03 March 2006

Green Park

Mad Max and Mad Max 2 are the only good films ever made in Australia. Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is the worst film ever made anywhere. I meditated on this dilemma for 10 years. Unable to come up with an answer I dumped my frustrations into my only song. “The Ballad of Mad Max” is dedicated to the Road Warrior of the first two Mad Max films. The Road Warrior was the last hero in a long line of Australian outlaws stretching back to Ned Kelly. The Road Warrior’s modified 1973 XB GT Ford Falcon coupe, named the Interceptor, provided an iron shield similar to Ned Kelly’s famous armour. In Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, the Interceptor wallows in a pigpen and the Road Warrior shuffles through the desert in beach towels until the climax when he topples from an airplane into a two-tone black and white cowskin dune buggy.

My band never liked “The Ballad of Mad Max”. They never liked it because they never got it. They never got it because they never appreciated it. They never appreciated it because they never understood it. They never understood it because they actually liked Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.

Maybe their brains were clotted with all that smoke and ash from the bushfires circling Sydney. It hadn’t rained since August and everyone was starting to feel trapped. For many nights that summer I wandered from Potts Point to Bondi Beach and back, pacing out my song, constructing lyrics under the influence of the anti-reality pills that the government prescribed to my mum. The pills were meant to keep her sane, but they had a different effect on me. They scrambled my lyrics and made me think too much. Who was I? Where was I going? What did it all mean? Was identity an illusion of language masquerading as cognitive thought, or was it the residue of repeated actions hammered out through space and time? What was space and time? After three months of little sleep, I thought I might be turning into a philosopher or a spider, instead of a drummer, and then I started having Technicolor blackouts, and the more pills I swallowed, to control the Technicolor blackouts, the more I was afraid of coming down.

Ma quit for 32 hours and 25 minutes and nearly choked to death believing that the government lit the inferno to fumigate the city and sell it to Hollywood as a deserted movie set. She wouldn’t let me drive my white 1967 VC Valiant sedan. She thought I might try to run the gauntlet across the city limits and explode in a fireball. I didn’t want to worry her, so I just wandered around.

I usually ended up perched barefoot on the empty bandstand in Green Park, guzzling McWilliams port, to take the edge off the pills, and crunching 7-Eleven popcorn to take the edge off the port, while watching ambulances coming and going past the palm trees outside St Vincent’s Hospital. I craved a distraction, a subplot, a close-up tragedy, a bloody sheet, or an arm in rigor mortis, anything to ignite my lyrics.

I got what I wanted when a flamenco red metallic 3 Series Compact BMW, heading south along Darlinghurst Road, fishtailed into Burton Street. My 7-Eleven popcorn carton dropped from the bandstand.

The BMW’s kidney grill jumped the curb before swerving to avoid a park bench. The cross-spoke wheels flew back to the street, dipped around the turning circle, and jolted into the hospital’s emergency zone. I felt like a kid in the back row of the cinema, chewing popcorn caught between his toes, after a couple of late arrivals barged his feet off the chair in front of him. I sat up and rubbed my eyeballs with my T-shirt collar.

When my vision returned, it revealed a woman in a black dress fighting off the passenger seatbelt and escaping from the BMW. Her high heels scratched a drunken line across the asphalt. She looked like she’d been to a nostalgic crime film fancy-dress premiere, your typical femme fatale, Veronica Lake fallen through the screen during a 1940s California tremor, ending up on the wrong side of the world at the wrong side of the millennium. She looked more like Veronica Lake than Kim Basinger did in LA Confidential. I remember when Ma rented that video. I ejected it as soon as she fell unconscious in her deckchair. I unscrewed the case and hacked out the scene where Russell Crowe says Kim Basinger looks better than Veronica Lake. Then I screwed up the case, rewound the thing, and slipped it back to the video store.

A semi-midget with a solarium tan in a grey suit, the BMW driver, thrust both hands in his trouser pockets and strolled towards the park. He must have had an uncontrollable erection for the woman in the black dress. She stumbled to a pine tree and glared back at him. He ignored her rejection and moved across the grass like a somnambulist whose dreams told him he would snare his object of desire no matter how far away it got. The distance merely gave the man time to ease down his blood pressure. The woman pinched her thighs and wafted air under her dress, cooling herself in anticipation of a hunt and subconsciously enticing the man. I pictured him losing control of the BMW during foreplay. She covered her genitals with her leather Chanel shoulder bag, its golden chain wrapped around her fingers.

“Can’t we talk this over?” he yelled. “I promise it won’t happen again.”

“Talk it over with your shrink.”

“Stop. Wait there. Come back. Don’t be so childish. Get in the fucking car.”

“When you remember how to drive.”

“Where do you think you’re going?”

“To find me a real man.”

“You’re dead. I’ll kill both of us.”

I splashed wine on my black Levis but caught the bottle before it rolled off the bandstand. I stood up, gulped the last two mouthfuls, and rattled the popcorn carton to show the woman that I was up for the case.

She brushed her fringe behind her ear and shot me a mixture of sympathy and disgust as if the bandstand was a gallows with a trapdoor and I was about to swing.

When she turned and walked away, her dress revealed her shoulders, spine, and ribcage.

I figured she was either too scared, or too drunk, to ask for help, or she didn’t understand my offer. I might have been a creep who expected her to replace the spilt popcorn and the wine.

Ma told me it was impolite to take advantage of a woman in trouble and unwise to get mixed up with a femme fatale threatened with murder and suicide, but I didn’t reckon I had a chance with someone like that anyway. She was too beautiful of course. If she wasn’t so beautiful, and if the man wasn’t so old, I might have been agitated.

He clicked open and shut a mobile phone and kept on stalking her. I started tailing them down Darlinghurst Road but had to go back to the bandstand because I’d left behind my two-tone black and white cowskin boots.

The Glass Breaking Game

A lime green Mitsubishi Colt pulled up alongside the gutter, so I cut into Tewkesbury Avenue and hid behind a gum tree jutting from twisted XXXX beer cans. By the time the Mitsubishi skidded away, I’d lost sight of the couple. After crossing the road I hurried on for a while but then had to duck past jammed parking metres and grinning cars near Downtown Video because I didn’t want the staff in there to make a scene about my fines. The previous manager had gaffed a poster of one of my ex-bands to the window after scrubbing out the name and writing in purple crayon above an arrow pointed at my head WANTED - VIDEO CANNIBAL. The next manager tore down the poster and mailed it to some video detectives. Every time they barrelled into Ma’s apartment, searching for clues or recompense, I took the bathroom window express.

From the hood of a Nissan Bluebird, I staked out the Kings Cross overpass and waited for the lights to change from green to red. The disappointed tourists beyond the intersection pointed guidebooks at advertisements for strip clubs and porno, that obligatory zone of sleaze whose reputation was dwindling with each shattered neon tube. Only a few prostitutes remained on the corner of Victoria Street. I liked two of them. They were comic strips of human wreckage. They were teenage runaways who never grew up. Their fathers were lawyers or barristers in country towns with hollow mines and abandoned mills. The good old boys would come to the city once every few years for business lunches and to play hide and seek with their daughters. It was an ancient game.

To the right of where I was leaning against a lamppost with my bottle, a fire truck lumbered out of its crumbling brick house. When the driver slapped on a buckled helmet and flicked some buttons, his red light splashed the man in the grey suit and the woman in the black dress. The man had the woman pinned to the overpass rail as if about to dump her onto the traffic curving up from downtown into the Williams Street tunnel. She was pushing hard against him, gritting her teeth, and staring at the needlepoint of Sydney Tower. It poked through the yellow clouds of bushfire smoke drifting east from the hinterland. As the lights changed, and I slouched across the road, I felt like I was the next contestant walking onto a game show with the disappointed tourists as the audience.

“Who do you think you are?” The man smirked when I raised a toast. I lowered the bottle and rubbed it on my crotch to show him how much wine I’d lost. He wasn’t really a semi-midget. He just looked like one compared to the woman. He was rubbing his phone up the split in her dress. I couldn’t tell if she was enjoying it or in pain. She was wearing stockings and suspenders. The dark rings under her green eyes made her look as if she hadn’t slept for a week, or maybe just woke up from a coma. She arched her spine and gasped at the breeze ruffling the flags and palms that dotted the medium strip below.

Wanting to distract the man, make him think that I was just a local punk looking for some change, I held out my hand and shook a final drop from the bottle.

Lights from warehouses converted into apartments and factories converted into health farms pierced the smoke beyond the overpass. Taking a cue from my theatrical entrance, the woman drove her heel into the man’s foot. The phone arced from his juggling fingers and plummeted into a yellow Toyota Celica. She got loose. He clasped his abdomen, winded after lunging at the rail, hopped a few times, and rifled through his jacket. Beads of sweat and brown hair dye stained the collar of his white shirt.

The woman strolled across the overpass and hailed a taxi parked under an ancient blacked-out Coka-Cola sign. The taxi rushed to meet her in the gutter on her side of the road. She leaned in through the window and brushed back her fringe. The taxi driver, a sausage-munching regular down the road at Joe’s Cafe, smiled and opened the door for the woman. But when he saw me smash my bottle against the overpass rail, and wave the neck at the man in the suit, the cab took off without her.

“You’re going to regret this,” suggested the man in the suit. His voice was calm, almost apologetic. From a concealed pocket, he drew out another mobile phone. He jabbed the keypad and limped back towards Green Park.

I went after the woman. Her ribcage looked like an instrument that needed to be strummed. I had to think about Ma to stop my knuckles from reaching out.

“Don’t touch me,” the woman slurred. Her accent was urban Australian, fake British. I cut in front of her and shuffled into reverse when we got near the Kings Cross Hotel. She was fumbling with a Walkman, closing off the world around her with a pair of white earphones. She folded her arms and gazed over my right shoulder.

She looked less like a femme fatale up close and more like an arts student who sprouted too fast to attract boys at high school but looked beautiful 10 years later when they were marooned in renovated city offices and prefabricated suburban houses, breeding kids faster than they could think up names for them, and she was dating older, richer men. She had a long face and a thin nose and she smelled of Australian Chardonnay. I wondered if she digged rock music. I didn’t ask about the music because a negative answer might have blown it. Something told me that this woman was going to help pump out my songwriting juices.

“What do you want?” she snapped, when I tugged on her earphones.

“Who was that guy?”

“None of your business.”

My heart was beating too fast. I needed oxygen. I was coming across as a creep. I had to slow down and take in the details. I shouldn’t have been walking backwards. I bumped into a family of tourists and knocked a vanilla ice cream out of a little girl’s hand. She screwed up her blistered nose when I bent down and licked the dirt off the cone. I realized how wasted I was when I thought for a moment that the girl was the woman in the black dress when she was a child. I prodded the ice cream at my nose, and the girl giggled. After I prodded the ice cream at the girl’s nose, her mother grabbed her under the arm and dragged her behind an Aboriginal print dress. The father spilled some coins from a fishing jacket, grinded a disposable Kodak, and snapped me grovelling around backpacker’s feet.

The woman in the black dress rubbed her heel below her ankle to remove a piece of ash that had fallen onto her foot. She unclipped the golden horseshoe on her shoulder bag and fumbled inside. She came out with a bottle of Visine and tilted back her head.

“What’s your name?” I asked her.

She dabbed a tissue at her cheek. “Kay Pitman.”

“How about a drink, Kay Pitman?” I had to remember that name.

“Are you going to pay?”

I rolled the coins around my fingers. “It might take a while.”

“Why should I buy you a drink?”

“Because you spilled my popcorn and my wine and I saved you from that guy.” I tossed the ice-cream cone into a yellow trashcan clamped to a sign that said NO PARKING.

“Leave her alone,” hollered the bouncer on the steps outside the Kings Cross Hotel. He wasn’t my friend. He was bald and skinny. He never usually let me in. He didn’t appreciate me embarrassing the bar staff by helping clear unwanted drinks off empty tables. He turned down his hearing aid, elbowed a smudge from the door, and let in two girls wearing headless Koala suits.

“It’s alright,” said Kay Pitman. “He’s with me.”

Popping its horn, a pink Suzuki Vitara, overloaded with surfers, lurched from around the corner of Victoria Street. I tucked in my T-shirt, hitched up my Levis, and took a bow. The bouncer pulled off his hearing aid and blew into it. One of the local prostitutes, who nobody ever seemed to choose, caressed a parking metre and slinked to the ground with the pole between her leopard-skin hotpants. The backpackers, spilling beer on the hotel’s veranda, whistled and clapped at either the prostitute or Kay Pitman or me. I couldn’t tell. The prostitute wore high-heeled sneakers and had orange hair. The backpackers all had chin-beards and floppy hats and wore Amnesty International Anti-Capital Punishment T-shirts and I Climbed Sydney Harbour Bridge T-shirts.

“Is that prostitute a friend of yours?” said Kay Pitman, shuffling her feet and looking around as the BMW floated up Kings Cross Road.

“We better not go in there,” I suggested. “We can hide out at my place and watch some videos. There might be something to drink in the cupboard.”

The prostitute pulled a matchbox from her leopard-skin bag. She scraped a bunch of matches along the flint and touched a cigarette. Then she hurled the loose fireball at the back of Kay Pitman’s dress and yelled, “When do I get to play with the drummer?”

“I’d rather get a taxi.”

“I can drive you home later.”

“How far is your place?”

“It’s just around the corner.”

“Do you know how to drive?”

I hitched up my belt and wrapped my thumbs around the buckle. It was a golden buckle. On the middle of the buckle there were two massive crossed drumsticks. It was the best present that Ma had ever given to me. I called it the belt with the golden buckle.

A mobile phone kept on vibrating in Kay’s bag but she didn’t answer it. We split through the backpacker ghetto on Victoria Street and she stumbled over the cracks where the roots of the trees drove up the sidewalk. Her shoes might have been as expensive as a used BMW but they weren’t as fast or as practical.

She grabbed a fencepost at the top of Butlers Stairs and angled her foot at the burnt leaves, diapers, syringes, and bones of KFC.

“I’m not going down there,” she whined.

A police helicopter stammered through the bushfire clouds covering Sydney Harbour Bridge.

“Do you want me to signal the cops?”

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

“Then there’s only one solution.”

“What’s that?”

I pointed to the cowskin boots.

Kay screwed up her face. “Has your leopard-skin girlfriend ever stuck her feet in there?”

“She’s not my girlfriend. And anyway, since this guy wants to kill you, and then himself, I don’t want to burden you with the magnitude of it all, but no, you would be the first woman to wear the cowskin boots. Ma tried one screaming morning when I was too drunk to go in search of candy. She took one sniff and fractured her spine on the bone-white shell of my Ludwig bass drum.”

“How old are you?”


“When did you stop breastfeeding?”

“She’ll be thrilled for you to hide out with us.”

“I’m not hiding out. I’ll get a taxi. He won’t do anything. It’s just an empty threat.”

When headlights swooped around the corner of Orwell Street, Kay wiggled into the cowskin boots and followed me away from the brightness and into the shadows.

Ma’s Apartment

“That wasn’t a flamenco red BMW,” Kay insisted, when we arrived at the housing commission apartments at the bottom of the stairs. “It was a lime green Mitsubishi.”

“Don’t you know those ones are bad luck?” I pushed my fists into my front pockets and led the way past a gathering of local kids playing stickball under a streetlight. They usually gave me a creep chant but tonight they offered a round of applause.

“What kind of drugs are you on?”

“Do you realize how many rock legends died when they were twenty-seven?”

“You look more like a sugarcane farmer.”

I put a finger on my lips to cut the small talk so I could concentrate on picking Ma’s lock. “She’s always changing them and forgetting to give me a key.”

“Is this really your mum’s apartment? You’re not a burglar, are you?”

Christmas tree lights exploded over the blue wash of Ma’s ex-Greyhound bus television. Plastic branches clawed at the overstuffed detective frozen in close-up on the screen. I squeezed through to the kitchen and untangled a knife from the draw. I hacked teabags and eggshells off the window ledge above the sink and jimmied open the window to let out the mustiness of boiled cabbage and shedding skin that whirled from the General Electric portable fan beside Ma’s deckchair.

Kay came in with a hand over her mouth and collided with my snare drum. It was balanced on my rack tom and below my cymbals. Polyester frocks muted the crash cymbal that fell onto my road case. Holding back a sneeze, Kay picked up the frocks and dumped them on the ironing board, her suspicions extinguished with the discovery of a cowbell in a bundle of female underpants.

Ma’s toeless foot twitched under the rainbow blanket on the deckchair. Her snoring rattled the fan blades.

I plucked the remote controller off the blanket, aimed at the detective on the screen, and jerked the knob up and down until static ate up the detective and the speakers blared out fuzz.

Ma’s left hand shot out and seized the belt with the golden buckle. Her heels beat the aluminium deckchair frame in time with the Christmas lights. She knocked over the fan and it tried to oscillate, head down, flipping through Woolworth’s catalogues, fishing line, serial killer scrapbooks, and chewed videocassettes.

I pinned Ma’s shoulders to the rubber lattice until the beating subsided.

“Oh, Henry. Where have you been? I’ve missed you so much. Check my back. It itches. I was dreaming about skin cancer. It grew from your bass drum, choked me, and walked away. Did you go to the supermarket? Check my back.” Ma pulled the blanket off her chest. Her eyes were white blobs without pupils. Sweat filled the cracks in her rouge mask. “What’s that smell? Why did you open the window? Them kids are out there breaking streetlights. They’ll tumble in and stomp footprints on the ceiling.”

I unstuck Ma’s teacup from my stool and presented it to her. The rim thudded against her gums as she took a slurp. Kay screwed up her face, unsure if the electrical iron in her hand was a percussive instrument or a weapon.

“Where’s my purse?” Ma snorted my Levis. “Have you been pawning your ass up the Cross? Have you pawned the apartment? Have they come to demolish it with a swinging ball while I’m drowning in tea that I had to brew?”

“I told you I was going to band practice.”

“Something’s not right. I can smell it.”

“We just want to watch some videos.” Kay waltzed across the room and curtsied beside the deckchair. While she was bent over she picked up Ma’s purse, a lump of mangy brown leather, but didn’t see the chain attaching it to Ma’s wrist. The back of the deckchair flipped. Tea splattered the rainbow blanket.

“How did you afford this one?” Ma dropped her cup on the stool and fumbled with the combination lock on her purse. “She’s way out of your league.”

I took the purse and grinded the digits. “She’s not a prostitute.”

“What is she then? A femme fatale? I warned you about them.” Ma clapped her hands under the purse. “She can buy her own goddamn video machine.”

Kay looked at me and opened her phone. “I think I better get a cab.”

“She’s not a femme fatale. She’s my girlfriend.” I didn’t want to say that. It just came out. Right after I said it I stepped back and crunched my left heel on the fan. The clips around the cage popped loose and the blades buckled under my toes.

Ma rattled her Snoopy pillbox. “My baby never had a girlfriend.”

“Don’t tell her that. She’s on the run from a guy who wants to kill her.”

“That’s what they all say.”

Kay lowered her phone and asked to use the bathroom. I guided her back through the kitchen and kicked the mouldy towels away from the door so she could have some privacy. When I got back to the lounge, Ma was pretending to nod off. I gave her a kiss on the mouth and gobbled some of her pills but she kept up the act. So I sped around scooping up the drum clamps, song lists, and reams of videotape off the single mattress on the floor in the far corner of my bedroom.

Plucking a twisted sheet from the carpet, I stood on a Coka-Cola bottle of late night urine.

“You won’t get nothing in there,” Ma suddenly hollered. “We can all watch movies together.”

There had to be a better plan. I got down on a pile of spent tissues, gripped my fingers together, and consulted my shrine to John Bonham and Keith Moon.

The toilet flushed three times before Kay marched through the kitchen, scratching her nose on her watchband, all traces of drunkenness gone from her movements. I thrust her an open palm and slid backwards down the hall.

Ma’s room appeared tidy. Her leotards, confectionaries, step machines, and Mills and Boon anthologies were all stuffed in the closet, and no matter how many times I bounced on the king-sized bed it never left a crease, but the place sank of Hoover dust and Johnson and Johnson talcum powder and baby oil. I sneezed at the dentures on the bedside cabinet and found the keys to the Valiant in an airport disaster novel.

“The damn thing’s bust,” Ma cried, “and you’re too drunk, taken too many pills. Your band called six times about practice. At least eat something, darling.”

Pitman House

Kay dabbed a paintbrush at her chin. I fixed the alternator with a hatchet. When I lowered the hood, and gave her the thumbs up, she flicked the playing card twirling from the rear-view mirror. St Christopher stood on one side. On the other side, a naked blonde rode a dildo. I should have untied it, but it was too late now.

“It was in the trunk when I inherited the Valiant,” I explained, cranking the ignition. “Might have been pushing my luck to discard it.” The 225 Slant Six Electroglide rumbled. Wrapping my toes around the steering wheel, I clambered through the window and bounced up and down.

“Does this guy know where you live?”

“He should do.” Kay juggled her cosmetics over to her side of the bench seat and tried to pack as much as she could into her bag. “He designed the place.”

“Won’t he look there first?”

“He’s my husband.” She pulled off the seatbelt buckle and put it on the dashboard. Her voice had become robotic, fatalistic. “Thomas Pitman, the architect.”

“Never heard of him.”

“Why would you?”

We were silent as the Valiant inched along Cathedral Street and rolled onto the Eastern Distributor. After a minute, I tore through the lid of a 7-Eleven popcorn carton that I found in Ma’s closet. “I hope you don’t mind me asking, Kay Pitman, but does your husband often humiliate you in front of strangers and threaten murder and suicide?”

“That’s none of your business.”

“I was just making conversation.”

“At least I don’t live with my mother.”

“Some psychiatric people might think different.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Kay’s face glowed blurry, as if it was on an old television with a broken valve. The pills that I gobbled while she was in the toilet were kicking in. I stuck my elbow out the window, ran my hand through my hair, and shuddered. Kay reached across and adjusted the steering wheel. “I can drive,” she said. “I’m pretty sober now.”

“The Valiant can drive by itself. It likes you. I think. Have some popcorn.”

Kay brushed crumbs from her golden Rolex and chopped the Tandy radio cassette player. An orange beam sparked up, and noise from the speakers mounted in holes cut out of the ledge above the back seat wafted fumes from the gas pipe in the trunk. Kay’s dress was up over her knees, near where her stockings met her suspenders. Empty cassette boxes and blank tapes rained onto her lap when she hit the glove compartment. “Can I hear one of your songs?” she said.

“Ma reckons it’s impolite to confront new acquaintances with your latest masterpiece.” I was trying to concentrate on Ma’s advice about getting involved with a femme fatale. My penis was stirring under my Levis for the first time in eight months.

Kay yawned and snuggled up to the gunmetal passenger door. “Thomas will have cooled down and gone to sleep by now.” I caught a glimpse of her black panties as she leaned out the window to scan the vacant road for BMWs.

The gasometer needle hopped from full to empty and off the dial. The Valiant wheezed and spluttered before loosening back to its usual drone.

One of the lanes over the Sydney Harbour Bridge was closed because there had been a fatal accident. Red and blue light doused the area. Men in plastic overalls waved orange batons and arranged rubber cones in front of a lemon Nissan Tarago on its side with a crash barrier wrapped around its face. A Kawasaki’s handlebars and fuel tank stuck out from under the back of the Tarago.

“They must have had a fantastic view.” Kay was watching the tourists in boilersuits and hard hats climbing the arch of scaffolding over the bridge.

On the walkway, in a swirl of oil and tyre tracks, lay a bloody saddle. Two young paramedics with sideburns wheeled a white lump onto a stretcher and into an ambulance.

“There’s been a record number of traffic accidents this year.” Kay frowned but didn’t look sad. She looked disappointed that she hadn’t been involved in this accident. She’d missed out by over 30 minutes. I thought about her husband driving around Green Park and wondered if he was one of those guys who only get off on car crashes.

“It’s because of the smoke,” I said.

“I know. I can’t stand it. Living in this city makes people despondent. I’d get out if I had a chance.”

I rested the 7-Eleven popcorn carton between the dashboard and the windscreen. It felt like we were on a first date at the drive-in.

“Have you ever thought about a divorce?” I said.

“Why would I do something like that?”

“Because your husband’s a bastard.”

“Did you know I was in Neighbours and Home and Away?”

I shook my head and pressed my right index finger to the windscreen like an assassin picking off the climbers.

“I never got many roles because my acting was too professional. I made the regular girls look bad. I once had stupid Hollywood dreams.”

“Ma says dreams are more important than reality.”

Kay took some popcorn and smiled at the opera house.

A tall man in a leather jacket limped from behind the ambulance with a hand on his hip. He poured glass out of a disfigured helmet, scuffed his boots on the asphalt, and slipped the helmet on his head. A policeman prodded him in the chest with a notebook.

Orange batons waved the Valiant forward. We rolled over to the north shore, past St Leonards Park, and for a while, there were hairdressers, boutiques, flower shops, coffee chains, and real estate offices. Then there was nothing but brick houses with terracotta roofs.

The Valiant’s TorqueFlite three-speed automatic converter transmission clunked and jerked approaching the hills of Northbridge. The chassis bottomed out over each incline, and the brakes sucked and squalled on the way down. My foot rocked the pedal and my knee thumped the steering column. The hills got steeper and the curves got sharper. Mansions rose above the suburbs. Harbour lights shone through the trees.

Kay’s phone was buzzing in her hand because she hadn’t answered it. “Slow down,” she was saying. “There’s an intersection over this hill.”

“Don’t worry. The brakes will kick in soon.” I patted the dashboard and let the steering float from curb to curb. “I’m sure the Valiant likes you.”

“Stop it, Henry. Don’t be a lunatic? I’ll throw up in this piece of junk.”

“You shouldn’t say things like that.”

“Why the hell not.”

“You’ll hurt his feelings.”

“It’s just a fucking car.”

When the brakes took hold, Kay’s phone flew out the window. I offered to go back and get it but she just pointed to the next corner and then the next one after that. She vomited in the gutter outside a school with a granite wall that she said she used to study behind. I decided to let her stay in the Valiant as long as she didn't mess up the carpet. When her right breast almost came out of her dress, I wanted to lean over and tweak the nipple, but I thought about Ma and stopped myself.

Eventually, the Valiant rumbled two metres up a white gravel driveway at the end of a cul-de-sac.

The handbrake cranked out.

The engine hummed in time with the popcorn rattling in the bottom of the carton.

Dim light glowed from the glass terrace circling the highest level of a triple-story California bungalow gazing down from the edge of a harbour outcrop. The overhanging eaves twisted shadows across rare native shrubs and boulders dragged down from the Blue Mountains. A cream Mercedes E320 Wagon guarded a double carport, next to the flamenco red BMW.

“Thanks for a fascinating evening.” Kay pumped out Visine until it ran down her cheeks. “Everything will be back to normal in the morning.”

I tapped the instrument panel to let her know that I wanted fuel to get home. The needle jumped.

Kay rooted around inside her bag, shifting plastic bottles, metal cylinders, glass jars, and other smaller bags. I eased my left hand behind the seat and played with the ashtray. She came up with a horseshoe key ring and a silver box. She flipped open the box and handed me a white business card with KAY’S PLACE in black ink and an address on Darlinghurst Road. Then she hauled herself out of the cockpit. The TorqueFlite shifted into neutral and the Valiant crunched back to the street.

Pitman House loomed behind Kay. She stood there in the driveway, pouting, still wearing the cowskin boots.

I spat the business card onto the dashboard.

She shuffled to the curb, picked up the popcorn carton, and funnelled down the crumbs.

24 January 2006

Divine Interference

A Fujitsu plasma screen hung on a white wall in a basement games room. I planted myself on a black leather couch and slid the Valiant keys along a glass coffee table. The remote controller was stunted and rubbery. I couldn’t press just one button. I looked around and saw Kay’s legs disappearing up a metal staircase.

The screen throbbed out a blurred, sickly-green night-vision overhead shot of a flagstone path winding down the side of the house. Another click showed a rectangular swimming pool with leaves floating on the surface. The pool merged with a boat ramp that led into the harbour. City lights flickered through bushland in the distance.

The next angle revealed a Japanese-black tiled entrance giving way to an open-plan lounge, dining room, and kitchen. Exposed beams jutting from ceiling to floor indicated where one section ended and another began. In the kitchen area, a steel refrigerator and dishwasher stood open. In the dining area, a glass table held a napkin pinched into a triangle, a cheese platter, two wine glasses, and an uncorked bottle of red.

On another channel, in a room with vertical striped wallpaper and fuzzy carpet, Kay mumbled to herself on a king-sized bed. She yawned without covering her mouth. She unpeeled her stockings and draped them over Thomas Pitman, huddled behind her under a white sheet.

I was watching a grainy shot of the Valiant’s snout, poking from a hedge, when Kay finally padded barefoot down the stairs with the wine and the glasses.

She handed me the bottle.

I sniffed the rim before pouring.

“Isn’t there anything better to watch than security cameras?” Kay said, swirling her wine. She swallowed the whole thing hard, tapped the glass on the table, and slipped the remote from my Levis. She’d tried to do up her hair but most of it was coming loose. She’d washed off some of her makeup and her complexion was almost pure white. When she dropped the remote on the table, her strap fell from her coat-hanger shoulders.

I watched the stairs to the right and the Valiant on the screen until Kay stepped in front of me.

She was almost dancing, almost passing out, unsteady on her feet, so I reached over and held her forearm.

“Why do you want to play the drums?” she said.

“Because I’m a drummer.”

“Do you want to play the drums for me?” She pulled out of my grip and patted her stomach.

“Sure,” I said. “I would love to play the drums for you. As long as your husband stays on the television.”

I moved my hand over the curves of her waist with the flow of her breathing. Her stomach rose and fell beneath the black material. Her arms were smooth and toned. I stroked the outline of her breasts until she smiled and turned around so I could explore the delicate skin covering her spine where her dress arched down her back and nestled above her backside. She was facing me when she unzipped her dress and let it slide from her naked body. The heady sent drifting from between her soft inner thighs entered my nostrils. She laughed as she toppled sideways onto the couch, reaching for the belt with the golden buckle.

“I’ve never had sex with a real drummer,” she said.

I bent down to give her a kiss.

Her mouth smelled of scorched wood and Listerine.

She pushed me backwards.

My ankle clipped the table.

I caught the bottle of Hunter Valley 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon, polished it off, and flipped the remote to the bedroom channel.

A foot poked from the sheet.

Kay reached behind the couch and pulled out a gram bag of cocaine. She opened the bag and scooped the powder with her index finger. Her legs parted as she ran her finger along her wet lips. The lines of her labia ascended like a highway from her anus to her pelvis, thin fingers hitching a ride out of town, tight curls of sandy pubic hair sprinkled with cocaine like foam washed up on a deserted beach. Her body arched and moaned at her own generous touch. I wouldn’t have cared if Thomas Pitman had come in with a shotgun and blew my brains out. To die between those legs would have confirmed divine interference.

“Now,” she said. “Kiss me.”

And my tongue was there immediately, the coke and her juices rushing through my body.

When Kay told me to get up and use my cock, I was so hard I thought I would come as soon as I entered but she held me in her hands and guided me along her lips and deep down inside her heavenly cunt.

I experienced flashbacks of Ma conceiving her only son on her first date with a shore-leave US marine in the back of a rented Ford panel van at the Range Drive-in outside Townsville during John Bonham’s “Moby Dick” drum solo in the Led Zeppelin film The Song Remains The Same. The night’s first presentation was the Australian beach movie Puberty Blues. If they hadn’t held off until the main show, I might have been born a surfer.