Comments (None yet)

Add New Comment

6 corrections, most recently by JaneM1951 - Show corrections

Second Instalment of the "Herald's" Second Prize Novel  

YOU CAN'T SEE  

ROUND CORNERS

 

By JON CLEARY

Illustrated by JAMES PHILLIPS

FRANKIE McCOY, who lives with his mother, is a Paddington

youth, who makes his living as a starting-price bookmaker in Fklanagan's hotel. Although he has once evaded his call-up, he at last receives instructions to report for army examination and

enlistment. He rings the girl with whom he is in love, Margie

Harris, and arranges to meet her.        

McCOY breathed deeply. God, the air smelled       sweet. He grinned to             himself. That was                                    

         

funny. Paddington air smelling sweet. Still, no matter what you had there was always something worse in the world. You had a broken leg and some other chap had a broken neck. You had boils and another chap had cancer. He had a call-up for the army and what did the others have? You needn't answer that, McCoy. You have the worst there.

He walked down the street and Billy Tait fell in beside him.  

"G'day. Frankie."

Tait was a small man and young, twenty-six, but with his years a heavy burden on him. He looked older, thirty at least or even more, as if youth was a faded memory and the shadow of old agc, the infirmity and the fearful wonder of how he would survive on the pittance of a pension,

was already pressing on him. He was married and had a child eighteen months old and another one due any

time now.

" 'Lo, Billy. "

"Whadda you know?"  

"Nothing much. I go into the army  

t'morrer. "  

"That'd fix you wouldn't it?"

Not so you would notice it. Did everyone have to tell him he had a nose in his face? Why didn t some one come out with something new? Even Margie's remark though it did   not voice his own feelings, had been a change from this monotonous repe-

tion of the obvious.

"How's Elsie?"  

Tait flipped away his cigarette and suddenly he looked very old indeed, the years and the worries and the struggling suddenly falling in on him. He seemed to be talking from a long way away, as if he were talking to himself and yet not listening.

"Not so good. No good at all. It's   due in three weeks and I aint got a bed in the hospital for her yet. They're  

full up ."

"What're you going to do?"

"Jeez ,I dont know. I lie awake at night worrying about it. Elsie's   worrying too. That ain't doing her any good. Wish to God we hadn't   had the little b— now. Anger and sorrow, the knowledge of his own im- potency, the unwilling surrender to impending defeat, beat in his voice and only shame, bred in this environ- ment where tears were a confession of weakness, kept him from breaking

down.

"Did you want it?"

"Yes and no. We both like kids. We want another one, but not yet."

There was nothing to be said to that. They walked on a little way.

"Well. So long, Frankie."       Tait turned in at a house half way

down the hill and looking past him,   McCoy could see his wife coming up   the hall to meet him. She was taller   than her husband, and now, in her   pregnancy, he looked slightly ridicul-   ous beside her, like a boy with his

mother, only she had a young face.   Elsie Tait still had to see her 20th   birthday. She had not long left her   childhood but she had already entered   the battle.   McCoy nodded to her and walked

on down the hill. When Margie and   me have kids he thought, we won't have them down here. We'll have   them where they can get some fresh air and where they won't have to play   in the street. And we won't have them in a hurry. We'll have them   as we can afford them. For the first time the problems of marriage rose before him. He had never seriously thought about it, though he had ac- cepted it as a welcome, inevitability that he and Margie should someday marry. That was what he wanted, but he had never thought beyond the companionship, the sleeping with each other, the vague maxim that two could live as cheaply as one.

He went inside and upstairs. His mother called from the back of the house, asking who was there and he answered. He went into his room and flopped on the bed. He picked up the morning paper. It was open at the sporting page and he ran his eye down the racing programme for Saturday. All the races looked pretty open; any thing might come home.

He screwed the paper into a ball and flung it across the room. He sat up quickly the bed creaking be- neath him and a curse escaped him. What the hell did it matter how they came home on Saturday? Every winner could pass the post at odds on or all the hacks could romp home with no one betting a shilling on them and none of it would mean a thing to him. Saturday he would not be

here.

He raised his arm, turning the face of the watch to the light. It was an expensive watch bought one week when he had had an exceptionaly good win and he took pains to let people see it often standing with his arms folded so that his sleeve crept up his arm exposing the watch. It was the symbol of his success, the tangible evidence of his smartness, the invitation to look at a young man who had made good.

It was time Margie was here. This  

corner of Oxford Street and Park

Road had been their meeting place for a few years now convenient to both of them. It was central and it afforded a good starting point for whatever their destination of the night. A few yards down Oxford Street there was a tram stop if they were going into town; if they felt like going to a dance the Maxine was within easy walking distance; and if they had no particular plans and it was a fine night they crossed the road into Centennial Park and walked down by the lakes. Sometimes on a Sunday morning they would go for a walk down to the Park, seeing the horses go past in a soft thunder of hoofs and the dust exploding behind them the riders many of them tyros, con- scious of the envious stares of the pedestrian spectators, sitting in stiff nonchalance on the backs of the

horses, veterans of many years on this track, that really needed no direc- tions from their riders. Bike-riders, clubs on training spins, would swoop by, coming and going with a swift silken sound, the bike wheels spin- ning silver circles in the sun and a blur of colour riding above them. He and Margie would walk on down across the grass to the lakes and there she would throw bread to the ducks that came in flapping, water-skimming flight across the lakes toward them. He would feel self-conscious feeding the birds, a child's game, but he en- joyed being in the Park; the air was fresh and clean, there was no smell of asphalt or stuffy rooms or accumu- lated garbage, and the grass was good beneath the feet. Margie would turn, laughing, her hair falling over her face, in a dark rippling shower, full of life and the pleasure of being with him, something she could never disguise, and the built-up hardness would melt within him, warmness flowing through him. Love, the emotion he avoided, the weakness he never admitted, was strongest on Sun- day morning.

Margie was coming up the street now. She was on the other side of the road, walking under the shop- lights, then she stepped off the foot- path and came across toward him, dark and moving against the light, a smooth-flowing silhouette. Her walk was provocative, not suggestive, but showing she was alive to sex, and each time McCoy saw her he mar- veiled that she was still a virgin. Though he should know. He had never touched her, and God knows he had wanted to. He had gone home feeling sick with wanting her, frus- trated and sometimes angry. But later, when his passion had cooled down, he was glad that things were as they were. He could not accu-

rately say why he was glad, but he guessed it was like getting a Christmas present a week early and waiting till

Christmas Day to open it. The   right time and the right place.

"Hello."

" 'Lo, hon."  

She was not tall, and perhaps later on she would run to plumpness. She wore a yellow sweater, that showed her wide shoulders and firm rather prominent breasts, and a brown light tweed skirt and carried a coat over her arm. Her body was the first thing men noticed about her, and she was conscious of their gaze, but she had no intention of offering it to any of them, and looked on it only as a good model on which to wear the clothes she liked. She wore clothes to show it off because she knew Frankie was proud of her looks and her figure. There was no conceit about it—it was just another effort to please the boy she loved. Her hair was dark, the darkness that showed blue when the light caught it, and she wore it long, a loose frame to the clean oval of her face. She smiled now and dimples were soft- edged shadows in her cheeks and her teeth were white and even. She was not beautiful, but there was a fresh loveliness about her, like newly-cut roses seen through a dusty shop window, that made you turn to look

at her a second time.

"You don't want to go anywhere t'night, do you?"

"No, Frankie. Let's just go for a walk in the park."

The difference in their voices was marked. His was colourless, the vowels flat, just the instrument that turned his thoughts into sound; hers was soft and there was an effort, not stilted, to please the ear.

THEY crossed the road, he taking her arm, something she had taught   him (his mother, her memory dull, blunted by her husband who had no social graces, had failed him), and when they entered the park, away from the publicity of the street- lights, he took her in his arms and

kissed her. Her hands felt for him, feeling the lean muscle in the arm, the flesh without fat beneath the shoulder-blade, and her mouth clung to his. She knew his faults, he was no ideal, he was material for improve- ment that she knew could never be fully realised, but she loved him, always had, always would.

"Gosh. hon. I'm going to miss

you."

"I'm going to miss you, too, dar- ling." She moved back out of his arms and straightened her hair. "But I'll be proud of you in uniform. I'm terribly excited about it."

She took his arm and they walked on down the path. What was she so excited about? Was she going to be another one of those uniform- happy sheilas? He had seen them:

the interest in the soldier, the sailor, the airman, the desire to ally one- self with adventure; the uniform that promised a good time because there was so little time. He tasted lipstick, and he took out his hand- kerchief and wiped his mouth.  

"Look, hon. Quit cheering. I'm not looking forward to t'morrer. Maybe you don't get it. I'm going into the army. That means I'm giv- ing up a lot of money and a lot of free time to go in with a lot of other alecks for six bob a day and no time. It might look like Luna Park to you, but from where I stand it just plain stinks. "

She was walking close to his side, their bodies touching, the link their entwined arms. He could smell the clean freshness of her, so different to the woman in the telephone booth this morning, and that was another thing about her that so attracted him. Cleanliness was almost a fetish with her, dirt, the breeding-ground 0f disease, frightened her, and it had had its effect on him; he always shaved first thing in the morning, his nails were always clean, his hair never thick with oil and dirt that combined to make grease.

"Don't talk like that, darling. You sound as if you don't care about the

war. "

"I didn't start it. I was doing some- thing else at the time. "

The arm within his suddenly stif- fened, and he felt her body draw away from his, the contact broken the current gone. She had said nothing, but her silence seemed to be a shout, accusing him.

They walked off the path and across the grass toward some trees. He took   his arm out of hers and bent down, feeling the grass with his hand. It was not wet, and she handed him her topcoat. He spread it and they sat down, still in the silence that he was now beginning to find awkward. He put his arm about her and she lay

against him, her back to his chest,

the top of her head just below his chin, looking away from him out across the park.

"Harry didn't start it either."

He had expected mention of Harry Harry was her brother, the family pride, the sole topic of conversation of Margie's mother. He had gone to the Middle East with the Sixth Divi- sion, and at Derna he had won the Military Medal. The decoration had meant no promotion, four years later he was still a private. Harry was not the type for immediate re- sponsibilities, he had enlisted because he felt he should, but it was too much to ask him to be responsible for the lives of other men. And so he was still a private, and only the officers and men of his company knew why.

"All right so he joined up. And what's he got? Four years and he's   still on six bob a day . Six bob a day and a bit of ribbon on his chest. He can have the brass bands—I'll take

the brass. "

"Money!" She sat up and he could feel the anger in her body as she swung to face him. "That's all you   think about! Some day you'll find out money isn't everything."

"Maybe not. But it'll do till every- thing turns up."    

He had a retentive memory for the smart crack, the gem of someone else's wit heard on the radio or the   screen or read beneath a cartoon, and   he saved them for the suitable open- ing. He liked the money-isn't-every-  

thing crack, and he had been waiting a long time to use it. But Margie was in no mood for humour. She did not laugh, but sat staring at him leaning stiffly on the props of her arms angry with him, disillusioned once again.

The bitter anger in her face was more than he could stand. He could feel himself growing angry and he did not want that not on this his last night. He twisted from his sitting po- sition and lay down, his head in her lap. She looked down at him for a moment not moving her body, neither accepting nor rejecting him, then

looked away again.  

"Hon?"

"Yes?" The voice was cold and dis- tant, disinterested. His selfishness had been a whip across her heart: it angered her and hurt her.

"Look, hon. Let's skip what we

both think about t'morrer. This is our last night, perhaps for a long time. Don't let's muck it up."

She did not answer, and in the sil- ence he could hear footsteps as an- other couple walked down the path. There was a woman's giggle that rose to a loud laugh, and he wished to hell they would go away. Then he felt her hand on his check, and she was looking down at him, smiling slowly and sweetly.

"All right, darling." The emptiness of the nights to come stared her in

the face.

HE reached up and pulled her down beside him. Her hair fell in a   stream over his face, shutting out the night, and in the darkness he felt for her mouth. Their lips met and clung, anger turning to hunger for the other, and time and the world fell away from them, down out of sight, till they were alone in a darkness where there was only passion, passion that was a whirl of smooth struggling warmness and hollowness and big-

ness—

"Frankie, don't! Please! Don't—!" She was lying close against him, her body pressed tightly to him, clinging to him as if she were frightened, as if she were drowning in deep water and he had come to her. Her cheek was against his mouth and he could

taste the salt of her tears.

"Oh, darling, please don't." There was terror in her voice, the voice of someone dragged from suicide, the re- action to the jump that had not been

made.

It was no use. His body was quietening and by her limpness he could tell all desire had gone from her, retreating before her fear. He lay on his back and put his hand under her chin. Her mouth was shapeless, a smear of lipstick, and her eyes were swollen with tears.

Her hand moved to his head, strok- ing his hair "I love you an awful   lot, darling. Please be good for me while you're away." She was tying     the cord that bound them, afraid of losing him. Jealousy was a part of her and the thought of him with others was a physical pain.

"I promise, hon." Temptation was far from here, something hard to imagine. "You're my only girl."

They lay close together, with their own thoughts, each thinking of the other. A thin breeze moved silkily over the tops of the trees and the park was a pattern of blue-white light and darkness, moonlight on the grass and shadows under the trees. There were sounds, but they were too distant to be significant and this was the island quietness of a cathe- dral. This is the peace I want, Margie thought. This is what I want

for both of us.

"FRANKIE?"

He stirred, her voice coming dis-   tantly and opened his eyes, for the moment not recognising the face close

to his own.

"Wake up, darling "

He sat up, wiping sleep from his eyes, and she sat up beside him, massaging her arm. His mouth tasted as if he had been chewing dirty rubber, and he worked saliva into it and swallowed.

"Gee, did I drop off?"

"Yes." She smiled. "And, Frankie   —you snore."

"Garn. Don't give me that."

"You do." She put both hands on his shoulders and kissed him on the end of the nose. "You'll have to give that up when we're married."

He helped her to her feet, and  

she straightened her skirt, pulling out the creases. He looked at her then down at his own rumpled trousers. Love increased the laundry bill. She turned her back to him.

"I think I rolled off the coat." It lay in a crumpled heap at their feet. "You'd better brush the grass off me '

But the grass would not brush off. He looked closer and he could see the seeds sticking to the wool of the sweater and to the cloth of her skirt. He laughed and she turned her head to look over her shoulder at him.

"What's the matter?' What're you laughing at?"

"This. You've got half the park on your back "

"Oh!" She twisted, contorting her body, running her hand up and down

her back "Oh, Frankie, this is awful!" She turned to face him. "Have you got them on you?"

"Dunno " He presented his back

"Have I?"

She laughed. "You have the other half! Oh, darling, this is funny." She leaned against him and with their faces close together they laughed, a single sound of merriment that ran through them. He held her tightly and love was admitted, no word spoken, the confession in the enfold- ing arms, and she was suddenly weak with happiness.  

He released her. "Come on. I'd better start picking em off. I know what your mother'd think if she saw   this in the morning. "

"Darling, it's going to take hours!'' At last they were finished, then he held her mirror while she combed her hair, and tilting her face so the moon threw light on it, repaired her make-up.

"How's that?"  

"Beautiful, anyway."  

He picked up her coat and brushed it, but it could hang in the back of her wardrobe till she was alone some time and then she could remove the seeds clinging to it. There was no time now She took his arm and they walked up the road.

"You're nice to-night, darling Why can't you always be like that?"

"Ain't I?"  

"Only sometimes." The regret had   been with her too long, it was too deep within her to be noticed in her

voice.

"Why, hon? What do I do that makes me different from to-night?" He did not really want to know, he had chosen his character and there would be no remodelling, he asked only because he was in love with her, because he had admitted it and con- cessions were expected.

"Oh, I don't know." She did know   but she could not tell him now and expect the mood to last; you cannot tell a man of his selfishness, his con- ceit, his lack of principles, and expect him to laugh and kiss you and thank you for what you have said. "You're just different that's all. "

"Sounds nuts to me. "

"It doesn't matter." She squeezed       his arm, the feeling of the heart con- veyed to the bicep. "I love you, any way."  

(Continued To-morrow)

Digitisation generously supported by
Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation
Digitisation generously supported by

Zoom

plus
thumb
minus
left
thumb
right
up
thumb
down