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TWELFTH INSTALMENT OF THE "HERALD'S" SECOND PRIZE NOVE  

YOU CAN'T SEE ROUND CORNERS

By JON CLEARY Illustrated by James Phillips

THE violin began "The Maori

Farewell" and lazy-voices came out" in sadness to meet the cold breeze that plucked them away across the water to a ferry going in the opposite direc- tion. It was dark now, and the day was finished, and there was only to- morrow and work ahead.

When they arrived home, Flanagan was lying on the lounge, reading a newspaper. His hair was awry, no longer camouflage, his braces were trailing, hanging from his pants like a tail, and he was in his socks, his left big toe showing through the wool like a blackfellow's blank white eye.

"Hullo. Have a good day?"

"Lovely," Meg said. She sat down and kicked off her shoes, wriggling her loes. "Phew! That's a relief. Where's aunt?"    

"Out playing cards. I might just as well stayed a bachelor."

McCoy felt tired, the reaction to the late hour last night now seeping over him like heavy warm water. "Think I'll go up to bed."

He went upstairs, took off his coat and shirt, got his toothbrush and towel, and in his singlet and trousers went along to the bathroom. Return- ing, he met Meg coming up the stairs.    

"G'night. See you in the morn-

ing."

"Frankie."

"Yeah?"    

She came close against him and he felt the coolness of her arms on his bare shoulders as they slid up  

round his neck. She drew his head down and kissed him, warmly but without passion. He put his arms ahout her, holding her, and they stood like that for a moment then she   leaned back and he let his arms fall  

to his sides.

"Don't get any ideas, Frankie. It don't go any further than this."

"Okay. You're making the pace." "I had another lovely day at Manly, once. On Harry's last leave. That was why I kissed you."  

"Got any more memories you want a dummy for?"

"No. Only the original will do for the others. G'night, Frankie."

In two days two girls had reached out of their sea of loneliness to the rock of him. Margie, too, would be lonely. Whom would she be reaching for? He turned away from the thought, slamming the door of his mind fiercely against it, and went down the passage to his bedroom, glad of his tiredness, that sleep would come before he could think too much.

HE dreamed about her and she was

still in his mind when he awoke,   and, after breakfast, he walked down the road to the 'phone. He could have used the 'phone at the hotel, standing in the hall while Flanagan and his wife and Meg were all within earshot, but love still belonged to the darkroom, the deserted park, the small enclosed 'phone-booth.

"Can I speak to Margie Harris?"

"Is it a private call?" The question was automatic, a record played over and over. Some day he'd go round there and kick her right fair and square in the switchboard.

"It's the Police Commisioner. I'm just checking on her parole card."  

There was a blurred comment at the other end, then, in a few moments, he heard Margie's voice. Till he heard it, he had not realised just how much he wanted to hear it, had not guessed at the effect of it upon, himself. It was like a deaf man suddenly hear- ing music after years of lonely silence

"It's Frankie, Margie."

"Yes?" Her tone was cold and impersonal as the receiver he held to his ear; there was no intimacy, no feeling; their only connection was this wire that stretched away from this instrument before him. "Where are you ringing from? Camp?"  

"No, down at the corner. Look, Margie, could I see—"

There was a click, and the receiver was dead in his ear. He stood help- lessly for a moment, his mind just not comprehending the firm clean decision she had made by hanging up on him, then he put the receiver back on the hook and the pennies fell with a loud clatter to the bottom of the box. He came out of the box and was only half aware of the man pushing by him to enter. He had gone to the

'phone with the hope and wishful belief that she would listen to him, would agree to see him, and now he felt lost, it was as if he had been out in a small boat at night and when the sun came up he found he was miles out at sea, beyond the call or sight of land.

The lost feeling stayed with him all day, through the night and the next day too. He stayed away from the bar Monday night, dodging the bettors come to collect their winnings asking Flanagan to tell them he would not be paying out before Friday night,

putting off the evil moment, reluctant to be again after so long, stone motherless broke. Tuesday he stayed in his room all day, and by nightfall he had talked himself into a new frame of mind.

Come out of it, McCoy. You lost a girl. So what? So you're finding you cant get along on your own, you, the cove that was smarter than all the other mugs. When you start needing someone else, McCoy, you're done. Finished. Washed up and not smart any more. Just like all the other mugs. So she's gone. So you go out and get another sheila and pretty soon Margie Harris will just be a good sort you knew once and nothing more. The way all women should be. Women, not steady women, ain't   for smart men, McCoy. You take them as they come and there's plenty of them and when they're gone another one comes along. Someone had said it they re like trams. Take the next one that comes along. He talked himself into a new frame of mind, but the frame was fragile, jerry-

built.

He had forgotten all about the Neil- son girl, and it was late on Tuesday afternoon that he remembered her. He would take her out to-night; there was the opportunity to forget Margie. He rang up a city theatre and for- tunately managed to book seats for the evening show. He dressed care- fully, once again the cavalier, and went in to town to meet Myra, pre- pared to enjoy the night to the full, prepared to forget the memory of Margie in the flesh of another.

Myra was waiting for him, dressed to-night in a black frock as tight as the green one of Saturday night. Hell, he thought, she believes in giv- ing the world a look at the Neilson

estate.  

"Hullo," she said, and there was pleasant surprise in her voice. She had come, half expecting defeat, to have to return home alone and with- out having met him.

"Hullo," he said, and his eyes ran slickly, appraisingly over her. "Like your frock."

"Didn't think you'd notice it."

If I didn't, he thought, I should be tapping my way along with a stick and tin cup in my hand. "I got an eye for those things."

They both smiled and she took his arm and they walked along the street, youth with a brazen confidence, to the world, a boy and his girl facing the world with a proud swagger. "Tell you the truth. Frankie, I wasn't sure you'd be here."

"Why not?"

"Oh, I dunno. I just got that feel- ing on Sat'day night."

"I love 'em and leave 'em, but I don't leave 'em that soon. You got me wrong."

"I'm glad of that. I don't like being disappointed in people."

You got a lot to see of the world then, he thought. Cynicism was com- ing back to him, coming in as back- wash as the tide of thought about Margie went out.

He enjoyed the night. The film   was good, and Myra sat with her hand in his all through the show, pressing it now and again, identifying them- selves with the hero and heroine on the screen, claiming and promising him in the darkness, falling in love with him, trying not to show it too obviously but not ashamed of it. He sat and enjoyed the film and the pres- sure of her hand, not seeing in the darkness the growing look in her eyes. The final scene faded out, the hero and heroine going into each other's arms for ever and ever, Myra seeing

 

that ending for Frankie and herself, and for a moment as the lights went up she gazed dreamy-eyed at the blank screen while he reached under the

seat for his overcoat.

When they reached her home they, with silent understanding, immediately went round the back of the house to the couch on the back verandah. She wiped her mouth of lipstick, and in a moment was in his arms, and they clung in an ecstasy of passion that had been building up all night.

She was kissing him, pressing her lips against his, holding tightly to his neck, and now for the first time her real feeling for him was apparent to him. Pride quickened in him, mak- ing him alive to her passion, and he pulled her to him and kissed her back. Yet an aloofness in his mind reasoned that this wasn't what he wanted; this was the sort of love Margie had felt for him, the sort that had claims on him, that asked for something in return. He didn't want this; he wanted love without feeling, love of the flesh and not the heart.

God, why did he have to pick a softie? With that body, who'd have ever thought she'd have a heart? "

He stayed with her, being tender but wary, not committing himself and not inviting confession. Later, he kissed her and went home, perplexed by the turn of events, debating the wisdom of seeing her again, and she went to bed and lay in long wakcful ness.,knowing he would never be the   initiator, that she would have to con- fess her love first if she wanted him.

'THERE was a knock on the door

and Meg said, "Time to get up.   Frankie," and then she went along the hall and he heard her going down-

stairs.

He sat up, lit a cigarette, then lay back with his hands under his head. He didn't know why he didn't get up as soon as he woke in, the morning instead of lying here looking at this room. The b—— place was start- ing to give him the willies. Meg had cleaned the fly-dirt off the mirror and had tried to make the room a little cleaner and neater than when he had first come here, but there was nothing she could do about the cracked water jug and it was not her fault that the carpet had worn thin. The dull faded wallpaper depressed him; he could not escape from the dinginess of poverty, even away from home. He wondered what it would be like to live in one of those rooms you see in the films; big windows and plenty of light and plain light coloured wallpaper and everything so clcan-looking. . . .

"Frankie!" Meg's voice came boun- cing up the stair-well.

"All right, all right! What's the

matter, the place on fire?"

"Come on! Ten minutes and break- fast goes off."

In his dressing-gown he went down- stairs and into the kitchen.

"You're going to be a pain in the neck to Harry, if you nag at him like

that."

"He'll be getting up and getting my

breakfast."

"He must be soft in the head." He

sat down. "Okay, trot it out for the working man."

"What're you working? Points?"

"One of these days you'll get your ears slapped down."

"I'll let you know so you can come

and see it."

"I might do the slapping myself." "I'm not bad at slapping, either. Want a sample?"

"All right, quit the nattering. Dish out the food." She put the plate in front of him. "What! Sausages again?"

"No, they're cutlets. I put the skin on 'em to keep the gravy off

'em."

The mood was bright and gay and as she turned away he reached across and pinched her. She swung swiftly on one foot and before he could duck his head her hand had landed with a resounding smack on his ear.

"I told you; this body ain't on the menu." There was still no anger in her voice; she was reading a local ordinance. "Hands off."

He rubbed his ear ruefully and

grinned. "You got some slap there."

"The other hand's just as good." HE knew that if it had been the Neilson girl who had hit him then he would have hit her back. But he could not lose his temper with Meg; anger broke down before her calm matter-of-fact outlook, resentment evaporated in the warmth of her laugh and her friendliness. He had thought about it a couple of times since Sunday; if he had had a sister he would have liked her to have been much the same as Meg. Often in the past he had regretted that he was an only child. He had grown up within himself because there had been only himself; the other child- ren had gone home to talk among themselves of what they had done during the day and he had gone into the house and up to his room to bed and lain there in solitude, the just- lived day a giant turmoil within him, crying out to be relived, and he with no one in whom he could confide. He had lain there in silence and with- in himself, growing up to be secretive because he had never had the oppor- tunity to share secrets.

He finished breakfast, went up- stairs, and dressed, then decided to go for a walk. The day was fine and clear, the clean blue sky high above the dusty street and the shabby houses, and he bought a newspaper and walked up Oxford Street, crossed the road, and went down into the park. The sun was warm, the grass very green in its brightness, and the trees threw cool islands of shade. He took off his coat, made a pillow of it, and lay down. A faint breeze stirred the tree above him, taking leaves into sunlight then back into shadow, sleepily whispering, and from where he lay he could see right across the park, over the trees that ringed the pale silver lakes, over the wind- ing dark-blue asphalt road that slid beneath the trees like some giant snake, to the hills rising towards Clo- velly and Randwick, and even the houses there on the hills seemed asleep in the sun. Everything was so quiet and peaceful, and this was the life. Who'd go back to the Army?

He opened the paper and turned to the sporting page The nomina- tions for Saturdays races were there and the races looked very open again, any horse might come home a winner. All the horses seemed to have been making good time in their training gallops; even a maiden performer had done five furlongs in one minute three this morning. He would have to go out and check on them one morn- ing the horses were either being driven round in fast trucks or the timers' watches had slowed up.

HE lay there till lunch time, reading

the paper from front to back, even the war news reading again with in- terest the progress that had been made in the murder at Belmore. The police seemed to have reached a dead end and McCoy could imagine the mur-

derer sitting back with a temporary sigh of relief as he read of the police's   vain attempts to catch up with him. The b——d, McCoy thought idly he dreamed of capturing the murderer; there would be a terrific fight, then justice and McCoy would triumph, and he would pick up the beaten pulp

of a murderer and throw him across his shoulder and walk into the nearest police station and drop him on the floor and say, "There s the man you've   been looking for." But then he shook   his head, becoming practical, clearing the dream from his mind. He couldn't   be a hero, that would mean his name and photo in the papers; following fame would be the provosts. He would have to leave the criminal- catching to the police.

He got up left the park and walked back down toward the hotel. As he passed Hardman's the butcher, the   shop door opened and his mother

came out.

"How's it Mum?"

"Hullo, Frankie." Her eyes were     tired, dull with the lack of sleep, faded with worry, and age had come

like a sudden illness to her.

"Here, give me your bag." For   the first time in years he took her

arm and walked down the street with

her. Her eyes brightened a flash of memory breaking like sunlight through the mist of tiredness, the years peel-

ing away to the time when he had been young enough to be dependent upon her, to the time when they had really been mother and son, instead of comparative strangers, as they had been over the last few years. She turned her head to speak to him of it changed her mind, and turned to look straight ahead again, walking quietly and small beside him. He was still a stranger and she was afraid that he would not understand, per- haps he preferred to forget his child-

hood.

They walked in silence, and every now and again he looked at her with- out turning his head. She seemed to be getting smaller each time he saw her going down into the earth that would be her grave. She wore no hat and he could see the clean line of the parting between the grey hair,

and suddenly he remembered that when his father had died seven years ago her hair had been black as his

own.

"How you been?"

"All right." The tone of her voice gave the lie to her words. "Frankie, the provosts were down home looking for you Friday morning."

"Did you say anything?"

"I told 'em I hadn't seen you since you went away to camp." The lies were a weight in her mind; she had the honest person's fear of discovery. She turned and looked up at him. "I don't like lying, Frankie—not to the police, like them. Whyn't you go back? They'll get you in the end. The longer you stay away the worse they'll give you."

It was everyone's worry but his. "Skip it. mum. I'll be all right. Just keep telling 'em the same thing and

pretty soon they won't be bothering you. Nor me. either."  

She had been defeated again, asking for herself. She took another tack. "What does Margie think about it?"

"I dunno. I ain't seen her for a week."

"Have you had a row?"

Let's shut up, mum, before I lose my temper and shoot my mouth off.

"Yes."

"It's not worth it, son." She reached across him and took the bag from his hand. "You'd better not come down near home with me, just in case." She looked up at him and her eyes had faded again. "Look out for yourself, Frankie, please."

She went down the side street, not looking back, walking away from the son she had lost, getting smaller as she walked away from him, smaller and smaller as if she were disap- pearing fast, and, looking after her, he had the sudden crazy idea that she was going out of his life and he would never see her again. Fear was a cry in his mouth, and he wanted to sing out to her, but there were no words he knew. She turned the corner and was out of sight, gone, and the street was empty and he turned and went back to the hotel and

upstairs to his room and flopped down on his bed, lying there looking at the ceiling, alone and within him- self, thinking, just as he had as a

kid.

FRIDAY night he had paid out fifty pounds, spreading it out over the   small winners, trying to keep as much goodwill as possible, and now, Satur- day morning, he was sitting in the back room, ruling his sheets for the afternoon, a hopeful blueprint for a winning afternoon, when Phil Robin- son walked in. Robinson was a little man; the adjective had been coined for him. His physique was small, his features were small, his voice was small, his mind, when it emerged from the blank facade that encased it, was small too. He had a wife and two children, was a storeman in a boot factory in Alexandria, read nothing but the newspapers, and his weekly bet was a grand adventure. He grinned now, showing dirty yellow teeth, and McCoy, instinc- tively, looked up past his mouth at his eyes.

"G'day Frankie. I come up to see about the money I won last week. I missed you last night."

"Oh, yeah. Well, I—d'you want it right away?"

"I'd like it. I got some things I wanna buy, and it'll come in handy."

McCoy twisted the pencil in his fingers. This being apologetic was anathema to him; he hated it as much as the poverty that was slowly coming back to laugh at him.

"Well, to tell you the truth, Phil, I just ain't got the ready cash. I got

socked pretty hard last Sat'day and   I got to call on some reserves. It's   taking a bit of time."

Robinson, with a flash of insight, one poor man recognising the empty pockets of another, realised the posi- tion and suddenly he had a rare moment of assertion. His back straightened, his body borrowing a largeness from the air about him, and the small face showed a glimmer of arrogance. McCoy remarked the change; Robinson was like all the mice of the world—they had nothing and you could walk all over them and there would be no complaint, then out of the blue fortune falls in to their lap, they are possessed of more than they have ever had before, of some- thing that places them above the other mice of the world. They are men now, big men. And then just as suddenly they lose what they have and they go back to being mice. It was like putting air into a balloon then taking your finger away from the

teat.

(Continued To-morrow)

FRANKIE McCOY deserts from the army to come back to his

living as a starting-price bookmaker nt 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: Myra, whom he picks up in a  

dance hall and to whom he introduces himself as Frankie Brown, and Meg, a niece of Flanagan's wife, with whom he visits Manly.

     

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

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