The Beginner's Guide to Living (15 page)

BOOK: The Beginner's Guide to Living
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I wait, time stretching out in incalculable units, but her back blocks me, so I get up and leave.

Outside, on their driveway, I look up to make sure of the stars, but clouds have laid siege to the sky and absconded with the moon.

*   *   *

It's a long way home. My feet are colossal, unfamiliar. Traitors they seem to me, especially when I need them most. There's a brick wall with jagged mortar like the tunnel where I almost stepped under the train. My knuckles snag on its roughness as I pass. I let my hand trail behind me and the skin shreds, bump, bump, bump against the cement. The pain is softened by the dope. I think of the church and the candles, the seductive burn of the flame, the moment that was too much. But this is different, messier, and I know there's blood.

I look at my hand. The skin is torn on two of the knuckles. All of the fingers are bleeding except for the thumb. I shudder, even though it doesn't really hurt, and laugh. It's my left hand, not the one I use to write—that's me, always cautious even in destruction, allowing some way back.

The sky is hovering, the streets still barren, the only life a black cat, tail wound around a tree like a prophecy, and me with a hollowness in my guts. Nothing mystical, just wanting to leave myself behind. And what will save me—love, philosophy, some higher force?

I keep moving, leave the wall behind, the one with a trail of me stuck to it, little bits of Will. Up ahead is Degrazis', I'm almost home, and there's the church. Above its sign there's a light, and they've changed the quote—it says,
Come to Him in love.
I take out my keys, lean against the glass that protects the words, and scratch,
God is dead.
A smear of blood soaks into the word
like a tattoo.

*   *   *

Life according to Nietzsche.

God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, murderers of all murderers, console ourselves? That which was the holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe this blood off us?… Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us?

And here's the mother of all questions:

Must we not ourselves become gods simply to be worthy of it?


and I'm having an
existential crisis
. On the bus on the way to Seb's, that's what the woman said after she leaned over and asked me what was wrong. When she told me I looked like “death warmed over,” I answered, “We're all lukewarm things waiting to die.” But she didn't turn away, like she was meant to. She nodded and whispered, “Existential crisis.”

What the hell's that, I thought, but it turned out she was a mind reader too. She spent the next five minutes explaining. Basic summary below.

I am reacting to my mother's death and to my sudden realization of my own mortality by going into a psychological head spin because I have realized that life has no predestined meaning. I must either find comfort in some form of religion or seek my own meaning to existence, and embrace the freedom that comes with it, as well as the responsibility. For further information see Jean-Paul Sartre, famous French existentialist.

“This is my stop,” she said, and got off the bus. She was gone when I looked out the window, making me wonder whether she was ever there at all.

*   *   *

I throw myself down on Seb's bed.

“You haven't come to study, have you?” he asks, looking up from his books.

“Nobody was home.”


“I didn't feel like being alone.”

“Okay, but keep quiet. I'm working on those math problems Radcliffe gave us to practice on and nothing's going in.”

“Do you need a hand?”

“No, I have to work them out for myself. We're not all smart pricks like you.”

“I'll be good, I promise. Not a word.”

Existential crisis—sounds better than losing it. Wonder what Taryn's doing, apart from hating my guts? I'd hate me, too. I should call her, but right now I feel too sick of myself. Though, there is also this part of me that needs to do justice to my grief.


“Yes, Will.” There's menace in his voice.

“Do you ever worry about there being no meaning to your life? That it's all utterly random?”

“Now, you see, that's what I like about you, Will. I ask you not to interrupt me and, instead of asking what there is to eat, you want me to analyze my own existence.”


“No, no, that's fine. Seriously. I mean the exam's only a week away and I'm having absolutely no trouble focusing on one of the most important days of my life.” He taps his pen on the desk. “Listen, go talk to Dad. He loves that shit.”

“Okay,” I say, rolling off the bed. “And, hey, if you need help, I did those during class already and they aren't that bad.”

“Get lost, genius, before I perform a live vivisection on you with this.” He waves his compass at me as I go.

Seb's dad is in the living room squatting over a box of records, his jeans drooping down around his ass. His old Stones T-shirt has a hole above the word
. “Hi, Daniel.”

“Will. Haven't seen you around much lately. Been studying?”

“Yeah, sort of. What are you doing?”

“Sorting my record collection. Bit obsessive about it and, as the wife's not home, thought I'd indulge.”

“Seb was saying you're into the Doors.”

“Would've died for them when I was a kid.”

“Yeah, really. So tell me about the Lizard King?”

“Morrison? Mad bastard, he was. Bit of a visionary, I guess you'd say.”

“Oh, yeah, kind of like a guru?”

“Kind of like a junkie, that's what. They were into peyote, among other things,” he says, his fingers plowing rows in his stubby gray hair.


“Cactus juice. It's a hallucinogenic. The American Indians use it for ceremonies. That's how Morrison worked out the lizard was his totem animal. Or so he said.” Daniel pulls out a record with a huge open mouth on the cover, a scared pink face. “Some people saw him as a shaman, thought he could create a kind of link between this world and the next.”

“What do you reckon?”

“Reckon if you take enough drugs you'll believe anything,” he says, sliding the record back in.

“Have you ever taken peyote?”

“No, but I took acid a few times when I was younger. Sort of does the same thing. Not sure your dad would like me telling you this stuff. It's about now I'm meant to give you the talk about how drugs fry your brain.”

“Consider yourself off the hook,” I say, sinking into the couch.

“They got their name from this book called
The Doors of Perception
. It was about a guy who took peyote. The title came from a poem by Blake. Have you heard of him?”

“Sure. Not as stupid as I look.”

“Nothing stupid about you, Will. Never was.” Daniel sits on the floor but can't quite manage to cross his legs. “You're a good kid and I think it's awful what happened to your mom.”

We both study the carpet. “Thanks, Daniel.”

“Any time, any time.”

“So can you get peyote here?”

“I don't know, but it's serious stuff, especially if you're already feeling a bit, you know.” Daniel's eyes fall on the cuts on my hand, my knuckles an uneven line of Band-Aids.

“I was just interested.”

“I can put the Doors on if you like, or have you got studying to do?”

“Nah, I'm taking a break.”

A smile comes over his face. “
Strange Days
, 1967 release, original condition. Only these fingers touch them,” he says, wiggling them in front of me. He puts the record on the turntable. “I trust you've seen one of these.”


“This is one of my favorites. ‘Moonlight Drive.'”

He lowers the needle. There's a crackle as the music begins, a bluesy keyboard, eerie slide guitar. Daniel closes his eyes and lets his head drop back, and there he is, the Lizard King, his voice trippy, earnest, riding the music that sounds like the theme to
Sesame Street
, as he sings about surrendering to worlds that wait and swimming to the moon.

*   *   *

Back home, I look through my collection of Blake's poems till I find these words from
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.

For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern.

The raggedy edge. There's only one person I know who can take me there.

*   *   *

The gutters are all cobblestones, the houses thin slices, the only gardens a few dried-up plants in pots. The house she takes me to has an old armchair out in front with stuffing sprouting from the seams like tufts of grass. She opens the rusty gate—I could step over it but she's tiny, with her black hair all feathery, none of it the same length.

“My brother's name's Dave, but everybody calls him Hummer,” says Cherry, as she knocks on the door. “It's his avatar. He's seriously into gaming.”

After a minute, there's movement inside, the sound of locks being undone. A short, pale guy opens the door, his eyes squinting at the light. “Hey,” says Hummer, and skulks back into the house, his long jeans swishing on the carpet.

“That's about as sociable as he gets,” says Cherry, taking my hand and leading me in. The hall is cluttered and dark and at the end of it there's a lounge room lit only by a TV. A band's playing on it that I don't know.

“Sit down,” he says, leaving the room.

The couch sinks low and Cherry and I almost fall on top of each other, her thigh half the length of mine.

“Hummer says it's good stuff.”

“Great,” I say, as if I have an idea what good is.

“What happened to your hand?”


She raises her thin eyebrows at me as Hummer comes back with a piece of foil in his hand. Inside, two sugar cubes. Cherry takes one, “Here goes,” and drops it into her mouth. She hands me the other and it's cold on my tongue at first before it begins to dissolve. “Suck it,” she says. “It'll take a while to kick in.”

Hummer: “I'll be in my room. Drinks are in the fridge.”

“Thanks,” I say, but he just raises an eyebrow and disappears into the hall. “You guys don't look much alike.”

“Different fathers. His dad's a complete shit.”

“And yours?”

“He's all right. Don't see him much. He works in big mines, makes heaps of cash. Takes me out to these fancy restaurants whenever he's in town. That's his thing. Mom hates his guts but he's okay.”

“What's your mom like?”

“Fat. What about you? What's your mom like?”


“Shit. When?”

“About two months ago.”

“Why didn't you say?”

“I guess it's nice being with someone who doesn't have it in the back of their mind every time they look at me.”

“Did it fuck you up? I mean, my mother's a fat tart but it'd mess me up if she died.”

“Depends how you define
fucked up
. I mean, it's Tuesday morning, my exams start in three days, and I've just taken acid for the first time. Some people might call that
fucked up

“Where I come from that's pretty bloody normal. Is that why you're doing this? Because of your mom?”

I stare up at the ceiling. There's a watermark in the plaster, its brown edges forming a butterfly.

“You don't have to tell me if you don't want to,” she whispers, looking up at the stain.

“I've been reading about peyote.”

“Is that another philosopher?”

“Nah, it's a drug.”

“Never heard of it.”

“It's an old American Indian thing. Helps you pull back the filters, see the world as it really is.”

“Sounds cool,” she says, her head close to mine on the back of the couch. “And you reckon acid'll do it for you?”

“Well, yeah, maybe.”

“You'll see things for sure but I don't know if it's how the world really is. It'd be nice to think it was like that, all the colors. But why the hell would we filter that out?”

“It's probably more about filtering out the bad shit.”

“That makes sense. Anyway, shouldn't be long now. A drop of water on that glass there is starting to look solid. What about you? Feel anything?”

I focus on the glass. “A little drunk maybe, but nothing else.”

“Don't worry, you won't see your dead mother, or anything. It's not that kind of stuff. It should be all good.”

BOOK: The Beginner's Guide to Living
10.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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