fragments of a book. hobbs and raffan.
Brookvale. 6.30 am.
The sudden and soft impact of a currawong chick hitting the ground awoke the rat instantly. The chick’s soft yellow beak was impaled into the wet earth and it struggled uselessly on stumped and furred wings. The old rat rustled out of its newspaper nest under the house and stopped at the edge of an overgrown hedge border, tense and ravenous, bristling with hunger. Intent.
Moving as quickly as a snake it rushed up to the bird and seized its rump, piercing the flesh and crushing the young bones under a rabid bite. The chick breathed out a soft call of panic to a parent bird who stood black and yellow-eyed on a high branch by the empty nest. Watching.
A black feral cat irritably shook off a dab of water off its front pad as it stepped out of the same hedge border and it issued a low hissing growl and arched up, raising a high collar of fur and baring broken yellowed teeth in a face flattened with cunning. The rat immediately bit the last of life from the chick and swallowed a mouthful of feather, fur and flesh. Then renewed its bite, and chewed down again, a little electric murmur of bodydeath in his mouth as the chick shivered and died. A dying pulse all drunk up. Warm.
The cat crept closer, mewling like a hungry baby.
Don Hobbs dreamed he was toting heavy hessian sacks into darkened house where he walked along a narrow hallway, past doors open on either side and into a small room at the rear of the building. Careful here as the floorboards had been removed leaving only the joists. Rotted black posts bristling with nails.
As he lowered his sack onto the ground here he noticed again the many others lying humped in the darkness, some rotted apart with their contents visible. Skulls and intricate spineworks, curved yellow lungbones. So many nights of forgotten labour.
A wild-eyed cat crouched amongst the bodies and it howled at him.
Hobbs quickly sat up and swung his heavy legs off the bed, his mouth was dry and foul and his stomach heaved with dyspepsia. Turning back to the bed he saw that he had not slept alone last night, but the slim and exposed shoulder and arm, the short-cropped white hair meant nothing to him, as did its sex.
He got off the bed, scooped his clothes and boots up off the floor and left the room, slamming the door behind him. As he washed in the basin he heard the front door close as his overnight companion left the house.
He lived in a weatherboard ruin of a boarding house on Pittwater Road in Brookvale, a building where most of the residents we either ex-prisoners or itinerant drifters with enough cash to pay the twenty dollar a night bed rental. The proprietor lived alone in a backyard caravan and raised budgerigars. His boarders slept three to a room.
Most days Hobbs and his mate Raffan sat idle on the front porch until one of them decided to start drinking. The building had recently been sold and they were considering moving up to Brooklyn on the Hawkesbury River and getting some work on the local dope farms or oyster leases. The work was interchangeable, the same paymaster paid the same dollar.
After a meagre breakfast of black tea and buttered bread the two men sprawled in an old horsehair lounge on the front porch watching the city bound traffic stream by. Raffan rolled up a thick cigarette and hawked onto the lawn before lighting it up.
‘ Who’d you end up with last night? ‘ he asked,
‘ No idea, ‘ said Hobbs, ‘ it pissed off before I could get a look at it. ‘
That said they lapsed into a contemplative silence.
‘ Where’s the tools? asked Hobbs after a while.
‘ In me bag, in the cupboard, what do you need? ‘
Hobbs stretched both of his big arms out horizontal to his shoulders and yawned.
‘ Fucken pipe oughta do it, the job sounds pretty soft to me. First he’ll shit himself and then we get what we want, ‘
‘ Help yourself then. ‘