If you can see train tracks from your front window, you probably live on the wrong side of them. At one time, my view beyond the tracks was a line of factories nobody wanted to live near. Like the place where they make carpets. Or even worse, the wool scourers, which smell like hot vomit during business hours.
I’m not sure how they got to be classified as being on the right side. Maybe if they did some rezoning and it was the factories that were officially on the wrong side of the tracks, my life would have turned out differently.
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It was apparent even before she was a teenager, my friend Coco was the output of genetically inferior stock. It was easy to imagine her family tree consisting of a succession of small-town losers, who at some point seized upon an opportunity to cum into the girl that nobody wanted. Coco’s genetic dowry was a pasty, untanned pallor, shoulder length greasy hair, thin lips and a too-small, elfin head. I’d often wonder what the fuck her parents were thinking when they called her “Coco”. This name should be reserved for clowns, cute dogs and strippers. I think maybe her mother chose the first name she could figure out how to spell.
The neighbourhood Coco and I shared was like the aftermath of an invisible war being fought in slow motion. Some aspect of it looked worse every day, but nothing you’d notice immediately. It was if a herd of the devil’s cows meandered the streets at night, patiently gnawing at rotting fences and ailing shrubs. So what you ended up with was each house opening onto a shared common – a flattened and featureless dirt-bowl with indiscriminate borders. Only the rows of aluminium letterboxes stood tall and conspicuous, defying the entropy of human neglect
Coco lived maybe five houses down, but I couldn’t tell you if that was exactly that many. The cut-and-paste symmetry of rows of houses, all built off the same plan, made it impossible to keep your place when you counted them. You’d soon get lost and have to start again.
I think I started being friends with Coco out of convenience. We could walk in and out of each other’s fibro-shithole lives without any sense of shame or embarrassment. If anything I thought her house epitomised squalor more quintessentially than ours, but she probably thought the same thing about mine. Either way, there were less people crammed into hers so we’d hang out there more often.
The cool thing about Coco is that we could always agree on the best way to to get un-bored on any given day. Like we’d look for unlocked cars and steal tapes off the dashboard, then we’d scurry back home and play them one by one on her sister’s mono cassette player. We had a rule that once you’d nicked it, you had to listen to it all the way through. Both sides. No matter how awful it was. This was based on the belief that if someone had their tapes thieved by us, we owed it to them to give it a fair hearing. I don’t know the source of it, this kind of fractured morality. At the time I just assumed it was one of those universal truths that everybody was born knowing.
We had two movie theatres in town. One was too far to walk to, but it was a moot point because we could never afford tickets anyway. The other one was in the city, and sometimes we’d wander into the foyer just to enjoy the ambience. There was a large dome in the ceiling above the ticket counter, lined with what looked like sheets of tinfoil. Around the edge of the dome, lights of different colours were angled upwards, so the effect you’d get is that there were bright, foil-crinkled spots of colour which bled seamlessly into each other across the surface.
If it was between sessions and the foyer was dead, Coco would sometimes go over to the popcorn man and ask if we could have some for free. Maybe it was because she always looked slightly undernourished, or maybe just so we’d leave him alone, he’d often scoop some into a small cup for us. Then we’d scurry out and gobble it on the steps out front, in the hope that passers-by would think we were Real Live cinema-goers. Sometimes we’d even have loud conversations about what was playing, to trick people into thinking we had the kind of money that you’d need to see a movie every week.
“Do you think we should go and see Desperately Seeking Susan?”
“I’m not sure. Is Madonna a singer or an actor now? I think she should make up her mind.”
Sitting on the steps of the tinfoil dome theatre eating popcorn with Coco is one of my favourite childhood memories.
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Eileen was a cranky, one-legged dyke, at least from the knee down. Periodically she’d get drunk and stand at her gate screaming at anyone who dared to wander around in her street. We’d always use the opportunity to stand across the road and shout abuse back at her until she made believe she was going to chase us on her imaginary good set of legs. It sounds awful, but the only excuse I have is the inadequate standard: I was young and I didn’t know any better.
One day at sunset we were running along having a good laugh, because we’d just
told her to go fuck herself with her gammy leg. Then she’d gone coco bananas at us, like, people had started coming out of their houses to see what was going on. So we ran back to my house pissing ourselves laughing, and found my mum sitting down on the kitchen floor. She was leaning against the cupboard under the sink with one eye swollen shut. I don’t remember which eye.
It was all a bit same old, same old for me at that time but Coco was concerned, so while I looked for something to eat she lit a smoke and past it to mum, who took a deep drag and immediately started to cry. There’s not much you can do in these situations, so I ate handfuls of stale cornflakes out of the box until I was sick of them, botted five smokes out of my mum’s pack then grabbed Coco and headed back to her house before my dad showed up and turned his spotlight of ugly in our direction.
Coco’s bed was just under window, which was convenient because it meant we didn’t need an ashtray. We’d just open the curtains a crack, pop out the flyscreen at the bottom edge, and flick the long ends of ash out into the night. When we’d finished I threw the butt out into the dirt then rolled back towards Coco.
Then, without asking permission, she yanked down my fly and started wanking me, just like that. There was just enough streetlight spilling through the crack in the curtains that I could see the edges of her eyes and mouth , and in just for a a moment she looked like someone else entirely, which was probably a good thing. To make me cum, she pushed the head of my cock against my stomach and just sort of rubbed it rhythmically with her palm into my abdomen, which was quite effective. Later she told me she only did it this way to hold it down, because she thought it was going spray all over the room, the way an unheld garden hose will snake about the place if you turn it on full.
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Some friendships end in disaster, and some just wind down like a clock. I think of the wank incident as the beginning of the end, but I think we were becoming too different as people leading up to that anyway. I was thirteen and doing well enough at school, but Coco was functionally illiterate and was close to being asked to leave due to increasingly unmanageable behaviour. Also I’d fallen in love with Science Fiction, and would often be poring over books I’d borrowed from the library, while Coco would be experimenting with getting high off various aerosol products, spraying them into a shopping bag, then breathing them in. The other thing about Coco is she was never really that articulate, so I think maybe that spontaneous hand job was her way of saying “So long, good luck, and thanks for everything.”
I’d often still see Coco buying smokes or at the fish shop on Friday’s, and we’d talk about nothing, or occasionally I’d ask her how she was going. It was never good. She spent most of her teenage years getting stoned with the neighbourhood’s most infamous arseholes. I was still naïve enough to think things might turn out for her, and I’d try to help her with tasks I knew she struggled with, like making the lies on her dole form sound plausible, or filling in a job application for night-filling shelves at the local supermarket
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I haven’t lived near Coco for since I was eighteen. With university and career and everything that follows she just became one of the childhood people I pushed to the back of my mind. Then one day almost four years ago, I was sitting at my desk eating a muesli bar, and I got an external call routed through from the switchboard. It was Coco, and I was absolutely speechless. I hadn’t seen her for years and I’d pretty much assumed she was dead. In fact I’m not even sure how she knew I worked there.
She said she had to go in to court and she was calling to ask if I’d go with her, because she just found the whole thing confusing. Even after all those years I still didn’t feel like I had a choice.
Coco was sitting on the retaining wall of a neat council-managed garden next to the court’s main steps. She was smoking nervously, and without putting too fine a point on it, she looked fucking terrible. I sat down beside her, me in white shirt and trousers and her in a ratty Rip Curl t-shirt and shiny tracksuit pants. But we fell into our normal mode of conversation pretty much straight away, and she told me about what had been going on with her, and wondered out loud if this was the end of the road.
Then she said something strange, at least for her. She asked, “Why hasn’t any of this stuff happened to you? Why has all of this happened to me, all this shit?”
The thing you have to understand, this was very out-of-character for Coco. I’d never seen her get reflective or philosophical about anything. Ever. It had always seemed as if her notion of cause and effect was totally broken.
So I could have given her a standard lecture about making good choices and bad choices and all that crap, but I’m not even sure if I believe that stuff myself. I mean, a lot of things have just gone my way without me having much to do with it. But it’s not an epiphany. Just a reminder that it doesn’t pay to get too cocky and start thinking you can write your own life story. For me, all the important things that have happened to me, it feels like I was just in the right place at the right time. I just got lucky.
“I don’t know Coco. I guess I just got lucky.”
Coco swiveled around and pushed her smoke butt under a layer of bark chips, then grabbed my hand. She had a look on her face like she knew things were about to go badly for her, because of all the things she’d done. I was completely without words to support her because I kind of had a sinking feeling about the whole thing too.
With Coco still holding onto my hand I stood up and smoothed the creases out of my trousers. Then we turned our backs to the sun and started the journey up the stone steps and into the courthouse.