Sport 36: Winter 2008
The Catastrophist of Newtown
The Catastrophist of Newtown
Con walks down the street, tipped forwards into the wind, the cold rain spitting in his face. He walks past the damp, narrow, thin houses, on his way to his Uncle Pawel's seventieth birthday celebration.
The Eskimo Man approaches, dressed in customary ski apparel: padded jumpsuit, ski boots, gloves and racing helmet. He lifts up his face guard.
Beautiful day, isn't it?
She said, no, don't take 'em, but she took five and then she took me here.
Took five and took me here.
Can I touch your hand?
Can I touch inside your palm?
The Eskimo turns Con's hand over and traces around his palm with his ski glove-encased finger. His stomach softly growls.
You have red hair on your head, he says to Con.
Yes, says Con.
The Eskimo Man heads on his way. As he turns back to wave goodbye, Con watches a plastic sliced cheese wrap swoop towards him in the breeze and momentarily attach itself to the side of his helmet before flying away, free.page 45
Outside Dom Polski is a sea of white sports jackets and bling bling. The birthday boy, in white cardie, shorts, long socks and Miami Vice sunglasses, is holding court on the street out front. Uncle Pawel takes Con into a firm hug. Behind Con's back he sees Doctor Mik, the family doctor, crossing the street towards them, and flicks his cigarette under a passing car. Go get yourself a nice drink, says Uncle Pawel, and Con heads inside the hall and up the stairs.
On a table, there's a pink punch bowl, chippies and dip, beer and cheese and orange hedgehogs. Uncle Pawel's posse are playing cards on a table in the corner. Another group in the middle of the room is standing, turned in on itself, silent, as if in prayer. Con comes closer. They're looking at a baby in a basket. The baby has dark crinkled skin and long eyelashes and is in the midst of falling to sleep. Its eyelids flutter, droop, fall.
The silence calms Con's mind.
Uncle Pawel comes in. Up, up, up, he says. Everyone jumps up. Feliks, one of the guys in his posse, makes his way to the upright piano, sits and plays the opening chords to Uncle Pawel's favourite, 'Honey Bun' from the musical South Pacific, his fat hands flat on the keyboard. In a key slightly too high for his range, he sings:
My doll is as dainty as a sparrow
Her figure is somethin' to applaud
Where she's narrow she's as narrow as an arrow
And she's broad where a broad should be broad
And everyone joins in.
A hundred and one pounds of fun
That's my little honey bun
Get a load of honey bun tonight
Everyone gets up to dance with Uncle Pawel.
Outside, Con sits on the steps alone, smoking. It's twilight. The streetlights are turned on. From a distance, he sees the woman from page 46Anna's Affro Hair Studio walking towards the mall.
He sees the silhouette of her tiny body and the giant mane of hair piled high on her head. As she comes closer, the intricate tapestry of pink and purple hair extensions and the sliver of dark brown midriff at the break in her tracksuit. He hears the determined clickety clack of her towelling slipper sandals on the footpath.
Con feels warm liquid leak into his stomach. He jumps up, throws his butt away and follows her into the mall.
The fish selection at this supermarket is shit. The Affro Hair Studio woman casts a disappointed eye over the mangy old pieces of terakihi, warehou and cod. You don't have any mussels, she says to the kid behind the counter. The kid raises an eyebrow. She orders some cod.
Con stands behind her, staring at her black waist. He follows her to the checkout. She turns around and waits for him to speak.
But he doesn't.
She turns back around.
After the checkout, past the pot-plants and flowers and helium balloons that say It's a Boy and I Love You, up the stairs, on to the carpark on the roof, Con follows her. He watches her unlock her car, get in, drive down the ramp.
He thinks about holding her waist in his hands. Sliding his hands up, feeling her ribcage. Pulling her towards him, pulling her track pants down, opening his fly, launching himself into her.
At the front entrance to the mall, Kip is singing La La La La La Bamba, accompanied by the between-station static coming from his ghetto blaster.
I am a good person, thinks Con. I have as much right to inhabit the earth as anyone else.
Ways not to panic:
Wear a rubber band around your wrist. When you start panicking, flick it.
Say to the panic, 'fuck off!'
Point an imaginary gun at the panic and blow it to kingdom come.
Con is in the office of the ice cream lady. Her blonde hair is shining wet from the shower. Her cheeks are creamy yellow, her forehead sticky white. Behind her, a unicorn poses hopefully for its portrait.
Those are the kinds of thoughts we don't like, she says. The stinky thoughts.
Yes, says Con.
Why not think about best-case scenarios? Why don't I think, hey, today I might Not be run over and die or I might Not lose my job, or even better, put a positive spin on it. Something wonderful might happen to me.
Yes, says Con.
Does that feel better?
Con looks at her glistening white brow and he longs to touch it. To take it in his hands and lick it all over. To lick the stickiness from her hair, to lick her throat. His palms tremble from wanting it.
On his way out, the ice cream lady lets him choose from a little cane basket filled with coloured cards. He chooses one, turns it over, but it is blank. You see, she says. You got the best one. It can be whatever you like.
Thanks, says Con.
He walks out, feeling level as a ruler, even as a keel.
Con's special Seven Scotlands game:
If you see or hear the word Scotland, you get a point; each point determining how excellent your day will be. The numbering goes up to seven: one Scotland being good, seven Scotlands extremely good. If you encounter a real Scottish person, this is worth three points.
If the real Scottish person says something to you, this is worth five points.
If the Scottish person talks and the Scottish person is known to you, congratulations. You automatically get seven points.page 48
Sadness makes me feel… ? asks the ice cream lady.
Sad, says Con.
I express my sadness… ?
What makes me cry, asks the ice cream lady.
A sad advertisement. Injustice. When someone gives me a compliment, says Con.
Con walks to the dairy at 8am with a full face of wind and cold spit. The damp and narrow houses on either side of him clattering like teeth, the sky grey and low, the hills crowding in around his ears.
Old Man Jandals crosses the road, tapping his cane in front of him, his pale blue eyes rolling up in his head.
As Con opens his mouth to say hello, Old Man Jandals holds a wizened finger to one nostril and snorts, releasing a long wobbly yellow blob of snot. Con freezes. The snot lands in front of his left boot. Con stares at the snot and stares up at the old man, then back down at the snot. But the old man can't see him. He can't see anything. He walks on.
It starts raining properly. Con pulls his scarf up to cover his mouth and nose. In the dairy he picks up a newspaper and goes to the counter to pay for it. Ahead of him in the queue, the woman from the Affro Hair Studio is buying sparkling water. Con's stomach fills up with hot liquid.
Outside the dairy, getting drenched in the rain, Con waits for her. He hears the door go ding-dong. He feels a rush of heat. He loses his balance, has to steady himself on the rubbish bin. She comes out.
Excuse me, he says.
Yes, she says.
You're from Anna's Affro Hair Studio, he says.
What's your name?
Con falters, trips over his feet.
Are you okay? Are you going to fall over, asks Anna.
Can you hold me, he asks.page 49
No, she says. It's raining. I've got to go.
She walks on. He lurches towards her, throws himself on her, grabs her around the waist. She is trapped in his arms and they fall to the ground. She screams. He has become very pale. His body slackens. He releases her and rolls on to his back. She jumps up and runs away.
Crouched in a foetal position on someone's front lawn, surrounded by the sodden pages of a newspaper, the rain pelting him, Con falls into a kind of sleep.
We've cut off the gorse, says the ice cream lady. Now we must slash away the roots. How do you feel about that?
Good, says Con. It's been three days since he last spoke and he is surprised to hear his voice.
Example. Take a look over the week that's just been. What is your take on it?
There was a girl. I embarrassed myself.
What did you do?
I fell on her.
In what capacity?
Outside a dairy.
Well. Okay. But let's put a positive spin on that. You wanted to meet this girl?
Well, you met her. Once way or the other, you made an impression.
I don't think it was a good impression. She ran away.
She was probably in a hurry.
No. She was frightened.
Oh. And what did you do then?
I went home and went to sleep.
And how are you now?
I just woke up.page 50
Con walks into town. It's Friday night and the wind is rattling his brain. The houses are tiny, sharp, electric blue and orange. The sky is falling down.
The guy in the Motorhead T-shirt who walks up and down the street is walking up and down the street. He slaps Con on the shoulder as they cross paths. Con snaps as if from out of a dream, wild-eyed, snorting steam from his nose.
Downtown, he hears Uncle Pawel call out to him from the second storey of Dom Polski. Hey boy, he shouts. Come on inside and have a nice drink.
Con stands on the street, glassy and stunned, then makes his way into the hall. You look like seven different kinds of shit, Doctor Mik tells him.
Uncle Pawel's posse are listening to Ray Charles and playing poker with a big bowl of twenty cent pieces. Con empties his pockets. The old boys study his face as he places his bet.
Whatever happened to Nancy? asks his Uncle Pawel.
Who, says Con.
That beautiful girl Nancy, says Uncle Pawel. Wasn't that girl beautiful?
Beautiful, echo his posse.
I don't know, says Con. That was four years ago.
You should call her up, says Pawel. Maybe she's back on the market.
I don't think so, says Con.
Uncle Pawel gets a high straight and wins the game. He hauls his booty towards him then gets up to search for his birthday cigar. Con leaves, a dollar sixty out of pocket.
Con finds a number in the phone book. Kean, N, New Plymouth, Taranaki.
Is this Nancy?
Hi Nancy. This is Conrad Jablonski.
Oh my God.page 51
How are you?
Fine thanks. What's up?
I just wondered what you're up to these days?
I work at the optoelectronics centre.
Oh. So what are you working on at the moment?
Just the usual. Lithium niobate, etchings.
Ridge waveguides in lithium niobate by differential etching. Following spatially selective domain inversion.
And are you well?
Great thanks Con. I've got something on the stove though. I better go.
Okay. Bye Nancy.
Ways to get over humiliation:
Change your name.
Move to Australia.
Get a face transplant, although this could be costly and/or impossible.
Crouch into a small ball and hide in your fireplace.
Anna clickety clacks down the street in her towelling slipper sandals after twelve hours of shampooing, weaving, dyeing and gelling. She has been on her feet all day and she is dying to go home, eat chocolate yoghurt and maybe fall asleep on the couch while watching television.
She walks through the mall and upstairs to the carpark on the roof. She gasps when she sees she's been given a ticket. But as she comes closer, she realises it's a note. She unfolds it and reads.
I am Con, the man who assaulted you outside the dairy, and I would like to apologise for my disgraceful bad manners and terrible behaviour that was aggressive and maybe also illegal.
I am very, very sorry. Sometimes I do things and later I can't page 52remember why I did them. But I am a good person and I am learning to be better.
Please forgive me Anna. I did not mean to frighten you. You are lovely and you didn't deserve it.
Anna smiles. She reads the note again and again and again. Then she folds it into a paper plane and sends it flying over the street below her.