Kirk Marshall

Whereupon the High Sea’s Many Girts We Were Taken By Storm,
Or, The Time Tuvalu Came To Stay:

An end-of-century dispatch, composed during wartime, by a sixteen-year-old dilettante

Dad would say it all started — culminated — when Tuvalu discovered Tesla.
      My mother, whom has a tendency to align her beliefs with Dad’s in the same way a tortoise conspires to cooperate with its shell, had to admit that for all intents and purposes (which is an adult way of avoiding acknowledging that you don’t actually know), he was probably right. Chipper, who was young enough to be impressionable without being damaged or self-conscious, well, he liked to believe in anything which validated Dad’s motivation to play Dino War with him, which was a game Chipper and I had once originated during a summer monsoon, which involves an uprising with a herd of prehistoric herbivores and the downfall of the tyrannosaur oligarchy. This is a word I learned in a historical fiction novel my mother was reading when she was waylaid from work because she had contracted a sickness called non-conjugal distress. Anyway, the game always ended in a carnage of plastic limbs, and relative to our collaborative capacity for imagination, at least one captivating explosion within the kitchenette microwave.
      And that’s where Tesla and Tuvalu came in, I suppose. Something to do, I’d estimate, with microwaves and uncustomary heat and soon we were all running ’round and planes were shrieking and spiralling and a woman was bleeding on the footpath inflicted by a severe cut to the forehead, and that woman was my mother and Chipper was shivering in a foetal pretzel of gangling body parts and I was paralysed by the image of Dad duelling a wraith from beyond the Pacific seas on the terracotta shingles of our ivy-enmeshed Queensland sprawler’s rooftop, brandishing the broken end of the satellite TV antennae, and the leaves as fat and sad as maple spades were shedding from the overburdened gutters onto the front garden, littering the little stone path I’d helped to design like countless dead butterfly corpses. And I don’t really know what happened so suddenly but this year I’ve been crying every day and sometimes I wish someone other than Dad would have the answers.


You can’t expect spontaneity from Mr. Buffalino, who looks less like his namesake and more like a black bear trained up by cavalier carnivàle roustabouts to punctuate everything he intones to you with a flourish and jab of a stick of coral-pink blackboard chalk.
      Some days, though, like Monday, which is by far the weirdest of all days, you can’t really anticipate for the structure of the day’s modules to progress or flow ceaselessly and uneventfully without some necessary diversion throughout the design of the day to ascend, to actualise itself, and mess everything up. This is, of course, what happened because I’d awoken this sun-seduced morning by stepping on the head of a Transformer (Maximal Cheetor), then discovered a ring of aquamarine plastic twine in my Weetbix, then clambered onto the bus and staggered into the white geometric planes of the slate-walk quadrangle before realising my Geography assignment had been relegated at home beside a copy of Abe’s Odyssey on my wormwood-infected desk surface. So it really couldn’t get genuinely any crummier, but just by harbouring that thought, clasping it to the knot in your sixteen-year-old gut as some sort of respite, tonic, balsam balm, you had to deduce that it would, and it did, and it was Mr. Buffalino who gloried in its fuselage and ruination.
      These are words I know from my mother who claimed the same thing about her heart. I don’t understand, not really, unless it has something to do with her non-conjugal distress, but I snaked my arms around her neck then, and told her that it was okay, which it wasn’t, because now Mr. Buffalino was collecting assignments.
      I do this thing which I forge faith in having egregiously mastered, and it is as much a potent apocalyptical sneer, as it is an eminence-eviscerating effort to express just how totally and unequably disenfranchised from the world I am — which was an evocative and conjured method in asserting that I was beyond, above, more sincere and pious than the staples of a school-bound youthful existence on a perjurious Monday muggy morning; when really the sneer was my only diametrically-opposing way that I might muster up the valour to ignore my assignment’s absence in my sad foetal port-backpack. I tried the sneer on for size and kicks, and correspondingly experimented with the potential undertow of defeated emotions that might be surmised to inform its prevalent facial monopoly. I gambled on an entire cavalcade of thespian flourishes, which is a phrase my mother explained was not as titillating as I’d hoped: I tried for dissatisfied, crestfallen, envious, sophisticated, underwhelmed, laconic.
      Of course, I held back on the fear. You have to be a severely talented actor to incorporate real seeded emotion into your motivations and sustain your own sense of social detachment, I’m sure of it.
       Buffalino cajoled me, hooking his big gleaming red porkpie thumbs into the sickle-crescents of his snakeskin belt loops, and he advantageously dispatched his shoulder against the classroom chalkboard, his face smug, leaning idly and equipped with his bristling seraphic beardy mouth, gobbling up my inexpert sneer as though his thirsting eyes could divine nothing better or more deep-quenching than my own blusterous grimace. He called my bluff, like a wilding timberland wolf to a lowing caribou.
      ‘Geography assignment, Giles?’
      I sat dead-calm, eye-of-storm calm, unaffected, infinitely disaffected and expediently perplexed, my hands folded like chilli-mix tortillas, unevenly, all messily in a mess of extraneous materials, ‘cross the clutter of my lap.
      ‘Sir? What about it?’
      Buffalino, still idling with a languid leonine grace and lounging against the vacant, ungiving chalkboard surface, twitched mildly, mellifluously, demonstrably, his eyes holy and miraculous green.
      He had me. He would thrall and soar and seized that unalloyed moment whenever he reasoned it was plausible and inextricable that he had me. In a bind, sidled up on me, upon me blind, some strange savage sidewinder creep, exploiting the vulnerable precipice of my foundation of lies, disturbing its sonic equilibrium, its phosphorescent position of golden stability, so that he could basically reveal me as a cheat, a scoundrel, as an arbiter of disinterest and deceit. Buffalino’s eyes orbited ’round the interior of the sun-feebling room like malfunctioning, rambunctious interstellar Marty McFly craft, not Sputnik but spastic, right before the sorcerous coniferous hue of his peepers stole upon some braggartish twerp at the back of the class, and Buffalino tangibly levitated in paroxysms of self-adulation.
      His swatch of chins, like a sample-book of scarlet shades, went all manners of mural-red.
      He said to the kid: ‘Master Giles, here, has abhorrently and decidedly forgotten about the Geography assessment which was due for submission in today’s class. What do you feel, Master Rocco, constitutes a reasonable and rational punishment for this tendency of Master Giles’ to bungle in prioritising his school tasks?’
      Buffalino’s sordid eyes dipped and danced like streaming headlights through the English fens. Who the shit was this new kid Rocco? Why hadn’t I been introduced? What would the unfavourable genius monster at the back of the room conceivably say to Buffalino, what would he invariably hazard represented an imaginative exercise in discipline that I’d be forced to cop?
      My goddamn lousy-ass Geography essay. One thousand inspired and deliberatingly-annotated words about the island chain of Fiji, even extending so far as to discuss the zoomorphic nature of the coastline plant life, where pawpaws grew in bunches and sprouted to appear like shoals of parrots, and I’d sleepily shambled to school while the whole bedazzling and vaulted composition sat sluggish and defamed on the woodgrain of my table-top. This was a piss-poor Monday, you could be unaverringly sure, the freak of the assembled demented week dynasty. I sighed behind a penitent poker face, and lured the lurid pornography of the day to unfurl its naked tessellations of damage already, whispering darkly: You done especial good, here, Giles, you went and done especial good.
      Rocco, who I couldn’t twist ’round further or acrobatically satisfactorily enough to clamp my weepers on, he shifted in his blue sticky-backed Namco chair, and I heard him grinning, metres away, hotly straight onto the lingering hackles of my neck. The sneaky shark.
      ‘I think he should have to write a new essay, sir. One about the properties of Tesla electrick, sir. According to anybody who’s up-to-date on current affairs and not sheltering in a banana tree somewhere, we Tuvaluan have commenced construction on a Teleforce defence system. Was even on free radio the other morning, if you give much of a heated yak’s nipple for free-to-air populist correspondence. Says then that it’s a measure being built to offset any of the big environmental issues which could emerge over the next couple months, sir. That’s what my Da gone told me. In a fistful of months, he says everything’s gonna get so hot it’s only necessary to consider renewed stratagems and options if Tuvalu comes to be isolated from the rest of the Pacific.’
      Rocco must have looked opulent and grand as a goddamn pharaoh, you can be sure.
      Buffalino, with fists entwined behind back, his quince-shaped body projecting into the air like a faggot fruit corpuscle, smiled sharp as a pennywhistle and sweet as a punnet of vinaigrette strawberries.
      ‘Why Rocco, what an enterprising alternative. Having travelled and just recently making landfall in Australia with your parents, why don’t you accompany Master Giles this afternoon and introduce him to your family for some reconnoitre and verbal truth-sourcing? I’m certain our Giles’ll appreciate being privileged the opportunity to explore the expository floodgates of the Tuvaluan culture to come up with something both cunning and captivating — and of about fifteen-hundred words in specie — by Wednesday morning.’
      Buffalino sighed with venerable certainty, like a tundra fox in snowball country. He then turned, as though spun on a dime, to the prominent mire of maps and marginalia which made up our Year 11 textbook. Pages were rifled through, and cruel teenage laughter was squandered in the confines of the hour.


The tantamount reward at the sun-sequestered end of a chill, forlorn blue Monday is the insulated paradisiacal return home on the bustling, shuttling, wuthering bus as the passengers pile in like snarls of pubic hair beneath the elasticised band of your newly-championed birthday briefs; and as the big celestial yellow dildo of a vehicle disengaged from the kerbside platform, I watched the castles and citadels of the school diminish like salt crystals in a spat-hot Teflon frying pan, and as with the dissolution of said granule clusters, the atmosphere came to be oversaturated with the bone-dry bleak institution’s presence ’til I had to bunch against the window-pane and ease it open.
      Shit flew, fluttered and wheeled ’round like the starry prophesies of Ursa Major.
      Outside stank of road sweats and the Milton Brewery’s noxious yeasty plume. Someone behind me coughed, and something damp and skeletal crackled and fractiously popped before it was nominatively transferred to the fabric of a handkerchief and buried amongst the debris of forsaken others. I needed a shower. Piping water, my hair running in fingers through the webbing between my pinkening knuckles.
      Rocco inclined his head at me, barely discernible, his swarm of whistling, twistering deep-reef hair, adrift and carnivorous, fanning volubly into my own bracing gaze and bitten, unnegotiable smile while his earthen brown eyes disassembled me of my cowardice and fatigue — leaving an unyielding crabapple bastard there, not good, nor warm, nor even congenitally honest, just a broke rake with blunted hooks, like the latest pocket Gameboy handset sheathed in my shorts, the new Gambit X-Men wristwatch ensnaring my forearm, the cloth-bound hardcover edition of Watchmen struggling against the enclosure of my haphazard cherry Coke bag, chocolate bullets stored like an arsenal of spittoon tobacco in the pouch of a chewing puckered cheek. Me, a liquorice cowboy, notorious for my collection of crap, but not much of a human besides.
      ‘What’s your house like?’ Rocco smote me with his magmic, furnace-fuelled Balrog eyes. He held me like a pawnshop svengali in the cadaverous dim of a Joycean Irish bazaar.
      Knew people like this Rocco. The encapsulating nugget of terminology here was “huckster”. Mum told me outright this was the best way to justly and assiduously value someone who only lorded over a carpet littered with his own spurned, burned sweethearts. I think it was about then that I took stock of her melancholy humour, and likely strayed upon the thought that maybe she’d been winded by something. Huckster meant bastard, I ventured. And as we ventured forth in our engineered vacuum of pearlescent quiet, I reckoned that Rocco was some sincere and sorcerous animal of lax husbandry.
      And I reckoned so, because it meant I didn’t have to think too hard or too illuminably of home, or of myself, or of the wheel of tenacious chaos and the pounding swell agitating about my dumb gut, instructing me to listen, telling me that my family was at war. Because the sorriest thing about civil eruption ain’t that the bigger noble causes or stratagems are established as cornerstone obstructions to dissuade the intervention of a peacetalks, nah, what’s most sorry is the little people who get isolated in the crossfire, remaindered to an inexorable state of slow bleeding out in the neutrality zone, kids like Chipper and me, while the distorted world’s dukes and ladies of empirical cruelty doddle about with vain oxbrained ignorance to set things sweetly — people like my parents or my teachers or my forebears or my God and his infantry of unempathic angels.
      It’s the staggered fortune of the small, to be always blunted on the hallowed bonce with the brunt of the torment. I think I hope for a better breed of people, who don’t have to pull apart everything worthwhile to work out whether it can be rewired differently.
      ‘Be straight with me, is your home a pisshut, Giles?’
      ‘Look, we’re only going there to gather my tape-recorder, cassettes, my moleskine, and some bootleg 78’s.’
      I attempted to coax forth the sneer, manifest its magnificence, lure its lurid descent, channel the cool. I botched it up, my face bristling over like a sentient toothbrush. My expression fell like a termite-terminated flophouse, and I suddenly became obscenely glum.
      ‘My house is boring, Rocco. It’ll only take a quick poke.’ If I were more of a verbal charlatan, I’d have tried for broke and invented some percolating sex-heady innuendo, then, to capitalise upon the potential of my last sentiment, to make Rocco comfortable, or make him dig me, but I’ve never been good with spontaneous humour, which is a volatile material like petroleum. It’s always an ignition away from going up in flames or getting out of hand. ‘It’s just a normal sucko-stucco house. We even have a temporary cemetery out back for dead pets.’
Rocco bridled, his teeth flashing mercury and silver. ‘How temporary?’
      ‘You’ve got a point.’ I frowned.
      We sat in a nexus of silence, and I indulged the idea that we were deaf and mute ragtime minstrels traversing into the greater cartographic climes of Auchenflower. This imagining evaporated like pieces of the host, and I hastily grappled with the Windsor knot of my uniform necktie, Rocco observing me as though I demanded his rapturous attention, like I held a beehive to his asshole.
      ‘It’s only two streets away now. My house, not the temporary cemetery. Though I s’pose it’s not inaccurate to say that it’s both.’ I winced, and twitched, and exhaled. ‘It’s not like we render meat from local vagrant neighbourhood dogs or anything, see. When Chipper, that’s my brother, when Aurelius, that was Chipper’s angelfish, when Aurelius died, we piled him into an old battered shoebox, and set it alight. Damn thing glowed thorny and bright, like the fish was made of tinder and tar. Anyway, since then, my cat Seychelles hacked her final hairball, and Dad’s New Caledonian green rosella suffered coronary asphyxia, the vet kept saying he was so sorry, why the fuck was he sorry, he had nothing to do with our lives, and nothing whatsoever to do with the bird’s death. Whatever. We just like to keep our memories close. This is us. Press the button.’
      The bell chimed, and Rocco and I tramped down the access steps to my local bus-stop, schizophrenic with full-blown afternoon daylight, the big yellow dildo disembarking jauntily and receding from the suburban kerbside like an espionage submersible into the wending waters of the Rhine. I watched the bus-driver watch me as the hellride careened over the closest hillcrest. He probably thought we were vandals. And he’d be right, of course. Rocco and I were sixteen, after all.
      Rocco insisted then that he knew the way, which he didn’t, and he darted harryingly across a fjord forged in the open-lane two-way traffic sprawl, and the cars accommodated him as though a bent, hellish ladybird intent on braving new entomological wildernesses through a crusading phalanx of Amazon fire ants.
      There was an irrefutable moment of temporal torpidity, where everything slowed down enough to catalogue it in the currency of mint-unfurling heartbeats, and I stood there, scared out of my fucking skull that some rash precocious little beach-blighting freak I had only met and hadn’t attempted to dignify enough to know, or comprehend, or love in any worthwhile significant way, would get hit, would straggle and omit to observe the annihilative surge of the beetling, brigand autovehicular-valiant Volkswagen swelling his way — watch Rocco be hit, startle and flap like a corrupted poundcake and skirt the kerb and lie lame before me, with blood coagulating behind his teeth, his eyes destroyed of their wind and speed and vivid stealth.
      It was irrefutable, that moment, that notion, because someone as comfortable and deprived of reverberating tragedy as myself deserved it. That was the sad truth about it.
      Rocco now stood, alert as a duke amongst meerkats, on the opposite lick of agate-cool blue pavement, grinning with miracle triumph, ’cross from me as I read the coda of the streets. I looked up, met his gaze. I could smell the obscenity of victory from beyond the two lanes of rhapsodic, thundering traffic, hot and pungent on each of his fish-mouth exhalations. It stank of strawberry Fanta and impure dope.
      ‘Fuck you doing, Giles? All the ladies are in motion. Ain’t you gonna wing in, and show them you can dance?’
      I exalted across, like I was pursuing Arabian stallions.


Rocco’s house, I later am privy to appreciating, is not really too dissimilar to my own: insomuch that I dwelled in an anarcho-syndicalist multi-eaved Queenslander château overrun by my Dad’s savage and logic-defunct whims and ever inspiritedly thwarted by Chipper’s torrents of rape-and-burn vocal spats; and in this way, Rocco’s family loved him too.
      We made our quiescent way off the road and rounded the neighbourhood procession of uninspired hedgerows. Perhaps fomenting a tenuous graft on the concept of follow me home, Rocco hovered two feet in front of me, his heels parping a singular elasticised tennis-sole intermezzo, the cool collusive blue shadow of his trudging form ghosting upon my brow. The course ringlets of his hair, I realised, reminded me of the media of an abstractionist school art enterprise gone volatile. Ebony pipe-cleaners conspiring to sack dermatological dynasties.
      I thumbed at my own mucky marigold cowlick, twisted fingers into the splendour of freakish strawberry blonde bangs, and evicted a forlorn cicada whom had omitted absorbing the tenancy fine-print. He’d apparently already unpacked all the furniture, too, because he made an awful tizz about being issued his marching orders. Fucking Brisbane summers.
      My family’s too-barren mango tree was weeping its newest brace of orange Arkley-ish stonefruit misshapen mishaps — things that were foetal and pathetic and sour-tasting and the colour of nicotine smeared between weathered brown finger-knuckles, and they fell into the gables and guttering of my house with flatulent vibrations, dappling the burnt umber terracotta of the rooftop with a dot-painting texture of tea-yellow filth. And there amongst the slops of his prehensile Laputan kingdom, the marsh of rotten fruit brimming from between the shingles, was my Dad, dressed in underwear as peerlessly stained as the roof was lathered.
      A more obscene zeitgeist pair of cotton Y-fronts no moment had ever demanded.
      ‘Look lively, Giles, son,’ came his staggered Liverpudding murmur, that perfect paternal Britonian tripe.
      The plumed parachute of a miraculously horrific green mango dipped our way, plummeting from those famed hands, my father’s belligerent black bear paws, and Rocco badgered into the acanthus patch like the catastrophic fruit promised a cannonade of hellfire.
      I watched it sail past the tip of my unshirking nose-tippy, and spatter in a rapture of pitiable zoomorphic bliss against the linoleum pathway. Mango juice streamed onto the shanks of my uniform slacks. I turned my face up to gauge the unexpressed pedigree of my Dad’s barbaric response. With willed nonchalance, he dusted a film of frutrient pulp and patina’d perspiration off the tallow upholstery of his shining torso.
      ‘Ah, Christ, I’m smeared in the shit. Look, take your friend ’round the back, and tuck into some ginger ale, okay?’
      My Dad had been heralded a contemporary champion of renaissance football, ushering in a revitalised age of innovative play and lithe field formations, the self-made charioteer of a resurging caravan of sporting legends, but this was all twenty-two years ago now when national footy was still considered in this country as an artisanal form of fame, and albeit my Dad could be deduced as the agent of a millennial rugby reformation now popularised by whippersnapper coaches and notorious dimestore tabloids, though he was always good, sometimes phantasmagoric, nevertheless his intravenous rage at the uninspired establishment, and at the way his betters abraded him regarding fair play, meant that before long, in the winter of his thirty-second year, he quit professional gameplay, divorcing himself of the modes and mores of those whom were indebted to his precocity, citing his exit from the pasture of furious football due to reasons of personal epiphany.
      His “parting shot” at the patriarchs of the game was soon denounced by the papers as the unwholesome sentiment of a beleaguered brigand, someone to whom football had never been the soul of his truculent sporting career, but I know and have ever known my father better than they — dixie-whistling ha’penny newspaper hacks of penurious wit and insipid verbal stamina — and I’m fond to believe that Dad had volubly gambled on having exhausted the withstanding reserves of the game, had simply stalked down the locker-room corridor embiggened by a trust in the spirit of the future, captivated by the elixir of a secret satisfaction.
      He’d told them, ‘You’ll all never understand the savagery and beauty and piety of professional rugby with your heads entombed in the linen of folding money and intimately spooned in slumber by the sharp cheesecloth spines of forgotten historical archives and idiot editions of stagnant game regulations. Moreover, you’ll never understand the pure ebullient song of it, when the ball’s delivered into the cache of your steady, hungering hands and the paddock flattens out with miraculous loyalty as though seraphim are blowing down their brassy bugles just for you, the grass as sweet as the sting of a bullwhip coastline wave stretching terrific and calm for kilometres, the whole complicated origami of having to function just being unfolded and laid out without the lush or blight of a single stray crease. You’ll never understand the joy of it. Now the gallantry of the game’s been rent asunder, and you can be sure if anyone were high enough up, it’d look to them like someone seditious had taken a whole hawthorn of parasites, shaken them onto a field, and informed them that one of their kind was wounded.’
      This is what he’d said to them, my Dad, a moment after he was cherished as an incendiary oracle of football’s fiery future, and a moment before his legend was dethroned, toppled and strewn to proverbial piranhas.
      Two decades ago, he’d been as interminable as lightning-in-a-bottle and as inextricable with the new century as a Dodge Viper or the invention of the eeny-weeny bikini.
      Two decades ago, my Dad had been the exuberating familiar of the alchemists of fate, predetermined to bring on the golden era of football. But he’d been deceived by the mulattos of destiny like we all were, anticipating the edification of a time of discovery and surrendered caprice. So I’d often find my father out there on the pitch of the local field, and as is the wont of someone seduced by the largesse and wonders of Brisbane’s suburban projects, I’d stumble upon watching my Dad through the hexagonal mesh of the trespasser-slighting wire, while he bent low and laboured over the common oval dirt, telling it stories, promising it a love that my own mother would never know. And maybe I romance rhyme and metre too much when I recall this, but I’d never see my Dad look so liberated, so reverent and free, as when he submerged himself into the perfume of the fresh-cut turf, and mythologised a tale of the perfect pass.
      I don’t know why people have to be so jumbled up all the time, I just don’t. It must be something to do with enabling our interspecial survival, surely, but sometimes I think it wretched that we all have to be this fucked up in order to brave and survive the slings and madness and throes of the world. Why can’t it be like how I feel I’m owed: brimming with the cascade of real laughter and diminished worry? The more I give it notice, the more I realise I feel like I was stiffed a promise somehow, sometime, before I saw something other than prisms of fractal sun dancing about in amniotic fluid, some time long ago.
      ‘You ain’t just gonna dawdle now, are you, Giles, son?’ He lullabied Rocco and I from on high.
      ‘Nossir, we’re right now going to tuck into some ginger ale, and I’m going to show my friend Rocco my room.’


My room was unimaginatively Spartan of the higher values of decency.
      Phosphorescent streams of aqueous pollution-peppered gunge, riven with the prehistoricised archaeological evidence of half-considered hot sausage pizzas burst the banks of my tepid blue carpet, inciting the dissonance of unkindly, disloyal silverfish.
      Shoes spewed the guts of savaged socks from the surfaces of engorged and fluted tongues. Posters curled like decay-demolished plant matter, shunning the watermark sneers rippling and goosepimpling the plasterwork, only to remainder a diaspora of forsaken Blu-tac upon the walls’ earthen contours, shiny lost globules and pink-diaphanous scabs.
      Shit hung from door-knobs and computer swivel chair and bedhead and the conversative jowls of overburdened cupboard drawers. Somewhere my pet salamander was slinking through the foliage of my sprawl of decadence with apocalyptical abandon. Baroque and disastrous ovoid clumps of tissues, solidified by the vagaries of either snot or semen, littered the torturous galaxial landscape as though dormant origami volcanoes primed to divorce their superheated jets of molten gold.
      See, bedrooms constitute the bane of my stream-clean, razzle-dazzle glory-galvanised journeyman’s plight. Such a responsibility compels me to minister to its enclosed carnage, always, lest it sidle up from the geometrical parameters of the tangible room itself, and like some disembodied skin, the possessed wizard’s broom in Fantasia, bear witness to it detach from the architectural skeleton, in a tectonic mass of domestic clutter; so I may pray penitently that it might overlook swallowing me into its amorphous density of boyhood flotsam. And at certain hours of diminishing twilight, I swear I’d hear things go crunch in the night, and I would lie there, prone in the deathly whirlpool of cascading dark, fearing that the ebbs and err of briny dusk’s black water rapids might yield to the emergence of some abomination dripping with the wash of nightmare, merely to pull me down, under, through the rent in our universe to the eventide kingdom of theirs.
      My bedroom scared the supper outta me, to be frank as the awoken sun. This is why I didn’t spend a lick of time battling to make the chamber clean: if I put myself to the task, I’d probably dissipate like my own swarm of cultivated dust, right into the vertices of that consuming teenage abyss. Much rather compact the terrain of my exquisite and frightful sloth down and dastardly with my twittering mannish feet, sheathed in the soles of lightning-blue Nike Pump™ trainers. Easier, that way. More brazen, lazy and more attenuated to the nature of a reveller of leisure.
      Who the shit was I kidding? The damn funkhole was beginning to brood on the nose. Both Rocco and I surveyed the sacked citadel of my design, implacable in the doorway as of bailiffs before the basilisk. I stumbled to my second-storey porthole and seduced the shutter open by imposing a lubricating massage of elbow grease. The window screeched with every sweet nothing.
      ‘Bury the dead pets in the yard, I heard.’ Rocco smiled with all that guile. ‘I see, I think we all appreciate the specifics.’
      ‘Plug up the smartass pipe, Rocco, and help me find my pocket recorder.’
      I waded into the marsh and caught the momentary tell of an onset of despair within my quavering solicitations. I turned ’round, and sighed in the wilderness of my abandonment, ‘You get that if we don’t summon up the content for this new assignment before Wednesday, we both get palavered with some powerful sort of long-staying detention? So start making like a scarecrow, come in here and shake off them verby-wordy mean reds.’
      I cast about me, spinning ’round like a Dickensian weathervane, deprived of direction and equilibrium. ‘Well? Some help, here?’
      Rocco’s unforgiving shit-eating smirk, like the most exacting militarised tortoise-shell tessellation, pummelled on and powered over the hazardous pitfalls of my haranguing gesticulations, swathing the territories of request and offense with his iron-shod tyre-tracks of cultivated amusement.
      He simply maintained his affectedly unaffected stance of superior dismay, festooning my room’s threshold with his immaculate and immobile laurels of heady, herbaceous nonchalance, angled rigid and puzzlingly aslant there, inert and brilliant with the mirth of mockery in my doorway, never provoked, above yielding to be yoked.
      I did not renege or recant my instruction, however; I, with lubricious intent to demonstrate the depths of my social invulnerability, turned my back upon him, the glass-island miscreant, opting toward treading water in the laden heath of my bedroom mire, peering painstaking and uninspiringly vacant, full not of spite nor chronic with the venom of boiling ire.
      I lent low, submerging my arms up to the higher extremities of my wrist joints deep into the reef of my wreckage, and while fossicking for providence amongst the piss and flotsam I felt the tactile edge of my moleskine, and so hauled with the reserves of the legendary and legerdemain — as splendent as Atlas — ’till I stood erect once more, grappling with a vellum-bound notebook prejudiced by the corrosive elements of banana peel and corrupted yoghurt. Rocco finally detached himself from the sovereign confidences of the hallway, propelling himself forward with a dismal pussyfoot, and I grunted gratitude for his begrudging acknowledgement.
      ‘Cheers for belittling me. Am glad you’ve now enjoyed and exhausted the elegant arsenal of diversions to be wrested with, mate, in your game of staying put and malingering ’round my door.’
      I kicked away the deflated hemispherical husk of a broken earth distractedly, smiting the conspiring confederacy of the Russian Federation and severing the Arabian landscape into blazing quarters against the lacquer-torqued wall above the bedhead.
      I balled up my fists to my sides, craned my neck, and traced the lingering tips of my peripheries across the aft fore-struts of the trapezoidal arches above me which extended to a steeple at the centre where the joints met. Feathering upon my upturned lashes, a velocity of disbanded golden motes of teeming dust: manna from on high.
      ‘Total damn pundit-saint you’ve been, Rocco, you should have no fear.’
      I looked at him then, in the eye, hooking him to exchange my gaze with an unaverting vehemence.
      My head felt so heavy, as though the basement upstairs in the muggiest confines of my mind was fit to erupt all of a sudden with the abundant remnants of plasterwork memorabilia from some crooked, yearning era of free radical thought and first-world presidential assassinations: from a time when my parents were still innocents, yet to indulge in the lavish sins and vagaries of cafeteria dates, blue-blazered discotheque liaisons, before the revelation of newly prized and procured vinyl records beneath the embellished quilt of a queen-size bed pungent with the scent of potpourri, trips to eat ice-cream in shards of caramelised waffle cone and watch the surging lordly manner and courtship of Sandgate’s seething sea against its limestone shore. So many memories of their regal, noblest and antlered love, all brought to nought, all sealed inside the vacuum of a diffusive post-marital agreement and every second weekend.
      I didn’t want every second fucking weekend. My Dad was never enabled the lackadaisical disloyalty to clutch me to his vast glorious chest when I was three years old every second fucking weekend. So why did Mum invite him over to tend to the roof anymore? We lived apart. We lived in different compartments now, as did that old life in those faraway yet non-apparent months prior, when I could still stumble into the kitchenette to find four separate porcelain mugs, to find Dad with his face buried in Mum’s neck and hair. Where was the delineation foreseen, then, when everything violently altered? Where was the decalcified bed of preserved bones, indicating that here had been a tragic and beautiful specimen, felled to ground by the twin chaos of deception and divorce? Where was the rage and the tyrannical mêlée we’d all anticipated to expect? Where was the fighting? Where was the starry sigils of love and pain?
      Why had it been this way: I myself have never touched a finger of scotch, but there are some old books I’ve read where the characters have glorified the heartstaggering way a cultured barman is capable of serving it, and I don’t imagine that you can get a drink neater than divorce. I thought there’d be tears shed and doorjambs ripped asunder and car wheels screaming away. I hoped they’d give me reason to cultivate all this fear, and all this sorcerous sorrow, but they didn’t, and they wouldn’t. They didn’t feel it would be fair on Chipper or I, to make it hard, to poison the cooperative spirit of their new covenant, kick and shout. But for he and I to understand the fall, for he and I to come to accept the brutality, there’s no injustice in my parents having conducted themselves monstrously and irredeemably. But they didn’t, they refused to; and that’s the unfairness in all of this; I shoulder this always, and it’s a testament I only wish would go as quietly as my own father.
      ‘This is ungovernable.’ Rocco perused the chaos. ‘There ain’t a single way I’m done goin’ to be able to locate anything worthwhile within this hellacious swamp without being guided by the compass of Amundsen.’
      Was he speaking candidly, or about the dreamless catastrophe within me, catalysing my misery?
      I shrugged, dismissing holocaust. ‘C’mon, Rocco, just wriggle ’round and see what you can collide with.’
      He did precisely this before I heard the shambolic shuffling progress of his perambulations stultify, and I pivoted ’round to best assign the reason for his present stasis. He was blanching with a dramatic mastery, hands prayerfully squandered in the faithless church of his chest.
      The light in Rocco’s eyes bent like yew trees beneath the silvering flare of a descending spacecraft. Tunguska Event tremors. He lowered the craw of his jaw to his risen breast, and smiled with the yellow humour of a coward midnight deep-sea diver before committing himself to the black implacable future. Rocco shuffled a bit before me, then: the only punctual member of a hypothetical barbershop quartet beneath the strobes of the limelight. Relenting, he held out his palms as if to confess for conspiring over the immediate erasure of any promise of a jubilant life awaiting me, and then divulged to me the domestic tragedy of my day.
      Duchess, my blue-spotted salamander, was squashed into his reverent fingers: her minute antediluvian head hanging slack, her opalescent eyes as immaculate and inscrutable to me as a long-distance call from a member of the female species. Dead lizard, the livery of her lurid flesh as absent of reptilian rainbow levity as if she’d been smote with the edge of a stone. I was sad. Rocco idled in the precarious smoke of shame. My lungs felt heavy, and the whole controversial coalescence of fricative atoms agitating to compose me now felt slow and fuzzy, as though windowpane bluebottles entrapped in jam-jars. I could sense it all slipping.
      Rocco deferred in apologising, proffering Duchess toward me, limp and alluring, by her tail, as though a Chinatown yakitori vendor.
      ‘I guess this proves that whole fucking cemetery business, eh, Giles,’ he said, his face stark with the alcohol of darkest mirth.
      Whatever I’d been attached to, whatever fulcrum thus far providing me stability had eased cataclysmically off the apex of its axis, then, and it all flooded from the deep cavernous gut of me: I laughed aloud, brilliant and lunatic, my head arching back as though I were a bantam with distended dewlap primed to throttle the wicked trespass of a new scarlet tomorrow, my laugh thick and ululating, as thick as burgundy summer wine and as heady with the unimpeachable latitudes of velocity as an accelerating kaiten torpedo; it ran with stealthiest flashing purpose out of me, like the shoots of an exotic flower or the multiple tendrils of an inundated river, and it shook the dust off the rafters to the wreathes of my shoulders as though I wore a cape fashioned from ethereal sunlight and purest particle mote.
      I took my dead pet salamander into my hands, and both Rocco and I laughed at the gravity and travesty of my rotten household kingdom.
      We went outside into the backyard, plunging Duchess into a sharp sheer-green Collins shoebox, and committed her mortal remains to the common dirt and asbestos of Brisbane soil.
      Chipper struck a match against his prominent front tooth, and set the amphibian sarcophagus alight. We watched the thing flame and crackle like kindling, and before the night decided to steal into our immediate surrounds, we each offered a small token elegy to the twistering, tormented grass at our feet that the animal would locate solace, somewhere, in a place beyond the stock and staging of earthen ken. Then we sneaky-Pete’d our way back up to the veranda on tiptoes, where we watched a storm begin to brood. Chipper got bindies, and both Rocco and I had banana Paddle-Pops.

My Dad told me, sometime around second-semester break, that the Tuvaluanese discovered Tesla.
      It all had something to do with microwaves and uncustomary heat, new categorical stipulations about the consequences of climate change and an influx of island asylum seekers, as well as signifying something of a concern for the Australian military defence department — that is, if the insular Pacific island instigated an international coup by accessing the port of Queensland. But my Dad talked a lot of shit, in those days, and I suppose I hoped he’d realise that I’d already experienced the prejudices of war, and that no xenophobic condition developed from suburban speculation-mongering was going to induce in me the same paranoiac sensibility of insecurity that I’d had when he’d introduced me to his new girlfriend. Perhaps something would eventuate from all this prospective tabloid wartime premeditation, but I wouldn’t allow it to haunt the sincerity or glow of my youth. Not yet.
      I liked the kid, Rocco, besides. Mum and Chipper liked him too, and for a time I felt the lofty closure of understanding that I’d sought, even if it was only exchanged in harried glances, or mutual laughter, or a long-standing detention commandeered by Mr. Buffalino after school.

Kirk Marshall is a Melbourne-based writer and teacher of English Literature and Media (Film & T.V. Studies) at RMIT University. He is the author of The Signatory (2012; Skylight Press); Carnivalesque, And: Other Stories (2011; Black Rider Press); and A Solution to Economic Depression in Little Tokyo, 1953. He has written for more than seventy publications, both in Australia and overseas, and edits Red Leaves, the English-language / Japanese bi-lingual literary journal. He now suffers migraines in two languages.
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