Sport 31: Spring 2003
He had a room, and that was all-important.
He had a room and red typewriter and a plastic daffodil in a Fanta bottle.
Times had changed, and one must have a base.
He'd breakfast on cigarettes and cheap port.
As the days and weeks went by, the glass from which he drank got more and more sticky, besmirched. Began to look rusty, brownly bloody, as if stained by ancient gore.
On steel-bright, fragrant mornings, he'd open his door and survey the scene without.
Cow-pats of concrete. Crude, tilting, asymmetrical steps.
Men had died on those steps. Drunkards had broken their necks on those steps.
His name was Joel Stella.
One of the few books he owned was Samuel Beckett's First Love.
When winter came, he sat at his red typewriter and worked on his screenplay. It was all about rain and night, the dismaying sweetness of light on sodden asphalt.
Walking the wet streets, he planned elaborate tracking shots.
His movie would incorporate the music of Steely Dan and Neil Young.
Of course, the filming of his script was never more than the most remote possibility. Like winning a huge sum of money, say.
Lying in water green and curry-hot, he dreamed a snowy, piney version of China.page 34
His doctor collected dolls in national costume.
‘I live in fear of withdrawal,’ he told the physician. ‘My fear of the horrors keeps me drinking.’
He visited Dave in his flat just down the road.
Long-haired and olive-skinned, Dave was a sort of window-cleaning ninja. A Jesusy abseiler. And Dave wore tights which enhanced his incredibly shapely legs.
The guys were talking Herman Hesse and night-blooming cacti when Dave reached into his tights. Probed his tights and plucked out his erection. ‘Can you help me with this?’ he asked.
DEKA sold cap-guns and liquorice allsorts, fireworks and methylated spirits.
‘I'm painting Our Lady on glass,’ the Skull told Joel, ‘and I need a load of glittery blue for the robes. Where do I go for glittery blue nail polish?’
Joel combed his beard, his chestnut locks. Dressed himself in candy-striped shirt and white tie.
His publisher posed him against a neutral background. Lit him from the side and shot him with a Pentax. (The picture would come out dun and Rembrandtesque, making him look like a rogue probation officer.)
And there in his publisher's loft, he was interviewed by a with-it female journalist. How dark and fair, willowy and buxom, forward and coy and boyish and tender she seemed! Penetratingly lovely, in other words.
She gave him one of her uni-ball pens. Ultramarine.
At the well-attended launch of his slender book of verse, Joel comported himself with tipsy aplomb.
A junior diplomat, an African drummer and a man dressed up as a chicken were among those present.
His publisher kept giving him money. Joel went home to discover crumpled banknotes in all his pockets.page 35
Returning to the venue the following day, he found his unsold books inside the piano.
He woke one morning with a pain in his stomach. A pain between his stomach and his spine.
He felt more than usually faint and sweaty.
When had he last eaten anything? He recalled the flaccid pie of a fortnight ago.
A golden meltdown was taking place in his innards. Important tissues were fuming, dripping goldenly.
He managed to get to his doctor's and lie down on the floor in the waiting-room.
‘Pancreatitis,’ said the physician. ‘Has it ever struck you that drinking is a low-level search for God?’
With the crystal sludge of pethidine scudding through his veins, Joel lay in hospital and thought stupendous thoughts. Slow-motion thoughts as plumply poised as moons. Colossal thoughts as light as helium.
They've shot me full of sings, Joel thought.
And he dreamed a distant beach he knew did not exist. And here was freedom indeed, the blissful melting away of every inhibition, every smallest worry, and he stripped and was proud of his body, impossibly.
He filmed his movie using an old treadle sewing machine.
Its inky gloss concealed a little hole, an oblong aperture which functioned as a lens.
The antique Singer whirred, ingesting light. Marrying light to brisk, acquisitive emulsions.
When Lambton Quay was redolent of shellfish and brine,
when Stewart Dawson's corner looked brassy and moist,
when the cloud above the harbour and the hills was rich in greys and blues and bluey blacks (a gaseously toxic spectacle?)—
at times like these would Liam Mist take mental photographs, just as if his brain itself consisted of gelatin and silver halides.
Liam was frowning. The girl in bed beside him had honey-coloured skin and straight black hair. ‘Have you ever had a nickname?’ he asked her.
‘Not to my knowledge,’ Lilly Ling replied.
‘I've had a couple, but neither really took.’ Liam cleared his throat. ‘Creeping Jesus was one.’
‘Yuck. And the other?’
‘The Pink Panther.’
Lilly blinked. The girl had smallish breasts with big black titty nipples. Her pelvis was striped by a skimpy wee girdle of pale skin, bikini-shaped.
A morning in 197-. The radio was playing ‘Haitian Divorce’ by Steely Dan. Liam flexed his fingers, then toddled them toward Lilly's nether parts. ‘It's penis time again,’ he told her sadly. ‘It's time alas for another penising.’
‘Already? Goodness me.’
Gulls and salty air. Finals and hanging finals. Porches with wine-gum-orange panes, panes of lemon and watery purple.
Liam was long and pale and skinny, but Lilly couldn't get enough of him. In order to put a roof over their heads, she'd sold her violoncello. (The instrument had been a gift from her parents. It travelled in a cello-shaped overcoat.) A single shallow step bisected their room, giving page 37 them a kitcheny area and a bedroomy one.
Ants were a problem, yes. This being Oriental Bay, you had to hide the sugar from the ants.
Unheralded and dire, penisings took place with frequency, both at home and abroad. ‘I'm breaking my daddy's heart,’ gasped Lilly.
On an empty, icy Sunday of stopped clocks and glazed thoroughfares, the dispirited lovers passed the Plaza picture theatre.
Lo, The Serpent's Egg.
Liam insisted on sitting right up front, in the first row but one. As the scalloped emerald curtain was about to rise, a mob of ankhed and swastikaed bikies arrived, surrounding Mist and Ling. And though the gangsters drank from many brown bottles, they proved to be a docile, even avid audience.
An ankh is a device consisting of a looped bar with a shorter crossbar, used in ancient Egypt as a symbol of life.
Lilly was a proofreader. As she trotted off to work on sandalled feet, her black cape sustained by the haste of her departure, Liam would hope she'd troubled to sponge her cunt.
With the room to himself and the morning before him, he'd thock and thuck at the solid wee portable he'd salvaged from a skip and mounted atop a tallish chest of drawers, typing up his livid picture-poems.
And when would Liam himself get a job, returning to freight yard or hectic market floor? But when?
Lilly read Watership Down. The radio played ‘Hey Nineteen’ and ‘Peg’.
Like a strip of litmus paper, Liam's meaty glans was susceptible to changes of hue. And Lilly liked to finger his mauve or puce helmet, to tease or twink or tweak his glossy knob, sometimes licking the wound of his leaky satin meatus.
The radio played ‘Dirty Work’. The radio played ‘Babylon Sisters’, ‘Kid Charlemagne’ and ‘Deacon Blues’. And Liam Mist conceived page 38 … of a movie shot at night on the streets of the city, a short but very wet and inky film with no dialogue and a soundtrack by Steely Dan.
Lilly Ling and Liam bloody Mist. From time to time, they'd drop a little speed. Drop a little speed and spot a little hash.
A white white white oblivion with chimes. Phew and What? and Holy fucking shit! Himalayan snows; Patagonian tambourines; Burmese finger cymbals. A sightless bliss of Persil purity.
The French word for pipe is pronounced peep. The Tygers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.
‘We'll get married, Lilly.’
‘We'll queer their pitch by getting married.’
‘Will he like me any better, once I've done the decent?’
The southerly flung sleet against the windows. ‘So what's for tea, Miss Ling?’
‘Duck in orange sauce.’
‘Duck in orange sauce?’
‘It comes in a grubby tin with a dragon on. I also bought some incense and long-grained rice.’
‘Good for you.’
When the power failed, Lilly lit a candle.
by Geoff Cochrane
Available from good bookshops, or directly from the publisher, Thumbprint Press, 26 Egmont Street, Wellington. Price $24.95.
i) Barrett and Kiszco were digging a hole. Barrett dropped his shovel and went for his tape-measure. ‘Hold this end, you fool. I want to get an idea.’
Said Kiszco, ‘I've got a couple you can have.’
‘An idea of how we're getting on. Of how much of this mother we're yet to dig.’
Measuring. More digging.
‘How come you never get any sex, Barrett?’
‘I never hit on anyone, and no one ever hits on me. It's a Law of Nature.’
Kiszco was Barrett's labourer. Shaven head, rings through the eyebrows, boots with scores of eyelets and metres of lace.
ii) Already the hole was huge, a vast excavation. Sometimes Kiszco pissed in it. And Kiszco wrote songs, one of which he dedicated to his employer.
‘Oh where has it gone my life
But down the friggin’ pan?
Of what has my life consisted
But bread and marmalade jam?
‘Oh where has it gone my life
But down the friggin’ pan?
Of what has it consisted
But lettuce and cold ham?’
These were the words Kiszco sang to Barrett, strumming his rattly guitar in the smoko shed. ‘Do you like it?’ he paused to ask.page 40
‘It's absolute shite,’ said Barrett. ‘It's a truly, awfully, deeply terrible song.’
‘Hey but dude,’ said Kiszco, ‘this is you own tiresome plaint I'm iterating here.’
iii) ‘There was a woman,’ said Barrett. ‘I sent her certain letters. I wrote to her professing certain sentiments.’
‘Fatal, man. A big mistake,’ said Kiszco.
‘She didn't want my letters, nor yet my moony, heartfelt sentiments.’
‘Predictably enough. Predictably enough.’
‘Do we know what they do want, women?’
‘Do we hell,’ said Kiszco. ‘I'll swap you a sardine for a peanut-butter.’
iv) Kiszco and Kate were entertaining Betty. Kiszco and Kate and Betty had smoked a little shit and drunk a little ouzo.
The flat had matt-black walls, articulated lamps like giant grass-hoppers. There was also a coffee-table with books and magazines: Four Quartets, Rolling Stone, Flowers for Hitler. American Rifleman.
Barrett arrived bearing chocolates and wine. He was sporting a ten-cent tie with Eiffel Towers. ‘Hi. Apologies. Public transport's a wonderful thing, until you have to use it.’
‘I've heard so much about you,’ Betty said.
‘Perhaps not. I'm given to exaggeration.’
v) Dinner was served: spaghetti Bolognese. Brought to the table in a crock, Kiszco's sauce suggested a cloacal sort of lava.
Betty seemed to have quite an appetite. ‘So you're Kiszco's boss?’
‘That's right,’ said Barrett.
‘And what do you two do all day?’
‘We dig bloody holes. And then we fill them in.’
‘We're Apex Landscaping. We're godless improvers of the Earth's unsightly bits.’
Said Betty, ‘I myself paint forceful wee abstracts.’page 41
vi) Barrett waited for three days before ringing Betty. (A lot can happen in three days, but not much happened to Barrett.
The smoko shed. Kiszco. ‘Have you ever noticed that when we move on to a section and begin to carve her up with our picks and shovels, it isn't long before all the birds clear off?’
‘I have indeed,’ said Barrett.
‘It's like we sort of poison and pollute.’
‘It is. Lamentably.’
A pause. Presently, Kiszco broke the silence. ‘Shall I sing you my latest song?’
‘Shit no. No need for that at all!’)
vii) Barrett took Betty to the Winter Show. The would-be lovers went for a ride on the Ghost Train, enjoying its corny thrills. They watched a Chinese magician (naked to the waist) snatch from his armpit a laden goldfish bowl.
‘Seldom have I seen such a yummy physique,’ said Betty.
Hot dogs. Candyfloss. Rising through the night in the Ferris wheel's chill gondola, Barrett and Betty were grateful for one another's warmth.
Barrett gave Betty's mittened hand a squeeze. ‘We're all in recovery from having been children,’ he told her. ‘We must learn to desire with guile and without hope.’
viii) Barre4tt received a letter from Jones of Zenith Drains.
Can I interest you in a small mechanical digger of purple and green? Come and take a look and make me an offer. Fact is, I'm off to Nebraska, the ‘cornhusker’ state. It's the home of the Western meadow lark. Ditto the cottonwood and the goldenrod (a tree and a flower, respectively).
Cheers etc., Taffy
ix) Betty took Barrett to a movie. The girl vending popcorn was wearing a T-shirt that read AND THUS I CLOTHE MY NAKED VILLAINY.
The film was the work of a celebrated Indian master. The women page 42 of a dusty Indian village … were being terrorised by something or someone. A rapist? A tiger? Barrett couldn't decide. It was far and away the worst movie he had ever seen, in every respect.
Said Betty, ‘I'd like you to take me to your place and bonk me silly.’
‘I'm not surprised,’ said Barrett.
x) A taxi ride. A scramble. Barrett unlocking a door and lighting a candle.
‘So let me get this straight,’ Betty said. ‘You're living in this hut we're standing in?’
‘More or less.’
Betty surveyed the clutter of picks and shovels and wheelbarrows in Barrett's smoko shed. Beneath a mechanical digger of purple and green, Barrett had installed a mattress and an alarm clock. ‘But how do you cook?’ the lady wanted to know.
‘I eat out a lot,’ Barrett conceded.
‘I'm shocked,’ said Betty, ‘that you should bring me here.’
‘I don't know what came over me. Can I take it that that fuck is out of the question now?’
xi) With freshly shaven head and new tattoo, Kiszco took advantage of the open mike at a blues club to make his début as a singer and songsmith.
Barrett had drunk thirteen tequilas. ‘Break a neck,’ he said as Kiszco rose to perform.
‘Oh hear me comin’ baby,
My love's a big choo-choo,
I'm aimin’ down the tracks a mile
To couple nice with you.
‘Oh hear me comin’ baby,
My heart's a big freight train,
I'm figurin’ you're hot to pop
My whistle once again.’
This was the song Kiszco sang to the folks at the Blue Mushroom. Barrett sculled tequilas fourteen, fifteen and sixteen … in rapid succession.
xii) No more Betty, no. But Barrett was the lucky and sentimental owner of one of her forceful wee abstracts (oil on board). He hung it in the gloom of the smoko shed, where it blazed like a single lambent sunflower.
The purple-and-green digger proved to have been a canny invest-ment. It could brew a pot of tea and iron shirts, and it ate its baked beans nicely, using chopsticks.
A single lambent sunflower.