Sport 7: Winter 1991
On one of the days of my second visit to Melbourne, which the woman never tired of reminding me were being wasted in reading works of fiction and drinking the beer in my brother's fridge when I should have been outside doing something, as she often said, I had put down my book on the arm of the chair, placed the empty can of Fosters beer in the rubbish tin, and had indeed walked outside.
I remember that this day was like any other day of those summer months of my second visit; it was unbearably hot and humid. The sky was not blue coloured as I had imagined on those days which I had spent inside without so much as looking out a window of my brother's flat, but a hazy washed out grey with a pale tint of blue showing behind. As I looked at the sky on this day, I remember imagining a swimming pool into which has been poured powdered milk.
I can recall no details of how I arrived at the room in a neighbouring suburb in which a three-hour seminar was being held on door-to-door selling of imitation leather credit card-holders. I remember on this day page 37 visiting the Student Job Centre at Melbourne University, as I had often been advised to do by the woman. And I remember, as I was reading the notices of available jobs on small filing cards pinned to a large board on the wall of the Centre, feeling, firstly, the freedom that paid work would bring me from my brother's flat and from the woman's constant reminders of my debt to my brother and the worthlessness of my pursuits—which exhilarated me—and, secondly, terror at the distance I had walked on this hot day and the thought that I was now separated from the work of fiction I had put aside on the arm of the chair in the lounge of my brother's flat—which crushed me—and that instead of reading books which I sometimes dreamed I had written, I was now reading notices about the rates offered in the suburb of Prahran for lawn-mowing services.
The man who was taking the seminar on door-to-door selling was wearing a shirt and tie during the first hour of the seminar. During the second hour he was wearing a shirt, having taken off the tie. In the third and final hour he had taken off his shirt because of the heat and the humidity and underneath he was wearing a white teeshirt. I can recall no details of what the man in the shirt and tie said, though I remember the particular moment of his taking off the shirt and revealing the tattoos he had on the biceps of both arms. In that instant I knew that the man was taking more money in commission from his sellers than he said was the case in the seminar. And I realised that without his shirt and tie, I could now see that the skin on the man's face was badly scarred. His shirt and tie had not been covering up in any way the scarred skin but it was only when he took off the shirt and tie that I could see the scars. Also I imagined that I was hearing his speech deteriorate across the three hours. Just as the man's skin had deteriorated, so his speech had deteriorated, I thought. So that the man who had started the seminar in a shirt and tie, speaking very politely about selling imitation leather credit card-holders door-to-door, was, I thought, by the end of the seminar, only half-dressed, coarsely-spoken, and, I imagined, moving his arms in such a way as to make his tattoos show exaggeratedly large.
During the three hours of the seminar I sometimes felt exhilarated that I would not have to pretend on this day to my brother when he came home with the tall bottles of Fosters beer that I had been outside and that I had not been sitting in the same chair all day wasting my time reading while, in the woman's words, my debt ticked over. I felt pleased and triumphant to page 38 have something of interest to tell the woman when she came home from work to ask me again about the beer in the fridge.
While the man taking the seminar spoke, I was already forming in my mind the sentences which I would say to my brother and to the woman. I remembered thinking, as I watched the man's tattoos, that the woman, after all, had been perfectly right about my laziness, my wastefulness, and my complete inability to move from the chair and pay off the debt of several hundred dollars which I owed my brother. I was, after all, I now recognised, a parasite on my brother's good nature, and that what I had done was simply to move from the chair I had been sitting in in Wellington, fifteen hundred miles to the chair in my brother's flat in Melbourne.
I now realised that until this day I had paid no attention to the actual sky outside the window of my brother's flat but only to the skies which filled the pages of the works of fiction into which I sometimes imagined myself being lifted under the power of my brother's blue-coloured cans of Fosters beer.
During the three hours of the seminar I sometimes thought of the work of fiction I had been reading and had put aside on this day. And I thought of how much I hated the woman who had made me do such a thing and who had made me see myself in this way. And I thought of how much I hated my brother's weakness in living with the woman.