I love these photo’s, taken in photo booths where space is limited, so you move in close. It captures a side of men not often seen – soft, vulnerable, loving, touching. There are no judgements or assumptions on these mens relationships to each other – some are obvious, others could be lovers, partners, brothers or close friends. Whatever they are to each other, they are beautiful.
You’ve got mail’
The small icon in the task bar flashed. A flat, metallic female voice made the announcement. Wayne Jenkins opened the email program. He clicked on the ‘GET MAIL’ button, watching as 6 messages were delivered to his in-box.
Two were jokes from an overseas friend, and he deleted these without even opening them. Always the same jokes, often 5 or 6 a day. He was bored with them, but didn’t bother to tell them not to send them anymore. He didn’t want to ruin their fun. Another message was from his mother. He flagged it to answer when he had time. His mother had just discovered the joys of email, and was driving everyone in the family mad with them; group emailing everyone the most trivial titbit of family gossip. Still, he was pleased to have watched her go from technophobe to, at least, using the more basic computer applications. She was even taking lessons in Internet surfing at her local senior cits.
There were two emails from work mates, regarding some cost estimates the company was organising for a retail company. They wanted their firewalls upgraded, and some really sophisticated anti-virus programs added to their in-house systems. ‘Virtec’ stood to make a killing out of the deal.
The last email was from his friend, Alison. It was a private message. He hadn’t heard from her for a while. He noticed that the message had been forwarded from her work address, and there was an attachment. He clicked on the attachment, and his anti-virus program suddenly loaded. A window appeared on his message screen, informing him that the attachment contained a virus. It listed a number of options for dealing with the situation, including cleaning the message, deleting, or quarantining it. I small ‘ping’ sounded when the window opened, which drew the attention of George Rogerson, his supervisor. George came over, glancing at the window.
“Anything serious, Wayne?” he inquired, peering over Wayne’s shoulder.
“Nah, I don’t think so. The message is from a friend. She probably doesn’t even know it’s infected. What do you think I should do with it?” Wayne asked, looking up at the supervisor. “Clean and then delete?”
George looked serious for a second. “Naw, quarantine it, will you! And see if it has a name. Nobodies notified me of any new virus. Let’s see what the baby is made of,”, he answered, walking back to his workstation.
Wayne made sure George was intent on his monitor, and clicked the ‘FORWARD’ button on his mail program, then addressed the message to his in-box at home. A copy of the message and its attachment disappeared into cyberspace. He would check it out himself when he got home tonight. He scrolled down to the attachment, and noticed that the file name was ‘last~mail.vid’. Never heard of that one, he thought to himself. Maybe Alison had discovered some new virus, unintentionally. He shrugged his shoulders, then clicked the quarantine button. That should hold the little fucker for a while. He closed his email program, and went back to the document he had been working on.
‘You’ve got mail’.
The e-mail program at Wayne’s home had the same flat, metallic voice, only this one was male. He opened his browser, and downloaded the mail. Four messages from his mother, this time. The subject lines included ‘A messge from mum’, with the ‘a’ missing from message; ‘mickey’s cute saying’, with a small ’M’ for Mickey, his four-year-old nephew; ‘Some fun sites that Mr Nokes at the centre has found’. He couldn’t wait to see what the local 70+ brigade considered fun sites. He somehow didn’t think it would quite fit into his idea of fun. The last was headed ‘I got this from Alison’. He highlighted this message, and it opened in his browser;
‘What am I supposed to do with this’, his mother had typed, minus the question mark He really had to speak to her about using spell-check on her messages. ‘please answer by email.’ Wayne laughed. His mother was inscrutable sometimes.
The ‘last~mail.vid’ attachment was at the bottom of the email. Wayne screwed up his face. How many people had Alison sent this infected email to? He’d email her back later and warn her about what she was doing. Meantime, he’d quarantine it. He clicked on the attachment, and the anti-virus window came up. He quarantined the attachment, and went back to answering his mail, starting with his mother.
An hour later, he sent the last email. That should keep his mother quiet for a couple of hours. He swore she sat up half the night these days, surfing sites with outdated jokes, and probably checking up on the stock prices of companies running nursing homes. He wondered if she had encountered any porn sites yet! He could just see the look on her face! And he bet she never told Mr Nokes about them, either. The old blighter would probably have a heart attack at anything more blatant than a set of tits. He snickered to himself.
He was about to shut the system down, when he remembered the quarantined email. He doubted George would have remembered it at work. It’d be great if he could go in tomorrow with details of what it was about. With any luck, they would have an antidote for it by lunch time tomorrow, and have an update out to all their subscribers by late afternoon. He opened his anti-virus program, and clicked on the quarantined button.
It opened another window, with the quarantined virus attachment. His company had worked for years with this quarantine program, designing it so that any virus opened within it would be confined while they worked on dissecting it.
He clicked on the ‘last~mail.vid’ file name. It opened to reveal a teddy bear icon. The teddy bear wore a tiny tartan vest, and had his hand raised in welcome.
“Cute!” Wayne said to the monitor. He clicked on the small icon, and a specially designed anti-virus multimedia player opened within the quarantine section. His company had designed this software to cater to any contingency, and at times like this he felt sure that the millions spent on product development every year was warranted. He waited a minute for the player to load the video. The pause button was accentuated.
Wayne pushed the pause button, which turned itself into a ‘play’ arrow. There was several seconds of blue screen. The teddy bear with the tartan vest appeared on the screen. He turned his waving hand over, and stuck his thumb up in the air. Over the computer’s sound system came a small, scratchy voice:
“Sooner or later, someone, somewhere had to be a stupid fucker and open up this package. Don’t you know that last~mail means just that – last-mail!”
The screen went blank.
Wayne had a split second to see the teddy bear smile!
My partner and I actually witnessed this happening at a Historic Houses Trust function held at the old Mint building in Macquarie St. We were members of the group in the corner, and did eventually get fed, though at one stage it seemed unlikely. Any comparisons to people living or dead is purely coincidental!
The waitress peeked around the doorway leading from the kitchen to the cobbled yard. Peering hard through the crowd, she lined her sights up with the area on the far side rear of the courtyard, the area that she was determined to get to.
The coast appeared clear. Everyone was chatting amiably to each other, and noone appeared to take any notice of the white capped head darting in and out of the doorway.
Raising the tray of canapés high above her head, she released a deep sigh of relief, then took in a deep breath and bolted out of the doorway. Heading for her targeted area in the yard, she lithely ducked and weaved, performed a quick pirouette, and a hard-practiced pas de deux while keeping her target firmly in her sights, and her tray held high
But it wasn’t to be! One loud, overdressed old matron saw her from the corner of her wrinkled eye, and let out a high pitched squeal of triumph, attracting the attention of those in her proximity!
The poor bedraggled waitress didn’t stand a chance as the vultures closed in on her, gnarled hands scrabbling high as they greedily grabbed for the sandwiches offered on the tray.
The people in the far corner of the courtyard – the group being targeted by the waitress – let out a yell of disbelief as this was the sixth tray to have not reached them this night. With wineglasses clanking, and false teeth gnashing in glorious victory, the vultures moved back to their groups, spitting sandwich crumbs at each other, safe in the knowledge that no prey was getting past them this night.
The waitress dropped the tray down by her side, a look of sheer desperation and resignation crossing her face as once again she headed back to the kitchen.
The people in the corner, fearing starvation, regrouped to consider their options. A group of girls, obvious leftovers from their school ‘wallflower’ days and undoubtedly still unkissed, joined them to plan an attack. Their equally unattractive boyfriends had the ‘lean and hungry’ look that foretold of struggles yet to come, albeit post-acne.
An old duck in a loud floral pants suit watched, was glancing salaciously between the slowly increasing group of enforced dieters, and the kitchen. She glanced at her watch, estimating the time of the next assault.
The president of the group, struggling on his walking stick, hobbled to the microphone to intone the rest of the evening’s proceedings. The young blues group, entertaining nobody but themselves, stopped their warbling.
The vultures turned to the stage, and for several minutes were distracted enough to not notice the waitress making another foray toward the sustenance starved group at the back of the yard. A desperate, vegetarian lesbian threw herself at the waitress, but not being as tall as all the others, not quite as agile, nor quite launching herself quickly enough, got knocked aside. A gentleman in ‘old man’ beige turned and yelled a signal to Ms Loud Pantsuit. She spotted the tray, and on wobbly heels – the courtyard was cobbled – threw herself once again across the yard in a flurry of windmilling-arms and multi-coloured silk.
The waitress was not to be outdone this time. She climbed onto her toes, raised the tray up onto the tips of her fingers and lunged through the group of old cronies. The president was yelling something about “everyone being welcome, and wasn’t everyone just having the time of their lives”, but to no avail. The direction of the evening had been changed quite unwittingly from what was proposed.
Adding support to the harried waitress, other waiters and waitresses rushed from the kitchen, heading in all directions. The vultures were for a moment unsure which way to go, and it looked for a split second that the throngs at the rear might yet be fed. An elderly, almost lithe woman in purple and green flowing voile did a high jump that would have made Steve Hooket proud. With claw like hand, she grabbed three sandwiches off the tray, and threw them amongst her compatriots. Doing an agile – at least for her age – hop, step and jump, she managed to snatch a further four sandwiches from the tray. The yard was in turmoil as the vultures attacked the other tray bearers as they wended their way through the throng.
The waitress hung her head in despair. Tray hanging from her hand, she cast a lost look at the group she had tried valiantly to fend for. Almost with a tear in her eye, she whispered an ‘I’m sorry. So truly sorry’ to the vegetarian lesbian, and started her lonely trek back to the kitchen.
Never had so few been fed by so many!
Time to regroup for the next assault.
In the courtyard, the vultures picked over the bones in the far corner.
I am not a misogynist! This piece is set in a particular period in the late 80s/early 90s when anti-discrimination laws were being set in place that brought about irreconcilable changes to the gay scene as we knew it! The attitude to women invading what had – to then – been male spaces was real, angry and palpable. I hope my female readers don’t take it to heart.
It was always dim in The O – as The Oxford was affectionately known – irrespective of the time of day, though at times like this, it could be an advantage. The twilight lighting helped to cover up dark bags under the eyes, and always made people look a little bit younger than they actually were. The DJ was in cocktail-hour-mode, and James looked up to see who was playing as he passed the DJ box. Patti Labelle’s ‘Oh People’ was playing, and James winced slightly. This track always reminded him of funerals these days. He moved to a table near the Oxford Street window, where Stewart was already ensconced.
‘God, I still feel like shit!’ Stewart muttered as he got up and headed to the bar. James smiled at his mate as the schooners were placed down,
“Cheers!” Said James, and they clinked glasses, then taking a sip of the beer..
Stewart looked like shit, though he got away with it by being casually dressed in a pair of jeans and a white tee shirt. He had made an attempt to tidy his hair, but it really wasn’t working. A cow-lick stuck up at the back. He looked harried, and had that puffy look you tended to get after a night of drinking.
James, was still fuming from his mornings episode with his ex-partner-now-flatmate Tommy, and quietly hoped that Tommy’s body puffed up twice as much as everyone else. It would serve him bloody right! Did he think fucking money grew on trees!Stewart straddled a bar stool, and settled himself in by stacking his cigarettes and lighter in a pile next to the ashtray. Looking off into space, he waved his burning cigarette over the table, missed the ashtray, and blew the ash that had landed on the table into James lap.
James scowled, threw Stewart “a look” and lit his own cigarette. ‘Well, to be quite honest, you look like fuckin’ shit. I hope you at least managed to get yourself a fuck. Would be the only appeasement for all the suffering you seem to be going through this morning…again,” James smirked. He would have loved a dollar for overtime this happened!
‘Well, lets just say I wasn’t alone this morning when you rang.’ Stewart turned his eyes upward andrepositioned himself on the stool, turning to gaze towards the bar a couple of feet away from him. ‘If we had sex, I certainly can’t remember it. I don’t even remember taking him home! Wouldn’t have a clue what his name was. I just called him Darl all morning. I don’t think he remembered mine either. He called me mate, if he had to talk to me at all, and there wasn’t too much yak going on, I can tell you. Thankfully, I didn’t have to chew my arm off this morning to get away from him.’ A smile took the puffiness out of his face for an instant. ‘I’m going to be conceited enough to assume that I was great sex. I still show a bit of fuckin’ taste, even when I’m pissed.’ Stewart looked pleased with himself, and James smiled at him across the tiny metal disc that supposedly passed for a table in the bar.
‘Seeing him again, are we?’ James quizzed.
‘Shit no, Jimmy. No serious relationships for this girl. I mean, I’ve got you as an example of how to make all the bad mistakes with men, don’t I?’
‘Thanks for reminding me of that. Want a drink, or is that a stupid question?’
James smiled again, loving the way Stewart squirmed when he had to try to recollect nights out – any nights out – when he had lost the plot somewhere in the interim.
“Yeah, I’ll have a hair of the dog that bit me. Get me a Gordon’s and tonic, will you mate.’
‘Is that mate as in friend, or mate as in ex-fuck,’ James couldn’t help himself.
‘You should be so lucky,’ Stewart retorted, poking out his tongue at his friend. James pushed himself off the stool and wandered over to the bar, blowing out a plume of smoke as he went.
‘G’day Jerry, give me two Gordon’s and tonics will you. Bit sad in here at the moment, isn’t it?’ he said to the barman, who was topping up the glasses from the post mix. Jerry had been the bar manager here for a couple of years now, and had helped get James his job here as a DJ.
‘It’s a bit sad in here at the best of times!’ Jerry sniped back, then let out one of the donkey brays he called a laugh. ‘That’ll be $4.50. I won’t charge you for the lack of atmosphere”.
James smiled and turned to cruise the bar perimeter. Picking up the drinks he turned back to the table. It was always a bit sad in here early in the afternoon. Either people with hangovers from the night before, people coming down off their drugs, or desperados who never got a pick-up last night, and thought the hangover brigade may be easy pickings. God, queens were so desperate sometimes! It was situations like this that made James glad he had a couple of fuck buddies he could rely on if things got really desperate. He took a stiff drag on his smoke, coughed, and decided to ignore the disparaging ‘Fuckin’ smokers’ comment from the elderly guy standing next to him. Fucking old bores. Should be locked away in nursing homes. The thought of them chasing each other around nursing home gardens, trying desperately to pick each other up even though they couldn’t remember their own names, let alone get a hard-on, made him smile.
He looked back over his shoulder at Stella.
There was a time when Stewart almost ended up amongst the fuck buddy-brigade. The day he met Tommy was the day he thought he had finally lined Stewart up for a fuck. He had spent all afternoon working on him. Had him primed on alcohol and all! Jesus, how could he have swapped Stewart for fucking Tommy? Talk about making stupid mistakes. Stewart had been, and still was, quite a looker – well, at least he usually was if he wasn’t recovering from a night on the tiles – and he had this chatty way about him that James found appealing. A combination of brains, beauty and humour! That could do it for James every time. Well, whatever the attraction for Stewart had been, it had certainly been working that night, even if the lustre had worn off pretty quickly. Anyway, he and Stewart had ended up the best of mates, so something good had come out of what potentially had not been so great – meeting Tommy! James couldn’t count the number of times he had taken guys home, given them a good fucking, then been ignored by them in the bar the next day, like he didn’t even exist. Shallow pricks! Tommy had spoken to him the next day, which almost made him husband material, for starters
He finally picked up the drinks, and moved back to the table at the window nearest the main street. He and Stella (Stewart was called Stella more often than by his real name) would often sit here for hours. They just gossiped away, and watched the passing parade, laughing at the dero’s passing by and trying to get money off people, the really badly dressed queens who thought they were so cool, and the hunky guys running around the street in singlet and shorts, the bulges of their cocks making an obvious show to all and sundry. It was a good way to pass an easy afternoon, no hassles, and a lot of laughs.
‘Well, what are you going to do about friggin’ Tommy? This is becoming a bit of a fucking habit with him, isn’t it?’ Stewart said, taking a sip out of his drink, clicking his teeth against the rim of the glass in an annoying way. ‘It’s not as if he could still be lovesick for you or anything. God, Who would get lovesick over you! You know what I reckon? I think he just likes to give you the shits. He knows he can get a rise out of you, so he does these fucked up things and doesn’t count the bloody cost.’ There was a brief pause for another sip. ‘Does he still reckon he’s in love with Mark? I got so sick of hearing him go on about it, I just avoid him when I see him now.’ Stella stared at James, as if to make sure he was still listening. James tended to tune out when Tommy’s name came up in conversation. ‘If Trevor ever gets wind of it, there will be hell to pay. I don’t think they’re fucking, though Tommy likes to make out they are – but I don’t think Mark is stupid enough to fuck up his relationship. Shit, he and Trevor have been together for years! Almost enough to make a girl jealous! But only almost! I reckon Tommy just has a very fertile imagination, which is going to get him into big fucking trouble if he’s not careful.’ Stella picked up his drink again, and started to slowly spin the glass between his fingers, swirling the ice, which clinked as it churned around.
‘Yeah, exactly my thoughts Stella. I’m sure Trevor must have heard all the gossip by now. Shit, it’s all Tommy talks about when he’s sober. I don’t know what to fucking do about him. He’s not even a good flatmate! He never does any cooking, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him lift a duster. He reckons he doesn’t want to break any of my stuff! So what’s he bloody do instead? He has a night on the bloody piss and does a rampage right through the apartment. All my Ching dynasty china is gone now, after last nights little episode. He’s too fucking expensive to keep, and too fucking expensive to get rid of, if you know what I mean! I guess in some ways, he’s almost too perfect. He pays his rent and bills on time, so he’s good like that. I don’t know! I guess the question is, can I be bothered with all the hassle involved in getting someone reliable to replace him, if I tell him to piss off.’ James stared back out the window, noticing the streaks that the window washer had left when cleaning them. Because of the dark, tinted glass they stuck out like a dog’s balls.
‘Ummm! A bit of a problem, isn’t it.’ Stella said, also looking out the window. ‘If John wasn’t still staying with me, you could tell Tommy to take over the apartment, and move in with me. We could do the sisters-together thing! We’ve always got along okay, and I already know you’re a fuckin’ pain in the arse, so I know what to bloody well expect.’
‘Thanks, I think! But I guess I’ll try to work things through with Tommy before I jump into the fire. He really needs to see a very patient counsellor, but I can’t bleeding well force him to do that.’ James lit another cigarette, and there was a few minutes silence while they both puffed away. James rhythmically kicked the table support with his foot, causing the table to vibrate slowly. ‘I mean, this whole thing with Mark is just psychotic! Tommy follows the poor prick everywhere. He waits until he hears or sees him leaving the building, then he’s out the front door like a fucking shot. Then he just has to come home and give me endless tirades about where Mark has been, who he’s been talking too, every single bloody word of conversation that goes on between the two of them. As if I fucking care!’ Another plume of smoke drifted out of his mouth. ‘Shit, I have enough hassles keeping my own life together, let alone worrying about anyone else.’
They both picked up their drinks and coasters as a bar useful wiped down the table and emptied the ashtray. They both cruised the shirtless, young hunk leaning over their table. They both checked out his tight arse as he moved to the next table. Stewart looked up and James felt him staring. He looked up quickly, in time to catch Stewart’s intense stare.
‘You’re looking really stressed, girlfriend. Is everything okay at work? You mentioned something last week about getting the shits with it.’ Stewart looked genuinely concerned.
James nodded his head. He managed a store on the strip, and DJ,d in his spare time. ‘The job’s really starting to shit me now. You know that fucking shop is my pride and joy.’ A look of exasperation crossed his face. ‘I’ve worked so bloody hard to get it where it is, and what happens? They send in new guys. That new area manager is a real cunt. We hated each other from first sight, and it’s just gotten worse from that point.’ James said, gazing out the window to the passing parade
James and the area manager had clashed from day one. James was used to really good rapport with his superiors, and the last area manager had been well aware that a store in Darlinghurst benefitted from having a gay manager, and had always been very supportive. But this new guy…big-time trouble! He didn’t like queens, and had made that really obvious. When he found out that James was a HIV+ boy, he really turned the heat up. Even took James aside for a ‘quiet coffee’ and told him that perhaps he should consider leaving the job – only for the sake of his health, of course! Prick! He had been on James’ back ever since, picking on every little thing, and generally making life as difficult, and as uncomfortable, as possible. James was fucking over it!
‘I’ll see how it goes. I might quit if things don’t improve, which doesn’t seem likely at this time. I wish I had a bloody witness for some of the things the pious prick has said to me. I’d sue the fucking bastards for every cent I could get.’ James drummed his fingers on the table top, then loudly slapped his palm down, causing Stewart to jump. ‘You want to know what really worries me, girlfriend? All the stress! It’s starting to knock my health around. Anyway, thanks for the thought, but that’s enough about my problems. How’s the bar job at Barracks going?’
‘Pretty bloody good, actually. I think they’re about to give me a few more shifts. Hell, the fucking extra money certainly wouldn’t go astray.’ Stella rubbed his hands together. ‘By the way, before I forget to tell you – as if I’d dare – it’s John’s birthday next weekend. I’m throwing a bit of a shindig for him at home. I have a little surprise lined up, so don’t make any plans. Get there late afternoonish, if you can. I could do with an extra set of hands.’ Stella pouted his lips and threw James a kiss across the table, ‘You know what my parties are like. It will probably still be going on Sunday night.’
Stella had a reputation for really over-the-top parties, and relished the reputation. ‘I’m setting up the porn room again. It worked really well at the last party, as I’m sure you’d remember. Slut! Never know, you might meet the next great love of your life – again!’ He threw James another smirk.
James didn’t take the bait. ‘Right! I’m sure my mother would love to meet a boyfriend I met in a porn room at a party. I can just see me trying to explain that situation to her. Shit! She’s a fucking romantic. She’d never understand this.’ A young twink wandered past the window. Obviously on his way home from the gym, he stopping to admire himself in the glass, little knowing that he was being observed from the other side of the glass. He distracted James for a second. ‘She has enough problems with the gay thing as it is. I think she actually gets off on the breast-beating and guilt trip. You know, mea culpa, mea culpa!’ James struck his chest three times. ‘Sometimes I wish my curiosity, to know what happened to her after she pissed off and left my brother and myself with my old man, had just stayed as curiosity.’ James looked serious for a moment, then turned back to the window. The twink had gone.
James and his mother had a very tenuous relationship. She had walked out on his old man when James was 11, and Kevin, his brother, was 6. They had got home from school one day, and she just wasn’t there. There had been no explanation forthcoming from their father, though he did issue an edict that, as far as everyone was concerned, she was dead. Fucking families, James thought. She had remarried in the early 70’s, and James had a half sister from that marriage. He tended not to have much to do with his step-family. Ray, his step-father, was a homophobe, and with an eighteen-year gap between him and his half-sister, they didn’t really share anything in common, other than the same mother. She had never been able to handle him being gay. And thought it was all her fault that James was “that way”, that if she hadn’t left home, it may have been different. He let her live with this delusion. James had never been game to tell her he was HIV+. She carried enough guilt already. He didn’t want to be responsible for adding to it. So he kept it a quiet lie. Fortunately, his mother lived with such a huge amount of denial that there was little chance that she would ever talk about HIV anyway.
‘I’ll be at the party with bells on.’ James replied. ‘Want me to bring Tommy, ha! ha! He can fill everyone in on the saga with Mark. I’m sure everyone’s hanging out for the next installment.’
‘You bring him, and I’ll castrate you, boyo, sister or not! Want another drink?’ Stewart got up from the stool, then leaned down on the table, putting his head in his hands. ‘Might take a couple of hairs to get back to normal, I reckon. Back in a sec.’ He headed toward the bar. James, unconsciously, noticed that he still had a great butt. He shook his head, and looked back out the window. A druggie girl with a baby in her arms was attempting to elicit money off a passer-by, all to no affect. The baby wasn’t pulling its weight today! James briefly wondered what sort of life the baby would have. Her boyfriend – who looked like he needed a good feed, and sported a stained singlet, rat’s tail, and cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth – stood nearby with a battered stroller. James could hear a muffled string of abuse from the girlfriend as those passing by picked up speed and ignored both her and baby. She thrust the baby into the boyfriends arms. James noted that she was probably about 25, but looked 70. She stormed off down the street still hurling abuse. The boyfriend hurriedly stuffed the baby into the stroller and headed off after her. James shook his head. Stewart returned, plonking the drink onto the coaster in front of him
‘Thanks for the gin, Stella.’ He peered intently over Stewart’s shoulder. ‘That’s a bit of a cutie sitting over there. I might come back later tonight and see if he’s still around.’ James flicked his thumb toward a young guy sitting near the front doors of the bar, looking somewhat furtively around the bar. Too cute to be a desperado. Wonder what his story is? James mulled to himself.
‘Fuck me! You got a fuck from Paul (a fuck buddy) last night, and already you’re chasing the next bit of arse. What if Paul turns up tonight, eh? I’ll betcha I know what’d happen, and the cutie would be on the fucking losing end of the deal, wouldn’t he, sweetheart!’
‘Nah, Paul won’t be out tonight. He’s throwing a dinner party with that girl he flats with – Vicki, or Nicki or something. He has very unhealthy relationships with the female sex, have you noticed! He’s got more female friends than he has male!’Something strange about that!’ James screwed up his face as he looked at Stewart. ‘That’s another reason why I have had second thought about actually getting seriously involved with him. I don’t know that I want my social life dominated by women. They’re okay in small doses, but that’s as much as I can handle.’ The screwed up face took on a more sinister aspect. ‘Look at how they have managed to fuck up all the local nightclubs. They bring in their straight wanker boyfriends, and the next thing you know, it’s straight city!! Those fucking young queens who spend half their lives dragging fag-hags around are going to have a lot to answer for, one of these days.’ James was spitting venom by this stage. ‘They’re fucking it up for everyone. Why can’t us guys have spaces for ourselves? The bloody lezzo’s are allowed to have them. Those new bleeding anti-discrimination laws are fucked,’ James snarled.
Stewart sat quietly, lost in a world of his own. James, feeling pleasantly calmed by his little outburst plus a couple of gins, started some serious cruising with the guy he had noticed earlier. He wasn’t exactly handsome, but there was a something about him that drew James attention. Maybe it was his eyes, or the non-gay way he was dressed. Almost as if he didn’t realise he was in a gay bar. James shivered! Déjà vu, he thought to himself. This was the sort of naïve thing Tommy did when he wanted to attract attention, and which he had used to hook James on the night they met. That was exactly the sort of look that had sucked him in that night, and James certainly didn’t want that episode repeated. Yet, despite the similarity in appeal, this guy looked more together than Tommy had.
‘How’s Don going?’ Stella broke into James reverie. ‘Is he out of hospital yet?’
‘Yeah, he got out two days ago. He’s not telling the whole story, you know! He’s fucking sicker than he lets on. I’m not silly. I know when someone’s trying to pull the wool over my eyes.’ James looked at Stella across the table, a concerned frown on his face.
‘Mmm. I thought he’d tell you what the problem is. You two have been mates for yonks.’ Stella tapped his fingers on the table, then stuck a finger in his mouth and started to chew on a fingernail. ‘He’s lost so much weight, and he’s takin’ a lot of time off work. Do you think he’s got the dreaded lergy?’ Stella asked, a slight grimace crossing his face.
‘Well, that’s what I originally thought, but I can’t work out why he’d be quiet about it. It’s not as if it’s such a rare thing these days, and he knows so many others with this fucking virus,’ James said, chewing on a piece of ice that had not melted in the glass. ‘I don’t think he’d keep it to himself if he had it.’ He appeared to think about it for a few seconds. ‘Naw! It’s something else. He’ll tell me in his own good time,’ James replied, unable to hide his concern. He was really worried about his mate, but didn’t want others to know how serious he thought Don’s illness was.
‘Well, I hope he fuckin’ does. There’s enough guys dropping off the perch as it is!’ Stella threw his own concerned look across the table.
Another couple of minutes passed in silence, both lost in their own thoughts. James looked back across the bar, and caught the cutie looking across at him, then quickly looking away.
‘Catch as catch can,’ James smiled at Stella across the table, pointing his chin in the general direction that he was looking in. Stella turned his head and looked back over his shoulder.
‘Umm! Lining things up for tonight already, are we?’ Stewart exclaimed as he thumped his glass down on the table. ‘I can see where your priorities lie at the moment, trash bag!’
‘Yeah. That guy is acting a bit like how Tommy was acting on the night we met. A bit spooky, actually.’
‘Fuck, don’t want a repeat of that, do we? We never did get to fuck. That night screwed that up, didn’t it?’ James threw a quizzical look across the table. ‘Don’t look at me like that! I knew you were trying to get me into the sack that night.’ Stella returned his look. ‘I shouldn’t tell you this, but I would have been in it, if Tommy hadn’t fuckin’ well shown up!’ Stella had one of those looks on his face that made it possible to believe that he wasn’t being serious, but then again he might be! James hated those looks! You never knew where you fucking well stood. ‘Well, look on the bright side of it – I would probably never have respected you again – as if I ever did – so it’s probably just as well it never happened. I think you make a better fucking sister.’
‘You’ve known that for four bloody years, and never said a word to me! How fucking rude are you! Sisters are never supposed to know that you wanted to lay them. Some things are supposed to be sacred, you know!’
‘Oh, I guess I’m only slightly miffed about that situation. You’ve been one of the best friends I’ve ever had in this city. Look at how I trash myself, and slut around, and you never ever criticise me for it, though I sometimes wish you fucking would! Might pull me into line a bit,’ Stella laughed.
‘Wouldn’t do me much damn good anyway. You’re just a lost cause. Anyway, I don’t know if I’d like you to be pulled into line. I love you the way you are.’
James blew him a kiss across the table. ‘Take the good with the bad, I reckon. Finish your bloody drink and your fag so I can go home for some dinner. With any luck, Tommy will still be in bed. I’ll meet you here about ten o’clock.’ James stood up to go, rocking the table as he learnt on it.
‘Okay gorgeous. Hold your horses for a sec.’ Stella drained the remains of the gin in one gulp. ‘Don’t you think it’s a bit chancy leaving me with the potential trade?’
‘That’s exactly why I don’t intend to leave until you do. AND I’ll ring you when I get home, just to make sure you haven’t snuck back.’ They both headed towards the door. Stella put his hand on James shoulder, and pushed him out the door.
‘That’s the problem with sisters. They know you too fucking well!’ he quipped, planting a kiss on James’s cheek before heading up the street.
It started in darkness!
In the darkness of the study, the silence was broken by the ‘kapoof’ of the monitor turning on. Its soft, fluorescent blue light eerily lit the desk and surrounding area. There followed a soft ‘buzz/scatch’, then a fanfare of music as the hard-drive sprung into action, its small green light flashing as the system booted up. On the screen, a logo lit up for a second, then the desktop appeared, and started to load the shortcut icons, and the system tray. The mouse moved silently over a blue ‘Save the Whales’ mouse pad. On the screen, the pointer moved quickly, with obvious purpose, to the ‘START” menu, and clicked. The menu opened, displaying the program names, and highlighted the ‘INVID’ video program. The program booted, to show a cyber-punk-skinned media player. The pointer moved to the ‘PLAY’ button on the player, and in the darkness, a man’s smiling, handsome face appeared. One click on the maximise button, and the face filled the screen. The smile broadened!
Out in the hallway, an over-active six-year-old played on the landing with an Action Man figure, placing a huge studded plastic ball-on-a-chain into the figures right hand, and stretching it back over its shoulder. When he let the arm go, the ball sprung over the Action Man’s shoulder, and shot off down the hall, ricocheting off the study door. The ball made a loud THUD as it hit the door, then fell to the floor and rolled back about one foot. Young Christopher cheered. ‘I’ve killed you, Spiderman!’ he yelled at the top of his voice, crawling forward to collect the ball for a second onslaught.
Down below the stairway, in a small alcove, Karen Peters was about to make a phone call. She smiled as she looked up the stairs at her son. It was good to hear him yell. He was getting over his father’s death at last. And not before time, either! It had been nearly twelve months since he had died, and though she didn’t really miss her husband – it had never been a love match, let’s face it – Christopher did, and she thought, not for the first time since the accident, that he was never going to stabilise. If she had known how long things were going to take to return to normal, she would never have involved herself in Paul’s plan to get rid of Andrew. Divorce would have been easier, but Andrew would fight to the very end. His family, running a long established marketing company, had amassed millions over the generations, and Andrew had access to it so she faced losing Christopher in a custody battle. Especially if details of her infidelity happened to come to light! That was a risk she wasn’t willing to take! She loved her son, and knew that Andrew did as well. He would deny her a divorce just to give Christopher a fully parented growing-up.
She had met Paul during a major opening at her gallery, just after Christopher’s birth. They had been having the affair almost from that point. She was sure Andrew knew, as there was certainly no fucking in the marital bed these days. If he did know, he wasn’t saying anything. She didn’t know if he was fucking anyone or not – though she did suspect one of her closest friends – and she really didn’t care. Let’s be realistic, she thought to herself. If he was screwing someone else, he was leaving her alone.
It didn’t take much convincing on Paul’s part to talk her into putting a slow leak into one of the car tyres. It was winter, and the roads were icy, so accidents did happen. Andrew did have a reputation for not looking after anything mechanical he owned. A few crocodile tears when the police showed up at the door; some kind words and a comforting hug to her mother and father-in-law; regular trips to the cemetery. She was pretty sure nobody suspected anything.
The coroner had judged it a misadventure, and that, frankly, had been that! Though Paul was keen to move in, she felt that would be a bad move. She had told him to hold off for a year, until a ‘normal’ amount of time – as deemed reasonable by their parent’s and friends – had passed, and people would be expecting her to be getting her life back on track.
Christopher’s perchance for fantasy toys however, she hadn’t counted on.
Upstairs in the hallway, Action Man was about to launch his second assault. He had bought in reinforcements in the guise of rocket-roller-blades Action Man, clutching a long, hard-plastic lance, which he was rolling down the hallway towards Spidermen. Muscles bulging, his lance poised in front of him like a knight of old, Christopher pushed the lance-bearing figure a bit harder than he intended.The figure shot straight past Spiderman, and through the banister rungs at the edges of the landing. Christopher cheered at his accuracy. As he moved towards the edge of the stairs to climb down and collect the errant figure, the study door creaked open. In the darkness beyond the door, he saw a soft blue glow. He was momentarily distracted by a scream f issuing up from the lower floor, but curiosity got the better of him, and he headed towards the partially open study door. Pushing it open, he broke into a beaming smile.
‘Daddy!’ he yelled, as he entered the room.
Karen had just lifted the phone to her ear. She looked up just in time to see the Action Man figure hurtling toward her through space. If she had time to comprehend what was happening, she would have laughed at the incongruous sight of the figure taking flight, but it was time that was denied her. It hit her full in the face, it’s spear entering her left eye, and piercing right through to her brain. She didn’t even have time to hear Christopher cry “Daddy”, as if she would have believed what he cried out anyway.
In the study, two figures embraced on the screen of the monitor. They both peered out, as the pointer moved to the ‘SHUT DOWN’ command.
It ended in darkness!
This was a comic story I started when writing at UTS. It is an ongoing story and obviously not finished.
‘Bloody trolls!’ Cadfel muttered, slamming the front door behind him and entering the small dining room.
‘What are they up to now?’ Fingel asked, putting the morning edition of ‘Gnome News’ on the table, glancing at Cadfel as he plonked himself into a chair opposite.
‘They’s got the bleedin’ Fairies up in arms, they has,’ he said, thumping the table, making the teapot, cups and saucers jump several inches. ‘Tryin’ to take over the garden fountain, filthy creatures that they is!’ he yelled, thumping the table again. The teapot moved precariously towards the edge of the table. ‘Fairies ain’t happy at all. You know how they feel about the fountain, especially after all the wand tapping and sprite spells they’ve used to get it right.’ He folded his hands on the table and peered at Fingel over the top of his glasses. ‘They’s talking about a strike! They want the trolls out, and I can’t says I blame them. Where goin’ to have to talk this out with them.’ He tapped his fingers on the table, suddenly giving it another thump. This was too much for the teapot. It teetered for a second, then crashed to the floor. Steam emanated from its remains, tea leaves splattering the table legs, and the shoes of the gnomes seated at the table.
Fingel jumped, a look of exasperation crossing his wrinkled face. ‘Please Cadfel, not another meeting. You know trolls and fairies can’t be in the same room together. Shit, can’t we find some other way to negotiate? Bloody trolls will stink the place out! They only want the fountain out of spite. You know that!’
‘Yeah, I knows,’ Cadfel answered, bending down and starting to collect the pieces of broken china scattered over the floor. ‘Bloody rotters never wash, so I don’t know what they ’s wantin’ with the bleedin’ fountain. Probably just want to muck it up, just to give them fairies the shites.’
‘Reckon you’re right’ Fingel replied. ‘Best we go and see the fairies and try to sort this out right now. I don’t want a meeting if I can help it. Bloody fairies flitting all around the room, tapping their bloody wands on everything, and making out they’re so bloody high and mighty.’ He rolled his eyes. ‘Then the trolls humping and grumping everywhere, shaking their fleas over the fairies just to give them the shits, scratching and moulting everywhere. Hell, Cadfel, we have to sort this out without a meeting.’ He headed towards the door.
‘Come on, let’s go and see if we can calm Pookie and her lot down a bit!’
Cadfel dropped the pieces of the broken pot in the garbage tin, and followed Fingel out, slamming the door behind him.
The cup and saucer crashed to the floor.
Leaving the gum tree, they waddled down the path towards the dell. Elves, now resident in the plots of Kangaroo Paw that had been planted in groupings down the path edge, peered out at them as they passed, tittering to each other in elf-talk. Pretending that nobody could see them was one of their favourite games, though Cadfel occasionally ventured the opinion that is was pretty stupid pretending no one could see you when they were looking straight at you. Still, that was elves, and like everything else they did, none of it made sense.
Continuing down the path, a group of six fairies floated toward them – you could tell they were fairies from the gossamer wings on their backs – bearing placards with ‘GIVE US BACK OUR FOUNTAIN’, ‘DOWN WITH TROLLS’ and ‘FAIRY POWER’, rounding a bend that led around to the wishing well. Pookie, the lead fairy, was in a tizz, buzzing backward and forward through the group, yelling rousing chants and trying hard to get the group agitated. They halted when Cadfel and Fingel approached, grouping tighter together to form a barrier across the pathway.
‘Okay Pooks! What’s going on?’ Fingel asked, ducking his head to avoid a shower of fairy dust aimed straight at him. ‘Can we try to keep this civilised. We don’t want any trouble from you lot.’
‘Don’t talk to us about trouble,’ Pookie warbled, swooping over his head, swishing her wand and sending out another shower of dust. ‘It’s those awful trolls. It’s not enough that they go around stinking up the garden. They’re now leaving tide marks in the fountain, splashing around in it like they owned it. The waters polluted, Fingel! Polluted, I tell you!’ she grabbed a ‘TROLLS LEAVE TIDE LINES’ placard off the fairy closest to her, and shook it in their faces. ‘No more favours from the fairies, boys! We’re on strike! No pleasant dreams, no magic mushroom rings, and no fairy bread, fairy floss or fairy cakes until we get our fountain back!’ She thrust the placard back at the fairy she had grabbed it from, and with a heave-ho of her tiny hand, ushered the hovering, glittery group straight through the middle of the two gnomes.
‘Shite!’ said Cadfel, watching them as they vanished up the path, thrusting the placards at the elves as they passed by, as if the elves would care! Too bloody busy pretending nobody could see them, as usual. ‘What we gunna do now, Fingel?’ Cadfel asked, turning back to his friend.
‘Guess we’d better go and see what the trolls are up to,’ Fingel replied. ‘Let’s go and see what damage they’ve done, and try to negotiate a peace.’ He started to work his way down the path, ‘Shit Cadfel, they threatened no fairy bread. We can’t have this! We can’t go without fairy bread!’
Cadfel sighed, following him towards the wishing well.
They continued on down the path, kicking up fairy dust litter as they went. Turning a bend just past a bed of Aster daisies, the tiny-pitched roof of a wishing well came into view. A light plume of steam rose from behind the well, then suddenly a small dragon appeared, nipping at their heels and singeing their shoelaces with tiny licks of fire emitting from its mouth.
‘Calm down, Scales,’ A tiny water sprite appeared from the bucket suspended over the opening to the well. ‘It’s only the gnomes! Don’t carry on so. I’m sorry guys,’ the tiny figure replied, climbing out of the bucket and standing on the edge of the well. ‘Scales is still a baby, and a bit on the naughty side. You know what these Australasian dragons are like. They either say bugger-all, or you can’t shut them up!’
‘What’s ya doin’ in the well?’ Cadfel inquired, peeking over the edge.
‘Hiding from the bleeding fairies. Cor, ain’t they on the warpath,’ the sprite replied, grabbing the dragons lead, and attempting to bring it to heel, without much luck. A small shrub near the edge of the path went up in flames, causing Fingal to jump.
‘Well, trolls will be trolls,’ Fingal said, blowing on the small fire in an attempt to put it out. He gave up, turning back to the sprite, who was walking back from the well with a pail of water in his tiny hand. He threw it over the flames.
‘Bad boy!’ he shouted at the dragon, shaking a finger. The dragon ignored him, singeing a patch of grass as he snuffled around.
‘The fairies are a bit upset, losing their fountain and all. We’re on our way to negotiate with the trolls. We’ll try to broker some sort of agreement. Want to join us, Gaddy?’
‘Naw, don’t think so, Fingal. Got my hands full with Scales at the moment. Anyway, never have liked that Pookie. A bit high and mighty for my liking,’ he replied, finding himself being dragged back towards the well by Scales. ‘Good luck, all the same. It’s time those trolls were put in their place. Always causing trouble.’
The dragon was on its back, and Gaddy was rubbing its belly. Steam puffed out the dragon’s mouth as it rolled around, obviously enjoying the attention.
‘Yeah, we understand. Cute dragon!’ Fingal said, starting to move back down the path. A sudden whoosh caused them to look back. Gaddy was stamping his feet, a puff of smoke rising up from his shoes.
‘Can we gets a dragon?’ Cadfel asked. ‘They sure looks like fun!’
The sound of splashing water and raucous laughter reached them before the fountain even came into view. As the gnomes came out from behind a poinsettia tree, a stream of water hit them, knocking them to the ground. They stood, wiping water from their faces. A grizzled figure stood a short distance from them, watching the shenanigans going on in the fountain. Five trolls jumped and splashed about in the murky water.
‘Your boys enjoying themselves, Wiggat?’ Fingel asked. The troll towered over him.
‘And what can we do for you nosey gnomes,’ Wiggat replied, guffawing as one of the swimmers did a double somersault, knocking a concrete frog off the edge of the fountain. The frog smashed, green concrete spraying in all directions.
‘This is Pooky’s territory,’ Fingel said, bending down and picking up some shards of concrete that had skittered as far as his feet. ‘She’s not happy about you boys dirtying up her fountain, and I can’t say that I blame her. Just look at it! It’s a right disgrace.’
The usually blue fountain water was dark grey, a scum mark noticeable where the water had retreated to, as the trolls frolicked about.
To be continued…
This short story (750 words WTF) was entered in last years GLBTQ Short Story Competition. I didn’t win anything, nor did I expect to. I am not really a story writer, but entered purely for the discipline of constraining my writing – usually 2,500-odd word articles and opinion pieces – to such a small word count. Needless to say, I did about 20 edits to get it right. I liked the end result, and was rather pleased with myself, even if the judges weren’t. The words “After the summer” had to be used somewhere in the story.
After the summer of suntans, surf and sand, it’s time to pack my “aussieBum” swimmers away for a few months. My hot, sexy “aussieBums” – called “Loose” because…well…they’re loose and let it all…hang out. Silky white nylon with black and grey side inserts. Double panel at the front… okay, nobody warned me that they became transparent when wet. Very transparent!
I guess it wouldn’t have taken much imagination on my part to assume that silky white flowing nylon, even with a double modesty panel, would be see-through when wet. Either I lack said imagination, or I’m a secret exhibitionist! Or maybe I should have listened to my friends, who without elaboration told me that it was very daring to wear them to the beach. I guess I also misinterpreted daring.
So here’s the scene. Beautiful, warm, late summer day. The cool blue waters – relatively calm for a change – at Tamarama beach. Me swimming – okay, thrashing about – in the crystal clear surf, ducking and weaving through waves and around legs. Standing up in waist deep water, feeling refreshed and invigorated, I headed for the beach.
It took me a minute to realise that everybody was staring at me as I walked from the surf and up the beach towards my towel. Was that a wolf whistle? Following the line-of-view of those closest to me, I glanced down. OMG whose cock was that! For a second, I was taken aback! Taking a second look down, I was confronted by the sight of my fully exposed, wet-nylon-clad cock and balls parading themselves for all to see. Aiding the spectacle, the long nylon cords, left dangling outside the briefs, spread themselves over each side of the shaft, framing it in a way that any porn mag would have been proud of, leading the eye down to my balls. The final hard-core porn moment involved gravity and the weight of dripping water, which was pulling the waist down just low enough to expose a tradie arse-crack at the rear, and a hint of my pride and joys – copper red pubes at the front!
Hands flapped! I mean what do you do with your fucking hands under these circumstances? Clutch them over my privates and pretend nothing was happening? A bit melodramatic and prudish, even for me! Put them on my hips and flaunt it? A quick hip gyration? Oh, that is just sick! Do a bit of I’m-a-little-teapot? I settled for the big girly quean swish, then flounced my way towards my towel. Nothing like flaunting the obvious! I noted a few sly smiles amongst the observers; others wanting to look but trying to be discreet about it; some tongue-tip poking and lip-licking; the sudden deafening roar of a thousand whispers…pssst pssst, titter titter! And yes, that was a wolf whistle! From my peer group I sort of found it flattering; however from the group of older guys en-route it was a bit creepy.
Yet, despite the mix of glances, the snickers and my total embarrassment at being so totally exposed, I found it all quite…erotic and exciting! A public display of not just cock – but my cock! I don’t need to remind you that these swim briefs are not discreet at the best of times, so getting an erection in them is putting on quite a show for everyone, especially when wet. It started erecting about half way back to my towel – was that another wolf whistle? – and by the time I reached it and threw myself on my stomach, it was in full, manly bloom. The looks I got from the older brigade at that stage were nothing short of drooling lasciviousness. Any hope of retaining dignity was out the window at the speed of light. Lying on my stomach, I suddenly realised that now my butt – pert, so I had been told – was on full display through wet moulded nylon for all to gaze upon – jealously, I hoped. The older brigade would be having conniptions by now! That image killed it. if my pert butt was to be gazed upon, it had to be by pert-butt-looking young men, not overweight perverts! Jumping up, I gathered the remains of my dignity, pulled my shorts on, grabbed my bag and towel, and to the sound of heartfelt applause – fled!
But there always has to be one last comment doesn’t there, and it had to come from the wizened ancients. “Nice arse, sweetie!”, folliwed by – you guessed it – a wolf whistle.
The next summer, they went public under a pair of boardshorts.
I originally wrote a set of five fantasy stories as my final assessment assignment at UTS in 2003. This was one of the stories. The tutor liked it, but felt it needed more detail and backstory regarding who “they” were. I didn’t agree then, and I still don’t. It is an open-ended story, in a similar style to Stephen King. The reader can let the story rest there, or create their own story on the mystery of the disappearance. In fact, if the mood took me – or takes me, for that matter – I could write a story that goes right back to the beginning. But I don’t like to rob a reader of their own imagination, their own ability to place themselves within the story. I don’t believe a writer always has to tell the complete story!
Andrew Terence Lonegan disappeared at approximately 7.18am, on that very ordinary Saturday morning. Newspapers had been delivered – some made their destination near the front door; yet others hid in garden beds, behind trees or wherever Matt Driver threw them as he made his rounds on his bicycle. You could imagine the scowls of the supposed recipients already as they searched them out to read, over their morning coffee. The milkman had been and gone, in a clank of bottles and a plume of backfired smoke from his old delivery van. With the chill now gone from the morning air, it was indeed a very ordinary Saturday.
We can be fairly sure it was about that time because Joe Dickson, out walking his dog Jackson as usual in the morning, passed by at 7.15am, and saw Andy doing a morning stretch on the verandah of their Ivy Street home. Joe was sure it was 7.15. He had taken a look at his watch, somewhat surprised that Andy, a notorious late-riser, was out and about at such an early hour.
We know that he was still there at 7.16, when Joanna, his mother (and a habitual watcher of the digital clock in their neat, laminex dominated kitchen) had called to him from the hallway, asking if he wanted a cup of tea. He had answered in the affirmative, and she had returned to the kitchen to place the kettle on the stove. At 7.19am, Steve Dobson, a local deliveryman, had been delivering an express package to the Sheens, who lived adjacent to the Lonegans. He had written the time on his delivery docket, and glancing across the road as he came back out the gate, he was sure he would have noticed if anyone stood on the verandah. It was empty!
At 7.20am, Joanna carried a cup and saucer, with a Twinings tea bag label draped neatly onto the saucer, onto the verandah. Andy loved a morning cup of ‘Russian Caravan’. As she carefully pushed her way around the squeaky screen door, she noticed that he wasn’t there.
Nor was he about to return!
There was much conjecture around town over the next couple of days as to what everyone thought had happened to Andy – and much quiet blustering from those who said they knew! Being a small white-washed country town, everyone was an expert, and had an opinion. Over at the Post Office, Joyce Mathers claimed, in her prim behind-her-hand way, that he had fallen in love, and had eloped with a lady friend. The reason for the elopement was, according to Joyce, a bid at freedom by Andy from the clutches of the very possessive Joanna. This was also the way Joyce would have liked it to have been, having her own name prefixed by a Miss, and being well past the age when she should have retired. It was a constant rebuttal to her of her inability to find a partner in a town where primness was associated with spinster. In larger places, rumours of lesbian may also have been bandied about, but Joyce would have defended herself, saying loudly to all who would listen that her very close friendship – they were almost inseparable –with her neighbour, Tilly Mason, was just that – a close friendship. If you wanted to snicker at Joyce’s defensive tirades, make sure you were well away from the Post-Office, cause she could be a mean bitch when crossed. When asked why none of the local ladies had disappeared as well, she simply threw a mysterious smile, and shrugged her thin shoulders. Could have been a young thing passing through, she ventured, but by this time, whoever she was talking to would have collected their parcel, or stamped their mail, and probably, with their eyes turned heavenward, would have quickly exited the Post Office, leaving Joyce to her romantic fancies.
George Stokes, the local mechanic, liked the idea of a kidnapping. The fact that the Lonegans didn’t have two pennies to rub together didn’t seem to come into the equation. Nor did the fact that there was no earthly reason why anyone would want to kidnap Andy, leaving his mother in the deepest despair. Besides, surely either Joe or Steve would have noticed somebody hanging around, or a strange vehicle on the street! If there had been a struggle, and everyone agreed that Andy wouldn’t have been taken quietly, then nothing had been heard. George eventually found himself talking to thin air, as no one even bothered to consider his opinion. He continued, nonetheless, to believe in his theory.
Now Greg Barnes had a theory that everyone at least listened to. In fact, most of the towns’ people thought he was closest to the mark. It didn’t matter that he propped up the local bar from opening to closing, and had been doing so for so long now that a corner if the bar held his name. Sometimes the greatest words of wisdom came from the most unlikely people, and if ever there was an unlikely philosopher in this town, then Greg fitted the mould. He reckoned that Andy had, plain and simply, run away from home. Everyone knew Joanna clung to the boy tighter than ivy tendrils, smothered him with so much motherly love and devotion that it was a wonder he could even breathe. There was no way that Joanna would ever allow any other woman near her son, as that would have been competition, the ultimate battle for possession. That she lived for Andy no one disputed, though many felt that Andy stayed more from obligation – and the fear of what Joanna would do if he left – than affection. He was at an age where freedom and a life of his own would have been foremost in his mind, and though nobody doubted that he loved her, he wouldn’t want to be spending his life in this nowhere town. He was a smart boy, and quite a good looker – as his daddy had been – and the fact that many of the local girls had their eyes on him would not have been enough to keep him confined here. Knowing this just made Joanna even more clutchy, and her devotion had become almost an obsession.
Knowing this to be the case, 13-year-old Ben McGeogh, the neighbour to the left of the Lonegans, phoned around all his friends from school and arranged to meet them in the local park. Young Ben had a story of murder and mayhem to convey, and he wanted a captive audience for his tale. When the four youngsters – Sally Jacobson, Damien Durese, Shane Tolliver and Andy Froman – gathered on a bench under a willow tree in the park, Ben was winding up for the yarn of his life. He was privy to the most intimate details, he claimed. He knew Joanna had murdered Andy, and he was sure he had heard digging in the basement of the Lonegan house the night before the disappearance. He was sure that this was Joanna digging a hole to put the body of her poor, unfortunate son into. Ben knew that Andy had been seeing Selena Jackson, the school principals daughter, and that Joanna was not happy about that arrangement. In a fit of sheer jealousy, Joanna had hit Andy over the head that morning. Had, indeed, managed to pick a split-second interval when nobody was looking. She had dragged him down the hallway, down the stairs from the kitchen to the basement, and had buried him. She then quickly returned upstairs, got a bucket of hot, soapy water and a mop, had cleaned up the gallons of blood that had poured out of poor Andy’s smashed in head, than acted as if nothing had happened. The group of four sat under the tree, bug-eyed, transfixed by this tale of blood and gore. Ben sat back, satisfied that he had impressed them greatly with his story, with the intimate details that only he knew. His request that they wait until Joanna went out to the local store, then they would all break into the house and dig up the body, was met with horrified stares. No bloody way were they going to dig up no dead body! What if he really wasn’t dead! What if he reached up his arms from the grave and grabbed them as they went to pull him out! What if he had dug himself out of the grave and was just waiting, hiding in a dark corner, for someone to come down! What if he wanted revenge! All four of Ben’s friends faced the prospect of many sleepless nights to come, and they all went out of their way to cross over the road when approaching the Lonegan house, and went out of their way to avoid running into Joanna.
Selena Jackson was, apart from Joanna, perhaps the saddest of all the town folk, and the only one who truly missed Andy. They had been dating for 8 months now, though Andy had gone out of his way to make sure his mother never found out – or so he thought. Selena understood his reasons, though it made her doubtful of just where their relationship was going to go. Andy was a wonderful man, and Selena found him both a kind and considerate lover, and her mental equal. She knew for a fact that in a town like this, her chances of encountering that combination in anybody else was about zero. Andy had talked about getting out of the town; about going to the city and attending a university. As they lay quietly on the rumpled sheets in Selena’s bedroom, the scent of love-making still in the air, a sheen of perspiration still drying on their bodies, he planned a life far from this small town, a life of uncomplicated simplicity and peace. He wanted to be a lawyer, and though his mother knew of his ambition, she wanted him to get a job in the town, to settle down and raise a family in the area he had been raised in. Selena knew that he wanted a wider view of the world, and he had, in fact, asked her if she would go with him. Up until his disappearance, she had been seriously considering the offer. If fact, even with Andy gone, she could see the wisdom in escaping this choking place. What hope was there here for youth! She hoped Andy had just run away; had just found his mothers enveloping arms to smothering, and he had just run; run far and fast. She suspected that this was not the story. She was sure he would have at least said goodbye to her; would have spent one last night in her intimate embrace. Because he hadn’t said goodbye, Selena thought that he would probably come back, and if that was the case, she wanted to wait for him. If she had been given the gift of prophecy, she may never have made that decision.
Joanna was the only one in the town who knew what really happened. She held that truth close to her breast. It was bad enough that they had taken her husband as well, though the town scandalmongers still insisted that he had run away with that hussy who had been passing through town at the time. They had snuck in during the day, and taken her John away, the only man she had ever loved. She had been waiting for this day, just as her mother had waited, and her mother before her. It was the deal. It had been made in a time long ago, and despite crossing oceans, moving from country to country, from city to city, from town to more remote town, they always found them, always bound them back to the promise. The women were safe, but the men were doomed. A debt from ancient times was still being repaid. She didn’t know how they had got here, or even where they hid. They could be in the very garden that surrounded her home, could be in the very air she breathed. All she knew was that the debt had been paid. They would leave her alone now, as there was no longer anything left to give. She was sad that Selena would never have her son as a husband. He would have been a good husband, just as her John had been. The two of them would have had beautiful children, and then the curse would have gone on. They were an impatient lot, and this was why they had taken Andy long before his time. They were scared that he would escape, he would get away, and that they would have to continue the chase again into the future. They would not be upset that there were no men left alive to take away. They were far from their home, and had been for several generations now, and they hated it here! She didn’t know how she knew this, she just did. They hated it here, and wanted to return to their own place.
Joanna got up off the verandah chair. The cup that had held the tea on the day of Andy’s disappearance still sat here, the cold, black liquid a testament to his going. She picked up the cup, and opened the screen door. On a quick breath of wind that followed her through, she thought she heard a faint laugh, but it disappeared as quickly as it came. Perhaps it was just the spring on the door. Sighing deeply, she entered into the twilight cool of the house.