate your pain on a scale of one to ten. You reply, ‘About four’. When you have an X-ray and are asked to rotate your arm into about four of five positions the pain is excruciating. You say, ‘Make that about eight’. The X-rays don’t show any breaks. A male doctor tells you you probably have soft-tissue damage. If it doesn’t clear up in two or three days, call. They give you a sling. You get out around 6.30 a.m. You drive one-arm to a service station and buy a block of Cadbury’s milk chocolate. You deserve a sugar fix.

          Three days later your arm is improving. You’ve got more rotation so you hope it will straighten out in another day or so. Maybe you’ll be swinging a golf club on the back lawn sooner than you think.

          Little dog. You’re not going to blame a little dog but the bloke on the end of the lead you don’t have to think too hard about. You’ve seen people riding bikes with dogs on leads on footpaths and (even worse) on roads. What if a car had been approaching at the precise moment when the dog arrived at your heel and you had fallen into its path? Even if it had been travelling at a conservative back-street speed of 40 kph you’d be a dead’un. Or what if it wasn’t you but an elderly man or woman, a broken hip for sure? Or what if the rider and dog were on the road, and the dog is startled and gets tangled with the bike and the rider goes over the handle bars and you’re driving behind and you run over the mangled mess.

          Dead rider.

          Dead dog.

          And you’d have been simply going about your business.

Bernard Whimpress

© October, 2009