Through their kitchen and onto the back verandah
Desley and The Kid had dragged the mattress.
She'd been known to bring back worse and,
since the lease didn't allow for pets
this way they got around that.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Call it
a sudden snap of weakness, but Des had
wanted to like him: you saw a person,
gulped, took risks. Some paid you to love,
some you almost ordered yourself to enjoy.
He was obviously neither: thanks praise et cetera
hardly a customer, twelve she guessed him, thirteen, fourteen,
young or old enough for those famous
'friendly lectures' Desley almost couldn't help.
. . . . 'Saint Bloody Kilda: run away from home,
from any place, you'll find it. What kid
. . . . . . . .After a few wet days
drains were hopeless, but, till then that's
what people did: some rode round for a root,
others lived in drains.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .'Flat 4 tarum-taraa!
. . . . Here was her home so where was his?
His name then? No, you're caught with a name.
. . . . 'Son, they catch you with a face.
Well I'm Desley, my friend's Iris and here's hoping
. . . . . . . . . . .Years on, after he'd been
Mr A and The Baron and The Alien
(dealing and taxi-driving to help set himself
back on the rice trail) he'd tell, whoever wanted
or didn't want to hear, how
yes, when he was this tearaway living
in the drains, these St Kilda hookers took him in
(...and how it might have been
right where we are now: 4/9) and how,
yeah anyway at this party there he met,
well kinda met, that sucker Kent.
Then there was Bernie, bit of a mongrel, Bern,
who tried interesting him, at twelve
in grass or whatever it was called;
and Jack who wouldn't let him so as he 'n' Jack
could be friends. Or so it seemed.
Last time, in Bangkok or Manila or wherever,
he thought he saw Bernie, or the ghost of Bernie,
behind a bar, he didn't need to stop.
Jack of course he always saw around, that man
was The Phantom: made to be seen around;
but nothing special now, just someone to nod at.
Then the intros were recalled; you know Jack, Kent?
Well this is Denise his girl; that's Bern
and this is The Kid, he goes with the place for now.
'Know the first law of anything?' Kent wanted to know.
'He's asking you,' Desley prompted.
'Only one law,' Kent advised, 'never be dumb enough.'
. . . . .Iris had made a condition:
'You can be here when one of us are home....'
so a few days on she asked
'What're you doing through the day...'
(Fish, he thought; or go to town; or read things;
help out.) 'Making trouble or avoiding it?'
Iris knew a stupid question when she
asked one. He kept to his smile.
'You know' she asked, 'where we work,
Des 'n' me?' The boy had already guessed,
grinning as if he'd known even before
the women had. 'You're not dumb...'
Iris could enjoy that. 'Girlfriend?'
Stumping The Kid his bravado melted and
he blushed. 'Well not yet. Why should you?
Haven't you friends though, at your age?'
. . . . .'Friends? Some... 'He could exist without
them but. Or could he?
'Des,' he shot out fast, 'she's letting me stay...'
. . . . .'On our back verandah, sure. You're not
the first, mind. You heard we have this do
on Saturday?' Flicking his head he showed
he'd heard. 'There'll be Kent,' she told him, 'Jack
and Denise, Paula and her chink, Bernie Millar
(under sufferance), the twins, and now,
by special arrangement, Desley's latest acquisition:
you, The Runaway Kid. We've broadminded
friends, but how do we explain you,
when we have to? Call you my sister's boy?'
Didn't think he'd need that, didn't want to
neither, though Iris buoyed the idea: 'I'll think
of something later...' She wouldn't try.
. . . . .Kent was out. Wouldn't he need a party?
Iris did. It was okay by Des even if
they needed her to accommodate this guest appearance:
The Kid, her kid, late of the drains
with his scrubby sandy hair, his whingey words
and clever words. The drains apart
she wanted to know his home and, truth or fibs,
he mentioned some suburb or country town.
Des thought she'd heard of it; sometimes a customer
might drop a name that sounded familiar,
though in this job, by, thirty-four,
you often thought you heard.
Don't expect her to stay trying this
that long. Soon enough she'd quit sitting around
and settle down with Mr Menzies,
adopting for her boy scout this kid who,
over the past days, ran her a few bobs
worth of messages.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . So Kent was out and,
after stocking-up for their party, Iris sagged
into her afternoon. Happy with wanting the lot.
Des of course would give it all away:
they differed over that; but better her than
bible-thumpers, standover ponces, bent cops,
all that these men with Billy Graham jaws could do
was cast blunt spells on those who
wanted to be scared. So what was wrong
in this drooping-off to nothing?
Death might be life's grandest thing (if only
you were certain what it was). 'She went
that way?' acquaintances would ask her friends,
and her friends, proud to have known Iris,
would elaborate. Though of course you'd miss
. . . . . . . . . . . . . And she liked the sound
of what was said: death as life at its grandest.
If only she'd known to inform Kent
(that night or any time) but who would?
For Kent, a trim man under his little hat,
had only eighteen months to live.
In a fortnight he and a mate would
find themselves a job and botch it:
and cornered by two cops would panic:
a cop would get the mate, Kent would get
the cop, then, after next summer
when nothing but the cricket, the heat and Kent's appeals
made news, they'd string up Kent,
The Herald having him stroll to the noose
reciting Lawson or Paterson or 'Life is mostly
front and bubble...'
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . No-one knew an angel
must have been preparing to arrive at
4/9 that evening, this angel malevolent
enough to slap Kent's back, matey style,
with Welcome home Kent you poor dumb cunt,
welcome from those of us outside . . .
enjoy yourself it's getting late.
. . . . Jack asked The Kid: 'Told you read a bit?'
. . . . And grafting to the man's lean speech
something of his 'When I can. Papers. Anything.'
The Kid replied. The only bearded bloke he'd
met before was Santa Claus.
. . . . 'Had it a month,' piped Des, 'Jacky's going
Buddhist oooooo!' and waved her hands
like he worshipped Casper The Friendly Ghost.
Should've, she thought, sent The Kid in next door
for 'Hawaiian Eye' and 'Perry Mason' but
Rasmussen was out.
. . . . 'Me?' Jack looked at The Kid; The Kid
looked back. 'We've got our business...'
came an answer pleased with itself.
'Boys aren't my line, you know that. Right Bern?
Go on tell us, Bern...'
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . And Bern told them:
'Makes a decent beer this town don't it?'
. . . . Even at his age such phrases shuddered
The Kid: he wouldn't forget it, this exactly:
the very insignificance of Bernie-the-cook.
Jack would be that good smart man he met
a few times at the pros, but Bernie set him
a life-motto: never be anything like that,
an anything that's nothing. A bignoter? Please, if only...
for one day he'd become that passenger who
leered back 'Bro? Hey bro?' or Fatso, grinning
to the mates, then going down on Crazy Horse pussy
just for them. When someone's getting fucked in
the dark by the wrong guy, Bernie wants to be
that wrong guy: a man and his little little con,
who ceases without it.
. . . . Des, why'd you take me in?' The Kid asked later.
'Why aren't I booted out?'
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . She explained it:
'Don't think it goes with the job. Iris'n'me
might have hearts of gold, the next girl
probably hasn't. Of course you'll have to leave one day,
all of use will, but I couldn't have you
caught in a storm, then swept into Port Phillip Bay...'
Survival was one fact of life, that and love.
There were of course the others, since all that sex-stuff
was living really. You did it or you
read about it and what was the fuss?
'He saw the outline of her nubile form
swell from behind the negligee...It's a bit
like that, but hardly much. It's just
there's something every hour, every minute, second...'
. . . . And that day women's problems had Iris
a little peaky. Des was going with her
to the quack, leaving him with Bernie,
their friend, his perhaps, who was humming
'Paper Doll' and 'Ballin'The Jack' now they were alone,
songs The Kid had heard him sing that summer
but knowing Stay still stay quiet was an order
of Bernie's eyes, and how it should continue:
Do this, I'll give you that...
. . . . .('Fourteen maybe, skinny thought...' Iris muttered as
he dozed off his first night there.)
. . . . ..Now, this arvo, he was being touched
So here's how they start with kids like him
having to shrug-it-through, for money was better but.
Scary when a soft hand pats your face
but near enough to fun, like seeing what
went next, or daring to ask
'What'm I getting?'
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .'Sheilas feed y'well?'
(In the man's chest something seemed clicking-
up towards his throat.)
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 'What'm I getting?'
. . . . . . 'They feed y'well?'
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 'What'm I getting Bernie?'
. . . . .He dodged an open hand as, for an answer,
it splayed into a sideboard; half a second
sounded nothing at all, till a pretty cup bombed
onto the floor. Give us a year I'll be your size,
silly poof you should've got me drunk
like in the stuff he'd read. Remembering things
he'd heard was great, didn't You'd fuck anything
Bern sound wonderful? Might even repeat it.
. . . . . 'Look...' Bernie was blinking, panting. 'Look...
. . . . . . . . . . . . .what...'
though with footsteps coming to the door
The Kid could strut out what he liked:
. . . . 'Ten. Ten quid an quick, else I tell Des.
She 'n' Iris never believe you!'
. . . . But Bernie had been set-up enough:
during the next few days, wanting to play it right,
he started thinking and a great idea arrived.
It was too risky though: having something pinched
then blaming, no better planting, it on The Kid.
Des adored that boy; Iris would hardly
believe anyone she hated as much as she hated Bern;
whilst he didn't need to imagine Jack
cocking a brow as his eyes drilled for
the little truth left
Know you did it mate, just explain why, Bern.
. . . . It had been a mean idea, but a great one,
just flawed by being clumsy. Yet if Bernie
was bad news, Kent was badder
(even Jack, Cap'n Squarehead himself, seemed
hardly dad material) and how could you
let a youngster stay in St Kilda,
let alone with Desley,
when out where he belonged were paddocks
to run in, plenty of trades to learn?
He wasn't sure how legal it might be but
the right word with the right cop made
everything wonderful. Never was after thanks
but Bernie might be thanked, the girls let off,
praised, even, for their public service:
caring for a runaway best they could,
then giving him up and sending him back
to a loving home and mum's best tucker.
. . . . .Equal better Bernie would get his own back.
. . . . .So an early morning later, The Kid
looked up from his mattress, recalling the story of
the three wells: for look who'd arrived:
a few of our old mates, the boys and, yes,
even a girl as well, in blue.
Time to give up. But he would leave milking
the situation so that Bernie might cop something:
'Fair go, today's me birthday!"
. . . . Wistfully in tears Desley blanched:
why hadn't he told them?
Muttering 'Learn a trade son'
Bernie sounded, yes, a touch embarrassed; Iris lit up;
and weren't the cops exquisitely uncomfortable?
'Happy returns...' the woman offered; and 'Well,'
Jack smiled, as he always seemed to,
'If it is or almost is...'
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Des recovered.
She wanted to say something like
No matter even how weird, love's love but 'Crikey Bern,'
she sighed, 'it had to happen sometime,
but today? Y'should've asked us...
tell them about the drains son...
who's he is this kid needed somewhere, someone.'
. . . . And he wanted to go anywhere now, away from
Bernie shovelling what's-for-the-best
at the bulls. Free country though and no regrets,
when it was decided you move, you moved;
you learnt that knowing Bernie.
Wouldn't he do the same? Had hardly fleeced
this dobber though, that was all.
Next time, even if they never get it,
when someone wants then someone pays.
. . . . Desley came closer: 'Iris sends her love.
Come and see us one day, don't leave
without these, son.' (His Pocket Compendium
of Australian Statistics; Facts and Figures
from the SSB.)
. . . . . . . . . . . He was slightly smiling now
but The Kid had turned into a boy
sloping off with the cops.