Someone has the ball on the halfback flank. I see Mossie who pushes through the footy crowd. Pushes past people who glare at him. He doesn’t notice. He squints his little eyes at me and grabs my hand in his ham fist, his wide and friendly face relaxed as usual.
“Hello Steve,” I drawl feigning displeasure. Yeah, I know, mate thing, forgive.
“Sorry I’m late. Had to kick two nymphomaniacs out of my bed,” he laughs, his wide face wobbling at the unlikelihood of that. What a joker.
Mossie has missed the first quarter, but he glows like he was out in the huddle during the break to gee up the Eagles himself.
“They’re only four goals down,” he ventures.
“Yeah,” I warn, “but it’s going to rain.” And then they’re fucked.
“Nah,” he laughs, “the cloud’s too high.”
Right then, the rain spits at us, ready to pelt down. Mossie’s face straightens around his waterproof good-guy smile.
“What’s up, mate?” I ask, as the Hawks go five goals up in the first thirty seconds of the second quarter.
“Look,” he replies, “some of our boys don’t even know that the quarter’s restarted. Wonder why we bother,” he complains. “Job’s going great. Promotion. Oh, and Cheryl’s walked out on me again.”
“Do you think that they care that we are out here bleeding for them?” I smirk.
Steve gives me a big smile. “It’s the mass will of the collective unconsciousness,” he suggests. He sweeps his arms over the sea of unhappy faces about us, depressed by the human failings of our heroes. He is the product of a well-wasted university education. I should know since I am too.
“Money has ruined the game as a spectacle,” he continues. “The South Fremantle premiership of 1980. That team was a mixture of skill and strength we won’t ever see again. You’ll never again have a champion ruckman like Stephen Michael who was only six foot one and had to rely on his phenomenal natural ability to read the play.”
I nod, reverent at the name of our childhood hero. Who else remembers him now? And why should they?
“You’re wasted in motor insurance claims,” I smile. I smile at him, at the dampened hopes of the face-painted children, their careful team-coloured patterns already blurred by rain dots, at the older wooden faces of people who should have learned how to cope with the vagaries of sport by now. I feel a perverse satisfaction, a desire to see the home side beaten so that I can revel in their misery. Get lives! Worry about things that matter.
“So how bad is it with Cheryl?” I ask. It seems the right thing to say.
The local boys fumble the ball and lose it. It is so cruel. I look for something other than disappointment in the crowd. A bright face shines back at me from the despairing sea. Jim Urlop waves at me. I wave back in vague recognition as if I can con him that in this crowd it is okay. He doesn’t have to come over. No hope of that, knowing Jim. He’ll come over.
The Eagles surge forward with the ball and the sea of despair around us becomes an ocean of joy as the team promises something good. Heads lift and we all stand taller. The band of brothers find their voice. The rain stops too.
“She took all the CDs and DVDs,” Steve smirks. “I guess that means it’s serious.” He always smirks when he is upset. The AC/DC collection can be easily replaced.
An Eagle knocks over a Hawthorn player which goes down well in our area.
“Eagles,” shout the young.
“Carn boys, you can beat them,” an expert woman near us yells. “You’ve got leads everywhere.”
“Kill them,” another woman screeches.
Jim crunches over and grabs my arm, happy like a salivating dog.
“Great game so far,” he advises.
“Anything interesting happening in your life, Jim?” I suggest.
“Nah,” he replies like I have invited him to stay with us. He stares at the game, fists clenched as he wills the Eagles into graceful feats of resurrection.
“Who are you here with?” I suggest to Jim, as the last quarter grinds on and he stays with us. He buys us more beers.
“Some guys,” he vaguely obliges. “How’s Cheryl?” he asks Steve who shrugs.
The final siren goes. Mossie, Jim and I march out of the ground in an orderly manner with the rest. Until I try to push through the crowd quicker than its momentum allows me. Steve keeps up with us, elbows some bloke who was bigger than he was, but disarms him with his insurance man’s “Sorry”. A large woman hunches down in front of Mossie to adjust her shoe.
“Excuse me,” he barks at her.
She ignores him or doesn’t hear, hard to say.
“Excuse me,” he repeats, louder.
Still no response. He grabs her shoulder and eyeballs her. She whacks his hand off her.
“Get out of our way,” Steve snarls, and pushes ahead of us and past her. I catch him up on the footpath outside the gates. Jim follows me.
“Geez I need a piss,” Steve laughs at me. “Dunno if I can wait ‘til I get home.” Like that was a good reason.
A clutter of beer bottles and cans, empty pizza boxes and cigarette packs adorn Mossie’s living room, neatly offsetting his mismatched furniture. A statement of male domestic defiance against the orderliness of the absent woman. Amidst our beers and smokes, he boasts about his new job with its big responsibilities and babe-like secretary.
“Who gives a fuck about your job?” I challenge. “I’ve heard this shit before.”
Mossie laughs. “What about your job?” he taunts.
“Money goes into the bank each fortnight,” I reply. “No one gets killed and I get to leave at five o’clock each day and nobody hassles me. And what was with that woman on the way out of the ground?”
“What’s your company called, again?” Jim interrupts. “I didn’t catch the name.” A big opportunity for Jim to work for Mossie, the great insurer. Was this why he was clinging to us?
Mossie resumes the tale of his great job with his great multinational, boom time for the industry, the great perks, all his usual boasting.
“What do you do at the moment?” Mossie asks Jim.
I watch Jim pitch a line that he had gone as far as he could and needs new opportunities. Ouch, I thought he was a time-server like me. I go to the fridge to get more beers and watch them from the kitchen. Steve sits deep in his comfy chair, legs splayed like he is too big for his own room. Thin Jim Urlop faces Steve Moss straight-backed on the edge of a kitchen chair that has migrated into the living room. Like a male domination ritual on a nature show. Steve asks Jim if he is the sort of go-ahead guy that he needs on his team. Jim edges closer.
“Greg’s a chronic underachiever,” Mossie tells his new buddy Jim as I toss him his new beer. “You need some assertiveness training, Greg,” he tells me.
I toss a can at Jim and open mine.
“Yeah,” I argue. No good.
“I can recommend a course for you,” Steve urges.
I roll my eyes. He looks hurt, pathetic.
“I’ll put you onto this company that does it,” he offers. “They’re the best. Think about it. Money well spent.”
He taps the side of his nose. I shrug.
“Got to get you out of your cul-de-sac,” he pronounces like an Australian would.
We drink more beer. Floating on an uncaring vibe I flick through Steve’s vinyl albums and put on Leonard Cohen onto the turntable. When that finishes I play another one. Meanwhile I learn a lot about Steve Moss’s work and Jim Urlop’s potential.
“Leonard’s great,” Mossie smiles like he was present at the recording session. Jim groans. Suzanne takes us down to her place by the river.
“Something wrong with the music?” Mossie asks him.
“I still can’t believe they lost like that,” Jim complains. “It was like they weren’t trying.” He looks dark.
Mossie finds some more Jung in his subconsciousness. “The hero is the symbolic personification of death and rebirth. He shows our strengths and fragility at the same time. Think of Buckenara’s Achilles tendon snapping at the start of the ’84 VFL Grand Final. If you know what I mean.”
What, I wonder, is this shit?
Jim stands up and puffs out his chest like a proud ruckman. Is Steve making fun of him?
“They should have fucking won today,” he repeats with force. That’s it, cut through the crap, I smirk to myself. Jim fidgets. He must do something. He sucks the rest of his beer out and drops the can on the carpet. Steve frowns to me but does nothing as beer seeps from the can onto his rug.
“I’ll get some more beers from the fridge,” I suggest and stand up.
Steve stands up because I do. He watches Jim, flickers a sharp glance at me.
“Okay?” I ask. Jim and Steve don’t answer. They sway in their places, boxers before the bell. Jim stares at Steve.
“They should have fucking won,” he spits at Steve.
“Yeah,” Steve murmurs, no exit.
“Should have fucking won,” Jim repeats. The beer is working.
We stand silent. Steve tenses. Jim stares threats at us. He punches the immigrant kitchen chair. The chair stands silent on its thin metal legs. He glares at it. I glance at Mossie. Jim punches the chair again. This time it teeters for a second then falls over. Jim rubs his fist with his other hand. He doesn’t feel the blood he smears over his tight knuckles. He glares and rubs his hands again, then strides down the hall. Mossie and I wait for the front door to slam.
“Chair won,” Mossie observes. I say nothing, sip my beer.
Jim calls me. “Catch up for a beer mate?” he asks. WHAT?
Men are supposed to go with it. “I’m busy at the moment, Jim.”
“You’re pissed off.”
“Busy.” I’m firm, hope that’s all right. “Soon, okay?”
Mossie invites me to lunch. Some trendy café, just behind Subiaco Oval. I sip and stare at him and wait for the motivational speech. The café seems full of skinny girls and muscled boys, and I wonder if I fit in. I decide that I don’t, and I relax. Steve has done some tanning and almost belongs here. I don’t need to impress him or anyone. The babes and boys radiate their success, Mossie too. Are they smart or just pretty enough to fake it? I watch Mossie fall in love with a particular well-dressed, well-tanned, well-blonde dream who marches past our table to kiss a waiting hunk. I urge him to open up about his feelings for her.
“All the good ones are taken,” I suggest.
I expect a slap for my negativity. Mossie wants me to love all this.
“Isn’t this a great place?” he insists.
He looks me in the eye. “You’ve got to try harder.”
“Why?” I demand.
He glares. “You do fuck-all but criticise,” he snaps. He looks away. Now what have I missed? Is he back with Cheryl?
In the far corner of the café a tallish brunette with sharp eyes looks over our way. She is alone. Mossie sees her and smiles.
“I think she likes me,” he confides. “Julie, I met her at a seminar.”
He gets up and goes over, smiles at her with his natural confidence. She assesses Steve Moss favourably, and holds a wineglass at him between two long, cool fingers. He sits down with her. I do what mates should and leave him to it.
Published in “An Alphabetical Amulet” (Peter Cowan Writers’ Centre – 2010)