It’s Christmas Eve. Summer. Overcast skies. The nation ruled by witless barbarians. The city streets full of full drunks.
One of them me, sitting in the Botanical Gardens under a twisted Mortan Bay fig tree, evening coming on, a flagon of cheap red wine in my lap.
Even as a kid I knew, instinctively, that life was a lie and every day was a clueless scavenger hunt for a glimpse of the truth. Well, a lie is a lie is a politician or a priest, that's certainly true. But the truth? How do you recognise something so rare?
My father - drunk as only he could be - was the only man to be hit by a train during a public transport strike.
A carriage was being shunted in a goods yard he was trying to cross; Dad was killed at once and doubtless felt no pain. My mother was so heartbroken that she immediately moved in with our next-door-neighbour Mr Flint. For years my mother had been fucking him on the side anyway.
Not only was Mr Flint a petty, pompous, pencil-pushing bastard, he was also the local Postmaster. He was the type of bloke who plasters what little hair he has over his bald white head like a threadbare doormat. Mum thought he was a successful professional. I thought he was a slimy old prick. Dad was usually too pissed to notice. Or care.
Feeling an obligation to carry on in my father's unsteady footsteps, I was soon the youngest pisspot in the street. The few times Mum came up for air she told me to be good. I was. I was good a skulling, I was good at spewing, and I was terrific at falling down in public. Shopping centres were a speciality.
I was weaving through the mall when I first met Kim. It was fuck at first sight. She wore a black nylon halter top and jeans so tight you could count the pubic hairs on her bulging pineapple. She had a big, low-slung bum, tiny tits, and wore nostril-splitting perfume. Her hair was wild, bleached, a frantic birds' nest atop her head. Her face was a Myer makeup demo: all mascara, rouge and tons of foundation. She was also a virgin. So was I but why spoil things by telling her that? Unfortunately - unbelievably - she wanted to maintain her virginity as a sort of prize for her imagined future husband. I learned that later. But standing there in that bright and crowded mall, I couldn't take my eyes off her; when she smiled at me, I almost mayonnaised my jocks. I can still remember the muzak: a light classical version of the Beatles' "I Am The Walrus". I should have known better.
Well, I wanted to root Kim so bad, some mornings my entire right arm ached. We would pass each other in the mall or on the street, nod and smile, and eventually we actually spoke to one another. I was pissed enough to ask her out on a date. She was stupid enough to say yes. I remember it was the local McDonald's. She ordered a quarter-pounder (which is what I had pulsating behind my zipper) and I ordered a coke and double frys. A little BYO scotch improved the coke. Actually, it was a lot of scotch. Kim thought I was being pretty sophisticated.
One day I bought Kim a box of cheap chocolates, asked her home, and pinned her to the even cheaper carpet. I expected her to start grunting for joy like Mum did with Mr Flint. No way, Norman. She lay there like a stunned mullet. We almost split up, there and then, and I realised it was more fun getting drunk. Still, when she kissed me, plunging her long prehensile tongue halfway down my throat, she practically turned my testicles inside out. It was definitely love.
A week later her older brother came home on leave from the Navy and beat the shit out of me. He gave me my first broken tooth. The following week I jumped him in the dark with a lump of wood to beat the shit out of him with. He gave me my second broken tooth. My mother told me to be good and went back nextdoor to Mr Flint's smelly unmade bed.
On my fifteenth birthday Mum called me a man and Mr Flint poured me a drink from his liquor cabinet without realising that behind his back I had been pilfering from it for years. They were both drunk. They sang "Happy Birthday" to me, I blew out the candles, and they went back next door to Mr Flint's smelly unmade bed.
I gave the cake to Banger, Flint's ratty-looking mongrel, and took a bottle of his good brandy and sat at the far end of his long narrow backyard listening to the neighbourhood's barking dogs, the creaking crickets and my mother grunting in his bedroom, audible even at that distance.
I sat on the overgrown lawn, drank with resolve, and swore at the moon. To this day, it seems to me the moon knows something, smirking down on everything from on high the way it does. Well, it looks like a big crystal ball, doesn't it? And they say with distance comes knowledge. Or something like that. Yeah, the moon knows something about something.
Drinking in Mr Flint's backyard, I bombed out in the rain and caught a bad cold. Mother put me to bed in our place and then went back to bed in Mr Flint's place. During that fever I decided to leave home. I packed a bag and caught a train into town where I met Fat Costa, a Greek kid with a face like a boiled green lolly, and a bag full of goodies. He sold me a stick of Buddah. I paid for it with some of Mr Flint's money and caught the train back home. There, I got stoned.
For four hours I sat under the kitchen table counting the dirty spots on the lino. There were a lot of spots. Next morning Mr Flint came over and kicked me around for pinching his wallet. He gave me my third broken tooth. Mum told me to be good and went back nextdoor to Flint's smelly unmade bed. I had a shower and watched the blood from my bloodied nose pour down the drain.
Down the drain. It was then that I had the great idea to burn the house down and kill Mr Flint. For starters, anyway. As for my mother, I was undecided. I felt I owed her something but had no idea what it could be. Perhaps it would come to me.
Finding a can of kerosene in Mr Flint's garage, I waited for one of their Pub Nights - drunken dancing and tuneless Country-and-Western around the corner at the local piss hole - and poured it throughout the house. There was only enough for the lounge and bedroom. That was plenty.
With Banger wagging his tail beside me, I stood in the kitchen doorway swigging from a bottle of Flint's bourbon, and watched the fire eating up his multicolored loungeroom carpet, his boneless vinyl furniture, his vast, laminated bar with its dinky flashing sign saying "Open For Business".
As the flames snaked across the room, I gave three cheers - Banger barking his obvious approval - and pissed into the sink. Banger pissed against the fridge. For added impact, I turned on all the gas jets on the oven, before hurrying out into the driveway where Mr Flint's rust-pocked tank, an once-white, early model Commodore, was parked. Having found his spare key, I opened her up, let Banger in, and cruised away. I was three blocks gone and still heard the explosion. It was like faraway thunder.
I pulled over and looked round to see the quaking plume of fire and smoke. And there was that bright and shiny moon again, smirking away, another secret added to its vast storehouse of memories, passing thoughts and lies. Can a smile be sad?
End of Chapter One