When I was nineteen I met this girl and her birthday was the same as mine. Same day and year. She wasn’t conventionally beautiful; she had acne scars on her left cheek and a quite hard, unfriendly looking face but to me she had something undefinable. She had short cropped hair with a rat’s tail at the back and on one of the first time’s I went out with her some guy in a pub called her ‘a fuckin lezzo’ for no apparent reason. She and I just walked past him. Her name was Megan. Megan Cartwright. She worked at Woollies as a packer. Customer service wasn’t her thing and she told me she sort of zoned out when it came to the aisle stacking and packing, thinking about art and films a lot and picturing her sketches before she did them.
She did pencil sketches of people, places and objects; everything. Always in pencil, black pencil. And they were outrageously good but she wasn’t fussed about trying to sell them or exhibit them or anything. I met her at the Valhalla Cinema in Glebe. I was there watching that David Lynch film, Wild at Heart. Nicolas Cage getting all weird in that crazy alligator skin jacket. Willem Dafoe as that sleazebag Bobby Peru. It was a great road movie and the year was 1990 and I was, like I said, nineteen and a bit of a loner. She was there two rows in front of me and it was the rat’s tail that caught my eye.
When we both walked out of the cinema back into reality I asked if I could join her for coffee at her table in the Valhalla Café and she accepted. I’m telling you I asked her out, all very casual and all, but my heart was racing like crazy and my hands sweating even in the middle of winter. When I approached her, she didn’t say anything at first. Just stared at me. Later on she told me she couldn’t figure out what I was doing because I was standing over her looking all weird and breathing heavily.
We lasted for seven months.
I wish I could say that we cut a swathe through the Sydney nightlife but we didn’t. We screwed like fucking crazy; that’s what we did. We hardly ever drank alcohol, our bad habits were coffee and cigarettes and that Jim Jarmusch film of the same name made it appear very cool to us—and we were young; plenty of time to stop smoking later.
In bed or anywhere she absolutely lit me up. Her body was so wiry and strong. Her breasts were very small but hard like her whole body. Her bum small and round and she ground down on me so fiercely; it was electric and she had this ability to make me last longer and longer. I was tall and slim with short, light brown hair and Megan said I had a baby face.
One thing we had in common was that we didn’t have a lot of friends of our own. I had moved to Sydney from Newcastle. Newcastle was two-and-a-half-hours-away by car or bus and had three-and-a-half-million less people and I was living at home with my mother before my big break-out to Sydney. So, I was happy to spend all my time with Megan and she seemed to feel the same. After all, when we first met we were both at the pictures on our own.
She lived in a share house in Glebe, not far from the Valhalla. She had a huge bedroom on the top floor. It had floorboards and she had a big four poster bed that her mother had given her for her eighteenth birthday. Her housemates were a lot older than us and barely acknowledged our existence. There were two girls, Niki and Peta, both around twenty-seven and into fashion and cool bars and they gave me the impression this was the last share house they would live in. Marriage and career seemed to be calling them. The fourth person in the house was a thirty-year-old Christian guy called, Tony. On Sundays he went out west somewhere to some great Church congregation where everyone tried to dress to impress and listen to Christian rock music. Think smart casual clothes meets with Creed the rock band.
We did have a bar that we often went to on Monday nights. It was a jazz bar on George Street in the centre of the city called Soup Plus. You could get a bowl of pumpkin soup and a roll for $5. We had been at her house in bed, watching Nicolas Cage in Vampire’s Kiss, on video, and it made us want to go out. We walked into the city in the middle of June with a big black umbrella up over us and it was raining very heavily and Megan had recently quit Woolworths. I was working at Cappuccino City on Oxford Street, Paddington as a coffee maker/waiter. Working as a coffee maker wasn’t cool back then like it is now and my point is we didn’t have much money but we were young and possibly in love and we didn’t care. The sign on the door said, soup and a roll $5. We walked down the stairs that first time into Soup Plus not expecting much and soaking wet and we heard the music and our mood immediately picked up and we hunkered down over our steaming bowls of pumpkin soup and dipped our rolls and drank a glass of red wine listening to some cool jazz. We were hooked. And whenever I went to Soup Plus, even many years later, I always felt a little heartbroken for that moment and I always felt like it was cold and rainy outside even when it wasn’t.
Megan really caught the jazz bug. She liked Miles and Chet and Charlie ‘yardbird’ Parker. She found this old film in a video store in Glebe. The film was called All the Fine Young Cannibals and was loosely based on the life of jazz great Chet Baker and starred Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner and we watched it together in Megan’s bed in-between having three breaks for sex. It was about Robert Wagner’s character, a poor white boy, son of a minister, making it in the jazz scene in New York and how…and I can’t tell you it would just fuck up the film for you if you ever saw it. So yeah, Megan flipped out on jazz and she cut her rat’s tail off and started to grow her hair and I knew the sex would be even greater than usual when she put on Miles Davis, Birth of the Cool.
I liked jazz but I didn’t love it like Megan did, not yet. The music did stuff to her, made her feel a certain way that I couldn’t get to. After about three months of seeing each other, we were at my place in Surrey Street, Darlinghurst. I liked the studio unit I had because it had a buzzer next to my bed where I could let people in or not even though I didn’t know anybody. It had polished wooden floors and you had to climb up a wooden ladder to get onto the, also wooden, raised bed. I used to kid myself it was my version of a New York loft but it was small, very small but big enough for me. The kitchen cupboards were wooden too and I had my clothes hung up on two portable clothes racks. And then out of the blue, just after I’d gone down on her, the briny taste still on my tongue, she said,
“I want to have a threesome.” And Chet sang,
And though they’ll think us rather rude let’s tell the world we’re in that crazy mood.
“A threesome. You and me and…” And a thought went through my head and I said,
“Not with another guy, no. I can’t do it.”
“But with a girl you can?”
“I don’t know, maybe, it’d certainly be a lot easier. I mean. A girl, yeah, we can try that.” And she started laughing really loud and said,
“Oh, you should have seen your face.”
“But you want to right, don’t you?”
“Yeah, and with a girl not a guy. I know someone.”
“You’re like me. You don’t know anybody.”
“It would have to be here on a weekend. Not at Glebe. I don’t want them knowing my business.”
“How about Sunday?”
“Today is Friday. Fuck. Who is this person?”
“Natalie. She’s cool, she works at this bookshop on Glebe Point Road.”
“And you like the same books?”
“And I…um.” I climbed down the ladder and pushed open the door to the small bathroom and had a shower wondering if I should be upset she cheated on me or happy because we were going to have a threesome. I put the cheating out of my mind, if it had been a guy it would have been different, and told her just before I left for work that it’s OK. I’d do it.
I had a small, black, fake leather sofa and me and Megan and Natalie were sitting on it. I had these big wine glasses and I was drinking lots of glasses of red wine and Megan gave me a joint and I took a big toke and my head spun. I’d been drinking too fast. Megan said,
“Do you like, Natalie.” And I laughed and said,
“Yeah, she’s beautiful,” and I turned to look at her on my left and she said,
“Kiss me on the lips.” And it was so sexy, she had thick black hair and black lipstick and I turned to kiss her and my face brushed her gorgeous hair and I kissed her softly on the lips and she said,
“Ooh, that was nice,” And I said drunkenly, “you’re so beautiful.” And Megan slipped her hand under my t-shirt and rubbed my left nipple and then ran her hand down my stomach and it was delicious and I was in heaven. Natalie pulled her blue singlet over her head and it just went on from there. We all climbed the ladder up to my bed.
The thing I most remember is that we were all laughing all the time. We’d look at each other and just think, this is amazing and we’d laugh. Afterwards, Megan, kneeling at the end of the bed, sketched me and Natalie as we sat back on the bed, pillows behind our heads, smoking cigarettes or joints, the sheet across our waists. Feeling beautiful. I still have the sketch. It kills me. It was a heady day and night. At one point Natalie and I got up and did a 7-11 run for cigarettes and Tally-Ho papers and junk food and I found out we loved the same kind of books and films. She was studying Writing & Editing at college and was whip smart and I wondered if you could be in love with two people at the same time.
Megan disappeared for a week. I couldn’t get her on the phone and when I dropped around the house was locked up so I couldn’t get in to see if she was there. After failing to get in I walked down to the book store Natalie worked in and she greeted me with a big smile and said,
“Hello stranger, I was thinking about you before.”
“Well, you said you liked the Beat Generation writers but when I asked you about John Clellon Holmes you said you hadn’t read his book.”
“Ah, OK, so…”
“So, I have it here. I put it aside for you.” And she handed me a copy of Holmes book, Go.
“Some people say it was the first book about the beats, before even Kerouac.”
“Great, thanks. That’s so nice you thought about me. And hey, have you seen, Megan. I can’t get in touch with her.” And she looked away and said,
“I think she found herself.”
“The whole lesbian thing.”
“Ah, so you think…”
“I’m like you, she came to me with the idea. I don’t think you know her nearly well enough.”
“I know a few people and they say she is.” I was about to tell her no, it was bullshit, she and I…and then I didn’t say anything and Natalie said,
“Keep the book. It’s a present.” And I said,
“We’re friends, right. We like each other.”
“Yeah, I mean, we shared something didn’t we.” And we both smiled and then laughed, just like we had in bed the previous Sunday.
“I gotta go,” I said and left the shop and walked all the way home to Darlinghurst on my own.
The next day, a Tuesday, Megan rang me at my pseudo loft (her words) and said,
“You won’t believe this.”
“Oh, and nice to hear from you too. Natalie said you’re a dyke.”
“Don’t use that word, please.”
“Well are you or aren’t you?”
“I don’t know. I’m nineteen. I’m finding out something new about myself nearly every single fucking day.”
“You said I wouldn’t believe it. Believe what?”
“There’s a new Australian film out and Miles Davis is in it. It’s called Dingo and Colin Friels is in it too. We have to go, tonight, please, Richard.”
“Miles Davis. Wow.”
“OK, I’ll come to your place now but after the film you have tell me where you’ve been.”
There was one scene in Dingo where Colin Friels and Miles Davis were on stage together in a Paris nightclub jamming and man, they were burnin’ and it made me feel like nothing else in the world mattered. A small electrified moment in time that sent goose bumps and shivers all over my body. Jazz is like any great music, it can transform your body. Like Elvis shaking his hips or Iggy Pop dancing like a shaman or David Helfgott transformed by his piano playing and when it happens it is magic.
Then came the letdown after the movie, satisfied but wanting more and still angry with Megan and I asked,
“Where were you this past week?”
“I went into her bloody bookstore and she was all nice and friendly and gave me a book and told me you were off…”
“She likes you, Richard. But wake-up Newcastle boy, this is…”
“Oh, this is the big city and I’m being naïve, is that it. I shouldn’t expect my girlfriend to…”
“I’m going to keep seeing her but I want to stay with you. I can’t think of any other way to say this so, I still want the sex with her.”
“But not all of us again.”
“No, it was just an experiment.”
“For you it did. No, no, that’s wrong. Of course I enjoyed it but I don’t want to…I don’t know. I don’t want to do it again.”
And it stayed unresolved and summer came and we stayed at my place more and more and in the mornings or on days off we’d catch the 380 bus to Bondi Beach and swim. Megan used to sunbake topless in just a red bikini bottom and when she walked down the beach to the sea, to swim topless at the south end, it took my breath away and the sex when we returned from the beach was always powerful. And it wasn’t just that image of her, it had something to do with swimming in the cold ocean and the tension built on the bus ride home and the sex was always a little wilder. And then every couple of weeks Megan would disappear for a few days and I knew she’d be with Natalie.
And then she disappeared for a week and the week became ten days and sick with worry I caught the train to Central and walked up Broadway to Glebe Point Road to see Natalie at the book shop.
“You’re so stupid,” she said. “Don’t you get it? She just does whatever she wants.”
“But was she with you, all these time she took off and…”
“Look, we’re friends, but don’t ask me that again, I told you what I think. If you come here, come to see me not talk about her.” But I couldn’t trust Natalie and I didn’t go back to see her again.
And for a couple of years I kept seeing Megan out of the corner of my eye or in the near distance but when I turned to look she’d disappeared or it was someone else. I gradually learned that you have to be a little brave to make new friends and I did cut a swathe through the pubs, bars and nightclubs of Sydney.
I never saw Megan again.
And jazz; fucking jazz. Like swimming in the ocean and the memory of her, it triggers something inside of me, always and forever.
Sean O’Leary has published two short story collections, ‘My Town’ and ‘Walking’. His novella ‘Drifting’ was the winner of the ‘Great Novella Search 2016’ and published in September 2017. He has published over thirty individual short stories and is a regular contributor of short fiction to Quadrant, FourW, Sudo, Close to the Bone (UK) and other literary and crime magazines. His crime novella ‘The Heat’ set in Darwin and Bangkok, was published in August 2019. Drifting and The Heat are both available on Amazon. Another crime novella ‘Preston Noir’ has been published in Crime Double Feature…Neo Noir (Zombie Pirate Publishing) and his short crime collection ‘Wonderland’ is due through Close to the Bone Publishing on May 28th 2021. His interviews with crime writers appear online in Crime Time magazine.