Read an Excerpt
The Shirt Factory
And Other Stories
By Ian Wedde
Victoria University PressCopyright © 1981 Ian Wedde
All rights reserved.
Everybody loves a parade. He joined the queue at the ticket window. Pick up on the tawdry bangle brigade. Hey, Alaska, whydja need the charms? the little elephants and roosters? Look into the liquorice eyes, lay your fingers on the pale skin. This lady's had a big one, right to the heart, she's laughing she's having fun and trouble straightening the words out.
Here's Mandy Dandy with cigarette burns on his jacket. Here's Wisdom. Here's Knowledge. Lights at the end of a long funnel. Lookit this one, the faggot with eyes in the back of his head: 'Who's here, who's here?'
Ah, everybody's here. Youth Hope and Beautyare here. And Time, crushing the flowers agains this mouth ... delirious, 'Smell these!' ... laughing and laughing....
At night the light from the beacon came dimly through the window and fell with a monotonous rhythm on the bedroom wall he faced as he layunable to sleep, shaking sometimes with silent laughter, watching the parade of the day's events pass before his mind's eye. At other times, especially when the weather was calm and clear, he simply listened to the sound of the sea coming in by the same window as the beacon's light.
The house was quite high up a steep hillside, above a small stony beach, on a long turbulent arm of the harbour. It was high enough to lookdown in daytime at a gannet as it rose in the gusty updraughts then folded itself and plunged, impacting here or there in the small bay. The moment at which the bird paused in the air before its dive took his breath away. He'd feel a lurch of vertigo lift his stomach as the gannet folded and then fell. He breathed again when he saw the small splash of its impact. The bird would fish back and forth across the bay. He never counted the number of times it dived. It was as though he was afraid the number wouldn't be as amazing as the bird's persistence throughout a morning ... the thick skull plate smashing again and again through the surface of a wave, the folded torpedo body fizzing downward through the water in a tube of bubbles, the fish transfixed, trailing a speeding dilution of pink ... then the bird surfacing, heaving itself back into the air, rising on the spirals of wind bent upward by the cliff, hanging again above the water, looking down from that bone helmet at the fishes under the surface of the bay, the targets ... pausing folding....
Of course the gannet only succeeded one time in ten. He told himself this statistic which he'd read somewhere. Nevertheless the bird seemed merciless as well as patient and beautiful. He told himself that it was a ridiculous development, that a poor creature should be permitted some less hideous, less enslaving and less brutal and less inefficient method of feeding itself. But at the same time he knew the bird's mastery. Watching the gannet fold and dive, he held his breath, felt his stomach lurch ... and also felt the hair stir on the back of his neck, and resisted at times an instinct to turn and look up and back, behind himself.
At night he listened to the waves. The beacon flashed on the bedroom wall. Starlight and breeze and the scent of flowers also entered the window. He lay and watched the motion of the beacon's light on the wall. With himself h e began to enter into some sort of account of the day's events. The beacon w as like a mnemonic. He watched an event as it approached a threshold of pa in or ugliness. Then the tension broke, the scene became comical, he shook with silent laughter.
Flash, and the next. And the next. Flash. Flash. He lay laughing at the show while sleep began to lift him high above the scent of flowers, the sound of waves down there in the bay.CHAPTER 2
Goin' down the Necropolis, Res-tau-rant,
See Miss Visual, Can-dy–
She gonna make me feel, aw-rite,
... you can't finish a little set like that, what's the matter? could it be the way the endings keep coming closer and closer to you, until the first word you write makes you flinch because you expect the next one to be The End: KAA-THONNGGG! your consciousness spread very thin now, like a roadside bloodstain that's been rained on, coprophagous beetles rolling shit across this pink plateau and down among the cool grass stalks and under the close-weave canopies of penny-royal by the stock-gate: 'What was that?' 'Blood, don't touch, it's dirty.' And no one will ever hear the music you had in you, no one will ever look at your songs and think: Kurt Weil and Bertolt Brecht, and now Herman Flag and ... see, you haven't even got a partner yet, and you're worried about Eternity?
Or could it just be that these bright openings always have a friend in tow, someone you want to be kind to, who siphons off all the jitter your nerves are sending out, and you end up watching a documentary on television and then sliding into an exhausted early sleep brought on by that dull opiate, reality — is that what it is? When what you really wanted was to be out screwing like a rattlesnake (why 'like a rattlesnake'?) or better still writing just one song that never faltered, you had it all to yourself, it was aimed by Fate straight for the labouring heart of the American Top Forty, all the way from Wellington New Zealand, and people are singing your songs? it's Jackson Browne all over again, you're so big you can write kindly about roadies?
Nah that's not it. You just want that rush of knowing you could do it. The rest, fame, money, all that, that's shit, that's just the evidence, that's the litter thrown out the window of your Karmabile, that's for the thousands of fans you don't even know, to fight over: your cigarette packets that can cure cancer, up in the class of The Alacoque who could not resist licking up the vomit of a sick patient, or St John of the Cross who got his tongue down to the sores of lepers, now there's commitment ... used chewing gum blobs that braze fractured souls tighter than brass and zinc bands about the faithful coachman's heart, snot-balls wrapped in tissue which the addicts will trade, deal, murder, and chisel for ever since a wonderful night in the thrillingly intimate surroundings of Beefsteak Charlie's, was it? when they first saw how your most forward part, your nose, was lit so clean in the spotlight, each perfect pore pouting out a small blob of perspiration or shining oil through the film of Number Five Basic and the dusting of Antishine ... well, call it a habit if you like, but they'll say there's nothing to compare with one of those dark boogers unpicked from its tissue, impaled on a twirling needlepoint and heated over a low flame then popped into that rather special nosepipe and sucked right back, phhhuuummm — aaaagghhh, Land here come the dreams: Rubbing Noses With Flag (he's from New Zealand, right?) ... Lending Flag Your Hankie ... Lending Flag Your Nasal Spray ... and even, if the hit was good enough and the surroundings are right: The Big One ... Having A Loan Of Flag's Own Nasal Spray! ... turning aside in dreaming slow motion and shoving the plastic phallus with its few darkening encrustations right into one nostril and then just keeping on with it until with a crunch of breaking cartilege and a slow flood through ruptured sinus walls, the nasal spray enters your brain and you let go with the biggest squeeze left in your nerveless fist, and its the Hit within the hit, the Dream within the dream ... and they're so far out by this time they don't even notice when the rockademic in the Bill Blass pinstripes and sneakers autographed by Mick Jagger way back in 1970 and now worn only On The Job comes haiiiyah! in through the window from the alley where he's just finished researching the contents of the dustbins for Rolling Stone, and pistol-whips the dreaming booger-fiend to one side with a silver-plated handbag piece that leaves on the addict's face a mark not like a skull but like a stylus cartridge ... indeed, it's Doctor Schlock, the man who brings you Rock Roots on your radio, and what's this? Goodness, sounds like an item about One Of Our Own, that sooper-dooper songwriter Flag who made it with a big hit record in the American Top Forty!
Yes, Doctor Schlock has been doing some sleuth work on him and is definitely of the opinion that Flag is a Solid Feature in the geomorphology of rock, 'Though,' with this wry laugh, 'Flag seems to have picked up a, uh, odd sort of following in some quarters, you heard anything? Who knows, this's one of his the first big one it's called. ...', Schlock's amphetamine DJ impersonation drowned out here as the technician brings up the sound of:
Goin' down the Necropolis, Res-tau-rant,
See Miss Visual, Can-dy
... drowning out also the rattle of the pill against Schlock's dry teeth as he slumps back to sit on fingers that won't keep still, thinking How can anyone ever keep up....
Here come the radio waves across the dark waters of Oriental Bay, passing through a variety of ghosts who like to hover out there at a discreet distance from this, the Beirut of the South Pacific: Korean or Japanese squid-fishermen with their foundation smell of scrotum bowlegging it down to the Royal Oak Bistro Bar, 'Haere-mai' from Juicy Fruit and her sisters, on whose forearms and ankles are the tracks that resemble those left by melancholy poets treading the tidelines of Aotearoa ... Honda Civics squeezing out chartered accountants in Courtenay Place to see a macho movie (this week): Convoy or The Deerhunter or something, the sort of flick that even with irony added still has them roaring like ten-pointers down in the deserted flooding glades of their libido (next week a disaster movie: it's all a subtle process of checks and balances) ... 'Reality: how to see it, and how to feel it, more and more, every daaaaay!' And over here on the Oriental Parade side: it's pink, there are a few light-bulbs around its cornices, an appetising aroma drifts across the road from it as people park and cross ... it's ... but wait. What are these mid-distance ghosts saying as Rock Roots passes through them? Remember, everything has slowed down for them, these radio waves have peaks as slow as the rhythm Noah felt when there was no shore, no lee, no dangerous smell of seaweed to enter the fo'c'sle at night....
James Heberley (in a monotone): I was born in 1809 in Weymouth, at eleven I went as an apprentice on board a Fishing Smack, my master was a tyrant I ran away, some years later my Master found me out, he beat me with a dog-fish tail, my mother died I asked to go to her funeral, he took a piece of rope and gave me a thrashing, I ran away and shipped to St van le mar in Jamaica, the cane plantations are full of venomous snakes they call fer de lance, after some years of adventuring I shipped from Sydney on board the Waterloo Schooner, belonging to John Guard, bound for Queen Charlotte Sound New Zealand, Guard told me there were plenty of houses in Te Awaiti and Native Women, and that we had nothing to do but to go in our boats and catch Fish, we sailed on the first of April being what is commonly termed April fool day, on the fourteenth of April I found he had made a fool of me, there was no houses there, I got a Tomahawk and went in the Bush and cut some timber to build one, I saw a great many dead bodies, I told an Irishman of the name of Logan he laughed at me, and told me there was plenty in the next bay, so I went, I suppose there was about fifty or sixty on the ground besides Heads Arms and Joints, some of the joints had been cooked, there was like a young child stuck upon a stick before a fire that had been lighted, I settled there and married a wife and fought with her people in their wars, in 1843 my wife's grandfather and uncle gave me Worser's Bay, I was pilot at the Wellington Heads, then I started fishing and in the whaling season I went to the sound whaling, that was in June 1843 just after the Wairau Massacre. ... (The waves go by and don't bother the old captain one bit, certainly the latest Eurodisco funk-slop concept tracks do not sock themselves into 'the spaces that were his ears', unquote ((sort of)), though his 'voice' does rise a little as he nears his punchline ((excitement? fervour? in that world?)) which finally goes something like this:)
... and, but, and what I think is, what I thought was, I realized, after everything, there are no snakes here in New Zealand, there are no snakes in the bush, they got none, that makes it different....
Dicky Barrett: Only venom ever got me was the arrack rum....
(Let's call him) 'Takiji Kobayashi': Thassa ri' ... thereah, no-snake, in New Zealan'....
(Poor 'Takiji', week after week squidding, night work, the company superintendent 'Asakawa' badeyeing him and just inviting him to step off among the sharks cleaning up offal astern, don't slip now and especially not with only me here to catch you, and he had to go and get staggering drunk on Royal Oak draught beer and the prospect of one of Juicy Fruit's lemons (pucker when you fuck): he finds himself standing next to 'Asakawa' splashing the stinking tiles of the Bistro urinal and the super says, turning his stream on to 'Takiji's' cheap shoe, 'What a crusted arsehole of a country this is,' and 'Takiji', looking down at his shoe replies that after that last southern stretch, Manila on, this is paradise, what's more the girl's told him there are no snakes here, and 'Asakawa', 'You jerkoff, she was talking about your pants, har har!' And so it went, until 'Takiji', for defending the snakeless status of his new-found paradise, found himself sinking down in the night harbour through lights cast by the Star Boating Club and the Container Terminus, with no breath or blood passing any further than the hole in his neck, his hands tied to a plastic kleensack of dangerously corroded tins of whalemeat ...).
... through the oblivious ghosts, across the evening waters, past the Freyberg Pool with its reek of an atmosphere too fresh to be real, past the marina where halyards rattle like teeth in the skulls of mariners whose bodies sinking into some groper and ling hole beyond Cape Palliser have been emptied from their woollen slops bought in the Company store at five times Hobart prices ... in they come, the radio waves, to the decaying pink facade of, it's Pierre's Chophouse! In through the door and past the fake tarred ropes and the fishing floats, out back where plump Pierre is uncorking yet another cold bottle of Bernkeisler riesling for the pissed Swiss demimonde in the corner booth, and where Andre the second cook has just finished blowing his nose into the potato salad of an order that came back with a complaint that the Rahmschnitzel tasted of fish, 'Take it back the fucking peasants won't know the difference,' adding, 'Where's that Herman leck-mich-am-Arsch Flag?' the salad hand don't you know, well where's a young man to get his pourboire these days with the rock lyric market so hard to crack? He's away for now from the cassette of yodelling the Swiss put on an hour ago, away from those elements in the clientele, 'I'll eat anything that's edible,' lipstick on her teeth, putting her arm around the other woman's plump shoulder, or the one who complained, 'This ... fork. ...' ... 'Whassa matter, those cabbage shreds've been boiled at two hundred and eighty degrees Fahrenheit in a three thousand dollar dishwasher with detergent that makes holes in aluminium pots, whaddaya want?' ... Away with Miss Visual Candy in the alley ... 'You want to?' ... 'Okay,' one foot up on a dustbin and the other seeking purchase among crayfish legs cucumber rinds and slicks of putrefying sauce tartare ... this passion beneath the stars, it could break your heart, and here are those waves, they hit just as Flag yells, 'Paradise is with us!' and comes all over Visual Candy's waitress pinny, as usual the dream of central-heated success steps back at the last minute, 'What did you do that for?' in a trembling voice, 'Come off it Flag, get that in me I'd have smelled like a sardine tin in half an hour, there's still two hours till closing, I got servings waiting. ...' ... 'Where's Flag ... you out there Flag?' 'Just coming Andre (ha ha)!' ... Oh yes, in Pierre's Chophouse the steaks are pretty low (ha ha), and inside it's chaos, 'Listen Pierre, Visual here was upset, if I hadn't got her out and quietened her down she'd have smashed that Rotarian's dinner on his head, bad for business Pierre.' 'It's you that's bad for business Flag, I don't pay you for counselling, out, out!' 'Now wait Pierre, don't do anything you'll regret. ...' 'I don't regret, you regret, out, get your pay tomorrow!' 'Fuck your money you fat cook!', Herman Flag back into the kitchen where Andre and the dishwasher stand with mouths open as he dumps sauerkraut on his head and runs screaming into the restaurant with a tomato sauce squeezer, phut! there's some for the one he spotted an hour ago and graded as a type'll order well-done T-bone with two eggs double french-fries and a side order of greasy onions then eat everything but the lettuce and the coleslaw and leave the egg whites too, gouge the yolks out, and phut! that's for Pierre's blond mistress getting ice cream from the cooler by the door, as Flag exits screaming, 'Don't touch it, there's salmonella and the dishwasher picks his nose I seen him!' phut! for the plate glass window fronting on the harbour, and inside he can hear the chairs going over and the scramble of feet as they come after him and he ducks back into the alley over dustbins and in through the side door to the now empty kitchen, grab a plastic sack of fillet steak, and back out up the steps on to the cool house roof over the wall drop then through this yard and across to Hay Street and up into the Green Belt, Christ if they call the cops there'll be dogs, drop a couple of steaks to slow them down, finally via Grafton and Maidavale Steps down to Balaena Bay and into the water to lose the scent, leave shoes and pants and wash off that sauerkraut, then wet and half naked, little late swimming heh heh, through deserted paths home, drop the sack on the kitchen floor, 'Anyway they all eat shit there,' he says to nobody but himself, what price rock fame, what now?
Excerpted from The Shirt Factory by Ian Wedde. Copyright © 1981 Ian Wedde. Excerpted by permission of Victoria University Press.
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