Guy Saker (2011)

[Brushtail Possum]

Way up High in a Tree

Every night he would come over to talk to me. We would talk about all kinds of things me and my friend Jake. He was a good listener. No, he was a great listener. I never had to watch my P’s and Q’s with Jake: the way I dressed, the way I acted, the way my long hair would sometimes look like a hundred thousand anorexic travellers who had no sense of direction, some even trying to head back to their roots. My favourite was the way he didn’t care if I fell all round laughing when he never got the joke. I guess everyone wants someone like that to hang out with.

We had this connection Jake and me, almost telepathic I think it’s fair to say. There were times when we did things simultaneously, like looking up at the night sky to the moon and the lights of the fallen; sparkling the same way they had for millions of years before looking back at each other with knowing appreciation. Jake understood what it all meant better than me. He could trace his ancestry way beyond my Celtic roots, beyond the Greeks, beyond the Egyptians, beyond even, the first light of human history. He and his people lived and died by the ancient god in the night sky beaming down upon his nocturnal world; mine too I guess. Yeah, Jake was my mate alright, the best I ever had really. Boy, did we talk some shit. Perhaps that’s not entirely accurate. I talked most of the shit, while he listened. I’d tell him about my life, trying to make sense of it all, warmed only by those Queensland nights on the Gold Coast.

In the evenings he would emerge from his rooted timber home to have breakfast under the night sky, munching on food I had left out. He loved takeaways, a regular of ours. Apples were also a favourite. I never forgot to leave one out before I crashed out. In spite of this, just like me, nothing seemed to make him permanently happy. Part of this was boredom; the curse of all routine that falls short of becoming ritual.

I introduced a bowl of walnuts onto the menu. To this day, I swear he would go into ecstasy over those nuts. Each night, before heading out, I would get in the mood by having a beer sitting in the deckchair under the moonlight. Jake would join me, sitting in his squirrel posture, his bushy tail moving like a feather duster as he crunched on the walnuts. After he had devoured one, his eyes would dart around wildly then freeze. Suddenly, out would come a squeal as if he had just had an orgasmic experience. He would immediately grab another feverishly devouring that, then another. His teeth moved at such a ridiculous speed, I wondered if it was wise to keep refuelling his engine. One impatient look from Jake was all it took to reload the bowl.

The nuts had become such a treat that it didn’t take long before Jake would leave the apple, wait until I emerged from my bedroom, then put on an Oscar winning performance. I got the nuts. If I was not up at his eating time he would deliberately get noisy outside my window. If crashed out on the sofa, after failing to make it to my bed, he would somehow find his way inside to check to see if I was okay; at least okay enough to get to the nut jar.

I would always get up to join my best friend. We even composed songs together when I pulled out my guitar, even if his vocals were an acquired taste. Whatever we did, our long evenings would end when the morning light was close by. Jake always headed home long before I searched for my shades or drifted to the bedroom to lie down, staring up at the ceiling endlessly until my intoxicated imagination settled down. Sometimes I wondered if the drum inside me might stop beating to end the rhythm of my life. I don’t know why this thought never bothered me, the way it should have. Perhaps it was because I was already dozing off at the wheel that steered me through each day.

It was not unusual for me to sleep all day waking up well into the night. At other times, I would be in a daze half asleep, half wide awake, just as the last rays from the sun were slashing their way through the trees like light sabres. It appeared almost spiritual, well at the very least, pretty cool to look at. Jake and I didn’t really believe in any of that stuff, but we talked about it, mulled it over as you do, just in case, if you know what I mean? It always made me wonder why we human beings can’t just let go of all that life and death bullshit. I had been stalked by ghosts all my life. Living was far more scary than dying. Anyway, why be so afraid of losing something, already lost? Funny, but it never seemed to be an issue for Jake either. I envied the way he was so at peace with himself. His life was so uncomplicated. Home, food, water, shelter, having fun, these were the only things he cared about, I thought. I guess that’s why we were such good mates; we both loved the same thing - escaping, way up high.

Then something strange happened. I woke up late one evening to discover he wasn’t in his usual spot on the deck table. The apple I had left was still there. This had never happened before. A large exterior light about three metres up off the back deck lit much of the native forest trees that caressed the garden. I looked across scanning his favourite timber giant: no sign, not even a sound. It was not like him to miss our regular meeting. Then I spotted him. His head bobbed up from behind the trunk. He was high, very high.

After sneaking a peak at me, he bolted further up the tree scampering across another branch before coming to a stop. He turned his head, staring back at me with his night eyes giving off that spooky glow. “There he goes like a meal on wheels”, a tree python would probably say. He was pretty safe. I hadn’t seen a snake in my backyard for over a year. I noticed he had some leaves clutched in his hand. He had slept far too long that’s for sure. “Perhaps a narcotic was in the veins of the leaf”, I would think to myself, as I watched him scamper back down one of the arms of the tree. The first night he missed our meeting I didn’t think much of it. As usual, I went out.

The following evening the same thing happened except the food I had left out was gone. He was easier to spot this time. I found him kicking back on a branch that overhung my deck eating more of those leaves. He was keeping his distance. I still hadn’t figured out why. Suddenly, he raced up the branch, slammed on the brakes, making his ears erect, listening for sounds disguised in the breeze. His nose began to sniff the air frantically as if he had just picked up an amazing forest perfume. He started bobbing up and down on his hind legs, rotating his bum clockwise, then anti-clockwise, fanning his backside with his tail as if dancing to music that only he could hear.

Of course I had seen Jake having fun high up in the trees many times before - this was different. Had he completely lost the plot? My best mate was having a personality morph. I called him to come over, even asked him if he wanted a beer. I thought I had his attention with this offer. I was mistaken. In an instant he was on the move again, with great urgency. He was having a ball scampering around the trees, sniffing everywhere. Maybe I was just jealous. At one point, he clawed his way up the vertical trunk, stopping under a branch to snap his head back around, eyes glazing down at me. He paused, before disappearing into his home again.
By the third night I was beginning to miss him. True, he was still there. I could see him, at least when he wasn’t hidden by the darkness. He still kept his distance. I missed our conversations. I missed my best friend. At least he was having fun way up high, away from the real world down below. It was a good place to be. When I looked up, I would try to imagine all the things he could see, that I couldn’t.

A few days later I crept outside to see if I could catch him unaware. I spied him. There he was, off his tree, sitting in the garden just near the edge of the deck. He was chewing on some rather strong smelling buds. I sat quietly watching Jake eat. He was in another planet totally oblivious to the world around him as if he’d forgotten all the forgetting. I wished I knew his secret. After awhile, I was sure I could see smoke wafting from his rear end. The resin smell was unmistakeable. I tried to focus my eyes. I wish I hadn’t. Steam was coming out of his tiny ears as if he had become one of those novelty teapots with a fury warmer over the top. Even his tail was curled up like a spout. All I needed was a cup. I began thinking to myself, “What was my best friend turning into? Was he in fact an alien who could mimic his world?”.
I wanted to go and help him, to grab him, make him come back to the Jake of old.

I looked up at his home. It was the first time I had noticed it. The problem was right before me, a giant timber bong thirty feet high. Why hadn’t I noticed it before? Holy crap my best friend was living in a giant fucking bong all this time but I was too shagged out to notice! So that’s where it all started. That was why things had changed. So now I knew. Why couldn’t I see it?

Searching the many blow pipes that spread like tentacles from the trunk off the bong, to my horror, I discovered that Jake had found a new friend as well. I had been dumped. Dumped by an alien novelty teapot, living in giant bong, dancing his ass off all night long, sniffing the air, getting high up a tree!

Yep, I missed Jake. I missed him waking me up at night to share a snack while I talked about life. I missed writing songs together. I still remember even now, how we used to share a laugh all through the night, until the moon was ready to pass the baton to the sun. It seemed he never missed my company. Not ever. I continued to watch him running amuck with his new friend over the next few weeks. I never forgot to leave food out every night. Sometimes the apple would be half eaten. Occasionally Jake would try to get close. When he did, he would screech at me as if he was not happy about something. I couldn’t figure out what it was. To this day I have never forgotten that sound.

On a Friday night in late spring, I was driving home in the early hours of the morning through one of Queensland’s notorious tropical downpours. I was nearing my house, when from out of nowhere, an animal bolted across the road through the beam of the headlights. The breaks slammed hard. It must have been instinct. The car snaked across the wet road before coming to an abrupt halt. After collecting myself, I slowly got out of the car.

It was only then that I saw him. On the side of the road was my friend Jake. He was staring up at me through the pouring rain with a look in his eyes I had never seen before. He was soaking wet. I smiled. A sense of relief flooded through me. I had missed him. He was okay. All of a sudden, he started screeching hysterically, jumping up and down. At first I thought I was just hallucinating. I slowly looked down at the left front tyre. Blood was running down the bald rubber. Just underneath the front bumper were two bodies; a mother possum, with her baby still clinging to her back, both lay dead on the road. I looked back at Jake in horror. So now I knew. Jake’s new friend up the tree was his girl. I had killed her. I had crushed his child, killed his best friend, his real family.

I don’t remember how long he kept screaming at me only that I slumped down in the gutter in shame with my hands over my ears trying to shut him out, trying to find that world inside my head that I always escaped too. Not this time. Not even the rain could drown out Jakes screams or wash away what I had done.

Then just as suddenly, he stopped. I took my hands off my ears, slowly turning to look at him. His expression had changed. It was no longer accusing me, no longer full of anger and hate. It was far worse than that. I had seen it before. Not from him. His expression was one of a friend who had finally given up on me. We stared at each other for a long moment. The heavy rain was hitting his face hard. His gaze never blinked. Not once. I began to feel there was something more hidden behind those wise ancient eyes, something I had missed all along. In that moment I realised I had been wrong. All that stuff about life and death wasn’t bullshit after all. Jake ran the gauntlet of life just as I did except, he had no choice. I guess sometimes we never see what others see, way up high in a tree.

© Guy Saker

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Brilliant story...I just love it.