Chattering Cat on Hiatus

I’ve abandoned the blog of late, pouring all of my energy into writing a mediocre novella that is finally completed- albeit messy and in need of an edit.

For weeks I have been spending my time at The Harold Park Hotel in Glebe, schooner of Bilpin cider before me, cigarette smoldering untouched in an ashtray as I bash away at my iPad, furiously trying to get these god-forsaken bunch of assholes out of my head and onto the page.

I have been bailed up by drunken scotsmen who see me writing and decide to tell me all about their coffee-table-book-on-Spanish-scarecrows idea- despite my ‘fuck off’ body language- and inebriated young Sydney University rowers who beg me to let them add a sentence- also strangely immune to a good ‘fuck off’. I’ve written whilst fielding odd requests from the mentally ill at work and cancelled lunch dates with friends when inspiration struck like lightning.

I am a woman possessed.

Last weekend I wrote the final sentence, managing to tie all the messy ends of the story together into one precarious knot. It felt good, it felt better than good. 42,000 words later the assholes are out of my head and onto the page where they lay- a bit fantastic, kind of funny and suitably fucked up.

Anyway, my plan is to edit it and then send it away to the scores of publishing houses that are now seeking open submissions. Maybe one day I can be in the $2 bin at Angus & Robertson, being read by nobody in print as well as online. A cat can dream.

In any event, I have a strange affinity for Funereal. I believe in it. I think it’s kind-of not-too-bad in an average way. Hopefully others agree.

I’ve decided to put two chapters up. If anybody wants to email me and tell me what my brain is steadfastly refusing to acknowledge: that I should just abandon this pipe dream of being published and stick to what I’m good at- TMI descriptions of a lackluster sex life on a tiny blog- then I’m all ears.

The basic premise of the story is: female narrator caught in the middle of a dysfunctional family squabbling over a rich great aunts will. She is made executor of said will. Shit happens. She bounces from a psych ward to drug and alcohol rehab on a tepid voyage of self discovery. She slays a dragon at the end. Not literally. You idiot.

I know. Me and Hemingway.

Amazing Grace walks into a bar…

I woke up, once again, with a level of anxiety and dread in the pit of my stomach that could be classified as emotional Armageddon. Today it was understandable, we were burying Mae in four hours, and a steady jackhammer thumping coming from my mother’s bedroom had kept me awake into the early morning- despite the heroic amount of red wine I had consumed.

As the jackhammering gave way to a muffled buzzing, I reasoned that it was amazing that I had managed to propel myself into adulthood with some semblance of normality given the catastrophic clan of jackals who had dragged me up. I should, I thought as I attempted to plug my ears up with a pillow, be furiously masturbating in a carpark, and flinging faeces at passersby.

The funeral itself passed in a blur of religious nonsense and farcical behaviour. Sharon fell asleep. Elizabeth farted. Grace picked apart the flower arrangements, when Audrey stopped her, she threw a tantrum. Dick rubbed his crotch. My mother hit me with a bible. You know, just the usual Micallef family insanity.

“Jesus died once,” Father O’Doherty lectured from the pulpit. “And he rose again…but I don’t think this woman will be rising…because she is not Jesus. But she is with him now. In God’s Kingdom, maybe they are playing checkers together, for all eternity. Bob told me how Mae used to love checkers.”

Checkers in heaven? I elbowed Dale who made a hissing noise out of the corner of his mouth.

“Yes,” the priest continued, shaking his head so the giblet of flesh below his chin wobbled. “This woman is dead and we will mourn her. But God will wipe away our tears, and once we have served our time on this earth we will hopefully see Mae again. Unless we go to hell.” He paused. The room was silent. “Or unless she went to hell.” Another pause. More silence. “Bob did tell me that Mae had turned her back on the church.”

Someone shifted uncomfortably in the row behind me.

“But, our God is loving and omnipotent, unlike other God’s, well so-called Gods. There is only one God…our God.”

Good God. I wondered if he was drunk.

“Audrey will now get up and sing.”

“What?” I said quietly to Dale. “There’s a musical number?”

I turned to see Audrey scurry to the front. She stood before the church, fixing her outfit- pulling down and pushing up where necessary- before fishing a cordless microphone out of the pulpit. She stood with her chest pushed out and declared breathlessly, “I’m Audrey Micallef and this is Amazing Grace!” She waited for an applause that never came and nodded to Father O’Doherty, who pushed a button on a portable CD player, which, after a squeak and a few seconds of hissing, began to play the opening strains. Audrey missed her first cue and awkwardly waited for the next break, looking like a six year old waiting for the right time to enter a skipping rope.

When she finally began singing she sounded awful. Just awful. Like an old tricycle that needed to be oiled. Behind her, Father O’Doherty winced and looked away.

That’s a handy yardstick to measure your level of talent by- if your singing is so bad that even the intoxicated can’t handle it, perhaps it’s time to give up your dreams of stardom.

At ‘how sweet the sound’, I began to giggle. I couldn’t help it. All of my grief was bubbling up inside me and I began to laugh like a maniac. Tears were rolling down my face- possibly the first real tears I’d shed since Mae had passed. Audrey looked uncomfortable and absentmindedly began to rub her right breast. I tried to stop, but Muttley-esque sniggers continued to escape me. Dale was kicking my foot and my mother was repeatedly slapping me in the back of the head. I put my head between my knees and tried to breathe.

“I-I-I-I-I once was lo-o-ost,” Audrey yodelled.

I sat up again and let out another loud laugh. I knew I was being inappropriate but I couldn’t help it. I was possessed. In church. My mother was beating me around the head with a bible. Bob was smirking in satisfaction. The others had stopped focussing on the warbling redhead and were now openly gaping at me.

“Shut the fuck up,” Dale hissed.

My mother continued bible bashing me. Audrey finally stopped singing. Grace had even stopped her wailing at this point. I felt I should do something.

So I stood and clapped.

Nobody joined me. Silence filled the space around my applause. Next to me, Dale sat with his face buried in his hands. Eventually my claps petered out, the way they do when they echo solitarily around a crowded room. I cleared my throat and sat down.

Before me, Audrey’s green eyes filled with tears. One long river of mascara dropped down her cheek. She fled the stage, running down the aisle. The church was silent but for the clack, clack, clacking of her heels.

The priest walked down the aisle shaking his head. As he passed me, I heard him murmur “What the fuck is wrong with these people?”

Penny hit me over the head with the bible again.

 

Aside from Penny nearly toppling in the grave at the burial, the rest of the funeral was uneventful.

I did save her- I’m not a completely dreadful daughter. I saw her wobbling on her high heels as she threw a rose onto the coffin so I grabbed her arm and pulled her back.

I never got a thank you, of course.

Apparently preventing your mother from receiving a humiliating concussion does not negate laughing at a bad singer. Or getting drunk. Or yelling. A lot. Oh, well.

 

The wake was held at Bob’s local pub, for no reason other than a small discount on food. We were led outside by a bored bartender whose bleached hair was tied back severely in a tight bun. The beer garden was irregularly covered in rocky pavers with cigarette butts mashed into the gaps between them. Dead pot plants, filled with more cigarette butts, were haphazardly scattered. Four weatherworn picnic tables stood in the centre, each with a dinner plate of limp and soggy sandwiches. The chairs had already been filled by ageing backsides, and I stood in the corner with a pint of beer, watching the mourners pick at the sandwiches like hyenas.

 

Winnie the Pooh walks into a bar…

Two hours and four pints later, I was struggling to follow the ramblings of Robert, who was lecturing me about something. The silent film era, I think. I wasn’t paying attention- he had lost me after telling me that the moon landing was actually filmed in the Nevada desert by Stanley Kubrick. To be honest, the only reason I was still talking to him was because he was buying me drinks. I was all ears while there was beer in my glass, smoking casually and nodding in all the right places. As soon the glass emptied, I’d blatantly lose interest. My eyes would glaze over and I’d start gazing around the courtyard until Robert, anxious at losing his audience, would ask if I’d like a refill. I’d pretend to consider it, nod, and then say, “Aw, why the hell not? I’m not driving after all. Cheers.”

This exchange had occurred three times so far, and he hadn’t caught on yet. He’d return, hand me the beer, frown, and say, “I’ve lost my point.”

I’d pick a random subject, gleaned from something he had lectured on at some point in the conversation. Then he’d say, “That’s right” and start up again.

I wasn’t listening to what he was saying. I didn’t give a shit. I was just enjoying playing with him and getting free beer at the same time.

When he left to get our next round I noticed Richard and Audrey in the corner. Audrey was the pantomime of sad, Richard, the caricature of caring. Suddenly, Audrey collapsed into his arms, sobbing. Richard held her and stroked her lower back. She pulled away. He said something, his hand on her arm, she nodded and they turned to leave. I did a quick survey of the courtyard and discovered Penny was nowhere in sight.

“I’ve lost my point.”

I grabbed the beer from Robert and told him that something had come up.

It didn’t take long to find Richard and Audrey. Two drunken morons are notoriously unimaginative when it comes to picking stupid spots to shag. I found them underneath a pool table. I nearly lost my beer when I saw them fornicating, Richard had the hairiest ass I’d ever seen, it was like a wombat who was trying to dive into a burrow but kept getting stuck.

A bit like Winnie the Pooh.

I left to find Dale.

Dale had taken my place with Robert, and unlike me, was interested. Robert was talking about the differences between fuel injection and carburettors in regards to shoving a potato up the exhaust pipe. Whatever. Dale raised his eyebrows at me, and I waited for Robert to finish, (“So, that’s why in Holden models after 1987, you should use several chat potatoes rather than one large apple.”) I told him again that something had come up and dragged Dale away.

I didn’t notice Penny following us.

Honestly, I didn’t.

We reached the pool table. Richard’s wombat was still jumping enthusiastically while he licked Audrey’s face like a happy Labrador. I wondered if he was going to cock his leg and wee on her afterwards.

I was so proud of my discovery that I just stood and grinned, certain that Dale would be as delighted as I was. I imagined this would be a private joke that we’d share for years. Dinner table conversations would occur in the future where a single word- ‘Wombat!’- was uttered with thigh slapping glee. Instead, Dale took in the display before him, glanced back at me, and turned away.

“What?” I whispered, grabbing his arm.

“Are you serious? This is what you wanted to show me?” he looked at me sadly and shook his head.

“Come on, this is comic gold.”

“No. It’s not. It’s just two lost people trying to find something in each other that they’ll never be able to find within themselves, one of whom happens to be the man your mother loves. If you take pleasure in that, then you’re a monster.”

“I’m not a monster,” I protested. “True, this is two lost people fucking under a pool table but that’s fucking funny.”

Penny turned the corner.

Her face fell.

Khe-Sahn finished on the jukebox. The only noise was a rhythmic squelching.

Abruptly, Penny screamed.

Richard and Audrey stopped and looked over.

Penny screamed again. She picked up the pint I’d left on the ledge behind us and hurled it at them. It shattered on the pool table.

Richard and Audrey still didn’t move. Their mouths were agape, the wombat was still.

“Fuck you,” Penny screeched before running away.

Dale left to follow her. I glanced at Audrey and Richard. Tentatively, the wombat jumped, and then resumed burrowing.

I felt torn- I didn’t want to watch them, nor did I want to listen to the bleating of my mother. I decided to find Robert to try and scab another beer, or perhaps some weed. On the way out I told the bartender that there was a broken glass over by the pool table area.

 

“How could you do this to me?”My mother was bawling in the middle of the beer garden.

Audrey was sitting on one of the grubby tables with glassy eyes. I was watching the exchange with interest, sipping the Grolsh that Robert had kindly replaced for me.

“I mean, I became a virgin again for you. I got my hymen put back and then you go and bang my niece like a bass drum underneath that grotty pool table!”

Wow. I’d believed her when she told me that she was going into hospital to have her varicose veins stripped.

“How could you? She’s a child. Why don’t you just open up my chest and take a nice big pooh on it? Hmm? Come on,” she actually mounted the table clumsily, fumbling with the buttons on her dress.

My mother was a funny drunk.

“Put it away,” Richard said.

“Well, answer me,” My mother was trying for indignant, which few can pull off on your back on a picnic table.

“Well, she is younger…and tighter.”

“She can’t sing, though,” I volunteered.

“And…well…” Richard looked reluctant to finish.

“What?” she spat.

“Well, she waxes.”

Audrey snapped out of her trance and glared at Richard. Dale looked embarrassed. I tried to suppress a laugh by taking a sip of beer, only succeeding in snorting it.

“So that’s why you don’t go down on me,” my mother whispered, looking at the ground like a wounded puppy.

I cleared my throat, suddenly feeling the need to stand up for my mother. “Richard, that’s not entirely fair. I mean, if you don’t like parsley you push it to the side of the plate, you don’t throw the whole meal away.”

“Shut up, Jemma,” she snapped.

A need which quickly vanished.

“Maybe we should go home,” began Dale.

Once again, we were the centre of attention. People were drinking, smoking, and watching the drama unfold. Even the bartender, whom I was mildly surprised hadn’t asked us to leave, was engrossed. Hardly surprising, we were a real life episode of Home and Away.

My mother sniffed. She looked pathetic. She was drunk, her makeup was smeared, and I could see the fine lines in her neck and trembling hands. She’d had so much botox that she couldn’t even show the heartbreak she was experiencing; only her eyes betrayed her. I felt sorry for her. The surgery, the preening, the running, the obsessive dieting. It was all to hold onto a sleazy younger boyfriend who’d fuck her nineteen year old niece in a heartbeat. And why did she even want him? It was part mid life crisis, sure, but mostly I think she was lonely. I personally doubted that Richard loved her, but he was still hanging around after two years, something had kept him there. He was nothing more than a gigolo, her kept toy-boy, but I was sure that Penny had believed he loved her.

You can talk yourself into believing anything if it keeps you happy.

“Come on, mum. It’s time to leave.” Dale gently took her elbow. “I’ll drive you home. Where’s your bag?”

She pointed to the table Audrey was at. Dale glanced at me; I nodded and reached for it.  Then Penny, with a speed that surprised me, lunged at Audrey, grabbing her and almost dragging her off the table. A fistful of auburn hair was in one hand as the other slapped the Christ out of Audrey, who was wailing and trying to untangle herself.

The bartender finally made her way over to the melee and said calmly, “Break it up. Let her go ma’am. I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to ask you to leave now.”

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One thought on “Chattering Cat on Hiatus

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