Nothing ever went right for Harry Fligg so, as was the way in his country, people called him Lucky.
It was on only his second day on planet Earth, during the short period of time he was known as Paul Williamson, that his first and decidedly worst stroke of bad luck occurred. Paul and twelve other tiny infants were left in a ward under the care of a nurse who was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. This lady’s mind was so twisted and tormented, so foxily feverish, that she picked up and cuddled two crying babies at the same time, then, before laying them back down in their bassinettes a few minutes later, swapped their identification bands. She told herself this would give them something to contemplate for a while, and therefore make sure they left her in peace.
No one noticed the deception. Possibly, even the babies themselves didn’t figure out what was going on. Which meant that the real Harry Fligg became Paul Williamson and three days later left the hospital for one of the more desirable, greener suburbs to the east of the city, where he grew up rich and pampered and wanting for nothing. He went to one of the country’s most respected private schools, then to the city’s most highly-rated university, took up dentistry, made a fortune by inventing false teeth for sheep, married an attractive, intelligent and extremely rich young lady, put together a unique collection of brands of toothpaste from around the world (which he bequeathed to the City Museum), and lived in a beautiful, turn-of-the-century mansion encircled by both a veranda and sweeping lawns. At the front of the house, an ornate fountain played (atop which a cherub spouted what Mr. Williamson claimed was an eternal stream of fluoride mouthwash), while Paul and Vanessa’s two adorable, pampered children scampered around inside the house.
Although he has almost nothing to do with this story, it’s important to paint a picture of the lifestyle that the real Paul Williamson — to be known from now on, erroneously, as Harry Fligg — was sadly deprived of at such a tender age.
Taken from the hospital by his unsuspecting mother to a nondescript terrace house in a rundown street in one of the less salubrious suburbs on the other side of the city — to the west — Harry Fligg, formerly known as Williamson, was there introduced to his six snivelling siblings.
Snot and flowers were to remain two of Harry’s earliest memories. If his siblings weren’t wiping snot on him, they were dislodging it from a finger onto the edges of a curtain or the underside of some piece of laminated furniture. And the flowers he remembered were always plastic, covered in a patina of dust, or embossed on fading wallpaper, or a scarcely visible pattern on the threadbare carpet covering the unvarnished floorboards. The flora in his life was fake.
His brothers and sisters used those very same snot encrusted fingers to poke Harry in the eye or to enviously prod what they regarded as his intriguingly plump body. If they were looking for, and desired, a further reaction, they would then shake him. Only after they had grown bored by his reactions — which were almost always tearful — or stumbled on another, more promising or interesting pastime, did they leave him alone.
When the children weren’t crying in some kind of dismal, spiritually deadening choral wail, their mother was screaming in a glass-shattering aria kind of way that could well have won her plaudits at the New York Met. It was a house where no one ever spoke, they always chose to shout. By comparison, the fruit and vegetable market, held every Saturday morning in the local square, could be considered a haven of peace and tranquillity. This deafening domestic cacophony may have been the result of the television and the radio both being on at the same time all day and every day, or it could have been because raising one’s voice was one of the few ways a member of the family could hold onto their place in the pecking order, possibly even raise it a notch or two.
Harry’s putative father, rarely at home, being either at the pub or the bookies, still managed to be number one in the house by dint of a stentorian voice, aided and abetted by a mix of brute force and drunken bravado. Harry’s mother, for a short while in possession of second place in the pecking order, gradually lost this status as her offspring, growing older and bigger, came to enjoy a corresponding increase in lung capacity. Harry, being far and away the youngest and, very shortly, skinniest Fligg sibling, was always at the bottom of the pile, his ectomorphic physique too heavy a handicap for him to ever overcome.
Did no one in the family realise there was an impostor from the eastern suburbs in their midst? To put it bluntly, the mother and father were not exactly the sharpest knives in the drawer, so the short answer is, no. And there is no long answer. Nurture quickly overtook nature and it wasn’t very long before Harry was as snotty, pale and unkempt as his disagreeable brothers and sisters. It’s true that on those rare occasions when they were all in the same room together, his mother did sometimes stare at Harry and then at her husband, and she did sometimes wonder at the dissimilarities. But then it was equally true that once or twice she also stared at Harry and then at Tony, the owner of the used car yard on the corner of Gertrude and Acacia Streets, just a couple of kilometres from the Fligg home, and she wondered at the dissimilarities there, too.
‘Well,’ she would mutter to herself, lighting one cigarette from the stub of another, ‘he must belong to one of ’em.’ She thought it unlikely that any of the other infrequent, formless ne’er-do-wells, fiercely groaning as they pitched in a haze of alcohol and tiredness in the dark above her, could have been responsible for Harry; always swearing on all they held sacred (and she could never work out what this might be) that they’d take ‘precautions’.
‘And he’s not likely to have been one of them immaculate contraception thingummyjigs,’ she said to herself, in her cups, wheezing and cackling as she reminisced.
When Harry’s grandparents dropped by, they would look at the family snaps (stored haphazardly in a battered old Centrelink folder) and say, with real determination and resolute optimism, ‘Ah yes, look, he has the Fligg forehead’ (or eyes, nose, mouth), and everyone would smile and say, ‘He’s a chip off the old block, that’s for sure,’ or, ‘True enough, he didn’t fall far from the tree.’ They were either blind to, or happily overlooked, the fact that Harry was long and skinny, and would remain so until he was put in his pine box, and that the Fliggs were short and stocky, and with age only grew shorter and stockier. So Harry was soon accepted, despite many unspoken doubts from those outside the immediate family, as a one hundred per cent, fair dinkum Fligg. Lucky him!
He grew up — as babies are wont to do — went to school — as children are wont to do — and was unlucky enough to be the same age and living in the same country, state, city and suburb, and therefore to go to the same school as Joe Blackwell who, until he found Christ in his early thirties, believed his mission in life was to make everyone else’s existence as miserable as his own. This was especially true of the youngest Fligg.
Life at school for Harry soon became like life at home, a place where it was imperative to keep a low profile, and attempt to slip beneath the radar whenever possible. He became sly, adept at dodging both trouble and study. He fell in with a crowd of other kids, those like himself who didn’t feel they fitted in and spent their days trying to avoid teachers, fathers, coppers and all other authoritarian figures — including Joe Blackwell. Harry, for one, was rarely successful in any of these goals.
On the way home from school he was regularly beaten up by Joe. Nothing too serious, and seemingly never enough for any of Harry’s family to bother to get involved. ‘Toughen you up, mate, get you ready for the real world,’ was the depth of concern shown by one of his older brothers, who punctuated this fraternal advice by punching him, almost affectionately, but definitely hard, on his upper arm, then dead legging him with equal sensitivity.
Sometimes Harry would try to joke his way out of trouble, but his attempts at humour had little appeal to Joe, whose sole idea of comedy inclined towards anything that was morbidly black and detrimental to others. At other times Harry would resort to bribes of sweets or cans of soft drink. This ploy was more successful, and may have accounted for the fact that Harry grew up with a fine set of teeth and very few fillings (which would doubtless have made his biological father very proud), unlike Joe, who only found dentists when it was far too late, a few years after he found Jesus.
Only once did Harry make a serious attempt to retaliate against his tormentor. When he was ten, and out of sheer desperation, he and his best friend Dave, planned to ambush the bully outside the school grounds. Harry was to be the bait, while Dave, hidden in some bushes with his catapult, was to be the avenger.
Typical of plans thought up by ten year olds, it all went horribly wrong. Exactly as planned, Joe ran after Harry screaming undeleted expletives, catching him at the corner of the park just as they entered Dave’s line of vision. This, also, was exactly as planned. There was a brief struggle, and Dave, panicked in the shrubbery by the desperate cries of his friend, let fly with the catapult. Exactly as not planned, the stone caught Harry Lucky Fligg full in the eye, which he subsequently lost. From that date he wore an eye patch. For awhile, this attracted the sympathetic ministrations of some of the older girls in the school, who were titillated by anatomical imaginings as to what lay on the other side of the black plastic patch. It also gained Harry a certain notoriety, as well as, ironically, an aura of toughness. Fortunately, for reasons best known to himself — but perhaps having something to do with guilt (his family were Catholics) — this dissuaded Joe from bullying him any further.
It would be possible to go into Harry Fligg’s school career in great detail, but it’s scarcely necessary to do so. Like his life, it was relatively uninteresting. The truth is, the only interesting aspect of the relatively short time Harry spent on this planet is the degree of bad luck he suffered while he was here. That seems to have been his reason for being (or raison d’être as the real Harry Fligg, now Paul Williamson, would doubtless have put it). Although Harry suffered, as we all do, some bad luck on most days (not winning the lottery, missing out on the last parking space, getting food poisoning when he first travelled overseas — Delhi belly in Bali of all things — and running out of bread after the local corner shop had closed), it’s only his more impressive examples of bad luck that shall be recorded here, the more prominent events that earned him his ironic nickname.
Lucky left school when he was sixteen. He’d learnt very little (unlike Paul Williamson at his strongly academic private school for high achievers). Thanks to his mother’s intimate friendship with Tony, which she felt obliged to revive with a for-old-times-sake blow job in the dealership’s back office, Harry landed a job (of a noticeably different kind to his mother’s) at the local used car yard. He was to be the general dogsbody. He swept the forecourt, washed the vehicles and ran errands for the salesmen. It was a dead-end job, and therefore right up Harry’s street.
Despite his new, sparkling blue glass eye having to work twice as hard because of its owner’s emaciated, pale and stringy appearance, he was a bit of a womaniser was Harry Fligg. When he wasn’t chatting up the girls in the back office, he was sweet-talking the girls walking past the showroom. More mature ladies found his charm a bit on the oily side, whereas others — usually younger — fell for it in a big way. He was a good listener, and most women were so startled to meet such a singular male phenomenon, they were soon won over. And when he did speak, he would happily confess to each of these hapless females that she was the one, that he loved her madly, and that he would never set his eye on any other member of the fair sex ever again. More amazing than his lies, however, was the fact so many women believed them. It’s possible, of course, that he believed in what he said himself. Certainly his romantic avowals were delivered with sufficient sincerity to allow him the opportunity to break many a heart — and many a hymen. As he put it so succinctly, and so cynically, to his friend Dave early on in his love life, ‘As long as you get into their knickers, mate, what does it matter what you tell them?’ (Of course, if he’d been raised as Paul Williamson, it’s likely Lucky would have been just a smidgen more politically correct.)
However, he was also unlucky in love. Just two years after losing his virginity, at the age of sixteen, he picked up a girl at a party, took her down to the beach and, as he put it to one of his used car colleagues, ‘shagged her silly.’ Silly boy. Two weeks later he noted a spot on a spot where spots should not normally appear. He hoped it would go away if he ignored it, and sure enough it did. But a month later it was back with a vengeance. ‘It’s like pissing razor blades,’ he muttered, ashen-faced, at the local clinic.
‘It’s tough luck, Mr Fligg,’ said the doctor without a trace of compassion, ‘but you have an STD.’ Harry thought he was talking about some imagined interstate phone call, and denied it vehemently: ‘I don’t know anyone lives outside this city, mate. Anyways, I never touch my dick when I’m on the phone.’
Three years later, Harry met Rita — yes, it would have been more felicitous had he met Sally, but there’s nothing that can be done about it, because he didn’t — he met Rita. Another couple of years after that, he married her. Apart from his mother, Rita was most likely one of the few people who quickly realised that beneath Harry’s slick, sly and insincere exterior there lay a slick, sly and insincere interior. Yet, for reasons best known to herself, she came to accept him and who he was without too many questions and with very little introspection.
It would be nice to say Rita could have done better than a one-eyed used car salesman (Lucky had been promoted by now), but the truth is, she couldn’t have. She was plain, plump, none too bright and her dress sense was possibly even more old-fashioned than her great-grandmother’s. She married Harry because she wanted to marry someone — anyone would do — and because she believed she would be the one who would be able to reform him (by no means the first of her sex to make such an elementary mistake).
But why did Harry marry Rita? Not for love, certainly. Perhaps because she listened to him, took him seriously, hung on his every word and catered for his stomach’s every wish. In their early days together, he found her attractively ‘cuddly’ — ‘Plenty of meat to grab hold of,’ as he put it, with stunning political incorrectness, to his friend, Dave. More importantly, she posed no threat to his womanising, which he hastened to resume immediately after returning from their brief honeymoon in Bali (his first trip overseas and the one that brought about his first case of food poisoning).
Fate, however, came into play. Or, more accurately, bad luck struck yet again. About a year after he married, Lucky fell in love — truly, madly, deeply, as they say. Her name was Tiffany, and she was everything he had ever dreamt of: beautiful, stupid, great in bed and funny. Between the sheets, she even managed to make him laugh, which was an added bonus. He called her his Little Diamond, and believed his nickname was remarkably creative.
Why didn’t Harry immediately divorce Rita and marry Tiffany? Because he was too weak and indecisive. He was not the type to make an important decision like leaving his wife all by himself; that was the kind of decision that would have to be made for him. The other reason was that Tiffany couldn’t cook — could scarcely boil an egg. Once or twice she had tried to teach herself the culinary arts, but each time it had been a disaster. Harry had gagged on his very first mouthful of some ‘special Thai dish’ and been forced to confess to Tiffany that he wasn’t hungry after all (having just told her he was starving). So, with that commendable pragmatism displayed by many of his gender, Harry encouraged her to attend evening cooking classes and, in the meantime, decided to stay with his wife until Tiffany had at least been awarded her first year diploma. ‘I’ll have breakfast at Tiffany’s when you get your certificate,’ he told her. She stared at him, not understanding.
It may sound as if, at last, Harry Lucky Fligg had some good luck in his life: a wife who excelled in the kitchen and a mistress who excelled in the bedroom. And it’s true, for once Harry did feel lucky. There was, however, as always, one small problem, if not a fly in the ointment, then definitely a flea in his brilliantine. Rita soon discovered that her husband was having an affair — an affair of the heart, as opposed to his usual flings which involved another part of his anatomy. She was heartbroken. She undoubtedly loved Harry by now, and was maybe even obsessed by him. He was everything to her. She knew deep down there would never ever be anyone else, if only because she wasn’t good looking enough and was lacking in anything that might even loosely be described as a personality. (A fact known only to a few members of the family: soon after their only child was born, her parents fortuitously changed their mind about naming her Karisma.)
She pleaded with Harry. She wrung her hands and snivelled. She cooked all of his favourite dishes, and served them up with cans of beer in front of the TV. She ironed his shirts with care, even love, and once or twice even got round to ironing his jocks and socks. She wore skimpy lingerie in the bedroom (which in fact caused her husband no end of pain), and did her best to stop crying when he returned home from what he liked to describe as a hard day at the car yard. All to no avail. Harry ignored her, shouted at her, and even begged her to leave him alone. She sank into despair and took to the bottle. He sank into the armchair and also took to the bottle — as well as the remote.
One evening when Rita knew Harry was at Tiffany’s place, and was imagining in painstaking detail what they were doing together (which necessitated, according to the latest issue of her favourite women’s magazine, the use of assorted fruit and vegetables, as well as lashings of cream — all of which she vaguely recalled him unsuccessfully trying to introduce her to years earlier), she felt particularly down. She drank half a bottle of gin and cried her eyes out staring, unseeing, at yet another re-run of I Love Lucy.
She decided to end it all; she couldn’t live without her Harry, she really couldn’t. Having no sleeping pills, she staggered out onto the balcony and surveyed through tear-stained eyes the happy, twinkling lights of the city spread out below her, and to every horizon. These lights, like stars, mocked her misery, and failed to lighten the darkness of her soul. There was no point in going on, she told herself. If she could not keep Harry Fligg, then it was better to quit this world.
But, thank goodness, all was not lost. The love of her life had already left Tiffany’s flat and was on his way home. It looked as if Lucky, with luck and with only a kilometre to walk, might get there in time — just like the US Cavalry. Head down, humming to himself, Harry felt good. The truth is, he felt like the cat that got the cream — fact is, he could still taste it. The night was warm and balmy, he had just made love to a beautiful woman, enjoyed a couple of beers and everything was right with the world. For once in his life, Harry Lucky Fligg really did feel lucky.
He walked round the corner into his street and then, twenty yards further on, turned into the drive in front of his apartment block. He stopped to reach into his pocket for the front door keys, standing below his wife who was swaying drunkenly on the balcony above. If he would only look up… If he could shout to her, he could stop her jumping, he could save her life. But he hadn’t seen her way up on the thirteenth floor, and she, her eyes blinded with tears, had not noticed him.
Harry took out his keys and stepped forward. A faint noise, the merest of whispers above him, made him raise his one eye. Just as he did so, Rita, arms and legs spread wide like a parachutist, eyes shut tight like a rider on the big-dipper, landed squarely on her husband’s head, and snapped his neck, cleanly and precisely in two.
How lucky was that!