Jimmy: a memory

Jimmy was a man of indeterminate age and culture, with long flowing grey hair, dark, dirty brown skin, brown eyes, broken teeth, a skinny body which gave off the rank odour of one who sleeps under bridges, on park benches or in doorways, and spends his days trawling the streets of the city. A clochard, the French would say and like one of Beckett's immortal pair, he had a line in existential talk which brought the brevity of time and the darkness of space into annihilating collision with the quotidian. Often, too, he bore marks of a recent beating on his face or body, but if I attempted to find out who was responsible, he would only ever identify his tormentors as those big people.
One day when I was in town I saw him on Liverpool Street and stopped to ask him how he was. He looked away into the distance and in his soft voice said: Legally dead, mate. Yeah, they've just about abolished me. Jimmy's particular obsession was with the chemistry of the body, which he investigated exhaustively for clues to his errant state of mind. I used to see him sometimes in the Kings Cross library reading medical texts, or flicking through periodicals, scanning the mysterious symbols of the psycho-biologists. This day he was inquiring into the scientific status of the resurrection of Christ. How did he get himself to rise up? Jimmy wanted to know. Something magnetic in the blood? What do you think? Or is it just a story they made up to keep us guessing?
What could I say? I felt my own mind tipping as I entertained the possible mechanism of a 2000 year old confidence trick. Yeah, I said, probably. Jimmy nodded, looking away down the street into the warp of Einsteinian space-time. Probably the iron in the blood was magnetised, he said, and that's how they did it. Where you going, Dutchie? (Jimmy, for no reason I know, always called me by this name. The closest he ever came to an explanation was the day he told me: You know, Dutchie, you're half Holland, half New Guinea, and half New Zealand; that's why you're more than a hundred percent!)
I wasn’t going anywhere except to the Green Park, so we walked a couple of blocks down the road together, making desultory conversation. Outside the fashionable Robin Gibson Art Gallery he stopped suddenly and began rooting around at the base of an iron fence bordering the palm garden until he came up with an audio cassette, battered, unlabelled, unplayable, and spent some time turning it over in his hands, wondering what was on it, before explaining he didn't have a cassette player anyway and hiding it again in a chink in the sandstone wall outside the Church of Christ, Scientist.
At the corner where we parted, I felt in my pocket for a coin and came up with a dollar. Jimmy was scrupulous where money was concerned. He always refused the first time I offered, and paid me back whenever he could. I urged the gold piece onto him a second time and he took it. Thanks, Dutchie, he said. I can buy four smokes with this. See you ...
He went on and I turned in to the pub, to that anonymous corner table where I sat and drank until I had no more money left to spend. It seemed incredible that the glittering Darlinghurst life I had once led, in and out of beautifully lit rooms, serenely appointed and full of the latest music, the latest clothes, the latest talk, had disappeared like some childlike vision creeping out of view, leaving me companionable only with myself and dossers like Jimmy. I could not understand how it was I had lost the key to that party world, nor could I quite believe that it continued, presumably, to exist in ghostly parallel to the derelict streets of the uninvited.  
Driving north on the freeway later, drunk and more or less anaesthetised against the cold, I watched my breath steam inside the car as if the freezing element without had colonised the interior. The engine wheezed like an emphysemic because the water pump was going and it was a toss up, as always, whether the part or the journey lasted longer. I was so hungry I could feel the sides of my stomach flap sourly together. Outside, the eucalypt and sandstone rolled away glimmering under a boneyard moon, seeming the domain of a people who have become, like Jimmy, shadows, legally dead yet still existent, living their spectral lives in a wilderness of speaking rocks, under sighing trees, beneath the incessant silver of the stars. 

No comments: