‘Mates’ – Published The Sleepers Almanac 2007

sleep

I can pick my mate out from a block away, easy.  He’s all in black standing apart from the colourful, chattering ravers queuing up along the pavement.  I cross the road towards him but he doesn’t see me.  He’s thinking about something, got this mad intense look in his eyes as he leans on the metal fence, gently rocking against it, testing its strength with his back.

“Hey.”

He looks up, all furious at being disturbed, then grins seeing it’s me.

“Maate…” a totally different look spreads across his face.

I’m so stoked Shane is my friend not my enemy. I’d hate to be the target of that first look.  I’m still sometimes amazed he sees me at all.

“What d’ya reckon?”  I ask jerking my head towards the stream of people filing through the gate.

“Piece a piss to sneak into this joint.”  He jerks his head towards his backpack and winks.  “Did ya get the grog?”

I jiggle my own backpack, letting the stolen cans clank slightly.

“Sweet.”  He’s impressed, which is worth every bit of the danger involved in getting them.

“Hey, new patch?”  He turns me around and puts his face close to my bag with its sewn-on jigsaw of metal-band patches. My bag is the reason Shane and I became mates.  It’s my silent obsession worn as a shield.  To Shane it was a flag declaring us from the same planet.

“New Hatebreed one, ” he nods his approval.  “Well mate we’re actually gonna SEE Hatebreed today. Fuck.”  He stares through the fence taking in the swooping rides and white stage sails with a calculating eye  “They’re in there right now.  Probably taking coke and shit.”

He grips the fence and I notice he has new black, studded wristbands covering the web of raw pink scars always re-opening on his wrists.

“Subtle you two are not.”  Tone says as he rocks up, gripping our shoulders, grinning enough to pop out his new lip- ring.  The skin around the metal is red with a yellow crust.  It’s always infected because he has to from remove it each time he goes home then push it back through on the train.  Tone’s folks are rich, Italian and real strict.  They hate Shane and I, but Tone always finds ways to keep hanging out with us.  We can’t go round and listen to his kick-ass metal CD collection anymore, but he’s got an Ipod with speakers that we head bang to at lunch.

“Bullshit Tone, we’re more subtle than ninjas.” Shane laughs.  “But here is way to suss.  Heapsa security. Let’s walk up.” We follow Shane.

“I’ve got textas,” whispers Tone after we’ve got a good distance from the crowds, “for when we get a look at a stamp, and flouro card and sticky for wrist bands…”

“Maaaaate.” Shane halts.  “Just hide me with ya trench coat.”

Tone opens the wings of his long black coat, sneaking a paranoid look back over his shoulder.  Shane pulls a pair of wire cutters from his bag.  We close in around him, to watch the jaws of the wire cutters clamp, bend and then gnaw through the metal of the fence.  Shane begins a hole.

“With the roight tools, anything’s possible.” States Shane, in his Dad’s nasally accent.  Shane’s Dad stinks of beer and sweat and is always coming out with comments like that.  The strength of a million fences melts before my eyes as I watch the hole appear.  I’m transfixed by this piece of magic, jolted awake only when I see Shane curl up his body and step through the hole.  Tone wriggles through next.  I’m last and just as my bag of cans gets snagged we hear a shout from security.

“OI!”

My mates, they pull me, like Winnie the Pooh from his honey pot, until I pop free, the bag of cans smacking against the back of my head.  We sprint straight into another fence that we didn’t expect.  For three guys who avoid sport we scale it real fast, big boots scrabbling for footholds in the mesh.  We thud down behind a stall and stumble around boxes and piles of coat hangers.

“Get in the crowd!” yells Tone and we charge whooping and cheering into the mass of kids surging through The Big Day Out.

It’s too good.  I can’t believe we’re in.  We push inside the rainbow masses we usually avoid, heads down, close together.

“I reckon we’re sweet.”  Shane smiles and we stop.

“What do we do first?”  I ask, suddenly overwhelmed

“Get pissed!” shouts Tone, punching his fists into the air.

We push through the people.  I hate crowds big time.  It’s all the bodies, squashed against me, touching me.  There are places I don’t want to be touched, even by accident, because I don’t know what I’ll do.  But I’m with my mates, and I focus on that, letting Tone lead, Shane solid behind me, my bag hanging down over my bum like always, my studded belt secure around my waist.

The air is so hot, full of yelling and music.  It smells of fairy floss, sunscreen, spilt beer and excitement. We find a shady spot round the back of a fast-food kiosk and I proudly hand round cans.

“Hey, bourbon and coke.  You legend.”  Tone punches my arm.  ‘Where d’you score these.”

“My uncle’s bottle-o.”  I open my own carefully.  “He leaves me by myself sometimes.”

“Cool, that’s so cool.”  Tone shakes his head.  And I drink fast, sending back any other words that might jump out.

Tone clicks open his can which sprays out violently and fizzes all over him.  He holds the can away from his body, laughing, until it stops.

“Man will I smell good now!  Come on girls!”  He yells, arms open, lurching into the crowd.  “I’m ready for ya!  Lick me clean! Come on!”

“Tone. Maaate.”  Shane gets up and pulls him down.  “You’ll scare ‘em off.” He shrugs apologetically at a group of giggling girls in jeans and bikini tops.  “’Scuse my mate here.  He doesn’t get out much.”

“What?”  Tone sits back pouting but obviously stoked with himself.  “I am ready.  Got the Lynx on, clean socks, freshly shaved pubes, the works.”

“Maate.”

I’m fascinated with Tone’s pube-shaving thing.  He’s fastidious about not letting them grow.  I can understand the feeling.  I was disgusted when my own grew dark and coarse, like my uncle’s.  I couldn’t stand to look at them; they made me think of his, made me gag.  When they got real thick he finally started leaving me alone.  I didn’t do it for him anymore.  But as a new kind of torture he kept me working at his Bottle-o as if none of it had happened.  As if the nightmares and the fear are my own twisted fantasy.  With just a look he can transports me there again, terrified and small and hurting in every way.  But I stay in the job.  Mum spews when I try to quit.  And so there I am each weekend, waiting, waiting to get my revenge.

I drink down my whole can. It’s cruisy just sitting here with my mates and looking at all the people. Each band of kids are done up like a different species.  Every group has their look, their in-jokes, their band, like we have ours.

“Got a light?”  A tartan mini-skirted girl is standing above us, drumstick legs in fishnet stockings.  Tone scrabbles in his pocket.

“Yeah, go for it.”  He passes it up.  The ciggy she lights looks too big for her purple lips.

“Nice piercing,” says Tone, doing his flirty smile.

“Ta.”  She leans round the side of the building.  “Guys! I’ll wait here!”

No, don’t, I’m thinking, knowing Tone’s gonna go into dickhead mode now.  It was chilled just the three of us.  But she sits, and so I offer her a can.

“Wow!  Ta.”  She crosses her legs, getting comfy, flashing red undies and pulling out a crumpled program.  Certain bands have been aggressively highlighted.

“Who you seeing?”  Says Tone, shuffling closer, as if her program is really interesting.

“That’s the problem!”  She looks up with anguish. “Some of the bands I love… They clash!”  She runs a purple thumbnail, between cherished bands biting her lip.   “They’ve put on so much good stuff at the same time!”

We all laugh, and she looks up confused.  This is our joke.  Because we only care about one time, one stage, one band.  And we will all be there, up the fucking front, as we’ve discussed for months.  I open another can as her mates come around the corner with overflowing cups of fat greasy chips.

Four more girls in various ensembles of tartan and fishnet sit down.  I imagine them getting dressed, swapping this for that until they all have the look.  Their eyes flicker nervously under their eyeliner.

“We’re only here for Hatebreed.” Clarifies Tone “We don’t care what else is on”

“Don’t go right in the mosh though will ya,” she says, reaching for a chip.  “Sooo dangerous.”

“Yeah, remember that poor girl?” adds another, wearing thick make -up over bumpy skin. “The one that got like crushed in the mosh.  How bad would that be?”

“I reckon that’s a wicked way to go.”  Shane says slowly, lighting a smoke.  “Die moshing to your favourite band.  I’d love to die seeing Hatebreed.  Fuck yeah.”

Everyone’s looking at him as he sucks on his smoke.  Do they notice the hand that holds it is seared with smileys where he’s pressed a hot lighter to them?  Those burnt ovals go white with time, I know from the ones on my legs.

“Yeah, but I doubt she wanted to die,” persists the girl,  “she would’ve been trying to get up only everyone’s feet would’ve trampled her back down.”  She shudders melodramatically and the others shake their heads.

“It was heart failure.”  Adds the first girl with authority. “ Anyway, Limp Bizkit wasn’t even her favourite band, Grinspoon was!”

“Well that is fucked.”  Nods Shane.

“I remember her face from the newspaper.  She looked really nice.” I say without meaning to.

“You got more of those?” one of the girls asks suddenly noticing me and pointing at my can.

“Got something to swap?” Shane answers for me real quick.

They look at each other and make the decision with their eyes.

“Yeah, a bit of goey.”

“Speed?  Sweet.”

Tone’s trusty trench coat hides us again while one girl pulls their stash out of her Doc Martin boot.  She tips the powder into each freshly opened can. She’s trying to go easy but it slides eagerly out of its magazine paper wrap and in the end she just shares it out, licking the paper at the end with a shudder.

We drink to Hatebreed, and moshes, and sex (Tone) and bands.  A debate begins about which of the last two is more important.  Tone, who I’ve never even known to get laid, claiming he would die without sex.  The pimply girl looks dubious.

“Music’s helped me get through sooo much shit though.  The words of that System of a Down song, I like played it over and over when my heart was broken” Her friends nod sympathetically.  “I wouldn’t have got through it otherwise.  More sex would’ve like fucked me up way worse.”

“When I was grounded for that month, my Living End CD was my only friend in the whole world,” pipes up a chubby girl at the back of the group.

“Except when you snuck out your window!”  One of her friends shoots back.

“Least they keep ya in.  Mine keep kickin’ me out!”  Laughs Shane.

“I’ve got every word to ‘Where is the love?’ written out in my diary” confesses one girl, eyes wide.  “It’s my total mantra for life.”  It doesn’t seem to fit with her image, but all her fined are too busy scrambling for other examples to pull her up. Everyone’s mouths are loosening with the grog and a fluid sensation that must be the drug.  I can feel a flood of my own sacred lyrics battering against my lips to be shared as the speed starts racing through the files in my head.  The girls are on a roll, all talking over each other.

“The best lyric ever is totally…”

“Oh my God but what about the chorus of …”

“What about that band with the cute lead singer…”

“Listen, listen, like how does that new Faker one go again?…”

“Striving through the hardships and affliction.  Every drop of blood.  Every bitter tear.  Every bead of sweat.  I live for this.”  Shane recites with the solemnity of a sermon.  We turn to each other and Tone stops trying to agree with the girls and extends his fist towards us.  We push all our fists together as that song, that screamed over every sobbing night rears up into the daylight, strong and proud.  My jaw clenches around the words as we repeat it again.  “I live for this.”

“Shit, Faker!”  The girls jump up in unison.  “We’re missing them!”  Swept into their mission we run too, pummeling across the festival, barreling through the crowd like they’re skittles.  The motion pumps the drugs through my body and my limbs feel lighter with every step.  It feels so awesome running, more like flying. I’m leaping and careering, my heart crashing around inside me.  I’m unstoppable.  I feel in a rush that I am part of this festival.  I want to tell everyone they look wicked, isn’t this all so awesome?  But I can’t stop to chat, I’m following Tone’s coat, I’d follow it anywhere, up into the sky, to the sun.  Abruptly he stops, I crash into the back of him and I’m pissing myself laughing.

“Sorry mate, you need brake lights….”

“No stress,” says an unfamiliar voice.  The face that pivots on the coat’s neck isn’t Tone. It’s some pinheaded, big-nosed kid.  My body and my heart are still racing, flying, charging, but I stall.

“I’ve lost my mates,” I reply feebly to his disappearing back.

The crowd has turned to quicksand.  They push past me, all on their way somewhere, all having fun.  I have to get out of the crowd, their hands could touch me, and I’m exposed, alone.  Beside a sunglasses stand I see a guy by himself.  I ask him where Faker is playing, hearing my voice gibbering, but powerless to slow it down.  His colourful little program means nothing to me; it’s all just random shapes, I swerve away.  I head for the big sail stage, the only landmark visible above the bobbing heads and merciless sun.  It’s too hot.  I need a drink and reach for my bag. Where is my bag!  I always carry my bag.  I suddenly wish I never came here, wish I stayed in my room listening to CDs.  Wish I never got these mates that can suddenly be gone, leaving me alone in this place that I can’t handle.  Then it hits me.  They wanted to get rid of me.  Wanted the grog and the girls to themselves.  They never liked me.  They just used me too.  It’s so fucking obvious now.  I walk faster.  I just want to get out of here.  I realize I need a piss, badly.  This is hell.  No way I’m standing in the urinals, I never drop my daks in public.  I see a gap behind the over –18 bar enclosure.  The thin strip of grass is choked with toilet paper, and empty deal bags.  It stinks of piss. I quickly drop my pants.  I’m just shaking off when I feel someone brush against me. I swing around before they can get me and to hammer into flesh.  I hit and hit and hit releasing fury that roars in my ears and powers my arms until something smacks against my skull.

“Am I speaking?  Can you hear me?  Is this all in my head.  Did I just say that?  Did you hear it?” mutters a guy wrapped in a blanket despite the heat.

“Yes, you said that,” replies the fat woman sitting beside him holding a bottle of water.

The guy jerks his head, startled by the sudden answer.  His huge pupils rove around the big white tent.  I lie still on my stretcher, not wanting to be scooped up in his radar of madness.

“Did I think that? Did you hear it?”  He begins again.

“You’re OK,” she answers patiently. She looks old, at least 25, her raver pants are really outdated. Her posture says they’ve been having this conversation for a while.

With my eyes half-closed I scan the tent. Rave Safe banners decorate a trestle table piled with water and sunscreen.

“You OK?”  Whispers someone beside me.  I slowly turn my throbbing head.  On a stretcher beside me is a badly battered girl.  Her blue jeans are torn and bloody, her T-shirt smeared with mud.  But she grins this beautiful grin.  The happiest smile I’ve ever seen.  It’s so familiar and friendly.

“Lets get back out there,” she whispers.  “They’re total freaks in here.”

Dropping down beside our stretchers we crawl under the tent flaps and scramble away.  The heat of the festival hits me like a wave of nausea, and I recoil, but she’s pulling me along, laughing.

“Isn’t this the best?”  Her face makes me feel so happy to be here, inside this huge hysterical festival laugh.

“Come on.  Lets get in the mosh.  Right inside it.”  She dives into the crowd swelling the outskirts of a stage.  I press in after her.  I’m not gonna get left behind again.  But although we push in deeper and deeper in she’s always near me.

“We’re all like one creature!” She yells in my ear. “A million limbs and one racing heart.”  I can feel it, and as we get closer in I’m barely propelling myself at all.  Everyone else’s excitement is shoving me forward.

“We’re just a drop inside a massive ocean!”  She yells back to me, just as I was thinking the same thing.

Then everyone begins to scream.  There are figures dressed in black above us on the stage.

“Helloooooo Sydney!”  The singer calls out.  “WE ARE HATEBREED!”

The roaring eruption from the crowd meets my own, as if my mouth is spilled out all their voices.  Guitar chords seared into my brain over a thousand nights begin to play and the crowd pushes me towards them.  When the lyrics begin we all scream every word.  People are pressed against me from all sides, their sweat is all over me but I don’t care.  I know they’re with me, not out to get me, because they’re here.

“MAAATE!”  An arm hooks around my neck.  It’s Shane hugging me to him.  “Tone! I found him. I fucking found him!”

“Knew we would!  We had to!”  Tone’s suddenly beside us grinning.  “Got your bag man!” He yells over the guitar holding it up.  “We didn’t drink a motherfuckin’ drop.  No way we’d touch it ‘till we saw ya!”

“I’ve found this cool chick.  You’ve gotta meet her!” I look around, but that smiling face has vanished.  It’s then that I remember where I saw her before: in the newspaper.

We struggle to stand as the crowd rams against us again, shoving us further forward right up to the stage.  Everyone is cheering as the song ends.

“AND THIS ONE…” we all wait holding our breaths in a colossal silence, “IS FOR ALL THOSE KIDS OUT THERE WHO HAVE BEEN ABUSED…YOU ARE NOT ALONE…  ‘I LIVE FOR THIS’!”

My ribs feel like they cracked open.  My face is suddenly wet, my mouth pulled down with the tremendous howling of the whole crowd’s pain. Shane grabs me, tears crawling down his always-stony face.  We turn and reach for Tone, who is balling fists into his eyes, sobbing hysterically.  We press together and I understand why we are mates, will always be mates.  With a roar of grief and victory the crowd surges against us dragging us under.

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