Sport 36: Winter 2008
Bird in an envelope
Castle went into the café and sat by the young couple. He'd been watching them through the window: the wallets and cellphones on the table, a computer case at the man's feet.
Two Japs had forgotten their video camera once. He'd got three hundred for it.
A girl wearing an apron asked him what he wanted. He shook his head; watery snot dripped onto the table.
'I'm waiting for someone.'
At the counter she said something to a girl putting two cups on a tray. Castle took his woollen hat off. His grey hair stuck to his head. He licked his finger and dipped it into the sugar bowl.
'Trim latte?' The girl in the apron stood at the couple's table.
The woman nodded.
There were chocolate fish on the saucers. The man picked one up and swam it at the woman's mouth.
Castle watched the woman sway back. He was hungry. He leaned closer so he could hear.
'But this is serious,' the woman said. 'If we're going to do this we have to talk. It's easier for you. You don't have kids.'
'But does it have to be so planned? Linda plans everything. What about spontaneity?'
The woman held the cup in two hands. Her mouth flattened into a thin line.
'Don't mention husbands or wives.'
'No wives, that's easy.' He reached across the table and slid his hand up her leg.
She knocked at it. 'And no touching in public.'
When they left, Castle followed. He had nothing else to do.
It was raining. A chip bag skidded across the footpath. The man page 37held the case over the woman's head. Castle heard the man laugh.
They crossed the road and ran down a ramp. Castle tried to keep up. His chest started rattling. A bird in an envelope. At the top of the ramp he had to stop and cough. He put his hands on his knees. His body shook. Bile filled his mouth. It was like spitting out a worm. A car passed. A lit cigarette dropped from the window. Castle stood and took a breath. The rattling stopped. He picked up the cigarette and inhaled.
The air in the carpark smelt of oil. He could hear brisk footsteps. Doors slammed and echoed. He passed a line of concrete columns and peered around a wall. In the far corner was a red car. The couple from the café were inside. Castle stopped in front of a box with buttons and instructions for paying to park, rummaged in the pocket of his coat then looked at the car. They were pushing their faces together. Castle turned away. He was no pervert.
There was an alarm. The doors opened. The man waved his keys at the nose of the car.
'For Christ's sake.' The woman tugged at her blouse.
The alarm stopped.
'Must have knocked the key,' the man said.
There was another sound. The woman took a phone from her pocket.
'It's my bloody husband.' The phone pulsed blue. 'I've got to go, this is crazy.'
The man put his hand on the woman's neck. He took the phone and pressed a button. It stopped its noise.
'We're not married,' the man smiled.
They started kissing.
Castle read the words on the car.
Malcolm's Kitchen Designs.
The barman was watching motor racing. An old woman ate yellow chips from a basket.
Castle went to the bar and asked for a phone book.
'You buying anything?'
'Did I ask for anything?'
'Barnesy told me about you, about who you yer father was.'page 38
Castle started to cough.
The barman sneered,
'If you haven't got any money, then piss off.'
Castle sat at a bus stop. The coughing stopped. A woman carrying a baby came out of the phone booth.
The directory was attached by wire to a bracket. He had to lean close to read.
Kitchen Designers. He ripped out the page. Tomorrow was benefit day; he'd get a phone card.
They had her in a chair overlooking the park. There were blankets scattered around the chair. He carried a stool over and sat next to her.
'Hi Mum, bit hot?'
She smiled. She was playing with a woollen hat. Her hair fell out during her first week there.
'After everything else, now this?' she'd shown him the clumps and cried.
That was before Castle changed schools, before she lost her marbles.
He put the hat on her head and took her hand.
'Caar sill, Caar sill,' she sung his name like she was calling a cat.
He squeezed her hand.
A nurse brought in a small tray of food and put it on a table. Castle went over to the wall.
'Had a good day, Castle?' asked the nurse.
Castle looked at the holes in his shoes, then started coughing.
'Still got that cough?'
His mum liked her mashed pumpkin with warm milk.
After the second mouthful she coughed, spattering his face.
He wiped orange mash off her chin, then showed her the milk on his glasses. She smiled. He put the glasses over her nose. Milk, like white tears, ran down her cheeks. He rested his forehead on the warm skin between her neck and shoulder. She shook with laughter.page 39
'I was the one you couldn't see. You and yer lady friend in yer flash car. You're fucking married Malcolm.'
A bus stopped. Its doors flapped open.
'Is she with you, Malcolm, is yer poor wife there?'
'Look, I'm a designer.'
'This isn't about a new fucking kitchen. This is about me and you, Malcolm. Meet me in front of the train station at four o'clock. And Malcolm, bring yer fucking cash card.'
Castle hung up. The machine beeped and ejected the card. He went into the pub waving a twenty.
Wooden furniture cluttered the beer garden. Castle put his beer and cigarettes on a table and sat. There was a leafless tree and through the fence palings a supermarket car park. He gulped the beer. It had been a horse paddock. His fingers shook.
The paddock was on the way to school, the creek behind his house led to it. At the door Mum laughed, kissed his forehead and said, 'Why don't you walk with the other kids? You'll fall in that creek. Then what will the girls say?'
He was an acrobat bouncing rock to rock. He would clamber up the bank, grabbing the long grass. At the top was a patch of bush. The trees were black. Roots coiled out of the ground like snakes.
Castle finished his beer and put the butt of his stubbed-out cigarette in his pocket.
The barman was drinking from a white cup.
'Any chance of getting one of them heater things outside?' Castle put the glass on the bar with a five dollar note.
'We turn them on when customers arrive.'
'What the hell does that mean? I'm from here, I grew up right out there.' Castle pointed towards the beer garden.
'Out there? You grew up in the supermarket? Down the fucking wine aisle I bet.'
The barman filled the beer from the tap and put it on the bar. He was grinningpage 40
'There's your fucking beer, now piss off. You smell like a rapist.'
One morning the creek froze. His shoes got wet stamping the ice around the edges. He climbed the bank. Someone was crying. Through the trees he could see a man. He had a carrot. A white horse stood nearby, its breath was smoke. Something cracked under Castle's foot. The man looked up. Castle pressed into a tree; on one of the branches there was an empty beer bottle filled with cigarette butts.
The man held the carrot towards the horse, but it was eating grass. Castle waited. He counted the butts in the bottle. There were five on the bottom and one stuck to the side. The man's face was shiny with tears. He went to his car and banged his hand on the roof. The carrot broke in two. He drove away.
Castle was late for school. When he got there everyone was in the hall. Something bad had happened.
His shoes squelched when he walked. The principal was saying a prayer. Everyone had their heads down except the policeman. He looked at Castle as he walked past. Castle thought he was going to say something about his shoes. He had a bald head. The prayer stopped. Castle sat down. The policeman walked over to the principal. They stood together. The radiators had been turned too high. The policeman's head was steaming.
A girl had been interfered with. She'd been seen talking to a man. Her mum was waiting to take her to the dentist.
One of the lady teachers was crying. The policeman cleared his throat. Anyone who'd had anything to do with the girl was to report to the woodwork room.
At home his parents were sitting at the yellow table in the kitchen. His Mum stood up and pulled him into her legs. Her apron smelt of onion.
'That poor girl,' she said.
'Only an animal could have done that, a bloody animal.' His Dad's voice was quiet. It was normally loud, like two people were talking.
The bus driver gave Castle a ticket and smiled. For a moment he thought about stopping at the front and talking about the traffic or the cold. He'd seen other men do it. But she might know him. He page 41stuffed his hands into his pockets and, as the bus took off, lurched to its farthest corner. It was raining again.
'This rain ever stop yer reckon?' he said quietly.
The drizzle made a veil over the station's clock.
He was early. In the station he sat at a bench and thought of what he'd say. He tried to twist his face into a threat. His nose dripped. He went to check the time again. There was a siren. An ambulance went through an intersection. Across the road a blue sign flashed 'Bar'. He told himself he wouldn't have another drink until he got the money.
The barman was thin with rings in his ears. He shook his head when Castle asked for a pint and pointed to a fridge of green bottles. Castle took the beer outside and sat at a small table. He could see the clock and the entrance to the railway station. He lit a cigarette and lifted the bottle to his mouth.
By the second rape the yellow table was gone. The new one was glass. When you were eating you could watch your feet and if a pea rolled off you could see where it was.
Every week Dad was coming home with new things. A television, a dishwasher, walkie-talkies. Castle still liked mucking around at the creek, he would make dams and turn over rocks, trying to grab the little fish. When he got tired he'd go and look at the white horse.
People said it was going blind. That it would have been off to the glue factory if it hadn't belonged to the father of the first girl. Castle liked the sound it made tearing grass and the way its breath moved its nostrils.
He'd started thinking about girls. They wore skirts that shaped a V between their legs. When they ran their tits would loop. He got stiff all the time. There were no locks on the doors in his house. The carpets were so thick you could go room to room without making a sound. But the bush by the paddock was private. He'd take his undies off, pant and make it sore, but nothing ever happened.
When he got home mum would say, 'Castle? Roger?'
Castle wouldn't say anything. Just go to the bathroom where there were new tiles and a new shower. After he'd washed his hands and face he'd go to the lounge. His tea would be steaming on the 'TV page 42table' and his mum would say, 'Castle, would you tell me when you come in? You and your father are just the same, sneaking around and out of the house like rats and mice.'
By four o'clock there were four empty bottles in front of him. The bartender came out and said something about the weather clearing. Castle started coughing. He stood, nodding at the man and walked to the traffic light. His chest rattled. He leaned into the pole and spat. It was streaked with blood. He sneezed, more blood. A woman gasped and stepped onto the road.
A horn blared, then brakes. There was clattering and an animal's cry.
The woman jumped back and said, 'God!'
A door slammed. The back of a horse float was in front of Castle.
'You fucking woman!' someone shouted.
Another door slammed.
'Eric, Eric, don't.'
Still coughing, Castle went to the back of the float. There was a horse in the corner with blood on its neck. When it saw Castle it came towards him, tilting its head as if to show the gouge. He reached up. Its nose was flat and hard. He closed his eyes. The horse pushed its neck over his face.
In the bush beside the paddock something happened. He was thinking about a teacher at school and the shadow between her tits. He rubbed so hard his arm tingled. There was a good feeling, then a gluey mess on his hand.
Car lights crossed his body. He stood up, tucking himself behind a tree. The door opened. There was a high sound. His dad walked quickly around the bonnet. There was a girl in the car, she was screaming and pulling at the inside of the door.
'Hey, what are you doing to my horse?' A hand thumped onto Castle's shoulder. He turned around.
'Eric, what's happening?
Is Canny okay?'
'They're both bleeding.page 43
His shoes squelched on the kitchen. He stood in front of the big cream telephone. He looked at his feet, at the water pooling on the new lino. Crossing the creek, the rocks had seemed to be moving, like apples bobbing in a bucket. The handset was heavy, when he lifted it he could smell the cum on his hand. He remembered the number from the woodwork room.
There were new spuds on the glass table. His father ate with one hand, held his other below the table. Trying to hide the blood. There was thumping on the door. His mum cried. Then the bald policeman was there, nodding at Castle and holding his dad by the neck.
The station clock belled four. There was a line of cars, people's heads stuck out their windows. Castle started across the road. The red car was in front of the station, the man from the café was inside. The rattling got worse, a terrible pain. The bird's wings were razor blades. Castle fell onto the road. He tilted his head and pulled at the corners of his mouth, then at his chin and nose. If he made the opening big enough maybe the bird could get out.