ELEVENTH INSTALMENT OF THE "HERALD'S" SECOND PRIZE NOVEL.
YOU CAN'T SEE ROUND CORNERS,
By JON CLEARY
illustrated by JAMES PHILLIP:
FRANKIE McCOY deserts from the army to come back to his
living as a starting-price bookmaker at Flanagan's hotel in Paddington. His girl, Margie Harris, breaks with him when she learns of his desertion and refuses to hear from him until he
returns to the army. On the first day of his resumption of busi- ness he loses more money than he has when the favourites come home. He meets two other girls: Meg, a niece of Flannagian's wife and Myra, whom he picks up in a dance hall, and to whom he introduces himself as Frankie Brown.
THE music was softer this
time, a modern waltz, and McCoy was glad of that: it would give him time to
find his feet, to get the rhythm again after the weeks in camp, before he started showing her his variety of steps. But once on the floor he knew it really didn't matter whether he was a good or bad dancer. She was heavy and danced too closely against him; he could feel all of her body pressing against him almost with the intimacy
of an embrace.
"Jeez, you dance well."
He was glad one of them did; they could have been a nuisance to the other dancers if they had both been club-footed. "You ain't bad yourself."
"D'you come here much? I ain't seen you here before."
"Ain't been here in a coupla years. I usually go to a local hop."
"Where d'you live?"
"Paddington. Where d'you? '
"Do much surfing?
"Don't I look as if I do?"
She was tanned, her skin golden against her fair hair and the green of her frock. The frock was low-cut and automatically he gazed.
"What're you looking at?,'
He grinned. "Sorry. My eyes dropped. I got tired of holding 'em
She smiled and looked at him out of the corners of her eyes, the obvi- ously coquettish answer to his obvi- ous approach. "Well, watch where they drop next time."
The music and the night went on, and now he was really glad he had come. She told him all about her- self, an autobiography to swing music,
dancing close against him on the floor, sitting at one of the tables, her small uneventful life unfolded to a stranger because, like him, she was lonely. She was twenty-two and she worked in a knitting mill in Surry Hills, and she had no regular boy-friend; she was an only child and she liked Robert Taylor and Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman and surfing and dancing; she had been on dates with Americans and they were real nice boys, not wolves like a lot of girls
"Tell me about you?"
"There's nothing much. I work in a—a garage. I ain't interesting. Come
on, let's have another gallop."
At last everything finished, the music and gaiety dying away sud- denly, everyone making for the cloak- rooms, the long journey home ahead of them, the good-night kiss and the
awkward love-making at the front door the next and final step in the night's pleasure.
"I'll wait for you outside."
She pressed his fingers. "I won't
He collected his hat and coat from the cloakroom and went outside into the street. In a few minutes she joined him, her hair lying smoothly again, her face repainted, her coat thrown loosely over her shoulders, sure of herself and of him. The loneliness of both of them had estab- lished a relationship between them; neither of them had confessed their
loneliness nor their problems, but the night was moving to an inevitable conclusion. Each of them knew it and their confidence in each other was apparent in the way they joined together, arm in arm, and walked up the street like intimates, of long association.
Going out in the tram to Coogee, she sitting with her arm still in his, he noticed several men looking at her with frank appraisal and, feeling a certain pride in his possession, he sat closer to her and squeezed her arm. He had never wanted a girl whom other men didn't covet.
The tram reached the terminus and they alighted and walked up the hill of Beach Street. Behind and below them the lights strung out along the beach, a shallow curve of pale yel- low gleams that accentuated the de-
serted look of the promenade. They could hear the faint thunder of the surf and see the white explosion of the waves in the moonlight and the smell of the sea was heavy on the air.
"I like the smell of the sea. You don't get any of that down in Pad-
"Why don't you come out t'morrer?
It's still warm enough for swimming."
"I'll be in that. I ain't had a swim in a coupla months."
They had turned into a side street and she had halted beside a gate. "This is it. Home, sweet home."
"Have we got to stand out here? Can't we go somewhere where it ain't so public?"
"Come round the back. There's an old sofa on the back verandah."
They went down the side passage, she holding his hand and guiding him, both of them walking on their toes, and turned the corner of the house and stepped up on to a small veran- dah. His eyes were accustomed to the dark now and he saw she had sat down on an old couch pushed back against the wall. He sat down beside her, feeling the cold leather and hearing the worn springs creak beneath him. He put his arm along the couch behind her and moved up and down, making the springs creak again.
"This's going to handicap us. We might just as well ring a bell."
"It'll be all right if you keep still. What else did you have in mind doing?"
He grinned and pressed her shoul- der. "Nothing. We're just going to sit here and talk." He pulled her to- ward him and she relaxed against him. "You weren't thinking of any- thing else, were you?"
With his hand, he lifted her chin, but she sat up and drew out of his arms and for a moment he thought he had made an error of judgment.
"Hold on a minute," she said. She look a handkerchief from her bag and wiped her mouth clear of lip- stick. "That'll save you a mess."
He put his arm about her again and this time her face was turned up to his. . . .
She suddenly dropped her head, leaning it on his chest, and her hand came up to play with the handker- chief in his breast pocket.
"What's the matter? Penny for
"Have you got a girl, Frankie?"
"No." Margie suddenly stepped back into his mind as if she were returning to a room in which he had been alone with this girl, em- barrassing him. "Why? Does it
"A bit. I don't like playing round with other girls' fellers." She con- fessed the reason for her loneliness. "I had it happen to me three months ago. It ain't a nice feeling."
"Were you going with him long?" "Two years. He was in the Air
"What happened? Or don't you
want to tell me?"
"He got another girl into trouble.
I knew he was going out with girls while he was in camp—I went out with chaps, a coupla Americans and a boy from work—but I thought we were playing square with each other.
"We're a lot of heels, ain't we, us
She smiled up at him "Not all of
He kissed her again and desire grew; grew from spark to flame as he felt the warmth of her respond. She turned towards him and passion, urgent and undeniable, claimed them with eager and utter hands.
HE sat up, brushing back his hair.
aloof now, and defeated by his hate of her and the emptiness of his heart. All he wanted was Margie, and Margie was no longer there, nor even in any place in his life.
"I'd better go. It's getting late." "Have you gotta?" She lay still with the warm sleepy luxuriance of a
"I'll probably have to walk from Darlinghurst, so I'd better go."
He stood up and she swung her legs down from the couch and stood up beside him Her hair was massed wildly about her head and she
put up a hand and tried to flatten it. With her hair all awry, with no lip- stick on, and with her frock twisted,
she could have just emerged from a brawl. No wonder a bloke just wanted to go home.
She picked up her bag and coat and he took her arm and, tip-toeing again, they went back to the front gate. She lifted her face again to be kissed, but he put his mouth to hers without any feeling, only because she expected the kiss.
"Will you be out t'morrer, then?"
"I dunno." There was no inter- est now; desire had been satisfied, and there was only a staleness left. "I just remembered I said I'd see some of the boys t'morrer. What d'you say we leave it?"
She knew how men felt; give them what they want and you've lost your hold on them; she had been too easy and she felt a bitterness and anger at herself. She stood in silence and hated him and herself.
Remorse pricked him; his rare con-
science stirring "Can I see you one night during the week?"
"D'you want to?" Her voice was dry and small with doubt, she was not going to cheapen herself still fur- ther by forcing herself on him.
He squeezed her arm, putting intimacy into the pressure of his hand "Of course. That's why I
"How about Tuesday, then?"
"Okay. I'll meet you at the cor- ner of Park and Elizabeth Streets at half-past seven I'll get seats for some picture."
"All right. Good-night. Frankie " He put his arms about her and when she raised her face he kissed her with forced passion, pressing his lips against hers, his insincere thanks for the night She held his shoul- ders tightly for a moment, then she said good night and turned and went inside, liking the man more than she knew he deserved to be liked, know- ing that if she went on seeing him she would care for him, and he went down the long hill, thinking of the uncomfortable ride home in the tram, thinking of Margie and wishing it had been her he had been with to-night, thinking of to-morrow and the lonely long day it would be, thinking of everything but the girl he had just left.
HE lit a cigarette, but it had the taste of dusty velvet, dry in his already dry mouth, and he stubbed it in the tray on the table beside his bed. He was tired and wanted to go back to sleep, but he was hungry too, and he knew he would have to get up for breakfast. He looked at his watch— ten to nine. If he were home now, instead of in this strange room, his mother would be coming in to tell him, unspoken reproof in her eyes at his wilful acceptance of sin, that she was on her way to Mass. Father Malone perhaps would be asking her after him, and she, going into the house of God to worship would lie through shame of her wayward son. He guessed that she was lying about
him; she would never confess that she had failed to be a good Catholic
He got out of bed and put on his dressing gown, the one Margie had given him last Christmas, ran a comb through his hair, and went downstairs and into the kitchen. The girl was standing at the stove cooking break- fast, and there was the smell of frying
meat. She turned to him.
"Hullo." She had been up an hour or more and her voice was bright and cheerful, offering him the new shiny day. God, he thought, have you got to be so b——chirpy in the morn- ing? Why don't you dance on my grave, you lark in the spring?
"Hullo." His own voice had no enthusiasm for the sun and clear sky showing through the window. "You got any fruit salts or something like
"Heavy night?" She walked to a cupboard and took out a tin and
handed it to him.
"I damn near had to walk home from Coogee." After waiting forty
minutes at the terminus at Coogee, when the tram did come it was going only as far as Kensington, and from there he had had to walk, along Anzac Parade and across Moore Park, almost asleep on his feet, wishing with every step that he was home in bed and had not gone out to-night. Playing round with a sheila was all right, but the shine wore off when you had so far to come, home; say what you like, it wasn't much of a bet.
"She must be all right."
HE went across to the sink, put water on the powder in the glass,
and swallowed the drink. It was cold and clean in his mouth, and with the stale taste gone he felt better.
"The blood flowing again?"
"Yeah. What'we got for break-
"Sausages. They'll be about another ten minutes."
"I'll scrape the face and have a shower. Won't be long."
The shave and the cold, invigorat- ing water of the shower woke him completely, and he went downstairs hungry for the breakfast. There were only two places laid at the table.
"Where's your uncle?"
"He don't get up for breakfast
Sunday. They both lie in."
"I don't see much of your aunt."
"Are you worrying?" Living with relatives, and especially working for them, had its drawbacks: there was always a sense of obligation, the mid- way feeling of being neither stranger nor of the family. She did not like her aunt, but she did like her uncle, and anyhow it was a place to live and that was something in these days. Blood was thicker than water when it meant a roof over your head.
"How many sausages d'you want?" "Three or four?"
"Have you got a tape-worm?"
"Always ready for an emergency. Maybe I dunno where my next meal's coming from."
"Always got an answer, ain't you?" "Yeah. What's yours?"
He grinned and she smiled back and sat down opposite him. They slipped easily into the intimacy of
breakfast, that most intimate of all meals, bantering each other, passing quick, lively words with the sugar, the milk, the butter, enjoying each other's company, getting along handsomely.
After breakfast he helped her dry the dishes then while she began the vegetables for the midday dinner he went in to the lounge, settled down on the couch, and began to read the morning papers. There was a full page of photos of the finishes of yes- terday's races; static illustrations in black and white of the money going out of his pocket into the pockets Of the punters.
He heard the 'phone ring, and in a moment Meg came to the door. "For you, Frankie."
He had mentioned yesterday to several of the bettors that he was living at the hotel, and now he was to regret it. "Hullo?"
"Hullo, Frankie? Des Brown here. I was wondering when you'll be paying out. I won a few quid yesterday, and, tell you thet truth, I could do with it in a hurry."
An irritable anger burned him. "Jeez. Des. give me a chance! What d'you think I am, a b—— seven-day-a-week bank? I can't get the money before t'morrer anyway."
The voice backed down, retreating before his just indignation, admitting the impatient unreasonable request. "Oh well, sorry. Frankie. I didn't mean anything by it. I was just a bit eager, I guess. See you t'morrer night then, eh?"
"Yeah, Des. See you then. I'll be in the bar from about five till six."
That was the first of five calls. The small bettors were anxious for their winnings; for most of them the out- lay had been part of the rent or this week's payment to the time- payment man or, the last thing to be sacrificed, their entertainment money for the week. They were counting their winnings before the horses had returned to the saddling paddock, had even stopped running, and now they were checking on the certain availability of the extra money that would be theirs, preparing to spend it before they had it.
Flanagan and his wife stayed in bed for dinner. Meg taking it up to them, and afterwards, when they were washing the dishes, he, eager to escape the ringing 'phone, the insistent re- quests for payment, had a sudden, idea.
"What you doing this afternoon?" "Nothing. Why?"
"Like to come for a run to Manly?" "Why, yes. Give me about three quarters of an hour?"
They went over to Manly on the ferry, sitting outside to catch the breeze, listening to the thin jerky music of the violinist and accordeon- ist who wandered the ferry, presenting gay holiday music on the trip over and romantic music on the trip home, troubadors in worn serge suits to whom the best music was the pennies and threepences falling in the small wooden box they carried. Sunlight was shattered by the wind-rippled
water, the sky fell in clear blue smoothness to the low house-encrusted hills round the harbour, yachts went past in sleek white splendour. The music played, the people laughed, and this was better than the army. He squeezed Meg's arm and laughed at her, and she laughed back, not know- ing why, just caught in the infectious gaiety of the day.
The afternoon went quickly, time condensed by laughter and enjoy- ment, and after they had eaten tea at a place on the Corso, lingering over the meal, knowing the day was ending and somehow reluctant to let it slide from their grasp, went back to the ferry.
They sat outside again, watching the
lights writhe on the water, coloured snakes in a dark green pit, the laugh- ter gone now and only tiredness and memory left, going back, like every- one else on board, to to-morrow and the week's routine. Crossing the Heads the breeze was chilly and he put his arm about her. She leaned
her head on his shoulder.
"Thanks for a nice day, Frankie." "I enjoyed it, too."
"You just wish it'd been Margie
He looked down at her. "Who told you about her?"
"Aunt told me you were going with her. She said she's very nice."
"Did she tell you anything else?"
Inside the ferry, the violin began to play "Memories." The thin nostalgic notes came out, lingered a moment, and were suddenly snatched away by
"No. I don't think she knows. I guessed."
"A woman's—what d'you call it?" "Intuition. Is it a bad row?"
"Bad enough. It's the first we've
"You miss her, don't you?"
Pride perched on his shoulder and spoke. "Who says I do?"
"All right, don't bite my head off.
You don't miss her."
"No, I don't."
"Like hell you don't."
He twisted her shoulder, pulling her toward him, and tried to kiss her, but she dug hard with her elbow in his
"Quit it!" she said, her voice calm and very matter-of-fact.
"I'm not going to bite you."
"That's right. You're not going to kiss me, either. I told you; this don't come with the board and lodg- ings."
He sat back, relaxing his grip on her; he knew he had reached a dead- end here. "Bit goody-goody, ain't
She sat up straight and took a cigar- ette from her bag. She offered him one and he took it. She lit hers from the match he offered, dipping the cigarette into the cup of his hands, and drew on it before she answered. She leaned her head back against the win- dow behind her and said, "No, Frankie. I'm not goody-goody. I'm no better than the rest of 'em. But I just don't see why everyone I go out with should maul me. If you don't want to take me without expect- ing something in return, that's all right with me. I got a boy-friend and I can wait till he comes home."
He had spoiled a friendship he was beginning to value. He had never believed in nor attempted to prac- tise the platonic relationship; there could be nothing between the sexes but sex. And now he was finding he liked this girl for herself, separat- ing her personality and character from her body. The attempt to kiss her had been a defence against further questions about Margie; Margie must be relegated to limbo, must not be thought about; that was the only way he did not miss her.
"All right," he said. "I'm sorry, Meg. No more passes, I promise. Come on, back under my wing."
She knew she could handle him. She liked him; most women would; he was weak and had the wrong opinion of himself, but he had a way with him, something that hinted of better things beneath the surface, gold beneath the loud brassy exterior, and women would see it before men. Margie, when he went back to her, could make a real man out of him if she wanted to try. She leaned against him and found his hand and pressed it.
"Thanks, Frankie. We can be good friends, just so long as, we understand
He squeezed her shoulder. "Okay, pal."