Here was this stain on the carpet, a wet patch big as a coffee table. He had no idea what it was or how it got there. But the sight of it put the wind right up him.
Until now Thursday hadn’t seemed quite so threatening.
It was a simple enough thing, waking late and at liberty to the peals of the town hall clock below. Eight, nine, maybe ten in the a.m. – Keely lacked the will to count. All that stern, Calvinist tolling gave him the yips. Even closed, his eyes felt wine-sapped. He hung on a while delaying the inevitable, wondering just how much grief lay in wait. The tiny flat was hot already. Thick and heady with the fags and showers and fry-ups and dish-suds of others. The smells of his good neighbours. Which is to say the stench of strangers, for his fellow tower-dwellers were alien to him in the most satisfying way imaginable, anonymous and reassuringly disconnected, mere thuds and throat-clearings behind bare brick walls, laugh tracks and pongs he needn’t put a face to. Least of all – and strangest of any – the madwoman next door. In all these months he’d never seen her. All he knew was that she invested a good portion of each day fending off the wiles of Satan. Which was honest work, granted, but hard on the nerves. Especially his. For the moment she was mercifully silent, asleep or maybe holding Beelzebub to a nil-all draw between breakfast and lunch, and God bless her for that. Also for keeping it down while the poisonous afterglow of all that Barossa shiraz had its wicked way with him.
The building twitched in the wind, gave off its perpetual clank and moan of pipes, letting out the odd muffled scream. Ah, Mirador, what a homely pile she was.
He peeled back the lids with a gospel gasp and levered himself upright and bipedal if not immediately ambulatory. Teetered a moment in the bad weather and shapeless mortification of something like waking consciousness. Which was heinous. Though in the scheme of things today’s discomfort was the least of his troubles. He should be glad of the distraction. This little malaise was only fleeting. Well, temporary. Just a bloody hangover. But for all that a pearler anyway, a real swine-choker. Even his feet hurt. And one leg was still intoxicated.
The real pain was yet to stir. A pillar of dust in the distance.
In the bathroom, before a scalding block of sunlight, he tilted at the mirror to see how far the eyes had retreated from the battlefield of his face. Above the wildman beard he was all gullies and flaky shale. Badlands. His wine-blackened teeth the ruins of a scorched-earth retreat.
He took himself hand over hand to the mouldy shower recess, stood under a cold and profligate cataract until all prospects of revival were exhausted.
The towel not remotely fresh. Pressed to his face, it brought to mind the honest, plain, mildewy scent of hippies. Not to be judgemental, comrades. But while definitely on the nose, it hadn’t quite graduated to the full gorgonzola. Life in it yet. If you were a man unmolested by romance. Having let yourself go to this extent.
He tied the rag about his softening waist, sloped into the living room with its floor-to-ceiling window, and beheld the unstinting clarity of the western frontier: the shining sea, iron rooftops, flagpoles, Norfolk Island pines. All gathering up their cruel, wince-making sheen in the dregs of morning.
Port of Fremantle, gateway to the booming state of Western Australia. Which was, you could say, like Texas. Only it was big. Not to mention thin-skinned. And rich beyond dreaming. The greatest ore deposit in the world. The nation’s quarry, China’s swaggering enabler. A philistine giant eager to pass off its good fortune as virtue, quick to explain its shortcomings as east-coast conspiracies, always at the point of seceding from the Federation. Leviathan with an irritable bowel.
Excerpted from Eyrie by Tim Winton. Copyright © 2014 by Tim Winton. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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