‘Dan the Man says we need some things from Central’ by Callan Walsh
‘Dan the Man says we need some things from Central’ is an excerpt from a work-in-progress by student Callan Walsh and was developed in Writing Workshop (fiction) in 2022.
Dan the Man says we need some things from Central but he can’t go because he’s in bed. I don’t blame him for staying in bed but it’s the third day in a row and I’m hoping he’ll ask for a pressure washer so we can blast the stink off him.
He hands me a list and it says:
beer (not coopers)
winfield blue 50g
So it’s Colin and me going to Central.
I asked why Colin couldn’t just go by himself but he knew I wanted booze and I knew he wouldn’t buy it without me. He said he’d buy me lunch and the way he said it there was a threat in there, a waiting snake under his olive branch.
We get in the car and the rain starts blitzing. We get everything Dan the Man wants and a bit more. I want vodka. Colin wants tea for his SCOBY. I want my lunch. Colin takes me to Gloria Jean’s.
It’s cold in Gloria Jean’s but the lights are a dull orange that alludes to warmth. We wait in line behind a young couple with a pram. The worker at the counter is wearing this military khaki shirt with the Gloria Jean’s logo ironed on. She’s short and slim and her hair is cut in a bob and she has freckles on her nose and brown eyes and I recognise her. She’s from high school. I get to the front of the line and her name tag confirms it: Amelia.
I remember the last time I saw her, just after I’d left school. We were at a funeral home because they’d offered a few of us the opportunity to see our classmate Keeley before her service. I didn’t want to see Keeley’s body. The thought alone put enough images in my head.
I waited outside for Amelia to be finished. She came out with a face like she’d stolen Keeley’s jewellery. I knew she did something. She said it was no big deal, but she also told me never to tell anyone about it. Said she didn’t want people going around calling her a necro. She only touched her dead friend’s tit. Just curious. She’d always wondered what they were like.
We were never really friends in high school but now she’s acting like we were, saying we have ‘shared experiences’ and ‘catching up to do’ and that type of bullshit. She says it must be nice, going out and getting lunch with your dad, wish my dad would get coffee with me, all of that. I tell her Colin’s not my dad.
She just says ‘oh,’ and I figure she’s starting to pick it up because she stops asking questions, which is what you would do if you had even an inkling of the type of guy Colin is.
I say it was nice to see her and she insists that I text her so we can catch up. She puts her number on a loyalty card and stamps it up for a free coffee because ‘I hate this job, I don’t give a fuck.’
I sit down in a grisly old plastic chair that looks like it’s either been hit by a nuclear blast or flavour tested by several toddlers. Colin gets the booth. He gets straight to asking me do I know the little girl over there and what’s so important about her. I sip my coffee and it tastes dusty and burnt. She’s from high school, I say. I’m not looking at Colin but out the window where the sun has appeared again and that young couple from before are cooing over their pram. I don’t like mentioning anything about high school to Colin. I don’t like thinking about those two things at once. He doesn’t push the way he normally does since we’re at such a fine establishment, in the eye of the public, and it must be one of those Pentecostal miracles that nobody has refused him service yet.
Amelia’s having a few people around for her birthday and I probably won’t know any of them but they want to meet me and she thinks I’ll like them and she hopes I can make it.
It’s the same day I start my new job but I’d rather go to a party after my first shift than back to Dan’s house, where Colin waits with his bulging, bloody eyes on the door.
When I get there it’s all gone rotten. Three quarters of the guests have left already, and Amelia drips venom when she explains that ‘there was another event on’. Just five remain, and four are out the back smoking could-be-just-about-anything pipes. Another one is asleep at the kitchen table, head rested on crossed arms over an empty bowl.
I say hi and after she wrings out her anger we roll cigarettes and sit on the porch. It’s one of those solid-concrete porches that’s cracked all the way through like it’s made of miniature tectonic plates. The wrought-iron banister reminds me of the sad old gate I kicked in the day Dan the Man died.
Neither of us have a lighter so Amelia goes back in and swipes one out of the pocket of the sleeper in the kitchen. She’s gone a minute and I try not to think about the anguished look on Dan’s stiff dead face. Amelia busts through the front door with a trail of smoke behind her and slaps the lighter into my hand. It’s a custom job, a photo of a toddler in a red plastic pedal car choking back a tailor cig with the phrase ‘it ain’t so bad’ handwritten beside it. They’ve wrapped the whole thing in clear tape, and some of the corners are starting to shrivel up with dirt and ash and lint caked on the sticky edges.
Amelia goes ‘I know, right? There’s no chance you’d get away with stealing this one.’ I agree, but I don’t know what makes her think one of us would steal it in the first place. People end up with other people’s lighters all the time but it’s mostly genuine accidents, forgetfulness, automated action, muscle memory. Stealing lighters isn’t planned. It’s a universal by-product of the fallibility of the human brain when it feels something small and fiddly in the hand.
Maybe it’s less about the fact that lighters end up swapping pockets at parties and more about the fact that we’re the only people still around and the poor kid sleeping in the kitchen wouldn’t even know where to begin to look. Crime of opportunity. People asleep are exploitable, and even though Amelia never intended to steal their lighter, maybe she couldn’t help but play with the idea just because she was the one in control. She could do anything. Get away with anything.
So I ask what the other event that everyone else went to was. ‘Fucking rave’ apparently. I ask what’s even so good about raves, they’re wet and dirty and the cops always show up eventually. Amelia has no idea either, everyone was having a great time here already and what sounds fun to anyone about sweating over a glass carpet surrounded by old dudes on ket. She’d asked someone to bring some MD back but she’s got the feeling nobody is coming back at all now.
‘Fuck em’ I say, and we punch darts til 3 am and fall asleep on the couch.
Author bio: Callan Walsh is a writer and dish-pig based between Naarm/Melbourne and Millowl/Phillip Island. He began writing short stories for his high school English teacher to avoid doing his spelling homework and hasn’t stopped writing since.
Photo credit: The image was generated by code using two AI systems, VQGAN and CLIP generated from a text prompt by Callan Walsh: ‘ghost smoking through the window at midnight’.