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“This city-planning analogy can help established companies avoid IT architecture problems. A company might believe that major chunks of its applications are so unfit for current needs that they might as well have come from the Middle Ages. At the same time, IT departments are repeatedly asked to add new functions and to integrate business units and allied companies.”
“This is my last one.” Harry tapped his final beer with a calloused finger. “I’ve got my custodial guy in the morning and I want to keep a level head. Be a model citizen and all.”
“Anyway, here’s what I don’t get, Harry.”
“That was years ago, right. Johnny’s in school and that. We’re divorced, Trace has a new bloke. She’s happy.”
“What’s not to get?”
I cast around for the words.
“This…*thing*. This feeling; the guilt, the memories, the regret. When does that go?”
Harry gave me a puzzled look. “I’m not getting you. When does what go?”
“All those things? I mean… I’m doing the right thing, now. Work is steady. I pay taxes. I pay child support for a kid I never see. I keep out of her way. I don’t say nothing, despite the way her family treats me. When do I get a break?”
Harry set his beer down. Tilted his head to one side, then the other. It was like watching an oil tanker rock in heavy seas.
“You don’t.” He shrugged. “You don’t. You live with it. You know?”
“What do you mean by that?”
“I mean… you live with your actions. We all do. And it doesn’t matter how much the prison psych talks to you, or how much you beat yourself up about things, or how much of a fucking saint you think you are now… For some things – in fact, for most things – there simply isn’t redemption.”
Harry’s warm, pale hands came down softly and firmly over mine.
“Look at me, Tenna. I beat the living shit out of my own half-brother. For no reason other than I was out of my skull on vodka and speed, and he was getting up my nose. Just like he always had, as a kid. Jesus, my own half-brother, Tenna. Can you imagine? There’s no fucking coming back from that.”
He sat back, looked at the ceiling and back to me again.
“This is what we’re led to believe is on the other side for us: Forgiveness. Redemption. A clean slate. Starting again. Pfft. There isn’t an ‘other side’. It’s just life, and sometimes life is shit, Tenna. And most of the time, when it’s shit, it’s because we’ve made it that way.”
He smiled his sad half-smile.
“I’ll tell you a story. There was the guy in our cell block. Fancy Frank we called him. He had a face like a kicked-in shit-bin, but somehow was always well turned-out, you know? Smelled like fresh soap and aftershave. Ha! The screws used to slip him toiletries in exchange for his ciggie cartons. Anyway, Frank was in there for murder. He’d snapped and done-in a guy he used to work with, and then another poor bastard who’d wandered in at the wrong time when he was cleaning up.
“Frank lost everything he had. His family, his business, his reputation, you name it. The voices in his head nearly killed him. He’d wake in the middle of the night in his cell with his heart pounding, the taste of metal in his mouth from panic. He considered topping himself a couple of times, but didn’t have the guts.
“It had taken him ten years, he said, ten long, angry, God-forsaken years to realise that there was absolutely no coming back from what he’d done. There was no escaping it, no running from it, no ignoring it. He had to *own* it, to be free of what it was doing to him.
“One day, we were out in the yard. Just sitting on the bench watching the guys and keeping out of trouble.
“‘Here’s the thing, Harold my boy.’ he said to me. ‘Us men. Us men of the world. Especially those of us in here.’ He motioned around us. I was expecting him to go on one of his philosopher rants. He was working his way through the prison library and would sprout forth on all sorts of obscure shit.”
Harry finished his beer and wiped his mouth.
“But this time, he surprised me. What he said has stuck with me, not only because it was the last thing I expected to come out of his mouth, but because of the truth in it.”
“’Men.’ he continued. “Us men, dear Harold. You know what’s wrong with us?’
“‘You tell me, Fancy.’ I said.
“‘It’s this:’ he continued. ‘When we’re faced with a problem, if we can’t fix it, fuck it or fight it… then we’re lost.’”
“It was the last fucking thing I’d expect someone like Frank to say. But… it’s stuck with me.”
I rolled it around in my head.
“Fix it, fuck it, or fight it?”
Harry placed both hands down on the table.
“Damn right. But it’s what he said then that clinched it for me.
“’But you know what we should do, Harold? What the real answer is? Feeling. We must let ourselves *feel*, Harold. Us. Us men. We’re not so good at that.’
“And with that, Fancy clapped me on the back, got up, and left me in the sunshine of the yard.
“I sat there ‘til they called for dinner, just thinking about what he’d said. He was right, of course. Fancy Frank always was. Smelled right, talked right. That was Fancy.”
Harry looked at his watch and started to gather up his plastic bag of decaying maps. He stood.
“I’ve gotta head off, Tenna. Are you going to be OK?”
I looked at him above me, silent. He sighed and sat back down.
“You can’t fix this Tenna. You can’t fight it either, trust me on that one. And you know better than anyone that you can’t fuck your way through it. You’ve got to let yourself feel. *Really* feel. Make the space for it.”
He reached across and squeezed my shoulder. “We’ll catch up again soon. Swing past the house, I’ll talk to Chel, I’m sure she’ll be fine.”
We stood. Once more I found myself enveloped in the warm dark cave of Harry’s embrace.
“It was good to see you, Harry. Really good. Thank you.”
“Same, Tenna. Take care of yourself.”
And he left.
I only got around two minutes down the street when my legs gave out on me and I had to sit, suddenly, on a bench facing the park across the way. The sun was setting and a noisy mob of birds were fighting over spots high in the trees opposite from me.
It was bloody beautiful. I felt it.
And I cried like an orphan. Deep, racking sobs coming from a place I’d avoided for too many years. I couldn’t fix it. It wasn’t something to *be* fixed. And I couldn’t run from it, either. All the things that had happened, all the things I had done. It was no-one else’s fault. It wasn’t bad luck. And it certainly wasn’t Trace or the baby or anything.
It was me. Mine to own. Mine to accept.
“Fix it, fuck it, fight it…feel it.”
Across the road, the birds fell silent and the world kept turning.
And I felt it.
I returned with our beers and slid back into the seat opposite. He wound up the top of the plastic bag from the book shop and placed it next to him.
‘‘Thanks, Tenna. Cheers.’’
‘‘So. Maps, eh?’’
Harry glanced down at the bag next to him. Shrugged. Took another drink.
‘‘Always liked maps. Wanted to be a cartographer as a kid.
Prison psych tried to tell me that it was because I felt lost in life and it was a metaphor for finding myself.’’
‘‘Tell the truth,’’ he continued, ‘‘I just like maps. They tell stories, you know? History. I’ve got a Melways Number 2 at home, you know. Still there. Belonged to my Pa. If you hold it real close, you can still smell his ciggies.’’
‘‘Was there much still there? At home?’’
Harry knew what I meant.
‘‘No. Well – more than I expected, I guess.’’ He drank.
‘‘You know. I mean, the kids… well they’re not kids anymore.
They’re not used to having me around. I’m just some guy.’’
Harry swirled his glass. Looked into the depths like a seer trying to catch glimpses of the past.
‘‘I don’t deserve her, mate. I really don’t.’’
The pub was empty. Distant chatter came from a bank of televisions in the betting room next door. Zombie punters shuffled around on the worn carpet.
‘‘She’s done everything she didn’t have to. Stayed in the house. Looked after the kids. Went back to work. Protected the
family. Told my mum to get stuffed when she’d had enough of her drama. Mowed the fucking lawns. Would you believe that? My Chelsea. Mowing the lawn.’’
Another half-smile. This one, sadder.
He looked up suddenly.
‘‘Sorry Tenna. Bear. He came to see me. He said… he said you’d had a pretty shit time, too.’’
His eyes rested on my left hand. There wasn’t even an imprint anymore.
‘‘No mate. No good.’’
Harry brought back my second beer. I threw back the dregs of the first and slid it along the table out of the way.
‘‘You’re lucky, with Chel.’’
‘‘Lucks got nothing to do with it, brother. She’s always been stronger than me in that way. A better person.’’
He raised his glass to his lips. Paused. Put it down again.
‘‘Grateful is what I am. You know. Not lucky.’’
This time he took a long swallow.
‘‘But anyway, you were telling me.’’
I wanted to talk about anything else.
‘‘I was.’’ I took a swig and continued, despite wanting to run from it.
‘‘Anyway. It was about a year after you… went in. Trace fell pregnant. It wasn’t exactly planned, but it happened. We were pretty chuffed about it. I mean, we’d talked about it and that, but you know. Anyway, she just came to me one day and
said, ‘Guess what?’ and that was that.’’
Harry’s dark eyes looked at me, through me, over the rim of his glass.
‘‘So, anyway. We had a few months of running around and that. Painted up the spare room, cot and baby clothes and shit. The girls in the call centre gave her a baby shower. The boys took me out and got me pissed. I didn’t really know what to
‘‘And then, it was time. Fuck me, it was a circus. Bags packed and off to the hospital. Her mum and aunts and that all
around. Nothing for a bloke to do. It’s like – your job was done nine months ago mate, stand aside and let us do stuff
with your missus, OK?’’
Harry chortled. Went back to looking deep into me.
“It was a girl. Mate, you should have seen her. Colour of a cherry milkshake. The lungs on her! Jesus. You probably heard
her in K Division.’’
‘‘We named her Chloe. After the painting.’’
Silence, for a little while.
‘‘Anyway, the next day. The next day.’’
It was hard to get the words out.
I looked up at Harry and met his gaze.
‘‘She died mate. The next day, she just fucking died.’’
Harry reached out and gripped my arm. It was like warm steel.
My head dropped and I shook my head.
‘‘The doctor’s voice, her tone, was so… measured. So calm.
The words… they made sense, but they didn’t… They didn’t ‘go in’.’’ I shuddered.
‘‘Mate, Trace… Trace… I’ve never seen her like that. She’s always been the calm one, right? The logical one.’’
Harry’s grip stayed on my forearm.
‘‘She… she *howled*, Harry. Like an animal. It scared me. I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t know what I *could* do.’’
I went to drink, but my glass was empty. I slid it away and it clinked against the other.
‘‘The doc gave her something, some drug. Came in a little bag, just hooked it in with the rest. Then – get this – they
bring her in. The baby. Chloe. All wrapped up, like she was sleeping. But you could tell, you know? You could tell… she
wasn’t in there. Not really.’’
I sighed. Looked at the window as the world just kept going.
I wondered how it did that. Just kept going.
‘‘And Trace, she held her. Talked to her. Kissed her. She cried and you know, I watched her do this and thought to
myself: Why can’t I cry? What’s wrong with me? And later, her mum came in, and her aunts and that, and they all cried
together. All the women. And they didn’t know what to say to me. I guess they tried, but… I didn’t know how I was meant to
feel. And I think after a while, they did what they could for Trace. ‘Cos she was the mum. She was the mum…’’
Harry’s grip loosened and his feet shifted under the table.
‘‘I’m so sorry, mate.’’
‘‘Thanks Harry. I mean, shit mate, you’ve been through some stuff, but…’’
‘‘But nothing, Tenna. You know. Go on, what happened after?’’
I shook my head again.
‘‘I… I didn’t cope. I didn’t handle it well at all.’’
Harry sat there. Prison had given him a patience that he hadn’t had, before.
‘‘Trace got pregnant again, maybe four months after we buried Chloe. But it was different, this time. We were scared
shitless. Both of us. And people were avoiding us, too.
Talking about anything but.’’
The bar staff emerged from their hiding spot and cleared our table. Harry said yes to another round.
‘‘And that’s when I really fucked up.’’
Harry knew this already. I’m sure Bear had filled him in.
‘‘You fucked up, Tenna.’’
I stared down at the table. Rubbed my finger where she had slid the ring on years earlier. And years later, when I’d
taken it off again. After.
‘‘I know.’’ I felt the old sinking feeling in my body again. The regret. ‘‘I know, I know, I know.’’
My voice caught.
‘‘Fuck me, Harry – I lied so fucking much. And I hid stuff. I just couldn’t face people, face things. I was so fucking angry. So…useless.’’
Harry nodded, drank.
Anyway. Trace had the baby. It was a boy. She named him John, after her father. But…’’
I raised my eyes and met Harry’s.
‘‘But she’d told me, before he was born. She was done with me. That she’d rather be a single mum than wake up every day
next to the guy who hadn’t been strong enough to stand by her when she’d gone through all that she’d gone through. She said she didn’t care what I did or who I fucked or where I lived… but it wasn’t going to be with her. Any of it.’’
‘‘Yep. Pretty much.’’
Just happened to turn my head at the right time as I walked past the book shop and there he was. Large as life.
Stopped dead and the bloke behind me swore quietly and stepped around me, eyes glued to his mobile phone.
There was no mistaking him. He was taller than I remembered. Rounder, too. There was more salt in his stubble and fuck me he was wearing glasses. I stood there with a stupid grin on my face. Taking him all in.
Eventually, he looked up and pivoted in my direction. Eyes squinted at me from the darkness of the shop. Trying to make me out. Jaw set like a bulldog waiting for a treat. Yellow-paged, over-loved street directory resting like a bible in his left hand.
‘‘Harry.’’ I shook my head slightly. ‘‘Bugger me, mate – when did you get out?’’
Harry started, straightened an inch and squared his shoulders. The flaking book in his hand closed slowly like a Venus flytrap.
He wrapped me in a large, gentle bear hug. Smelled of dusty wool with a tang of salty sweat. Warm, comfortable. He pulled back and held me at arms’ length. ‘‘Christ, it’s good to see you.’’
The last I’d seen of Harry was when he’d done-in Reuben just short of ten years earlier. I hadn’t seen it; just the aftermath. Bear and Cub had come dashing in from the house. I was on my hands and knees trying to find a stubby in a foot of ice melt at the bottom of the Esky.
I swore and looked up at them, light and stars swirling through the dull haze of booze and oxy. Their eyes were wild and mouths wet and flapping like gasping fish. I focussed on Cub, the shorter of the brothers, pulling myself to my feet using his shoulder for leverage.
"You’ve got something on your cheek, Cubby.’’ I leered at him. ‘‘Something red. Wooo! Fuck me, is that lipstick? You dirty little dog.’’
I remember him wiping furiously at his cheek. Bear grabbed me by the shoulder and propelled me around the side of the house.
Bear was silent. Brute strength his vocabulary. It worked for him. People usually listened. The smart ones, anyway.
Shoved to the front yard. Nearly tripped over Reuben in the dark.
He didn’t really have a face anymore. Not that I could see from the cast of the street light and the naked bulb on the front porch. His missus had rolled him on his side and was crooning to him softly. In the background, someone was screaming for an ambulance. Reubs just made this bubbling noise.
To this day I can still picture Harry’s bloody boot print on his outstretched palm. Hand crushed like a spider. Fingers twitching.
The next morning the local boys picked up Harry, cuffed him and took him away. He was still wearing the boots. He pleaded no contest and the magistrate put him away. And that was that.