Monday, May 23, 2005

along for the ride

Ray said the couple was breaking up, he said the girl was leaving the guy and that the guy was crying.
I looked out the window. They had leathers on and stood beside motorbikes. But when I looked at them, they seemed to be laughing.
No, Ray said, they’re breaking up. See? She just told him it’s over, and he’s shaking his head and pleading with her.
Nuh-uh, I said, after a while. They’ve been having an affair and he’s explaining how he just can’t wait til next time. The bikers put on their helmets and the girl burned off and the guy was still standing there, staring at the empty highway.
She’s gone, I teased Ray. And she ain’t coming back. He’s pining for her already, look at him, Ray, I said.
I wondered what the people looking in the window were thinking of us.
There was hardly anyone in the restaurant, but there were a few old folks sitting in cars in the lot facing us. They probably thought we were a family, I thought.
A waitress came. Ray got chicken and chips and I ordered a BLT for me and the baby. Ray handed the baby a paper tube of sugar to amuse him and I showed him how to make them go shake-shake-shake. I said hey look Harley, that guy’s motorbike is the same colour as Ray’s car.
We’d been at Ray’s farm. There, the baby had posed for photos on top of a miniature horse and a regular-size tractor. He'd fallen face-first into a bull-ant nest but somehow avoided being bitten; he'd been eyeballed by doleful steer through the electric fence.
The baby gave me a sickly, crushed-sugar-rimmed grin and I confiscated the sugar tubes. He’d pretty much had enough of the day, but there was still a bit further to go.
Our meals arrived at the table. Outside our window, a boy wearing a safety-orange jacket was emptying the restaurant’s rubbish bin. He came and did it several times, without enthusiasm. The baby watched him and ate chips and pieces of chicken, tomato, bacon and beetroot. Ray offered the child a chicken bone and the child took it eagerly. I fretted over whether it was safe. Ray pooh-poohed it.
He’s going to have a good chew on the marrow and it gives him something to hold, he said.
You don’t give chicken bones to cats and they’re about the same size, is all I’m saying, I said.
I impounded the bone.
We drank flat white coffees, and Ray noticed me looking at the blurry blue tattoo on his forearm.
Love to live,
live to love,

it said.
I wrote that when I was fifteen, Ray said.
I looked out the window at the guy still standing beside his bike, fidgeting with the chin-strap on his helmet.
We had to go meet a mate of Ray’s about some business or other. The mate pulled up in a yellow van and I fed the baby grapes and crisps as the two men got out and talked by the side of the road. Ray’s mate came over and leaned into our window and ignored me completely and smiled at the baby and asked the little fella how he was doing. I liked that.
The van’s sliding door scraped open and three kids got out; a boy and a girl in their early teens, and another boy a few years younger. The two older kids lit up cigarettes and after a while when his dad wasn’t looking I saw the younger boy taking a puff too. The kids scavenged in the tall grass beside the van and the truck and one of them ran up to show their dad something.
Look, we found a mull tin, Dad, the kid said.
Behind him, his sister grinned in a fake-logo teeshirt that said HORNY GIRL where it should say TOMMY GIRL. The dad proceeded to tell me about his kids, how they were clever, and found stuff all the time. How they’d found a safe with fifteen thousand dollars in it a while back and do you know what they did? They called the bloody cops! The cops had been dark with them, apparently, told ‘em off for being somewhere they shouldn’t.
I wouldnt’ve bloody said anything, the man laughed.
Later, in the car driving home, Ray said you should see his wife, that his wife was incredibly beautiful, and that they were a strange match for that.
I dunno, I said. I said, he was attractive, in his own way.
It had been his smile. And that probably had something to do with his unseen, beautiful wife.
I looked at Ray and wished that I wanted to kiss him, because he has such a sweet nature and a good heart. I already told him weeks ago I wasn’t looking for anything except friendship. We're just along with him today for company, and so the kid can meet Foxy, the little horse.
A song started playing on the radio in the car and I said this song used to be everywhere. I was about to add it was Sheryl Bird when the announcer said it was Sheryl Crow.
All I wanna do, is have some fun
until the sun comes up over
Santa Monica Boulevarde

Just as we were singing it we were nearly home, driving off the bridge between the twin towns, and the sunset was behind us so everything had a gaudy pink-orange glow and for a second it felt like it could’ve just passed for a Santa Monica Boulevarde. One with chicken take-aways and licensed real estates and icecream parlours and cheap shoe shops and the Salvos, and us driving through it in a big old American pick-up truck with my baby asleep between us.