Wednesday, December 17, 2014

007


Scrabble, the Wrong Man and the Crocodile

Scrabble nights can be wild. Mondays, when the townsfolk are tucked up by the fire, the four of us true believers go out into the darkened streets, where we tuck up by someone else's fire, eat copious amounts of food and then sit down to some serious Scrabble.

There's 007 and his faithful sidekick Fiddy Cent (cos he's black), Haimona the Classy (cos he knows a classy Valiant Charger when he sees one), the Matron (her vocation) and me. The Matron's boyfriend owns a winery. I'll leave it at that at the moment. Our Sunshine used to play, until she left the state on pressing business.

I left the state on pressing business once, by default. A convoluted and upsetting tale of being unable to fall out of love with the wrong man, I had to go in a hurry. 

The bar manager whom I worked for had to leave in a hurry too. A crate of Korean rice whiskey from the freighters was his undoing. Staff at the Emergency waiting room were cleaning stomach linings off the vinyl chairs for weeks. Or was it the drugs? I don't recall which one was the catalyst, but I know that as he got cockier, produce went over the table rather than under. He offered me a lift through to Geraldton.

007 insists on Fiddy Cent sitting at the table, even though Fiddy Cent is a dog and we're all eating our dinner. "He's my partner. Did I tell you about the time he won the game for me?" says 007. "I was losing badly, taking hits left right and centre. I was going down, when Fiddy leapt up and put his paw on three letters! D! O! G!. 'Gosh Fiddy!' I said to him. 'You've just won me the game.'"
Fiddy is sporting a new trim, so his beady eyes study me across the table. "Yes, I don't really remember doing that," 007 says worriedly. "I got up in the morning with a thumping hangover and the scissors were on the table and Fiddy's hair all over the floor ... not a bad job ... anyway, try some of this wine, it's two ninety nine a bottle. Not bad at two ninety nine, not a bad drop at all."

Fiddy jumps down and is whining at the door. He wants to go outside but the doggy door is working and poodle perversity means he has to sit and whine for a bit before using it.
"What's wrong with Fiddy Cent?" asks the Matron. She leers indulgently at the dog through her thick glasses.
"Fuck, man," 007 says to his dog. "They don't all hate you, just relax." He turns to us and explains; "He thinks you all hate him because he's black."
"Nonsense," says Haimona. "Some of my best friends are poodles."

After getting blown out of Geraldton, I jumped truck over and over. Going north and I climbed into the nerve centre of monstrous iron roaches - a moment of reckoning with the driver who sweated diesel from the cracks and pores in his face, looked me up and down. The old ones were okay. Stories were my passport.

A truckie drove me to a pub in Cyclone Alley; fibro, two storey, flattened three times and rebuilt three times. I asked for a job. For five months I hung out the guest's linen, fresh and sun-glared, smelling like the sea. I read The Songlines, a little bit every day, in the geologist's air conditioned donga.

We set up the board and draw our letters. Haimona gets out his clipboard. I can tell by his groans that he is already suffering a vowel obstruction, an irregular complaint.
"At least it only happens once a week," the Matron empties her glass and pours another two ninety nine. She opens the game, an eight pointed 'lust', and looks meaningfully at an oblivious 007.
Haimona and I study our racks, hard. Old people. They're so disgusting. 

I ended up in Darwin, writing fugitive love letters from the second storey of a block of flats. He wrote back and told me he'd eaten lasagna for lunch and that it was cold in the mornings. 

A Papuan woman called Alice lived next door to me. She cried a lot. She had two Aboriginal husbands and she didn't speak much English. Long Grassers drank in the lot behind us, fought like cats in the night. Bats thundered or clattered out of trees above my head.

Near the flats squatted the infamous fisherman's pub, Stella's. One night, the grizzled women deckies jeered at us tender yearlings, called us Veal, so my English Rose flatmate and I took our cask of fruity and left for the jetty. 

I dared her to swim naked with the resident crocodile and she did it, so I did too.

Having survived the truckies, the law, the crocodile ... goodness me - here I am arguing Scrabble with a retired journalist. "There's no i in hex."
"There's is - if you are a Kiwi. Which I am, I'll have you know."
"When you're not being a Mauritian. Make him put it back, Haimona!"
The table-thumping Matron makes the tiles bounce. 007 takes his back. The Matron takes another slug of two ninety nine.
007 tries another tack. "Did I ever tell you about how Fiddy Cent won the game for me?"
He tells us the story again. Then I say what happened to me during the day, this Monday, on the grass outside the library. 

I was wearing a blue Tshirt and the sun was shining. I was reading a book but I saw him, this wrong man who sent me haretailing it to Darwin twenty years ago. 
He stepped down from the footpath, put down his bag of books and sat with me for a while.

2 comments:

  1. Great stuff. Very funny. I love the reference to 'poodle perversity' - so true.

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