You’d think that telling chicks you write music for movies and live in a terrace in Darlinghurst would be a winner. It’s when they find out more that everything turns to custard.
Yeah, I really do write music for movies. Soft porn, since you ask. You know, girls lying on the bonnet of a Ferrari and slooooowly taking their kit off, licking their lips, then their fingers, and putting those fingers places where the camera goes on full zoom to follow. Nothing violent, sometimes a couple of lezzies, sometimes a girl with a guy, often a girl on her own.
This bloke in America makes the movies and pays me to do the music. Every time some horny bugger with his tongue hanging out downloads one of the movies it’s royalties for me too. It’s a nice little earner that bulks up the money I make being a sparky. Until the bloody ATO discovers me Paypal account.
Women I date don’t like it that I have to watch the porn to write the music but I can’t write without seeing what I’m writing for, can I?
When I was a kid I wanted to be a rock star. The only sensible thing Dad ever done for me was force me to become an apprentice electrician instead. Get a trade first, he said, so’s if the music shit doesn’t work out you got a day job. It didn’t work out but a few years back I taught myself how to compose music on a synth and computer, doof doof stuff that sells well on the internet for those dance and rave places where nobody gives a shit about the music but wants the beat.
One contact led to another and for the last year it’s been the porn music, regular stuff, one soundtrack every two or three weeks. Bland sort of music, and I bet nobody notices if one soundtrack isn’t very different to another when they’re watching the action. I wonder if most of the blokes who watch this stuff notice the music at all really.
As for the terrace, it’s the old family home. Me and me girlfriend Kate moved back in two years ago to look after Dad after Mum died, and Kate moved back out six months later. She couldn’t stand Dad and was annoyed that she couldn’t turn the terrace into one of those smart Darlo ones all renovated with polished floorboards and the back end opened up with bi-fold doors onto a trendy courtyard.
It hasn’t been done up since Mum and Dad bought the place in the late 60s. I think some of the original grease was on the stove top when me and Kate moved in. Dad won’t have the place renovated, he likes it exactly how it is. Kate and me had some blazing arguments, most of em about Dad’s drinking and me siding with him about the house. Shit, it’s his house. Let him have it how he wants, he won’t be around much longer to enjoy it what with the life he’s had.
Any woman I’ve brought home since Kate left has been less than impressed with the collapsing 60s furniture and décor, particularly the bathroom. And the collapsing 70s Dad, come to that.
Coming third in the trifecta with chicks is Bruce. Me and Kate adopted him three years ago and when she moved out he stayed. He’s Siamese and a funny bugger, which is why he’d been in the shelter a while. Most women get the willies when he stares at them, especially if they wake up in the morning and he’s sitting on their tits looking at their face or worse, yowling at them. Then there’s the ankle biting, the shoe or handbag destruction, the scratching. It’s the cat or me, they say, but Bruce is cool, he puts up with me and me music and me Dad and who else but me would put up with a mad Siamese?
I have better conversations with Bruce than I do with Dad, anyway.
Dad has two beers – all the booze I allow him these days – and starts on about his glory days at the Cross. His favourite job was being a spruiker for a nightclub in the 70s. There’s a photo he likes of himself, all sideburns and longish, greasy-looking hair, in a shirt with a collar almost as wide as the shoulders. I can’t talk about the flares he’s wearing without laughing. Anyway he’s outside this club, it’s daytime but the lights around the doorway are on, and his mouth is open. Want to know what he’s saying? He’s doing the spruik:
We got sucking we got fucking,
We got moaning we got groaning,
We got tits, slits and other pink bits!
He can still do the spruik, it’s one of the few things hard wired into his brain. These days his brain cells are outnumbered by his teeth. I think. Put it this way: he’s missing most of both.
When I was a kid people called him Monty Python because he was funny – he could make anyone laugh and I mean anyone. Over time it changed to Full Monty, because by then his best mates were Johnny Walker and Jim Beam and he spent most of his waking hours pissed as a fart.
I reckon the two beers a day won’t kill him. A little bit of booze and he’s mellow. Make him go without and he’s a cranky old shit.
It’s nearly beer o’clock for him now.
I do one last check of the latest soundtrack, listening through the cans and checking it against the video for timing, fading, cueing. Not bad, not bad. Balance between synth drums and keyboard is good, the drums aren’t overpowering. Will bring them up just a little as the action gets hotter then fade once they’ve both come. God, look at that! She really is a stunner. Those eyes, those tits.
I laugh at myself. Me and me music. Wank-along-a-Don. It’s a far cry from the dreams of being the next Jimmy Barnes, of playing to a packed EntCent and touring overseas.
I save the track, stretch, take off the cans and wander downstairs.
“Gettin near beer time, eh Don?” Dad says hopefully. He’s sitting in His Chair, an ugly, buggered old armchair that was once green velvet. If he has more than two beers the only way he can get up and out is to fall forward onto the floor and claw himself up on the arms of the chair. Not pretty to watch but he’s too proud to ask for help. That’s just one of the reasons I stop him at two.
“Yeah, yeah,” I say, turning the radio down so’s I can hear meself think. It’s Saturday, so Dad has it tuned to the races, not that he’d know one horse or race from another. That was the seventh at Randwick which meant I’d been in me own musical world since before the first. Shit, time flies.
I crack him a coldy and grab one for meself when there’s a knock at the door.
Word gets around when there’s a sparky living in your neighbourhood and I reckon it’s someone wanting something fixed, and probably wanting to pay less by offering cash.
I open it to find a girl – well, a woman, she looks to be in her thirties, a bit younger than me – with hair as short as mine and so red it makes my eyes hurt. Haven’t seen her before. I’m guessing power point replacement. Or light fitting.
“Are you the guy with a Siamese cat?” she says, and me heart drops.
Shit! Bruce! This bint has run over him, probably in a bloody great four wheel drive.
“Yeah,” I say slowly, feeling cold all over. Bruce. Me mate. Mad little Bruce. Jesus!
“Well the little bugger’s got something of mine and I want it back.”
It’s a funny feeling when the blood starts flowing again. I go all light headed with relief and start to grin.
“It’s not funny.” She frowns. Her eyebrows are dark brown but that hair is the same colour as an old-fashioned phone box.
“Sorry, thought you had bad news. Like, you know, you’d run over him or something.”
“Oh… shit… I didn’t think. No wonder you looked a bit funny.”
I invite her in, telling her Bruce has a criminal past, probably pretty appropriate for a cat in Darlo. He nicks things. He’s come back with packets of biltong, bones, g-string undies, an unused tampon, fluffy toys, even car keys once. Bruce is a standover man with the local small dogs – chihuahuas and shihtzu crosses cower in fear when he jumps into their gardens on a thieving spree. He hasn’t nicked nothing for nearly a year though, so long that I thought he’d grown out of it.
“What’s he nicked from you then?” I guide her quickly past the lounge room before Dad can clear his throat and say anything.
She looks at me like she’s wondering how much to tell me. Can’t be worse than the g-string or the tampon. Nobody ever asked for them back.
“Bag of grass,” she mumbles finally.
I grin again. She frowns again.
“Sorry,” I say. “How did he get it? Did he come into your house?” Bruce normally only steals from gardens – although I’ve always wondered about that tampon.
“No, I was out the back taking a break and getting the creative juices flowing. Just sitting at the table, rolling a joint, and your cat comes over the fence and comes up to me. Nice cat, I tell him, and I’ve got my notebook there and start to sketch him. Next thing I know he’s jumped on the table, grabbed the bloody bag in his mouth and taken off with it. “
I look more closely at her. Her t-shirt has spatters of paint on it and her hands are blotchy with different colours, blue, green, purple, black, pink, like she murdered a rainbow.
“He’ll be out the back,” I tell her. “He always brings his goodies home.” I hustle her through the kitchen, where I haven’t washed up anything since yesterday morning.
She stops and turns a slow 360. “God, look at this.”
“Don’t,” I advise. The kitchen has orange tiles and green benchtops, Mum’s idea of luxury living when she was younger. It’s laminex to the hilt. It’s the kind of kitchen that lifestyle tv shows love to rip out and replace, and they get all superior and nasty about it, cheering loudly when the old cupboards splinter to sad bits in the skip.
“No, it’s bloody brilliant. I’d love to paint it. Mess and all. God, you’ve even got orange wallpaper on the wall.”
I wince a bit at the ‘mess and all’ bit. At least the wiring is modern, even if the orange wallpaper has been there so long it’s in fashion again.
She follows me outside with a last look around and I bet she’s wishing she’d brought her bloody sketchbook with her.
The garden is pretty crap and she doesn’t offer to paint that. There’s cracked old concrete in the middle, a 1920s-type clothesline running the entire length with a week’s worth of Dad’s y-fronts hanging on it, a few plants whose names I don’t know – I think one is a hibiscus – and a dying wooden shed down the back with rusting shit and a family of redbacks in it. The only new bits in the yard are the bbq and garden furniture I brought with me.
Grass and weeds add a bit of green both sides of the concrete and it’s on one green bit that Bruce is rolling back and forth.
We had catnip once, but we forgot to water it and it died. While it was alive it sent Bruce into orbit. He sniffed it, nibbled it, rolled on it, slept on it, did everything but fuck it. He’s doing the same thing now with the packet of weed.
One end is open and Bruce has dragged some of the grass out and is rubbing his cheeks in it.
The blue eyes open and he yowls at me. It’s his ‘fuck off, Don’ yowl. I can see green in his mouth so he’s been eating the stuff as well. Slowly he rolls to his feet and even from the back door I can see his pupils are big and black. He’s either got the shits or he’s high, or perhaps both.
You don’t go near Bruce when he’s got the shits cos he goes a bit mental. I learned the hard way and have a scar on one arm to prove it.
“Can you get the bag back, do you think?” she says quietly. I like her. Most chicks would run over and try and grab the bloody thing, then complain about the blood and send me the doctor’s bill for the tetanus jab.
“Dunno. He’s guarding it.”
Bruce is up on all fours now, growling, his back arched and skinny brown tail as fluffy as a Siamese tail ever gets. Behind him the bag glints in the sun. So near and yet so far.
We’re so busy watching Bruce and he’s so busy glaring at us that none of us notice the magpie until it flaps down behind Bruce, grabs the bag in its beak and takes off with it.
Bruce is called Bruce cos he has the reflexes of Bruce Lee, but the weed has dulled them. He spins, jumps, but it’s too late, and the bird has flown to the top of the ratty old shed in the corner.
“Shit,” the girl and I both in unison. We creep closer, very slowly.
The bird fusses with the bag, getting a better grip on it, and flaps lazily off as Bruce moves from stalking with his back low to full gallop. By the time he’s jumped onto the shed roof the bird is well past next door’s.
Bruce clearly isn’t feeling up to steeplechasing over fences to follow the bird and jumps down again.
I clock the bird and see it’s landed on a roof three doors down.
“Let’s follow it, it might drop the bag,” I suggest.
The girl nods but quickly scoops up the remnants of weed that Bruce has abandoned and shoves them in her pocket.
Tantrum over, Bruce flops into the one sunny spot on the concrete and closes his eyes. I worry briefly about him, but figure that if the weed has upset his digestion he’ll vomit it up. Probably in the loungeroom. At Dad’s feet.
The girl and I gallop down the hall and out the front door; I get a glimpse of Dad’s bewildered face as we go.
From across the road we can see the magpie. He’s still on the roof but he’s looking around.
“Fly east,” the girl urges it. She explains to me, “I live in the street behind. If the stupid thing drops the bag anywhere I’d like it to be in my garden.”
As if the bird hears us it flaps off, but not east, oh no, it heads northwest for Victoria Street and Kings Cross.
She can sprint, her red hair blazing and her thongs flapping on the footpath, loud as a smack, loud as a whip. I try and keep up. We skid around into Victoria Street, dodging pedestrians, dodging bicycles, dodging little white dogs with vacant faces.
We look for the bird but the bloody thing’s vanished. Red looks on one side of the street, I look on the other, squinting up at rooflines, power lines, gutters, the steeple on the church. We move slowly down Victoria Street like a pair of tv cops stalking someone, swivelling around, eyes everywhere. It’s all Italian eateries here, latte territory this time of day. I’ve got one eye on the rooftops and one on the footpath tables to make sure I don’t knock anything over.
“There!” She points. The magpie has landed in a tree outside the pizza bar. It’s as if the bloody thing is laughing at us. The bag is still firmly in its beak, and its not at the top of the tree, it’s half way up, too high for us to reach but low enough so it can roll an eye at us. It hops along to the end of the branch, in and out of our vision, then takes to the air again.
“Look, Mum,” says a little kid behind us in a kindergarten voice. “That bird’s got something in its beak.”
“No shit Sherlock,” me girl growls as we jog after the bird.
It’s teasing us, I swear. Three trees later it lands again, and puts the bag down carefully on a branch.
“Yess!” hisses the girl, punching the air. “Go away, garn!” She waves her arms, and I yell too and wave mine. We must look like idiots, jumping up and down and shouting at the base of a tree, but in this part of town nobody looks twice. There are far more interesting and unusual sights.
“Oh come on you bloody bird, just leave my bag.”
I clock the bird and it’s looking back at me, head on one side. If I grab a chair from a café, I can probably get high enough to grab the lowest branch and start pulling meself up.
For a moment we hold our breath. The magpie moves away from the bag; but it’s only to clean the side of its beak against a twig, and then, lightning fast, it picks up the bag again and darts up and away, heading for William Street.
“It wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t a full bag,” the girl pants as we chase the bird. We’re running down the street itself now beside parked cars as the footpath is too full of tables, chairs and people. “I feel ripped off.”
At the end of Victoria Street is the overpass into Kings Cross, a fine old intersection of streets. If the bird flies over, we’ll be lucky to track it unless there’s no traffic or the pedestrian lights are in our favour. Fat chance of THAT happening.
The bird glides – thank God! – into the last tree before the overpass. I know bugger all about magpie territories but I’m hoping this one lives south of William Street.
Me ribs ache from running and I lift up me t shirt and wipe sweat from me forehead.
There’s a squawking coming from the tree. The magpie’s nest, I think, and suggest that to Scarlet O’Haira.
She nods. We walk slowly to the tree. The one thing I know about magpies is that they dive bomb you if they have young.
Shows you how little I know about birds, it’s probably not even mating season. The magpie shoots out of the tree, bag in beak, with two of those little Indian Myna birds in hot pursuit. They’re giving the magpie a hard time, screaming at it, attacking it like fighter planes going for a 747.
The magpie wheels over Craigend Street, ducking and weaving with the little pests ducking and weaving after it, yelling their lungs out, egging each other on.
Then this happens: the lights change to green on Craigend Street and, as the yellow Porsche convertible who is naturally in prime grid position takes off towards William Street and leaves the Camry beside it for dead, the bloody magpie drops the bag. Into the Porsche.
Into the passenger seat of the bloody Porsche.
The driver must have thought Christmas had come. The last we saw of the bag was it screaming west in second gear. The last we saw of the bird was it being chivvied down towards Darlinghurst Road.
“Nooooo!” howled the girl. “Bastard bloody bird!” She sighs, a great big heaving sigh that makes her ribcage expand and contract in a way that draws me eyes to it.
Now we’re not chasing a bag of weed I clock she’s got a nice figure inside the paint-spattered t shirt. Given me luck she’ll already have a bloke or be a lezzie though.
“Got some left I guess.” She pats her pocket. “Do you smoke?”
“It has been known,” I admit grandly.
“Let’s go back to your place then, so I can read your bloody cat the riot act. It’s all his fault.”
As we walk, getting our breathing back to normal, I learn her name is Liz and she moved into her place a month ago after breaking up with her businessman boyfriend. Silly bastard couldn’t cope with her creative urges which mean she sometimes paints until three in the morning. Or starts painting at three in the morning.
Encouraged by this I tell her of me own music ventures and she starts to smile before giggling and finally roaring with laughter, standing on the corner of Surrey Street, almost doubled over. It’s better than looking disgusted. And it’s cheered her up after losing her baggie.
“Pornos!” she gasps. And she’s off again.
When she calms down and wipes tears from her cheeks I warn her about Full Monty who’ll do the spruik after his second beer, and she’s still game to come back to my place.
We get there and Bruce is in the kitchen, his pupils still wide but a happy look on his face. I get beers for all of us, Liz rolls one sad joint with what she rescued, and by the time I’ve given Dad his beer Liz is rubbing Bruce’s tummy instead of tearing strips off him. The cat’s either still high or he really likes her. He’s even purring, making a noise like an engine that needs oiling.
We sit on the back step, thighs touching, passing the joint back and forth. It’s good blow, too. Hope that bastard in the Porsche appreciates it.
Bruce sits between us. I’m not sure if he’s being polite or wants a sniff.
If I listen carefully, above the sounds of insects, of neighbours, of kids crying, of sirens, of small dogs barking, I can hear Dad starting the spruik.
Liz can hear it too, I can tell by the way her mouth is curving up at the corners.
In the shadows, the only thing glowing brighter than the joint is her hair.
Copyright Caroline Sully 2013