Look over there. Beyond the newsstand. He’s next to the older man who’s flicking through a fishing magazine, flicking the pages fast. A blur of reels and rods and marlin and motors catches Jimmy’s eye. He replaces his offroad magazine for a fishing one. And he flicks too. He stops at a page and nudges the older man to see. A woman, a girl really, reclines in a game fishing chair, gripping a long rod that’s wedged between her naked, retouched thighs. She’s barely dressed. See how Jimmy nudges the man again and raises a pale eyebrow. No bite. The older man wedges his magazine back in the rack and leaves. It doesn’t matter. That man isn’t important, and Jimmy isn’t bothered.
He leaves the newsagency. It’s 29 degrees Celsius out there. Blue sky, thin puffs of cloud with fish-like scales. Pretty nice.
There on the right, next to the van. The grey car with the rear window taped in black plastic. That’s Jimmy’s. Don’t worry about what happened to the window. It’s irrelevant. The car is a sedan. Not fit for offroad, although he’s tried. Took it to Moreton Island once. Didn’t make it far off the barge. The back seat is covered in cheap fabric the shade of frostbite with a stain in the shape of an axe where a small child might have let go of their bowels in a sweaty protest. Jimmy doesn’t have kids. No air conditioning. A bumper sticker: ‘Don’t make me use my…’. The rest of the sticker has been peeled off. Not by Jimmy.
He sits at his computer and types. Jimmy is a writer. Note the setting here.
A white room facing west. During summer, Jimmy can only write in the mornings. Wide, pine floorboards and a double sash window overlook the vacant block on Furley Street. Squint and it could be an olive grove. Or a French battlefield. Maybe. The ceiling is high and a small wasp’s nest in the far corner draws the eye. Like a cat’s turd on snow. A low bookshelf against one wall is filled with various titles of various genres. Jimmy hasn’t settled on his style yet. The computer is old. He wanted a typewriter for its truth, but he could only afford an electric one from the seventies. Instead he has a 1995 desktop computer that emits a startling series of beeps when he tries to save his work. Two timber photo frames sit on his desk. In one, a blonde woman eyes the lens wearily, a doughy toddler arching in her arms. It is obviously an old picture. He does not know them, but he wishes he did. The other photo is more recent. A beaming black man shakes Jimmy’s hand. Jimmy is younger and wears a striped tie. His face is blotchy as if he has peeled strips of sunburned skin from his big forehead. You can see here how the vitiligo has spread over recent years.
He is typing. It is nearly afternoon.
Can you hear that? Jimmy can, but he ignores it. He keeps typing. A man is yelling from the street. Hammering on Jimmy’s front door, ‘Fucking thief.’ Adjective. Mrs Hancock is peering over the lillypillies.
Watch as Jimmy gets ready. He doesn’t know what to wear. He chooses the striped tie. Again.
‘We are concerned,’ says the man who may have a deep cleft in his chin. Jimmy doesn’t know who ‘we’ is. They are on the telephone. The man has the first three chapters of Jimmy’s new book. Jimmy imagines the man is in a white room with high ceilings and a window that stretches from wall to wall overlooking a green park with a wooden bridge over a creek. There are no wasp nests in the corners. ‘On the merits of your first novel, we expected more,’ says the man with a cluster of short, grey whiskers in his cleft that escapes the razor’s sweep. That novel is problematic for Jimmy. See how he clenches his buttocks, how his white patches blanch as his neck flushes.
It is a Wednesday, and Jimmy sits at the bus stop. He has been to the library, and now his car is not working. It appears the bus is not coming. Jimmy has forgotten there is a rally in the city. There will be tents and flags and shouting and television cameras, and there is no room for buses. An old woman sits on the bench. Jimmy tells her that he thinks the bus is not coming. She smiles at him and nods. He feels there is something more he should say.
The taxi takes a shortcut and Jimmy does not pass the Harrington Writer’s Retreat. He is relieved. Brian might be there.
The nosy neighbour carefully prunes her glossy hedge as she patiently hopes for another scandalous visit.
The animal shelter is busy on Saturday morning. Fat children push against wire fences as skinny dogs lick tomato sauce off their puffy chins. The cage at the far end of the concrete compound is the one Jimmy goes to first. It smells no worse than the other cages. Inside, a grey dog sulks in the corner. Bandit. A cattledog cross. The dog has one brown eye and one bright blue one. You’d imagine this would appeal to Jimmy, but see how he turns his head and walks away.
There are a lot of adjectives in Jimmy’s new book. He is overly fond of adverbs too. There weren’t many in his first novel, the one Brian calls his. Differential coefficiency is Jimmy’s main defence. He likes the way it sounds. Brian cannot afford to sue and hasn’t written anything since.
A bird is feeding its baby in a nest outside Jimmy’s window. He thinks it could be symbolic of something. Jimmy was married once. That’s another story.
Jimmy is left-handed. This makes some things difficult for him such as wearing a regular watch, peeling potatoes and writing with ink. He is also apparently unable to throw a boomerang. Fortunately for Jimmy, he does not like potatoes and has no interest in physical recreation. Even fishing. However, lefties are supposedly more inclined to be divergent thinkers. Look this up. You’ll see it means he is creative, and this pleases him.
There are twelve houses in his street. Four are brick, five are timber, and three are made from a combination of materials. They all have gently gabled roofs. Most of them have fireplaces, although they are only used for a few weeks in July. During this time, the houses resemble steaming apple pies sitting on a sill.
He keeps typing but nothing much has happened, and Jimmy is bothered by this. But the banging at the door and the threatening letters have stopped. Jimmy goes to buy socks and can’t find his novel in the bookstore. It used to be there.
This is the part where Brian is dead. A significant event.
The actual details are sketchy; the Writers Retreat didn’t tell Jimmy much for he is being spurned, but you will get the general idea: a locked garage; a running engine; a wheezing wife in a thin, blue nightdress flapping around the hallway; an overweight, black dog whining and weeing and scratching on the garage door; Jimmy’s novel – Brian’s novel, if you are the type who automatically assigns innocence to the dead –lying open on the passenger seat. The car is expensive. So is the house. So Brian wasn’t upset about the money.
Jimmy’s fingertips are very white. The skin above his distal inter-phalangeal joints has now lost its pigmentation. It looks as though he has dipped his hands in bleach, and he has taken to sniffing them regularly.
He visits the museum, the new one with giant humpback whales suspended by wires. Jimmy hurries through this section without looking up. He does not look at their chalky, rippled bellies with their barnacles and carefully peeled patches of grey. Did you know that the world’s only albino whale has skin cancer? Jimmy also goes to the art gallery but does not see anything he likes.
Today is different from yesterday. His white fingertips scurry across the keyboard, and he does not pause to smell them. Aside from the tapping, it is very quiet. Jimmy has started a new book and is already up to chapter seven. The plot came to him as an epiphany in his sleep, if you believe that, and his lips now shape the words he types like a magical incantation.
Jimmy writes the story of a vanishing writer. The writer noticed himself fading bit by bit, and he was frightened. He embarked on a quest to create a salve that would restore his missing self, a pulpy ointment made from words. In a giant processor, the writer forces Dubliners down toward the blades and pours in a litre of water and a little oil until a glutinous ball forms.
In the meantime:
The Decameron and One Thousand and One Nights help give the writer’s mixture a pastier quality. He works for days, blending and balancing, until he feels his very bones start to dissolve. It isn’t important to know how the story ends, but it’s 24 degrees Celsius when Jimmy finishes. Slightly overcast. He goes to bed in the afternoon and sleeps, dreamless, in greasy sheets.
Jimmy wakes, ready to print the new novel that he hardly remembers writing. It isn’t exceptionally long, but it is long enough. He will take it to the store in the city that has sixteen different coloured binders to choose from and coffee while you wait. He will take the bus for his car is still broken, and he wants to rediscover the world. He will then post it to the man with short, grey whiskers in his cleft.
But he cannot see his story. Jimmy stabs at the keyboard and the screen is now black. Jimmy looks under the desk and twiddles with the wires behind the hard drive. He presses the big round button at the front. A loud sound tells us something is not right. Another sound now. A small, quick hiss as the odour of charred metal wafts up Jimmy’s mottled nostrils.
Next door, Mrs Hancock’s sprinkler strafes Jimmy’s wall. Rat-a-tat-tat-tat-tat. She cannot hear him cry.
Kate Elkington is an emerging author currently undertaking a Doctor of Creative Arts (Creative Writing) at the University of the Sunshine Coast examining the composite novel in Australian literature. She has also completed a Master of Creative Writing and a Bachelor of Arts (Journalism), and is teaching Creative Writing at the University of the Sunshine Coast. In recent years Kate has completed a novella and a range of short fiction and is currently working on her own composite novel.
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Vol 17 No 1 April 2013
General Editor: Nigel Krauth. Editors: Kevin Brophy & Enza Gandolfo