Prose

An Indolent High

21 June 2015

My brother’s friend Carlos refers to Barcelona as a “giant orgy that no one is invited to.”

He’s staring at me with those yellow eyes, waiting for a response. I smile, nod, and lean over to take a look at the city. We’re on a terrace with a panoramic view.

My brother’s place is a bit of a shack that spills out to where we sit. He lives a frugal life. The first night I was here the washing machine broke and the cabinet in the bathroom electrocuted me.

He’s an entrepreneur with limited economic means. One week he’ll be buying and selling Moroccan sandals, the next he’ll be trying to poach tourists from established wine tours to take them on his own. He spends a lot of time rearranging, moving objects from one side of the terrace to the other. Things accumulate. He’ll bring anything up off the street. A bike frame. A broken recliner. It’s a constant appropriation of someone else’s past.

I tend to agree with Carlos’ opinion of Barcelona. A playground for voyeurs, where their lecherous gaze is shrugged off brown shoulders.

Yesterday, I sat on the beach watching this old guy watch a young girl with her top off. He stood next to me, eyes straining in the heat, toes burrowed in the sand. He spoke incessantly to his wife, who was sprawled out next to me. He stood there for a long time, rotating 45 degrees every 15 minutes, methodically adjusting his little blue bathers with a flick of his thumb and forefinger. Further along the beach a group of older ladies sat on a bench watching a group of young African men working out in a public gym.

But maybe this was just a view constructed by the company I kept.

Carlos, my brother and I spend a lot of time standing, drinking, watching. We bump into each other before sitting again. We’re always on the edge of an idea that fails to materialise.

My brother’s dog, Cuba, has become a symbol of social antithesis. He steals tennis balls, rolls around in dirt, fights other dogs, and makes love to other dogs. If I fall behind the group he waits for me. His big ass swings in a mesmerising act of casual defiance that we can’t emulate.

The sun is coming down.

Carlos is finger-picking his guitar. He sings about government cover-ups and UFOs. He writes songs like “Conspiracy Generation”. A genuine sense of stoicism is undermined by his endless bad luck. He nearly landed a job at a hotel but they wanted to see his papers. The girls we’d arranged to meet up with earlier haven’t showed up.

He sits up.

“I feel like my life has been nothing but a series of missed opportunities.”

It’s these kinds of defeatist statements that finally stir my brother, who has been lying on his broken recliner, reading articles on his phone. The negativity is starting to penetrate his skin. He starts scratching.

“I’m taking a shower.”

Carlos begins to provide evidence.

Apparently things were going well with a girl he was seeing until her mum found half a dozen 12-litre bottles of water in his car.

“She broke up with me because she thought I was squatting.”

Carlos is squatting. He treks an hour from the city everyday and he’s losing weight because of it. His prized possession is a light blue shirt with little yellow flowers. I’ve seen him fold and refold that thing a thousand times and he’s at it again now.

He looks to me.

“You should stay in Barcelona if you don’t like flying.”

“I need to finish my degree.”

“I’m just saying, if you have a bad feeling about a flight, don’t take it.”

My brother comes out in a towel. He’s carrying beers. We smoke some hash. Instead of promoting activity, this merely galvanises our periods of mass indolence.

I look to the sky.

There’s a storm rolling in.

Carlos is a paranoid creature, and he’s feeding my own paranoia about flying out in the morning. He talks of conspiratorial aviation narratives. My brother chimes in and says there was no Malaysia flight MH370 at all.

Something flits across the sky.

Carlos is adamant it’s a gargoyle.

Epilogue

It took me four days to get home. Flight delays, missed connections, and forty-eight hour stopovers eventually saw me holed up in a hotel in Guangzhou, ordering room service, and arranging the little bars of soaps and conditioners in the bathroom. The smog obstructed any view I had of the city. It clung to my skin.

My last flight took off from here.

When our plane rumbled into the night sky it moved sluggishly. My anxiety kicked in again and I sat there, rubbing my palms on my pants as the plane crawled over a city that would have looked beautiful if my nerves hadn’t been ransacked by three days of no sleep.

The plane rocked about and I began to make strange, vaguely sexual groans. Three people from the other side of the plane laughed at me. The airhostess opened her tired, pretty eyes and smiled.

I kept trying to access the flight path but the channel was down. I sat there thinking that this fucking pilot was going to dump us in the ocean somewhere like the MH370.

I turned to the passenger next to me.

“I hate flying.”

He put out his hand.

“My name’s Chubbie.”

An hour later we were drunk, carrying six Heinekens each down the aisle. My anxiety dissipated. I sat on my feet. We talked about ballet and books.

I blinked in and out of sleep.

When the cabin lights dimmed, Chubbie attempted to reach down my pants. He was telling me to experiment while I tried to deter him by citing obscure, misinformed notions surrounding ‘the old country’, nonno and nonna, and the idea of a traditional Italian moral framework.

He wasn’t listening.

I kept brushing aside his hands, apologising.

A white light moved across the sky.

“What the fuck was that?”

“A gargoyle?”

I thought back to Carlos’ opinions of Barcelona.

Yes, I was finally invited to the party. Only now I wasn’t sure whether I wanted the invitation all along.


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