Night falls, a piece-perfect puzzle. David Broughton wipes Napoli pizza grease on blue jeans, and holds cool pinball glass. Achingly familiar, impossibly distant... He has John Maloney, best mate gone thirty years, now on his left shoulder again, ever riding shotgun, holding schooners of Brown. When they’d last haunted this Newton backstreets pub, it was a working-man’s joint. The off-farm teenagers in wool greased flannos, smelling of sheep shit, fit in fine. David smiles at Johnno, thirty years... Forever. The workingmen are gone. But it seems no time at all, in his easy mate’s nostalgic rave.
Davo and Johnno, ‘The Storm Riders’, had hit Sydney three decades before… Psychedelic rock and roll tricksters, chasing bright city-light enlightenment, in piles of pills, pot and powders. And, three years later John’s little brother Will joined, riding lightning-rod guitar. Then John fell in love, headed bush, the ‘The Storm Riders’ faded. It was a game of rock and roll tag, as David and Will brewed hard-bush-rock hurricane ‘Warrego’. Davo and Will, soul-twin guitars entwined, searching, ever searching. One piece of tonight’s puzzle is but a ghost, and David feels it. Will.
Earlier in the evening, David’s mobile, “Johnno? Shit, man!”
“Yeah… Ring a bell? I know you’re gigging in Annandale. I’m in town for a work do, boring as bat shit. Quiet couple? The Court?”
David spiralled thirty years, gut sinking, thinking of poor Will, “Yeah, sure,” building cheer, “my oath!”
In seamless temporal synergy, they found a seedy dude dunny-dealing foils, rolled and smoked a number, and now they’ve fallen righteous on a pinball machine.
David’s neck prickles, A KISS pinball machine. Will would draw synchronous magic lines in that. He’s remembering a Warrego gig, a KISS cover-band support. Thirty years… Forever, and no time at all.
John pumps the plunger; the ball cracks in. “I dug up an old ‘Storm’ tape yesterday.”
David, eyes heavy lidded, rose coloured glasses, “On our day, we were… “
“Shit, mate…” John laughs “It sounded like shit.” Drain ball.
David steps in, flicks his ball into play, “Oh, in a few crystalline moments, we burned.”
They did. But Will burnt fusion bright, and then - he was gone. Somewhere in the psycho-spiritual yearning, his soul crumbled. David didn’t see it coming, and he aches in guilt. The last he saw of Will, he was roaring, raving pornographically violent Biblical damnation across a rainy night Martin Place, cigarette red eyes glowing demonic.
The ball cracks back off a bumper, Davo’s score flies high. The KISS backboard lights up, and in the glow, spectral Will walks in, flipping a cigarette, missing.
David needs to know, “How’s Will, man?” Drain ball.
“Not good.” John holds the table.
“No one can get near him. He sleeps just up the road, in a Marrickville park. I went looking this morning, but…” Spring – plunger on ball.
David pushes, “You know your old man rang me, back then. Blamed me, I suppose.”
“Of course he fuckin’ blamed you, man,” He hits the right flipper hard, “He blamed every one… Mostly himself.” Bumper – CRACK - drain ball. John slams David’s ball into play.
David, edgy, “Do you? Blame me, I mean?” Stumbling, “I churn it over; what I missed, did do - didn’t do.”
John smashes a left, right flipper combo. KISS rocks – TILT. Game over. He turns angry, loud, pointing, “Look, this was a three-player game. You fucked up. But - it’s not about you.” He swallows, settling, “I was in the game. I’m his brother, man. I left.” He wipes one tear. “But it’s not about me either. We were just mad fuckin’ kids, man.” John reaches into his coat pocket, “None of us are coming back.” He locks eyes with David, and reveals his hand of three pill sleeves; royal red, white and blue. “It’s about finding Will, man. He was playing too.” He pops one red, two blue, washed down with Brown. “I’ve tried. The folks have tried, time and again, to pull him in. Who the fuck knows where he is? How he got there?” He sits the empty schooner on the table, “But we’re searching, always searching.” He sighs, sanguine, pulls out his wallet, “None of us are what we were, man. But I still like rum. You?”
David nods, returns the sigh, “Yes mate, I do. Middy chaser.”
John smiles remembrance, “Middy chaser” and walks to the bar.
David sits, settles with the dust. He feels a soul-ache easing, and a gentle sadness moving in. The KISS machine falls dark. Without cognisance, he reaches for John’s cigarettes, lights up, and pulls deep biting smoke. He realises, he hasn’t smoked tobacco in twenty years. Forever, and no time at all.
Johnno slides the tray across the table, holding golden-brown rum in arm outstretched, offering a tired joke, “Here’s to nostalgia, it’s not what it used to be!”
Davo clinks, and slams the shot. He drags his left hand through his hair, smoke ghost swirling, curling. “We did make some terrible noise in the name of rock and roll.”
Johnno, middy midway to lips, “But in a few crystalline moments, we burned.”