Haunted by History.

 

So I drive to the town, pick up a few groceries, check the mail, chat a while..a bit of goss..a bit of this an’ that and then hit the road to home again…and that is where the haunting starts.

You’ve seen them, out here in the mallee country as you drive along the main roads and the back roads…sunlight slanting off white sepulchre…you catch fleeting glimpses of them through the trees…deep in the scrub, sometimes almost complete, sometimes but a shadow of their former glory…….you can sometimes drive past them for years before you suddenly realise they are there and then you get a shock at their “sudden appearance”..: ruins of old cottages and huts…scattered, crumbling ruins…sad testament to optimistic aspirations.

Mostly we drive on…just giving an acknowledged glance to these pieces of jaded history…someone else’s tribulations, another’s history. I have stopped at several of these sites…joined in a pagan-like offering to another’s story…tossed a pebble or two into the underground tank out the back. I’ve stood for a moment in the remains of a back door opening, silent, wondering on the view they must have seen from that same place, another time…a time which may move inexorably on, yet the human condition remains.

Who were these intrepid builders? What singular ambition drove them to sculpture out of rough earth and stone, from memory and trial and error these testaments to a hopeful dream? They haunt me, these vacant souls…shuffling through sad ruins, backing onto abandoned fields that once must have swayed wave-like with fronds of wheat or oats. Now, scavenging crows pick nastily at an obscure morsel and a cruel sun rakes it’s talons over old wounds.

There are stories out there, hovering around these ghosts of the past. An entire population of early settlers with their children and animals, gone now, the only memory in some cases being a headstone or two marking a seriously foreshortened life and along with such disaster the presumed tragedy for the rest of the family, having to absorb the sadness into their hearts. When one scans the landscape of those long-ago years, the inevitable hardship and difficulties faced, one gets the feeling their lives were dominated by the practical demands of weights and measures, time and distance. The burden of necessity, always the prime consideration of their immediate attention.

Strangely, the history of these ruins seem to be shrouded in mystery…few if any people living now have knowledge of the folk who built and lived in many of these ruins. Their short moments of occupation at odds to the effort it must have taken to erect such structures. It is as if strangers to us all had swept fleetingly through the land, leaving no word or lasting deed of their presence save these crumbling hovels. One wonders what the indigenous peoples would have made of these pioneers, struggling with stone and beast, fire and plough to make a meal for their family when food was in abundance all around!…….madness, surely!

But it is the history that haunts me, for it is there, fixed in stone as solid as any Roman effigy, though perhaps not as romantic! But then THAT would depend on the story and the rumour of salacious intrigues! It seems a pity we can stand where they once stood, feel the heat and wind which they once felt and imagine the sweat and toil they once gave to a land and ambition that both their ghosts and our living spirit still share, yet not know their name.

Quo vadis?

 

 

Advertisements

Epiphany.

[ I wrote this piece quite a few years ago. It was an attempt to both explain and understand that moment of decision in my late teens, in the later years of the 1960’s when the urge for revolution was so explosive in our Boomer generation. The thing is, while we were full of the life and want for a new social beginning, AND were keen as mustard to get started in it, we really didn’t (or at least ..I..didn’t !) have any flamin’ idea where it was going to take us!..It was one crazy, hell-raising ride into adventure, with not one adult around to give guidance or example..just partying on for years and years!..the old rules were torn up and the new ones had yet to be written..and when they finally were, it was on the shredded shirt-tails of what was then a conservative Australia..
Well..the job was done and still is done and all this old boomer can say is ;
“ Goodbye to all that!”]

 

An interesting phenomenon can happen to a young person when they reach their mid to late teens, there is a moment of awakening to the situation around them, the life they are living, the social circle and familial surroundings that guide their every-day movements and decisions. They can have a sort of psychological awakening and either fall totally in-line with the accepted dogma of society, or they can totally rebel and reject the “boring-as-batshit” lifestyle of their parents and peers and go off in a completely different direction. Some of the “baby-boomers” famously did just the latter….I was one of those.

Now, let me explain the three different phases of baby-boomers…There are those born directly after the second world war, the more inflexible of these grew up with the mind-set of their parents : Conservative, militaristic, socially servile.

The second wave from the start of the fifties to the middle fifties were expected to follow such sentiments as their older siblings, but they did not..Oh!, they did for a while, as tender youths, but then they rebelled!

The third wave, till the early sixties, are the misguided conservatives we have in power now! They have leap-frogged back to the fifties in a caricature of what they perceive as their parents control mechanisms and are an exaggerated version of that conservatism!…..Hopeless!

I am of the middle set of boomers…and man!…did we ever rebel! It wasn’t just a case of :”Oh, I think I’ll go in a different direction”…It was an emphatic…”I’m outa here!”..and I can remember the exact moment when I stopped being the aspiring apprentice carpenter and became the son from hell!

There were three things that awoke the liberating spirit within me, the first was a book, the second was music and the third that sealed my fate was an incident.

Let me enlighten you.

I was an avid reader of books in my early teens…you probably know the type of books..: Crime, mysteries, war, adventure…that sort of thing…I was a regular “young boys own” kind of fellow, till one day, in the mid sixties or so, whilst about to catch a train, I was looking at a book-stand for something to read, and in a hurry, I bought this book that had on its’ cover a war theme…I bought the book and caught the train….the title of the book : “Catch 22″…I fell in love with that book…I still love it! I’ve consumed it so many times, like one consumes a lover, a hunger insatiable till you next see them! When touching is not enough and total immersion is demanded..a beauty!

In 1967, The Beatles released their “Sgt. Peppers” album…Talk about a bombshell!…Never, never before in the world of music had such a magical mix of bizarre and sublime sounds been cast upon the masses. You cannot honestly tell me that you can listen to that album and not be swept away with the mesmerising musical magic….and that moment when the calliope lilts in “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite”…”…and of course Henry the horse dances the wALTz…”…..glorious! magical!, marvellous! To HELL with Elvis!…and then came Hendrix and The Stones.. who wants the crappy crooners? Just turn up the volume!

The third incident was the defining moment, when the combination of the first two awakenings jelled with the third and I went home to sleep on a new and exciting desire.

Again, it was 1967…the end of that year, I was nearly seventeen…it was Summer…….I don’t suppose the name ; Bodo Skrypek means anything to you? Why should it?…But just roll that name around and off your tongue  a couple of times….obscure? abstract?…..intriguing isn’t it?…But I kid you not..it is a real name. As a matter of fact, he nearly got into a punch-up with a copper one night who thought he was having him on giving a name like that!

Bodo was a “Rocker”….you know?, in the days of Mods and Rockers…Bodo was a Rocker of the first order..The BSA Golden Flash motorcycle, the black leather jacket and chrome chains, black stove-pipe jeans with “ripple-sole” shoes, the tats, the snarl, blonde, “flat-top” haircut and the sartorial exactness of a Jimmy Dean, but with the aggro of “Chopper Reid”, if Chopper was around in those days!

You’d understand what I mean if I tell you that he used to clean his motorcycle, engine and spokes, with a toothbrush!…that machine was a black and chrome beast, an android extension of his personality, he could toss it around like it was a twirl of his fingers. It was totally phallic… Bodo WAS the fifties personified. We adored him…. We feared him!

One summer night, at the top of Brighton Rd., Three of us gathered near “The Monument” ; a column, still there but moved a little to one side of the road, a testament to war. Three of us were there..: Pommy Len with his Honda, Ron Parker with his 350cc. Beeza..and myself, the youngest by a couple of years, with my Yamaha. It was the early days of the emergence of the Japanese motorcycles…themselves a bone of contention amongst the motorcycle purists who mostly scorned the “Jap-crap” for British machines, of which, amongst the Rocker brigade, Triumphs and BSA reigned supreme…Norton was acceptable, but just,: the intellectuals choice…the rest were, in the vernacular of the times..:”poofter bikes”!

We were there, at the S-bend in the road, at the monument, just milling about, dead-still night, nothing to do and no intention of doing it! And then Bodo rolls up on his Golden Flash Beeza…sees us, does a U-ee and pulls up and parks with one automatic quick-flick of the side-stand whilst simultaneously dismounting…He lit up a cigarette…(where did it come from..magic! there it was, the lit match already somersaulting away into the night). He stands, we gather around to the “flame”…moonlight and streetlight phosphorose man and machine, memory fixed to time and place..did I know it was the end of an era…

Jacta alia est!

My senses were alert..I don’t know, something was stirring in me, a portent?..Did we talk? I don’t remember, did we animate? I don’t remember..But next thing, another motorcycle comes around the S-bend and pulls up. I do not know him, but Bodo does..even some sort of respect…he rides a Suzuki “Hustler”, the quickest bike off the mark for those days…his pillion is a blonde girl, long..blonde hair…they are both about nineteen or twenty, no crash helmet, no shoes, just “T” shirt and casual denim jeans…but maaan!, they looked so cool and relaxed, they didn’t get off the bike, just straddled it and conversed with Bodo, who, after some little time in discussion on the merits of particular motorcycles tired of the conversation and tried to “hit on” the blonde girl pillion who, with a disdaining toss of her blonde hair, seemed to scorn him!…a new ideal, a new generation!..I saw it, the vulnerability, the loss of attitude….

The young man started the motorcycle and with a casual adieu..and that’s what it was ; an adieu!..They turned and accelerated down Brighton Rd with such amazing speed and unity of line, that even Bodo paused in the action of putting his cigarette to his lips. I Iiked that look of cool denim, the girl, the bike the attitude….an Epiphany! I wanted it!

There seemed like a long, long silence between the departure of those two prophets and any action on our parts…That machine and its’ passengers just went…whoosh, no thundering roar of engine, no aggro from the young man toward Bodo’s facile attempt on his pillion, just a swift, smooth departure from the point of disturbance toward serenity..the red tail-light a point of distinction fading into the distance.

“I wonder”, said Bodo suddenly,”How fast I can get up to coming down that road?”

He was turned gazing up the new stretch of bitumen of Ocean Boulevarde…None of us commented, it was a rhetorical question, for he had no sooner said it than he had flung his smoke away and mounted his bike and still with the kick-start at the nadir of its stroke, the motor throttling the side-stand snapped as he leapt the bike out onto the road, wheel spinning in a smokey arc while the bike aligned itself to point up the open road.

We three moved our bikes and ourselves down the road a little to where the bend straighten out toward Seacliff. We stood on the edge of the kerb and waited.

You could hear him before you could see him as he came thundering down that boulevarde…that Beeza was screaming, a throaty howl. Christ he was flying!…then he appeared just as the road went into that long, broad sweeping bend of which we were at the zenith. He was already pitched at a low angle as he went into it at a speed of at least a hundred miles an hour….as he floated toward us, the bike howling with a spraying shower of dazzling sparks shooting from the muffler and foot-pedals as they bounced and scraped on the bitumen.

Pommy Len and Parker leapt from the road edge to the back of the footpath….I stayed where I was…I don’t know why, except I was mesmerised in the theatrics of this performance..for that ‘s what it was ; a statement of bravado in the face of total rejection…Bodo had lost face with that girl, with that young man…with us..certainly with me, I wanted nothing of it, no more big-noting, no more aggro, no more warrior tactics….I wanted liberation from that whole social network , screw them all! Though of course, I couldn’t voice those specific thoughts as I stood there rooted defiantly to the kerb. I wasn’t going to respond to the automatic fear….I know now ; with mortality being the only certainty, the whole world runs on bluff.

Sure enough, Bodo swept past so close to me I could smell the engine oil and feel the heat of that motor. He was still braking as he neared the Seacliff junction..but I couldn’t care less, for I had already mounted my Yamaha and was quietly making my way home…I had a lot of thinking to do.

As I lay abed, thinking about that young man and the girl, the fact that they didn’t get upset or angry, they just “walked away”…and that is what I did to that life back then..to my job, to my parents, to my home, to all the expectations of that boring-as-batshit society…it’s what we all did, a whole generation almost, spontaneously, I didn’t get angry, I just..; walked away!

Morning Glory.

The most common insults and abuse that are given , are done in an atmosphere of intimate coercion, where the dominant party can take advantage of their position and the moment to exercise without criticism or reproach their quiet act of oppression.

My first job when I arrived in Darwin in the early seventies was with an Italian cabinetmaker / joiner..He was a dodgy little bastard who specialized in “fit-outs” on new blocks of flats and cash jobs..my wages seemed to fluctuate between his own fortunes in and out of the betting shops, which were tenuous at the best of times…it was an “experience”.

It went like this

Morning Glory.

I was working for Fusco then, (pronounced “Foosko”) doing some carpentry, cupboards and the like. Fusco was one of those greasy, little Italians you see around the place, looking greasy always because of the “shadow” on his shaved face, one of those blokes that have that five o’clock shadow no matter how much they shave.

We had a stack of cupboards to fit into these new flats out in Nightcliff, belonging to one of his mates (they were always his mates). So we were there early in the morning to start and Otto’s car was there too, had been there all night, we knew because it was the wet season and no tyre tracks there.

“Otto!” Fusco yelled as we crossed the door step.

“Hey!” an answer echoed through the empty rooms.

“Where?” Fusco yelled back, then stood still to listen, his hand raised flat to still me.

“Here, the bathroom”. He was in the next flat.

We walked through the back door into the other flat, Fusco quick stepping, his thongs slapping against his heels as he lifted his foot. A light breeze billowed his loose, unbuttoned shirt from his back.

“What, you sleep here now?” Fusco called in a joking tone. Then we walked into the bathroom and the girl looked up at us both, Fusco’s eyes went real wide.

“Ehh, what’s this?” He motioned with his hand flat, like Italians do.

Otto was squatted, cross legged on the floor with the ceramic tiles he was lining the walls with. He had a box of matches on the floor by his knee and was breaking them into short pieces to use as spacers between the tiles.

“It’s my sister ,” he spoke without looking at us “from the old country”.

Fusco smiled, his arm still outstretched with the gesturing hand.

“Ah, so, a fine family you have”.

The girl was young, in her late teens, of mixed blood aboriginal. She sat on a tartan rug on the concrete floor, her legs tucked away under her. She had on a short print dress with some sort of yellow flowering pattern on it, which she pulled coyly down closer to her knees when we walked in. She seemed shy.

“The resemblance I can see” Fusco continued.

“No”, answered Otto, still concentrating “We have only one thing in common” He leant over and gently pinched the girls cheek. “Eh, my little flower,” He winked at us, then leant back over to the other side and guzzled out of a flagon of red wine. He offered Fusco a drink, but he said he wasn’t drinking yet.

“You been here all night?” Fusco asked.

“Ah, that useless Eddy, he wouldn’t stop drinking at Lim’s last night, always one more, one more. PUHH!!!” he waved to the wall which we took to mean Eddy was in the next room. “So we pick her up” he motioned to the girl “and stayed here. The first guests huh!”.

Fusco turned his attention to the girl, he was grinning from ear to ear.

“You stay here last night?” he asked. The girl just giggled and looked shy. Fusco turned to Otto for an explanation.

“I told you, all of us, all night, here” Otto replied “What do you think, I lie?”

Fusco shrugged his shoulders.

“Look here,” Otto turned to the girl “How many times we do it last night, you know…” he cocked his hand back on his wrist, curled his fingers in and gave quick little stabbing motions forward in the air with his arm and the ball of his hand..; “Bohm – Bohm?” he spoke quickly with the movements.

The girl giggled, Otto took hold of her arm and looked at her closely.

“Six, wasn’t it, six?”  Her eyes were down, then she looked up and the whites of her eyes were brilliant

“Yes” she nodded.

“Aha!” Otto cried triumphantly,

Fusco placed both his palms flat on the sides of his head and slowly moved it from side to side

“Oh ho ho” he groaned mockingly..his eyes shut tight, he then quickly dropped his hands and got down on his knees as though in search of something on the floor. Otto looked at him, puzzled..

“What are you doing?”

Fusco lowered the drum he was looking under and gazed at Otto innocently.

“I’m looking for the pencil you tied on to keep it stiff”. He mumbled.

“To buggery with you” Otto exclaimed and flicked a little tile cement at him.

Fusco stopped and stood up straight and still, with a finger pointing up by his eye.

“No! You must not do that, as you see, I am clean, you must not dirty.” his face was serious.

“Oh well in that case” Otto shrugged “I was going to ask if you would like a little of this” He pointed to the girl with his eyes.

“No, she’s probably had enough already. How much you have a day?” Fusco spoke the last to the girl, she never answered Fusco’s questions, just giggled. Otto had a tile in one hand and bits of matchstick in the other. He was just about to glue the tile on. He took up the questioning.

“Yes, how many times, black and white?”

The girl gazed down.

“Oh, ten,… eleven”. she answered, shrugging her shoulders.

“Men?” Otto asked.

“Mmmm” she murmured in reply. Otto looked at us and smiled.

“Do you like the whites better?” Otto asked.

“Mmm..” she giggled.

“And do you like this fat Otto?” Fusco piped in and laughed, the girl giggled and Otto picked up a handful of cement and made to throw it at us;

“Arh, ah” Fusco pointed at him and he replaced it in the bucket. Otto then looked at me, then to the girl;

“Would you like this young one?” The girl snuck a glance at me then turned away quickly and giggled again. “Jack, you want her, have her,” he gestured with his hand “Fusco and I will go out, we will go out and smoke a cigarette and talk of the weather. eh, Fusco?”

“What you say Jack? A nice young girl for you, better than this eh?” Fusco spoke then made suggestive movements with his hand. Otto and he laughed. The girl was quiet, it was then I noticed she was about the same age as myself.

“No, thanks all the same” I quavered out, trying to sound “worldly”..then I remembered something I had heard. I spoke to Otto “I know which ward you go to every week”. They both laughed and Otto turned back to his work .

“Alright, ok, but it’s the last time I offer it to you, I’m a generous man, but not that generous”.

Fusco stood there a second with his arms folded, then ;

“Come, we have work”.

So we moved our gear into the next flat and got to work. He gave me the job of fitting all the linen presses. It wasn’t a big job, just a matter of cutting the toe rail to size between the two walls and fixing the shell of the cupboard to the wall. I was working well, getting them in quick, I had left the flat that Otto was in till last, I didn’t want to hang around there and was hoping they’d be gone by then. But they were still there when I was ready for that flat, Eddy was there in the bathroom too, I could hear his voice asking the girl something. She answered quietly.

“No, no more, let’s go back to the pub” she complained.

“What for, nothing back there” Eddy answered.

“My sister’s there, she’s waiting for me, she worries”.

“Hey move over a little”. Otto asked them both, tiles rattled.

“Alright, I take you back, but first one more, for this morning”.

“But I do not want it now” the girl said softly.

“Look my little flower” this was Otto now “Give him the one then we take you back, we all go back and have a drink. No, don’t worry, it’s true”.

“Ok then” the girl answered after a little silence “But just one”.

There was no doors or anything in this place yet, and I was working near and it was hot and sticky, very hot and sticky..I couldn’t concentrate and this cupboard was giving me trouble, this one of them all. Then through the doorway I could see her stretch her legs out, then his were there and his shorts down by his knees and Otto asking them to move over a little as he had only the two tiles to do there then he was finished, so there was a scraping movement then it was quiet, but in a moment I could hear that sound like the oil makes when you rub it thickly over your body to stop sunburn, so I stood up and walked outside to go to the shop and Fusco yelled from the second floor :

“Where you going?” but I didn’t feel like answering so he yelled again “Are you going to the shop?” and I shouted back “Yes” without turning “Then get me a salad roll,… you want the money?” but I kept on walking to the shop, strangely angry .

But, well, that was a long while back now, when I was working for Fusco and was quite young.

A Simple Love Affair.

Years ago I was “doing a reno’” for this Greek bloke who was managing the job for his daughter…who was the owner of the house. She was as the lovely “Anna” described in the story below. She would come around to the job every few days and talk to the old man about design and so on..I never spoke to her and only saw her from a distance..she always wore a jacket thrown over her shoulders in the Greek tradition, so I didn’t know she was a thalidomide child.

“ Is your daughter married? “ I once asked him.

“No!!..she never marry!” he replied with a twist of his face. I was puzzled.

“What do you mean ; never?” I persisted.

‘What?..You not see?..no arm , no marry”

“What do you mean : ‘No arm’ ?” I queried him.

“She have no arm..just a stump..her mother she once take that pill..tha…tha..” I twigged.

‘Thalidomide?”

“Yes!…that’s it..and she have no arm…so, no arm no marry…”

Of course, I have created a fantasy around that moment, that reality…and I have moved the story to the mallee, to another time and place.. Why not?..I too desire a better ending than what the sour cynicism of that old man offered. Why should there not be a simple love affair , set in a mallee town with two young people? Let us create our own “reality” ..if only for one moment, one afternoon! And even as the some may attest; that only 1% of people are interested…so effing what!? Let it be just that 1%, for that small number is powerful enough to move heaven and Earth to a better place in the heart of humanity even against the greater odds of the indolent 99% !

Dammit all !..what people have we become that we succumb to such beasts and barbarians that would not only steal our possessions, our ambitions, but would come back to steal our dreams !…we should all end up as those killers we saw happily re-enacting their brutality on the news last night!..and if we are but the 1% standing, with nothing to arm us against the cynical mob save our humble imagination..I tell you this; as far as I am concerned…: THEY SHALL NOT PASS!

So..let us imagine…

 
A Simple Love Affair.

When Anna fell in love it was not without a good deal of caution. You see: Anna was a thalidomide child and though she had grown to a beautiful woman, her left arm, stunted just below the elbow with two stumpy fingers threw a “check” on any chance of an out-going personality. So when Anna fell in love with Harry, it was a long, cautious apprenticeship.

Anna worked in partnership with her cousin; Bella, running a small general store in a country town out in the mallee. They named the business: “Annabellas” and it was a good business, an honest business well run that reflected the determination of the proprietors.

Anna was twenty- eight years old, of medium height with a slim face and long black hair down to the middle of her back. Let no-one doubt that old truth that a woman’s hair is her crowning glory! Anna was a fiercely independent woman and held no truck with self- pity, yet , there was that natural reserve that sets aside those with physical disabilities, that je ne sais quoi, (that certain something) of the spirit that brackets their behaviour, a caution in manner and speech that is sometimes sadly lacking in other, less impaired specimens of “Humanus Grossness!” However, in matters physical, Anna never failed to pull her weight, and was always ready with a quick witticism if her stunted limb failed her. Yet, she never developed a long term relationship with any boy from the district. Oh, she was not the type to lament this reality, nor did she overcompensate her disadvantage with lasciviousness! She just had a well-balanced perspective of the situation and the close-knit societies of country towns seem to lock the young into behaviour systems that exclude, in the majority, any dabbling in relationships away from the physical and physiological norm. Not that this is a fault, for a country town is born of the earth and survives from the earth and therefore any deviation from the “pure state” (however illusory that is) of natural wholeness is, if not condemned; shunned. To put it simply, as old Smith once remarked with a worldly shrug: “No arm…no marry.”

Harry was of the district, once. His family sold up and moved away many years before and now he had moved back to take over the garage, for Harry was a mechanic. Harry was thirty- three years old when he moved back to the district. He was tallish, well-built (for a mechanic!) with short fuzzy hair and a fixed smile on a generally happy face. Harry had no chip on his shoulder (no axe to grind!) and a healthy disposition. Just the person to run a garage in a small country town! Why sneer? he created neither moon nor sun, nor shook fist at others fortune, yet, Harry suffered that most disabling of conditions: He was shy!   Oh, he could slam the gearbox of any tractor onto the block of the engine, with appropriate epithets and wiping of greasy hands and shout to a farmer across the road:

” She’ll be right this ‘arvo  Clem’ ,”..but, stand him in front of a pretty woman and he’d fumble about like a cow in a mud-hole. So consequently, one rarely saw Harry outside of overalls and armed with a spanner… except for the annual football club ball. (you don’t like football?….tough, millions do!)

Harry’s garage was three doors down from “Annabellas”, consequently there was frequent conversation concerning pies or pasties or pieces of string between Anna and Harry. One of these centered around the aforementioned Ball..

“Getting close now.” Harry said in an offhand way.

“Yes” Anna checked the list of groceries. Harry shifted foot, like a horse resting.

“Who are you going with, Harry?” this threw him a little as he was about to ask Anna the same question.

“Huh,oh!…well, myself  I ‘spose…you got someone?” a slight inflection of voice.

“Yes….”(drop of mouth from Harry)”My father”. ( mouth picks up again) Anna ticks the last entry on the shopping list and looks up expectantly.

“Oh,..right.”

Harry fumbles in his top pocket and withdraws some money. He counts out carefully on the counter saying as he does so;

“Well I was wondering if you’d care to go with me?” Anna raised her eyebrows, the merest flicker of a warm smile at the edge of her mouth.

“Hmm,..but what about dad?”

“Oh,..he’d come too.” Harry quickly replied, lest there be insurmountable opposition. His eyes appealed.

“Well….” and here the usual reserve stalled her, but this time she relented. “I’ll ask dad if he doesn’t mind… ”

“And you’ll come if it’s ok with him?” Harry persisted unusually but fearfully.

Anna thought, then looked at Harry closely.

“Yes.” she said. Harry seemed to lose a frightful burden just then, for he suddenly straightened up and smiled.

“Righto!..”he quipped confidently,” I’ll…I’ll catch you later”. and he left the store..he suddenly returned sheeplishly to take his groceries. He gathered them up as if they were a clutch of puppies, smiled, and quickly retreated to his greasy nirvana.

Well, the night out at the ball went smoothly, as neither Anna nor Harry were wild ragers and would rather dance than drink. So consequently there were other social events that they escorted each other to ,for Anna would invite Harry as much as vice-versa and so it became accepted that Harry and Anna would be matched on invitations ipso-facto , so do small communities naturally react.

No more than a stage of evolution I suppose ( but you knew this was going to happen; shy man meets beautiful, flawed lady, they  fall in love, get married etc, etc and so forth!). But there was one hindering factor in this quaint affair of the heart: the thalidomide arm….the flaw!..ah!. as a flaw in a diamond will deflect the light so does a flaw in a human disturb the smooth natural flow of emotions . Why even an embrace would draw attention to Anna’s stump arm , she; the embarrassed frustration of not being able to rub a caressing hand over Harry’s shoulders, he ;the knowing of this frustration in Anna and the clumsy overcompensation on his part, the actions of dismissal of the offending limb! Yet that limb was her, or a part of her, as much as a leg or nose or breast! She knew it, he knew it but still the dammed thing would obtrude, out of all proportion into their consciousness. But then again, neither of them could or would broach such a delicate subject, such are the halting secrets of the heart: “will I? should I?” and so neither is done.

I’ll have to mention that long before Anna had met Harry, she became aware of this nagging feeling and once even, had seen a doctor in the city with a view to amputation of the offending limb, reasoning that it would be easier to explain away an injury than be eternally on show as a “freak”. Fortunately, (for she was strong willed) this idea, born on the wings of youthful despair, was soon cast aside as ridiculous and childish. And she grew stronger for it. Oh! that us with body complete could draw on such fortitude, when even a slight ailment of body or soul sends us into paroxysms of complaints  Oh frail souls !  Oh weak heart!

So into the summer months under a vacant sky rafting on a sea of mallee bush did they continue with their courting, a gentle affair with neither tryst nor jealousy but as two labourers with a common goal they met , socialised and parted. And Harry “popped ” the question. And Anna accepted and indeed, why shouldn’t she?….She desired children, a home to raise them in….but do I feel a little raising of hackles in you at this servile “acceptance” of a “woman’s lot”? Should she rebel at this “Patriarchal” social construction? ahh! ….permit me a smile….and I ask you : do you really believe the world and all in it waits with bated breath for miraculous revelations from those that would have us stride with determination down this or that corrected path?….I once waited…and so I now smile… Yes. Anna accepted, yet there was one unsolved dilemma left in the air and she meant to speak to Harry about it soon.

Saterdee arvo, ahh! is there a more pleasant occupation than being young and alive in the summer with work behind you on a sunny Saterdee afternoon in the country?… Harry thought not as he stood wiping his greasy hands with a limp, greasy cloth outside his garage. A smile on his dial, a song in his heart and whom should he spot walking up the pavement toward him?…

“Anna!” he called with glee.”Where’re you off to with such a pretty bouquet?..not another secret love I hope?” and he laughed .And gosh, didn’t she look pretty….her warming smile above the multi hued bouquet.

“It’s for mothers grave actually”, she said. Harry gulped at his over exuberant gaffe!

“Oh dear, pardon me”, he gasped. Anna smiled now.

“Don’t be silly, she’s been dead fifteen years now”. and she fussed with the arranging of the flowers”I’m going out to her memorial now, ..you want to come?”

“Say no more.” and off they went.They had hardly driven a hundred yards when Harry suddenly ducked his head below the dashboard.

“What are you doing?” frowned Anna. “Just keep going it’s Noela Maletz! I said I’d have her car fixed this arvo!”

“What, are you afraid of her?”

“Dammit, the whole town’s afraid of her.”

“Whatever for? she’s a lovely lady….she just knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to say it.” Harry raised his eyes to glance backwards out of the car.

“Well, if she saw me driving around instead of fixing her car, she’d want my guts for garters! I’d lend her my car, ‘cept it’s out of action.”

“Your car?! it’s the worst bomb in town!”

“Oh yeah. an’ I bet your cupboards are empty!” they were both silent for a moment then burst into simultaneous laughter.

“The carpenters house is falling down around his ears!…. Anna cried …”And the cobbler has holes in his shoes!…Harry laughed..”And the tailor has the arse hangin’ out of his trousers! they both choked in fits of laughter ..”Ahhahal..but it’s true!” cried Anna.

The car pulled up at the cemetery gates, Anna jumped out, Harry made to follow.

“Wait there, just be a minute.”

“But I thought you wanted me to come?”

“To her memorial. yes, this is her grave. We’ll go there next, I’ll be right back.”

It seemed a mystery to Harry, “Graves…memorials…same thing.” Anna returned in a moment and they started going again.

“I just had to replace the flowers.”

“So where is the memorial?”

“On the farm, dad made it just after mum died, it is rather unusual…we’ll be there in a little while.”

The family farm was ten kilometers out of town on a side road. After the black ribbon of bitumen, turning off onto the dirt road was like turning into a photograph:

“And I mark how the green of the trees,
Matches the blue vault of the sky….”

The low stunted mallee trees leant in from the shoulder of the road, the fronds of slim leaves dipping over the limestone gravel. Blackened twists of discarded bark and twigs littered around the knuckled boles and roots. Here and there amongst fallen trees, rabbit warrens displayed their sprays of fresh diggings white and musty amongst tangles and hummocks and if the eye is quick enough, a flash of cheeky tail can be spotted sporting behind tussocks of native grass, or even a round-glassy eye spying unblinkingly for any sign of danger, then a quick “thump-thump!” signal to other rabbits and scurry down the safety of a burrow and braer rabbit says cheerio for the daylight hours!

Anna drove off into a track with a gate in the fence, entering the paddock, she drove alongside the fence till she reached another gate, though much smaller than the first, like a front gate to a house, there was a carefully manicured path with white stones edging it, that led on a gentle slope toward a grotto-like cavern at the bottom of a basin in the surrounding land. Anna led them to this singular spot, for Harry had never heard of it before. They stood at the lip of the soak, green kikuyu grass spilled out from the sunken pit, it was circular, about thirty feet in diameter and the front sloped down to a pool of cool, clear water mirrored under an overhanging lip of limestone six foot above the pool. To one side of the pond, in a well tended, circle of earth, was the most beautiful flowering yellow rose-bush Harry had ever seen! He stood at the lip, gazing around at the scene.

“How long has this been here?” he asked amazed.

“As long as I can remember, Mum and Dad used to bring us here in the hot weather and we’d wade in the pool. After Mum died, Dad and us kids made it into a sort of memorial….she liked the place so much…”The oasis” she called it. Dad also pumps water out for the stock in the dry weather. It never seems to run dry.”

“And the rose?” Harry asked.
“I planted that….a rose for incorruption….she liked yellow.”

“It’s a lovely place….peaceful.” Harry spoke dreamily…Anna took out a pair of clippers and went toward the rose.

“Come…”she called “Help me cut some roses.”

So they stood, she cutting, he taking the blooms. With her stumpy arm Anna deftly moved the prickly stems out of the way, her long, dark tresses falling this way and that over the blossoms so sparkling yellow in the sunlight. Now and then a petal would dislodge and fall spiraling to the earth, so silent was it there you could almost hear- the petals touch the soil.

“Harry?” Anna spoke as she concentrated.

“Mmm.”

“What do you think of my arm?” she didn’t look at him as she asked, she was listening to the tone in his voice. Harry hesitated…he knew what she meant and was delving into his emotions .

“Your arm…”He repeated almost to himself. “I..I think it’s unfortunate but I don’t feel put off by it.” it was a start.

“It’s a burden, Harry, always has been, always will be, strange how sometimes it feels like it isn’t a part of me, so different, when I wake sometimes I look to see if it was just a dream.”

“Does it make a difference to our relationship?” he asked.

“In its clumsy intrusion, you know that.. yes..more later perhaps than now, when our company grows familiar and little things come between us.”

Harry didn’t answer, but shrugged his shoulders. Anna stood facing him and placed her hand on his shoulder,

“Harry, we are about to be married….to have children…from there it’s a long road ahead..”

“I_..I’m sure we can do as good as other people in their marriages. ” Harry gently replied. Anna turned slowly to one side to stare at the rose.

“I worry, Harry, that any children we may have will not also be affected.”

“It’s not passed on .I believe.”

“You believe,but who knows!” Anna’s emotions engulfed her and she dropped her head crying “ Who knows,Harry…it killed my mother, the responsibility she felt for it…if..if I bore children that were deformed..”

“Oh I’d hardly call….”Harry interrupted.

“Yes!” Anna persisted “deformed, for that’s what it is Harry, deformed…and I would indeed blame myself for…for..” and she turned her tear-stained face to him..

“Oh, Harry, If ever there was a time to back away from your commitment, it is now!…I wouldn’t hold it against you…but marry me not with naivety, nor…for gods’ sake ..pity!” and she turned to him with a steady challenging gaze. Harry reached for her stump-arm and deliberately took it in his hands. she automatically went to pull it away but he held it tight and though she could have withdrawn it. a stronger force held her.

“Anna….would you think me so simple so as not to see the complications that lie ahead in our marriage?…for marriage it shall be, lest thou refuse me…and would you hold my feelings for you so lightly that you could see me casting them aside, like a discarded rag , for nothing more than this stunted limb? For if that be the measurement of grace, where does one start.? Do I compare the beauty of your eyes against size of  your feet?…or grace of your step to the lobe of your ear?….hearty laugh against dirty nail?..and where do I stop?..” He rubbed Anna’s two stumpy fingers gently “If  I gaze into your eyes, do you see pity, greed, selfishness?..look now, Anna , don’t turn away, look!…you see affection..no pity, no naivety, no denial…I’m a grown man….l love you, Anna, do not misjudge me nor deny your own feelings but just say you will marry me.”

Harry raised her stump-arm to his lips, the two tiny fingernails painted red like those on her good arm, and kissed her fingers. Anna’s face contorted to one of weeping happiness and she flung her good arm about Harry’s neck and there they embraced while standing over the rose bush.

“Yes, Harry,” she murmured in his ear” I will marry you, yes!”

Billy Guy.

Billy Guy wasn’t so much a mystery as an enigma…and that only because he spoke with such a thick Scottish accent that nobody could understand a word he said. Mark could claim that he knew him best, having spent a whole evening drinking with him, conversing with him while both were in an inebriated state..but when pressed to reveal the slightest bit of knowledge as to Billy’s occupation, place of origin, dreams or aspirations..even his favourite football team, Mark was completely dumbfounded.

 

“But you spent the whole night there at the bar drinking and talking and slapping each other on the back!…Didn’t you learn anything?” his friends demanded.

 

“Are you kidding??..with that brogue?..I’m buggered if I can remember what he said…and in the state we both were in, I’d be mighty surprised if’n he knew anything I was saying!” Mark tersely replied.

 

So Billy Guy remains an enigma to this day. That is not to say that he looked mysterious, or had an interesting character…or an interesting job, for his clothes never betrayed any occupation above junior clerical or it could have been storeman…or electrician..the more “hands-on” trades like mechanic or builder would have been betrayed by a dirtier clothed countenance.

 

But you would sometimes spot him walking down steep Wheatland Street of a darkening evening, his collar pulled up against the sea-wind that blew up the road and climbing the “Guests Entrance” steps to go to his room on the second floor of the Seacliff Hotel , where he resided for more years than many of the wastrel clientele that drank there could remember. It was said that whenever the hotel changed ownership, Billy was traded in the sale as part of the “goods and chattels”.

 

So far as anyone could recall, going by various patrons opinions, Billy Guy resided at that establishment for nigh on 30 years…with only one change of address..; from room 6 to room 7..one person did recall in a lucid spoken moment that Billy admitted to him that it was this lengthy stay that he believed created his drinking problem.

 

The only ecstatic outburst witnessed from that nondescript character, that in turn betrayed his passion for the code of football known in the antipodes as : soccer..was a news clip on the tele’ showing  “Celtic football club” winning the Scottish league back in the mid seventies sometime…

 

“Yahgrahhhyergronnagriberrrrichaaaa !…” Billy shouted , or at least something that sounded like that, as he jumped onto the front bar shouting at the television with both arms pumping up and down to every else’s dumbfounded amazement!! He soon regained his composure and with shamefaced apologies to Ron the barman, climbed down to sit quietly again on his stool there in his usual place in the corner of the bar.

 

To this day, I do not know in the slightest as to what happened to Billy Guy, and no one else seems to either…When the Seacliff Hotel was finally totally renovated and the old clientele evicted to cater for the Gen x’s and y’s taste in decor and amusement , Billy Guy evaporated back into the ether..

But for this…

Jasper.

Jasper was a “Balt’ ”..ie; he was of those states centered around the Baltic Sea..perhaps he could have been Estonian…he was a tall ponderous sort of chap…with a long serious gaze, with one of those what are called “lantern jawed” faces. He always spoke in a slow , carefully chosen word way..I don’t wonder many philosophers came from the Baltic States..Jasper appeared to put a lot of thought into what he said before he said it…but then he didn’t ever say much of great import.

 

“You gotta watch those ‘Balts’ “ Jack Mitchell warned..’Ooo..they’re trouble..those Balts”.

 

He always wore shorts in the summer..not short shorts like a footballer, but loose baggy ones to the knee. He would sit at the bar pint in hand with legs crossed in a peculiar effeminate way..that is; with his legs entwined like women do…and he would stare incessantly at one person or spot before delivering some profound statement.

 

“Michael”..he announced out of the blue one day “Michael..would you tell your girlfriend to stop staring at my legs…I know I haff good, manly legs…but could she please not to stare at them so ?”

 

Of course , Mick was astonished and choked on his beer…Tracey, Mick’s girlfriend, was outraged and put on one hell of a show…Jasper was nonplussed by the whole affair and just commenced to roll a cigarette with his slow ponderous methodology.

 

Jasper had huge hands…big fingers more suited to blacksmithing or a farrier for draught horses than what he did do…but no-one knew quite what that was as he was an awful liar. Jasper’s toil at rolling a cigarette was something to watch..he was so clumsy with those big hands that it was quite a chore that exasperated him at times.

 

One day a “airy” young lady sitting next to him at the bar took out of her dilly-bag one of those automatic cigarette rollers where you place the paper then the tobacco, then lift or flip the lid and a perfectly formed “rolly” appears to greet you. Jasper, ciggy-paper stuck to his bottom lip watched this magic with deep concentration, his big paw all the while shoved deep into the pouch of tobacco…as he watched, the ciggy-paper fluttered with his breath on his lip…he detached it and addressed the young lady.

 

“That is a cleffer machine…a vonderful machine …where did you obtain it?” he asked in his slow deep voice.

 

“Well I didn’t steal it if that’s what you mean?’ The young woman replied.

 

“ I vas not accusing you, madam…you look like a honest young lady..an honest AND attractive young lady…perhaps later I would like to get to know you in a more familiar way..I like you..and I like your machine..I am asking where you haff purchased it”…

 

The following week, Jasper was seen to have one of those machines ..it would sit at his elbow on the bar next to his pouch of “Drum” tobacco…Jasper now had a contented look on his face, and he would gladly demonstrate the marvels of that machine to anyone who asked..and many would take advantage of his hospitality of the proffered resulting cigarette until he woke up to the fact that he was being taken for a ride…philosophers are like that, they learn fast!

 

Jasper disappeared out of our lives as quickly as he appeared..Late one night he asked Mick for a lift home on the back of his 1000cc. Suzuki…Mick delighted in putting the fear of god in anyone silly enough to ride pillion with him..Jasper had no sooner settled himself on the trembling machine and informed Mick to drive carefully as he, Jasper, was…and that was the last we heard of Jasper as Mick took off full-throttle and it was impossible to tell if it was the roar of the motor, the squeal of the tyre or the Joe. E. Brown howl of  despair from Jasper as they disappeared down Yakka Road toward Sth. Brighton.

 

But he never came back.

A Quiet Little Corner of the World.

A  respectable tradesman I have known for many years told me of when he was a young blade, he and some friends rented a flat above a funeral director’s office and “workshop”. If they were busy and short-handed, they would call on him for some work. He didn’t mind as it helped pay the rent. In the early days the old hands would play jokes on him, with a sort of “black humour”. But sometimes he was roped into the more mundane activities of the industry. He told me of this little “event”…of course, I have taken the usual liberties with the story-line.

It went like this:

A Quiet Little Corner of the World.

The van slowed momentarily in the driveway as Andy and Sam waited for the roller-door to open. A large sign embossed in black on the right hand side of the door said “TIMOTHY & SON Funeral Directors.” Sam pulled the van up inside the cavernous building. They had just opened the back door and were reaching in to take out the chipboard coffin when a voice called to them from the office.

“Hold it leave it in there.” Andy and Sam straightened up and turned. “Leave it there”, the man repeated, “You’re going straight out again, to the cemetery”. Lanky Sam dropped his shoulders and slouched

“O..Right, tell me now….you could’a got me on the mobile….I went right past ‘Centennial’ on the way back here!”

“He’s not going to Centennial, the man handed Sam a sheath of paperwork, threw in two thick boards and some rope then reached up to close the van door. Sam stepped to one side as he read the paper.

“Leighton Well!” he exclaimed…”That’s an hour away…out in the sticks.”

“That’s right.” the man replied.

“Yeah..well,” Sam whined limply ..”and I gotta drive the Caddie’ this arvo for Mr Bannister’s funeral”.

“Right again.” the man agreed..”So you better get a move on”..and he gently pushed a finger into Sam’s chest..”Ay?”

Sam raised his hands pleading.

“But He’s only a “lossol”..and there’s nothing but a cemetery at Leighton Well.”

” Three out of three!…so you guessed right…He’s going to be “INTERRED” at Leighton Well cemetery.”

“But they usually burn them when they got no rellies.”

“Well this one has rellies now and they want him buried A.S.A.P….so get a move on or you won’t be driving anything!  Both of you”.

Sam sighed.

“C’mon Andy, back on the road.” and he climbed in and started the engine. “Couldn’t it wait till tomorrow,John?” He called to the man.

“It could, but it won’t…The people want it done as soon as possible…the council’s tee’d up an’ I’ve got the local backhoe out there already, working on the grave… just get him in the ground so I can bill the rellies this afternoon an it’s all over and done with..alright?” and he turned away.

The shallow undulating mallee stretched away on both sides of the highway, The men spoke little, Sam, because he was piqued at the ,to him, unnecessary burden of this unscheduled trip and Andy, because he was aware of Sam’s mood and being new to the job did not want to aggravate an old hand. But he was curious.

“What’s a “lossol” and why do they usually burn them?” He inquired.

Sam turned a bored eye to Andy, sighed and spoke.

“A-Lost-Soul…lossol, get it…lost soul…a dead weight..a ward of the state…derelect, a retarded person, a nobody, no kin, no nobody…alone in the world….in this case” he jerked his head to the coffin in the back of the van ‘Downs Syndrome’.”

“And they burn them?”

“Costs less…much less…but I saw on the paper this one has a religion, or at least his kin have…don’t want a cremation? next best thing : a cheap plot. And they don’t come any cheaper than Leighton Well”. then there was silence.

“Poor bastard” Andy muttered. Sam drove on in silence for a while, then , without turning his head spoke conciliatory to Andy.
“Some people are like that, more in the past than now you know, big family, well heeled, well respected in the district then along comes a misprint, so to speak….and, well, they don’t want to know about it , eh?…like I said, not so much now, but this fellah is an old one, I saw him last week….got run over on the road…I thought he was a ward of the state…rellies musta got in touch with John….oh well.”

“But why so far out?…I mean, nobody knows what a body’s like when it’s underground, if it’s a cripple or a dwarf or, or, …or anything…. it’s just a plot of ground with a tombstone on it.”

“The people who bury it know…the plots cost nothing out here….one thing you learn in this business, an that’s the family’s private opinion of those they bury. Too much pomp and ceremony, too little, too cheap, too garish you get to know the sincere ones just by their silences, their moods…their respect.” Sam changed back a gear to overtake a truck.

“Take Mr. Bannister….big wheel in the district, big funeral, a whole heap of them coming down from town this afternoon.”

“Hey, a joke:…Bannisters coming down…banister of a stair…ha ha!..coming down ,get it…huh huh?”

Sam looked to him and winced.

” Say, what’s it like driving the Cadillac?”

Sam snorted.

“As smooth as a silk shroud slipped over polished mahogany”.

Andy pursed his lips appreciatively and turned to gaze over the sun-drenched scrub.

The settlement of Leighton Well was one of those lost towns in the mallee. As many ruins as lived in houses, a service station cum general store and that was it….no church, no hotel, nothing. A sign on the far side of town pointed to the cemetery. The van turned down this road.

A man slouched against the wheel of a backhoe waved an arm to direct the van around to the plot.’Thought you’d never get here.” the backhoe driver complained.”Got a septic tank to put in this arvo”. he unnecessarily informed them.

Sam went to the hole and gazed in. He took a tape ruler from his pocket and lowered the end to the bottom.

“To the inch….eh?” the driver smirked. Sam turned a jaundiced eye to him and said nothing. The driver smiled.

“Get the boards and rope ” he ordered Andy. Once these were in place they went for the coffin.

“Pretty plain coffin.” the backhoe driver remarked.

They placed it on the boards.Sam straightened and looked around him.

“No-one to impress out here.” he remarked.

The driver moved to the side of the hole.

“Well, let’s get it over and done with….you two take the ropes and I’ll remove the boards.” the driver remarked impatiently.

Sam and Andy straddled the hole and lowered down the coffin. Their faces showed the strain of the job as they did so. The ropes were pulled out afterwards and taken to the van. The driver of the backhoe climbed up to the cabin and started the engine…he called out….

“If you want to say any last words now’s the time!” Sam winced at him .

“C’mon Andy, let’s go”.

Andy paused, looked into the grave and then to the backhoe then to Sam…

“Hang on Sam, maybe we should say something.” he looked down to the coffin as he spoke, a sort of anxious mood about his words. Sam turned.

“Say what?”

“I don’t know, something….I’m new to this game …I don’t know..you must know some words….” he pleaded “…it, it doesn’t seem right  to just walk away….”

“There’s no words to say, is there…” Sam pinched the bridge of his nose “He was a mongoloid, a nobody…people don’t speak to mongoloids, they speak AT them…no-one loved him…he’s dead, he’s better off.”

The backhoe pushed some earth into the grave, Andy stepped back, looked to Sam in a astonished way then to the driver of the tractor.

“Hold it!” he cried….”wait…Sam….geeze, not like this…I mean well, …God loved him…perhaps?”

Sam turned and winced.

“What -are -you fuckin’ talkin’ about…? ” he approached Andy angrily ” the poor prick’s born retarded, rejected by his kinfolk, grows up in an institution, gets run over by a..a fuckin’dump-truck or somethin’ outside the sheltered workshop, is buried out in the sticks like a sick kangaroo and you tell me god loves him !…get in the van.” he jerked his thumb over his shoulder and he strode away.

Andy lowered his head to gaze at the coffin and frowned, the backhoe driver made a questioning gesture with his face. Andy straightened his shoulders and closed his eyes. Sam sounded the horn from the van. Andy looked out over the mallee, the cemetery was on a gently sloping hillside and he could see the scrub run away to the horizon.

“Take the living humans away and this would be a pretty tranquil sort of place…a quiet place…” he thought to himself.he joined his hands clumsily, he wasn’t going to let this go without a little bit of respect.

“Dear God.” he tried to conjure up a picture of God but couldn’t .. “.whoever you are..have mercy…on..on this person here….and..and may he rest in peace ….in ..in his own quiet..little corner of the world…”