creative writing

Rat-boys


Craig Garrett*

1.

‘Over there!’ Brian points.

Joe twists the steering wheel and the tires squeal. ‘Shit.’ He grabs the stubby from off the floor. ‘Spilled me fuckin beer.’

‘Shouldn’t’ve turned so quick,’ Brian says.

‘Shouldn’t’ve told me so fuckin late.’ He finishes the beer then throws the bottle out the window.

‘Can’t remember everythin, can I. Last time I was pissed.’ Beer bottles roll and clink at his feet. ‘These’re annoying me.’ He smiles as he opens one and drinks.

‘How about me?’

He opens one for his brother. ‘Hey, turn right up here a bit.’ He smiles. I’m rememberin.’

Joe drives up the backstreet. ‘Gettin more pissed, more like.’

‘This’s it.’ Brian points. ‘Up there.’

Joe takes the car slowly up the gutter, across the park, and stops near the see-saw. ‘Here ok?’

Brian nods and gets the drugs and his PVC-pipe bong from under the seat. ‘Best fuckin bong.’ He turns the car light on and mulls the pot and tobacco together.

Joe turns the radio on.

‘It’s the base.’ He packs the cone. ‘Being ceramic makes it smooth as — heaps better than plastic. Used plumbing cement, too. Keeps it airtight.’ He pulls the cone in one breath. ‘See. Wish I hadn’t lost me apprenticeship, but.’

‘Shouldn’t’ve taken so many sickies,’ Joe says.

‘I was sick.’ He repacks it.

‘Stoned and hungover.’

‘Yeah, sick.’ He hands it to Joe.

2.

There’s a tap at Brian’s window. He doesn’t know when the foreign-language music started, but he’s too stoned to change the station. Another tap.

Joe sits up. ‘Don’t open it.’

Another tap. Metal on glass?

Joe fumbles with the keys.

Brian winds the window down and is staring out through thick cigarette and bong smoke at a cop. Joe’s so much smarter than him.

‘Fuck.’ Joe hits the steering wheel and slumps in his seat.

‘You two,’ the cop says as he shines a torch into the car, ‘get out.’

‘We’re not doin nuthin,’ Brian says, squinting against the light.

‘Get that one.’ Two cops then open both front doors and drag them out.

Everything’s hazy. The taller cop spins him around, wrenches his arm and slams him into the bonnet. Same happens to Joe.

‘I can smell it,’ Tall cop says. ‘We don’t want your kind here.’

Short cop pushes the back of Joe’s head so his face hits the car.

‘That’s not legal,’ Brian says.

Short slams Joe’s head again.

‘Hey,’ Brian says

Short slams him again.

‘See the pattern,’ Tall says and stands Brian up.

‘We’re taxpayers. You work for us,’ Joe says.

Short slams him again.

Tall leans into the front seat and gets the drugs and bong.

‘They’re not ours,’ Brian says.

‘That’s an illegal search,’ Joe says, squirming.

Short slams Joe’s head twice.

‘Not too bright, are you?’ Tall says.

Brian looks at Joe. ‘No. Yes.’

Tall laughs. He drops the bong and smashes it. ‘Next time.’ He waves his truncheon at Brian. ‘That’s your face.’

Short punches Joe in the kidney then lets him go. ‘Fuck off, the both of you.’

‘Hurry up,’ Tall says, ‘we don’t have all night.’ They laugh and lean against the swing set as Tall rolls a joint.

Brian helps Joe up. ‘Want me to drive?’

‘I’ll be right.’ He winces as he sits.

Brian gets in and Joe’s already started the engine.

‘Every time,’ Joe says. ‘That short fuck punches.’

‘Sure you don’t want me to drive?’

‘Nar.’ He moves slowly, putting the car into gear and driving it back across the park. It scrapes the gutter as they drop onto the road. ‘We should get rid of this.’

‘I didn’t want to nick it in the first place.’

It’s a long walk from where they ditch the car back to The Pipes: four big stormwater drains dumped on the hill behind the industrial estate. On the way Joe gets the shits with him for looking back all the time, but he keeps thinking he hears people. It’s not until they’re on the dirt track that he chills out. His firebug mate, who did the cop shop last year without getting caught, would love all this dead grass. He crawls into the largest pipe, after Joe, and collapses on a bed of newspaper. It’s too hot to use the sleeping bags they stash here, but he does use a silver goon bladder as a pillow.

 3.

Next morning, their mum’s cooking when they get home. The front door opens straight into the kitchen–living room of the two-bedroom flat.

‘Cops came last night.’ She has a beer in one hand, a spatula in the other, and bacon is frying. ‘Woke the neighbours. Fucking embarrassing.’

He thinks she’s beautiful. She has lots of lines on her face, which is different to the photos of when she was young, but she’s still thin, except for her pot belly.

She points the spatula. The bacon spits. ‘I don’t want fuckin cops here again.’

He follows Joe to the table, where they fill two cups with wine from the goon cask.

‘Don’t drink that.’ She scrapes bacon off the pan. ‘Davo bought it round last night. He left over the balcony when the cops came; thought they wanted him.’

‘It’s our house,’ Brian says. He doesn’t like Davo any more than the cops.

‘You pay rent now, do you.’ She plonks the bacon on toast. ‘No more cops,’ she says through a mouthful of bacon, ‘or I’ll dob you in myself.’ She takes the food and beer to her bedroom.

He can hear the tv through the wall.

 

 

 4.

‘What’re the Wilson poofs doin?’ Chris says, as he comes in the open front door.

Brian’s drunk. Chris’s Joe’s mate and always seems to be looking for shit to nick.

‘Nothin,’ Joe says.

Brian hunches back in his chair.

He takes a mug from the stack of dirty dishes in the sink, rinses it and comes over. ‘What happened to your face?’

Joe shrugs. ‘Cops.’

‘Fuckin cops — always after someone.’ He fills the mug with goon and sculls. ‘Came round last night. Ended up watching telly with the old man.’ He fills the mug again and sculls. ‘Want to go for a drive?’ He lights a cigarette.

‘Sure.’ Joe stands.

Brian stands too.

‘Not you.’ Chris smokes the cigarette.

Brian sits, and hates how Chris makes him nervous in his own house.

‘He can’t stay.’ Joe holds up his cup and motions to their mother’s bedroom. ‘Davo’ll be pissed we drunk his goon.’

‘He’s too quiet.’ He smokes.

Brian doesn’t want to go or stay.

‘It’s only a drive,’ Joe says.

‘Fuck.’ He takes a big drag and looks between the two. ‘Whatever.’

Chris does a burn out down the street as they leave, and normally that’d be fun, but Brian’s not into it today.

‘Make yourself useful and get us some beers,’ Chris says.

Brian gets three stubbies from the esky on the floor and hands two over.

‘Not you.’ Chris sees him in the rear vision mirror. ‘There aren’t enough.’

‘What?’ Brian says.

‘I need ‘em. Put it back.’

‘There’s heaps.’

‘If he doesn’t have enough,’ Joe says. ‘You still owe me for last night.’

‘It was my bong.’

‘I got the pot and the beer.’ Joe turns around. ‘Put it back.’

Brian drops the beer back in.

‘Don’t shake ‘em up,’ Chris says.

He sits back and crosses his arms. Everything outside blurs past.

 5.

‘They’ve got cameras ‘n’ shit,’ Brian argues. Chris and Joe are glaring at him.

‘Me mate knows this guy who did this place a few months back. They’re broken.’

‘Joe,’ Brian says.

‘It’s his car.’

‘It’s nothin,’ Chris says. ‘We’ll distract him for you. Too easy.’

‘If it’s nothin, you do it.’

‘We’re creatin the diversion. Shit. Just fuckin do it. We’ve been here too long. Pretend like we’re countin money or somethin.’

Chris and Joe take out their wallets, but Brian doesn’t have a wallet or money.

‘Let’s go.’ Chris gets out.

‘Just get the stuff. He’s ok,’ Joe says before getting out too.

He plays with the window until Chris finishes filling the tank, then follows them into the servo. While Chris waits in line and Joe looks at the pornos he grabs the stuff. When Chris’s at the counter, he takes a bottle of Coke over. ‘This too.’

Chris glares and dumps the Coke on the lollies shelf. ‘Just the petrol.’

‘And a pack of Horizons.’ Joe gives Chris $20 and gets between Brian and the attendant.

Brian grabs a handful of chocolates, stuffs them down his pants and leaves. He’s eating a chocolate in the car as Chris strides across the servo — Joe’s not far behind.

‘What the fuck was that!?’ Chris yells as he and Joe get in. ‘What the fuck was that fuckin Coke shit!’ He slams the door.

‘I got this.’ Brian holds everything up.

‘Fuck! Put that down. Idiot.’ He starts the car and drives away.

‘I did what you said.’

‘And then almost fucked it by being a smart arse.’ Chris glares at him in the rear vision mirror.

‘It’s hot. I’m thirsty.’

‘Should’ve stolen it yourself, ya thief.’

‘I only did what you said.’ He crosses his arms.

‘Could’ve said “no”.’

‘But…’

‘You got a lot,’ Joe says.

‘I’m swift.’

‘Give us a fucking Mars Bar, then.’

‘Get any Violet Crumbles?’ Joe asks.

‘Yep.’

They eat in silence, and in the time the others eat one, Brian eats three. Chris and Joe light up once they’re finished.

‘Can I have a cig?’ Brian asks.

Joe throws him the packet and a lighter.

‘TAB’s near here,’ Chris says as he slows the car and turns into a back street.

‘What ya looking for?’ Joe asks.

‘Nothin… Yet.’ Chris searches as he meanders the car down the street. ‘Yes!’

‘What?’ Joe asks.

‘There.’ He points at an old man coming up the street smoking a cigarette. ‘It’s pension day.’ He parks, stubs his cigarette in the ash tray and gets out.

‘I don’t wanna hurt no old fucker,’ Brian says. The old man’s short and thin.

‘We’ll just take his money.’ Joe goes to get out, but stops. ‘Better stay here, keep a look out.’

‘Hey,’ Chris says as the old man gets level with the car, ‘got a light?’

‘Umm, yes.’ He smiles and pulls a lighter from his pocket.

‘Cheers.’ Chris takes out a new cigarette and lights up. ‘I’m Dale. This’s Thomas.’

‘Roy.’

‘Cheers, Roy.’ He puts the lighter in his pocket, spins Roy around, wrenches his arm and slams him against the car. ‘Now give us your fucking money.’

‘What… I don’t hav—’

Roy’s looking straight in at Brian, and looks scared; he wishes some cops’d come ‘round the corner for the bloke.

‘Hold him,’ Chris says.

Roy squirms, but Joe has him. Brian looks up and down the street: cops’re never around when you need.

‘Here.’ Chris pulls out Roy’s wallet. ‘Fuck. Yuck. He’s pissed himself.’

Brian wants to help or say something or leave, but Chris’d never forget it.

Chris takes the money, tosses the wallet and punches Roy in the kidney. ‘C’mon.’

Roy stays hunched on the ground as they drive off. ‘I don’t like hurtin old fuckers.’

‘You didn’t, ya poof.’ Chris throws Joe the money.

‘Fuck, Roy had some dosh.’ Joe counts it.

‘Well then,’ Chris says, ‘let’s get pissed.’

 6.

The factory’s perfect for drinking beer, and Brian can’t wait to get into it.

‘Fuckwit!’ Chris yells. ‘Get back here and carry somethin. Jesus.’

‘He’ll carry stuff,’ Joe says.

‘Lazy fuck just left.’

Brian goes back to the car where Chris loads him up with both slabs and both casks. ‘What are you two carryin?’

Chris opens the Southern Comfort and drinks. Joe holds up the Jim Beam bottle.

‘That’s not fair.’ He should drop the beers so they smash. ‘These’re heavy.’

‘Get in there, then,’ Chris says.

Over the years all the windows’ve been smashed, then covered with wire, but everyone knows the back door’s off its hinges. It’s cool inside, but the light’s dull and he almost trips on something.

‘Don’t fuckin drop it,’ Chris says, ‘I’ll kick your arse!’

‘Hang on.’ Joe takes the casks and tries to hand one to Chris.

‘I don’t want it.’

‘We don’t want him droppin the stubbies.’

‘You carry it,’ Chris says. ‘And if anyone’s up there.’ He points at Brian. ‘Don’t say a fuckin word.’ He swigs some Southern, then goes up the stairs.

He’ll talk if he wants. Chris can’t do anything with other people around.

The stairs go to a hallway, and at the end is a big room with old machines and stuff. One side of the wall has fallen down. Brian likes coming here on his own to sit and drink, or smoke spliffs and just look at the other buildings. He draws sometimes.

‘Dirty fuckers,’ Chris says and pushes a pile of stuff out the hole with his foot. ‘Leaving their crap behind.’

Brian almost drops the beers as he puts them down near the couch.

‘Careful with that,’ Chris says as he kicks a couple of old goon casks and a home-made bong out as well.

Brian rubs his arms. ‘They were heavy.’

‘Stop whinging.’ Chris swigs more Southern. ‘Or fuck off home. You’re lucky to be here.’

‘Yeah, real lucky.’

‘What?’ Chris says.

‘Lucky to have some Southern,’ Brian says.

‘No way.’

‘I just want some.’

‘I just want some,’ Chris mimics.

‘It’s not your money.’

‘You always want some, but never get any, do you.’

‘When I have the money,’ he says.

‘No, idiot. I mean chicks. You still a virgin.’

‘No.’ Brian blushes.

‘You haven’t lost it, have you!’ Chris says.

Brian’s silent.

‘Have you!’

‘Leave it,’ Joe says. ‘We know he’s a virgin.’

‘Then you can’t have any until you’ve lost it.’ He laughs and sits on the couch. ‘And don’t look at me like that. I’m no poofta.’

Brian opens a beer and sits on the arm of the couch with Joe between him and Chris.

‘This’s the life.’ Chris drinks beer and Southern. ‘That chick I fucked the other night was a goer; did her in one of those rooms down the hall.’

Brian thinks he’s full of shit.

‘You wouldn’t know what to do with a chick, would you virgin!’

He looks out the hole in the wall.

‘Would you!’ Chris says.

He ignores him.

‘Fuck your brother’s a fuckwit.’ Chris stands.

Brian flinches.

‘Scare ya?’

‘No,’ Brian says.

‘Should’ve left him back at yours.’ He sculls his beer, swigs some Southern, then throws the empty stubby out the hole at a garbage skip. It falls short. ‘Let’s see who can hit it first.’ He grabs another beer, sculls it, throws, misses again. ‘You try, virgin.’

Brian stands, sculls, throws.

‘Missed,’ Chris says.

‘So did you,’ he says. At least he got closer.

‘My go,’ Joe says. His bottle smashes against the skip. ‘Suck that shit, pooftas.’

Brian laughs.

‘What you laughin at, virgin?’

‘Nothin.’

‘Come on. You wanna fight.’

Brian backs away. ‘No.’

‘He’s ok,’ Joe says.

‘No he’s not. I beat fuckwits like him up all the time.’ Chris drinks and points at Brian — Southern dribbles down his chin: ‘You’re not fuckin right in the head, rat.’

‘Hey.’ Joe stands between them.

‘Touch a fuckin nerve. Rats. You look like fuckin rats. Fuckin big pointy fuckin teeth. Vermin. I bet all you eat at home is cheese.’ He drinks. ‘That’s what rats do. And they have AIDS and the plague and syphilis!’ He’s yelling so loud that Joe backs away too. ‘The rat family; we all call you that! Everyone knows the dirty fuckin dirty vermin eatin cheese and your own shit!’ Swaying, he drinks more Southern. ‘And the ugly mother rat! Only reason I come round is because she gives me beers and blowjobs!’

Brian doesn’t want to hear it: he runs, hits, scratches, kicks.

‘Get off me ya poofta.’ Chris drops the Southern and punches Brian in the face: left right left right left.

Brian’s head jolts back and stars explode in his eyes. He stumbles; bleeding from his nose, he feels it running warm down his face.

‘Chris!’ Joe grabs Chris’s arm. ‘Stop.’

‘He has this coming.’ Chris punches again and again and again.

Brian stumbles further.

‘Stop!’ Joe grabs Chris.

Chris shoves Joe hard and he stumbles too and Brian can’t move as Joe loses his footing and yells something and falls. Brian turns, ready to get hit again.

Chris’ hands are bloody. ‘Fuckin rat fuckin tripped.’ Chris moves from the edge.

‘You can’t leave.’ The air’s hot. He watches Chris gather the grog.

‘Fuckin rat. Not my fucking problem, is it.’

‘You have to help.’ The air’s getting inside him. He wants to move but can’t.

‘Fuckin rat-boys; fucking vermin.’

‘He’s your mate. Don’t go.’ He’s crying. ‘Please don’t go.’ He hears the car start and drive off and then realises Chris isn’t here.

He runs down to Joe, kneels and shakes him. ‘Wake up.’ The sun is high. There’s blood. ‘Wake up.’ Joe moans, but doesn’t move and doesn’t wake up. ‘I know what to do.’ He carries him fireman style: he’s always been bigger and stronger than Joe. Everything takes ages and he has to rest more than he expected. Magpies squawk and fight. He struggles. He’s almost there, but it’s taking ages. A bird screeches. And he’s almost there. ‘It’ll be ok.’ Almost there. Almost. After lying him on the newspapers he shakes Joe again. ‘Wake up.’ His own shirt is sweaty and bloody. ‘It’ll be ok.’ He pads the bed with grass and leaves, places a goon bladder under his head, puts both sleeping bags over Joe because he’s shaking. ‘Wake up.’ When he still doesn’t move Brian lies next to him and strokes his hair. The sounds of birds and crickets and cicadas. ‘It’ll be ok.’ He strokes his brother’s hair.

*Craig Garrett is a Brisbane-based writer whose work has appeared in Voiceworks, Sleepers Almanac, Strange4, The Big Issue, Wet Ink, Meanjin, West of the West and Visible Ink. He has worked as an editor, journalist and communications consultant; spoken at the Melbourne and Sydney writers’ festivals, This is Not Art (TINA) and the Emerging Writers’ Festival; and edited Voiceworks magazine (1998–2000). In 2001 he received an Arts Victoria grant for his novel Transition Events (unpublished), and in 2008 completed a Creative Writing MA (RMIT). He’s currently writing two more novels: Magpie and A Country of Second-Hand?, and completing a PhD at Griffith University.

**Publication Date: August 6, 2014

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Categories: creative writing

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