The humorist in question was in fact sitting at the next table over from us, we had had the misfortune of overhearing him all night. Now his book club had departed and he was left alone looking around for a woman to bore & disgust. Finally his astute eye fell upon me. Sometimes I fear I am too beautiful. There is no other reason why I should constantly fall victim to misguided attempts to ‘cheer me up’. He made a pun. I did not allow any expression to register. He believed himself to have ‘crossed the line’ in his attempt at mirth (how easily & erratically women are offended) and so apologised: “I’m joking.” Meantime two girls had encroached upon Francis to beggar a cigarette, then to thank him for the cigarettes they stood smoking and swaying in such a way as to communicate the fact that Negro music could step up their passion by degrees. To win his heart they made a few entertaining remarks about the appearances of the other girls. “Friends of yours?” asked the man.
“No, they are tarts,” said I. A little later, when it occurred to me to ask, I said, “Don’t you know a tart when you see one?”
“I’m a doctor,” said the man who was the death of everything funny in the world. He was being serious & professional when he said, “Most of the girls I’ve seen naked are dead. And horribly diseased or disfigured. It is truly terrible.”
“It’s not a happy situation,” I agreed.
After many diversions of this variety Miss Malice came around calling “Closed!” and turning on the lights. It was the time of night when women tend towards melancholy. The doctor scurried off into the mists looking for someone to rip. On the street again, Frankie & I stood in the winking blue anti-injecting light of a HMV sign, which, if you’d like to know, shows a little dog named Nipper whose master died & left Nipper & his phonograph & voice recordings to his brother (the artist) who noticed Nipper sitting up and listening whenever his old master’s voice came on. I mentioned this story in a casual fashion & Francis had tears dripping down his face. There is an Asian guy who busks playing keyboard on Bourke Street – at every moment it is the soundtrack to the best Hallmark Postcards Telemovie you’ve ever seen & as the tram crawled towards us from the Elizabeth St stop seemingly in filmic slow motion the heart strings swelled and it was a terribly poignant scene. “I never cry,” said Francis. “Except once when I thought I lost my phone. But it was on the table in front of me. I was just sad about something else.”
“There, there, cousin,” said I. “Be a man. It is only the gin crying. Now you will remember to come tomorrow. At 9 o’clock sharp. To serve the writ on Brooks.” He had offered to help me and the aunties (for love, not money; I had promised to introduce him to my show business Mother & maudlin papa Archie Shitsville, though their claims to being show biz people is pretty tenuous after all these years of masterful slovenliness & dedicated soaking). In fact that was the real reason we were out celebrating with the bottle. “You have saved us from a terrible fate, Francis,” said I, really meaning he had for a while put off the prospect of me having to live with old aunts in Shitsville Ranch. “A fate worse than death,” I embellished, to make him feel important. His tie was askew. He had confessed tonight he was frightened of Armani models because they reminded him of SPORT. (“The look in their eyes is so intense and they are covered in so much sweat they might as well be in an ad for Gatorade.”) “To you we will be eternally grateful, cousin Francis. And so. 9 o’clock.”
“9 o’clock,” said Francis. “On the dot. I promise.” He tipped an invisible hat to me & (stumbling) followed the doctor into the mists.