Reds-The Lost Weekend-Sullivan’s Travels
This is from something I wrote nearly 7 years ago.
I remember subbing the whole novel to a few agents and getting rejections. That’s when I thought I had to get an agent to get anywhere. Before I realised I could just make zines…or sub to small presses…
It was unsellable, they said. Or probably would’ve said if they’d had the time to send more than a form rejection. That, or it was just shit.
This is just a small part of that novel.
I’ve changed a few words…mostly taken out lots of ‘that’ to make it flow better…but I’m still not sure if it’s any good.
Positive = it’s got a point to it, it’s got heart, it’s got anger. It’s based on things I did in my life.
Negative = it’s an old story that wasn’t published for a reason. The writing is a style that I’ve either outgrown or lost forever. The word choice is patchy, some good, some poor. Other reasons I probably don’t have the distance or insight to pick up on
It’s weird, when I started, I over-wrote everything. Like most writers, I suppose. Then the chipping away began and pretty soon I was reduced to sentences like ‘he went to the sofa and sat down. He thought about windows. How easy they were to break. He stared at the wall, the painting, the TV. He thought about breaking the window.’
Is there a point when all the chipping away turns the writing into primary school level stuff?
I suppose it probably depends on flow. Some writing just has it, no matter how simple it seems. Even if you don’t like what they’re writing about, you respect the fact they write it well.
Similar to someone like Tao Lin I guess…
PART 1: REDS
Benny sat in a park and stared at a tramp.
Benny lived in a nice apartment.
Benny watched TV.
Benny messed around on the internet.
Benny ate good food.
Benny made money by teaching students.
The students were rich.
Benny sat in a box under a road at night.
Benny spent money.
Benny thought of doing more.
Benny walked into the conveni and went straight for the fridge at the end. There were tanned, dirty men in vests and shorts sipping microwave soups on one of the counters, but he ignored them. They were stick insects, nothing more.
He picked up a miniature bottle of Gallo’s red and two king-size cans of Special Brew, and walked to the counter.
“Bak Tak Tung,” he said badly in Cantonese.
The teenager told him the wrong price in English and then asked if he wanted to pay by Octopus.
“Bak Tak Tung,” Benny repeated sharply, holding his octopus card against the machine.
Benny mumbled the wrong version of thank you, picked up all his things and left without looking back.
Outside the shop was the same group of five men he’d seen the night before, all in vests and all drinking.
Benny walked over and sat on the wall next to them. He unscrewed the cap off the wine, but changed his mind and ripped open one of the beers instead. The men beside him glanced once then carried on talking among themselves.
“Fucking canto-pop,” Benny mumbled into his can.
He looked at the conveni opposite, and then the shop next to it, which was closed. Then the shop next to that one, and then the one next to that, until he ran out of shops and decided to just look at the men directly.
They were strong for locals. Their arms were a decent size and had tone. There was no flab around the shoulder or behind the triceps. What were they, construction? Bin men?
One of them looked at him and said something, and for a moment Benny thought he was being spoken to, but it was in Cantonese and another man from the group was replying. They weren’t speaking to him, he was nothing.
“I’m a nothing, huh,” he said again to his can. “Maybe…maybe now I am, but…”
He looked at the top half of their bodies again and imagined them all holding shovels. Construction, yes, with their tools in hand, ready to work…no, ready to…the shovels changed to rifles…ready to fight.
He drank from his can and kept drinking until he felt it lighten. He put it down and picked up the wine.
These men, if they had rifles…he imagined the scene with him outside of it, directing it from the wings, and the person who was him, the actor Benny, sitting on the wall was putting down the beer can and walking into that group of strong, working class men and telling them to listen, and they stopped and listened, and he spoke to them…spoke to them in Cantonese, or what sounded like Cantonese…he didn’t know much, but the sound of the words was imitable, so it came out like that, and he told them that they were strong, that they had muscles in their bodies, that there was no flab around their shoulders or behind their triceps, and they had shovels and those shovels didn’t have to be used solely for construction, did they? No, they don’t, one of the men said back, but what else we gonna do with them? Well, the man who was Benny said, you could hit people. The men looked at the shovels that were now in their hands, and mumbled…but not just hit anyone, the Benny double continued, I don’t mean murder, I mean something bigger…I mean…
One of the men finished his beer and crushed the can in his hand. He tossed it onto the ground near Benny’s feet.
…I mean revolution…isn’t that what we should be doing? The men nodded and shouted out they’d been waiting a long time to hear that, and they gripped their shovels tight and held them as if ready to strike, and then the scene changed and they were all marching along a street, and the men had taken their vests off and were showing the muscles built on the construction sites, and in front, at the front of them, leading them was him, the one who was Benny, the only one wearing a vest, the only one wearing some kind of grey hat…the soviet hat…the hat of the revolution, with the little hammer and sickle…and at the side of the street some people cheered and others held shovels above their heads, and shouted for something in Cantonese…or the words that sounded like Cantonese…and he could hear his name being shouted, and he was happy, he directed a shot of himself looking happy, smiling ahead and raising a rifle above his head…and now behind him, all the men had rifles again, and they were holding them above their heads too…and…and then what…there was a building he recognized, one of the banks near Central, the one with the zigzag white line running from top to bottom, and he raised his rifle and told everyone to stop, told them this was the place…everyone stopped behind him, and the crowd at the side stopped too, and then…there were men being led out of the building, the zigzag building, and they were dressed in suits and they looked terrified…and so they should, smirked Benny as he put a finger to his lips and brought the crowd to silence, and then he started to speak, he spoke well…in words that sounded like Cantonese…and they were spoken quickly, as though words had to be said but as few as possible…and then his speech ended… and the rifles were raised again…and the last line of the speech was simply, “fuck words, spoken, written, heard…fuck words! Action is key…” and the first suit man was brought forward and five of the construction men were chosen to come forward with their rifles…and they stood in line, they aimed, and on his signal they fired at the suit and took half his face off…Ha, they were aiming for his face! Not the body, but the face, the head, the brain…they knew there were no hearts inside these fuckers…
Another can landed by his feet, crushed. He blinked and saw the lights of the conveni in front of him.
He looked left and saw the group of men walking away, their formation shabby and disorganized. His army, they were fleeing…
“Fuck words…” he said to his miniature bottle of red.
PART 2: THE LOST WEEKEND
“Fuck words and all those stupid fuckers who can’t…don’t read shit.”
Benny fumbled with the key in the lock. He turned it sideways and tried to force it in that way, but it didn’t work.
“Krist, what are you doing, huh? Be a key…” he jabbed the door in front of him. “…be a key, open for me. Ha! Open for…no, come on, be a key, fuck’s sake.”
He tried several more wrong ways of fitting the key into the lock before finally getting the door to open. He stumbled into his apartment and kept the cage and the door behind him open.
“I am the key-master!” he shouted as he fell down onto the couch.
“Where’s my box, huh? Where are you little…?”
He looked around the living room and twisted his head to try and see into the kitchen, but it was impossible.
“You run away from me, Boxy? You…did you run away from me?” He stood up and walked over to the box on the other side of the room, which he couldn’t seem to see.
“Boxy? Boxy? Come on, Box, we’ve got work to do…I need to…ha, I need to sit on you. Or in you…inside you.”
He looked at every possible thing except the box until his foot hit something on the floor and he was forced to look downwards.
“Boxy music, there you are.”
He picked up the box and brought it over to the table. There was no space so he put it on top of his laptop. He went to the kitchen and got the scissors then came back and sat down on the couch and looked at the box.
He could see the laptop suffocating underneath.
“Krist, how did…”
He lifted the box and pulled his laptop out, checking it for damage.
“It lives!” He patted the laptop softly with the scissors. “My little terminator, you’re so proud of…I’m so proud of you.”
The laptop was put carefully onto the couch and the scissors brought back to the box. Benny looked at each side and thought about which one he should cut. Then he thought about the train ride to Choi Hung.
“No, wait…train’s over…there’s…it’s shut.” He scratched his chin with the scissor blades. “But buses are open…I can take that…one of those.”
But did he want to cut the box now? Wouldn’t it be better if he did it when he got there?
He put the scissors down and thought about how to carry them. Could he put them in his pocket? He picked them back up and tried a couple of times to put them into his pocket. Blade first and it was dangerous. Blade pointing up and it was also dangerous. He put them down on the couch. I can just rip it, he thought.
“Ripperrrr,” he said to the box.
PART 3: SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS
On the bus, it was empty except for two middle-aged Chinese men in green uniforms. Benny thought they looked like cleaners of some kind, or maybe technicians, but he didn’t talk to them. Instead he sat with his box on the seat next to him, and watched the night world of Kwun Tong pass by outside. Then the night world of Ngau Tau Kok, then Kowloon Bay, then…
…he woke up looking at the night world of Endor. Trees, trees, trees…
He sat up and put his face against the window trying to see beyond the trees, but they wouldn’t budge.
A small child, maybe six or seven years old, was trying to see inside his box. He put his arm up instinctively, and the parent sitting a couple of seats down called the child away.
“What the…why are you awake at…whatever time…” he slurred at his box.
Outside, some buildings appeared, the usual grey estates, but they weren’t familiar, not in this context. He stood up and walked down the bus to the picture of the bus route, turning back to make sure the child wasn’t messing with his box again. It wasn’t, it was asleep on its mother’s lap.
The final stop, it said on the route picture, was Tin Shui Wai. He looked at the other stops and saw lots of places he didn’t know. He looked up at the overhead sign and saw the name Tuen Mun appear.
“Krist, that’s…it’s the fucking countryside,” he mumbled louder than he realized.
He got off in Tin Shui Wai and looked around at this new place and saw lots of the same shitty estates he saw in every other new place he’d been to.
All the buildings were grey too, no yellows.
With the box in his hand he walked away from the bus stop and looked for the nearest park or overpass. He wanted to see some yellow walls at least, something to make him feel he wasn’t that far from where he should’ve been, but there was nothing, only grey.
“Fucking grey…that’s the cheap one, huh?” he asked nobody, still a little tanked from the beers and the miniature wine.
He walked past four estates that looked exactly the same, and then a line of shops and teahouses, then another estate. This one had a small playground at the end of it, but they wouldn’t be in there so he kept moving.
Before long the buildings dried up and he was left with trees and what looked like another forest. He stopped a couple of times and asked the box if it was really worth the trouble going on, and really, what the fuck was he doing on the other side of Hong Kong at three in the morning, but the box said nothing, and he decided to keep walking alongside the green because at least it wasn’t grey.
“Maybe they’re in the trees…” he said to the box. “I know I’d go into the trees if I…if I wanted to sleep somewhere not…not what? Not grey. And no people around. No people would be good, too.”
He walked for what seemed like two hours and eventually the trees were left behind and replaced by more estates and a highway, and the road he was walking on became an overpass.
“Holy overpass…about fucking time…high time…” he said as he jumped over the railings and staggered down the slope to the highway.
At the bottom of the slope he steadied himself and walked back along the highway to the base of the overpass. Across the two lanes and covered in shadow was the island, and he was sure he could see a box and newspaper and more newspaper a little further away. It was…it had to be them.
He ran out into the road without looking and practically skipped up onto the island. He was right, it was a box and newspapers, and a lump underneath, it was….there was someone sleeping there.
“Krist, you’re here…you’re really here.”
He looked around and checked for others, but there was no one else. He walked over to the sleeping man or woman, he wasn’t sure which yet, he could only see the shape, and put his box down next to theirs. The newspaper he’d seen from across the road was actually two newspapers placed over the body, and the box was laying under the head, being used as a pillow, and…not that he could see the head, he could only make out the grey bobble hat covering it, but the hat was on the box, and every hat had to have a head.
He got inside his own box and turned quickly on his side to face the sleeper.
“It’s good here, innit? I’m Benny…” he started. “What’s your name?”
No response, no sounds, not even snoring. They probably don’t know English, he told himself.
“I walk here…long time. Me…no house,” he tried.
“Me…no house. House…bye bye. I go on bus….bus…and walk here…walking…very long time…”
He stopped and stared at the head he was talking to. There was something funny about that head. Even with the hat it was too small, and the body…was that…
“Your head’s kinda funny,” he said out loud.
He leaned across and pushed his finger against the shape. It didn’t meet any resistance; it kept on going further into the newspaper. He moved his finger up to the bobble hat and pushed into what he thought was someone wearing the hat, and found that there was no head.
“You’re…you’re a fucking hat,” he cried. “Krist, a fucking hat.”
He pulled himself up and picked up the hat and threw it across the island. He breathed out in fury as it landed then turned to the box, picked it up and threw that too. He kicked out at the newspaper, standing on it and tearing it in two, then picked it up, ripped it, scrunched it up into a little planet, and threw it as far as he could. When there was nothing left to throw he fell back into his own box and asked it why they were all running away from him. The box didn’t say anything, so he spat on the ground, breathed out heavily and asked it again what he was doing under a country road at three in the fucking morning.