Sunday, February 28, 2010

59. A life of its own

Breaking the mould was not natural. When they first started, it was more to ease the drab tedium. “Come on. You look wonderful, already.” Estella was always eager to be out of the apartment with its drawn drapes, and would tolerate Ronit’s titivations - just. Hands on hat, they flew, arms and legs akimbo, to catch the tram.

They could sense the excitement rising as they sat on the hard benches of the synagogue paying their respects to the departed and to those who made everything possible. However, once on the street, they would snicker behind gloved hands, and throw knowing looks in each other’s direction. The sheer naughtiness of it was delectable.

“Shall we try it again this week? Dare we?” Neither of them was brave without the other. But together, just as they had for nearly sixty years, they turned up Castlereagh and headed towards the Masonic Club.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

58. Rebuked

Win Tu had stormed around the apartment all morning. This often happened after an expensive all night session of blackjack. Henry had learnt that, for his wife, blackjack and Tsingtao was an explosive mixture. This morning was no different. “You very boring man.” She flung at him as she stumbled around the apartment shattering glassware and overturning photographs. “I find me young man with more spunk, Aussie man.”

As he walked the three blocks to his office, this outburst echoed around Henry’s head. It wasn’t the first time he had suffered this rebuke. He understood he was boring, but he was well respected, and that meant much to him. Hard work and dedication had earned him equality with his peers at work and acknowledgement from the families as he mingled in the Marigold each evening.

He crossed George Street, entered his building and took the lift to the 28th floor.

Friday, February 26, 2010

57. Stations of a cross

The two women, wandering the galleries as much for the cool air, as for the installations, were unaware of the agony of the fully formed consciousness before them, a sentient being silently begging for release from an existence where she had ceased, not only to matter, but to be, impaled in an ever-changing gallery, where form mattered more than substance.

Ceasing to matter was a metamorphosis recognisable by a gradual fraying of the edges, from sole to mind, an invisibility that released the body from the harsh world of reality into the unknown world of eternity. The artist as celebrant, drafting a policy white-paper on the state of modern marriage that is cognisant of a narrow spectrum of socially acceptable unions, leaving all variants to limbo forever in purgatory.

The immobile face cries out for recognition, for sustenance, for intellectual nourishment, but receives, in return, a single grain of sand.

Photo courtesy of Diane at Adventure before Dementia

Thursday, February 25, 2010

56. Meet you on Town Hall steps

As he skimmed his paper, he occasionally checked his mobile. Every so often, the paper draped over his knees, as he cradled his head in his hands. The sun was struggling to warm him through. He did not appear to be in a hurry, although flanked by easy to move and crushable luggage. His dishevelled corduroys distinguished him from the suited businessmen striding across the intersection.

These steps have lost their meeting-spot pre-eminence with the advent of mobiles. The longer he crouched huddled over his paper, the more he joined the clan of the Neanderthal. Meeting on these steps is so last century, so working class, so passé. Not that he cared.

Slowly he rose to his feet, neatly folded the paper and returned it to his back-pack, hoisted that over his shoulders, and with one last despairing look at the blank screen, turned and disappeared down into the underground.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

55. The hungry mile

His feet were aching as they slammed down on the unrelenting concrete pavement. He had one more interview to confirm. It had been a long day since stepping off the 8:55 from Grafton onto Platform 1, his list scrunched into his top pocket, his mum’s sandwiches already in his belly.

With unsteady hands, he patted the wallet in his hip pocket, as with dozens of others, he waited for the lights on the corner of George and Bathurst. How this many people could live in a place like this baffled him. People standing in queues, their eyes glazed, their brain in neutral. The noise, the slow forward shuffle, the grime and the constant danger to life and limb had put the wind up him immediately. He had lost count of the gutters he had tripped over, negotiating the city streets.

He punched the number into the mobile, and waited impatiently.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

54. Remembering Rowe Street

Little remains to tell of glories passed, save insecure, fading memories.

The elegant millinery shop of Henriette Lammotte stood shoulder to shoulder with the Robin Lea Tea-rooms of the spinster sisters, Norah and Kitty Carr, which held sway at No. 2 for eighteen years. Visiting celebrities staying at the Hotel Australia wandered along the narrow passageway, stepping on and off the gutter, mingling with the gawking lunchtime throng of shop assistants from David Jones’ Elizabeth Street store.

Not working class enough for Jack Mundey, Rowe Street and the Hotel Australia succumbed to the development push of early 70s Sydney, when Harry Seidler’s Sulman Medal winning design for the MLC Centre came to fruition, with its piazza paved with porfido imported from Italy.

Oblivious, he sips his espresso, reading his broadsheet, in a nondescript lane off Pitt Street, unaware that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Monday, February 22, 2010

53. Weathergate

The weather unleashes confusion on the populace with its heat, its humidity and its variability. Bewildered, we cope with torrential storms that unleash 100 mm within an evening. Perplexed, we grapple with temperatures that plummet twenty degrees within the hour.

The panting city quivers. The air is enveloped with heat. The earth is enclosed by heat. The very shade beneath the trees is swaddled with heat. The baking footpaths shimmer. The sultry air stifles the passageways and transpires all foliage. This furnace of air wafts skywards, extracting moisture from the already parched earth, withdrawing breath from each withered throat.

An exhausted mirage, the city levitates and climbs upwards to the building cumulus, themselves skyscraping in rolling banks along the southern horizon, multiplying toward explosion point.

Weather is to climate but a second cousin twice removed, a tenuous relationship that befuddles our thinking . We spin in an ocean of half-truths.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

52. Call them again

Bloody hell, this is a bridge too far. They are never bloody on time. I just wish they would get their damned act together and stop thinking the world is forever going to cut them slack. I’ve had it up to here with them! And what was the use of us doing all the ticket running around? It’s not as though we can get on without them, seeing as we have their bloody tickets, too! Christ, I am peeved.

Hang on Blue, I’ll dial them ag ...

Don’t call me Blue!

Whoa. Back off, charmer. I am on your side, right?

Yeah, well, I wonder sometimes. They are YOUR friends. You’re the one who suggested we experience the Indian Pacific together. Even after the disaster that was Barrington Tops. I’ve tried telling you that we’re on a hiding to nothing.

Brrring ... brrring ... followed by a hesitant “hello” ...

Saturday, February 20, 2010

51. Different drummer

When he was young he pulled the counterpane over his head and listened to the muffled sounds of the world. He liked it like that, muffled and distorted, but distant. He envisaged the shape he made from the outside, lumpy and irregular, but disguised. He carried this image of himself existing outside his own body, floating freely, listening and looking. His mother called it fly-on-the-wall-itis. He wished she did not watch him. He wished she did not know. How did she know?

Now that he is older, he has graspd the wisdom of other manifestations of singularity. Preferring one’s own company is frowned upon by others; generally, others who only feel alive in company. He frequents parks. He is neither lonely nor alone. He is simply by himself.

He doesn’t need to re-invent himself. He doesn’t need to talk. He thrives on listening, on watching, on thinking. And on writing.

Friday, February 19, 2010

50. At the crossroad

Traffic is incessant, with a never ending procession of buses streaming up the rise from the Haymarket, shuddering to a stop at the QVB stands, before crawling to their destination down at the Quay. The corner of George and Park, one of the busiest, and most complex in Sydney, has Woolworths and The Galleries Victoria to the east, and the Town Hall and the Queen Victoria Building to the west.

The belching engines of the ageing Mercedes buses combust with the agitated pedal-pumping of taxi drivers, focussed on long-distance fares and the need for continual turnover. The incessant din from cranes and jackhammers on overarching construction sites competes with the amplified tirade from the lone christian on a crate spruiking his personal vision of Armageddon and the continual horn-honking of irate car drivers exasperated and awash in a torrent of trade.

Her fresh, attentive face is oblivious to her surrounds.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

49. Thrill of the chase

His calf muscles were firing strongly, powering him through the traffic. His heart was pumping to capacity. Sweat streamed down his engorged neck veins, cooling the engine room. With a flick of the wrist, he dodged a suddenly open van door, flinging epithets in his wake. His eyes ever alert to hazards, his brain calculating angles and openings.

There is a use-by date to the life of a courier, the pressures on both body and mind being extreme. Earning a comparable salary had to be factored in, and extracted an extreme work ethic, constantly chasing the next pick-up, being prepared to service, the narrowest laneway, or the tallest office-block.

Pared down to sinewy flesh barely covering bone, his gaunt body showed the wear and tear of a gruelling morning session in the driving rain. Both pedestrians and drivers were at their wit’s end, and he was an easy, unprotected target.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

48. Rhapsody

It was in the thick of the lunch-time gaggle that he stumbled upon the cellist. The air, although sweltering as he wound his way down from the canyons of Bridge Street, turned balmy under the influence of the harbour. The promenade was littered with street-entertainers, all after the same dollar. Knife-swallowers and flame-throwers, competed with didge-players and Spanish guitarists.

He had not been looking for anything in particular and, pied-piper like, followed the beckoning sound. Everything about her mesmerised him: the angle of the bow, the wisp of yellow hair, the height of the heels and the red of the toenails. He watched as her toned arm worked the horse hair across the frets. The instrument was hollow, yet resonated so purely in the vast open air amphitheatre that was the Quay.

Even before looking up, she sensed his scrutiny and, reaching the end of the phrase, stole a glance.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

47. Endgame

Dimitri felt at home here, accepted. He was not the best of players, but neither was he the worst. He felt comfortable – hidden -here in the middle of the city, under the spreading figs with their roots riddling the pathways and their canopy killing all but the softest of winter grass in the hard-packed earth.

Whether watching from the benches, or pacing the massive chequerboard littered with fetid fruit, he felt comfortable, unlike at Railway Parade. That woman he married and his own mother - in cahoots to bring him undone -this time over how he dressed. How he dressed! How are you supposed to dress when you test the axle strength of bogies all day, week in, week out. He was content being a labourer, working in king-gees that grew grottier as the week progressed.

Leon moved his queen to take the pawn in front of Dimitri’s king’s bishop.

Monday, February 15, 2010

46. Don't look back

The whistles no longer disturbed her. They weren’t directed at her, as such. Therefore, they didn’t denigrate her. Admittedly, she had thought that at the beginning. Thought it was something to do with her. With the way she dressed. With the way she walked. With the type of woman she was. It had put the wind up her to such an extent that she mentioned it to Robyn at Fellowship.

No, you are not cheap. No, you don’t have a scarlet letter stencilled on your forehead. It is their problem. Something males do; maybe through insecurity or lack of maturity. Who knows? You just keep walking. Don’t take a different route. This will only reinforce your sense of guilt. Hold your head high. Wear the clothes you enjoy. Look straight ahead, and keep walking. Do not acknowledge. Do not provoke.

She reached the corner and, without looking back, strode on.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

45. Behind the green door

Narelle’s heart skipped as she negotiated her trolley over the gutter into Spring Street. There was the green door. Not just any green door, but THE green door. Behind this door lay her future; her future and her salvation. As her pulse thumped, she smelt the sweat seep from her pores and puddle around the follicles. There surged within her a desperate need; a need she had repressed during these six long months of treatment. The sting of the needle’s grey sludge carousing through her veins had instantly become a need, not a want.

She gulped air. She slammed her palm flat against the flaking paint on the adjacent wall. She shook her thudding head. The shudder from her knees reverberated up her spine. She froze as her confidence plumetted. From the corner of her eye, she caught the movement as the lace curtain fluttered back.

The green door opened.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

44. Redemptive peace

Draft 2
Man constructs images of his better self. Images that project the person he thinks is inside, to enable others to know him through his own eyes. See what I aspire to, not what I achieve. What I imagine, not what I am. To paraphrase Shaw, man is a dreamer who prefers to see things as they could be, rather than as they are.

This fine parish church is swaddled in rememberings of a green yet distant land, which early settlers regretted leaving whether they did so through incarceration, or through choice. They have created a fond memorial to their departed way of life more than to their redemptive God. Within these walls they have no need to view the olive-grey vegetation, nor be battered by the relentless harsh sun.

Similarly, modern parishioners are sequestered from a reality that reeks of civil disobedience and a lack of respect; where individualism reigns.

Draft 1
Built high on a ridge, deep within a scrubby eucalypt forest, is a reminder of a way of life foregone, of a landscape never to be glimpsed again. The distraught settlers probably did not see it that way, creating, stone by stone, a loving memorial to their God; a place of quiet contemplation wherein they could earn redemptive peace.

In the early days of the colony, this plot also served another purpose. It was a valiant attempt to keep the harsh Australian landscape at bay; to keep the bush under control; to ease the impact of the relentless Australian sun. Although the glorious stained glass window catches the rising sun, there are fewer windows in the nor’east and more in the south, reflecting their lost orientation.

As the years pass, this parish church is clarified into an idyll of the green and pleasant land, a bulwark to modern satanic mills.

Note:This is but a first draft. It was only after I had written the last sentence, that I realised what my topic was. So I shall rewrite later today. But first, some gardening, and then the bloody ironing. Only after all that,the pleasure of writing.

Friday, February 12, 2010

43. Being rooted to the spot

The back straight brings a need for self-actualisation, inner vision, boldness, for being open to risk. This is life’s essential narrative. To be open to risk has nothing to do with bungee jumping. Risk is a state of mind, an inclination to be inquisitive, bold and courageous in one’s choices and thought processes.

Bob Dyer used to enjoin: “the money or the box”? The box then referred to the thrill of the chase, the unknown. As age progresses that sense of inquiry is essential, but the injunction is now inverted, the box represents possessions. What age requires is freedom to choose which comes with liquidity. Physical assets weigh humans down. Both the body and the soul must be released to float, not be weighed down by possessions.

Acknowledge the inversion to Dyer’s “money or the box” injunction. Sell your house and take the money. Loosen the ties that bind. Uproot.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

42. A roof over one's head

They both include it: the UN Declaration of Human Rights, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. A basic right of humanity is to have the safety and security of shelter. Being human, we quickly latched onto the esteem and self-actualisation pointy-end of Maslow conceptualising a five bedroom, three bathroom, two garage mc-mansion, on a quarter acre block, valued into seven figures, on the right side of the tracks willed to our heirs and successors forever.

Not only to the detriment of the planet. This tirade is not about carbon footprints or resource usage. This is about greed and stupidity to the detriment of the individual. Shelter is redefined as being secure and comfortable in our own little nest. The modern need is to come home, close the door and keep the rest of the world at bay, aphorised as “a man’s home is his castle”.

The unknown no longer holds us thrall.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

41. Hydrating the brain

A thirst for knowledge is difficult to quench, each incursion into virgin territory fans the flame rather than slakes the thirst. Each ridge climbed displays an enticing vista of further gullies to traverse, revealing more distant ridges which are gained by placing one foot in front of the other.

As one ages, and none more so than when one retires, a mantra is confronted time and again: use it or lose it. Frequently, this slender logic is thrown into an argument as a form of closure against which the respondent must, necessarily, have no come-back, the applicability to the argument being self-evident. It borders upon an inverse ad hominem where the aged-one is denigrated with a feather boa ensuring the lack of relevance to the argument goes unchallenged.

Yet surely, the use of brain and body must commence at birth, to ensure all is not already squandered in the foothills.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

40. When your number's up

There’s little justice in longevity. No rhyme or reason to how many years you have on this earth, no pattern to your going. There may be individual actions that truncate life-span, like drug abuse, obesity or suicide. There might be inherited characteristics that limit life-span, like genetic predisposition to debilitating disease. There might be a preordained fate towards which individuals hurtle, like car accidents or earth quakes. There might be a malevolent, vindictive deity keen to wreak havoc on the human race, individual by individual.

But I doubt it.

My father, currently in his 89th year, is the second of four. My uncle, currently in his 91st year, is the oldest. They had a younger brother who died, aged 30 the victim of a preordained fate. They had a younger sister, who died, aged 43 the victim of obesity and epilepsy.

When your number is up, you simply shuffle off.

Monday, February 8, 2010

39. A barber of reknown

There was a time when all barbers were called “Luigi”, even when christened “Frank”. It accompanied the immaculate college-cut, turning short, plumpish Italian romeos into dapper womanisers with the feintest of grey and the largest of egos.

One such, Frank by name and by nature, ran a salon on the railway end of St John’s Avenue for over a quarter of a century, eventually attracting the manicured business type in a fine pin-stripe with the hint of pink in a button-down Gloweave, as well as the lad in his blue singlet and concrete-spattered ankle-protectors.

No sooner was the chair pumped and the paper whipped around the neck, than Frank was working his scissors in time to his larynx, the black fine-toothed comb flicking up the wayward ends, tumbling wisps of hair to ignominy on the floor below.

Frank, of course, was a font of wisdom on the machinations at Inter.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

38. One final intimacy

He guided her across the lawns. It was a delicate action, there being a fine line between concern and condescension, a line only negotiable with that abiding love that comes with time. Physically her strength was all but gone, along with much of her eyesight, her hearing having petered out some years before. But she must passage the lawns one more time, regardless of the bruising from the canula.

Lowering her onto the weathered boards, he sensed her body’s metronome adjust to that timelessness that he found sensual. Soaking up the beauty of the physical world had, from the beginning, been one of the blessings of this water room, with its harbour glimpses and its natural intimacy. He recalled the squabbles that had accompanied the planting of each mellaleuca, the siting of the bench itself requiring the patience of Job.

They sat together under the overhanging bough, in contemplative silence.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

37. Life's curve ball

As he cut across the grass to the gravel pathway, Henry left a trail in the morning dew. Being able to fund the purchase of the block behind "Strathmines" in late '57 had been a touch and go exercise, but he maintained the faith throughout the tortuous negotiations, not only with Sanderson, who was a troublesome barrister with rooms in Hegarty’s Chambers down on Phillip Street, but also with the planning department within Woollahra Council. Petty bureaucrats! They had frequently been the bane of Henry’s existence.

Crunching down the pathway toward the well, Henry’s mind’s eye filled with a vision of both he and Marjorie and Buzzy Pascoe mocking up the lay of this curve. Marjorie, usually so conservative and considered, was the driving force in the design, spending endless hours with the patient and bemused Buzzy until the curve measured up to her ideal.

Henry’s eyes welled with tears.

Friday, February 5, 2010

36. Closure

Henry and Marjorie had lived in ‘Strathmines’ for their entire married life – 63 years this coming May. Although his secondment to the RAF had ceased in August ’45, he did not receive his demob documents until the December. They had spent the summer inspecting modest terraces before stumbling upon the house of their dreams.

It was the garden that clinched it. Replete with dry-stone terraces, and scarlet geraniums tumbling from terracotta pots, it ran the full length of the northern wall supporting wild forsythia, native lilacs and espaliered sansanquas in a riot of colour and tangled branches. As one rounded the northern corner , the garden opened out to a whirl of manicured couch, fringed with trees laden with apricots, figs and almonds.

As they had nourished the garden, so the garden had nourished them. It broke their hearts to leave it, but both knew that the moment had arrived.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

35. Not on the same page

“No! You cannot do that to me! You SAID you would be here. You promised!” Her voice resounded above the suburban murmur. She stormed off, flouncing her hair in time with her pique. This was a watershed moment. The moment where there is no going back, the bridge being not only out, but looking like it never existed. Before her yawned the divide between faith and belief, one just is and the other demands construction.

She loved Timbo with all her spiritual being and all her physical strength. But a partnership cannot thrive on that alone; there must be a pathway down which they mutually agree to travel. Danni had come to terms with burning ambition, she had co-mingled pristine ability and tawdry avarice early in her twenties.

She russell’d the mobile across the pavement, skimming the blue-metal concrete before watching it shatter against the base of a telegraph pole.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

34. Getting the wind up

With her arms clasped firmly around his chest he knew her breasts were straining against his supple leather jacket. He gulped another lungful of air, and gunned it. The red Ducati 1098R responded with the grace of an Italian racing machine that has captured the imagination of millions. Torque delivered the front wheel 5 inches of clearance between bitumen and tyre, and the rear wheel was enveloped by smokin’ rubber with sufficient searing stench to seal nostrils. Her arms quivered around his chest as her legs tightened their grasp on his thighs. He could feel the warm, moist air expelled from her lungs as the exhilaration of flight set fire to her being. His right wrist worked the Rethal Kevlar throttle grips as he leaned into the first sensuous curve outside the Apollo Bay town limits on the return journey to Lorne.

He didn’t notice the gravel at first ...

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

33. On being a citizen

The drive for unquestioning obedience baffled her -
A square peg in a round hole.
When others stepped forward, she stepped back.
Asking why exploded from within,
She digged, and delved ,making acquaintance with the dark side;
The straight and the narrow held little attraction.

Evenso, the spotlight found her, magnifying her deeds;
Victory and excellence was hers for the taking
Rarely was effort or desire or will demanded.
An exquisitely formed individual, blessed by the gods
Not understanding that ability is a two edged sword,
Hence, losing her way early, enticed by the Snow Queen.

Self-delusion and hubris is the modern abyss
Into which an adoration of the singular condemns the individual.
An acquisitive march toward Mammon has been supplanted
By a blasé, empty gaze that has neither focus, intent nor joy.
Reassessing the core value of being a branch on a tree
May divert this trajectory toward destruction.

Monday, February 1, 2010

32. The tyranny of long distance

“Truck drivers are mad, you know?” the middle European twang readily apparent. “I used to drive a truck, from Dapto to Adelaide. Stupid things we did in them days.”

Wry shrug.

“Didn’t have much choice, you know? Me wife was alive then, and I had two little kids and a mother. I brought her out not long after I arrived in ’64. I came here when I was 24. No point staying in Macedonia, wasn’t called that then, was part of Yugoslavia, with Tito. Who wasn’t so bad really, but I wanted more.”

“Mmm ...”

“Driving trucks was no good. Too long without sleep. Too many rules. Too many cops. Me wife’s gone now. Three years ago. Cancer, didn’t smoke, didn’t drink. Now where’s the justice in that?”

Looking down at “The Book Thief”, I was still on page 200. The darkness had been stroking Max for over twenty minutes.