By Alex Hogan
I sat in my house, on my own, and ate some steak for lunch. It was my special Melbourne Cup treat, but it didn’t cheer me up.
It was the first Tuesday in November, the day of The Melbourne Cup. The one day of the year when the whole of Australia stands still. Why? It’s a bloody horse race? For some bizarre reason all the grinning masses who would usually turn their noses up in disdain at the thought of betting on a horse race, go ga-ga on this day. They dress up, have parties and drink champagne for lunch, and all sit around a huge TV screen borrowed just for the day, to watch a bloody horse race.
But I was at home.
Because I live in Melbourne, and it is the “Melbourne” Cup, which means the race is actually run in a racecourse in Melbourne, then all the workers in this city have the day off, presumably to actually go to the race, or to go to the parties. In the past the bosses must have found that few people worked on this day.
It is, for those who don’t know, the most prestigious, and richest, horse race in Australia.
Nobody had invited me to a party. But then again they never did. And I didn’t know anyone I could invite to one.
So here I was. Alone.
I was used to it; I had been alone since I left school. No, I was alone at school. The high school in the small town I grew up in didn’t know how to deal with someone who was gay. No, I’m wrong again, they did. They bullied them and spat on them and beat them up; and when they weren’t doing that, they just ignored them, as if they were invisible.
Move to the city, join the “gay community” there. Sure. I got a job in the toy section of the Myer department store in the centre of Melbourne, the biggest city in the state of Victoria. I love the kids; they accept me as I am. I’d love to just sit down and join them as they played with the toys. But you don’t meet a lot of gay people in a toy store.
I’d been in Melbourne for three years. Twice I tried visiting the gay bars, but ended up quickly walking past them. They frighten me. To walk into one would tell the whole world. And the people in there? Effeminate party goers or hairy bikers popping pills and injecting crystal meth…
I turned the TV on. Just senseless faces smiling and giggling as if there were something special about the day. Vapid commentators and women in stupid dresses, all faking an interest in race horses. I switched it off.
If I went walking outside at three o’clock, the time of the race, there would be hardly anyone about.
I got out the four DVD’s I had rented, and opened a can of beer. There was no escape from today. I would simply get drunk, as quickly and thoroughly as I could, fall asleep while watching the DVDs, and wake up tomorrow pretending the day had never happened.
I jumped out of my chair, dropping the can of beer on the floor.
“Shit! What was that?” I listened carefully for a loud crash after the screech, but heard none. “Just a bloody hoon careering down the street in a beat-up car. Hasn’t he anything better to do on this day?”
I picked up the can and stepped on the beer that had spilled out, treading the froth into the threadbare carpet. It would dry by the next day. I sat down again, picked up the remote, and was ready to skip back to the scenes I’d missed on my DVD.
“Shit! Who is that?” I carefully put my beer down on the floor where the wet patch was. Who the hell would be knocking on my door, especially at three o’clock in the afternoon in Melbourne on the first Tuesday in November? I went toward the front door, but then hesitated. Should I answer it? It wouldn’t be anyone I know, it couldn’t be. No one from work ever visited me, my parents lived out of town, and my brother only rang, dutifully, about once every six months, even though he lived just a few suburbs away. He never invited me to any of his parties.
I could just go and sit down again. It must be a salesperson trying to get me to change my phone company. I made a step back toward the lounge room.
Shit! That was loud! I pulled the door open in reflex.
“Hey there, buddy.”
“Buddy?” I had never seen this person before. He stood over six-foot tall, dressed in black motorbike leathers. That must have been his bike I heard screeching before.
” ‘Mate’ – sorry, forgot you Arssies say that.” I assumed he meant Aussies.
He grinned, a white smile shining in the dim shadows outside the door.
“Well…hi. Who are you?”
“Hal’s the name. I’ve rented an apartment here. I was looking for the janitor, to help me find my apartment so I can move in. But it don’t look like there’s anyone around.”
“No, well, to start with we don’t have a janitor – or landlord – as such, and secondly, it’s the Melbourne Cup.”
“Never mind. But I’m sorry; we don’t have a landlord. You’ll have to go back to the real estate agent tomorrow.”
“Well, I tried the agency where I rented the apartment on this address here–” He stepped into the flat and held out a crumpled piece of paper, a map. He leant over and peered at it, but his loose, dark curly hair obscured the map for me. “–but, they seemed to be closed,” he continued.
“Yeah, they would be.”
“Why?” he turned his head and looked at me. I caught my breath. Olive-skinned, solid jaw and beautiful kissable lips, and his eyes; light brown, clear and bright, under dark eyebrows.
“It’s ahh…it’s the Melbourne Cup.”
“Oh….well, listen bud – mate – sorry, I’ve come straight down from Sydney, an overnight trip, and I’m beat. Could I come in and at least have some coffee, or…is that beer I smell?”
“I guess so.”
“Thanks, buddy.” He thumped me on the back and stepped into the flat.
“I meant, I guess it is beer you can smell.”
“Your Arssie beers are something else. You wouldn’t have one handy would you? Driving hundreds of miles on the wrong side of the road has really worn me out. Is your living room in here?” I watched his body as he moved past me and made his way into the lounge room. His shoulders were wide and solid; I could only imagine the muscles underneath his leathers.
He sat down on the couch and waited for the beer, so I went to the fridge and brought him one of my precious cans. I handed it to him, watching as he reached out to take it from my hands.
Perhaps after he had the drink he would leave.
“Will the agency for the apartments be open tomorrow? Or is this like, the weekend for you Arssies?”
I had to laugh. “No, it’s not the weekend. They will be open tomorrow.”
“How long have you been here, in Australia, I mean?”
“Just a few days. I flew to Sydney, bought a bike, and I was on my way to freedom.”
“Why didn’t you just fly into Melbourne?”
“Goddamit, I didn’t think of that.” And he laughed a hearty laugh. The sound echoed around the room. It felt strange to hear such a sound in my flat.
I sat down in my chair and picked up my beer. The DVD sat staring at us frozen on the TV screen.
“Hey, you been watching a movie. Yeah, that’d be great, what you got?” He went to pick up my pile of DVD’s.
He looked up in surprise. “What was that, bud? You don’t want to watch a movie?”
“No, I mean, yes, I mean…”
He started sorting through the DVDs. Oh well, this will get rid of him, I thought, once he sees what the DVDs are.
He sifted through them, placing one on top of the other, until the one on the bottom, the one I had chosen to fall asleep to, was now placed on top. He put it on down slowly and deliberately, then glanced up at me, looking directly into my eyes. Maybe I could drink the beer out of his can when he left, and feel the residue of his mouth that was left on the rim – the closest I would ever get to a kiss.
“Brokeback Mountain, eh?”
He kept staring at me. I swallowed. But I kept staring back at him; I wasn’t going to back down first.
He smiled slowly, took a swig of his beer, then looked up at me again.
“My favourite movie,” he said. He put his beer down on the coffee table, leant back and smiled wide. “I’m gonna enjoy living in these apartments, mate.”
I invited him to stay for tea.
© Alex Hogan. All rights reserved.