The neatness of Greg’s new digs was surprising. At Jackson Street the bed-sit had lacked the room to swing a cat. Here in the Commission place the bedroom alone was larger than the whole of the earlier space. On the wall above the couch three long fishing rods had been hung, all arcing across the span; the longest had to be twelve feet. None of them would have fitted under Greg’s bed in Jackson. They had been kept at his mum’s place in Mordy earlier, along with a good deal of the other items that had never been sighted previously. A tomahawk here sat on the fridge in the kitchenette, within easy reach of the front door through the opening in the wall. In Jackson it had been baseball bats and pick handles behind the door. On the shelf in the kitchen there was a curled photo of an unbelievable Greg in his thirties with black curly hair and long Latino moustache, beside a gal who could only have been the love of his life, Gaye dead at thirty-five. At Coffs Harbour Greg had slept a number of times on Gaye’s grave. In Jackson her photo had been kept out of sight somewhere, unless it had been consigned to mum’s garage. Eve on the Jackson Street bed was familiar—the figure in that framed photo, again not the photo itself. Greg told the young Italo butcher Andrea how Eve’s father had stripped her naked and beat her in the bath with a leather belt. Later when her parents had aged Greg had encouraged Eve to go back to see them while there was still time. The lads had played a preliminary game of euchre with a tenner stake. When Greg gave the word after a couple of hands Andrea went to the kitchen to prepare the fits, one for himself and one for Greg. The Broady Mick with four sons split from his wife was passing for the moment; he left later on his bicycle to score again, the arrangements passed between he and Greg too quick to catch. Without glasses Greg had needed Mick to do him. (Next week Mick would escort Greg to the Optometry College in Carlton for his eye test and new glasses.) With a belt wound around his bicep Mick had asked Greg to clench his fist while he searched for a vein on the outside of his forearm, the same place Andrea used in the kitchen. Mick’s first probes with the point of the needle missed the mark, success coming with a little spurt of blood. As before the hit, Andrea remained talkative afterward without any hint of the rush. The only change in Greg had been his pacing about the living-room and three or four times when he went to resume his seat on the couch there was hesitancy in the last lowering in place, as if he had been uncertain the support was still there. There was too some strictness in Greg afterward in his manner of speech, a kind of quiet deliberation. That dawned later thinking about the witnessing in the room. Greg had come across ten dead bodies in his time, most of them ODs. One memorable among them that Greg had mentioned before was the chap found one lunchtime in perfect business attire stretched out behind the fence at Jackson Street by the rubbish bins. Andrea had OD-ed himself four times over the journey from Italy-Spain-London and here. Before he had got on again he had made 110 sky dives, an accomplishment duly acknowledged by Greg. Odd was one story Greg had never told before of a break-in at a pharmacy on Toorak Road. The job had been done in company with the famous Shuggie, a litre bottle over of Charlie it might have been the pair cut out of the safe with oxy. Shuggie the looker who had everything, with the gift of the gab to boot, winning girls in any pub he entered. Afterward they had holed up for a week in the motel that had stood beside the squash courts on Canterbury Road with a couple of pros. Jackson Street was a little further up on the rise over Fitzroy Street; it had been wiser to keep away from home just then, or else Greg may not have taken up the place at that stage. Possibly there had been previous mention of this episode, buried and swamped in Greg’s rattle. Some of the streets in Footscray and around Vic Market found examples of the same kind of survivors as the old guys that night at the card game with the needles, figures who had endured trials and twists of fate that had marked them and dulled the lights of their eyes. In the airbrushing of the suburban setting, even in Spotty and the wider formerly industrial Inner West, the battles were hidden and the solidarities noticeably more flimsy.
St. Kilda, Melbourne 2020
Australian by birth and Montenegrin origin, Pavle Radonic’s eight years living and writing in S‑E Asia has provided unexpected stimulus. Previous work has appeared in a range of literary journals and magazines, including Ambit, Big Bridge, Citron & Antigonish Reviews.