Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A country's ken

Country can offer up its secrets, he thought. If it chooses to. That place where I've felt the blood rush flowering into my loins and I knew that it had happened here. That place where I've felt dread in my bones, that sense of death, and I knew that it had happened there.

On his way to work, the day after the woman had told him the story of his friend's death, he rode his bike into the place. It was a lay-by for lovers and stoners; a quiet place away from the road. He laid his bicycle aside and stood in the clearing. He waited.

He waited for the bush to tell him what had happened there two days ago.
But it didn't. The birds and the scrubby trees and the soil went about their business of food/sex/death. Old acacias and weeds stood craggy and wooden in the morning heat. A breeze circled in the black dirt. A honey eater shrieked at a neighbour.
The bush was indifferent to what had happened here. It just didn't care.
He got back on his bicycle and rode to work.

007

Scrabble, the Wrong Man and the Crocodile

Scrabble nights can be wild. Mondays, when the townsfolk are tucked up by the fire, the four of us true believers go out into the darkened streets, where we tuck up by someone else's fire, eat copious amounts of food and then sit down to some serious Scrabble.

There's 007 and his faithful sidekick Fiddy Cent (cos he's black), Haimona the Classy (cos he knows a classy Valiant Charger when he sees one), the Matron (her vocation) and me. The Matron's boyfriend owns a winery. I'll leave it at that at the moment. Our Sunshine used to play, until she left the state on pressing business.

I left the state on pressing business once, by default. A convoluted and upsetting tale of being unable to fall out of love with the wrong man, I had to go in a hurry. 

The bar manager whom I worked for had to leave in a hurry too. A crate of Korean rice whiskey from the freighters was his undoing. Staff at the Emergency waiting room were cleaning stomach linings off the vinyl chairs for weeks. Or was it the drugs? I don't recall which one was the catalyst, but I know that as he got cockier, produce went over the table rather than under. He offered me a lift through to Geraldton.

007 insists on Fiddy Cent sitting at the table, even though Fiddy Cent is a dog and we're all eating our dinner. "He's my partner. Did I tell you about the time he won the game for me?" says 007. "I was losing badly, taking hits left right and centre. I was going down, when Fiddy leapt up and put his paw on three letters! D! O! G!. 'Gosh Fiddy!' I said to him. 'You've just won me the game.'"
Fiddy is sporting a new trim, so his beady eyes study me across the table. "Yes, I don't really remember doing that," 007 says worriedly. "I got up in the morning with a thumping hangover and the scissors were on the table and Fiddy's hair all over the floor ... not a bad job ... anyway, try some of this wine, it's two ninety nine a bottle. Not bad at two ninety nine, not a bad drop at all."

Fiddy jumps down and is whining at the door. He wants to go outside but the doggy door is working and poodle perversity means he has to sit and whine for a bit before using it.
"What's wrong with Fiddy Cent?" asks the Matron. She leers indulgently at the dog through her thick glasses.
"Fuck, man," 007 says to his dog. "They don't all hate you, just relax." He turns to us and explains; "He thinks you all hate him because he's black."
"Nonsense," says Haimona. "Some of my best friends are poodles."

After getting blown out of Geraldton, I jumped truck over and over. Going north and I climbed into the nerve centre of monstrous iron roaches - a moment of reckoning with the driver who sweated diesel from the cracks and pores in his face, looked me up and down. The old ones were okay. Stories were my passport.

A truckie drove me to a pub in Cyclone Alley; fibro, two storey, flattened three times and rebuilt three times. I asked for a job. For five months I hung out the guest's linen, fresh and sun-glared, smelling like the sea. I read The Songlines, a little bit every day, in the geologist's air conditioned donga.

We set up the board and draw our letters. Haimona gets out his clipboard. I can tell by his groans that he is already suffering a vowel obstruction, an irregular complaint.
"At least it only happens once a week," the Matron empties her glass and pours another two ninety nine. She opens the game, an eight pointed 'lust', and looks meaningfully at an oblivious 007.
Haimona and I study our racks, hard. Old people. They're so disgusting. 

I ended up in Darwin, writing fugitive love letters from the second storey of a block of flats. He wrote back and told me he'd eaten lasagna for lunch and that it was cold in the mornings. 

A Papuan woman called Alice lived next door to me. She cried a lot. She had two Aboriginal husbands and she didn't speak much English. Long Grassers drank in the lot behind us, fought like cats in the night. Bats thundered or clattered out of trees above my head.

Near the flats squatted the infamous fisherman's pub, Stella's. One night, the grizzled women deckies jeered at us tender yearlings, called us Veal, so my English Rose flatmate and I took our cask of fruity and left for the jetty. 

I dared her to swim naked with the resident crocodile and she did it, so I did too.

Having survived the truckies, the law, the crocodile ... goodness me - here I am arguing Scrabble with a retired journalist. "There's no i in hex."
"There's is - if you are a Kiwi. Which I am, I'll have you know."
"When you're not being a Mauritian. Make him put it back, Haimona!"
The table-thumping Matron makes the tiles bounce. 007 takes his back. The Matron takes another slug of two ninety nine.
007 tries another tack. "Did I ever tell you about how Fiddy Cent won the game for me?"
He tells us the story again. Then I say what happened to me during the day, this Monday, on the grass outside the library. 

I was wearing a blue Tshirt and the sun was shining. I was reading a book but I saw him, this wrong man who sent me haretailing it to Darwin twenty years ago. 
He stepped down from the footpath, put down his bag of books and sat with me for a while.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Get a dog!

In amongst some of the chaos of the last few weeks, I seem to have acquired a puppy. Because that is what you do right?


Selkie is quick and clever and a rather sleazy dingbat ... and I have a feeling that she will become a good friend.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Driving it home

I asked at the police station if I could have a copy of my statement, and also if they could ring the wreckers/tow truckers to let them know that I was about to pick up his car.

'Just go down there and ask for Mike,' said the officer. 'I've told him you are coming down.'
Mike is an old boat builder friend of mine and he was standing out the front when I arrived.
'How you going Sarah?'
'Oh, I've had better weeks ... Is there anything you can prepare me for, Mike? What is the car going to look like?'
'Dunno Sarah. I haven't seen it. I'm sorry about your friend but I don't know about the car. Look. Here is the guy who's dealing with it:'
A young man came out and shook my hand. He said his name was ... God I can't remember. I just remember that he was too young and gorgeous to deal with this shit. He said 'Follow me, I'm in that white ute over there.'
I followed him along the side roads to the industrial area to a shed that used to be the old confectionery warehouse. He unlocked the side door. We stepped inside.
There must have been sky lights. The first thing I saw was the white van. Behind it was a wrecked car and some complete four wheel drives. He stood beside me. 'The keys are in it.'

There was a sticker over the driver's side door. It said 'Evidence'. And something else.
I picked at the sticker. It peeled off in stupid tiny pieces. I didn't want to open the door.
'Did you know him?' he said.
'Yes I did. He was a friend. He was a good friend.'
'I had to pick up the car, after,' he said. 'I wasn't too happy about that. Where they found him ... it was pretty out of the way. I don't know how they found him. Do you know how they found him?'
I shook my head and opened the door. The coroner's sticker cracked. I looked inside.

I didn't want to sit in the driver's seat. I looked around and found a towel, laid it over the seat. Then I got in. His boots were where he'd taken them off by the accelerator pedal. A glass, the glass he'd been drinking from lay beside the seat ... I turned the key and the car didn't start.

'Jesus. How do I start this thing.'
''Maybe it has an immobiliser.'

At that moment, I felt absolute rage. You fucking prick. I loved you so much and you topped yourself in this fucking car and you didn't even have the decency to tell me where your immobiliser is. I hate you. This is a shitty pricky thing piled on top of a really fucking pricky bad week. And you didn't tell me where the immobiliser is you fucking bastard.

I may have said all of that out loud in front of the young lad who, as a panel beater, may not have been trained in the same way as police or paramedics are in death and various daily trauma. Not sure.
'I'm so sorry,' I said to him then. He looked away. 'I'm really sorry you've had to deal with this.'

I found the immobiliser switch and started the car. Then I stopped the car because it stank of death and fumes. I got out and walked around the car, opening all the doors, breaking open all the coroner's stickers. I realised that the tow truck driver was still waiting for me to drive the car out so he could lock up, so I shut all the car doors again and drove out of the shed.

I drove up the road in a van covered in coroner's stickers and turned onto Albany highway. I drove along that highway for about five minutes before I realised I was in trouble. The fumes had soaked into everything and I was getting dizzy. I stopped. I didn't know what to do. In the end, I just opened all of the windows and drove the rest of the way with plastic bags and various detritus of my friend's life flying around the inside of the van as I drove it home.


I found a man!

I found a man!
Who lies quietly and lets me wriggle into desire. I found a man who lifts the cat off my bed and gently throws her aside. Who eats me from inside out and brings me gifts of wood, books, feathers and stone.
I found a man!
Who drives me across non-existent highways and canoes me into caves. I found a man whose body and knowledge feels out his boodja. Who hands me a cardboard box of bees and says, 'Don't open it. Just listen.'
I found a man!
Who takes me up the mountain and shows me his secrets. I found a man whose small silver bowl of stones, wood and fungi is his shrine to me. Who drives me towards Black Mountain as the lightning forks all around us.
I found a man!
Who, when his wife rings, turns off his phone and places it carefully on the bed linen. I found a man whose eyes change from brown to green to impervious. Who says 'You are my best friend'. Who loves me. Who avoids me in public spaces. Who knows everything about me.
I found a man!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Monday, November 3, 2014

Love and War

Well, from a grumpy old woman who was going to leave town, I managed to stay right in the beating, bloody heart of Albany's ANZAC commemorations for about four days. There were two ways I managed to achieve this 1) my bicycle and 2) my lovely quiet little blue room at the uni, right next to the main stage. Most of the time I was oblivious to the chaos. I could hear helicopters, loudspeakers, shrieking kids, music, the grunts emanating from the interpretive dance troupe, helicopters, air force flyovers, bagpipes, fog horns, laughter, kids on skateboards, someone playing a violin.

I wrote a lot. Occasionally I'd head out along Stirling Terrace and wonder at this town. At some stage I'd like to mention Peter FitzSimons' red bandana but I'm guessing that because Gallipoli, it's not appropriate to do this right now. (Oh wow. So I right click on the wriggly red line under Gallipoli and spellcheck blogger gives me 'Megalopolis.' Gets better.)

On Friday, my Dad finally retired his working life with a last blast from the cannon he's been nurturing for quite a few years now. It was the opening ceremony.


Later he told me he'd been hit in the guts by the cannon's recoil, because the television crews wanted the shot firers to stand to attention directly behind the cannon.
"You did well Dad, to stay on your feet. I never even noticed."

Just before he lit the fuse, I told him that his grandson's other grandfather had died the afternoon before. I felt bad about that later. I knew it was Dad's moment but I also knew that he understood the legacy of war and that his one shot, that one across the harbour with the police boats and barges and television crews, was all about wars.
Dad and I have clashed over war for years. He's a military historian, a gunsmith and a black powder man. I'm an old hippy. We agree about a lot of things : history, literature, politics: but the history, politics and literature of war often divides us.

Anyway ... Stormboy's paternal grandad died on Thursday. Stormboy's Dad rang me not long after he'd found his body. He died in his sleep, he said to me. He'd been eating tinned fruit, SPC fruit salad, put it down, turned over and just bloody died.
My ex-partner was dithery, drunk and quite distressed. He wanted to know how to tell his son.
"You know," I said to him on the phone, "this whole war thing this weekend and your father dying today ... I know he wasn't a soldier. He was a farmer ..."
"Oh yes," he said. "But he was a product of the war alright."

Stormboy's great grandfather fought that WW2 campaign in North Africa for nearly four years and by all accounts he returned a different man; a violent, angry, drinking man. Every family has a story like this one. No one in his family escaped the beatings. When Stormboy's grandfather was fifteen, his father rolled the car, killing himself and several of his children. Stormboy's grandad had to leave school and work to support his Mum and sisters and brothers. It sounded like he hated school anyway. Stormboy's grandad always struck me as a hard little bastard. The first time I met him, soft and in love with his son, he shocked me with his swift, nasty up-and-down and the 'get the fuck out of my shed, woman' look.

I hadn't really thought about all this lately, until the other day. And there is my Dad, firing off his last salvo at the opening ceremony of the ANZAC stuff. The last time I saw Stormboy's grandfather it was a reconciliation, on both our behalves, a knowing each other for who we are as people.

I spent the whole next day under my doona. It was Saturday and all the parades were happening. The warships were maneuvering around the Sound. Prime Ministers gave speeches. Apparently it was amazing. I didn't want to look at anyone. I cried, a lot. There was other stuff going on ... I've found this ANZAC to be an intensely emotional experience.
For me, it's been about men; about watching my son's stoic, quiet response to the news of his grandfather's death and wondering about that. He was so quiet. As a woman, I will wail and fall to the floor, or get too drunk or smoke too many cigarettes, or start a fight.
Don't worry. I'm not pushing him. I know his grief will burst out sooner or later.

Last night I danced with sailors who were shipping out this morning.A local band played Irish music and sailors danced like they were at any club in the world. It was getting lumpy. The bouncers circled after a kid who looked about twelve years old skulled a jug of beer. I could have given birth to any of these kids, I thought, they are just babies. A couple canoodled in the corner. They'd been deployed on different ships for nine months and last night was their only night together.

After the rain, I watched an Illuminart show projected onto the Town Hall and then rode home on my bicycle through moonlit puddles. It's so thrilling riding a bike at night with no lights. I chanced death last night. Yeah. I chanced death. On my bicycle. Hunched over the handlebars and thinking about those baby soldiers who were the same age as my son is today.