aburnum station was a mid-1940’s addition to the Lilydale and Belgrave lines that had escaped most of the graffiti that stations in more youthful and popular areas hadn’t and nearly all of the damage not inflicted by the Victorian Railways and its various successors. It was made of pine weatherboards, set vertically and painted a light orange pink that blended with absolutely nothing in its area. Two asphalt ramps led passengers to and from the two platforms between which the trains ran. On the morning of January 19th the 10:52 Laburnum arrival slid squeakily into the station and stopped with a jolt. About a dozen people got off, one of whom was a tall sporty type wearing a jumper in the late morning heat and the other scrawny bloke with long hair and thick glasses. This latter squinted around presbyopically at the surroundings as if he’d never seen anything like the tree-lined environs of the station.
“Wow. Nice,” he said to Brian.
They walked down the ramp and through the clean and graffiti-free tunnel under the tracks and out onto Laburnum St, heading East past houses of such size and grandeur that Dean was reminded of some of the older houses in his ‘native’ Fitzroy North. The front yards were huge in comparison, though, and the trees were taller, younger and decidedly more native.
Walking ahead of them was a young blonde wearing a red light coat and carrying a red handbag. All they could see of her was that she was definitively blonde.
“Nice,” said Brian
“How can you tell?”
“I saw her getting off the train.”
“Better run after her, then.”
“I was thinking of her for you.”
“Oh, yeah. What does she really look like?”
“You’ll find out. She lives in the same street, you’re bound to run into her.”
“Not if I’m paying attention.”
“In fact, she lives next door.” The woman had turned into a block of units not far ahead and Brian gestured to Dean to head left as they were outside number 58.
Number 58 was a third of an acre of native forest largely obliterated by six two-storey units, each with its own carport and large windows that looked out onto a view of the neighbours’ large windows looking out at you. A few of the units had cars in their carports, indicating either a two car family, a couple of pensioners, both of those or people who owned a car but deigned not to use it for environmental or parking reasons. Unit 3 was as bland and white as the others and distinguished only by Dean and Brian walking up to it. He rang the doorbell, which let out a single chime followed by a kind of agonised warble.
After a minute, or nearly that, the door was answered by four cans of Victoria Bitter propping up an emaciated stevedore in a more or less blue shirt and faded ambition. He pushed the cans at Brian and stepped back unsteadily to usher Dean and Brian in. Dean did not look at Brian but followed him in.
“Hey, Brian,” said the man, taking a swig from one of two cans he held in impressively large hands.
“G’day, Billy,” Brian responded. After a moment’s hesitation he pulled a beer out of the plastic loops and handed it to Dean. “Billy, Dean. Dean, Billy.”
“Howyagoin’?” Billy slurred.
“Not bad thanks good,” Dean said, uncertainly fondling his can, waiting for Brian to make a move.
“Carninanavaseat,” Billy said and Dean took Brian’s lead. Brian followed Billy into the loungeroom, which was dark at that time of the day because the heavy velvet drapes were closed. The carpet was a nondescript colour in that level of light but as Dean’s eyes adjusted to the darkness he could see that the patches of light he’d thought were the last flares of the sun were in fact a few piles of leftover clothes that seemed not to have made the rallying points at the ends of two couches at right angles to each other, the unoccupied one of which faced the draped windows looking out on the neighbours. Billy had lain down on the other couch and put his feet up. He regarded them both with shrewd eyes.
“So,” said Brian. In the ensuing pregnant silence Brian decided not to fuck around with Billy’s bullshit and cracked his can. Dean did so, too. The beer was barely cold enough to drink and Dean stifled a grimace, but he put his other can on the floor and sipped gingerly at the open one.
“Do you own this place?” he asked.
“My fuckin’ fiancée owns it.”
“Nice area,” said Brian eventually.
“Yeah,” Billy replied and after a pause. “Yeah, close to the Club.”
“The Club,” said Dean, and suddenly realised this meant the cricket club of which Brian was a member. “How would you get there?”
“You’d fuckin’ drive there!” Billy said angrily.
“Right,” said Brian, looking at Dean as if he was some kind of idiot.
“Do youse wanna look around or what?” Billy shouted.
“We’ll look,” said Brian, standing up and glaring at Billy. He put both his cans down and turned to Dean. “Come on!”
Dean stood up, looking from Billy to Brian to the floor and back again and helplessly followed Brian’s lead by putting down his can and glaring angrily at Billy. Billy stared back and Dean was forced to break the stare by Brian walking out of the loungeroom and into the entrance hall.
Left of the entrance hall was an empty bedroom or study that Brian looked into briefly before heading out to the kitchen. The kitchen was the left of two doors leading off the entrance hall as you came in the front door. The right hand door led to the base of the ‘L’ that made up the lounge and dining combo. The kitchen was so bright and sparkling that Dena was momentarily stunned. There were two stainless steel sinks, a dishwasher, a gas stove about the size of an ocean liner and light-coloured wooden doors on the massive collection of cupboards of all shapes and sizes. The only dissonant element in this symphony of cuisine was the fridge, a small rickety white and stickers number that had seen better days and then begun to really let itself go. They passed on to the laundry which featured a washing machine and dryer, a garbage bin and a floor covered in newspaper.
Brian led the way upstairs until they got to the first floor landing.
“What the fuck was all that about?” asked Brian quietly.
Well, he’s your friend,” Dean replied.
“He’s Des’s friend. I just know him.”
I don’t know. Aggro drunks are one thing. Aggro drunks at 11:30 in the morning are something completely bloody different.”
“It’s a good house, though.”
There were three bedrooms and a bathroom on the first floor. One of the bedrooms was closed but the other two were open and empty, sporting feature windows that looked out over the neighbours’ windows and beyond that over the units next door where the blonde had gone and beyond that to the Dandenong Ranges. They seemed like good sized bedrooms but neither Brian nor Dean could really visualise what their stuff would look like in the rooms—or whether it would even fit.
“I don’t know...” said Dean.
“Beggars can’t be chooser,” Brian said.
“Are we beggars just yet?”
“That’s up to you.”
There wasn’t long to go before Dean would be living out of a cardboard box and even though he had a job vacancies were few in the rental market and virtually non-existent in his tax bracket. Brian had already made up his mind that he was moving here regardless of Dean’s opinion.
“What the heck, I’ll buy it,” said Dean.
“What do youse reckon?” said Billy, who had come up the stairs so quietly—so stealthily—neither prospective tenant had heard him.
“Is that your room?” asked Dean as innocuously as he could.
“Nah, that’s Angie’s. She’s after me to move in but I don’t know.”
“Oh,” said Dean. “Fair enough.”
“She’s not gonna fuck ya,” said Billy.
“Good,” said Brian as Dean was flabbergasted.
Billy said not another word and walked back downstairs, still not making a sound.
“The last major objection to me moving in has been solved,” said Dean.
They went downstairs and looked around for Billy. He was nowhere to be seen but then the sound of a flushing toilet and a terrible smoker’s cough alerted them to his whereabouts. They waited until the coughing stopped and then, unpreceded by the sound of hands being washed, Billy came back through the kitchen, zipping up his fly.
“We’ll take it, if Angie has no objections,” said Brian.
“Nah, she won’t object if I don’t.”
“Well, do you?” asked Brian.
“Right, then. See you Thursday.”
“Nah, got a new job Thursday. Angie’ll be here, though.”
“See you Saturday, then.”
They stood there for a moment in some kind of stupefied state, each thinking thoughts about leaving. After an uncomfortable pause Brian said: “Well, we’re fucking off,” and walked toward the door. Dean looked around to make sure he hadn’t forgotten his hat, realised he’d been wearing it indoors all this time and then, looking Billy straight in the eye, he said: “See you around.”
Billy didn’t answer.
On To The Third Chapter
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Get Me The Hell Out Of Here!
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