One feels inclined to say that the intention that man should be "happy" is not included in the plan of "Creation."
-Civilization and Its Discontents (1929)
Today, I am going to publish a short story I recently had included in an exhibition, where it was superimposed onto a TAB ticket. For those not in Australia and unfamiliar with the Totaliser Agency Board, this is a ticket you use in order to place bets on animals that run around in circles, with the sole aim of multiplying your money based on a factor that the Board acknowledges. I wasn’t planning on publishing this here, but for the public interest (and possibly in generating some hype in order to sell the said piece of work) I decided that I would. But before I give you a macabre Freudian tale, I have written a short prologue to what I am doing and why.
Deciding what you are going to write about is probably one of the hardest tasks you can face as an author. There is so much you could talk about, and the fact of the matter is, most of it is fucking boring. Even this opening sentence is fucking lacklustre. Opinion pieces normally dissolve into a one sided melodrama, and short stories aren’t everybody’s cup of tea. What we, as a community, are faced with is an endless bombardment of topical tripe and inane innuendo. People tell me I should write happy stories, with nice endings and ingrained moral fortitude. But who really wants to escape into that? Housewives who took too many Valium, ended up in the bathroom and forgot what they were doing? I prefer to write about the reality of the many, the ones who had to hock their laptops to pay rent, only to lose the money gambling. The ripping yarns of the kids who due to insufficient parenting (or even overindulgent parenting) end up looking up to the guy who sells them drugs. As a reader, I prefer to be able to feel a connection with a character. They may be painted as societies black sheep, but amongst their own there are definite heroes and villains amongst the villains. The lesser of two evils is still evil, but which one would you prefer to have sitting next to you on the train?
And so I give you the below.
Green Trackpants and a Carton of Milk
The middle aged man strutted past the tram stop with a bop in his step, his Scottish football jersey full of holes, what was left of his hair, slicked back heavily with Brylcream. A passing compliment about a commuters "great set of pins" was met with a distraught reaction and an offhand comment about 1950's attitudes.
Along he bopped, wolf whistling at empty shop fronts and parked cars. His ageing prison tattoos had wrinkled, winking creases in the morning sunlight. He feared being asleep while the world changed.
A life dictated by traffic jams and red lights didn't favour him. The corporate ladder dangled in front of him like his old cell mate.
The smell of wet asphalt and warm morning sun radiating together. He turned his head and saw a young personal assistant, make up completely overdone, clutching at her Gucci handbag running for the tram. She was swearing at the tram driver as he pulled away and screaming at her phone as she slowly stopped running.
He thought about going up to her and sliding his calloused hands up her skirt. Punching her in the throat and wrenching her thousand dollar handbag from her quivering hands. He thought about walking up to her silently and jamming a broken bottle into her chest and through her lungs. He stopped in his tracks to light a cigarette. He started thinking about giving her a rose. Offering her his 2 for 1 Hungry Jacks vouchers. Telling her his life story, rolling her a cigarette and trying to pass to her whatever knowledge he could.
As he took a long draw on his cigarette, before he could act, she hailed a taxi, eyes locked onto her smartphone, unaware of his gaze.
After a few more draws staring into space and contemplating what could have been, he started his bop down the street again. The pavement boomed up at him with every step, his legs moving in unison, meeting the ground reluctantly as it rose up to meet his beaten pair of trainers.
He saw an old cottage beside the train line, an alleyway leading up to it covered in shitty graffiti. He spun mid stride and made his way toward it, fruit bats flying overhead. A young boy rode past on a small BMX, trail blazing his way through the alleyway, training wheels in tow. Without hesitation he flagged the young boy down.
"Stop, in the name of the law!" he exclaimed at the child. The boy stopped with a skid and rose his head up to face the man solemnly.
"You know it's against the law to ride bicycles without helmets you know" the man muttered sternly.
"Are you even a cop?" the boy asked, his voice not yet broken.
"No, but I am a member of Neighbourhood Watch and I watch my neighbourhood ever so closely" the man replied. "There not be a thing that I don't see, even with these tired, tired eyes"
"Well, what have you seen today?" the boy asked, kicking at the dirt path, annoyed at being stopped but too naive to just ride away.
"I've seen a pair of legs that go for days, I've seen traffic jams, I've seen this little slut miss her tram, I've seen a country full of people like me ignored by people like her, I've seen the pain in someone's eyes when they are hungry, but not all the food in the world would make them satisfied, I've had all my old friends die, I've had all my new ones leave, I've seen, I've seen.."
The man snapped out of his rant.
The ground started to swell and undulate. Seven different sins leaked from it's crust, amalgamating into a buzzing whirlwind, alienating him from the planet he walked on. A sudden shift was had, as if someone tipped the world on its axis. Defiantly he clung to sanity, fingertips worn and sore against the cliff face. The dull thud from inside his head grew stronger and louder, bubbling and boiling until out of his mouth came a vile mix of cusswords, spit and bile. The darkness escalated high out of the ground and surrounded him, all the while venal sadness played a xylophone made out of his spinal cord up and down, laughing as his back contorted painfully with each note.
He thought back to a time in his youth when he used to call a girl up on the telephone. He would call her up and abuse her for no reason. She was a nice girl, nice enough. Nothing remarkable about her, but something drove him to crush her. He would call her up and just insult her. He didn't even know her. Well, somehow he knew someone who knew her, as turned out to be the case. He didn't even remember how he got her number. Whenever he called her, he lay idle on the floor of his small studio apartment, writhing and crawling around. He reached for his Motorola Razr flip phone and dialled her number. He functioned on a sliding scale of wretchedness towards her, starting off at around a 3, maybe a 4, and eventually sliding it all the way into the red, bringing the abuse back down to a reasonable 5 and typically ended on a 7. She normally endured this silently, and wouldn't hang up until he had finished. He would absentmindedly tell her that he was going to rape her, cut her stomach open, fuck her mouth with a pair of scissors, all the while laying prostrate on the floor, slapping a palm at roaches and picking lint off his clothes.
The vortex started to close, and the world around him started to drain, like the world's pigments were made of watercolour and his sobriety was splashing giant swathes of name brand mineral water over everything.
The little boy went and rode for a long time, and didn't get back home until after midnight. He kept riding and riding. The flashing indicator lights of cars and buses faded past him quickly and quietly. His legs, full of lactic acid, pumped up and down as if he was a mechanical steam engine, the fatigue not phasing him. He needed to keep riding.
When his mother answered the door he walked straight past her, washed out look on his face. She grabbed him, tears swelling up in her eyes.
"Where have you been?! I've been so worried!"
"Great set of pins" the boy replied, as he quietly climbed the stairs and crept straight into bed.
© James Hattrick 2014
I've got a poem for ya. "You are an idiot, You are a bitch, You shit me to tears, ...I'm goin' down the pub."
- Idiot Box (1996)
Swarms of high vision vests flock to the steps, and even the junkies look like they have a place in society when they wear one.
The faint drone of headphones and ringtones as you walk up into the station, remind you that you are only a guest cameo in someone else's movie.
The ticket inspectors remain vigilant near the turnstiles, their badges proudly reflecting the mock tears of a woman caught using a concession fare when not entitled.
The train isn't much better, everyone seems heads down, absorbing the glow of their smartphones or tuning out by reading the free propaganda disguised as a newspaper, handed out for free before they board.