Enduring memories of Paul Haines:
Subbing for Lyn as she edited ASIM #11. Reading stories. Nope, nope, bored, yawn, nope, nope, fuck me! My first taste of Haines: Hamlyn. Halfway through, the Pied Piper sits at the base of a tree, playing his pipe, as a townswoman approaches to ask after the fate of her son. The son emerges from underneath the piper’s cloak. Wiping his chin. I’m an instant fan.
Meeting him for the first time at an Aurealis Awards after party, sometime back in 2004 or 5. We’d conversed on the mailing ,lists for a couple of years, knew each other’s attitudes– if little else, as is the usual– and shared a mutual respect. He’s loitering around the entrance to the bar as we made our way in, and hails me from a deep shadow. A tall, good-looking fellow with a beautiful head of hair and a laconic, lazy smile– I can feel the women of Brisbane going moist at the knees the moment we hit the bar. We spend an evening chasing beer after beer, leaning back and swapping stories in a mood if instant and mutual ease.
Half-time at a workshop for Aurealis nominees helmed by Ellen Datlow. I’m in a corridor with Paul and Geoff Maloney. Geoff’s just brokered an introduction for me with Sean Wallace of Prime Books, and Sean’s agreed to publish what will become my collection Through Soft Air. I’ve got Geoff bailed up against a wall and am singing the praises of Haines in a loud and insistent manner. Paul is laughing his arse off and insisting that he’s crap, and that I’m talking out of my arse. Prime publishes Doorways of the Dispossessed, and we have something else in common– publisher horror stories with which to entrance wide-eyed newbies whenever we meet.
A long, rambling, multi-post email conversation about They Might be Giants, Madness, and Thomas Dolby– blowing off steam, junking on about favourite songs, following Dolby’s blog, and hidden fandoms. A few days later, a DVD in the mail, addressed in Paul’s epileptic-seagull-with-ink-on-its-feet handwriting– His entire Dolby collection: albums, videos, the lot. Burned to disc, for no other reason than he knows I’ll dig the shit out of it.
Seeing him for the last time at Swancon 2011. Sick, wasting away, skeletal. Everybody tiptoeing around him, not saying what none of us wants to be the first to say. He spies me as I’m coming towards him. “Fuck,” he says. “You look like shit.” He’s laughing his arse off, once again, and I want to join in but I can see his eyes, and they’re like yellow coins, and there’s a nasty fever at the back of them: he’s trying to fit it all in, and say goodbye to everyone but I can see it’s eating him alive and now I’m feeling guilty because I want to join in the banter but I can’t. Later, launching his final collection, The Last Days of Kali Yuga, he reads to a room full of the best horror writers in the country, and fans, and friends, and every one of us has tears streaming down our faces, and we all line up like supplicants to have him sign our books. And I can see he’s exhausted, and that there’s no way he’s going to give up one second of this, so when it comes my time I lean forward and smile my sharingest smile and say “Say something nice, you fucking faker.” And he laughs his arse off, like he always seemed to do when we were together, and wrote “Thank God this isn’t a Prime Book.” Our shared story, one last time.
Hugging him one last time, before we all broke up and went our separate ways. Feeling the bones through his shirt, feeling him wince at the contact but not let go.
In the shower this morning. Lyn puts her head through the door. “Paul’s dead.” Bursting into tears.