Of all of it, the months I spent in the beach town, right out at the edge of the world, they’re the ones I remember when I close my eyes. The sun warming the white beach sand. The blue water that reached, flat out onto the horizon. Those were the days, I think.
I got in with a group of people who, fuelled by childhood memories and adulthood hurts, had decided they never wanted to leave. They’d created this community of deserters all living in this two-storey house, growing their own vegetables, generating their own electricity and re-using their waste.
Jobs are hard to come by down the beach, so only a few of them worked and I came in and I got a job at the service station just off the freeway. Every week we’d pool all the money earned by the ones who did work and we’d buy the essentials, which were listed in order on a piece of paper in the kitchen, and we’d continue on.
They sang songs, which I didn’t like, but I could sit and smile and pretend I didn’t know the words, my cheeks burning from the campfire. It was simple, living with them. No one wanted to know who you were, what you’d done. Everyone was just there. Everyone just wanted to be happy.
There were at least twenty people in that house, always. Drifters would come through and sleep on the floors. They always had odd names like Rex or Pardy or Luther. These guys, they were just wandering through life, hitch-hiking from one town to the next. They had it made. No pressure, no concerns. They just lived one day to the next. I thought, this is how I should live. This is what I should be.
I asked lots of questions about how they did it, how they went about life but a lot of the times it sounded difficult and unpleasant and I figured it was best to stay where I was.
They had an outdoor shower, too. What it was was a bucket that they’d fill with warm water, then, once it was full, they’d drag it up by a rope, over a tree branch, and it had these tiny holes in the bottom that would leak the water out and you’d just stand beneath it and wash yourself, out in the open.
Sometimes, I’d watch the women do it. I’d stay at a distance and watch the soap bubbles sliding over their nipples and down their curves, gathering at the edges of their hair.
We were working on building another room, gathering wood and nails from building sites at nights and buying other parts as we could afford them, extra pieces going up bit by bit.
One of the men used to be a builder somewhere, and he told us how to connect this to that and I listened to everything he said and tried to make sure I didn’t saw anything uneven or bend any nails. He said I was a good worker, put his arm around me at the end of the day. I couldn’t remember ever feeling so happy.
At nights we’d play board games or read stories from the newspaper and they’d talk about the latest news and politics. I had no idea what they were talking about most of the time. Other times, we’d go to the Salvation Army donation bins and sift through what was left, climbing inside the steel containers and ripping out bags of jumpers and pants and t-shirts.
Sometimes, someone would sleep right up beside you, hug onto you even, and you’d just go with it. This is how they were.
But there was one drifter who yelled at me. He was a tanned guy with curly long hair and he was yelling something about me working for a big oil company and I didn’t know what to do and some of the others yelled back while I clenched my fist, ready to punch his fucking teeth out and they pushed him out that night, left him in the cold. Then they patted me on the back and on the head and kissed me on the cheek. And at night we went to sleep with the sound of the waves washing in.
It was perfect that place. But it couldn’t last.
There was one evening when I was working and it was quiet, no one was around. Then two guys came rushing through the electronic doors, both in balaclavas and singlets and shorts. The two men rushed to the counter and one pointed a handgun right at my face and I stood up, my hands in the air.
‘Don’t worry.’ The man with the gun said. ‘Just give us the money, it’s all good.’ And I knew the man’s voice. I stayed still.
‘C’mon man, it’s cool, it’s all under insurance, we worked it all out.’ He was one of the drifters, I couldn’t remember which one. ‘You just give us the money and we walk out, simple. We’ll give you a cut later.’
I shook my head.
‘C’mon man, you can talk, the cameras don’t record sound, it’s just video. You just have to make it look like you’re scared and take out the money.’
‘No, they do record sound,’ I told him. ‘They showed me when they went through the training.’ The man looked over to the other guy, then up to the camera.
‘You’ve fucked me,’ I told him. ‘I’ll have to leave this job now because they’ll think I was in on it.’
The man lowered the gun, kept looking at the other one.
‘Fuck,’ the man said, then he raised the gun again, turned back to me ‘Okay, well if we’re fucked, we should just take the money now anyway, right? Just take it all out and we’ll go.’
‘You fucking idiot,’ I told him. I was furious, my fist clenched tight. ‘You’ve fucked everything up.’
‘Hey, don’t you fucken yell at me, I’ve got a gun.’
‘You fucken idiot,’ I could feel the warmth of the tears bubbling at the edges of eyes. ‘I’m gonna’ kill you.’
‘Hey,’ the man yelled. ‘You’re not gonna’ do shit. Now we are where we are, that’s how it is, you need to get me the fucking money and hand over now.’
I stared him down. Those eyes, poking out that black beanie. The man looked out to the road, like maybe someone was coming.
‘C’mon, get the money, get the money,’ he growled, poked the gun towards me, the barrel right up at my face.
‘You pull the fucking trigger,’ I told him. The man hissed, turned away, then back to me.
‘C’mon man, just give me the money.’
‘You pull the trigger,’ tears were sliding down now, gathering at my chin. ‘You’ve ruined me.’ I stared straight into the barrel, straight into the darkness of it.
‘Just get the money.’ He yelled and the other one came over.
I closed my eyes. I held my breath.
Here are three of the questions the police asked me later, in no particular order:
‘Did you know the men who robbed the service station?’
‘Did you help the men with the planning and robbery of the service station?’
‘Did you know you’re wanted over a burglary in Melbourne?’
Here are my answers to these questions, also in no order:
Either way you look at it, I was done.