Welcome to our second installment of our partnership with NarratorAUSTRALIA, a showcase of creative writing for new, emerging and established writers across Australia. A shared love of words and stories has led to an actual sharing of words and stories.
NarratorAUSTRALIA editor Jennifer Mosher, has chosen the story below as this month’s contribution to The Glass Coin. We hope you enjoy it.
The House at the End of the Tracks
I spotted Damon in the crowd almost immediately, dragging his feet as he paced back and forth on the platform. One hand held his phone up to his ear while the other gripped firmly at his crotch. He spat on an empty bench as the train eased into the station, terminated his call and pocketed the phone. People began to approach the slowing train, carefully assembling behind the yellow line and keeping a noticeable distance from Damon. As if to demonstrate the sheer scope of his malice, Damon kicked a discarded bottle towards the passing train. The bottle met the train with a resounding pop, sending a shower of glass across the feet of the other passengers. Despite some grumbling and cursing, no passenger dared to confront the insubordinate reprobate.
Damon pushed past the disembarking passengers as he boarded the train. I moved through the carriages to head him off. When he saw me coming he raised both arms in the air and called out to me.
‘Boy-ee!’ he yelled with an elongated emphasis. He stood with his feet apart, blocking a woman’s exit from the train. She glared at him indignantly as she was forced to shuffle awkwardly around him. Damon reciprocated by barking in her face and stalking her to the door as she scurried off. I laughed at the moron, who returned with an exaggerated swaggering gait.
‘You’re late, nig,’ he said, poking an accusing finger at me in jest. ‘Late!’
‘Awww,’ I said with mock sincerity. ‘Wanna hug?’ I returned.
‘I’ll get you a watch for your birthday, hey? A watch. Make me wait!’
‘Too late. You’ve missed it. I’ll get you a calendar for yours.’
Damon smiled a crooked smile. ‘Just a couple of stops, bru.’ He peered in the tattered backpack between his legs, fingering some of the concealed objects. When we got off the train, Damon wordlessly took the lead. We were at the final stop behind a row of old suburban homes. Everyone headed out of the station. We went the opposite direction, jumping down onto the tracks and over to the other side, following the row of houses. Damon peered over each fence in passing and rattled the gates.
‘Here. Here,’ he said. He stood beside the gate and pissed on the fence, throwing caution, and discretion, to the wind.
‘Marking your territory?’ I muttered.
‘Man, you made me wait so long,’ he complained. ‘So fuckin’ long.’
When he was done, he inspected the gate one final time, then, without warning, threw his side against it. The battered wooden fence shuddered from the shock. He heaved himself into it one final time with the gate flinging wide open. Damon headed straight in. I glanced over my shoulder back towards the now desolate station and followed, eager to avoid any eye-witnesses.
This was a first for us, setting the bar far higher than it had ever been before. Damon was confident it would be a breeze. I was just glad to have a day away from the monotony of my job. Any break to the routine was welcome as far as I was concerned. I carefully raised the gate to its former position.
I had earned my wings as a trespasser early on, when I was only about eleven or twelve. My brother and I would jump the fence behind the canteen block at our local pool every sweltering Saturday. We’d wait until about midday when we just couldn’t stand the heat anymore and about the time when every one’s stomachs told them it was time to haul arse out of the pool to load up on foods of the greasy salted variety. People lumbered back and forth from poolside, to canteen, to the piss soaked bathrooms. It was easy blending in. We’d already be stripped to our boardshorts. We just needed to throw our towels across the fence so it didn’t snag our bare flesh, hoist ourselves up and tumble over.
‘This is it, boy. This is it. The ‘track lift’.’ Damon trudged through the garden with his hands in his pockets kicking the heads off tulips as he spoke. ‘On a silver-fucking-platter. A silver – fucking – platter.’ He repeated. ‘Free transport and me tools on m’back. We go in, we get out, hop on the train with a poker face and a bag full of loot and we’re gone, gone who-the-fuck knows where, ay.’
Jumping the fence at the pool, it never felt like we were doing the wrong thing. It’s not like the lifeguards and canteen girls weren’t going to get paid. We didn’t have our own pool and our parents never gave us so much as a dollar. It was jump the fence or die of dehydration as far as we were concerned!
There was this one time by the pool that always reminded me of Damon. For better or worse, it’s how I’ll always think of him. After another smooth entrance, my brother and I strolled casually through the crowd past the canteen block and over to the Olympic-sized pool. He always dived in headfirst but I liked to ease myself in. The toes of one foot, then the whole foot. The toes of the other foot, then the whole foot. By the time my legs were submerged, I’d built up enough confidence to raise myself up on my arms over the edge so I could slip down to the bottom in a final effortless plunge.
‘Best thing is,’ Damon continued as he pulled a car jack out of the backpack while lighting a smoke, ‘nobody will be home… unless it’s a mother, some dole bludgin’ wank or a ‘geri’ in a fuckin’ nappy!’
On this one particular occasion, I’d only just worked my legs into the pool when I saw a bee caught up in the gentle current, thrashing in vain as it drifted towards my leg. I pulled my legs out in a panic and pulled back from the pool’s edge. I watched as miniscule ripples encircled the helpless bee, the current pulling it further along. I’d never been stung before but I always had that fear – a fear of the unknown, I suppose. I’d seen kids screaming and crying from bee stings before, but I figured they must have done something to set them off. I convinced myself that if I tried to save it, it wouldn’t sting me. It would know, it would sense somehow that I was doing it a good turn. And as I did what I did, and it did what it does, I felt I’d been taught a kind of lesson in the nature of things. The damned thing just couldn’t help itself.
Damon used the jack to bend the bars protecting the windows then battered open a window and slinked through the tiny entry. I waited, wondering if Damon expected me to follow. I was a little heftier than Damon. There was no way I was going through the window. I looked around at the windows of the neighbouring houses, searching for prying eyes or fluttering curtains. Then the door opened. I entered hastily and closed the door behind me.
I met Damon in Year 10, just after my brother went interstate. He managed to con his way into a job at the mines. Mum had left by then and dad’s time was divided between his job and his solitary, obsessive carpentering, so I guess I kind of gravitated towards Damon. He was pretty harmless at the time, just a weedy halfwit. He made me laugh though. That was enough back then. Damon’s complete lack of shame made him the funniest guy in school.
When I caught up with Damon in the kitchen I tried to listen for signs of life in the house, but Damon was thumping around carelessly. He had an upturned pot on his head as he inspected the contents of the fridge. He took a bite from an apple and tossed it across the room. After helping himself to a bottle of juice he wandered away from the fridge, leaving the door wide open. His innate arrogance eased my tension somewhat.
When we were in high school, this little rough-as-guts Italian kid used to give me a hard time in Science. It was stupid little things like knocking my books off the desk or flicking cut up bits of eraser at me. Retaliation wasn’t worth the trouble it’d heap upon me, so I ignored it. Damon didn’t. Without uttering a word he strolled behind the guy, grabbed his bag and walked out the room. No one even noticed him. It was all so casual, so smooth. The teacher was still talking out the front, the students were still making notes and that fat shit was still flicking water at me from the dripping tap on his bench. And then Damon appeared, positioned perfectly, right outside the window where the class could clearly see him but out of sight of the teacher. He must have sprinted around the building to get there so fast. He was holding the bag upside down and thrusting his groin at the contents as they tumbled out.
I followed Damon into the living room where he was rifling through a drawer. He shot a sly smile at me and winked as he took something up in his hand and held it tightly in a clenched fist.
It was Damon’s face that made his antics so funny. While thrusting at the falling objects he had a look of intense pleasure spread across his face. Then, when the bag was empty, he tossed it aside with complete nonchalance and strolled back around the building and into the room. He sat right across from the Italian turd, who didn’t have the guts to take Damon on. No one did. He was in with all the hardest kids. He had this infectious way of rallying the troops and garnering support. Most of what he said was utter garbage, but it was how he said it, that way of repeating himself once or twice, or repeating certain words and phrases. ‘You’re gonna sit on the back seat?’ he’d say when we got on the bus after school. ‘On the back seat?’ he’d repeat after a moment. And even as the offenders moved obediently to a more agreeable section of the bus, ‘the back seat?’ he’d say one final time, with a hint of incredulity.
‘Well, we’ve struck paedo, mate,’ Damon called across the room.
‘Paedo, mate. Paedo,’ he said holding up a framed photo. He chucked the photo to me before moving off to continue his pilfering. I looked down at what was clearly a picture of a grandfather and granddaughter on some kind of family outing. I shook my head and laughed as I returned the photo to its place. This was the reason I was here instead of on the job site. After all, we weren’t going to walk away with anything of great value. Damon’s backpack wasn’t big enough.
I know what I was getting out of the relationship but I never understood Damon’s motive. It’s strange really; I was the only person ever spared from Damon’s unpredictable roguishness. Perhaps I was the exception that proved Damon’s rule, Damon’s dominion. I suspect my mild disposition and the amusement I showed in his antics contributed in some way. I certainly had nothing to offer him, or to be taken for that matter. Either way, he always had an inexplicable loyalty towards me.
There used to be a group of us back in the day, ditching class and lifting magazines and junk food. School didn’t really do it for us. And I suppose we didn’t really do it for school. At any rate, there was no real effort on their part to keep us coming back. And Damon had always been resistant to any kind of authority or institution, all to his own detriment. Truancy, loitering, vandalism, shoplifting. Miniscule ripples.
It was a nice old house, truth be told. Whoever this guy was, he’d certainly put the hours in to have established such a respectable abode. The décor was outdated and the furniture had clearly seen better days, but I finally understood what people meant when they described a place as ‘homely’. It had a warmth, it had character, stories to tell. The drawers alone, the ones Damon had just ransacked, were full of history and heart. There was a stack of letters and papers spread throughout the drawer. I skimmed over a few lines of one at random:
…whistling that sweet tune. It stopped me in my tracks. I was completely and utterly captivated. Over a whistle! I have never felt so powerless. It was the way you rose and fell over the notes, carrying them gently and bending them at your…
I flicked through a couple more, all in the same vein as the first, riddled with gushy sentimentality. There was an assortment of trinkets, tickets stubs and polaroids floating around the drawer. I picked up the photo frame again, brought myself face to face with our victim. I had done a lot of stupid shit in my time, engaged in a lot of underhanded practices, but this was a first.
Looking around, I had to admit my place was a rat’s nest by comparison. I shared a flat with three other guys, meatheads stuck doing menial labour by day and glued to their respective game consoles by night. But no matter how pitiful my situation was, I took solace in the knowledge, the empirical evidence, that it could be worse. Damon never left the nest.
His dad was an okay bloke but he and Damon shared more of a mateship than a father son relationship. His dad didn’t work and the apple didn’t fall far. The closest Damon managed was a week on the back dock of one of those generic retail giants. He spent the bulk of the week smoking and taking shit-breaks to avoid any real work. He couldn’t get his head around the invoices and every unsupervised minute saw him riding the pallet jacks or messing around with the stock. They sacked him when one of his bosses caught him and another dropkick dueling with those long tubular fluorescent light bulbs. They’d pop and burst into tiny pieces when they smashed. Damon repeated several lines from Star Wars as they escorted him from the premises. ‘Aren’t you a little short for a storm trooper?’ he said, quoting Princess Leia. ‘A storm trooper,’ he repeated bluntly, oblivious to the gravity of the situation. From that day on Centrelink was his home from home. He filled in the rest of his time wreaking havoc on the community.
When I saw Damon burst back into the room, the pot still upturned on his head but now with the old guy’s underwear pulled up over his trousers, something inside of me clicked. All the dignity and humanity in the drawer had been upturned in a single act of idiocy. I didn’t laugh. I couldn’t.
‘Let’s go, Damon. Take that shit off,’ I insisted. Damon had found a cane at this point and was shuffling around with a hunched posture, knocking over all the furniture he could.
‘Sh-orry, old boy,’ he said with a doddering voice. ‘You’ll have to sh-peak up, me King Lears ain’t what they used to be.’
Some men were born for this world, content to live for their work, bleed in their toil and be at peace with their lot. Some, like me, were born with a kind of restlessness, not content to punch in and punch out, determined to break free of the mold and experience something else, something intangible, elusive, inescapable. There are those who give without hesitation, those who struggle against unforgiving circumstance, and those who simply yield. And then there are those born with a kind of emptiness. The sociopath. The anarchist. The agent of chaos. Irrational. Unfathomable.
‘Seriously, Damon,’ I said grabbing his arm. ‘Drop your shit and let’s go.’
‘Say what?’ he continued in the feeble voice. ‘You want me to drop my shit? Well, I usually wait ‘til the nurse shows up, but-’ I yanked the cane from his hand and knocked the pot off his head.
‘We’re leaving,’ I demanded.
‘Fuck off, nig’ he said with some surprise, pulling free of my grip. Those were his last words. He turned around and it hit him. It sounded like a roast chicken being dropped on the floor, cartilage and bone compacting under the blunt base of a sailing trophy.
‘Oh, oh no. No. I- I- I- I didn’t mean to hit him so hard,’ stammered the elderly gentleman in the doorway. The blood drained from his face almost as quickly as it drained from Damon’s. He fell back into the doorframe as Damon dropped to his knees. The trophy clattered to the ground.
‘Damon?’ I didn’t expect an answer. Damon slumped back onto the floor, his arms falling limply by his sides. He looked up into my eyes, spluttering. As the sound of sirens tore their way up the street towards the house, Damon unclenched his fist. A gold watch slid free and fell against the cold hard tiles.