Icarus: Bot

@goddess: You tweeted the words sink and lower. You sound depressed
@iceBorg: Goddess, I’m falling, tweeting free, from a public library
@goddess: Describe your body in motion, god

WHEN SHE BRAKED at the traffic lights, what did she see? A homeless man…me? Hunched over, cross-legged, red abrasions large enough to map on shrivelled arms, dirty bare feet – a sad thing, communicating with his peeps via permanent marker and a torn piece of cardboard resting against his track pants.

I couldn’t fall any lower.

Rolling down the electronic window of her cherry-red Merc she called, ‘Hey, mate,’ in her Chinese-inflected accent and my hands, like machine-jack lifting claws, angled my roughly shaved head in slow motion, cranking it up in incremental steps, hoisting it skywards until her smooth face hoved into view. Between her index finger and her thumb she waggled a $100 note. I scanned her mushroom-coloured suit, her sandalwood skin, her straight little nose, her watermelon-hued lips, her wings of glossy hair drawn back from her face, her pearls the size of 100-year-old eggs, dangling at ears and throat. Most of all I noted her impatience – do not hold me up – and I struggled to my feet like a kindergarten kid from his story mat. Surprise and gratitude lit my face; no doubt my smile amused her.

As the lights turned green, she waved the note one last time until I took it with a feeling akin to ecstasy and gambolled away. Then I imagined her holding the deeds to my Bayside home – the one the bank had repossessed.

@iceBorg: I see no hope of sleep on the horizon
@goddess: On a wing and a prayer. You look familiar. Are you a celebrity?
@iceBorg: I’m a big unit
@goddess: Once you choose hope, anything is possible – Christopher Reeve
@iceBorg: I am burning. Hope is the thing with feathers…my mother read this poem to me, by Emily someone

FOOTBALLERS RIDDLE TOO. The AFL plucked me, country lad, from the NAB Under-18 Championships and I took home the Larke Medal for Vic Country. ‘Nother language.

I begged Crystal, to come with me to Melbourne but she seemed reluctant: ‘They’ll stop me seeing you – they’ll want every bit of you – I won’t be welcome.’

I arrived on a late bus and found my way to Southbank where a club manager showed me through a serviced, executive apartment. My balcony overlooked a maze of roads and railway lines. Over the bridge and the river city buildings loomed, beckoning. Inside, shades of cream and white and silver scrambled my vision. The intercom buzzed and four strapping lads with delineated muscles and easy smiles like mine appeared on the display.

‘Boys’ll look after you,’ the manager said. ‘Part of our induction process. It’s pre-season but if you go out,’ he winked and elbowed his hip in a jamming motion, ‘take it easy.’

Lights danced on the surface of the Yarra; spray-tanned girls shivered in chiffon on the riverbank, turning their eyes on us in easy recognition. I cautioned myself – do not act the wanker – as we swanned in and out of the Crown bars and up the stairs of various clubs, promenading like vid-clips for the casino. I missed Crystal, but I could enjoy myself without her.

Primed with shots of Grey Goose, eight of us set off for Brighton Beach to bond before the bathing huts. The night was unseasonably cold, the beach deserted and even the gulls looked miserable, bunched like bitching old blokes on the perimeter railing. In the car park, I pulled up my collar. Our car doors banged. We jogged past a mass of melaleucas, onto the sand and along the beach, to where a boofy, red-headed senior player with a clipboard and plenty of lip, leaning on crutches, gave us the drill. Dense with black clouds, the sky hung heavy over the water. Guys were pulling off shoes and socks and coats, preparing to swim, as he spoke.

‘Get wet.’

On his signal we were to sprint from the water, up the beach and do the business.

We froze standing naked, waist-deep in churning surf. Waves attacked my chest like ice picks. I stared at tankers on the horizon, trying not to grind my teeth against the screeching of gulls and fantasised about being anywhere but Port Phillip Bay. When the whistle blew, we turned and ran across the sand – soft, hard, soft – slapping our arms and crying out like marauding Vikings. Our balls shrivelled and shrunk, ascended halfway to our navels trying to get out of the cold. The aim of the game was to bellyflop onto one of a line of girls, artfully arranged along the seaweed bank below the melaleucas and, without being a princess about foreplay, to penetrate her. Last one: wooden spoon, up your anus. That must have been a joke.

To this day I don’t remember the sequence of events too well. A streetlight flickered, offering a strobe effect, invited rhythm. In my mind’s eye I saw a shimmering aura, then the outline of Crystal’s small pale face tapering sweetly to her pointed chin, her sad grey eyes, and her lashes glittering with water drops or sand. Drifts of matted blonde hair hung either side of her knitted hat. Through a thin screen crazed like a sheet of shattered ice, I noticed her lips fading to blue. Despite the chill, I blew before I got inside her. Was it really Crystal? The girl laughed in a brittle way when I swabbed her belly with her skirt. Then wagged her fingers at me as if she knew the game. I became the undead. ‘Ick’, now my moniker.

@goddess: Why did you treat her like that? Do you want to punish women? Do you even like women?
@iceBorg: I don’t know what came over me. I wanted to be included. I’m as good as anyone
@goddess: Are you as good as anyone?

‘Welcome, Icarus Wentworth-Harvey.’ The carroty adjudicator slapped me on the back. Played me. ‘Excellent recovery. Ick.’ Played to the crowd. ‘Claggy start for a new recruit.’

He set off a round of applause, unleashing my worst high school memories. Why would any mother tag her son with a name like Icarus? To set him up for failure? If you asked her, she’d say names are character-building. Epithets for life. So did the wanker teacher who read this nonsense poem to our class. Anon.

Icarus, Icarus,
Wings stuck on with licorice
Near the sun, they came undone
Isn’t that ridicorous.

SEQUESTERED ON A family medicine placement, in a small town where the mighty Murray River gouged through red earth, enabling irrigation and primary industry – mainly fruit and dope blocks – my mother, Dr Helena Harvey, saw how much medical care needed to be expended on the district’s human resources: temporary visa holders; casual pickers, including backpackers; transport workers; and abattoir slaughtermen. Three years later, newly qualified as a specialist in general practice – damned funny that – she returned to sign a contract. The hospital paid for her two-storey colonial dollhouse trimmed with wrought-iron lace work, her smartphone and her SUV, in which she made house calls. When she helped a truck driver get off speed she was already addicted to his line. My dad was a self-educated man, who learnt everything he needed to courtesy of Radio National, en route to Perth and Sydney, or boxed-set comedy DVDs. Mum found him drier than a fruit-packing box; he released her professional tension.

My sister and I didn’t see much of them. I played a lot of Gameboy in the car, outside the ambulance bay. Every second year, we skied on Folgefonna.

Australian rules deflected me from Mum’s ambitions. I was a big silent lad with a crap name but I could run and jump and kick. Unlike my sister, I felt entitled to a bright future. She was a nervy little thing with no sense of humour; I flew high, head thrown back against the red maw of the sun, squinty-eyed and mainly even-tempered, pulling down balls with the twist of a wrist, and the curl of my little finger. During a grand final, an up-river rover king-hit me behind the play and Mum ploughed onto the field to attend me. I’ll wager my sister never looked up from her book when they stretchered me off.

Mum ran beside the trainers clutching at the carrying straps and I spent two days in intensive care. Headaches plagued me and homework became a challenge but I never gave up on the idea of fast recovery, practising ball skills in the yard and weights in the shed and, with support from Dad, self-medicating. A little puff in the back of the car before I ran onto the field helped me feel dangerous again. Wired for my soaring potential. Within a month, I acquired a girlfriend and was picked in the midfield at the TAC Cup. I had never felt so awesome. To be noticed and selected. Mum bit down on her wedding ring, relinquishing her dreams of university scholarships and goals of one kind for another. Dad was sent to Coventry and I hit the road for Melbourne.

@iceBorg: I’m hot. I need new Ray Bans
@goddess: Post more pics of the abs #funbagleapaboard and the arse. And the RBs once purchased

THAT NIGHT ON Brighton Beach, Crystal appeared in sea mist and foam as if I’d dreamt her, as if she’d answered the club call as well as my own, and had lain down on the beach for us all. She followed me home to my apartment where we made discrete arrangements and there, she hyped me, soothed me, cured me and forgave me for shooting my load in the face or the belly of her arctic beauty. Don’t think that I was ashamed of her. No one could overlook her pivotal role in pre-season training: sharpening my muscle-twitch; making me fleet of foot, rocket-powered for elevation; transforming the mummy’s boy into best newcomer. From then on, I managed pretty much on my own. Best and fairest trophies, two years in a row. Minor sponsorship. But even when I stepped out of the club or the gym my eyes seared the crowd for her, craving, wanting to lick her up like quicksilver; she held up her little fist. No. We were working on a bigger project: a bigger ME.

After two years, I garnered enough votes from umpires to attend my first Brownlow medal count and she arrived, by express rain she said, carrying an umbrella and a silver canister of pepper spray in her bag. Hobbledehoy, hammy-repaired, propped on aluminium crutches I bobbed to kiss her, on the riverbank outside the Crown. Moonlight and fluorescence flashed across the surface of the Yarra and lit up Crystal, floating beside me, beyond security and up the steps, like a northern goddess on a cushion of powdery snow. She was some production, nine outta’ ten, cut and pasted and I was wasted. Adhesive rhinestone teardrops issued from her lower lashes, accentuating her pointed little chin and leading towards her silver-sheened lips. Palest blue and sheer, her gown would have looked painted on were it not for its rows of hand-sewn sequins marking out fleshy moraines and the traceries of exposed blue capillaries on her frail shoulders, on her belly and breasts. A large vein pulsed at the place where she’d swept fine blonde hair into a silver-peaked construction.

Sometimes she was so damned cold, I felt afraid to fuck her. Launching her onto the red carpet, towards microphones and video cameras, I tugged heavily on her wrought manacle bracelets. ‘Talk up the frock.’ At the close of formalities, after the medal count, she lagged, wanting to meet potential clients for the web business she was fashioning. Steering her towards the door, I whispered. ‘Let me put you in a taxi. I won’t be late.’

@iceBorg: Glad you liked the pic of me. Bit different! Sticking out my tongue means I don’t take myself too seriously
@goddess: Why don’t you take yourself seriously?
@iceBorg: I didn’t say that. Just, I’m good enough to cut it without sycophants clogging up my network

FOR YEARS, I’D run fast, felt sleek, dangerous – greedy for success. I’d smoked behind the clubrooms, slouched on the loo in the change rooms, snorted, shorts around my ankles, bolting down Gatorade, my cold fingers defeated by seals on silver packets. Running onto the field offered an adrenalin rush that couldn’t be beaten, frozen face-mask like a botulin-enhanced automaton. No one could touch me. I felt like a freak, a physical force. I could go all day. Could I do it without Crystal?

Time flashed by. Week after week I met the pressure in tight matches, performed without her. Things got harder to hide. I swilled diuretics. Shaved myself all over – head, chest and pubes. Itched and scratched. I visualised her white body spreadeagled across our satin bedspread, me licking salty caramel between her legs. Everybody wanted me but I had to keep one step ahead of them and her.

Before each match, I heard sprigs tapping across tiles, shrill whistles, threats and money changing hands, sighs of relief from the next cubicle, and spurts and splashes from others. The smell of Deep Heat rose from my groin, threatened to overwhelm me. It became harder to hold onto my powers. They could call me any time of the day. Ten minutes notice to piss in a bottle. Under observation. Disgrace seemed inevitable, execrable.

The selectors dropped me – temporarily. No one knew I was on my second warning. ASADA, BASADA. Such powerful bastards. Money dissipated like smoke, like candle-warmed resin – like a big mortgage on a penthouse, a dog and a Ferrari.

‘Hold me, Crystal,’ I begged, ‘help me. I can’t sleep. I have to go out. I want to stay in. I’m entitled to some peace.’

I craved. To fly high again, across the ground at a dizzying height, at exhilarating speed; to snatch loose balls from sea eagles and convert them. Make them count.

‘Ick, sweetheart’, she soothed, massaging my back when paranoia told me they would trap her too with their syringes and bottles and tests. She didn’t fit in; she didn’t care. She set my teeth on edge. I blacked out for days. Couldn’t remember where I’d been or with whom. Began polishing and arranging thirty-seven pairs of shoes in my walk-in wardrobe, scattering them on the floor. Began again. Scattering. Scattering.

At twenty-five, I lacked a retirement plan. I had celebrity, marriage and expenses. Crystal stood by me as injuries struck. Until my body failed me; until I failed to live up to my promise. Week after week, I brooded in the reserves.

@iceBorg: Fall from Grace
@goddess: You sound depressed
@iceBorg: Don’t know the word
@goddess: How can I best support you #soundslikelifeline

The coaches called me in to discuss my future. They might have to let me go. Not every punt paid off. Purely a business decision. Directors refused to meet my eyes. Finger-pointing managers ‘reminded’ me of caveats in my contract.

I slammed Crystal’s head against a wall until teeth shattered. Thrashed her, forced her onto hands and knees around the house. In astonished rage I howled at my reflection in the bathroom mirror. I went out, I came in. Night after night she goaded me.

I drove back to the Bad Lands, to my mother.

‘I will pay,’ she said, ‘so that you can study.’

‘What, would I study now?’

‘Health sciences. You must now know a thing or two about the body.’

‘I don’t feel human.’

‘Animal studies.’

‘I don’t think they’d have me right now.’

‘Where is Crystal?’

‘She traded me for another player.’

MOTHER ANSWERED HER pager and left in a hurry – life or death – for an admission that sounded like an infarct. Dad came home took me to the pub for a man-to-man. Shoved a handful of pills into my palm beneath the table, slid two more under a beer coaster. ‘You just need a pick-me-up, mate.’

@iceBorg: I owe a lot to my parents, especially Dad
@goddess: Sweet. You hit your wife
@iceBorg: She disrespected me
@jointdestroyer: Seek help before you kill her
@iceBorg: She’s killing me. Club’s ratcheting up pressure. My life is out of whack
@goddess: Take hope from the heart of man and you make him a beast of prey ~ Ouida 
Tell me again the colour of your eyes
@iceBorg: Green with a hazel fleck in the left

I gained twenty kilos. A sponsor found me a trade installing French-provincial window shutters – big in Bayside – to match the distressed, chipped-paint, faux-oak furniture manufactured in China; the lavender posters; lavender anything and jars of fake flowers. Their mark-up fried my footballer brain. The business took a while to get going but I knew I was on a winner. Crystal cooked my books and other things as well until I could pay down our worst debts and she forced me to give up my equity in the house. I lost twenty kilos working eighteen-hour days, skating, skating from house to house in a hammer-wielding frenzy; snorting profit after hours, between lush breasts when I could. Crystal and I slept in different bedrooms and she went out a lot. Taking care of her future because I didn’t have one. Money and luck spilled through my fingers.

Which part of my brain persuaded me that I could fly over the balcony, over the river, over the casino, coins jingling in my pockets, credit card scissored into a hundred pieces? Over the Botanic Gardens, where I had once picnicked with my sister and kicked my best screw punt, once laughed at my father’s jokes, once dropped softly into a bed of arum lilies and broke my collarbone.

Some nights I ran through public places until my feet bled and my chest thrummed with pain. Some nights I dreamt myself over the sea, dipping and gliding, skimming over lacy foam, screeching like a mateless gull, rising out of the surf beneath an Aperol sun, falling.

@iceBorg: Non-person. Highlight and delete
@goddess: Tell me how you feel. We’ve been texting now, how many years? I think we’ve made some progress

I TOOK THE Chinese girl’s $100 and descended Collins Street at a decent clip, though strangely short of breath, blood blisters blossoming on the soles of my feet. Should I swing right or left at Swanston? Should I sprint to Cohen’s Pawnbroker to buy back my phone, essential for any kind of fresh start, and ring my sister? Would she accept the call so I could explain how sorry I felt after my last ungracious leave-taking? Should I thank her for representing me pro bono in court even after I hocked her stuff? Turn right, sport.

I dreamt an alternative ending to my big career, my large life – one in which I wasn’t the star but I coped. One in which I was done with shopping centre shows and kick-offs with little fellas at kindergartens, and glad of it. But, to be honest, I doubted I could ever embrace anonymity or poverty, or my new colourless world.

I stood at the intersection scratching my arms until I felt raw with aggravation. Through the soft dusk light, a small child came running into my space and when I reached out to steady him, he veered towards the road. Behind me, I heard someone cry out a name and I snapped my poor head around, not to decide if the boy was worth saving but because my brain hurt so much I felt confused. The mother leapt from the Town Hall vestibule, two steps at a time onto the footpath. The boy looked back at her, and at me, a wilful expression darkening his little face, then dashed on. In my dream, the right muscles twitched and I hurtled forward, scooping him up before he hit the road, before the truck took him, because I had been trained to make effortless interceptions. In my darkest imagination, I collapsed on top of his small body at the kerb, my ineptitude propelling both of us in front of a tram. Brakes screeched. Darkness fell. In reality, the scenario played out somewhere in between, with his sobbing mother helping me to my feet, clutching her now frightened child against her chest. I stank. No doubt. A pretty girl, she offered me money that I refused. Another fall from grace, alright.

Eventually, I hailed a taxi and limped forward to climb in, waving the hundred bucks in front of the driver’s nose before I collapsed into the passenger side seat. ‘Docklands, thanks. Sir.’ I tapped my index finger against my brow. Did he recognise me? I was on my way to the Bolte Bridge via Etihad Stadium. Filled with new conviction.

The vehicle smelled of a ghastly geranium deodoriser and he made no criticism when I buzzed down the window. Unseen, I flicked the $100 bill through the window, into the lap of a bigger dick than me. I could jump out. Ask for it back. Crystal followed as she always did, gliding smoothly between buildings and laneways in our wake, weaving in and out of lines of traffic, wraithlike, soft – as transparent as Arctic grayling in its natural element. Hands held out and eyes pellucid, she tried to draw me. Offering soft smiles. For her own utile purposes.

Floating over cobbled plazas, gauzy skirt fluttering, Crystal’s expression waxed rueful. Yes, she understood that I wanted to be bad, bad, bad, and fly on a wire with her through days and nights, that I wanted her to manufacture my happiness but no longer had the constitution to enjoy it. That I wanted to hang in a harness, suspended from a fabric wing, launched from the Sandringham cliffs by her but that everything had changed. Instead, I found myself wobbling on the edge of a twenty-five-metre cantilever bridge, resolving to hold on to something, to anything, listening for sirens.

@iceBorg: I am not angry. Am I depressed?
@goddess: Tell me how you feel when you use the word depressed? I will stand by you – always

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