Searching for Meaning at the Book Fair

Pdf version for your enjoyment

Searching For Meaning at the Book Fair 🤖🤖

I stepped out of car-interior penumbra and into an atmosphere streaked piddle and nectarine, filling lungs that felt like sourdough with bright Moet air. There were big plaster clouds in the sky, which shined like concealer in the wrong light, and which seemed to threaten rain though only in a cautionary way— unsure, reluctant to act, afraid of their own power and aspect like a spider in the corner that keeps running into darkness every time you get up to make sure it’s still where your eyes last fixed it. Under these clouds’ dangling feet blew the summoned leisure classes of Victoria along with scabby autumn leaves. The sky was like a migraine—just way too populated with contradictory white wisps and rolling heads and well-defined cumulus’ and veins of dark grey—and somehow, amongst all this sugarcane-white, the sun still managed to pour leisurely schooners of warmth down on everyone, whom nonetheless rushed to hold piping coffees to the waterproof exteriors of their overpriced jackets. There were thousands of people paying entry to the book fair with notes scribbled in pen and defaced by tape, fished from expensive leather purses and wallets choked with receipts, pictures of grandchildren, doctors appointment cards, invitations to join Probus. I walked along, letting myself be assumed into a flue of festival-goers, dragged down surely to the entrance, which I realised must be the discoloured marquees set-up at the bottom of the hill near the old historic town centre like a giant dacked arse.

In the midst of this slow-moving, heavily-perfumed, brand-aware contingent, I cut a louche figure, dressed in old black jeans, a baggy t-shirt with some remembrance of past dining on it and a black beanie with old sneakers. Kids milled about everywhere in uniform, looking at me like I was a statue and couldn’t look right back at their cherubic devils’ faces. Maybe I was wearing someone else’s clothes, what with how the crouch of the jeans kept attacking my nuts on the downstroke of each step. Plus it was not unlike me to mistake a female’s cotton hoodie for a male’s wool jacket in post-somniac fog and to chuck the wrong thing on and walk out the door feeling cute yet slightly vulnerable, although not because of the clothes (the vulnerability) but just because of the general pitch of modern life and its doctor’s-room busyness and disinterest in individual affairs.

I smelled a heavy aroma of dust and pickled figs and hoped it wasn’t emanating from myself, electing not to sniff under a chicken-winged arm just in case. Owing to my long legs I could, when I’d gotten frustrated enough with the elegiac pace, fire past everyone else, which I did but maybe a little too gruffly, disturbing the thawing tide of people mostly older than me and creating weird eddies of sidesteps and concertina compressions in the bulk, sending looks of recrimination and wounded self-righteousness, little waves that should have barely licked the ankles but somehow wet fringes, everywhere, which I hopped up on and rode, eyes at the sun, feeling momentarily free.

At the gate I handed over a note I was fully expecting my wallet not to contain to a bulldog of a lady and noted my surprise that my drunken cortex had managed to leave a tenner unmolested in plain sight. The woman manning the admissions box squinted at me over magenta glasses, her eyes unbelieving, going back for second helpings and really savouring the ragged long hair and stained shirt.

“You know there’s only books in here?” She asked.

Only books?” I replied, “Only, only, only.” I walked past the woman fondling my paper ticket—cousin of all those other pieces more significantly drawn—into an optometrist’s bottom-of-the-barrel. There were people in horned-rim glasses, because that’s what young’ens back in their day wore, and their were people in horned-rim glasses because that’s precisely what no-one their age wore; there were people with coiffeurs because that’s what movers-and-shakers in their day affected to go out, and there were people with coiffeurs because no-one else their age would be caught dead with their mum looking so preened. People were watching other people watch them drink coffee and sit stonily—readers checking other readers’ choices like dogs smelling a new butt. It was, in short, a regular Sunday supercollider event, bringing people from across state and aesthetic lines together, it all relaxed and disinterested except now looking like the different fashion waves and schools of reversion and revision and progression and stagnation had crashed mightily into each other in some profound basin and bled together so that everyone was confused when the saw someone else in the same uniquely affected guise as themselves and couldn’t any longer say whether they were friend or foe, imitator or influencer. A dialectic no book on Hegel or Marx could clarify. A question no solitary reader wants to consider over the page of a book they hope everyone notices them reading.

In the corner of one bookseller’s domain, balancing on my non-preferred leg while my right hand reached around over my left ear and gripped a handhold in two wooden boards gone out of flush over the years, I found a book I thought might have housed the answer I came for. It turned out to be a book on the irrationality of the quantum, bare and beige with no sleeve. Seemed like the right type. He opened it to a passage about 250 pages in and read: “The nature of spacetime is enigmatic, with no segment of space actually containing no matter at any precisely-defined point. But of course, just because something contains nothing doesn’t mean there’s nothing there, so even though there’s nothing in space there is space itself. So at any point of space, space can be empty except for space itself. Which begs the question, what is space if not another name for the molecules its supposed to contain?” He brushed a lock from his eye and put the chronically confused physicist back on the shelf before he got pulled into the black hole of speculating/ casting aside/ re—speculating. I didn’t need any more arrant questions— not now I had at last started narrowing down the field of acceptable answers. The heat in this tiny corner was becoming oppressive, populated by more bodies than a crematorium and the air just as heavy from people bleeding out 100 degree coffee heat through circulatory systems pulsing visibly in the skin. I jostled my way out, ending up with an Essendon Members keychain stuck to my denim and someone’s blue eyeshadow on the back of my hand— a sense that the answers I was looking for would be in short supply here, like bread rolls in the ‘food court’.

Out in the street, feeling like a curiosity, in a fair for print books, which were largely becoming an affect, a curiosity themselves, a pretext to lure someone back to your house to see how big your bookshelf is, I fanned my shirt out to air the sweat clinging to my ribcage like a U/18 dependent. My first foray into the thick land of words looking for meaning had ended poorly and my spirits sagged habitually. I had several coins in my pocket jackpot-ting around from my entry-fee, so I followed the smell of food and coffee, responding to hindbrain urges for warm, comforting sensations. Relaxing my fingers on the Venetians of high meaning I was trying to peak through for a moment to go inside and masturbate and maybe eat a hotdog. There aren’t many higher concepts than the brute fact that pleasure equals good and food and drink equal pleasure. I located the ‘food court’ with a scan of the horizon which revealed big legible letters shouting ‘food court’. I walked into the little staked-off area, a longitudinal gauntlet of smells both foreign and familiar, confused where the ‘court’ was but not disappointed because there was definitely food being exchanged for hard-earneds in each of the improvised eateries. In each of the trucks, windows, stalls etc sat bored, expectant faces watching potential customers opt for their neighbour’s fare instead of their own, causing much latent resentment to boil to the surface like saffron in an oversize paella pan. As I walked in a french pastry vendor was yelling curvy syllables of abuse at a beefy Aussie man with a Glenrowan tattoo on his swelling arm cellulite who was squirting neon mustard, with a distasteful look, onto a man’s snag.

“Bloody yank hotdog shit” he muttered under his breath, which the Fenchman misheard—incredible that he even somehow heard it—shouting back over their astroturfed divide “Who you calling ze frog? Not me! I have a rolling pin big enough for your head and not insignificant stomach ‘ere.”

The big grill attendant’s eyes burned like wasabi and steam actually escaped his ears in thin wisps nearly scolding the lady collecting cash beside him, presumably his wife by her comparable dimensions and complementary Kelly Gang ink, and he picked up an oversized pepper off the grill and threw it across the way. It arced massively over the heads of curious diners who, seeing it fly through the air, reconsidered why they had immediately ruled out the hamburger cart as too provincial and un-adventurous for an outing’s feed, and landed in the eye of the pizza-maker next door, La Italia Marscapone’s yoked head chef ‘Bobby’, who returned volley with tubes of Strasbourg that he threw with the force of a javelin. Like vomit from deep within the food alley ladlefuls of stew were thrown toward the farrago. Someone cracked a witticism at how would they know what regional dish they were eating with all this cross-contamination flying through the air and muddying the waters and it was off to the races, Bobby hurling cubes of cracker barrel with V8 force at the kebab-maker near him while the girthy aussie man slung skewers at his french foe who retaliated by unleashing a whole industrial bowl of breadcrumbs into the air, which exploded into a cloud that obscured the sun and momentarily bathed everyone in a Western sepia.

Underneath all this, I buried my head and made headway to seemingly the only pacific eatery, a Vietnamese street food van at the end of the gauntlet whose wares were smoking non-violently, running into and through anonymous knee-high shapes in the breadcrumb smokescreen that bumped and toppled and cried curiously like small children. I couldn’t hear too clear though, the muddled war-cries issued in various dialects reducing all other sound to a fuzzy abstraction, bits of produce exploding mightily around me like sudden flak. I ordered a pork bun from the beautiful young Vietnamese girl who knows how much younger than myself who ducked, as I did, a boomeranging segment of cabana, and we met eye and smiled. I softened, looking at her strong hazel eyes, wanting to apologise and explain that Australia is generally considered a highly-developed post-colonial nation with a rich history of diversity and inclusion unmarred by bigotry, but the facts just simply contradicted me.

“$3.50 mate,” she said in the wickedest strain of outback Australian, voiced in the same way a father waves away an annoying kid who keeps asking you to pump up his footy.

Jesus, alright, can’t even share a nice moment looking into an attractive strangers eyes. I leaped over a fence, was consequently out of the festival, walked a few steps in the grass and hopped back over the fence to avoid the food fight which I could see had left some casualties lying motionless on the ground half-submerged in Phò (it seemed that the face-to-face encounter with me the young lady suffered through was enough to break her neutrality and unleash some mighty hostilities). It didn’t feel any different back on the paying side of the fence, no good-time festival vibes here encapsulating shivers of holism and depersonalisation. No joy of becoming a crowd here, more like the the preponderance of otherness just polished and made your individual differentness more salient. People seemed to be morally offended I was younger than 85 years old and still wanted to read a book, learn things, make sense of the world and even find answers. I bit into the pork bun even though I wasn’t hungry anymore, because I bought it and wanted to stop thinking about how dismally unlikely it would be I could find any substance or meaning here, or meaning that wasn’t just substances, amid all these pages scrawled with dedications in blue ink (“To my marvellous Mary, have a merry 1975 filled with mirth and fairies”), yuck.

I walked into a high tent that must have been held up by the unbroken mortar of bookshelves spreading concatenated around the perimeter and decided to grab something off the shelf and sit with it, fossicking through its anonymous pages while eating my bun. My face was hot and cold and I worried about catching a cold just for something to do that wasn’t reading the pages insipid words. I felt the nap of the cheap paperback pages in my hand, smelt its smell. It said “He walked into a high tent that must have been held up by the unbroken mortar of bookshelves spreading concatenated around the perimeter and decided to grab something off the shelf and sit with it, fossicking through its anonymous pages while eating his bun. His face was hot and cold and he worried about catching a cold just for something to do. He felt the nap of the cheaper paperback pages in his hand, smelt its smel—“. Uninterested, I dropped it on the ground and savoured the warm marrow of the pork bun sliding down my throat. I had misgivings about reading too far into the story lest I find no meaning lurking at the end, in which case, I might as well just go home now with a full belly and a whole afternoon to spend getting faded. There were a group of several people about my age in the tent drinking tea and rolling a cigarette—apparently just one to share between three. But if you had seen the size of this durrie- a least half a foot long and as wide as a freshly-baked baguette. They were rolling it from different directions with one in the middle, and one of them on the end inserting what looked like a ceramic mortar but must have been the filter. I imagined the taxation that would apply to such a roll if it were to be retailed and quickly tried to calculate if it would prop up the national coffers enough to start adequately funding public services but I doubted it, a few pollies would just share in its smoky largesse looking down on everyone.

I emerged out of the academic throng reeking of french perfume of uncertifiable legitimacy, such was the craftiness of counterfeiters and the desperation of people wanting to out-dress, out-think and out-pace each other in garish shows of good fortune and spirit. I was sickened. It trouped into my mouth and moshed on my palate and I briefly saw in the air —maybe hallucinating from the pork bun— elderflower and bergamot and C2H6O molecules gyoscoping so I could, like, see the organisation of the atoms, branches and all, floating in the air diagrammatically. I lurched over to a long bench which must have had its paint renewed recently and held my mouth shut manually, trying not to adorn it with my insides while people looked on entertained eating ice creams. I ladled myself onto its curves and shoved my cold fists into my eye sockets and screwed away until the last of the ghostly images were gone, convoked back to whatever haunted fashion house they terrorised. The nausea vanished slowly with big gulps of air and the un-tunneling of my vision. I felt renewed but cautious and took smaller steps. I stopped by a rack of poetry books and thumbed through a few verses. The Beats. All taste and bluster and mysticism and good lessons for a world that doesn’t exist anymore and can’t be resuscitated. It made me feel hopeless. All the meaning they found was dead now, worse, buried so inaccessibly in the earth all you could do was read the well-maintained tombstones and lament the fact they were so legible it was like a taunt, a bird, The bird, mounted on the granite. $1.50, pffft, arm and a leg and half your nackas, am I right? I walk off with Kerouac et al. in my pockets.

Leaping over a bluestone gutter I nearly twisted my ankle and had to dodge several uniformed kids running by with enchiladas and bulky instrument cases. I spied a stage where they would be performing and consciously earmarked it as a hadal pit well-worth avoiding at all costs. I embark upon the book bus instead, which is a bus outfitted on the inside with bookshelves so tightly massed you can barely pull a — out without hitting the back of your hand on the shelf that faces the one you’ve just taken from. Needless to say it’s busier than Turnbull’s hands around tax time inside. Loving punishment, desiring the crush, I insert myself into one of the cramped elbows where multiple shelves meet.  Around me, singly, people try to fit the shape of their body into the system, or rather, engineer a body-shape that fits. A man sidles past me walking like an Egyptian, another has managed to efface all Z-coordinates and slips out easily. I’m starting to see that if I grab that copy of Russell’s The History of Western Philosophy I will likely create a shockwave that threatens to launch two pensioners from the entrance door I had lost track of but which turns out to be way behind me owing to the curious mechanics of getting turned around in a dark space. Fuck it, I throw my hand out toward the big tome while watching the entrance behind me, waiting to see the two grey-haired ducks get kicked by an invisible bull. My neck is almost breaking. I’m not even looking at the bookcase but relying on my working memory to maintain the location of the text on the shelf. Just a little further and should see them fly…

“Hey!”

I turn and see blonde hair, adidas leggings, my hand firmly resting on the centre of her arse cheek, making a slight impression in the softness. She whips around and looks at me and is glorious, a dream of homes that don’t belong to you and never could, looking like teeth that cost more than a family sedan and hips that could shake at a magnitude 7.1. I somehow hadn’t seen her, too occupied with my search.

“Ah, sorry miss.” I offered.

She stared at me, sensationalised. Someone was asking if everything was okay and I looked at her hoping she wouldn’t scream. She stared back at me with nice blue eyes. Then I realised my hand was still on her arse. I lunged out and grabbed The History of Western Philosophy and ripped it from the shelf with all my might and watched as the mathematics of force echoed around the room taking people’s bodies as it needed them, adding a one here and subtracting 3 more there until the passage behind me was cleared except for a few impediments I could easily vault.

“Sorry to have met you this way.” I said to the blonde whose lip was starting to curl.

“That’s okay. Let me give you my number.” She produced a ball point pen, grabbed my arm, and stabbed me with all her fury. I ran out the door into the cold nursing my puncture.

Depression started to flag me and I gave in to how I felt. There were more storm clouds overhead now and more strife in the booklovers. A few prominent coffee vans had run out of their precious lucre and now tempers ran short. All the good books seemed to be gone, nothing left but Twilights and Bourke’s Gardening Tips. There were still some very expensive down jackets blowing around in the swelling wind though.

I find a book I want “Practical Tricks To Fool Any Sucker” and offer the vendor the $1 it’s hastily written in the frontispiece I need to offer him to leave with it but he won’t accept it. He tells me it’s a rare book printed by a wealthy American card-hand and that the $1 refers to American dollars not Australian. I offer him a dollar fifty, thinking that will make up the difference, but he tells me the price is not negotiable— one American dollar or nothing.

“Are you sure you need an american dollar for this? Wouldn’t two Australian ones be better.”

“Look they might be but I’m not prepared to say at this moment. I don’t want to get too political and that’s why I maintain the price stays as advertised.”

“You can’t believe everything you read in a book Sir.” I countered.

“Well course you can or it wouldn’t be in there. This book says $1 and the price was written in Missouri when I was there so that’s how it stays.”

“But Sir it also says on page 43 of this book that Ronald Reagan is President.”

“And that’s true.”

Was true, was.

“What was once true is always true young boy, you’ll learn that some day.”

“But—“

“What, you disagree. What was true yesterday is not true today?”

I affirmed that, for the most part, he was correct but—

“That’s enough, one Yankee Doodle dollar or nothing is the deal son.”

I left the book to the septuagenarian and his commodity fetishising. It kind of felt bad to leave such a repository of practical skills including the three card monte and the glim-dropper but, I guess having the book didn’t mean you’d fool the suckers, grease your palms etc. Like how reading about the good life doesn’t give you the good life; or reading about physics doesn’t get you off of this planet run by money; or reading erotica doesn’t mean you lose your virginity. In the end, it doesn’t even matter. All the words in the world, used as deftly as possible, won’t make you enough money to live off of—won’t bring you meaning or satisfaction, and meaning wont necessarily pay your bills. Words are traded for free or less—in the streets you can be the recipient of a whole string of words for no damn reason. There are people on TV and street corners wasting them prodigiously for no gain to themselves, for no listeners left undistracted and alive. So what if this philosopher said the meaning of life was this or that, you didn’t get to have the meaning of life plopped down on your lap just for purchasing a dusty old book. Maybe I thought all the books in the world held the wrong words, that there was one out in the great abyss somewhere that did manage to line up al the symbols in the exact permutation that provided meaning, like a successfully intoned spell, the difficulty, the duty, was in finding it— the meaning of my life. But here I was in the most suspecting glut of books and these ones were just the same, smelled a little different and had different hand styles in them maybe, but otherwise the same as the glossy mass-trade confections in any booksellers’ window. Where was meaning not mediated by words? What meanings lay outside their imperial boundaries and couldn’t be properly spoke, couldn’t be elegantly contained in these spiky signs and their concepts?

I saw the blonde who punctured me and she’s with some huge lump of meat who I assume to be her boyfriend from the way they are fighting. She seems to be attacking him and he to be easily defending himself with a Japanese instructional book. There are rivulets of people blowing in between them as they fight so they get louder in order to hear each other across the yawning distance. The skies are open for business now and rain falls in blankets that are hessian and near-impossible to avoid.

Last-ditch, I jump up onto a bluestone curb with Kerouac bouncing around in my pocket and grab some old book with no dust jacket or markings and open it. Yada yada, something about “meaning can be found anywhere and in anything- the sighing of a spring rose, the sag of an old fence post- but what is herder to find is the meaning of meaning. What does it mean, after it means?” This looks promising and I read on until realising the author has no answers for his own questions. I’m deflated. Whatever, I consider consigning this author of false hope to the gutter with other titles potential buyers throughout the day have littered along with their takeaway coffee cups and water bottles, then I look up and a girl who looks like every adolescent fantasy is standing a foot in front of me, smiling. I hadn’t noticed her because I was so entranced in the ultimately useless book.

“Oh, I love that one. Such a great piece of work.” She’s gesturing at the book I hold. “One of my favourites,” she says, can I have a look?” I pass her the book and she lifts it to her perfectly upturned nose and takes a deep whiff. “Mmmm.”

“Does he ever works out the meaning of meaning?” I ask.

“Oh, I don’t know. I just love the prose.”

“Oh, so… you don’t know what he’s talking about?”

“Oh, no. I buy books because of how beautifully the words are laid out, not because I agree with what they say. See this book, on page fifty-seven he goes into this marvellous crescendo of hyphenated words that is just transcendent. I have it posted onto my wall to look at everyday.”

“Oh.”

“I look at each word as a little island in the sea of the page.”

“That’s beautiful.”

“Like this book, this one has some incredible islands in it.” She showed me a page and I said the words were inordinately pretty, like you. She mustn’t have heard the last bit but passed me the book anyway and said she had to leave. Goodbye angel. I turned it over and saw the front page of Mein Keimpf. Jesus, I go to put both books back on their table but look around and notice everyone else casting theirs into the gutters as they run for dry land against the percussive rain. It’s so heavy now that visibility is reduced and muddy and all I can make out is the outlines of bodies and their desaturated colours. I decide I’d better leave and fly home to comfort and the warmth of habit.

Walking off the pavement was like what it must be like to leave a fish market, the guts of books everywhere stinking to high heaven of their unique smell, stepping over wood pulp diligently but it still getting stuck to the bottom of your boot turning into mud from the dirt or was it the ink? Millions of words blending into one polysyllabic spew that even thousands of punctuation marks couldn’t slow or bring to a full stop. It’s all a generic hodge-podge, no word or title standing out amongst the rest, entropy become complete. It flicks up into mothers’ eyes as they rescue their children from the mess that threatens wash them away. The deluge is filled with the bins’ kitty, write-offs from the international food fight, lost shoes and discarded sunnies, someone’s mobility scooter sans owner, clarinet cases and scarves. All the takeaway coffee cups mass in a low area and start to dyke up some of the deluge and people climb on top of it and scan the chaos for their friends and family. The school buses that are parked near the entrance have wet children coughing up unruled pages in them, paper cuts in their young lungs. A crack of thunder prompts one bus driver to start his engine and toot his horn, signalling any straggler to hurry up or miss out. Teacher’s stress as schools break apart. The bulldog lady who I paid entrance to is holding her post and trying to pass out memorial pamphlets to nobody. Everyone scrabbles for safety. People are running with plastic bags full of books, their expensive jackets’ hoods getting a rare spin. There’s screaming coming from the entrance as a bottleneck opens up, bodies becoming trampled in the usurping tide, a child set a-sea in a pillbox hat gets taken by a rip out toward the highway, esteemed authors run from their signings use fountain pens to joust each other away from a rapidly colonised side-exit.

Throughout all of this I’ve been trying to wrestle with the water level, stay put and not get sucked down to the ocean floor. I see childrens’ tears mix with the swelling water making it salty; womens’ hair-dye running in the darkening streams. A man is throwing children and girls out of the way—they land with oily splashes in the drink—to get out the exit. Security, what little there is for a book fair, wade towards him with fists balled, as, behind them, a gaggle of the white-haired elderly kick gently about in the water and laugh. I want to help people, I want my life to mean something. I see the chaos disorder everyone and everything until the slate is ambiguous and everything my eye catches could just be phosphenes, ectopic phenomenon. My body feels awkward and, rather than ineptly inserting it into the fray, I decide to keep clear, let the chaos order itself from within. I fall onto my back and float luxuriously. Up above the sky is black tourmaline. I let out a scream and don’t even stop to consider what it means.

Holding Sunflowers by the Throat, or, What Do You Put on a Flower’s Grave?

Sunflowers poem

 

Sunflowers clipped and put inside

In beautiful, expensively bought vases

Where they die

Vases gilded with images of life

Daffodils, lilies and fireflies

Nice things that rejuvenate the room

We bought into our own lies like falling into the tomb

We read we can regrow life if we take it so that’s what we do

We grow in haste and are apathetic of our waste and throw away anything with a bruise

We uproot our lives on a whim and move, we’re drowning in freedom and hate to choose

It’s killing me to be human, in this world where we define ‘win’ as ‘someone has to lose’

Each tread’s tentative step avoiding minefields we must travel through

My collar getting looser and my soul’s aura, my whole mood, becoming blue

I am a sunflower in a lightless room

I am a curse held on the lips that don’t dare budge or move

I become violent to myself because it’s the best way to control the pain’s deluge

And stand on lilies of stability the water level threatens but can’t seem to move

I go to work and work away my youth for nothing special but the generic run of truths

A roof over my head, a mortgage I’ll prostitute any beauty I have working to serve

Until I’m an old dead flower with my roots pulled, shaken free of dirt and preserved

In a book somewhere, the years best worker and producer of value, the most well-trained serf

When I drown in oil and water and waste I’ll sink below the tide of junk

And live on the roads in the ocean’s floor where new species no one ever sees grows

I’ll give my body up as fertiliser and I’ll leave sunflowers to live their life alone

28/6/17

Cocaine-White Lies I Tell Myself To Continue

cocaine PDF

A short story/vignette part of a longer thing. Written last year.


Tail end of the 70’s. They’re sitting there thinking about cocaine, like everyone else. A ceiling fan purrs away, wafting smoke from myriad glowing dots of cigarettes to the walls that are stained in yellow grease in their top centimetres. All the parties were coming to an end. It was late Sunday afternoon but felt like morning. They’d only been up long enough to register their heavy heads and light a desperate gasper. A packet of redheads sat on the table around which they were arranged in various degrees of motleyness. John and Rod were wearing the same clothes as the night before; Clancy had woken up and changed immediately, before even lighting a cigarette.

The day outside was getting hot which would mean they would spend it all inside, hiding from their dehydration and comedowns. Roy boiled a kettle and placed it in the middle of them, “Coffee?” he asked. There were murmurs of ambiguous assent from the others. He pulled the coffee and a big tub of sugar out anyway and thumped them down. Everyone made exaggerated gestures at their heads.

“Fuckin mutts. Both of ye.”

They weren’t inclined to disagree.

The night had started 48 hours before at noon on an inconspicuous midday, when they all decided to use the last of the cocaine they had scored from the overturned police cruiser. John was in favour of getting rid of it, as was Clancy, the youngest. The kid barely blinked without putting something in his bloodstream. Only Rod wanted them to exercise prudence. He had sworn off the good times a million, but always capitulated to the scenes of revelry and excitation that other two painted bespoke for him with their hungry words. They were all safe, and all back together, which is all he asked to wash up on the shore after the foam of their self-destructive benders had abated. He habitually checked the corners of the room and the windows as if he expected someone to be standing there watching them, maybe with a secret pocket of cocaine to share.

They called Rod “The lightning Rod”. If you asked him why he’d say because he attracted drama that he never wanted or sought, and which always left him scarred and bereft of valuable time. He could sit in his room and be pulled by unsolicited adventures into the jaws of wide world, but all he actually wanted— calm, leisure, finality—was not on the playbill. The real reason the other guys gave him the name though was that he’d heat up to a life-loving, effervescent pitch after a few innocent bumps of cocaine, only to turn back into a miserable bore when he was coming-down or not on it. The Time magazine some snobby cocaine-curious guest had left on the small coffee table that was never used for stimulants as soft as coffee had an article in it about neurotics that John had read, and now John called Rod a ‘neurotic’ and thought he had him all worked out.

Clancy shrunk lower in his seat like a downtrend on a graph, and wheezed out of an unclean vocal passage. His eyes were rimmed in red like they were gyrating with his nieces cherry hula hoop.

The sat there chain-smoking out of boredom. Someone would go to say something, then would anticipate the gravelly response from his listeners, and instead just take a drag from his cigarette and stay silent.

John always liked to eat when coming down from coke, something the other two could not understand or even really think about—not without their stomachs letting out nauseous protests anyway. He managed to get to his feet and walk to a cupboard that creaked open hollowly. His head filled the darkness and came out with nothing but loose pastilles of gum, which he nonetheless put into his mouth and chewed loudly. Clancy’s chin had fallen onto his chest now and Rod poked him with one finger outstretched delicately.

“Don’t fucking touch me man!” he responded, his eyes shooting open.

“Just checking you’re still with us,” Rod replied. He was tired and regretted being older than Clancy, regretted how he felt like he had a responsibility to keep him safe and send him back to his careless parents in NSW one day, only mildly burnt out—with a few bruises and and a serotonin disorder maybe— but more or less indistinguishable. Rod often lamented these better parts of his personality, cursed them as they pulled him into awkward and painful scenarios time and again— where someone else would have just gone home and wiped their mind clean. Rod wanted to be more selfish, to look out for number one more. He wanted to never do cocaine or any other drug again. He was over dealing with the highs that turned into abysmal depressions before your eyes, the happy-chemicals draining out of your bloodstream in a torrent like you had been punctured. He wanted stability, boredom, the boredom of regular people who are so content and stable they ask for bad things to happen to them to for the sake of feeling alive.

John slopped his gum like the virtuoso annoyance Clancy thought it was. Clancy despised John’s carefree good humour and aplomb in the face of any precipitous come-down or hairy standoff. Sangfroid, John was calling it, since the Time magazine had dropped that word in his vocabulary. Clancy thought all the big words and psychiatric terms in the world couldn’t stave off the feeling after a cocaine binge, worsened too if you’d been drinking because then your body felt dry and sickly. His mouth felt like it had feathers. Furry and stiff. The feeling of a comedown for Clancy was like the emotional turmoil of finding out both your parents had just died while you were out of town and the last words you said to them were angry and dismissive and you got back to to town and they’ve been buried already and everyone is looking at you like you’re responsible then your girlfriend breaks up with you because she can finally see the horrendous arachnid that lives at the core of your soul and you have to wake up early and go to work the next morning and hide every stray tatter of trauma that currently composes you and pretend to be OKAY while the tears prick at the back of your eyes and your medulla sends hot jets of sweat down your back. The only thing that could make a comedown better for Clancy was to smoke marijuana, which they currently were out of and had no money to go get more. He let his head rock back and force gently,

John watched Clancy puddled in his stiff-backed chair start rocking his head gently. John thought this was a comforting regression to the childhood luxury of a mother’s tenderness, when her rocking arms are the world taking its fangs out to plant a soft kiss on your head; a deep psychological expression of the urge for stability and the discharge of pain. John sucked in some dusty air through his nose, feeling the mucous start to adhere again and thinking maybe that familiar burn could have been a few stray grains of coke. He looked at Rod who had his arms crossed and his brows the same and tried to conceive what he was thinking. Probably just saying over and over “Never again, never again, never again” as he did in frequent paroxysms of self-loathing after every bender. Then he’d feel good a day or two later and by the weekend, at the latest, you could easily induce him to run down to the furtive clubhouse of The Satan’s Mithraists, a local biker club and surefire retailer of various recherché chemicals, and come back with his face painted in an ambivalent rictus, already chastising himself for something he hadn’t yet done but odds-on would.

John thought Rod was a neurotic, after reading the article in the Time magazine about Freud and psychoanalysis. Rod wanted to do cocaine, liked the rush and the euphoric confidence and the drip, but then afterwards wished he had just gone to church and went to work like his picture of a normal person, though he deeply hated such programmatic ways of living when they were imminent. John thought Rod had neurotic guilt, maybe from something that happened in his childhood, probably to do with his mother. He had read that neurotics repeat actions and attitudes because they couldn’t deal with the original cause of that behaviour, buried the original event deep in the nighttime of the unconscious so it’s ugly face could never be looked at and fuel nightmares again. John though Rod calling cocaine ‘Mama Coco’ in moments of drug-induced rapture was a freudian slip revealing this.

Rod was younger than John but no one ever remembered this because Rod’s precociously wrinkled face and dourness contrasted with the calm energy that John exuded. John was unflappable in the face of disaster, like it was a concept he wasn’t familiar with; but he would modestly claim this derived from years of losing it and realising it never helped the situation, as it existed in reality, for him to personally fall to pieces. He was fine to do cocaine for several days until they could barely stand up, and definitely couldn’t sit down; and he was fine when Rod or Clancy would run back from the Mithraists with tears in their eyes and no cocaine sticking to little baggies in their pockets. He was calm and resolute when trouble found him, with arms and a tan like Paul Hogan, and even when people called him ‘Stoic John’ and made fun of the fact that he never lost his cool or lashed out, he laughed along with them and took it in his stride. Losing it and lashing out at another was a commonplace amongst crowds who habitually hoovered-up cocaine like it was going out of fashion, which it incidentally wasn’t, but John never lost his temper or took his emotional depletion out on anyone. Clancy resented him for it. Wanted him to wake up and smash things, pick the bong up off the counter and smash it loudly into glass shards, and to point his round nails at him and say “Get the fuck out Clancy, you don’t pay rent and you use too much of the cocaine that we all score together and I’m sick of seeing your nose running and your leg twitching and your fucking face,” but he never did. Clancy resented John for this attack that never came, almost longed for it, for a resolution, like how the discomfort of sitting on the edge of the chair made you want to fall off, surrender to gravity. Clancy was paranoiacally aware that he overindulged in the collective coke. He would sometimes, on the way back from the Mithraists when it was his turn to score, open the little baggy and shove his pinky in there and get the party started without the other guys, and then would show up at the door with his pupils expanding visibly in realtime and flat-out lie to the other guys. They both knew. Rod would get angry and call Clancy “a rude little fuck” but wouldn’t care after he got his beak wet; but John never got angry or betrayed signs of disappointment. He would sit down last of them all and professionally tuck in, throwing the head God had carefully moulded for him back as the cut in the cocaine stung his sinuses.

“Jesus, who made this?” He would joke every time after they opened a virgin baggy, like it was the greatest thing he had ever consumed. But really it was the same old cocaine mixed with the same ingredients by the drudges The Satan’s Misthraists employed. Sure, good, reasonably pure gear that’d leave your teeth feeling like you’d just gone to the dentist, but not as good as they had occasionally got when they traveled the long highways to the city where the real hard shit came into the ports, completely unchanged from the original Latino recipe except that it had several thousand kilometres extra travel on it.

John had spent his university years in the city and that crystalline powder had been his study companion and best mate, instigator of many lasting friendships, and benighted scourge on his wallet. He would walk the city some nights with a roaring in his stomach, with nothing but his ID and a condom in his wallet, and wander around in the subterranean darkness watching junkies an publicans fight in the street, waiting for that person with the racing fingers and glinting eye that’d say they were flush with coke still, hadn’t binged it all away, and he’d steel himself and walk right up to the person and tell them that they were high off his gear, that he was something of a baron and could recognise his product from the way it set the leg to tapdancing, and he’d ask for his cocaine back, and the mark would always equivocate and palter and make excuses why he couldn’t return it but would you like to come round the back of this club and try some with me and my friends to be sure? He’d snort a few lines and pocket the guy’s 10-spot and say, ‘Yep, that’s definitely the family’s vintage, unmistakable’ and he’d excuse himself and go buy breakfast with the money and try to study and the hapless guy would be left standing there feeling like a celebrity and cursing himself for not asking the drug baron for his personal contact. But nowadays he couldn’t care less to brag about the purity of gear or compare his with others’, it becoming unimportant somewhere down the line to compete with anyone else, leaving sore losers in his trail that might come at him, pump him full of holes like that Dingoes lead guitarist at a party. It wasn’t worth dying over. They were all just escaping the boredom or depression of their minds one shortening moment of euphoria at a time. As he moved northward and his white collar began getting bluer he gave up tripping to the city to stockpile the wondrous salmon-tinged coke he was privileged enough to have a connect for, and started buying the cheaper, regular gear from the local bikers. Plus it became too nerve-racking to will the old Holden down the highway over and over again, never certain if it’d make the distance or not, with a fiery hot conflagration burning away under his driver’s seat for any pig to smell. Better let the outlaws do the hard work.

Rod snorted his cocaine hungrily, but with a furtive flick of the eyes in both directions first, like some authority might be suspiciously watching. He never dipped into the bag before anyone else and actually liked to volunteer to pick it up from the bikers. He’d say, “No, I’m not fucking doing any more drugs,” after every sesh and would suggest he go get the coke because obviously he was done with it, finito, not even slightly tempted anymore. He’d leave and articulately talk the Mithraists into stuffing him a swollen gram into a bag, telling them the whole time that he thinks their cocaine, which they called yao, was brilliant but that he’d retired from indulging and this was just for the boys. Then he’d get home and watch the others chop up little angular lines and someone would offer him a tubule of currency and he’d make a show of rejecting it, saying he was over that stuff, but his eyes were pretty much jumping out of his head trying to grab a damn rail before they all disappeared. He’d stand there and watch you do a line or two then his eye-muscle-jiggle would become too much and he’d say, “fuck it, maybe i’ll have just one, I did go through all the trouble of getting it after all.” He’d put down a line and the consternation on his face would increase and peak, then a dumb smile would appear like a bull through a matador’s cape, and he’d go “wooooooo…”

Clancy like to throw everything at the wall and see what stuck. He was young and liked experimenting, but the boys wondered whether he could find a way to experiment with chemicals that wasn’t just him throwing anything down his throat like it was an old mechanic’s funnel and seeing what mixed and what didn’t in his stomach. Clancy was fixated on never coming down. He had a perpetual fear of sobriety, its normalcy and everyday-ness. He would be special, he would live a life of imagination and creativity and blessing, always breaking through to new highs, a scientist of bliss, a nobel laureate of drug states. He sat now with his spine bowing, his head falling like an overripe apple on a thin branch onto his chest, white spit flecking his teeth. He would never say much when he was coming down, just complain and complain. Clancy tried to avoid coming down altogether, and had already spent the last reserve of nervous energy he had left looking for a small nug of weed or some errant flakes of coke in a baggy somewhere. Rod worried about someone so young doing such heavy drugs, even though he was doing the same thing at his age, not that many years ago really. John worried about him to. You had to comedown. It was inevitable. You couldn’t chase the sun forever. Eventually you’d run out of steam and fall on the ground as darkness became ascendent and feel your scorched face cracking and hurt. John read Clancy the story of Icarus, but Clancy didn’t get the implication. Clancy thought John was a sanctimonious prick, sometimes. He was a decade older than Clancy, who could care less what John knew or thought he knew from years of supposed recreation. Clancy mostly thought that John was boring, a boring, reliable friend who you could mistreat as badly as you wanted because he’d never abandon you or lash out. Clancy wanted girls and adventure and universal adoration, but his avaricious rashness and bony pinched face often prevented this, so he settled for riding the eclectic fabric of narcotic’s magic carpet. John had given Clancy the advice of never trying any drug for the first time if he were already on another substance, wise words so you would be able to take care of yourself and discover what works and doesn’t work for you personally, and had seen Clancy disregard this advice a thousand times. They’d be in the squalor of someone new friend’s squat or a pub somewhere and someone would offer them something, a drug the guy couldn’t even name or vouch for, and John would send him sailing but not before Clancy took one or two of whatever the guy offered in his un-calloused palm and take it ostentatiously in front of John. He wouldn’t yell at Clancy though; he felt that’s what Clancy wanted. He would just drink his beer and worry, trying to not let on that he cared.

More cocaine was always the escape from cocaine. From the ills wrought by it in its tantrums. When it was playing nice it was the best partner in the world. The rest of the time, yeeeesh. Like any poisonous lover everyone had a different name for it. Clancy sometimes called it ‘speed’, possibly as a joke but more probably because he did speed too and often got so desperate and uncritical as to not be able to distinguish the difference. Rod called it ‘Mama Coco’ when he was zonked and thought no-one would remember, but mostly he called it “that bitch” and frowned at her mention. John tried to call it like it was and not get caught up in any religious delusions about the drug hating or loving them. He put it into his body, he controlled the supply that entered him and he was the only one responsible for his aches and joys. The highs, the lows, the comedowns that come screeching into your psyche like a battalion of greedy mandrills wiht a thousand arms keen to take everything away, it was all wrapped up in the experience of cocaine. John realised this, his veteran’s deviated septum and the years of sordid experimentation had given him wisdom beyond his years. He had cocaine wisdom, from years spent on cocaine time, which is like three years rolled into every one. John took his comedowns with stoic surrender, knowing that to thrash around was to be injured by the bars of his cell, which was inescapable until it was ready to fall down itself. He’d light a cigarette maybe, if he had one, and try not to relive the past hours, he’d just sit there, his mind as open as the sky.

Rod watched him jealously in moments like this, sitting at the opposite side of the table, his knee joggling under the lip of the wood, and shadow, much later than the dusk of five o’clock, darkening his cheeks. His mouth would be set and closed but god, the tongue in his head would be lashing out in a glossolalia of recriminations and insults like the mind of a schizophrenic. He hated himself for doing cocaine again, but hated life when he wasn’t on it, but also thought that if he just had long enough off of it his nerves would repair and he’d be fine, finally, but then he’d think that he’d been doing so well a harmless bump would be a good reward and he’d do that then the cycle would start again. He was stuck between a rock and a hard place, a claustrophobic agony that was so much worse because their were threads of euphoria in there, even if they were getting harder to find and pull, harder still knowing that one day there’d be no threads left and he be standing there naked and deprived without a copper in his pocket, licking the bottom of an empty bag like the Christ’s feet.

In a random moment the silent energy in the room would peak and everyone would find they were making eye contact and then Rod would said, “Should I run down and see what the Mithraists are up to? I think I heard some Harley’s pulling up before. Could use a walk to clear me head. Maybe they’ll even give me something to run back for you boys. Fix you right up. Get it on tic, naturally…” and the shit-talking continued and before they knew it they’d be looking at each other’s eyes stretching back out wide and their noses mucous-y, and then they’d see their own grey faces hovering over the mirror cleaning the white powder off it and the rush would jog their hearts back into stride and they’d push aside and laugh at the condemnatory thoughts they had developed for each other, and they’d babble about nothing and try to bum cigarettes until it was time for someone to look like the junky and suggest they chop up a few more lines and go again. It was the tail end of the 70’s, after all, and they were sitting there thinking about cocaine, like everyone else.