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THERE IS NO TIME FOR GRIEF

Old photo of Ariel on bed - there is no time for griefI hadn’t slept in two days. I got to work at ten in the morning, drove home at about three in the afternoon. I drove to Vail’s home, parked on her driveway. I watched her house for a while before giving her a call. No one answered her phone, so I called the receptionist.

“Hello?”

“Hi.”

“Dean?”

“Who else would it be?”

The receptionist went quiet for a second. “I deleted your number.”

“I need to see you.”

“I don’t think it’s appropriate.”

“I’m driving over now.”

The receptionist and her new husband rented a small house in Underwood. She let me in, poured me some Coke. We looked at each other for a while.

She smiled slightly. “If my husband comes home early, he’s going to literally chop your cock off.”

“You know I thought you would’ve gained a lot of weight, but you look okay.”

“Why are you here?”

“Someone died.”

“Who?”

“A friend.”

She tucked some hair behind her ear. We spoke about a few things that weren’t that important until I finally walked over to the baby she held in her arms. I touched his hand, smiled. The baby was a tiny fucker. He had a lot of hair and his eyes – I envied his eyes: they were relaxed, they were happy, they were calm. Still smiling, I picked up the baby so that he was safely positioned above my head. He chuckled.

“You better not piss on my face.”

I lowered the baby, and it grabbed my finger with both of its fat hands. I couldn’t stop smiling at him. How could something like this just get created out of thin air? He’s going to grow up and become a boy, and then a man, and then he’s going to win at a few things and fuck up a few times and one day he’s going to be much more relevant than I am and one day he’s going to drive; one day he’s going to fly and one day he’ll start making other human beings and one day, well, he’s going to die.

How do I deal with grief? I make fun of other people. I take sleeping pills. I watch downloaded TV shows. I hide my grief in a corner somewhere, and once in a while it comes out in my writing. But the truth is there’s no time for grief. There’s time to fuck up, but there’s no time for grief. Time is free, but it’s not everywhere anymore – it’s rapidly running out. I placed my hand on the baby’s face.

I gave the baby back to the receptionist; she cuddled him and tapped his nose. The baby made a little noise. The receptionist looked up at me and told me a funny story about him; I don’t remember what the story was, but I remember laughing.

The receptionist and I just looked at each other for a while, not saying anything. Eventually, she opened her mouth to say something, but nothing came out. I headed back to my car and drove home, had some red wine, looked at a few photos on my phone, scrolled up and down my Facebook newsfeed, stared at the ceiling.

EVERYTHING ALWAYS ENDS UP IN YOUR BATHROOM

Girl on couch red

Life has been stupid lately. I was hired by the luxury car dealership to be their copywriter/designer/marketing person/driver, and as I happily accepted their offer and happily accepted their stable pay slips everything else outside my working life began to deteriorate: I wrote less, I saw friends less, I boxed less, I woke up at five in the morning every day and slept at nine in the evening every day. I became the type of person I never wanted to become. But the money was amazing, and for the first time in a long time it was actually present in my life. Who the hell doesn’t like money?

It was also time to end whatever I was doing with Jamie. There were plenty of things I was growing to greatly dislike about Jamie. Her hair. The way she constantly ate. Her healthy drug addiction. Her face. Once, she sent me a video of her drunk and dirty dancing with a female friend, but it just didn’t look right. So I planned to end things once and for all the day after we went to her friend’s house warming.

“You’ll really get along with her crowd,” Jamie said as we drove there. “They’re all artist types. Your kind of people.”

The house warming was up north. The house was a big house, an old house, and every room smelt like their ugly dog: this big grey thing that fucked everything it looked at.

“You know what?” I asked Jamie. “Dogs hump everything but I never see them come. When do they come?”

After a bit of walking around, Jamie introduced me to her friend, Amy. Amy was wearing a bikini made out of garbage bags and staples. The words FUCK RU$$IA were painted again and again all over her legs. I looked at her, and then at Jamie. “I bet you guys are best friends because your names rhyme.”

“You’re absolutely right,” Amy said without smiling.

With the exception of Amy and a guy in a Hawaiian shirt, everyone else in that party wore extremely tight jeans, thick-rimmed glasses and either a piercing on their nose or multiple piercings on their ears, or both. Most of them were freelance graphic designers, freelance web designers, freelance copywriters, baristas, interns, drama students or painters who haven’t painted anything yet.  The guy in the Hawaiian shirt turned out to be a writer.

“So I hear you’re a writer, too,” he said.

“Sometimes I think I am.”

“You should read my book,” he said. “It’s about these two characters trapped on an island. I’m going to submit it for a Vogel award.”

“Really?”

“Yeah I presented it at the Brisbane Writer’s Festival last year. It’s just gripping, you know? Well, more shocking than gripping, because you see the breaking of innocence. These two characters, they’re this innocent older couple, married a few years, just wanting to have a vacation in an exotic island they saw advertised online. But then, the horrors that happen to them… as I was telling my friends in my writer’s meetup… it’s quite a literary experience. Because every assumption you, the reader, will have, will be broken.”

“I’ll be sure to Google you.”

“I have a copy of the book over there,” he said, “you know, if you want to buy it now.”

“I don’t have money,” I said. “But I’ll look you up.”

“Jamie told me you had money.”

“Jamie’s a liar.”

You’re a liar,” he hissed before walking off.

“Hey.”

I turned around. It was Amy. “You scared the shit out of me.”

“Let me show you something,” she said, her eyes wide. She was high. She brought me to her bathroom, which was crammed with about four other people. She opened her mouth and showed me her tongue, which had a pill on it, and kissed me before grabbing a bottle of beer and pouring its contents down my throat. She kissed me again, grabbed another pill, pulled her garbage bag bottoms down, and forced it up her anus. Her eyes fluttered; she smiled.

She placed another pill on my index finger. “Your turn.”

“What is it?” I looked around at the four other people in her bathroom: one was passed out, two were making out, one was just wide-eyed, staring at me, smiling, drooling.

“All that matters is that you swallow one, and push the other one up yourself. It’s like, so much better than meditating.”

I did it, and then I smiled at Amy, and she smiled back at me, and I told her that I’m going to be afraid to sniff my finger or scratch my eye for the entire night. She ignored me and began telling me about Buddhism. About veganism. About capitalism. About how we need to change our ways. About this book called The China Study. She squeezed my balls, and I screamed, and then she laughed. She took my hand and guided me to her bedroom and we drank things, lots and lots of things, and then we took turns with her fancy looking bong, and then we argued about something I no longer remember – all I remember was that the argument quickly became a horrific one. I began to strangle her, and then she began to strangle me, and as our faces turned red and as our eyes began bulging we both let go and laughed. I ran to the bathroom and washed my hands and then got the fuck out of there. I saw Jamie on the way out and I gave her the finger and told her that I hated her before running – sprinting – out of the house. I saw my car and I ran on top of it, and I kept running. I wanted to run home. I knew it would take days to run home, but I wanted to run home. I was so happy. I texted some people. I hadn’t been that happy in months, years, ever. I looked up, at how clear things were and decided, then and there, that I wanted to be a fireman, because firemen got the girls. I sat down, crossed my legs, and began listening to something by Buddy DeFranco, whoever the hell he was. For some reason Jamie was behind me again, and her eyeliner was just so pretty and so perfect, and we were in her bathroom and she was giggling and beautiful warm water was running down both of us. I was also giggling. I asked her if I pissed my pants and she said Yes, you prick! You pissed all over me. I told her that she was my best friend, and that I loved her and that I wanted to impregnate her, twice. She was turning transparent. She pulled out the razor blade she used to shave her legs and began shaving my pubic hairs, and I told her not to, but she did, and I kissed her, and then I suddenly died and I saw blood everywhere and Jamie screamed, but then I came back to life! I came back to life! I woke up to my phone buzzing.

Everything was dark. I fumbled around and eventually managed to pick it up – my head was spinning and everything was throbbing, and I could barely make out what the person was saying so I kept asking them, “What?” until I was finally able to comprehend a tiny piece of it: the person, a sobbing young girl, kept saying again and again and again, “Ariel is dead. She killed herself, we need some money to pay for…” and everything shrank, and the darkness of the room kind of crumbled and gave way to even more darkness, and I yelled and I cried and Jamie asked me what was wrong and I kept yelling and screaming until I fell back to sleep.

JUDE AND ARIEL IN MY DREAM

confetti in blue dream - short story

There’s a rumour that’s going on about the world. That it’s ending. That food is running out, that resources are running out. There’s a rumour that the government, which is more than happy to spy on people but begins arresting them if anyone reveals any of its secrets, will one day control every single thing, even our thoughts, if they aren’t already. There’s a rumour of meteors coming, of demons rising out of the earth, of aliens raping young men. There’s a rumour about the sun exploding and wars getting worse and people being racist and people being bored and people being greedy and people eventually blowing each other up until all we have left is an entire island of shit.  But none of that matters. The only thing I’ve really been caring about is where I’m going to get my money from.

I was accepted for government assistance, and the money they gave me was much more than I made while doing freelance work or from selling my books. But it didn’t feel right. I had to regularly apply for jobs, no matter what the industry and distance from home. I had to regularly drive Jude’s car to Inala and line up with a bunch of other people and meet with someone and talk about what I’d been doing with myself and if I’d been applying for jobs properly. I didn’t want to tell them anything. I didn’t want to rely on the government for money.

One morning I called Centrelink, asked them to stop sending me assistance money (they said “okay” right away) and headed to the casino. I tried to imitate what my friends did while gambling and lost about four hundred dollars. I went to the library, updated Generation End, sent some short stories to arts magazines, looked up job ads and then covered my head and slept for a while. I had this dream about Ariel and Jude, and in the dream they were flying around and Jude was naked and his eggplant shaped (and coloured) penis was massive and he was giving me the finger. Ariel was crying and so was I.

“Are you angry at me?” I asked her.

“I’ll always be angry at you, Dean. I’ll always, like, resent you.”

She hovered right in front of my eyes and held my cheeks and we almost kissed, and I watched her eyes, her battered, bruised and swollen eyes, and her pupils were glittering; pushing her warm forehead against mine, she whispered something softly, tenderly, caringly: she told me that there are things that I should still love about myself, that there are things, although miniscule, that she still loves about me, and that I should have at least one thing to show for in this world, at least one fucking thing. I told her that she was beautiful and that I was sorry. She kissed my forehead and bruised it and I woke up thinking that I pissed my pants in public.

I drove to Kangaroo Point, went for a jog and stopped and stared at the river before spitting on it. I drove to a university and found my favourite shower and showered with a bar of soap I kept in a plastic bag; afterwards I sat on a bench and watched the students for a while, waiting for something dramatic or significant to happen. When nothing happened, I drove to a luxury car dealership with my resume and asked for the marketing manager. “Listen,” I told him. “I saw your ad and thought I’d apply in person.”

“Can you do press releases?” he asked me. He was a big guy.

“Yeah.”

“Social media?”

“Yeah,” I smiled.

“Events?”

“Sure.”

“CSS and PHP?” he asked.

“Yup.”

“Media buying?”

“Yeah sure, media buying is great. Did it heaps last year.”

“SEO?”

“Did SEO this morning.”

“Dealer Socket?”

“All the time.”

He narrowed his eyes. “You’re lying about a lot of these.”

“Well, isn’t everyone a liar in their own right?”

“No,” he said. “The people I work with are generally honest, hard working people.”

“I’ll get you a coffee,” I said. “Want a coffee? Shit, please. I’m a hard worker and I can write like hell and I’m desperate. Exploit my desperation!”

He said he was too busy for coffee, but he took my resume and smiled and said he might call me again because of my sense of humour, but just maybe. I left the dealership, did the same thing to three other businesses.  I drove to Jamie’s home and we watched DVDs (This is The End, American Psycho, Notebook) and I didn’t tell her that I’d been sleeping in Jude’s BMW for the past few weeks. She put her hand on my lap, and I looked at her, and she looked at me, and I opened my mouth but decided to close it again, and she sighed, and I drank double the amount of wine that she did.

 

***

NEWS: My book of short stories, Surface Children, recently received a #1 and #2 ranking on Amazon’s Kindle store. GET A COPY.

A POINTLESS THEORY ABOUT LOVE

Ariel with bearThings weren’t going so well for Ariel and I so she flew us both to Melbourne for two days. We caught the SkyBus to our hotel and checked in and when we dropped our bags on the carpet we looked at each other and laughed for no reason; she said she was tired, but the day was never coming back again so we better make the most of it. I told her that days do happen again, that they happen again and again and again, that in fact I had the exact same Wednesday last week. She didn’t reply. I lay on the bed as she walked into the shower and just watched the ceiling for a while before sitting back up to stare at the TV.

We left the hotel, entered Little Collins Street, bought a few expensive pizzas.

“You know what I like about Melbourne?” she asked me.

“What?”

“The people,” she smiled.

“The hell you on about? We haven’t spoken to one person yet.”

We visited a few places I’d been to before: the library, a gallery, a tourist information centre, the QV building, Off Ya Tree, some side streets with graffiti, about a thousand Pie Faces; we met a busker who had a sign in front of him that said, JUST THE TIP, I SWEAR, and he told us that a feminist threatened him for an hour because the sign contained a joke about rape. We returned to the tourist information centre and considered booking a tour to see the penguins, but changed our mind. We went to a café: she ordered a cup of mocha and I ordered wine.

“Are you happy?” she asked me.

“Are you?”

“Right now, I’m happy.”

Like always, we spoke about our dreams. She told me about the properties she was going to have all over the world and I told her about the airplanes I was going to have. She told me that she wanted Gucci bags, Dolce & Gabbana bags, a room full of shoes. I told her that I wanted to like, build a school or something, for you know, for where the poor people live. She told me that she was going to buy a unit for her aunt and a bunch of units for her cousins. I told her about swimming with a ukulele in a large swimming pool, about a large bed, about stress-free sex, blue skies, dark skies, the sun going up and down and left and right, stars falling like thumbtacks and how in the future, when I walk into any store, I’ll no longer look at price tags. Then she told me about how her boss was still threatening her for only taking on a small number of clients because of me, that she used up a large portion of her savings for this trip. Her forehead creased, she slouched, she looked into her drink. I told her that she shouldn’t have flown us here. I also told her that I wasn’t working anymore. I said, “We just have to win the lotto and we can get out of this mess.” And she put her hand on mine and told me to never put my hope in easy money.

It was evening by the time we finished and there were buskers everywhere. They danced, they sang, they played the guitar. After eating at this Vietnamese restaurant that Bill Clinton had apparently once eaten in we went for a walk and found this crowded rooftop bar and ordered wine. “Congratulations, Dean,” Ariel said, raising her glass to me, and I asked, “Why?” and she said, “For publishing your first book. I’m so proud of you.” We drank some more, but by ten we were no longer in the mood. We stumbled back to the hotel room. I threw her on the bed and took her shoes off. I took off mine. I lay next to her and we looked at each other. I was tired and the wine had made me drowsy. She asked me if I still had the bear and the ring she gave me, and I told her that I did. “My bear is in my purse and I’m wearing my ring. Where did you place yours?” When I didn’t reply she asked me if I was seeing other girls now to get back at her for everything she was doing with her clients and I told her that I wasn’t. A tear fell out of her eye. She pushed my hand away, pulled a tissue out of her purse. She wiped her eyes. “We’re going to have to end this,” she mumbled. “What?” was all I could ask her before eventually closing my eyes and falling asleep to dream about something I no longer remember. The bear was in my room. The ring was in my pocket.

 

***

 

NEWS: My book of short stories, Surface Children, is now available on Amazon.

Check it out here.

HOW TO WRITE A BOOK AND NOT GET PUBLISHED

Rejection letter - Generation End

When I remember myself and when I remember my life it will all be portrayed in black and white. It won’t be in HD or 3D and it’ll be lower than low budget; the screen quality will be a little fuzzy and sometimes you’ll have to bang the screen to see it properly. A lot of the scenes, the scenes that weren’t really integral to the plot anyway, will be edited out. But they’ll still leave some repetitive bits and pieces in there to make it look kind of indie, like the scenes of me driving for hours, or the scenes of me just staring at the ceiling, or the scenes of me chucking a shit.

I’ve written about four or five novels, all unpublished and all repeatedly rejected by publishers and literary agents. For money, I’ve taken up a whole range of jobs.  I’ve delivered pizzas. I’ve worked in a butcher shop, a sushi shop, a noodle shop; I’ve worked as a copywriter for a major corporation. I hated them all.

Someone, I forgot who, once told me to keep writing books even if no one’s reading them. There’s a lot about what I do that I don’t often tell you about. In between all of my moments of love and loss and all that other shit are hours and hours of me sitting in front of a laptop, typing, or hours and hours of me writing things on napkins while I’m out, or several evenings when I tell people I can’t join them because I have to stay home to write or edit or work on a cover letter for a literary agent. Although I write about a lot of depressing things, I have to remain optimistic. Heartache may serve as fantastic fertiliser for good work, but all artists need optimism, no matter how unattractive it may be – our lives literally depend on it. Surface Children is the first “book” I’ll be publishing on my own. I know I keep saying this, but it’s almost done.

Anyway I only had one source of income and I fucked it up. I lost my only client – the two women who were paying me good money to write for them every week. Apparently I’d been missing all of my deadlines and had been drunkenly texting one of them, the one with the bigger ears, at four in the morning too often. They fired me via email.

“Ariel?”

“Yeah?”

“Did I wake you up?”

“You did,” she said softly. She was quiet for a while and I pictured her lying there with her eyes still closed. Eventually: “What time is it?”

“How the hell should I know?”

“Are you still coming by the bar tonight?”

I looked downwards, at me knee. “Yeah. Yeah, I’ll see you tonight.”

I picked my car keys up and drove to a shopping centre. I walked to an ATM and checked my account balance: there wasn’t much left. I just stared at the screen, at the numbers and the pixels, until someone behind me cleared their throat. I withdrew three hundred dollars to pay for Ariel for the evening and sat down in the food court somewhere and did nothing.

“Hey, stranger.”

I looked up. It was the girl from the clothing store, Jamie. “Hey.”

She looked at the empty table in front of me. “Having fun not eating lunch?”

“You can join me if you want.”

“My break’s nearly over,” she said, but sat down in front of me anyway. “You look sad.”

“Who doesn’t?”

“You’re not working today?”

I crossed my arms. “I don’t think I’m cut for work. I don’t like people baiting me with money to dictate how I spend the rest of my life.”

“You’re going to have to support a family with that mindset one day.”

I didn’t reply.

“You should start your own business,” she said finally.

“Want to have a drink with me?”

She looked at her watch. “Come get me at five? We can like, drink then.”

I drove to some kind of RSL club, went to the pokies and lost ten dollars. I went to the bar and ordered a house red, followed by a whiskey dry, followed by another house red. I drove home, went online and looked at job listings. I closed the window and went to the Centrelink website and started writing an application for income support but closed the window again. I read a book, threw it against the wall, picked it up, threw it against the wall again. I fell asleep, woke up and drove to the shopping centre and picked Jamie up at five forty. We drove, slowly, to some place near the city that she heard about. We had dinner, we had lots of drinks. In the parking lot she told me that she was going to pass out soon, and I turned my phone off, and, while looking outside my windscreen, she said, “It’s funny. It’s funny how, like, you can only see the stars when it’s dark outside,” and I put a sleeping pill in her mouth before taking one for myself and we both fell asleep in my car.

 

**

SOME NEWS: I’ve almost completed editing my book of short stories, Surface Children. If you haven’t already done so, subscribe now to receive three free stories and be one of the first to find out of its release.

HER FACE WAS DRAWN WITH CHARCOAL

Ariel - generation end

I want a lot of things. I want a big black car. I want a bunch of money. I want to feel postmodern, relevant, sleepy. I want to eat the stuff that makes the clouds. I want to fuck the moonlight.

I want to forget a whole lot of things. But there are also a few bits and pieces of my life that I want to remember forever. Like this time when Ariel and I booked a motel for a night. It was a shitty motel and there were stains on the sheets and we just lay there, staring at the ceiling in silence. Once in a while we’d talk about people in our lives, or once in a while we’d watch videos on YouTube from my mobile phone, or once in a while we’d glance at the window outside, or once in a while she’d turn to me and ask with slight dread, “What’s going to happen to me?” and I’d feel sick inside, so I’d tell her a joke, any joke I could come up with. She walked to her battered pink purse and pulled out two small teddy bears and two rings. “I bought these for you,” she said, and gave me one of the bears and one of the rings. Trying not to appear too affected by it, I looked them over (the ring had LOVE ME, OK? engraved into it) and said thanks and mumbled that it’d been a while since a woman had given me anything, and for some reason she cried and eventually fell asleep with her mouth open, and I kissed her forehead and as she slept I began texting a girl I met in a clothing store.

Ariel frequently reassured me that she was a person, that she was real. She had dreams. She dreams. She could feel it when I pinched her and she could feel it when I insulted her. She looked better without makeup, but only if I didn’t see her in the morning. Once, she took me to a church in the city, this big but quiet cathedral that had five or so people in it. She pointed at the altar and told me to look at it and then slapped my arm and told me to stop looking at it because I was staring at it for too long. She told me to bow my head and pray, to ask for things I’d never asked for before. She always talked about wanting to be wealthy but never bought expensive things. She loved McDonald’s and would always laugh as she threw fries at me. She rarely finished her food. She read books. She listened to James Blake. Her teeth were unusually perfect. Her lipstick was unusually perfect. When she’d drink she’d often lie to me, or get some girl to call me up and pretend that it was her. She told me to keep going to the gym.

One evening she said this: “Listen, if things between you and me, if they don’t pan out… I want you to keep working. But work smart. Work at being happy. Stop reading such depressing books. Help people. Forget about all the short term stuff. We’re in a rut, a really bad rut, but one day, if we just keep working, the success will snowball. I truly believe in it. Invest, okay? Can you promise me you’ll invest?”

Ariel’s business partner’s threats were getting worse – he even began raising the interest on her debts. She told me the only way for neither of us to go broke or get harmed was for her to take on one or two “old friends” again. One of these old friends was a teacher, just like her first boyfriend. He’d been texting her repeatedly and begging her to meet him again. When she finally agreed, he took her to Movie World, which was perfect, because she’d never been there before. This guy, this teacher, he was tall and thin and had a horrible childhood and wore glasses that never looked even on his face. He loved books, he’d been to India, he’d been to Kazakhstan. He had rough yet gentle hands. He liked to wear perfume and he smiled a lot even if he was often lonely, and, while with her in the very bar that I first met her, he drew her face with charcoal and told her that he’d never hurt her, no matter how she treated him or what decisions she wanted to make in life.

 

 

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SOME NEWS: I’ve almost completed editing my book of short stories, Surface Children. If you haven’t already done so, subscribe now to receive three free stories and be one of the first to find out of its release.

ARIEL’S AUNTIE

Generation End - Ariel's aunt - TV set

I wonder what it’d be like to be popular. Are popular people happy? How long do they spend on the phone? How much do they spend on birthday presents? How many friends do they have on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter and Vine and whatever the hell else is out there?

As I approach my late twenties I’ve come to realise that the number of people I can actually call my friends have decreased significantly: all I really have left are Jude, Ariel and sometimes Vail. Since Jude was somewhere in Africa and Vail was I don’t know where, I found myself spending a lot more time and money on Ariel, who was starting to look more and more tired and unhappy as the weeks went by.

“My business partner’s not happy, Dean,” she said. “Ever since I committed to you I’m not bringing in new business anymore. Don’t you get it? I still have to pay him back. You don’t understand the kind of pressure he’s putting on me.”

“Let’s drive to the Coast,” I said, trying to cheer her the hell up. “I have Jude’s Audi and we can go shoot some rifles at the shooting range.”

“The Coast? My aunt lives there. Hey, why don’t we visit her instead?”

“Hey, why don’t we go to the bloody shooting range?”

Ariel kept quiet.

Ariel’s aunt’s home was small and incredibly clean. It smelt like Windex. Ariel and her parents hadn’t spoken in years (“I hope they lose their legs!”) so to her, her aunt and her aunt’s kids were the only real family she had left. Her aunt had a strange looking face and was married to this guy who flew off to Japan and hadn’t returned or made contact with her in eight years. She had five kids, all daughters, all roughly the same age except for one, who was studying Marketing in university. Ariel gave her aunt the majority of her income.

“What’s your favourite song, Dean? What’s your favourite song?” Her aunt kept asking me again and again, even if I told her I didn’t have one. At some point one of her daughters walked to a large stereo near the TV and put Kanye West’s Black Skinhead on and everyone squealed and even if they screamed at her to shut it up, they all stepped up and danced in front of me like mad women. It was the strangest sight I’d seen in my life – I should’ve filmed it. Ariel’s aunt then brought out plates of bacon and eggs and party pies and an esky filled with beer and we all ate and we all drank and we all sort of laughed around.

It would’ve been a good day if Ariel’s aunt didn’t start asking me for money afterwards. “Look, I fed you and entertained you. You’re going to have to pay up.”

“What? Are you kiddng?”

“Does it look like I’m joking?”

“How much?”

“Four hundred.”

“What’s wrong with you?”

“I have a million kids to feed. You think this is easy for me to ask you this?”

We argued and argued until we started screaming and swearing at each other. “I’M NOT GIVING YOU MY MONEY.”

“FINE, FORGET FOUR HUNDRED. ONE HUNDRED. ONE HUNDRED IS ALL I’M ASKING FOR, YOU GREEDY FUCKING PIG. ONE HUNDRED IS NOTHING TO YOU. FUCK YOU.”

“ONE HUNDRED IS EVERYTHING TO ME. I’M A WRITER, DIDN’T I TELL YOU A THOUSAND TIMES?”

I threw two fifties at her and called her names. Ariel cried and told us both to shut up and pulled me away.

We went outside. Ariel and I looked at each other for a while, saying nothing, until she pushed me. “Don’t you ever speak to my aunt like that.”

“Didn’t you hear what just happened?”

“I know.” Tears kept coming down her eyes. “It was wrong of her, but you’re a man, Dean, you’re supposed to be patient.” She pushed me a few more times, telling me how wrong I was until I eventually pushed her back. She fell backwards onto the ground and looked up at me, shocked.

“You pushed me!”

“Don’t exaggerate. It was a light push. Don’t fucking exaggerate!”

“How dare you, Dean?”

I pointed at her. “If she’s broke or whatever, that’s fine. I would’ve been happy to help but the way she asked was rude.”

“You pushed me!” Ariel wept even louder. “You pushed me to the ground!”

“Don’t do that crying shit. Why do girls always do that crying shit? Stop crying!” She didn’t stop crying, so I repeated myself: “Stop crying!”

She didn’t respond. I glared at her for a while until finally deciding to sit down next to her. She hid her face under her arms and kept shaking. I looked at her, at her arms and her hair and said nothing. Eventually, she looked up at me, her eyes all red and swollen, and laughed. I laughed too.

I stayed outside as she said goodbye to her aunt and cousins. We drove back to Brisbane: on the drive she told me about her dreams, about wanting kids, about how she hopes God still loves her. I told her that I was sorry. I dropped her off at the city, gave her three hundred for the day and drove home, drank some water, drank some wine, stared at a page of a book but didn’t read any of it, browsed through my mobile phone contacts, stared at the ceiling in the dark. All of a sudden, I felt afraid. I felt the need to skip tomorrow. I took two pills and fell asleep.

 

**

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THE PIMP I’LL NEVER SEE

The Pimp I'll Never See - Generation EndAriel was a lot of things. She was smart and she was ambitious and she was the most jealous person I’d ever met.

“I know this is unfair, but if I see you with a girlfriend I will shove my fist down her throat and kill her.”

Some part of me actually wanted to see it happen.

When we first met, Ariel was “dating” about six or seven other guys a week. But according to her, she’d only ever been in one real relationship.

“I dated him way before I started doing what I’m doing now,” she told me one evening as we sat in front of the River. “He was my first real boyfriend.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“It’s true,” she insisted. “He was a school teacher. I liked him because he was ugly. He had these thick glasses and this weirdly shaped head and he never knew how to fix his hair properly. I don’t like good looking men. Good looking men have been spoilt all their lives. They’ve never had to work hard to gain the respect of others – they’re too used to people wanting their attention, you know?” She put her hand on my face. “That’s why I like you.”

“You just made me hate myself,” I said.

She laughed. “You have to believe me, honey. If I ever overhear someone say that they think you’re good looking, I’m kicking you out of my life.” Her laugh faded, and, picking some imaginary lint from her skirt, she continued: “he’s married now, I think. I still think about him sometimes.”

“If he were to come here tonight and ask you to be with him again, what will you do?”

“I’ll say yes. But that’s never going to happen.”

I didn’t ask her how they broke up. Instead, I took her hand in mine and like always, we left the bar and walked around, laughing about things, talking about things, feeling each other up. We walked into a club, Mustang, I think, and I sat somewhere and I watched her dance as she looked only at me.

We were drunk and it was five in the morning when she told me her secret:

“I’m not doing this alone.”

“What?”

“I like you. I really, really like you. And I don’t want to charge you money when we meet anymore. I’m not supposed to tell people, but I’ve got a partner in this.”

“What?” I asked again.

“The guy, the one who introduced me to this business… He gave me a place to stay rent free, and he introduced me to his friends for a fee. I get a small percentage of what guys pay me, but most of what I make goes to paying him back. He’s a pretty scary guy and I can’t just run away, but he’s been good to me, so I don’t mind.”

I didn’t know what to say. I was drunk and confused.

“It’s really not that bad.” She placed her hand on my lap. “He teaches me a lot about business and investing, so when I finally pay him back I’ll be making so much more. I’m going to start a real estate company once I have enough money. Isn’t that good? Aren’t you happy for me?”

As we ate breakfast she told me how most of her days were like: she’d drink all night, wake up, vomit for a little bit, run for an hour or so, eat as much healthy food as she can, read books on investment and real estate, get ready for another evening. I paid her, and we went to Dymocks and she walked to the counter and bought something and came back and handed it to me: it was a Bible. We argued about it for a while until she forced it into my hands. She told me that because I’m a writer I might appreciate the book of Ecclesiastes, which supposedly contains the most poetic passages in the Bible. She showed me this:

I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor,
and this was the reward for all my toil.
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun.

We kissed and said goodbye. I tried to sleep during the bus ride home, but I couldn’t. I told the bus driver to stop and I ran out and vomited while running towards a shopping centre.

 

**

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PART TWO.

Laser Eye Loneliness - part 2 - generationend.com

Time is something you don’t necessarily have to hold on to. I don’t know why, but that evening, last year, when you walked out of the third party we’d been to that week with your stupid friends who didn’t understand us – who didn’t understand me – I couldn’t help but feel hollow – is hollow a feeling? I know I’ve met hurt and anger and happy and glad and all of those others guys before – but hollow? Where does hollow belong? As soon as you left, as soon as the ‘hollow’ came my pleasure in being social and any reason for me to smile and nod and make new friends vanished for good. I stood there in the lonely dark corner of the party and I looked around and I leant on a wall and I fumbled with nothing in my pocket and I thought of excuses to leave and I thought of time; the time it took to call someone, the time it took for a war to end, the time it took for a car to start, the time it took for an evening to rest and an evening to start and for us to die and for us to live all over again. But I stayed, and I stayed, and I stayed, and people came and went and I drank and eventually forgot about you and actually had a good time. As two in the morning came along and as this guy I met some time ago slung against my shoulder and told me how drunk he was I looked out of the balcony of the house on the hill we were in, past the passed out couple on the lawn and past the fences and into the complete black canvas outside. When had it become so completely dark? Were vampires real? Would I be awake in time for breakfast? What am I happy about? What am I sad about?

The second day after my PRK laser eye surgery wasn’t much better. It still hurt whenever I opened my eyes, which was annoying because I missed writing. I wasn’t allowed to participate in any sort of physical activity and everyone was either at work or out having fun. I spent most of the day taking pills, putting on eye drops and listening to the TV shows on my laptop.

Jude came by later in the evening. “You smell,” was all he said about me before telling me about his life: he spent the weekend at some hotel room with his new girlfriend and a bunch of other friends, and the week before that he worked a lot, and he drank a lot, and he smoked a lot, and he went to the gym a lot, and he also tried this new place in the Valley that apparently had lots of alright not-too-slutty looking girls.

“I hate not being able to do anything,” I told him.

“You should be lucky,” he said. “You know how many people are looking for excuses to do nothing? Doing nothing is fantastic. It’s what we all work hard for: to do nothing when we’re old and irrelevant.”

“Your wisdom never ceases to impress me.”

“I want you to try something.” Jude put something in my hand. “At the Coast, right, we rolled up old weed and crushed Panadol and tea leaves and smoked it up.”

“I’m not trying this.”

“Try it.”

I played with it with my fingers. “Have you tried it yet?”

“Of course,” he said. “It’s fantastic.”

We went outside and I lit it and tried it and nearly vomited. Jude laughed and said he’d never tried it before. I tried to punch him but missed, causing him to laugh even more. He took it off me and finished it off, coughing hard and saying how terrible it was each time he took a puff.

“How’s your book going?” He asked me.

“Slowly.” I sighed. “Even when I wasn’t blind. I want people to learn from it, I want people to read it and see the world differently afterwards, you know? To make changes. But I feel like I have nothing much to teach.”

“Listen,” Jude said, “as your really good friend, just write whatever the hell as quickly as possible and put it out there and sell it. Even outsource a writer from Philippines or Mumbai or South Africa or some bullshit to finish it for you – did you know that you can do that? That you can outsource your shit? I know you want to be artistic and pure and shit, but you can’t. You can’t do that. Your fucking Generation End blog or whatever, I mean, you’re getting all these readers but you don’t even have ads. How stupid can you be? You blew ninety percent of your savings to make yourself blind, you’re paying all these bills, and you go out and you party and you’re wasting it all away to the point where one day you’ll tell me that you’re homeless… you’re a man, Dean, a man, not a loser – men don’t do this to themselves. I’ve seen you be poor for the entire time I’ve known you and you’re going nowhere. Vail and I are moving higher in this world and you’re in exactly the same state as when we met you. Just finish it; who cares about the quality? You’ve written manuscripts before, right? I mean, where are they now? How have they helped you improve your life? You’re taking way too long. You’re single and you live alone and you’re jobless. Like, at least get a job or something, because your situation is just depressing, and no one is telling you this, but they pity you. I pity you. Get a job. Do something to make you money. This writing is getting you nowhere.”

I don’t know if you’ve ever cried one night after receiving laser eye surgery before, but it’s painful. I squeezed my fingers against my palms. I wanted to say something but I couldn’t. Nothing would come out. I couldn’t explain why I needed to do what I needed to do; I couldn’t even explain it to myself. We both said nothing.

“I’m thinking of running away,” Jude eventually muttered.

“What do you mean, run away? You don’t live with your dad anymore. You just gave me a huge lecture.”

“I mean from Brisbane. From this place. From my commitments. I want to see different things. I want to have sex with an African girl – in Africa. I don’t know. I’m bored.”

“Do it,” I said. I would’ve been glad to see him go.

“I mean it, Dean.”

“Why?”

Jude shrugged. “I have a few hundred thousand dollars saved in one of my accounts, just getting shit all interest. I might as well spend it on changing my life.” My eyes were closed but I knew he was thinking hard. Eventually, he stood up. He patted my shoulder and said, “I’ll visit you again,” just like Vail did. He made me a glass of water before saying that he had to go now because he had to meet his girlfriend for coffee at Milton and then perhaps have anal sex with her at her parents’ place afterwards if she wasn’t feeling so damn up herself.

LASER EYE LONELINESS

laser eye loneliness - Generation End

I had this dream once of becoming a successful writer. I’d be smoking a cigarette on top of a pile of money and every day, I’d buy some girl with nice legs a brand new car. Everyone would buy my books: lonely people would buy my books, the downtrodden would buy my books, bored middle-aged housewives would buy my books, high brow people with ‘a passion for the arts’ would buy my books, angsty but introverted teens would buy my books, prostitutes would buy my books, that dick from high school would buy my books – everyone would buy my books, and everyone would be happy because everyone was in my dream, and in my dream I’d be smoking a cigarette on top of a pile of money.

That dream never happened and I was still jobless. I had savings left so I decided to spend most of it on getting laser eye surgery to fix my shitty eyesight. They gave me valium before the surgery, which was great. The surgeon then had me lie down and look upwards towards a light. I watched with eyes wide open as he used something to scrape the outer layer of my eyes into a pile before using a machine to laser them; I could smell my eyes burn.

Everything was a blur once the valium kicked in. Apparently, after the operation, I loudly told everyone in the room how friendly the nurses were while walking around with my hips thrusting forward. I don’t remember the trip home.

Vail visited me in the evening.

“You look insane,” she said, sitting next to me. She smelt good. Like fruit.

“I can’t see,” I replied with my eyes closed. My eyes were hurting. “I can’t do anything for a few weeks.”

“Wow.” I heard her rummaging through my things. “Look at all these pills. We could sell these to some people I know.”

“Totally.” They gave me Nurofen for the pain, Endone for severe pain, Pramin for nausea and Hypnodorm for insomnia.

Vail put her hand inside my shorts and the both of us went quiet for a while.

“How have you been?” I eventually asked her.

“Good and shit, good and shit. The usual. A girlfriend of mine got punched by her boyfriend. Right across the face.”

“Do I know her?”

“I don’t think so,” she said.

“Is she hot?”

“She’s not bad.”

“How’s she doing?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “I haven’t texted her yet. I think she works at Dotti. She’s lucky to have him anyway, he’s normally a really chilled guy. She can just be like, a real cold bitch sometimes. Especially to men. I think she deserved it.”

I didn’t say anything.

“How long are you going to be like this for?” she asked me. “It’s night time and you’re wearing sunglasses.”

“I’ve been told it may take a week, or even months before my vision will improve. There’s also a chance that nothing will happen at all.”

“Months? That’s a long time.”

“My brother bought me dinner,” I said. “People wished me luck.”

“That’s sweet of them. If you need help with anything, just call me.”

“I can’t see the text on my phone,” I said.

Vail giggled, pulling her hand out of my shorts. “You’ll figure out a way to call me.” She stood up, walked to the bathroom, washed her hands then sat back down next to me. “I heard about your night at the casino.”

“And?”

“I’m so glad I didn’t join you.”

“You weren’t invited.”

Vail slapped my arm. “How much money do you have left?”

“Enough to pay the rent and eat for a few more months.”

“You better find work again, Dean.”

“I hate working. For people, especially.”

“Who doesn’t? But that’s growing up.”

“Can’t a publisher just publish my manuscript?”

“No, they can’t. Have you even been submitting to publishers?”

“Not lately. I’m tired of rejection letters.”

“Well, there you go.” Vail reached for something in my bag. She pulled out a pill and placed it in my mouth.

“What the hell did you just make me swallow?”

“That’s usually a question I ask.” She kissed my cheek. “I just gave you a sleeping pill.”

Vail’s iPhone vibrated – she quickly texted something back.

“I take it you have to go.”

“I’ll be here again soon, okay? Maybe… I’ll let you know.” She put her hand on my face before walking off and closing the door behind her.

As I lay there on my couch I felt terribly alone. I know I had people in my life, people who cared, but there was still something missing. There was still something missing – I sounded like a Hollywood cliché. I suppose loneliness has always been there with me, standing in the background like some weird looking friend I’ve always been ashamed of. It lingers there like a creep, waiting for me to do something stupid so that I can run back into its arms in tears. I took my sunglasses off, wiped them clean. I then sticky taped these things over my eyes, these plastic shields that I was supposed to wear before I slept. I squinted in the dark. It hurt whenever I’d keep my eyes open for too long, but I hated just sitting there. I stood up and stumbled around, found a cigar Jude once gave me and cut it and lit it and smoked it. I played some music and muttered to myself about the things I thought about in life before falling asleep.

 

 

(For those who are curious, I had two options when signing up for laser eye surgery. The first option I was given was to get Lasik surgery, which involved cutting my eyes to create ‘flaps’ in each cornea, lasering what was underneath the flaps and then repositioning them back together. Since I did boxing once in a while I was advised that there was a rare possibility that someone could hit an eye and dislodge one of the flaps.

That didn’t sound too promising so I opted for PRK laser eye surgery. I chose this option because it didn’t provide the risk of any of my ‘flaps’ being dislodged, and also because the way they described the procedure sounded exciting: they’d remove the outer layer of my eyes completely with alcohol or with a plastic blade before lasering the outer surface; then, I’d have to wait for a period of time before they’d heal completely again.)