‘Did I tell you about the time everyone on my train was reading the same book?’ I said, but Steve wasn’t listening.
‘I said,’ I said, and he told me he heard what I said but that there was never a time when everyone on my train was reading the same book, and he was sick of hearing about my imaginary stories.
‘Can you just pass me the next pile of letters,’ he said, ‘and shut up for a second?’
But I couldn’t.
‘We could talk about footy,’ I said.
And he said, ‘Alright, what about it?’
‘I wrote to the AFL,’ I said, ‘with some of my ideas.’
‘What now?’ He wanted to know. ‘And this had better not be some stupid thing you just made up.’ It was, so I sat quiet instead.
‘What?’ said Steve.
‘Nuthin’,’ I licked another envelope and put it on the pile.
‘You are such an idiot,’ he told me. And he was right, but I wanted to tell him that on Anzac Day when the third quarter starts I think there should be a machine gunner, maybe up high behind the back pocket, one on each side, and three-and-a-half minutes in they should start to fire. An old-fashioned machine gun. Authentic. For Anzac Day. And that I wrote to tell the AFL that, but they didn’t write back.
And there were the other things I wrote about too, but I didn’t tell him those either – that I wrote to a professor at Melbourne Uni and asked him if there was ever anyone who studied prehistoric smells and other smells from the French Revolution or the Spanish Inquisition or when Cortes first stepped off his boat and put his foot down in the place they’d call Mexico. I asked because I wanted to know when there were the most smells because I was guessing that it would be about 1780. Don’t you think? I asked my mum this once and she said she thought with all the artificial smells they make now for air fresheners and so on that it would be now, but I think she’s wrong. Anyway, so I wrote to ask this professor and I really wanted an answer, I wanted there to be some person who studied smells. Mostly that was because I was hoping the TAB would open a book on it and I could put down maybe $20 and if I was right get about $12,000 back, but I needed some kind of official answer to prove I was right. He didn’t write back either.
Or about the time I wrote a letter to the priest to ask him if when we died and we were good we went to heaven, which I thought was probably the case, but that if it was the case, what happened on Judgement Day – wasn’t everyone already either in heaven or hell? And he said – because he did write back – that everyone just hangs around being dead until Judgement Day, but we don’t know about it because we’re dead, and then on Judgement Day we come back to life and God says either ‘heaven’ or ‘hell’ and then that’s where we go. And so I wanted to know how come at my auntie’s funeral they said her pain is over now and she’s with God in heaven when really – according to him – she was dead in the ground, and that time he didn’t write back.
There are things you can’t Google. That’s one of them, and also questions about whether there were more smells before or after 1780, or whether if you measure the average speed of things now it will be faster or slower than when there were dinosaurs. Sometimes it makes me mad. I told a cat on the street the other night about how angry it sometimes makes me. I told him, ‘you can all fucking die for all I care!’ – I said it out loud – and then I asked him if he thought maybe in my last life I was a Lithuanian Jew and all my family got rounded up and killed, because sometimes I feel so angry and I just don’t have any reason to feel like that.
‘Steve,’ I say.
‘Do you want a cup of coffee?’
‘Are you going over the road?’ he asks me. And I tell him, no, I’m just going up to the kitchen for a Nescafé.
‘No way, I don’t want that,’ he says, and he asks me, ‘how can you drink that shit?’
And I want to ask how he can pay $3 just for a cup of coffee. I don’t. I just get up out of my chair and walk to the kitchen. I put two teaspoons of Nescafé and three teaspoons of sugar in my cup and I fill it up with water out of the tap almost to the top with room for just a little bit of milk, which I put in, then put the cup in the microwave. I press ‘one minute’ then I watch it turn and wait for the cockroach that lives inside to run in front of the lit up clock so I can tap the glass and see if he hears me.
You want to hear about a program I wrote? I’m not asking Steve now, I’m asking you. He won’t listen to what I say anymore. It’s a program for Facebook – you know that website? Yeah. So it’s a program that you run and it updates your status reports and your profile every few days, adds pictures of holidays and friends’ babies and that kind of stuff for you every couple of weeks. You run it, right, and all your friends think your life is going really well. And then you can just go, you know. Just leave. No one would even guess.
When I say ‘I wrote it’ – it’s more I thought of it. I don’t know how to write a computer program yet. Besides, I only have one friend on Facebook – my mum. She won’t talk to me in real life anymore, though.
‘Anyway,’ says Steve, when I get back with my cup of coffee, ‘you should spend more time thinking about filing the mail properly and not so much about ways to get Nicole Roxon to have dinner with you.’
‘Her name is Nicola,’ I tell him.
‘Whatever,’ he says. ‘Because before Mr Bruce was down here and he said things have “gone astray” and we need to “lift our game”.’
He put his fingers up in the air while he was telling me, to let me know Mr Bruce had said those things, not him.
I just shrug. Sometimes I unstick the envelopes when they come in and take out the pension forms and write in the boxes they haven’t filled in D O N T W O R R Y T H E J U D G E M E N T W O N T B E T I L L L A T E R A N D Y O U C A N T F E E L W H E N Y O U A R E D E A D and then stick the envelope back up and write RETURN TO SENDER on the front. So that’s probably what Mr Bruce means about ‘gone astray’, but I don’t see what I can do about it.
Steve asked me once how come if I worked all day in Registry, which I do, I wasn’t sick of letters. Like how come I was always writing them to the AFL and to Nicola Roxon MP, who is my local representative in Federal Parliament, and to Andrew Bolt, when all I did all day was open letters and close letters and send letters and take letters to all the other people who worked upstairs with their computers. And Steve doesn’t even know about most of the letters I send.
There is a lot to talk about, I don’t say to him. There is all the world of time: a lot to find out about, and I’m sitting here licking envelopes while you tell me about what happened last night on Motorway Patrol and that tonight when you get home you are going to jerk off and eat Doritos.
Do you want to know what I’m going to do tonight when I get home, Steve? I know you don’t, but here it is anyway. I’m going down by Stony Creek Backwash. I’m going to lie on my back down on the pier and I’m going to listen to the birds’ feet sucking in the mud and have my eyes fill up with all the lights bright orange on the cranes along the docks. And while I’m lying there this girl will come sliding from the mud and she’ll crouch just past the creek edge, her fingers still tangled in all those weeds that stretch their roots into the water, finger ends all pointed from digging out the eyes of fish. She’ll be slick with mud, her mouth lined with it, feeling grains of gravel, probing them from between her teeth with her mud-coated tongue and chewing on grains of gravel. She’ll spit one into her hand and then she’ll wipe her hand on the damp grass, get up from the creek and untangle her fingers from the rushes, lick the cuts that had opened where she clung too tight, and coat them all with mud from her tongue. I’ll see her coming and I’ll close my eyes, and then I’ll feel her lick the water from beside my eyeball, where the wind stung me and made me cry. She’ll lie down next to me on the tumbled wooden pier and she’ll mutter to me, she’ll tell me that under the mud down there, in the mud under the river where the bridge’s pylons drive deep into the river’s guts, she can hear everything the earth ever knew. ‘It’s all still there,’ she’ll say to me. ‘Dive down with me,’ she’ll say to me. ‘Squeeze your head full of it, nostrils and ears and down your throat. Breathe your lungs full of river mud.’ But I won’t tell you about it, Steve. I’ll just tell you about how I had to go get a kebab because there wasn’t anything in the house worth eating. Which will be true, because after I open my eyes and the girl is gone I probably will walk down to Spotswood and get a kebab.