Talking Underwater

Mark Brandi

You can find more of Mark's work in our second print issue.

1.

A Chrysler Sigma

1977.

 

“Not the Jap one,” he says.

 

It’s silver

With a four cylinder engine

The Astron 2000.

 

“A good motor,” 

so he reckons.

 

“Gearbox needs fixing.

New tyres too,” 

he pauses

“Just for roadworthy.”

 

I like its look

The round startled headlights

And hot vinyl stink.

 

It’s the same year as me

But I don’t tell him this.

 

 

2.

He drinks beer at my parent’s pub

Lives with his mother

Done both forever.

 

Talk Underwater

That’s what they call him

Behind his back.

 

He’s always too loud

Trying to fit in

Can’t quite.

 

Shoes are too polished 

With clean flannel shirts 

Tucked into his jeans

Like he doesn’t quite get it

Never will.

 

On his large, round head

I see the dull pink sheen 

Of a long thick scar

That looks more like a divot.

 

Like a long time ago 

Something hit hard. 

 

 

3.

He drives us to Ballarat 

The Sigma on his trailer

I see it watching us in the rear-view mirror

Unsure who to trust.

 

Cheap mechanic he knows up there

“An old mate,”

So he reckons.

 

Neil Diamond in the speakers

As tinny as you like

With Sweet Caroline

“Perfect on cassette,” he says.

 

He’s cheap aftershave 

And spearmint nicotine gum

“Stopped years ago,” he says.

 

He talks all the way 

Mostly about his car

“This old Ford,” he rubs the dash

“She’s almost like my wife.”

 

 

4.

It’s Sebastopol

An industrial estate on the outskirts of outskirts

Cyclone fencing, steel and dust.

 

He laughs at the sign —

 

$50 per hour

$75 if you watch

$100 if you help

 

He calls the mechanic ‘Steve’

 

Then ‘mate’.

 

But Steve’s eyes tell me 

That’s not really the truth.

 

5.

We get back in the Ford

“Gonna take all day,” he says

And rubs his thick cheeks

Like it’s a really big problem.

 

He turns to me

“What do you wanna do?”

 

I shrug

So he tells me his ideas.

 

But I’m too old for Kryal Castle

Or Sovereign Hill.

 

 

6.

At Lake Wendouree

He buys me a fat sausage roll

It’s hot, greasy and old.

 

 

7.

The lake is dry

And bored plovers meet in the middle

Apparently deciding

They have nothing better to do.

 

8.

There’s an old brick toilet block

Out near the road.

 

I can almost smell it

Just by its look.

 

I need a piss badly.

 

 

9.

He says he’ll come with me. 

 

 

10.

It’s dark inside

But just light enough 

To see a stainless steel mirror.

 

11.

It’s scratched with cold hatreds 

And hot secret loves.

 

 

12.

We stand at the urinal.

 

I can hear his breath

It shudders and heaves

I can almost feel it.

 

13.

He doesn’t piss.

 

 

14.

And I try not to think about that after.

 

 

15.

He reckons we’ll go to the airport

I have no idea why

And we don’t talk on the way.

 

He parks the Ford

Under a thin, dying gum tree.

 

He gives awkward commentary

As a few planes take off 

And some even land. 

 

It is

By anyone’s account

Incredibly boring.

 

 

16.

Finally 

The car is ready.

 

“We’ll go home the back way,” he says. “A detour.” 

 

 

17.

He doesn’t look me in the eyes when he says it.

 

 

18.

An old road

Narrow and windy

The Sigma rattles and whirrs.

 

 

19.

He drives out front

About a car length ahead

Takes a turn-off

 

Unexpectedly.

 

 

20.

I watch 

And try to figure him out.

 

A tiny man in an enormous car

Shiny head

Bouncing up and down. 

 

His anxious gaze 

In the rear-view mirror.

 

21.

Soon though

Much too soon

It is almost dark

And it’s only red taillights. 

 

 

22.

Then

Twenty miles from nowhere

I hear two sudden cracks

Like gunshot.

 

23.

The steering wheel rips 

right out of my hands.

 

 

24.

The car skids wildly

to the side of the road.

 

25.

And misses a tree

Only just.

 

 

26.

Two dead tyres

Burst at their sides.

 

In darkness, we load the Sigma back on the trailer.

 

 

27.

Back inside the old Ford

It’s Hot August Night.

 

 

28.

We head to the main road

Toward the dim yellow lights of town 

And it feels like forever.

 

 

29.

He hums along to the cassette

 

“Til the time

I found her

Holding Jim

loving him.”

 

 

30.

Turns the volume down.

 

 

31.

“You were lucky,” he says.

 

 

32.

But I say nothing.

 

 

33.

And he lights a cigarette.