Jim Mannell : I Write

Read the Two Extracts

The First Extract is from the Chatswood Strand of the Story

 

As he lumbered over to the door, he pulled the front of his shirt out of his tracksuit pants and desperately wiped his streaming face. Then he took a deep breath and let Karla in, just as she was about to use the key he’d given her.

            She stared into his face.

            “God, Mike, are you alright?” 

            He nodded, but then shrugged his shoulders.

            “Are you going like that?” she asked. 

            “Pardon?”

            He gave her a blank look. The young woman looking back at him was dressed in a stunning black and mauve silk dress that clung to her hips but was loose-fitting above the waist and held up only by flimsy shoulder straps.  She was holding a faux fur jacket and a black leather purse.  She waited, giving him the opportunity to say something. Still reeling from the bourbon and pain-killers all that registered with him was the blurred awareness that she looked very attractive, her long silky brown hair falling softly over her bare shoulders, her large eyes more beautiful than ever.  She must have been on her way out somewhere.  Finally Karla reached out and took his hand.  Her soft brown eyes looked sadly into his.  He opened his mouth to say something.  Anything.

            “Mike, you’ve forgotten,” she chided him gently, hiding her disappointment.

            It came back to him.  Although he hadn’t actually seen her since Monday, they’d spoken to each other on the phone just last night.  Or was it the night before?  After two months spent hiding in the Chatswood unit, he’d given in to Karla’s entreaty to go to dinner at Cyrano’s with a group from her office.

             He hung his head, now unable to look her in the eye.

            “Oh, Karla....I’m sorry.  I.....it just went out of my head. And I don’t think I can.... I'm.... ”

             His voice trailed off.  Then he looked back at her.

            “You look lovely,” he said, but without enthusiasm. “Why don’t you go without me?  I couldn’t cope anyway.... I’ll stay at home.”

            Swallowing her dejection, Karla wouldn’t hear of it.

            “You look like I’d better stay,” she replied with a little smile. “You won't drink as much with me around.  I’ll just go down to the phone at the service station and leave a massage for Glyn at Cyrano’s.   It’ll be OK.”

            She could see that his face was now ravaged with guilt, to add to the pure misery etched in it.  She squeezed his hand.

            “Look...forget it, will you, Mike? We’ll eat right here.”

            She led him into the kitchen.

            “But not right here,” she gasped when she saw the mess.

            While she looked around for something she could turn into dinner, Mike fixed himself another drink with clumsy mechanical movements.  Karla frowned her disapproval, but didn’t stop him.

            “Well, there’s nothing here,” she finally announced.  “I’ll go out and get something.”

            “Later,” she added after taking another look at Mike.

            She put her arm around his waist and smiled.

            “How have your last couple of days been?” she asked cheerfully.

            “I....didn’t have a bad day today,” he lied, preferring her to think he was making some progress.

            “Come and sit in the lounge-room,” she urged, “while I go to the loo.”    

Mike sank into the two-seater again and with bleary red eyes watched her go out into the hallway. When she’d gone, he sobbed into his hand for a few moments, and then swore at himself for it.  Took a couple of swigs from his glass. Then, hauling himself to his feet, he walked unsteadily out onto his second floor balcony for only the second time since he’d moved in, hoping that the cold night air would clear his head and  relax the distortions of his face.  He forced himself to stand there despite the cold wind.

            This place was everything that Collaroy Plateau wasn’t:  it was cold, stark, spartan, sterile.  Karla had helped him find it.  She knew it was what he wanted.  It was nothing like the warm, comforting house on the Plateau.  It couldn’t remind him. It was nondescript.

            On the way back from the bathroom, Karla looked into the bedroom and winced at the disorder.  She picked up some of the rubbish and made a mental note to make the bed before she went home again.  Then she headed back to the kitchen and saw that the lounge room was empty and the balcony door was open.

            “Mike!” she yelped, dropping her armful of rubbish at her feet. 

            The tinge of hysteria in her own voice surprised her and she reprimanded herself for jumping to an absurd conclusion.  But she still rushed out onto the balcony.  Mike was standing there, staring down into the darkness of the surrounding gardens. 

            “It’s OK.  I’m still around,” he said quietly as he turned to her. She felt stupid for over-reacting.

            “I wouldn’t jump from here,” he said flatly. “It wouldn't kill me.”

            “How do you know?”

            Karla couldn’t believe she’d asked such an inane question.

            “Because I tried it last night.”

            She laughed.  It must have been the first time he’d joked in two months.  But his face was the same wretched mask.

            “It’s freezing out here,” she gently protested. “Let’s go back inside.”

            He let her lead him back inside by the hand and prise the glass from his fingers.  For a moment she clung to him for warmth, but also to make him feel he wasn’t alone.  But he was wooden and unyielding.

            “What have you been doing today?” she asked.

            Mike seemed to struggle for an answer.

            “Obviously not unpacking or cleaning up,” she quipped as she bent down to pick up the rubbish from the bedroom.

            As she did, the top of her dress ballooned open, but although Mike was looking vaguely in her direction, he didn’t seem to register how exposed her breasts were.

            “I....was in the study...for a while....I think.   Or.... ah…. I’m not sure.”

            “Study?” she puzzled.

            “What time is it?” he asked, trying to extricate himself from his own bemusement and not caring what the answer was.

            “Five to eight,” she called from the kitchen and then passed through the lounge room on the way to the bathroom. “I’m running a bath for you. I’ll go down to the phone and then I’ll get us a pizza.”

            When she came back in, she anticipated some resistance to the idea of a bath, and so began to push him into the hallway.

            “I want to see you in it before I leave...”

                       

The Second Extract is from The Munich Strand of the Story

 

             Hans watched him stumble back in and flop onto the bed.

             “Mensch[1], you’re a wreck!” he exclaimed. “Too much brandy at the Sterneckerbräu last night! You should have stuck to beer like me. I kept telling you to take it easy......You mustn’t have got to bed much before five!”

             “What about you?” Rattinger asked.

             Even his own question confused him.

             “Well, I drank even more than you did. But then, I haven’t got something wrong with my head ......Oh, sorry, Dieter, old man…., I mean....”

             Rattinger shrugged away his friend’s apology.

             “Anyway,” Kneissl went on, “I stayed over at Gudrun’s. Her mother was visiting relatives.”

             He rolled his eyes and grinned knowingly at Rattinger.

             “I got to sleep in a real bed, for a change. And with very pleasant company, 

 too! How’d you do with your little friend?”

             Kneissl apparently failed to notice Rattinger’s poor attempt to conceal his total  surprise.

             “She left about ten this morning,” Hans told him, “just after I got in. You were still dead to the world.  She said you talk a lot in your sleep. Sometimes not even in German, she claimed. She said you said something about Dietrich Eckart. Herr Hitler got a mention too. And what’s this S.A.you were raving about?

             “Keine Ahnung......,” [2]  Rattinger stammered, eyes wide with alarm.            

             “You must have some idea. It was your dream. You know, you’ve been doing a lot of dreaming lately, Dieter.”

             “Even when I’m awake,” Rattinger muttered, without trying to be funny, but his friend laughed uproariously.

             “You know, you’ve got to do something about those blackouts, too,” Hans added.

             “Blackouts?”

             Rattinger had no recollection of ever blacking out. But then, he had no recollection of very much at all.

             Kneissl grinned at him again.

             “So, how was she?”

             Rattinger’s brow was furrowed with lines as he struggled to draw on a memory that refused to come back.

             “OK.......,” he finally offered. “Same as always.”

             “What?!”

             Kneissl was staring at him.

             “Well,” Rattinger said uncertainly, “You know Leni...”

             “Leni?! What are you on about, Dieter?  It was Kirsten! You haven’t seen Leni for months!”

             Rattinger was out of his depth. He closed his eyes as if he were in pain.  

             That’s right, it wasn’t Leni......  Kirsten........

             His brain at last came up with a few sketchy details. Kirsten. Thinner than Leni.  He and Hans had arranged to meet two girls somewhere last night.  He recalled some reluctance on his part. Hans, as always, had been very persuasive. Now Rattinger remembered being singularly unimpressed with either of the girls. One giggled a lot.  The other, Gudrun perhaps, was morose, touchy and sarcastic.... He remembered, imperfectly, lying on the bed with this skinny, giggling Kirsten, both of them very much the worse for wear after all the drinking.  Whatever sex they’d shared had been uninspiring.  Probably unsuccessful.  The flighty, unappetising girl was no Leni...

             Fragile recollections. But they were recollections. He felt relieved that he’d remembered something. He rolled off the bed and lurched over to the sideboard, to splash water from the dish into his face.  He dried his face and hands on a tattered, grubby towel.

             Hans Kneissl smiled that mischievous, boyish smile of his.

             “Now, tell me, Dieter Rattinger, what is it you’ve got,” he asked in a tone of mock lament, “that I haven’t got? Besides good looks and a brain, that is ........?”

             Dieter didn’t return the smile.

             “A brain?! You can have my brain, for a start, Hans…  After all, I’m not using it,” he replied glumly and Hans laughed again.

             He glanced at his own reflection in the cracked sideboard mirror. As for good looks, he thought, the face looking back at him was pallid, tired, sickly, unshaven. The eyes were no longer bright blue, but greenish-grey and the lower eye-lids were puffy. His hair was flat, oily, dishevelled. He shrugged. How long had he looked like this? He just couldn’t remember....

             Hans was saying something, but Rattinger was lost in thought.  Leni....  What would she say when she found out about Kirsten?  He wanted to ask Hans how Leni was, but was loath to invite another incredulous response.

             He decided to have a shave and wash his hair before he and Hans went wherever it was they were going that he’d also forgotten about.  But the voice inside his head became more and more insistent, until finally, after shaving in silence for a minute or so, he gave in to its demands.

             “When’s Leni coming over?”

             The second the question was out he was regretting it.

             At first Kneissl thought he was joking and merely gave Rattinger a look that said: OK, pal, pull the other one. But when he saw that Dieter’s question was genuine, his eyes widened and for a while he was speechless. That was it: the very incredulity Rattinger feared. And then Hans told him.

             “Leni again?!  Dieter, you’re kidding!  Now come on!  Dieter, you’re having me on, right. She’s .... she’s gone back home!”

             Rattinger took the razor away from his chin and stared blankly at Hans.

             “Dieter… She went home. Four months ago. When her mother died............... Remember?”

             Again that word.

             “She’s taking care of her father.......she’s living at home again.”

             Rattinger wanted to ask where home was.

             Kneissl seemed to anticipate him.

             “You know ...., Eberbach....,near Heidelberg. You haven’t seen her for maybe four months. Don’t you remember writing to her?”

             The question was superfluous.

             “Her letters are in your drawer there,” Hans told him.

             Rattinger decided it was easier to pretend to remember.

             “Oh, that’s right,” he quietly replied, but leaned dejectedly against the old sideboard to support his sagging frame.

             Then for the first time he noticed the small calendar that was hanging on the wall above the sideboard.           

                  1920        TUESDAY   24  FEBRUARY

             He stood in stunned disbelief. What happened to January?

 

 


 


[1]  Man

[2]  No idea…