Fiction

State of emergency: Brisbane 1982

'WHAT DO WE want?' ‘The right to march!'

‘When do we want it?' ‘Now!' ‘Joh must go!'

King George Square is crowded with hippies, punks, students, feral socialists and priests, all going red in the face. Yelling. About our rotten joke of a Premier: Joh, the peanut farmer who thinks he's king. He's just announced a State of Emergency for the upcoming Commonwealth Games, giving the police even more power so they can clear the streets of Aborigines, hippies and other unwanteds that won't make a good impression on visitors. Like me. Not that I'm a hippie or an Abo or even a student. I'm an average bloke, jeans and a plain tee-shirt, not a slogan on me. Finished high school last year, thank Christ, and started as a mechanic's apprentice.

Sure, I smoke a bit of dope sometimes, have a few drinks and see a band when I'm out with the boys. I'm young. That's what I'm supposed to do. But here in Brisbane that sort of stuff is enough to get you harassed by pigs every time you step out the front door on a Saturday night. All the big crime is controlled by the police bosses so the street pigs have nothing better to do than lay shit on anyone trying to have a good time. That's a crime in Queensland. If Joh had everything his way, he'd ban fun.

I'm not really into politics and that, they're all bastards. That's what Dad says anyway. But the other week when they tore down the best band venue in the city, like thieves in the middle of the night, I felt so angry I wanted to bash someone's head in. They can't just do that. Someone's got to say enough's enough. That's why I'm here today, really.

Well that. And her. She wanted to come.

That girl. The punk with black hair and too much make up, holding the ‘Joh Must Go' sign. The one throwing back her head and laughing as if she knows what happiness is. That's Beck. She's with me. When we first started hanging out she laughed like that all the time and everything I did was cool and courageous. I was her hero, she said. But now, ever since she started uni, she doesn't seem to think I'm so great after all. The jokes that used to make her laugh aren't funny anymore. She yawns when I talk and there's a hard edge to her laugh that hurts.

I thought it would be great to change her. When we first met she was really straight – a goody two-shoes, ‘straight A' kind of girl. I smiled and nodded approval as she took her first puffs on a joint, showed her how to draw back and keep it deep in her lungs to get the most high in her system with every toke. The first night she got pissed, I patted her back and kept her hair out of her face as she spewed into the garden. It was 
me who taught her there was more to sex than kisses and titty-feels. Maybe I should've kept her the 
way she was.

Beck's super-excited, her face blotched and angry as she screams, linking arms with all her new mates: ‘Joh must go!' To tell you the truth though, I'm starting to get worried about the busloads of police unloading on to Ann Street. I've seen these demos on TV. I know how they end up. I hate Joh and his police thugs as much as anyone. But after what happened to my brother that night at the taxi rank, when the pigs decided his hair was too long and gave him some scars he'll have for the rest of his life, I stay as far away from anyone in a blue shirt as I can.

I give Beck a nudge and shout into her ear from behind, ‘Let's get out of here, the pigs are just itching.'

‘No way. You go if you like.' Then she mutters something under her breath that sounds suspiciously 
like ‘Loser'.

That hurts. Not because she thinks I'm a coward, because maybe I am. I don't want to get arrested for this. I don't want to get my head beaten in. Calling me a loser really gets to me because lately I've been feeling like I am a loser. I'm losing her, I can feel it. Ever since she started university things have changed. Bloody big-word wankers with their fancy French cigarettes, books and bottled wine.

The hard part of me is steeled, ready for the end, but the underpart that's as soft as a turtle's belly under its shell wants to shout and cry and hold her to me. They'll have to pry my fingers from her one by one. A girl like Beck is worth fighting for. More than a knocked-down building and a rotten old man anyway. I grab her hand to wrench her from the line-up but she's so sweaty it slips from my grip. She's driving me crazy.

‘Do you want to get brained? Come on!'

She whispers in the ear of the tall guy next to her and laughs.

She's laughing at me.

 

A WITCH IN a short skirt with wild white hair and skinny legs shoves a piece of cardboard into my arms. ‘No State of Emergency' is scrawled across it in paint that's still wet. I try to give it back but she's already moved on, handing out the rest she's got under her arm. Shit, now it really looks as if I'm part of this. It's like holding a target at shooting practice.

Up front a hippie with dreadlocks down to his bum is standing on the edge of the fountain, yelling and waving his arms, spitting as he shouts about the gerrymander and the right to march and join unions, about how Queensland is fascist, a police state. That part sure is true. Around the edges of the square, coming at us from all directions, a sea of police starts to flood inward. Wave after wave of heavy blue shirts surrounding our small island of protestors. I drop the placard on to the grass and reach for Beck.

‘Come on,' I call over the chanting. ‘We've got to get out of here. Now! I'm not joking.'

She turns and snarls. ‘Go then. Piss off, you coward.'

Something in my guts cracks. I drop her hand and shove my way through the shouting freaks, my face burning.

‘It's not worth getting bashed for,' I yell back.

She'll follow. She always does. Halfway out of the crowd, I stand on my toes and crane my neck to catch a glimpse of her, but she's not trailing after me as I'd hoped. She's not even looking in my direction. All I can see is the back of her messed up hair, like a toilet brush.

Already, on the outside of the circle to the front, protestors are being dragged away, cursing and screaming, getting gravel rash on their backs. Police laugh and encourage each other as they thump into protesters who lie curled like unborn babies on the ground.

Beck's going to be mincemeat once they really hit their stride and no one's stopping them. I try to look in another direction, force myself to keep pushing through, away from her. Let her bloody uni mates look after her. I don't care.

But I do.

I fight my way back through the writhing crowd, determined to bring her out before she's thrown into the watch house or whacked with a baton. Grunting and shoving, I struggle towards the front line, elbows ramming my ribs. I push past people who are ranting, sweating, their eyes wild with excitement and fear.

This girl is killing me.

 

I KNEW FROM the beginning she was a virgin. The way she kissed me that first night gave it away. So I took things slowly. Treated her differently from other girls I'd been with, the ones who knew their way around. Beck was special. I had to be careful; I knew what could happen. It would be easy to ruin everything if I made a wrong move. The other fellas warned me. ‘Pop someone's cherry,' they said, ‘and you're stuck with them for life. They chain themselves to your leg, want you to marry them.' Love makes things dangerous.

One night after school had finished, Beck and I made a bonfire in the backyard and drank red wine till our teeth were black. She smiled at me and reached up, soft and beautiful in the light of the fire. As I wrapped my arms around her, she started to say something but I put my finger to her lips and pressed her backwards on to the old dog rug. I lay down next to her and started kissing her, slowly. I kissed her eyelids, her forehead, her ear lobes, her chin, the curve of her jaw, the dimple at the bottom of her throat. I kissed the palms of her hands and licked between her fingers and up the inside of her arms. Inside her elbows. Till she was squirming and begging me to stop, though it was the last thing she really wanted me to do.

I rested my hands on her belly under her shirt, then lifted her so I could pull it off over her head. She looked at me half-frightened, half-excited and whispered, ‘Are we? You know, are we going to ... do it?'

‘You want to?' I asked, undoing the top button of her jeans.

She nodded. ‘Russ?'

‘Trust me.' I leant over as she lay back down and kissed her hard on the mouth. ‘Don't worry. You'll like it. I promise.'

I put my hand on her crotch outside her jeans, feeling the heat of her pussy under my palm as sure as I felt fire on my face. She was more beautiful than any girl I'd ever been with. Shining. I felt like a soldier, the hero she thought I was. Powerful. I wanted to roar and wave a gun in the air.

She lifted her hips and wriggled down so I could drag her jeans off, till she was just in her bra and undies on the dirty rug. As she stretched up for me like a little girl asking for Daddy, I wished the rug was velvet and that I was everything she thought I was. My dick was rock hard but I kept my clothes on. I lay down beside her and held her tight, kept kissing her till she didn't notice that I'd taken off her bra and that my hand was in her pants, exploring, looking for her bud. When I took my mouth from hers, she stared at me and I saw in her eyes, wide and black and full, something that made me stop cold.

I couldn't kiss her mouth any more, not with her looking at me like that. So I covered her nipple with my lips and then licked my way down to her pants, her hips rising up against my face, her hands pulling her panties off, wanting it. Wanting me.

‘You can ... put ... put it in if you like. I ... I want ...'

I shook my head and buried my face in her pussy. Deep. She trembled and rocked under me and when I knew she was ready I pulled off my daks and went in. Slowly. Then fast.

When she came it wasn't with a whole lot of noise like some girls, no screeching like a cat or crying the way some of them carry on. She just sighed and shuddered and held me tight, her legs locked behind my back. Kissed me. And for a moment I let myself go, forgot that I wasn't the hero she thought I was, forgot about being careful, and came. Felt something inside me split open and glow.

‘Did you like it?' I asked her later.

She nodded and wrapped her arms tighter, whispering, ‘Oh Russ, I ... I ...'

‘What?' I said, praying she wouldn't say it. That she wouldn't spoil everything.

‘Nothing,' she said. ‘That was great. Can we do it like that every time?'

‘Sure.' I laughed and kissed her some more. But I'd gone too far. I loved her and that was dangerous ground. I felt as if I'd just stood on a landmine and couldn't move. Everything had to stay exactly the same, I couldn't lift my foot an inch, couldn't breathe too deeply, couldn't flutter an eyelash, or it would all explode in my face.

You can't count on things staying the same though. She doesn't look at me like that anymore. Not now that I'd like her to. Now she laughs with her uni mates, not with me. I'm not her hero these days. I'm her fool. I can't ever let myself go again like I did that night by the fire. My heart's in a stranglehold. One false move and the whole lot goes up.

 

I'VE LOST SIGHT of her in the tangle of bodies. The stink of sweat makes me choke as the sound of batons hitting bones gets closer. I force my way back through the crowd of protestors who are linking arms, preparing for battle, chanting, ‘Joh must go! Joh must go!' Don't they know there are only a couple of hundred of us and three times that many police?

‘Joh must go!'

Then I see her, her arm wrapped around the tall punk, but she's not yelling anymore. She looks pale, her eyes screwed shut, lips clamped tight as the line ahead of her falls under the batons.

‘Beck!'

When her eyes flicker open and she sees me her face lights up.

‘Russ!'

‘Come with me.'

She nods and takes my hand, unhooking herself from the human chain. Leaning into my back, she hides behind me as I push a way through to the rear edge of the protest where another battalion of pigs is swarming, ugly as old footy players.

‘Excuse me officer,' I say like I'm trying to weasel out of detention with a tough teacher. ‘Can we get through?'

‘Where do you think you're going?' he asks.

‘Just leaving sir, don't want any trouble.'

‘Desert your mates in a battle, do ya? Well get going then ya poof. Go get yourself a haircut.' He pokes me in the ribs with his truncheon as I wrestle through with Beck behind me.

‘Pig,' she mutters under her breath as we squeeze past his bean-bag belly.

‘Christ, Beck, shut up,' I hiss.

‘What did you call me, freak?' says the pig reaching for his belt.

‘Pig.'

‘You'd better watch yourself punky. Rope your woman in would ya, mate?'

That really gets her going. ‘Oh, go bash some hippie, you arsehole.'

She's got no sense. The pig raises his baton and lifts it high. I jam myself between them, forcing Beck behind me. ‘Sorry officer, she doesn't mean it. Say sorry Beck.' I jab her in the stomach with my elbow. ‘Beck.'

‘Sorry,' she whispers. Then as we run off down the ramp to Adelaide Street she calls back over her shoulder, ‘For nothing, you fascist pig!'

Before he can answer, I drag her after me. Fast. Across the road past the Tropicana to Queen Street where they're building the new mall. Her hand is sweaty but I hold it tight in mine. I'm not going to let her go.

‘Was that fun or what?' she asks, throwing back her head and laughing.

For a moment I'm still pissed off but then I laugh too. I laugh and wrap my arms around her.

‘My hero,' she says.

And there, right in the middle of the street surrounded by rubble and piles of bricks, with everyone watching, I kiss her. I can't help myself. Drinking in her softness, I let myself go and cling tight to her body, wishing that the heat of the sun could melt us together like pieces of metal in a fire. It's got to be us two. Together.

I lift my foot off that landmine.

Click.

Let it blow.

Let it blow.

She's mine.

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