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Beloved and Spearman never skirt around the deep and dark subjects.


part 18 of Common People

As a mutually acceptable condition, only those events that fail to affect them can become their common ground.

Spearman thinks they communicate better when they don't have to look at each other. Side by side in the car, if Beloved drives, Spearman talks to her vaguely foreign profile, where she cannot read the expression in his eyes. If Spearman drives, Beloved narrates their goings to the horizon, as though she knows his face too well to need to look at him again. At good times, they jog together, never meeting each other's eyes for the need to navigate unfamiliar territory.

On the single sofa their house contains, their commentary faces forwards, as though the television is their audience, and their life is a kind of inverted pantomime.

The newsreader dominates the screen. Scrolling text to the bottom, in repetitive cycle, is skimmed rapidly by Beloved in the newsreader's brief pauses for breath, and read slower by Spearman, who appreciates the repeats. In the upper right hand corner, the image of a tiny whale rises, blasts, falls.

Whale Tangled in Fishing Line Spotted, scrolls the teletext.

"Poor mite," Beloved says. Her sympathy for the individual never quite becomes that sense of necessary change for the whole.

"Yeah. What kind of bastard goes around painting dots on a whale after he's already tangled in fishing line?"

"...poor little mite," Beloved says, this time with an emphasis that indicates she appreciates the humour while simultaneously refusing to engage. Should Spearman ever gain the slightest indication that he might be amusing, her world would not be worth living.

Spearman thinks it would have been less provocative had she laughed.

"Reckon they use waterproof paint?"

"I think," Beloved said carefully, "those are barnacles, you know."

"Lies. I never met them before in my life."

The least conversation between them happens over a dining room table, typically in a restaurant. There's candlelight at the worst, or dimmed lighting at the best. Beloved's eyes become depthless bedroom black, and Spearman could drown in them. He can't look at her, not for long. At times like those, he expects her to vanish. It makes him remember how many times she's been on her knees, eyes full of angry tears, raging at him, trying to get him to talk. Sad eyes, raging lips, begging, pleading on her knees: only she could put three contrary emotions together and break his heart.

I could, he tells her eyes. I could talk about it. Politics, life, my past, anything. I could be serious. I could say everything you want me to say. But I don't want to talk about it.

Side by side, not facing each other, the miracle is when he realizes she's accepted his silence.

The heater's broken. Beneath a doona, Beloved's frozen feet worm their way beneath Spearman's thigh. On top of the doona, they suck butter from saturated crumpets and balance tea on knees and cushions. The morning show adverts are always worst than afternoon TV. They sit in silence through a display of saccharine children eating cheese.

"This shit," Beloved says, "might be making me clucky, oh fucky!"

The crudity makes Spearman grin. Her hand delves doona and strokes his inner thigh.

"Impregnate me now, boy?"

"Really," he says, crooning. Butter, crumpets, tea and Sunday mornings. Sex is less urgent than he ever thought it could be, when he was young.

Without attempt at seduction, she says encouragingly, "I'll bend over!"

"You want an arsehole of a kid?"

"Dickhead." Firmly bitten, buttered crumpet goes squish.

"So what do you like better," Spearman asks, after a heartbeat, "raisin' kids, or sultana kids?"

Beloved doesn't want him to take it seriously. Her mother denounces the quick wit as a defense mechanism against a life that scarred him young, the inability to step outside the circumstance to see the bigger picture. Her sister agrees: it's a sign of scar tissue that will never heal, as though Spearman could never be trusted with house, hearth, home, homogeneity. As though his coping was of less value than theirs (food, supplements, therapy, endless sessions of bikram yoga). He's a fool, and the world is his jokebook. He's hers, and that's her coping right there.

He makes her laugh. Sometimes she can even win through, in a bumbling way, and pay him the same favour.

Between two news reports on the latest terrorist action in a distant, neighbouring country, a promo for the Big Issue features. The homeless man grins out of the screen.

"Pretty odd," Beloved notes.

"I'll bet he is."

"I meant putting an ad for that in between all that talk of terrorism."

Spearman shrugs. "Not weird, homelessness and terrorism together."

"How you figure that? The Big Issue's a scam secretly about overturning the status quo and rocking the bourgeois establishment?"

"Nah. Just that being homeless makes you appreciate the stench of revolution in the air."

She knows what Spearman's seen in his short and broken life, so she examines the comment from as many sides as she knows, and realises she doesn't know enough.


Wistful, almost reverential with remembrance, Spearman says, "Smells like change."

July 2010

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