Buggs watched his silhouette stretch away from him, across the painted yellow lines, all the way down to the wall at the far end of the carpark. He shifted his weight on the bonnet of his Skyline, relishing the familiar creak that accompanied it. He bent his neck in sympathy, feeling the crack in a dull place behind his left ear. Somewhere in the distance, there was a bell: the church, or an alarm or something.
Nothing was happening in the afternoon, but he sort of thought that something might. The Arcade carpark was empty as a collection tin. He squinted up his right eye and kneaded his lips for an absent cigarette. Maybe down at Bellie Park, he thought. Maybe something going down at the grandstand.
The automatic door behind him shivered, and a fat woman came out, holding a brown string shopping bag. Her possessions stared out from their carry-cage: the bulge of a generic sugar pack, a log cabin of chocolate bars, two giant oranges like fat testicles. The whole image, the complete lack of effort this woman showed annoyed Buggs immensely. He hated people who didn’t make an effort. He let his glance drip down her like grease, then he spat at the ground. The fat woman hurried on, back to her car, her ankles drooping over tight canvas sneakers.
Buggs entertained the thought that he might follow her, trail her in his car at snail’s pace, make her speed home with chocolate melting on the dashboard. He snuffed out a laugh, and felt nothing much at all.
The sun was going down at the wrong angle behind the bandstand, its colour bleaching at the edges, shaking like one of those giant Chinese gongs. Buggs pulled his car in from the far side of the street and parked it across two spaces. He opened the door and stepped out, feeling, not for the first time, as if he was unfolding himself. He took off his cap, pushed back his hair, put his cap back on. A little ritual: keeping everything smooth.
He saw Courtney sitting on the broken end of the boat swing, her feet scraping hard cavities in the dirt. Her white Adidas hoodie glinted like a road sign.
“What’s going on?” said Buggs, knowing he was too far away for her to hear him.
Courtney looked up. She lifted up her feet and put them back in the swing.
“What’s happening?” he said again.
“Nothing,” replied Courtney. “Just sitting here.”
Buggs leant a hand against the swing, pushing it slightly. “Anyone else around?”
“Shell was here, but she nicked off.”
“Got a smoke?”
“Only got one left.”
“I’ll buy you some more tomorrow.”
Sighing, Courtney reached into her jacket and pulled out a folded pack of Marlboros. She threw it into Buggs’ chest. He grappled at it childishly.
“Jeez,” he said. “Marlboros? You got no taste at all?”
“Give them back if you don’t want them. Nathan got them for me.”
Buggs rubbed his chin. “Fuckin’ Nathan. Tell him I want to see him.”
“You know where he lives.”
“Fucked if I’m gonna visit him.”
Courtney shrugged her shoulders and looked off across the park. Buggs noticed her hair was held back with a rubber band. He felt a kind of rubber pain in his own head. He quickly unfolded the Marlboro pack and probed inside it with his index finger.
“It’s empty,” he said.
Courtney looked at him blankly. “There’s one left.”
“Bullshit there is.” Buggs held up the mangled pack like a lawyer with an evidence bag.
Courtney snatched it from his hand, reached in, and pulled out the Marlboro. “Magic,” she said.
Buggs was never sure of Courtney. Her mouth sagged where someone had hit her once, and she always had an expression like she was pissed off. Everything she said—serious or not—came out like an accusation.
Buggs lit the cigarette expertly, shaking his head as he breathed in the first smoke. He sniffed, and put one foot on a step on the side of the swing. Courtney didn’t move, so he climbed in, sitting on the opposite edge. The council had taken down the other two boat swings a few weeks before, because of safety concerns. They sat at the other edge of the park, abandoned, run aground.
“Wanna find something to do?” asked Buggs.
Courtney sniffed. “Not with you, anyway.”
The main street was dead, too. The usual lights were gone, turned out by an invisible switch, absent like a heartbeat. The power had cut out just after six-thirty according to the radio. Wild storms behind The Range. Courtney had switched the station; it was a new one that played the same stuff Buggs saw on TV every Saturday morning. She had her elbow out the window. One hand tapped the beat out against her knee.
Buggs turned his head. “So what do you want to listen to this stuff for?”
“What do you listen to, then? Classical FM?” Courtney’s top lip had freckles on it that quivered when she talked.
Buggs swung his eyes back to the road. “Just don’t see the point of this chicken-shit music.”
“Shows what you know.”
The headlights on Buggs’ car lit up the main street, casting shadows over it he hadn’t seen before. A couple of bodies loitered outside the Sports Club bar, but Buggs didn’t feel like a big crowd. A low moon had come out, and it sat big and dirty yellow like a baby’s head. Buggs came out of the main street and heaved his steering wheel all the way around the roundabout. He took the last exit, out of town, out towards the highway. KFC and Red Rooster lit up on either side of the road. Buggs thought it was pretty sad that they were the only places in town that thought ahead enough to have generators. The amount of blackouts this town had.
Courtney rested her head against the side of the window. Buggs was annoyed that she had let her seatbelt slip around her waist. “Where are we going?” she said. Stray blonde hairs whipped across her face with the outside wind.
“Dunno,” said Buggs. “This place just dies sometimes, you know?” He bent his neck down and peered up through the windshield. “Maybe we can go somewhere and watch the stars.”
“I mean, there’s no other lights, hardly. Means we could see them all, if we wanted.”
Courtney made a sound like a stubborn horse. “Fuckin’ . . . stars,” she said. “You’re just weird.”
“At least I’m making an effort,” replied Buggs. “What else are you going to do tonight? Drop by Shell’s, smoke some weed, stare at the wall?”
“Yeah,” said Courtney defensively, “sounds good.”
“Maybe you’re just keen on her boy. What’s his name—Cliff?”
“Yeah. Clint. Cunt. You like him?”
“Get fucked. He’s a loser.”
“What’s it to be then?” said Buggs. The car groaned as it began to climb the hill.
Courtney sighed. “Okay,” she said. “But staring at the wall or staring at the sky, you owe me some smokes.”
Buggs shrugged. "Fair enough," was his reply.