* * * NINTH INSTALMENT OF THE "HERALD'S" SECOND PRIZE STORY. * * *
YOU CAN'T SEE ROUND CORNERS
By JON CLEARY
Illustrated by JAMES PHILLIPS
FRANKIE McCOY was an arrogant Paddington larrikin, who
earned his living as a starting-price bookmaker until he was called up for army service. His one great, love, aside from him- self, has been Margie Harris, whom he plans to marry. The demands of military authority and McCoy's independence are not compatible with each other, and he deserts from the army
and returns to his mother's house in Paddington.
AFTER breakfast McCoy de-
cided to go up to Flana- gan's. The sooner he booked in there, the better; he did not want the jacks moving in on him here at home before he had had time to enjoy the new freedom. He was tired, but there would be time for sleep later.
The street's gossip, Mrs. Watting, was leaning on her front gate. See- ing her, he realised just how much a part of the street she was. She be- longed in the scene as much as the houses, the shop on the corner, the telegraph poles; she was a sentry,
posted, at her gate, sworn to let noth-
ing in the street escape her.
"Hullo, Frankie!" The cheeks bulged in the fat face as she smiled; the eyes retreated behind barricades of flesh, but they were curious. "Home on leave?"
"Yeah." There was no point in broadcasting what he had done; no one was to be trusted, everyone was a possible informer. "A coupla, days."
"A nice break. How was the
Army?" She fired the questions with the speed of the professional inquisi- tor: he had not stopped walking and she was talking to him as he came toward her, reached her, was past her. "D'you like it?"
Had she ever tasted arsenic? "Oh, it could've been worse." Could it, McCoy? How much worse?
He walked on, escaping from her,
and when he turned in at the hotel he had forgotten her. The bar was empty, and Flanagan was leaning against the cash register, reading the morning paper. He looked up as he heard the door, and his face went blank with surprise as he saw McCoy.
"Why, hello Frankie!" His voice was high and thin with his surprise. McCoy had forgotten the girlishness of Flanagan's voice and now he wanted to giggle. "Back already?"
"No, I'm sitting in the mud at Finschhafcn. This is Ned Kelly."
"Still ready with the come-back, eh?" Flanagan put down the paper and took a bottle and two glasses from the shelf above the bar. "Have a drink?"
The old defence, who pays? rose within him, but he shut it in his mouth. He recognised Flanagan's gesture; this was his welcome. "Thanks. Got a room?"
"Yeah, sure. Why? Having trouble
The world was too curious; it must cut you open and lay you inside out: Who are you? Where do you come from? What have you done? Ask for a room in a hotel and they want to know if you have been belting your mother.
"No." He debated with himself for a moment then took Flanagan into his confidence. "I've fizzed off from the army. I got to lay low for a while." He had a moment of doubt, sus-
picion of his new ally. "You can keep quiet, can't you?"
"Why should I go shooting off my mouth?" Flanagan pushed the glass across the counter toward McCoy. "Here's luck. Welcome home."
The 'phone box was empty and he went in, closing the door behind him. He felt nervous, eager to hear Margie's voice again, and his finger slipped in the dial of the 'phone. He pressed down on the hook, cutting the connection, and tried again. He heard the buzzing note in his ear then the voice of the elocutionist on the switchboard, telling him the Betta Fit Manufacturing Company was at his service. He pressed the button and the pennies fell loudly into the
"Hullo. Can I speak to Margie Harris?"
"Is it a private call?"
"Yeah, it's the Duke of Gloucester." He did not catch the comment from thc other end, but he made a guess and smiled to himself. Then Margie was speaking on the extension. Her voice came softly over the wire, as through a grille, and he felt his heart lift and the nervousness was gone.
"Frankie!" The softness of her voice
went; surprise sent it bounding down the line. "What are you doing home?"
Questions, questions, questions. He had never been away before; was the welcome always marked with a query?
"I'll tell you later, hon. How've you been?"
Her voice was soft again, remote, yet personal, distant but confiding; the 'phone box was the confessional of love. "I missed you, darling."
"Me, too. Still, we'll fix that up to-night. Can I see you then?"
"Of course, darling. Same place, same time."
HE went out of the box and the post man, coming up the street, the bag empty on his back, nodded to him. I should stop him. McCoy thought, and tell him what he did to me when he delivered that letter with the call up notice. This grey-haired, brown faced man, walking with a stoop, in-
nocent in himself, had been a cog in the machine that had taken these last two months out of his life. The postman turned the corner and was gone, and the meeting had been no more than a casual incident in the day; he remembered McCoy but he had forgotten the letter. He did his work automatically now and worried only about his own affairs.
McCoy walked on down the street toward home. Hearing Margie's voice had raised his spirits, had made him aware of thc day and its bright- ness, but, too, it had brought an ap- prehension—he was wondering how she was going to accept his leaving the army. She had made it such a personal thing in her letters, her grati- fication at his being in his uniform, the hope that the army would broaden his outlook, that he now realised it would be a major issue to-night when he told her of what he had done. She had a patriotism and sense of duty that he had never felt, and once had expressed regret that because of a widowed mother she could not join one of the women's services. He knew she would not like his return-
ing to the old life, but he could not guess at the depth of her dislike. He would only know that to-night. Still, maybe, she wouldn't take it too badly; she loved, him and maybe she'd be glad to have him back with her, re- gardless of whether he was in uniform or not. You couldn't have every- thing. He took his hands out of his pockets, straightened up, and walked down the street, looking out across the sloping hill, over the factories and the oval, to Rushcutter Bay, and the tall ragged skyline of the Cross, where the brass women and velvet men of
the theatre world lived in perfectly sustained ignorance of the poverty across the valley. He wouldn't mind living across there himself some day, up among the bright lights and the bright dames. From there he could look back across towards Paddington and thumb his nose at the past.
He put some clothing into a suit- case, told his mother, that he had
booked in at Flanagan's, and went back to the hotel. Flanagan showed him to a room and, turning a blind eye to the dinginess of it, uttered the usual platitudes as to its comfort and outlook. He dumped his suitcase on the floor, went out and down to the bank, drew ten pounds, leaving a balance of sixty-three pounds, and returned to the room. He took off his outer clothing, retaining his under- wear, climbed into bed, and settled back to read the morning paper's sporting supplement.
The races would be at Randwick to-morrow, just an ordinary meeting without any of the stars engaged, and the programme looked open, every horse a possible winner. From the point of view of starting-price betting it was not a good day to resume business, but he felt the urge to get back into business as soon as possible. He would get Flanagan to broadcast it in the bar to-night; most of his clients had been customers of Flana- gan and he presumed they were still drinking. He dropped the paper on to his chest and lay looking up at the ceiling, seeing nothing but the fact, clear in his mind, that he was back where he belonged, in his own way of life, free of the army and its discipline, master of himself again. He had proved the sergeant wrong: he had bucked the army and, with a certain amount of caution in the next few weeks, he would emerge the winner. You only needed to be smart, that was all, and anything was possible.
Lazily and without impact, the room began to assert itself in his vision. His eye-lids hung heavily and sleepily he saw the stained ceiling, the wall with the dark flower patterned paper beginning to peel just
below the picture-rack, the tall dark- wood wardrobe, the old solidly-built dressing-table, graced with a frayed pink cover, the fly-specked mirror, thc cheap coloured print of a desert scene hanging above the wash-stand, thc cracked water-jug, the dull brass on the bed, and at the back of his mind, sleepily and without determina- tion, he was saying: I hope I don't have to stay here long, I hope I don't have to stay here long, I hope
I don't. . . .
He was marching down the dusty road with Grayson and Stewart and Flanagan and the load on his back was bending him down, pushing him forward into the ground. The others walked straight and erect, laughing among themselves, talking through him, ignoring him as if he was not there. They strode on, taking great long strides, and he began to run to keep up with them. But the weight on his back was too much and slowly he dropped back and they went farther and farther ahead, over the long slop- ing hill, disappearing suddenly, and
he was alone on the road in this strange country. He heard a whisper then it was a voice, Margie's voice calling him coming to him from over the hill. He began to run again, the load on his back bumping up and down, and then suddenly he was over the hill and running in country he knew, in Paddington, down streets he had played in as a child, but now Margie's voice had gone, dying away to a whisper, then to nothing; and he was running just in a silence that held a horror he could not name, and now he could not stop running. The load on his back had gone and he was fleeing headlong down the streets of his childhood, then he
turned a corner and there was no-
thing before him, and he stepped off into nothingness, falling, falling, fall- ing. . . .
He woke cold and wet with sweat, the bedclothes twisted about him, the unknown fear still with him, and lay shivering, looking about the room, trying to absorb the reality of it.
He sat up, lit a cigarette, then, when he had smoked it, stubbed it, got his towel, and went along to the bathroom. The dream still hung in his mind like cobwebs in a newly opened room, and he felt the need of the shock of cold water on his body to waken him completely.
AS he crossed the street to their
meeting-place he could see Margie waiting for him. She turned toward him and he saw the eager welcome of her smile, the gladness reaching out for him, claiming him to her; then he was holding her hand, feeling the best he had felt for the last two months.
"Hullo, hon. Jeez, it's great to see you."
"I'm glad you're back, darling." She took his arm, and without con- sultation, each knowing the other's mind, they walked across the road toward the park. "I missed you an awful lot."
"What did you miss most?"
She pressed his arm, smiling up at him, her face alive with happiness. No matter what she said, she could never really tell him how she had missed him. Her vocabulary was in-
adequate for the feeling of her heart. "I missed you kissing me good-night. I missed you ringing me in the morn- ings and being able to say, 'Same place, same time' to you. And Satur- day nights I was just lost."
"Same here. Sometimes, even in the middle of the day, I used to feel like scramming and coming home."
"Why are you home, darling?"
This was it, the worst moment of the return. Did there have to be a reason? Why couldn't one come back and take up the old way of life, fit- ting into the same groove, forgetting forever the time away, without ques- tions being asked?
"I'll go into that in a minute." He was like the man who, falling through the sky, was wishing that the plane had been flying at ten thousand in- stead of eight thousand when he left it; he was only delaying the inevit- able moment. "You ain't kissed me yet."
They had passed through the park gates. The road, faintly blue in the moonlight, went down in a long sweep to the darkness of the trees.
"Let's go over there." she said.
They stepped off the macadam, walking in silence on the thick grass, their shadows moving smoothly before them, and crossed toward the dark- ness of a clump of trees.
He spread out his topcoat, and they sat down. He lay on one elbow shivering with eagerness, as she wiped the lipstick from her mouth with a handkerchief, then she was leaning over him, her head blocking out the night, her hair falling down into his face, her mouth on his, her hands gripping his shoulders, and he knew suddenly this was the real wel- come. All else had just been leading up to this. The feeling came over him again in a warm rush and he knew he loved this girl.
"Oh, darling, I did miss you."
He ran his hand over her hair and brushed his nose against hers; the moment was as intimate as any love-
"Darling, you still haven't told me why you're home. Is there anything wrong?"
With a woman, when a man does anything unusual something is always wrong. Hell, he would never under- stand them. Or were they all just naturally inquisitive?
"Nothing's wrong. I just left the army." There. Now she knew.
"Left the army? What, have you been discharged?"
"Yeah, that's it. I discharged my- self. We didn't get along."
He felt her body stiffen again. Jeez, she was taking it just like he'd expected; he could feel the coolness rising between them like a mist ascend- ing to separate twin peaks. She sat
"Do you mean you've run away?' She was incredulous; she knew he hated the army, even the sparsely worded letters had told her that, the hate coming out of the cold simple words, but she had never expected him to desert; her tarnished ideal of him had never allowed for that im- perfection.
"Don't put it like that. You make me sound like a kid wagging it from
Incredulity turned to scorn. "The way you're acting you're nothing more than a kid. I thought you were a man, Frankie."
Who the hell did she think he was now, Boy Blue in long pants? He sat up, his inflammable temper fired by her scorn. "I'll match anybody you put up. It's not a question of being a man. I just don't agree with the army, that's all. Remember you don't like spaghetti. That's the way it is with me—I don't like the army."
She stood up, smoothing the creases from her frock with a studied casual- ness that further angered him, and looked down at him, and, sitting on the grass below her, seeing the shape of her dim against the branches of the tree above, he had the sudden realisation that their physical pose in this tableau was indicative of her men- tal attitude toward him. He could almost feel her heel grinding him into the dirt, the spittle of loathing wetting him. He stood up quickly.
"I was glad when you went into the army, Frankie." Her voice was soft and controlled, but she could have been talking to a stranger. "I thought you had something in you, something worth while, something I was in love with. I knew you weren't perfect I guess every girl knows no man is perfect, but she likes to think
the one she loves is better than the rest. You have a lot of faults. Frankie, but I overlooked those. I had to, if I wanted to go on loving you. And I did. Frankie. Because I thought deep down inside you you had something decent. And I thought the army might bring it out. I was just dreaming." Her voice for the moment was bitter. "If I couldn't do it myself after seven years, how could I expect the army to do it in seven weeks?"
"Just like that." His voice was nervous with anger, the words boiling in his mouth. "You know all about me. You got me all worked out like a puzzle, every little bit fitting. Look, I don't need the army to make anything of me. I don't need any- one. I'll make myself. I been doing all right up till now and I'll finish the job. I can do without the army and it can do without me. We don't like each other, so we called it quits."
"There are a lot of people who don't like the army. Harry doesn't like it. He'll be glad when it's all over so he can get out of it. He says so in all his letters. But he's staying till it's over. And so are a lotof other people."
SHE began to walk across the grass toward the road and he picked up
his coat and followed her.
"Just because some people like the feel of rainwater trickling down their neck, I ain't going to stay out in the wet with them. I know enough to come in out of the rain. I don't care what other people do."
"You don't care for anybody but yourself!" Her control went, the
dam breaking, the words tumbling on
the crest of the flood of tears. "I'm
just beginning to realise it now. I've been a fool. I thought you were worth loving. You don't need my love or anyone else's. You've got enough for yourself."
The tears, the sudden wilting so
that now she was walking with he shoulders slumped, her head bowed her fingers tangled in frenzy on her breast, made her look helpless and he felt a sudden wrench of pity. He went to put his arm about her, but she almost savagely pushed hin
"Ah, come on, hon. It'll be al- right. You'll forget all about this in a day or two. They don't need me. They got plenty of blokes with- out me. Maybe I done wrong, btl that ain't got to break us up, has
Slowly she struggled for control, battling through her tears to an icy stiffness that hurt her throat. She stopped walking and faced him, her eyes in shadow and the tears glisten- ing on her cheeks.
"When you go back to camp, ring me." She was wrapping up her heart as she spoke, putting it away in cold storage; there would just be an empty space in her breast that would hurt
till they were together again, together in the way that she wanted them to be. "Then we'll see if it's going to break us up."
She spun quickly on her heel, her body moving rigidly on the thin axis, and walked stiff-legged and straight backed through the Park gates and across the road. Car-lights illumined her for a moment, then the car moved swiftly across his vision, wiping the scene, and when he looked again she had gone, turned the corner, and he was alone with only the echo of her voice and the dying swish of the car's tyres in his ears. He heard a man's laugh, derisive, scornful, coming from behind him, but when he looked back into the Park all he could see was the faintly-shining surface of the road, the blue-green of the grass in the moonlight, and the blackness beneath
He lit a cigarette and slowly crossed the road and turned down Oxford Street. The dark blank windows of the closed shops suited his mood and when he crossed the bright beam of light lying on the footpath and coming from a milk bar, where voices laughed and a juke-box played, he felt resentful and wanted to shout abuse at those who knew nothing of the trouble in the world. He walked on down into the darkness again, seeing the dim ghost of himself moving with him along the large glass panes, and Bing Crosby, happy and carefree, took off on the Road to Morocco behind him, dying away as he walked on till he was walking again in hollow-footed
echoes in the darkness.
He had expected some reaction from her but not as serious as this. Now his anger had subsided the shock was coming in to take its place as realisation of what he had lost began to slowly creep over him. Something that had been part of his life during thc last seven years had gone and suddenly he felt lost. Lost? The word stung him, cutting him like a jibe, and instantly the old armour was donned. He wasn't lost; being lost meant you needed someone, and he needed no one. He flipped the cigarette away, an impudent chal-
lenge, and his arms hung out from his sides in the old arrogant swagger. He turned the corner of the hotel and went down to the side door, walk- ing tall and jerkily in his lonely independence.
He went up to his room, switched on the light, and closed the door. Quizzically and without vanity, he looked at himself in the mirror. He was not handsome, but his features had a clean cut about them that, aided now with the tan he had acquired in camp, gave a lean rakish look to his face. His eyebrows were thick and black, coming down in a curve almost to join across his nose, giving him a look that hinted of bad
temper, and the full-lipped mouth, that he twisted now to show white even teeth, his best feature, puckered slightly at the corners, the under-lip shoved forward as if in petulant challenge. It was not a weak face nor was it a strong one; it had the mixed quality of strength and weakness that so often appeals to women. Maybe he was no film star but women liked him. He'd have no trouble getting another girl. Margie could go to hell.
He switched off the light, got into bcd, lit a cigarette, settled back on to the pillow, and instantly forgot his anger and bitterness. He lay watching the red tip of the cigarette and, like a film out of sequence, the last seven years flashed across the screen of his mind. The sight of her to-night, walk- ing across the road, lit by the car lights, dissolved to the time when
she was fourteen and had cut her foot down in the Park. She had taken off her shoes and stepped into one of the lakes to feed the ducks from her hand and had trodden on a broken bottle lying in the mud. He had carried her home on his back, her foot wrapped in his dirty hand- kerchief, and afterwards when he had gone up to see her she had kissed him, not saying anything but putting all her thanks into the pressure of her lips, kissing him with a feeling older than her years or her experience, and he guessed it was from that moment that they had really been in love. The years spun quickly away and she was seventeen and they were picnicking in National Park, boating on the river, and she had fallen overboard, and when he had dived in after her and dragged her to the bank, then gone back and got the boat, they had gone into the bushes and she had taken off her clothes and hung them out to dry in the hot sun, and that was the only time he had seen her naked, but though she had lain in his arms
that was all that had happened. The film ran on, swiftly now like montage, odd shots of her, in a bathing suit, in evening frock, then the two of them together, she in his arms and her
face raised to his.
He reached across and ground out the cigarette in the ash-tray on the small table beside the bed. He settled back in the bed, ready for sleep. But it would not come; his mind was wide awake, swinging rapidly in a pendulum, from the full past to the empty future. There was no denying it; he was going to miss
HE awoke at six, rolling over and gazing up through sleep-filmed eyes at the unfamiliar ceiling, listening to the unaccustomed quietness, waiting for the movement in the hut and the thin echo of the bugle, then he realised where he was, that there was no reason for early rising, and grate- fully he turned over, burrowing deeper into the bed, his hands sliding up under the pillow to pull it about his head. He drifted easily back to sleep, the softness under him, the smoothness of the sheets, and the warmth of the blankets claiming him like a drug.
He heard the knock, then the voice, a girl's voice, saying something that had no meaning to his not-yet-awake mind, and he pulled his arm from beneath the clothes and blinked sleepily as he looked at the watch on his wrist. Eight o'clock. There was the knock again on the door.
"lt's eight o'clock." He did not recognise thc voice; it was too young to be Mrs. Flanagan's, and it did not sound like either of the two girls who had been working here when he went away. "Do you want break-
"Yeah, please." His voice was thick with sleep, broken in his throat, and he coughed. "Yeah, please. I'll be down in 20 minutes."
He heard her walk away down the hall, and he sat up and reached for the cigarettes on the table beside the bed. He sat there on the side of the bed, drawing the smoke in and blow- ing it out in long thin plumes, and last night came back to him like re- membered pain. There was an un-
reality about it all this morning that made it hard to believe that they had quarrelled, as if he had dreamed it all, but everything was too clear, the scene, the words, the tone of her voice, and he felt a hollow sickness as he thought of the lost future. He would 'phone her this morning; she too must have lain awake a long time last night, thinking back to their time together, remembering the things he had remembered, and perhaps more, knowing, as he knew, that what they had had and what they would have was worth more than any clash of ideals. He would 'phone her and she would be glad to hear his voice, and they could meet again to-night, same place, same time.