It was a Sunday when we turned up at the door of my new flat to find that the Real Estate had given me the wrong key. They were closed for the day and all my goods and chattels were on the back of Moody’s truck in the carpark outside; there was no going back. It didn’t take us long to decide to break in. I’ve always wanted to do this, said Moody, taking a run across the landing and shouldering the door, which didn’t hardly move. In the end he kicked it in, splintering the plywood with his blundstones or whatever he had on his feet. No-one even came out to look . . . naturally, the Real Estate were somewhat incredulous when I told them on Monday what we’d done but I offered to buy and fit a new door and they let me stay on; it wouldn’t happen now. Across the landing lived Saeed, a charming Egyptian man who was the night clerk at the Budget Hotel in Pitt Street in the city; he was a compulsive loser of keys and had to break in to his apartment on a regular basis. Once he had twelve keys cut and distributed among his friends, myself included; but within a fortnight he’d lost them all and was busting his door down again. The flat was an L shaped room with a tiny bathroom and tinier kitchen attached and I loved it. At the short end of the L was my bed, half-screened off from the rest of the unit; a round table and an office desk stood opposite and the rest of the long end of the L functioned as a sitting room with a divan bed for guests. Windows all along the wall where my desk and bed were with a sliver of a view of Blackwattle Bay and the old Glebe Island bridge opening and closing for ships. It had a parquet floor made out of Brazilian hardwood but some of the bits of wood had shrunk and, in summer, when I walked across it in bare feet, oblongs would stick to the skin of my soles and lift up, exposing the concrete slab beneath. I was always, as if trying to complete a huge jigsaw puzzle, fitting them back in again. My cat, Monkey, came to live with me again; she had spent the interim down on the railway line behind the Kauri Hotel. I used to visit her there sometimes, she would hear my whistle and come leaping like a tortoise-shell lynx through the long grass from wherever her lair was. Several people fed her on a regular basis and she was an expert hunter of feral pigeons, catching birds that roosted on brick ledges in tunnels under the railway line. An unusual cat – I never left her alone in the apartment, she wouldn’t have liked that; when I went out she did too. I had a car, a battered Honda Civic that Rymer had given me gratis, and Monkey learned to recognise the sound of its engine. As I tooled into the carpark she would appear, from where I have no idea, slinking along close to the ground as she came round the corner of the building then popping her tail straight up in the air when she saw it was indeed me; we would climb the stairs to the second floor talking companionably together. When I wrote she liked to sit on the desk beside the typewriter, later the computer, and if the work was going well she would purr; but when I laboured or tried to force things, she would give me an offended look, get up, stretch, and go elsewhere. As to what I wrote there, it’s just about all gone now and there’s no help for that. The computer I bought was an Amstrad and used a kind of disk that is now obsolete and wasn’t anyway compatible with those of any other system at all. Years later, after it died, I tracked down a fellow in Smithfield, an Englishman, who said that, for a fee, he would transfer the material on my Amstrad disks to PC format. I parcelled them up, bought a money order for some small amount of dollars – 25 a disk I seem to recall – and sent the package off. For months afterwards I would call him up every now and again and ask if he’d done it yet? He always had some more or less plausible excuse for the delay and would promise to have them to me in a matter of weeks. Then came the day when I called and the number didn’t work any more . . . it’s strange now to think of all that lost work, the prose excursions that never went anywhere, the unfilmable film scripts, the limping verse, like blueprints for a future that turned out not to possess co-ordinates, dimensions or, finally, existence: but couldn’t it have been possible once? Might it have been true but not real rather than real but not true? There’s of course no answer to that unless it be what my friend Mohamed, a stateless Gambian sailor, said one day when he came round to see me at that flat. He happened to look down at the Sydney Morning Herald spread out on the parquet floor open at a page of black and white images of lingerie models. Oh, man, he cried out, heartfelt, and with real distress in his voice, we going to die!
the Burley Griffin incinerator (1933) at the bottom of Forsyth Street, Glebe – before restoration