William Peters had pulled his run down bicycle up to the wrought iron balustrade surrounding the entrance to the metro station on St Germain des Pres, threading the U bolt and locking it. Sitting down on a free table he ordered a Jack Daniels on ice from the waiter. No sooner had he opened his book and begun reading, he recognised the waiter that had served him the previous night at Brasserie Lipp. The waiter, in turn, noticed William too and smiled. William had marked his large nose the previous evening, which reminded him of a large flaccid penis, and this caused William to chuckle. The waiter had been quite a character; playful and cheery as he’d walked to and fro, whistling as William had kissed his date at the table, his arms full of plates as he strolled by flicking his leg out. The waiter was out of his black tie now and was dressed in light blue stonewash jeans and a Hawaiian shirt, losing some of his appeal, though his face remained animated and charming in its distinction.
“Vous vienez ici tous les temps? Vous voyez les femmes? Beacoup des femmes ici. Tres jolie, non?” said William. He had known that the waiter did not speak much English and it was the best French he could muster. In an animated manner he spoke in French using his body language to convey his thoughts, his face lighting up, his hands gesticulating to convey the parts of a woman that he enjoyed and conveying his thoughts succinctly.
William’s second phone rang on the table and he excused himself.
“Billy! How are you?” asked Dom.
“Dommy, not bad old son, sipping mon oncle Jack on a Parisian boulevard lad!” he had responded.
“Ah, I am so jealous! You live the life” he said, adding “I would love to be swanning around Paris with you right now”.
“Hop on a plane old boy, nothing stopping you. So what’s up?” inquired William.
“The shit has hit the fan again big time. Zoe is seeing someone else, I am sure of it” his voice now slowing its speed and the sorrow seeping in. “She went out tonight and she didn’t invite me and she said she wanted time to herself”.
Dominic recited the story, the deeper he went the more his words hurt William who was, until the moment he had answered the call, in immensely good spirits. William interpreted the tale as a sad overture, a relationship that was growing apart, deteriorating fight after fight, a mirror that had been smashed so many times that one could barely recognise one’s own reflection. William, who had been privy to the relationship since its conception, had grown tired of hearing the same story and whilst he felt sincerely empathetic, as he had only just finished lacerating himself over a young capricious girl, did not wish to re-enter the realm of thought that was dominating Dominic’s dialogue.
“You won’t get any clarity until you get some distance” William had responded as Dominic had paused to take breath, “only hindsight gives you 20/20.”
Before Dominic could begin again William repeated his last phrase for effect.
“I am a piece of shit. I’m a fuckin’ empty vessel. I have no money, no job” and here William heard the frog in Dominic’s voice but was unwilling to submit to his own emotional currents which he was only just mastering. Dominic began to break out into a sob.
“I am sorry for crying. I hate it, I hate it. I think I am going to check out man”.
“Dominic, hey, listen, you are alive again! At least you are crying. That’s the most emotion I have heard out of you in a while. It’s not a weakness. It shows you are feeling again! Listen, I am going to come home soon, then we will go skiing as planned”.
“Yes, but Billy” said Dominic, gathering his thoughts and now forgetting his sorrow “there has been a change of plan, we are going to have to go for club week” he said, his sobbing weakening.
“Dom, No! I told you, no club week! Alice will be there and I can’t see her, change the dates” said William.
“I can’t, we have a small window as it is, it’s the best I can do. I’m sorry.”
William felt the pull of the exact same emotions that Dominic was feeling; without warning they swelled to the surface of his conscience and Alice appeared before him, reminding him of his first night in Paris in the very same restaurant as he’d dined the night before. She had broken his spirit and brought him into a state of chaos and despair that he’d only just recovered from and which he had only just now owned up to as his own fault. I fell too fast, I wanted it too bad, he had repeated as mantra. Righting himself he attempted to finish the conversation, as each minute wore on the cost of the call made him more impatient.
“Just imagine, skiing Crackenback all morning, long lunches and then drinks at the Schuss in the evening”.
“Sounds so good. Yep, we’re doing it. Thanks mate... You know, I really appreciate it. You were the only one who answered. You’re there for me. You are my best friend” he said, his last words trailing off in a soft trembling cadence.
“Mate, I have to go. I am meeting a friend and this call is costing me dearly. Have a sleep. Try to. When Heidi was cheating on me I had to pretend as though I was physically being buried and only then I could get some respite. It’s terrible.”
“Goodbye Billy” said Dominic as though these were his last worldly words.
“Night night big guy” replied Billy and he placed the phone on the green Ricard table and breathed in and out twice.
William had no friend to meet but the conversation had been far too intense for his liking, too many thoughts had run through his own mind and he felt a heat across his face from the emotions that were being pulled from a vast storage of experiences that William had wished to leave behind him. The Boulevarde was bustling with the ebb and flow of traffic; scouters, taxis and buses accelerating as the lights changed, the bus engines roaring, the scouters farting and then fading away. A light breeze rustled the pavement trees and the sunset light played on the walls of the Eglise opposite. He moved his gaze back to the waiter who was conversing on the end table and they both smiled exchanged a cheeky smile.
It was a few days later that William got a call from Dom and then followed it up by messaging his wall on Facebook, Dommy returning his post with a text message confirming accommodation. Then no more was said and they did not discuss Zoe or Dominic’s emotional state again. Accordingly, William made his assumptions and messaged Zoe’s wall.
“Zo zo! Looking forward to following you down the mountain you cannonball! I guess things have settled down...”
“Billy-goat, working on it love, working on it... So hard!”
Late one evening when returning from Bagatelle, only a week before his return to Sydney and with a belly full of alcohol, Billy had tried to call Dominic to tell him that he was going to be just fine, but the phone had rung out and Billy bent over the toilet seat to bring up the kebab he’d just eaten in Les Halles on his cycle home from St Germain.
Billy had arrived at Kingsford Smith after a twelve hour lay-over in Singapore, his legs aching from the constraints of cattle class. He’d drunken himself into a claustrophobic anxiety from nimble Jack Daniels and gin bottles he’d bought in duty free, waking at one point and feeling crusty tears from a bad dream. But having arrived at the airport he sobered up quickly as he took the line through customs.
“Anything to declaair?” asked the customs officer.
“Nope” responded Billy.
“Take loin wun thanks maate!”
There it was for Billy; this staunch reminder that he was no longer among the croissants, the North African peddlers and the tabacs. He had arrived home and his culture, if there could be said to be one, would not bend for anyone.
“What’s it like to be back?” asked Dominic when Billy finally got through to him a few days later.
“Shocking. How did you take it?” he had asked in return.
“I wasn’t there as long as you were.”
“Depressing. You can travel as far as you like in this land but they will still greet you with ‘g’day’”.
“Are we still on for skiing?”
“Yes, and it’s club week. I couldn’t change it”.
They had agreed to meet for lunch; Billy waiting outside Zoe’s house whilst Dom gathered himself and made his way up the stairs and stood vigil with Billy as they waited for Zoe to return from university. He was standing in a reddish flannel shirt with faded jeans torn at the rear pocket and frayed near the crotch, his languid arms folded into his waist. He wore a perpetual monkey smile, which purported cheekiness but masked a deeper level of insecurity for lack of anything to say. Dominic was a handsome boy, bestowed with a bellowing bass voice that was cigarette husky, always charming and honeyed in his mannerisms. ‘May I..’ he would say before opening a door for a lady. He’d never had trouble getting the ladies, it was keeping them that had always presented the challenge.
Zoe arrived in her Volkswagen and parked on an angle in the drive. They invited Billy in whilst she changed her clothes, it being a hot 24 degrees on this August afternoon, hotter than Paris had been for Billy all summer. The view of the harbour spread out in front of them, the glare subduing their glances, short choppy waves cutting the water in small caps, yet still the water glistened from the sunshine. Billy surveyed the lounge area, filled with dog poop, tissues, clothes strewn against lounges and arm chairs. Bottles were beneath New Idea’s and Who Weekly’s and the Sun Herald was neatly piled in one corner whilst the S section was spread across the coffee table. Dominic seated himself on the balcony and beckoned Billy to join him.
“So how was Paris!” said Dom manufacturing excitement, “tell me some stories” at which point he lowered his sunglasses.
“Well, I don’t really know where to start” began Dominic who by now had told his stories so many times that he disgusted himself when he took his breath to engage his audience. He decided to give a brief synopsis and save the rest for another time.
“Well, I don’t know where to start” he repeated, “I got drunk a lot. We used to go to cafes at nights, or some small bar of Rue De Seine. One was called La Pallette where there is always this grumpy waiter. Alice took me there the first time” he said pausing, recalling her switching their dishes when she didn’t like her own order.
“Then sometimes we could go to a club called Kong, another called Le Baron, and then one called Bagatelle. It was in some ‘maison’ in the Bois De Bologne. And, sometimes I would be lucky enough to meander across a bridge on the Seine as the Eiffel Tower would sparkle on the hour like a diamond spire.
You know Dommy, the rest of the world despises the Frenchman for his socialist leanings and his passion for striking and they all hope this Sarkozy government will annihilate that culture, but, paradoxically, if you ask any American that bothers to travel or is the least bit worldly, you will always find they spend their tourist dollars in Paris. You can’t take it away from Paris, it’s charming - you can smoke in the cafes and you can piss in the street.”
“I heard that is changing next year” replied Dominic.
“Yes, I heard the same thing. Oh well... So we ride out on our bikes of an evening, going for dinners at brasseries, talking pigeon French. They were mostly expat kids we were hanging with, working for big law firms or investment banks. A lot of Americans. And then there is that circus crowd that arrives in Paris each summer of which I told you about the celebrities. Art galleries and product launch types.”
“Shit man, when I was there I was so depressed I hardly went out”.
Zoe re-emerged in a corporal hat with chequered leggings, her curly blonde main spilling out of either side of the cap. Her eyes were lit up and she laughed when she sided up to Billy to greet him properly. They kissed each other hello and she squeezed him when they embraced. He was glad to see her and her happiness was infectious. The three had eaten in a quiet cafe of Queen Street in Woollahra, making small talk about common friends, careful not to talk of the events surrounding the last few weeks of their relationship. Billy had dropped them both back to Zoe’s house and organised a time to meet them on Wednesday morning.
It was not particularly cold when Billy arrived at Zoe’s house though Dominic rubbed his hands together and blew on his cupped hands as Billy pulled up his station wagon.
“You’re early” said Dominic.
“Yes, where’s Zoe?” Billy returned.
“She already went” he replied.
“Yeah, she flew down yesterday”.
“Strange, I thought she was coming down with us.”
“No, you got it wrong, she was always going down first.”
After having set the navigation and the heating, they drove off from the curb and took the M5 south out of Sydney. Dominic fiddled with the positioning of the satellite navigation, then insisting that he play Billy songs from his iPod which he then took the liberty of installing a charging dock for the device through the cigarette lighter. Billy was finding it distracting but did not have the heart to dismiss Dominic who by now was searching for songs in a playlist he had set up.
“I know it’s here somewhere.... Ah, here it is!” said Dominic as he played a song which Billy had heard played over and over again throughout his Parisian summer.
“Do you know this one?” asked Dominic.
“Yes, it’s great” replied Billy.
The road began to open to greater expanses of greener pastures lining either side of the highway as they continued out through Bulli.
“Has it been raining?” asked Billy.
“Yeah, right up until you came back. You brought the sunshine” said Dominic, lowering his window, the roar of air swooping through the cabin and cooler than when they’d left. A few minutes went by and then Dominic opened the window again, this time Billy smelt the reason. He barked at Billy before lowering his own window, blowing some papers left in the rear seat. The windows went up and both laughed loudly before Dominic resumed control of the stereo.
“It’s so good to have you back man” said Dominic and he slapped Billy’s thigh.
They stopped the car at Marulan to fill it with petrol, the air now damp and cooler with gloomy cloud covering further up the highway. They each got a breakfast muffin at the Hungry Jacks then smoked a cigarette next to the bonnet of the car whilst looking out at the horizon. There was no sound of nature, just the whizzing of cars on the highway. Neither felt the urge to speak and they made one or two comments about the snow before returning to the car.
Passing Lake George on the Barton Highway, Dominic’s phone rang just as Billy was looking up at a hang glider, temporarily veering out of his lane until the white markers trembled the undercarriage and he righted the car.
“Heelloow?” said Dominic, sparking the curiosity of Billy, who watched Dominic’s hands feeling for the mute button.
“Hi, how is it? Yeah? Really? Why not? Nothing, we’re just on the Barton Highway. Nah, just briefly to fill up. Should be. I miss you too. Why didn’t you call Tommy?”
The conversation went on in this manner for some time causing Billy to become impatient. He tried to think of his own loves and for a moment he pondered the first time he had introduced Dominic to Zoe and for a brief instant imagined himself as Zoe’s boyfriend. It was a pleasant enough thought and carrying forward from that he thought of Alice again and his own personal journey since they had all first met. Dominic had been unable to hold a job down, moving apartments a number of times but holding onto Zoe with a fierce competitive love. Meanwhile, Billy had gone to London to re-kindle an old flame which was just embers when he saw her; then returning to Sydney he’d grown restless by Christmas and the following May embarked on a cultural sojourn in Paris, hopelessly attempting to grow cultured, to find love and fame if it should come his way. Billy received his own phone call but was waved down by Dominic who then placed his index in his ear and repeated “sorry, I couldn’t hear that, can you repeat it again”.
Dominic finished the phone call and placed his phone in the drink holder.
“Sorry about that, she wouldn’t let me go”.
“No, it’s fine, I totally understand. So, do you want to talk about it?” asked Billy.
“I know what ya thinking. Jesus, I can tell you a mile off” said Dominic huffing and looking out towards the empty lake.
“She was begging me Billy. Beggin’. She was dragging my leg and saying ‘I won’t let you go. I won’t, you’re going to kill me Dominic, do ya hear me?’ So I asked her again. ‘Did you fuck around on me?’ and she kept screaming ‘No’ really loudly. So I held her against my leg and then I kicked her to the ground and she burst out screaming and the tears were genuine. I wanted to kill her, I was seeing black and then I stopped and she had me. Just one second, that’s all it took. All I did was question myself and then I was back with her. And we were both crying then. The sex was amazing that night. Things were great after that, initially, and we sorted everything out but now...” he said sighing, lowering the window and letting the wind stream in and air-brush his whiskers.
“So what was all the shit about checking out?” Billy asked.
“I never said I was going to check out” replied Dominic.
“Yeah you did. You basically said it as if it was your last goodbye” retorted Billy.
“Oh fuck off! Mate, she was begging me to come back to her”.
Billy imagined the overtly dramatic scenes, the very same messy lounge room he had witnessed, the yellow light globes in tear strained eyes. He was disturbed by Dominic’s admissions and cast his mind back to a 5am phone call.
“Fuck you! Fuck you, who do you think you are not showing up! I didn’t owe you anything! I didn’t ask for anything from you!”
“I’m tired. Go to bed, I will call you in the morning”. The phone went dead.
“She said to say hi by the way” said Dominic after a minute.
“We don’t have sex anymore” he said after another.
The music of Jeff Buckley had just succeeded The Doors, the soft lyric of Leonard Cohen filling the cabin, both men equally nostalgic and again the windows were lowered to allow them to breath.
“Are you serious?” asked Billy over the roar of the wind, and both windows closed and the cabin resumed its melodic ambience over the hum of the engine.
“We had sex the night we made up. But before that we hadn’t had sex in three months and since the fight I think we had sex twice” said Dominic.
“Ground for divorce” said Billy.
“I know Billy-Bob but I love her. I fuckin’ love her man” he said and his voice faltered before he collected himself.
“Relationships” said Billy, composed and gaining oratory confidence through his friend’s admissions, continued in this admonition, “are very difficult things. You know, sometimes you feel responsible for the other person. This can be daunting. Maybe her not having sex with you is because she is being careful in handling your emotions, and her own, considering the volatile nature of the relationship. The problem, it seems to me, is that you have forgotten what is to be Dominic Jensen and instead you are full of fear about what it would be like to have to rely on yourself again. You forget that you were Dominic before you met Zoe, and, should it end, you will be left with Dominic to deal with at the end.
It was the same with Alice and I... but different. I... I was stuck on her and I had to re-tool myself to be me again. I had to realise why people loved me and enjoy that person again. Nobody is saying it’s easy of course...”
“Yeah but I love her, like I said... And you don’t...” said Dominic but he allowed himself to trail off as he reached down to grab something from the car floor.
“I don’t what?” asked Billy. But he felt he was being ignored.
“I don’t what?” repeated Billy.
Almost as in a daze Dominic lifted his head and turned to Billy.
“I’m sorry, I lost my train of thought” he said.
They continued on in this fashion, taking turns in expounding their own thoughts, then prodding and poking one another with suggestive remarks or by not saying what they truly felt in their hearts, allowing sentences to trail off, both equally inattentive to each other’s needs though wishing to dispense the most insightful thoughts. Billy had grown tired of Dominic’s lethargy, feeling that he had not worked as hard as he had to improve one’s own standing; doing very little to work himself out of the rut he had fallen into by virtue of his own weakness and self-loathing. Whilst Dominic had felt the sheer offensiveness of Billy’s rhetoric; that Billy could dispense such hog wash so self-righteously, without for a moment recognising his own shortcomings, made Dominic feel not only angry, but instilled in him a desire to break Billy’s spirit. Though they still both recognised the qualities that made them friends, a divide was felt, one which, with the passing years, seemed to be growing.
They stopped in Cooma at a liquor store, filling up the car with a case of beer, bottles of white wine and Jack Daniels. Though Dominic had money on him he decided to let Billy pay for the alcohol; though he had put his hand in his pocket to pay, when Billy had offered to get the alcohol, Dominic firmly put his wallet in his back pocket, taking some of the alcohol that had been swiped by the teller and marching out the door in his Sorel boots and waiting by the side of the car, blowing on his cold hands.
“Well, maybe you do love her Dommy, but maybe you don’t, you are just too afraid of being alone. And let’s face it you are reasonably needy...” said Billy as the Subaru hit the curb and entered into the Jindabyne shopping mall. Here they ducked into a ski store and Billy bought himself a pair of goggles.
As they continued on through the back of Jindabyne and heading up the escarpment for the last run into National Park, Dominic received a call from Zoe’s mother, who was driving in the opposite direction in the exact same make of car, the clouds darkly contrasted, the sun’s rays filtering through and offering an eerie light that cast patches over the alpine grasses on either side of the road. Dominic spoke to her about the Sydney house; that he’d cleaned up after Zoe and had left it in an immaculate state having cleaned the poop off the floor and carted all the paper to the recycling bins. As she drove past the boys her lights flashed, all windows lowered and arms were waving, wishing her safe return to Sydney, as both cars passed each other at high speeds, Billy noticing the peculiar way in which Zoe’s mother held her phone tucked to her chin. For a brief moment Billy was jealous that Dominic should have such a good relationship with his girlfriend’s family but then the feeling subsided as he consoled himself that his time would surely come.
As the car pushed through the last stretch of road the bare alpine ash blew in the wind, there was no snow on the leaves and the ground seemed dry, upsetting Dominic who was not confident about the snow conditions. The tips of many of the trees were bare of foliage and the trunks a hardened silver and black ash, the vegetation surrounding appeared frostbitten.
“How long are ya hear for?” asked the gate keeper at the National Park entrance and they entered the park, Dominic rubbing the sticker against the windshield.
“I know I said I would pay for half this trip, so I feel bad about the petrol and the booze. Let me pay for the Nashy pass” said Dominic. Leaning forward and stretching his seat belt, he reached into his back pocket, then opening his wallet out to the far side of his torso, he took some notes and placed them in the drinks holder. Billy did his best not to look into the centre console but did so after a minute, noticing that he’d left but $25 of the $96 he’d paid. Noticing Billy’s eyes look toward the console, Dominic made a pre-emptive move to disarm the situation.
“Sorry mate, I didn’t have any cash in my wallet. I spent it all back in Cooma. As soon as I get to the teller I will get you the rest” he said, slapping his trucker’s cap against his lap.
They drove to Banjo Terrace and parked the wagon in a line of cars all filmed with country dust mostly roof-racked. A black crow was picking at a white plastic rubbish bag that had been left out between the wet timber fire logs. Zoe smacked the fly screen open and descended the steps in her Ug boots, smiling but slightly nervous. Dominic walked over and hugged her with an excessive zest, hunching over and pulling her closely into him whilst smelling her hair. Over his shoulder she smiled at Billy, who had raised the hatch and was unloading the alcohol and ski gear.
When they had finished storing the luggage and Dominic had removed and reshuffled the fridge many times to allow room for the beer and wine that Billy had bought, Billy had commanded the kitchen for a moment, requesting the couple to sit whilst he prepared drinks. Grabbing the ice trays and knocking it against the counter he poured two long Jack Daniels and then a glass of white wine. The three then moved out onto the wooden balcony and lit cigarettes. A lone wine glass from the previous evening stood on the balustrade further down. It was dry and marked with an oily mist but where the glass was clean it glistened in the afternoon sunlight that had broken free from the patchy sky. All three looked up to Crackenback, graduating white at the top to beige at the base, speckled with rocks and lined with trees and it too glistened in the sunshine.
“I can’t wait” said Zoe breaking the silence and they each three clinked their glasses and raised them to the mountain.
“Good to be here” said Billy.
“Brost” said Dominic.
“I was going nuts on my own” said Zoe, and turning to Billy she said “Alice is here, Billy. I saw her getting some gum at the supermarket”.
The news affected Billy with an air of excitement and allowed him to play with all the possible scenarios that might play out on this extraordinary turn of events. For Billy had known there was a chance that he might encounter Alice, and, more importantly, he had already prepared dialogue should that encounter arise. Though he had purported to Dominic the exact opposite, even from France, in his heart this was the course he’d hoped for. Now; returning from Paris, was all the more rich an experience for the chance that he might play out his role in this ill-fated story, skimming through various scenarios, circumstances and moods to generate moves on a mental chess board. Each time he played out his moves he undoubtedly always arrived at the same conclusion – she does not love you nor ever will. And this pained him and caused him to re-negotiate his game.
They all agreed to call Tom Van De Vorst to find out where the throng of Sydney’s click of youth were drinking, a moving rugby maul, they were continually adding and subtracting players as they drank their way through the Thredbo village. Tom had answered Dominic’s call, Dominic raising his chin up to the mountain as he spoke to him, laughing both heartily and haughtily as Tom gave his ‘report’ of the ski week so far. Tom had invited us all to the club house, reiterating that he had seen Alice and to warn Billy.
They changed and armed with two bottles of sauvignon blanc headed down the steps and along Diggings Terrace, making their way up the stone path and through the doors into the club house rumpus room. The roaring fire was being stoked by a junior member, the granite rocks that formed the chimney and mantel giving the room warmth and character, the couches forming a U shape around the fireplace where three other members lay strewn across the couches. Tom sat upright as we entered whilst on the opposite side Frosty was curled into the corner of the sofa, his head buried into a folded pillow. After Tom had greeted us both, Frosty stirred and sat up, offering Zoe a seat next to him.
“What brings you home? Here to see Alice?” stirred Tom.
“She’s off my radar Tom, don’t start me! I would tell you what happened but my guess is these walls have ears” said Billy, attempting to lower his voice.
His ears pricked, Frosty raised his ruddy face to Tom and Billy.
“What’s this? Talking amongst yourselves? Huh? What’s going on?”
“Oh, it’s nothing Frosty. Long time no see. What’s news?” returned Billy.
“Not much. Bit of skiing. A lot of drinking” said Frosty.
“What are you doing with yourself these days?” asked Billy.
“Landscape architect. What were you two talking about?” inquired Frosty.
“Nothing nothing” said Tom.
Billy looked to Tom’s face to gauge whether he’d already told Frosty, but Tom noticed Billy’s eyes in his peripheral vision and gave nothing away.
“They will all be down here soon, they’re doing the run sheets for tomorrow’s race” said Tom.
Zoe cast her head back towards the bar where Dominic was fixing drinks for all five, his hands fumbling as he placed the glasses on the counter. He began bringing the glasses over while the group discussed whether they would go to the Schuss Bar for a quick drink before the meeting began. Tom implored his guests to stay put for a while, whilst Dominic put a glass of wine in his hand and moved towards Zoe.
“Tommy, good to see you man!” said Dominic once he’d finished. He plonked himself next to Zoe who was now bending her lips to apply gloss. They drank through the bottles of wine as members came and went through the room, some stopping to chat whilst others were just coming off the slopes or coming from the sauna. As the conversation became lighter and both Billy and Tom told stories of their recent travels, slowly bringing the group together in old comradery, the more infectious they became to the other members who began congregating by the fire. Soon more than twenty people had gathered in the rumpus, pouring drinks and catching up, the barriers to one another falling at the wayside as the drinks flowed.
Zoe was warming her hands by the fire prattling off one anecdote and then another to an old school friend about the previous year’s race when she turned to Dominic and Billy.
“You guys really missed out” said Zoe.
“Billy and I wanted to trek to Dead Horse Gap only Billy was a nancy boy about it” said Dominic addressing both Tom and Zoe.
“Hey, go easy” said Billy, “I did okay. It started to snow and I got nervous, that’s all”.
They drank until the sun went down. At twilight the other members started descending the stairs from the mess hall, the familiar faces entering the room two by two. Some had recognised both Billy and Dominic from the season before, addressing them by their first names or, where trying to establish some formality, referred to them as Mr. Jensen or Mr. Peters in order to keep them at arm’s length. The pair had made a name for themselves when they’d hired a chalet down the road the year before, their parties becoming folklore of the rumpus room. Arriving last was the President of the club, John Sharpe Jnr. Seeing him struck a discord in both Dominic and Billy who sat stuff in their seats and noticed Tom Van Der Vorst’s lanky blonde head above the crowd looking in our direction.
Billy had noticed that Alice had entered the room and was standing on the ledge of the fire place, the back of her knees bare and exposed to the fire, her arms straightened downwards and her hands fanned towards the heat. He was further taken aback by her presence though he composed himself and directed his conversation and humour to those around him. Switching couches a few minutes later so as to watch Alice from a different vantage point, he struck conversation with Skye Maple-Brown whom he had not seen since they had both played minor roles in the Ascham production of West Side Story. Relaxed in pilling pyjama bottoms and a t-shirt, she’d changed in physical appearance since he’d last seen her though her hair was still in a deco bob. Billy sensed a level of pain in her eyes which, no sooner had she opened her mouth, had she removed all doubt. Whilst her eyes were kind and full of hope she talked of battle love wounds in a sonorous tone. Billy felt restless with sore reddened eyes; convinced he was still suffering from jet lag he did his best to stay lucid and attentive.
Alice lowered herself to the base of Billy’s couch, ensuring that she did not look directly upon him. She folded her legs beneath her torso and leaned on one arm as the voices in the room died out as the word got around that the formalities were to commence shortly. Her face was unchanged since he’d last set eyes on it, streaming down Rue St Honore before getting bogged down in traffic. Her two distinct almond shaped brown eyes with long lashes pointed up towards those that were still standing until a neighbour addressed her and she turned her head towards him. Billy continued keep his gaze steadfastly upon her though he looked in other directions so as not to be caught by anyone else. He marvelled at the wild force that brewed beneath those eyes. She was privileged, educated and travelled, but it was her passion that made these elements set her apart as a sum. Tom handed Billy a beer over the back of the couch and he turned to receive it, took one swig and continued to watch Alice.
Eventually, as the formalities were stalled due to members not being present, Billy hopped up from the couch and headed out the sliding door, the chilly air biting his chin. Dominic and Zoe were engaged in small talk next to a dissected oil drum which was burning kindling. He held his hands to the drum, the smoke irritating his eyes and glanced towards the couple, both looking dejected, though both their faces lit up when Billy tried to turn the conversation in another direction. Dominic passed Billy a cigarette and all three exhaled smoke simultaneously.
“Did you see her?” said Zoe.
“Yeah, she was sitting right underneath me” replied Billy.
“I know, I saw her do that” added Dominic.
“She’s cuckoo” said Zoe.
The door slid open again and a full-bosomed girl dressed in a khaki smock, in her late twenties, joined the group outside, her features akin to Alice’s. She borrowed a lighter from Zoe and they exchanged hellos. She turned to Billy.
“So you’re Billy Peters” she said.
“You must be the sister” replied Billy.
“Penelope” she said and shook his hand heartily, her hands similar in size to Billy’s, smiling and offering a genuine affection which disarmed him. Again the door opened and an elderly couple came out to join their daughter.
“My parents, Sally, and Hernan” she said, “this is Billy” she said addressing them.
Billy’s face was now red and he felt his nerves, looking towards his two friends for a path to take. Their faces were equally perplexed and so the three friends stood and smoked without any knowledge of what to say or do. Hernan lit his cigarette then walked out across the garden, looking up at the mountain which shimmered platinum moonlight, turning to beckon his wife who did not follow. She seemed to be contented standing with her daughter, her face fierce and witch-like, radiating a mystic warmth. Both Penelope and Zoe engaged in small talk and through chatter recognised that they had common friends which allowed them to then talk more freely and openly with one another. When they had all finished their cigarette they returned indoors.
“By George, if it isn’t Dominic Jensen! As if it wasn’t bad enough having you last year! Where’s your old man this season?” boomed John Sharpe Jnr across the room as the sliding door shut.
They returned to their former positions, Billy seating himself in the same spot, this time Alice raising her head after he’d seated himself.
“My God, what are you doing here! I didn’t even notice you! Are you down for club week?” she said to Billy.
“Yes, I thought I would get some skiing in” he said, feigning indifference to her presence and then turning to speak with Tom though he had nothing to say to him. She turned away from Billy, almost in a huff, and continued looking toward John Sharpe who now opened the proceedings.
“Quiet please, quiet! Terry, can you turn the music down. Thank you”
Alice did not turn back now; her posture slouched, supporting herself on an extended left arm; and from the angle from which Billy sat he could see the faint moustache which he’d found so endearing not three months earlier, which now he forced himself to repulse. She had gained weight since their last encounter, had fattened her thighs which were covered in black stockings beneath a frayed denim skirt. She had worn the same outfit when they’d met in the 3rd on a rainy June night.
John Sharpe Jnr introduced the beginning of the auctions of the race teams which would run the following day; outlining the rules for bidding to which a number of people laughed though the joke could only be understood by a select group of members. Eventually the bidding began; the proposed candidates standing before the members on the ledge of the fire place, the prized team fetching $1300.
Eventually, a motley group in age and physical appearance, made their way up onto the ledge for the next round of bidding. Within the group was Alice’s mother and here the showman in Billy Peter’s became excited and stepping into the spotlight he raised his arm stiffly. Across the room both Dominic and Zoe were guffawing at his action, ostensibly joining in on the joke. John Sharpe Jnr turned to Hernan, who sat quietly by the notice board and played with the lobe of his ear before raising his arm, much to the amusement of those who understood what was going on. Again Billy raised his hand and was countered by Hernan almost instantly.
“Do we hear $500” said Sharpe, looking towards Billy and he raised his hand in acquiescence.
“C’mon y’old rat, up him!” yelled one of the more boisterous blonde bob wives.
“I know what she’s worth to me” said Hernan in a thick Chilean accent, pushing his hands through his long peppered hair and causing wild hysteria in the crowd.
“Is there anyone else? Sold to the William Peters!” yelled Sharpe.
Billy knew this would dent his finances but it gave him momentary satisfaction in an obscure way he could not put his finger one. Sharpe turned to him after the team stepped down from the ledge, “I need that money no later than tomorrow morning”.
Zipping up his puffer vest, Billy excused himself and walked out through the sliding doors and into the cold night air, making his way along Diggings Terrace until he descended the steps into the Plaza. The fluorescent glow of the cake display inside the Altitude Cafe dimly lit the area surrounding the cash machine. Inside the chairs stood upside down on the tables. A number of skiers had finished their après ski drinks and were making their way home, their boots clanking as they walked in long strides, the stocks and skis cantilevered against their shoulders. All of them laughed in unison, the last one closing the door behind him, where rock n roll music roared, then muffled and died out. The cash machine was closed and so he meandered down to the Alpine Hotel where the reception told him that there was no other machine in the village. He crossed the pavers in the courtyard, pockets of steam rising off the glowing turquoise pool. Re-entering the club house he made his way up to Sharpe and explained the situation. Sharpe pushed his glasses back up his now oily nose and stared down at Billy, then sternly requested that he organise payment in the morning.
Billy continued drinking with his group of friends then made his way outside to smoke a cigarette. Alice followed him outside and approached him directly.
“You didn’t have to do that” she said.
“Oh, it was my pleasure” he said now softening against his will.
“He’s so tight. I could have told you he’d never pay for her” she added.
A third party overhearing Alice quipped “he wouldn’t be the trader he is if he overpaid. No, I say he’s clever!”
Alice and Billy smoked a cigarette together though Billy refused to speak to her. As best he could he tried to forget her presence. She in turn found others to talk to as the sliding door opened and a new group of smokers came outside.
“Please, let’s get out of here” said Billy to Dominic when he found him.
“Anywhere” said Billy.
Tom, Frosty, Dominic and Zoe left the club house and headed down to the Piano Bar. Billy was now conscience not to talk about Alice, and instead paid attention to Zoe, who’s spirits were now soaring high, her husky laugh infectious as she prattled on about the bidding in the auctions. Tom’s wide gait was flanking her on the left whilst Dominic walked ahead, not paying attention to her, and Frosty vied for her attention by walking around the group in circles as they moved along the bitumen.
“Hey Dom, do you remember when we saw the wombat running in the opposite direction down the road last year?” said Billy.
“Haha, of course, it’s fat little waddling arse. Gosh we were blind that night. It scuttled off into the bushes somewhere down there. I couldn’t get near it” he said in his deep voice.
Dominic ordered a round of drinks from the sunken bar, but having no money he turned to Billy who reached for his wallet though looking to see if Frosty or Tom would pay for the first round. Neither were near the bar and so grudgingly he paid for the round and started a tab.
The open fire was warm; Zoe shedding her overcoat, beneath which her bosom heaved and fell, her cleavage only slightly exposed beneath the cotton t-shirt. Billy and Frosty both caught each other glancing and exchanged a knowing smile, though they dismissed each other as being inappropriate. The vodka and lime crackled under the ice and they drank their drinks quickly, ordering another round, and yet another. Soon they switched to Jack Daniels though Frosty and Tom had now branched off to another group, leaving the three friends alone. A middle aged woman continued to stare at Billy, then boldly she walked up to him and touched his scarf, making comment though he could not hear what she was saying as the band had begun singing from the far corner. The timber walls, the reddened open gas fire and the alcohol causing a retarded feeling in Billy and now he asked the woman to repeat herself. He felt a sense of familiarity toward her and not long after that he recognised face.
“You have a house in Bulkara Road, don’t you?” he said.
“Yes, how did you know that?” replied the woman who straightened herself.
“I sold you your carpet four years ago” he said.
At that moment she recognised his face and exchanging pleasantries she excused herself and went back to sit with her girlfriends who by now were watching her keenly.
“Cougars. Voracious” said Dominic and all three laughed.
Across the bar Alice was wedged between Lawrence MacArthur and John Sharpe, Sharpe’s beady eyes were now consuming Alice’s chest, whilst burly MacArthur held his glass of beer loosely relaying a story with generous use of his arms. Alice enjoyed the attention, her pointy gnomish ears and rose hues around her cheeks enthralling both men whose wives remained back at the club house. Billy tried not to look in her direction though the break-away entourage from the club house was now in her surrounds; and since everybody who was seated by the fire watched the standing congregation by the bar, so too did Billy, but with a more nervous hesitation. His desire to leave began swelling inside him; an anxious energy to be gone from this scene where he felt compelled to watch Alice flirt her way through the night just to avoid watching the subtle undertow of resentment between Zoe and Dominic. Moreover, Billy’s feet were beginning to feel numb from the position he was sitting in and his calves felt as though they might cramp. Casting his eye across at Frosty and Tom, who were tucked into a booth further over; he decided to leave and say his goodbyes. Dominic and Zoe upon seeing the change in Billy; decided to finish their drinks and leave with him. As they approached the rack room and began putting on their jackets and beanies, Dominic began speaking in a rather refined, aristocratic voice which he assumed the more he drank.
“My goodness, I am three sheets to the wind” he said, “I feel very tight, I should tink it was a good time to go home. I do love you Billy, you are a good friend” he said in a condescending tone which only served to make Zoe and Billy regard each other and burst out laughing.
“Are you two mocking me?” he said.
They crossed the courtyard and a light drizzle had begun falling, Dominic raising his head skywards, a spotlight highlighting his steamy breath as he exhaled.
“I do need to make a pit stop” said Dominic and here he broke away from the group, ducking off into a narrow hedge he unzipped his jeans and began peeing into the vegetation.
“Dominic, get out of there, the entire bar can see you” said Zoe, turning back towards the bar where the copper brown lights were still visible as well as the patrons by the fire. They could hear Dominic murmuring from the bushes some obscenities; perplexing both of them and they continued to laugh.
“Get out there Dominic, the entire bar can see you” said Billy.
“Don’t mock me!” retorted Dominic, who felt himself tipping over the edge, the last drink transmuting his brain; releasing the demons he’d been trying desperately to suppress. “Don’t mock me” he murmured to himself.
Dominic walked straight out of the bushes and saw Billy’s laughing face turn as he went to continue up the path. Dominic stumbled over his first steps and as he got closer to Billy he struck him in the head with his fist reaching out as far as he could, but Billy had taken a critical step that had meant that the punch fell short, barely connecting to the left hand side of his cheek. Having turned, Billy had not seen the punch coming and what he felt he’d considered a slap across the cheek. He’d decided not to confront the slap then and there and to continue walking undeterred, until a shrill feminine scream had filled the drizzling air.
“Dominic what the fuck did you do that for! You just hit your best friend you fucking idiot! What the fuck did you do that for!”
“He was mocking me! I told you guys to stop it. I told you not to mock me!”
“You fucking idiot”
All this Billy heard behind him, deciding to walk brusquely, now alarmed. He continued up the stairs towards the plaza, now hearing footsteps behind him.
“Billy, Billy, I am sorry man. But I told you not to mock me” came the deep voice of Dominic.
“Fuck off Dom. I am serious. Fuck off” responded Billy.
“Fine. Fine. I tried to apologise” said Dominic huffing as Zoe came alongside Billy, “you won’t see me again. Fine. I’m gone” .
Both Dominic and Zoe sank back down to the courtyard whilst Billy continued to climb the stairs, continuing to argue in screams and shouts.
‘What have I done?’ thought Billy. How is it that I can love Alice and she not return my love yet I can incite this much jealousy and hatred within an old friend.
Zoe caught up to him as he reached just as he crossed the bitumen of Diggings Terrace.
“Where is he?” asked Billy.
“I dunno, he can go ta hell!” said Zoe, her lower lip trembling, then her whole face shaking as tears formed wells at the base of her eyes and began to fall down to the cold pavers. Confused as to how to respond and nervous of the whereabouts of Dominic, Billy decided not to touch Zoe though he had wished to pull her into his arms, his heart bleeding when he sensed the pain she was releasing and feeling his own pain stir deeply within.
“It’s been getting worse and worse” she said, “he wonders why I don’t sleep with him anymore. I don’t want to be touched by him he scares me so much. I don’t even want him in my bedroom. I’m afraid of him Billy. Honestly, I’m afraid about it happening, because I don’t know when it will happen next. He just loses it.”
The slope of the stairs was steep and they slowed down as their thighs built up lactose. She looked immensely beautiful to Billy with all that pain and frustration seeping out of her through tear ducts. Now, as they reached the top of the steps and he drew a long breath, did he indeed want her for himself; now that the barriers between them had dropped and he was infatuated with her vulnerability.
“In truth Zoe, I am disgusted with him. He called me in Paris and I coaxed him through all this despite what happened in front of that bar last Christmas. He swore he wouldn’t go back with you at one point. I didn’t care. I just told him to clear his head. He bit me in the arse when I spoke to you about Berlin that time. I didn’t want to get involved...”, but feeling as though he ought to balance his argument and not weigh too heavily down upon Dominic, he added “but he’s drunk. Let’s leave it to that and see what happens in the morning”.
“I am just worried he is going to do something stupid to himself. He used a closed fist on you Billy. It’s just not right”.
This new fact caused Billy to reel. Zoe had immediately thought of Dominic hanging himself and the distress showed on her face. At the same time, Billy had thought of a more romantic death, Dominic drowning himself in the Thredbo River, to be found by bushwalkers. They both entered the cabin and shut the door behind them, Billy lowering the shade on the door and locking it.
“A closed fist...” said Billy ruefully, “I don’t want you to look for him. He’s gutless and he will be back here soon enough. Mark my words, he just wants attention”.
They took off their jackets in the soft canary light, throwing them onto the tartan couch laden with ski gear; then turning toward the kitchen they both made their way toward the kettle. Zoe began reciting stories about Dominic, her back to Billy and over bending over the sink, whilst Billy watched her, marvelling at how well her long legs formed in her slim fit navy jeans. He thought of Alice’s fattened thighs once more; packed into those black stockings like a sausage skin. Zoe watched Billy through the soft reflection of the window above the splashback. In the end Billy decided against tea and poured himself a Jack Daniels, diluting it with freezing tap water. The more they talked the more they found they trusted one another and the more they seemed to find fault and deception in everything that Dominic had told them.
An hour had passed when they had heard a knock at the door. Zoe lifted the blind; before them stood Dom, blank faced and looking side to side then straight toward them both. His face was still menacing, his eyes black; she opened the door and he walked in, huffing and chorting, unwilling to sit down. There was an unfinished look about him, as though there was more to be said, and he had begun by demanding an apology from Billy.
“First, you take responsibility for causing half the problems and then I will apologise for my role” said Billy.
“You’ve gone crazy Dommy, I am not apologising for anything” responded Billy.
“You were mocking me!” said Dominic.
“You were so drunk you wouldn’t have known what was going on. Let’s put it down to the booze, but I ain’t apologising for one single iota”.
“Don’t you fucking patronise me, you cunt! How dare you!” said Dominic, punching the air, “how fucking dare you patronise me!”
“If I had known you used a closed fist on me I should have belted you then and there. Sit the fuck down and stop being such a drama queen!” said Billy, holding out a wooden country chair at the dining table for Dominic and then seating himself on the adjacent chair. Dominic acquiesced and sat down when he no longer felt threatened; surveying the room as though the coast was clear.
“Now, here’s how I see it Dommy; we will all stay and it will all get wiped under the carpet, but you are not to drink for the rest of the holiday” said Billy, knowing that this would infuriate his friend.
“How dare you! How fucking dare you patronise me in front of my girlfriend”.
No sooner had he said this than Billy rose to stand over Dominic, pointing his finger he yelled “I should have...” but he would not finish his sentence as Dominic rose to meet him, now grabbing Billy’s collar and attempting to throw overpower Billy began pushing Billy back, Billy’s feet off balance and causing him to fall back into the wall behind him, where his head hit the corner of the window pane and a great thud was heard as his weight shook the window and the wall. Billy gathered himself and now drove Dominic back, the furniture seemingly moving out of the way as he felt now his power and dominance over Dominic. Once Billy had exerted himself, and knew he was able to get the better of his adversary, he let go and saw in Dominic’s eyes that he was ready to back down.
Billy felt pain in the back of his head, reaching with his right hand to pat the crown of his hair. He brought back his hand to see if there was blood; it was fluid and smeared across his palm. Turning to Zoe he asked her to take a look; she foraged through his sculp as he bent over, Dominic standing further away.
“Not good” she said turning to Dominic with spiteful eyes “you’re going to need stitches Billy.”
“You shouldn’t have tried to put an ultimatum on me” said Dominic, “even you said in the car that they don’t work”.
“Just fuck off” said Billy as Zoe began dialling for an ambulance. Dominic grabbed his jacket and in a wide gait walked out of the room and slammed the door, shaking the window and the timber frame.
“Great, where’s he gone now” she said breaking out into a sob, then speaking with the ambulance receptionist. Once off the phone, she rinsed a chamois in the basin, firstly with hot water, then with cold, and daubed Billy’s head to mop away the blood.
“What do you want me to do now?” asked Zoe.
“Lock all the doors. I don’t want to see him tonight, he’s too volatile”.
“Okay, I am so sorry Billy, I am so embarrassed... He’s...” and here she began crying again, though unsure as to why now she was crying, the pressure of Dominic leaving releasing a flood of emotion. Billy hugged her and she cried on his shoulder, still holding the chamois with his free arm and a sincere ball of love grew within him; though evidently he was sure now that it was not a sexual but rather a more filial love.
“I didn’t love Alice, I think” he said after some time, “I don’t think I love anyone or anything like that. She was so foreign to me; I felt like I was acting even when I told her how much I liked her. I am so dishonest that I don’t even know what I do or don’t feel anymore; and I can’t separate truth from my own fiction” he said, wanting to cry but unable to draw himself out of the cold place from where he spoke this truth.
“I don’t love Dominic anymore” she said looking up at Billy, and then buried her head again into his shoulder.
In the morning Billy rose when he’d felt the tips of his toes and opening one eye he’d seen grey morning light and felt for his head unsure as to whether it mightn’t have all been a bad dream. There was a bandage around his head, a gauze placed underneath and the memory of the ambulance officers, who’d attended in navy and gold piping parkers and wrapped the bandage. They had advised him that in the morning he ought to go down to the Thredbo surgery and have the wound stitched. He looked around the room, panelled with pine, and up to the bed side stand where his blackberry flashed red with messages. After gathering himself, he’d searched for Zoe but was unsure as to where she had slept. Finding one door ajar, he’d looked in to see one of her grey fleshed legs drooping over the bed, a thick white sock hanging daggily off her foot. Her crying had been an intermittent whimper, then all out sobs; when finally she had fallen asleep then so too did Billy.
Going into the kitchen Billy had filled the kettle and bringing it to boil looked out over the mountain which was still devoid of any activity. He recollected the last of the evening before having fallen asleep; the phone calls from Dominic’s sister, later his brother, still later his father. It turned out that he hadn’t drowned himself in the Thredbo River but rather sneakily had kept on his person a set of keys to his Uncle Frank’s chalet. There, familiar with its layout, he’d managed to settle in quite nicely, drinking tea, eating biscuits and watching television with his feet up. He’d managed to call his father in tears, call his sister on the other side of the world and wake his brother up who had already drunk himself into a stupor and had fallen asleep in a grumpy haze. In turn, Dominic had been advised to apologise to Billy and ordered to return to Sydney where his father had already made plans to get Dominic a full time job and a small salary to tide him over until that time came on the proviso that he part ways with Zoe.
“She’s not much chop, son!” he told his son in a booming voice he’d used since childhood to instil fear into him, “Her and her nuclear family. Only one with any decent blood in them is the cousin Harry” said Paul Jensen.
Billy pulled the accident report off the fridge wall and looked for the time when the ambulance officers had arrived. Now he went to scratch his head but felt the bandage first. Dialling the number for his Uncle Frank’s he waited some time before the phone was picked up.
“Hello” said a gravelled voice.
“Dommy, what are the chances we can sweep this whole charade under the carpet?”
“Good morning. Mate, I am sorry for what happened. I have to go home though”
“Why, you can do what you want to do? Why not stay and we will ski it out” retorted Billy.
“Old man wants me home” said Dominic.
“I’m coming over, by the way, you left a heap of shit here” said Billy and put down the phone.
Billy drove his wagon over to Uncle Frank’s before he kettle had finished boiling. He knocked on the door for some time until Dominic opened the door with beady eyes. Billy thrust his personal belongings down onto the dining table and turned to face Dominic.
“You have to stay” said Billy, “absolutely no way you are going home” he said in as chipper a voice as possible, “you are a key man in all this and I want you to grow some balls and let’s put it all behind us and carve up the mountain”.
“No, I have to go home” replied Dominic resolutely, “and Billy, I am truly sorry about all this”.
“”C’mon, make the call to your old man and tell him you are going to stay”
“I can’t, he’s already booked the ticket” he said, snuffing and twitching his nose.
“It’s one phone call”
“I can’t. It’s done, that’s it”
Hearing the resolution in his voice, Billy decided to change tact.
“So this is what it comes down to? You fuck it for everyone and as soon as it gets slightly difficult you run back home and ruin it for everyone else. Think about Zoe? What’s she going to have to say to everyone? Think about how weird it is for me. For once in your life, think about somebody fuckin’ else than yourself you self-serving shit”.
“Go fuck yourself Billy, and you know what, I’d like you to apologise to me. You caused half of this. You knew I was getting pissed off, you heard me say it...”
Disgusted at one another, they both stared at each other blankly as though they were bewildered by the other’s thoughts. Dominic was ready to hit Billy again, mustering all the corrupt and debased thoughts he’d felt all through the night from dried cigarette to cigarette. He was especially at the expression of innocence that he saw in Billy’s face, whilst in turn, Billy now saw an aggressive blind arrogance in Dominic’s face. If there was any fight in Billy Peters he was ready to take it on and defend not only his eroded dignity but his shameless belief that Billy was going to fuck his girlfriend the moment he’d left. The very word ‘fuck’ as it entered Dominic’s head sent him into a dizzying swirl of emotions which gathered impetus. Billy sensed how far Dominic was prepared to go and used this last point to walk out of the house as fast as he could, muttering the words ‘insane’ and ‘crazy’ as he did.
When he re-entered the cabin Zoe was by the phone pleading with Dominic, further disgusting Billy who felt as though he might explode with un-vented anger. Zoe handed Billy the phone and she burst out into tears.
“I’m sorry” said Dominic in a smooth conciliatory voice.
“Not good enough. You should have told you dad to stick it and do the right thing” said Billy angered.
“You owe me an apology. You did cause half of this” said Dominic.
“Oh, this is ridiculous” said Billy shouting to the Gods and he slammed down the phone.
Zoe cried some more which made Billy rather apathetic gave him a sincere desire to stay, regardless of either of them, and ski the week out. He thought of Alice and the monstrous shame he would feel if she were to hear that he’d left under a pretext, the club member’s tongues wagging by the fire.
“Why does he do it?” said Zoe huskily, “he drags me through the mud, my friends... my friends all think I’m mad”.
“Don’t cry! I am from this moment on taking things into my own hands. If needs be I will get a hotel.... But I am staying!” said Billy and he looked out to the mountain.
Finding all of these fits rather melodramatic, most of all her own tears which she was tired of shedding for a man she no longer loved. Zoe’s eyes began to glisten when she saw Billy’s rise of spirit and; momentarily, she saw a new love kindling, a love which was founded with respect. She didn’t dare tell him what she was feeling but a sincere infectious ‘goodness of spirit’ gathered within her and she looked up at him as though he were a chevalier, and she in need of rescuing.
“I am staying with you” was all she said.
Dutifully they stood next to Dominic whilst he waited for his bus, lighting cigarettes and making foolish jokes to one another as though the entire incident had indeed been dealt with and was somewhere in recesses of foggy memory. When the bus came, Dominic stood still and hugged Zoe strongly, then, turning to Billy, he hugged him but as though he’d for the first time laid eyes on the bandage that covered his head, he recoiled with shame.
Zoe and Billy crossed the timber bridge and for a moment stopped to watch the rapid waters flow through the pebbled base of the river bed. On either side blades of alpine grass glistened in the morning light as beads of water refracted light that now directly shone through a clearing sky. A light breeze was running through their hair and both felt emotionally drained and yet a sense of pining for what was to come remained in both of them.
“All I can say is, I am definitely staying” said Billy and he put his arm through hers. They both picked up their skis and stocks and headed for the quad chair.
Alice was extremely jealous of only one girl in the club house. It wasn’t because she was more beautiful than Alice; that had been decided when Adam Hills told her that a group of boys had voted her ‘most sexy’ the season before over a card game; nor was it because she was more talented, that had been decided when Alice won the slalom ten years earlier on the last gate. It was simply that Margaret Davies was a nicer, more generous spirit that angered Alice. Everyone naturally gravitated to Margaret as though she was divinely ordained to be popular, whereas Alice had to pout, purr and speak over people to get what she wanted.
Her loudness was made her so irresistible to so many men – it was a confidence in herself that pushed the air out of her large chest and thrust every word into room. Alice had seen the awe in Billy’s eyes the moment she’d walked into his apartment in Montmartre. She walked straight across the living room, surveying his couches, windows, lamps, kitchen entrance and brown-stained herringbone floor and she’d made assumptions which were right.
“So there’s money in the family” she’d said, smiled, showing him her brilliant white teeth, then walked to the balcony and opened her purse to retrieve Marlboro Lights. Then she’d glanced to the side table and said “who’s reading Fitzgerald?” Once Billy had answered she knew she would not sleep with him; she could sense his eagerness to be accepted and loved and it repelled her at once.
All through dinner she’d said what she needed and for a while she’d flirted with the idea that she might have made a mistake about not wanting him. He was intelligent and witty, full of compliments and anecdotes. But if she wasn’t sure, she had been once he’d taken her his friend’s apartment in St Germain, where, through flimsy walls whilst she peed, she’d heard Billy discuss his plan to seduce her with his English friend Nigel. It was all over after that and she decided to tell him too.
“I can hear everything you are saying Billy Peters” she said in her cutest yet loudest horsey voice.
It seemed strange to her that Margaret Davies should be paying so much attention to Billy Peters and talking in such familiar terms and mannerisms as teams formed at the top of the Race Course. She wasn’t sure why he’d sported a bandage around his head; whether it had been for the fancy dress or whether or not Billy Peter’s had been outrageous enough to have gotten into a fight. Standing next to Billy was Zoe Rothman but she seemed to be without her boyfriend. It seemed rather an odd combination, to both have Zoe Rothman arrive without her boyfriend, now joining Margaret, and to find Billy Peters’ head wrapped in what seemed to be, upon a second glance, a real bandage.
Alice broke away from her mother, feeling ridiculous in her electric blue tutu, her curiosity piqued by her observations, she pushed her generous thighs outwards to build up some momentum and dug her stocks into the compacted snow. Finally, as she approached the others who were hanging back and on the high side of the mountain, she was forced to step up by a few metres which were necessarily awkward and uncomfortable.
“What’s Rothman doing sans boyfriend with knuckle head over there?” she asked Tom Van Der Vorst.
“I am not doing your detective work Mademoiselle” said Tom in response.
Alice floated amongst the group, careful not to enter close proximity to Billy, for she feared Billy; not just because Billy was clever and witty, but because she sensed he understood her and didn’t like her accordingly. Further, she didn’t find Billy attractive; he was swarthy and dark – far too Southern Continental European – especially for a girl with such mixed blood as her own. She was sure that; though he might be wealthy, though he’d probably become successful one day; that he’d almost certainly live in some white-washed ‘wog’ mansion with his parents; similar to that which she’d slept in one night after being seduced by her first and only Lebanese boy. Sensing that she might be spotted snooping around without purpose she started calling out around the group, requesting gum and lip gloss and chapping her lips like a duck.
Knowing that his wound was the talk of the pack, Billy had decided that this would make him rather exotic and somewhat of a renegade. Margaret Davies had been fed a completely fabricated story which Zoe and Billy had colluded on whilst taking the Quad Chair up to Eagles Nest. As the lift came around, their bums falling back into the seat, Billy pulling down the handle bar and calling “Lowering” to his fellow skiers; Zoe turned to him and offered a cigarette. Wrenching off his gloves with his teeth he snatched it from her hands.
“He went back for a job interview” began Billy and Zoe nodded in response, and when he finished he said “and then we go for a long lunch at Kareela Hutte and forget about it all.”
“He went back for a job interview” said Billy to Margaret who nodded but winked at the same time.
“I’ve known you too long Billy Peters” said Margaret whose looks were fading, yet she retained a firm stately manner about her.
And so the ‘interview’ rumour circulated from group to group; which only fuelled and stoked the glowing fire of intrigue surrounding Dominic’s absence. A young American, soaking up the atmosphere, his first season in the Snowy Mountains, was now eyeing Zoe keenly through eyelined-eyes and a glam rock wig. Across the valley the mountains stood still, a blue eucalypt haze masking the trees in an opacity; the sunlight now radiating from behind the mountain. Along came the first skiers; the first who’d tied a not around her rotund waist, the second patiently waited for the rope.
Sharpe was standing further past the gates, yelling to the crowd the names of the following skiers. A whole list of names was read until they arrived the name of Jensen.
“Where is he? He said he’d be here. Where’s Peters?” said Sharpe.
“He had to go back to Sydney” yelled Billy.
“What the hell for?” returned Sharpe from his
“A job interview” said Billy and now he looked down at Zoe who in turn looked blankly at the snow in front of her boots.
“On a Saturday?” asked Sharpe with razor sharpness and causing the entire fraternity to look towards Zoe, Billy, Margaret and Tom. Billy felt like a fish being observed in a tank, isolated and frozen still until he took hold of himself and said quietly to Zoe in a low voice “Oh the shame!” to which she laughed despite herself. It was a small but critical moment when both decided that they had overcome the great obstacle and decided now to enjoy themselves.
Alice was appalled that they’d been let off the hook; she now turned and skied down to her family where she felt she was better equipped to sneer at these two ‘delinquents’ from a distance, saying as much to her sister and father. She waited patiently for her turn to mount the gates and when it came she skied like thunder down the mountain, careful to emphasise her style and ensuring her skies stayed together. Everyone’s spirits seem lifted as the more teams streamed down the mountain and Billy watched Zoe ski with great enthusiasm; her style more masculine that her peers but nevertheless technically marvellous and attracting the attention of many of the boys. When Billy’s name was called he have to wait several minutes for his partner, dressed as a tree, to tier the not around her trunk, then together they skied.
Coming down the mountain he’d taken a hard turn and almost lost his balance, but having corrected himself he’d managed to ski the next three turns almost perfectly though his style was lacking and his speed slow. At the last corner, in hardened, packed ice with powder snow flanking the turn, he’d stumbled once again and finally, as he pushed towards the finish line, he tried to cut into the snow to stop but something was amiss and he fell in a long sequence of minor falls, skidding into the snow; much to the amusement of all those around him. Tom Van Der Vorst picked Billy up, patting the snow off his jacket; Billy leaning over to pick up his bloodied bandage from the snow, which now was on display for the rest of the club members. Alice had laughed heartily with the others and when Billy stood up she turned her back to him and continued speaking with Lawrence MacArthur.
‘Can there be anyone more evil than her in the entire world?’ thought Billy to himself.
‘Is there anything more vulgar than this upstart blowing in on our club’ thought Alice.
Strangely, Alice was impressed with the dignity and poise with which Billy had simply dusted himself off and remained quietly talking to Zoe. She incited Sharpe with a kiss on his ruddy cheek to move the group onto the picnic at the base of the next run. Now that she knew there was blood on the bandage she was doubly as curious to find out what had really happened and wished to pursue the matter over a glass of white wine.
The champagne began flowing first; Tom Van Der Vorst had been charitable by retrieving some plastic glasses and bringing over a bottle to serve his guests. He was surprised that Billy and Zoe had made it thus far and toasted him.
“So what is the real story?” asked Tom, “are either of you going to tell?” he said turning to Zoe.
Zoe now cast a glance to Billy who nodded; then she turned to Tom.
“He hit Billy in the head outside Piano then he shoved him against the wall of the cabin” she said as a matter of fact.
“It needed stitches but I didn’t get them” said a proud Billy and then began speaking quickly and without pause as he recited the story.
Zoe was sent into the depths of despair the moment Billy began talking freely about the fight to Tom. Suddenly all she could think about was Dominic, turning her stomach into knots and producing an overwhelming feeling of shame and loss. The snow was slushy and brown, melting away between the trees and exposing thick grasses, soggy twigs and large granite rocks. Water seemed to drip from everything and though there was beauty in all that she saw she could not help but feel that spring could not come soon enough. Though the more she heard the mirth of the group, the chatter of the members laughing at those that fell and the variety of costumes that filled her eyes with colour and shapes; the more she slowly withdrew from this melancholy and re-engaged the conversation.
“I am in a much better mood now” she said to Billy after a while.
They drank more champagne, then schnapps, some beer, then more schnapps, then someone grabbed a bottle of white wine and found some more plastic cups. The more they drank, the more they bonded. Alice strolled up to Billy and asked for a lighter, Billy producing one and for a moment they almost wanted to talk to one another. The groups mingled in harmony and one by one people broke away from their familiar smaller groups and talked to those they knew less.
“Like clock work” said Zoe holding up her glass, “I am telling you, if you don’t know how to bring a group together, just add vino” she said.
“You wino!” said Tom and then as a collective they all called each other ‘wino’s’.
A Fez appeared in front of them, underneath it was the smiling face of one of the older members, a moustache pasted to his face and wearing graduated lenses in a vintage pair of sunglasses. He wished to engage the group and began talking about green house gas emissions and carbon credit schemes, and asked each individually what they thought about the future of skiing. None but Tom had formed an opinion and he relayed his thoughts succinctly; that he was fearful of the science of climate change but angry that governments should use it to instil fear within the people. They then digressed to the dam levels of Sydney’s water catchment before eventually the elder member excused himself and walked away.
“I am busting for the loo” said Zoe.
Billy escorted Zoe across the snow run to the far side, where the vegetation was thick and on not within eye sight of the others. She peed, supporting herself against the trunk of a tree.
“Careful, there’s someone coming” said Billy.
“What!” responded Zoe.
“Kidding, I just wanted to see if you could stop mid-stream” said Billy.
“Haha, you shit Billy” she returned.
The BBQ that followed was rather an annex to the drinking; the food that was served was slightly bland and nobody was too concerned about what they ate. The alcohol; which had been stored in a mound of snow that had been cored, was now mostly drunk and the group began talking of moving onto Eagle’s Nest. Both Zoe and Billy took their lead from Tom Van Der Vost, not being privy to this dialogue. Slowly they headed down the mountain, woozy and tired, some falling over in fits of hysterics. Zoe and Billy both felt, perhaps not without cause, that they were still being watched, especially by Alice and her family.
On arriving at Eagles Nest, Alice had watched the ‘newlyweds’ as she had quipped, being surrounded by Margaret Davies and Tom Van Der Vorst as though they were protecting them. Cornering Lawrence MacArthur she seduced him for two shots by giving him her best, most dazzling smile and drank down a number of shots in this manner before settling into more drinking games, coupled with a rowdy sing-a-long, with some old school friends. She prided herself on her booming voice which was heard above all others that she sang with, her voice dry and raspy from cigarettes. The throng waved their arms and trod their way through old beer songs; the noise stifling Billy who had now lost Zoe to another group. Billy had found Frosty in a skeleton suit; his arms folded neatly, his head dozing against the corner of a booth table, oblivious to the ruckus. Tom sat quietly next to him and smiled at Billy who was ready to call it a day. He nudged Frosty once.
“A likki boom boom what?” said Frosty raising his head and then settling it down again.
“What the hell is this all about?” asked Billy to Tom.
“It happens every year, it’s the final run, we toast Sharpe and head down the mountain” he replied.
Billy and Tom took six shots of vodka and when Frosty wouldn’t wake up they sunk them between themselves.
The procession made its way down the mountain. The violet haze of a sun that retreated behind the mountain face cooled the air and sharpened every breath they took and tinted the surrounding groomed snow country. Passing the banner which advertised the Alpine Code of Conduct, Tom laughed and pointed to Billy who was having a difficult time finding his legs. The turns became wider, the skis running off in a direction the skiers no longer controlled; and slowly many of the group gave way to a snow plow and fits of hysterics as they fell one by one. The base of the mountain was now a beige slush full of moguls from the days skiing; grasses and rocks exposed where the snow was light in cover and causing an alarm in all but the seasoned skiers who skied through it with vigour and technique.
At the base of the mountain they broke off into smaller groups, some being shepherded by group leaders who had reservations at restaurants or wished to take a sauna at the club house. Tom wanted to continue drinking and demanded Zoe’s attention who by now was being followed by the American who saw her easy nature as an offering. Insisting that they continue to the Schuss Bar, Tom lead the way carrying not only his skis but Zoe’s too. Frosty had begun to come alive again; battering Billy with a barrage of questions about Alice, his nose protruding and his face marked from where his goggles had sat. Billy remained silent, smoking a cigarette and doing his best to dismiss Frosty with low, non-descriptive utterances. He was feeling a pain from his lower back which he believed was attributed to both fatigue and alcohol consumption. By the time they reached the Schuss bar his mind had stewed over what to do with Alice, he was by now still strangely still attracted to her despite his better judgement.
Mark Travis was screeching Cold Chisel when they entered the bar; instantly they saw their group congregated in the far corner, ignoring the rest of the bar occupants as mere fodder. It was their day: their costumes, their customs that everybody else was intrigued and amused by, and there certainly was no room for extras. Sharpe had tilted his head back as one of the younger girls in a bright set of technicolour stockings poured an entire schooner down his throat. Sharpe swallowed it all and then tried to grab the girl’s head and shoved his face in it. She staved off the kiss and continued on back to the bar to get another tray of beer. The American was now closely aligned to Zoe who made her way to the dance floor, shedding her jacket next to the stage, the yellow lights shone down on her and she clicked her fingers to the beat. Billy, seeing Alice alone took towards her with haste, pushing, ducking and weaving through the crowd until he stood next to her. She noticed him siding up and turned to move but she saw the look in his eyes so she remained still with a dismissive look upon her face.
“You know Alice, if there was one thing I didn’t understand it was why you told Daisy that I was repulsed by her. The rest I got, but I have never met someone so malicious in my life!” he said. Billy felt a shiver down his spine and for a moment he almost seem to tremor, then he turned and walked away.
Alice blushed scarlet and cowered away into a tighter recess between two of her companions. She could not believe the audacity of Billy Peters nor his patience; and once again she felt a profound sense of respect yet loathing for him. She knew she’d blushed, she knew he’d seen this and it caused her tremendous angst that he might have got the better of her. Recalling her conversation with Daisy she realised, inherently, that what she’d said was wrong and now felt ashamed. She whispered something insignificant to her friends and then looked at Billy as though to suggest that she might be discussing him. Billy walked off to the dance floor where she could see him amongst the crowd, feigning enjoyment.
After spending some time sweating, dancing and genuinely shaking loose of his frustrations, Billy decided that he ought to smoke a cigarette to think about what he’d said and done. Outside the weather was turning foul; a wind had picked up and the moist air prophesised a storm though the heavier clouds had no yet rolled in over the mountains. Zoe trembled and sobbed next to a timber awning post a little further down.
“He called me a slut and told me I should have gone home with him” she said shaking uncontrollably.
“I wish we could all start again. I would never have let you go with him” said Billy who felt an urge to kiss her.
Looking up at the stars between the lighter silver-lined clouds that blew quickly along the foreboding black canopy, Billy could not help but feel like a caged animal that was being toyed with. ‘What a random set of events that lead to this moment’ he thought, ‘No, there must be some pattern to it, as though my ancestors might be up there playing boules with my emotions’. And he laughed so loudly that for a moment she thought he’d gone quite mad and she broke from his grip. They smoked a cigarette together.
“Well, we’re both in it together” he said, she smiled and they went back inside.
That night, they drunk their way through the village, eventually winding their way back from bar to bar, revisiting some twice, they found themselves back in the Plaza where the rains had begun to fall. Tom had been accosted by a stoutish girl on crutches who had lost a leg. In her drunken rage she cussed Tom before trying to strike Billy with her left crutch, scampering away when she was taunted by some youths from a distance.
“My girlfriend just up and left me after six months. I don’t think you met her. She said she was going home to see her parents in Rome, then she called and said she couldn’t leave her family” said Tom.
“It happens. Holiday romances should just be that... Holiday romances” said Billy attempting to console him.
The rain began to fall heavily, tapping loudly against the corrugated roof, flooding the down pipes and causing the water gush down over the awning. They continued to talk freely about their failures and successes but each had reason to be guarded. Alice walked out with a wild expression on her face, she turned to them both.
“What are you talking about?” she asked.
“It’s a private conversation” said Tom.
Huffing, she looked out at the rain lit by floodlights and then made a dash for the stairs and was gone. A few minutes later the boys; who now felt that they’d become men through suffering and disillusionment, parted ways and agreed to see each other the following day.
“Hernan doesn’t like you” said Tom as they entered Kareela Hutte for lunch.
“I don’t blame him” said Billy, “I don’t like myself much either” and they both laughed.
“No, it’s more than that. Apparently you told Alice to ‘fuck off’” he returned.
Billy’s cheeks flared and he glared blankly at the wall whilst he rummaged through his memories looking for when and where and how many times he might have said this. He found four or five instances and ashamedly felt insecure once again.
“Look, I don’t care. Just back off from her” said Tom.
“But what have I done? I haven’t talked to her all day” said Billy.
“It doesn’t matter, this is her turf. Hernan practically runs the club” said Tom, “they love him and he’s the resident comedian. So, just pipe down a bit”.
Zoe had spent the day with the American and he joined them for lunch; her spirits completely altered, she did not cry all day and she held Billy’s as they had walked to the ski lifts. They ordered lunch and drank white wine until they were ready for spirits, eating their way through calamari, sausages, salads and pastas until they were completely indolent and sunken in their chairs. When finally they were able to move again they set off across the mountain, skiing until they were completely exhausted. The day was fine and the snow, whilst being hard and icy, was enjoyable; cruising the bowl and Karels until they’d descended the mountain close for their final run, nostalgic that it would be their last for the season.
That same night they went to the annual dinner for the members, there was a feeling of happiness throughout the club house, with all the members having rekindled their old comradery and restored their bonds with one another. As guests of Tom’s, both Zoe and Billy were on their best behaviour, waiting for the others to drink before they themselves joined in with the festivities. After dinner both young and old descended into the rumpus room, Frosty had set himself up in the corner with his laptop and run a thick cord to the sound system.
Zoe kissed the American all night whilst Billy played games on the dance floor with Tom, gathering the young ones into the fray for the limbo. As Alice went through she even smiled at Billy who by now was only concerned with having fun.
Zoe and Billy met for a cigarette by the drum; sliding the door closed they looked at one another and burst out laughing.
“We made it!” said Zoe who searched for where she’d left her wine.
“We came, we saw.... we got hammered” said Billy for he did not know what else to say.
Zoe returned inside and Alice took the door from Zoe.
“You shouldn’t have said those things if you weren’t prepared for them to be aired” she said subtle indignation.
“Don’t start me. But anyway Alice, we’ll always have Paris”.
It had been a few months since Billy had spoken to Dominic. He was seen floating around town; bumming drinks off friends and promising to return borrowed money. He had called Billy and they’d had an argument and agreed not to agree with one another and decided it was best not to speak. Tom had bumped into Billy one night and he’d told Billy that Dominic was bad mouthing him. Dominic had thus bumped into Tom and heard the exact same thing; though Tom swore he didn’t want to get involved. Billy had made an effort to keep in touch with Zoe; even putting on a drinks party whilst she entertained the American and his friends. But after he felt that she was becoming extraordinarily selfish; not returning his calls on two occasions and so he no longer bothered to call her, partly in spite and partly in a dogged attempt to remain reserved and distance.
It was one Friday evening when Billy’s most cherished friend, Douglas Morton, had called Billy from the Royal Sydney Golf Club; to hear Billy was on toilet, much to the dismay of Douglas, that he got wind that Dominic had surfaced once again. He was promising rounds to Douglas and his entourage but hadn’t bought a single one. Depressed with his own lot, Billy had been spending days on end sleeping and taking meandering strolls wandering through Paddington, unsure as to where his life was going now that he wished to start a new page. He’d heard from Zoe that Alice had returned to Europe where she was beginning a fresh term studying French and travelling; using Paris as her base. Billy yearned for something better for himself having failed at all sorts of different jobs and spending hours trawling through employment websites and using google to find ideas and inspiration.
“We’re going up to the Bellevue, come join us, get out of the house” said Douglas.
“I really don’t feel like it” said Billy.
“Come one, don’t mince at home” said Douglas.
Billy got on his bicycle and cycled along the spring streets, the leaves had now returned to the deciduous trees on Oxford Street; the city was alive with the noises of motors and lit with yellow incandescence. When he’d arrived at the bar he’d attached his bicycle a little further down and walking inside; though he knew there was a chance Dominic might still be there, he was surprised to see him dressed so smartly. Dominic was cleanly shaven, sporting a tan velvet jacket and vertical striped blue and white shirt. It appeared to Billy as if he’d completely reinvented himself and caught Billy off guard.
“Peters!” rang out the crowd that were seated around the bar stand.
Dominic grimaced with blackened eyes but Billy did his best to pay no attention to him. Dominic was angered that he’d had the courage to face up at the bar and now he wanted to cause a stoush; especially as Peter’s feigned ignorance to his presence.
“And of course you know Dominic” said Douglas, “C’mon princesses, make up!” he said and both Billy and Dominic shook hands, careful not to look too intently at one another.
“Of course I know Dominic” said Billy addressing the group; and now turning to Billy, whom he felt he owed nothing to, he added “For my part Dommy, I have no hard feelings”.
The first rounds came and they drunk them in good humour; though Lachlan Barry had turned to Billy and eyed him out to warn him of Dominic’s temperament. Knowing that there was tension Billy decided to walk to the other side of the bar where he caught up with Douglas.
“Mate, just make up with him, it’s not worth it” said Douglas, his pallor was cherry from his game of golf.
“I have nothing to mend. I didn’t do a god damn thing” said Billy.
“It’s not right, you two are mates” said Douglas.
“Doug, let it rest” returned Billy.
Over at the table, with a faint sound of a poker machine jackpotting, the barmaids were putting jugs on the counter whilst Dominic was preparing to make his move, jutting his chin out and cracking his neck. He was incensed at Billy who used his ‘old school ties’ as stand-over tactics and he felt he was among an alien crowd, amongst Billy’s fans, and this only served to further his rage. Douglas returned to the table with Billy and now stood between the both of them.
“Okay, hug it out and be done with it” said Douglas.
Disarmed, Dominic now stood up and immediately hugged Billy and patted him twice, rather firmly, on his back. This caused Billy to recoil, caught by surprise, wishing that Douglas would mind his own affairs.
“Outside, let’s have a cigarette” said Dominic from glazed shark eyes.
“I just had one” said Billy, “but thank you for the offer and I will join you later”.
He now pulled Douglas off and took him across the bar.
“What the fuck are you doing? I had a wound that needed stitches and he tried to flatten me without so much as a reason” said Billy.
“It takes two to tango” said Douglas.
Without noticing Dominic’s presence they continued to talk until, from the peripheral of both their vision they saw Dominic, enraged, purple faced and explosive take a wide swipe to knock Billy’s glass of beer clear out of his hand, sending the glass smashing against the wall; its frothy contents splattering across the neighbouring table.
“You been seeing my girlfriend! Huh, you fuckin’ piece of shit” said Dominic who lunged for Billy, grabbing his colour and winding back for a punch before being pulled off Billy as Douglas stepped between them. Douglas’ eyes widened, he was in the throes of ecstasy as he yelled at the top of his lungs.
“Back it off, cool ya jets boys!” he said, pushing both of them around with alternate arms.
The bar stopped for the great Australian quiet before a fight; all eyes now centred on the three boys who were equally ready for a fight; though Billy had no desire to throw a punch whilst Douglas was upset that he could only fight Dominic. They parted ways and went to separate areas of the bar whilst Douglas tried to broker a peace. Billy was now angered at Douglas for not having chosen a side. Douglas finally came over to Billy and asked him to join him for a beer on the far side.
“Mate, I would always back you up, you know that. How long have I known you?” said Douglas.
“Since were five” replied Billy.
“Exactly. I just didn’t want to be seen choosing a side otherwise he’ll think I’ve got it in for him. He’s a twisted son of a bitch. He tried to tell me his side of the story but I didn’t buy in. Honest. He didn’t pay for one round of drinks either” said Douglas, shining, smiling his dimples at Billy with brilliance.
“I’m going” said Dominic.
“Don’t go. Stay, have a few beers and watch the game” said Douglas.
Billy ducked out whilst no one was watching. He was unlocking his bicycle when; turning, he noticed from the junction that Alice and Penelope were walking towards the bar. His heart palpitated and he looked up at the sky in wonderment. ‘Here comes trouble’ he mumbled to himself and began turning his bicycle. He halted, seeing Dominic emerging from the laneway; Dominic sighting the girls and walking towards them. Firm, robust Alice, with her fiery presence was confronted by the drunken Dominic.
“Alice, alice, we have to talk” said Dominic, “Billy’s been screwing my girlfriend. Billy’s been seeing my girlfriend” he repeated. Alice scorned him and told him to go away but he followed both sisters down the footpath.
“Alice, can you tell him the truth, you were there” said Billy. Alice smiled down at Dominic; then raised her head to Billy again.
“It’s not my problem”.
They entered the bar as three, Billy about-turned and began locking the bicycle against the pole.
Entering the bar he made for Dominic, walking straight in front him.
“I didn’t nor would I sleep with your girlfriend. You can’t go round spreading rumours like that” said Billy.
“Fine, well you fuckin’ been seeing her then” said Dominic.
“Grow up” said Billy who now grabbed Lachlan Barry and headed for the door to take a breath of air and tell someone what had just happened.
“Let me smash him” said Lachlan with a silly nonsensical smile.
“He’s not worth it, the gutless cunt” replied Billy who felt more alive than he’d felt in years, the adrenaline peaking the hairs on his neck and sending a searing rush through his face. Alice, Penelope and Dominic all gathered outside to smoke cigarettes. Both Billy and Nick listened intently to the conversation, Dominic reiterating his accusations, casting glances and huffing whilst his feet moved on the spot. He just wanted one more chance at Billy Peters. Billy had finished with Dominic, his hatred for this mule was gathering deep within his passive blood.
“Alright! I have had it up to here” roared Billy, racing toward Dominic; who now gathered himself, flicking his cigarette butt into the gutter; and marched toward Billy with equal vigour. When the two met; as though it was always meant to be, with all eyes both on the pavement and from within glass tinted window frame of the bar, searing with excitement for the spectacle, giving acceptance that ‘yes, indeed, these two men must come to blows’. Dominic grabbed Billy by the scruff off the neck, driving him back again, Billy looked in Dominic’s eyes seeing nothing but black – knowing that this would be death if either of them had a knife; he allowed himself to be thrown into the wall whilst Dominic; fist closed, drew his arm up at his shoulder and pushed his tongue in front on his front teeth. Before Dominic could take his first punch he was ham-fisted by the bouncer and sent tumbling to the ground. Billy’s eyes, now bulging with excitement felt as though they would pop out as the bouncer rested his forearm under his chin and pushed him hard up against the wall.
“Youse fuckin’ dickheads don’t fight here” he said, staring down Billy. Billy couldn’t talk nor move, locked tight against the wall his only view was of the bald shaven head and the spittle that doused his face. It seemed to Billy as though the world had stopped, and that more than ten seconds had passed until he heard a voice of reason from the crowd.
“I saw it, I saw it all, he’s a good guy, the other guy started it all. It’s the other one you want” said someone from the crowd.
“Right, you stand there” said the bouncer who crossed the street to where Dominic was cooling down.
For some minutes Lachlan stood next to Billy; pleading with him to bash Dominic, if not one then both of them should do it. Lachlan was more enthralled with the atmosphere and looked up the lamp lit street before reciting a story about a brawl he’d been in not six weeks earlier. Billy looked blankly across the street then back to where the crowd had gathered nearby. A few boys came to back Billy up but he sent them back inside. Finally the bouncer crossed the street.
“I’m sorry ‘bout that, but I dunno who started it, I just see it’s on. I just have wun question” said the bouncer.
“Yes?” asked Billy.
“Did you fuck his girlfriend?”
“No” replied Billy.
“You shoulda, he was a reeel fuckwit” he said and guffawed with laughter, “go on, get inside, but no more trouble ‘right?”
“Sure” said Billy and the door was held open for him.
Inside Alice was crouched over the bar; her denim skirt raised and exposing her familiar black stockings, ready to order her drinks.
“Say, you can’t possibly still hate me, I thought we might be friends” said Billy.
Alice smiled voluminously, exposing all her teeth in white radiance.
“I just can’t hate you Billy Peters” she replied.
Douglas joined them at the bar, his dimply smile finding so much humour in the night’s events. He joined Billy at the bar and looked toward Alice.
“Alice, this is my best friend, Douglas Morton.”
Both Alice and Douglas looked at each other keenly, surveying each other as though they ought to have known one another. Douglas smiled and her intently; turned toward the bar and ordered a round of drinks for the sisters, Billy and himself. The four talked together as a group and laughed at the preceding events.
“I thought you were in Paris” said Billy.
“I am taking some time off” replied Alice.
Billy now did his best to talk to Penelope and Douglas whispered in his ear that she was far more his type. The match came on the television set, the patrons turned to watch; the noise levels increased as the excitement filtered through the bar as the barmaid played with the remote. Needless to say, that whilst Billy spoke at length to Penelope he watched Douglas channel all his efforts into Alice and by now he was too worn out to say anything. Tired, he stated until the end of the game. They staggered out of the pub and Alice snuck into a taxi with Douglas whilst Billy watched as he unlocked his bike. Needless to say; Billy looked at the stars as he rode home, his first tear was for the sadness, his second for humour, but his last tears were for life itself.