by Mitchell Welch
Peter, Peter, in among the everyday commuters, picking out your bald spot, gleaming in the burnished window of the train car, shining through the pastel smudge of wayfarers. You used to worry, but don’t—no one looks. None of them, overhead transparencies projected in vain against the purpling light. Shallow set dressing. Circusing and tricks of light, not like us. They stare into their laps, enthralled, totally apart from the sunset coming down, gilding them with sashes of orange sun. Peter, Peter dreaming. Floating in a glass, falling with the sediment while the rush of bubbles makes its way toward oblivion.
One set of knuckles wrapped around the roof loop. The other there to keep the pants from dropping. The narrow hips, manifest bloat. Peter swaying in the aisle, heavy as a pendulum, leaning on an office girl who rolls her eyes and sighs and nudges you away—and sway—the shoulder of a silver jacket talking on a phone, all the voices in precipitation falling like a sunshower on the undulating fishbowl of your head. Tick, Peter, tock. And sway. The even-metered dream of sinking. The knowledge, drifting down, that the sediment is where it’s really at. You, Peter, you. Sleeping standing up, held aloft by the suffering of people waiting for their homes. Sorry, so sorry. Mumble-mumble, woken by a jab of grubby lunch repeating in the heart. And eventually the right-looking station slides along and you feel it coming up even though your eyelids are creeping back to shut. You lift your head above the foam, but only to a point, and rush to heave into the open air.
Shit, Pete, nothing. Nothing, nothing, nothing. Nothing good, squinting through the tawny fog at the cell phone screen. And anyway it’s nice outside and nobody needs no-one. Not really.
On your bike, unchained and sluicing through the first deep cuts of early evening, a train of shivers juddering up the middle rail of your spine. Downhill you pedal backwards just to feel like you’re moving even though you are, dipping down from Triumph Road, sinking in the woody folds of home. Home, the idle ticking of a disengaged gear. And sway your way around the slalom of the stone fruits in blossom on the verge. Distant ocean salty air and always unexpected seagulls. Nod and smile, Peter, smile. The mothers walking, jogging, rolling prams along in front, coming into focus. The steadying and going steady. Come awake. The grasses being mowed like aeroplanes or chainsaws in the distant mountains, only big tectonic shadows. The stoop-backed nobodys creaking upright with a wave, the inadvertent groan. Sprinklers being shifted.
You, Peter. As in y-o-u. This Peter here, descending. The shame. The dribbling gut. The real people in the double fronted gardens. One hand on the waistband, the other always on the brake and steadying the pace. The waistband tugging on itself. Come awake. And fall away. And sway.
There! The same piece of wire tied around an English elm as long as you remember, the coke bottle shape of it ballooning through the years. The scene you’ve seen a billion times, golden floating past as ever in the years between. How it always does. How an easterly will shake the blossoms loose which come down dropping like slow motion flakes of honey-covered pastry, the taste of grandma’s lemon sponge.
And squeeze the brake and come awake. Slalom round the blossom trees and arc away, down past the football field, sticky trails cutting through the syrup air of memory. Turn again and ride on by and try not to come awake when Christina’s house is there, right where it always was. And cut a sticky trail through the honeysuckle smell of her honey-coloured hair. And sway. The orange clouds pegged across the sunset like the backlit sheets of a high school play. The real deal. You and me. Peter, Peter. And Christina, doomed as crossing stars. Gently, Peter, squeeze the brake and breathe. The wet earth and budding roses.
Carry on. And come awake. The leg is buzzing, stop. The cell phone. Not tonight, it says. Can’t tonight. Benny, Benny. Can’t tonight. Anyway, Peter. Anyway. Doesn’t matter. Put the phone away and sway again into the valley on the magic of the bicycle’s inertia.
Turn awhile further, sinking backwards in yourself, the ambers and the gold gone black down low in the blocking of the houses growing up. Orange goes pink, then a blinding silver right before the navy night begins to satinate the sky. Look ahead and watch yourself turn awhile more into the fully-silvered glare, the phosphors of the afternoon assembled, acting out their dying scene. Eyes, look your last! Watch yourself pedal off the road, peering, reaching, stretching your gaze to the horizon, to a snapping point. Don’t resist the dying grip of sorry sun that squeezes on your trigger.
Explode in fireworks, a mist of snot hanging in your wake. And flash. The ribboning streets go on, the caravans and subdivided hearts. And flash. The self escaping backwards from the body pitching forwards, left behind. And flash. Peter spilling backwards from the bald spot. Flash. The body rolling on. Watch yourself, Peter, hold on tight and come awake. Too late. Catch yourself in the rush of middle air. And flash. Twist and turn, the body rolling on. Bring your hands around and push against the coming earth. Something big, unmoving, solid. Flash. The sharpness of yourself in air. Come awake and push against the coming earth. And don’t do anything at all. Enjoy the ride. Bring your hands around and don’t. Don’t. Don’t do nothing, Peter. Just enjoy the short flight and skid along the verge on the pivot of your chin and come awake, tangled in a broken sapling, daggered through the ribs, jeans around your knees. And breathe. Relax, Peter, take a bow. Squinting in the glare, waiting for the encore. Flash.
And sneeze once more down the pattern of your shirt.
The world unwraps like a long bandage, eerie triffids rising from the mist. The split lip you taste instead of feel. Do the I’m alright, I’m not but I am and thank you, thank you, standing, nodding, waving, thank you, thank you, bowing, smiling, pulling up the pants as the lights go out and the taste of rust is nothing but a trickle in your throat. And come awake, Peter. Come alive.
There it is. A rear-projection television centred in the unbroken streamer of cement. That was it. A television. The flatworm of cracked cement. TVs dotted all along, measured out in car lengths. A bucket here and over there, faded pink and marbled white. Garden hoses coiled up in shredded tyres. The line of televisions going on forever, shrinking in the distance like matroyshka dolls. Sinking in the weeds. Folding chairs gone black with mould. A writing desk. Wardrobes shedding their veneers in peeling curls like a pair of Namatjira eucalypts. Boxes, boxes. More boxes. Hard rubbish. Cairns of junk. Mattresses and broken pots.
You spit. Bright red on pale grey, a rupture on the texture of an ancient hide. Catch up, Peter (if you can) and step inside the standing pain. The starting rain. The lip, the chin, the rib, the back. How’d it come to this? Awake and freshly mowed. The broken bike, crab apples rotting in the grass. Carpets rolled into mouldy sausages. Piano scrolls chewed by rats. Wheel off, Peter, trying not to look, oh look a little, look a little car like you learned to pedal backwards down the same old hill. Idle ticking, disengaged. A this and that. A nothing, doesn’t matter. Anyway. Bit with a worm of envy. Something something. Sweet leaves and a something sun. A dying sun? Wheel off the broken bike into the spinning world, the primitive thump of throbbing temples. Thumping drums and boxes everywhere. A drum kicked through and broken skin, the pressure of the world released and suddenly you feel how fast it goes around. The heart that wants to vomit, the world that wants to throw you off.
And there! Emerging from the centrifuge, a glowing beauty in atomic red and green. A pair of darkly nippled breasts pointing to the coming stars. And her, an amazon printed in the style of barbershop erotica, framed in gold and sticking from the top of a box of broken conference mugs, keyrings, rising from a sea of unwound magnetic tape and busted CDs. The timeless beauty of a psychedelic nymph, the palate of her radioactive world. The hair in a beehive, not honey-coloured like Christina’s, but dark and smoky, leatherwood. Eyes and boobs and lips and ribs, glowing, saying: Peter, it’ll be alright.
Anyway, moving on, wheel off into the coming blue. Don’t look down or left and right, not where Benny used to live (that rat), not in the furrowed mass of roots at the base of the singular fig in which you hid a troop of army men, later on a cache of cigarettes, eventually a bong. Or do, and see an empty wetsuit in a puddle like a shed skin, a boogie board, a tombstone. Darkening which locks fair daylight out. Fucking Benny. O Christina, she doth teach the torches to burn bright! Or did. Or didst. And Benny that rat motherfucker. That thief. A snorkel and a pair of flippers, bits of animal that won’t decay no matter how long. Fishing poles bundled up like lances. Peter wishing all the shit would sink into the shadows of the fig, drop into the deep unknowing crags of night. And stagger on and look away. And sway. This and that and you, a nothing. Doesn’t matter, going home to lock yourself away.
Dim and dusky pink or sickly bright and slightly green. The power-saving bulbs or the big fluorescents, nothing in between. You settle on a bit of both and settle on the couch and stop, your cell is buzzing Peter. Except it isn’t. Anyway, press the button. Go the Mongrels! Go the Mighty! Lunch repeating in the heart. The same old game repeating, beating on and look at all the nothing here. The nothing where Christina used be. The dust-bordered nothings where the pictures hung. Boxes, boxes, pizza boxes, pizza crumbs. Large whatever, this and that, forty minutes, half time chatter fills the vacuum, vacuum, pizza crumbs and cheesy bacon bits and maybe later, maybe when the pizza comes. Optional anchovies. The inadvertent groan, the back, the ribs, another and another pale ale from the fridge. The beating lip and heartsick face, the never-ending piss and nowhere else to look except for back into yourself. The nothing where she hung her towel. No stitches, not so bad. A splash and there’s an ointment in the second drawer she left and there’s the bell, the large whatever at the door. How long standing in the mirror? Beer, beer, salty cheese, sinking in the couch. The game is over now. A voice raining on the beer saying Feature Movie Time.
Then (again) the even-metered trance, the dropping like a flake of snow inside an amber globe. Take him, she said, and cut him out in little stars. Nestled in the lap of God and eyelids creeping back to closed and back to black and back out to black out back down, never. Never! Never back down! And God is not an optional anchovy. Better sleep, I think, Peter. Better sleep, and drift into the belly of the couch. Leaking out, coming from your bald spot. Featherlight and floating through the carpet, the concrete and the earth. Ancient pipes and bedrock, a petal settled on a bowing head. Take a seat, Peter, let me get you coffee. Or a beer? A pale ale? Hell, you know what to do. Unzip the wallet. Let loose a diarrheal stream, big notes and gold coins. The money rushes down a slot below, the pressure of the world undone. A never-ending piss, but look. The sky lights up for you! Darkness like a drunkard reels from tomorrow’s path and Titan’s fiery wheels. Wheels! Wheels turning in the sky! Better pour a little more into the slot. Watch the wheels go and if you want to float then why not flutter?
The turning, turning.
One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Nothing. Or if you want to sink.
Romeo. Romeo. Juliet. Juliet. Joker. Nothing. Emptying the self. The reels thudding down and stopping. Press the button, spin again.
Mum. Dad. Benny, Benny, Benny. Nothing! The pressure of the world.
Christina! Christina! Peter. Peter. O Christina! Nothing. Feeling lighter, leaner, closer to an answer. Leaning in, the blinding light, that birds would sing and think it were not night.
Television. Boxes. Boxes. Pizza. Boxes. Nothing.
Bucket. Hose. Broken pot. Pale ale. Bong. And nothing.
One. Two. Three. Four. Five.
There! A jagged bell rips you down the middle like a zipper and turns you inside out. Flashing in the air, the wild hair and darkly-nippled breasts of five nuclear Amazonians in a perfect row. A winning line. The glow, the red and green. Scrolling words across the firmament:
*** AMAZING SPIN ***
O speak again bright angel!
She comes alive and winks five eyes in five golden frames. Deep within the gears of the machine, the calliope awakens, the fugue that occupies the rhythm of your hiccuping heart. Look Peter, she dances and you float, orbit, dance apart. The reels explode in stars and the five women collapse to one in a burst of leatherwood and cotton panties. The music loops around as you come into her troposphere, the inner layers of her scent. The sweat! The budding roses and the wetness of the earth! Brown eyes, brown shoulders. Come alive! Perfect hands she runs down your arms, your neck, your full head of hair. And sway. And dance away until an easterly comes to shake the blossoms down and everything begins to sink into the turning gears below. And then.
The jagged bell which rips you down the middle. Inside out. The ragged lip you feel, ragged eyes. Light that lets itself inside the dark and tender skull and pushes needles from the inside out. Alarm. Off. The edges of the world remerge: the coffee table, boxes, pizza, bottles, Jesus. Hair of the dog, the never-ending stream, in and out. The ouroboros. Ointment in the second drawer. Aeroplanes and chainsaws, grinding metal gears. And flash. The dust-bordered nothing where the wedding photo hanged. And flash, the self is poured back in and standing there, occupying pain. And then you know, Peter. You have to re-pressurize the cabin.
From inside out into the sun. The sunglasses, thank God for optional anchovies. Rusty gears a-creaking, mowers mowing and the thumping of a tribal beat. And then the squeal of broken bike. Go Peter, heaving on the pedals down the drive, into the glare which faces back the other way, the televisions little markers of the scattered ashes of the dream. The impossible hill, the burrowing worm, the rhythmic whine of serious hydraulics in the distance. The gears engaged, the chain whining against its bent guard. Listen Peter, listen! The jaws of death. Hit the pedals, stomp down and down and crush it all. A single petal corkscrews down and sticks on your forehead, the handlebars like lifelines. Wicker chairs unbinding, a wheelbarrow full of schoolbooks, a filing cabinet full of broken branches, claw-footed baths overflowing with a slush of rainwater rich with decomposing blossoms. Pedal harder Peter. Peter to the rescue.
The crack of wood. Metal bending, creaking, snapping. The pop of glass. Over there Peter! A sanitation worker feeding the obscene machine. Pedal faster, there she is! Poking from the box in her golden frame. The man picks up a microwave and the teeth turn, collapse it down to nothing. The heart jumps like a man collapsing into death, every pedal a revolution of the turning world. Burning calves, the busted lip reopened, pitching forward up the hill, staying in yourself. The taste of trickling rust. He picks up the box. You’re close enough to hear the tinkling of broken mugs. He smiles, you globbing up the hill, heaving back to black, closing in on death. He mimes throwing the box into the compactor. The heart that spasms out the mouth. Stop, you bastard! Wheezing, Let her be or I’ll kill you where you stand!
The garbage man laughs and holds the box out because it happens like this every now and then that someone has a change of heart.
Read The Story Behind “Pale Ale” on our blog.