Tuesday, June 29, 2010

180. Whatever it takes

Bob could not see it, but the desperation was there. A desperation built of insecurity, of fear of the unknown. A desperation built of his inability to shed skins as he matured. He stands as man who refused to absorb the vernix but rather used it as a protective device – a carapace – for the rest of his life.

Finding any pattern to his life was beyond Bob. He suffered an overwhelming need to hang on, to everything, to hang on in any way possible, in every way possible. His life was so convoluted, so tangled, so intertwined, that it was fast becoming difficult to turn.

It had ever been thus. The thrust and parry of youth precipitated a retreat to his room. An excellent scholar, he buried himself in his books. A passable long-distance runner, he threw himself into the loneliness.

The longer he lived the more secure his mausoleum.

Monday, June 28, 2010

179. Crossing the divide

For George and Marjorie the journey had always been a rocky ride, tempestuous from the get-go. They, and others, believed this to be from the depth of their physical attraction, something that would carry them across the differences, that would help them to smooth out the squalls. And it did, for just short of fifty years.

But as the physical urge quietens, so the differences were magnified. Physicality was meant to segue into an abiding respect and affection. A recognition of the worth of the individual in the couple. But not so with George, nor with Majorie. Essentially they were Bogart and Bacall, Tracy and Hepburn, Burton and Taylor. Their passion was writ large across the sky and then fizzled leaving a damp squib instead of an abiding relationship.

There was nothing left once the attraction of opposites played out its tune. The music-box wound down, and the ballerina froze.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

178. On the road again

Ginny had the measure of this life-style now, although she still did not like it. However, she had come to terms with its requirements and its implications, and could live with it for a few years longer.

She had set herself a rigorous routine. Still get seven hours sleep in a bed. Never sleep in a plane. Never drink alcohol in either the terminal or the plane. Only two cups of coffee per day and make sure they were quality beans. During the flight, no matter how long, eat buns and drink water. Nothing else. And every hour, walk the length of the plane five times.

So, if they were the requirements, what were the implications? Two loomed large in her consciousness: firstly, this cemented her usefulness to the company and her dedication was apparent for all to see; secondly, her social life – and love life – were both on hold.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

177. Isolation of the mind

Julian would be isolated no matter where he lived. There was an impenetrable barrier between him and life. Peter and David knew that their parents did not think this way, and would not tolerate thoughts like that. To some extent the barrier surrounded Simon and Harriet as well.

They chose to remain on the island, to remain in their house overlooking the bay, and its dark patch. They chose to refit the old boat shed to meet Julian’s needs – which were meagre. His brain had been starved of oxygen too long. He could breath but that was about all. Helen Porter, who had lived on the island for two years at the time of the ‘accident’ was employed to provide his daily nursing needs.

Simon set up his office in the rear of the boat-shed and Harriet read softly to Julian each morning as the sun streamed through the windows.

Friday, June 25, 2010

176. The mists of time

Neither Peter nor David had been back to the island for just over ten years. They did not want to dredge up the past, rake over cold coals or any other off-hand descriptions of past events where participants have differing memories and jaundiced emotions. And who were they to assess the life choices of their parents. How to walk in shoes that are so big to fill?

Leaving their loafers on the pier, they jumped over the outlet pipes and walked along the old sandstone wall that shored up the water’s edge on the leeward side of the island. They knew they were in dangerous territory emotionally. The patch of seaweed was still out from the point, swaying to the mysterious beat of the tides, thick and murky and treacherous.

In their mind’s eye, they could see the brilliant blue of Julian’s goggles as he dived that one last time.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

175. Self selecting

When Simon and Harriet came to the island with their three young boys in the late 70s, they thought they had died and gone to heaven. The ferry called twice a day and the passengers were mainly islanders coming and going. The isolation was just perfect for Simon’s writing and Harriet, being a qualified horticulturalist, was in her element earning a meagre income from gardens all over the island.

Winding the clock forward thirty years, there is a different story to tell. The boys have long gone and are scattered around the globe. Privately, they each think of their upbringing as self-indulgent, but would never broach this with their parents.

The biggest impact is on Simon and Harriet themselves. As all motorised transport was banned and replaced by wheel-barrows, the daily task of living is now daunting and debilitating. Simon’s stroke brought them face to face with a bitter reality.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

174. Sounds from within

Joey was between a rock and a hard place. He was mesmerised by the sound of the raised voices, and sensed the spotlight of suspicion upon him for eaves-dropping. His right foot was raised to the top step, and he felt an intense quiver pulse up and through his calf, through his thigh and reside in the small of his back. He let out a muffled groan and massaged the palm of his hand into the top of his buttock.

The light was intense on the back of his eyeballs, the sounds shrill in his ear.
If he moved he was done for. He now understood being rooted to the spot. The pulse in his temple beat fit to burst. His right eye developed a familiar tick, at the juncture with his nose.

His chest felt tight and the tell-tale rose flushed up his chest flooding his neck and jaw.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

173. We're all in this together

They had worked side-by-side in this cafe by the water for just over twelve years. They were only business partners to begin with, both newly divorced and immensely aware that their twenty-odd years of home-making and family-raising provided them with very slender skills when it came to crafting a viable financial concern.

They were on the receiving end of all the advice in the world, well-meaning friends obviously thinking they were in over their heads with neither the back-bone nor the ticker to start from the ground up, be able to live off the proceeds, and enjoy them self all at the same time.

What Anne and Carly recognised was that success was all about cleanliness, friendliness and ambience. If they remained true to their own ‘voice’, others who synchronised with that voice would be drawn to their cafe. They were authentic to their own voice from the get go.

Monday, June 21, 2010

172. On fragility

Life is a fine thread, a delicate balancing act.

Imminent arrivals and departures have a sobering effect, clarifying the suspicion that life, which is given one day at a time, can be snatched away with no warning or with too much warning.

For mine, I refuse to spend much time in death’s waiting room, ‘because I cannot wait for death’. I want to be ploughing furrows in paddocks for the next quarter of a century, both mental and physical furrows. And not just in paddocks with which I am familiar. I want the furrows to be very deep, to be in fertile soil and to be scattered across the lands. I want to be one of a number of non-descript birds scratching away in the mounds of turned earth, pecking up worms and seeds.

And when my last feather flutters to earth, may it be fine, and beautiful, and strong.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

171. Whilst waiting for a nibble

Fishing is an interior monologue, and it shows.

Clarrie and Joe have frequented this section of the harbour since their early teens. To begin with it was only Saturday afternoons instead of going to the Neutral Bay ‘Arcadia’ to watch re-runs of ‘Hopalong Cassidy’ or ‘The Lone Ranger’ following the latest edition of the Movietone Newsreel. Both Clarrie and Joe much preferred being out in the open, especially if it involved the sea.

As they grew older, their Saturday started earlier and earlier, and although their ‘band of brothers’ grew to be in excess of a dozen, women included, they were only on a nod- and-grunt acquaintance with the rest of them. The narrowness of their interests began to show in the way they disported themselves and in their mode of dress. They became more isolated from the mainstream.

Not that it caused grief to either Clarrie or to Joe.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

170. A twig on a branch

Howard had always been good with his hands from when he was a wee lad turning his trike upsidedown checking the steering. First came the 50s version of the Bob-the-Builder belt, quickly followed by his own bench and shelf space in his father’s shed. Roy was a bit miffed by his offspring’s talent, but made way eventually.

Retired himself, Howard still had the same can-fix attitude. Carole opined that if it moved, her father would paint it, but Howard noticed she was not backward in keeping a list of ‘jobbies’ for him when he went ‘round there for Wednesday evening tea with the grandkids.

Howard always felt a twinge of regret that young Liam did not seem to carry the ‘shed’ gene. Liam reckoned that Pa could not see that being able to wire any two pieces of electronic gadgetry together, was the ‘now’ version of the same old song.

Friday, June 18, 2010

169. Mates

The sun beat down on the back of Bernie’s neck warming the very cockles of his heart. It was autumn, he was down the docks, he was alive. What more could he ask?

‘Bad luck about the Bunnies last night, Bern’.

Bernie really liked Norm even though Norm was a good fifteen years younger than him.

‘Bloody ref, oughta go see OPSM. That was so NOT a double-movement.’

Bernie could no longer sort out the truth about footie matches. There was a dictionary of clichés running through his head and that was how he assessed each and every game. It was all in terms of goodies and baddies, your team and my team. He felt something had died in the game but could not put his finger on it. Could smell something dead, but couldn’t find the body. Just the stench.

“What do you call a book of clichés, Norm?’

Thursday, June 17, 2010

168. Out of her depth

This was not the first time that Rita had come face to face with her own limitations. It was not a position that she revelled in.

From childhood, Rita had been known as a gregarious person, perhaps even a social butterfly. She enjoyed the company of others, and they her. She listened attentively, and spoke divertingly. She also had the singular ability to know when to remain quiet. She had an enquiring mind which she fed regularly. Although a big woman – what was known as ‘raw boned’ – Rita was physically active, being a member of The Ramblers and participating in up to three walks per week mostly of the ‘moderate’ length of four to five hours. She could be seen with her Bushnells, steadying herself on a tree-trunk endeavouring to identify some finch or other in the undergrowth.

Rita usually chose her company carefully – that judgement eluded her this time.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

167. Shipshape

Young Will made his way down to the Heritage Pier on a regular basis. He enjoyed wallowing in the nostalgia of people and events from the past that the sight of the ships always evoked for him. Jim could criticise him for all he was worth – he and his brother had long since gone their separate ways. Mammon was hard pressed to claim more than one from this family!

Each time as he made his way warily down the gang-plank, the gaggle of ropes that anchored the ship in its bay were magically transformed into the multi-coloured streamers that snapped as the old Oriana departed from the Overseas Terminal to the strains of the Maori Farewell. Invariably, as the ship pulled away from the pier, Elsie would shed a tear beside him, never knowing if her only daughter would return from London this time or be lost to her forever.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

166. Pushing off

Rainbow smears eddied between the bow and the pier. A flaccid flathead gulped its last, glassy eyes fixed and staring, readying for the journey. Trapped in the mesh were discarded prawn shells, together with faeces from dogs which often littered the water’s edge.

Ginny was not ready for this, Ava being just five months, but Rob was desperate to return to normal life, not realising that normal had undergone a quantum shift. He had left the house at first blush, filling the thermos in one last panic. Ginny surmised the rest was up to her.

Rattling down the gangplank, Ginny saw Jim hunched over the stripped outboard in the runabout. Beside Rob, rolled out to its edges, lay his engine cloth. Greasy pieces of metal were arrayed in accordance with the celestial chart of boat engines, known only to those in the shadow cast by Captain Flint of Cormorant Island.

Monday, June 14, 2010

165. Lean and green

Hughie had not regretted for an instant his move to Roselle five years ago. It was as though the man upstairs had given him the grace of a second start.

He had a two bedroom weatherboard workman’s cottage built in 1911 and renovated in the early fifties. By the time Hughie came upon it at auction in 2004 it was in need of another makeover. It had survived the developer’s bulldozers only because of it miniature size and crazy shape. Hughie shelled out the $350 thousand of (mostly) the bank’s money and set about doing all the work himself.

He was nearly finished and as he cycled around the Glebe foreshore, and past the fish markets each morning, he thanked his lucky stars that he had grasped the second chance with all his might. As he cycled across Pyrmont Bridge, he had a grin on his face a mile wide.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

164. The aroma of yesteryear

The ghosts of patrons past swirl around this pokey cafe beside the mine disposal encampment. Not in those days the choice of capucinno, or skinny latte or extra hot chai with a dash of soy. Rather a spoon of Bushell’s Extra Fine with a dash of chickory in a chipped enamel mug.

Luigi arrived early, parking his Fiat 124S beside the track ready to half slide down the goat track which wound from the bluff to the park beside the harbour. He had leased the cafe from the Army for five years now and was invigorated each morning by the slide into ‘the office’. It was important to him to have the aroma of brewed coffee infusing every nook-and-cranny before the first customer arrived. He set the ‘Big Band hits of 1946’ on the turntable before dashing out along the pier to meet the first ferry with his morning newspapers.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

163. Whenever I feel afraid

The pier had been erected in August 1942 at the end of the Chowder Bay ‘goat track’ which looped down from the naval establishment at Middle Head. At the top of the track were the huts housing the latest wave of young men who had self-selected to ship out to New Guinea by the end of 16 weeks training. Sucking on his pipe, Geoff, one of those young men, dangled his legs over the edge.

The pier jutted out into the harbour close to where the midget sub had released the torpedo which caused so much loss of life on HMAS Kuttabul. The harbour had wreaked havoc on the pier during the intervening seventy years. Many of the supports, although fashioned from hardwood, had rotted and split. The planking had already been replaced twice, and even the bollards were rusting away.

Removing his pipe, Geoff started to whistle a tune.

Friday, June 11, 2010

162. The white picket fences

Back in the mists of time, before sputnik, before The Beatles, when Eisenhower ruled from The White House and Menzies was ensconced in The Lodge, three boys lived in Hunter Street, Hornsby, in red brick bungalows, behind white picket fences with neatly trimmed front lawns. Henry and Robert lived on the east side with a squeaking gate that Robert’s father had installed in the shared fence. James lived on the west side beside the house belonging to Nurse Towells.

Each morning Henry, Robert and James would walk to school together, holding hands as they crossed busy George Street then up and over the narrow railway pedestrian walkway. They arrived at the public school on the highway just as the bell rang for the 9 o’clock assembly.

The trio is oblivious to the passage of 55 years, content with their volunteer role with the Maritime Museum, and with their easy friendship.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

161. Beauty and the beast

It was the contrast that intrigued Rosalind each and every time she picked her way down the metal staircase. She had been frequenting this usually deserted section of the harbour for over a decade. She had progressed from mother to grandmother over that time. She felt older than Methuselah, or at least as old as the rocks which littered the shoreline.

She remembers the day when she first learnt that these pipes were neither water nor sewage conduits, but were wedged full with communication cables stringing from one defence facility on the south of the harbour to another on the middle headland. That the pipes and the cables therein were instrumental to the boom gates strung across this section of the harbour during the world war to protect the inhabitants of the city further down the harbour.

Rosalind spread out her yoga mat and unbuckled the strap on her brassiere.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

160. Regular as clockwork

A buzz often went around the tea-rooms when the hikers descended upon the courtyard each Thursday from out of the surrounding woodand. They were such a jolly, noisome bunch, full of joy de vivre and bonhomie, eager to engage with all and sundry, to be provocative and outrageous. The staff was energised and up to the challenge, having chaffed with the endless parade of conservative matrons and well-heeled young mothers.

They were known for their sweet-tooth and their proclivity to dispense with any tug of the forelock to the nutrition-nazis and order straight from the desserts page, ensuring that this table in particular sampled the entire offering, waxing lyrical on the tartness of the lemon, or the fineness of the mousse in between the analysis of the mining tax or the meltdown in Europe. Their mock outrage knew few bounds when it came to political ethics.

Their enjoyment was infectious.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

159. He was a hard man

His hands were soft and pink, showing no evidence of calluses from physical labour, or weathering from exposure to the elements. His nails were clean and neatly trimmed, with neither inflamed cuticles nor frayed quicks. His fingers were the long slender fingers of a pianist, with finely structured knuckles that rose to a refined mons rather than a broad anus.

His shoulder muscles flexed powerfully as he rose to his full height, adjusting the angle between torso and thigh to stand with more ease. His full height was an intimidating weapon in his physical armoury that he used to great effect. However, his body carried evidence of over indulgence and podgy pockets of excess flesh sat unbecomingly within both shirt and trouser. His throat and cheeks were quick to flush and perspire when under either external or internal pressure.

Roy’s hardness, however, was of the heart, not of the body.

Monday, June 7, 2010

158. Out of his depth

Breathing heavily, but slowly, Roger lent against the railing to steady his nerves and gain some control over his swaying sense of balance. It was alright for Neil, who was grinning his head off and yabbering ten to the dozen already. His bare descent count numbered over three hundred, but for Roger this was his first bare descent in excess of 350 feet without a safety net.

Looking back up the granite encased tower made him feel queasy and the parapet sway beneath his feet. He knew he was on firm ground, but that did not help him control his emotions – or his bodily functions, as the small explosions of air attested. He draped his elbow along the edge and spread-eagled his boots just that little further, to assuage the intense feeling of inadequacy threatening to overwhelm him.

His chest rattled as he inhaled deeply, preparing for the imminent repeat.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

157. Surmising the horse's head

Being buried is so last century.

Bodies moulder in a grave a while; might be tough on those who had little patience with the irritations of life in their first gig. Cat fluff on the pinstripe. Small children posing a tirade of questions, the answers being self-evident. Irritation because the obligation is to lose the self-obsession and pay attention to someone else’s ego. More acceptable in these days of shrinking resources is a cremation wall or a scattering among the roses. Something there is that doesn’t love a scattering. That wants it gathered.

Being in a nursing home is akin to mouldering. A sleep-over in death’s waiting room, adding piquancy to waiting at death’s door. ‘Being’ is more applicable to a nursing home stay than either ‘residing’ or ‘living’, the latter only being true on the most banal level.

It’s a long time, eternity. Plenty of time to mull on’t.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

156. Full frontal

Until at last, he pivots on one heel, and turns to face the unthinkable. Arrayed before him, their sunken eyes watching his every move, are the silent dead, the forgotten dead, those who kindle no memory. The weight of years passed, press in upon memory as it claws at time.

Can he kindle a memory for just one pair of sunken eyes?

This slight man, this slight greying man in his chocolate brown corduroys and herringbone jacket with leather encased elbows, can he ease the pain? Overwhelmed and abashed, he pauses and sucks his cheeks, his wizened alabaster cheeks with their straight mouth lying between thin, pursed lips.

The steady beat in his temple accompanies the echo in his ear, as the graveness of his task strikes home. By remembering, and paying homage, to one of the forgotten dead, can he acknowledge them all?

Or is this overweening hubris?

Friday, June 4, 2010

155. Waking the dead

The cemetery is a vacuum that does not welcome sound, neither the wailing of hearts, the gnashing of teeth, nor the crunching of shoes. And most certainly not the laughter of children. Sound is anathema to a graveyard, to those who have gone to their big sleep. The only sounds permitted are those as the departed souls meet their maker, and the departed bodies rot back into the soil.

Water trickles down the bricked in creek, gurgling as it flows over jagged stones, and swirls around the slightest of bends. Leaves of autumn crunch underfoot as they lie strewn across the path, across the access, indeed, across the very plots themselves. Wind rushes through the she-oaks that line the avenues into the necropolis. The slightest of zephyrs plays with the dried layer of leaves, revealing the damp mould beneath.

The dead are oblivious to all this. They are otherwise occupied.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

154. The indefinable moment

The cortege crunches the pebbles as the horse pulling the dray plods slowly, in tune with the pervasive mood. Perched atop the weathered dray is a pine casket, straight of edge and plain of colour, un-burnished, solid, simple. Behind the dray, flared out across the corrugations in the rough road-way, walk the bereft, those who remain, those with memories of her, her descendents. They are the keepers of the flame. Their black garments cover the life still within them, protecting the departed from their vivacity, and they from her stolidity. A large black taffeta hat drapes a delicate wall of net between Olive and the reality of the lifeless form of her mother, a reality converted in an indefinable moment to memory. The horse halts beside the darkness in the soil. Block C, Row 1, Plot 78 lies open to the sun and to the rain, ready to receive her.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

153. Hearing the fly buzz

She moves wraithlike over the pebbled pathway, each headstone standing in silent salute to her passage. No longer weighed down by mere body, she occupies no space and leaves no trail. Her body is returned to the earth. Her soul is journeying with Ra in search of its own eternal rest. This wraith is but memory.

Memories shared by others who knew her in body, memories from others who captured her likeness first on glass and then on albumen. As the likenesses fan across the tabletop, Sarah Annie comes to life, lives again in my mind’s-eye. She strides down the street on Olive’s supportive arm, both aglow from the attentive flash of the young photographer. Throwing back her head with laughter, she offers a picnic plate across the park bench. Family likeness flares eerily from the dull sepia surface.

Sarah Annie remains with me as I meander between the plots.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

152. Ancestors

Pushing at the edges as with a deck of cards, Rhonda tapped the photos, turning the pile face up on the glass table-top. My heart turned as I willed my hands not to reach out to hurry the process. There on the table before her, she had the past. The departed. Ready to breathe life into sepia figures walking arm in arm down Pitt Street.

Detritus collected from the houses of our departed. Females of the line have it all over their men folk. Men toss everything into boxes, and up onto the back of a ute for yet another trip to the dump. They see it as just more junk that the silly old codger collected, whoever it might be, being totally unable to distinguish between an unused set of Egyptian cotton sheets and a box of aged birthday cards with an A5 piece of writing paper poking out.