The Past Party
James Turvey (University of Newcastle, Australia)
Inside the old fibro garage, George took a step back from the window. The familiar interior of the room framed the single porthole-like window. George could see the old church spire on the corner of Denison and Beaumont Streets rising up between the clay-tiled rooftops.
It had been over a decade, but the trees of the neighbouring houses had been regularly pruned so that they stuck up slightly over the fence line as they had when this garage, his grandmother’s garage, was still his home.
Ephemera covered the garage walls — a Radio Birdman poster in the corner, a picture of Harold from Neighbours pockmarked and taped to a dartboard ¬— underneath was the old thirty-four centimetre colour telly, complete with Batman stickers on the side.
His grandmother hadn’t touched a thing and clearly no one else had since she’d been moved to the nursing home. George’s older sister, Mel, had cleaned up the rest of the house before he’d flown down from Brisbane, but she left the garage for him to tidy before they put the place on the market.
Opening the wardrobe door, George flicked through some old flannos and the Kuta Lines jacket he’d pretty much lived in for the entirety of his final year of high school. The same year his parents passed away, his sister had moved in with her girlfriend and he had moved in here to his grandmother’s garage.
George coughed from the mixture of dust and mothballs inside the wardrobe and shut the mirrored door. To the side of the mirror were initials, carved amongst the wood grain.
Around the time his parents died, George started knocking about with Niccoli, an Italian kid from school. Together with Ana, Niccoli’s girlfriend, and Kelly, George’s next-door neighbour, they’d painted the walls of the garage with old canary yellow paint they found behind the hardware store. Kelly brought around a large Persian rug to stifle the cold concrete floor and collected money from the other two to buy the telly and a second-hand tape deck from Cash Converters for George’s eighteenth birthday.
In the mirror, George saw his tanned face, manicured beard and thick neck protruding from a pastel dress shirt and cringed at how much his modern day form clashed with the backdrop of his formative years. He wanted to blend in with the brown corduroy sofa behind him, sink into its cushions, melt through to the thin fold-out mattress and sleep while time ticked backward to when he had friends that weren’t just extra meals on receipts from business lunches.
George thought about his eighteenth birthday and how the four of them drank Passion Pop and danced to mix tapes. After the other two left, he and Kelly had stayed up all night watching rage on the new telly.
George decided he would hold another party just the same as that one. With the garage door shut nothing had changed in fifteen years. They could all wear the outfits they wore back then, or something pretty close, and listen to the tapes that were right there in the little wicker basket next to the tape deck. When it was late enough they could switch rage on.
Next to the lounge stood a pile of magazines and on top was a fat A4 notepad. The cover bore a caricature of their maths teacher, Mr Nash, writing on a chalkboard with what looked to be faeces. He took the notepad and flipped to one of the few blank pages remaining at the back and in his cat-scratch scrawl that hadn’t changed in fifteen years he wrote:
You have been invited to a party from the past.
Dress as your eighteen-year-old self.
The Garage – Friday night, 7:30 PM
He cut out some pieces from other pages in the notepad, including a “Niccoli Hearts Ana,” and stuck them around the border of the invite. He walked around to the Newsagency on Beaumont Street, made three copies and went back to the garage, waiting until nightfall to make the letterbox drops.
Over the next few days, George talked to real estate agents with his sister and visited his grandmother at the home. When Friday came he prepared the property, not for prospective buyers like he should have, but for a trip down memory lane. He removed the bulb from the sensor light in the driveway that had been installed after he moved out and turned the lamps on in the lounge room. Anyone walking up the driveway in the dark would think his grandmother was still inside watching Inspector Morse and drinking cups of tea.
He dug out black jeans from a bag in the bottom of the wardrobe, bought laces for his desert boots that had been squashed and misshapen under that same bag and hung his Kuta Lines jacket on the Hills Hoist to air out the smell of mothballs.
He organised the food, which included Savings brand corn chips, baked beans and a block of tasty cheese so he could replicate the crude version of nachos that they’d once considered a gourmet meal. To top it off he bought four bottles of Passion Pop, which surprisingly were still under five dollars a bottle – a far cry from what he was used to drinking at functions back in Brisbane.
With the makeshift nachos ready to go in the microwave and dressed as his former self, George sat down on the back step of his grandmother’s house and watched what was left of the sun disappear behind the back fence.
It was 6:50 PM, according to the windup Swatch he’d found amongst the tapes in the wicker basket, when George heard the crunch of footsteps on the pebbled driveway. It was early and he’d hoped to be casually sitting on the lounge in the garage listening to Radio Birdman and doodling in the notepad when they arrived, as if he’d been there for the last fifteen years. George got up and walked around to the door of the garage. Ana stepped forward from the darkness, wearing a suit, with an expensive-looking handbag hanging over her shoulder; not the jeans-and-no-shoes Ana he remembered.
‘It’s been awhile, George,’ she said, looking him up and down. His shoulders had grown broader over the years and the Kuta Lines jacket was restricting his movement.
‘Nice get-up, A, where’d ya knock that off from?’ he asked in his best attempt at replicating the parlance they’d put on as teenagers.
‘They’re my work clothes, George. I came straight from the surgery, she replied, following him into the garage where he was leaning over and pouring a glass of Passion Pop. She kept her bag over her shoulder.
‘So where’s Nicco? Still up at the beach, I bet,’ George said, holding out the glass of Passion Pop. She held up her hand politely to refuse and shook her head.
‘Niccoli hasn’t surfed in years, George. He’s too busy with work and the kids.’
‘Right,’ George said, dropping his act and straightening up from the slouch he was putting on, even though he’d always had good posture.
‘I came past on my way home from work to tell you that Niccoli and I can’t make it tonight. It was such short notice — I’m on call and we couldn’t get a babysitter. I’m sorry, George,’ she said leaning forward to gently rub his arm as a gesture of sympathy.
‘Why don’t you come over for lunch on Sunday?’ she added.
‘Yeah, I might just do that,’ George replied giving her a half-smile.
‘We’ll say midday and if anything changes we’ll be in touch,’ she said, giving him a kiss on the cheek and leaving through the garage door.
He looked at his Swatch; it wasn’t even 7:00 PM and already fifty percent of the party wasn’t coming. He’d only spoken to Kelly a handful of times over the past fifteen years. She probably wouldn’t show up either.
After waiting for an hour, George went inside the house to heat up the nachos. He put the three unopened bottles of Passion Pop into a bag to give to his sister and tipped what was left of the fourth down the sink. A sickly-sweet stench wafted up from the sinkhole.
Picking at the nachos as he entered the garage, he stopped dead; a string of hot cheese connected the corn chip in his mouth to the bowl. Kelly stood with her back to him. She had the wardrobe door open and was slipping into one of his flannos like she used to before they’d settle down to watch telly.
‘Where have you been?’ she said, turning around to face him as she pulled her hair up into a ponytail. She walked over and took a corn chip covered in baked beans from the bowl.
‘Inside getting the nachos ready,’ he answered casually, a slight smile curling one corner of his mouth as he took a seat beside her on the lounge.
‘You’re late, I didn’t think you were coming,’ he said.
‘I’m not the one who went anywhere, George,’ she replied, looking back at him as she leaned forward to turn the telly on.
In the early hours of the morning, they woke up curled on the lounge to the sounds of rage.
Coming back up the driveway after walking Kelly to her car, the moon was lighting the vine that sprawled like cobwebs up the side of the fibro garage. He noticed then, that although a few tendrils had managed to photosynthesise their way to the top, away from the rest of the plant as a whole, the majority clutched on tight with their tentacles, penetrating the most minuscule cracks in the wall and bearing most of the load together.
James Turvey is currently undertaking an Honours degree in Creative Writing at The University of Newcastle, where he also attends his day job as a library assistant. As hubristic as it sounds, he is one hundred percent positive that someday he will be a famous writer.