UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION
PAUL SHIELDS

The Last Act

It's all down there beneath my feet; West End, then off to the right the whole city.



Its early still and I have been up all night. The sun is squint slanting through the boxed humid green suburban gardens and bouncing off all the cranes and cables that rise up through the city like a conquering force in spiderwebs of blood orange and lemon. It has already burnt off the dew and today is promising to be at least as hot as the last week, too hot too wear jeans or sit on a leather couch. Later on, cracked eyes and double checked change will let you walk down the street around lunch time to see office workers struck down sweating as they turtle head duck out from their over conditioned, open planned offices into the bitumen stewing heat to fight for queue space with concreters, dog men, sparkies, chippies and plumbers 100 yard staring out from under their union stickered hard hats. Their faces tattooed with a permanent sunglass tan and the sponge inside them wrung to the last drop, getting ready to be drenched again with cold, awful mid strength beer from a plastic jug.

I have the last beer in the house stuck in my left fist. Cool and still unopened. It stays that way for another five minutes as I pick out the detail and smile. The laughter stopped a few hours ago. It had to. The cheque was signed a little after midnight with a drop onto my wrist and would soon be cashed in full. The floor was still flowing up a bit but not much. The pearl has gone and all that is left now is the memory and the grit and the dirt that made it all possible. I did a shit a few hours ago, green, and sweet and over powering but still haven't been able to stop farting. My stomach is still twisted and out of shape. Food will be difficult, but for now my only focus was the afterglow and the detail. I pour myself into the yellow brick of the wall, one arm cupped up under my pot belly the other turning the sweating bottle round and round in my hand.

She is still inside, face planted down into the pillow, all curls out the back and naked except for the old pair of basketball shorts I lent her, twisted up in a white cotton sheet shielding her against the blare and hum of the fan that's in there. I lean a little further forward 'round the corner and I can see her through the window I squint like I am playing peeping tom and smile a bit for it. The night is still with me as I look at her. The sweep and softness of those curls hasn't left my face yet, and I still feel the urgent grab and cup of my hand as she turned round in that crowded room to look me in the eye. The sheet covers the backs of her powerful legs and thighs responsible for the fire gypsy twirl and spun dips of the night before. The legs that walked her up to the park on Dornoch Terrace to see if our flag was flying still, where she was good at making me forget for a while as we sat and didn't talk. It was good then. Like we used to be. Right now she is better still. Right now she is sleeping promise, jacaranda Septembers, soft tongue and hope. Its nice out here on the verandah fooling myself with the whole day ahead, ignoring for a while longer the black ink stain shadow on my brain that knows it will be over soon.

Because if I close my eyes I can see it down there already. Through all the last glass bins dumped, checkered panted, plastic clog apprentices going to work, delivery vans and empty early morning buses. Down there I can already see it pump pumping along the street like an angry twisted fingernail cut too close to the quick, past Atomica, the Rumpy and Lock and Load. The bashed up red corrolla, its passenger side door swinging open into the left hand corners smashing its way up to us; awful white reggae distorting it's speakers and corrupting the untouched morning air. Its headed straight for us, coming up to ask the questions. Pop the bubble.

And all I can do is lean back into the safety of the wall, open my eyes and drink. The same city, a cardboard cut out stage set waiting for the next act spread out before me with no promises left. Soon she will be gone, taken away by the avalanche of what will occur next, but right now I still have the grit, and the dirt and her inside that made it all possible.

And all I can do is crooked teeth smile into the sun of what has to happen next.









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