THE SPIFFING HAMSTER
O. Spaniel Murray
If gold sends you longitudinal, an iron mine in the grey fits of winter hammers shut the bored little corners of your soul. The stilted yellow box, crippled with sodium, haunt the long gullies like gallows. Amidst this, Rusty Core, flown in from Adelaide, spent his livelihood tackling ore body on a mighty loader. He would attach a dumb determination to it. As long as his lung resisted the exertion, he could make $2000 a week.
The town itself, Nibbler’s Lint (not to be confused with Nibbler’s Lint, the opal haven, just south of the Queensland border) was submerged in a red cloud. Canary yellow trucks, as big as small buildings, were bloody with corrosion and thudded down the good road with steady and ferric monotony. There was the Post Office. The Mine Office. The Housing Office. The Shire Office. The Police Station and Lock Up. The public toilet and the Nibbler’s Lint Hotel. Stuffed with quick cash, Rusty tried to find some honest preoccupation at the bar. All he found was a dart game doing fivers. “I’m gonna go mad living here!” he thought, admitting the forthcoming six week stint. By disposition he was restless.
This explains why it was that Rusty was sitting clad in nothing but his Bart Simpson boxer shorts with a fluffy madam named Serena on his lap and a long, long line of frosty white cocaine on the table before him when the eager Constable Flicker came busting through the door like a ramjack. “Nobody move!” yelled Flicker, brandishing his pistol.
Rusty couldn’t move because of the scantily clad Serena. She had scarlet red lips and a full moon of eye shade and the capacity to understand the working man. She had once done a whole semester of pediatric care in Sydney before throwing away a career as a backing vocalist to become a stripper. Similarly, an over-achieving gasfitter named Carl couldn’t move from the same divan because of a smiling redhead named Shirley, decorated in nothing but frilly French suspenders, plonked on his lap and bundle. There was also a quote businessman unquote named Neville nursing his precious briefcase and a fist full of fifty dollar bills sitting at the table as if it was his profession.
Thus the frozen moment. Rusty Core snapped to. The bleak landscape intruded. The desert yonder was vast and imprisoning. The desert sands are cold in mid July. ‘There is really no telling how this is going to play out,’ he thought to himself. He had been in sticky corners once before. Years ago he had worked in Customs, down in Port Augusta. On that occasion it was his fiance Stella who had come busting through the door and she was brandishing not so much the pistol as a blade intent upon a quick castration. Which made Rusty wince. It was the sheer boredom of a predictable morning that had made him do it that time too. When Stella burst in, as murderous as a banshee, there was a big chunk of Rusty that sighed with relief and said, ‘At last! Something happened!’ He felt the same again. Flicker was about thirty-five, probably married with two boys playing junior football, and his uniform made him look like a meathead. His pistol was well-made and metallic black but otherwise unconvincing. Rusty yawned inside. He couldn’t tell whether his brain was scrambled from substance abuse or whether he was just underwhelmed.
It seemed for a moment, though, that the impasse would be overcome by the brave Constable getting serious, but just then - as he lifted the nozzle higher - there came a squeak of muffled music. It was Freddy Mercury singing:
We are the champions, my friends...
We’ll keep on fighting to the end...
We are the champions...
We are the champions...
Flicker looked quizzical. “Oh. Sorry, I’II have to take this,” he said, rebadged his firearm and reached into his back pocket for his mobile phone.
“Flicker,” he said, putting it to his ear. Then the one-sided monologue:
“Really? All of it? Did you check? … OK. Well, that’s embarrassing. … No. No. … I wish you’d rung me a bit earlier because... Yes. I know. I’ve just got here and... OK. Remember. I want 20,000. All of it. Not a cent less... Yeah, well, we’ll talk about that later. … Right. Right. Yep.”
Disengage. Flicker put away the phone and relaxed. He looked behind him, then looked around. Some throat clearing. Finally, in an awkward location, he nodded to the Madam Serena.
“Spiffing hamster,” he said.
At first, Rusty imagined this to be some order of euphemistic commentary on her anatomy but then he glanced over to where the Constable’s eyes had been directed. He hadn’t noticed it before. Sure enough, over on the sideboard, was a cage containing a small dappled hamster spindling in its plastic wheel as bored as the rest of them.
“It is, isn’t it?” said Serena, still not moving. “His name’s H. R. Puffenstuff.”
There was then a longish pause. The Constable recalibrated himself. Carl shifted and said to Shirley, “Can you hop up, darl, my leg’s gone to sleep.”
“Right. Well, carry on then,” Flicker said, and backed out the broken door frame. His partner, the rooky O’Callahan, was waiting.
A further longish pause underscored the Constable’s departure.
“What was all that about?” asked Rusty, at last.
Neville seemed entirely unperturbed. He was a happy man as long as no one touched his brief case.
Serena sniffed, leant over and raked a hillock of white candy with the razor blade. Now that it had been pointed out to him Rusty couldn’t help but notice the tireless Puffenstuff still trundling on.
“I have no idea,” said Serena. She looked up into her airhead and double checked. “No,” she said. She shrugged her skinny bare shoulders. “None.”
‘Even better,’ thought Rusty Core. ‘A mystery!’
Nothing could overcome the sedimentary monotony of the wide red plains and the seams of hematite bleeding into the surface like a mystery. The horizon line was thoroughly post-volcanic. The trucks were thudding twenty-four hours a day like a clock. The makeshift housing of Nibbler’s Lint huddled with its propane bottles against the chill wind. VHS killed off the cinema. That’s when the love-nests moved in. Even Serena and Puffenstuff had been flown in from Adelaide. Rusty was, as the orgia resumed, glad there were only a few weeks of this stint to go.