UNDER THE BLANKET OF THE SUN
by Daniel Hatadi
Shoes, real clonkers, making clonking noises on the top of the rock wall, maybe some chick in high heels doing a drunken tightrope walk, but then I look up and he slides down like silk, sits right next to me in the sand, legs crossed, enough light coming off the water to see his head tilted, looking at me like he’s wondering if I’m a bottle of wine with a metal label or just a four litre cask of goon.
He pats his bald head, running long nailed fingers down a thin goatee, looking out at the water, breathing in a lungful of harbour air and moving his head like he’s trying to chase the smell, his chest filling orange linen tied up loose like shoelaces and then, in an Indian accent, he speaks.
“Is the weather always so warm in this country? Who owns all the boats out on the water?”
I get out from under my blanket, sand spilling off all over and say, “The boats bob up and down all night, sir, and if you’re quiet enough you can hear the water plopping against them. I don’t know whose they are, but the weather, no sir, it’s not always hot, not in winter, but you never know your luck in this city.”
He nods and shakes his wrist, jingling a gold chain, his stare never leaving me and I’m wondering why he’s come down here to my spot, took me ages to find this spot, why can’t people just leave a bum alone.
More nodding and then, “It is good to hear this; a voice again. Thank you, old man, I am sorry to disturb your slumber.”
He moves his head again, smelling me all over, nostrils flaring, then he leaps up over the rock wall and he’s off into the night like he was never there. I make sure of it, creep up, walk around the park and poke my head out onto the street but he’s gone definitely gone.
I sleep all day, on my thin strip of sand that some call a beach, hot and wet Sydney sun covering me like a steaming, muggy blanket and no one cares, no one even sees me, and I think about the Indian and wonder why he reminded me of wine, used to drink it like water, used to love that wetness sliding down my throat when I squeezed the silver bag, pushed the wine through the nozzle, but I shake my head, remembering the hangovers, head pumping blood, sweating, chucking up nothing but dribbles of pale spit, stomach pulsing, wanting to push out more but there isn’t any more to push.
Night comes, another day without the goon, not even sure how many it’s been, and I’m out walking in the dark, moon coming off the water in ripples and waves and sand through my toes and I climb over the wall and walk around the yacht club and the short wharf and the path behind the tennis courts and no one’s around, the park’s all mine, just me, sitting on the edge looking out at the boats and the lights across the harbour and people pay for a view like this, but I get it for nothing.
Dip my feet in the water to get the sand out my toes, not to wash, no, my stink takes weeks to get it just right, just so I can’t smell it any more, like clothes, and then I hear voices behind me, a whole group of young voices, out drinking and laughing and swearing and I wish they would shut up because this park was all mine before they came but the voices get louder and I hear a pack of sneakers squeaking on the concrete and now they’re behind me and I turn around and they’re school boys drinking from plastic flasks and laughing and pointing and I turn my back on them and that’s when one hits me.
I stay where I am, don’t turn around, all tight now, waiting for the next hit, and one of them yells at me.
“Who you think you are, bum, ignoring us? Don’t you know who we are?”
But he’s not really talking to me, he’s talking to his mates, trying to sound bigger than the others and I hear them scuffling behind me and one gets close and says, “we pay your taxes for you, bum,” and they hit me again, hands pulling me down, losing my balance, falling on the concrete, kicks coming from all sides, trying to cover my face and my gut but they keep on coming and I’m wondering how long it’ll last and I laugh and it’s their parents who pay the taxes, not them, and then it stops.
The kids scream, most of them run, a couple get knocked to the floor and there’s an orange flash moving, shifting around them, like a wind slapping them down, the ones on the floor are moaning, the others are gone, and the flash slows, turns into the Indian from the night before and he’s walking towards me, his hand stretched out.
“Are you hurt, old man, did these children hurt you?”
I shake my head and he steps over me, his strong hands picking me up from the ground, fingernails digging in and I’m bouncing on his back, his orange shirt smelling like rust and his snakeskin shoes clonking along the path, round back by the yacht club and I knock against his legs, his shoes swishing through the dark sand and the world spins around and I’m lying on my back looking up into his dark, bald head with the thin goatee and those eyes, fierce eyes, the fiercest, and he shakes his head, looking all worried.
“How did you let yourself come to this?”
The spittle from his words hits me in the face but I don’t wipe it off because it tastes like blood and I don’t know what he’s going to do and he pulls me up by my jacket and he says, “how, why?” and then he drops me and I’m laying there in the dirt in my spot and it doesn’t feel safe any more, doesn’t feel like my spot at all.
He breathes in, looking out at the harbour and I hold myself still, wrap my arms up around my chest like a shield and I know it won’t help but it’s all I can do, moon shining off his perfect head, air coming through his nostrils like a dragon and he bends down faster than I can see, near my face, near my shoulder, snaps back, looks all over, tears my jacket off, shirt off, singlet up, warm night breeze from the sea brushes on my skin and he bends down, the pain flares, he’s biting and I’m wet and warm and it hurts, Indian man is sucking the life right out of me and I see dark things like worms out of the corner of my eye, coming towards me, everything’s darker and darker and then he’s gone and I sleep.
I sleep through the night and the whole of the next day and the sun’s hotter than a blanket, pressing down on me like rocks and I can’t wake, can’t open my eyes, don’t dream, don’t notice the boats or the kids smoking or the seagulls picking, don’t notice any of it but I know it’s happening and that doesn’t make sense.
When the night comes and the rocks are off me and the blanket’s off me, I sit up straight, looking out at the water, hearing it splash against the boat on the other side of the harbour, cars swishing past on the road near the park, tires gripping the road, exhaust rattling rattling, can’t they fix the muffler, seagull on the buoy shrieks, its eye a red rim on black, seagull flies off, wings smacking the air and it’s like this for hours and I can’t move can’t even put my hands on my ears but that wouldn’t help and the sun comes and I sleep again, the whole day, the whole fucking day I can’t move, but when the night comes once more, everything is clear.
Thirsty, so thirsty, I get up and move across the sand, feel it rush through the grooves on my toes, feel the scrape of the rocks, so easy to climb, one step is enough and I’m over and I’m gliding past the yacht club, the path around the park.
There’s a drinking fountain, handle rusted, but I grip it and I turn it quick and it breaks, water bubbling out, filling the basin, dripping down the sides and I bend down for a taste and I gag, it’s the worst thing, like vomit and stale beer off the carpet of an old pub and I spit it out and I wipe my hands and keep walking.
I walk up to the busy roads, past the richie rich shops of Double Bay and the cars, I can hear them, all of them, hear the people talking inside them, but it doesn’t hurt like the night before and nothing hurts, no bruises, no scratches, not a mark on my stomach where he chewed and sucked and the walking is easy, so easy, all the way to the city, to Hyde Park past the tourists snapping pictures of the lights in the trees and I’m back at my old bench and there’s no one else here, not in this part of the park, my fingers running on the paint on the bench, feeling every flaking chip and the wood that pokes through in places and I sit and breathe and feel the city all around me.
There’s a rustle in the bushes and out comes a possum.
“Hello there, Mister Possum.”
He’s up on his hind legs, big black eyes, eyes that see in the night, possum skitters round, looking this way and that way and I can see all the shades of grey in his short fur and the pinkness of his nose, a drop of dew or wetness, and that reminds me of the thirst and I’m watching him, Mister Possum, thinking how nice to lick that wetness off his nose, and he scurries closer, small claws pulled back, and then he’s near the thick tree next to me, wetness, wetness, so I slide off the bench along the grass and I move faster and quieter than the possum’s used to and his head turns and his ears prick up, pink juicy ears and I snatch him with both my hands and all I want is that wetness, my fingers digging in and the skin tears and possum squeals and I pull him to my lips and chew into his body, twist him like a sponge and I want and I take all the wetness he can give.
“Thank you, Mister Possum.”
Possum, juicy possum, then a rat, then a bird with a big hooked beak that digs into my shoulder as his feathers go red, but it’s not enough and I walk again, down by the water, around the shoreline, through the suburbs, past a police station, past a floating restaurant, back to the park, along the path, dangling my feet in the water again and I suck in the air, never like this before, fill myself with all the smells of the city and the harbour and I’m so caught up it takes me a while to notice the drunken kid staggering along through the trees.
White hooded jumper, white like that bird, jeans and sandals, designer sandals, cost more than anything I ever wore, sipping from a plastic flask, could be one of the kids that hit me, could be the one that pulled me to the floor, his head’s leaning back, moon on the flask, whiskey down the throat that bobs as he swallows and I swallow, thirsty still.
“You mind if I have a sip, lad?”
“Go way, leave me lone.”
He looks at me, blurred eyes watching me, doesn’t recognise me and his breath stinks and I can’t stand it, he’s already vomited but he keeps on drinking, stupid drunken kid.
“Maybe I’ll just have some anyway.”
And I put my hand out and he pulls back, but it’s not the whiskey, no, no, it’s the wetness inside him, that’s what’ll stop the thirst, that’s what the Indian did, went down to my stomach just like I did to the possum.
Kid sways and I knock him down and he falls so easy and before he screams my hand is on his mouth and I pull up his T-shirt, twist around, keep my hand on his mouth, find the soft spot of skin and I break it and the wetness gushes and it’s warm and light and fills every part of me like I’m drinking the harbour itself and it’s the best thing that’s ever happened, better than any wine even the fancy wine but I’m killing the kid he’s dying too late, too late.
I sit back and watch him, plastic flask leaking whiskey on the grass, his stomach pulsing he’s shaking and then he stops and all I can do is pick him up over my shoulder, just like the Indian, but I’m not taking him to my spot, that spot’s all mine and I’m finished with this kid, drunken kid, so into the harbour he goes.
Now the sky is getting light, grey instead of black and I know it’s time to get back to my spot, to sleep through the day, the whole day, under that heavy blanket, the blanket of the sun.
About the Author:
Sydney crime fiction writer Daniel Hatadi has been a musician, a petrol station attendant, and a software engineer in the poker machine industry. His writing has appeared in Crimespree Magazine, Shots UK, Thrilling Detective and Thuglit. He also maintains the crime fiction social networking site, Crimespace.