Another excerpt from phwoar, where Tom Whitebait battles writing block in a fashion that could possibly be described by comparing it to that time he hooked two dolphinfish on the same handline in Boggo’s old stinkboat and then how afterwards their teenage bodies had bucked and roiled on vinyl bunk cushions…but you get the picture.
The Big Block
Buffalo Bream = Fools’ gold.
And even the Moleskine is worrying him now. He is certain he’s heard sniggers when he’s pulled it out to jot a few notes about stinkboats and craypots down at Little Creatures. Is it all Ogamis now? Maybe he’ll have to take it up a notch, use one of those marbled edged bank ledger books from the ‘60s?
And why, oh why, has he also agreed to write another play, right in the middle of all The Booker pressure? But deep down he knows the reason. He is putting it off. Maybe he doesn’t have another Booker book in him. That’s what it is all about, isn’t it? That’s what they all think? That’s what even he thinks, isn’t it? And with all this, the bloody tiling… The tiling which has been an excuse to not work on the new play, which is now an excuse to not work on The Booker book.
“Ahh, you’re a complicated bloke Tom.”
“Concentrate!” The laminex table gleams up at him like the redgum school bench outside Mr. Prosser’s office where you’d wait to get the cane, your nervous anticipating backside twitching and buffing the surface smoother than any…any… He rubs his eyes. Jeeze, if he has to describe all of his surroundings in minute detail before he even gets his pencil on paper he’ll be buggered, especially when the paper is like a rectangle of light from the cabin window of a ferro-cement yacht anchored in Geordie Bay on New Year’s Eve, slipping, gybing and rippling under his gaze as their teenage bodies roil and buck in the bilges… Sigh.
“C’mon. Don’t worry about the play. It’s The Booker that matters.” He slips the lacky off his ponytail and shakes his giant head like a big tailor on a yard of stainless leader off the Floreat Drain, the limply cascading hair a familiar “Do Not Disturb” sign to the sprogs and the missus that he means business, Booker business, and woe betide anyone who disturbs him, like the time they got that crumpet stuck in the old toaster he refuses to upgrade, where you had to turn it hot and quickly with your fingers and slam the door shut while everyone is yelling at him like the time they got the crumpet stuck in the old Hecla toaster that…. “Jeezus Christ man, get a grip on yourself.” You’re going in circles, like the fins of a dozen tiger sharks opening up a whale carcass off Cheynes.
He shuts The Booker Moleskine and takes out a thin square of paper from his pocket. He unfolds again the note he received from David Williamson after his first play Rising Lunch opened.
“Dear Tom. More Boom, less Tish. DW.”
That was it. The note he has opened a thousand times is as creased as the face of old Finklestein who used to buy brass and copper, door to door, in East Fremantle back in those endless days, his old Fordson truck as familiar as the shit collection wagon bumping down those grass humped sun deprived back lanes. He turns the note over although he knows there is nothing on the reverse. He flicks it back. “More Boom, less Tish.”
So what was Williamson on about? He certainly hadn’t paid full price for his fucken seat at the Heath Ledger theatre, and Christ knows there isn’t a critic around who hasn’t told him to hang up the pen ever since Don’s Party. But boom tish? Boom…Tish. Boom and Tish? Isn’t that what theatre is all about? The tish over the boom? Depth and substance over cheap effects? Or does the venerable playwright mean something else entirely? Maybe “boom tish” is a common phrase in the theatre? Like “dramaturg”. And who knows what one of those is either? Despite the fact they’re always trying to slip half a dozen of the cunts onto the payroll every time he shows up for script reviews.
One thing is clear.
He’ll never be able to ask.
“Tom.” Her hand, firm and warm across the back of his shoulder.
His mouth clings, gummy, to itself. His eyes wince.
“How ya doin darl?”A brief peck on the top of his head, where his silver-flocked mane is at its richest, its deepest, silty water veined with night, coursing over the dome of his skull and down, choked into that solemn cataract, the mark of his difference, the perennial ponytail. Is this where they go? The old stories, the forgotten ideas, those scraps which had eluded his sharp eye and willing pen – did they simply dissipate, boil away into nothing, or are they still there, somehow, spectres in the ether, hanging like the Blackwood mist around his brain?
Her fingertips withdraw; her earrings rasp against the crenellations of her neck like rusted tinnies in the sand, them old ones with the deep-angled mouths, and all that’s left is just enough to house a huntsman, at a pinch. But she has not left; he feels her presence massed behind him like the moontide swell, waiting for the plunge.
“So I see.”
But now the words have left him – again – and even as he blears into the monitor he can see the scant lines he left there hours ago, and the chasm of emptiness that yawns beneath, a bright white vacuum before which he’s sat, and stared, and slept, and between this glowing desert and the scrutiny that blazes at his back he feels himself starting to shrivel like a prawn cracker.
She sighs. “Anything good?”
“Oh, y’know. The Booker…”
A second, colder, sigh, and he feels her gaze switch to the blank Moleskine. A pause, and the presence withdraws, slips around the corner like the last gaspings of the Doctor on an early autumn evening, not that you could really call it that, of course, Autumn, what’s that, some kind of wistful joke in a land where the harsh dictates of the sun determine everything? But nevertheless an evening of about that time of year, when everything in us that’s still English yearns for that certain soft transition into greys and whites but all we get is bone-dry heat and dust billowing up from every carpark and street corner, like the vengeance of a thousand ghosts still furiously dispossessed, as if they hadn’t quite been wiped out hard enough.
Phwoar. Food for thought. Shoulda worked that in somehow. But that was it wasn’t it? He has worked it in before. All of it. Every single thought and phrase. The more strongly he felt it in his guts, the less able he was to put it down, because he’s already written it down in every possible combination. Can’t shake up the same box of jigsaw pieces again and again, even if it is a 5000 piecer of Blue Poles – and what would he have when finished anyway? The same old Pollocks. Basically another unlikely family drama set against the fake nostalgia of fish, cars and local tidal conditions.
Yes, ghosts are everywhere in this brown land, he muses, and maybe – maybe that’s what really lies at the centre of it all, the raison d’etre for all the Dirtytreeting and Cliché Riding and Blue Buckets. Maybe something in the land itself, left there, is speaking to him, through him, the songs of old played, a bit fumblingly perhaps, on this unfamiliar instrument.
Ah, but who’m I kiddin’. Familiarity itself, that’s the thing. “So then?”
He sinks into his Bathurst, lets his gaze roam around the room, just dwelling with the objects of his life, his past. His roots.
There’s the old whalebone on top of the bookshelf. And Dad’s best craypot, the one he left when he shot through for the first time – tucked into the corner, a little dusty, but not forgotten.
That stack of Bulletins. Must of been there donkeys. Who knows when they last got touched? Probably she’s moved ’em around a bit, to get in with the Dyson? Gotta be.
A fucken cone shell with googly eyes on it. Takes ya back, dunnit? Shark Bay, must of been, back when they’d still blow a bit of coin on crap like that. God, those were the days. We’d just pile in that half-shat old Bongo Van and off we’d go without a second thought, rollicking and roistering along those barren, sand skeined coastal roads, and you’d never think of packing, just a two-litre Pasito and an esky full of whitebait. How free we were. Back then.
Back when? Or was that just in his books? For a second his vision flickers and he’s seriously wondering if he’s ever actually had a Bongo Van. Are his own words replacing reality? Nah, get a grip. Course he had one. Powder blue, wasn’t it? He can feel the whine of the shitbox donk under his heel, the slight smell of petrol through the vents and the upholstery splitting like a dead seal after the gulls had been at it. But wait, that was fiction too. Wasn’t that in An Open Drain? His Vogel winner? Or did they drive a Kombi in that one? No it was definitely a Kombi they had. “Phew. Stop panicking. a Kombi’s nothing like a Bongo Van”
“But nurries!” he says, a little too loudly, a little too sharply. Still gotta write something down. Again, his fingers meet the keys.
But he’s barely begun when the big dry hits again, and he’s floundering like a Basso bream, choking on the empty air, his jelly-eyes transfixed behind the blinking cursor, at the words that stutter out from the screen with a terrifying sound like Mum feeding the chooks:
And again his fourth finger searches for the backspace with a disturbing muscle memory.
He stands up gasping.