Roomers #65 Summer 2018

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The latest issue of Roomers magazine is out now.

Roomers #65 | Summer 2018 | That Was Then, This Is Now.

Includes The Searing, a short story by me.

He pulls on swimming trunks, a loose shirt. His towel he grabs from the side of the bath, keys from the hallway, and he walks the five minutes to the sea wall. He’s nearly alone down there, it’s just gulls, two dogwalkers, a couple of noisy teenaged skinnydippers after an all-nighter. Prompted by their brazenness he also strips completely, spreads the towel along the base of the wall and lies.

Roomers #65 Summer 2018
That Was Then, This Is Now

For more information on the Roomers project: http://www.roomers.org.au/about/

The Cat Mesmerist, from Roomers #63

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“And the friend will ask what comes next now that the animal is held in place, is transfixed and bound by a strange spell. Kesh will say that the magic (and he’ll say this word shyly, because he still feels a little modest in this regard) only goes so far, only goes as far as has been shown, and that he has no idea of how to lift the animal from its trance.”

The Cat Mesmerist is included in the latest Roomers magazine. Issue #63: What’s your superpower? is available to download here.

Previous issues of Roomers can be downloaded here.

“Roomers: Leaping tall buildings in a single bound since 1996.”

Playful Arrangements | from Roomers #59

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He’s up with the birds, usually. Before them, even. Reeling at the shock of cold water splashes on pasty skin. This is always where the day starts: staring out into the sky, into the depths of dark yard silence. Waiting for light to peel over the edges. In this way, he considers the things done the day before, and how these activities might easily become those for the day ahead. He could visit once again the strangers who live by the bridge. He could stare along the river’s reach, towards the lumbering shipyards, and at the fishermen dotting the rocks. Or instead he could sit home, thinking. All alone. Thinking forwards and backwards. Circling around all the things that have to be done, and then all the things that could be done, but in the end not doing any of them.

It was the Sunday of the long weekend. The meatless Friday had come and gone without note. Saturday had been spent down by the bridge. But today he played a song in his room. The same song over and over. ‘I’ll never tire of this,’ but knowing he probably would. Then knowing he definitely will, eventually. Because it usually happens that way. Maybe it’ll always happen the same way. Then, a shout from somewhere, to turn the music down. He turned it up. But the shout again, louder this time, and with an edge. He shut the music all the way off. The tune would be remembered outside his room, and the words too. He put on a heavy coat, went out, walked nowhere, walked everywhere, and the tune stayed with him, playing within; the lyrics too, but the words were becoming mixed up. Placed differently, and deliberately, maybe. Twisted to suit himself, maybe. Worked-over to fit his own rules of rhyme and rhythm. He enjoyed the playful arrangements he was crafting. This song, a new song, a fluid song, kept him company. The tune stayed the same, he thought.

He walked for hours. Walked in a certain way, without aim or need. Ambled, you might say. Through the greyest of the dreary streets, past rows of small damp houses with smells of stale margarine and old roasts and rubbish, feeling that he was completely safe, that he was alone in the entire place, the only one about in this daylight. Only him on this day, save for bored cats and curious dogs. The light had a dulled-metal cast to it, and he felt as if not just his but all life might go on forever like this; as if this were an eternal light, the light from the end of the world.

And then the solitude was disrupted. By a man, parading outside a ruined pub. The man, unable to walk properly, noticed the territorial intrusion and stopped shuffling. Stood, leaning on a dirty old crutch. Leaning, and peering along the street. Malevolence in the stare. Perhaps.

He slowed then halted at the man’s unwavering glare, at the frayed clothes weighted with a history of oily filth. He turned from the man and walked away, retracing, back the way he came, picking up the pace. No coward, but sensible. Radar attuned to possible threats. At the end of the street, he checked back over his shoulder. The man had shifted some way from his original position, and was crutching along the pavement. Advancing.

So he ran. He darted round many corners, sometimes into dank narrow alleys, losing himself inside an imagined spiral, and he didn’t recognise the place he ended up. Here were houses that looked neglected, even those that weren’t boarded-up. It was growing dark, and a light mist was falling in patches like fine rain. He hurried along, and came upon a bus stop with a cracked timetable, and sat inside the shelter. The night people would be out soon to claim the streets with painted hair and tight clothes and strange perfumes. Windows were lighting behind closed curtains. The sodium glow from cold street-lamps split the vaporous air. A car approached, slowed briefly as it passed, a passenger’s face pressed to the window. The music from earlier had left him, without his noticing its departure. He reached for it, but it was beyond him. He knew it would return, as soon as he played the song again, inside his room, and that when it did, the feelings would also come back, and especially the feeling that he was invincible. It would all come back.

Home now. It’s dark, and the window is propped open. It’s cold outside, but he likes to listen to the wind and the tap of the base of the blind against the frame. The door swings lightly, back and forth. The music has gone for the time being, but he doesn’t have a need for it. Not right now. He’s thinking about the man from earlier in the day. He’ll replay the song later. His eyes close. The house is settled. But something is ticking, apart from the blind, slow and even. Ticking, and maybe it’ll send him to sleep.

TONGUE | from Roomers #62

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1978, a birthday party. One of those once in a blue moon family dos where a local hall gets hired, there’s catering, a DJ. The adults end up drunk and misty. Someone overdoes it, creates a spectacle. There’s a fight. No blood’s spilled, but there’s harsh words, someone gets upset, there’s tears and the gin gets blamed. And so on. That kind of a night.

I spent most of it watching Tommy and trying to pretend otherwise. I’d always thought of me and him as the same age, nearly, but since the last time he’d become old enough to drink and smoke and that was ages away for me. He danced a lot towards the end. Swaying, tie loose, long legs. The combination was unbearable.

Then the goodbyes. My eyes stinging from the late hour and the cigarette smoke. Nancy came over for a hug. Dad’s sister, so Aunty I suppose, but just Nancy she preferred. Dad always said she had a soft spot for me.

She pulled me into her damp chest, powdery and boozy and that sweetly alcoholic scent she’d sprayed fresh on her neck. It was nice, her smell, the layers. The soothing scent of late nights, and I wanted to be tucked up in bed with it.

She told me she was looking for a houseboy, and I’d be perfect. She chortled. Her breath had a hint of spearmint. The houseboy stuff was her usual joke. I knew she wasn’t serious, but all the same I used to think it’d be fun.

She released me, touched my face with the cool backs of her fingers, hoisted her handbag up. She leaned down, palms on my shoulders, eye to eye, and she was on about the houseboy again, and I was tall for my age, and asking a question I couldn’t catch with the chairs scraping and people laughing round the hall. ‘You’d be perfect,’ she said again. I caught that.

She stopped talking for a while. There were tiny cracks of blood in one of her eyes. Then her eyelids closed slowly and her mouth opened a bit, and she swayed and her weight was on me. ‘Oops,’ she said, eyes opening, dabbing at her mouth with her fingers.

Then quiet, and she kissed one side of my face, then the tip of my nose, then that dent just above the lips. Soft pecks, they tickled. Over her shoulder was Mum and Dad talking to Uncle Ray. Ray was telling a joke, a long joke, the comedian of the family. I searched for Tommy, his son.

‘I wonder where your mind goes,’ said Nancy, guiding the bottom of my chin so I was facing her. ‘Dreamer,’ she said. ‘Don’t go changing.’ Another hug. Pressed into her, her face at the side of mine, cheek to cheek. Then my right ear filled with close moving wet heat. Then just as quickly, a cooler damp. I put my finger inside my ear and it came away glistening at the tip.

In bed that night I thought of Nancy’s tongue. I was able to turn it into Tommy’s. Hot and wet is what his tongue would feel like too, I thought. A tongue’s a tongue. It’s Tommy’s if I put my mind to it, in then out, so vital, then in again and probing, and oh my god, and that’s all I needed to get the job done.

Nancy’s tongue never really left my ear. I can recall its sensations now, after all these years, hot and wet, in then out, alive in my ear. It’s Nancy’s, but I can easily make it into Tommy’s or anyone else’s if I want to.