Couldn’t let TWOP finish without highlighting some more of our wonderful unpublished Phwoar. This section a masterpiece mainly by Alex. Has Tim ever reached these heights of literature? No. He has not. ” It’s absolutely magnificent “…the understated chandelier that hangs barely inches overhead….” Absolutely superb.
Tom Whitebait finds himself the victim of some great southern racist hospitality…
You have got to read this, it’s just so fucken wonderful. Shove it up your arses UWA press.
The sound is deafening, grotesque – and now those faintly scented, faintly oily croc-fingers are clasping his elbows, and the kisses are coming for him.
MWAH! Her face surges across his field of vision with all the gravity of the Bremer Bay rolltide, every minute crease and buttery fold illumined in the halogen glare of the understated chandelier that hangs barely inches overhead.
“Hi, Delph”, he manages, before Gavin’s sturdy forearm cuts in, palm spread like a hungry shark, the other one hooking round to clap against the soft flesh of his shoulder, landing harder than a Denmark dumper on the coldest day in May. Here it comes.
“TOM. HOW’S IT HANGING?”
The squeeze, excruciating, manful tendons straddling his knuckles like a wallaroo on heat, crushing him – and “Hey! that’s me writin’ hand!” And he’s reminded of late Decembers on the pontoon out past Guzzler’s old place, out where the seagrass meets with the knotty tumescence of the sunken lines in a silent, ceaseless whispering; where the whitebait dash and the bluerings scuttle beneath their bowers of ancient bone.
“Garn Tommy,” she’d said, “Get us a feed.”
And he’d tried – diving down porpoise-lithe and hungry, and not just for crays, mind you – and he’d whirled and swirled and sunk beyond his depth, giddy with the mystique of it all, beneath the waves and Becky’s shorts alike. And then, just when he’d nearly given up, there it was – the frayed old orange rope, beckoning downwards, fibers choked with flotsam, rippling slowly upward like a dugite in a drain, slimy to the touch; and as he’d hauled it up, lungs screaming, hair streaming behind him in a woylie-dark cascade. He’d felt ’em fighting back, those giant Leeuwin crays. Thrashing, hard. Battering. Fighting for their lives against the mouldering planks – and they were planks, too. That was the thing; it was one of them stout old wooden ones, like you used to see down the wharfs by Gino’s chippy, like he’s got propped up even now outside the flyscreen out the back.
And then the sides had burst, and then …
‘Wawsat? Oh, right.”
Moving up the hall, bottle in hand – but of course there’s the rack right there, no, one of many, and they’re all chockers, rows of dusty sea-green circles nestled in the burnished karri like ticks on a bobtail’s back, and he can’t see the labels, but it doesn’t look as if there’s a Palandri in the house. Till now, that is.
“Come through, come through!”
Delphine’s fingers weave through the air, adipose ferns in Prevelly mist; her aubergine bobcut clings crablike to her frame; her perfume hangs, sweet sputum in the slipstream as she saunters across the immaculate ancient jarrah and away into the great broad open room in which even now his eye is seized by a portfolio edition of his Fish Fingers, winking like the first star of evening from its perch atop a giant blackbutt barrel.
The missus nudges his arm.
“After you, darl.”
“Dukkah-crusted pearl perch,” Gav breathes, bicuspids flashing like the promontory lights down Rocky Beach, “on a bed of Donnelly River potato polenta with an avocado courgette salsa and quandong speck.”
He stands, bluff and wiry as the pillars of the Treetop Walk, his sky-blue shirt and gull-grey hair meeting in a smile as vast and scouring as the Dawesville Cut.
“The speck comes from our friends’ place up at Marrinup,” Delph announces from behind her Plantagenet. “He cures it in the old schoolhouse. They’ve redone the entire block. The most beautiful old timbers – it’s to die for.”
“And the perch?” The missus – she’s loving it – but there’s no direct reply. “So, Dunsborough Woolies. Gotcha. Smug cunts.”
He picks at the structure, trepidatiously, silver tines cracking through the caramelised spices like footfalls in the morning-frosted wrackline down at Windy Bay, where the seagrass lies rich and red and crunchy, zested flakes of blood; and you’d go down barefoot, just a few steps ahead of the sun, the dregs of last night’s boozing still adorning your jowls like rockhole brine and nothing to your name except your wetty and a pocketful of change – just enough for a Chiko and a Paddle Pop – assuming you could even wait for the bait shop to open before having to just tear into the very gorgeousness of existence itself with the full force of your appetite, like a hungry bonito.
Beneath, the soft white flesh is almost a little too supple, too yielding; it feels like falling, and he’s felt it before, that time they went out dinking down the docks – one moment’s inattention, one solitary slip of the handlebars and there he’d gone skittering over the weathered old boards and off into the drink, his icecream – butterscotch – still firm and fresh and free of melty bits, now drifting to a foaming salty death. They’d laughed, back then. But was it ever truly funny?
The perch frowns, glue-eyed. “Yeah. Me neither.”
“I crushed a Kreepy-Krauly in me Kluger.”
They’re onto dessert; boozy, uncomprehending stares.
“On the way down. Busso. Some cunt dropped it in the middle of the road.”
A flash of eyes from the Delphine. (Whoops!)
“Sorry, a what Gav?”
Gav’s eyes bulge, and there’s something in the way his fingers have tightened round the stem of his glass. “Kreepy-Krauly. Y’know, a Kreepy-Krauly. The, um…”
“It cleans your pool,” Delphine interjects.
“Thanks darl,” but the look is psychopathic.
“Some cunt dropped it in the middle of the… road,” Gav trails off into an internal rage.
He and the missus glance at each other. “Well…that’s…no good, Gav…” Apparently that’s all there is about the Kreepy Krauly. The subject evaporates rather than dies, but behind Gav’s eyes they can all see the blue finned vacuum head disintegrating under the big tread of the “off roads” and hear the hiss of the Kluger’s unnecessary snorkel.
Thank God. The mudcake arrives. It lurks at the heart of its platter like a bunyip in a bog; brooding, malevolent. It is only later that he feels its soggy-crumbed punishment wending its liqueur-saturated way throughout his guts. But for now all is awkwardness and soft jazz, candlelight and jarrah, glassware and gloaming. The Kreepy Krauly all but forgotten.
Delphine’s chair squeaks across the polished boards. Coffee?
But Gav waves his hand in dismissal, still brooding.
She sashays off and around the bar to where the top of the line domestic Rancilio stands droplit and majestic on its mottled granite bench. The missus joins her, and soon there is cackling, hooting and shrieking and the revitalising hiss of scorched espresso.
Gav leans in, his storm-grey eyes flushed with visible capillaries, his teeth stained dark with Xanadu shiraz, a fleck of Frankland chèvre clinging to the corner of his mouth and another on the linen collar, like the last two fingers on your surfboard down one of them killer rips just up from Smith’s where we’d all go to just splash around and sprawl in the shallows, too scared of the terminal dumpage to ever step out beyond that foaming shoreline fringe of safety. But then, of course, once the old man finally shot through and everything had changed, there you were; well beyond your reach, ribbon-kelp grasping at your ankles like streamers at the pool and the unshakeable sensation of a bronzy at your back, and nothing but four inches of styrofoam between you and your completion in the sand-swept under-gardens of the Indian Ocean, where you’d probably lie forever, covered up with coral and a rock crab up ya bum.
He leers in tighter. “Delph says we’re not supposed to know yet. Wasn’t supposed to say anything,” he grins. But, y’know, we’ve heard about The Booker, of course. Congrats.”
Gav’s hand slices down upon the table, splayed; he takes it, limply.
“The Man FUCKEN Booker nom. Big deal mate. Big deal. We’re very proud. We all are.”
“He’s fucken slurried; them Dogbolters, nipped in quick succession, intercorkage. You never mix…”
Yikes, and now the Hennessy is out.
“Er, thanks. Thanks Gav.”
“I mean it though. I mean – your stuff, man, the way you – it’s just so – you get it, you know? You really understand. You’re not just telling a story, you’re telling our stories. ‘swhat makes it so special. And now this, you know, the Vogel, that’s major league stuff man, international, and it just goes to show, you’ve put us on the map, all of us…”
“Ta mate. Booker. But ta.” It’s only me third bloody run.
“It’s like you said in the one, the one about, ahh, there’s the guy, his odd family, they’ve got funny names – you know the one. They’ve moved up the coast to, ah, ohr, um… reconnect, you know, and there’s the drought? And umm, the wheat price has died in the arse. And he has to get back in touch with, ah, what it really means…”
Again Gav seems to be fighting some internal battle, but suddenly he’s back with them. “Thylacines!” He barks unexpectedly. They used to be common here.” He braaaps, unsuccessfully stifling a burp. “Only a few thousand years ago. They reckon the a Aborigines killed ‘em off when they brought in the dingo. Which is what you were saying right Tom?” Eyes blaze. Gav must be maggoted. “That we’re not the only environmental vandals. Like it’s natural selection…The bloody blacks were as bad as us right?”
“Jesus Christ no…” “No. That’s not it at all Gav… Those Fullas were custodians…”
Delphine tries to stop the flow with a flat white.
“What the fuck?” Gav caws. Cognac splashes out of the balloon as he gestures in open armed innocence. “Why can’t you say that they killed off the fucken Thylacines? Bloody true.” But mercifully, before he embarks on some more classic South West racism, that might, with another quarter bottle run to “naturally lazy,” “inevitable extinction” or “they’re like children”, Gav again turns to literature.
“Phwoar. That Shazza eh? Hot stuff Tom. Long time since we had a bit of afternoon delight, but after reading that bit about her Perongerups…” And Delphine is embarrassed and pleased as punch at the same time.
At least they liked it. Didn’t get it, but they really liked it! Even without the fish!
Later. Tossing in bed like the Duyfken in a heavy swell, Gav’s guestroom pillowtop is hotter than January. “God, me guts again.” It’s the mudcake, for sure – all them booze-soaked crumbs, wadging up behind his bellyful of fish – and now she’s churning like the Gnarabup swash – turbulent, stormy. Choppy as the mid winter swells as a young man, coasting on the cusp of maturity like we all used to bodysurf those last few metres in from Damo’s battered old pontoon at Eagle Bay, takes his last walk along the shorelines of his childhood, his family waiting in that battered old green Landrover with only a four-dollar chips – vinegar, but no salt – binding them to that place from which they’re all too ready, like Estuary crablings in the early morning tide, to depart. But he still understands of course, still sees all that there is to leave behind, still feels the unceasing, untiring rhythm of the place, rich with billions of years of oceanic argy-bargy. Still longs to remain.
Phwoar. She’s immanent. “Now where’s the switch?”
He swings out of bed, fumbling, his shoulders battering both sides of the cedar-panelling as he surges down the guestroom hallway like a dugong going for the tube on one of them devastating reefbreakers out by… “JESUS CHRIST ME ACHIN’ GUTS…” and somehow he’s smashed a path all the way down to the dunny, and that’s that.
The night wind whistles through the bare branches above, rattling the roof; leaves hiss and scrape over the gravel by the sliding door. From the dunny he can just make out a sliver of the outside world, framed between the curtain and the glass – what would posses someone to have a full glass wall on the dunny? The hillside plunges down towards the distant treeline, silver into inky black, and something in him longs to just plunge out there himself; into the coolness and darkness, just drift away like a shortboard on the wrong side of the dump, free at last from the waxy grip of he who rides it. But that’s rash, and he’d only wake up the missus on his way out the back door.
But there’s a tingling in his limbs that tells him sleep is far from coming – and what’s the alternative? Sit here in the guesthouse dunny, with its scented soaps and rattan mats and watercolour rockpools and seashells and…
There. In the basket, mashed under a stack of old Australian Magazines, each turned, as if by some invisible expert hand, to Food & Wine.
It fucken is.
Of all the fucken places …
Cliché Street in the dunny; Fish Fingers in the lounge. There’d be a Blueball in the bathroom for sure, and a boxful of Loony Lannigans in storage somewhere too; they were that kind of people. And who wasn’t?