Live Encounters Poetry & Writing January 2021.
Kathleen Mary Fallon most recent work is a three-part project exploring her experiences as the white foster mother of a Torres Strait Islander foster son with disabilities. The project consisted of a feature film, Call Me Mum, which was short-listed for the NSW Premier’s Prize, an AWGIE and was nominated for four AFI Awards winning Best Female Support Actress Award. The three-part project also includes a novel Paydirt (UWAPress, 2007) and a play, Buyback, which she directed at the Carlton Courthouse in 2006. Her novel, Working Hot, (Sybylla 1989, Vintage/Random House, 2000) won a Victoria Premier’s Prize and her opera, Matricide – the Musical, which she wrote with the composer Elena Kats-Chernin, was produced by Chamber Made Opera in 1998. She wrote the text for the concert piece, Laquiem, for the composer Andrée Greenwell. Laquiem was performed at The Studio at the Sydney Opera House. She holds a PhD (UniSA).
‘Brixton circa 1980’ is an excerpt from ‘Love zombie/Mattress actress: the definitive heterosexual erotica’.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
There was Before Renford and then After Renford: after Renford raped me. Although it is only now that I dare to suggest that word. I opened the door to him after all − I went to the front door − I turned the handle − I opened the door – he crossed the threshold − there was no one to blame but myself − I still do blame myself to a large extent.
After what happened happened I came back to Brisbane and forgot about everything that happened there in Brixton, Lon-don 123. I realise now it wasn’t so much the rape (if I dare call it that) but all that led up to it and resulted in my speaking, confessing my guilt and then, ever since, holding silent, never daring to utter, given the repercussions. I should have just kept my mouth shut about Renford.
I reached escape velocity in Brixton but I came back to Brisbane and surrendered to Impossibility – the Impossibility of love, relationship, sexuality – the Impossibility of ever even having a clue what being a woman, being female and its femaleness is. As my father used to say, ‘The best thing about banging your head against a stone wall is when you stop’. Those two taw eyes of Renfords, the first stones in the wall of Impossibility, a place where it was impossible for anyone to betray me or for me to betrayal anyone else, where I’d never again suffer from the realisation that the people I thought loved me didn’t give a damn. I just stopped the futility of my battering ram of a mind smashing up against my skull, trying to get out.
I am the reverse of the Before-and-After girl. Before Renford I had adjectives – I was young, attractive, exuberant, vivacious, ambitious, gregarious, a song-writer and musician. It never occurred to me to have sex with anyone I didn’t love or at least like a lot; that beautiful bridge of consent was always crossed.
My first day in Brixton I took a walk from Shakespeare Avenue on the ‘nice’ side of Brixton into Africa and Jamaica, to Mayall Road and Railton Road where the police posters told me that if my car broke down I was to hide under the dashboard and wait until help arrived. There seemed to be a steel band in every house in Mayall Road and reggae blasted from everywhere and men and women in bright coloured shirts and dresses went proudly high-stepping about their business. The smell of dope was the incense of the place.
When I stopped in front of a house to watch a family of panicked Africans carrying suitcases and bits of furniture into the street the man asked me if I wanted a house and when I nodded he handed me the keys to their squat. I’d inadvertently managed to become part of the squatting movement in Brixton organised to stop the gentrification of the area. Once houses were vacant the council would move in, damage and destroy by pouring cement down the toilet and so forth.
That afternoon I moved in with my girlfriend, Gail, and soon a couple of other friends joined us. We furnished the place with stuff from the streets and the many skips, bought a gas ring, a kettle and pots and pans and set up house. I took one of the big front rooms with a bay window that overlooked the street and set it up as my studio with my precious Maton guitar, music stand, recording equipment and so forth. From my bay window I looked out on a harsh winter − the street covered in the snow and ice and sleet which I’d never seen before. I kept the fireplace alight with wood from skips and was always warm and inspired.
I’d found my Place – the house, the area. I was on a roll with my song-writing and music and quickly found that the reggae sound permeated all my work. I have lately begun remembering some of the lyrics from a song called ‘bloodclot’ which I wrote for Gail who began staying away for days at a time:-
I stop being food
you star up
nothing voids me enough
never anywhere enough
nothing but hole
And then there was ‘reggae to myself’ as I tried to heal the pain of her new betrayals:-
and I can
the black hole in my heart
those who hurt
I often sat by candlelight singing and strumming until midnight waiting until the disco down the road went into full swing. Whitefellas were not welcome and it was a wild, joyous but rough old joint given the blood on the snow in the mornings. However, once I heard the disco music I knew that the hole-in-the-wall take-away next door would be open. It was run by a wizened, stoned-out-of-his-mind ancient Jamaican bloke who cooked up saltfish and ackee and fried dumplings and I’d scoot down with my bowl. It was, and is, the best food I’ve ever eaten.
The ice thawed, the snow melted and Spring came. The back yard of the squat went gangbusters with rose bushes that really were almost trees so old were they. Our squat would have been considered the worst address in the whole United Kingdom as it abutted the Brixton Mecca gambling house. All day and night the click click of the domino games played there was the base augmenting my reggae. And often the wails of the men who had lost at their gambling echoed through our house. Even these cries made their way into my songs, ‘Oooh God! Oooh! Geesusss! Whyha is life soooo h-a-r-d!’ was one I remember incorporating into my lyrics.
The little boy from the Jamaican family in the squat next door also featured in my songs. He never seemed to go to school and he’d hang out his back window singing his little heart out. His favourite song was, ‘Born on the front line, mumma mumma, Born in the wrong time’. He was a great kid.
As well as the Africans and Jamaicans there was a constant stream of gay guys who paraded and promenaded and pranced in front of my window as I strummed. They’d squatted a whole block up the top end of Mayall Road, knocked down all the brick fences between the houses and had created a park. There were hillocks of daffodils, climbing rose-covered pagodas, snug little, flower-bedecked grottoes and so forth. I often went up for high tea with a couple of the blokes I knew.
It was quite a community on Mayall Road and a gang of Ozzies, including Simon my ex-husband, lived in the squat next door and we’d alternate cooking feasts for each other, organising bath nights and so forth. It was where the Smokey Bears Club met to organize their political activities to have marijuana legalised. It was fun to watch their meetings descend into stoned incoherence.
Simon and I were still mates despite the fact I’d left him for Gail. Gail and I had broken up in Brisbane when I’d found out that, during her overnight rosters at the women’s refuge she’d been cheating on me with one of the other workers. My broken heart and I had bought a ticket to London 123 and I was determined to make a clean break but she cried and begged and promised and I forgave her and she came with me to start afresh. For the first few short weeks things seemed to be working out well and I was more productive and happier than I’d ever been.
I got very friendly with Rose Larkin, one of the Ozzie women next door. She was a real wild one and in hog heaven in Brixton she loved those Black men so. Oh! How she loved them. Eventually she got pregnant to one, to Renford, and I went with her to the local abortion clinic, tucking her up in bed afterwards and looking after her for the next few days, while idiot Renford sat like a blob in the kitchen, waiting untill she recovered enough for them to resume business as usual.
However, Rose just got sicker and sicker. No one else seemed concerned but I was worried. It was taking her too long to regain her strength. And the idiot boyfriend just sat on at the kitchen table.
One morning, when I went next door with her breakfast, she was a horrible green colour and I decided we had to go back to the abortion clinic. She was adamant that she’d be OK but I insisted and ran around to the pub to get a minicab.
The Africans and Jamaicans ran the minicab business from the pub’s basement poolroom and they were tough, cool dudes. None were interested in helping me and just continued playing pool until I turned on a tantrum and demanded one of them come with me. It was the bloke I’d been very cheeky with a few nights before. In those days I sported a sort of black-leather-jacket punk look and wore a leather cock ring as a bracelet. When he smirked at me asking if I knew what it was for, assuming my naivety, I twisted my raised fist high in a fist-fucking action and said, ‘To keep my fist erect while I’m fisting you up the arse, honey’. Could have gone either way – a punch in the mouth or worse or a laugh. Luckily his mates laughed and then so did he. Anyway, he was the one who put his pool cue down and drove us to the clinic.
At the clinic Rose convinced the nurses and doctor that I was overreacting. They told us to go home and come back if it got worse over the next few days. I had to stack on another tantrum until they examined her. Next thing I knew she was being rushed into emergency surgery for an advanced ectopic pregnancy and the nurse later told me that she probably would have died within 24 hours without the surgery.
Again, when she came home to recuperate, I was the one who looked after her and dopey still sat at the kitchen table, waiting. One day, as I pushed past him with a tray of lunch for her, he simply stuck his hand under my skirt and pushed his fingers into my cunt. When I delivered the tray to Rose I immediately told her what had happened and to my amazement she blamed me saying it was because of the skimpy Summer dress I was wearing. She got really nasty defending her man.
I told no one what had happened as I was still in shock and afraid they’d also blame me and wondering and wondering if it was, indeed, my fault. I studied myself in the skimpy dress in the mirror and while I did I hated to admit that I’d felt some arousal – well, more accurately, I got wet − when Renford did what he did and, coming as it did, so unexpectedly and suddenly, I’d stood stunned and silent for a moment. Did my wetness and that frozen-silent moment validate his action to him? Was this automatic arousal and silence the reason I blamed myself for so long and never thought of using the word ‘rape’ for what happened next? In those days you could only use the word if it was done violently and by a stranger.
There is never an end to the questioning because the facts are always full of holes.
As it was a-blissful, a-balmy Spring I’d sit at the bay window most of the day, work on my music and watch the parade pass by. That’s where Renford would find me, hanging over the fence, flattering, sneering, suggesting, often just silently staring in at me. I refused to close the window or withdraw further into the house as I didn’t want him to think he’d won.
Things came to a head one night when I went next door to try to talk to Simon, who had been avoiding me along with everyone else. I was going to try to tell him what had happened. Rose had bad-mouthed me to everyone and, even knowing me, he was half-convinced that I’d seduced Renford. Gail had also begun to stay away for weeks at a time and, after listening to Rose’s stories, wouldn’t talk to me when she came home to change clothes and collect more of her things. Even though I tried to bury my hurt and confusion and put it all into my music it wasn’t working anymore. This was the last song I wrote:-
In the gloom
of the cities of prehistory
in our heart
kisses fall apart
on decaying haunches
love is the one with
the ancient barreled gun
in the mouth of
loving is a maladaptive
an evolutionary anachronism
an axlotol’s gills
swampwise reptiles know flies
when their tongue flicks them
compound eyes of survival
in a dim and hostile world
we breathe in fear of
the most loved
Talking with Simon in his room was strange. He was more attentive than he’d ever been and as I mumbled and wept he hugged and petted me, stroking my hair and kissing my face. It began to dawn on me that he must have believed I’d seduced Renford and, knowing Gail was missing in action, he must have thought my lesbian days were over and I’d come back to him. With this realisation something broke inside me, some part that had always stood erect and willful and defiant just collapsed and, as he lay on top of me saying, ‘You haven’t lost any of your sexuality. In fact it’s stronger’, that collapsed part crumpled and fragmented for the first time, the very first time in my life, and I gave up. As he lay on top of me I heard Rose and Renford in the bedroom above us doing the same thing. I found myself in a porno-grunge graphic novel. The fact that I knew that her wounds had not anywhere near healed made me nauseous with Simon’s every thrust and I had to swallow and swallow my vomit. A sad song composed itself. All I remember of that song now is the chorus, ‘This is the end of love with my name on it’ and my fingers strummed the chords on Simon’s back as I waited for him to finish, for Renford to finish.
The next day, as I composed that sad little song in my bay window, when Renford leant over the fence and looked at me with those predatory eyes I became that stunned creature of feather and fur, frozen in the spotlight, accepting my fate. There was nowhere to run. Struck down by his two taw eyes. Dropped in flappingpanic. Flopped onto the ground. I simply put Maton down, went to the door, turned the knob and let him walk over the threshold. It was so nothing somehow, just looking into his smirking face as he did what he did wasn’t even salt in the wound, it was just nothing, just a peaceful blankness – the last page of the porn-grunge graphic novel.
Struck dumb I don’t think I was thinking anything much. Maybe I thought if I let him he’d finally leave me alone? Was I thinking it might fend off some attack from him when I was walking home from the clubs some night? I realised he was determined so did I just let him have his way to get it over with? Was it pay-back on Rose, on Simon, on Gail who had now left me for good and proper with the words, ‘How long is it since I’ve been wet for you’. I kept repeating those words to myself as Renford did what he did.
When I think about it now I think he probably just wanted to show off his big black dick. And it was a whopper. Maybe I should just have applauded.
Then I made the mistake of confessing to Rose, confessing to Simon, confessing to Gail. Hoping confession would absolve me? Was it revenge? Was I seeking sympathy?
Was it some kind of deluded self-assertion? Social suicide with a plaintive, ‘Look what you’ve made me do!’?
There is never an end to the questioning because the facts are always full of holes.
One day I simply smashed and dismembered Maton. My dear, dead Maton! Leaving myself behind in tatters I flew back to Brisbane to my After Renford life where that beautiful bridge of consent had been blown to smithereens; to a life of constant consent on the other side of that bridge. A mattress actress, afraid of everything, afraid of nothing, where everything was flat and equal – each schooner = each pill = each shot = each sunrise = each memory = each hurt = each sunset = each slap = each kick = each kiss = each fuck = = = ad infinitum. I had lost my integrity.
Last night I saw Brixton burning on TV. All my memories cremated as I watched our squats go up in flames. I contacted Simon to get Rose’s address but he told me she’d died a few months earlier, still in Brixton and still with Renford. She must have really loved him. I see now that there was hurt and betrayal on both sides – betrayal of friendship − Rose had been the only one to understand my devastation at Gail’s betrayal, Rose was the only one to comfort me many a night as I wailed out my pain. I even wonder now about Renford and what he might have been feeling as he sat slumped in that kitchen knowing his baby had been aborted? We were all young and stupid and brutal with each other and the repercussions have lasted lifetimes.
As I watched Brixton burn the grief hit me. I wish it hadn’t taken so long to be able to say the words ‘grief’, ‘guilt’, ‘loss’, ‘betrayal’. They don’t just trip off the tongue – they hurt like hell, they ravage, decimate, humiliate. I held onto that last breath before I left Brixton and never breathed it out but those words are full of breath now and, breathing, they bare their meanings. ‘Betrayal’ – how that word breaks up, cracks open, splays its contents out over everything– at its heart, ‘Hurt’. In its shadow – the word ‘Betrothal’ – a warm, pulsing-pink heart with a gold ring around it – ‘Hope’. ‘Guilt’ – such a caustic word to spit like acid, a corrosive word, a protection racket of a word wrapped around with nastiness. ‘Loss’ – a word that lies down and wants to die with its bedfellow ‘Grief’.
This looking back on the scorched earth of that scorched earth policy is a most dangerous moment.
© Kathleen Mary Fallon