Tuesday, August 31, 2010

243. And when they were up they were up

He waited at the bus stop, away from the queue, beside the pylon. He waited with his re-useable library bag, his environmentally friendly re-useable bag. He waited with an erect stance, with his legs balanced, planted firmly on the concrete pavement. Firmly braced should the huddle of boisterous school children swarm in his general direction. School children of the teenage variety can be so predictably unpredictable.

The muscles in his face appeared stationary. The muscles in his face could have borne an affliction for all they moved. He looked straight ahead with his face - but not with his eyes.

His eyes marched up and his eyes marched down. The whites flashed left and the whites flashed right, paying attention, assessing the dangers, monitoring the queue, watching the hands on the clock across the way. The hands on the clock face appeared stationary.

He wanted to go home - now.

Monday, August 30, 2010

242. Umbilical chord

Ever since childhood, music had been their saving grace. The upright piano had pride of place in the parlour at the front, and the violin and ‘cello ruled supreme in the sunroom out the back. Music, harmonious and otherwise, swathed the house.

Only eighteen months separated Rose and Lillian. Not that their birth order had ever really been an issue – well, not once Rose understood that Lillian was always mentioned first, was the tallest, the fastest and had the most gorgeous hair. Rose did not begrudge her sister those achievements – well, not once she gained her A.Mus. first.

They had lived in the house on Railway Parade all their lives, the last fifteen years without a parent under the same roof. It had been a most joyous house, and they had never wished to have left it.

Not that the opportunity arose. Not of the amorous kind, at any rate.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

241. Communal living room

Susie knew them as well as anyone could. She saw enough of them, all weekend and for the replay on Thursday night on the big screen downstairs. They were a great bunch who had been together since that night when Cathy Freeman stopped the nation in 2000. Their antics brought the house down that night and they had been cherished patrons ever since.

They started the weekend with a Big Breakfast on the walkway. It had become a ritual, akin to bathing away the sins of the world. Nothing like a hefty dose of animal fat to gird the loins for an afternoon flicking between codes of football until their heads swam. Every so often, one of them made a mad dash for the man who kept the tote in a cage beside the main bar.

The rapidity and passion of the falling out took the entire bar by surprise.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

240. The long journey

Faced with overwhelming choice, our two modern heroes, Troy and Ulysses, stand transfixed. If speed is the essence of the transaction, they are up to it. A quick glance side-ways, and they mentally declare ‘game on’.

Ulysses is a reds man, a true inheritor of this father’s genome, who spent half his childhood bumping along the corrugated roads of the Barossa, sampling the Cabernets, the Shiraz, the lighter Merlots and the Grenache grapes that Richard so cherished. Troy is by nurture a beer drinker, along for the ride. He humours Uly’s obsession but is much happier with the end product of hops and yeast than he is grapes and barrels. His genetic inheritance is splashed against the walls of the ‘Tailor’s Needle’ down the end of Mason Street.

The lads rock back on their heels, savouring the bar laden with Manchego cheeses and bowls of quince paste. Game on, indeed.

Friday, August 27, 2010

239. The echoing footsteps

Moving as a unit, hand-in-hand, the four of them honed their curiosity. They felt better after the stack of pancakes at La Renaissance, more inclined to take their time and investigate each nook and cranny. Jeff found, also, that the coffee restored his usual patience, and eased the buzzing in his head. He liked that sort of coffee, rich, dark, but without the bitterness from over-roasting.

While visiting Sydney was a joy, they would not want to live there. No. Living in Canberra was just right. The clean air, the open spaces, the emphasis on the here and the now that braced the rapidity of future change. That was how Sue thought of it, and Jeff agreed. His compromise, though, was to spend some of each holiday in older, more rumpled areas of the country. There is a beauty in the decrepit that youth needs to have teased out, prized.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

238. Disconnected

August is a bitter month, where shrill gusts whip the leaves from beneath your feet and fling the urban dust into your face. August is a month to be endured, with the promise of better to come. Out there. In the distance. The future.

Guillaume was no lover of August, neither on this side of the world, nor the other side. He had found a place out of the path of nature’s spite. With his back to the wall, he listened. To him, that was communication. He could not connect his listening with Henri’s speaking. Any connection required thought and, heaven forbid, decision making. Guillaume was a lover of fence sitting.

He was a pastry chef, a very good pastry chef. He wanted to tell Henri about his new concoction, but he listened instead. He listened to Henri telling him that the chill winds of August would not blow kindly.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

237. Wither goest thou

Standing on her tippy toes, Glenda felt inadequate for searching Rob out. She wasn’t checking up on him, to see if he had remembered to come. It is true that old adage: ‘The only thing to fear is fear itself’. She hadn’t been fearful that Rob would not front, until it was obvious that he was not there. She shook her head, to clear the cobwebs.

She glanced at her watch, and smiled. Five minutes to go. She took a deep breath, to ease her tension. She liked to look at him unawares. To catch the shape of his shoulders, the light on the nape of his neck, the humming under his breath. She rubbed her fingers across her brow – her furrowed brow. That was all. She liked to observe him unannounced.

She turned to walk down the steps, to find Rob looking up, watching her, smiling.

‘Hello, goose!’

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

236. The tribes of suburbia

Long derided as living among bleeding-heart ‘doctor’s wives’, Sharon had grown into her Paddington life-style. A latte and pannini for breakfast at Gustos, and then a hoof up the hill to meet Annabel at the gallery in Mary Street. Sharon had worked hard to get to this juncture in her life.

Whereas her brother, Jason, was still mired in the bogan-suburbs out west, living in housing commission streets and surviving on welfare cheques and beneath the counter payments for two shifts a week at the Royal in Bridge Road. Jason had always dreamed small. It was not that he mixed with the wrong crowd – he WAS the wrong crowd.

It was hard to credit that they were from a strong family unit, attended church together each Sunday, played tennis and voted County Party. Who is to know the many faceted contribution of nature and nurture in this enduring human tale?

Monday, August 23, 2010

235. Complicating factors

Hurriedly packing his gear, Christophe’s intention was apparent well before he realised that she was not alone. His physical reaction was immediate: his stomach churned, and his temple thumped. But he kept walking toward her, not knowing whether to look at her or the child beside her. Her eyes never left his face. He sensed her assessing his reaction.

He could simply walk on by. He knew her not, but knew there were complications. A bus turned the corner and eased down at the waiting queue. He could walk on by and shuffle into the queue. He fingered the ticket in his coat pocket. He made a small shuffle jump to avoid a middle-aged woman with a trolley heading toward the bus.

He took a deep breath and continued. Kneeling down, he retrieved a piece of bun the child had dropped.

‘Hello, I am Christophe.’

She took his proffered hand.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

234. In real life

His life was inside-out and his world upside-down. Christophe was by himself, isolated and alone, in the middle of a bustling, foreign city, in the middle of the day, in the middle of August. And yet it was winter. Sans snow. Sans church bells. Sans roasting chestnuts.

He sipped his coffee – at least that was up to standard, which was more than could be said of the floppy, tasteless croissant, or indeed the surly service. Having plugged in his dongle and searched for a wireless hot-spot, he downloaded his emails from ‘home’ and set about the heavy-hearted responses. The longer he sat there the more he knew that his heart was no longer in this. Absentmindedly, he allowed his gaze to roam around the plaza.

He had not been aware of her steady gaze, until their eyes locked. Normally, eyes unlock instantly. Not this time. He pushed his stool back.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

233. Counting one's blessings

Heather looked out from her balcony regularly doing what she called her ‘life sums’, balancing her own personal books. She kept her feet on the ground in this concrete way, being a very grounded person. Yes, she had a few health hassles, but much more to be grateful for. Not that she acknowledged any entity to which this appreciation need be shown, other than to herself. Hubris was anathema to her.

She had family, an extended family even, replete with a plethora of cousins across a diversity of state boundaries. She had friends, oh such wonderful, close and supportive friends, both male and female. Although she had ‘lost’ her life partner, she felt no compulsion to rectify that hole. She was content. She had her library, she had her music. She was well provided for. Silence was her friend.

The one thing that niggled was the ‘Waiting for Godot’ feeling.

Friday, August 20, 2010

232. Out of sorts

He crouched at the door to the nursery wondering where the freight-train had come from. One moment he was cock-of-the-heap, the next a feather-duster. Before, they chilled out on the couch, but now it was all coming-and-going, all hustle and bustle. He did not like it. Not one little bit. Nosiree!

He wanted life back as before, with him the master and they his slaves. Being the apple of their eye was a state to which he had gotten used. But he felt shafted, the pecking order had moved on, the mistral was blowing from the south. And there she is again sitting in the big chair, but her lap is already fully occupied.

He wasn’t taken with her reaction to yesterday’s fracas, either. It had only been a small pot of lavender. And she was the one who had left it on the edge of the dining room table.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

231. Against the lights

Outward appearances can be deceptive, especially those brought about by age. Take Geoff and Anne, for instance. On the cusp of old age, both no longer in the work force, comfortable, middle class, educated, healthy. But look into their heart, look into their soul. And there beat hearts that march by different drums, souls that are free spirits.

They have been a couple since their mid teens, against the wishes of both sets of parents, to the horror of the community. If this had been England, social class would be mentioned about now, social class and religion. Geoff was of Protestant stock whilst Anne’s family looked to Rome. Back in the mid-sixties, young people toed the line more. Their sense of ‘entitlement’ rather less well honed than that of the generation that followed. They ran away, but were found and brought back.

Then Vietnam beckoned via the little white ball.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

230. An urban creek

Joey and Pete liked nothing better than being out of the house early each Saturday morning for a mooch along the storm water canal down the back of Joey’s house. Pete had been given a red Swiss Army knife for his eleventh birthday last summer, and they used it to cut a branch and fashion it into a walking stick come prodder. They had seen old Pop Selby poking away with his oldies stick, and they had the action down to a tee.

With their black galoshes, knife and stick they wandered, slid, jumped and prodded their way downstream from the Wilson Street overpass to the people’s walkover from the 6th to the 7th hole of the Bexley Vale links. Many a time they could be spotted, heads down and bums up, collecting tadpoles, some already with rear legs. One morning, to their own delight, they captured a blue-tongued lizard.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

229. Imaginary friends

They had been with her for as long as she could remember which wasn’t very long. They were down there for her, with her. At the foot of her bed, clinging together, and crowding and arguing, as friends do. Gracie watched them all huddled together, their colours a jumble, legs sticking into ribs, elbows into eyes.

When the light went out, and the warm went away, and she seemed alone, Gracie was less sure. She saw mere shapes with no form, shadows with no smile, sockets with no wink. The wicker of the basket was tossed upon stormy seas, the softly, softly friends buffeted, and squashed, annoyed and querulous. Friends without time to chat, without time to comfort, without time to encourage, with time only for themselves alone.

Gracie imagined her friends had left without her, without saying goodbye, without a grin or a finger-tinkle. But, then the light returned.

Monday, August 16, 2010

228. Love of family

As he ages, Aldo has retained his zest for life and his joy in the human condition. He is a dapper man, small in stature, but with a big heart. Some people use their physical appearance to paper over internal flaws. With Aldo, his inner character shines through in the way he carries himself, in his respect and interest in others and in his willingness to go that extra mile.

Aldo owns a small cafe in Victoria Street up in The Cross which he had established in 1970 not long after alighting from the boat from Napoli – alone in his new country with only his quick wits to support him. He paid rent for the first twelve years until he had bedded down his clientele and hammered away at the landlord until he surrendered!

Aldo’s enduring sadness is that he and Maria have no immediate family to inherit the business.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

227. Being centred

Waiting was not an issue for Stan, he was a master of the patience and forbearance required.

He had spent ten years as a Commonwealth Car Driver. What was heard in the car, stayed in the car, never over-step the mark, do your job, you are not their pal. Do not look bored. Devise a method of dealing with the interminable open-endedness of time, a narrative to run through your mind.

Stan had also addressed the physical imposts. He rarely remained inside the car, preferring to be on his feet, on the lookout for larrikins with 20c coins. He knew the condition of his vehicle, where the dings were, what duco needed detailing, how the tyres were travelling, and when the next rotation was due.

Once he had mastered all this, Stan realised that there was no emotional connection. He missed that. He needed that.

Stan now drives a hearse.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

226. An Affair to Remember

It was hardly the Empire State Building, and Terry was not in a wheel-chair, but she giggled at the parallels. She first saw the film with her landlady in the autumn of ’66. Her life was not in the least romantic, and neither was Joy’s, and they often watched films that dripped with that which they craved.

She first noticed Nicky one lunch time while watching a game of giant-chess at the rear of the station entrance. Nicky played black, and Terry was in his direct line of sight. At the end of the match, he came over and introduced himself.

Their rendezvous became the station entrance. Neither of them was confident pursuing arelationship, having been burned in the past. They were guarded and wary, and there was an element of testing which was unhelpful. They decided to give it a break for six months and see how they felt.

Friday, August 13, 2010

225. Life and death

Dancing from log to log, the blue damsel-fly glinted in the morning light. She hovered in mid air, wings a quiver then, hearing the guttural croak of a frog in the reeds, flew out over the centre of the pond. The frog plopped from a barely submerged rock, into the muddy waters. Concentric waves swept to the water’s edge.

An emerald green blow fly buzzed up from the muddy squelch, then descended once more onto the steadily decaying carcass of a bush rat, proboscis probing searchingly. Distended maggots oozed from the filth. The soil beneath swayed with the undulations of a mass of earth worms flourishing on the fetid matter. A short gust of wind kicked up the water, buffeting the reeds, causing the fly mass to rise as one black swarm chanting their deathly pleasure. A cockroach scuttled. A St Andrew’s Cross waited.

In death, the pond was alive.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

224. The straight and narrow

Neil was young once. He had a mother who loved him. He slept in a bed with a green chenille spread. A canary sang in a cage dangling on the back verandah.

Neil had a purpose once. He fed the cattle-dog that adopted their house. He cleaned the canary cage each Monday night. He rode his bike on a paper-round for Mr Henry.

Neil went to school once. He played touch footie on the oval at recess. He helped Miss Cavanagh check the new books into the library in the transportable. He was the milk monitor because he had strong shoulders.

Neil was conscripted once. He tried to grow fungus between his toes. He tried to mis-hear the instructions they barked at him. He tried to raise his blood pressure before the examination. He tried to run away.

Neil served in Vietnam. He returned home more shell than man.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

223. We happy few, we band of brothers

For just over eleven years now, they had been walking on a Friday. Through fine weather, through inclement they met at a prearranged railway station, taking it in turns to design and lead a three hour walk to a watering hole of note, there to quench both hunger and thirst.

They had known each other since their early teaching days, part of the great baby boom in the department that would come to an end in the next few years. But for this happy band, the parting of the ways had already occurred when they each opted for early retirement.

So here they were, being led by Michael, along Bourke’s Canal at Bexley, across the golf course and a few more winding back alleys to the local RSL and its renowned ‘Friday Fisherman’s Basket’. By the time they arrived, the ills of the world had been all put to right.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

222. The Gangsters' Ball

The moment he clapped eyes on the plaid jacket, Nigel was smitten and had to have it, “Gangsters’ Ball” or no gangsters’ ball. This was the epitome of the style that he envisaged for himself, a style to make his soul sing, the angle of the fedora conveying the insouciance of a raised eyebrow, the boldness of the colour making the hair on his forearm tingle.

Still he felt an element of timidity. Nigel’s day job was as ‘boy’ in a concrete pour team. His style of dress was khaki King’ Gees, a bluey, eco socks and hob-nail boots, all topped off with the battered Akubra he purloined during his gap year as rouse-about up in the Pilbara.

Nigel leant against the power pole and dragged on the roll-yer-own dangling from the corner of his mouth, lost in thought. He ran his fingers though his greasy hair, wondering what next.

Monday, August 9, 2010

221. Creatures of habit

The middle of a winter’s day was just perfect, Richard thought, as he took his usual position beneath the old fig tree, set at a perfect angle to drink in the ocean-yacht bobbing harbour. He wended his way to the bench from his nearby studio as many days as possible. He put the leash on Tojo, and out they went, the two inseparables.

The way was made immeasurably easier now that the council has seen fit to bow to community pressure and construct the extra crossing over the outward bound traffic. How on earth they thought a crossing on just the inward bound lanes would suffice was beyond him. Who on earth would want to stay marooned on the traffic island?

A cough hacked through his chest and Tojo’s moist nose pressed against his cheekbone, tail wagging. Richard paid as little heed as possible to the canker growing within him.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

220. A time of fallow

Striding the broad avenues, it cheekily occurred to me that this was a Burly-Griffin graveyard. Perhaps a cemetery rather than a graveyard. And what is the difference exactly, your cocked eye-brow says to me? With a puffed up sense of gravitas, I reply that a graveyard is a delightful jumble of concrete and earth, of glass jars and crockery tiles with graven images; whereas a cemetery is a spreadsheet with cells for headstones, rows for walking and columns for bodies. All neatly packaged up with an antiseptic bow to lay to rest the qualms of modernity, I add with a grimace at the pun.

Maybe this is a nice place to spend eternity but not a patch on Pere La Chaise, or Highgate or San Michele Island or even Woodlawn in New York. And it pales into oblivion when compared with the ‘Loch Ard’ graveyard high above Victoria’s Shipwreck Coast.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

219. The bathroom was across the hall

Taking the brass key from the barmaid, Harry lugged his case up the twisting flight of stairs. He felt he had been transported back half a century, to a time before his own birth, to a time of barren corridors, sparse lodgings and diminished, grey stalks of men.

As he pushed the door open, a wave of stale air engulfed him and he made a bee-line for the window, jiggling the pane until it rose unevenly on its perished sash. Perching his thin buttocks on the sill, Harry surveyed the room he had rented for the week, furnished with two single beds, and a dark brown wardrobe replete with scalloped art deco mirror.

Harry padded down to the bathroom, a wry smile of appreciation creasing his face as he recognised the pale green tiles, the heavy feet on the enamel bath and the naked bulbs. This would do very well.

Friday, August 6, 2010

218. Expectations of self

The explosion of self-blame was instant and caustic, as much as it was global. This one little slip, meant that EVERYTHING was wrong, bad, destroyed. Not just that he put the circular saw down on the particle board before it had actually stopped and gouged a line. No. The entire building was no longer any good. Spoilt. Damaged.

But it had ever been thus.

Wendell compared himself to others and constantly came up short. His brother was more handsome. His brother was more personable. His brother was decorated in the war and made Lieutenant. Wendell compared himself to his mate, Bill, and did not like what he saw. Bill was more organised. Bill was a hit with the ladies. Of course, all this was globalised and infested the core of Wendell’s character.

The gouge was just another manifestation.

When it came to parenthood, Wendell was all rules with no affection.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

217. Doing it tough

Old Ernie was a one, living on the house block at the rear of the property that Ivan had inherited from his father, and his father afore that, the property that was, by rights, his. His resentment had not quelled one iota in the sixty two years that had elapsed. The worst type of resentment, too. A resentment with no object, except perhaps, a heartless God. Who or what else was there to resent: a dumb dog, a fallen log, a startled horse? It resided within his chest as a lightning bolt with nowhere to call home.

And so he lived. In the shed. On the house block. His flat-irons his constant companions, his hands and his feet. His laborious means of getting himself around. Heaving massive shoulder blades and forearms – and stumps for legs.

The gnome at the bottom of the garden. The Boo Radley of Coonabarrabran. Poor bastard.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

216. Pounding the pavement

This was Ken’s part of the city, his home, his comfort zone. Here he could be himself, without fear of being accosted or heckled. Here, he and Jason could be a couple and no-one would blink an eyelid. Darlinghurst Road had ever been thus. He remembered holding his aunt’s hand as she dashed hither and thither in the late ‘50s. She washed the ambience and the eccentricity over him like a coat of many colours

It was more a living room than a retail precinct. Sofas and cushions tumbled onto the footpath, poofs were adjusted from this side to that in pursuit of the thin rays of winter sunshine. Aroma de coffee wafted through the milling throngs, mixing Campos, with Tobys Estate, beckoning the idle wanderer sit a while.

Ken and Jason made a dash for an emptying bench and settled themselves for an afternoon of people watching. What contentment.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

215. Shrieks of laughter

Across the couch they thundered, tag at the end and then a mad dash for the woman sitting quietly watching from the bench. The blood was rising in their cheeks, as the shrieks were rising in their throats.

‘B-A-R. Mum’s bar’ Liam panted throwing himself against her lap.

The city was quiet, the streets deserted. The phalanx of buildings surrounded the small park, casting dark shadows and channelling the bitter winter winds. The boys did not mind. They could run like this for hours. They were each other’s best friend. Their mother watched them out of soft grey eyes. Her fingers tapped out a rhythm on the dilapidated bench. The wind blew a page from a newspaper across her black court shoes. Empty beer bottles clinked as they rolled to and fro across the pavers.

She pulled a scrap of paper from her pocket, still one more refuge to try.

Monday, August 2, 2010

214. Paying the piper

Every week day for the past fifteen years, Annette had travelled into the city (town her mother called it), along with thousands of other commuters, to get to her job with the health insurance firm on the corner of York and Market Streets. She knew this was a broad generalisation, but as she waited for the lights to change and for it to be her turn to cross, she was in no mood for generosity that alone exactitude. It had come to be a routine with which she was comfortable as well as one that put the evening meal on the table. But she did not have to like it, especially now that an end was in sight.

That very thought put the wind up her. The Office Manager position just one block from where she lived with her mother was a godsend. But what would God demand in return?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

213. An end to his tether

Shaking his head in disbelief, Ted was rendered speechless. His body language spoke volumes of the extent of the ennui that pulsed through his body. Legs akimbo, knees flexed, hands in pockets, he flung his head back and flashed epithets to the gods. The small vein at the thinnest part of his temple pulsed, the gristle in his neck cracked.

Bloody hell – women!

He never did get them. Never did. Never would. It was a foreign land where he wandered as a lamb to the slaughter. He couldn’t take the leap to hyperspace that was required to fill the missing links between thought and speech as their nimble minds flittered. It was the undertow that caused him grief. He took the words as gospel. Again and again he forgot that the words were but the scaffolding on which was tacked a layer of meaning to which he was not privy.