And here's the first five pages to tempt you. Enjoy!
My name is Satan. Satan Smith, to be exact. I'm a rough, tough Aussie bloke and nobody messes with me. Except my mother. But then, she's a force of nature and even the real Satan would have feared her.
Right now I'm living under the shadow of Ma full time because I got evicted from my crummy flat. My black t-shirts have knife edge creases ironed into them. My coolest old jeans all have nerdy patches on them. The dog's been washed so white he hurts your eyes. It's hell. It's hell, and that's why I'm off after work to some suburb that is almost in the sticks to check out a share rental. Anything has to be better than living back with your parents when you're twenty-seven.
Da's already up and at the kitchen table, even though I leave for work pretty early. “I'm going to shoot off, now oul' Feller,” I tell him, my Scouse accent much thicker than usual. He understands you better if you use the accent of his hometown in England.
“In a bit, son,” he replies, waving a hand vaguely, eyes on the paper. He's already wearing his budgie smugglers and nothing else, just waiting for Ma to show up from whatever thing she is cleaning around the place and come with him to the beach. He already looks like a piece of wrinkled beef jerky. More sun is the last thing he needs, but he and Ma spend most of their time down there. I think they reckon if they aren't at the beach all day every day then they've wasted their emigration or something.
I shove my wallet in my back pocket and Ghost, my white German Shepherd, sees that as the sign it is and slips out from under the table, a happy jabber starting up straight away. Geez, that dog. Talks more than any human I ever met. His long fluffy tail wags from side to side so hard it hits his own sides as he precedes me down the hallway to the front door, his nails clicking on the tiles. I'm glad that someone is happy the day is beginning, because I'm not.
It's five thirty in the morning, but I've got to be right up to Perth from Bunbury by seven thirty. That's the other reason why I have to move; the commute is a killer. Even though I love driving my ute, four hours a day on top of a hard day's work gets to be too much really fast, and the fuel bill is a killer. At least now summer is here it's light already. Doing the drive in the dark was the pits.
In the double driveway of my parent's beachside bungalow, I squeeze past the old folk's Prius, beep the lock on my ute and open the door so Ghost can jump into the passenger seat. In no time The Nazgul; beautiful, black and powerful, my greatest pride and joy after my dog, is purring up the South West Highway en-route to my job. I've got Led Zep lll going full bore to ease me into the drive and wake me up at the same time. I've got the passenger side window cracked enough for Ghost to get his head out so he can yodel his way up the highway. Maybe the commute isn't so bad. Beats being home with Ma and Da all day. I'd kill myself in a week if they didn't smother me to death first.
Zep is followed by a bit of Kill 'em all by Metallica, and then I slip on a bit of guilty pleasure and listen to the Chieftains while we're on the main drag with no need to stop and no-one to hear it but me. By the time I pull up outside the shed I work in, the Zep is back on. I wouldn't want my boss thinking I was a folk-loving woose.
It's one of a row of similar big shed/workshops in the Canning Vale industrial area. They all start pretty early around here, so you can already hear angle-grinders and hammering and all sorts going on. My boss won't be in for a while yet, so Ghost and I have the place to ourselves while I unlock the front and back doors for a bit of a breeze through and get going taking out yesterday's newly moulded statues.
Yep, I'm a rough, tough Aussie bloke, who makes birdbaths and statues for a living. Gnomes too. And worse. What can I say, I fell into the job and I've got few qualifications to get anything better. Anyway, I like it. Derek, the boss, leaves me pretty much alone and he likes to have a bevvy as much as the next man. I get to have Ghost with me, which is helpful because the silly sod would trash the house if I had to leave him home.
I like it, too, because I get to spend plenty of time outside, even if it is only in the tiny, fenced, baking-hot yard out the back where we run the cement mixer and keep the sand and blue metal. My tan is nearly as good as Ma and Da's after being out there a few hours a day. The whole family tans dark brown at the slightest bit of sun anyway. A touch of the black Irish, my Da says, like a lot of Liverpool has.
I heave the first statue up onto the wheely stand. Ouch! Good morning, sore back. It's the base for a cherub birdbath. Heavy and awkward. It's a layered conglomerate of half-cured concrete, which has been poured wet into rubber to make the details on the concrete. Over that goes a heavy fibre-glass casing, which is bolted onto the whole lot to stop the rubber bulging out and letting the finished product get miss-shaped and weirdly fat. We usually do the birdbaths first but sometimes I get wild and do something different. Variety being the spice of life and all. I get the battery drill and start undoing all the bolts that hold the casing together, dropping each nut and bolt into a bucket as I go. There will be hundreds more of these undone by midmorning.
Ghost goes into the little yard and sun-bakes in the early morning sun, laying on the dirtiest bit of concrete dust he can find. He'll be grey on one side when he gets up, and by the end of the day he'll be grey from dust all over. Take that, Ma!
Once the pieces of the fibre-glass cover have been carefully wedged away from the rubber mould underneath, I start peeling the rubber up. My knuckles start to bleed straight away, the sores from yesterday and and the day before and day before soon opening up again. You have to get your fingers under the mould as you drag it up and your knuckles rub against the half-set concrete. It's as good as sandpaper, with the added fun of burning lime. If I wasn't so rough and tough, I'd wear gloves, but I wouldn't want Derek seeing me do that. He'd think less of me. He's got knuckles like bits of raw meat.
I've got the mould partway up the birdbath, so I pick it up and put it back on the floor. Hello again, sore back. It's not warmed up yet. Soon it'll be warm, and by the end of the day it'll be freezing back up and I'll feel a hundred.
You need some leverage to get the rubber off, which is why I get it back on the floor. It's like a huge, tight yellow condom and tends to stick where the concrete is driest too. Then if you pull too roughly, the damned top of the birdbath breaks off and you've ruined it. If you do that too often in a day, Derek gets mad, or as Da would say, “gets a cob on.” Derek mad is a scary sight, even though he's only about five foot ten or so tall. He's one of those nuggety Scotsmen who grew up fighting and his eyes flash flame when he's angry. It should be him with the nickname of Satan, not me. I'm not giving it up, though. I earned that name.
I put my feet both sides of the statue's base, mindful not to put boot marks on it, bend over and take the rubber in both my hands, then slowly stand up, peeling the mould off as I go. Phew. In one piece and not too many air bubbles either. One down, a couple of hundred different things to go before I can start mixing the concrete to make the batch I'll take out tomorrow morning. Ah well, I've got my dog, I've got the radio blasting, and the Jiffy food van will be along soon. Life could be much worse.
I've done it all so many times before, I've got time to let my mind drift to think about this afternoon and the share house I am going to look at. I know they let you have a friendly dog because that was in the ad. Wouldn't bother to look if they didn't.
Ghost is friendly. He looks a bit intimidating but he's really a total woose. Not that you'd blame him. Poor sod must have had a rotten life before we found him out the back here one morning, cowering in the corner between the fence and the big rubbish bin. You could hardly tell he was white, he was so filthy. He was about five months old, the vet reckoned. His half-mast puppy ears looked like they might never come up and he looked a right mongrel. Maybe that was why he got dumped.
All I know is that I coaxed him out of his hidey spot and into my arms and he's been my soul mate ever since. Once you have the love of a Shepherd, you know what real love is. And the joke's on the dumpers, because his ears grew up to stand tall, and he filled out into the most handsome dog I've ever seen. I'm biased, but you'd have to be blind not to see it. He looks like Rin Tin Tin, only white. He has the wisest brown eyes, a black nose and grinning mouth, and his coat would put a polar bear to shame. He's never got over being scared of strange men, though. I don't mind. I'm a bit the same. You never know what the bastards will do.