Just Past Three in the Morning (11)
“I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have leaned on it and gone flying...” but I was glad to have him over all the same, and despite my assurances, I could imagine doing exactly that, or some other drunk person doing it and ending up with a big wooden spike through their innards. Things like that happen to people sometimes, even in real life.
Pigsy stood on the steps, shaking the verandah railing back and forth to see how much give there was in it. And there seemed to be quite a bit. Beneath flaking paint the wood was mostly rotten and the nails holding it together were sunset-coloured with rust. “Wouldn't have lasted too much longer anyway. I'll get a hammer from under the house.”
“There's an under...?”
“Yeah, come on. I'll show you.”
It was the first few weeks of spring. Blossoms were out in great clouds of white and pink. My shared back garden had a few, which Pigsy told me were going to be apples and plums. Yes, either me or the other tenant were free to eat as many as we fancied. There was a vegetable garden back there too if I wanted to use it – the older guy sharing my walls usually planted it up each year, but there was space, if I wanted...
Hilarious image. Right next to the one of Penny baking.
I asked him “Are you sure you don't mind doing this?”
“I hope Josh pays you for it.”
“Beer and chips. But I reckon that a good wage. I actually like this sort of thing.”
“Yes. Spread the word if you could. I hear girls like that sort of thing in a guy.”
I said - and maybe I shouldn't have, but I said so without thinking - “We do.” And I followed him down the path to a small waist-high door that I'd passed every day and never given a second thought to.
We crawled through some cobwebs, relying on Pigsy's cellphone for light. The ceiling was just high enough that I could have raised my head, crawling; but no higher. In the dark, with only that small circle of yellow light: yeah, sure, there was a sense of something being ready to pounce, of cursed objects lining the walls. There was dust in plenty as well, enough to make me cough a few times.
“You good?” He leaned back over his shoulder.
“I can find the hammer on my own if you want...”
“I'm good, but if there's a dead body down here, I'd just like to say that it had nothing to do with me. In fact I'd like to point out that the other guy's been here way longer than I have.....”
“Oh, look,” he said calmly, “the only dead bodies I think we'll find down here are spiders and rats.”
“Okay, if we run into a dead rat, I'm leaving.”
“You're scared of rats?”
“No. But if I crawl over a dead one I'm still out of here.”
“A live one?”
Funny. All of a sudden I could hear faint rustling and shifting, could see fleeting twitches over in the shadows, half-suggestions of movement... Well, I wasn't going to be the one to chicken out. Wasn't going to be living with that infamy.
We turned a corner. Odd how much space there was under there, for there to be corners to turn. My hands came up against old nails, boxes, screwed up newspaper, what looked as if it had once been a dress. Under cell-phone light it looked a sort of dusky pink. Old newspaper articles had been pasted to thin boards, all stacked up, dust-clotted, against one brick wall. “It's a treasure trove. If I was an historian or something...”
“One day, somebody, a few hundred years from now... who knows?”
“Maybe I should leave some lipstick down here or something.”
“Yeah, like a time capsule. This whole basement could be a time capsule. As long as there aren't any bodies down here... or, I guess, if there were...”
“Thanks for the thought.”
“What? You came up with that one first.” He twisted around and rolled under a low beam. Doing so with such ease and precision that I was pretty sure he knew his way around here quite well. All the same, I was plenty ready to imagine him getting stuck. In fact, if this'd been a horror movie: sudden silence... a bloody shoe rolling out... a blood-soaked hammer when I reached my hand searchingly in... “Pigsy...?”
“Just checking you're still around.”
“There's no secret doorway or anything. No portals to Narnia.”
“Just checking. Any sign of a hammer?”
“Uh... yeah, hold on... Yes. One hammer.”
He made a fair bit of noise crawling back out, but it didn't seem like the only noise – scraping and knocking and rustling sounds that might have come from any part of the truncated little basement. Just echoes, right?
He rolled back next to me. “Got it!”
I squished backwards to let him past – feeling big, feeling sure he must have fat jokes building up in his head. Don't tell one. You'd better not.
“You know, you could make this quite nice, could make it like a second lounge maybe, a nice little study or conservatory....”
I was still getting cobwebs out of my hair, while Pigsy stood outside, swinging his hammer to the satisfaction of big chunks of railing coming loose. I washed the worst dust off my face, picked the worst cobwebs out of my hair, tied it back, drew a deep breath, went in search of a couple of beers.
“This wasn't going to last much longer, it's rotted all the way through. Just leaning on it hard, it'd be gone.”
Especially when you've got some weight to put into that. I quashed that sentence before it could see the light of day. He probably had it sussed that I was sensitive about my size, no need to belabour the point, no need to draw attention to elephant in the room... so to speak.
“Here,” I passed a bottle over.
“That really was falling to bits.”
“Yup. I'll drop by another time, put together a new one.”
“You are handy.”
“Try to be. And Uncle Josh, he's a good sort. We were pretty close back when I was a kid.”
The words surprised themselves out of me: “I know hardly anything about you.”
Pigsy shrugged: “Ditto.”
“So ask me anything.”
“Sure.” Forgetting where 'Truth or Dare' had gone last time.
Pigsy was different. I was pretty sure he had a sensitive side. Probably a instinct of where not to push. He was looking at me like he was trying to decide what might be safe. Or maybe what might be interesting. Or what I just might not be able to answer easily. “Okay,” he said, “biggest dream. Or longest held. Either-or.”
Simple question, right? I closed my eyes, thinking: “Australia.”
“A continent. Okay, that's pretty big.”
“I saw a documentary or an ad or something, when I was a kid. It was all golden sands, blue sea, exotic birds and stuff. I w anted to go there. Take a trip, travel the whole bloody coastline.”
“And did you?”
“Did I? No! Where was I going to get the money for it? I was six.”
“And now you're...”
“Thin ice, mister.”
“Hm. No. I didn't. Life gets in the way of living, right?”
He had the most serious expression on his face, beer bottle forgotten in one hand. “It doesn't have to.”
“Yours? Your big dream?”
“I was six once too.”
“What stopped you?”
“Fire. It's dangerous, it's bloody hot. Seriously: I like to think I'm self aware enough to know that I don't have what it takes. Hero mentality, etc, etc. I'm not the guy who goes charging into a burning building to rescue somebody's cat. I'm just not.”
“Wise beyond your years.” I raised a bottle to that. And to his raised eyebrow: “Twenty-one of them, right?”
Pigsy: actually twenty-two. It seemed like everyone around me was part of a conspiracy to make me feel old.
We lounged in the sunset, in the doorway. I could imagine snaking my foot over to his, just seeing where that would go... But where would it go? The uncertainty – maybe the fear – about that kept my feet on my side of the steps.
“So, they're good again.” It just seemed natural for the conversation to float back to Penny and Norton.
“Seem's like it.” He paused to finish his beer. “Who won do you think?”
“That never crossed your mind?”
“No. Well, all right. He's going to the party, apparently.”
“Point to Penny.”
“Yeah... did you have anything to do with things?”
“How do you mean?”
“Norton's change of heart.”
“I talked to him. I didn't say much.”
“Must have been the right thing.”
“Well, I assume you guys talked.”
“Don't we always?” Not much point in denying it. “They're nuts aren't they? But she does like him. I mean Penny... she's... okay: flighty. She's the centre of attention. She owns the spotlight. That's how it is. She always... oh, I don't know what I'm saying. I haven't had enough to drink.” And I sculled the rest of my beer to underscore the point. “More?”
He shrugged his shoulders. “Sure, why not? I'm done with sharp objects for the night.”