By Warwick McFadyen
Fuck this. No. Here we go. Not again.
And that’s how Stevo’s day began. With such a thought. He was watching an early morning TV show. Bloozie and Blousie and Greta and Sacha were smiling at him, and one was telling him how it was possible, according to the latest research, to be happy and fulfilled even when you have had an impossibly awful day. You all know, they beamed, the soy café latte is lukewarm when it arrives, the cleaner is sick, sick! and can’t do the house today, your hairdresser has been in a car crash and won’t be available, depending on the x-rays, for at least a couple of days. Horrendous.
Yeah, Stevo thought, eyelids half-raised to the TV, that’s my life. The bloke on screen nodded, threw in a quirky observation about the meaning of everything, and turned to face the side camera, the one with the lens on the other side of life. The bloke was yabbering on about Afghanistan or Iraq or Yemen or Syria or Palestine or Somalia or Sudan or Getfuckistan, thought Stevo, and how our good, honest, and trueblue diggers were getting beat up for just doing their job saving the ingrates from other ingrates. And then after a moment’s patriotic pause, the camera switched back to one of the women who pronounced that war was entering the bloodstream of our country towns, too; on the main streets of Australia these unAustralians, let into the nation through bleeding-heart politicians, were taking over, building mosques so that they can gather there and pray (and here the deeper stress on the word implied to Stevo they’re not going to pray). There was a five-second quote from one of them, saying we’re peaceful and 30 seconds from a woman with a Target shopping bag in one hand and a large McDonald’s cola in the other, saying basically, that’s bullshit. She wasn’t scared, she was pissed off. There’s going to be a rally here, right here where I’m standing, she said, this Saturday morning to reclaim Orstraylya.
Stevo thought, she’s right: Fuck this. I’m going. Gotta show the flag for the country. It was lucky really that this information even came to him. The TV was still going from the night before, unlike Stevo who had stopped going sometime in the early hours and then been woken by the clang and crash of the garbage truck’s picking up of the bins and throwing them back down on the footpath. Stevo looked, lizard-eyed, around where he was. There had been others, he was sure, a couple of mates, couple of strangers. He hadn’t started off at home, but it looks like he finished here. This was definitely his sofa he was flopped out on. How much coincidence could there be in the world for there to be two sofas with the identical cig burns in the same corner? Impossible, he reckoned.
He was lying on his side, one leg and arm dangling over the edge. He wanted to move onto his back, not that the ceiling afforded a better view, or perhaps it did, he shrugged, but the lines of communication between brain and body seemed to have broken down. He’d give himself a little while to move his limbs. They had acquired a can’t be fucked lethargy all on their own, it seemed to Stevo. He’ll just wait till they come to their senses. Out of the corner of his eye he saw his dog, a border collie cross with happenstance, on the other side of the room raise its head, look at him and then display the same disposition as his limbs. Good dog, Stevo muttered.
Saturday, that’s tomorrow, isn’t it? He asked his brain. No reply. Luckily, again, the TV usefully displayed time and date. Today’s Friday, tomorrow’s Saturday. He’d be at work if he had work. Until this week, he had been a labourer on a building site. We’re building your dreams, the sign outside the houses said. We’re building your crap, Stevo knew. Still, who was he to argue if people wanted to aspire to self-mockery and spend barrowloads of money doing it. A flock of farting pigeons could blow these places down, never mind a storm. But it wasn’t a crisis of conscience over misused building regulations that led to his termination. Nah, Stevo just apprised the boss of his shortcomings, nothing serious in Stevo’s mind, a bit of verbal jousting over a level of incompetency that was fairly obvious to everyone. Still the boss didn’t like being called a professional nong de plume. He had to ask, what the hell does that mean. Then he took offence and fired him.
So Stevo had all of today to swim among his thoughts about tomorrow. He shouldn’t have. Stevo prided himself on his logical frame of mind, despite all other failings within it. Fast approaching 30, and just as rapidly acquiring a splendid trail of false starts both in work and relationships, Stevo was the ultimate transit passenger on life’s journey. This was his imagery to justify every twist of fate that had grievously befallen him.
His logic now, though straining to stay pure in a sea of beer-sodden debris, such as ragged-arse memories, seemed ineluctable. Stevo loved throwing that word around at people he knew wouldn’t have tinker’s hope in hell of understanding. In E. Luck. Ta. Bel. Phonetically speaking. It rolled off the tongue. And onto the floor. He picked it up and held it into the televisiony light. It is In. E. Luck. Ta. Bel. that their cause is right. They are Australians, therefore they want their streets and towns to be Australian. Therefore, they must fight against invasions by non-Australians. Therefore, they must stop the outsiders. I am an Australian, therefore I must join the fight.
Truth is, he also just loved an argument. He was thrown off the school debating team for arguing too much and not debating enough. No one else saw it as a blood sport. To him, this was a pity. It was the ideal evolution of war where the only weapon was the word. In. Fucking. E. Luck. Ta. Bel. And therein lay the problem. Stevo had never been able to decide whether he wanted to be an outsider or one of the crowd. This bleary morning, he wanted to be one of them, that is, one of us, that is, something other than himself. It was easy to accommodate.
As to his opponents this Saturday, clearly they were not Australian. They stopped work to pray. Every day. Australians stopped work to watch a horse race. In Melbourne, Stevo’s home city, they stopped work for the whole day to watch a horse race that only lasted three minutes. Now, that’s Australian. A mob would have to be suss who prayed every day. There really couldn’t be that much devotion required to keep their god happy. All we do, Stevo muses, is eat a slice of ham and turkey at Christmas and a bit of chocolate at Easter. Easy peasy. As for global domination, as long we’re world cup champions at something, anything, we’re doing all right. And we don’t blow things up. Nah, we just have our servants of god abuse and torture little boys, well we used to, so that they end up damaged all their lives or kill themselves. It’s the laconic method of destruction.
Stevo was a bit amazed at how he was making easy work of persuading himself to attend tomorrow’s protest, even without the likes of Lady Target going off at the foreigners or Blousie winking at him on the TV. He could see how easy it was for the pitiful to become passionate and righteous.
And then he shut his eyes. And then he opened them. It was tomorrow.
It soon became apparent to him that Tomorrowland was a very strange place. He was standing outside a pizza joint among a strip of shops and cafes that ran about 100 metres then petered out from boredom. It was the main street. At one end, Australian flags were not so much fluttering in the breeze, it seemed to Stevo, as switchblading the air, an air laden with drumbeat defiance. He looked but couldn’t see Lady Target. No matter.
At the other end were their enemy: the liberal softheads. They had posters and chants and songs, acapella, but Stevo saw that they were angry, too. They just had nicer tattoos. They were also a more mixed lot than the Rose Tattooed mob. On this point, Stevo did feel a loner. He had no tattoos, feeling that a well-inked name or motto at one time in your life may become a permanent flesh wound later.
Both camps were getting restless, creeping a little closer to the other, scampering back, raising the volume of the shouting. Pushing each’s idea of freedom a tad nearer to the other. And in the middle were the poor plods, keeping it orderly, keeping it peaceful, and resented by both. What a job, Stevo thought.
He stayed on the footpath, outside the pizza place. (It was opening soon and agitation can make a man hungry.) But here was the thing, Stevo realised that he was feeling less and less inclined to be agitated by what the either side was shouting. From the boofhead with the megaphone standing on the back of the ute to the rainbow regatta of rage at the other end, the whole scene merged into an efflorescence of useless energy. Stevo wasn’t even hungry any more. He began to walk towards his car, which he had parked away from the main drag. Over his shoulder, he heard what could have only been a copper yell to a colleague, “Who threw that first stone? Did you see?” His mate replied: “Sorry missed it.”
Stevo got to his car and noticed for the first time that he had parked outside a church, a splendid edifice it was, too. On a whim, he walked through the gate and into the grounds, well-kept, manicured, obviously looked after. In the distance he could hear the start of a minor riot. Ah well, I can see it on the news tonight.
In the dust, just before worshippers would climb the steps the steps to the front doors, he dragged his shoe along to form a few words.
Fuck this. No. Never again.
Warwick McFadyen is a freelance writer and editor