Bastard love childPosted: October 13, 2011
I’ve been reading a lot of trashy spy novels and watching tons of television dramas on my laptop recently. These influences were spinning round in my head and collided one morning when I woke up early with a shocking hangover and banged this out in a couple of hours while Sam lay sleeping in the bed next to me. I guess I would describe it as the bastard love child of a drunken three-way between Wilbur Smith and Bryan Elsley and Jamie Brittain (the creators of Skins).
Hugh Larnach lay on his back watching the slow perambulations of the ceiling fan and smoked his last cigarette of the day. It was hot; reaching for his warm glass of scotch he wished again that his room had a fridge. It didn’t, but then for two dollars a night Larnach couldn’t complain. What it did have was a bed with a thin mattress and stained sheets and a rickety wooden bedside table on which stood his laptop, an overflowing ashtray, a packet of cigarettes, a lighter, a nearly empty bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label, some random pocket junk and a broken lamp. The broken lamp didn’t bother Larnach, he could see well enough from the streetlight that shone into the room from the windows set high up in the wall. The windows were open, letting in the noise from the street below and the holes in the mosquito netting let in the bugs. A gecko on the ceiling was making a valiant but ultimately vain effort to rectify the insect situation and was chirping while he was at it. Larnach switched his gaze from the fan to the gecko briefly but then rolled over to stare at the peeling paint on the concrete wall.
Things weren’t too bad he told himself. He had enough money to pay the old man downstairs for another week or two, enough to keep him in drink for the same with a little left over for luxuries like food and cigarettes. His chances of landing another few commissions weren’t bad either, so long as he could stay sober long enough to complete them. He thought back to his other life and congratulated himself for the umpteenth time on his escape. Yet, somehow his attempts to convince himself of the superiority of his situation rang more than a little false, just like all the previous times times. Sighing he reached over to the bedside table and rummaged amongst the strewn junk for a tray of diazepam. He popped the last two blue pills out of their foil blisters and swallowed them with the last mouthful of scotch in the glass. His worries could wait until tomorrow.
The noise of the headstone engravers plying their trade in the street below woke him early, as they did every morning. He fumbled on the table for his cigarettes, remembering as he located the packet amongst the detritus of the night before that it was empty. He would have to go out to buy more.
He pulled on his trousers and slipped on the same greasy t shirt that he had worn the last two days. There was no clean laundry in his duffel bag and Larnach didn’t feel inclined to wash anything in the sink at this hour in the morning. Besides, he thought to himself, he didn’t have any soap to do it with and anyhow what use would a wet t-shirt be to him now? He patted his pocket for his billfold, kicked his feet into his plastic sandals and stepped out into the hall. A fluorescent light flickered overhead as Larnach padlocked his door, swearing to himself as his shaky hands dropped the key onto the floor where it landed in a pool of water that had settled under his door.
“Fuck,” Larnach swore at the realisation that he must have pissed against his door while he was sleeping. He shrugged and loped down the stairs three at a time.
At reception the old man was yelling something at him as he passed. He could wait. Out in the street the humidity greeted him like an old friend and the exhaust from the traffic was smothering. He stepped out onto the road, ignoring the indignant tooting of the motorcycles and other miscellaneous minor traffic that was forced to detour around his lanky frame. When an SUV swerved around the corner honking brazenly Larnach was forced to increase his pace fractionally though, hopping over a drain to reach the curb just ahead of the jeep clipping his heels. Important People in a hurry always irritated Larnach and he scowled as he ploughed up the street scattering chattering pedestrians in his wake.
Still fuming over the audacity of the motorist Larnach bought cigarettes from a street vendor and sat down at a tiny plastic table on an even tinier plastic stool on the sidewalk and ordered a bowl of noodles. With his knees jack-knifed up to his shoulders he slurped his soup quickly; he wanted to check his emails.
Larnach logged in and viewed the stack of new messages. As he scanned his eyes down the screen through ads for cialis, sundry subscription newsletters, and a few personal emails that could wait his eyes lit upon the message he was looking for; a message from the editor of The Sunday Standard:
Your story on the new Oriental Kingdom Six Star Resort was great. We’ll run it as a special feature in the upcoming issue’s travel section. I’ll forward the bill to accounts and you should get paid by the end of the month.
Larnach felt an inwardly directed pang of disgust. He didn’t know what was more ridiculous about writing these travel pieces; visiting these luxury resorts and then going back to sleep in a roach infested dive or the fact that the people who read these pieces would never sleep there either. The people that did visit these places weren’t reading the travel supplement planning their next getaway while they rode the tube to work; they lived in a parallel universe where the daily grind, hour long commutes and one overseas holiday a year didn’t exist. This kind of writing was fantasy; pure escapism.
He tapped out a quick reply:
Glad you liked the piece. Just one thing, you’ll need to add a bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label ($80USD) to the expense account for this one; It was a ‘gift’ to the manager to let me see the place before it was officially open. I’ll send you a receipt.
This wasn’t strictly true, but the booze had certainly contributed to the writing of the story. He shuddered as he thought back to ‘epicurean delights’ and other turgid phrases that had slipped into the story under the influence of the scotch and felt justified charging it.
Larnach sighed, he was sick of writing this shit. It had been nearly two years since he had done any serious work. It was easier, didn’t get in the way of his drinking as much and the pay was ok but it didn’t really do anything for his self-esteem. Maybe it was time for a break. With the money from this story, plus a couple of earlier commissions coming up he could afford to take a holiday and with his accumulated airpoints he was pretty sure he could get a flight home.
Home, he thought smiling grimly to himself. The term had ceased to hold much resonance since his mother died and things had ended with Katie. Funny how homelessness didn’t preclude the feeling of homesickness. Homesickness used to be a kind of a guide that lead him back somewhere where he could feel happy. Now home existed more in his memory rather than a temporal location. Still, he owed his father a visit and it might be nice to see some of his old friends, see what they were up to these days. Yes, he would go home, visit his father, hang out with his old friends and have a nice relaxing time. That was the great thing about his job he told himself; he was his own boss, he could take his holidays when he wanted them. Never mind that he hadn’t taken one in two years, or had been on holiday for two years, depending on the way you looked at it. Ah fuck it, he owed it to himself. He went online and booked a flight immediately.
Back at the hotel the old man behind the desk was jabbering at him again. There was a message waiting for him. It was from the American NGO worker he had slept with the weekend before.
Did you get my last message?
Give me a ring soon ok?
That could wait Larnach decided. He was excited about a change of scene. It could be exactly what he needed.
The holiday was a disaster. Larnach’s father was as depressing to be around as Larnach was and he discovered that he had as little as common with his old friends as he did with the travellers, misfits and other rogues that drifted through his life and now passed as his new friends. Talking about his own ‘career’ was as awkward as hearing about his friends’ houses, mortgage payments, significant others and even children. They were all now bankers, corporate lawyers, accountants, architects and eminently respectable the lot of them. Well, that wasn’t entirely true, they weren’t all that bad. His old buddy Jez was still bumbling through life, bouncing from one relationship to the next and playing in crappy bands. He was good to drink with and they spent a lot of evenings together in bars. Still, the fact remained that the trip home had been a mistake. He hadn’t even seen Katie, hadn’t had the nerve to even call her and tell her he was in town. After two weeks it was time to go again and not knowing where he was going he booked a flight to Bangkok.
“What are we going to do for your last night in town?” Jez asked him as they sat in a greasy spoon devouring a coupe of full English.
“Dunno, get drunk I suppose.”
“Shall we call up the old gang, see how many of those pricks we can drag away from their misses for the night?”
“Nah, fuck ’em, I’ve seen all of them I want to.”
“Well what about the band, you want me to bring them along?”
“Might as well, then you won’t have to spend the entire evening alone with a miserable sod like me.”
“Hugh, you’re not that bad. I actually find you quite endearing at times. When you’re not being a total cynical fuck-wit that is.”
“Right, well how about this: we go out with your loser band mates, find a whole stack of drugs, get royally fucked up and I promise not to be a total… what was it? Cynical fuck-wit? Fairly apt description that was Jez, you’re quite the wordsmith aren’t you you little Welsh hobbit.”
“Don’t call me a little Welsh hobbit. But yes, there is a reason why I’m lead singer song-writer for The Underbellies and it’s not because of my stature.”
“The fucking who?” Larnach spluttered through a mouthful of tea.
“The Underbellies. That’s our new name. The Undeadlies didn’t really resonate with our target audience apparently.”
“Maybe it didn’t resonate because you’re shit?”
“Well yes, that’s a possibility too,” Jez conceded. “Anyway back on point, I think you’re onto a plan with the whole drugs slash getting royally fucked up thing. I’ll call up Dobbie and the boys and get one of them to sort the gear. There’s a great gig on tonight too that I’m sure you’ll be into.”
“As long as there’s drugs I’m sure I’ll be into whatever twatting shit-fest you take me to mate.”
“Great, it’s settled then. Look I’ve got to run, promised me Ma I’d visit for lunch today, I’ll catch you down the pub at 8.00pm.”
“Righto mate,” Larnach said taking a final sip of his now lukewarm tea.
“Oh and Hugh?”
“I don’t really think you’re a total cynical fuck-wit. You’re just, well, in a bit of a rut. That’s all.”
“Piss of to your Mummy’s place and I’ll see you tonight.”
Fuck, Larnach thought, leaning trying to balance on the back two legs of his vinyl covered chair, was he really that much of a charity case?
The gig turned out to be ok, and the drugs even better. Larnach found himself having a good time with Jez and his mates. He enjoyed their own self-deprecating sense of humour and the fact that they were as unsuccessful in life as he was. He would actually be sorry to leave in the morning he thought and wondered what it was in him that made it impossible for him to stay in one place for any length of time.
The night wore on and the guys moved from sitting at a table in a corner drinking to dancing like loons near the front of the stage. As the drugs took hold of him Larnach felt himself letting go, for the first time in a long time.
An arm on his shoulder jolted him back to reality.
“Hugh? Is that you?”
What the fuck was she doing here?
“I mean hi, yes, it’s me. Sorry, you surprised me.”
“I surprised you?” Katie shouted in his ear. “What the fuck are you doing here?”
“Um, just out with Jez and the boys.”
“No, I mean what the fuck are you doing here, home?”
“Oh right, right. Look I can’t really hear you too well,” Larnach shouted back. “Do you want to go outside for a minute.”
Larnach took Katie by the hand and pushed his way through the crowd to the door to the smoking area.
“Hugh when did you get back? Why didn’t you call me?”
“Um, I got back a wee while ago. I was going to call you. But then, I didn’t get round to it. I mean I hadn’t got round to it. Yet.”
He lit a cigarette and passed it to Katie.
“Oh fuck it, give me one anyway.”
“When did you quit?”
“What does it matter? When you weren’t here.”
It had been over two years now Larnach realised with a shock. They stood looking at each other in the dark, the their cigarette ends illuminating their faces briefly each time they inhaled. All around them groups of people were talking, laughing, having their own good times, the centres of their own universes, whirling through life like so many insignificant electrons.
“So how have you been?” Larnach as the silence hung thickly between them like mist in the night.
“Why didn’t you write? Or call? Let me know what was going on?”
He stood silent for a moment, thinking back over their internecine relationship.
“Um, well, there wasn’t really much to tell you was there? I mean, you made yourself pretty clear when you threw me out.”
“Hugh, that’s not fair. You were completely self-destructing. I was at my wits’ end.”
“Right, well whatever. You broke it off, so you know… I left.”
“Hugh I worried about you. I cared about you,” Katie said. Then, after a pause,“I still care.”
Impulsively Larnach leaned out and grabbed her.
He kissed her and she kissed him back.
“Let’s get out of here,” Larnach said.
Katie’s “ok” was barely audible as she buried her face in Larnach’s jacket.
“So how long are you sticking around for?” Katie asked as they lay in her bed the next morning.
“Um, right, I was meaning to talk to you about that. I’m actually… I’m actually leaving today.”
“What? You fucker!” katie shrieked.
“Look, Katie, listen…”
“No you listen you stupid cunt! Get. The Fuck. Out. Now!”
Tears were already rolling down Katie’s face, tracing dark tracks through her already smeared eye make-up.
“Katie, don’t be like this.”
“No Hugh, you don’t fucking be like this! You fucking prick. How dare you? Get out now.”
“Fuck off!” Katie screamed, sobbing now.
“Ok, ok I’m going.”
Larnach fumbled for his clothes on the floor, pulling them on as he walked out the door.
Out on the street his hands were shaking as he struggled to light a cigarette. Fuck, why did he always manage to fuck things up so fucking well? Why didn’t he just say he was staying? Why wasn’t he staying? He thought about going back and trying to talk to Katie about it. But fuck it, the words never came out right, if they came out at all. They just lodged in his throat like a half chewed mouthful, blocking his speech as the thoughts spun round and round faster and faster spinning ever more intricate webs. Then he would be left there standing silently like a retarded mute while she tore shreds of him – justifiably – for being such a colossal fuck-up.
No fuck it, he didn’t need that right now. His plane was leaving in five hours. He started walking back to his father’s house to pack his bags.