Ralph had first noticed the old white Colonial on a routine evening prowl through the steep hills of South Brisbane. He had since returned at all hours to stake out its inhabitants and their movements, but his intel was limited to a brief window in the early afternoon when a lone, old prune meandered onto the balcony, dressed in an undeniably sexy, pink satin gown, to chain smoke cigarettes, piss away expensive wine, and leer at the city, drenched in setting sun, with mute contempt.
Every afternoon, the woman swung outside at around one, with hatred in her amber eyes and a swishing in her full chest. Ralph figured she was a widow, a lonely one at that, hell-bent on that delayed suicide that the booze and nicotine afforded her. Her children never called or visited, her friends were dead, and she was playing catch up while whatever inheritance she possessed went up in smoke and down in swishes. Ralph, despite being a bad guy, couldn’t stand waste.
Trudging up the mighty slope, Ralph, for the first time, felt nervous. Before now there was nothing but empire collapsing greed-lust in his head. Above him, a possum with a young runt clutching at its mother’s back danced over a cable trapeze. At the juncture, between two poles, an even smaller pup hesitated to jump the gap. As the distance grew between the little creature and its disaffected mother, it began to whine with a mixture of fear and disgust. Ralph pressed onwards as the beast cried ‘Mama.’
The old bitch was playing games with Grim. She had left her door wide open. Ralph, a hardened bad guy, felt almost guilty given the ease of the job. He stepped inside and paused. The main hall was empty. Devoid of furniture, frames, lights, or even orphaned shoes.
The hall was mute and heavy, a bunker or a tomb. About a quarter down the way, there was a doorway, and from this doorway, trickled a dizzy stream of unsteady orange light. Ralph trudged on. Beneath the sleepless stars and crude satellites, he visualised the score. Ralph dreamt of the big house.
The dim lit room was empty, spare a series of wall to ceiling paintings, a pile of paperwork crowned with a flickering candle and a discombobulated burglar. Ralph crept towards the almighty A4 tower, which was as tall as his chest, and plucked the candle from its stand. He examined the top sheet which read;
Things that fade
Love, I lack
– untitled 1454, Mama
And the next;
No sense in colour
Time burns blind
Do not seek answers
You can’t find
– meditation 127, Mama
Ralph didn’t mind poetry, aphorisms or whatever this shit was that he was looking at, but he knew it wasn’t worth much. As a rule, words aren’t worth much. So, it was out of curiosity alone that he seized a dozen sheets, folded them in half and stuffed them in his coat pocket. Now these paintings may have some value. Of course, he couldn’t cram them in his coat pocket, but he could certainly take note of them, return with a crew and make out with something. He carried his little candle, like a medieval monk, and perused the gallery of works that were all about two and a half metres tall, and three metres wide.
The first instalment featured a blind man with a cane strolling leisurely towards a burning cross atop a mound. Despite the technical prowess of the artist, the symbolism was a little too on the nose for Ralph, so he moved on.
The second painting was much more abstract. It was like something inside of those plasma lamps that you press your finger on to attract little bolts of lightning. Across the work was text, in magazine-cut-out-ransom-note-type-font;
Seekers, fear not. The answer is under your skin. Silence, speak not. The weight is insurmountable. I am not your friend.
The third painting, which wrapped around the wall, was of a flamingo perched atop a robust penis that entered the frame from the side. In the background, there was a burning police car, a microphone dangling in a noose from a news helicopter and an Asian couple sharing an ice cream. It could have been rum and raisin, it could have been vanilla, Ralph wouldn’t know because his train of thought was just derailed by a question.
‘What do you think of Mama’s paintings?’
Hard balls of iron spun Ralph around and he got his first look at The Belarusian. Tall and bald with a grim beard, sleeves of tattoos, a thick skull, meaty arms, a t-shirt that read ‘PET’ and a fairly pissed-off looking face. The Belarusian was the kind of gruff half-cock that can be found on every AFL team in the comp, in every worker’s pub in Britain and apparently, in every mad poet, painter, pisspot, chain-smoker’s studio.
Ralph was weighing up whether or not The Belarusian’s question was rhetorical or legitimate when Mama sauntered into the room. Ralph hated how sexy she looked. It didn’t make sense and so it was confronting. Every man faces a sexual dilemma at some point or another, he figured, but this was bullshit and it really could have happened when he wasn’t trying to rob the place. Not knowing the relationship between Mama and The Belarusian, he respectfully averted his eyes from her fantastic breasts, that seemed like cotton candy under the pink of her gown, and told The Belarusian, with a gulp, ‘I think they are wonderful.’
‘Well of course you do,’ Mama chided, ‘but do you understand them?’ She had a big fat bottle of Pinot-noir and had clearly been getting along with it. Ralph gulped again and she cut him off before he could start weaselling, ‘Come on Artem, let’s teach him to understand things.’ Artem lifted Ralph and slung him over his shoulder. There was no resistance. Ralph was ignorant, high off the blissful lack of urgency in their voices, the unlikelihood of police involvement, and a new-founded opportunity to finally, ultimately understand.
It had been six hours since they had fed him the tab. He was growing nauseous and wasn’t quite sure how the swirling dread pool inside his head was teaching him to understand things. Maybe Mama fed him the wrong stuff. Outside the sky was changing from a pitch black to a pitch blue and soon it would be pitch pink and then it would be day. Ralph was halfway alert and halfway catatonic, the way you might feel after a few coffees following a sleepless night. His anxiety was pulling faces at him from the wall.
They’d left him outside the bedroom nude but for a technicoloured dream-cloth draped over his shoulders, allowing him to descend ever further into drug-fuelled despair, while they made sweet noisy love within. Ralph was trying to remember some Marcus Aurelius quote that he always called on in times of great distress, but for whatever reason, the only words he could feebly articulate were those from Mama’s poem. Bending inwards, stretching black, minced creation, things that fade, love I lack.
Again, there was nothing in terms of décor in the hall outside Mama’s room. There was a mirror at the far end of the corridor, which Ralph looked into but once, unsure if it was one of those distorted loopy carnival mirrors or if his head was really melting, and, because he knew that both were possible, he was determined not to look again. His heart was beating ever faster, and he was sweating profusely. He would faint at any minute, or perhaps he had already fainted, and his every thought was a dreadful dream.
Mama and Artem had been at it for some time and the eager puffs and grunts and pants were only now beginning to wane. There was a groan of ‘Thank you, Mama,’ before Artem swashbuckled out of the bedroom, vodka bottle in hand, giggling like a child. He looked down at the small, naked puddle trembling on the floor and struggled to find his reflection. He grabbed Ralph by the ankle and plopped him into Mama’s room. ‘Your turn, bud.’ He poured a little vodka on the puddle’s head and frolicked off downstairs.
Mama’s room was something else. All manner of skulls and trophies mounted the walls, there was a giant replica of Stańczyk, there were dozens of empty bottles of various drops, there were more of those horrid mirrors, only these had words inscribed above them, like ‘Purgatory’, ‘Blemish’, and ‘Winter’. There was a giant wall-mounted television broadcasting Vietnam war helicopter flyover footage and there was a record player spinning Hilight Tribe. All the mad bats that live up in belfries and only suck the blood of alcoholics would never touch this place in a thousand years. It was too much.
‘This is bad acid,’ Ralph quivered, accepting a glass of wine. He tried to focus on the war documentary because, for the first time ever, this seemed like the most normal thing going. ‘It’d be bad if it were acid,’ Mama said, ‘you can expect Bromo-DragonFLY to start to peter out in about 72 hours on a dose like that.’
‘Fuck’, Ralph thought. ‘What year is it?’
There was a soldier with a queen of hearts strapped to his head. Mama was raving, ‘Sure, yeah, everybody loves nature. Everybody wants to be a bird. But what happens when you come back, in the next cycle, and you’re a god damned pug dog – you’re owned by some odd couple in their twenties who play sudokus instead of getting high and paint one another nude instead of fucking!’
She wasn’t even speaking to Ralph. She seemed to be addressing the caribou whose marble glass eyes were fixed, unblinkingly on the wall behind her.
‘Déjà vu! Déjà vu! All my life is déjà vu!’ She tossed her empty glass across the wall and it shattered into a thousand little pieces. The record skipped but the music remained the same. Ralph was wishing he had gotten in before Artem. Yet again, he was the victim of bad timing. A baby possum trapped across a chasm of wires.
‘And what are youuuuuu?’ she slurred, grabbing little naked Ralph by the shoulder with one hand while twisting his beautiful brown curls with another. ‘You are a false creator! You are a hiccup; a fart of the divine!’ She minced creation, but not her words. ‘Ralph, you are sick. You could be so much if only you knew the light. Please, Ralph, tell me that you understand?’ He nodded nervously. He didn’t have a bloody clue.
‘And who am I?’ Mama said, tossing her sleek silver hair over her shoulder. ‘I am art, Ralph. I am the truest truth that ever was.’ She threw a bunch of crumpled up sheets of A4 paper into his lap. The treasure he had pillaged from the dragon’s pile. ‘And I keep making the truth over and over. Never to be published. The truth must stay here!’ Mama threw her arms up wildly and brought them back down spread wide. In this room? In the big house? On Earth?
Ralph didn’t understand. He didn’t think he’d ever understand. He knew he’d never leave the big house until he did. He thought this was okay. There now remained but one solitary thought inside his head; ‘Do they make PET shirts in my size?’
Jak is a Brisbane based writer and poet interested in the use of nature as a conduit for introspection. Jak is also interested in political ideologies and their influence on social relationships. His poetry has appeared in Glass and Scratchthat. His prose has appeared in The Equal Standard.