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Me and Virgil
Kathy McVey (IIML, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand)

Me and Virgil, we’re both 31, and he earns a hundred and fifty grand a year. Virgil’s a Flash animator and he gawks at a screen all day, making masterpieces from nothing but imagination and digital files. He’s real good at it too. But Virgil loves cars and car accessories more than his job, and more than me too I reckon, but I’ve never lost much sleep over that one.

Virgil loves speed too. Yeah, the kind you get from driving a fast car, but also the kind you buy from drug dealers. I don’t get into drugs that much myself, not anymore. The future I’m planning means I need to stay healthy; I need to stay looking good. You see those 36-year-old girls who still drop E’s every Friday night and they don’t look that flash. Fast living takes its toll on you, I reckon.

Virgil figures his love of speed is genetic – that’s when you’ve got it in your blood from your ancestors. His parents were these Seventies speed freaks who were way into that old Thunderbirds TV show. Maybe you guessed already from his name. I never heard about the Thunderbirds before I met Virgil but I Googled it, and the website said Virgil’s the most serious of the five Tracy brothers. My Virgil’s not, but he loves that shit, he’s always shouting out “Thunderbirds are go!” He cracks me up.

Well, he used to.

Virgil got disqualified from driving before I met him – I mean, he lost his license – cos he got caught speeding too many times. And so I get to drive his car. It’s blue and it’s some snazzy sort of a Mazda. RX-8 I think. I don’t use it that much, mainly for groceries and stuff, and a bit in the weekends if we’re out and about. Sometimes he gets me to drop him off places, but we live right in the city so we can walk pretty much everywhere we want to go.

When Virgil first went to jail I’d been living at his place for four or five months and, so long as I did the housework and stuff, he was rapt to have me here. We were still in what you’d call the honeymoon phase I guess. We met in a totally corny way…yeah, in a bar one night. And I had to move out of my flat the next weekend cos I broke up with this other guy, so I just moved in here.

Both of us are real cruisey and we don’t hassle each other, so it’s all good. His place is kind of upmarket and it’s two bedrooms, so there’s space for the computers and Playstation – I keep all my clothes and shoes in that room too – and I love how you can see the sea when you’re sitting on the balcony.

Me and Virgil, we always have happy chats if we stay in and smoke a joint or watch a DVD, and we have a laugh if we go out clubbing or something. What I like about Virgil is he sleeps real close to me all night long. Sometimes he rolls over and grabs me and pulls me in closer to him without even waking up. That’s a precious thing for a guy to do, I reckon.

I’ve been trying to get this TV presenter’s job, cos that’s what I know I’m going to be good at. I’ve done a few ads for TV already, but so far nothing that’s really a big deal. I’ve got a proper agent and I’m making a bit of money though. Also, I do two nights a week waitressing in an Italian place, so it’s not like Virgil has to pay for everything. I used to work in a media agency as a planner, but I like this heaps better. It’s more random.

A few months ago I was in this ad for a Russian cigarette company. There were about 20 of us and all we had to do was dress up in designer clothes and dance around. I got to wear this floppy black hat made of felt, like Kate Moss wears out shopping all the time. You see her paparazzi-snapped in it, in New Idea and Women’s Day. And I wore this slinky black t-shirt with ribbons on the sleeves and a print of a woman wearing a floppy hat, same as the one on my head.

The film company, they hired this big house in Herne Bay and pretty much filled up every room with clothes and a few laptops. I had to take my passport to prove I was over 30 and sign a legal document, like a disclaimer thing. There’s this rule in Russia about cigarette advertising, and maybe alcohol as well I think, where they’re only allowed to show ads with people older than 30. Trying on the clothes and signing the form only took like an hour, then the ad took a day to shoot – and I got two-and-a-half grand for it. I worked it out, that’s like nearly two hundred and eighty bucks an hour. If I can score a job like that every week, I’ll be sweet, even if Virgil’s not around. A lot of it was just hanging out and drinking coffee. I met some nice people too.

There was one chick who had this insane counting thing going on. She couldn’t stop counting in her head. She talked to me about it, while she was counting the lights and the coffee cups and the teaspoons. That’s how we got onto it actually. I was sussing out the espresso machine and she stumped up, started tapping up the stack of cups with her fingernail.

“Do you want a latte?” I asked her. “I can make you one.”

But she kept checking out the china. “Thanks, but nah, I’m ok… seven, eight, nine, ten.”

So I asked her: “Uh… what are you counting cups for?” And I was laughing at her even though I never met her before, but in a friendly way, you know. She had a smooth blonde bob and one of those peaceful faces, looked like she’s never got a fright in her life.

“Oh God,” and she was laughing now too. “You just busted me so bad. I’ve got an obsession thing and I can’t help it – I keep counting everything. Probably some kind of anxiety problem, but hey,” she did this funny wiggle with her eyebrows. “I’m too anxious to go to the doctor.”

“What are you like?!” I said. We were both nearly wetting our pants by then. She said she counts when she goes to new places – like the ad shoot – cos it makes her feel not so nervous. What a classic.

I also caught up with this interesting guy called Jerry. He had seven facial piercings and the hugest watch on his wrist. He brought along this mint-condition copy of the original Golden Treasury. I love that old kids’ book so much – I’ve been looking in secondhand shops for years to find a copy. No joy. He said his Nan sent it from England for him, said he’s got a copy of Struwelpeter too, lucky bugger.

It was hot as a sauna though. That was the thing I didn’t like about doing the Russian ad. Partly cos of the lights they have, partly cos we were crowded into the mezzanine floor at Antlers. You know it, the caf above that old-fashioned Japanese restaurant in High Street? They set it up like it was a crowded nightclub, amped up some weird Russian techno, and we all cut the rug while they rolled the cameras.

Just after lunch the director asked everyone who smoked to light up these Russian cigarettes, and then we all danced some more with durries in our fingers. I don’t really smoke any more and they were horrible cigarettes too, but I got through three of them. Pretty lame idea for an ad I thought, hip young things smoking up a storm in a nightclub, but I guess it flogs fags a treat in Russia.

We got to keep the clothes, which was very cool, so a few of us went up to Velocity for a wine when we wrapped. I asked the counting nutcase – Leah – to take a picture of me, all dolled up in the Kate Moss hat and make-up-artisted within an inch of my life. She snapped a goodie and I shoved the camera screen under Virgil’s nose as soon as I got home.

“Babe, you’re the glam,” he said, patting my nose with his pinky finger. Then he gave me the end of his joint and kissed my cheek, “I gotta go babe, off to Jimmy’s with the boys from work. Sure you don’t want to come?”

“Thanks hun, I’m knackered, but wake me up. We can have a talk late, ok?”

I laxed out in the best-ever bath with bubbles and candles, the works. And there I was by about 10 o’clock, snuggled up in my dressing gown and ugg boots, crashed out on the couch. Except it’s not a couch exactly. It’s this old hospital bed that Virgil scored from a mate who’s a builder and he got this special padded cushion thing made for it, so it’s like a hospital-bed-couch. It’s a saffron colour, like a Buddhist monk’s robe, and it goes great with the industrial theme Virgil’s got going on.

I was watching this documentary about Afghanistan and this one Kiwi soldier with a squishy face and the grossest zit on his chin, he was saying: “The main difficulties here are heat and wind. And the worst thing about it is there’s shit everywhere, and the shit gets ground up into dust and the wind whips all that shit-dust around. So basically, you’re always breathing shit.” Who’d be a soldier anyway? The TV beeped out the swearing every time he said shit and maybe I was still a bit stoned cos it seemed funny enough that I had a laugh out loud.

But Virgil spoiled the happy buzz, I mean, he seriously bummed me out that night. He rocked on in just after midnight and I was stoked he was home so early. I licked my lips ready for kissing him, half got up to give him a squeeze. But as soon as he saw me he slumped way down on the carpet, with his back leaning up against the bed-couch so I couldn’t see his face very well.

“Man…I’m off my head. And I’m dead, I am so dead,” he said. Just announced it straight off like that, lacing his fingers together and flapping the clasped pair up and down. “I’m so messed up babe and I just smacked into this lady, this walking lady… and you know I’m not even sposed to be driving?”

When he twisted his neck to grin at me, I thought, Yep, you’re off your head. His pupils were lost. And he had this slick on his face like I get sometimes if I have a hot shower too soon after coming in from the gym. He started chewing the inside of his mouth. He didn’t look flash at all. But sometimes Virgil goes off on these tangents and I really had no idea where he was coming from. So I just hung out there, waiting for him to explain himself. I mean, I’d seen him in this sorry state mumbling about some drama – or not – more than a couple of times before.

Eventually he did get out the details about what had happened, and I managed to get a cup of coffee into him and then I rang the cops. These two guys arrived to take him to the station, and there was a lesson in that for me. There’s always a lesson when you least expect it, I reckon. One of the cops was the bomb, about the same age as me, cute as a puppy but very staunch with it as well. Damn it that I’m in my dressing gown, that’s what rattled through my head as soon as I opened the door.

You know, even now, I don’t know exactly why Virgil was taking a work vehicle to a party that had nothing to do with work, anyway. The cars at his office are supposed to only be for work trips like out to meetings with clients and stuff, but the guys reckoned they’d just swing past Joel’s place to pick up some weed before they went on to Jimmy’s that Friday night.

Don’t ask me why Virgil was driving. I feel like I hardly know the guy. He got two years in jail for hitting this woman crossing the road, and lucky for him that she wasn’t killed stone cold dead, just her hip and leg all smashed up to hell. Maimed, that’s what she got, just walking quiet across the street. I know cos I saw her in court in a wheelchair. Poor thing. Probably it would have been twelve months except for the blood test they gave him, and for the way he zoomed off and left her on the black road.

So the end thing is that Virgil got two years, and I get to look after his place while he’s gone – it’s all good for me, except for the sleeping by myself part. It doesn’t seem fab karma to have another guy staying when it’s his house. So, maybe I’ll still be here when he gets out and maybe not. I reckon I’ll be on a TV show by then. I’m just going with the flow and hoping for that. I’ve done three good ads since the cigarette thing so I’m feeling positive about it. And me and Virgil, we agreed no hard feelings either way. We agreed things change, they always change. Right now this wicked place to live, that’s what I’ve got.

I’m grateful, you know?

Kathy McVey is a writer based in sunny Gisborne, on the East Coast of New Zealand’s North Island. She has spent the past year pondering the mind-body connection as it relates to health and illness, and writing poetry about drugs and other obsessions for her MA in Creative Writing at Victoria University’s International Institute of Modern Letters.

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