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Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

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Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

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Entries in nathan jolly (5)


In Which We File And Catalogue And Study And Store

My Name Is A Secret


I was about to hurt a person I could have grown to love. It wasn't like ripping off a band-aid, and it wasn't self-preservation, and it wasn't her, it was most definitely me. It was just cold and cruel and necessary. I was wearing a red woolly Cobain jumper that I knew she hated, as if that would be the comfortable crash-mat that softened the fall. My hair was an unwashed nest, my eyes were blurry from the coffee that had kept me up most of the night and exacerbated my anxiety, and I had swallowed so much Extra chewing gum to counteract my coffee-mouth that I was afraid the warnings on the packet of a laxative-type effect would be realised on the 423 bus that was slowly steering me towards the sad scenario I had sketched for myself.

In the sunlight, when her eyes squint and those faint lines crease in that way that always sends me stupid, maybe when she laughs at one of my dumb fucking jokes with her entire body, and accidentally whips me with her hair while doing so, maybe then I will realise this isn’t what I want, and that I actually am happy with Mickey, and that it is just the rest of my life that isn’t sitting quite right. Maybe if we go to that café near the train station and I eat something not meaty and not bready that sits right in my churning, burning stomach, maybe everything will finally be in place, and I will be able to see that I need Mickey, that I love Mickey, that I don’t need to watch her face crumple, her eyes well up, and her voice quiver.

Once I watched a couple break up in a crowded café courtyard, and I was stunned by the callous cruelty of it all. The ingenuity of breaking up in a neutral zone to avoid the lengthy, lumbering, desperate debate was whitewashed by the awful humiliation; this strange girl’s quiet resolve, and this strange guy’s stung anger was impossible to watch without wanting to weigh in, but of course this wasn’t a movie and therefore we weren’t allowed to watch, comment, or judge — at least not openly. This is why I was traveling to Mickey’s place and not a shaded courtyard, taking a bus the eight or so blocks that separates us in order to limit the amount of time I could to and fro inside my head before having to face up to the decision I had long ago made, and was about to finally play out.

Life isn't so bad these days, I often decide during the brief moments I can think about it softly. I am writing at a rate that I can finally be proud of, and I'm placing insignificant articles in significant publications. I'm quickly tucking away a few pieces each month that I am happy enough about now to feel they won’t slay me when I revisit them at a later date, like an old photo taken at a party where I seemed happy and had incredible hair for a split, stolen second. I have always been aware I’m just collecting memories to be studied and missed at a later date. I’m forever envious of those people who seem so thoroughly in the moment that they aren’t even aware that these are the times they will miss. I have had these moments, I’m sure, but I recognize them too quickly, and in one quick shot, all is ruined. I file and catalogue and study and store. I miss the way things are now.

This is Mickey’s bus stop, so I swing around the businessman standing unceremoniously in front of the door, the kind of guy who will tread on toes and block doorways because he is arrogantly unaware of the space he occupies and where his body is at any given time. Those guys are worse than tourists digging sharp, lumpy backpacks into strangers on a crowded train, swinging and hitting some poor old woman as they talk with their entire bodies. I am outside of Mickey’s house now; she isn’t aware that I am coming around but I know that she is home, because she is an analogue clock I learned to read months ago.

Mickey likes clean-shaven, buzzcut, buttoned-up boys who study law but have no sense of justice, who watch cricket because it is on, who travel in packs, and hold their girlfriends like accessories. I have never gotten over the shock that Mickey was interested in me, and have been waiting for her to realise that not only am I not the one, I’m not even in the correct bracket of ones. There are guys built for her, and she should let one find her. I studied my appearance in the rearview mirror of a scooter parked out the front of her apartment, and decided I looked sufficiently not-the-one. I did feel a strange buzz looking in the mirror of that scooter, but decided to shelve that particular feeling for my inevitable mid-life crisis. It’s sometimes nice to know what lies ahead, even if it is tired and well-traced and ultimately embarrassing.

It was too late to lean on gin, I was too close to leave now. I held my breath, clenched my stomach muscles and knocked on her door, for the final time.


Sydney, you are a wonderful lover. I’m swaggering up lanes that belong only to me. My red-tinged sunglasses — bought for $7 at a discount store that sells postcards of the harbour, dubious drug paraphernalia, and long-expired lollies I haven’t seen or thought of since primary school — are painting everything with a Polaroid-perfect tinge, and I am taking photos, shaking photos and putting them in my jacket pocket to look at when I am old and no longer broken. I have freed myself from the only relationship that had ever caused me to stay up at night out of fear that I was circling too close to the sun, only I never felt in danger of being burnt, only of melting into her until I was wandering glass-eyed through farmer’s markets and nurseries, picking baby-names from books, and designer fruit from identical designer buckets. I was destined to be poor Charlie Brown, never quite getting to kick the football.

Now, I was walking back to the bookstores and dimly-lit second-hand shops which hold all that I love about this town. You know the feeling when you exit the cinema and are pierced by the blinding sunshine? That’s how I am feeling at the moment, and in a quick flash I decide that today, on this beautiful September afternoon, with the church bells singing a melody too perfect for religion, the streets sliding like a travelator under my feet, and everything bathed in a $7 red haze, that the deep depths of second book stores, the sad history and discontinued board-games no longer drew me in. Today was a day to sit in the dog park overlooking the courtyard of my favourite inner-West pub and squint into the sun. Today was a day to look forward.

Mickey would bounce back soon — of this I was sure. We were tourists at a colonial-style amusement park, getting our photos taken behind those old-timey wooden characters with the face-holes cut out. This wasn’t a whippable offensive. Nobody was drawn and quartered. If someone else was in the photo, Mickey would still put it on her fridge, and it would look perfect, like a family you would want to be in. I am happy for us to remain undeveloped, one of a host of blurry memories living in a film canister in a sock drawer.

I wanted to call Penelope — the girl I should have been with — to share the news: that we could start our new lives together, assuming of course that her block-headed boyfriend slept with a face-painted babe he met at one of the loud, sweaty clubs I assume he goes to on a Saturday night, with lines of fake tan and fake everything snaked around the block and two burly bouncers letting in one guy for every six girls. Obviously, I can’t call Penelope. Sunday afternoons are for boyfriends and road-trips to cousin’s backyard BBQs, and plonking on lounges to watch films that intersect those few commonly shared interests that most mismatched couples cling to. They weren’t for phone calls from people she’d never had to explain, and I knew this, and she knew this, and everywhere I looked this afternoon there were girls that I could start an entirely new life with right this moment. I could crawl into their townhouses, and meet their housemates, and flick eagerly through their book collections and DVD shelves, and stacks of street press I had written for months ago that hadn’t been thrown out yet, because the little hidden ledge under the coffee table is as good as thrown out anyway. I could wear her jeans, and try on her t-shirts, and drink beer with her in the morning because that’s the quickest way to get to know someone, and I always wanted to know everything right now — so eager to catch up, like a television show I had discovered when the sixth season was winding to an end.

But all these women seemed to cruelly pass me by today, with their dogs and their men, and their Sunday shopping lists, and their mobile phones. Sydney is a great lover, but it is also an ocean, which either propels you towards the shore, or drags you out to die. It lifts you, and dumps you, and fills your lungs when all you want to do is paddle. It blocks your sonar with seaweed and blinds you with saltwater. It is hard to see somebody in the ocean, and harder still to get to them before they have been scuttled across the shoreline, or dragged below the surface. In Sydney, when two people get together quickly, one of them is always being rescued.


Does love get in the way of life, or does life get in the way of love? I have spent months comatose and nesting, letting life whir by in the background like a carnival scene from a teen movie I’ve only ever seen posters for. Inside the rollercoaster capsule, there are only two to a seat, the background is blurry, and we seem motionless in the midst of it all: not scared, not screaming, and happy to stay where we are — until the ride kicks us off, and we are propelled back into the carnival, squinting into the sun, looking around like lost tourists.

After the type of breakup that makes me want to stay indoors alone, I often find that instead of locking myself away, I fling into the world, searching for a purpose that isn’t attached to a girl and her smile. I work more, I write lists and buy diaries, and plot and plan. I get things done. Free of the numbing calm that a relationship can provide, I am alone and against the world. I find myself ignited with a flame that burns so brightly it distracts me from the fact that I am on fire.

Being in a big city makes you acutely aware that anything is possible, and not only possible but probable —big things are expected of you in a big city, and the more people swarming in and out of high rise buildings and warehouses that store indie musicians, the more sense you get that it’s all important, that all the photos and art exhibitions, and banks and big money, and boats on the harbour are all working in service of something bigger, and all you need to do is tap into this, and start stacking, start spreading the news —however quickly that news changes from day to day. Every new hour is both a fresh start, and an extension of this thing that will exist here long after you leave. It’s comforting when you are alone, and only depressing when you are lonely.

I moved into a new house in a new street in a white, blind rush a few weeks ago for reasons too tedious and technical to recount with any sense of artistry. The constant scaling down of my realty expectations and a previous, grueling ten-hour day of holding open heavy doors with legs and torsos, while arms tried to Tetris heavy boxes through security grates — back and forth and up and down — meant that this time I hired a removalist (and felt guilty for not helping out, despite the very good money I was paying him) and took the first house with hardwood floors (all the better to spill you with), a gas stove and a bathtub I could live in. The moving process was, for the first time, quick and painless. Of course this disregard for detail meant that in these past few weeks I had found many displeasing elements were alive and squeaking in my new home: hooks that bled down the walls whenever you hung anything heavier than a hope on them; scarcely scattered powerpoints seemingly placed by architects or electricians who had never owned more than four appliances at a time; sinks too small to wash your hair in; and all the rest which I will discover soon. Still, I am settled and content for what feels like the first time in years. Until this feeling passes, nobody can touch me. I am white light.

A few weeks earlier, lying on a mattress in my packed-up house, after deciding to leave both this sleepy street and my sleepy relationship, I realised I ultimately felt tied down by my possessions, and that all you need is a good book, a soft bed and a head full of hope. And a microwave. And housekeys. And did I really pack away my deodorant? I hoped my television remotes were in the same box as the television — in my haste I wasn't quite sure where I had packed anything at all. I hoped I hadn't left anything behind — some trinket or memory hiding in a high kitchen cupboard. I needed everything I had ever owned and I needed to know where everything was at all times, or I could not sleep.

I paced the empty house, seeing new shapes in carpet stains, old dust in the sunlight, letting my pupils dilate as I stare into the uninviting fluorescent kitchen light. The kitchen was always too cramped and impractical to be satisfactory to anyone but a divorced dad lovingly dividing Chinese food into three mismatched bowls on 'his weekend’. I would probably be that guy in ten or so years, I sighed inside my head, vowing never to have another one night stand, never to fall prematurely in love and be too lazy and in the moment to safeguard against such a scenario. I knew a daughter would probably be able to fix me, but I saw that particular movie all around me, in sad little kitchens like these, and I knew that it never ended the way anyone hopes it will. Fourteen boxes and a suitcase filled with papers — this was everything I had collected, all the things I hadn't yet forgotten why I’d kept. All the things that would define me if they found my body in this empty, sad house.

I cannot wait until the main thing I look forward each evening is a glass of red wine, the kids finally fast asleep in their Disney-painted bedrooms, and me and my girlfriend (never a wife, that word belongs with consumption, castles and kingdoms best left in the past) watching 60 Minutes and tutting at the state of the world: a world long left behind for the everyday reality of child-care centres and kindergartens and Spongebob band-aids and packed lunches and soccer games and all the banal brilliance that I fear may never be a part of my life, until of course on bin day, when it all comes spilling out into the street. Right now, the only way to form this cosy future is to soak myself in gin, go to the loosest bar in the inner West and indiscriminately fling myself at anyone who looks like they may one day love me. It's five dollar drinks until dawn, it's meals from vending machines, it's unprotected everything; it's cold and cruel, and necessary. All the promises to myself: quietly, quickly broken and shooed out of the room by her lips and her hips and what they could hold over me and my future just by being there and being available. It sure feels like being alive, but right now I cannot remember any one way I have felt, any former aches or joys. I gun my drink, check my hair in the reflection of my phone and look around. Hi, my name is a secret. Would you like to have a daughter with me?

Nathan Jolly is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in Sydney. He last wrote in these pages about the one. He tumbls here and twitters here.

Paintings by Isca Greenfield-Sanders

"Light at the End of the Tunnel (live)" - Cloud Cult (mp3)

"We Made up Your Mind For You (live)" - Cloud Cult (mp3)


In Which She Is All Cool And Cheekbones

The One


I can smell vomit. This is a worry, considering I am on my way to meet up with Penelope — a girl I have been in love with for far too long  and I don’t know the exact location of the scent. Is it my hair, is it my jeans or is it just the world around me, illuminated with lights and love and a tangy vomit smell? It could also be blood and bones fertilizer. I have always thought the police should be able to be called around to investigate an olfactory complaint much in the same way they are forced to break up parties full of life and love and cheer, all ended prematurely due to a Thrills record being blasted too loud. Nose pollution. Considering, scientifically speaking, that scent is the sense most intrinsically linked to memory, these people who insist on pouring death upon their garden beds should be judged much more harshly, as they are messing with makeshift moments that shouldn’t be triggered in latter years simply by passing a Steggles factory or an overzealously fertilized lawn.

Either way, I can smell vomit, and it’s making me uneasy, although I have had this stomach-churning feeling for days now. The Penelope situation was starting to unsettle me more than it did all those months ago when I first decided she was The One. I spent the week after first meeting her stuck in a dumb daze: handing my bank card to the librarian; planning dubious ways to see her; replaying conversations that must be misremembered because it was all such a sudden skidding rush; paying no attention to work or traffic; scripting words she was yet to speak  I sketched fairly hopefully in that first week. The reality of her boyfriend as an Actual Entity soon thudded into play, refusing to be shushed into submission.

I thought I could shake her from my mind easily enough by staying away and keeping busy, but every time I find myself with half an excuse to be around her, I make sure I rehearse the other half until it sounds convincing  even to myself. After a month or so we’d stopped awkwardly wrapping our evenings around mutual friend’s picnics or parties or graffiti hung in galleries. By then we were meeting in bars for no other reason but to meet in bars.

I would have happily stayed single for as long as it took me to wrestle Penelope from her boyfriend, except a girl called Mickey made it too easy for me to fall lazily into a casual-but-romantic-but-casual thing. A big part of it was, I’m afraid to say, that she did all the chasing: I wasn’t even aware I was in her sights until she had pulled the trigger and dragged me back to her house, kissing me at the train station in the early hours of the morning, all pixie-dust and pills. This occurred a number of similar ways over a number of similar nights, until we were leaving jumpers at each other’s houses, and calling at four to find out: “What’s happening this evening?” It’s a nice feeling, and Mickey is smart, excitable, sweet  and well out of my league. She leaves me funny phone messages: rhythms borrowed from books, beats plundered from sitcoms. It was fun, and easy, and unearned. And I hated myself for going along with it all so calmly. I liked how Mickey made me feel, which is a terrible reason to be with somebody. With her around I was less restless, less anxious, less insular, less reckless. I liked how Mickey could make me feel less.

I slide into Coopers and sit at the best people-watching booth I can find (so we can either laugh at people or admire their clothes), cornered and cozy. I didn’t tell Mickey about tonight; I never tell Mickey. I never would, because why would I? And anyway how innocent and easy could I make it sound if I was ever caught out?  because a) I never bring Penelope up around Mickey, and b) on paper it is all, sadly, still officially innocent. 

Penelope was 15 minutes late. Penelope was often 15 minutes late, sometimes half an hour late. It was okay, I am the same, and she never minds so I never mind. I aim to be annoyingly early, but always wander down the wrong street, or lose my keys, or slop peanut butter or something down my shirt a minute before planning to leave. Deodorant is also an issue. If you spray it on the minute before you leave the house, you may have overdosed, and you’ll be dripping two dark pools that will make you look like an overweight I.T worker who just lost a bundle at the races. So, you need to apply, wait, assess, then leave the house. All of this takes time, and when added to the minefield that is hair placement, shirt-selection and shaving without bleeding like a bullet-riddled banshee, it can leave me running frantically late to an event that I had been dreaming down the hours ‘til for the entire tired day.

Oh, there she is! All cool and cheekbones. Smiling, holding the street press, making some vague drinking motion towards the bar, that I imagine means "Want a drink?" I nod, she comes over, hugs me, kisses me sloppily on the cheek  leaving a lipstick smear that I can feel drying and tightening but leave anyway, and asks me what I want to drink. It’s already cute to me. It’s always cute. I wonder if other people see it. They must. It’s an immovable feast, an undeniable fact, a simple truth. Oh god, she must get attention from guys all day. Every day. Would that be tiring or flattering? Am I just another guy who finds her adorable and fills the loose moments in her life that aren’t taken up by her actual life? Am I a placeholder, a stilted conversation at a bus-stop, a midday movie you watch half of before hopping a bus to the actual movies? This is killing me. What if she finally decides to jump ship, but not to me, to one of the many, many guys that must hit on her every single second of her cute life?

painting by will martyr

She bought a vodka sunrise. That is cute. She has bought me the beer I wanted, yet put three straws in it. That is cute and funny. She does cute things all the time, and if I can see them, everyone can see them and she must have a string of superior potential-suitors miles long, with hordes of terrible, muscle-men strewn throughout like a red-and-khaki war scene. Tonight has to be the night. Tonight I need to stake my claim, lock this deal down, tonight, tonight. What about Mickey, though? I knew "what" about Mickey already. I had long decided what about Mickey. It’s terrible. I am terrible. I know this, but I still have the "not willing to settle" card so my conscience sits clean, albeit a cloudy kind of clean. Tonight is the night. Everything else is mere detail, to be forgotten and re-ordered and shuffled and softened. It all fits nicely under the banner of "romantic". It’s a future story for our future children, and in the future this will be as all nostalgia is: life with the bad bits cut out.

Tonight wasn’t the night. Slumped in my bed I recall the many moments of the evening ­ plotted, planned, decoded and relived in glorious, agonizing slowmo what-if-o-vision  and resolutely promise myself over and over that I am going to make this happen, and that it is just a matter of time, so therefore there is no need to rush. Things are going well, there’s no need to overthink it. Of course, I have no choice. Four in the morning is the dead of the night. Without houselights I could be in the deepest, darkest cave, or the saddest Victorian bedsit this side of consumption and rickets. It could be 1890 or 2090. Things matter more at four in the morning, and are able to be mentally resolved, but not actually resolved until the world starts up again in the morning. It’s a nice, peaceful feeling once you have trawled through your fears, decided upon a solution and can now lie under the whirling, purring fan knowing that you have the ways and means to fix this mess, to make your world perfect, and all you need to do now is fall asleep and let the construction begin in the morning…

Mickey wakes me up at 7am, standing over my bed, looking gorgeous in my room. I am annoyed. I am a terrible person, there is nothing that isn’t intrinsically perfect about this scenario, except I am tired and hungover and not chirpy and not a good person. Mickey doesn’t have a key, but I realized long ago that I have a habit of leaving the front door unlocked when I stumble home at all hours. Mickey has the day off, it seems, and thought she would surprise me with this news, and take me to breakfast. It’s so sweet. It’s too sweet. It’s too early; surprises in the morning tend to throw my entire day off track. It’s like a bucket of cold water being thrown on you, and it’s hard to recover from the feeling that someone else is piloting you through the day. All this is running through my head while I flirt and dress and pretend I’m excited and thrilled at the prospect of sitting in the sharp sunshine feigning the ability to digest food this early. It’s all getting to be a heavy weight. Mickey was meant to be a distraction from my depression, not a reminder. Eggs and bacon and coffee, it seems so American. Breakfast eaten anywhere but at home in either pajamas or in a crumpled rush-buttoned shirt and birds-nest hair seems so American to me, pulled from the wrong kind of sitcom.

What Are We Going To Do With Our Day? I wanted to crawl under a blanket and die for a few hours, then roll down a pre-prepared ramp into a bathtub conveniently placed next to my bed, then in turns blast too-cold and too-hot water into it for the rest of the day, adjusting the temperature at the merest whim. Trashy magazine, wine, hot chips, Boy Meets World, glorious recovery, post-hangover high. But there were plans to make, and places to walk to, and Mickey’s boring work friend David to run into and go for coffee with and pretend to know about computers with.

As I quickly blocked out David’s ones and zeroes, the thought struck me that I actually could not think of a way in which I could practically break up with Mickey. I usually forced these things by starting a niggling fight, which elevated into a Serious Fight with yelling and accusations and non-compatibility issues and an end result where a break up occurs in that blurred way where "things just came to a head". Mickey wouldn’t have any of this. I honestly don’t think she can yell, and I don’t think I could be any kind of cruel towards her without wanting to stop and hug her and kiss her and protect her. If I ever saw her beautiful face crumple or her panda eyes tear up I think I would feel sick to my bones. It was soft and sharp: the awful thought that I might actually be falling in love with Mickey.


As the sun went down on that punishing, pointless day, we ended up ducking into one of the many new small bars that pop up like picture books along this street. In this particular one, like most of them, you are somehow always in the way. It was like someone had tried to turn the twisting, narrow corridors of a disused hospital into a hip night spot, and because there was a tacky tiki motif pushing gracelessly against the sterile surrounds, everyone excused the fact that you couldn’t lift your elbows without sloshing a drink over someone, or mildly assaulting a stranger.

Over the past year these small bars have taken over every nook in the city that wasn’t already an art gallery. The state’s strict liquor laws had finally given in to the perpetual march of young people, and this newly-relaxed, divorced-dad manner has now turned Sydney into a painted playground, full of C.S Lewis-like doors, through which you could push and enter (or stumble down three dangerously dark concrete stairs into) a Southern saloon, or a New York speakeasy. This whole strip of the city was heritage listed a decade or so ago, which means that nobody can breach the exterior design of these buildings; necessity had therefore bred these pokey, two-story-high federation fronts which mask hidden worlds. There was even a bar called Dive Bar, which purposefully mirrored some of the shittier ex-bikie bars on forgotten corners ten minutes walk away that sit stagnant while people pay $8 for imported beer in a lazy approximation. It was like setting up one of those Japanese wave-making machines next to Bondi Beach and charging thirty dollars to queue and body-surf on some warm jets and plastic sheeting. I enjoy watching these bars take over and slowly change the city into what it wants to be. It’s a revolution, a daisy chain. But after about an hour of lifting my arms and contouring my torso to let a constant wash of people push past every which way in the vain hope of trying to find a warm corner to settle into, I extracted myself from Mickey and two of her second-rung friends, and left to conquer other lands  or at least find a world at the top of the tree in which I could happily stay, should the world turn.

I spent that evening drunk as death at The Union, a pub that is comforting or depressing on any given night, depending on whether I feel old. Tonight I was a fiddler, a box-car jumper, a charmer, a drifter. I didn’t know anybody there. I don’t really know anyone anywhere, although on this side of the city I’m forever bumping into people who seem to know my face. Tonight I was walking along the side of the highway in the dead of night, willing the cars to swerve and hit me or slow and pick me up and drive me to California, to Calcutta, to the Caribbean, to wherever I can land and wash my hands and start anew. There are no bad decisions that you cannot whitewash with a fresh start. What about Mickey? What about Penelope? It’s a large city. There’s a lot of large cities. So many people could be the one.

Nathan Jolly is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in Sydney. He last wrote in these pages about a greater power. He tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.

Paintings by Will Martyr


 painting by will martyr

"Last Chance" - Honor by August (mp3)

"Already Yours" - Honor by August (mp3)


In Which If We Close Our Eyes Maybe They Can't See Us

Greater Power


Recently I have been coming up with different ways for Steve to die. The first sees him wander, drunk on some overpriced local beer, in front of an ambulance. It is instant and public, voyeurs spilling onto the sidewalk, a few strangers crying from the terrible, sudden shock of it all. The second involves him crumpling his car into a power line, coming in from the west side of the city on a wet night. All the deaths involve traffic accidents: this form of death being both realistic and instant. I have always been aware that at any moment a car could come veering over the sidewalk and engulf me, so this completely reasonable fear entered into all my scenarios. I bet it doesn’t hurt a bit; you would pass out the minute you heard yourself scraping across the road. One flash and you are erased.

Steve is Penelope’s lumbering, hulking, philandering [citation pending] boyfriend. A mere footnote in her dating life prior to her seeing through the ruse. He enters my life far too often; first as a leech attached to Penelope at the traffic lights near King Street  which threw me to the extent that I literally hid behind a poster pole for a minute like the little cartoon character that I feel like whenever he is around  then in odd, impossible places, sneaking up on me like a phantom: in the line at the post office, standing on the corner outside Coopers (where fantasy death number one is set in my head; the blocking getting more and more precise as time goes on), even in a fucking pet store! It is always unsettling, like being caught readjusting yourself, and I am always hyperaware of how robotic my moments are during these brief windows when I can feel his eyes burning through my body, mockingly. He doesn’t know I exist. I know this. I imagine Penelope loosely refers to hanging out with ‘friends’ when she arranges to meet me; the illicit thrill I get from the knowledge that she keeps me hidden, and the implied meaning behind this, makes me feel like I have a greater level of power than I do on paper.

Penelope was different from all the other girls. For one, I didn't need to try. She was a whirlwind of non-sequiturs, questions to which she was interested in finding the answers, witty, straight-faced jokes and a superb stream of pop culture references that made me fall in love with her almost instantly. Not real love, mind  rather, a form of giddy infatuation that had me marching her down the aisle in my head and learning how to cook to impress her. And of course, she had a boyfriend, a fact she dropped in at the start of every conversation as a brief disclaimer, before launching into a flirtatious diatribe that made me wish terrible things: that Steve would cheat on her, grab her wrist too hard one evening when she went to walk away from him after some fight that started because he was insensitive and she was “mouthy”. She was all porcelain and lace, and I bet she easily bruises when he pushes her against the door.


Sydney is secretly aware it is the cultural center of the world and that once everyone else catches on, this era will be inundated with forensic journalists combing for revisionist rubbish until everything is stripped to its basic elements. Style matters, looks matter, but documenting it all matters more. Street press matters. Photographs matter. Records matter. We are kids at bars: California in the ‘50s, London in ’66, New York in ’77 – only geography gracelessly sloshed us half a world away. Sydney is full of girls who hide their self-consciousness in a multitude of ways: by brash heels and red lips; by jokes and sass; by miniskirts and Cosby sweaters. But sometimes the guards go to sleep, and the comments ring too true. I must admit I am drawn to these scared/swaggering Sydney girls, because they are always the most interesting.

Charlotte was one of these. Stripped to the bone within a week of knowing her, she had told me all her secrets, through cryptic asides, through her record collection, through her refusal to let me watch her get dressed after we first slept together, and through a number of other day-to-day rituals and comments that would go unnoticed by anybody who wasn't momentarily entranced by her. But as we slid out of courtship (if you call it courtship, life’s like a Bronte novel, you see?) and into an easy friendship I realized I was collecting postcards of Charlotte rather than actually relishing spending any real romantic time with her. Charlotte’s appeal was better understood in shoebox-photos of her dressed like a junkie Mickey Mouse Club kid; in videos of us at the pub waiting in the front room for the terrible bands to stop playing in the back room; in that stoned conversation we taped on my Dictaphone one evening in a townhouse that had never seen bed frames. Charlotte always dressed up in case somebody took her photo.


When me and Penelope collide on evenings like this, I feel that this is romance as it is meant to be played out. Not a chance meeting in a group of friends, where boredom and proximity pairs people off in a male, female, male, female march, but rather a table, a bottle of wine (each) and the knowledge that whatever twisted web we have weaved ourselves into with other lovers  who we love because we have woken up to find another year has passed and the clock now says this is a long-term, Serious Relationship with joint invitations, the meeting of mothers, and the melding of social groups until it all becomes such a blur that you can't even think of climbing out of without feeing the weight of it all  this here, with a table and a jukebox and a bottle of wine (each), is how things are meant to be, and how things Are Right Now. All the rest is just a full-time distraction, the formalities and paperwork of life, the boxes that need to be ticked in order to shuffle through your twenties.

Now is the age where you are meant to get serious about things; even if the ducks aren't all in a row, there is a loud ticking that can quite easily accent the sound of slowly-closing doors which, up until you actually thought about it, seemed wide open. All these things run through my mind, and yet, I have never actually met Steve, the subject of her hasty disclaimer (this time tossed into a rudimentary sentence surrounded by a jumble of jokes and nonsense), never seen their interplay. I don’t exist in his world. He is a major character in mine. I try hard not to watch her lips as she speaks, as I am aware this is distracting. Luckily she is leaning far too close to notice.

We shared a seat in a crowded bar one evening. I was seeing “a girl named Charlotte” as I referred to her to my friends in the months before she had become intrinsically linked to each of them. She wasn’t out the evening I first meet Penelope, because by this stage it had become apparent that we’d rather watch Wonder Years in bed than do anything else. We were sliding out of a warm drug into a warm hug. So I was out with my friends and open to any possibility  in retrospect at least. I was seated a good meter or two from Penelope at first, but as our respective friends bordered the table, starting at each end and slowly marching closer as others came in off the street, we were soon the intimately-squashed meeting point, where the forest meets the sea. From that moment on, our friends were mere auxiliary brackets, adding to the buzz, buzz, buzz of voices and glasses, the background din to Penelope’s thousand-mile-an-hour dialogue and my gin-soaked smile and attempt to keep afloat.

I love that feeling that comes when you sense you are hurtling unchecked towards someone or something. Running to something, as opposed to away from it. I had never scrambled to keep up before; I usually edit the obscurities and extremities out of most conversations, a thesaurus turning over and over in my brain, a red pen sub-editing my thoughts until I realise I am limboing too low and hop over the bar, burn the winners sash and catch a late night bus home, alone. A giddy rush or a tragic crush  it’s all the same. Falling for someone can be such a relief, despite the mess that floats around it. If we close our eyes, maybe they can’t see us.

Nathan Jolly is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in Sydney. He last wrote in these pages about a box without a bow. He tumbls here and twitters here.

Images by Andrew Stevovich.

"The Radio" - Pamela Hute (mp3)

"Running Away" - Pamela Hute (mp3)