It was a madhouse but Mick didn’t say as much. He forced a smile and looked around the living room. A nice enough apartment; soft peach carpet, two piece black leather suite, big flat-screen with Foxtel. The kitchen was just off the living room. He stood in front of the doorway to it. It was only a wee box really, with a fridge and oven. The floor was sticky. The counter was sticky. Sink overflowing with cutlery, plates, pans, pots, cans, cigarette butts, brownish foamy liquid with a sour smell punching Mick from where he stood. He hadn’t eaten yet because Tommy was bringing him for food whenever he got up. Sobered up. Mick wouldn’t be brave enough to cook something in there.
Tommy was asleep, or pretending to sleep, in the second bedroom. He’d given the other bedroom to Mick to set up. Mick hadn’t unpacked save for a towel and wash bag so he could soak his face and have a shave. His suitcase was full of pictures and drawings, good luck cards. He knew it would take too much of his spirits to open it just yet.
The Perth sun had already made it daytime at 5am. Mick couldn’t figure out if he was supposed to sleep now or later or when was he supposed to drop off to beat the jet lag. He couldn’t get much anyway with this party in full swing and the heat. And if it was always going to be this hot this early- Jesus, it didn’t bear thinking.
Four young lads were drunk out of their minds milling around the living room. Another one could be seen out the opened patio asleep on the tiny patch of lawn. He was topless. The crack of his arse showed. The girls were worse, though quieter. One sitting on the couch curled up tight, her feet urgently tapping against the cushion. One with her boyfriend, them stroking each other like new soft furred pets. Beside them, another young lad passed out on the couch. Topless too.
These Irish fellas are in bad shape, Mick thought and looked down at his own paunch. But they had beer guts and them only young. Some still teenagers.
Because Mick had the room to himself and all these others had to fit on the couch or in the hall or outside, like the opportunist who took his patch of dead lawn; he felt old, embarrassed. He wondered should he tell them sorry or let them sleep in beside him. But they weren’t his wife or kids. He winced. The involuntary jab to the stomach when he thought of Nuala or Cillian, Máire, Diarmuid or Laoise. The sting to the eyes.
A roar came from Tommy’s room. He burst out the door wearing only his jocks and red framed sunglasses.
‘Would ye shut the fuck up, like?’
Silence in the room. The rest of them absorbed what was happening.
‘Take the sock out of your knickers, Tommy,’ shouted one of them.
Red faced, Tommy returned to his bedroom. He wasn’t even the man of his own house and Mick was certain he heard him say he was the only one paying rent.
Tommy was twenty-five, sixteen years younger than Mick. But he was a good lad and Mick was friendly with his uncles, they played football together a while back. Tommy got him two interviews for his company. Health and Safety Officer was one, and Mick was hoping for that, but a general driving job too and Mick would be happy enough with it even if he was overqualified. He just needed work. Quick. His family had to eat and go to school and have shoes and heat in the house. Mick wouldn’t let another year go by with the scrambling and scrounging they had to do the past two years. Where his heart was all torn up, looking at his beautiful woman turn into a shadow.
‘I was picking at the dinner as I was cooking,’ she’d say when Mick commented on her eating. Worry starved her.
He blinked hard and checked the clock on his phone. He had to go through the mishmash of his new messy Irish housemates and get out to the patio, past the lump on the grass, to ring Nuala and the kids and say goodnight. Say Daddy will get a job soon and we’ll have some money and mind Mammy because Daddy will be home soon, home when they get school holidays and that he doesn’t want anyone upset because they are all so brave.
He heard it in Nuala’s voice. She’d been crying and her breath was fluttering still, recovering. He heard her struggling to find words, pretend to be okay and he was struggling too.
‘They’re a nice bunch, bit wild maybe,’ he said.
‘What will you do today?’
‘Myself and Tommy are going for food in the restaurant his cousin is a waitress in. And I’ll study for the white card test. You should see the sky here, Nuala. No clouds, just endless blue. Bright blue.’
‘It’s been raining.’
‘I wouldn’t mind a bit of rain.’
She laughed and snuffled. They had more small talk and he said goodnight to his kids. After he hung up he said a silent prayer and blessed himself.
He kicked a stone along the road and he noticed a crow, one that was twice the size of an Irish one and twice as loud. The bird’s squawk was shrill and mean. Like he’d been insulted and was retaliating. Mick kicked the stone at it and the bird flapped unsettled, protesting and plodding about before re-resting on the dune where the footpath ended.
And Mick’s gut was heaving with sadness. He was down the street from the madhouse but he could still hear them partying. Them ‘woo-hooing’ and ‘fuck-offing’. The collective roars. Flo Rida’s ‘Good Feeling’ was on again. He knew it was Flo Rida because it was played every three or four songs. Flo Rida was in good shape.
Big trucks droned on the highway in the distance.
The sun was already harsh and he saw his freckly arms going pink under it. He hesitated before walking back to Tommy’s place. Inside, his nerves assaulted. Out here, a scorching. But he walked back, because it was them he was going to be stuck with for a while until he could get into the mines or on a site. He texted his wife ‘I love you.’
The noise of the party grew louder and louder, booming as he slid the front patio open.
The neighbours should really complain.
His housemates were in almost the same state as when he left except someone had fallen asleep over the footrest. Tommy was up and dancing with the others. Still wearing the sunglasses and jocks. Mick stood at the patio and smiled and nodded his head at them all.
They acknowledged him with waves. The A/C was on and there was a glorious chill in the room now. One of the young lads sloshed a can of Heineken as he thudded his way up towards Mick.
‘You – hey, buddy – hey – you– this,’ he slurred and shoved the can into Mick’s hand. The others beckoned him to join.