Monday, May 31, 2010

151. A sense of belonging

Roman could hear the blood swooshing through his veins. He most certainly knew he was alive. He could feel a quiver through his leg muscles. He pushed the underneath of his shoes firmly into the dockside to stop the quivering, which was disconcerting, to say the least. Up until now, he had thought himself to be excited; excited for the first time since he had waved farewell to his mother on the hillside outside of Assisi.

Through the stale cigarette smoke and the body odour, which even the most spiced of aftershaves could not smother, Roman had smelt the anxiety on his father as he scurried away over the coils of rope, toward the red phone booth. Uncle Giuseppe was nowhere on the dock, all that Guido had was a series of numbers on a scrap of paper from an exercise book. He left Roman alone on the foreign dock.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

150. A maze

Hansel and Gretel at least had an exit strategy. Poor Henry had no need of such a bow in his quiver – he could never find an entry point. Life was a hurtling journey for him. Forever searching, neither finding nor understanding.

Like that recurring dream of the long, dark corridor with closed doors down either side. From beneath each door, light struggles into the corridor. The lost soul scurries down the dim corridor trying each handle with an increasing sense of panic, all to no avail. A white light glares from the end of the corridor concealing its length. The closed doors keep on coming.

The problem is that Henry is wide awake.

Pathways lead to the right, and to the left. The road ahead stretches on, and on. Signs speak in a gibberish that Henry has never learnt to comprehend. Henry hears a loud ticking from inside his head.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

149. The good old days

Keith visited Sydney twice a year spending time with Bev and his granddaughters. He always looked forward to it, and it always disappointed him. Well, disappointed is the wrong word. He no sooner arrived, than he wanted to return to Cairns. The people in the city worked to a different time-piece from Keith. He liked it slower, quieter, friendlier. He preferred a routine that he saw a purpose to.

Bev seemed to understand this. A few visits back she handed him a map of the harbour, showing all the islands, and all the ferry routes. She also gave him a medium black texta. Each morning on her way to work, she dropped him at the Rose Bay ferry jetty with a cheery ‘hoo roo’.

Back in Cairns, Keith had worked the Daintree River vehicular ferry from when he left school at fifteen until they dumped him when he turned 65.

Friday, May 28, 2010

148. Scratching an itch

Glen and Ilsa had spent five years in air-conditioned besser-block accommodation in the small town of Karratha in the north of Western Australia. They were starting to feel stir crazy. Although the life was of their choosing, the money being irrestisible, the conditions were stultifying. They received generous housing allowances, together with regular periods of leave, but felt they were losing any real world perspective. They saw the world in terms of red earth, holes in the ground and tyres the size of two storey buildings.

Since being head-hunted for a key metallurgist role with Hammersley Iron, Glen had taken his leave either in Perth, to catch up with family, or in Bali where he and Ilsa mixed with the ‘platform’ families. They dreamt of breaking this cycle by walking across the bridge in Sydney.

They grinned at each other and started up the stairs.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

147. The customer is often not right

The words of Sir Humphrey echoed in Diane’s head: ‘Hospitals would be so efficient if it weren’t for patients’. She had never been one for confrontation, neither in her professional nor private life. She took the pragmatic approach of conciliation, negotiation and compromise. The older she got the clearer her fall-back position appeared, the point where she could live with the outcomes. However, she was meeting more and more people who found it difficult to compromise because their opinions were entrenched, correct and they had rights. Diane inwardly quivered and a slight moan escaped her taut lips.

She shook her head, hearing once again the admonition, ‘How dare you’! She had almost expected it to be followed by the classic, ‘Don’t you know who I am’? It had always annoyed Diane that shouting and spluttering and causing a scene, got the desired result, that rules did not apply to everyone.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

146. The road is long

Maisie had wanted to be a teacher since Third Class with Miss Sharkey. Not that Miss Sharkey had anything to do with Maisie’s burning desire, just the opposite. You see, when Maisie was in Third Class, Faye Cox became the first kid in the street with a television set in her front room. On Tuesdays at 7 o’clock, Maisie was invited to watch ‘Leave it to Beaver’ where upon she fell instantly in love with Miss Landers.

Nowadays, Maisie is a Relief Teacher for her local zone, specialising in Middle Primary. On days when she doesn’t get a call, she finds it hard to switch off and swings into ‘explaining mode’ at the slightest provocation. She has been an avid angler since hooking up with her second husband, able to tell the difference between flathead and mullet, between leather-jacket and bream.

She is blessed with the best of both worlds.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

145. The man on the steps

Every synapse was
on edge. As a trapped fox,
he cringed into the fence line
with every approaching footstep,
with every brush of a passing coat hem.

His breathing shallow, his hackles erect,
a tremor enveloped his gloved hand.
Through a film of fear, he focussed
on his knobbly brush, an extension of his hand.
If it were to regain movement, the urge
to flee may subside.

Wrapped in its tourniquet of anxiety,
his heart beat with a ferocity
that blacked out thought; that banished
the very act of reason from within his body.
With a supreme act of will, he entered
the vortex of that fear -
quelled the interaction,
quieted the boiling blood,
stilled the quivering hand.

A globule of spittle burst from his lips,
Dropping in a mouldy splatter.
From without himself, he watched it arise,
a lace-work of rebound; before dissipating.

A sob wracked his chest.

Monday, May 24, 2010

144. Piering into the sea

Dressed in heritage colours, ‘Proclaim’ responds without complaint – as many old ladies do – to the gentle coaxing of the wheel , as her starboard side slowly docks with the sodden lumber of the jetty. The weathered timbers creak and groan as the wash rhythmically rocks the joists of the fifty metre pier. Small flakes of paint detach and flutter down onto the chilly water.

The mid-morning sun peers through the gaps between the planks on the jetty, spotting the drifting dust motes, and reflecting from the water’s surface to the underneath of the pier. A dazzle of refracted colour ensues as beams of light split both water bubbles and grains of salt.

A lone jelly fish mushrooms its way to the surface, blop blop, the ghostly wraith of the sea. The fine turquoise water exposes the flashing darts of silver, as the bottom is ploughed by tiny puffs of sand.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

143. The comforting quiet

They had been friends since 2nd Form high school, when they took elective art with Mr Clegg in the Tech Drawing block behind the weather sheds. Both Sue-Ellen and Nance had indulged in relationships occasionally and, indeed, had married. But few things are permanent, few things save Neil’s singleness. Neil had never indulged. He did not know how to, or why.

They had always met regularly, rarely letting it lapse more than two or three weeks. However, once they turned forty a change came over their relationship. An unstated need hovered above them, a need for family. Without being so gauche as to verbalise this, they started meeting regularly. Every Wednesday they packed a thermos and a salad roll, gathered their artist’s tools and repaired to a quiet part of the harbour.

As they sketched the numbness eased. Trust grew and they each let the other in. Just a little.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

142. Raking over the coals

His effervescent personality reflected in his eyes and his quirky smile. As the ‘show’ commenced, Richard sized up his eager audience and knew he could flick the switch to vaudeville. He had long determined that being a tour guide was more performance than teaching, that there was little point knowing a subject backwards, if you were unable to lead an audience to a deeper connection.

Richard learnt the historical dates and events, the geographical and geological background, and then searched deeper for a connecting mechanism. He needed to bring the cast of characters who lived on this island to life, to breathe relevance into them, to allow them to strut upon his stage. His knowledge was peppered with important historical figures, with generals, governors, explorers and inventors. It was when he stumbled upon the lives of the island’s convicts that he made his own connection.

‘Come and meet Boney Anderson’.

Friday, May 21, 2010

141. Don't move the urn

Bill was Marjorie’s second husband, but few people knew this, certainly not their five children, or their many grandchildren. Even Marjorie frequently failed to remember. Bill, on the other hand, never forgot. Because, you see, Howard was still with them. Their marriage was now, and always had been, a threesome.

They had removed themselves to their boatshed, when the big house on the rise, overlooking the bend in the river, became too much for them. Not too much to tend, it had always been thus, but too much to contemplate, to rattle around in. They offered the house to whomsoever of the children was prepared to have ‘them’ living at the bottom of the garden. A few eyebrows were raised, and breaths sucked in, but eventually Eleanor, the girl in the midst of all that rowdy testosterone, agreed to the pact.

This way, Howard did not have to move either.

A member of the Weekend Writer's Retreat.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

140. Coming or going

The theory is that it is good to know where you have been so that you can work out where you are going. Generally, this is used when referring to nations, but it is applicable to families, and even individuals. To me, it means that it is a good idea to learn from and build upon what has gone before. This is a different kettle of fish to the other maxim that is bandied about: ‘those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it’. However, upon reflection one could be the obverse of the other – the positive, followed by the negative.

Families are dynamic entities to ponder, dynamic meaning fluid and ever-changing. It is salutary to compare the pathways taken by the families of siblings, and to trace the impact of differing personality traits as they bind or divide, traits like openness, conviviality, and a certain meanness of spirit.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

139. The grand old man

Squashed in the corner of the living room, the television set was another person in the house to be paid no heed until it uttered something of interest. The light from the black and white newsreel flickered as the familiar footage rolled. The crush on the steps of The House, the Secretary brusquely pushed aside, “Well may we say ... “.

Soaking wet, I rushed in from the shower. What’s happened? Catching the end of the voice-over, I gathered the familiar story: from assisted care to nursing home; wife of 68 years needing care herself. I stood there, dripping on the carpet, lost in reverie, until the goose-bumps dragged me back to reality.

As I threaded the damp towel back on the rail, and reached for a pair of socks, I reminded myself, when the time comes, to line the streets to say ‘thank you’.

For turning the lights on.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

138. A grisley find

Len had taken the call at first light. The informant was confused. old and female, and not very talkative. But, Len got the gist that there was a body under the pier behind the fishermen’s co-op, a dead body, at that. With the steam still rising from his first coffee of the new day, Len slipped his holster onto his waist clip and headed out in the direction of the co-op, three piers down behind Walker’s Chandlery.

He started to jog when he saw a crowd had already gathered. Bloody hell, people - get a life. Wedged between the slowly rotting stanchion and the chicken mesh that protected the last pen of the marina, the body was edged with blood-encrusted flotsam. He took the turquoise twine wrapped around both ankles as a clue. This was no routine death.

His pulse-rate quickened rapidly as his minds-eye flicked through the procedures manual.

Monday, May 17, 2010

137. By the wayside

Down in the recesses of my backpack, tattered and dowdy, and bereft of cover, lurks a cheque book. Rarely does an occasion call for its use, as it passes on into obscurity. Technology of an age passed, a reminder of ‘Principles of Book-keeping’ with Mr Landers, down in the lower transportables – fondly known as ‘Siberia’ – at Muswellbrook High School in 1962. I felt so grown up learning how to write a cheque. I glowed inside with self-importance.

I wonder when Pamela O’Malley Jones learnt to write a cheque, just as I wonder what else she has misplaced, and does she have a ‘key’ routine as she enters her house each evening. I THINK I have a key-routine, but as I rarely follow it, I guess the word ‘routine’ is erroneous. Hopefully soon, ‘Screen Trees Aust.’ will rocket said O’Malley Jones for non-payment.

I wonder what she screened with the trees.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

136. Language without words

The rise to the gates, although gradual, was constant, and neither of them was as young as he had once been. Each man’s posture hindered his ability to drive his body harder. They each eased the pace and shortened the stride, as their need for oxygen heightened. They fell silent.

Not that they had previously been talkative, far from it. They appeared brotherly in many respects, as they trudged the uneven pathway. Not bothered by a social need to keep the conversation flowing, they moved along through the early morning sunshine in companionable silence.

Part-way up, beneath the spreading limbs of a tortured fig, they stumbled upon an aged bubbler on its stone pedestal, its porcelain bowl replete with ferrous stains. Hunching their shoulder blades and splaying their legs, they each bent for a long guzzle, before rising to their full height to survey the park laid out before them.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

135. From a distance

Seeping into his buttocks, the cold of the marble began to affect Iain’s concentration. He regretted not tossing his ‘num-bum’ cushion into his backpack. These steps were his shed. Here he was, in the centre of a teeming city, and yet invisibly getting on with ‘secret men’s business’.

Iain tolerated the ‘born again’ bloke on the western corner until the blooming megaphone waved in his general direction. He studied the antics of the ‘Big Magazine’ hawker on the eastern corner, as he endeavoured to track down the soft touches passing by. He was relieved that he was too far from the sad-case endeavouring to blast out Elvis on the treble recorder. From experience, Iain realised that the more pathetic the guilt-trip, the more coins in the coffer come the end of the shift.

He stretched the small of his back, and adjusted both numb cheeks.

‘Blimey, I’ve read that bit.’

Friday, May 14, 2010

134. Under pressure

He was definitely under pressure. The day was hot, the humid air was breathless. And, Glen was very keen to infect his audience with his own passion. Too keen. There is but a short distance from infect to inflict.

Meet Glen. His chosen topic is the Art-deco of the lower CBD of Sydney. Trailing him this morning, hanging off his every word, are close to forty middle-aged urban explorers. Unfortunately for Glen, these travellers are experienced walkers. And, when it comes to posing searching questions - m’dear – they don’t give a damn.

The perspiration commenced early. The voice croaked. The hands flailed. The memory froze. Without the individual microphones of the Coliseum in Rome, or the fluttering flag of the Campo in Siena, the troupe negotiated Glen’s path through the middle of the twentieth century.

Hopefully, he was wiser for the induction. He had to front again the following weekend.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

133. Slipstreaming

The bells of St Mary’s were pealing rather than tolling. The members of this peloton were the antithesis of Donne’s ‘islander’. They needed each other and they knew it. With each successive lap of Hyde Park in the early Sunday morning sun, the lead changed as each athlete jockeyed for the position mapped out by their coach – or their Dad.

As they careered around almost deserted city streets, there was desultory applause from pedestrians who were, yet again, inconvenienced by the requirements, not so much of the athletes, but the city management who had hired the streets out to provide an income stream. Fog-horns bellowed at the occasional transgressor who desperately needed to be on the other side of the street.

The thin titanium wheels zinged as the finely crafted calves pushed down on the pedals. Conserving their energy, there was no muttered conversations. Just a steady inrush of air.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

132. From the rafters

There is an elemental quality to rope, similar to rust or bark or clay. There is a solidity, a strength, to the image. The difference being that rust and bark and clay are naturally occurring whereas rope, whether twisted from hemp, coir, sisal or jute, is created by man rather than being of first principles.

One length of thick, knotted rope can be used to determine the comparative strength of two teams in ‘tug-o’-war. Another length of thin, knotted rope can be used in a ‘cat-o’-nine-tails’ to determine the strength of a man’s back.

A twist of rope highlights the benefits of working in cohort. When braided together, single fibres are imbued with a superhuman strength. A single strand of jute would struggle to hold an ship to its bollard, or hoist a pallet of bricks to the mezzanine floor. Or hold aloft the condemned man over the yawning gallows.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

131. Hub of the known world

As he strode across the forecourt towards the escalators, Andrew reflected upon the divide that had opened over time between himself and his brother. Harold, as the elder of the four sons, had inherited the family property out beyond Coonabarrabran. Being a rural family from conservative Presbyterian parents, this was the only pathway considered.

Andrew, even now, is astounded at his relief that the chips fell that way. Harold is a shell of a man, a bachelor who works like a dog, and lives for his dogs. As nominal head of a broad family, he neither communicates nor participates. Love has shrivelled inside, just as his body has withered outside.

Andrew tugged the wheels from the grip of the jaws of the escalator, shaking his head at the grim task which lay ahead of him. Convincing Harold would be neither easy nor pleasant. However, choice was no longer an option.

Monday, May 10, 2010

130. Down by the fisherman's wharf

Banking and plummeting with the on-shore winds, the seagulls squawked overhead as Elaine and Jim eased back into the rattan chairs on the veranda of the weatherboard cottage close to the inlet. Beside them, jutting out 50 meters into the waters of the bay, stretched the timbers of the wharf, which had seen better days.

It had been a most satisfying day, and a long time since simply mooching had felt this good, without a non-productive guilt setting in, especially for Jim. He had toiled for so long now, that the hours, the stress and the looming penury seemed like God’s sentence for some unfathomable wrong.

Blinking into the salty glare, Jim wiped the paper towel across the corners of his mouth, pushed his chair back from the wobbly table, and levered himself erect. He felt a slight pang. Apparently you rarely know the big one when it strikes you.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

129. From the side-lines

Now that they were retired, Mary and Louisa enjoyed gallivanting. Partnerless, they relied upon each other for company and to keep costs manageable. They mixed it about, scheduling local day trips, a week here and there around their own country, together with longer journeys to favoured locations across the globe. Money would peter out sooner, rather than later, but you can’t take it with you.

Louisa was a firebrand in her own last-century way. Not that she would shout her perturbations to the rooftops, or brandish weapons of singular destruction. It was a digging in of toes, a refusal to budge. Mary, by contrast, calmed the waters. Although having a mind of her own and a readiness to strike an attitude, Mary was a classic pragmatist, preferring to make slight progress than stand still.

The friends spent many hours on small craft gliding through the backyards of other people’s lives.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

128. Moving on

And so they waited. Tourists and locals disembarked from the vessel and scampered up the steps to the pier on which they squatted. They pulled their feet back languidly to avoid the thin wheels of the luggage and the wide wheels of the barrows bound for the big house at the top of the hill. They waited silently.

The elderly lady with silver hair was carried down the slip-free treads, her wheel chair following behind on broad shoulders. Their eyes followed silently. They did not acknowledge. They waited.

A tray of breads and pastries was loaded onto a barrow. A wicker basket piled high with cauliflower, and cabbage, and carrots, and a variety of necessary vegetables was plonked on the planks beside them, so close they could smell the clinging soil.

Their eyes crossed, but they did not flinch. They were not in the here and now. They were waiting.

A member of the Weekend Writer's Retreat

Friday, May 7, 2010

127. Marginalised

Annie’s watery eyes followed as the girl with the embroidered jacket finished her egg and lettuce sandwich, and tossed the remainder in the bin. Annie levered herself from the bench, and using her stick, hobbled over to retrieve the leftovers.

Annie spent her mornings here in the park. Her Centre-Link was just down the block in Pitt Street, and the TAB across the road from that. With her Pension Card she managed an endless-cup of coffee at Maccas beside the Paragon Hotel, and that, together with an apple pie and a fag, was breakfast dun’n’dusted.

This park was good to Annie. The buildings were just far enough back to enable the winter sun to stream in from nigh ten in the morning until mid afternoon, when Annie adjourned to the Paragon for an amber ale. Annie didn’t realise that this was her version of living between Lark Rise and Candleford.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

126. Narcissus vs The Barbarians

There once was a man called John, but me and the others didn’t get along with John and told him to take his bat and ball and stick it where the sun don’t shine. Then me and the others met a bloke called Kevin. Kevin told us he had a lovely piece of willow and would let us see it later.

Kevin only liked to pad up to Dorothy Dix. But even with Dorothy’s gentle swing deliveries, Kevin didn’t stand up straight and tall and smash the bastard into next week. Oh, no. Kevin would execute a tickle down to fine leg, or attempt to slice it through the slips. Increasingly the daft bastard just let the delivery go through to the keeper. He seemed to have forgotten we were playing, too.

I got despondent with all the smoke and mirrors, and looked around for an opening bat with balls.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

125. The heft of a kindle

Darting through the traffic, Grace dodged the black Panther as it was heft onto its stand, and stood on the threshold of the bookshop. Adjudging the layout, she headed down the far aisle beyond the ladder to the ‘Poetry’ section.

She trailed her index finger along the spines of the books standing haphazardly on the shelves. Her finger paused as she came upon a dull red-backed volume with the word ‘Paterson’ picked out on the spine. Grace eased the book from its resting place, and gingerly opened it. The antique scalloped pages were yellowed with age. Resting the evenly balanced tome in the palm of her hand, she buried her nose into its essence and took a long sweet draught.

Replacing the book on the shelf, she swung her satchel over her shoulder and stepped out onto the footpath. She would download a copy to her kindle later this evening.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

124. The ayes have it

When Bill’s unsteadiness became obvious, he accepted a walker from Elaine. Bill found this a challenge. The walking was easier, he would grant that, no longer ricocheting off walls or tripping over gutters. No, the coming to terms was psychological.

The saving grace was Archie, a miniature short-haired Dachshund, that young William had unearthed out at Yagoonga. He and Elaine were looking for a ferret for his tenth birthday. William was smitten from the word ‘go’. All thoughts of ferrets vaporised.

Getting home Just before sunset, Archie and William dashed down to Pa’s shed at the bottom of the garden, beside the garage. Archie’s eyes burned deep when the old man’s gnarled hands chucked him under the chin and ruffled his floppy ears. Although Bill’s eyes remained dull and listless, there was a tone in his voice that William understood.

Alone, William scampered up the path to tell his mother.

Monday, May 3, 2010

123. Angels we have heard on high

Aunt Iris was one of those bothersome creatures who always needed someone less fortunate to assist through life. Unlike Sybil, her category wasn’t ‘the bleedin’ obvious’, but rather ‘casting nasturtiums’. Although, come to think of it, she would have given old Sybil a run for her money in either category. Assisting, according to Iris, meant ‘what’s in it for me”.

Iris was good at minding other people’s business. She was the master of the ‘sheer curtain’, poking her nose in here, there and everywhere. She called it being a good neighbour. Not only did she have eyes in the back of her head, but she had eyes on stalks, stalks that could see around corners and leap tall buildings. Go, go Gadget eyes!

Once she wheedled her way in, she used the natter she gleaned as a form of currency over the neighbourhood fence. Casting aspersions was an opening gambit.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

122. Uniformly individual

Jason and Warren have been buddies since their first year of Business Management studies at Macquarie. They were focussed on making the transition into investment banking ,and each was successful in his own way.

Warren is as equally determined to divest himself of ‘westie’ status as is Jason, and drives a maroon ’92 Nissan Bluebird. This has enabled him to clear the mortgage on a one bedroom flat at North Ryde and trade up to a two bedroom apartment at Moore Park Gardens in Bourke Road, just over the road from the golf course.

Jason, however, has an eye for the ladies and invested in a scarlet Honda 2000S. Although, he lives in a stylish apartment in Pyrmont, overlooking the casino, it is leased. The rest of his sizeable package from the bank is squandered at Royal Randwick, and his annual pilgrimage to the running of the bulls at Pamploma.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

121. A unit of family

Collective nouns are one of the joys of being a language-o-phile. Whether it is a wealth of information, a cache of jewels, an ascension of larks, a bed of oysters, or a battery of tests, collective nouns are always a joy to ponder. Some are wicked and fanciful, and yet others are plebeian and commonplace. During the week, I created ‘a sway of belly dancers’. I have no idea whether this was original, I just know that I made it up.

The wicked and fanciful creations are a delight. How about these gems provided by Google: ‘a sentence of judges’ or ‘an annoyance of neighbours’, or perhaps your fancy is tickled by ‘a fraid of ghosts’.

Of course, when the noun is already ‘collected’ the more desperate amongst us – journalists and sociologists bear the brunt of this scorn - is inclined to double-dip. Hence, a family becomes ‘a family unit’.