2 Dec


“I’m such a coward”. This was Neil talking. Good old reliable Neil. Reliable everywhere except in the workplace. His mind wanders, that’s what he’s like. What can you do? I’ve been his friend now almost ten years. That makes him a lifer from my point of view.

So anyway, Neil says he’s a coward. And I ask him why.

“There’s a chick, I want to tell her how I feel,” Neil shrugs, “but I don’t. Cowardly yeah?”

“I dunno, maybe.” says me. Always the fence-sitter.

“I’ve been faithful to her a whole year now and she doesn’t even know I exist.”

“She doesn’t know you?” I ask. Neil’s a romantic suck so it’s possible, but a year?

“Aww she knows me,” Neil shrugs a lot. “We’ve spoken, but just when I think we’ve connected just a bit she cold-shoulders me. ”

“Sounds like a bitch” I say, ready to jump down off the fence on the side of ‘forget it’. Josie walks past and I ask her real nice to deliver the next round even tho’ the place is bar service. She’s a good sport Josie. Neil grabs my fags and lights one. He never asks, doesn’t have to. We’re filling up the ashtray.

“Aww no she’s not,” Neil’s inevitible defense on que. “I’m not expressing myself correctly. She’s got things on her mind and she’s never given me reason to expect anything. I just can’t get her off the brain, yeah?”

“Yeah” says I, “I know that feeling.”

“Yeah.” It’s time for me to shut-up now.. “Yeah I got that feeling and I can’t shake it. I’ve tried you know. Truly. But she always there like a cello inside. Except when I see her then it’s all horns and string sections and wailing fucking guitars for a month. Then it cools down. It’s… not diluted. No, it never dilutes. It’s just that it’s like the volume goes down. But every fucking day I get up and she’s there and then I feel like shit ’cause she’s not actually there and I don’t know where she is or when I’ll see her again.”

Josie arrived with the Cooper’s Green looking stuff from some East Gippsland cottage brewery. The stuff’s cloudier with chunks of something that for some strange reason says ‘healthy and wholesome’ to us toxic waste dumps in Brunswick.

“So you got the double blues.”, I prompt.

“Double blues? Yeah.”, he laughs, “I’ve always got the first kind.”

The one thing that renders Neil inarticulate is his own feelings. You’ve got to be patient. So I upend the bottle a bit and check out the heads in the garden in these early days of the short hot summer. Neil starts up after a few minutes looking at the bottom of his glass for the cure that doesn’t exist.

“Double blues. Fuck! I dunno. I wake up, I think about her. When I go to sleep, same thing. Sometimes I’m high as a kite in a hurricane and twice as flakey. Off in La-di-da’s ville. Other times I’m a sorry dog kicking about lost in the bush and hungry. Most times I’m like that. So I stay out of her way and the volume goes down. I want it just to fade away and I don’t want it to fade away just as bad.”

“Yep that’s love,” I say. “The real deal.”

“You think?”

“Oh sure, love is when it hurts man. That’s how you tell.” I drink, a bit adding, “run a mile.”

“Such a hard-boiled dude,” Neil shakes his head at my cynicism. As always.

“Ever listen to Blood On The Tracks?” I ask, getting ready to be Socratic.

“Not sure.”

“Dylan’s ’70s comeback record. He split up with his wife. The album’s tough ramblin’ man music but underneath all that he’s shattered. He really thought she was the one, wakes up one day and she can’t follow him anymore. I mean the guy’s pretty hard to follow right? Everything he says or sings makes sense and doesn’t at the same time. Imagine living with it? Anyway so he’s broken up about his kaput marriage and still, all the fucking time, he’s full of this guff ’bout how it really is true love and that it will never die. He’s driving her out of the place. At the same time he doesn’t want her to go. Crazy man. That’s love. Run a mile.”

“What’s that got to do with the fact that you’re a heartless bastard?”

“I’m not a heartless bastard”, I jump right in. “I’m actually the opposite. Listen to Blood On The Tracks and you hear someone a lot more heartless than I ever could be. He goes thru all that what happens? He records his comeback, Dylan’s great again. The poet laureate of pothead bullshit. He goes right on with it. If I actually let true love in and it did that to me I’d be wrecked for the rest of my life. I’d spend it dribbling on my shirt.”

“And what’s that got to do with me?”

“Maybe nothing,” I’m the one shrugging now. “You’ve got feelings. They’re real and you can’t tell this chick how it is. Why not?”

“It doesn’t feel right. I get close and then she does something, she doesn’t even know she’s doing it. But it makes me feel like I’m hassling her.”

“She’s been fucked over?”

“Dunno. Maybe, I think so sometimes,” another pause while he looks for the cure over at a table full of girls. “I don’t ask to many personal questions. She doesn’t like it. It’s hard work getting to know her and I still don’t. I could still find out something that totally turns me off but every time it comes to that she says something that just too perfect and I sink deeper.”

“Faithful for a year?”

“Yeah! No shit. I’ve had these opportunities and I can’t do anything about them. I even get all determined to be unfaithful because, y’know, this chick and I aren’t even really friends. She has no hold on me. But when I get started to do that, something just says forget it. I can’t do it. I’m not interested in anyone else. I just have that..” He trails off and we finish the bottles off thru another long pause. “It goes around and around like a god damn rollercoaster up and down and down. And I swear off seeing her. And then I see her and I’m going up again.”

“No willpower.”

“It’s not that man. I do stay out of her way and then she runs right into me! Bang. It’s fucked to because it always happens in a way that’s accidental. She never actually specifically comes over to say hi or anything. I don’t even know if she likes me.”

“She must if she keeps talking to you.”

“Yeah I get that feeling and then the cold wind blows down from Mt Ambivalence and I feel like the title character in Creep: The Movie.”

“Maybe you should write her a letter.”

“I tried. Can’t find the words. The exact right words. I’m afraid of being misunderstood. I’ll probably write some kind of story putting my feelings into the mouth a phony character who’s me and not me.”

There’s a long pause and I smile as Josie comes past and wonder what my chances are tonight. I’m not faithful to anybody. Neil just smiles and smokes and after a while he sighs of course.

“I’m such a coward.”

Concludes next week


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