This type of thing went on a for a day or two: Archie staring sightlessly at a spot on the far wall, stirring only to scratch himself, neck the gin or spit between his knees. And then I would pass him on the stairs, and he would rouse himself to say something fatherly or philosophical, like ‘Ten percent off at Bunnings today,’ if he had been listening to the radio, or ‘Never let them tell you that drink isn’t the answer…’ and other gems of cowpoke wisdom.
Perhaps the strangest thing that happened to Archie in the depths of his alcoholic fog was that pieces of his Classical education came back to him. He would wave at me two-fingered from the stone patio and mumble something that sounded like Dum Spiro Spero (While I breathe there is hope). But when he was sober he’d say, ‘What in hell. What do you mean Latin. I’m not a wop.’
On the third day he began to take the house apart. He gathered up everything that Nancy had left behind: odd socks and stockings, a mangled packet of Menthols, some violent smelling nail varnish to stop her biting her nails, her toothbrush, a bottle of Alka Seltzer, and a plastic bubble pipe she’d once hidden behind the CD stacks in a moment of festive whimsy, and tossed them in the fire. Then he extracted all of the Nancy Sinatra records from the collection (Boots, How Does That Grab You? Nancy in London, Woman, and For My Dad) and hurled them one by one from the top storey window into the algae-green faux lagoon far below. The last I heard of Nancy in London was a faint gurgle-plink, like frog spawn bursting.
Then Archie started on anything Nancy may have touched: a vodka glass which bore a trace of lipstick, a cushion where she had once left a long golden hair, the coffee table on which she once grazed her beautiful thigh, all smashed on the faux jagged rocks. (The whole time he was weeping like a woman, saying ‘Nancy, oh Nancy, Nancy…’)
Finally he took the poker and started hacking stones out of the fireplace, since Nancy had once fondly run her nail-bitten fingers over them to clear out the cobwebs. It was at this point I began to worry I might soon receive an alarmed letter from the Mies Van der Rohe Preservation Society and had to step in.
‘Dum spiro spero, pop,’ I said.
But he said, ‘Credula est spes improba,’ with great dignity. (‘He that lives on hope will die fasting’, which is the Shitsville family motto.)
Continued next post: I’m longing to linger til dawn, dear / Just saying this
It’s not Spring, in fact it’s freezing, but for the purposes of this blog we must pretend it is; flowers blooming everywhere, sex in season, or whatever Spring is like (from this distance it’s hard to recall). My point being that after all of the atmospheric rain the sky cleared and all of the dripping and reflected lights made the mountaintop forest flora look like water-pastels. Frankie and I had decided that our old, old Shitsville aunts (great-great-great aunts, in fact) would be packed off to Palm Springs in their rich travelling cloaks to live with mein pater (their great-great-nephew, in fact). This was the neat solution to every problem that had presented itself (hence the hay fever-like watering of the eyes); my father Archie, who had never learned that chasing floozies and drunken revelry is less endearing in a man of the middle years than it is in a good looking youth, would make the perfect eternal child for my old, old aunts to coddle; they in their turn are so distressingly filthy they would not be bothered by the concentric circles of fag-ends and other scum in which Archie exists; they had long ago ceased to notice the layers of dust collecting in their witch-like homestead, assuming that the perpetual fog they lived in was due to cataracts. And most importantly in one foul swoop I would be rid of the burden of caring for all of them. Of course you should know that I am quite fond of the old aunts but the time had come for us to part. With the illuminated, visionary gaze of absinthe drinkers Frankie and I looked forward to a glorious future.
My cousin Frankie, short of being the hero of the hour, was still on hand to buy me some consoling drinks while we nutted out the problem of the aunts. Their house had after all been exploded and for this they’d received the princely sum of a single buck. For the moment I wrapped them up in the worsted cocoons of their old aunt shawls and delivered them like stork bundles to Shitsville Ranch to wait while we trawled the old Melbourne town pubs. Now high up in the hills the rain fell all around like atomic particles, dripped off the palm leaves, sluiced down the monkey puzzle tree, really annoyed the cacti, and cast a weird greenish light in through the bay windows. The aunts had left some knitting needles on my mustard coloured sofa and some glasses of milk, glowing as ominously as the one in Suspicion, beside their be-frilled twin beds, then gone off to search for mushrooms in the foothills or whatever it is that old, old ladies do in the gloaming. When we came in Frankie remarked, with his peculiar lawyer charm, that the Ranch looked like a lot of crime scene photographs he had seen; signs of a struggle, tipped over chairs, and some off-colour stains, but in the time it had taken for the horizontal bodies to be removed, the glasses of beer were still upright on the table and still had heads on them; in another one, a woman had decorated the dinner table with a cloth and vase of flowers and the pretty yellow posies lived on for days after she was murdered. Like most lawyers, Frankie has a way with words albeit misapplied. But it is not my intention to suggest that anything creepy was going on. The point was that in the short space of time they had been there, the aunts had left my glorious abode in a noticeable disarray.
While Frankie was going through my records and chucking the ones he disapproved of against the far wall, the phone rang and it was my father Archie again. He was somewhat the worse for wear; since I had last spoken to him (eight hours before) he had lost all of his money again. “There’s a hole in my pocket,” he said with great originality.
“No, sweet papa,” said I. “There’s a hole in your brain.”
“Your father needs a woman to look after him,” said Frankie with great originality.
“My old aunts need a disgusting mess they can lovingly tend to,” said I, as I pulled ginger snaps from between the cushions in the sofa.
“Whatever will I do?” sobbed sweet papa. “I can’t go on like this.”
Something I’ve been pondering though the long white nights (high up in the hills on Shitsville Ranch) is to what extent Mr. Brooks’ semi-functional, anti-art dream of a pink, paved and stucco’d Utopia (Brooksview) in which morons are allowed to live as merrily as the Smurfs provided they pay their council rates on time and comply with parking restrictions (and the missionary zeal with which he would inflict this way of life on other people, selling it as something compliant with wanting the best for their ugly spawn) differs from the vision of my own mind’s eye [that’s a terrible expression] in which the worst habits and stupidities of humanity (religion, war, etc.) are contained in Nation-states (such as Queensland and Utah) and given free reign to annihilate themselves and their children. I look forward to the day at the end of all this Technological Pursuit when we’ll have finally achieved something like the Day of Slowness:
Without being told it was painted in 1937 [by Yves Tanguy], you would be hard pressed to know whether it depicts a post-Apocalyptic landscape where the new mutant life-forms still act out heroic narratives, or something like the questing ectoplasm from the beginning of the world. In fact, coming from the Surreal mind, it’s both. As any real estate developer knows, creation and destruction go together.
My Utopia (Shitsfield) is the twinned Technology-Nature vision of the Seventies; the houses would be Sci-fi living pods that would provide vile humans with everything they need, thus eliminating the desire to step outside of their gates and start telling each other what to do. Then the city streets would be able to reclaim some of the quiet and the green of the original world. So you can see our ideas are not that different – except that people like Mr. Brooks don’t hold much with green, running to Green being a natural and stunning remedy for many modern ills but difficult to patent & overcharge for unless you dress it up as some kind of Luxury Spa Retreat.
Yesterday I went to tea with my old aunts Olga, Tatiana and Anastasia Shitsville. Actually they are my great-aunts or my great-great aunts, I forget which – it is hard to keep track of the centuries. The old aunts live in a house so dusty that the rats and mice have formed a league against them and write letters of complaint to council demanding tenant’s rights.
Aunt Olga is tall and thin and about a million years old. Aunt Tatiana has what you might once have called a belle époque waist and spends a great deal of time mooning about with her face in her hands holding it like a death mask.
Aunt Stacy once left the house – in 1953 – for a European tour, and came home under a cloud that still hangs around the weather vane too pregnant with mystery to blow home to Fromelles.
After Aunt Stacy’s doomed jaunt in the heady days of her youth, the aunts decided that they didn’t hold with abroad and have been “at home” ever since. Their papa and their uncles and most of their cousins travelled all over the world and over the years posted mountains of poisonous fungii, toads, politically incorrect shrunken heads, carved phallic totems and other undesirable objets d’art home to confirm them in their worst suspicions about the world beyond the gate.
Once when she was telling me the history of some bizarre dead specimen I found stuffed under the sink, Aunt Tatiana said:
“It belonged to our cousin Becca. She was an explorer.”
“Or a zoologist…” said Aunt Stacy.
“They are the same thing. She got this in Mexico…”
“You mean Swahililand…”
“They are the same place. Anyway, she died a week later…”
“Oh!” said I. “That’s unexpected. How did she die?”
“She walked into the mouth of a fjord and was never seen again…”
“What’s a fjord?” asked I. (I was young and at that time couldn’t be expected to know everything the way I do now.)
Then Aunt Tatiana said, “Oh dear, did I say fjord? I meant a crocodile.”
The best thing about visiting me aunties is the endless cups of tea and bread-and-butter and the dirty stories they will tell me accidentally. It’s a well-known fact that cousin Brunhilde Shitsville was an Opera singer; she used to practice in the bath holding the scrubbing brush like a sceptre and dreaming of the day when men would cast pearls before her, like swine. One day after she had finished slaving at the gentlemen’s hatter and millinery shop under Flinders Street Station she saw a famous stage manager staggering along the footpath, then go into a building where she couldn’t follow. Thinking this would be her only chance, cousin Brunhilde stood calling to him from the middle of Elizabeth Street until he opened up the shutters in a top storey window and leaned out to see what the devil the racket was about. And that was when she opened up her lungs and threw out her arms and began to SING!
“He was fixed to the spot,” said Aunt Olga proudly.
“Well he wasn’t about to leave any time soon,” said Aunt Tat. “Or she would see he had no trousers on.”
Aunt Stacy was a-goggle. “Why didn’t he have any trousers on?”
“Well obviously,” said Tat, “because he was in a broth—”
“In the soup,” said Olga quickly. “It is an expression meaning, he was in trouble. He had been caught unawares by the sheer volume of Brunhilde’s talent.”
“And the size of her…”
“And how did cousin Brunhilde end?” asked I. “Did she find fame and glory?”
“No, not fame,” said Olga.
“Not glory,” said Stacy.
“Only gloom,” said Tatiana. “She was on a boat – sailing to America – the biggest boat you ever saw…”
“Well never mind all that,” said Olga. “It was such a long time ago…”
“The boat hit an ice…”
“I think our niece would rather hear about the family jewels.”
“You remember I told you how fat she was?”
“Tatiana! We’ve had quite enough of this story for one day!”
“Straight to the bottom,” Tat whispered.
The aunts have twin brothers named Alfonso and Beau I’ve never met, in my youth I would imagine them looking like dapper skeletons carved for the Mexican Day of the Dead in silk toppers and bow ties. I think the reason I got the idea they were skeleton brothers is because once Aunt Olga said, “They are dead to us.” Alfonso and Beau were the best of friends for years but ended by shooting each other in a duel.
“But why did they shoot each other in a duel, old aunts?” I asked.
“Because they had the exact same taste in everything,” said Aunt Tat. “And one day they both fell in love with the same whor…”
“Horse…” said Olga.
“Horse…” said Tat. “And now every year on the anniversary of the duel the…”
“The horse will come and leave flowers on the place where blood was spilt. Acacias, ambrosias, azaleas, begonias and gerberas – euphorbia and epigaea…”
“All the flowers ending in ‘a’,” Olga summarised, “which makes me think she really liked Alfonso best.”
“Everyone liked Alfonso best.”
“But that’s silly! How can a horse pick flowers…?” asked Aunt Stacy.
“Is there perchance any moral to this story, Aunt Olga?” asked I, thinking if I squinted I might be able to see one coming from far away.
“None at all, I assure you!” she said sniffily. “There was never any morals where Alfonso was concerned.”
“We mustn’t forget Alfonso,” said Aunt Stacy sadly.
“No, no, never forget Alfonso,” said Aunt Tatiana.
“Poor sod,” said Olga. Even she looked sad thinking about Alfonso.
“But what about Beau?” I asked. “You said they were twins.”
“Beau is another matter altogether.”
“We can forget him, alright.”
“Forget about who?” said Stacy.