This short story is based on an anecdote from an old friend. The story intrigued me when I first heard it, and I have since found it popping back into my head at the oddest of times. The natural response, as with recurring dreams, was to write it down, as I both remembered and imagined it…
Simon woke up in the dark. He couldn’t see anything at all. He was lying face down and he felt awful; dry mouth, headache, nicotine skin, half drunk and desperate to urinate. He raised his head and blinked twice. He still couldn’t see a thing, yet he could sense somebody nearby. He rolled onto his back and felt about on either side. To the left was the edge of a thin mattress, carpet, the leg of a chair. To the right he felt something warm; a back, another person.
“What?” said a voice. “Simon?”
“Yeah. Who’s that?”
“Yeah, it’s Dom.”
“Where are we?”
“I dunno, man. I can’t remember.”
Simon rubbed his eyes and tried to swallow.
“Do you know where the dunny is?” he asked.
“Yeah, it’s down at the end of the hall. There’s like a glass door.”
Simon was lying under a sleeping bag, burning hot. The bag was designed for more capricious climes, but this was summer in Sydney. He peeled it back and stumbled up to his feet.
“I’m going for a piss,” he said.
“Yeah?” said Dominic. “I’m going back to sleep.”
Once on his feet, Simon looked about for the door. He could still only make out the barest outlines of shapes that remained indistinct. On the far side of Dominic he detected a thin slice of pale grey light. He figured it was the window, so the door was likely behind him.
He struck out his arms and began to feel his way forward. His leg bumped against a chair. He took hold of it and steadied himself, then stepped carefully around it. His bladder was bursting and his head was pounding. He felt drunk. He reached out again and felt a smooth, plaster wall. He slid his hand along it to the left until he struck a perpendicular ridge of wood. A doorjamb. Continuing over the ridge, his fingers found the stiles, panels and mullion of a wooden door. He moved his hand down to the lock rail and swept for the handle. Aha! There it was.
“This is tough,” he whispered.
Simon opened the door and entered the corridor. It was even darker than the room. There was nothing but static and fuzz before his eyes. So close was the blackness that he felt removed from himself; as if the dark had crept inside and pushed him out. It was dizzying, confusing. He leaned against the wall and felt suddenly very ill. He took slow, deep breaths until the nausea passed. Where the hell was he? Where on earth had he been?
He began to feel his way down the corridor, bumping a hung picture at his first attempt. He moved his hands lower, leaned on the wall and reached out a foot with precarious curiosity. He was barefoot. The floor was covered in rattan matting. He could even smell it through the sweat of beer and heavy reek of smoke in his stale nostrils.
He took another step forward, then another; using the wall as a guide to keep him going straight. The blackness was rearing and enveloping. The fluid shifting across his eyes sent ripples through the inky continuum. He felt a pearl of fear forming inside him that soon dissolved into frustration and anger. How had he wound up here? What was the last thing he remembered?
Simon stopped and patted himself down for a moment. He was wearing his jeans and a tee shirt; his wallet and soft-pack of cigarettes were still in his back pockets. What shoes had he been wearing? He was sure it was a pair of thongs. Then he remembered: sitting on a swing, kicking out his feet with his thongs dangling from between his toes. So he had been in the park. Only what park, where?
He pushed on down the corridor. His eyes were not adjusting as there was no light by which to adjust. The rattan massaged his feet. It was a pleasant, dry and soft sensation, but the occasional tickle of an upright thread gave him fright. He had trodden on Lego enough times to know the true meaning of pain.
Feeling ahead, he felt sure that he was approaching something, or was something approaching him? He stopped, afraid, sure there was something there. What was it that made him know? Did his eyes see something his mind could not process? Was it some sixth sense that blind people had mastered, a combination of hearing, touch and scent? Perhaps a sense of the movement of the air around objects? Was he merely being paranoid?
He took another step, sure there was something in front of him. Then he felt it – a glass door! A glass door with a thin, fine wooden frame. He stopped and ran his hands across the cool, smooth panels, finding his way to a handle. It was a curiously thin and narrow door, an odd choice for a toilet. When he found a second handle it all made sense; it was a double door, two tall, narrow doors opening outwards.
Simon pulled on both of the small knobs, opened the doors and took a tentative step forward. Bang! Rattle! His knee struck something hard and the world shook with the clink of crockery. An object slid along a wooden surface and landed, rolling and ringing. It was a plate settling on a shelf. He had walked into a china cabinet.
“Fuck,” said Simon. “This is bullshit.”
Nothing fell to the floor. What a fright it had given him! Simon exhaled at length and took a deep breath. His heart was racing and he flushed freshly with sweat. He closed the doors and reached around the cupboard, finding his way back to the wall. He was at the end of the corridor where it seemed to take a small turn across an open doorway. Through the opening he detected pale moonlight falling across a table. He couldn’t be sure, but he thought it must be the kitchen. If it was the kitchen, then perhaps he could take a piss in the sink. He gave this idea some thought, but, standing there on the threshold, he smelled the bathroom to his right. It was the coolness of the air and a mild whiff of Harpic loo cleaner; a faint hint of Pine-o-clean. It reminded him of the retsina he’d drunk at his Greek mate’s birthday.
He felt ahead, sure now that he could see something at last. Before him were two tall, oblong panels of frosted glass, grey-lit with pale, filtered moonlight. How could this place be so dark? Were they living in a burrow? Were they hobbits? He inched forward, felt for the handle, opened the door, reached forward with his foot and felt cold tiles beneath his feet. At last he had found the bathroom. A moment later he found the light and, closing his eyelids against the expected, punishing glare, flicked it on.
Five minutes later, relieved, watered, blinded and with a throbbing head, leaving the bathroom light on to show him the way, Simon retraced his steps and went back to sleep on the floor beside Dominic.
“Si, wake up, man. Wake up.”
Dominic was leaning over him, shaking him by the shoulder.
“What is it?” asked Simon. He was startled. He looked up, unwillingly alert, his mouth uncertain. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing, man. It’s just morning. We should get out of here. I don’t even know where I am.”
Simon relaxed, flopped back to the mattress.
“Jesus. I feel like shit.”
“Yeah, I feel pretty special as well,” said Dominic. He stepped back and Simon lifted up his head again. It was heavy, woozy.
“So where the hell are we? Can’t you remember getting here?”
“Man, I can’t remember a thing,” said Dominic. Then he laughed. “Pretty classic, huh?”
“Yeah, tell me about it.”
Simon sat up, resting on his hands. He rubbed his face and knuckled his eyes.
“So what is the last thing you remember?”
“I remember being in Centennial Park,” said Dominic. “Then we went off with William, but I can’t remember where. Like a bar or something. I remember being in a taxi, but I don’t remember getting into it, or where I got into it.”
“Man, that’s more than I can remember,” said Simon. “The last thing I remember is sitting on a swing. It must have been Centennial Park.”
He laughed in recollection. “Hang on, that’s right. I remember Luke having a full-on spew. He was going for a massive chuns between his legs. That’s fully the last thing I remember.”
“It’s weird.” said Dominic. “Did we meet some other dudes or something? Some chicks? I reckon I’d remember if we met some chicks.”
“Yeah, me too. But then, you’d reckon you’d remember whose joint you were staying at.”
“Wherever we are,” said Dominic, “let’s get out of here.”
“Have you got all your stuff?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
Simon stood up and looked about him. Dominic had lifted the dark blinds and indirect sunlight flooded the room. They were in a lounge room, not a bedroom. A thin double mattress had been placed on the chunky, fluffy carpet. There was a television, lounge-setting, coffee table, magazines, a cabinet. It looked like a family home.
“Must be someone’s parents’ place, I guess.”
“Yeah, but hell knows who.”
They looked at each other, laughed, groaned, shook their heads.
“Well, let’s make a bale then,” said Simon.
Simon and Dominic stepped out into the corridor. It was windowless, with a heavy wooden door at the end. Curious, they walked in the other direction, towards the china cabinet and the bathroom. They could smell breakfast cooking and hear the sound of a radio. It was Sunday morning and Australia All Over was on the ABC. They smelled bacon, eggs, toast and grilled tomato. Simon’s mouth watered and his stomach yawned. He could almost taste the orange juice.
At the end of the corridor an arched opening led into a spacious kitchen. Simon and Dominic shuffled nervously under the arch to survey the scene. There before them, sitting on a beanbag by a long, low wooden table, was an enormously fat man. Opposite him, standing by a stove, was a gigantically fat woman working a frying pan. Beyond them lay an open door and overgrown backyard. They did not recognise these people at all.
“Good morning,” said the man and woman. “Did you have a good sleep?”
“Yeah, yeah, thanks,” said Simon.
“Just fine,” said Dominic.
“You’re just in time for breakfast,” said the lady at the stove. “Can I tempt you with bacon and eggs?”
Simon and Dominic both looked to each other, each expecting his friend to make a decision. They frowned and aspirated, cheeks bunching, eyes opening, but found no answers. Then Simon spoke:
“Nah,” he said. “I think I’m alright.”
Despite his rapacious hunger, he felt an urge to get away. He was only seventeen and was not completely comfortable sitting down to eat with strange adults.
“Yeah,” said Dominic. “Me too, I guess. I better get on home.”
“There’s plenty there if you want it,” said the man on the beanbag. “Baked beans, eggs, bacon, the lot. Even some saussies if you like.”
“Nah,” said Simon, “thanks very much for the offer, but I better get on home to mum.”
“Alright then. You don’t mind if I don’t get up, do you? The front door’s just at the end of the hall.”
“Yeah, we can find it alright,” said Dominic. “Thanks for putting us up.”
“No trouble at all,” said the man.
The lady by the stove was smiling at them.
“Look after yourselves,” she said, waving with the spatula.
“Yeah, thanks,” said Simon. “Right then, see you later.”
Mr and Mrs… ? In his quick scan of the kitchen he had not seen anything to make plain whose parents these people were. No family photos on the fridge, no framed family portraits. Were they even someone’s parents? They hadn’t mentioned a son or daughter when they might have done. Simon felt too embarrassed now to ask, and despite the burning curiosity, he had already excused himself and wanted to be out in the open air. With a final nod and a wave, they turned and walked to the front door.
Simon and Dominic stepped out into a long, treed street. It looked like somewhere in the eastern suburbs, though they did not recognise exactly where. They glanced about, stared at the front of the house, walked to the middle of the street and stood staring down it. Most of the houses were terraces, but there were also bungalows and unit blocks. Moreton Bay figs lined the street, their branches reaching from one pavement to the next and forming a continuous canopy. It might have been Bondi, Bronte, Woollahra, Paddington, Coogee. Neither Simon nor Dominic could quite tell which, if any.
There was hardly any traffic so they walked along the middle of the road. It was a warm summer morning; the temperature already up in the mid twenties. Simon looked at his watch. It was just after nine o’clock.
“Where are we?” mused Dominic. “Bellevue Hill?”
“Nah, I know it too well,” said Simon. “I reckon it could be Vaucluse, or Rose Bay. Actually, screw it, I wouldn’t have the faintest.”
“It’s gotta be the eastern suburbs for sure,” said Dominic.
Simon pulled a bent cigarette from his battered packet. He offered one to Dominic.
“Have a smoke, to make the bus come.”
They both lit up and kept walking in the warm, patchy sunshine. Before they had reached the next intersection, only half way through their cigarettes, a vacant taxi turned into the street. Dominic spotted it first and hailed it.
“Where you boys going?” asked the driver, pulling up.
“To Bondi Junction, I guess,” said Simon, looking at Dominic.
“Yeah,” said Dominic, “I can get home from there.”
Sitting in the back of the cab, the two young men turned their attention to piecing the evening back together. Starting with a rendezvous at the Paddington Green hotel, they recalled moving on to the RSL, to the Imperial Hotel and, finally, up to Centennial Park. Beyond that, however, they could make no further headway.
“There might have even been a couple of other stops in between,” said Simon.
“It’s a fair way to walk without a pit-stop. We’ll have to ask Luke and Willie.”
With their attention focussed on the task of reconstruction, Simon and Dominic failed to note the streets through which they were driving. When, after ten minutes, the taxi emerged onto New South Head Road, they were so relieved to be in familiar territory that they forgot to ask from where they’d come. Three minutes later they paid the driver and stepped out into Bondi Junction.
They were both exhausted and sat down on the pavement to bask in the sun.
“Why didn’t we ask the bloody driver?” said Simon, lighting up another desultory cigarette. “About where we were.”
“I dunno, mate,” said Dominic. “My brain just isn’t working.”
“Geez,” said Simon, rubbing his temples, “I’ve got such a savage hangover. What a shocker.”
“Yeah, tell me about it. We must have been completely smashed last night.”
“I was a total goner,” said Simon. “Judging by the damage report, I must have been fully falconettied. Done like an Italian vendetta.”
“Falconettied, aye?” said Dominic. “That’s one of William’s isn’t?”
“Yeah,” said Simon, “it’s a gem of a word. I reckon it sums things up pretty good.”
“I reckon,” said Dominic, reaching out for a drag of Simon’s cigarette. “There’s no two ways about it; we must have been seriously falconettied.”
In the days that followed, despite questioning everyone they could recall taking part in the events of that evening and following all leads there from, Simon and Dominic were unable to determine where they had stayed. The query burned brightest in Simon, who continued to look for answers in the months that followed. Though he eventually gave up asking, he never gave up hoping that the mystery might one day be solved in a chance encounter or remark. That was twenty-two years ago, and often, walking through the eastern suburbs of Sydney, with their broad, tree-lined streets, he still wonders at the provenance of his hosts.