David Broughton stares through sheeting rain, across Sydney city traffic, at the adversarial pub door. He has walked the block twice, in winter sun sinking; downtown is warning edged, dark. He pulls the last of the hash joint, tucks guitar case under arm, and bolts across George Street, generating kinetic courage. He shoulders the heavy wooden door - it barely shifts. What an entrance. He squares himself, and pushes into the beer-fume gloom, eyes down, straight to the bar.
Why this place, Sal? Sally Carberry is David’s best mate, but they haven’t spoken since the school break-up party. It’s hazy, but David knows he played arse of the Class of ’86. He was not expecting the call, and was too shocked to question, The Regal? No place for a flanno-clad country kid! Sally had sounded happy to catch up, tempting, “I’m meeting mates… A fella with old bush songs… Bring your guitar. See you Tuesday, say - six?”
“Sir?” The big penguin-suited barman doesn’t smile.
Sir? Is he taking the piss? David looks along a tree-line of exotic taps “schooner thanks”, pointing, avoiding mispronunciation. The barman nods, and David counts the chins flowing from tight collar and tie, as he pulls beer into a bespoke glass. David surveys the pub… Bloody picture-book - red cedar, brass and glass, dark leather. David is the only punter, now looking to hide.
“Seven dollars, fifty cents.”
David swallows, pays from a wallet holding a tenner, and a return to Newtown. He finds a dark booth, stows guitar, slides arse across smooth leather. He secret-slugs hip-flask bourbon, lights a cigarette - three left - and lifts boutique beer. Here’s to old friends, made anew. Toasting Sally Carberry.
David cannot nurse warm beer much longer, the hip-flask is drained dry. Where’s Sal? He studies the retro jukebox, buzzing on bourbon, beer, hash - too much, too fast. He slots a dollar, nudges pages, painful pretty-boy pop, Pop’s favourite jazz hits - Aha! David punches G-44. Cold Chisel’s fiery four-four roar fuels David’s cocky stagger-swaggering back to his booth, winking at the barman en-route.
David hears the heavy door, the city roar - Sal - he turns, singing Chisel “Open up the door Astrid”. It’s not Sally. Oh, great - a gaggle of pretty perfumed yuppie kids - suit and tie lads, leathered girls, diamonds, pearls, chains, and designer handbags. He ducks into his booth. “I ain’t gonna listen to no more pissin’ around.”
The party rolls easily into the pub, finding a window table.
“Fizz all ‘round?”
“Thanks Simon. And, please do fix that jukebox squawk.”
They laugh, David’s neck prickles, Fuckin’ yuppies.
Simon walks to the jukebox, pulls the plug. Turning, he discovers David, “Oh!” He slides a dollar coin across the wooden booth table, “for your - ah - music.”
David’s forehead itches, “Sure you can spare it?”
“Sorry? Oh, ha - yeah.” Simon smiles.
David stands, unsteady, “I don’t want to leave you short.” He knows he’s sliding on slippery-slope sarcasm, dragging palms across his red flanno; red flag to his own bull. Shit.
Simon’s smile falls, “More where that came from.”
David snarls, “Put it in the fucking jukebox.”
“We’re just in for a quiet drink.”
“Ah, celebrating another glorious day of stock-market fidget wheels?”
“No stockbrokers here, mate. Hey, maybe this isn’t your pub?”
“Wanker-bankers maybe? Own the pub, own everything, hey?” David to the window, louder, “A coven of wanker-banker witches - WAR-locks… Fucked over any third-world countries lately?”
Simon holds up his left palm, and closes right fist behind his back, “Time to go.”
David flicks the dollar at Simon. It cracks onto the polished wood floor, and rolls. He swings his guitar. “Past time… Air’s foul in here.” He pushes hard past Simon, gives the party middle finger, walking towards…
The door creaks open. Sally. She catches David’s eye, “Sorry… The traffic!” She sees Simon following, feeling fierce fracture in the bar, “Oh, Simon - you’ve met David.”
David’s head falls, heart sinking to his boots, walking. Sally closes the door. On the footpath, he circles in sobering rain, sick, spiralling, drilling a hide-hole.
Sally finds him sitting, staring, “Dickhead.” She sits beside him, looking at the same asphalt. “Bloody David, looking down in judgement. Trying to overthrow the moneychangers’ tables? No bankers in there, you know.”
“They’re mates. We’re studying law, David. Idiot.”
“I’m sorry. I was - out of my depth.”
Sally looks up, “I was out west, working with these people, David. Volunteering in Aboriginal communities. Simon is the bloke I told you about.”
David meets her eyes, “The bush songs?”
“Yeah, a muso - learnt a swag of songs from an old fella at Walgett. I thought of you… I was hoping…”
“I’ve fucked up again, Sal.”
Sally stands, turns hard, leaving, “Up to you. You can piss off, or come and - ah - explain yourself.”
David’s gut grinds, winding a coiled spring of regret. I’m unbefuckinglievable! At it’s tightest, the spring flies. He shoulders guitar, breathes deep, and swings the pub door wide.