And then I ruined it all by saying, “I don’t want a relationship”. You shrugged and said, “That’s exactly what the previous guy said,” and you told me about this guy you met on Tinder who was in a long distance relationship. You told me that he was a decent guy with a pretty good body and pretty big dick, but he always kept insisting that he didn’t want anything serious because he was moving on from his girlfriend and that he was confused and bla bla bla, and then I thought, What do I say to get out of this? How do I emerge from this to make sure neither of us are undamaged? and then I blamed you and said, “Well when we first fuckin’ spoke you said you didn’t want to get married,” and you said, “I said married, but I still want to be in a relationship,” and, tapping on the glove compartment, you said, “I shouldn’t have given so much of myself away right away. It’s what I always do wrong,” and I comforted you by saying, “Nah,” and this little debate of ours would continue for the entirety of what we had.
Carol lived with a few people, so I would always enter her place through a back door. She had one of the biggest rooms in the house, and I liked it because unlike my cramped room, she had a large bed with plenty of floor space. In the dark, from her bed, a few things would lay huddled in the corner next to her desk: a large hat, some shiny shoes, empty shopping bags. In a large plastic container to her right would be some old documents, as well as a strip of Ansell condoms she kept as backup. Underneath her bed was dust, and a toilet paper roll, and a packet of pads, and a bra, and abandoned lipstick, and a box of letters and movie tickets from old boyfriends.
I arrived at Carol’s place around midnight. I’d just come from another book reading and I was hungry. Grinning, she served me a bowl of soup.
“Is the soup shit? It’s shit, isn’t it?”
I put my spoon down. “It’s good.”
“No, it’s shit.”
She watched me as I had some more.
“You’re making this whole thing awkward,” I told her. “Stop watching me.”
“I can’t help it.”
“Yes you can.”
“No I can’t.”
“How long have we known each other?” I asked her.
I looked at her. “Do you believe in ghosts?”
“I believe in everything.”
“You didn’t say that yesterday.”
“I was a different person yesterday.”
“Who were you yesterday?”
“Yesterday I was the sun.”
“And today you’re the moon?”
“Then who are you?”
“That’s just fucked up.”
She laughed. Her eyes creased deeply when she laughed and she looked about three years older than she was supposed to. I remember visiting her one morning and seeing her without makeup. “Why are you looking at me like that?” she asked me, and two days later, when I hadn’t contacted her, she asked, “Did something happen when you came over? What did I do wrong? Were you disgusted by how I looked like?”
I finished eating and we walked inside Carol’s room and I closed the door and turned off the light and took off her clothes. I ran my finger along one of her tattoos.
“Can I take a video of this?” I asked her. “Of when I choke you?”
Afterwards, she turned on her laptop and we watched the Korean version of The Lake House. She fell asleep and began snoring, so I covered her mouth until she woke up. She looked irritated, but then smiled and fell asleep again. I soon followed her, and when I woke up it was six in the morning on a Sunday. She walked me out, and as we approached her gate I looked at her, and she asked me, “What?” and I said, “Nothing,” and we said bye and I stepped inside my car and drove off.
At some point while I slept Carol had gotten into my car and placed a CD in my stereo. There was only one song in the CD, and it was A Case of You, by James Blake.
This was the fifth time I had dinner with Carol. In some ways I had fallen in love with Carol, and in other ways I hadn’t. There was no doubt that she loved me, or at least wanted to pursue something beyond what we were doing. Who the hell was I not to accept someone’s love? She cooked for me and asked me how my day was. Some people seek the fiction in my writing, but Carol was a real person. I write about these people to either forget them or to hold onto them for one last time. At some point Carol was once in my hands and at some point Carol did press against my lips, and there are noons and evenings and midnights where I have thought about her and her room and the dust on her floor.
Book I’m reading: Tender Is the Night
There’s a particular spot I like to drive to near the Valley. I won’t tell you exactly where it is, but if you turn right at a certain traffic light and keep driving straight you’ll end up in a private area full of expensive apartments overlooking the river. I like it because of the view, and I like it because of the silence, and I like it because the magnificently designed apartments remind me that one day I will have the ability to buy my way into a better life.
After dinner I took Carol to this spot of mine, and as we walked by the apartments and the view she took my hand and asked me, “What do you want to do this weekend?”
“I was thinking about something,” she said.
“I hate honesty.”
Carol tucked some hair behind her ear. “I’ve been thinking like, you know what? I think we already know everything.”
“What the hell are you on about?”
“We know everything. We know how to live. But everyone else’s thoughts, the books we read, our own laziness – it buries what we know and how we truly feel deep inside. When can you honestly say you’ve spent time just trying to find the truth not from the outside world, but from inside yourself? It’s all there. We go and spend all this time and money on finding out the truth but really,” she touched her chest, “it’s all in here, I think.”
“And what truth have you found in yourself?”
She kept quiet for a while, tapping her lip with her index finger. “I don’t know what to ask myself yet.”
We reached a railing. She smiled at me and I smiled back and she put her arms around my waist. She leant her head into my shoulder and whispered, “Everything is perfect. Why don’t you want to be with me?”
And I thought about her vagina, and I thought about the way she kissed me, and I thought about our arguments, and I thought about her face without makeup, and I thought about the things she’d say. I stared at an apartment in the distance.
Graphic novel I’m reading: The Descender
For some reason I was thinking of high school during the first time Carol had dinner at my place. I was thinking of how my classmates and I would always look out of the windows, at the cars passing us, hoping that someone would be doing something sexual. We spent hours in silence, our eyes scanning for a girl giving some guy a blowjob, or a handjob, or at least a guy jerking himself off. There was this one guy in the bus, Todd, who would always yell, “Look at those white pants! I bet she’s wearing a g-banger.” I had no idea what the hell a g-banger was but I’d always nod and say, “Yeah, I bet she is.”
I made Carol pasta and garlic bread and served us both wine.
“I think the world needs to be more positive,” I told her.
“Why? Positivity will get you nowhere.”
“When did you become so jaded?”
“When I realised that things were exactly like the movies and exactly not like the movies.”
“I don’t know,” I said.
“You don’t know what?”
“I don’t know how to reply to that. I mean, we’re pretty lucky.”
She shrugged. She looked at her wine like it was an old friend about to leave for a long, long time. “Some things just don’t turn out the way we want them to.”
I knew what she was hinting at but I pretended not to know. At some point in our phone conversations she suggested that she wanted to be in a relationship and at some point I suggested that I didn’t want to be in one. We debated for a long time about it but nothing about what we said chipped away at our own selfishness.
We drank wine and I said a few things and she said a few things and I knelt her down and did what I had to do with her. In bed, our voices were hushed, as if we were keeping secrets from the world.
Book I’m re-reading: Wild Sheep Chase
“I don’t believe in love,” was what Carol told me when we were at Carol’s home, having late dinner that she cooked, listening or not listening to music that may or may not have been playing from a small speaker in another room.
“You believe in love,” I told her.
She sighed. “You can’t just dictate what I do and don’t believe in.”
“Yes I can.”
“How long have I known you for?”
“A few days.”
“You can’t dictate then. You don’t have permission.”
“Why not?” I teased.
“What is love anyway? It’s a word. It’s nothing. Actions are more important than words.”
“Such as saying ‘I love you’.”
“If love were real, you only need to say ‘I love you’ once, but we can’t live with just hearing ‘I love you’ once. It’s conditional. Love has always been conditional, which in turn defies the definition of what love is.”
“But then can’t you say the same about friendship? Why do we need to see friends more than once in order for them to remain our friends?”
“Who says we need to?”
I took a sip of water, thought about her nonsense for a second, then put my glass back down. “Have you ever been in love? Have you ever told a guy, ‘I love you’?”
“Of course I have. But I was stupid. I don’t love them now. I don’t speak to them, and if I see them, I will not have any feelings for them. Even if they begged me, I will never take them back because there’s nothing there. I’ve changed. My body, my perceptions, it’s all changed. Love is meant to be eternal and constant, but us people, we’re always changing. Something that’s constant cannot get along well with something that’s changing. Just like success. I don’t think you should call someone successful until you’re able to see their entire life. For you to see love in its entirety, you need to watch this person’s love in its entirety. Which is impossible.”
“You’ve just been hurt,” I said.
“There’s no one definition of love. Who says it has to be eternal?”
“Who says it doesn’t have to?”
And then we debated Eva Cassidy songs, and then we debated John Lennon and Yoko Ono, and then we debated Love Actually, and then we debated Romeo and Juliet, and then we debated Obama and Michelle, and then we debated Kim and Kanye. By this time I’d already told Carol that I wasn’t looking for a relationship, and I knew this hurt her. We went to bed, and I told her how perfect her body was, which was true. She had an amazing vagina. I’d never experienced a vagina quite like it, and because of that I used it to my heart’s content. I left at about three in the morning, and she told me to text her when I’d gotten home.
Book I’m re-reading: Strange Animals.
“I don’t believe in magic,” Carol said. “I just don’t.”
“Why the hell not?”
Carol looked at me like it was something that didn’t need explaining. When I didn’t say anything: “Where have you seen magic? Tell me, where have you seen magic, Dean?”
“I saw it the other day.”
“Really? What happened?”
She scratched her arm irritably and let out a long, angry sigh. “What guy?”
“Well then it must be real magic if it’s on YouTube.”
“He swallowed a sword.”
“That’s not magic.”
“It was magic.”
“It wasn’t magic.”
I knew it wasn’t magic, but I wanted to see her angry. “It was magic. It was pure magic. Can you swallow a sword?”
“It wasn’t magic.”
“Then how about love?” I shrugged. “That’s magic.”
“Don’t be so corny.”
“Women may not swallow swords, but they swallow cocks out of love. It’s a miracle that they want to do it, if you think about it.”
“That’s got nothing to do with magic.”
“That’s got everything to do with magic.”
We were in a Korean restaurant in the city (the sixth place we had dinner in), and she found a plug to charge her phone with. We ate and spoke and ate. She paid for dinner, and we walked towards my car.
Book I’m slowly reading: Wind/Pinball: Two novels
I knew that things were never going to work out with Carol but I went along with it anyway. I met her at some place I don’t remember and she was drinking some drink I don’t remember.
“We won’t make a good match,” I told her, showing her a photo someone took of us. “We just won’t.”
“You’re right,” she said. “You’re right.” She looked like the sun and I looked like Antarctica.
Carol had small ears and a tattoo of an elf playing the Playstation on her lower back. She looked great with makeup on, but looked like a stranger from space with it off. Carol hated it when people took photos of her, so I took them when she wasn’t prepared, when she was at her most honest and vulnerable. When I look back at her photos, I laugh.
Our first dinner was at Chermside Shopping Centre. Our second dinner was at my place. Our third dinner was at South Bank or something. Our fourth dinner was at her place, and the fifth was at her place again, and the sixth was at the city, and the seventh was in the Valley, and the eighth was at her place again, and I think that was about it. That eighth dinner marked the end of the thing that we had.
There are some days when I have great dreams and there are some days when I have no dreams at all. Once, when I was a kid, I lay in bed, fantasising about becoming a magician. I thought about how I was going to become the greatest magician in the world and how much sex I was going to get as a result of it. The next day, I bought a ‘magic card trick’ book and a deck of cards. The instructions were confusing and performing the trick was difficult. I was bored. I gave up.
According to Jason, things had been going great between him and Hayley. I didn’t tell him about the times Hayley would send me photos of herself, and the times I’d look at those photos in his shower. They were great photos. One was of her in a gym outfit, exposing her flat stomach and cleavage while she bit her bottom lip. The others were of her in a dressing room, trying on different skirts while wearing a purple, lacey bra.
“You know I’m objectifying you, right?” I asked her.
“Objectify me all you want.”
Things went terrible when Hayley, Jason and I had drinks. I was drunk, and when Jason went to the toilet I leant in to kiss Hayley. She resisted and giggled, but when I tried again she kissed me back.
“Finger me,” she panted.
“No.” I forced her hand down my pants, and when I looked up Jason was staring at the both of us.
“Threesome?” I asked him.
He slapped me. I’d never been slapped by a man before. Actually, have I? I don’t remember. He picked me up and strangled me for a while, and Hayley, thinking it was a joke, pulled out her mobile phone and recorded us.
Jason threw me across the room. “Get the fuck out of here!” he screamed, tears running down his eyes. “You’ve ruined my fucking life!”
“I’m sorry but don’t exaggerate!” I said, limping as far away as I could from him.
“Get the fuck out!” Jason stormed to his laundry room, stuffed my clothes in my bag and threw it directly at my face. “Get the fuck out!” He glanced at something at the floor. “And don’t forget your fucking phone charger!”
I looked at Hayley, who was now crying but still recording everything. “You better give me a copy of that shit,” I said before drunkenly storming off.
I walked to my car and put my bag inside it. I sat down in the back seat, passed out for a while, then woke up with a sudden urge to call Jason’s girlfriend or ex-girlfriend or whatever she was now. I called her, telling her that Jason had been cheating on her with Hayley.
“Why are you telling me this?” she cried.
“Because I can,” I cried back.
“I thought you were his best friend.”
“I have many best friends.” I passed out again, then woke up. I opened my door and vomited. I closed it again, then I looked at Jason’s place and felt sick.
I picked up my phone and played this song Hayley and I liked called “So Blue” by this random band we found on Spotify once called Magical Cloudz. I scrolled up and down my Facebook Newsfeed, liking every single photo. I quit Facebook and looked at my photo album, at all the photos I’d taken while up north. I looked at photos of trees and of the beach and of weird things and of Jason’s son. I looked at photos of Hayley and Jason and I: some would be group photos, some wouldn’t. I looked at some of the childhood photos they sent me over the past few months, and then I looked at the photos Hayley sent me of her in the changing room, and then I stopped at a photo of Jason and Hayley together. They were in Jason’s kitchen; it was a photo I took of them a few hours ago. They were smiling. Jason was holding a beer and Hayley was holding her phone, and they were facing my phone and they were smiling. I zoomed into Hayley’s face.
I put down my phone, turned on my engine and began driving south, towards Brisbane.
This year has been all about cheating. I cheated, I helped people cheat, my friends cheated, I was even cheated on for a while. Funnily enough, there was a brief period of time when the loads of cheating seemed abnormal – immoral, even – but the more it absorbed me this year the more it seemed like a natural, expected thing to do. It was something you bragged (but kind of pretended to feel guilty) about when you’d meet your friends for coffee.
The number of paths we have the freedom to take in life are virtually infinite. Why do we even consider choosing the paths that hurt those who care about us? Do cheaters ever get punished? Someone has to suffer for our actions, but who, and when?
Hayley had been cheating on her boyfriend for months. It started off innocently: she danced with a guy when she went clubbing with some friends. Then she started kissing guys in clubs, then she started talking dirty with guys over the phone, then she started sending them photos, then she started flirting with colleagues, and then the fucking started and bla bla bla. I even met her boyfriend once. He was a great guy who wore a ring with her name on it. Anyway one day the guilt consumed Hayley and she broke up with her boyfriend for good.
A few weeks after the breakup, Jason told me that he bought flowers and drove to Hayley’s work and told her everything: that he’d loved her all along, that she was his heart. Apparently she cried, and apparently they went to her apartment and kissed.
“That’s great news, man,” I told him, thinking about his girlfriend and a few other things.
He patted me on the back. “And her pussy’s perfect, mate. I thought she’d be loose and shit, but nah, I love it, aye.”
“What about your girlfriend?”
“I’ll have to deal with it.”
“Want to know the truth about cheaters, mate?” Jason asked me.
Jason left to see her again. I lay on his couch, playing with my phone, scrolling up and down my Facebook newsfeed. I clicked on this article an ex-girlfriend of mine shared about this Japanese artist who cooked his penis and served pieces of it to his guests. I wondered who the fuck would want to try his penis before standing up and walking into Jason’s room. I turned on his light and rummaged through his drawers, looking for nothing in particular. I looked at his pillow and considered rubbing my balls all over it, but didn’t. I looked under his bed. I looked at his vision board. I browsed through some of the documents on his desk. I walked to the kitchen and made a sandwich and ate it, thinking about nothing. I still haven’t returned to Brisbane. I’ve stayed here, north, spending my savings and sleeping on Jason’s couch. I’ve been away from Brisbane for so long that I’m afraid to return to it. It’s a tiny, dense fucking ball. I’m not trapped, but I don’t feel free. I’m simply here, and that’s about it.
“Life will kick you in the balls, and when it realises you don’t have balls it’ll kick you in the pussy,” Jason laughed, even if what he said wasn’t funny. Jason is my childhood friend. He’s stocky and angry looking and something about his face makes him look racist.
We were in his kitchen, talking, and he was drinking beer and I was drinking water. Jason and I used to do everything together until I decided to grow the hell up. I moved to Brisbane but he stayed behind. I mean, we kept in touch once in a while, but eventually the friendship faded into nothing. I hadn’t seen him in about fifteen years. He looked the same, but bigger and with more wrinkles.
“I’m tired, man,” I told him.
“You drove for ages.”
“You sure you’re good with me staying?”
“You sure you’re good with staying on my couch?” He laughed, even if what he said wasn’t funny.
The morning after I met Anna I packed my bags and drove a million hours north of Brisbane, to the town I used to live in. I didn’t tell Jason I was coming. I merely turned up to his home. When his mum told me he didn’t live there anymore, I drove to this old flat he now lived with his girlfriend and son in.
We stayed up talking for a while longer. I asked most of the questions: I asked him what he did after I left, I asked him about his mum, I asked him what he was doing now, I asked him about his child’s real mother. I also asked him about my other childhood friend, Hayley, who apparently wanted to catch up with me the next day.
“So what about you, mate?” Jason asked me.
“What about me?”
“Why are you here?”
I lost my job a few days ago and hadn’t told anyone yet. “I just thought it was time to visit you guys again.”
Jason got the hint that I was tired and left me alone. I showered, brushed my teeth, changed my clothes. I walked around Jason’s lounge room, looking at the photos he had on his entertainment unit. Most of the photos he had were of his son. His son was about two years old. I wondered what my life would’ve been like if I never moved to Brisbane. If I never wanted to be a writer. If I got some girl pregnant and also had a son. I wonder what I’d name that son and if I’d be a good father. What the hell does it mean to be a good father, anyway?
I spotted another photo on his entertainment unit, hidden in the corner. It was a photo him and Hayley when they were kids. He was looking at something in the distance while Hayley grinned at the camera, ice cream in her hand. I wondered what she was like now. I checked my phone: there was one message from Anna. Nyt, was all it said. NIGHT, I replied back.