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MOVING OVER THE FACE OF WATER

Set in the Melbourne CBD, Moving Over the Face of Water is a harrowing journey into the psychotic mind of a homeless young alcoholic seeking sobriety and redemption in an apocalyptic world of delusions and yearning.  

Shaping the narrative as a modern day version of Dante’s The Divine Comedy, the narrator is driven to the extremities of despair and isolation in his fevered attempt to find his individual idea of God. Along the way, Daniel confronts a riotous band of vagabonds and desperadoes in his quest for self-realisation. The neon-lit world of constant night is their playground, the bottle and the syringe their only solace­  

As Daniel struggles to survive the dark 24-hour odyssey, fate teases him with slivers of hope before luring him into an underworld where the lines between fantasy and reality, past and present become increasingly blurred.  

Written with unrelenting vigour and scabrous humour, Moving Over the Face of Water is a powerhouse allegory that introduces a daring, innovative new voice to world literature.

In Store Price: $AU22.95 
Online Price:   $AU21.95

ISBN:   978-1-921240-61-4
Format: Paperback
Number of pages: 130
Genre: Fiction
 

 


Author: Hayden James Douglas 
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2007
Language: English

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Author Biography    

Hayden James Douglas currently resides in Melbourne . He has held a variety of occupations including bar work, truck driver, porter, gardener, travel consultant, car salesman, store man, kitchen hand, death notice scribe, and lead singer of a funk band.  

His short film, Song of the Feeding Carnivore, was screened at the Victorian State Film Theatre. He is currently working on a collection of short stories.  

Moving Over the Face of Water is his first novel.

Prologue: Games of Solitaire  

 

My day had been long and my feet were blistered from all the miles I had walked, but the passage wasn’t drawing me closer to wisdom or even illumined silence. I could hear the sounds of a city in festive mode and the occasional outburst of drunken rage, yet I couldn’t see anybody; I was locked in a maze of infernal debate whilst straying through town like an escapee from an asylum, a cloud of fear trailing me as I progressed.

Stretching out my hands, I probed the air, tentatively feeling each step as if under water, every breath a random shifting of particles, every movement an ordeal. The streets were greasy with mist, reflecting garish neon. Cars and taxis slithered on towards oblivion like endless chrome ribbons.

“Where the bloody hell are you off to at this hour, buddy?” a perplexed taxi driver had asked as he cruised by. “You okay? You look like you’ve just seen the grim reaper.”

In panic I didn’t reply. I put every ounce of energy into killing off my words before they could spread and infect anything or anyone. To be lost and itinerant was to lay oneself open to a whole network of risks. And, like a hermit in the wilds, I was always alert, listening for any hint of danger. In fact I was operating almost subconsciously, keeping to the maternal shadows without soliciting attention. If the Inquisitors were still looking for me they could easily find me, they only had to listen to any random snatch of conversation and they’d know my intentions. So I kept plans to a minimum and drifted like a foraging beetle, letting the debris spread like crumbs act as my guide.

‘Does this privation signify anything?’ I asked myself as I rounded yet another foreign corner. ‘Is there some sort of cosmic riddle you’re unconsciously challenging?’

Last night the Inquisitors began investigating my whereabouts when I questioned their right to harass peaceful citizens. In my intoxicated dream-slur I decided to seek a refuge so Daniel McDougal wouldn’t standout as a rebellious prophet, merely a vagabond who had lost his way.

 

*

 

As I recall, the street party I stumbled upon was like entering the catacombs of my worst nightmare. On the cobblestones, among beer bottles, used condoms, hypodermic needles and other such foul debris, I noticed the statue of a black Christ fallen from the cross, as well as a number of other religious icons.

“We cannae let the boy go unaided,” rasped a ragged Scotswoman cradling a cask of cheap wine. “If someone has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray, will the someone nae go intae the mountains tae look for the lost one? If they bring back such a sheep, can they nae rejoice more than over the ninety and nine?”

“Another of the world’s nascent tragedies,” her drunken sidekick grumbled as he shifted uncomfortably on his makeshift bed of flattened cardboard. “Besides, he’s a big boy now, one more faceless refugee. We can’t live in the womb forever. We may pretend but at some point we’re expelled from Eden and forced to make our own way in a hostile world.”

At that point it occurred to me that I must have been marked with some kind of black halo. Where I’d managed to remain largely anonymous in this world of sordid activity created for the amusement of others, I was now a curious exhibit. I became suspicious of everyone I brushed past and they, too, were suspicious of me, so I kept shambling into the nether world of exhaustion, a pitiful character tramping silently through a dank and menacing underworld, searching for a retreat, a lair … And as I groped about in the rustling darkness with my eyes raised in search of a certain star to lead the way, I saw an ethereal glow hovering only a few hundred yards beyond the Chinatown arches. Instinct told me to pursue that glow until I discovered my safe harbour.

“How strange?” was my first reaction. Who would ever find a humble charity bin tucked away in this nondescript back alley in Chinatown ? Even so, with an opening just big enough to angle my alcohol-ravaged body through, I’d at least have some sort of refuge till daybreak. The cold metal shell would snub out the world and any links I had to it.

 

*

 

As dawn approached the wailing siren of a police car sounded like the last battle of the Gods. Confrontations slowly encircled one another, creating a curious montage, and I had an impression I was spinning through an infinite black hole.

In such primordial hours, a contemplative soul can become agonisingly aware of time as it glimpses as many images as there are grains of sand. I battled with metaphysics and philosophy and tried to feel safe, but I was terrified the moment these battles ended, the Inquisitors would return; then there would be the four of us—the itinerant forced to negotiate the riddles of a desperate life, and the unholy trinity who would assail me from every direction with their accusations of heresy.

With my eyes clamped shut I reached down and pulled a stale blanket up to my chin. Then I tried not to move, for even the darkness seemed to be watching my every gesture and listening to my paranoia.

Hunched in there barely breathing, I thought about my situation and what I was going to do. What of the mysterious incident that occurred in the midst of my blackout, triggering the relapse into psychosis? Was it merely a drunken rush of blood, a whim? And why had I ventured east instead of west? Was it east to some mythical landscape where a benevolent race of poetic souls can revel in agrarian silence, or the Garden of Eden, fount of creation?

I remembered a crowd of jeering thrill seekers, and it was turning into an awkward spectacle. But whatever transpired seemed pervaded with illusion, a pause as before a cosmic interrogation mark. Perhaps I’d even convinced myself that I was involved in some heinous crime, whereas ‘others’ may have planted the false memory to derive sadistic pleasure from my inevitable distress …  

Tossing and turning in a fearful sweat, I tried to retrace and restructure events only to run headlong into the ragged Scotswoman’s final, sage-like warning:

“Dinnae return, laddie, and I’ll think of ye in reverie. Seek oot the few dwindling traces of Arcadia that still exist or face the illusory pleasures that characterize the Dark Age!”

One

Early Openers

 

‘I can resist everything except temptation.’

Oscar Wilde  

 

The dim clatter of trams slowly emerge with the knowledge dawn has arrived. Alert to any foreign sounds, he listens to echoes that resonate from the depths of the earth, and tries to understand what they represent and how they can imperil him.

The pounding bass of trance music vibrates across the alley, jumbled by periodic shrieks, bottles smashing on cobblestones and church bells that penetrate like an elastic roar.

He fights the panic, the external stimuli—the lust to simply live again, to venture out into the world to prowl and explore. Is he not safe inside this providential enclosure? Is there not enough poetry in the homely old smells?

With the sound of chaos clawing at his self-discipline, with both need and its denial wrangling for supremacy, our bedraggled city man arrives at a decision and sets off into the perilous morning like an animal that is bred among the wilds and relies on instinct. Onward he goes, beaten with the elements; his bleary eyes navigating fog-choked streets, his aching loneliness daring him to make trial of reason, even by entering the house of the enemy. 

1  

 

I reached my Queen Street local feeling as forlorn as any hobo who sleeps in the gutter, jaded beneath the firmament’s icy contempt, yet determined to change my abhorrent lifestyle and swear off the grog. After such an eventful night the rituals of a barfly rooted me to the past, which confirmed I was alive, and that was not a bad thing.

The usual suspects were propped on the footpath waiting for the doors to open—the likes of Jenko already swigging wine from a flagon; his bucked teeth stained the colour of a neglected urinal.

“Look what the friggin’ cat dragged back!” the old rascal grunted. “A dial on him like a strangled fart. No doubt you have many tales to tell since we were last acquainted?”

His cheery disposition cut through my defences, putting me at ease. “Speaking of prodigals,” I mumbled, “I thought you would’ve found a new watering hole, considering your dive in the local opinion polls?”

Jenko’s broad green eyes narrowed into angry slits.

“I’ll be buggered if some Darwin blow-in’s gunna cruel it for me. The Glasgow Arms is a ‘dinki-di’ corner haven for all—a beer garden shaded by a hundred-foot elm, a ladies lounge with hearty pub tucker, and a grubby front bar full of diamonds. I’m not gunna let pokie operators push me out. Make no bones about it, son—these cowboys don’t understand where our kind are comin’ from. Reg Jenkins is part of the Old School who don’t take kindly to smarmy interlopers!”

Jenko’s falling out with the new publican and his entourage of politically correct workers had many regulars concerned about their own standing. On Thursday night his girlfriend Val was so pig-drunk she fell backwards off her stool and split her head open.

Caar’mon woman!” he’d crowed. “Yer drinkin’ like a black fella!”

Such a racist faux pas hadn’t exactly endeared his knockabout character to the new crop of university educated bar staff. But what really set the cat amongst the pigeons was his decision to order another pot in the time it took the ambulance to arrive.

“He’s a revolting little biped, that one!” I overheard the vegan barmaid tell Merrick, the publican, the following day. “Do you know how Val broke her collarbone two weeks ago? The grub locked them out of their flat and made her climb in through the bathroom window! If that sexist dinosaur stumbled out the door and was hit by a bus I’d laugh my fucking head off! Val may well be a hopeless drunk, but she deserves a hell of a lot more than that trumped up little nobody.”

All this conspiracy talk of poker machines and renewal had the regulars reminiscing about ‘the good old days’ when George the Greek was publican. But those days of winos, workers and barking dogs were fast becoming a distant memory, like so many other things.

Our newly crowned public enemy moved forward a pace and forced a jocular smile as an overweight yuppie leading a silky terrier rounded the corner. Jenko gave his pause all the naïve charm of youth before whining pitifully:

“S’cuse us digger, some of us are terribly frail. Only the sensitive listen when approached by someone who’s truly needy … Will ya show mercy on my plight? Could ya spare a few bob for a kindred soul down on his luck?”

The yuppie wobbled past without making eye contact. What right did this public eyesore have to spoil his morning stroll through leafy downtown Melbourne ?

Jenko hawked a gob of phlegm in the man’s direction. “Medical oddity!” he snarled. “Many sons and daughters of Abraham are livin’ in squalor. How much goes to us, eh? How is it yer dish licker can dine on better grub than we? Just as some trees flourish by deprivin’ others of nutrients or light, so some pricks flourish by deprivin’ others of their due. Keep walkin’ fat-boy! We all know charity rides on the flattered ego.”

The horrified yuppie snapped the leash and crossed Queen Street in haste. A gurgle erupted on the ledge above the grand old city pub and in a flurry a white dove disappeared into the soupy autumn fog.

Meanwhile, I continued to sweat and tremble, feeling pathetic and paranoid. Every day was like this; always waiting for something to step in and deliver me from naked time, from another solemn day with scant means, a day of walking in circles, tired and weary, relieved only when night descends and I could creep back into the maternal darkness like a sick cat.

I blinked and wiped the sweat beads from my clammy forehead and felt my legs turn to jelly. Christ, it was returning to me, the cold abrasive facts of an alcoholic blackout …

My old man once told me that a bloke who taps money is the lowest form of life, but when the body and mind crave equilibrium, what is a lush to do?

Sometime last night I could recall sitting in the pub with no money to buy my next drink. After scanning the smattering of regulars I decided to prop alongside Kenny, recently flush after receiving a golden handshake from the brewery, just in case Merrick refused the slate.

“So how’s the good life treating you now that you’re a man of leisure?” I remembered asking. “How’s the missus keeping?”

 The old rogue gazed deep into his sherry glass. “The stretch is finally over, but the ball n’ chain will always be the whining heifer I was mug enough to whack up the spout,” he sniffed, deadpan.

 I laughed and slapped him on the back—comrade style—then raised my hand for Merrick ’s attention.

 With no hello or whaddayou after respected patron, Merrick was straight on the phone, formulating tactics to make the lives of his regulars harder. I became so annoyed I began tapping the bar top with my cigarette lighter, prompting a few raised eyebrows.

 “Listen James—” said Merrick , flashing an irritated glare my way, “—gunna have to leave you there—a rude and impatient head. Schmooze, cajole; just keep pressuring the bastards for coin-operated machines. I’ll speak with you later. Ciao.” Snatching a wine glass from the rack he turned to me and barked: “Same again, son?”

Leaning into the bar, I composed myself, and whispered, completely submissive:

“Could I possibly have a quiet word with you in the ladies lounge?”

“THERE ARE NO SECRETS ROUND HERE,” he boomed. “IF YOU’VE GOT SOMETHING TO SAY, LOOK ME SQUARE IN THE EYE AND ACCOUNT FOR YOURSELF!”

“Today’s Easter Monday,” I added, softly, so the other chaps wouldn’t hear, thereby lessoning my embarrassment. “And I forgot that the banks were closed. Sorry to spring it on you like this, but I’m not in possession of an ATM card.”   

“And you assumed you could hit me till the banks re-open tomorrow?”

“I’m always good for it, you can ask anyone …”

“P-A-Y-E employment, son; when was the last time you were acquainted with it? I have three daughters in an exclusive Ladies College . I want to know if you have the capacity to pay me back, ASAP. Not running a benevolent society here.”

I scoured the bar for a suitable character reference, bypassing Kenny, ignoring the gloomy figure that was poor Sid the Soak, and onto Ulster Bill who emptied ashtrays for whatever complimentary drinks flowed his way.

“William!” I said. “Kindly tell the gent about my industrious Protestant work ethic.”

“Aye,” the old boy grumbled without taking his gaze from his chores. “Honour where honour is due. The lad’s as straight as a gun barrel, a man of the highest calibre. He’d never slight me. Why, he’s almost like a son to me, that I’ll say for him.”

Merrick replaced the wine glass and draped a bar-cloth over the Carlton tap. “Perhaps I should state a few facts,” he said, raising his voice to a deadpan growl. “George the Greek is lying on a beach in Mykonos and Simon says there’ll be no more freebies, gimmies or ‘lend me just a fiver mate ’cos I’m down on me luck stories’—this policy also applies to the self-appointed untouchables who’ve had their own stools since the Boer War. I’ve been in the pub caper a long time; bad debts only lead to ugly confrontations.”

“Now hold yer flamin’ horses!” bleated Sid, freezing like a thief caught in police searchlights. “Yer not dealin’ with the trash from the top end here. We’d never shit in our own nest. And besides, regulars are yer bread ‘n’ butter and runnin’ a tab’s a law of the profession!”

“Have you no soul or moral calculus?” Jenko interjected boldly. “D’you not have any Dickensian show of sympathy for the underdog?”

Jenko’s elaborate vocabulary often had us in stitches, but there was no trace of irony in his voice.

Merrick glared at him with disdain. “The old corner local is dead. In fact this time next month I’ll have tasty little skirts emptying machines choked with gold. Society moves on and habits change. Might I suggest another pub; a mass exodus to a subterranean bloodhouse where you lot will feel more comfortable in your surrounds.”

Sadly, the copious amount of Moselle I’d already consumed was rushing straight to my head and the threat of its sudden withdrawal triggered a surge of panic.

“The Glasgow Arms,” I spat, “is a workin’ man’s pub, not a casino. Some of the old timers have been drinkin’ here since you were in nappies!”

“The Old Dame,” he fired back, “is about to receive a fresh lick of paint and change in attitude!

I was helpless and stricken with primordial rage. The monster in me was craving instant justice while the pacifist wanted to curl into a ball and sleep like an innocent.

Yes/No, retreat or attack?

Before I knew it I’d turfed my smoke into the foot tray and offered the Neanderthal outside. How could I let this Johnny-come-lately abolish the slate and derail the lives of the men and women I’d grown to know and love? The man’s primate puss was a patchwork of scar tissue but youth and insanity would surely prevail. After a few jabs and weaves the bullyboy would be looking for petrol tickets.

“Use yer noggin’, Sponge!” Mopsy intervened, blocking my path to the door. “Never fight a war ya can’t win. He’s too bloody big—he’ll do ya like a dinner.”

The mature voice of reason … 

For a moment I contemplated hurling an ashtray through the window but desisted, reserving plans for far greater retribution.

Outside, I flew up to the telephone booth on the corner and vented my frustrations by putting a foot through one of the glass panels.

“Someone ought to call the cops!” someone shouted. “The guy’s a fruit loop! He’s obviously high on that rotten drug ice!”

I turned to the bloke and made a swinish face, then snarled, in a strangled baritone: “You wouldn’t know the meaning of the word sick, pal! I’ll show you sick—” But before I could lash out, a shrill authoritarian voice from the dangling receiver interjected, so I ripped out the cord but the voice didn’t go away—the voice only said:

STOP-THIS-LUNACY-AT-ONCE!”

 

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