Under The Milky Way
written by: Sean O’Leary
I’m driving down Smith St, Collingwood. Not sure where I’m going to stay. My parents are dead. My brothers live interstate. The family home in Chadstone sold. Under the Milky Way by The Church comes on the radio. I have to pull over. All these different tangents start shooting through my brain. That band whose name I could never remember at the Punters Club. The Prince of Wales with Angie that night. We had a room, such a dive back then. Left without paying. Painters and Dockers were playing. I got up on stage and started pogo dancing. The security guy dragged me off. That wild night with crazy Beth seeing Hunters & Collectors at the Old Greek Theatre on Bridge Road.
But it was The Church, that night at the Prince of Wales with Angie, played on my little portable CD player after the Dockers gig. In the seedy motel room, high on grass and E. Warm as toast in bed, listening to that song over and over again, falling in love. Like I was in a trance. Under the Milky Way. My little Mazda parked on the roof.
A cop knocks on the window of my car. I realise I’m stopped in front of the McDonalds drive-through. Wind down the window on my Datsun 2000.
‘You alright, mate. You know where you’re going?’
‘You got interstate plates, you’re parked across the…’
‘Yeah, I’ll move, sorry.’
I do a U-turn and park on the opposite side of the street.
I feel like a cigarette. I haven’t smoked for six or seven years. I don’t drink anymore either; take no drugs. Me and Angie used to take speed and go to the Users Club, chain smoke, drink and dance all night. I get out of my little car, go into the 7-11 on Smith Street, buy a packet of Marlboro Light. The 7-11 guy looks at the thin scar running down my left cheek. I ask for a lighter too. Outside, I rip the cellophane off the Marlboro Lights, tear an opening, tap on one side of the packet out pops the cigarette. I stick it in my mouth, strike a match, inhale, blow the smoke out skywards. I cough like it’s my first ever smoke, recover, take another drag, blow the smoke straight ahead. It feels good, awful but good.
Smoking, phew. What next?
My mum and dad were away for two weeks, I was sick of the share house I was living in Collingwood. I suggested to Angie we go out to Chadstone, to the suburbs. I had been out with her three or four times. We’d fucked for the first time in my bed the night before, in my room on the first floor facing the street. There was a little wooden balcony with a cast-iron balustrade. We sat out there after sex, smoked a few joints listening to The Cure.
Angie had travelled overseas with her mother to Asia, New York, Paris, London. But she was naïve too because she’d never smoked a joint until she met me. Her father had mental health problems and left Angie and her mother ten years before my meeting her. He was in the Northern Territory somewhere. Angie told me she would get ranting phone calls from him at odd hours of the day and night. He was bipolar or something.
I drove us out to the suburbs, to the house in Chadstone, in my little red Mazda 323. Pulled into the driveway, she said,
‘This is where you grew up.’
‘Uh-huh, but I had a big black dog that doesn’t live here anymore.’
‘What was his name?’
‘Sounds like a porn star,’ she said and we both laughed. I opened the back gate and she followed me in, I looked around, she said,
‘Shit, the yard goes on forever, it’s huge.’
‘Yeah, it’s the real quarter acre block.’
‘It must have been cool to grow up here, with the big yard and the big black dog.’
‘It was, lots of cricket and soccer and stuff with the brothers.’
‘Yeah, plenty of backyard cricket.’
We went inside, I dropped my bag in my old room. The single bed, desk and chair were still there but the posters of the bands had been taken down.
‘Are we going to stay in this room?’
‘Yeah, don’t want to mess up mum and dad’s room.’
‘No, I like it. Did you mess around with other girls in here?’
‘A few times, not much really.’
She smiled, ‘More than a few huh?’
I looked at her and thought that I was already stuck on her, falling in love with her. She was right into the local band scene. She wore black a lot. She had huge brown eyes, long, wild, thick, wavy brown hair, with different coloured ribbons in it always. It flowed like it had an energy of its own. She had freckles across her cheeks and the bridge of her nose, cut cheekbones, a small round chin. She killed me from the moment I first saw her, which was at Stalactites. It’s a twenty-four Greek Place on Lonsdale Street. She was eating a huge souvlaki. That was one of the best things about her. I mean she had a great appetite. We’d go out, get drunk, stoned, eat anything. Pizza, souvlaki, falafel, bloody anything. She was a political animal too, ready to debate anyone, anytime. We didn’t think we needed anyone else, even from that early stage.
Three months after that day at my parents place we were sitting out on the balcony in my share house in Collingwood. It was 7 AM and we’d been out at the Users Club doing the stuff I told you about earlier. Sitting and drinking tea, recovering, feeling not so bad, she said to me,
‘Sometimes when I’m stoned on grass I get nervous and scared. Like something bad is going to happen or that you might play some awful game with me. Screw someone else and tease me about it.’
It sounded odd. I said,
‘Oh, we can cut down on it if you like.’
‘No, it’s just sometimes, sometimes even when I’m not stoned.’
‘Everyone gets a little like that, even people who don’t smoke weed.’
‘Yeah, I know but you wouldn’t would you. Cheat on me.’
We stopped taking speed. Angie found a job at the Gypsy Bar on Brunswick Street. I was at Melbourne Uni doing Arts. I found a job working part-time at a servo on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Angie knocked off at 10 PM. I’d cruise past and pick her up, we’d go home screw our brains out, smoke weed. It was beginning to feel like she and I were becoming permanent.
We had dinner at this Thai restaurant on Brunswick Street on a Thursday night. Angie’s night off. The food was spicy delicious. After we paid the bill this girl I knew came down the stairs just above us. She came over and kissed me on the cheek, said,
‘Oh, yeah, hi…’
‘Yeah, hi Stella, this is my girlfriend, Angie.’
Angie just froze her out.
‘Rude fucking bitch,’ Stella said. I looked hard at Stella and she said, ‘It’s cool, I’m going, we’re going,’ she said pointing to the three guys she was with. I sat back down and Angie hissed at me,
‘You fucked her. Didn’t you. You fucked her!’
‘Hey, Angie, where we are, please I…’
‘You fucked her!’
She grabbed the vase on the table, threw the water at me, stormed out. I was sitting there, damp shirt, embarrassed, thinking whoa, whoa, that is not a normal reaction, then, no, no, c’mon, people do irrational things. She’s had a few drinks. I then rushed out the door looking left and right but couldn’t see her anywhere. I went down to the Gypsy Bar, spoke to her boss, he said he hadn’t seen her and I asked him,
‘Has she been okay at work, happy?’
‘Angie, hell, we all love her.’
‘Right, right, thanks a lot.’
I drove home, parked the car out the front of the Collingwood house, looked up, there she was up on the balcony of my room. She said with a big smile,
‘What took you?’
I walked upstairs into my bedroom and said,
She said it so flat, so emotionless. I nodded.
‘I’m tired, can we just crash out?’ I asked her.
‘Let’s have a joint.’
‘Really? You think that…’
‘Oh, shut-up. I was jealous that’s all. Get over it.’
She smoked a small one paper joint by herself, curled around my back, putting her arm around my stomach, said,
‘I love you.’
‘I think I’m going to quit the Gypsy Bar, they don’t like me there.’
I woke up, smelled dope, she’d smoked a joint, put it out in the copper ashtray but it was still burning down. I reached over, crushed it out. Lit a cigarette, went downstairs. She was cutting up fruit for a smoothie. I walked up behind her and said,
‘Are you okay? Not worried about Stella from last night.’
‘You cunt!’ She yelled, turned fast, cut me with the knife. A thin straight cut down my left cheek I stood still, shocked. Angie dropped to the floor and started mewling. Dom, my housemate appeared at the doorway and I yelled,
‘Call an ambo!’
He did. I had overreacted, the cut wasn’t too deep but the scar would always be there. The ambulance guys took Angie with them, telling me they would take her to the Alfred Hospital. She could barely stand up.
It was scary.
A few days later Angie’s mother rang me, said that Angie was in the psych ward at the Alfred and she was coming good.
‘Angie’s asking for you,’ she said, ‘She feels horrible about what she did. The psychiatrist thinks it’s a good idea for you to visit her. She can apologise to you, feel better, knowing you still care about her.’
‘What does the psychiatrist think happened?’
‘A psychotic episode brought on by smoking marijuana.’
‘When can I go in?’
‘Anytime, but call me and let me know first.’
She was sitting in an armchair, wearing her pajamas, watching TV. The nurse walked over to her, pointed at me. Angie smiled, did her little wave. I smiled back, she got up slowly, walked to me, we hugged awkwardly then she led me outside, her hand in my hand, we sat down in the warm courtyard, she said,
‘Can I have a smoke?’
‘Sure,’ I said and handed her the packet, ‘I think I’m going to give up.’
‘What a good boy you are.’
‘You get bored in here?’ I asked and then bam, bam, bam this guy comes out bouncing a basketball, Angie says,
He kept going, bam, thwack, thwack he hit the backboard of the ring and it went on and on.
‘How soon before you get out?’
‘Don’t know. Hey, could you try and bring me some weed in here?’
‘No Angie I couldn’t.’
‘Mr Straight all of a sudden, you gave me my first bloody joint you know.’
She stood up, said,
‘Well, fuck off then.’
She sat down, started crying. I put my arm around her, she rested her head on my shoulder, after a few seconds she looked up and bam, bam, Duane continued, thwack, bam, we kissed, she said,
‘It’s cool, you’ll get better, no more weed, okay?’
‘Okay. Can we go back to the house with the big back yard?’
‘Yeah, soon as you get out we’ll go back.’
She got out about two months later, stayed at her parents’ place in Glen Iris. The psychiatrist was convinced she was alright after a month but they had to make sure. She was on strong medication. We went out for coffee a few times, then she stayed the night in my bed at Collingwood, we made love, she wanted a joint, I said,
‘I gave up.’
‘Why? Because of what happened.’
‘It’s only weed.’
‘You don’t get it, do you? How can you not get it?’
‘No, I don’t get it. I’m taking meds now. I’m going to be alright. Most people have one big psychotic episode and that’s it. Their lives return to normal as long as they take the medication.’
‘You’re a psychiatrist now.’
‘Oh, get fucked.’
She got dressed, left.
We drifted apart, I let it happen. I was a little scared of her but still in love with her and thought about her every day.
A few months went past, she turned up one night around ten. I let her in, we walked upstairs to my room, she said,
‘I gave up smoking dope, cut back on coffee too.’
‘I’m that girl you met at Stalactites,’ she said, grabbed me, hugged me, we fell onto the bed laughing, she said,
‘I want you so bad.’
In the morning, she was gone. I was happy. She was back to her old self but better, no dope. I could probably trust her again. I rang her mobile several times that day and couldn’t get in touch with her. I left messages. A couple of days later I tried again and it said the number was no longer in service. A few more days went by, I rang her mum, she said Angie was in the psych ward at St Vincent’s.
‘She came around and saw me, she was nice,’ I told her mother.
‘She’s all over the shop,’ her mother said, ‘Drugs. She met a girl in the psych ward who gave her ice…’
‘Why was she there in the first place?’
‘She has schizophrenia. Paranoid schizophrenia. She’s somehow going to have to learn to live with it. I…I’m sorry Nathan. I think she was in love with you but…she…maybe you want to see her. I’m not sure if it’s a good idea or not.’
I decided it wasn’t a good idea. I packed up my stuff and moved to Sydney. I transferred to the University of NSW, took a long time getting a degree in psychology but didn’t work as a psychologist, more of a social worker. I worked with people who had problems like Angie but I missed Melbourne and there was never anyone to take Angie’s place.
Outside the 7-11. I start the car, drive to Gertrude Street, find a parking place. I know Angie is in St Vincent’s through a mutual friend. I heard sometimes she lives there for months on end. The staff looking after her, doling out her money so she can’t buy drugs. Only allowed out with a staff member or her mum. She is in the psych ward now. I walk around to Nicholson Street. There is a sign above an archway that says, St Vincent’s Mental Health. I walk through the archway, down a little lane between garden beds, the windows of the rooms in the ward on my right. Outside the entrance there are four people, two guys and two girls, standing around smoking. They ignore me. I walk into the reception area. I ask the nurse about Angie Johnson, she says,
‘You just walked past her.’
I turn around to look at the two girls. The nurse says,
‘She’s the one on the bottom step, smoking.’
I walk back outside. I barely recognise her. Both her wrists have bandages on them. She is thin, listening now to something the girl above her said. Her hair is cut short and fierce, close to her scalp, with some rat tails at the back. She’s wearing black skinny jeans, a black camisole, heavy black shoes. I stare hard at her. It’s her but not her. Damaged by drugs and her illness. I keep staring straight at her. She keeps listening to the girl talking. Looks at me, kind of shakes her head as though thinking is that him?
I say, ‘Angie, hi.’
She looks away.
She turns, looks at me, a hint of a smile on her face. Says,
‘What are you looking at?’
There is still some light in her.
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