issue 187 - September 1988
The blood's amazing
I split lips OK, but eyes are really good value... says Steve in this short story from a
bayside suburb of Melbourne. George Fisher writes on the addictive power of violence.
Daddy's late. I've eaten my dinner ages ago, but his is still sitting soggy on the table. Mummy kept it hot last time. And the time before.
I'm cold in bed. I think something's wrong. We must have run out of food because mummy's been saying it was 'the end', 'this is the end'. No wonder she's been crying.
And then daddy comes in. I watch from the hallway. He shouts at mummy; must be because she's run out of food. She shouts too, and then she hits him. He stops shouting, but then he hits her. He's so strong that he stops her from crying, which is good 'cause I don't like it when she cries. She just lies there. I think she's sleeping but now her tears have turned bright red. I hope we've got food again tomorrow.
Dad hit me once. He nearly bloody killed me. At least I know now I don't have a glass jaw. I hit him, too, and I'm sure I saw him smile.
ME, Phil and Shiner like The Ram's Head. There are tiles on the wall and lino on the floor and a broken mantle radio on the bar. It doesn't have chairs but there're plenty of stools and, one way or another, we've broken most of them. There's an old colour photo of the Queen high up on one wall. Someone's stuck up a new caption with yellow sticky tape: Race 5 - Royal Fantasy.
We're not allowed in on Saturday nights, which is no bother to us. I enjoy it better outside anyway. We're sort of the honorary bouncers. If someone comes along with neat hair, we don't let them in. If they react, we shave half their heads. If they don't, we might punch them up anyhow.
And if it's quiet, we go for a bit of a walk. On a really bad night, we don't meet anyone. On a good night, we fight for hours. Most of all I like the way they look before the first hit. Their face changes quicker than the scores on the pinnies. It's really pathetic. Some even whimper like a dog. So you gotta rub their nose in it. I split lips OK, but eyes are good value. The blood's amazing, and they think they're gonna die. A dozen girls'll cry for sure, but one'LL love me.
I feel great, though. My body's hard and quick; I know the moves. Where each punch and kick lands I see everyone that's ever crossed me, and everyone that ever will. Every cop and teacher, every foreman.
I both make and watch my own show - at the same time. That's right. Not bad for a teenager.
The pain in my fists is ecstasy. I know bones are broken. But every punch lays him out further, and I don't like to see him move much by the time I'm finished. He's lying still now; I'm breathing heavy. I feel still too. I laugh. Quietly, then with deeper breath, louder and louder. Phil and Shiner don't like it when I laugh. Stuff them. For a moment I control every heartbeat in the street. I give my trophy one last kick in the groin; he groans, so I know he's alive. Then I run, and Phil and Shiner run behind me. They don't even like to see me smiling. The rest of town shrinks in front of me. Even the road gives way to my feet. Now the darkness shines.
The video shop is a short walk from the flats, past the railway and the two pubs, and next to a narrow delivery lane. A large stormwater drain, a carrier serving equally the needs of industrial polluters and storm surges, runs beneath the railway near The Ram's Head pub, and out into the bay.
Videos these last two days are in great demand, especially from the low shelf left of the week's specials. At the checkout a plastic shopping bag is filling slowly with small envelopes; payment for the coke and angel dust strapped carefully inside each tapebox.
Thursday night is syndicate payday. An unusually well-dressed man at Shirley's Tavern - The Rain's Head rival - walks the hundred yards to the video shop solo. The night is heavy with an early mist and car fumes, and the flickering flame from the nearby chemical plant is adding its own ghostly clouds to sunset's afterbirth. As the businessman walks up the steps, he quickly checks that the delivery lane is empty. It stinks, but it's empty.
Three beers. The last one too warm. I drop the evening paper into The Ram's Head's latrine-like, bar-length ashtray, and leave to meet Phil for our evening's exercise. There's nothing happening in the paper. There's nothing happening in the bar. I could bite off a budgie's head and they'd all just keep drinking.
The night air smells putrid. worse than the factory, worse than week-old garbage.
Phil's there, as usual, at the abutment of the railway bridge. We walk in silence for a while, sizing ourselves up against the hypocrite quietness of the houses. We pass McMurtle the drunk. He shouts at us too, as always, but we don't touch him.
We both think of Shiner. He's now doing five to ten for manslaughter. Without him 'the angry three' - as they called us - lost a bit of clout. But we still have the best fights in the neighbourhood.
'What d'yer reckon, Steve? How long'LL he do?'
'Five at least,' I say. We hold our breath for the passing train.
'He won't survive.'
'He'd probably hang himself,' said Phil.
Somehow the idea wasn't that strange.
'Maybe. But he might have plenty to keep him busy inside.' I hope he does.
Then a movement; like the cat latching sight on a cockroach on the kitchen floor, something sharpens the greyness.
We don't believe our luck. A young couple, well and truly entwined, on the grass verge next to the stormwater drain. We move closer and stand over them. They cover their flesh and throw at us whatever obscenities they can muster. Juliet clears out, under orders from Romeo. He carries on with the obscenities, clenching his fists. But his Uni degree can't help him here. On these streets we call the shots. Phil laughs first, but I laugh louder. I land a punch on Romeo's cheek, and he winds poor Phil with an improvised sort of karate kick. We both laugh louder, Phil gasping a little but not in pain. Romeo looks fearful now, so I really start to enjoy it. But he won't quit. I'm sure I've cracked one or two of his ribs. Phil splits one of his eyes. Like the first deep kiss of a long night; that's the stuff. So he retreats across the stormwater drain. The guy's a moron. He turns towards the bay, finds Phil already covering it, so scrambles up the other side. I follow, breathing hard, smiling harder and corner him in a lane. Too public for comfort, so I'LL have to be quick. Pathetic! Romeo throws me his wallet. I let it drop to the grey at my feet.
Soft as jelly, one more hit and he's on his back. Too easy, but a good warm-up. I run off to get Phil. Some clown in a suit blocks my way, so I land him one on his ear. Inside me a dozen cramped explosions are slowly calmed; they work out steadily along each limb. It's hell to keep them in but bliss as I let each one go free, out through a hand, a foot, a knee.
My left arm feels cold, really cold, and then blazing hot. The idiot's slashed me! I turn to see him smile. And now he walks towards me. Phil climbs out of the drain to walk right into the standoff. The guy in the suit says something pretty corny about water rats. Phil spits at him; the guy just walks closer. He draws a gun.
I kick it out of his hand, Phil knocks him down with the first punch. In a minute he's senseless and we're laughing. I hold the gun up to his eye, pushing hard into the socket, and he hands me a plastic bag. Phil drags me off by the collar. The suit's lying still. Suddenly Phil looks like my mother. So I hit him, and he staggers.
It's a bag full of money. Ten, fifteen thousand. I can just make out a grey Volvo pulling out from the Shirley's Tavern car park. For a second I think of the cops out chasing drink-drivers. The car stops close by. Two brick walls get out. Armed.
I never saw what happened next. My mind was full of Hollywood, Dirty Harry and the Untouchables. Except the sounds were all wrong, especially the way Phil was crying. I felt really young and very old at the same time. For the first time in ages I felt so fragile, with an incredible hollowness in my gut. Something just snapped. I looked round for an exit.
George Fisher writes for the NI from Sydney.