The party had been a real fizzer. The host’s parents had cancelled their weekend away and had been present after all, much to the dismay of their daughter. Yet she had soldiered on, nonetheless, and the secret party had become a parent-approved-and-supervised party. Moderate alcohol consumption, moderate volume levels. No real action.
Around 10:30 pm people started to leave, hoping to hunt down some excitement elsewhere in the town while the night was reasonably young. A group of four young men walked down the footpath, shaking their heads in disappointment over the so-called “party”. All were 18 years-old, but none of them owned a car as yet, so they walked everywhere. A cloud of aftershave followed them.
They were going to Doug’s place. This wasn’t an unusual destination for them on a weekend night. Doug’s parents had moved out 6 months ago when his Dad had been transfered to a country town over 200 kilometres away. The family home was left in Doug’s hands as he worked locally. Doug was the only one of the group who worked, the other three were finishing high school this year.
There were no parents to bother them at Doug’s house.
Malcolm had been Doug’s best friend through most of high school, yet he had barely spoken to Doug all night, and as they walked he was alongside Jim, a mate from school. Doug walked in front of them with Dutchie who talked excitedly about booze, girls and cricket. Both Malcolm and Jim walked behind their friends in near silence, like servants respectfully following their masters.
A rusting white Kingswood slowed as it passed them. The passenger hung out of the window and yelled “Heyyyyyy”.
“Come here and say it, poofter!”, Dutchie yelled. He was the tallest of them all, with a strong sinewy body. He liked people to know he was not to be messed with. The Kingswood sped up and screeched around the corner, the passenger giving them the finger as they turned. The screaming tyres sounded as natural in the night as birds on a spring morning. “Fucking cunt eyes”, Dutchie muttered.
“Yeah, mate!” Doug said with a chuckle. He had a bad habit of laughing after everything he said, especially when he got excited. Doug had only begun to realise this and had been making a conscious effort to overcome it. But tonight he had forgotten himself.
A few minutes later they heard the familiar clunking of the Kingswood’s engine approaching from behind. They turned around to watch. This time the car slowed to their walking pace. The passenger hanging out the window looked their age. He looked dazed and drunk. “Hey, girls” he jeered in a good natured voice.
Dutchie stopped walking and the others halted behind him. “Come over here and say it, cunt eyes”. Saliva sprayed from his lips. His eyes burned. The car screeched off again, Malcolm glimpsed the smile on the driver’s face as they sped off.
“Fucking weak cunts” Doug said, without a giggle this time, to signify the seriousness of the moment.
“Too right, Dougie”. Dutchie was still fuming. Jim snorted what may have been a laugh and looked at Malcolm who smirked as well. Neither of them were quite sure of the joke they shared.
The Kingswood came around the block again, but this time slowed to a stop about fifty feet behind them. They all turned around and stared, Dutchie at the front of them. Malcolm strained his eyes to see the occupants. He could make out some arms waving about and thought he could see the driver and the passenger turned towards each other, perhaps arguing. Although there was no way he could see for sure from this distance, Malcolm knew that the driver was no longer smiling.
The Kingswood revved, the clanking sound in its engine sped up and resembled the sound like an old lawn mower.
“That car’s fucked!”, said Jim. No one answered him.
After a moment, Malcolm said, “Let’s just fucking walk. I’m not standing around for this bullshit all bloody night”. He started walking, and after a moment Jim joined him. Dutchie stood staring back at the stationary Kingswood, Doug at his side, and then turned to follow the other two. Doug raised his middle finger to the Kingswood and followed.
The Kingswood followed them at a slow crawl all the way back to Doug’s house, never getting closer than 50 feet. The suburban backstreets were quiet for a Saturday night; it seemed to Malcolm the revving and clanking of the Kingswood was the only sound in the night air besides the steady beat of their shoes. At Doug’s, Dutchie sat on the porch and faced the road. Malcolm stood by the door, waiting for Doug to unlock it, but Doug had sat down beside Dutchie. Jim stood in the shadows of the driveway, leaning against the side fence.
The Kingswood pulled up to the curb in front of them, and sat there idling for several minutes. No one said anything. No one moved.
The passenger door opened and a tall figure stepped out. The engine was still running and the headlights shone on the bitumen. Still seated, Dutchie very slowly took off his jacket.
The passenger closed the car door behind him and walked a few steps to the letter box. He leaned against it and said, “So, what are you all up to tonight?” To Malcolm, he was a silhouette with the headlights shining behind him. There was a slur in his words. Malcolm tried to remember his features from when he had leaned out of the car not fifteen minutes ago but could recall no details. The passenger wore some kind of windbreaker, unzipped at the front. His breath puffed out in clouds.
“What’s it to you, smart arse?” said Dutchie. “You looking for trouble?”
“Dunno. Are you?”
This suburban stand-off lasted about a minute, rhetorical threats passing to and fro. Malcolm barely noticed when Dutchie stood and began shuffling his way closer to his adversary. The driver got out of the Kingswood. He stood beside his car, hunched slightly with hands shoved in his jeans pockets. To Malcolm, it was like looking in a mirror.
And then Dutchie was on the guy in a flurry of blows, his arms windmills of clumsy yet effective blows. The silhouette of the driver looked down at his feet. Malcolm’s stomach turned over.
Doug chuckled with excitement. Jim was a ghost in the shadows.
The guy was crumpled on the ground now, and Dutchie was thrusting his open hand to him. “Come on, mate. Shake hands, shake hands...”. He struggled to his feet and grasped the hand of the man whom had bettered him. “No hard feelings, eh?’, Dutchie said enthusiastically. The guy mumbled consent and slunk back to his friend. The two silhouettes got into the Kingswood and meekly drove away. It was only then that Doug unlocked his front door.
Inside, under the kitchen light they saw Dutchie’s left eye was beginning to swell up; somehow the guy must have landed one. For the first time that night, Dutchie seemed unsure of himself.
“Shit, what’ll I tell Cheryl?”
They discussed walking into doors and quickly discarded that idea. A slight rewrite of events was decided as the best approach, with the guy throwing the first punch at innocent Dutchie. Then Malcolm and Doug both went to the fridge, for ice packs and booze respectively.
The night had acquired and atmosphere of celebration. There was laughter, loud music, drinking, discussion of the fight. Doug’s parents were visiting tomorrow, and part of him worried about the empty cans and spills that were appearing on the floor. Yet his urge to celebrate was like a thirst. The violence had been exhilarating and he paid tribute to his friend by sculling half a bottle of vodka to Dutchie’s cheers, Jim’s laughter and Malcolm’s groans. Warmth spread from his stomach to his fingers and toes. His eyes watered. There was no stopping the giggling now.
Dutchie and Jim left soon after Doug started to throw up. Malcolm cleaned up the mess while his friend retched in the bushes out the back, recalling Doug mentioning his parents’ visit earlier on. There were two broken glasses on the kitchen floor. Malcolm swept the glittering shards into a dust pan, imagining they were diamonds.
When the house was reasonable, Malcolm found Doug had wandered half way down the street in a stupor. Vomit was drying on his chin and his pants were wet with either booze or piss.
“Time for bed, Dougie”
“Dutchie?”, his friend slurred.
“Naw, mate. Dutchie’s gone home”. He led Doug back to the empty house and put him into his bed.
“Thanks, Dutchie”, Doug mumbled from his bed.
Malcolm locked the door behind him and began the walk home. It was very late now and the streets were quiet, although screeching tires and revving engines could still be heard faintly in the distance. He walked past a fire hydrant that had some obscene graffiti written on it in thick black pen, and remembered how he and Doug had laughed about it when they’d first seen it years ago.
It was a well-worn track between Doug and Malcolm’s homes.
Malcolm gently opened the back door of his house and slipped into his bedroom. A few minutes later he lay in his bed. Through his open window came delicate quiet. He breathed deeply of the night air and momentarily forgot who he was.
Copyright Clinton Green, 2001. First published in The Sidewalk's End, 2002.
Other stories by Clinton Green