You were standing on the roof of the lighting factory late in December. It was dusk or thereabouts and you were talking to that man from work (let’s call him Steven), who later you said you hardly knew. You were holding a glass of champagne punch and in your other hand a purple and yellow paper crown folded into a tight square. You were looking at your watch. Steven was looking at the sky. Later you said that the cloud cover was thick; you said that it was still pretty light and that there wasn’t much to see. Steven was looking, though, you said, looking as though he saw something. And then Steven turned to you and asked you a question. Quite out of the blue, he asked if you’d tell him your age. You looked around then for the others but Steven asked you again and when he asked you again you told him exactly, always your way. He said, aha, I see then, the warning here is for you. He said Saturn is returning and there will be many changes. Steven said, you must hurry and get ready for them.
Later when you were telling me about Steven you said that his voice had alarmed you, his voice and his eyes too, you said. It was later that night when I was only partly listening, just listening to your alarm. You said that you had looked up for whatever it was that Steven saw and yet looking up you had seen nothing. Where is Saturn, can I see it, where’s Saturn now, you’d said. Steven had said, maybe you can see it, but he was only looking closely into your eyes.
Now, after all that’s happened, I’ve been thinking about that night. I’m remembering your coming home and your dress and the story you told though it’s all so much a guess, I’m guessing as much as anything. I remember thinking that the conversation must have really bothered you, you told me so clearly about it, each sentence, each look. I should have known from what you told me and how, I’m thinking now that I really should have known. I remember though just laughing at the purplish stain inside your palm, I remember trying to kiss you without getting up from the ground, trying to kiss your purple palm. I remember saying something about how tacky Christmas was becoming, something about marketing and plastic, saying how you hold on too tight, that you always had. You went into the bathroom then, you left the door open. It was a hot night. You were talking from inside but I wasn’t answering much. I was watching you though (you know I always used to watch you when I could) and I was watching as you put your underpants in the bin. They were sagging, a couple of years old, and yet I was amazed that you threw them away, not enough to say anything, but still amazed. Now I, can only guess that’s when it all started. I can only guess the underpants were the first thing to go.
I remember when you threw the chilli sauce away. I was waiting for a curry, waiting since that last night of arguing; how could I buy green bananas, what to do with so many socks, why do I waste time. I was waiting for you to make a curry. I remember saying how I’d like one, opening a beer late after a good night, saying how good a curry would be now. Later we went up to the Bazaar for one and I think I remember that it was a Wednesday night. I remember that it was my idea. We rode; the lights on your bike had always been dicey, and you were still shaking after ten minutes inside, shaking like a dance. I wrote some pieces of a song in pencil on my napkin. The tune was coming to me and the chicken was good. You were struggling with your fish. It was dry and bony; I’d recommended it but in the end, I wouldn’t swap. I remember you saying, that’s all right, don’t you worry about me, and then not looking at me, looking anywhere but at me. The couple in the next booth weren’t talking either. The guy was reading a spy thriller, the woman with him played bridge on a hand-held computer. I don’t know if that’s what you saw. I was writing and eating, drinking your last beer after mine. I don’t know what it was that you saw staring at them. Later at home, later because you’d wheeled your bike back all the way, you threw out our only deck of playing cards.
You sewed together scraps of material to make a dressing gown. I remember it was the start of a quiet weekend, staying in, quiet in January, you’d been back to work after almost two weeks off. You fussed around, sprayed gloss on the leaves of your indoor plants, put fresh pebbles around your cactus: you fixed the Chinese wind chimes that I had broken, that I’d actually meant to break. You set up the ladder and climbed to reach the maple and the long streamer hanging, caught and bleaching in the sun. That streamer was my Uncle Jack on Christmas day, my Uncle Jack with his party poppers and socks to give to everyone, that streamer was frail and quiet and accidental and something I had really liked. You put it in the kitchen garbage and I remember thinking that it had looked dismal, like a memory you had become bored with. Later you dragged out those books, circled them around yourself, sat high on the bed. WHEN BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE, WHEN ALL YOU’VE EVER WANTED ISN’T ENOUGH, TO SEE WHAT I SEE AND KNOW WHAT I KNOW. You had favourite pages. I picked one up, read the cover, put it back. I leant towards you and I said that I knew how to pull your strings, pointing to the cover, by the author of YOUR ERRONEOUS ZONES, I knew where your strings were for pulling. You told me to get lost, pushing my shoulder, smiling sort of. I stood up, stepping on a book that had slid to the ground, losing my balance. I said American pop psychology is shit, and went out to see if I could write a song about it, CLIMBING OUT OF THE CELLAR OF YOUR MIND. Later, you said that there was no Answer but there were answers. That was later though, a lot later.
You told Paul then that he couldn’t stay. It was one of those nights. He’d had a few, we’d had a few, he was crashing fast. You turned on the light, the globe was bright without a shade. You said, no Paul, go home tonight. You said, no Paul, you’ve got a home to go to haven’t you, and then you just stood there staring at the time above his head.
Just no, you said, just no and nothing more. Well I left too that night. I took my guitar and left with Paul, I left and stormed about. I came back only when I knew you’d gone, I waited until you were gone. My head was sore and I needed some money, but still I waited. I’d left my guitar somewhere. I thought I remembered it was somewhere by the water. My fingertips at least were salty but when I woke up I wasn’t sure of what I remembered, of what I saw, or didn’t see. I wasn’t sure waking. I washed your car then. You came home and I made you coffee with a heaped teaspoonful of sugar. I thought I’d calm you that way, warm you and sweeten you, thicken you, soothe you. I wrote you a song. I already had those few pieces of it down. I sat on the floor and wrote it. I played it to Paul and then to the others. They picked it up easily. They said, can you put a chorus in, we might use it if you can put a chorus in. I asked if it would be all right to change the song that way and give it to them. I asked you because I thought of the song as yours. You answered me through the closed door and said it would be your pleasure. I wasn’t surprised then. You were giving anything away then.
I planned a picnic for a quiet day. I bought a barbecued chicken and some bread. I made a sweet salad with cream and fruit and marshmallows. I asked you to come. I packed everything into a cardboard box, an old blanket, the Saturday papers, a sharp knife. Great Western wrapped cold in a towel. You weren’t too sure about coming and I could tell. I took my fishing gear and a Walkman to be sure myself. I looked around for those plastic champagne flutes, the ones with the bright dots that my mum gave us, or you (was it your birthday? yes, it probably was), but, as you told me later, you’d given them away. I didn’t ask why, I didn’t really care why. I took the Great Western out and hung the towel over a chair. On our way up north I stopped at the Highwayman’s for a case of twist tops.
It was a nice day the way I remember it. Lunch was good, a bit warm, but good. The spot was great, the water, the way the clouds were moving, the light on the leaves. We talked, I held you on the blanket and tickled you gently. Your face broke open. I remember later arguing in a loud voice, still wearing my Walkman, Patsy Cline in a ballad. Margaret Thatcher was a good thing, you’d said, or at least a woman and that was a good thing. I’d said that a conservative politician was a conservative politician, with breasts or without them. I’d said that maybe if you were English and had a job, well, maybe then, but if you were unemployed and English, well then you were stuffed. You suddenly shoved the blanket with some empties into a nearby bin when you thought I’d said enough. You sat in the car and fastened your seat-belt. I took my line out of the water and came across with the keys. You wanted to go back on the freeway, it was fast and short and straight you said. I’d decided to take the old highway, I said I liked that way, what there was to see that way. I put on some music then and drove, looking.
There were no picnics after that, not even a suggestion. You always seemed so busy after that. You made lists, piles, stacked things in the corners, you made decisions about the things in piles stacked in corners. You took my pillow and propped up your feet (you’d read somewhere that it could help). You gave me instead a pillow case filled with all those pairs of socks from Uncle Jack. You said, well, can you think of anything better? You said, you know you’re welcome to think of something better. I said, what about green bananas, ripening green bananas in Uncle Jack’s Christmas socks? I smiled as I said it, thinking of buying green ones, trying it out, picking green bananas again and all the fuss you’d make. You put a pair of socks on after that, wore them wet. You were stretching new leather, wearing wet socks; you’d thrown away three old pairs of shoes. I complained that you were leaving black stains. Anyway, was it working, I said, those shoes still look too tight to me. You walked off then, sort of squelching, uncomfortable, bulging at the heels. I laughed. I said, oh, come on now, laugh, but you wouldn’t, no way. You took a long bath. (I imagined you with your shoes on, Uncle Jack’s socks too, shoes and socks stuck over the edge while the rest of you was naked.) I remember you cried out when your book fell into the water but the door was locked when I came laughing to save you.
I remember you as always busy then. I remember sitting on the floor and you veering around me, always busy. You stopped once and listened to what I was playing. I remember you were holding a photo of Ralph, your family’s dog. Is there anything else but broken hearts, you asked, is there anything else to sing about? Why are these songs always about people changing and breaking each other that way, you said. That just doesn’t happen. It’s just what you show them, you said, and, maybe at the start you don’t show them anything like enough. No-one changes, you said, as you slid Ralph’s photo under an ashtray, no-one changes. And you walked away from my song. I followed then. We were talking and I thought that it was something more than it was, I came looking for more. You were taking down the Venetian blind in the bedroom; you had seen Steven again and spoken with him, he had told you to wake in the mornings with the sun. Without the blind, after you had left for work, I used to take the quilt with me onto the floor and lie in a piece of shadow.
Later, Paul came around with the last details of the trip. He hadn’t been about for ages. He said the place looked empty, like a third person had moved away. I had tried to draw him over many times before, tempting him with my new records, my imports, my music magazines. I’d said he could do a load in your machine. Paul had stayed away though, even then, and I knew why. He had played his bass riffs over the phone to me and I’d been sure. We had been excited about the trip then, taking the band to Melbourne, trying a few small places, it was something new. We’d had farewell drinks at the Palace three nights running. We were off for only ten days but everyone knew, everyone wished us luck, everyone knew someone or someplace good to go, to play, to get the best crowd. You’d helped a lot, more than I’d hoped, you’d organised the rent-a-car, you’d done it through your firm at a special rate. You’d said that you would pack my things. I remember I’d felt so happy, I’d told the guys. We’d made you the last stop, to pick up my stuff, clothes and that, for me to get in a quick kiss. I remember it as a perfect day, enough sun, enough wind. The guys were throwing a guitar lead about like a ball, waiting, our last stop. I remember we’d cracked the first beer of the trip standing there in the drive, speculating already, all impatient and yet time for another. You were happy and smiling with us, I’ll always remember that, you brought out my stuff, happy and smiling. I gave you a beer, curled my fingers under your waistband. You put the can on the letter box, uncurled me and went back in. You brought out two more suitcases. I thought I understood, I thought they must have had food in them, food maybe and beers, they seemed pretty heavy and your face pretty pink so I could have been right. You brought out more stuff and I was only guessing, garbage bags and boxes, your beer was knocked from its perch and you said never mind; you’d had enough anyway, you said. You were bringing out anything by then, everything, my Charles Bronson poster, notes from Archaeology 1, aftershave I never wore, stuff like that, all my stuff, everything I owned, everything that I reasonably owned. You said, well, that’s about it then. You were smiling and looking around at everything, at so many years, until smiling you ran inside once more. I was standing there looking dumb. The guys had moved up the drive away from me when you came out to give me the last thing — a Coles New World bag filled with all my socks.
Image: Susanne Jutzeler