97,095

First off, a warning: if you haven’t read Just Another Week in Suburbia, this scene is going to be something of a spoiler (as will this post).

The reason for that is because in both versions the conclusion is the same. It’s the journey to get there that differs, but get there they both do (hence the spoiler warning).

However, in the published book, the journey is a simple, tempered conversation. The characters are spent. All they have left now are words.

But it wasn’t always that way.

Originally when Casper and Jane met, it went like this …

 

Chapter 52
(in the original manuscript anyway)

Jane’s wearing a denim skirt and a white blouse that are too big for her, and a pair of sandals. I don’t think the clothes as hers, and she hasn’t had an opportunity to go home and get changed. They must be Sarah’s. Her hair is frazzled but tied back.
      I don’t get up when she reaches the table, even though she hovers there. Maybe she expected me to get up and kiss her. Or hug her. Or stand like a gentleman. But I just sit there and stare at the top of my tea. She sits down opposite me.
      Then, silence.
 


Still, silence.
      I’m not going to be the one to speak. I don’t even look at her, although I get that sense that she’s not looking at me either, that she’s staring at her latte instead. I don’t know if that’s right, though. My sensor is horrible. There are times in class I think my kids are looking at me, but when I check they have their heads buried in their work.
      ‘You got me a latte.’
      I don’t confirm it. Obviously I got her a latte.
      ‘That was considerate.’
      I lean back in my chair and now I do look at her. I see my wife, the woman I love, but she’s also alien to me. She’s wearing a lot of make-up. It sits on her like a coat of paint. It makes me think of Kai spraying her. But underneath it, I can see the eyes rimmed red, the crescents not entirely obscured by foundation or whatever it is that women use.
      ‘What?’ I say.
      ‘You’re angry.’
      ‘No. I’m happy. Aren’t you?’
      She sits back in her chair, like I slapped her.
      ‘I didn’t bring us here.’ My voice rises. I grit my feet, hear them grind in my ears. I didn’t know what I expected when this moment came, but now the anger pours from me. ‘What did I do to deserve this?’
      ‘Nothing.’
      ‘Nothing?’
      ‘Since this began—’
      ‘How long?’
      ‘What?’
      ‘How long have you been fucking Kai?’
      Jane bows her head. A tear runs down her cheek. Good.
      ‘Well?’
      ‘It’s been five times over a month.’
      My hand clenches around my tea. The cup’s still hot – just hot enough to be scalding. I keep my hand around it.
      ‘I’ve been talking with Sarah, I’ve been trying to work it out in my head, I’ve been trying to find a reason to blame you for what I did.’
      ‘Blame me?’ I rock back. Maybe she’ll behave just as Luke said she would.
      ‘No, no, listen to me.’ Jane reaches across the table – reaches for my hands. I snatch them away. ‘It was just me. Kai and I developed … a friendship. A closeness. It just happened. It wasn’t something we meant.’
      ‘Lucky you.’
      ‘Casper, I’m trying to take responsibility for my actions. I wanted to talk.’ Jane brushes at her eyes. Her make-up smears. She seems to know it, because she dabs at the smear with her palm until its passable. ‘I spent the night in our hotel room last night.’
      It takes several moments for it to click with me that she means the room at the Sheraton where we were meant to spend our anniversary.
      ‘I was almost hoping you’d come.’
      She waits, like she wants me to be touched by that comment. I sit unmoved.
      ‘I cried the whole night, thinking about how I would handle this, how I would talk to you, how I could try and fix it. I know it mightn’t come out right, but you have to take it how I mean it.’
      Again she waits, this time for my understanding. I lean back in my chair.
      ‘Whatever was happening with Kai, it’s over. I told him. But you knew that. He told me what you did.
      ‘Oh, so you just had to talk.’
      ‘He called me and I wouldn’t take it. He had to message me about what you’d done so then, yes, I did have to speak him.’
      ‘Must’ve been great to reconnect.’
      ‘It wasn’t like that. You know it wasn’t. You terrified him. He wanted to call the cops.’
      ‘Did you fuck him not to?’
      ‘Please, Casper.’
      ‘Please what?’
      ‘This wasn’t something I planned. It’s not like I was unhappy, woke up one morning, and thought I needed to look elsewhere. It was just an attraction. It developed.’
      ‘Developed? You keep saying that. When? You’ve been working together for years.’
      Jane lifts her shoulders slowly.
      ‘Well?’
      ‘It’s been there maybe the last year.’
      ‘So just like that, after you’ve been working together years, it develops.’
      ‘There was stuff over the last year where we had to work a lot more closely. I nearly quit because it was becoming an issue. But we thought we could manage it.’
      ‘Good job.’
      ‘Please, Casper. Haven’t you ever been attracted—?’
      ‘It’s normal to be attracted, it’s … whatever it is when you do something about it. It’s fucked.’
      Jane tosses her head back. Her jaw clenches. ‘Haven’t you ever felt that? Like you could just … slip?’
      ‘Slip?’
      ‘Yeah. Slip. What about Beth? Are you telling me you don’t feel any attraction to her? You’ve never felt like … just like that … something could happen?’
      ‘I’m attracted to Beth. I’m sure she’s attracted to me. But we’ve never slipped.’
      ‘Never got close?’
      ‘No.’
      ‘Some time you maybe didn’t tell me about?’
      ‘No.’
      ‘Well, I’m sorry I’m not as perfect as you.’
      ‘Don’t turn this around on me. I didn’t do anything. I’m not pretending to be perfect. But I’m not the fucking bad guy.’
      ‘It just happened. I don’t know how. It just did.’
      ‘Five times.’
      ‘After the first time, I swore it would never happen again and I talked to Kai about it. And we’d be okay for a little while. But then … I don’t know. One thing led to another. It’s not like there was even any special emotional attachment to him – not like I feel for you.’
      ‘Maybe if you thought about me the way you thought about Kai, you’d fuck me like that.’
      ‘I’m not explaining this well.’
      ‘No. I’ve got it. You developed a closeness to Kai over the last year. There was an attraction. You fucked. You felt guilty. You controlled yourself for maybe all of a week. Then you fucked again. You say five times in a month – if I can actually believe you. So even if you fucked once a week, even if you were able to control yourselves for a whole week – an average of a fuck a week over a month – there’s still a week where you did it twice. I guess the control wasn’t great that week, huh?’
      ‘Please, Casper …’
      Jane bows her head. Tears are free now. She pulls a handkerchief from her pocket, blows her nose. And despite it all, I want to go around there and console her, but some part of me also wants to hurt her. Wants to reduce her to remorse that’ll destroy her.
      ‘You and I got together when we were young and inexperienced and I never had a problem with sex. I never felt it was lacking. I still don’t. But obviously as you stay together longer, especially when you’re trying to have a baby, the sex becomes … I don’t know. It becomes safe or something.’
      ‘So you were bored with me?’
      ‘No! I said I never felt it was lacking! I just meant that with him, with what happened, it was just a letting go without thinking.’
      ‘Oh, you didn’t think all right.’
      ‘But that’s all it was. That physical thing.’
      ‘That would be a lot less insulting if Kai wasn’t some scrawny, anorexic cunt, if the guy you fucked was some buff barbell boy with some porn star horse cock.’
      ‘Please, Casper.’
      ‘What do you expect? Understanding? Fuck. You. Okay? You give yourself to him like that and I’m just meant to be fine with that. That another man fucks my wife like that?’
      ‘Just …’ Jane shrugs. ‘Last week, I really tried to open myself up to you because I wanted to reconnect with you, so what we’d have would obliterate what was happening between Kai and me.’
      ‘How’d that work? Oh, wait, Friday fuckathon. Starring Jane Gray and Kai Fuckhardy.’
      Jane gapes at me.
      ‘I saw you on Friday. I saw you. I came early to your work because I needed to talk to you. I fucking needed you! Then … that. You’ve never been like that with me. That was like fucking monkeys or hyenas or something. I don’t know.’
      Jane’s chokes on her sobs, like she’s trying to bite them down.
      ‘You feel deeper for me than him, but you do what I saw you do with him? You let him come on your face. God knows how he fucked you. Tell me what that means.’
      Jane blows her noses. Sniffles.
      ‘Tell me, Jane. I’m trying to understand. Tell me.’
      ‘I don’t know, okay? I don’t know! It was just …’
      ‘What?’
      Jane’s sobs grow loud enough now they attract other patrons. From the counter, Leon and Caroline cast us nervous glances.
      ‘Friday was it,’ she says.
      ‘Oh, a goodbye fuck.’
      Jane recoils. ‘Friday was just …’
      ‘What, Jane? What?’
      ‘I was feeling queasy all afternoon. I bought the pregnancy test. Did you see it? I left it on the kitchen counter.’
      Jane waits for an answer. I say nothing, but I must flinch or something because she seems to get an unspoken answer from me.
      ‘I took it into the bathroom at work,’ she goes on, ‘but when I got in there I realised I wanted you with me.’
      ‘Oh, how sweet.’
      ‘Please. I’m just trying to explain.’ Jane bows her head, blinks furiously, trying to compose herself. ‘I … I told Henry I was going to leave early. To come home. Kai followed me. I kept breaking it off. He kept resenting I was shutting him out entirely. Friday was like … I just … it was anger. I don’t know how it became that. I just got so angry I lost all control.’
      ‘What a magnificent explanation.’
      ‘I don’t mean in that way. I don’t know, Casper. It wasn’t about love or passion or even lust. It was just about … I don’t know, I really don’t. It was like I lost all sense of myself. Maybe I had a breakdown Friday. Something happened.’
      ‘Something happened all right—’
      ‘I don’t mean the sex! I mean it was like blacking out, like losing myself and finding you when I came out of it. I’m not explaining myself well.’
      ‘Finding me? You did this on a day I was coming to get you for dinner. How’s that sit with you? That you can fuck another man, then go out to dinner with your husband?’
      Janes balls her hands into her eyes.
      ‘Who knows about the other times you did it.’
      ‘I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m—’
      ‘What about this pregnancy test?’
      Jane lifts her head sharply.
      ‘Well?’
      ‘I took a test at Sarah’s. I had an appointment with a doctor yesterday morning. I’m pregnant.’
      ‘Is it Kai’s?’
      ‘No!’
      ‘Are you sure?’
      ‘I’m at six weeks. I’ve been … late.’
      I shake my head. Pick up my tea. Gulp it like it’s a beer. It burns my throat.
      ‘I quit.’
      I put my cup down, look at my palm and the inside of my fingers. They’re all red.
      ‘I rang Henry and told him I had to leave for personal reasons, effective immediately.’
      ‘What do you want me to say?’
      ‘I don’t want to lose you.’
      ‘Are you kidding me?’
      ‘Casper, I made a mistake. We all make mistakes—’
      ‘You made five.’
      ‘I’m sorry. I know I fucked up. But I want you. I want to be with you. I’m willing to do anything to rebuild your trust in me.’
      ‘So, just like that, it’s done.’
      ‘I know it’s not going to be just like that.’
      ‘I don’t know if I can look and not see him fucking you. I’m actually scared – really scared – to ask what was going on. I’m scared of what the answer is. I’m not sure I can look at your face and see not his cock all over you, his cum all over you. I’m not sure I can even look at pictures of us, and not just think it’s all a lie.’
      Jane shakes. Her sobs now cut through Sofia’s. Leon comes around the counter and starts over. I don’t care, though. They can ask why she’s crying, why I’m angry. She can tell them.
      ‘I didn’t deserve this,’ I say.
      ‘No, you didn’t.’
      ‘Fuck it.’
      I get up, grab my iPhone from the table, prepared to storm out. Jane catches my wrist. I’m already moving, though, so my momentum drags her to her feet. Jane tugs at my arm. I spin. Leon approaches.
      Then the world explodes.
     

TO BE CONTINUED …

 

90,498

On the evening of 30 June 2011, a car struck me as I crossed the street, breaking my right leg and dislocating my ankle. From the onset, the surgeon cautioned me that this was ‘a very bad break’, but I had no idea what that would ultimately mean.

A lack of feeling in my foot caused some concern, but from the onset doctors were focused on the swelling. An x-fixator (like a scaffolding) was screwed into my leg to hold the bones in place. The surgeon told me he couldn’t operate while it was so swollen, because there might be a problem closing me up again, which would lead to all sorts of new issues.

Ten days later (and I was confined to the bed this whole time, with eating, washing, and toiletries to be performed from here) the surgeon declared the decrease in swelling good enough to operate so he could insert plates. After the surgery, the leg, ankle, and foot blew up tremendously again. When the surgeon checked me the next night, he commented, ‘It [the leg] really didn’t like that [the surgery].’

The next day, a physiotherapist visited me and taught me how to use crutches. She estimated that it would be about three months before I was walking again as normal, and another three months to rebuild the strength in my leg.

Up until this point, it seemed that the break would heal.

But over the next six months, they discovered significant nerve damage (one of the broken bones had apparently hooked the nerve and stretched it), and then the leg developed Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (a disconnect between the injured area and the brain, and the way they communicate).

I had exercises to perform three times a day, but also had physio at the hospital twice a week, hydro-therapy three times a week (first at hospital, then at the local pool), would see a hospital psychologist to prepare for a life of dealing with chronic pain, do retraining to try and get my brain and my leg communicating accurately again, and then had a nerve block done (a huge needle shooting anaesthetic into the nerve in my back that ran down to my leg) in a half-day procedure once a week for ten weeks.

This was also when I decided to write Just Another Week in Suburbia.

I can only imagine my mindset informed my writing at this time, and perhaps was even a subconscious means of processing what had happened, the complications I faced, and exorcising the anger at being struck while crossing the street with the right of way, and being left with the repercussions of that for the rest of my life.

And this is the scene that emerged …
 

Chapter 29
(continued from last week)

I get the sledge from the garage, come back to Vic’s door, ring and ring and ring the doorbell. Vic’s footsteps thud down the hallway before the last ring has faded. The door swings open again.
     ‘What—!’
     I thrust the handle of the sledge into his midriff. Breath explodes from his mouth. He clutches at his stomach and doubles over. I shove him by the shoulders. He upends, falls onto his butt, and curls into a foetal position. I step into the house and close the door behind me.


Vic lays there, veins in his temple pulsating. He looks the way Jane did when Kai was fucking her.
     He mouths something but only a wisp of air comes out. His eyes bulge at me. I’m no doctor, but am sure he’s having trouble breathing, although I’m also sure it’ll pass.
     I rest the head of the sledge on his bare ankle.
     ‘You scared, Vic?’ I ask.
     He tries to say something. Now he manages a whine. It’s not voice. But it’s a start.
     ‘This is probably the way Wallace feels whenever he comes in here and you chase him out.’
     Vic kicks his leg forward, although there’s no strength in the action. Still, it’s enough for him to dislodge the sledge. The head of it hits the floor. The impact vibrates in my feet, so Vic must surely feel it in his body. Then there’s the sound: it’s not just the clatter, but that it echoes in the hallway. That sound communicates weight.
     Vic’s eyes bulge and he tries to scurry away, but his arms and legs don’t respond. He squirms, like a worm, but slides on the hardwood floor so he barely gains any ground.
     I step over him, kneel before him, poising the head of the sledge between my feet and parallel to his face. His eyes fix on it.
     ‘Vic, listen,’ I say.
     He gapes at me, but keeps trying to move.
     ‘Listen.’
     He keeps trying.
     ‘Listen.’
     He stops. Is still. I see in him what Jean Jacket must see in me – that desperation to survive the moment, to hope that nothing will come of it.
     ‘I know Wallace can be a shit,’ I say, ‘but he’s just a little dog. Your cat’s always in my yard. It’s a part of being neighbours.’
     ‘Screw you.’
     Or at least that’s what I think Vic says. It comes out in a wheeze and sounds like Sue ooo. But his colour is improving.
     I shake my head. Get up. Rest the sledge on Vic’s foot. He kicks forward again, dislodges it again. I hoist it up, hold it over his ankle.
     ‘What you’re feeling now – the fear, the helplessness, just the basic confusion – is something I’m sure Wallace feels every time he encounters you, Vic.’
     I drive the sledge down, the way I’d plunge a toilet. Vic kicks, but I mostly anticipate where he’s going. I smash his leg just above the ankle. There’s a crunch. It’s like a plank of wood snapping. Then something sharper – the other side of his ankle hitting the hardwood floor. His scream follows. It’s hoarse, guttural, but it fills the hallway. No problems with breathing now.
     From the waist up, Vic flops like … well, I don’t know what like. Like a fish on a bank, I suppose, although I always teach my kids to avoid the use of clichés. From the waist down, he tries to keep still. I don’t blame him. His left foot lays flush to the floor, but the bottom of his shin juts into his floor. The flesh is unbroken, but already it’s swelling and turning purple.
     I hoist the sledge over my shoulder. His scream tapers to a staccato roar. Tears stream down his eyes. His hands brace his shin below the knee as he curls back into a foetal ball, but continues to rock.
     ‘You bastard, you bastard, you cunt, you bastard,’ he says – or at least that’s what I think he says. It’s lost in his sobbing. And I’m not inclined to listen.
     He goes on and on. I wait for him to shut up. But he doesn’t. He bows his head until his chin is pushed into his chest, like he’s bracing himself against the pain.
     ‘Shut up,’ I say.
     He doesn’t.
     ‘Shut up.’
     He goes on. He has a steady drone happening. It’s like he’s trying to do everything at once – vent his pain, curse me, and sob. Since I don’t know how long he’ll be at it, I rest the sledge against the wall, and walk down the hallway.
     The house is almost identical to my own. There’s no pictures going up the stairs, though, and as I walk into the kitchen, I see there’s a stack of dishes in the sink, and the oven is grimy. Jane would hate that.
     I open the fridge. There’s not much in the way of food, but plenty of Coopers. I grab myself one and rifle through the kitchen drawers to find a bottle opener, but can’t. I want to call to Vic to ask him, but he’s still babbling, so I move into the adjoining dining room.
     There’s some cheap porn with shaky handheld camerawork on Vic’s 50-inch LCD TV – a big black guy doing a little blonde doggy-style. The sound’s low, but I can hear whoever’s doing the filming urging the black guy on in ways that are completely derogatory to the blonde.
     I barely give it a second glance, because on the coffee table – a rickety wooden thing – I see two empty bottles of Coopers, another which is almost finished, and one which is unopened. Next to the unopened bottle is the bottle opener. I take it, open my beer, fold the bottle top, and drop it into one of the other bottles.
     I take a swig of my beer and have a look around. The Booths have a tan couch and two recliners. A striped blanket has been thrown over the cushions of the couch. There are signs of wear on the armrests of the recliners.
     On the walls hang pictures of Vic and Chloe – one from their wedding, others at social functions. Vic looks almost human in his wedding picture. There’s no surliness about his eyes, his expression isn’t twisted into its perpetual scowl, and he’s even smiling. But those features appear in the other pictures. Chloe’s sultry and gorgeous in all of them.
     I leave the dining room, grab a kitchen chair from the kitchen, and head back into the hallway. Vic’s only whimpering now, and has squirmed towards the sledge. His hand reaches for it, although God knows what he’d do with it. He doesn’t have the strength to swing it and it’s not like he could chase me.
     I intersect his reach with the kitchen chair, swing it around, and sit on it so that my chest is pressed against the backrest. Vic’s hand falls. His head slumps to the ground. Tears roll from his eyes, and they’re not from the pain.
     ‘Here’s what’s going to happen, Vic. I was taking a walk, I heard you shout, I came in and found you – I guess you fell down the stairs. Maybe you got your foot caught in the spindles. I don’t know. I don’t care. But I called you an ambulance. Because that’s what you want, Vic, isn’t?’ I grab the sledge, plant the head of it between my chair and before Vic’s eyes. ‘It’s an ambulance I need to call? Not the morgue, or cops, or whoever it is that deals with dead fat bullies?’
     Vic holds his hand out. ‘Don’t …’
     ‘This is going to be between us, right, Vic?’
     Vic nods even before I finish the question.
     ‘You touch my dog again and I’ll fucking kill you.’
     I step over him, go back into the kitchen, and hunt for the phone.


I call the paramedics and report Vic’s accident. While I’m waiting for the ambulance to arrive, I go back to my house, wash the head of the sledge in the backyard, then stick it back in the garage.
     I leave the garage and stand in the backyard, sipping on my beer. It’s just starting to get dark, and although it rained yesterday and was grey today, there’s a balminess in the night indicative of hot weather tomorrow.
     Vic will probably tell, although being the macho prick he is I hope he’ll have that schoolyard mentality of keeping things to himself. Of course, that means he might come gunning for me himself one day. Hopefully, I’ve broken the back of the bully.
     Not that that was my intention.
     I finish my beer. I’m unsure what my intention was.


An ambulance arrives, pulling into the drive, and two paramedics emerge. One’s a handsome young guy who wouldn’t be out of place in modelling. The other is a short, squat woman.
     They assess the situation, ask Vic a range of questions – I think mostly to check how lucid he is (Vic babbles in response, sticking to our story) – and then give him a thin, plastic green cylinder to suck on that helps with the pain. I’m curious and ask the paramedics what it’s called. The squat woman tells me it’s a Penthrox Whistle and that it contains Penthrox, an anaesthetic for pain and anxiety. There’s something I’ve learned out of this experience. I could do with one myself about now. I’d chug on it like it was a cigar.
     The paramedics hoist Vic onto a stretcher – Vic screaming as his ankle wobbles, even though it’s supported by one of the paramedics – and assure him he’ll be okay and that they’ll give him some morphine when they get him in the ambulance. That should deaden his pain but might loosen his tongue. Then they raise the stretcher onto its wheels and roll Vic from his house.
     By now, other neighbours have emerged from their houses and gather around Vic’s property to watch what’s going on.
     The paramedics load Vic into the back of the ambulance. Then they crowd around him. I move back and forth, side to side, to try and see around their bodies. They wrap Vic in a makeshift splint.
     Tarika Gupta approaches, Kirit and Pia in tow. Kirit bounds up to the ambulance to get a better look, but Pia stands in front of her mother. Tarika puts her hands on her daughter’s shoulders, keeping her close.
     ‘My goodness,’ Tarika says. ‘What happened?’
     ‘I think Vic broke his leg,’ I say.
     ‘How?’
     ‘Fell down his stairs.’
     The squat paramedic emerges from the back of the ambulance and closes the door. She jogs into the cabin, gets in, and starts the engine. Within moments, the ambulance pulls out of the drive and into the street.
     ‘Kirit!’ Tarika says.
     Kirit runs up from where he’s been watching from the curb.
     ‘To be honest,’ Tarika says, ‘I’ve never liked that man.’
     ‘No?’
     ‘No. He is loud and abrupt. Not like you, Casper. You’re a good man.’
     The praise surprises me. ‘Thanks.’
     Tarika smiles. ‘Still, I hope he’s okay.’
     ‘Me, too.’
     ‘Goodnight, Casper.’
     Tarika escorts her kids back towards her house.
     I follow suit and go back into my own, locking the door behind me.

 

My rehab went on for two years, and would also later incorporate additional requirements, like attending pain seminars, and learning to remould life around my right leg’s new normal – no longer being able to run, very little flexion in the ankle, constant numbness and pain (that would sometimes become excruciating), and (due to the nerve damage) clawing in my right foot.

It wasn’t long after the hospital discharged me from their system that the Hachette Manuscript Development Program selected JAWiS.

What I’d originally written must’ve been cathartic, though, because when I sat down to perform the major structural revision, I had no problem cutting this scene and writing in something new.

It had served its purpose and no longer fit.