Becoming Balanced

It was an awkward dinner, to say the least. The clanking of crockery against the fine china and the soft, squelching sound of the chewing of roast beef was accentuated by the lack of conversation, brought on by a vicious cursing on Barry’s behalf. A catholic family was to be virtuous and unblemished, Joan always thought, and that was never to be contradicted. The pace of the family’s food consumption quickened. Joan looked as though she wanted to say something, but she had not the gall to break the silence. 

“So then. How was school Georgia?” Barry said forcedly, an exaggeratedly strained expression on his worn, stubble-laden face. Georgia slowed her chewing and placed her cutlery on her plate. “Fucking fantastic.” Joan’s mouth jerked open in shock, before quickly realising she still had food in it. “Georgie!” She scoffed. “You didn’t yell at dad when he said it to me!” Joan’s eyes darted between her daughter and her husband. “Well you’re twelve years old! When I was your age I didn’t even know what a swear word was!” Georgia piled another mouthful of peas in. “Barry, look what you’ve done.” Barry, after the day’s events, could not care any less about what Joan thought at that moment. He cupped his hands over his face and slowly ran them down his skin, exposing the reds of his eyes. His silvery grey hair was never so visible at the dinner table as they always ate by candlelight. He believed that it kept a focus on the aspect of the family meal and brought them closer, having the rest of the house darkened and the one space in the dwelling that they were currently occupying illuminated; a sense of isolation.
After swallowing, he opened his mouth to speak, but then realised he had nothing to say, picked up his plate and left the table.
“BARRY!” he heard Joan call after him, but his newfound sense of nonchalance compelled him to continue walking away. “Georgia, wait here.” Joan ordered as she rose to her feet and hurried after him. “Barry… Barry come on.” He was walking up the stairs looking elaborately melancholy; his back hunched, his eyes staring at the carpet and his feet dragging behind him. “Joan, don’t treat me like I’m a child here, okay? You’re always telling Georgia and I to be squeaky clean, one-dimensional people. Well I’m not having it. I should be able to do what I like. I love you, but I’m not going to let you run my life anymore, Joan. I mean, look at yourself.” After having said all this with his back turned, he wanted to turn to look at Joan to see the impact of the words she had long coming, but he imagined it would be more satisfying to wait and see. When he didn’t hear a whimper, he walked upstairs to their room, locking the door behind him to prevent further interference from solitude.
Later that night when Joan came to bed, she found Barry writing at his desk. She didn’t see his face, but she could tell he was trying to prove her presence didn’t bother him judging by the startled shoulder movement when she entered. “Schoolwork, hun?” She asked quietly. “Yeah.” He replied. She slowly walked over to the bed when she opened the wardrobe and started undressing for bed. “Want me to turn the light off?” He didn’t answer for a second. “Uh, yeah.” He said, clicking the desk light on. She got into bed and pulled the blanket up to her chin, lay on her side and tried not to cry. There was a lot of tension in the room, even with Barry thinking Joan was almost asleep. Barry sat at his desk with the pen in hand and a blank piece of paper where he was supposed to be writing a lesson plan for the next day.
“Ask for homework… ask for…” Barry whispered to himself as he threw down the pen. “Alright hun?” Joan asked. Barry rested his head in his hand and lied yes. He was not okay. He hadn’t been okay for a long time. “Well, come to bed soon.” He didn’t respond.

That day hadn’t been the same as any other day of the week. In his lunch hour, he had gone to the same café he always goes to: Café Von Strauss. He always went in there, not because he liked the coffee – not even the atmosphere, there was a woman who worked there behind the counter – Ruby. He’d seen her every Tuesday Wednesday and Friday for 4 years. She was in her mid twenties, had long, dead straight brown hair, eyes further apart than usual (which, oddly enough, didn’t actually look unattractive at all) and was tall and slender. She had the physique of a model, although she had told Barry that she never wanted to be in show business, never. She still lived with her parents and until she moved out she felt she just wanted a job good enough to get by. She was the party type – big group of friends, went out every night, no boyfriend to be tied down to, she lived everyone else’s dream.
“How are we today Mr. Chandler?” She said with a grin as she went to prepare his usual cappuccino. “Ah, you know how it goes.” The café was long and mostly wooden. The steamy sound of the milk frothing whistled through the air and the rich aroma of freshly brewed coffee followed not long after it. The writers inside and the smokers out, the suits in a rush for their mid-afternoon caffeine fix… ah, this was the place to be.
As Barry took his coffee from the counter he backed into somebody at a table inconveniently placed behind him. Before he could apologise, he had turned around and noticed whom it was that had him so tongue-tied. All the wild 60’s memories flowing back through his mind in a wave of psychedelic frenzy; hallucinogenic induced psychosis, memories of Sgt. Pepper playing his tunes in a yellow submarine flying through the purple sky making love with ladies devoted to him and memories of an era where nobody cared about anything except sex drugs and rock music. It all came back to him so fast, straight into his bloodstream and shot straight to his heart, remembering a feeling that he thought had died the day the 60’s ended, it all came back to him when he saw Lou Reed of The Velvet Underground sitting and drinking his coffee.
Barry knew that Lou wouldn’t want to talk to him, he knew that he was tired of having people come up to him with their ‘oh my god’s and ‘your music saved my life’s, but still, like all fans he felt an unavoidable compulsion.
“Mr. Reed?” He forced quietly. Lou turned in his seat and looked at him, his now wrinkled skin ever so visible. He was obviously waiting for Barry to come out with the inevitable cliché. “I don’t want to say how much I appreciate your music, because I know how sick of it you are and all-“ “What’s your name?” Reed interrupted. “Barry.” “Barry… siddown, Barry.” And he did just that.
“Why are you in Melbourne?” Barry asked nervously. He didn’t know whether or not Reed could sense the amount of effort he was putting into choosing his words. “On vacation, really. Brooklyn gets so hollow when you spend a long time there, y’know? You ever got that about Melbourne?” As much as Barry loved Reed, he hated the way he said Melbourne, he and all the other yanks. The extended “ourn” and the removal of the u resulted in a hideous sounding ‘Melborn’. To him it was like nails on a blackboard. “Well, yeah, I’ve had it for a long time. Unlike you I don’t have the money to just pack up and leave though on a teacher’s salary.” He quickly regretted his words and hoped that he hadn’t offended him. When Reed’s expression didn’t change, his worries fell off him.
“Oh yeah?” Reed said, taking a sip from his coffee. “Teacher, huh? Whaddya teach? What’s it like?” Barry looked around and noticed there were a lot of people whispering to eachother and pointing at Lou. “Oh, English. Sometimes science when there’s a shortage.” Reed looked disappointed with the bluntness of his response. “It’s a boring job really. When I was a kid I always loved English, more than all the other kids. I was reading Fitzgerald when I was 13, and I always wondered what it would be like to teach in a form that was so… relatable, you know? Like, I could be the teacher all the kids loved, yet still learned something from. I guess that’s what all teachers say when they first start. I tried to do In Cold Blood, you know, the Truman Capote one? Non-fiction?” Reed nodded. “None of them were interested. I couldn’t believe it. One of the most fascinating texts ever written and nobody appreciated it. I couldn’t figure out if it was what I was doing or if it’s just the generation.” Reed seemed a little uncomfortable with the fact that they were having such an in-depth conversation upon first meeting. “Well, I don’t think you should really blame yourself, I mean, you seem like a decent enough guy, you’d be a fine teacher. Kids tend to decide anything they read at school is going to be boring. It’s just a mindset. Don’t beat yourself up about it man. You look like your stuck in a rut. You need to unwind man, relax. Stop letting people getcha down.” Barry’s watch beeped. “I gotta get back to work, lovely to meet you Mr. Reed!” He hurried out of the café and into his car.

On the way home from work, he hit peakhour traffic. The lights of the gridlocked cars shimmered off the Yarra river and into his eyes, causing him to squint, the bone rattling roar of the black smoke-spewing trucks as they stomped past his small Toyota Camry, the joggers running along underneath the gloomy eyes of the South Yarra flat blocks, listening to The Velvet Underground & Nico on his CD player, which he hadn’t turned on in years. He wasn’t stressed for once – he wasn’t even the slightest bit edgy. He was calm, cool and collected, and singing along.

I… Don’t know… Just where I’m going…
But I’m… Gonna try… For the kingdom if I can…
Cause it makes me feel like I’m a man
When I put a spike into my vein
And I guess that I just don’t know
I guess that I just don’t know.

He was rekindling himself with the feeling of youth he thought he had lost – the freedom, the relentless and purifying music. He was liberated. He didn’t even care that he was late home. How could one simple meeting with a celebrity be so life changing?
Upon entering the front door, Joan rather scornfully informed him that he was late and directed him to the dinner table. They all sat down and Barry noticed that Joan had begun to show the ravages of an aged life. She had noticeable crows feet under her faded green eyes and her once strawberry blonde hair had begun to fade grey ever so slightly. Her breasts had become noticeable less ample, the same as her legs. He probably couldn’t speak much as the same was starting to happen to him. Except, of course, the breasts.
“Where were you, Dad?” Georgia asked with a surprising amount of vigour. “Stuck in traffic.” Barry replied with an alien sort of emptiness. “Nuh nuh nuh nuh!” She imitated. “That’s enough Georgia.” Joan said calmly, pouring gravy over her roast meal. “Nuh nuh nuh nuh!” She imitated again. Barry remained calm and cut up a piece of beef and after tasting it, decided it would be better with gravy. Joan had always made a delicious roast meal. “Nuh nuh nuh nuh!” “Georgia, come on.” He said. “Pass the gravy please dear.” “NUH NUH NUH NUH!!!!” She repeated. “Georgia come on now. Please pass the gravy Joan.” “NUH NUH NUH NUH!!!!!!!!!!” “Joan, the gravy.” “NUH NUH NUH NUH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” “Joan the- “NUH-“ ‘GEORGIA, SHUT THE FUCK UP!”
A deafening silence rang out through the house. Nothing like that had ever, ever happened before in the Chandler house. As far as any of them knew, a curse word had never been uttered amongst its walls. That, Barry felt as though she deserved it. Maybe a night before he would have felt differently, so he did not apologise. He knew Joan was looking at him with her eyes almost bursting out their sockets in shock, but he did not feel like giving her the satisfaction of looking. He finished what was on his plate and left the table.

“Barry? Joan called from the bed. “Barry, are you coming to bed?” Her voice was filled with a confused sorrow, she hadn’t a clue yet what had brought on Barry’s new found sense of confidence and melancholy nonchalance. “In a minute dear.” He said.
He twirled the pen around in his fingers for a moment, contemplating all that had happened in the space of twenty four hours and what would happen in the next, if this was going to change his life and spirituality or if it was just a spur of rebelliousness. He thought about his adult life as a father and a husband and how they are supposed to be the defining years of a man’s life. In that space of time he felt he had accomplished absolutely nothing. He put the pen down for a moment and thought that this was the first time in his life he hadn’t done his lesson plan. He had never gone out to a bar, or out with his friends (not that he had that many anymore) because Joan always made sure that he had done all his preparations for work the next day. He had never had a life outside of work or the house. It wasn’t Joan’s fault and he knew it. He could of taken a stand at any time. His fingers trembled as he picked up the pen, twirled it around his fingers once more and scribbled “Why?” across the paper in blue ink and the word burned into his psyche like flaming coal, his heart swinging like a pendulum. He stood up and looked in the mirror for a brief moment upon retiring to sleep, where he swore he heard a teardrop hit the paper for a brief moment before his head hit the pillow.

Becoming Balanced

Sean Watson

Joined September 2008

  • Artist

Artist's Description

This is my finest minute in writing so far I believe. But then, I haven’t exactly had many hours to fill with them yet.

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