Prose

Leon

31 October 2013

I can’t hear anything, heat floods my face and my palms become two heavy sponges. The spit in my mouth turns to glue. I bend off the side of the verandah to dry retch and then sit on the edge of a cane chair that’s covered in rolled-up newspapers. The verandah looks over a large gum tree in the front yard and the stifling mid-morning sun reflects off the footpath. The air grows dank as a garbage truck approaches the other side of the street. I watch its robot arm strangle the neighbour’s bin and thrust its contents into the metal belly of the truck. A recycle bin lounges back on the side of the curb with its yellow lid flung open. A haze of heat rises up from the tar road.

I ring the bell and through the stained-glass window I can see a distorted round figure rise in the living room. She answers. I knew it would be her. I want to curl into her arms and cry burning tears, but I stand back, as I should, and I nod my head.

“Thanks for seeing me,” I say. She nods, and I follow her into the dining room.

Mrs Deed, or as she prefers, Carmel, has greying-brown hair pinned back in a bun. She wears maroon pants and a beige turtleneck jumper that curves around her large sagging breasts and rounded belly. Mr Deed, dressed in a cardigan, slacks and slippers, stands to greet me. The liver spots on his head show his age. I’ve only ever seen him in the same position on the couch. He turns down the volume on the television so the cricket plays on, dumb in the background. I sit on the armchair next to the silent television and remember the last time Leon saw his mother.

He started by mentioning my name. Mrs Deed and I had met on three or four occasions: Leon’s graduation, his 30th birthday, an Australia Day party and once for Christmas Eve. He had said I was an orphan for Christmas and she was thrilled to have another boy to feed.

“Your friend that was at Christmas, you mean?”

“Yes, that’s him.”

“Oh, he was such a lovely young man.”

“I’m glad you feel that way, Mum. Because I very much agree with you.” Leon placed his hands on hers. “He is, in fact, the loveliest man I know.”

Mrs Deed sat up and said, “Okay then dear.” She patted him on the leg. “It’s so nice you’ve come to visit. Now that you’re here, I need a strong man to help me fix this doorit keeps getting caught on the carpet and your father keeps saying he will fix it but never does.” Her voice trailed off down the hall as she went to show him the door.

A gold clock in a glass case with twirling chimes sits above Mrs Deed’s head on the mantel. Its tick-tock fills the vacant room. No one speaks. Mr Deed stares back at the television, which somehow relieves me.
I start.

“Mrs Deed, Mr Deed. I am so sorry for your loss.” They stare at me blankly as if I am a wall and they are deciding what colour to paint me.

“We… we were all just there to listen to music and ah…” I shake my head and draw in air.

We have coke, MDMA, speed, weed and a shitload of booze with us. It’s the most organised we’ve ever been. We fill the ute with supplies including my old modular couch that I’m going to turf at the end of the weekend. Leon and I drag the couch pieces down to the hill and set it up in a U-shape, just left of the sound booth where we always sit. With the couches in place, a beach umbrella for shade and an entourage of eskies, our palace—or den—is complete. Except for Leon, who always declines to dress up, Alex has tailored everyone in the group a pair of lion pants and a pair of paws and ears for the top half of the costume. We are kings, made up of a bunch of queens.

There is something comforting yet suffocating about their home. Maybe it’s the two trains and bus it took to get here from North Fitzroy. Maybe it reminds me too much of my folks place but without the smell of fresh bread. Maybe it’s just Burwood.

Without Leon, I feel stupid being here. I search for the right words, any words, but as soon as I reach for them, they dissipate, letter by letter, leaving me alone in the living room.

Around sunset I tear off Leon’s shirt and give him the other half of my costume. With some girl’s eyeliner, I paint a mane on his hairless chest and give him a black-tipped nose. We lick each other like cats cleaning themselves. The night starts to flicker in unconnected scenes not long after sunset. Later, Leon comes back from what seems like a mission. I have no idea how long he is gone but I just know he is back again. I realise I haven’t left the couch all day, not even to go for a piss. I drink some water and then we get up and dance on the couches like the girls from Coyote Ugly.

I play with the rolled-up sleeve of my chequered shirt. It’s become tight and itchy with the sweat inside my elbow crease. I don’t know why I wore it. The brown R.M. Williams, the thick leather belt. It’s as thought I’m acting the country boy that I moved away from when I came to Melbourne.

I need to vomit. I excuse myself to use the bathroom.

The next minute he pulls out a bag of crystals. Where the hell did they come from? There is a lot of shit floating around this festival. I don’t do ice but Leon occasionally smokes. I roll a joint. Leon and I sit on the couch, me pulling on my spliff and him on his pipe, watching ten or so of our friends on their hands and knees getting deeper into character. I feel primitive. I want to roar but the weed empties my body of its bones and I can’t move. A cloud of grey smoke fills my brain and I slip momentarily from consciousness. Like a marshmallow in the heat, I ooze into the couch.

When I come back Mrs Deed is in the kitchen. I sit and watch the cricket with Mr Deed for a few minutes, not talking. She returns with a jug of iced tea.

“I thought you could do with a cool drink,” she says pouring me a glass.

“Thanks.” I smile. “Very kind of you.” I sit back in my chair and take small conscious sips.

Someone has to speak. It is an excavation of words. I feel Mrs Deed’s eyes focus on the beads of sweat of my upper lip, as though the tiny droplets of salted water contain the truth.

When I wake up Tameless is about to start. The crowd has filed in for this act; there are strangers in front and all around me. The boys must be down near the front. I must’ve been out an hour or so. I straighten in my seat but as I go to get up, an arm grabs me from behind. It’s him.

He pushes his head in between the two sets of legs standing either side of me and kisses me. It is the purest form of lust. My lion pants immediately point towards the stars and my torso leads me over the couch. I am on top of him on the grass—people all around us.

“Let’s go to the tent,” I suggest.

“You lead the way, tiger.” He winks at me.

“I’m a lion, king of the jungle, not a striped cat,” and I bite into his neck sucking the blood to the surface.

“I know you two were good friends.” She sips her tea but keeps the cup in front of her face, masking her lips.

Friends, fr-ends, I let the word roll around in my mind. I kept coming back to ‘ends’, ‘ends’. My bottom lip begins to quiver, so I sip the iced tea.

“Yes, we met in first year—when I still thought I wanted to be a doctor.”

Mrs Deed mouths ‘ah’ and nods her head as if remembering the detail.

“He was going to be a great doctor. I don’t know anyone as caring as Leon was,” I say.

She purses her lips. Mr Deed turns toward the conversation but just stares like he is on the other side of a one-way mirror watching a focus group. The air-conditioning on the wall kicks into overdrive and its fan rattles out cool air. It must be almost 40°C outside by now, supposed to hit 44°C by the afternoon.

I look down and start playing with my fingernails.

“Have you set a date for the funeral?” I ask.

“Thursday next week,” Mr Deed answers mechanically. “11am. St Paul’s Anglican Church around the corner.”

I breathe deep through my nose. Then she interrupts.

“For the time being we are going to keep it small—to family,” she says while patting Mr Deed on the leg, as if he has said enough.

My jaw clenches involuntarily and I force a nod to signal I understand. And once again, I feel Leon slip through my fingers, like a wave washing over and all around me but never sinking in.

Everything is hazy. I reach for my iPhone in the tent pocket. I must have passed out after we fucked. 4.38am. Shit. I missed The Blackheads and Fred’s DJ set. Ah well, tomorrow’s line-up is going to be sweet. Where the fuck is Leon? I text him and lie back into the squeaky air mattress.

“I bought some of Leon’s things over that I thought you might like.” I indicate to the giant plastic Myer bag that I’d dropped near the front door.

“It’s just some photos, his framed degree and his hand-written cookbook. Though I think a lot of his favourite recipes came from you, so no doubt you know them already.” I motion to get up to show them.

“Thank you. We’ll go through them a bit later.” Mrs Deed’s firm voice keeps me seated.

The tent is all stuffy. Heat radiates from the roof and permeates the thin synthetic walls. The air is like soup. I throw the sleeping bag off my legs and reach above my head to unzip the flap—to breathe. I can feel Leon next to me but, for now, I just need to feel air on my face. I roll over to face him. He is lying inside his sleeping bag, which is zipped up to his neck. His arms are hidden in the green cocoon and his head is tilted slightly back as if looking out the flap of the tent. His eyes are half open and his face is a pale grey.

“Hey!” I yell at him. “Leon,” and I begin to shake him. “Leon.” I kneel above him and shake him harder. “No,” I tell him. “No,” like a disobedient dog.

The air-conditioner hisses and falls silent.

“We thought him becoming a doctor would be good for him. Didn’t we, David?” She places her hand on Mr Deed’s knee.

“Huh.” He looks away from the television. “Hmm.” He nods in agreement.

“We were so proud. Our Leon, the doctor. But we just saw him less and less.”

She looks at me with wide unbelieving eyes. I want to yell at her.

It was a stupid accident!

Mrs Deed blinks her glassy eyes at me. She opens her mouth to speak again, but instead shakes her head.

Then, without looking up from the cricket, Mr Deed says, “Get out.” He turns to face me with the remote in his hand. “Just leave.”

He is calm, not angry. And it is that simple. I go.


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