The numbers on the clock radio read 8.29pm when the first in a stream of tonight’s doorbell chimes sounded in the cacophony of sixties rock and seventies kitsch spinning black and vinyl on the record player. I hovered on the stairs running my hands over and over the swirling flocked pattern on the silver and black wallpaper and watched like an eagle eye the hallway below to see the dresses, the bulging breasts in halterneck tops, the stilettos, the blue eye shadow, a burly cop or shonky salesman arm swung around ‘the little woman’. There was always a Barbie there somewhere. Everybody looked like a Charlie’s Angel. Even my mother in floor length polyester had a Farrah wig. And cigarettes would fill the house like throw-away confetti overflowing the beautiful amber glass ashtrays in this party house.
A man’s voice came from the front door, laughter, the chinking sound of bottles. I could hear the woman’s shoes. Yes, then a voice. An introduction. She was new to the house.
“He blow’s his stack as he flips his lid, although he’s a monster he’s just a big kid, and now we’re ready to go, on the Milton the Monster show“….
My hand made its way further along the flocked wallpaper, my feet following. Little chunks of bitey pale yellow on sticks would be down there. Rolls of squidgy German pork sausage, finished off with little green and red onion balls that made your eyes go funny when you bit them.
Another bing-bong. The big bodied sound of Max Shelly boomed in the front hall. His mouse of a wife a whisper by contrast and pulled back far into her body like a crab peeping out from its shell. She didn’t like it here and would rather have eaten a shit sandwich than been at our house it was clear.
Small voices. Their kids piled in through the front door. My hand stiffened on the flocked wallpaper guarding my castle. A kid stopped at the foot of the stairs and waved saying hi. I turned my back and slunk away up the stairs. It wasn’t worth the cheese.
“Mouse trap. Fun for all the family”….
At the mirror, I stopped a while in familiar company. I was a world away, a world away, a world….and the doorbell rang and rang and rang.
“Donna“, came that tone. Slinking, I could almost smell it bathed in beer and stenched in cigarettes. Then louder. My hair crawled. The name was associated with my hair being pulled and I had already learned the next call would bring a storming of the castle walls. “Miss Piss”, “you fucking get here when I call you”. Better to surrender, mount the stairs, live to fight another day. I gave in to my feet which had left without me and followed them down the stairs.
I passed bodies in tight clothes holding glasses, the smell of alcohol, laughter mingled with music and chatter. My father grabbed my hand and made me spin to the sound of Chuck Berry. Faces watched. “You look just like your mother”, came a voice. My gut clutched tight. “Watch out, don’t say that“, warned my mother as I was presented to Maxs’ wife who offered forward an object, head cocked slightly bent forward as though trying to make herself user friendly. Wrapping paper, sticky tape.
“Donna speaks Italian you know“, said the slinking drawl of my mother’s voice. “Go on, say something“, I was prodded with a slight push of fingers into my skinny back.
“Stai zitte“. I obliged, “dov e vai?”, announcing to myself ‘shut up’ and ‘where are you going’.
The visitor was pleased and stuck the package in my hand.
“Open it up“, ordered the slinking voice.
I tore at the paper which produced a bottle, the light catching pink, yellow, blue rainbows in the grooved glass sides contrasted with an amber lid. I held it up to the light to look through it.
“Take the lid off“, ordered the slink, “its cat’s piss. Give it a smell“.
She took the bottle back and took the top off, spraying me like a Tom Cat and suddenly the all pervasive cigarette cloud which was the house transmuted around my very being in sweet and sickly cigarette smoke. I headed straight for the bitey yellow cubes on a tray on the other side of the room, sticking one in my gob.
“Do you like it?“, asked the woman in a quiet voice from a tight constricted place somewhere deep inside of her body. I could feel the adrenaline rising in my mother, the cobra in her rising, her body moving almost imperceptibly to the strike. I nodded, mouth full of cheese.
Bing Bong. My mother exited for the front door. A voice warm and male, peaceful, calming, balanced. Its dissonance with this place was jarring like a strike against invisible glass.
Max boomed his burly way forth into the front hall. “Lester, me mate, glad you could make it“.
I moved hypnotized, toward the warm voice, so foreign here. What was a real person doing here?
The man had a bag, long with a zipper which he carried into the front room lead by Max and followed by my mother. Words shuffled through the crowd and bodies made their way into the room and mine hovered to be near the voice. The warm voice removed a cape from the bag which he threw around his shoulders in an elegant flowing movement. A long case, black and textured was produced from the bag, the movements focused, balanced, elegant. Three latches were thrown, the hands, moved caringly, calm, precise. The case opened to the contrast of red velvet and shiny metal, gold and silver, patterns along the handle. His hand reached down like the movements of a swan once seen on a lake. The sword raised and held out before him held gently supported now across his open palms. Whoever he was he was from some other place. He was not of the cops and robbers of this place with their doormats and their Barbies, their seventies bravado, glitz and glamor or occasional living corpse. He was whole and real and everything a non-imaginative kid could conjure up to be a savior. And the word Freemason was said many times that night. A word I had never heard. He didn’t dance or slink or get drunk. He didn’t smoke and swear. He just was and was captivating in the way he did being so well.
I hovered downstairs, safe among these bodies, I drank from everyone’s glass till I could barely stand and swayed on my nine year old feet, the room spinning, my gut awash with gin, Cinzano, port, beer, Vermouth…
Punches flew and hair was pulled, billiard cues split in half as bodies ran. It must have been the tits again. My old man had a thing about tits. Or maybe it was that he’d flashed his dick at Max’s wife who he loved to shock. Or maybe it was that my mother got caught out the back getting one from Max. But whatever it was Lester ordered all the kids into his car. We were piled in, skin pressing skin. Me by the window. The window down, air blew cold in my face as the car rumbled on the road and the radio played gently and I heard Lester’s voice and the phrase “Mc Donald’s”.
It was only moments beyond the first bite of a cheeseburger that I painted the side of Lester’s car and my face with pink, alcohol drenched vomit. We were moving at the time of this artistry and the spew whipped back across my face into the night like a streak of paint in this surreal scene. Lester, my knight of the night, made calm tones with gentle words, and passed his handkerchief over his shoulder into the back seat whilst still driving. That was the last taste of specialness before I fell down a vortex and passed out.
I acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the Traditional Owners of this country throughout Australia, and their connection to land and community.