The Correct Way to Use Soap

The Correct Way to Use Soap The Correct Way to Use Soap

Status: Finished

Genre: Literary Fiction

Details

Status: Finished

Genre: Literary Fiction

Summary

The novella is about a young man, originally inspired by the sixties, especially 'Woodstock', who ends up living a punk nightmare in a seedy house in Auckland, New Zealand. He never comes of age, otherwise this would be a coming of age book. Incidents in this book are true and have never been described in fiction before.

Summary

The novella is about a young man, originally inspired by the sixties, especially 'Woodstock', who ends up living a punk nightmare in a seedy house in Auckland, New Zealand. He never comes of age, otherwise this would be a coming of age book. Incidents in this book are true and have never been described in fiction before.

Chapter1 (v.1) - Virgo

Chapter Content - ver.1

Submitted: March 28, 2012

Reads: 557

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Chapter Content - ver.1

Submitted: March 28, 2012

A A A

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They went on trips when he was staying at the hostel, after he first arrived in Cairns. They played on beaches, in the jungle, in large creeks and water holes. Green and brown tropical growth. They sat on rocks near a waterfall. He close to Hilda from Holland. Too scared to go in the water, he thought it would mean his death. He was on mushrooms. Colours were flying at him, snatches of music playing in his head. He flicked through all the good experiences in his life, feelings of peace, visions of beauty. The mushrooms grew in cow pats, encouraged by the tropical rain. The best ones looked normal but had a gold tinged circle on top. The blue were called meanies. Gold tops good, meanies bad. He'd had two gold tops and one blue meanie. They hit him as he tried to climb a coconut tree. He was scratched but life took on a brilliant hue. Life was on the rampage, he rolled in bliss. Everyone looked like they were in a contented heaven. White sand, blue sea and green leaves sparkled like diamonds and gems. He felt tender, imaginative. Later on he ate a coconut and laughed, he felt like a monkey. Everyone laughed with him, not knowing the cause. He rode a motorbike at seventy miles per hour, dressed in a helmet and shorts. He wasn't wearing underpants.

 

Back at the hostel he wrote a letter plus two copies, which he sent to friends and his brother. He always walked away from his brother and to other people. He didn't want a relationship with him and preferred to spend his time in the pursuit of happiness.

 

They went to a pub and no one took his money. He spent it on vehicles: a boat and a motorbike. He overfilled the bike with oil and it stalled. Took it to pieces, put it back together again and it still wouldn't go. He didn't look for excuses, he just assumed that mechanical things, once taken apart, would not go. He'd got his chance to take a bike apart and he lost a chance to have it fixed. Money down the drain, lots. Still, fools could always get the dole.

 

His mind soaked in alcohol. The first night he ever got drunk, he drank six tequilas. Then beer. He watched the goings on and became a regular. The pub was called The Island. It was not far from the waterfront: huge storage sheds and fisherman's boats with the occasional yacht, which he had come here to catch. He had two thousand dollars to put towards his keep but no experience and he thought traveling around the world on a yacht would be a glamorous thing. He didn't think of work or drowning. Sickness at sea can be a killer. It would be decadent but he did not realize that drugs played such a major part in the lifestyle. There are some pretty harsh penalties for drug offences overseas. His hair stamped him as a hippy, allied with a non technical, non common sense nature it was a distinct handicap. The irresponsible hippy, dating from recalcitrant school days. All he was good for was sun tans and peels, especially off his nose.

 

When he left the hostel he moved into a flat, at an invitation. He was in a very friendly mood but was suspicious too. He came to despise his flatmate, the man who had got him a place, cheap and clean. Vincent had written a novel. The Bolivian girl, who occupied a windowless room, was going to throw it out, not knowing to whom it belonged. It was in a wardrobe in the dining room where they sat drinking beer when they could afford it and playing cards. Vincent claimed the novel and she put it back where she had found it.

 

They all lived in the house together. Conchita who had taken cocaine in South America stayed up one night, talking. She refused to do it again, Vincent's labyrinthine defence of his privacy gave her slatternly mind a headache. The easy going Bolivian peasant could not melt his separation. They should both have been Catholic, her due to conquistadors and hard working missionaries, he due to his parents in a heavily Dutch community in New Zealand. He found her unattractive and consequently got on better with her than he would have otherwise. A long talk with a girl he actually desired would send him round the bend, it was impossible. He would be looking for an opening and not believing it when it came. He had reached a stage when nothing else mattered. His life blood was propelling him towards procreation. He had been through seduction and the pre-act, he had won the kiss and touched the breasts. He had seen pubic hair. No longer were these his desires, only the last thing remained: consummation and entry into the world of carnal knowledge. Even so he could not imagine himself together with Conchita, he just wanted her to have a good opinion of him, not to despise him. If she changed, he might too, but they didn't get to know each other well enough. Any girl can be a friend.

 

About this time an acquaintance of Conchita's came to visit. All Vincent knew at first was that he had a van. He had an air of confidence that didn't lie well with his social and financial position. For one thing he was on the run from a marriage. He had kids. For another his financial situation was more precarious than Vincent's. Vincent had a regular income from the Employment Department. At first all he knew was that the man had a stall in the Community Market which operated on Saturday mornings. Mack left fruit for them to eat, a big box of it. Conchita was willing to share his generosity, she was proud of the usefulness of her friend. He said later that he had found the food at the dump, put there by a Chinese man on Saturday afternoon and delivered to the flat on Sunday morning. Mack enthused about the dump, it was Disneyland, full of delights awaiting the innocent. He offered to give them a lift there, where they could be company and have fun with him. Three of them crammed into his van, which with secular prayers made it the five miles to the refuse tip.

 

Vincent amused himself as he always had, throwing bottles and stones. Mack asked them to bring any useful items to the van and they found quite a few which, however, were rejected. On the way home again, back to Cairns, he asked them if they'd like to do it again. They had found out where he got the items for his stall; a precarious if capitalistic existence. His offer was declined, even when he said they could keep what they liked. They didn't use his veges once they'd seen where they came from, despite his assurances that they were washed. Mack was a bit put out by this, Vincent amazed at his audacity. It just went to show there was a place for everyone in this society and Mack had found his.

 

Their flat only had two bedrooms, which were occupied. Vincent slept in the long hall, the living room, with a TV no one used. Most nightly activity took place in the dining room and kitchen. At the furthest end of the hall from the kitchen was Vincent's bed, from which he could see Conchita moving around, looking occasionally into the darkness that was him. The door way suddenly filled with the silhouette of Mack, his shadow flashed across the floor as he came towards him.

 

Mack asked Vincent personal questions, aimed at establishing Vincent's identity. Vincent was not inclined to turn Mack's hopes into fact. He didn't look much older than him (Vincent was twenty) but he had long hair and a beard. He had seemed so masculine, Vincent hadn't dreamed his interest in him was sexual. Not put off by Vincent declining, he asked him to come to King's Cross where they could live rich on the proceeds of Vincent having sex with men. He didn't have to be gay, they would have a good time, better than Cairns. They would make lots of money, Vincent would not even have to do the soliciting. He had it all worked out.

 

Suddenly he suspected why Conchita had brought Mack home: to act as a partner for him. He had obviously succeeded in not hurting her feelings, now she had jumped to the conclusion he was gay. This had happened to him before. The more he accommodated people with opposing views the more they thought he was weird. It happened at work, at school and at home. It was just too bad. His sensibilities were higher pitched than was normal, a factor that didn't hinder him in school and hopefully wouldn't hinder him in life. After their talk, Mack didn't come around again, perhaps he was once more drawn to his wife and kids or perhaps he fell into even wilder schemes of capitalistic gain. Maybe he became a millionaire or a drug king. Maybe he died.

 

Conchita set up a party. It opened in the late afternoon, a supper party with Mexican food, before going to the pub. Back from the pub and it was still going. A good party, no fights and lots of friendly chat, though were all on the edge. She because she was a Bolivian in Australia, her husband was at the party and she was living with another man, she had a child to bring up, she was promiscuous. Vincent was nervous because he felt debilitated after drugs. His friends had gone. He had only sex in his future and that still eluded his grasp. Still, no one stole his beer from the fridge. He hated parties, was nervous it would fail, had not been a satisfactory help.

 

There was another party on the same street. It was very posh. It was some sort of club with manicured gardens and an upper story. There were two flaming torches at the front, about two meters high. Vincent took one of them. It was returned later that night, anonymously. Vincent thought it lent his party the same upper class air. It was at this party that he met Karen, a girl with an attractive, friendly face who wore clothes well, hiding her deficiencies. He talked and she smiled. Vincent thought only of sex and hoped she would let him. That is what her face seemed to say and he wasn't far wrong. Men hung around her like flies.

 

“Would you like a beer?” she asked.

 

“No, thanks,” he replied. He'd had his fill of booze, had half a can in his hand and more in the fridge. She laughed, she liked him maybe because of his afro'd hair and his gentle shyness. He was on the hunt. He put her on his list with Paula, a married eighteen year old and a pretty part aboriginal girl. He didn't own the place where they met but he was possessive of it because he drank there. His pub, his eyes roving for girls and learning more each day. Trying to rise to the callousness that would get sex. Liberated man.

 

Vincent was sitting in his regular pub with John, his best friend. John, concerned for his welfare, his state of singletude, asked him if he was interested in any of the girls. Vincent pointed out Karen who was sitting at the bar, dressed for all the world like a Victorian prostitute. It was symbolic that Vincent should recognize a Victorian prostitute but not a modern day one. Karen emanated a feeling of confidence, of warmth; emphasized by her clothing, her tanned skin and the seductive freckles that speckled her nose.

 

John got up from their table and spoke with her before coming back and motioning Vincent over the ramparts. She had looked at Vincent, smiled at him and nodded her assent. Confidently Vincent engaged her in conversation; she bought him a beer to cement their friendship. When the bar closed, Vincent went with her. They went to a late night Vietnamese restaurant. Curious to know what it could possibly be, Vincent ordered shark fin soup. It was a clear liquid with part of a fin in it, luckily that was all he needed although he had stopped worrying about his weight when he started drinking beer. Then, hand in hand, they walked back to her place. It was her second year in Cairns, she preferred to spend summer in Melbourne. Vincent was diplomatic. He didn't ask how she made her living. Nevertheless he was not planning on paying for any favors, to pay for sex would be disgusting, all the fun would be taken out if it was a business transaction.

 

Back in her centrally located flat they watched TV. She put Ethiopia by Patti Smith on the stereo. Vincent had a sudden urge to vomit. He raced outside and threw up on the front lawn, winding up on all fours, head resting against the trunk of a very small palm tree. It was one a.m..

 

She understood, it had happened before, it was something men did. Despite the fact that she was as drunk as him, she cleaned up the vomit, (to appease her landlord). Seeing music was not exactly his thing that night they went upstairs. Vincent asked if he could use her toothbrush. She said there was a spare one but he preferred hers.

 

In her bedroom she stripped down to a thong, Vincent stripped to nothing. Soon he had a rock hard erection. They lay on her bed and she talked about a jealous boyfriend who might come back from fishing at any moment and would beat them up if he found them. Vincent was too focused to worry about that, this was the closest to losing his virginity that he had ever been. Unfortunately, she refused to take her thong off. Vincent wasn't interested in anything but sexual intercourse; if he had told her he was a virgin she might have acquiesced but he was too embarrassed to admit that at almost twenty one, in the 1970s, he was still a virgin. He had been lying about his sexual status since coming to Australia two years previously. It was probably his lying that resulted in his continued state of singleness.

 

There were other things they could do but he could no longer remember what they were: kissing, hugging, touching, talking, even oral sex. Telling the truth. She was the tool of a stereotypically heartless man. The man she had been warned of all her youth. She went to sleep. Vincent lay on the floor with an upstanding member. No one could accuse him of impotence! Eventually the sun rose. Vincent walked up and down her room like a soldier on parade. She moaned when she saw his threatening weapon and closed her eyes again. Eventually Vincent lay down on his back next to Karen's bed. A flatmate opened the door and laughed when she saw them. Vincent moaned, inwardly. Karen moaned again, later, when he told her what had happened.

 

Eventually Vincent picked up his clothes and said, “Goodbye”.

 

She asked, “Do you want breakfast?” He declined.

 

Back at his flat, John asked if they had done it? Of course Vincent said, “Yes”. John was still not convinced and rightly so.

 

The boys next door were kicked out of their flat for non payment of rent. He let them stay in his flat although Jack had specifically said he was not to turn their place into a crash pad. They didn't have money for a flat but they had dope. He tried some, hoping it would be like before but all it did was turn light into lines like a graph, webs spinning towards him. The trees seemed to be breathing.

 

A lack of cutlery resulted in a suggestion he borrow some from their old pad. He crawled through the window they had purposely left open. Along and into the kitchen. Very quiet because the flat had an inadequate partition with another and they would be able to hear him. He couldn't believe that people could live comfortably in such proximity. The shadows made it seem like a jungle, the ceiling looked a long way off. He wasn't comfortable walking through the unknown so he continued crawling while looking up. He didn't stand until he reached the kitchen. Clutching knives and spoons he returned to the floor and then to the porch and his new comrades. They were wondering what had happened to him. He'd been gone for half an hour.

 

The time came when they all had to leave. The owner informed Vincent on the pretext that the neighbors had complained of noise. Jack was angry when he found out, he said the landlord wanted them out because he could get higher rents in the tourist season but the season was almost over and the rains were coming. In a flash the itinerants that were flatting with Jack and Vincent found other places to live, they were the real cause for the eviction. Jack went to the landlord and made his own deal. He would bring in new, quiet tenants and the irresponsible people who had crowded through their pad would not be allowed back. Vincent was Jack's main bug bear and once he had gone Jack would determine the flat's nature. Jack had a girl ready to move in with him and Conchita only pretended to leave.

 

With the end in sight it was time to tidy up his affairs in Cairns. Typically of the transient nature of life in that tourist mecca his affairs were scattered throughout Australia and New Zealand. There was one nasty flavor, a thin Jethro Tull type who had taken ten dollars off him for drugs he'd never delivered. He regarded this as an insult and was determined to extract the money from his hot pocket. Violence gave Vincent nerves, was a rash on the brain but he used it as a last resort. Was this natural or conditioned? That might is right? In this case he extracted seven dollars from the man's pocket, in the pub. Perhaps they thought there was substance to him now.

 

Another thing to get seen to was his tax. He had a big refund coming to him but he forgot some of his tax had been paid to a company, the tax man hadn't received it. This caused trouble, the tax man saying Vincent owed him over three hundred dollars. It took a long time to straighten out but he eventually got his money.

 

One last fight occurred before he left Cairns, a fight over the letterbox. Vincent was worried about letters getting stolen, relating to an earlier occasion when a dole cheque had been stolen. He bought a padlock and looked after the key. Before he left Cairns he gave the key to a friend in case a cheque arrived after he'd gone. Jack didn't like this but Vincent was going and Jack had no control over him. Departure was a quixotic state, seeing and defeating enemies where there were none. Vincent would have helpers for brief periods of time until he tired of them or could use them no more. The world was a lonely place, limited to him alone, a mass of 'ones' fighting and scrambling over each other for a breath of fresh air. Husbands and wives in a state of battle for their individual rights. Children fighting the world for their independence, returning to parents for security when needed. Comradeship a fleeting thing, people travelling together till a parting of ways. There was a prospect of making new friendships then settling down before death removed security once more.

 

Six green bottles hanging on a wall. If you throw stones at them their shattered fragments will litter the floor, a menace, a danger. The difference between child and adult, sane and insane. The first night out of Cairns, heading a couple of thousand miles to Melbourne, he had solitary sex, he was ashamed, the shame of a loner. He sat inside his sleeping bag writing a love letter to Karen. Encamped outside a petrol station on a lonely road. The concrete glistening white in the moonlight. The road led away to the left, a dark river gliding between trees. Too bad if the snakes got him, he was pretty sure he wasn't sleeping on an ant nest. There were no cars, no trucks either. The countryside was sparsely populated but he had time to wait for the morrow.

 

The sun rose. He was waiting, ready to catch the early morning traffic. Eventually it caught him and he rode again, a long way to go. He managed to get through Townsville without stopping, twice he'd done that. He got a ride with a truck driver who kept driving without stopping at pubs along the route. The driver was tired and bored. He had a six hundred mile trip which he did five times a week and he only made an ordinary wage. He got confused at times, thinking he was at one set of crossroads instead of another, looking for a sign that wasn't there. He dropped Vincent off, perhaps bad tempered at his laziness. He had another three hundred miles while Vincent could do what he liked with no responsibility to job or family. Social Security got him through no worries, if he could take the ignominy of their ill treatment and scrape the bottom of his self esteem. Admit he was nothing, of no use to Queen or country. Everyone had a job except him.

 

At this time Vincent wasn't watching TV under any circumstances. Although he was in Australia he didn't watch 'Prisoner'. Although he was unemployed he didn't watch 'Prisoner'. He would have laughed at its sadness, claiming for himself a better fate than a soap opera had to offer. A happy fate. He was smug in his approach to life: the first draft of a novel in his bag, two thousand in the bank and the dole. The only problem was sex in which he despised himself and admired others. He just didn't have the luck. In his adolescence he had feared familiarity would breed contempt. It had and as usual was more fearsome in the imagining than the reality. Adolescents have so much to fear, their whole life lies before them and time lies heavy on their hands. Although some children dream of being adult, can't wait to be one, Vincent despised adults as failures. Success came so easily at school. The sheltered environment was no training for the wild, there was no scrambling for success as there is in Japan. Yes, they learned of hardship through competing but it was competing that counted, not winning. Those used to winning expected to win everything and may have put more effort into it. When we aspired to be sporting heroes we faced failure as character building.

 

We were taught to care for other people, to try and keep things good. We only looked at failure through a social welfare point of view, the view of officialdom which, be it ever so nice, is not the same as first hand experience. That's what put him on the road between Cairns and Melbourne. A need to experience first hand that other life, the life of failure. So good as material for books, one day the whole of Social Welfare will be devoted to would be authors doing research for books. Perhaps we will all be on it, to each according to his needs, from each according to our ability. No slack jobs, plenty of holidays. No demeaning jobs, everyone treated equally.

 

He stood in the dark and rain eighty miles north of Brisbane. Near the coast as always on that run through Queensland and New South Wales. Twin headlights appeared and disappeared until the welcome sound of a motor revving down and he got in with a guy younger than him who had just left work to go to a party. It was Friday night, he'd had a few with his work mates and there was a six pack beside him on the front seat, one already opened. He let Vincent have a couple as they sped down the coast. Once Vincent looked up to see the car headed for the side of a bridge. He glanced at the driver who wasn't looking, he had a can tilted above his laid back head. He finished the swig just in time to swing the car back on track. He didn't invite Vincent to party with him, Vincent didn't want to leave the highway anyhow, he wasn't in the mood to party. He was looking forward to other things, hoping to impress his Sydney acquaintances with his new found sophistication and drug experience.

 

It took him a while to find them, they had changed their address but when he did it was Marge who saw him first and he lifted her off her feet. She laughed, keeping up appearances. He had a bath he was sorely in need of. He usually had a bath or a shower every day but that didn't mean he washed responsibly. A cursory wipe under his arms and a rub down below contrasted with a long, relaxing soak. Melvin came in while he was in the bath and was upset that Vincent didn't cover himself. What if he had been a girl? Vincent no longer cared, he thought it wimpish to cover himself because someone had entered.

 

After the bath he changed into his last clean clothes and joined his friends in their living room. He hadn't slept much in the past three days so he fell asleep. In the warm, cosy room were two people he knew and two or three he didn't, whether visitors of occupants. Marge sat over his right arm so that his hand looked like it was going up her dress, nudged him awake and waited to see what he would do. He apologized and went back to sleep, it was such a nice atmosphere and his hand couldn't have been cosier.

 

To prove he was a wide awake boy he went out alone for a night on the town, hoping he wouldn't be upstaged or have amorous intentions interfered with. He met a girl but she didn't recognize him, didn't want to. She was hung up on meat. She had been in a car with a couple of homo sapiens who had picked him up once. They dropped him off early, she was pretty for the places Vincent inhabited and he would have loved to love her if she could have replied but they always have a better man in mind. Put it down to inexperience and is the price as good as the imagining? That was the interval of the Graham Parker concert in the State Theatre. The statues on the wall were shaking, he was careful not to be under them. He left his seat for the freedom of the aisle and contributed his bit to the enthusiastic audience. Someone stole his whiskey and a row of young men smacked their lips suggestively as he looked for it, claiming responsibility and not caring if he held them to it. The concert was a rage, the whiskey would have obliterated him, left him mugged or in jail.

 

After the concert he caught a taxi to a wine bar where he hoped to meet some friends. It was their haunt. They weren't there so he left a message for them: “I'm into everything now!” Well, not everything. Then it was the bus to the other side of the harbour. Marge, Melvin and he were staying in a house Melvin was renovating. It was in Palm Beach, too far to go that night so he snuck in to their other house with a bottle of bubbly he'd got after hours. He had chatted up a player from an all women band that travelled Europe. “Is that all you do? Listen to music?” she said.

 

“Yes,” he dishonestly replied, hoping music would lead to other things.

 

“No,” he couldn't come home with her, there were other people in the house. So Vincent asked for champagne but they only had Australian bubbly. He slept on the floor and got up early in the morning before anyone discovered him. Soon he was on his way in public transport to Palm Beach. The bubbly tucked under his arm. Melvin went away to buy drugs. He was always a polite ask-er. Vincent paid for the drugs but not for Melvin's travelling expenses, Marge was on Vincent's side. They had the bubbly for breakfast, with drugs. Marge started crying: life, age, boyfriend. Vincent felt inhibited and sadly packed up his things and left, without saying goodbye.

 

He made his way down to the bus stop. He was in a daze from the drugs he'd taken. He went into a milk bar to ask the time and forgot what he was there for. He caught a bus, by the time he reached the railway station he was quite normal again, thankfully. He didn't fancy the thought of buying a train ticket and organizing himself while under the influence. He strolled out to the park and sat on a bench. An old aboriginal fondled his long hair and said how beautiful it was. He started to get excessive, Vincent rose in disgust. Religion, that great refuge against homosexuality, would have protected him totally but he chose to live without it. When he came up against unmistakable evidence of homosexuality it was still hard to believe.

 

After his disturbing incident in Railway Park he caught an afternoon train to the outer suburbs. There he was picked up by a bloke whose brother was trucking to Melbourne that night. Vincent agreed to try his chances. He waited at the man's home for a couple of uncomfortable hours. Eventually the man turned up and Vincent climbed into the truck after slinging his luggage onto the trailer. It was early evening and they didn't go far, just to a pub down the road for a meeting. That took an hour and then they were off again. About ten o'clock they bedded down, him on the bunk and the driver across the seats. He had a comfortable night. The next day they stopped and started their way down the main drag. They stopped at a number of eateries, there was a suggestion that Vincent might get a better ride. He did, he switched to an older trucky, who stopped on the Hume highway to look at some trucks that were for sale. He wondered out loud if Vincent might buy a truck himself, one day. Vincent quite fell into the role of a trucky. Jumping in and out of that truck he felt, talked and thought like a trucky as well as he could, not being mechanical. He let Vincent out just before Melbourne, past the turn off for Bendigo which was Vincent's next destination. A romantic interest, not merely tourist. The girl was shocked when he rang up, he hadn't warned her he was coming. As far as she was concerned he was two thousand kilometres away. She said she was glad to hear from him but couldn't see him, she had her 21st coming up. He couldn't put off this good a chance so he rather forcibly got himself invited to the party. He slept in the local park.

 

What to get her for her 21st? A small bottle of whiskey. The bar man asked if it was for him. He replied “Yes.” Who got the best of that? Vincent? A puzzled feeling of having done something wrong, or the bar man? Who did he think Vincent was buying it for? Some street kids? Maybe he wanted to gift wrap it.

 

He went to the party. It was a horror, she was a horror. She'd known she wouldn't be at her best this night. She was crying, make up smeared all over her face. There were a lot of adults and she stuck to them, handing him over to some friends about his age. They had pointed conversation with him, disappeared after telling him their husbands were more interested in each other than them. Maybe he had come across a gay society of friends. Is that why she avoided him after their kiss in the pub in Cairns? Is that why she didn't respond to the kisses on the Esplanade? Vincent hadn't felt right either but if he'd got a reaction things might have been different. That didn't explain her last remark, “Oh, not now!” at the farewell on the train. As if, after all this time he had broken the ice. What about her insistence that men always destroyed the relationship with sexual desires? What about her wail for him out on the railway platform and the inference that she might have gone off with two rough customers they met while sharing a farewell joint? Was she as desperate as he? Now she's probably a welfare mother, said with pride in her and the circumstances of their acquaintance. They were rock bottom adventurers, both alone, they had managed to strike up a relationship. Neither knew what they were waiting for. A single love? They didn't know.

 

He left the party early and slept on a church porch across the road, on the side away from her house. When he rang her up on Monday morning she said she wished she'd known, that he should have told her. She had been surrounded by people under whose gaze it was hard to make romantic advances, especially when you are all innocence and no spite. Then she cried and asked him to stay but he'd had enough of Bendigo, overtures in the park and God knows what. Maybe his shelter was a place of assignation, he had been in no mood to be polite. The gentleman never gets the girl, too gentle and polite to make the effort.

 

Next he hitched to Melbourne. His mother had sent him a letter saying she would pay the fare back to New Zealand for his 21st. He ignored it, didn't even think about it. It wasn't related to his needs or wishes. He was a wild animal, kept at home till adolescence and a desire for freedom overcame his need for comfort and regular food. A flapping bird in society's room. No orderly march up the ladder for him. He had climbed as far as university and that was enough. He slid to the bottom and stopped blushing just like that. One of his great worries gone. His restlessness demanded freedom to move. His ambitions were forbidden, let loose when he abandoned church and its morality, threw his rocks into the lifeboats, closer to the sea and to danger. Goodbye to the comfortable ship, he wanted something unique even if not successful. His heart wasn't in service any more, he was a one man church. Worshipping himself but wanting to share it with someone. But he didn't find anyone like himself, at the bottom his faults showed. No one would look at the positive side. In the jungle with losers he was expected to be a loser too, or did the others also have their own destinations? There was no organization for unity, nowhere for relationships to grow except through greed. Sex as number one is a poor god. No games to play just hard core and it still wasn't right. No one to see the good in him at games where he didn't excel. He was a Virgo, fussy, not easy going. He was looking for Jane.

 

His hair fell out. More grew to replace it, he was not particularly concerned. People remarked it as being healthy. Either way it wasn't painful, like teeth. He had good hair and bad teeth so he knew about pain. Dental nurses sent him through the roof, crying, sobbing between spells with his mouth open. Calling him “Sissy” and grinding more pain in.

 

He hitched to Melbourne and caught a train to Moonee Ponds where he attempted to get a taxi to a female friend's address. The taxi driver pointed to the address from where he was parked. He thanked the taxi driver, grateful to save some money. Five minutes later he knocked on the door, it was answered by her brother, Tom. He was younger than Vincent but he was drinking beer, watching television. It was three o'clock in the afternoon and he was alone in the house. Soon a younger brother would be coming back from school. Tom invited Vincent to join him, he was eager for the feeling and companionship of drink. Tom was drinking Victorian Bitter but he had Fosters as well. When Nancy got home she was pleased to see Vincent but surprised to see him drinking. When they'd last known each other he had refused invitations to the pub, didn't even touch tea or coffee. They had got on well, she could relate to his innocence. Now she explained to her mother who he was. Having told her about him, a nice, long haired boy who didn't drink or make sexual advances. It was true that when he had known her he was only interested in laughter.

 

They went on trips when he was staying at the hostel, after he first arrived in Cairns. They played on beaches, in the jungle, in large creeks and water holes. Green and brown tropical growth. They sat on rocks near a waterfall. He close to Hilda from Holland. Too scared to go in the water, he thought it would mean his death. He was on mushrooms. Colours were flying at him, snatches of music playing in his head. He flicked through all the good experiences in his life, feelings of peace, visions of beauty. The mushrooms grew in cow pats, encouraged by the tropical rain. The best ones looked normal but had a gold tinged circle on top. The blue were called meanies. Gold tops good, meanies bad. He'd had two gold tops and one blue meanie. They hit him as he tried to climb a coconut tree. He was scratched but life took on a brilliant hue. Life was on the rampage, he rolled in bliss. Everyone looked like they were in a contented heaven. White sand, blue sea and green leaves sparkled like diamonds and gems. He felt tender, imaginative. Later on he ate a coconut and laughed, he felt like a monkey. Everyone laughed with him, not knowing the cause. He rode a motorbike at seventy miles per hour, dressed in a helmet and shorts. He wasn't wearing underpants.

 

Back at the hostel he wrote a letter plus two copies, which he sent to friends and his brother. He always walked away from his brother and to other people. He didn't want a relationship with him and preferred to spend his time in the pursuit of happiness.

 

They went to a pub and no one took his money. He spent it on vehicles: a boat and a motorbike. He overfilled the bike with oil and it stalled. Took it to pieces, put it back together again and it still wouldn't go. He didn't look for excuses, he just assumed that mechanical things, once taken apart, would not go. He'd got his chance to take a bike apart and he lost a chance to have it fixed. Money down the drain, lots. Still, fools could always get the dole.

 

His mind soaked in alcohol. The first night he ever got drunk, he drank six tequilas. Then beer. He watched the goings on and became a regular. The pub was called The Island. It was not far from the waterfront: huge storage sheds and fisherman's boats with the occasional yacht, which he had come here to catch. He had two thousand dollars to put towards his keep but no experience and he thought traveling around the world on a yacht would be a glamorous thing. He didn't think of work or drowning. Sickness at sea can be a killer. It would be decadent but he did not realize that drugs played such a major part in the lifestyle. There are some pretty harsh penalties for drug offences overseas. His hair stamped him as a hippy, allied with a non technical, non common sense nature it was a distinct handicap. The irresponsible hippy, dating from recalcitrant school days. All he was good for was sun tans and peels, especially off his nose.

 

When he left the hostel he moved into a flat, at an invitation. He was in a very friendly mood but was suspicious too. He came to despise his flatmate, the man who had got him a place, cheap and clean. Vincent had written a novel. The Bolivian girl, who occupied a windowless room, was going to throw it out, not knowing to whom it belonged. It was in a wardrobe in the dining room where they sat drinking beer when they could afford it and playing cards. Vincent claimed the novel and she put it back where she had found it.

 

They all lived in the house together. Conchita who had taken cocaine in South America stayed up one night, talking. She refused to do it again, Vincent's labyrinthine defence of his privacy gave her slatternly mind a headache. The easy going Bolivian peasant could not melt his separation. They should both have been Catholic, her due to conquistadors and hard working missionaries, he due to his parents in a heavily Dutch community in New Zealand. He found her unattractive and consequently got on better with her than he would have otherwise. A long talk with a girl he actually desired would send him round the bend, it was impossible. He would be looking for an opening and not believing it when it came. He had reached a stage when nothing else mattered. His life blood was propelling him towards procreation. He had been through seduction and the pre-act, he had won the kiss and touched the breasts. He had seen pubic hair. No longer were these his desires, only the last thing remained: consummation and entry into the world of carnal knowledge. Even so he could not imagine himself together with Conchita, he just wanted her to have a good opinion of him, not to despise him. If she changed, he might too, but they didn't get to know each other well enough. Any girl can be a friend.

 

About this time an acquaintance of Conchita's came to visit. All Vincent knew at first was that he had a van. He had an air of confidence that didn't lie well with his social and financial position. For one thing he was on the run from a marriage. He had kids. For another his financial situation was more precarious than Vincent's. Vincent had a regular income from the Employment Department. At first all he knew was that the man had a stall in the Community Market which operated on Saturday mornings. Mack left fruit for them to eat, a big box of it. Conchita was willing to share his generosity, she was proud of the usefulness of her friend. He said later that he had found the food at the dump, put there by a Chinese man on Saturday afternoon and delivered to the flat on Sunday morning. Mack enthused about the dump, it was Disneyland, full of delights awaiting the innocent. He offered to give them a lift there, where they could be company and have fun with him. Three of them crammed into his van, which with secular prayers made it the five miles to the refuse tip.

 

Vincent amused himself as he always had, throwing bottles and stones. Mack asked them to bring any useful items to the van and they found quite a few which, however, were rejected. On the way home again, back to Cairns, he asked them if they'd like to do it again. They had found out where he got the items for his stall; a precarious if capitalistic existence. His offer was declined, even when he said they could keep what they liked. They didn't use his veges once they'd seen where they came from, despite his assurances that they were washed. Mack was a bit put out by this, Vincent amazed at his audacity. It just went to show there was a place for everyone in this society and Mack had found his.

 

Their flat only had two bedrooms, which were occupied. Vincent slept in the long hall, the living room, with a TV no one used. Most nightly activity took place in the dining room and kitchen. At the furthest end of the hall from the kitchen was Vincent's bed, from which he could see Conchita moving around, looking occasionally into the darkness that was him. The door way suddenly filled with the silhouette of Mack, his shadow flashed across the floor as he came towards him.

 

Mack asked Vincent personal questions, aimed at establishing Vincent's identity. Vincent was not inclined to turn Mack's hopes into fact. He didn't look much older than him (Vincent was twenty) but he had long hair and a beard. He had seemed so masculine, Vincent hadn't dreamed his interest in him was sexual. Not put off by Vincent declining, he asked him to come to King's Cross where they could live rich on the proceeds of Vincent having sex with men. He didn't have to be gay, they would have a good time, better than Cairns. They would make lots of money, Vincent would not even have to do the soliciting. He had it all worked out.

 

Suddenly he suspected why Conchita had brought Mack home: to act as a partner for him. He had obviously succeeded in not hurting her feelings, now she had jumped to the conclusion he was gay. This had happened to him before. The more he accommodated people with opposing views the more they thought he was weird. It happened at work, at school and at home. It was just too bad. His sensibilities were higher pitched than was normal, a factor that didn't hinder him in school and hopefully wouldn't hinder him in life. After their talk, Mack didn't come around again, perhaps he was once more drawn to his wife and kids or perhaps he fell into even wilder schemes of capitalistic gain. Maybe he became a millionaire or a drug king. Maybe he died.

 

Conchita set up a party. It opened in the late afternoon, a supper party with Mexican food, before going to the pub. Back from the pub and it was still going. A good party, no fights and lots of friendly chat, though were all on the edge. She because she was a Bolivian in Australia, her husband was at the party and she was living with another man, she had a child to bring up, she was promiscuous. Vincent was nervous because he felt debilitated after drugs. His friends had gone. He had only sex in his future and that still eluded his grasp. Still, no one stole his beer from the fridge. He hated parties, was nervous it would fail, had not been a satisfactory help.

 

There was another party on the same street. It was very posh. It was some sort of club with manicured gardens and an upper story. There were two flaming torches at the front, about two meters high. Vincent took one of them. It was returned later that night, anonymously. Vincent thought it lent his party the same upper class air. It was at this party that he met Karen, a girl with an attractive, friendly face who wore clothes well, hiding her deficiencies. He talked and she smiled. Vincent thought only of sex and hoped she would let him. That is what her face seemed to say and he wasn't far wrong. Men hung around her like flies.

 

“Would you like a beer?” she asked.

 

“No, thanks,” he replied. He'd had his fill of booze, had half a can in his hand and more in the fridge. She laughed, she liked him maybe because of his afro'd hair and his gentle shyness. He was on the hunt. He put her on his list with Paula, a married eighteen year old and a pretty part aboriginal girl. He didn't own the place where they met but he was possessive of it because he drank there. His pub, his eyes roving for girls and learning more each day. Trying to rise to the callousness that would get sex. Liberated man.

 

Vincent was sitting in his regular pub with John, his best friend. John, concerned for his welfare, his state of singletude, asked him if he was interested in any of the girls. Vincent pointed out Karen who was sitting at the bar, dressed for all the world like a Victorian prostitute. It was symbolic that Vincent should recognize a Victorian prostitute but not a modern day one. Karen emanated a feeling of confidence, of warmth; emphasized by her clothing, her tanned skin and the seductive freckles that speckled her nose.

 

John got up from their table and spoke with her before coming back and motioning Vincent over the ramparts. She had looked at Vincent, smiled at him and nodded her assent. Confidently Vincent engaged her in conversation; she bought him a beer to cement their friendship. When the bar closed, Vincent went with her. They went to a late night Vietnamese restaurant. Curious to know what it could possibly be, Vincent ordered shark fin soup. It was a clear liquid with part of a fin in it, luckily that was all he needed although he had stopped worrying about his weight when he started drinking beer. Then, hand in hand, they walked back to her place. It was her second year in Cairns, she preferred to spend summer in Melbourne. Vincent was diplomatic. He didn't ask how she made her living. Nevertheless he was not planning on paying for any favors, to pay for sex would be disgusting, all the fun would be taken out if it was a business transaction.

 

Back in her centrally located flat they watched TV. She put Ethiopia by Patti Smith on the stereo. Vincent had a sudden urge to vomit. He raced outside and threw up on the front lawn, winding up on all fours, head resting against the trunk of a very small palm tree. It was one a.m..

 

She understood, it had happened before, it was something men did. Despite the fact that she was as drunk as him, she cleaned up the vomit, (to appease her landlord). Seeing music was not exactly his thing that night they went upstairs. Vincent asked if he could use her toothbrush. She said there was a spare one but he preferred hers.

 

In her bedroom she stripped down to a thong, Vincent stripped to nothing. Soon he had a rock hard erection. They lay on her bed and she talked about a jealous boyfriend who might come back from fishing at any moment and would beat them up if he found them. Vincent was too focused to worry about that, this was the closest to losing his virginity that he had ever been. Unfortunately, she refused to take her thong off. Vincent wasn't interested in anything but sexual intercourse; if he had told her he was a virgin she might have acquiesced but he was too embarrassed to admit that at almost twenty one, in the 1970s, he was still a virgin. He had been lying about his sexual status since coming to Australia two years previously. It was probably his lying that resulted in his continued state of singleness.

 

There were other things they could do but he could no longer remember what they were: kissing, hugging, touching, talking, even oral sex. Telling the truth. She was the tool of a stereotypically heartless man. The man she had been warned of all her youth. She went to sleep. Vincent lay on the floor with an upstanding member. No one could accuse him of impotence! Eventually the sun rose. Vincent walked up and down her room like a soldier on parade. She moaned when she saw his threatening weapon and closed her eyes again. Eventually Vincent lay down on his back next to Karen's bed. A flatmate opened the door and laughed when she saw them. Vincent moaned, inwardly. Karen moaned again, later, when he told her what had happened.

 

Eventually Vincent picked up his clothes and said, “Goodbye”.

 

She asked, “Do you want breakfast?” He declined.

 

Back at his flat, John asked if they had done it? Of course Vincent said, “Yes”. John was still not convinced and rightly so.

 

The boys next door were kicked out of their flat for non payment of rent. He let them stay in his flat although Jack had specifically said he was not to turn their place into a crash pad. They didn't have money for a flat but they had dope. He tried some, hoping it would be like before but all it did was turn light into lines like a graph, webs spinning towards him. The trees seemed to be breathing.

 

A lack of cutlery resulted in a suggestion he borrow some from their old pad. He crawled through the window they had purposely left open. Along and into the kitchen. Very quiet because the flat had an inadequate partition with another and they would be able to hear him. He couldn't believe that people could live comfortably in such proximity. The shadows made it seem like a jungle, the ceiling looked a long way off. He wasn't comfortable walking through the unknown so he continued crawling while looking up. He didn't stand until he reached the kitchen. Clutching knives and spoons he returned to the floor and then to the porch and his new comrades. They were wondering what had happened to him. He'd been gone for half an hour.

 

The time came when they all had to leave. The owner informed Vincent on the pretext that the neighbors had complained of noise. Jack was angry when he found out, he said the landlord wanted them out because he could get higher rents in the tourist season but the season was almost over and the rains were coming. In a flash the itinerants that were flatting with Jack and Vincent found other places to live, they were the real cause for the eviction. Jack went to the landlord and made his own deal. He would bring in new, quiet tenants and the irresponsible people who had crowded through their pad would not be allowed back. Vincent was Jack's main bug bear and once he had gone Jack would determine the flat's nature. Jack had a girl ready to move in with him and Conchita only pretended to leave.

 

With the end in sight it was time to tidy up his affairs in Cairns. Typically of the transient nature of life in that tourist mecca his affairs were scattered throughout Australia and New Zealand. There was one nasty flavor, a thin Jethro Tull type who had taken ten dollars off him for drugs he'd never delivered. He regarded this as an insult and was determined to extract the money from his hot pocket. Violence gave Vincent nerves, was a rash on the brain but he used it as a last resort. Was this natural or conditioned? That might is right? In this case he extracted seven dollars from the man's pocket, in the pub. Perhaps they thought there was substance to him now.

 

Another thing to get seen to was his tax. He had a big refund coming to him but he forgot some of his tax had been paid to a company, the tax man hadn't received it. This caused trouble, the tax man saying Vincent owed him over three hundred dollars. It took a long time to straighten out but he eventually got his money.

 

One last fight occurred before he left Cairns, a fight over the letterbox. Vincent was worried about letters getting stolen, relating to an earlier occasion when a dole cheque had been stolen. He bought a padlock and looked after the key. Before he left Cairns he gave the key to a friend in case a cheque arrived after he'd gone. Jack didn't like this but Vincent was going and Jack had no control over him. Departure was a quixotic state, seeing and defeating enemies where there were none. Vincent would have helpers for brief periods of time until he tired of them or could use them no more. The world was a lonely place, limited to him alone, a mass of 'ones' fighting and scrambling over each other for a breath of fresh air. Husbands and wives in a state of battle for their individual rights. Children fighting the world for their independence, returning to parents for security when needed. Comradeship a fleeting thing, people travelling together till a parting of ways. There was a prospect of making new friendships then settling down before death removed security once more.

 

Six green bottles hanging on a wall. If you throw stones at them their shattered fragments will litter the floor, a menace, a danger. The difference between child and adult, sane and insane. The first night out of Cairns, heading a couple of thousand miles to Melbourne, he had solitary sex, he was ashamed, the shame of a loner. He sat inside his sleeping bag writing a love letter to Karen. Encamped outside a petrol station on a lonely road. The concrete glistening white in the moonlight. The road led away to the left, a dark river gliding between trees. Too bad if the snakes got him, he was pretty sure he wasn't sleeping on an ant nest. There were no cars, no trucks either. The countryside was sparsely populated but he had time to wait for the morrow.

 

The sun rose. He was waiting, ready to catch the early morning traffic. Eventually it caught him and he rode again, a long way to go. He managed to get through Townsville without stopping, twice he'd done that. He got a ride with a truck driver who kept driving without stopping at pubs along the route. The driver was tired and bored. He had a six hundred mile trip which he did five times a week and he only made an ordinary wage. He got confused at times, thinking he was at one set of crossroads instead of another, looking for a sign that wasn't there. He dropped Vincent off, perhaps bad tempered at his laziness. He had another three hundred miles while Vincent could do what he liked with no responsibility to job or family. Social Security got him through no worries, if he could take the ignominy of their ill treatment and scrape the bottom of his self esteem. Admit he was nothing, of no use to Queen or country. Everyone had a job except him.

 

At this time Vincent wasn't watching TV under any circumstances. Although he was in Australia he didn't watch 'Prisoner'. Although he was unemployed he didn't watch 'Prisoner'. He would have laughed at its sadness, claiming for himself a better fate than a soap opera had to offer. A happy fate. He was smug in his approach to life: the first draft of a novel in his bag, two thousand in the bank and the dole. The only problem was sex in which he despised himself and admired others. He just didn't have the luck. In his adolescence he had feared familiarity would breed contempt. It had and as usual was more fearsome in the imagining than the reality. Adolescents have so much to fear, their whole life lies before them and time lies heavy on their hands. Although some children dream of being adult, can't wait to be one, Vincent despised adults as failures. Success came so easily at school. The sheltered environment was no training for the wild, there was no scrambling for success as there is in Japan. Yes, they learned of hardship through competing but it was competing that counted, not winning. Those used to winning expected to win everything and may have put more effort into it. When we aspired to be sporting heroes we faced failure as character building.

 

We were taught to care for other people, to try and keep things good. We only looked at failure through a social welfare point of view, the view of officialdom which, be it ever so nice, is not the same as first hand experience. That's what put him on the road between Cairns and Melbourne. A need to experience first hand that other life, the life of failure. So good as material for books, one day the whole of Social Welfare will be devoted to would be authors doing research for books. Perhaps we will all be on it, to each according to his needs, from each according to our ability. No slack jobs, plenty of holidays. No demeaning jobs, everyone treated equally.

 

He stood in the dark and rain eighty miles north of Brisbane. Near the coast as always on that run through Queensland and New South Wales. Twin headlights appeared and disappeared until the welcome sound of a motor revving down and he got in with a guy younger than him who had just left work to go to a party. It was Friday night, he'd had a few with his work mates and there was a six pack beside him on the front seat, one already opened. He let Vincent have a couple as they sped down the coast. Once Vincent looked up to see the car headed for the side of a bridge. He glanced at the driver who wasn't looking, he had a can tilted above his laid back head. He finished the swig just in time to swing the car back on track. He didn't invite Vincent to party with him, Vincent didn't want to leave the highway anyhow, he wasn't in the mood to party. He was looking forward to other things, hoping to impress his Sydney acquaintances with his new found sophistication and drug experience.

 

It took him a while to find them, they had changed their address but when he did it was Marge who saw him first and he lifted her off her feet. She laughed, keeping up appearances. He had a bath he was sorely in need of. He usually had a bath or a shower every day but that didn't mean he washed responsibly. A cursory wipe under his arms and a rub down below contrasted with a long, relaxing soak. Melvin came in while he was in the bath and was upset that Vincent didn't cover himself. What if he had been a girl? Vincent no longer cared, he thought it wimpish to cover himself because someone had entered.

 

After the bath he changed into his last clean clothes and joined his friends in their living room. He hadn't slept much in the past three days so he fell asleep. In the warm, cosy room were two people he knew and two or three he didn't, whether visitors of occupants. Marge sat over his right arm so that his hand looked like it was going up her dress, nudged him awake and waited to see what he would do. He apologized and went back to sleep, it was such a nice atmosphere and his hand couldn't have been cosier.

 

To prove he was a wide awake boy he went out alone for a night on the town, hoping he wouldn't be upstaged or have amorous intentions interfered with. He met a girl but she didn't recognize him, didn't want to. She was hung up on meat. She had been in a car with a couple of homo sapiens who had picked him up once. They dropped him off early, she was pretty for the places Vincent inhabited and he would have loved to love her if she could have replied but they always have a better man in mind. Put it down to inexperience and is the price as good as the imagining? That was the interval of the Graham Parker concert in the State Theatre. The statues on the wall were shaking, he was careful not to be under them. He left his seat for the freedom of the aisle and contributed his bit to the enthusiastic audience. Someone stole his whiskey and a row of young men smacked their lips suggestively as he looked for it, claiming responsibility and not caring if he held them to it. The concert was a rage, the whiskey would have obliterated him, left him mugged or in jail.

 

After the concert he caught a taxi to a wine bar where he hoped to meet some friends. It was their haunt. They weren't there so he left a message for them: “I'm into everything now!” Well, not everything. Then it was the bus to the other side of the harbour. Marge, Melvin and he were staying in a house Melvin was renovating. It was in Palm Beach, too far to go that night so he snuck in to their other house with a bottle of bubbly he'd got after hours. He had chatted up a player from an all women band that travelled Europe. “Is that all you do? Listen to music?” she said.

 

“Yes,” he dishonestly replied, hoping music would lead to other things.

 

“No,” he couldn't come home with her, there were other people in the house. So Vincent asked for champagne but they only had Australian bubbly. He slept on the floor and got up early in the morning before anyone discovered him. Soon he was on his way in public transport to Palm Beach. The bubbly tucked under his arm. Melvin went away to buy drugs. He was always a polite ask-er. Vincent paid for the drugs but not for Melvin's travelling expenses, Marge was on Vincent's side. They had the bubbly for breakfast, with drugs. Marge started crying: life, age, boyfriend. Vincent felt inhibited and sadly packed up his things and left, without saying goodbye.

 

He made his way down to the bus stop. He was in a daze from the drugs he'd taken. He went into a milk bar to ask the time


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