Short Fiction: Care Cancer

I walk into the RSL and it is empty and cold. The pokie machines sing their songs like ghosts are playing them, tortured souls rooted in place for the crime of gambling in their past lives. A cartoon Cleopatra winks at me and I wink back. I am smug in my own little joke with the universe. I know I will hate myself a little later for it so I wink again with extra sauce.

I see my grandfather at the drinking area. He is sitting alone with the dregs of a beer, watching the summer sun bake the empty bowls lawns. I sit down next to him. He stands up and leaves. He returns with two pots of xxxx.

“Hi Grandad.”

“Hey mate.”

“How you holding up?”

“I’m alright.”

I sip the cool beer and force it down through the phlegm in my throat. A ragged crow lands on the lawn, looks around, caws and then promptly dies. My grandfather chuckles. I take another drink.

“So I invited my ex around last night.”

My grandfather raises his eyebrows.

“Why would you go and do that?”

“I really, really, really wanted to sleep with her.”

“Sex or actually sleep with her?”

I laugh into my beer.

“Yeah yeah, ok.”

“Because I can never tell with you.”

“Ok, shutup now. Yes to have sex with her.”

“I am glad we got that cleared up early.”

“Me too.”

“It could have ruined your story.”

I take another drink. My grandfather raises his glass a bit and swirls it around until the froth comes back up. His skin looks thin and stretched, breaking in some places. Like meat and tattoos in old glad wrap. He drinks a bit more. I speak up again.

“Normally I don’t do this kind of thing. Like, one night stands and shit.”

My grandfather snorts.

“Oh yeah I forgot.” He mimics my voice. “I ain’t need sex. Sex is not important. It is just a thing boring people do.”

“Yeah…”

“You are so bloody in love with yourself.”

“Yeah…”

“I think the only reason you don’t try and get sex is because it will get crowded in the bedroom.”

“You done?”

“Yeah.”

“Can I tell my story?”

“Yeah, sorry, fuck.”

“So I brought her round for drinks, just me and her.”

“Wait, which ex is this?”

“Shutup.”

He smiles, revealing his broken teeth. I can’t help but smile back.

“So I bought her a six pack of rums because I am an idiot.”

“Rookie error.”

“I know this. Girls don’t respect you if you buy them alcohol. I don’t understand it. I would have sex with someone if they bought me drinks.”

“No you wouldn’t.”

“Yeah I guess not. So anyway, my brother gets home and decides to drink with us. He starts asking her all these questions about me. Starts getting her to compare my penis size to all her ex-boyfriends.”

My grandfather is halfway through drinking when I say this and he sprays beer all over his face.

“Ha! What did she say?”

“She said mine was definitely bigger than my brothers. She had heard from one of her friends that he slept with.”

“Ha! Perfect!”

“Anyway so my friend calls me at some point and says he wants to hang out. So I invite him over to drinks as well.”

“I can see where this is headed. Hold on.”

He gets up and returns with fresh beers. More crows have landed and are picking apart the dead one. I drain my beer and start on the next one. My grandfather speaks.

“So which friend is this? The one that swooped in when you broke up?”

“Yes, that one.”

“What was it? About two weeks later?”

“A couple of months.”

“Didn’t they hook up at one of your parties?”

“It was my brother’s party.”

I frown at my beer. My grandfather gives me a friendly punch on the arm.

“Alright sorry go on.”

“So my friend and my ex had been broken up for a couple of weeks. As soon as he gets there she asks if she could talk to him in private and they go up into the house.”

“Oh no.”

“They are up there for a while. My brother decides to go up and order pizza on my computer and walks in on them making out on my bed.”

“Jesus.”

“My friend leaves right away and my brother and my ex start arguing. They ask me if I could go for a walk for a little while so they can hash it out. So I go and sit on the side of the road.”

“You must have been pretty broken up.”

I look into my beer and see my reflection in the amber liquid. My skin has a golden sheen and there are two bubbles where my eyes should be. I shake my head and look up.

“The funny thing is, I wasn’t. I couldn’t stop laughing the entire time I was sitting by the road. I laughed straight for maybe ten or fifteen minutes. Could have been longer. Eventually she comes out and sits down next to me and says that she is sure I will find someone and all that. It is the awkward break up talk all over again but this time I am trying as hard as I can not to laugh in her face.

I drain this beer.

“I think I may have gone crazy.”

My grandfather drains his beer. He speaks.

“You know it has been exactly one year since your grandmother died.”

“Shit. Sorry Grandad.”

He shakes his head and waves his hand. He gets up and returns with fresh beers.

“Every day I have come to this place. I am the only one. Everyone else is gone.”

I look around at the empty bar. I can see the ghosts of veterans sitting and drinking their cheap piss. Some of them are old and some of them are just kids. They are dressed in uniforms or railway shirts or just plain naked. They drink and they laugh and they fight and they can’t see us. My eyes come to rest of the mess that was the dead crow. The other birds are gone and there is just a pile of feathers and a smear of blood.

I give my grandfather a sympathetic look.

“You must get lonely.”

“I’ll tell you a secret. I. Don’t. Care. I don’t like people. People are shit. Everyone thinks we are all in this life together but we are not. Nobody cares about each other’s stupid shit. You know what I planned to do when I retired?”

I shake my head.

“I planned to sit alone and quietly drink myself to death.”

I give my grandfather a worried look. Then I come to the realisation that this is also exactly what I want to do. My grandfather looks me in the eye and smiles and nods, as if he can see what I am thinking. Like it is scrolling down my face. The credits of my movie are rolling, I have gotten the point.

We both drain our glasses. It is nearly closing time but the bartender doesn’t seem to care if we stay or not. My grandfather gets a look on his face and he calls out to the bartender.

“You got insurance on this place?”

The bartender looks up from cleaning a glass.

“Yeah.”

“How much?”

“More than it is worth.”

My grandfather looks at the bartender. The bartender looks at me. I look at my grandfather. My grandfather looks at me. The ghosts sing navy songs in the background. The pokie machines play music. A line of crows caw on the back fence and an old bar burns to death quietly.

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