After After The Quake
After After the Quake
On Boxing Day Ralph woke with the worst possible hangover. The night
before he had drunk until three am in a bar on Oxford Street and on the
way home stopped at the Pleasure Chest. Slipping past the drugged-out
hooker in the entranceway, he had nodded in a way that belied
recognition to the slim receptionist and been buzzed into the back
Ralph had gone straight to one of the cubicles, unbuttoned his flies
and put his cock through the hole. This was the last thing he
remembered. Now it was morning.
Ralph pulled across the curtain that was flapping in the breeze coming
through the open window and flicked on the tv. There had been an
earthquake they were saying, somewhere off the coast of Sumatra. As it
stood there were more than 2000 confirmed dead. Out of the corner of
his eye Ralph noticed his underpants. He wasn't sure, but it looked
like somebody had written something on them.
Ralph was 18, handsome enough to get noticed but not so handsome that
girls felt intimidated by him. His friends in high school had ribbed
him about this. They called it, 'the second in line syndrome'. Ralph
wasn't entirely sure of the exact dynamics of this but played along
with the joke in an attempt to be part of the group.
Ralph had grown up in a small suburb of what was, in itself, a small
town. He was the only child of parents who for a number of years had
been leading lights in the local spiritualist circles and who, before
his birth, had long since given up on the hope of ever having
When Ralph was old enough to be bemused by his parents antics this was
exactly what he was. Upon his birth his mother had immediately decided
that he had what she referred to as 'prescience' and such was her own
belief in this it had somewhat of a domino effect.
By the time Ralph was seven he had appeared on most of the local radio
and tv talk shows. His mother would dress him up in brightly coloured
Indian clothes, dye his hair white-blonde and he would be forced to
recite the arcane predictions his mother had made him repeat over and
"You are blessed child," she would say. "You can see into the future.
That is your gift."
On his fourteenth birthday two things happened. First, his father had
died out of the blue from a heart attack and Ralph decided that he no
longer wanted to be part of his mother's shows. Surprised at his own
subconscious hatred of the whole situation Ralph called Childline and
said to the operator that he had been sexually abused for a number of
years. Before the police made their not so dramatic entrance Ralph
inserted the handle of a tennis racquet up his rectum and then hid the
bloody instrument under the bed.
The clothes his mother used to dress him up in before the shows were
used as evidence in the subsequent trail and the judge had looked at
her sternly and stated, "Prescience is the gift of God, as is
childhood. No one should take the work of God into their own hands.
That he will do himself."
Ralph was taken into care for six months and after placed with a
foster family. The family were what they called New Labour and they had
a daughter. Within 2 days of being in the house Ralph had started a
sexual relationship with both the mother and the daughter. The former
had happened by chance. The latter by accident.
The mother smoked cigarettes and she had the habit of blowing smoke
rings high up in the air. Her favourite phrase was, 'Well, why
shouldn't I have a little fun?'
Once she had admitted to Ralph, "My husband, he is so committed to
morals, I can't for the life of me get him to be amoral." She liked to
dress Ralph up in her husband's clothes and she would only let Ralph
enter her from behind.
The daughter on the other hand was a whole different kettle of fish.
She told Ralph that she loved him, that she would die without him, that
he understood her innermost needs and if one of them should ever die
then she hoped it was her because she didn't think she could live
without her Ralph.
On his eighteenth birthday Ralph decided enough was enough. He sold
the father's new Mercedes on an ebay auction, wrote curt letters to
both the mother and daughter and bought a one-way ticket to
Ralph couldn't make head or tale of the writing on the underpants. He
put them back on and turned his attention back to the tv. It seemed the
earthquake had affected a number of countries. As it had happened
initially underwater this had caused huge tsunamis which had wrecked
havoc on most of the countries which bordered the Indian Ocean.
Images of the devastation were beginning to come in. Whole streets
were under water, buses being washed down them like boats. Children and
adults clung on to whatever they could and the pictures showed some of
them as they were washed away. The worst hit country was Sri Lanka. The
newsreaders reported that it was very likely the death toll would
It had risen already. They were now saying that there were 4000 dead.
Ralph felt his stomach rumble. He pulled on some clothes and went out
to the McDonalds that was on the main street. As he was walking there a
man shouted out to him and asked if he would like to come in and see
the show. "Beautiful girls," he said. "We have very beautiful girls."
And he made a description of them through the air with his empty
In the fast-food restaurant queue everyone was talking about the
earthquake. A man was saying the he had been in Phuket the week before.
He said that there were 20 dead there so far but in his opinion this
"Phuket is a holiday place. There are millions of people there.
He seemed pleased by his local knowledge and a number of people in the
queue were transfixed. The servers in the McDonalds appeared to be
mostly of Asian origin and they didn't have the usual spring in their
On the way back to his apartment Ralph walked past the entrance to the
Pleasure Chest. He had first gone in on his third day in Sydney. The
entrance was only a black open doorway with a staircase leading up but
it was the name that had intrigued him. It seemed to suggest unlimited
The inside was kitted out like any regular porn shop. However, Ralph
had been puzzled by the men who had approached the server, handed over
five dollars and been buzzed through the door at the back.
Ralph had asked the server what was going on and the server had said
for the first time he could go in for free and released the door.
"It's called the Suckatorium," he had said and winked.
Back in England Ralph had got used to having regular sex and he
quickly discovered that the suckatorium was a way of solving two birds
with one stone. He had had enough of ties but he did miss the sex. Sex
with the mother and daughter had been the steady rock upon which he
stood. Now for five dollars Ralph could have any number of mouths
around his penis and he didn't have to think.
He wanted an easy life.
As Ralph was walking past the Pleasure Chest clutching the McDonalds
package he felt the familiar twinge in his groin. Somehow after
everything that had happened that day it didn't seem right so he
ignored the urge and headed home.
He lay back down on the bed and switched on the tv. Sections of the
Maldives were apparently completely underwater. The President was
calling it a national disaster.
Ralph must have fallen asleep because the next thing he knew he was
been woken by his door buzzer. He got up and went to answer the
"I wonder if you could help me," said the person standing there. "My
parrot. He's escaped. I live upstairs."
Ralph wasn't sure if the person was a man or a woman. He or she was
anywhere between 40 and 60 and had a multi-coloured kimono pulled tight
around the body and shocking pink sandals on otherwise bare feet.
Ralph couldn't think of any reason not to help so he followed his
neighbour up the stairs.
Sure enough, the parrot was out of its cage and sitting on top of the
"It's like he knows something has happened," said the person. "You've
seen the news, right? All those people killed. It's a tragedy. Would
you like a drink?"
Ralph watched as an amount of vodka was poured into a tall glass. He
took a swig and turned his attention to the parrot.
"It's better if you don't startle him. He doesn't like to be startled.
I don't know what I'd do if I lost him. It's silly but he's my best
The problem was that every time Ralph approached the parrot it gave a
loud squawk and flew to the other side of the room. Ralph finished his
drink and he was poured another.
"What do you usually do when he escapes?"
"You think I usually let him escape?" came the curt reply. "This is
way out of normal."
Finally Ralph spotted a bin in the corner. He emptied it out on the
floor and retrieved a tray from the kitchen. The tray had pictures of
several large pelicans on it. With these two items Ralph was able to
effect a capture.
The man, or woman, clapped his or her hands.
"You deserve a reward. Come, I will read your future. Hold out your
Ralph shook his head.
"Come on. A pretty thing like you. I'm sure you've got nothing to be
scared of. I've read many a future. It's a knack."
"No," said Ralph. "I said no."
He must have sounded more angry than he thought he was, for the man
recoiled. Ralph was sure it was a man now, there was something about
the way he had reacted to his anger. Men have a different way of
holding themselves when scared.
Ralph held up his hands and went back down to his own apartment.
The alcohol the man had given him had given him the taste. He looked
through his own apartment and found a bottle of something green in one
of the kitchen cupboards. He poured half of it into a glass and knocked
it back in one. He poured the other half.
The news was getting worse. The Indonesian government were now saying
that up to 20,000 people might be dead. They only had a limited number
of helicopters and it was quite likely that whole communities had been
wiped out. If there was no one to report it, how would the information
be gathered? That was the problem.
Ralph turned the figures over in his head. 20,000, that was a lot. He
remembered when his own father had died. What he had thought of then
was escape but he had grieved for him later. He hadn't wanted him dead
but that death had handed him an opportunity. If you don't take
opportunities when life offers them to you then what is the point of
Suddenly Ralph remembered the writing he had thought he had seen on
his underpants. He undressed quickly and held his underpants up to the
No, it didn't look like writing after all. It was more of a picture.
Although he wasn't sure. He put the underpants down on the table and in
doing so he caught himself in the full-length wardrobe mirror. He was
naked. Over his shoulder in the reflection in the mirror he could see
the tv. An Indian woman was screaming. Then another one. They were both
hitting the muddy ground in front of them and then looking up to
The mother and daughter had always admired Ralph's body. The mother
had said it was his hips, the daughter liked his shoulders. Ralph felt
himself getting hard.
He had always preferred sex with the daughter but the mother was more
adventurous. She would start at his chest and run her tongue all the
way down his body. She called this 'going around the world'. When she
got to his balls she would slip underneath them and slide her tongue
between his buttocks. This was her favourite area. "Where am I now?"
she would moan and Ralph would have to answer, "Deepest darkest Asia"
as she lapped at his sphincter.
Sometimes in the Suckatorium if Ralph turned around some of the men
would do the same thing. Others wouldn't. Like a toss of the coin it
was not something Ralph could judge with any accuracy.
On the tv a man who represented the Tamils in Sri Lanka was being
interviewed. He was saying that because the Sri Lankan government
viewed them as 'terrorists', this was the word he used, he said he
didn't think that they would be given the same kind of aid as the rich
areas of Sri Lanka in the South. He said this was an atrocity. The
interviewee was cut away from and the reporter added that Tamil areas
had yet to be reached by any formal rescue operations. He said that
when they were, the numbers discovered dead were likely to be huge.
That was his phrasing, 'huge'.
"It is a tragedy," he said.
Ralph pointed at himself in the mirror. "You are the man," he said.
"You are the man."
He flicked off the tv. He didn't pull on his underpants but pulled on
his jeans and t-shirt and shoes and checked he had the five dollar
entrance fee. He had a raging hard on now and just knowing that the
opportunity was there meant that he could think of nothing else.
He took the lift down to the ground floor and walked out into the
street. It was crowded, as usual, the earthquake not obviously having
put everybody off from going out.
High up, stars were shining. It was a clear night. Hot. Some would say
perfect. For a moment Ralph thought he could hear the sound of the sea
and then he realised he was mistaken. It was just the hum of
Ralph wasn't wearing underpants and this somehow made him more horny
than ever. He put his hand in his pocket and felt himself and thought
of that anonymous black hole in the wall. It didn't matter that it was
a man that was doing the sucking. All he wanted was not to think. And
A car beeped loudly as a group of four lads crossed the road
diagonally in front of it. The man drumming up trade for the strip club
held his arms open wide for them like a bear welcoming back its
Ralph came to the place where the door to the Pleasure Chest was and
stopped. He stood back and turned around. He turned again.
The door was no longer there. It had gone. There was just a blank
space where it had once been.
Ralph walked up to this space. It was firm and warm. He put his hands
flat against it and tried to hang on.