Renting in Barcelona

A real travel diarist would take notes, remark on small details, meticulously noted. I’m afraid that I have accepted my limitations and am not one of these. Paul Theroux, another implausible over-achiever can write his way to hell for all I care.  What I give you are floury descriptions and pointless padding, whereby if you grasp an iota of what I’m describing, I will feel that I have done my duty. However I will attempt to make an exception in this case because it would be a shame not to document such an interesting experience as searching for rental accommodation in Barcelona.

“No students!” said Olga as I walked into the door of her fifth floor apartment, a few streets up from La Sagrada Famila. Olga was from Russia and being tall, blond and serious, she looked the part. If she had told me that she was a former officer in the Russian army but occasionally sat on the bench for the former Soviet Republic’s women’s basketball team I wouldn’t have quivered a nostril. She gracefully swept me around her neat two bedroom unit as if she were demonstrating the inner workings of a nuclear power plant.

“This is the living room. This is where we watch TV, talk and drink tea.”

The tile floors were clean and the whole place smelled like a combination of pot pourri and pine-o-clean.

“And the kitchen. We keep it clean. There are cockroaches in summer.”

“Big ones?” I ask.

“I like potatoes,” she replied with a straight face.

I felt oppressed just being in the place so I thanked Olga and said my goodbyes. We both knew we’d never be living together unless forced to at gun point. As I exited I passed two Japanese women who’d come to see Olga’s lair. I thought that maybe it would have been interesting to stick around to witness yet another cultural collision but thought better of it – I had another appointment.

This time with Tere, in the same area, who had responded to my advertisement the minute I’d posted it. In any other situation this would have made me apprehensive, and I was to an extent, but it was Saturday afternoon and I had less than 24 hours to find a central place to live otherwise I was heading out to Sant Cugat, 30 mins away by train, to the company flat. Free rent: yes. Kind offer: of course. Perfect chance to save some money: why not? Lightyears away from the action and where I wanted to be: that was the clincher.

Judging by the facade, Tere’s building seemed nice enough. The streets were clean and there were quiet cafes and shops. The illusion was brought to an abrupt halt when she opened the door. The flat had potential – it was small and modern, but all had been squandered by the greasy-haired woman who stood before me. There were boxes stacked against the walls filled with books and clothes. There were more clothes lying over the floor, and the kitchen (I only presume it was a kitchen as it was the greasiest room in the flat) reminded me of a forest cave. Her protruding teeth spat out Spanish like a fascist machine gun firing down upon hapless African immigrants.

“Lo siento, todavia no hablo mucho espanol,” I said.

“No problems, I can teach you. I don’t speak much English, so you’ll learn.”

Great, I’ll learn how to talk to fisherman and hookers.

“Ok, this is the room, the living room, the bathroom… blah blah blah… 350 euros”

“What’s that scratching noise I hear?”

“Oh that is my cat, Bonita. You like cats, yes? He is playing with my son Gonzalo. You like children, no?”

Ok, walk slowly away. Keep eye contact and don’t panic.

Next was Paolo an Italian fashion designer who, with his tight shirt wrapped around a tight body, a shaved head and undeniably radiant tan, definitely looked the part. He also looked the part of the lead dancer in the ABBA stage show, but he was a gentleman and presented his flat with professionalism.

Paolo’s place was no haven of IKEA goods: there were designer lamp shades, low and long coffee tables made of dark woods from extinct Indonesian trees, shag rugs and wooden blinds. Hanging on the walls were framed abstract paintings. The room was huge; pricey, but amazing. One double bed and a sofa, a large desk, a chair, a single cushioned chair for reading in the sunlight that was streaming through the large window. It was the perfect inner city Eurpoean bachelor pad. Paolo knew it, so did I. Our eyes met and before I could ask the question of price, which I expected to be 400 plus, he stabbed at me with his Italian accent:

“I work many hours so I don’t like de noise at night. And you cannot bring de people home. You play guitar? I don’t like de noise.”

Ok, what about breathing? Can I do that or does it have to be under my bed covers? Do you have a toilet inside or is there a vacuum chute to which I have to hermatically seal to my arse so that I may shit outside?

Shame, but goodbye.

There were others not really worth mentioning in great detail. For instance, Hussien: a Pakistani gentlemen who informed me in polite Spanglish that the three Bolivians who were currently occupying the room were soon to vacate and that for a mere 350 euros a month the urine-smelling shoe box and stained mattress could be mine. I wanted to inquire whether I had to pay for my own cockroaches or the ones that I noticed scuttling away from the room were free. Hussein was clearly in no mood to bargain however. It seemed as if he had had plenty of experience ripping off foreigners and I didn’t want to shatter his illusions of Australians. I left without saying goodbye, content in the knowledge that even such a trivial display of humanity would have been wasted on that jerk.

Bu in the end, a softly-spoken Catalan homosexual was my saviour. I took a risk going to see Jordi’s* place as time was short – it was Sunday afternoon and I was tired, hungry and ready to pack my bags and head up to Sant Cugat. But what the hey, I thought. So I followed the map into the centre of the city, climbed the four flights of stairs and knocked on the door.

“We wear earplugs to go to sleep,” he said. There was no humour in his voice.

“People are out on the street until five in the morning every night in summer. We’re on the top floor so it’s boiling in summer and there are eight Columbians living across the hall.” His eyes were sunken like two pits of molten tar.

“I’ll take it,” I said and slapped down a 100 euro deposit.

Life it seemed had given me one more roll of the dice and this time it came up sevens. I finally found my “auberge espanol” moment – something rare and perfect. A room right in the centre of the city, at a low price with cool international people my age, who all had jobs! Sure it was like sleeping in the middle of a university orgy every night, but I got used to it and became one of the revellers on most evenings.

Finding a place to live was what I might euphemistically label as ‘fun and interesting’, yet after a few drinks I would probably reveal the truth: it was tiring and frightening. Deciphering the advertisements (anuncios) I guess, in any big city, requires some local knowledge, or more importantly, an awareness of how far people can tip the scales of bullshit. My advice is to see as many places as you can, talk to people you think you can trust, and be aware of idiots looking to exploit foreigners.

*Name has been changed to protect privacy however just about everyone with testicles in Catalunya is named Jordi or Xavi.

Friday Night in the Barrio Gotico

Everything seems larger when you’re a stranger. Even the sinewy corridors of the area surrounding La Rambla, packed with tourists, Indian men selling cans of beer and Spanish youths sharing cigarettes or urinating on garbage bins give not the impression of claustrophobia but of an universe expanding into the small hours of Saturday morning.

I take a caña at a few bars in the salubrious company of Carlo – an Italian gynaecologist whom I’d met in the line to apply for an NIE. Thanks to our mutual frustration we’d hit it off and decided to celebrate the inadequacies of the Spanish public service with a few tapas and beers. There is no other (graceful) way to cope.

Una caña is a glass of beer, (around 300 millilitres I guess, but it varies) and the easiest way to ask for a drink if cerveza is too much of a mouthful for you. All around you there are the party goers: the intimates, the relaxed diners, the timid backpackers and the insanely intoxicated.

The reality that this city is a weekend retreat for other European nations hits me like a cold Cornish pasty as, walking past a group of British tourists dining al fresco in Plaza Real, I see that the only woman among them is painting the pavement with her dinner and presumably the fifty beers she’d have previous to ingesting it. The waiters displays a comprehensive detachment from it all, either demonstrating tacit contempt for the inebriated tourist, or perhaps deliberate omission of duty due to his being privy to the sub-standard level of food preparation in the kitchen. Speculation is all you have when the world moves at lightning speed around you.

Like all tourist magnets, La Rambla is offensively expensive compared to places only a few streets away. A beer at the Hard Rock Cafe will sell for at least double the price of something from a smaller, local bar. The same goes for coffee, food and standard goods such as umbrellas, dancing puppets and live chickens: all of which are available for sale on La Rambla all day and throughout the night. Of course, tourists willingly pay these exorbitant prices. Why? Who knows. It happens in Sydney, Paris, London, Rome and anywhere there’s a major international airport. It’s clear that it would make an excellent PhD thesis.

Opening Act in Barcelona

For a brief moment when I wake this morning, to the sound of a mosquito zigzagging across my face, I experience that confusion of not knowing where I am. Not just believing that I am somewhere else, but forgetting where I am and how I got there. When realisation overcomes confusion, there’s nothing else to do but lie there and wait.

My window looks over what I know isn’t a courtyard, but I can’t find any other word to describe it and I’m sure one exists. It’s a perfect, concrete rectangular hole that has been sliced out of the middle of this building, stretching six floors down to the abyss. Narrow windows, carved into the walls like the days left of a sentence, spill the usual kitchen and bathroom rumours that provide me with the only clue of what life is doing downstairs on the streets. From the windows, threads of wire shoot out at various angles onto which sheets, towels and clothes cling in a desperate fight to prevent falling down into the dark and stinky doom.

The light is different. The smell is extraordinarily different.

When I open that door and walk out to Plaça del Pedró today, ready to start my new job, all the apprehensions, the excitement and uncertainty of the past few weeks will come with me. And while I can’t escape the burden of myself, I guess that with each step out the door, day by day, I’ll lose a little of something and gain a little of something else.

Landing in Barcelona

I’m swimming in the dour blue decor of Sydney International airport. Behind me, an afternoon American soap opera blares the vacuous platitudes of  those we-pay-our-writers-ten-dollars-an-hour plotlines. In front of me, the ashen faces are coming to terms with the next ten hours in economy class, imprisoned both by their fleeting predicament and such riveting dialogue as: “Abe found out the truth and thinks I’ve got something to do with it. Oh my God!” My flight was to be as uneventful as Abe’s eventual response, summed up simply with ‘bad food’, ‘no sleep’ and ‘aching legs’.

But words demand to be written, particularly when the words represent the universal lamentations of international travel. If humans are evolving, and implicit in this evolution is that we’re all growing taller, then no-one told Cathy Pacific. While there’s ample area for everything above the hips, the seats leave so little room for the rest of your body that every adjustment, scratch and lunge for the water bottle is like battling your way out of a polyethylene straightjacket. Only a touring troupe of contortionists would be the last to complain, and I’m certain that, after eight hours even those guys might feel the need to liberate themselves, run up and down the aisles and cry to the gods of joints and ligaments for clemency. I’m not overly tall for a human; I don’t stand above the crowds, never brush my head against the roofs of public transport facilities, and my knees are unaccustomed to being wedged against anything but my Levis when I squat, which isn’t very often…

So you can imagine my relief when the sleeping pills finally kick in.

OK, I’ll cease complaining. As much fun as it is being the plaintiff in a one-sided tirade detailing the injustices and human misery associated with moving around the planet, none of this is new to the commuting public, nor to me. Nevertheless, my next charitable donation will go to whatever society fights for the rights of battery hens; or to teleportation research, or to whoever approaches me in the street with a bucket and absurd costume first.

As the plane make its final turn, I gaze over Barcelona arising from its slumber. The light is new, and the city looks as if she’s staring into the sun-streaked mirror of the Mediterranean.”Last night was a blast. How’s my hair?” she says to me. I’m flying over my new home town and I wonder how the scales will balance. Will I regain the imagination I’d sledge-hammered into a corner in my head with drugs, love and the rhythm of routine? Can I ignite a sense of passion into my artistic, culinary and verbal output? Or is it escapism in disguise? To alter your life for experiences; to blow yourself into a dramatic change with a cyclone of amnesia, denial, fear and hope, is the ultimate masochistic act  – far greater than stapling your nipples to leather straps, although the risk of infection is about the same.

I type these words just after having landed at Barcelona airport – all baggage accounted for, guitar in one piece. I’m begging for a shower. There’s an unexpected feeling of calmness here at 10:30am. Outside, tourists are lighting up cigarettes, fuelled by the same fervour that rammed them through the customs gates. Every so often I hear snippets of French, Italian and English – all of which I can claim to understand at some level. The air smells clean. The aroma of strong coffee screws my nostrils like a rabid dog on heat. That’s where I’m headed first.

Song of a career bachelor

Tug of war, interminable dance,
of reason and controlled device,
of something here and nothing there
with sweaty hands and relentless rope,
I fear that if I take the chance
and release a grip I hold in hope,
I’d fall and interrupt my trance
and betray all terms of my advice.

But at the end this fraying cord,
braced through my neck and up my spine
the nothing here is now something there
with blistered hands and bolted jaw,
I know that if I fought unshored
my failing feet could take no more
I’d scatter all the strength I’d stored,
and let the flag across the line.

Patriotism of the Penis

Dear Minister,

I know you hold the idea of instilling children with national pride close to your heart—indeed, the daily ritual of raising the flag and singing the national anthem is one way to inject some much needed patriotism into the youth of today. But there is another way.

I agree that children need to understand the history and values we as Australians all share, and you must be ecstatic you have the backing of your compatriot, the Prime Minister. Those toffee-nosed  hippies in the seventies destroyed the nationalism for which the hard-working folk of the fifties had fought so many years. However, this is the new millennium and I believe Australian patriotism needs a more palpable manifestation to reflect the society of today—Patriotism of the Penis.

During one my recent soirées at the Enmore theatre, I bore witness to the phallic contortions of that Australian duo, ‘Puppetry of the Penis’. I did not know precisely what it was, but watching two grown men in yellow and red satin capes galloping around and playing with their nobs before of hundreds of people, somehow made me proud to be Australian like never before.

My heart swelled as they took me on a genital journey of Australia’s great icons coupled with that famous down-to-earth Aussie humour. And as I admired their installation of that great symbol of Australia, Uluru, it suddenly dawned upon me—what better and more relevant way to communicate to the kiddies what it means to be Australian than through a couple of ‘loveable larrikins’ with a unique love of their country and its people?

The freedom with which the Puppeteers of the Penis flaunt their patriotism would teach our children not to be ashamed of themselves or their country. Our kids will grow up more socially aware and open to topics of sex and nationalism by understanding that it’s okay to say to the world, “I am Australian and proud of it”, and it’s normal for the boys to shave their testicles and for the girls to laugh at the size of a man’s willy.

It would also break the ice on those notoriously embarrassing biology lessons. A couple of months of this type of Australian patriotism, and they would soon stop giggling through sex education class, I can assure you.

Moreover, it doesn’t have to stop at schools.

With the object of God’s design, our Puppeteers would function perfectly as ambassadors and as an exhibition of the talent and beauty we have to offer ‘down under’.  The flapping of a scrotum in the wind, or the haunting silhouette of the Australian shield complete with kangaroo and emu, would beat the pants out of a few $50-a-kilo tiger prawns on the barbie and that ‘oh-so-popular’ brew Fosters lager.

Our two little boys would put France’s cock to shame. Such a liberating display of nationalistic flashing would have the Americans scrambling to ape us. This alone would generate an unprecedented sense of national unity comparable only to the occasions when we beat them in the pool or on the tennis court.

I dare go so far as to say that this approach might even contribute to world peace by utilising one of Australia’s greatest attributes—our frankness:

“Here you go boys, we’ve laid it on the table—we don’t need nuclear weapons to prove who’s got the biggest schlong.”

Furthermore, unlike our national anthem or flag, the Puppeteers pay tribute to the Indigenous peoples and cultures of our well-endowed land by conjuring up images of the red center, the didgeridoo and the boomerang. We would also bring multicultural Australia under a banner of phallic singularity by promoting one of the fundamental objects that makes and keeps us human.

I know what you’re thinking: but it’s so much more about resorting to sex to sell the idea of Australian patriotism. It worked for the Gold Coast, why not the whole country?

The only things missing from this ingenious idea are some true-blue Aussie girls performing renditions of the Olgas and Tasmania. I could hold the auditions at my place if that were easier.

So I think the solution is, my dear Minister, is to ‘get down and get naked’. Tell our toddlers the true meaning of what it means to be Australian and encourage public acceptance of nationalistic nudity. Perhaps we could get Mr Squiggle out of the closet while we’re at it too. I’m sure he would have a few ideas for the new flag.

Kind regards,

A Voting Taxpayer Student Republican

The nominee

I hopped out of the car into the evening heat and kicked out the pain in my knee. It was still humid and I could feel beads of sweat rolling down my back beneath my cotton shirt and singlet as I walked up the path to the club.

John Best, the caretaker, was at the front of the building, in his gumboots and hosing down the concrete footpath leading up to the entrance. I avoided him and walked on the grass, over the garden and through the automatic doors into a cool wall of beer and tobacco smoke.

“Hot enough for you, Gus?” said Clive, the doorman.

“Hardly, can’t fry an egg on the roof of a car yet.”

“Geez, I didn’t think you’d let anyone touch the holden, let alone have a barbie on it. We’ll have to get her out for the sausage sizzle in January.”

“Not bloody likely.” I took off my hat and coat and put them on the front desk. To the left I noticed a black and white photo hanging crooked on the wall. It was a picture of the 1973 Snooker Team. I was in the middle of seven other men, leaning on boot of a white Kingswood, smoking a cigarette and holding a cue over my shoulder. We all had neat haircuts and dark faces, and not one of us was smiling except for Jackie Spagnolo, the Italian banana farmer. We had just won the regional finals and were half cut from the celebrations. A sign behind us read: ‘Berkley River Ex-Services Club, Visitors and their Guests Welcome’.

“Who took these photos down from the snooker room?”

“It was the Board’s idea – something about making a first impression on the guests, sense of history or whatever. I don’t think many people got to appreciate them where they were anyway.”

“Well they belong in the snooker room don’t they? Wouldn’t be any history if it wasn’t for that room, eh?”

“Hey, don’t blame me, Gus. Talk to the Board.” Clive went into the cloak room.

“Ha! The Board? What a pack they are,” I said.

I walked into the bar and ordered a beer. A few heads popped out from behind form guides and nodded as I walked through the gaming lounge into the maze of poker machines. Three members of staff, each wearing a green and red tuxedo, were gathered around one poker machine and bickering with one of the oldies. “I thought it was a one,” she said.

As I approached the red wood arch of the snooker room, the clattering melodies and coins died away and I heard the soft clicking of snooker balls. I stopped and before turning the corner into where the tables were, fixed my badge to my shirt: ‘Gus Simmons, Snooker Comm. President’.

Apart from the bright lights hovering over the tables, the snooker room was a dark chamber of faded green wall paper and wooden trimmings. Tarnished shields and thin ribbons lined the walls next to a rack of twenty or more cues of various lengths. On the far wall there were dark green rectangles, shadows of where the committee’s photographs had hung, and a blackboard. Vern Bailey had just finished writing ‘Snooker Committee meeting 7pm’ in sloping block letters and was dusting off his hands. I put down my beer and cue case and went to where he and Neville Harris were playing.

“Seven o’clock? Jumping the gun a bit aren’t you, Vern?”

“We thought we’d start the meeting earlier than usual,” Vern said. “I hope you don’t mind. Me and Neville were just finishing off this frame.”

“What if I do mind? I thought I was the bloody President. Can’t start a meeting without the damn President, can you?”

“Mate, we wouldn’t have done a thing without you,” Neville said and potted a red.

“There’s a lot to get through,” Vern said. “The ladies’ night is coming up and there’ll be a few membership applications to get through.” Vern coughed his trademark cough and lit a cigarette. “And then there’s the election for next year.”

“Well, I suppose so. Maybe we could also talk about the tournament photos. Who the bloody hell took them down?”

“I had to do it. Board said so. Didn’t you know?”

“No. I thought they at least would’ve asked the President.”

“Well they didn’t really ask so much as say.”

“We’ll just have to get them back up there then. That’ll be the first thing I’ll do.”

“Mate, you’re not the next President yet!”

“Maybe not but I’ve still got a couple of hours up my sleeve and besides, who else is gonna do the job? You? What do you think about that, Neville?”

“How’s your game Gus?” Neville asked.

“No too bad, not too bad. Been hitting straight some days, off some others.”

“We’ll have to have that game you promised some day.”

“Think you’re up to it son?”


“Neville’s been teaching me a lesson tonight haven’t you mate?” said Vern. “I’d watch out if I were you Gus, might even give you a run for you money, won’t you Neville?”

“Like hell he will,” I said. “Neville can’t even piss straight. Where’s your rhythm, your composure?”

“I’m working on it, Gus,” said Neville laughing. “But we can’t’ all play like Eddie Charlton.”

“Ha! Charlton’s overrated – nothing but fancy trick shots. I’ll show you a few of my moves after the meeting.”

Neville leaned back on the table squeezing both cheeks of his rolling buttocks above the edge. “Nice job they did on the lights in here,” he said. “It’s really brightened up the place: makes the balls stand out.”

“Fella didn’t put the covers back on properly though. Look how he’s put them on – it’s all crooked. Can’t have a ladies night with the place in a shambles.”

“Gus, that was Clive’s uncle,” Vern said scratching his bald head. “He fixed them for nothing. Pretty generous if you ask me.”

“Well I didn’t, and besides, he didn’t do it for free: Gloria gave him a counter lunch at the bistro for nicks.”

Neville cracked the blue into the middle pocket.

“Speaking of the lovely Gloria I’ve already ordered a tray of nibblies, I’ll get another beer and round up the others.” Vern slapped his boney hand on my shoulder. “Let’s go, Nev.”

At seven, the others ambled in and took their regular places around the tables – there were usually eleven of us all together, but only eight had come that evening. I took my seat against the far wall under the blackboard and tapped a pen on my beer glass. “We’d better get started I think, don’t want to be here all night do we. Vern’s most kindly put a good word in Gloria’s ear and we’ll be getting some of her finest for those who’ve had a few. Ah yes, apologies from Frank who couldn’t be here this evening due to family commitments.”

“What did he tell his wife then?” said Lowey. A few people laughed and Lowey shook one of his arthritic fingers.

“Not sure, Lowey,” I said. “But since he’s not here to take minutes, how about getting a pen and paper going?” Lowey didn’t reply.

“First thing on the agenda – it’s that time again – the election of the President for this year.”

“Been another good year, Gus,” said Vern, the others murmuring in approval.

“Yes, we’ve had another decent innings, with a few successful social events, the beach barbeque and the Eucre tournament, participation at the interclub challenge-”

“Lost to that stuck up mob from Carlingford though. Cheated if you ask me,” said Colin Simons, one of the younger chaps. Colin had miscalculated a giveaway shot on the pink, and, as a result, set the opposition on a point-scoring roll which knocked us out of the first round.

“Well if you weren’t colour blind we might’ve had a chance, Col,” someone said.

“Only sees pink after a few sherries, don’t ya, Col?”

“I though pink was your favourite colour, Col?”

“Financially,” I cleared my throat. “Financially, things weren’t as bad as we’d feared: after we paid for the damage that idiot caretaker did at the Christmas party – cost us close to eight hundred dollars to get the thing refelted – we still pulled through alright, even managed to scrap together a few bob to buy a couple of extra cues for the club. The new President would be expected to build upon these successes with, of course, the support of the Committee.” I took my glasses off.  “As you all know the current President is automatically nominated for the position unless he chooses to step down. I’d like to give it another go, keep things going but, we still have to follow the formalities, so I’d like to make a call for nominations.”

As I had expected, everyone was silent. I had been the Snooker Committee President for seven years and I was confident of being relected just as I was confident that my car would have started on a winter’s morning. “Can’t have an election without more than one nominee,” I said smiling. They were all looking down at their beers. I pretended to write something down, thinking of how I would introduce my ideas for ladies’ night when, from the corner of my eye, I saw a hand rise. It was Vern.

“I nominate Neville,” Vern said.

I saw Neville look at Vern. He fidgeted with his tie and then turned his head to the floor. I flushed and felt my heart thumping in my chest.

“Ah, sorry Vern, what was that?”

“I nominate Neville.”

“Oh. Well then,” My voice faltered. I searched the pack of eyes for a hint of dissent but they were all cast down towards the floor or at their drinks; some were looking across the room. “Well Neville, thrust into the limelight are we? I hope you’ve got some original ideas for the club’s future. Do you accept the nomination?”

“Um, yeah. I accept. Thanks, Vern.”

I heard whispers of ‘good one Nev’ and ‘hear hear’ but I couldn’t tell who had said what. Neville and Vern were whispering to one another, crouched over their beers like two old beggars. The others started talking among themselves. Laughter was coming from the main bar. I heard a woman’s voice, and then more laughter. Gloria burst into in the room carrying a tray of cheeses and biscuits and a look of relief came over Vern.

“Good evening, gents, all well are we?” she boomed.

“Better now you’re here,” Vern said. “What’ve you got for us, love?”

“Just a few cheeses darling, some edam, bit of cheddar there too, and crackers. Don’t fight over them now.”

“No, but we’d fight over you, darling,” said Lowey, his false teeth clacking as he laughed.

“I’m flattered, Lowey, but don’t exert yourself on my acccount love. Enjoy!”

Gloria waddled out and everyone started crunching. I stared at Neville’s fat face. I watched him devour three crackers topped with cheese, and counted the clicks of his jaw as he chewed. Greedy pig, I thought as he washed the food down with beer.

I tapped the pen on the table. “Alright then, finished feeding your faces? Good. Right. You know the drill, one vote each. First name’s will do, there’s only two of us.”

Everyone wrote down their votes in pencil on the back of beer coasters, and put them into a battered wine cooler. I asked Vern to put the votes onto the nearest table and delegated to Lowey the responsibility of counting.
With his shaking hands, Lowey gathered the coasters into a neat pile.

“One vote for Gus,” he said and placed the coaster on the right of the table. “One vote for Neville.” Neville’s vote went over to the left. “Gus. Neville again. Another for Neville. One more for Gus.”

I shifted in my chair and felt a sharp pain in my knee like buring ice.

“Neville. And the last vote goes to, Neville Price. Five votes for Neville, three to Gus.”

“What!” I slammed my pen onto the table. “Let me check those Lowey.”

I got up, wincing as I shifted the weight to my knee, and hobbled over to count the two piles: five votes to three. My three votes sat on the table, miserable and wet with beer, one written in my tiny, scrawled print and the other in bold blue pen: I guessed it was Lowey because I saw him chewing on the end of a blue biro and the trembling handwriting looked as if someone had written it with an electric drill.

“What about Frank?” I asked. “Can’t have an election without one of the founding members present? Frank’s got to have a vote doesn’t he? It’s in the bloody rules, you should know, Lowey.”

“Even if Frank did vote for you, mate, you still wouldn’t have had enough votes. I’m sorry, mate.”

“You’ve had a good run, mate,” said Colin. “You’ve done wonders for the Snooker Club, hasn’t he fellas?”

They all nodded their heads in a pathetic chorus of agreement.

“Well, that’s it then isn’t it?” I said through my teeth. “Congratulations, Neville, I’m sure you’ll do a marvellous job.” I hated him.

I didn’t say much else for the rest of the meeting and chose not to pass on my ideas for the ladies night. I caught Vern and Neville several times talking between themselves scheming new plots. I was so furious, I didn’t even stay for a game.

The day after I couldn’t face going to the club so I did some work in the garden and cleaned out the letterbox which was filled with leaves. I thought about going for a game in the afternoon so I called Frank but he didn’t pick up the phone. I suspected that even he was part of the conspiracy. They’d planned it all along – after all I’d done for them. I’d seen the Snooker Committee through its highs and lows and it was my idea to hold free lessons on Saturdays for the youngsters, and no one had ever raised the sort of money for the club that I had.

I slept uneasily during the following nights, recounting in my head the mutiny of the previous Saturday evening; in the darkness of my bedroom I could see the staring faces of those who I thought were my friends, people I could have counted on; Vern’s grey face and drooping eyes looking at me under the lights of the snooker table. For over twenty years I had seen that face, and now, instead of a thin smile I saw a cackling laugh and crooked teeth.

When Thurday came I went to the Bistro for dinner like I always did on Thursdays, but for the first time in about ten years I didn’t bring my cue. I vowed not to set foot in the snooker room where I’d been disgraced the night before. I ordered pork and vegetables and went to eat in the far corner away from the rabble of the other customers for fear I would have to talk to someone I knew and suffer more humiliation. Gloria came over to where I was seated and began to wipe down tables.

“I heard about the other night,” she said as she went up and down the table with a cloth, her red finger nails scratching at the plastic surface. “Try not to feel bad about it, Gus.”

“I don’t,” I said and stabbed at my plate with the fork. “The pork’s tough tonight and the gravy’s runny.”

“No one’s forcing you to eat it, darling.”

“No one’s forcing you to stand there and annoy me.”

“It had to happen some day didn’t it? You can’t be President forever, you know.”

I waited for her to leave but she stopped wiping and just stood there with one hand on her hip.

“Yeah, but it didn’t have to happen that day,” I said waving my fork at her. “It didn’t have to bloody well happen that day. After all I’ve done for that committee and this club.”

Gloria sighed. “Here we go again, Gus, always feeling sorry for yourself. You can get on your high horse at those stupid meetings but you can’t bluff me, mister.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“The way you treat the other men, especially Vern and Neville. You boss them around. They’re all petrified of you. For God’s sake they’re your mates.”

“Mates? They went and stabbed in the back, those mates of mine. My father served in two world wars, you know. He helped build this goddamn club. And when Joan died, I dedicated my life to this god forsaken place and is this the thanks I receive?”

“This club isn’t everything love. Snooker isn’t everything. Where do you think you’d be without the others? Huh, Gus? It’s because of them you got over Joan, you told me so yourself.”

“I was drunk and besides, they don’t care. No one does. The Board took the bloody photos down. There’s no respect left in this place.”

“That’s not true and you know it. Things change – they move on.”

“Bah! Get me another beer will you, Gloria? And a side of brandy too if you don’t mind.”

“You’re hopeless, Gus Simmons.”

“Look, I’m sorry, I don’t mean to get angry at you but you know Vern – he’s always been been a bit pissed off because he’s never been the President. He thinks it’s my fault.”

“Maybe it is.”

“Rot! And now he’s taken Neville under his wing so he can whisper in his ear and get his own way.”

“All I’m saying is that you had better not shoot your mouth off.”

“How about those drinks, Gloria?”

Gloria dropped her dirty cloth on the table and left.

A few minutes later one of the barstaff came over with the drinks. I finished the beer and then put down the brandy in one hit which made the digesting pork in my stomach grunt with satisfaction. I wandered into the bar and ordered another round. The air seemed smokier than usual and the poker machines burped out their miserable melodies with unusal enthusiasm. I rested against the bar and began tearing up coasters. Vern came out of the toilet and walked over beside me. I had thought about turning away for a moment but decided against it; I had just as much right, if not more right to be here as he did. They couldn’t get rid of me that easily.



“Same again thanks, Dave,” Vern said to the bartender as he lit a cigarette. “Didn’t see you for practise yesterday, Gus.”

“Haven’t heard of passive smoking have you?”

“Still wearing the old President’s badge, eh?”

“It’s mine. It was given to me. Neville will have to get a new one made, if he could organise anything.”

“He already has I think. Colin organised it.”

“That’s bloody great. Straight in for the kill.”

“Look, if you’re still upset about the meeting, then I’m sorry mate. It’s just that Neville’s worked damn hard for the committee, and the club, and lately his game’s just come along in leaps and bounds. I thought he deserved at least a nomination.”

“Really,” I said and ordered another brandy. “He got more than a bloody nomination didn’t he?”

“Yeah I reckon he did. Called democracy that.”

“Go to hell.”

Vern picked up his drink and turned to leave. “Neville feels real bad over it, really he does. But he’ll make a fine President you’ll see.”

“Why did you do it, Vern?”

“Why did I do what?”

“You know what I mean.”

“Neville will make a fine President.”

“No, but you’ve always wanted to be President, haven’t you? I think you set it up to get me out and to give yourself a better chance next year.”

“What are you talking about?

“You figured I’d never give you the opportunity: your game was never up to scratch anyway. But don’t count on Neville to be your stepping stone.”

“Gus, you’ve had a few too many I think.”

“What would you know? You could never handle your drink.”

Vern looked at me with his saggy, sad eyes. “Suit yourself. Come in for a game if you like, a few of the fellas are there. Frank’s been asking for you.”

“Get stuffed,” I said. “Another brandy Dave, and one here for Mr Democracy.”

“No thanks.” Vern left and I finished the brandy in one gulp. I watched Vern as he trudged the old path through the pokies and disappeard beneath the red arch. “Let’s see whose fit to be President,” I said to myself and went after him.

Frank and Colin were playing on the main table, a couple of local youngsters were on the far table and there was Neville, by himself, leaning on the table closest to the door, beer in one hand and cue in the other.

“Look what the cat dragged in, Nev,” said someone.

“Gus,” said Neville. “Having a hit tonight?” Neville’s pot belly ballooned out from underneath a stained polo shirt on which was pinned a shiney rectangular badge. I couldn’t read what it said but I knew well enough.

“A hit? What, keen for a beating are you?”

“You’ve been promising me a match for a while now – wouldn’t want to think that you’re gutless or something.” Neville looked over his cue and nodded in the direction of the main table and then laughed over his shoulder, gloating at his success; his fat fingers, which were dusted with blue chalk, consumed his cue like folds of putty.

“Where’s your respect?” I said. “I’m not afraid of you, ya’ bloody tub of lard.”

Neville set up the table and chalked his cue. “You can break if you like.”

“Very noble of you.” I stumbled over to the public rack and picked out a cue that was half straight and still had a hard tip. Doesn’t take a brass belt to beat a dog, I thought.

I broke the balls hard into a red riot. I should have just clipped them and tried to leave the white at the end but I was too angry and drunk to care. I swore and went to reset the scoreboard. My knee felt raw with pain.

Neville potted a red and then the blue, leaving the ball at the far end behind the black.

“Good shot, Nev,” cried Vern and toasted his drink.

“Ha! Look where he’s left his ball! Knows I’m too good on attack doesn’t he? Has to snooker me.” I just managed to scrape the white away past the black, chinking it onto a nearby red and saving the foul.

“Not much else you could’ve done there.”

“Thanks Vern, any other bright remarks?”

Neville potted another red, then the brown and then doubled a red into the middle pocket setting himself up for the black.

“Don’t stuff this one up Neville,” I said. “President’s got to have his eye in, got to be able to deliver under pressure.”

Neville smashed the black ball into the back of the pocket. The ball swished through the net and hit the bottom with a thud. He shot me a smug smile as he re-chalked his cue. I felt like ramming it up one of his hairy nostrils.

“Lucky. Hey look at this, boy,” I shouted across the room. “He can sink them alright can’t he, Frankie? I think the photos made him nervous. Maybe it was his idea to take them down: didn’t want the old masters looking on and taking the piss out of his amateur play.”

More reds went down in between the green and brown and then the blue again. A few people had gathered around the able to watch. “What’s this? The President’s match?” one of them asked.

“No,” said Neville. “There’s just one of them here.”

My turn came and I played a few short shots because I was feeling rather cut. I fouled on the green and swore as I banged the cue against the table. “This damn cue is bent. Can’t play properly with a bent cue.”

Neville won the first frame. The other congratulated him and like a bunch of schoolchildren, followed him over to his chair where they smoked cigarettes. I stood by myself, watching Vern who was hovering at the fringe of the group: I caught his eye and lowered my eyebrows hoping to pierce him with the guilt of his betrayal.

“Must be the cue, eh Gussy?” Neville parted the men with a regal sweep of his sausage hands and stepped forward. A cigarette hung from his mouth like a soggy chip.

“Yeah, it hasn’t got much going for it – like a couple of people I know.”

Neville rested his cue on the table.”What’s your problem, old man?”

“I’ll tell you my problem: it’s being beaten by a nobody with shit for brains who doesn’t deserve to be a member of this club, that’s what my goddam problem is.”

“For Christ’s sake, Gus. It’s just a-”

“Don’t you start, Vern,” I hissed. “None of this would’ve happened if you hadn’t put up this imbecile for nomination.”

“I’m not an imbecile.”

“I wasn’t talking to you.”

“Steady on, fellas,” came a call from one of the tables.

“Now you listen here, Gus,” said Neville lifting his shoulders.

“Don’t talk to me like that, sonny, or I’ll have you.”

“And do what? What the bloody hell are you going to do? Just listen to yourself – you’re flamin’ losing it! ”

“No, you’re losing it,” I said looking directly into his beady eyes.

“You’ve got to move on, Gus, let go, or whatever. Get that bloody chip off your shoulder.”

“Piss off.”

“You’re not the President anymore, Gus, and you’re not the best snooker player.”

“This isn’t about snooker, it’s about the right person doing the job and I don’t think you’re the right person. I’m entitled to an opinion aren’t I? I was playing snooker at this club when you were still sucking on your mother’s teet you witless prick, and you’ve got the hide to just waltz in here and take over!”

“Fair go mate, you’re overreacting a-”

“You all wanted to see me out, I know what you’re all thinking.” I ripped the badge from my shirt and held it up to Neville’s face. “You want this? This is the real deal pal – you’ll never deserve to wear it.”

“Maybe I’m not the right person but more people wanted me to be President than you mate. I don’t need a badge to tell me that.”

“Don’t call me mate, son. You and Vern bullied them into it,” I bellowed.

“Grow up, Gus,” said Neville and then walked out of the room. The others looked at me, shaking their heads before they filed out after him. Only Vern remained, standing in the corner, coughing at the ground.

“So you forfeit then?” I called after him and threw my badge down at the table. It bounced and fell flat on the green expanse. Suddenly I felt overcome with fatigue and the burning of my anger fell from my head down to my knee. I limped over to a seat.

“Are you alright, Gus?” Vern said.

“What do you care?”

“I was just on my way out too, but I thought I’d give you this before I went.” Vern put a thin rectangle on the table. It was wrapped in a yellow cloth which was stained with blue chalk and cooking oil. “It’s a present from the club and the committee. A sort of, ‘thanks for your service’ gift – nothing special. Aren’t you going to open it?”

“What is it? My bloody director’s fee?” I pulled away the cloth to reveal a picture of seven solemn faces and one cheeky grin. I brushed my fingers over their heads, pausing at mine and thinking of the brand of cigarettes I used to smoke, and how much I had paid for the white Kingswood we were leaning on, and of how had given up both after Joan had died. Vern was sitting on the bonnet of the vehicle. His cheeks were a bit fuller in the photo, but he still had the same bald head. I moved my eyes to Jackie Spagnolo’s white teeth and closed eyes, which now, seemed to be the only colourful thing about that black and white scene.

I shook my head. “This…”

“The Board said it was okay. ‘After all he’s done,’ they said.”

“Vern… mate…”

“Hope you enjoy it.”

“I’m…” I was still transfixed on the photo. “I’m sorry, mate.” But Vern had already walked out.

There were several visitors playing at the tables but the room seemed empty. I rubbed my knee and got up. The pain seared my entire leg as I trundled over to the faded green wall where all the Snooker Committee photos had once hung. The original wallpaper frowned from dark green rectangles and the rusty hooks, relieved of their load, curled towards the ceiling. I slid the photo on to one of them and stood back to check the alignment.

“That’s better, mate,” said one of players behind me. “Liven the place up a bit.”

“Yeah,” I said under my breath. “Livens it up alright.” I limped over to get my badge from the main table and then hobbled out of the room and into grey smoke of the main bar.

The headstone

A shining four-wheel drive hurtled down the coastline of northern New South Wales. Past the summer chorus of cicadas it moved, past the high shoulders and lines of deep blue and down into the still heat of shallow valleys. The driver tapped his fingers on the leather steering wheel as the car soared over potholes.

“As soon as you can, don’t rush” his mother had said, offering the cautionary tale of how Aunty Beth had fallen off the end of the Earth in her mini-van. As soon as he could it would be then, all the way on a Tuesday morning with a yawn and two aspirins and the smell of salt reaching into the back of his mind.

He was committed this time. The last few years in his city apartment had passed without so much as a ripple; Martin had come to stay a few times, even his parents had learned to use email so there was contact, but it was never as close as it once was. He had left and that was it. And now he was riding the wave back to where questions and confrontations awaited him.

Hunter had grown up the son of a drunk and was thankful for the escape that adulthood had given him. His money had paid for the erasure of childhood confusions and impossible interpretations of wild language and projectiles in his parents’ living room – stories that steamed through the rafters of a small town and out into the Pacific Ocean. But he had always been a good boy they had said; him and that good looking brother of his, they’ll be right, they’d said.

“Yeah, I’ll be right,” Hunter thought as he rode the perforated ribbon into the brick universe, flanked by a reception of dishevelled wheelie bins.

He mounted the concrete gutter and edged his machine into the shade. A curtain parted and the pale face of his mother appeared for a second and then faded into the darkness.

Hunter’s mother smelled exactly like he remembered – a mixture of dough and musk. She cried and laid her small forehead on his breast. He stroked her hair and toyed with the wooden hairpin she had bought in Polynesia.

“Where’s Martin?”

“He went out, down to the beach. Down to the beach, I think. Oh, Hunter! It’s been so hard on him, my poor darling. He and your father-”

“I know, Mum,” Hunter said and pulled a mobile phone from his back pocket before sinking into the weathered, floral couch of the living room. He began sweeping the cushions with his hands, lightly, like he was touching the cover of an ancient book. Grains of sand sprinkled off the edge onto the floor and onto a pile of photo albums.

“So, Martin’s arranging the funeral?”

“Yes,” Mrs Morrisey sniffed, pulling a handkerchief from inside the cuff of her shirt. “You know, Hunter, it all happened so suddenly, the impact of that stroke took five seconds to kill your father, but it’s taking longer to get at me. I don’t know how to feel, Hunter, do you? Twenty-nine years, Hunter, nearly as old as you, your father and I. He was damned I think, a man damned. Look, I found these old photo albums….”

“And the rest of the family? Uncle Robert and Thelly? How are they all getting here?”

His mother gazed at the photos.

“Perhaps I can call Trent, a friend from work, we studied together. Studied law,” Hunter pursued. “I don’t trust that solicitor of his. You know he’s dodgy.”

Photos old and blurry.

“And what about his shares?”

“Ah? Let’s not worry about that now, Hunter, ok?” Mrs Morrisey breathed out the words.

Hunter swallowed hard. He had cried when his mother called with the news of his father’s death. She had described over the phone how his father had twisted and wheezed as the stroke laid him down on the main street of his home town. Hunter had cried at work and wiped his wet eyes with a red, coarse tie in front of the entire staff. Now he felt that if he were to betray his feelings in front of his mother, this lady who was shaking, who used to shake at the sight of a dirty kitchen and publicly bemoan her weekly menthol cigarette, he would feel more ashamed than ever.

The kettle clicked. Mrs Morrisey mother scurried off into the kitchen.

  *          *          *

Andrew Morrisey’s absence moved around the house like a ghost – whenever Hunter went to fetch a beer from the rumpus room bar or when his brother smiled and the family dimples lit up his cheeks. The walls sighed and Hunter half expected his father to burst in, golf clubs over his arm, growling in alcoholic appreciation. But the house kept its secret; which suited them all. While in the town of local men and women and dogs, beers had been raised with bowed heads and the whispers metered off behind private doors.

The phone rang.

“Hello, ah, yes, Martin, is it?”

“No, Hunter.”

“Oh, Hunter. Back from Brisbane? That’s nice. Nice town Brisbane.”

“Who’s this?”

“Oh, sorry. Jack. Jack Oldfield. An old friend of Trish’s. Is your Mum in?”


“Out is she? Down at the shops perhaps, busy downtown today. Yes, well just let her know I called – I hope she’s doing all right. I, ah, yes, well, nice talking with you.”

Hunter left the phone on the table and sat down to finish his coffee.

Martin fell through the door wearing only his wet suit and swished over the kitchen tiles. Hunched shoulders slurped down a litre of water, heaving and cracking in osmotic excitement.

“Ahhhhhh,” he licked. “Surf’s shit hot today.”

“Someone called.”

“Let me guess, Jack?”

“Yeah, who’s he?”

“Mum’s boyfriend or something.”


“The guy’s been hanging around for ages, think he was Mum’s bridge partner or some shit.”

“Dad’s just died for fuck’s sake. How long’s this been going on?”

“I dunno. Mum doesn’t know I know. Just found out really.”

“Well, didn’t you say anything? Martin-”

“Hey, don’t blame me! What was I going to say? Can’t say anything now, she’s too upset.”

“How’d you find out?”

“Well, that’s the thing. I haven’t got any proof. He’s been over here a few times and he’s been calling, saying he’s got to talk to Mum about the bridge club, spinning some crap like that. And Mum gets all shy and takes the phone into her room, like she doesn’t want me to hear or something. I know it’s something. But he knows about you, always asking, ‘how’s your brother going?’ and ‘how’s the big businessman doing in the city?’. Sounds like an arsehole. Even though Dad was shit-faced half the time, doesn’t mean anything – Mum’s still upset and she doesn’t need guys like Oldfield hanging around for scraps.”

“I don’t want him anyway near this place while I’m here. Not before the funeral, not even at the funeral. I don’t care who he is, ok?”

“Ok, ok. Don’t lose it. But you’d better tell Mum, yeah?”

“Where is she anyway?”

“Dunno, playing cards I suppose.”

Hunter kicked away from the table. “I’m going for a drive.”

  *          *          *

It was wider back then, but creeping lawns and suburban competition had smoothed over the strip of tar that led into town. The shortcut through the backstreet had remained, as had the old A-frame house where Hunter had had his first taste of passion with Greta Simpson. A rusted Kombi out the front told him that the Simpsons had abandoned the house long ago, but he sped up past the house anyway in case the sharp eyes of old Mr Simpson were still lurking behind the balcony window. Mr Simpson had known about the party, that much was sure, and had grounded Greta for one whole month. But Hunter only suspected that he had discovered the blood on the bed, the used condom and the shame of his daughter. The flush of memory made him shift in his seat, and he pushed it away with the speed of his vehicle. And as he pressed the pedal, the road remembered and, just as it had done more than fifteen years ago, it shot him like a catapult into the main street of town.

There had been a fight in the pub the night before. The carpet was wet and covered with broken glass. A small man with a plastic cap and hardend potbelly sat on the end of the bar and crunched on a cigarette butt. With each roll of his jaw he seemed to masticate the history of the town: the drinking partners, the games and gossip.

“You know, m’boy, yer old man loved a few, that’s true, but he was a good man and a good mate,” Max said, almost gagging on the word. “Sorry to see him pass on.”

Hunter took his beer slow and waited for Max to recover.

“Yip, I’ll tell ya, he had something in yer mother too. Nice woman yer Mum. Heart of gold, what, with her charities. A woman in charity feeds the souls of a thousand men. How is she by the way? Must be hard on yers all. Bad way to go. Right on the middle of the bloody street, in front of everyone, like a sack o’ shit.”

Max raised a blood-shot eye to the ceiling, muttering to the heavens and the dry wood and cobwebs.

“She put up with a lot of shit, you know, Max. Dad coming home pissed all the time. That is if he ever came home. You should bloody well know.”

“What, yer saying it’s all my fault, are ya? I’ll tell ya this, Andy might have got on it pretty damn hard, harder than most yer might say, but he never said a bad word about none of yers. Loved yers, more than anything he did.” Max paused and wiped his nose with the back of his hand, and nodded his head as if it were causing him great pain. “Yip, especially you, m’boy, despite all that shit floatin’ around. Those were his own words I tell ya, plain as that. Faithful. Never looked twice at a bird. And well, yer mother, God bless her, running about town like that, with those fuckin’ ponces-“

“What shit floating round?”

“Load of cod’s wallop. Of course yer a Morrisey! Yer Dad knew it and so do I.”

Hunter turned away.

“Sorry about that, son. I said sorry, hey? Look, yer old man’s passed away, that stuff doesn’t matter anymore.”

“Mum never cheated on Dad. What the hell would you know anyway?”

“I’ve known yer Mum and Dad for a long time, got a lot of respect for the Morrisey’s I have, the whole friggin’ lot of yers. If it wasn’t fer yer Dad, well, son, I probably wouldn’t be here.” Max replaced the chewed cigarette butt with a fresh one. “Put me up some nights, lent me a few bob here and there. Youse were pretty well off, yer know, with that council job of Andy’s. Good man considering. Yip. And, well, your Mum and I never got on much, but you know I respect her and all. I just seemed to rub her the wrong way. But God damnit, yer had a family, more than I ever had.”

Max rubbed his unshaven chin. His face, scrawny and sickly under the artificial lights, screwed up as if he were calculating a sum in his head. Hunter remembered Max’s face from when he was young, before his mother had banned him from the family home, when he and his father would curse the sky, vomit in the back garden and fill the house with the stench of uncertainty. At their apogee, the world seemed to Hunter like a rabid place and he small and defenceless. He thought of the time when Max was holding Martin above his shoulders in a drunken game of ferris wheel. They had both fallen backwards onto one of his mother’s earthenware pots, leaving Martin with a gaping hole in his calf.

“By God, you never found out, did ya? Christ, it was all over the bloody wall, yer mother and that prick. Don’t tell me you’ve never heard of Jack Oldfield? Drives that red cortina?”


“I can’t bloody believe it. I’m sorry to be the one to break to yer, mate. He’s an accountant or some bloody thing. He’s a dickhead if yer ask me. Maybe it was the money. He’s got plenty of it you know, and tight – like a fish’s arse. But not with yer Mum, I should hope.”

“She didn’t say anything.”

“That’s normal, son. Why would she? An’ yer father was too ashamed to do anything, poor bloke – what, with all the talk goin’ about. It were you kids that he cared about. Yip. Might have taken it out on her, but he never left her side, never stopped providing for you, God damnit.”

“This is such utter crap, Max.”

“Yip, you knows best, mate. I’m only telling you what I hear, okay? There’s some nasty rumours goin’ around, and fer ya father’s sake, don’t you believe none of the shit those people come up with. You are who you are – son of Andy Morrisey, a local legend.”

 *          *          *

Trish Morrisey sat on the couch with her legs together, biting her lip. She blew on an empty cup of tea, half smiling.

“Who’s Jack Oldfield?” Hunter asked.

Trisha pursed her lips and leant back into the lounge.

“Mum, it’s not a secret anymore. Don’t treat me like an idiot.”

“You’re not an idiot, darling. He’s a close friend. That’s all. From bridge. That’s all.”

“How close?”

“He’s just a friend, Hunter. Someone who’s helped me through the times when your father couldn’t. You remember those times?”

“That’s not what ol’ Max had to say. “

“And you’d believe that old drunk, would you? Couldn’t string a coherent thought together if one was given to him on a rosary. I can’t believe you talked to him. I told you stay away from him, what, after your brother. He played his part that Max. That’s what years on the grog does to you.”

“Mum, it’s okay, I just want to know.”

“No!” Trisha put her hand to her mouth. “Just let your father have this time,” she whispered. “This one time at his death. The cousins, your Aunty Robert, Thelly, they’re all here and want to pay their respects, can’t you just do that too?”

“And then what, it’s over?”

“What’s over?”

“You know what I mean!”

“Please… Hunter.”

“What’s wrong, are you ashamed?”

“Yes, I’m ashamed! Is that what you want me to say? I’m ashamed because I really wanted to leave. Because of your father mainly, but I was so close. So close to leaving you all. Oh!”

“But you didn’t.”

“No, I didn’t,” Trish sighed and her shoulders fell and she put her head in her hands. “Jack convinced me to stay, for your sake. For Martin’s sake.”

“So you admit having an affair with this guy?”

“I shouldn’t have to justify it to you!”

“Why did we never find out, Mum? What’s the big secret? For fuck’s sake, what is the deal with all the shit that went on? You didn’t think we could handle it, did you?”

“Your father loved you, Hunter, both of you, just as much-”

“What do you mean? Just as much as if I were his own son? “

“No, I didn’t mean-”

“Tell me!”

“Please don’t shout Hunter, sit down now, come on, just sit down please!”

Hunter reeled. His hands scraped across his scalp as he regurgitated the words he was trying to swallow. In his mind a tiny beep sounded. It grew louder and louder and filled the room. Hunter took his mobile phone from his back pocket and looked at it. He moved through the house and into the kitchen before answering. When he returned to the living room, Mrs Morissey was lying on the couch with the empty teacup resting on her stomach.

“That was Martin. The head stone’s ready to be picked up.”


“I’ll take my car.” Hunter stopped short of giving his mother a goodbye kiss and backed away. Mrs Morissey turned her face into the pillow.

Hunter was at the door when he heard a whimper.



“What did they write on it?”

“Andrew Morrisey – loving husband and dedicated father of two sons.”

Mrs Morrisey turned to face her son and they both curled their thin lips. Hunter looked up at the clock on the wall.

“You’d better go then.”

“Yeah,” Hunter said and flexed like a spring before bouncing out the door.

One night in the squares of Padova

Follow the winding, paved streets for long enough and you might just become sufficiently lost to discover that Padova is a city with a heart. On the outside, the people are young and beautiful; on the inside they’re tortured, and afraid of escaping the chains of expectations that shackle them to each other and to their daily rhythm. It’s a place where the denim jacket is still in fashion (either that or it has come back into fashion, with the same results); the youth pander about, most often with a cigarette drooping from their upturned lips, sporting whatever style of shoe is in mode (this year it’s the low-cut sports booties) denim jeans, denim jacket and, if they’re students, an invicta backpack. And there are flocks of them: on the buses, in every café, in the squares. The boys move around in groups, looking at the girls fluttering and chattering about the boys who are making jokes about how big the girls’ breasts are.

The town and gown theatre plays out every evening. The students congregate in the Piazza dell’Erbe to drink their spritz and beer, smoke joints and chat about their boyfriends and girlfriends who are invariably studying English somewhere in a richer country than their own. One minute’s bike ride away is the Piazza dei Signori where the town go to drink more expensive spritzes and beers, sit in comfortable chairs, and smoke American cigarettes. Maybe they’ll go home later for joints. The two crowds rub together like two sheets of satin, but the static electricity they generate – that silent but active energy – does not dissipate. All this goes on until 10 or 11 o’clock when the cobbled-stoned bed must be remade and everyone washes lazily from the squares and cafes in search of a restaurant.

The bustop at the train station attracts the usual crowd of drunks, immigrants and those who prefer to loiter and watch the people come and go. There is the man with one leg who hobbles around on crutches – he has a permanent scowl, dark eyes and a long, dirt-brown beard, which always seems to bear the crumbs of his last meal. Occasionally he might ask you for a Euro to contribute to his next drink or sandwich; he has learned better than to ask those people waiting for buses. They rarely wish to be disturbed, as they mutter curses upon the public transport system.