By Bruce Williams
Heavy Helen is weeping amphetamine tears. The ‘Empire Stallions – Dawn of a new day’ race at the Albury track, formerly known as Brown’s Paddock, has been rescheduled to a night meeting because of the heatwave that’s also playing merry hell with the Australian Open.
In her hand, instead of the TAB receipt she’d anticipated, is an ancient hardcover of The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm.
She had retrieved it from the Viceroy bookshelf, where it was being used as a kind of paperweight to keep copies of the City Hub from southerly-buster dismemberment.
It’s Heavy Helen’s custom never to wipe tears from her cheeks. She is proud of them. She lets them dry, leaving on her plump flesh, once the Cumbersome heat has done its work, faint vertical streaks of the finest white powder.
Across the road the Turkish barber is closing his daughter’s shop. Aziz once had two men and three women working for him.
Two years ago, a stack of those space helmets once used to set a perm sat pushed into the back corner, but in full view, as if waiting to return to life. The long walls, north and south, were tiled with mirrors. And Aziz walked up and down this corridor of unnatural light, with the past behind, and the present – one scant-haired middle-aged Turk on one of three porcelain based Koken barber chairs – before – and behind and before and behind.
Then Aziz’s daughter, Aysu, having graduated from TAFE and worked five years in a salon in Brighton-Le-Sands, bought him out.
“She is the boss now,” he says to me as he lights a pinch of cotton wool, dipped in metho and fastened with glue to a Phillips head screw driver, and flicks the flame into his palm to get the feel of it.
“And she bought this! This for me to work with!” The chair I’m sitting on is black plastic. The cushion is grey plastic. The stack of drawers on the floor beside it is black and on wheels, but to wheel them or open them would court disaster.
And with his right hand he flicks the yellow flame into my ears, singeing and curling the tiny hairs, while with his left he pats down any flamey outbreaks.
Aziz then gives me a gentle shoulder massage before Aysu takes my money at the register. The shop is empty as I leave – except for love.
At the Indian diner, Nandita, now 10 and doing her homework, discovers that her mother can add, divide and multiply, but simply cannot subtract. It’s a concept that completely eludes her.
Back at the Viceroy, some blow-in graduate of Our Lady of the Morons, St Peters, has put on the juke box the world’s worst song – There’s no aphrodisiac like loneliness by the Whitlams. How’s this for a song’ ‘Darling I miss you so much I want to go out and fuck someone else…’
And the pity and sorrow that so many people who write or sing about love, or feel themselves to be in it, or seek to be so, have not the faintest clue about it, bares down on Heavy Helen like a January heatwave.
Heavy Helen reads about a book a day. The first chapter on The Art of Loving (six pages in the paperback edition I have since bought) would have taken her to read no longer than the Empire Stallions to run.
Love is an art, says Fromm. Love is not a prize to be won, nor even a state to be reached it’s a faculty to be cultivated.
And all the while we’re searching for someone to love, and someone to love us, with our efforts fixed on seeking the lovable, and making ourselves lovable enough to be part of a reasonable exchange.
In our daily lives we expend our energies on everything – learning to read, to count, to drive, to dress – but so little on learning to love. And Helen weeps her amphetamine tears, and lets them dry in powdery stripes on her cheeks in the Viceroy hotel, because it doesn’t have to be that way. And she, and her super-hot girlfriend, know it.