Book Extract: 'Plum' by Brendan Cowell
PLUM Is The Second Novel From Award-Winning Writer, Actor & Director Brendan Cowell.
PLUM is the second novel from award-winning writer, actor and director for television, theatre and film, Brendan Cowell. It follows his bestselling debut novel, How It Feels (2010).
Peter 'The Plum' Lum is a 49-year-old ex-star NRL player, living with his son and girlfriend in Cronulla. He's living a pretty cruisey life until he suffers an epileptic fit and discovers that he has a brain disorder as a result of the thousand-odd head knocks he took on the footy field in his twenty-year-career. From there, Plum embarks on a journey of self-care and self-discovery.
It’s an angry, authentic and big-hearted novel about men, their inarticulate pain and what it takes for them to save themselves…
Pete and Brick did this run every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday without fail, up to Kurnell on the soft sand, back to Cronulla in the wet, quick dip, takeaway coffee and home. This had them in the shower by 7 am with yesterday’s cobwebs floating out to sea and thinking that maybe a few cold ones in the arvo were more than deserved, once the chores were done and the missus was on board, of course.
‘Morning Plum!’ ‘G’day Pete!’ ‘Go you Sharkies!’ bellowed the passers-by: fired-up couples letting their tiny white yappers go nuts in the short water; older people walking hand in hand hoping they lived to see another premiership; or just locals, people he’d once met in the twelve items or less line at Coles. Bloody nearly every bastard who went by had some kind of offering to Pete, it was like it was on the syllabus, and for Pete there was no escaping it – his running flow in constant interruption, having to raise a left arm and then a right arm to wave to the breathers with every second step; Brick often mimicked it, privately wondering why they didn’t cry out ‘Brick’ at all.
But this morning the boys were both out of sorts. Where Brick would usually be pushing ahead, running backwards even, enticing Pete to jog harder, faster, he was hiding in a trot, wishing the whole thing over, his body still marinating in beer and gin and cocaine and beer and ciggies and rum and cocaine and beer. Plum ran ahead, head down. He was done with the ritual today, and by the time they reached the curve he swore to himself if one more person called out his name he might just snap and ask them where they’d met, and if they never had, then why the fuck were they talking to him? But this would get back and he knew it. Cronulla was an insular peninsula and keeping up appearances was all the rage, so when a couple in their late thirties waved over at Pete from where they were beach fishing, he went nup and ducked left up the sand dune. Riding the crest of the grassy lip, he spotted a puddle-patched path, leading up towards a cliff face.
Brick, coughing up hell, followed him for a bit, but the dunes got steep and so the still-pissed boxing brute stopped to catch some salt air. ‘Plum! What are you fucken doing? Let’s work back!’
But Plum wasn’t having it. He delved left and further inland with gusto, finding a sweet and steady trot, dodging deep puddles and wonky jutting-out ruts, making his way into sharp pastel reeds and then following an emerging fence line down into a sand valley, where Peter caught glimpses of ‘Developing Kurnell’, a popular and dividing topic at Sutherland Shire dinner parties. Not having to wave at cunts now, he used his elbows as wings and lost his prop mate way back, picking up pace with every discovered stretch of land. Stranger Country. Like being on the moon but a salt moon. Pete was amazed at the overly spacious, jog-friendly surrounds, wondering why there weren’t more people doing what he was, and why he and Brick had never broken off the sand laneways and had a gander at what went on over yonder. He’d come here a bit with footy back in the day, the Kurnell sand hills, those brutal military style drills, and a few times as a teen getting ripped and sliding down the dunes on cardboard boxes, and maybe once with his mum and sister to check out where they shot Mad Max, but not here, not where he was, and not how it was now. This was alien. Just so beautiful and alien, just so wonderfully … not like anything he knew in this town, and up until now he believed he knew the lot. He got to a clearing, still with plenty of puff, where a sign to Cape Bailey suggested he veer left and continue up the rocky pathway to where a lighthouse presented itself, white and tall and innocent. Pete said ‘Fuck’ to himself, and then stopped, looking around the place for human ruckuses, but there was nothin, just a Gore-Tex draped on a branch a bit of a way off, and a snapped surfboard down near the inlet to what appeared to be a petite, perfect beach. As he got closer to the lighthouse, the alien-ness swerved into a new dimension and Pete started to feel like he had been here before, even though he knew he hadn’t. The bulging, virginal sensation of the familiar made him start to laugh even, for the more he shook his head in amazement at the strange, other-worldly surrounds, the more he felt like this was something he had done before, in this same body, in this same lifetime.
Every fucking step, every fucking breath, every fucking puddle and leaf and seagull and poke of fresh sunlight was from an already day he had already done.
‘No,’ Pete said to the whipping, salty wind. ‘This is all new to me.’
But it wasn’t. And as the lighthouse presented itself just metres away now, Pete was trapped in the most intense sense of déjà vu he had ever had.
This is repeating. This is not original.
This is sequel. This is already?
Pete pressed his face against the cool white cement of the lighthouse and instantly fell asleep standing up. Minutes passed in somnambulance. Plum’s head connected to the lighthouse. Then, out of nowhere, them cauliflower ears on either flank of his cranium caught wind of his best-ever friend’s far-off desperate scream: ‘Plum! Where is ya, mate? It’s me, Brick Wall!’
Plum pushed off the lighthouse, electric with recognition, towards the sea.
* Plum by Brendan Cowell (4th Estate, $32.99) is available here.