After comparing lives with you for years I see how I’ve been losing. It’s always been a race to the bottom, and I thought my simple free-fall would prove unbeatable. But no, all your energetic scrambling has paid off magnificently.
You clever bastard.
This is how I got the news. The kids woke me up when they got home from school. They wanted money for some chips. I told them to piss off, but then I remembered I didn’t have any fags. So I said they could accompany me to the servo and see what they could nick while I engaged the bowser slave in conversation. I have found this to be a satisfactory modus operandi. It has deniability.
Deniability: what you finally ran short of.
Anyway, while I was standing at the counter going Do you have Dunhill? (because I know he doesn’t have Dunhill, but he always turns to check) and Well what about Peter Stuyvesant? and Oh all right, how much for B and H? and so on, my gaze drifted down to the newspaper rack and, bugger me senseless, there you were on page one. Not a good photo, with your arm up like that, but I recognised your Toad of Toad Hall lips. I had seen that self-righteous pout before. For instance: when Dadda made you give back my water pistol.
WHITE EXTRADITED FROM MEXICO said the headline. And I hadn’t even known you were holidaying overseas. I completely forgot to distract the checkout chappie, but the kids were already loaded up and waiting out of sight behind the biscuit rack for their chance to split.
For the first time in years I actually bought a newspaper.
You read the paper mate? I said.
No. He didn’t look the type, either. Face like a box of fish.
That’s my brother, there.
Him. That’s my brother.
Yeah. He’s worth millions.
The kids scarpered.
He saw something. Hey! he called.
I waved the paper. What? Don’t you believe me? He’s worth a packet.
Are they your kids?
Who? Them? Nah. Which was mostly true, genetically speaking.
Yes. They don’t come in here again.
Nothing to do with me, I said, and off I went.
When I caught up with them they were sitting in the gutter having dinner. Chips, Twisties, jelly snakes and half a dozen jam rolls, washed down with Coke.
Give us a snake, I said. Andy held one out for me, but Sonya snatched it and stuffed it into her mouth.
Nick your own, she said, and to underscore the message she grabbed the bag and ran.
Now, you’d understand that, wouldn’t you? I’d bet you’d quite like Sonya.
Andy and the rest went after her, but I just opened up the paper and feasted on the lovely, lovely story of your amazing magical act, multiplying and then disappearing all those millions. What a spectacular corporate collapse it was, an orgasm of awfulness. Creditors storming an empty building. Fisticuffs in the foyer. Rudderless employees shouting for a lifeline. Ruined pensioners dripping with self-pity, clueless, dead on their feet, giving up their last shred of dignity for a par in a sidebar. Conversely, your irate patrons refusing for once to be quoted, outraged at the suggestion that they ever knew you.
Your colourful escape by yacht was a master stroke, nicely calculated to boil the blood of your disappointed fans. As was your special guest appearance in Mexico, repeddling the same guano that sold so well back home. Who could top your arrogance in the face of the TV cameras? I am not responsible for other people’s imprudent investment decisions. Brilliant! The people you destroyed — it was their fault.
And then the downfall. The unexpected efficacy of the Mexican federal police, the concrete reality of a prison cell, the unprecedented transPacific concord which the authorities of two nations brought to planning your future. Mexico just wanted to see the back of you; Australia couldn’t wait to get its hands on you. You were done for. You were in chains. You were a smiling villain, a confidence man, a thief, a fraud.
It rocked me. I never thought the world would catch on. And now the White family name couldn’t be blacker. Nothing I could do would bring it lower.
I gave this some thought as I moseyed home. Sonya and Alana were swinging on the front fence, trolling for boys.
Where’s your mum? I asked, and they didn’t answer. I passed in to find Andy and GeriAnna tranced in front of the telly. Sharna came into the room to face me.
Did you feed the kids? she asked.
Yeah. Look at this —
What did you feed em?
Pies. Look — I told you about my brother Terry? He’s stuffed it.
Sharna has never met you, but she knew who I meant. She examined the photo. I read her the story.
Aw, that deadshit, she said. What a rip-off artist.
You wouldn’t understand the rage she bestowed on you, this westie who shares my life.
It made me laugh.
Shut up you dickhead. You should have got something while you could.
That wiped the smile off my dial.
Not that again, I said.
You never tried.
She means when Dadda died. It’s true. I wasn’t going to ask you. You didn’t disappoint me. I got nothing.
Sharna went into the kitchen and bashed around with the kettle. I followed. She was thinking, like a rat in a cage. She got her methadone out of the fridge, but didn’t drink it straight away.
You can sell your story.
Tell him you’re going to sell your story.
Aw, that’s ridiculous, I said, but I was impressed.
I went into the bedroom and fixed myself a little hit.
Then I dreamed I rocked up to your place in Vaucluse, except this time the street was full of TV wagons and the security gate was open. No need this time for me to stand like a beggar in front of the electric eye. I went through and there was your sheila outside the front door facing down the media jackals. They were jumping at her with microphones and cameras flash flash flash. She saw me sidling by but couldn’t get at me. She didn’t shout. She didn’t want the cameras to discover me. She had to watch me slip into the house, my dirty feet in her shag pile, and nothing she could do. They didn’t notice me, the grey shade in faded jeans, and I drifted into the living room with blue and black walls and the 230-degree panorama of the harbour. (The last 15 degrees required you to poison one ancient Port Jackson fig in your neighbour’s stately garden, a crime he suspected but could not prove, which suspicion I could have confirmed, just one little thing I could still let slip.) There you were, uncharacteristically slumped in your fatuously postmodern chair, the toad pout fully extended, feeling put upon by everyone.
I knew I was dreaming. For starters, the paper said you were being held in remand. But it was a good dream so I didn’t stop. You looked up, I looked down. We both realised the implications.
You saw me smile and arced up.
This is your fault, you said.
Well, fuck me, I said, gobsmacked. You took this as an invitation to continue.
All the way through school I had you following me around, making me look bad.
Making you look bad, you wanker?
Hanging around like a bad smell. I had to do so much for you.
This brought back no comforting memory of White senior shepherding me through the pimpled anxiety of my school days. Instead I relived the terror of being caught in the junior toilets by your honking, hulking friends. It’s true you rescued me before I drowned, but I think you timed your entrance.
I knew where this was headed. You were moving to usurp my dream, and I wasn’t having a bar of that. I woke myself up.
It was the middle of the night and everyone was dead to the world. I made myself baked beans on toast, sitting close to the telly because Andy and GeriAnna were crashed on the couch. There was a bit of cheese in the fridge too, dried out like yellow glass, and I gnawed on that for a while and had a beer. I looked out the window and there was moonlight. It didn’t seem real, what had happened to you. I went into the bedroom and pulled my box out from under the bed.
Whatcha? Shut … don’t, Sharna mumbled.
You’re asleep, I said.
I found the water pistol down the bottom of the box, wrapped up in my footy shirt. A green plastic replica of a Colt M1911. Not mine — yours. I burned mine under the house three days after we were given them for Christmas, and then I wished I hadn’t. That’s why I nicked yours. That’s why you tried to nick it back. But Dadda stopped you. Ha ha.
Nothing you can do about it now. Nothing you can do.
I took it out to the kitchen and filled it up. It still works. I went and squirted Andy and GeriAnna, made em go to bed. I drank some methadone and went and lay with Sharna. I fell into that deathlike sleep I love so much — hopeless, dreamless, fearless.
Next thing, it was another day, Sharna shouting some shit at me, and I had to get up. She wanted to go to the shops. I had to mind Bevie. She wanted me awake for that. I had to go to the clinic — had I forgotten? — she would come back in time for me to go.
You should ring up the TV, Sharna said. They’ll pay for what you know.
I don’t know anything.
Yes, you bloody do.
They don’t pay people like us.
Sharna has no idea. She thinks she’s entitled to some consideration. She doesn’t know what the world would do to us if we stuck our heads up. I tried to set her straight.
She didn’t listen. It just pissed her off. Eventually, she jumped tracks.
Anyway, you didn’t feed the kids yesterday.
Yes I did.
What, lollies n shit? Sonya told me.
She’s a liar. Like her mum.
I thought it was funny until Sharna hauled off and punched me.
She wasn’t getting away with that.
I leaned back, then threw myself headfirst into the wall.
Don’t do that, ya dickhead!
She hates it when I brain myself. I don’t mind it so much. If I judge it just right, I’m more stunned than hurt.
I did it again, not stopping to think. Little Bevie wandered in to see what was happening. I wound up for number three, a little dizzy. Sharna got her arms around me, fingernails digging in. I banged the wall a couple more times, then we fell over and lay for a while looking up at the TV.
It’s all right, mate, I said to Bevie, who was snivelling.
Sharna punched my shoulder, just to get me off her arm. She told Bevie to go get himself a biccy.
I hate it when you do that, she told me. You’re a fuckin psycho.
You made me do it.
Oh, fuck off.
Sharna went off to the shops. I felt pretty pleased with myself. No more talk about selling my story. Your story is safe with me, Terry. Sharna doesn’t know what a sweet thing it is we have here, but I do, and I wouldn’t risk it for quids.
Bevie and I played Nintendo until Sharna came back. I was feeling pretty edgy by then, but that’s best for a trip to the clinic. I went without saying goodbye.
It’s a long walk. I don’t hurry.
Jeez, mate, you don’t look too good, said my friendly treatment provider.
Bit of a domestic. No drama, I said.
He has to see me once a week if he’s going to let me have takeaways. He’s not too concerned. We do the routine. I was an old hand before he even got into this game. I act like I’m stable, but struggling, like I could use a bit of help. He hands out tea and sympathy, tries not to up my dose.
I’m having a bit of a week, I said. My brother’s in trouble.
Straightaway he woke up.
There’s a Terry White in the paper.
Is that right? Your brother? He gave me a crafty look. Actually, you look like him.
I don’t look like him. He looks like me.
He laughed at that. That’s what I say when people say that, cause it gives me the shits. But I’m moving on.
So, I said some unflattering stuff about having a brother like you. I could see my doctor perking up: he thought it was a breakthrough moment. He made some notes, discreetly. A sociocultural determinant of disease pinned down.
Would you like to see the psychologist again?
I dunno. Yeah, maybe.
You’re not thinking of using, are you?
I dunno. Yeah, maybe.
He bumped up my dose and agreed to my takeaways. I was a very happy camper when I trotted round to the dispensary.
We’re giving you more, are we? the pharmacist said. She doesn’t like me. She has a shit job, I don’t know why she does it. She thinks all the doctors are weak as piss.
Cheers, I said, drinking my plastic cup of sunshine. Walking home, everything went blunt. I started to think how lucky I was to have a brother like you.
Thank you Terry.
I came back past Bi-Lo and bought the kids some pies. Andy and Deslyn weren’t home when I got there, so I ate theirs, but still I felt virtuous.
He upped me 20 migs, I told Sharna.
She was wrapped. She went to the fridge and counted the takeaways.
I was going to send the water pistol back to you. That’s what I wanted to say. I wanted you to know I was thinking of you in your hour of need. I’m not like you. The harm I have done is so small it is beneath notice. What you’ve done is so big and so wrong, most people can’t even hold it in their heads.
Then I thought they’d never let you have the water pistol while you were inside, and that with any luck, you’ll be inside a long time. So, when Andy finally came home and cracked a spaz cause I had eaten his pie, I gave it to him.
You can burn it, I said.