Another excerpt from phwoar. Tom Whitebait finds himself in Margs for a book signing.
He rolls off quickly towards Settlers Tavern, the chalkboard lists of coming attractions drawn in pastel colours of flowers, wreaths even, cast onto these slated waters, as if remembering that other surfer, that other self that could so easily have been him, taken by that sharken visitor the year before off this coast. Not that he got to surf so much these days – corporate sharks are the ones he had to look out for now, and if these dragged him under, would they still say: “He died doing what he loved?” Or would they tell him that it was his own fault. After all, he was in their realm. He could still remember doing it though, surfing. You never forgot did you? The swell slowly spasming under you like a Yank sailor’s stomach after a late night marinara on High Street. Or is he just remembering writing about surfing? And now, is there a difference?
The chalk letters resolve as he approaches the pub. Whoa! Multiverse are in town. Why not catch a few John Butler and U2 covers and tap a foot along to some spoken word backed up by a thumping tea chest bass? “Yep.” Clear the mind for this Booker assault.
The smell of mull, mead and armpit hair drifts over him as he switches into the building, like chopping off a grommet at Dunsborough, his free, ebullient and skittish bare feet almost dancing on the mat, balancing on the crest between heaven and his own low centre of gravity.
“Sorry mate. No shoes no service.” He mentally wipes out, the leg rope of his imagination snapping as he goes over the fat falls. The bouncer jerks a thumb up at a piece of laminate over the door. There is a smiley face too. Surely not here? Not Margs of all places. Nobody wore shoes here. Not even the mayor. Even the bouncer himself was bare shod!
He half smiles and tilts his head a little, so there will be no missing the distinctive ponytail and the lollop of the jowl bag – a tactic that had worked so well on that fisheries sheila when it looked like those crays he had caught off Wedge were maybe a couple of mils short of legal. But instead of the usual “Tom Whitebait right?” the bloke just glares at him. He smiles again skittishly. Why push it? It wasn’t as if he can say: “Don’t you know who I am?” Nah, they needed to recognise it for themselves after a couple of minutes of him just being the normal bloke like they imagined he had to be, no matter how they also knew it could never be true. A normal bloke doesn’t win a Booker – look at Rushdie.
Cheap tricks was what he was reduced to now, throw a couple of “fucks” into the melange of their verbal intercourse – even a “C Bomb” if conditions suited. Always helped. But it still had to creep up on them, enfold them like a greasy slick of burley and they would nose up towards the truth and the set of triple ganged hooks and too late they realised and were caught. “Aren’t you..? Jeezus, and here’s me dribblin’ shit about dugongs, and the whole time it’s Tom Whitebait!”
No worries. This bloke wasn’t to know. His loss. But as he turns to “paddle out”, the bouncer finally spits it. “ Hey, Whitebait!”
Finally! “Yeah. G’day mate. Cunt of a day, eh?”
The bouncer jabs a finger at him.“Coetzee’s going to stick it right up your arse at The Booker this year!” phwoar is just a white middle class version of Coetzee’s Veldt Grass!”
The muscles of his chest freeze around his heart like that old kerosene fridge they had up at the shack, which had no defrost, and in which the ice would crush and and constrict the space inside the freezer to the size of a quoll, hemming in that one unretrievable pack of Black and Gold fish fingers like Rasputin under the frozen flow of The Nevka. He has nothing to say, no comeback, because isn’t that what he thinks too? Despite the muse? Despite everything? When you got down to it? Two bloody Bookers and a Nobel Prize? Phwoar, Coetzee eh? But what would be the point of saying that he’d written in the talking ghost thylacine before he’d even seen Coetzee’s effort?
But he can still imagine it for himself, and it is possible, all of it. A Booker and a Nobel and a Dockers premiership all in one year. It was all coming together. And unlike J M Coetzee, he would turn up to every bloody ceremony, Man Booker, Nobel and MCG.
He trudges down the side of the building, still a little shocked by the bouncer’s visceral hatred. Maybe he should try the new small bar he had seen up the street. Merlot out of jam jars probably. But he can’t face another rejection of the bare plates of meat, and it would mean walking all the way up the bloody hill again. And he certainly didn’t want to run into Ian Parmenter.
A whistle comes snaking through the pickets of the pub’s beer garden, then a voice hard as a piece of wandoo snapping in the incinerator down the back of Mum’s place when she was burning the old man’s crap after he had shot through for the final time: “Tom, you shortlisted bastard!” It is Karen from Multiverse, although he had known her years before when she was fronting Humpback. She had been a damaged misfit, little more than a child back then, missing a couple of toes from the ill fated tractor pull that one awful Dowerin Field Day. But weren’t they all misfits? All of them in a land where they didn’t fit? Not in Asia, not the Pacific. Not anywhere? He smiles at her, taking in the unhindered breasts pushing at a tie-dyed cheesecloth – heavier and more insolent than he remembered them from her Humpback days.
“Too good for us now, are ya?” she asks. He makes a face and lifts one of his Karri logs of a leg showing the bare clodhoppers.
“Don’t worry about that,” she said. “The only one in here with any bloody footwear is my blue heeler. You remember Hamelin?” By shifting his head left and right, through the slats he can make out the elderly dog wearing little leather boots. “His pads have died in the arse,” she tells him. He did remember a young Hamelin humping his leg up at the Newport in Freo. Probably what wore his pads out, the randy little bastard. Looks past it now.
“Come on in, we got a six jug rider. “
A. Six. Jug. Rider.