Another excerpt from phwoar, where Tom Whitebait finds himself inside possibly three nested dream dunnies, the burden of his opus, Cliché Street weighing him down…
“Phwoar. Me own lecture theatre. Bewdy.” He knows there is a Coetzee Centre for Magical Realism at the University of Adelaide, but surely it couldn’t look this good, could it? The Tom Whitebait Lecture Theatre at Curtin University looked pleasingly like a giant glass dunny in the speckled sunshine.
The vitrified carapace was the green of a louvered window in the sleep-out of the holiday shack where the rivers of dust motes would coil and crimp in the yellow air of that eternal 6 o’clock, stretching almost to infinity, while waiting for the old man to get back with the forgotten bag of complimentary prawn crackers.
“Takes ya breath away.”
He hadn’t got a proper look at the place when he was special guest at the opening. Too busy trying to fight his way to the plate of mini quiches afterwards, to be honest, and by the time he’d got a napkin full of ‘em and a platter of the last cocktail sushis nestling like… like… in any case nestling cocktail sushis – which had gone suspiciously astray when he had to put them down to shake the vice chancellor’s hand – it had gotten dark. The sushi heist had been nicely done. Pickled ginger, plastic soy fish, everything. Gone! No doubt to some young writer’s shrine.
Making matters worse was that the photographer had been constantly in his face every time he had tried to lift the one chicken satay he had managed to snaffle. And what had happened to the crumbed whiting they had said was going to be laid out? Jeezus, you’d think they’d let the VIPs get the feedbag on before the rest of the mob got a go. By the time he’d done the last photos and unveiled the plaque, the bloody audience was all over the finger food like…
But there is a problem. The snacks snort-snaffled on the way are tightening their grip too. “Jeezus, the sossie rolls and samosas have really kickstarted me digestion into gear!” He slips through the side door and pushes into the deserted dunnies of The Whitebait. The creak of the door hinges skips out over the tiles like a Blackwood River flatstone. “Me own theatre, and therefore me own dunny.” He seats himself on it, the last cubicle, settling his hocks like a net full of buoys, the kind you’d see trailing out over the back window of Deano’s battered old Townace on one of those resplendent arvoes when we all used to scamper down the Quindalup dunes, our stubby fingers Cheezel-ringed and wrapped around each other’s scrawny wrists like rustic talismans against our own bad driving. But that was all to come much later, he muses, shifting his weight like a Cable Beach loggerhead waiting for that first leathery egg to emerge.
And speaking of which …
“Keeerist,” he grunts, brow flushed and sweaty as a day old jellyfish on hot bitumen. “Me own theatre. Is this it? Is this what it takes? Are we there yet? But the drab grey fibreboard is silent, unresponsive, reflecting his own false modesty back at him like so much sea spray – limpid and obtuse. Outside, the muffled clatter of heavy doors and he’s transported back to them, those melancholic mid September mornings down the Metricup wrackline, toeing at the rugose heaps of perished kelp, as overhead those great grey storm cells rolled in like stupefied dugongs in the Nhulumbuy swell. How things have changed! How he’d suffered, back then, how he’s laboured and struggled, every word, every contraction, every bloody pithy turn of phrase a victory to rival that salty, sun kissed, single moment when he’d finally copped a squizzy at Becky’s perfect, pert little lamingtons. And now, of course, at the arse end of his own career, it all flows out like…
And, as his eyes bulge and water, the back of the dunny door swirls and whorls like the oil slick behind a gybing stinkboat, and suddenly it’s the old busted flyscreen with the L – shaped hole where the old man had pushed through the screen with a bottle top to lift the latch when he was too pissed to get his keys into the front door, (right before he shot through that time wasn’t it?).
And behind the flyscreen, the Whitebait Lecture Theatre dunny is dissolving into…THE Whitebait dunny. No, it’s the real old Whitebait dunny. That vintage outhouse behind the Albany shack with just the incinerator between him, the home paddocks and the green grey bush.
He’s off! Barefoot, blinded with fury into that half familiar dream dunny world. Had he shut the flyscreen? Does he know where he’s going?
Does it matter?
His heart rate’s up; his toes are slick with midnight dew and flattened snails. A scowl, black as the waterline hollows of the Peaceful Bay crab-caves, blazes out before him; his furrowed brow, stark as the prow of the Duyfken, cleaving a course down the nighted stubble of the old back paddocks, surging like Scott River stormwater, rich with the phosphates of anger and disgust.
It’s before that time, the time of that fucken book. Before when everywhere he goes, everywhere he turns, it’s Cliché Street ,Cliché Street , Cliché Street – before he would walk down the fucken road and people are checking the signs, in case. Before he had to live in a fucken house, sit on the verandah with every last tiny fucken feature dripping with Western Australian significance – before even when he had to gaze up at a postwar plaster cornice and feel the terrifying gravity of meaning poised above him like a 20 foot dumper out the back of Simmo’s reef. Ahhh, to sit out as the sunset dwindles, savouring the last breaths of the Doctor as the seagulls keen and swirl around like angels, cold chip valkyries on the boardwalks of battle – feeling once again able to do this without some fat-faced idiot sauntering up, a loitering handshake lurking in his pocket, just bursting at the chance to vampirise his cachet, to insinuate his story into legend.
A fence. Fucken nearly tripped over it too, knee-height in the shadows – and which way? Uphill? To the left? But he turns to the right, follows its course down to the bottom of the basin, where the grass, lank and tall hangs, masking milkweed and sawn logs.
It beggars belief. That after all these books and all these years, they still haven’t moved on; haven’t seen it for what it is, for what it all is, really; the tyranny of Cliché Street persists. And you could repeat yourself until the cows come home, down that rust jewelled Bellarup track…
But they never ever want to see it.
It burns him like an over revved outboard motor – it scalds him, like that cheap enamelled billy they’d left propped amongst the coals that time down in the hollows of the Blackwood River, as they’d nestled and curled amongst the grubby folds of his surplus swag, protected from the falling dew like termites in a tingle tree; and then of course he’d thrust his fevered hand out into the cool night air, gropingly emerging like the first crab of sunset, hunting for his tackle box and the two ageing frangers within; and he’d knocked the wrong branch in just the wrong way and it all came flooding down, like tears on the bonnet of a burnt out stolen Fairlane (XA), when all you could do was stand and shake in the bitter dust, while paint-flecks gravity fed out of the rising smoke to settle in the furrows of your brow, as if to render you encrusted. A stromatolite of grief, immersed twice a day in the salt-pan of tragedy.
And still they never see it.
“It’s me own fucken fault, but,” he mutters, his voice whittled down to a constricted, wheezing grunt by the earthen-scented vapours of this dreamscape toilety valley. His pace is unflinching, inexorable; he strides powerfully onward in that dream dunny world, down towards the shadowy secretive treeline, drawn like a jewy on an eight-pound line.
“Me own fault.”
The revelation’s haunted him, unspoken, for years; and now it’s out and given form.
“Me own fault.” So much else I could of done; and he casts his mind back to those earliest of days, down under the cloying Albo clouds with a notepad – just a humble spirax back then – and a pencil stub, a time so innocent and remote that even the indispensable Moleskine had yet to penetrate the endless never-never west of Norseman. And how he’d skulked around the place, recording observations, sketching and noting and crossing-out and fartarsing around, ever-mindful of the great life you could lead, if only you were published.
And now this!
“Castles in the sky mate.” But this, instead, this tropospheric bungalow, millstone round the barrel of his pen, this rusted fucken anchor, mired in the effluvium of a thousand clinging barnacles, sunk with the weight of its own accretions, and he with it; drowning in the salty tincture of success. “Cliché Street…
He had to, but at the same time never wanted to break free from this self regarding dreamscape.
And anyway, how, and to where? Back to the Whitebait Lecture Theatre dunny? Which was where now anyway? He felt uneasy at the status of the mini quiches. Would there be any left? Would he be fleeced again?
Every attempt at new work has been as futile as the last; as empty as a punchtop tinny on the dunes, drained and discarded and domiciled by ants, its heady rush spent long ago on passions that now, in the sober light of middle age, seem a little juvenile.
And still they lap it up, ghosts at this phantasmic well, thirsty as a pack of desert dogs for anything resembling the good old days, when we’d all know how to kick back and relax, the flyscreen bangin’ in the death-throes of the Doctor as your beer went flat and your chips went cold and soggy, and always, everything was alright with the world.
A stabbing in his cheek; a twig, invisible against the all-consuming blackness of the underbrush, summoned up somehow from his own imagination. He’s been tramping for some time; the moon, a mere sliver, thin and slender and smooth as a boogie-boarder’s hangnail, is nearly lost beyond the towering thicket of branches.
“Where am I?”
The sleeper’s fug has lifted; all is cold, uncomfortable, acute. And dark. Very, very dark.
Darker than the bottom of the deep blue sea, back when – but this is important.
“I’m lost in a dream dunny inside my own head! Phwoar!