None admired her soft curves or the thin layer or powder that clung to her face. Always shadowed by her her sister, her light and bright twin. She was all anybody ever saw. Iridescent and radiant, men sang to her and wrote poems of her beauty. Her aloofness, her subtlety. None spared thought for the dark twin. Left in the hollowness of isolation, she had beauty to match but she could not turn to see the rays that shone from the sun. Trapped in a world in which all she felt was the dark. Jeered at as inaccessible and cold none cared to make a light big enough to illuminate her, to let her radiance shine as full as her sisters did. And so invisible she would stay. The dark side of the moon.
Marty Ford is born at home in the Broncs of West Wangaratta, 12th June 1962, three weeks overdue. His father refused to allow Marty’s mother to give birth in hospital, so that when Marty came out back to front and with the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck he lost 4 minutes of oxygen to his brain.
His father comes from a long line of farmers. True country, riding horses on cattle farms for a living and who were real men. The decline of the agriculture sector meant that his father had to move off the land into the Broncs housing commissions, a failure of a cowboy and a failure of a man.
When Marty starts to speak he stutters and his father blames his mother for this and beats her with his boot. The spurs on the boot heel cut and ribbon her skin and her blood snakes through the cracks in the kitchen tiles. Everybody gets told she tripped into a bush of roses. Roses thorns don’t cut that deep but it’s nobody else’s business.
Marty never regained the colour in his face from the 4 minutes oxygen deprivation, he is short with sallow skin. He wheezes when he runs and the doctor tells his parents he has asthma. Both his parents hesitate before telling anybody they meet that he is their son. Marty notices this.
In spite of the deprivation his arms grow long and sinewy. Marty decides it must be from all the elbow grease he needs cleaning his mother’s blood off the kitchen floor every Thursday night. Thursday night is snooker night at the pub and beer is on the house.
In first form Marty punches Georgia Reynolds for laughing at his stutter. Marty is made to write lines for an hour, but when he gets home his father tells him he’s proud of his son for sticking up for himself.
When Marty is eighteen he quits school, leaves home and takes a job at Brux textile mill. Marty hates the job but stays because there’s nothing else for him. Every day after work he goes down to the pub with Phar Lap. Phar Lap’s real name is John Heather, he’s older than Marty and weighs 286 pounds. When Marty asks him why everybody calls him Phar Lap he says, “It’s because I’m quick as anything and big as a horse”. Nobody in the pub will look Phar Lap in the eye and Marty decides it must be because of his weight.
Phar Lap drives Marty home from the pub every night. One night he pulled over to the side of Williams road, locked the car doors and grabbed Marty’s crotch. Phar lap told him that he owed him this because he was always wasting money on gas driving him home. Phar Lap dropped him home 20 minutes later than usual. Marty can’t stop seeing Phar Lap when he closes his eyes and he wakes up wet. He doesn’t speak about it or to Phar Lap again but he knows there is talk. It’s not very loud talk however because it’s not anybody’s place to make a fuss about and nobody asks why Marty’s sheets and night clothes are hanging up on the hills hoist.
On the 12th of June 1981, the same day he was born, Marty married Beatrice Parker in the Tavern street church because the cathedral was booked out for a funeral. Marty rents out a stale beige suit that is too small for his arms and wears boots with spurs of the back despite Beatrice protest. Beatrice wears her mother’s wedding dress that bunches up at the shoulders and comes up high against her neck into a lace collar. She didn’t look beautiful. Nobody tells her. It's nobody’s place.
The ring was too small and Beatrice’s skin bunched and broke when Marty pushed it on. Everybody clapped as they walked down the aisle and pretended not to notice the blood seeping out through the cracks in the couple's clasped hands.
Early on a Friday morning Marty gets a call to come to the hospital. His mother is dead and the doctor says it was from bleeding in the brain. The doctor also comments on the nasty bruise she had blossoming over her left eye and looks Marty’s father in the eyes when he says it must have been a very nasty fall down the stairs. Marty is uneasy and takes a shower as soon as he gets home. Beatrice can’t come to the funeral because she is sick and neither can Marty’s father so he sits alone in the front row. On the way back home he went through the side door of his old house to look in the kitchen without seeing his father. The cracks between the floor tiles were still stained red even a week later. He drove home
Beatrice find out she is 10 weeks pregnant and Marty starts driving trucks to earn more money. Marty suggests Beatrice stays with his father to give them both some company. The trip from Melbourne to Brisbane takes him 18 hours each way with a rest stop. Marty drives for Chalmers trucks and transports everything from timber to home goods but cattle is his favorite. He likes running his hand over the branding marks that raised and puckered the skin on the beasts’ rump.
Marty always stopped at an independent truck stop 30 miles out of Dubbo called Dixies Lie Down Travel Plaza. Marty met a woman named Lucie who during the day worked behind the counter at the service station near the stop and was called David. Once the sun went down Lucie kept him company in the bed behind the seat of his truck. Her clumsily painted, acid pink lips were soft like a woman’s but everything else about her was hard and Marty would reach around her square hips in the darkness to feel her firmness. After she had hollowed him out he would smoke, not looking her in the eye and letting the ash from the cigarette fall, catching in the hairs on his chest. He hated the way she was too tall for the truck bed and had to bunch up her knees so they were touching his. He always left the stop angry. Yet for all his anger Xavier would came back to the plaza every trip almost free of guilt, because after the 70’s he learnt that gender and genitals weren’t the same thing and it wasn’t his fault if Beatrice didn’t understand what he wanted. Marty swore he wasn’t a queer because as Lucie always told him, in a voice too deep, she was really a woman inside.
Marty started asking for more trips out to Brisbane. Chalmers obliged and they don’t ask why because it’s restricted in the new employee confidentiality contract.
Marty was at Dixies Lie Down Travel Plaza when Beatrice called to tell him that she had left. Marty didn’t even know she was unhappy. He told Lucie about his wife leaving him and Lucie said she was sorry to hear it.
Marty father told him that Beatrice left in a black Miata with a man he didn’t know the name of but recognised from working at the fish and chip shop. Her leaving was the talk of the town and eventually the gossip came back to Marty that she had settled 5 hours away in Horsham and that their child was named Jack. He never heard from her of his son again and he never tried to contact them either. He never asked why she left because he never thought it was any of his business to ask. He missed her.
Two years after Beatrice’s’ had left Marty is working at Marts grocery store on the main street. He hasn’t spoken to his father for over a year. Phar Lap often comes into the store and winks at him as he buys the paper. Marty is quite good at scanning groceries and likes the sound the new machine makes as he waves the items under the scanner. Beside the small talk that comes with the job, nobody bothers him anymore and he likes it this way. He always thought it was best if other people minded their own business.
The water tank had always stood high and round. An obscene, now obsolete, metallic blot behind the low-roofed houses of Andamooka, South Australia. When we were younger our parents told us to stay away from the tank. They say a boy was found drowned in it’s water years ago. He had gone missing days before and when they found him, blue, soft and bloated, it took five strong men using ropes to pull the body out of the tank. But no bygone death would scare us away, only lure us closer to the alien structure. The thing had a concrete base scratched with our names and names of children that had come before us. We often wondered, while lying on the concrete under the shade of the tank, if the drowned boys name was scratched beside ours. From the concrete the four metal legs of the structure stretched high, supporting a wide wooden base on which sat the cylindrical tank that was the real object of our interest and desire. The only way up to the tank was a metal ladder welded to one of the legs. We dared not touch it for both the wrath of our parents and the fear that we would ourselves be found drowned, bloated and blue. We stuck to the ground. Chasing one another and sucking on dripping red icy poles that stained our tongues and turned our hands sticky. In the long hours of the afternoon the shadow of the tank stretched and distorted on the red dust ground creating a monster that we would pretend in our games was going to devour us whole.
In the beginning there were nine of us, all no more than three years apart. Then Adam moved out of town and so did Ian so then there was seven. As we grew and changed the tank stood still, stagnant as the water it still held. Our games changed from tag to kiss chasey because it was no longer fun to touch each other for only a second. Girls on boys, boys on girls, we would dart and hide around the tank legs. Never wanting to be caught but always hoping to be. Kiss chasey took us up to the tank. Jeb was the first to climb to the top after being caught against the ladder by Lisa who took no prisoners. He swung his legs over the platform which the tank sat on and leaned his back against the corrugated iron we had only ever seen from afar. We stopped and watched him as his head swung from side to side, looking at far away things our eyes on the ground couldn't see. He told us later that we looked like ants from up there.
Eventually we stopped running around the tank. Paul was the oldest and the first to tell us it was immature. The girls who we had known our whole lives began to change and morph into creatures we did not understand. They would sit with their backs against the tank whispering gravely secret things. And we would sit underneath them on the concrete, watching their legs swing back and forth, wondering how to reach them. For a whole week once Lauren never even came to the tank. When we asked her in school where shed been she hid her blossoming red face in her hands and ran away. The other girls would tell us nothing other than that she was bleeding. Jeb asked from where and if she had tried a band-aid.
Lisa was 14 and Dan was 12 when their parents sent them to a boarding school in Adelaide with money left to them by a dead relative. We watched from the water tank as the car piled high with luggage drove down the main highway, became a blot, then disappeared, taking our friends with it. Kathy cried and waved a red kerchief Lisa had given her as a keepsake. Though without them life rolled on. We began staying out later, staying until the shadows were so long they became the night. Up on the high tank, awash with moonlight we would watch the town at rest. On weekends our curfews stretched late into the night. So late that our small voices would be accompanied by the drunk chorus of our fathers, carried to us on the wind from the pub not far away. Paul started going to the pub sometimes with some of the older boys he knew would sneak him drinks. One afternoon he came to us with an unopened beer can. He had smuggled it out the pub underneath a thick jumper his mother knitted for him last winter. We watched as Paul steadied the can on the concrete and cracked the tab. Beer frothed and flowed white down the sides, wetting the concrete and soaking Paul's hand. In a circle around the wet patch of beer we passed the can one to the next, revelling in both rebellion and the beginning of a love affair.
It seemed from then that we grew very quickly. Kathy soon became the object of our desire. Her body that had once looked as flat and hard as ours, overnight became curved and soft. On hot summer days she would lay back lazily on the concrete, her top pulled taught against her chest. She would stretch and we would all watch with lust out of the corner of our eyes as her skirt slipped high up her round full thighs and her top rode up to expose her navel. We had seen women like her around town and in magazines but at the same time none of them were truly like her. Nothing felt as close and as real as Kathy did. Lauren, with bony hips and flat chest, watched Kathy with eyes of contempt and desire, though a desire wholly different to ours.
Paul's father was a formidable man who worked hard and coughed often and died when Paul was 17. Paul was the only child and all that was left for his mother. He dropped out of school and went to work in the opal mine that breathed life into our town but sucked life out of our men. We missed him. After he left the four of us drank more and stayed out longer. Despite losing our main supplier we found other ways. Jeb and I stole from our parents while Lauren and Kathy used their assets to find us the liquor we wanted or maybe we needed. In quiet nights, leaned up against the corrugated iron we would tell each other how we would get out of this town of opal mines and red dust. Our legs dangled over the water tank and into the dream of adulthood, of cities and of aeroplanes, of office jobs in glass buildings. From the top of the tank we were invincible.
The blue water was disturbed by the toe of the quaint kitten heels she had worn. She had gotten dressed up. Sitting at the end of the concrete pier her legs dangled long enough so that her foot only kissed the water below. Her toe traced circles of figure eights and watched it ripple with the blank eyes of someone whose mind was far away. It was back in a restaurant further along the beach from the pier. A place where her name had sat written in a reservation book for weeks only for him not to have come. She sat there at a table by the window and watched the water, waiting for him. The same kitten heel that now traced ripples had tapped under the table, first idly, then impatiently and finally desperately. It had only been days ago late in his bed that she had reminded him of their date. Sitting on the bed's edge buttoning up his shirt she knew he had heard her and was reassured when he finished buttoning and turned to her smiling. “I know, I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
But the world was still turning after the third coffee she had ordered and he was two hours late. Escaping the pitying smiles of the staff, to which she could only reply with her own terse ones, she left. And she sat at the edge of the pier, unwilling now to go home to a lonely apartment where come the early hours of the morning she knew he would call. The abrasive ring of her telephone splitting the silence of her room where she lay unable to bring herself to sleep. She liked to pretend that maybe she wasn’t tired, or that the book in her hand was too good to put away but she was waiting for him. Nothing was worse than the nights he didn’t call at all. When at 3 am she admit defeat and curled into bed, and in her dreams, she would imagine the phone ringing.
He lived one floor down the apartment block she lived and after he called she would slip out of her door, barefoot and dressed only in nightclothes save for whatever coat she dragged off her bedroom floor. He always had a record playing when she knocked quietly on his door and slid into his room. There was never much talking. He swept her off her feet and into the bedroom with his strong hands, his generous hands. He never waited long afterward to sit up and put on his clothes. First his pants, always rocking backward so that he was lying on the bed, kicking his feet, jumping the slacks up his legs to get them on, not unlike how a child would. Then he sat on the side edge, back turned to her buttoning his shirt. She never felt so vulnerable as when he turned his back to her. Aware of only the white linen sheet on her skin she always tried desperately to cover herself with it before he turned back to look at her, in a way that was both modest and sexy. She feared nothing greater than upon him turning to face her again, seeing regret in his eyes.