Illustrated by Eve le Dez
Johnny at the end of the street’s my best friend. He’s a wog. But I never say that. His hair is black and curly and his eyes are dark. He’s my best friend. He plays footy under eighteens. He’ll be eighteen Saturday. We’re goin’ to a party after the game. He’s goin’ to buy some Southern Comfort. He couldn’t buy it before. His father chucks a wobbly when Johnny drinks. “Giovanni!” and then he launches into a whole stream of wog. Johnny just stands there, takes it, but I know he’s angry. He’s never quiet when he’s angry with me. But he’s respectful to his dad. Once he told me to stop this whole fuckin’ gay shit. He stood in front of me, curled his fists. He wanted to hit me.
I don’t play footy. Can’t. Can’t see too good. After that thing that happened after school in year seven. The headmaster asked me who’d done it, but I didn’t tell. Cunt. As if I would. But I told Johnny. Afterwards I saw Johnny had a split lip and black eye but so did Eric. Eric had two black eyes, and a sick-dog look. His spiteful blue eyes were full of hate for me. I just looked at him. I was safe. Johnny was my friend. He never said nothin’ to me though.
Later on, Johnny made me take boxin’ lessons with him.
“For fuck’s sake, Liam, hit me.” Once I did, hard, and his eyes grew blacker and his eyebrows went all thick and straight like they did and I was afraid he’d be angry but then he laughed. “Tough little fucker, aren’t you?” And he put his arms round my shoulders, and I could feel his sweat against the bare parts of my skin.
I loved Johnny. I never told him. I couldn’t. But I did. He was like they say in the Bible study class when we had Father O’Halloran talk to us. Father O’Halloran kept on lookin’ at me like he knew.
I spent every day after school at Johnny’s house. Everythin’ neat and spotless, in its place. No books, not even Italian. Just a statue of the Madonna. And a sucky picture of Jesus.
We’d practise footy out the back of his house. I’d throw the ball to him for him to kick. I couldn’t kick it, see, because I wasn’t sure where it was, after what happened. I got good at that. Wily. He never knew where it was comin’ from.
I told him I was gay when I was sixteen and a half. I just knew, see. I knew.
“Whaddya feel about me?” he asked.
“You’re my best friend.” Heart heavy, like Mum’s shopping bags, big and heavy and full o’ shit. I knew what he was thinkin’.
“I mean, do ya want to . . . . . ?”
I shook my head quick, unable to meet his eyes. He could see into my soul, could Giovanni del Mattina. His grandmother was a wog witch. She could see into souls too. Once she grabbed my hand, and she looked into my eyes. Her eyes were sharp, black as olives, her hair white and black. She had a mole on her lip, with a fuckin’ forest of hairs sproutin’ from it. I tried not to look at it. She said fuck-all. Just shook her head. She knew.
“Nah. Not you.” Dunno whether he believed me.
For a while after, he watched me. He didn’t think I noticed. I pretended not to notice. But then nothin’ changed. He went back to the way he was before.
Once he’s talkin’ about this chick he fancies. He stops, sudden-like, and then goes, “How the fuck do ya know, Liam?”
“I just do.” How could I tell him? I just wanted him to be my best friend for ever. How could I say, ’cos of you?
But he didn’t talk about his women after.
Anyway, I see him with Charlene. She’s blond and she has big tits and I see the way she’s lookin’ at Johnny. She’s in year eleven. I saw. I knew what was happenin’.
At the party he gets drunk on Southern Comfort. I saw his hand under her dress. And them kissin’. And more. She was all over him. She was touchin’ him down there on his charlie. Fuck. Made me hot inside. I dunno, hot with anger. Another kind of hot.
I went home. Kicked the gate. Slammed the door. Mum shouts from the bedroom, “Keep the fuck quiet, you little shit.”
Next day he goes, “What the fuck happened to you?”
“Nothin’.” I don’t look at him.
He drives off in his Commodore. Now he can drive. He’s eighteen. He loves that car more than he loves me, I swear.
On Friday, we’re drinkin’ at my place. Fuck I love him. He’s so grouse. He’s my best friend. I had too much Southern Comfort. I try to kiss him. He goes “Fuckin’ fudge-packer!” He hits me. I sit listenin’ to the deep burble of the Commodore’s V-8, the screech of gravel under its fat tyres. I go fetch my backpack from the year ten camp from the top of the wardrobe. I take the photo of me and Johnny at St Kilda beach one day. We asked this dude to take a picture of us. His arm round my shoulders.
On the Hume highway, I get lifts. I have to suck one truck driver’s cock. I don’t want to be gay. Why did God make me gay, Father O’Halloran? Why is it so fuckin’ grey? They call it rainbow. Fuck ’em all. Liars. It takes two days to get to Sydney. I sleep behind a wall of a service station the first night. I’m so fuckin’ lonely.
I don’t see Johnny for a year. Then I’m standin’ on Oxford Street, loose low jeans, undies waistband, loose T-shirt, sneakers, with the others. One every twenty metres. It’s a good beat. I get three, four hundred dollars a night. Enough for weed and speed, food, save a bit if I’m lucky. Sometimes they hurt me. I just pretend I’m far away. Sometimes, they’re kind. They are. You get used to anythin’.
Johnny walks past. He stops. He looks at me. I look away.
“Liam?” he whispers.
I can’t speak. I can’t. I can’t look at him. I swallow. But it doesn’t stop the fuckin’ tears. I’m such a fuckin’ wuss. Angry, I am, you know? I wipe my face with my sleeve.
“Liam,” he goes. Then he takes me in his arms, rough and strong, like fuckin’ wog brothers. “Liam,” he says again, and it’s like tender; like cool green grass next to a river on a hot day with a sizzlin’ northerly, with the magpies and currawongs callin’ sleepy as shit; like all those fuckin’ songs. “We been worried, lookin’ for ya. So scared…” And he stands back and he takes my hand in fronna everyone. “This is my best friend,” he goes, pride and love like steel and velvet in his voice. “He’s comin’ home.”
“Johnny,” I go, through the lump in my throat, anger and love fightin’ like two brothers in my heart, “Don’t fuckin’ play with me. You know I fuckin’…”
“Yeah,” he goes, and his dark eyes smile, and his mouth, and his whole fuckin’ body too, and he takes me in his arms again, but not rough-like, but ya know, soft and gentle, and his breath is like honey on my lips. “Yeah, Liam. I know. Me too.”