The carpet smelt of stale beer and cigarettes. The closer I got to it, the more pronounced the odour became. I liked it. It was familiar. It was how I felt the place should smell. Shit, I'd been in and out of the there since I was a wee fella...working my way through a whitebait lunch in the dining room. A wedge of lemon, salt on the cucumber, a dash of pepper, forget the coleslaw, gimme the loot...
I remember giving a fair amount of thought to the chipped orange, pink, turquoise and brown crockery. I could only surmise it came from a time I would never know. A time when taste was simple and company was everything. I would imagine all the interesting (or dull) people who might have eaten off it over the years... The satisfaction a simple piece of china could bring, still brought, as I tried to nibble the eyes out of a stray whitebait - just to see if what Mum told my painfully skeptical younger sister was true, that you cant even taste em. I couldn’t.
There was something else that always fascinated me about that room. A faded painting of a stag. It hung over there, just above the fireplace. It was the sort of painting you'd find today in the bathroom of some pretentious Wellington bar. The type of two-faced establishment that tricks you into believing it is an old friend, before fucking you mercilessly in exchange for some exotic sounding elixir. Integrity in exchange for anything...
This Stag was really quite a magnificent creature. He looked every bit the true gentleman. Regal. Stood on some unknown point, a splash of brown in a sea of deep green. Alert yet aloof, as if he knew the artist was armed with nothing but paint and easel.
For a young boy with dreams of being an explorer, the painting of that lone stag conjured up all sorts of fantasies. I would play those out later, alone in the inlet or amongst the swamp Toi Toi. Hours spent chasing Pukeko, trying to get as close as possible, imagining they were giant Moa or hungry Tigers...I'd hide, perfectly still, as they stalked past. Sometimes so close I could easily
have reached out and touched their brilliant blue feathers. But I never did. Something held me back, told me it was sacred...Something like that.
Funny what the smell of stale beer and cigarettes can do...
And yet, here I was. On the floor, among the dirt and the filth... I needed that $2 coin. I still had an hour to wait and planned to invest my time wisely... I was going to gamble. I was going to gamble, and I was going to win. I had a feeling. Not a flash dance kind of feeling, but a real gut feeling. The satisfied and somewhat self-righteous kind. The kind that manifests when, soon after you pull your keys out of the ignition and decide in a moment of clarity to flag down a passing cab (In which you now sit silently, staring at the horizon trying not to throw up on the drivers lap), you pass through a police checkpoint. (A checkpoint conveniently located along the very same route you earlier planned to attempt under the influence of all manner of social stimuli.)
That’s when you know you've really won. Because now, instead of heading to the cells, you're heading home. And when you get there you'll insist that your friends (who wont really know why you are ranting incoherently at them) take your recently discovered anti drink driving philosophy fairly seriously.
I was going to win.
…If I could just