Big Heart, by David Daniel Ball
It was Friday, school had finished and while we hadn't exactly left school together, we were walking our separate ways, together.
He is very fat, even for a teacher. His belly went as far forward as it did to each side, the effect was to make him appear as a tennis ball with arms, legs and a head. He spoke in a clear tenor's voice. He asked lots of questions, but also volunteered a lot about himself. I thought he was kind, and useless to me. He meant well, but he knew only about his world and only guessed about mine.
Around us and at a discreet distance, other kids walked their separate ways. I wouldn't walk with them and they wouldn't walk with me. Some were older, and they were ahead of us and getting further away. Some were at our sides, at a distance, these groups looked clean and giggly and self involved. I couldn't talk to them, and wouldn't if I could. Behind us were some my own age. Boys. One was aping the walk of the teacher. Teacher had noticed.
"No. Not one of my friends" I assured the teacher.
I didn't want to get absorbed in conversation. The teacher was happy to talk and I was happy to listen.
"I'm Vietnamese, Jacky Chan is Chinese"
"I like action, but not subtitles."
"Just my Mother."
We were approaching the end of the park. To our left was a small track that led to the railway station. Straight ahead was an underpass to the railway station and a road bridge that overran the creek we were walking next to. Angel's sister was holding court. She lived here with her druggie boy friend. I didn't want to think of how they lived, or went to the toilet, here. Angel despised her as much as her adoring fans fawned over her.
The teacher broke off, brightly greeted the others and cheerfully went about his business as the others looked at each other, bemused. He was fat, but so straight he didn't even look as if he knew what was happening there. I ignored the 'lady' in her court and went about my business. I wasn't going straight home; I had too much to do. Candy saw me and called my name.
Candy was the older, only sister of Angel, but her age showed in an exaggerated and broken way. Much as an abandoned weatherboard house compares with a luxury apartment. She was blonde and her hair was dirty and broken and straggly. She stood with her pelvis forward, as one might that was expecting sex, and didn't want to make extra effort. Her voice was broken and she never enunciated, preferring to slur her words.
The others looked knowingly at each other with her next words, and smiled with malice.
"Thanks, that means a lot to me. You're very sweet." I liked Angel too, but I didn't want to give everything away in front of the crowd. I also didn't want Candy to know I despised her, so I lay it on, thick. Then I excused myself.
Someone said I was going to see Angel straight away. I left without acknowledging the suggestion. I was going to Angel, if I could, but I would have to find her.
Through the underpass I walked. It smelt of urine and faeces. The smell might have come from the processing plant downstream. I paid little attention as I marched toward the shops and a possible glimpse of Angel. The path snaked up and ran parallel with the arterial road that ran next to the railway. It seemed funny to me that roads and rail ran next to each other. The creek smell concentrated below and exhaust fumes were above. To my left, the street and rail formed a bitumen and concrete hell. To my right, the trees and creek looked beautiful, but enclosed, surrendering to the shops and road ahead.
The shops and station formed a hub that was Canley Valley. Lots of people hurry and scurry at this time of day. Shopping before the shops close. Many wear the Canley Valley High School blue and white uniforms. Many wear the chocolate colours of the primary school, or the uniforms of many other schools of Sydney. Angel was working at this time, but she was a suburb away, ten minutes walking.
Canley Valley, and the surrounding neighbourhoods, is all part of a melting pot of cultures and ethnicities. About one third are Vietnamese, one third are Chinese and the remaining third make up over a hundred other nationalities and races. People don't notice me, or clock my 'uniform' which had caused me no end of trouble during the day. Canley Valley was a poor neighbourhood. Vice was strong and policing difficult when few spoke the language of English when it didn't suit them.
I was thinking of Angel and walking. Time flew. I was in the metropolitan hub of South West Sydney, Cabra Vale. Supermarkets, shops, banks, One Police Youth Club to service a million people, and it was here. No movie theatre. Freedom Square. The RSL Park. A group of kids had collected at a bus depot near the railway. Cino held court there. Normally he hung outside the Timegone Entertainment facility. Today he had his pug like face that topped a wiry, underfed body that should, by rights, have melted under the glare of attention. The air was sweet. I knew Angel was nearby.
I felt a bit light, being near her presence. I called out to Cino. I was only being familiar. I hadn't noticed the policeman who had collected a big wad in daylight. Cino assured him I wouldn't be trouble. Eyes were on me. Angel happened by and saved me.
Angel wasn't very tall, but she was perfect. Her heart shaped face framed two grey eyes. Two golden legs that kept moving in interesting ways, framing her pelvis beneath a miniskirt, supported a petite body. Her voice had a girly pitch. Wherever she moved eyes would follow. She walked up to me and looked full into my face. "You should be proud of him, Cino." We kissed.
I awoke at home. I was tired and could have slept so much more. Mother had returned. She was upset. She had been drinking.
"I'm tired, Mother." This statement was true.
"I work at school." This statement was not true.
"The teachers never give a fair go. They always favour the Chinese." This last response is something I knew she would accept, and more importantly, not research.
"Chinese kids gang up on us!"
"I work at school." I had to make that claim. No one would believe that claim to be true. My teachers also made the claim, as they had to as well. No one believed them, either.
"Will Trevor give me a job?" Uncle Trevor was a private investigator. I don't think he actually did anything, but promise the world to others. He had never promised the world to me. I liked that.
"Who cares about work experience? I want to get paid!"
Mother had begun to 'clean up my room. I knew she was searching my things, and this made me angry. I didn't want her to find the pills. She kept looking and talking. I got mad. I got dressed. I left the unit, slamming the door. She could look as much as she liked, now. The pills were in my shoes, which I was wearing.
The pills were for me to sell, and a few for personal use. I was tired and angry. I took a 'go' pill. I didn't feel like resting. I didn't want to attract police attention. I went toward Timegone, but I avoided lit pathways. I kept looking over my shoulder, feeling as if I was being followed.
I passed Candy's home, and overheard an argument she was having with her boyfriend. He was upset.
"I hate this sh*t!" He called out in anguish. "We can't afford NOTHING."
I stopped myself from laughing at that last statement. In fact, nothing was all he could afford. I knew where this loud conversation was heading, but I listened, fascinated to hear them work out why it was they had nothing.
"Don't lie to me!"
"No. We don't."
"You are always saying that."
"Fritter doesn't know. Fritter knows sh!t! F#cken sh!t! No F#cken sh!t!"
"I'm sorry, baby."
"I am sorry."
"I'm sorry, baby"
"We don't own a unit. Not one f#cken bed."
"I'm sorry, baby"
"What are you going to do? Become a house?"
"I'm sorry, baby"
"You didn't share it with me, did you?"
"You never share!"
"What about me?"
I gathered he hadn't scored, earlier. He couldn't afford to. Now he was bemoaning the fact that they didn't have what 'everyone else has.'
As I walked, I had this feeling of being followed, by Mother. It was as if she were creeping behind and not calling out. Surreptitious, like when she scanned my room while I was there. I could feel her eyes.
First stop was back to Cino's sweatshop. Located close to PCYC and Timegone. If Mother wanted to follow me to Cino's, that was her look out. Cino had ways of dealing with unwanted observers. I marvelled at how well, how quickly Angel had protected me from Cino's security.
Cino's little office was the administrative room of Timegone. There were three easy ways to get to it. One was through the front door of Timegone, next to the discount furniture and electrical goods warehouse shopfront. That was closed out of hours, the glass doors locked. It was opposite Cabra Railway Station, which was manned twenty-four hours a day. I wasn't going that way.
Another way to Cino's office was through the car park to the warehouse. The shutter doors were part of an automatic system. I wasn't going that way.
Pedestrian access to the car park was behind the shops. Cino kept people on watch there. That would be my route. I didn't know the twists and turns, but then I didn't have to. The policeman was there.
"No sir, no disrespect meant. I'm going to see Cino now." He laughed at me, but he left me to continue. I was met by a couple of young men. Nothing they did told me, but I thought they were dangerous and armed. They took me to a room. One left for a while, and then when he returned they escorted me to Cino's office. I hadn't noticed, but they had searched me.
Cino's little office was lit and he was busy with phone calls. He spoke calmly and lightly, but everything he said suggested threat and death. He looked at me, and spoke.
"Yes. I'm Angel's friend." I acknowledged.
"No. She doesn't know I'm here." What did he want to know for? Was he sussing me out? What did Angel have to do with him anyway?
"I would like to work." He explained he wasn't going to give me money to have a dirty weekend with Angel. He said I was useless to him, if I wanted to work. But if I wanted money he would tell me how to get some.
"I want money."
School wasn't any different, but it was worse. I didn't have any equipment, as that was at home in my school bag. Most teachers didn't notice. It was a game that they played, making me look dumb. I knew that the secret to success at school wasn't to be noticed. Being bag-less attracted attention. I had my weekend takings. I had my pills. I hadn't slept all weekend.
Mr Ebay taught wood. I didn't know his name; only what others seemed to call him. He was upset with me for not having a bag. He also taught Electronics, so I suppose his question was understandable, but it seemed funny to me.
"How's my not finishing homework for wood got anything to do with me being electrocuted?" It was the wrong question to ask.
He began to get more animated and talk louder. He demanded to know my name, and so I looked confused. He repeatedly asked me and so I gave him my third name, "Hung."
"Everyone calls me Hung." I pointed to my name on his clipboard. He became very sarcastic.
"Your name?" He wanted me to tell him what his name was.
"Mr Ebbay" I had decided to flatten the E a little. This seemed to satisfy him. He didn't correct me, he just became more sarcastic.
Then he let me back into the woodwork room. The others looked knowingly.
"I don't know why he got upset." I said this loudly enough so that he could hear it. His face changed colour. Very amusing. He didn't take it further.
Monday, After School
It was Monday, school had finished and while we hadn't exactly left school together, we were walking our separate ways, together.
That fat teacher again. He kind of continued from where he left off.
"No, I don't play chess."
"I don't play games at home, my Mother is too busy." Too busy drinking, I thought.
"I visit friends. Home is small."
Some kids from my year were walking behind us. One was aping his gate, and he noticed this.
"No, they are not my friends."
Candy was holding court at her makeshift home, which wasn't good enough for her boyfriend. The fat teacher waved cheerily and rolled away. He was out of earshot when Candy said I would be an all-right brother. I left for home. Exhausted.
I'm tired. No one is home. I sleep.
Mother starts talking the moment she has found the weekend takings in my shoe. She hadn't waited to look further, and so she missed the pills in the other shoe.
I snatched my shoes as quickly as she claimed the $5k cash.
"I haven't done anything illegal! That's from my friend! He wants me to hold it for him."
"Give it back!"
"It isn't mine!"
"That isn't fair! Do you want to get me into trouble? Do you??!!"
I'd thrown on some outdoor clothes and slammed the door as I left. She'd kept my cash. She'd probably blow it on alcohol. It had been my first pay from Cino, courtesy of Angel. My first real pay ever.
I remember Cino saying, "This is more than a dirty weekend ... You want work? Get a job. You want money... You do what I tell you. "
It is dark. I am tired. I go to find Angel, confident she can help. I don't know where she is. I want to find her. I don't think Cino would tell me if I asked. I don't think Cino will even see me if I haven't cash for my pills. I get a pill from my shoe. I can't swallow it without liquid.
Units have gardens and lawn. I find a tap and cup my hands to drink, waiting first for the water to run a little. I'm told poisons and bugs collect when outdoor taps aren't used often. I take the pill. Maybe Mother isn't following me, but it feels as if she is.
The bus rank outside Cabra is where I often see Angel. It is close to a railway car park and opposite the shops that form the entrance to Cino's little office. I figure the shops will be shut, the station open. Maybe I'll be lucky.
The metal benches that make seats at the bus shelter outside Cabra rail are empty but for filth. I sit on one, relaxing, lying back for a few moments, and then looking around. Someone has followed, but I can't see them. A few people wait on the rail platform. One is drunk, and yelling loudly about the poor service.
"Business or pleasure?" Where had Angel come from?
"There is a difference?" She heard my reply and giggled. She had an arm over my right shoulder and I could feel her breasts against my back and shoulder, as she placed her left arm around my belly and kissed my neck. It was fun to turn around and return the compliment.
"Come with me" How could I resist her command? She led me to the car park and the Salvation Army clothing bin.
"Wait" she said to me, and opened the bin and leaned inside. Her skirt was small, and it rode up, exposing her pink cotton panty, which I pinched through. She giggled, and her head swung out from underneath the frame. Her clear eyes were as wide as her smile. She had some pale rubber tubing, a spoon, a lighter, a syringe and needle and some liquid vials. "Do you trust me?" She challenged.
I knew what was happening, and I wanted it. We were seated cross-legged at Cabra Station, next to the car park clothing bin. Angel was more like her sister Candy, than I'd imagined. My senses were overwhelmed with the possibility of impending sex. Although I was ready, and had practised for the event, it wasn't panning the way I had thought it would, like on TV.
She was looking at what she was doing, pulling aside my sleeve and rearranging bits of clothing. The station lights and the inky black sky framed her hair. It was after she injected that I began to notice some things, but not others. Everything was proportioned perfectly. The dirty light produced a halo around the Angel's hair. I watched as her hair bobbed up and down. It felt great, and before I could repay the kindness, I slept, as I hadn't done for so long. I even forgot my fear that we were being watched.
The light tapping of rain on the clothing bin changing to a heavy roar woke me. It was dark and warm and clean. I was on a bundle of clothes. A strong box I later found housed all of Angel's possessions. I became very alert. I could hear Angel, outside the bin. She was talking as if she were frightened.
I wanted to help, effectively. Someone, probably more, was monstering my Angel. I tried to locate the opening mechanism to the bin without making noise. Angel was pleading that she was alone and far from home, but she would help them with anything they wanted. The bin's mouth had a metal pan that was secured on either side to greased swivels. I looked out and saw.
My mind didn't immediately register what I was watching. Two large, furry, crouched figures were moving away. They looked as if they might be Gorillas, but their arms were curved and flashed brightly, like scimitar. That wasn't the horror that besieged me in that bin, with that rain. The horror my mind wouldn't accept was the body of Angel. Her back was to me, yet she faced me. She had a beautiful face, but all that had animated it had gone.
I left the bin and stood over her, looking into her eyes. Then I ran my hand over her face and eyelids, trying to close those eyes. It didn't work at first, and I brushed the orbs a few times before they closed. I couldn't leave her there or take her anywhere. Then I 'heard' her request to go home, and I picked up her body, as she had done mine not long ago, and pushed her into her home, climbing in after to rearrange it so she was comfortable. Then I found her strong box, and I knew what to do.
The rain was strong. Water coursed down my face and stung my eyes. There were monsters walking the earth, and I was alone. I walked purposefully... into Candy's boyfriend.
I blinked. It took him a few minutes to recognise me. He was more dishevelled than usual. He seemed drunk and upset.
"No," I answered quietly, numbly. "I haven't seen Candy,"
"Maybe she is with Angel?" That last was cruel in ways he would never know. He nodded at that, and started to grab my arm and ask urgent questions.
"I'm sure she loves you"
"I've never seen her with anyone else."
"Yes, she is a beautiful person."
"I like Angel too."
I was trying to politely get away, disengage, and he said. "Sam. I respect you. You are so young. So f*cking young. You'll never yell at others. Go to school. Angel will still love you if you go to school. Stay at school. Education is the most f@cking best ... The only way to not be me or Candy." I tuned out. I couldn't listen. In another time I wouldn't have paid attention, now I couldn't. I turned on my heel and left him to lurch after Candy.
Cino is behind his desk. He is agitated. He wants to know if I was followed.
"Angel is dead." That took him back.
"No. I didn't kill her." I resented him for even thinking that I was like that. He had suggested, for some reason, that such things happened on 'dirty weekends.' Cino was someone I never wanted to know.
"Here is her stash." I placed her strongbox on the table.
Cino looked at the box and then at me. "There isn't enough cash for it. Sell it or it's your debt. You hear me?"
Police are waiting for me outside of Cino's office. They search me and fail to find my pills, or the strongbox. They drive me home.
"Yes. This is my home."
"My mother isn't home right now." She was at work. Drinking is a full time job.
"I don't know how I can prove I live here."
"We don't have pictures or things."
"My Uncle will vouch for me."
"He's a PI. He is going to give me work experience." When they finished laughing, they asked for his name. A quick call over their network and they phoned my uncle.
The policeman handed me the phone, and told me to talk to my uncle. I did. He sounded distracted and upset.
"Yes Uncle, I'm going to school."
"No, Uncle." I handed the phone back to the policeman. He talked to Uncle, and then said I could go home, now.
Going home after school, Tuesday, Candy holds court. She wants to score. I know it wouldn't be profitable to sell to her.
I am tired, and I take another tablet. I stay awake, and it dawns on me. Those monsters are tracking me when I take the drug.
I sell after school at the station. That is safest. I don't go home in the evenings, but sleep near the clothing bin of Cabra station.
$12k cash. I sold at cost; all of it was Cino's.
It is night. It feels as if I am being followed, but I haven't taken a pill. I go to Cino's back door. No one is there. I follow the corridor to the office. Cino is at his desk. He was slumped over, his face looking backwards, like Angel had. I look at the phone. Would I get into trouble for being here? What should I do?
My Uncle is on the speed dial. I call him.
"I'm at Cino's. He's dead." It sounds hollow to me. Yet I had hated Cino.
"Yes. I see them. Petrol drums at the door."
"Yes. I've gotten the tapes."
"Yes. I have the cash, about $50k." Actually, about $150k.
I hang up and spill one drum of petrol around the office, as directed. I light the office with Cino's lighter as directed. I give $20k to the policeman outside, as directed. I let the policeman take a further $20k after he discovers it in a search, as directed. I go to Cabra Station, and wait for a train to the city. As directed.
Why did I still have the money? That cop should have found it. He pulled $20k out of my underwear and yet missed the $110k in my bag. I had some of the choicer drugs from Cino's office. Smoke billowed behind me. Firemen clamoured and ordered. Police restricted. I was waiting for a train.
I hadn't killed Cino; I'd found him dead. Uncle Trevor had told me how to leave the office without leaving evidence that I'd been there. It is Friday evening. I'd not gone home since Angel; my young junkie sweetheart had been killed, last week. Those pills were either making me paranoid, or sending a signal to murderous creatures that had taken Cino and Angel, leaving Candy (Angel's older junkie sister). I was numb with hurt. I was afraid of being pulled aside by police, or thugs, wanting the money and gear. I wouldn't go home to mother.. She had taken my first pay. Instead I was going to meet Uncle Trevor at Wynyard.
I bought a ticket from a machine, without flashing wads of cash. Most of the people at the station minded their own business. All should have. A dumb drunk called out to me. I ignored him, hoping he would approach a livelier group down the platform. He would have none of it. He put his hand on my shoulder and leaned close to my face.
I didn't like to be touched. Never had. In the white areas, people stared at me. In the Asian areas, people treated me as scum, because that is what my Mother is. Now this drunk was touching me. When sober, he'd've ignored me. My heart beat faster and I tried to remain calm in the face of his foetid breath. I didn't want to attract attention.
He said I was too young to be out at this time of night. He indicated the fire and commotion. I stared at him in horror. This lonely drunk wouldn't be redirected or respect my personal space.
"Go away and stop touching me!" I said this loudly enough so that the others in the station would hear. You could almost feel the drunk wince with the rebuff. He began to protest innocence of molestation.
"I understand you have no friends .. " I continued, heartlessly.
"If you have friends, where are they?"
"Leave me alone." I held my voice loud and level. He shuffled off, wounded. It hadn't struck me, but my question applied to me with equal force.
There was still time to wait for the train. I nervously looked over my shoulder for signs of police. The drunk had shuffled to the other platform, where trains went away from the city.
They have three signal lights on the front. These lights indicated which route the train was going. I had never paid attention to the lights, although I had wondered. The top two lights were off. I wondered what that meant. It didn't really matter to me as they all went to the city.
The door to the train didn't open where I was standing. It was secured with bright yellow and red tape that read "Warning. Malfunctioning: This door is not working. Warning." I nipped into an adjacent carriage. The unconcerned whistle of the train guard whistling approval to the driver that all was clear. I'd chosen a carriage that had a junkie couple with a pram.
Upstairs was a group of university kids (Chinese, I thought, probably Mandarin speaking), while downstairs, a group of Middle Eastern boys were collected for a hot night out. The carriage jerked in response to the lead carriage moving and between the carriage with a broken door and the one I was in, a beggar girl stepped.
I'd seen her on trains before. She seemed to feel it was her job to collect for the needy. If you said 'no' she would become more insistent. If you looked cold to her need, she became rude and abusive. The junkies knew how to handle her, though.
"Didja see the fire?"
"Please. I need some money to make a phone call .. " It was the same line she had used last week. The friendliness of the two junkies led her directly to me as a third party.
"I said to you last week that I had no money for you and you got rude." I was being direct and meeting her rudeness proportionately. If she got upset, I could laugh at her. She seemed to know she was outmanoeuvred, so she turned to go upstairs and face the students.
The two junkies became emboldened by their success, and repeated their question, this time to me. I tried to give a non-committal response. The junkies decided to talk about me between themselves, loudly.
"Is that your child?" I asked this because it would take them awhile to realise the insult. I smiled at the same time, which I thought would gratify them.
I was amazed that the skills my parents gave me would prove so useful. Only dumb people seemed to fall for my false sincerity and misdirection. Users, like the beggar girl stayed away, and called me a 'smart arse.' I'd never really met a smart, sympathetic person. Even Angel .. I didn't want to think about her.
Yet I had to think about Angel. I was numb and being eaten away and had no one to talk to. I might've talked to many, but all that I might've talked to had no interest in my affairs. I met Angel and she died. I kept stopping there. I slept close to where her body was interred .. even when magpies began to collect around the scent of rotting flesh. I followed a sequence of events leading up to her murder. I followed the sequence away. When I reached back to the train, I overheard the students challenging the beggar girl.
"No money, sorry. But I have a mobile phone! Who would you like me to call?"
"Will they sell me drugs"
A girls' giggle followed with "Couldn't you find a better excuse?"
Suddenly, the beggar had become like my mother, and I loathed her more.
The boys downstairs were becoming rowdy and had started on their favourite topic of hating the United States of America.
"They deserve every death they get."
"They love Jews and they hate Muslims."
"They could do the world a favour by dieing"
A middle aged, fat man with an American accent had joined the conversation.
"The SLA didn't exist" said one boy hotly. "That is just another lie told by Jews." Apparently, the Southern Lebanese Army had worked with Israelis to prevent the worst atrocities of the Lebanese civil war. This was an uncomfortable truth to the boys.
"What about the Afghan farmers? USA promised compensation for them to not grow drugs .. and never paid! Why should anyone trust America again if they don't honour their promises?"
"They had no right to go into Iraq! They only wanted the oil!" The boys had long ago stopped using connected logical statements. They punctuated each supposed outrage with another slogan. The fat man remained calm.
The beggar girl sat next to me.
She hadn't needed to, but she sat close.
Her leg touched mine.
The boys were talking about Palestine.
I put a hand on her knee, and it slid up her leg. Turning to her, I put an arm around her and kissed her. Her mouth opened and I could taste her. I could taste sweat and vomit. She wasn't Angel, nor Candy.
The train was sliding through the tunnels to Wynyard.
Although I have no memory of what followed, I clearly recall her taste. There was more than I listed. She had recently had one of Cino's amphetamines.
The scent provided my first sense. Acrid fumes of burning wire mixed with what can only be described as biological. A sheet of metal had somehow wrapped around me and cocooned me. My head was almost clear of the cocoon, and my shoulders could slip through the opening.
A hand appeared before my eyes. It was held open, waiting for me to grasp it. A voice, clear as a bell, girly, was giving instructions that my mind wasn't registering. Still, I slipped both hands into hers and was pulled from my cocoon. My pants had slipped off and parts of my legs seared with heat from the cocoon. I knelt in my underpants before my saviour. Unhearing. Unseeing. The scent of burning metal and flesh.
"Come on! Go! Get out of here!" The voice of my Angel.
I was moving to the commands. One of my arms was held into my side as a bird holds a broken wing. One leg didn't bend very well. I staggered as she half led, half pulled me towards this enormous hole that used to be the end of the train carriage.
"Help me!" An arm extended from a burning hole.
"Help me!" A voice from beneath a metal façade called.
"Hang on. These people need help!" Angel kept leading me.
"Wait. Angel, wait!" She stopped and looked at me. She was dressed in her customary cotton dress with high skirt. Her hair and skirt lifted as she spun and faced me. A smudge on a heart faced cheek looked designer and her eyes were earnest.
"You shouldn't be here!" she seemed very upset. I saw nothing particularly explosive and tried to speak levelly. "It's safe now. These people need help."
"These people are dead. You shouldn't be here!" She was pleading and crying .. it seemed very bizarre.
I followed her out of the train. She was crying. I placed my index finger beneath her chin and lightly held her jaw with my thumb, as I bent to kiss her lips. In all the excitement, I didn't notice that she had no taste.
"Sam. You shouldn't be here."
There were cries coming from the train. I would have to answer them. I also had to respond to her. She was here. She was real. And I remembered her dead. I remembered the magpies that collected around the clothing bin that I had interred her. I remembered holding her lifeless body. "Angel, I'm confused."
"Sam. Think. Where are you?"
I was going to answer 'I am close to Wynyard station. There has been an accident. Uncle Trevor is waiting for me.' But before I said that, I realised I was wrong. "I am .."
"Sam! You aren't meant to be here!"
Stepping into the car, I saw arms grasping for me. I heard voices calling for help.
"Sam. This is Hell."
I agreed with her. I grasped a hand and pulled. A torso slid from the hole it had reached from. But not the whole body. I was shocked to recognise Mother. There was blood oozing from her mouth, just as she had once dribbled claret. "Sam! Save me!" And there was no more I could do for her.
"Emergency service will get here soon!" I called this out hopefully.
"They aren't coming, Sam."
"Angel .. Come and help."
"You aren't listening to me."
I grasped another hand. This time I pulled out the drunk from the station. He too, was too injured to live. "Sam, son. Save me!"
I threw myself onto where the stairs should have led up, but because the carriage was on its side, was actually to the left. I grasped the hand of a young girl and pulled her clear. It was another torso. This time it said nothing, but lay dead. It was Angel.
Angel was standing at the entrance. Angel was lifeless and beneath me. "I'm confused."
"Sam, you aren't supposed to be here." Her voice got smaller. "I'm sorry."
I remembered something. She kept talking to me.
"It smells bad, doesn't it?"
Angel's blood pooled at my feet. I dipped my finger in the stuff and licked it.
"You thirst, yet there is no water. Salt has lost its saltiness."
"Why am I here?"
"You shouldn't be here!"
"Why AM I here?"
"It's a mistake."
"WHY AM I HERE?"
"The train accident?"
She laughed, bitterly. I no longer paid attention to the outstretched arms, or to the cries for help. I wanted answers.
"You are here because you chose to be."
"What? No I didn't!"
"Yes. Yes you did.
You have choices in your life. You haven't exercised your choice. But that is also a choice."
"Your father left you before you were born, but did you stop blaming him?"
"I never blamed him for anything. I never knew who he was!"
"And you never moved on either. You never took the gift of life he gave you. You blamed others for that. Others like him."
"Didn't it upset you that he was like your father?
You don't forgive your Mother."
"What's there to forgive? She lives for herself!"
"So you won't? You aren't punishing her by punishing yourself."
I looked around, and spotted the dying drunk. "He is my father?"
"You don't know who he is, Sam. He might be your father, although he never fathered you. Maybe he hates you, but you can't live your life by sharing hatred. You must love, because that is all you can do. But to wait? He will do nothing for you, so waiting won't help you. You will wait forever, being more resentful day by day, and he will never do what you want him to do for you.
You are in Hell. You have died. You never made the choices you were given because you waited for things to happen."
I rejected the summation, and tried to think of ways of cheating death.
"I am not dead! I made choices! I lived!"
"No you haven't. You lurched from situation to situation, hoping that a female would extract you. But it isn't about others, is it? Your mother helped you, didn't she?"
"My Mother! That bitch? She took my money! She drinks everything away! She never thinks about anything but what serves her!"
"So why are you waiting for her? Your hatred is a swinging hammer, it needs to hit somewhere. The hammer is controlling you. Let go of the hammer of hatred. Know this: Your mother doesn't matter, but she matters."
"Your mother doesn't matter, but she matters. You can move on. Don't worry that she doesn't mother you. Don't look to her for that. Look away. Yet you need a mother. She will always have been that. You can move forward. Holding on for what she will never give you won't satisfy you.
When I first met you, I was attracted to you because, although you were paralysed and dieing, you had life. I tried to give you your life, but you stopped. You chose death. But you haven't embraced death yet. You are waiting for mom and dad and friends."
"What else is there?"
"There is love. Don't wait for the others. Live your life."
"Don't 'try.' 'Do.'
Look, you waited here. You have done your time. You can go now."
"Kiss me. I will show you."
So I moved to her. To kiss her. To be with her as I should have been when she died. And that was how I found her. Again.
The smoke had obscured the fact that the surroundings to the carriage were sparse. A dead drop crevasse on one side and a wide, Martian, sparse-scape on the other. I stepped into the sparse-scape, leaving the bodies and the cries behind.
I felt the heat of the wreck, radiating behind me.
My legs didn't always respond the way I wanted.
I was walking from the flames of Cino's office. My bum hurting from where the Policeman pinched as he reached for money. I was leaving the dead behind, and embracing a smoky, uncertain future. The train is pulling into the station. People are on board.
I cross to the platform where the drunken beggar is alone.
"I have nothing to drink, but perhaps you would like to go where the food is good and the people kind"
I had no idea where that might be, but even beauty begins with a lie.