||The Book of Revelation
Rory Barnes and Damien Broderick
Deems hitches up his pants and goes in search of his daughter. I am asleep in my cot. I have thick black hair. My thumb is in my mouth.
Dinner is a gloomy affair, although Daimon tries hard enough to bring some sparkle to the proceedings. But it doesn't need the highly trained sensitivities of a retired computer programmer to fathom that all is not quite a bed of roses in this little ménage.
Where are the sunny smiles, the loving looks, the little kindnesses that attend the daily intercourse of the truly loved? What of the warm glow that spreads outwards from the happy couple to infuse all who sit at their table and make the stranger welcome under their humble roof? Pretty damn absent from this bleak shelter, Deems notes. Nor is he, strictly speaking, any kind of a stranger. No, sir, an old Friend of the Family. Deems does not regard himself as a meddlesome man; live and let live is his policy. But it would be an abdication of his Old Friend status to sit quietly while these two glower at each other over the pasta-al-forno. Deems drinks deep of his glass and says, 'I'm sorry to see you two like this.'
'What?' says the stringer.
'Destroying each other.'
'Oh, for God's sake, Deems,' Margaret says. Her lips tighten.
'I don't know what game you are trying to play...'
'You know well enough.' Daimon interrupts the stringer's prevarication in a firm no-nonsense voice. 'You two are hardly a pair of love birds are you?'
'That's hardly any business of yours.'
'Where's the joy, where's the laughter, where's the delight in life?' Deems demands. 'This place is as joyful as a bloody morgue.' The stringer half rises in his seat.
'Don't take any notice of him, Claude, he's drunk.'
'I know he's drunk but he doesn't have to come round here and smash the bloody place up and act the fool, does he?'
'Cool it, you two,' Deems says with authority. 'There's no need to fight. Claude, please sit down.'
'Listen, you,' yells Claude, standing up completely, 'it might be a matter of sour grapes, but she lives with me now. She's mine, not yours. And you better get that into your head and stop playing these bloody stupid games.'
'What do you mean, she's yours?'
'She lives here, with me, in my flat.'
Daimon shakes his head judiciously, sorrowing. 'This all sounds a bit possessive, if you don't mind my saying so, Claude. It sounds as if you regard Margaret as some sort of personal property. I gain the impression you are a generation too old, Claude. The women of our generation - Margaret's and mine - don't like being owned by men.'
'When I want your advice--'
'You want it now, Claude. It's been a bone of contention between you and Margaret, hasn't it? This possessiveness thing of yours - it's a source of considerable friction, am I not right?'
When Karlson fails to reply Deems turns to Margaret. 'Correct?'
My mother does not reply either, but neither does she look as if she disagrees. She forks another mouthful of pasta into her mouth, which has lost its tightness. She has a fine appreciation of scenes like these. After a few seconds' silence, Claude sits down. Nobody says anything. Only Margaret continues eating. Deems reaches for the bottle and pours himself another glass of burgundy; he's passed the food line some time previously. To restart the conversation he says, 'It's really little Flake I'm worried about.'
Neither of then says anything.
'She's at a very impressionable age. They pick up the vibes, you know.'
This, too, is greeted with silence.
'The way you two are at each other's throats all the time can't be doing her any good. And someone with Flake's undoubted perspicacity would be especially vulnerable. Do you see what I'm getting at?' he asks Claude.
With a terrible weariness Claude says, 'Deems, I really don't know what you are talking about.'
'Flake. Little Flake. She lives here too, you know.'
'He means Rosa,' puts in Margaret.
'I assure you Rosa is fine.'
'I'm not so sure. The domestic tensions around here are warping her unformed character, poisoning her sunny disposition--'
'Look, I don't know where you learned your table manners--'
'From her,' Deems says, indicating Margaret, 'I learnt everything I know about the conduct of dinner table discourse from her. She's a great one for scenes in cafes as well. Hasn't she taught you anything yet? I thought I was the master of disguise, but now I'm just the philosopher's brightest pupil. And no, Claude, I'm not afraid to claim a woman as my mentor... but then that's one of our differences, isn't it? You, with your old chauvinist ways, you'd never learn anything.'
With considerable dignity Claude stands up, replaces his chair under the table and says to Margaret, 'I'm going out for a while. Do you think you could arrange for your friend here to be gone by the time I get back?' He walks quietly towards the hall. A few seconds later the front door slams.
Deems grins. 'He muffed it at the end, didn't he?'
'That exit. It was quite impressive until he slammed the door.'
Margaret says, 'You really are appalling when you're drunk, Deems. How often do you get like this?'
'Every night since you left me, and most of the day.'
'For Christ's sake stop being so fucking facetious.' Her violence is almost sobering.
'Sorry,' Deems say.
'Go and make yourself some coffee. After you've drunk that, you'd better leave.'
She goes toward the bedroom. She is deserting him.
'Where are you going?'
'To get Rosa. She's been crying for the last five minutes, if you haven't noticed.'
Deems listens. It is true, and he hasn't noticed.
Daimon sits drinking coffee and watching me at suck. My hands pummel the heavy flesh of the breast. I suck blind. Little Rosa, Deems thinks in a swamp of sentimentality. Little Flake. Daughter, rhymes with water. You're onto a good thing there, he tells me silently. I've done much the same myself, he recalls. But no more, no more. Parents live through their children. I love through my child. Love her for me, little Flake. I'm drunk and I love you, Flake, and I love your mother, but you'll have to love her for me, by proxy. Drink to our proxy love, Flakeling.
I suck on; I neither know nor care who my father is.
Deems says to Margaret, 'Everything I said was true, wasn't it?'
'About Claude being possessive and us fighting?' Daimon gazes steadily at her, and she drops her eyes. 'Yes, and it's been very clever of you to realise it and use it to such advantage.'
'I did learn it all from you, you know. Everything before you was bluster, guesswork and persiflage.'
'I know. But I don't want to discuss it any more.'
'Margaret, what are you going to do when you leave him?'
'Who says I'm going to leave him?'
'You as good as admitted it just now.'
'If I do leave, I think I'll get clear of Melbourne. Of Australia, probably.'
'Anywhere in mind?'
'Zelda has said I can stay with them in Italy for as long as I like.'
'Italy?' Deems is surprised.
'Zelda's organising Vic to take the whole family there for a year or two. She says she's fed up with the colonies and she thinks the kids should learn another language properly when they're still young.'
'Thompson hasn't mentioned this to me.'
'He's probably only just found out about it, himself.'
'I thought you didn't approve of women manipulating their husbands.'
'I don't. But I'm not going to pass up a villa in Italy on the strength of it.'
She changes me to the other breast. I utter a little bleat and then settle back to my sucking.
'Will you have lunch with me next week sometime?' Deems asks. 'If you promise not to bring Claude, I promise not to be drunk.'
'Probably not,' my mother says, 'but you could always ring me up and suggest it.'
'You'd have to bring Flake too.'
'If I did have lunch with you, I'd arrange a baby sitter.'
'I might want to see my daughter.'
'She's not your daughter in any but the most trivial sense. One cell, that's all. Half a cell, really.'
For half an hour they pursue a dreary, circular argument about the myth of physical paternity. Margaret quotes obscure anthropology books. Deems has the feeling she's been doing research for an article. They speak to each other without passion or heat. My father suddenly feels very tired. He stands up. His backside hurts where it has been abused by the toilet seat.
'Well, I ought to go.'
'May I kiss you?'
'If you wish.'
But she turns her head, offering him only her cheek. Deems leans over and kisses me instead, as I drowse milkily at my mother's breast.
It is still quite early and there are crowds in Toorak Road. The pavements are thick with lamp-posts and other hazards to navigation. Daimon leans against a telephone pole and hails a taxi or two. None stops, though a few slow as they pass. Finally one deposits a couple of honest citizens. As they disembarked from the rear, Deems opens the front door and slumps beside the driver. My father is a rugged democratic individual who will not ride alone in the back of taxis.
The driver asks, 'You pissed mate?'
'We're not meant to pick up drunks. Company policy. I won't throw you out though.'
'They chunder all over the cab.'
'You're telling me, mate. You better keep the window open just in case.'
The driver is a long-haired hippy - Deems knows the type, having been one. He drives with a total disregard for the white lines. My father recalls his hair-raising dash to save Rhys from peripheral neuropathy. It seems another life entirely.
Deems says, 'There's too much traffic.'
The radio gibbers. The stream of cold air from the window is sobering at first, then chilling. Deems closes the window. The driver accelerates towards a set of changing lights, thinks better of it, and jams on his brakes. The taxi shudders to rest on the pedestrian crossing, its bonnet jutting into the cross street. Several pedestrians detour around it, but one man in a pinstriped suit thumps on the bonnet in annoyance.
'Fuckin' pig,' observes the driver, gesticulating with two fingers.
The man turns and draws alongside the driver's window. 'You should stop on the other side of the line.'
'I'll take your number.'
The man fumbles with his wallet. The driver leers at him. The man produces a pen and a cheque book.
'Make it out to Captain Cook,' the driver advises and thumps the steering wheel in appreciation of his own wit. Deems laughs too. The man stalks to the front of the taxi and starts to copy the registration number onto the cover of his cheque book. The driver guns the motor and eases the car towards him. The man stands his ground, but is prevented from further transcription by the bulk of the car which now presses against his thighs. He glares at them across the bonnet. The driver crouches low over his wheel in a parody of a racer waiting for the chequered flag. He moves the gear lever to neutral and slams his accelerator to the boards. The engine screams fit to fly apart. The pinstriped man jumps away, visibly shaking. The screaming dies and the car moves forward again. The man and the front half of the taxi are now dangerously into the line of cross traffic. A car swerves slightly, its horn blaring. The man scuttles back to the pavement. A woman bystander, broad of girth, hat skewered to her head with knitting needles, commiserates with him. She shouts at the taxi, 'You'll go to jail for this, I've got your number. You'll be hearing from the police, you mark my words.'
'Tell her to drop dead,' the driver instructs his passenger.
Deems starts cautiously to suggest that they leave the citizenry alone, but the driver leans across his lap and winds down the window. His hair drags across Daimon's folded hands.
'Mind your own fuckin' business,' he yells at the woman.
The car behind honks. The lights have changed. The driver accelerates away with a screech of tires. Three blocks on, he starts to laugh. 'Did you see that poor prick's face?'
'Yeah,' Deems says.
'He thought I was going to run him over.' He laughs again and then, suddenly angry, says, 'Fuckin' should of, too. They get on my wick, pricks like that. Always trying to take your bloody number and ring the fuckin' cops.' After a moment's silence he asks, 'What do you reckon?'
'Yeah,' Deems says. He has a headache and the oncoming lights hurt his eyes.
The digital clock by his bed reads 21.46 when Daimon throws himself fully dressed at the pillow. When he awakens with the pain of fifty fathoms of water pressing his eyeballs, the clock reads 03.47. From 03.53 to 04.31 he weeps. He weeps for Louise, for silly Sally-Ann, for the ship-wrecked pug, for Cathie, and most of all for Margaret. He weeps for the curve of my infant cheek against my mother's breast. He weeps for the man in the pinstriped suit shaking on the curb. And he weeps for himself. Deeply, drowning in an ocean of self-pity, Deems sobs for the peace of his soul. At 04.33 he fails to reach the bathroom and vomits disgustingly on the carpet.
This excerpt from The Book of Revelation|
appears with the kind permission of the authors.
All rights reserved. To be published by
HarperCollins Australia, September 1999.
©1999 Damien Broderick and Rory Barnes