The Last Lingering Kiss.

I was told this little episode of life in the hushed tones of scandal by a nun I once knew many years ago…I thought it was one of the most tragic things in the everyday work-world that I had ever heard..

 

It went like this..:

 

 

The Last Lingering Kiss.

 

“  “ I can’t stop now!” she gasped a passionate moan as her arms reached for him..”I’ve desired you for too many nights.”

 

He responded huskily, his taut, muscular arms embracing her and driving out all resistance. It was as if some strange, torrid tempest had suddenly descended down on to their bodies as they struggled to out-do one another in the removal of their clothing. He grasped her in his arms and lifted her clear of the carpet, his lips parted and he moaned as he buried his face in her soft, ample, velvet-like breasts.

 

“Ohh. Brendon !”,she cried, surrendering her body to his firm, impatient, maleness.”Hold me”, she quivered.

 

“You’re trembling”, he whispered…”

 

Sergeant Tom Flannigan closed the book with a wince and a sad hiss of breath. Distracted by a sudden rising of the wind in the mallee trees outside, he gazed in silent contemplation at raindrops streaking against the window.

 

“Right on time,” he mumbled to himself. He was referring to those first good rains of the season. ”Tim’ll be glad he finished seedin’ this mornin’ “.

 

His gaze moved from the window back to the book on the desk in front of him. He picked it up wearily and slipped it into an opaque, plastic bag that contained five similar paperbacks. He then folded the top over and sealed it with three staples and labeled it :

 

Evidence….stolen property, Crown v’s accused : Sr. Mary Margaret : Principal / Teacher ; St Joseph’s School, West Waylong…Victoria ..Age : 43 yrs.

 

Tom Flannigan read back over the label, he snorted when he came to Sr. Mary Margaret’s status in this small country town and spoke out loud..;

 

“Principal, teacher, Also ; lay missionary, August leader of the Sunday prayers, choir organizer / lead singer, dishwasher, cook, cleaner ,bottle washer, big mother to all the god fearing god hating lonely poor beaten, broken down and out bastards between Bourke and bloody Booleroo Centre….the “ear” to the community..God have pity on her.”

 

He rose and with an angry tug on a hanging string, extinguished the light. The police station at West Waylong was a residential, so the distance between work and home was the thickness of a door jamb.

 

Tom Flannigan was one of those few who could leave their work worries behind them at closing time, besides, Tom had his own worries, for several days now, he had put off writing a reply to his fiancé, not for nothing to write about, but rather, (as she had complained of a “cold, distant feel ” in his correspondence),because of a forlorn search for a more passionate wording of his feelings toward her in his letters.

 

Although this was the second time around in the marriage game for Tom, it was no easier for him to overcome that word-block of emotional and verbal commitment demanded by women from their suitors! Tom scratched behind his ear as he jiggled the eggs and bacon in the pan..; what to say, what to say;

 

“I do love you Beth’ with all my heart!” he mumbled such clumsy sentences to himself as he completed cooking his evening meal and crossed to the table. He placed the plate on the table, and after a moments hesitation , decided that the eggs and bacon needed a bit of a “lift”…he took a small tin of baked beans from a cupboard and added it’s contents to the bacon and eggs, speaking theatrically as he did so…

 

“Your eyes are like the moon,.(a gesture with the hand) your lips are as cherries nah! …your lips are as…as that girl on the toothpaste ad’ nah!”

 

So you can see, Tom. Flannigan had his mind full of that awful doubt that trips and tangles the lovelorn. Added to this was the fact that his future bride had no intention of ever…ever living in such a distant , lonely town like West Waylong! ….

 

So he had no thought to ponder on why a respectable, well-educated person like Sr. Mary Margaret would steal tacky romances of pulp-fiction. There were laws in place to govern the prosecution of criminal actions and his was the task to follow those laws through.

 

Rule# 1 : Never confuse the laws of state with the laws of sentiment. In the morning ,Tom Flannigan would transpose the interview he had with Sr. Margaret from tape to document and pass it on to headquarters for its consideration. As far as he was concerned ; the end of the story….

 

” Interview with Sr. Mary Margaret… 12th August 19….

 

Accused of stealing six paperback novels from the “Criterion Book Shop” Main Street , West Waylong ..

 

Present .Sgt Thomas Flannigan.. Fr. Dennis Mulcahy ..Sr. Mary Margaret

 

Questioning..: Sgt Flannigan..:

 

I ask: “Were you in the Criterion Book Shop last Friday afternoon?”

 

Fr. Mulcahy. “You answer the questions as best you feel ,Sister.”

 

Sr. Margaret. “Thank you for that valuable advice Dennis,….to your question , Sgt, : Yes, I was there.”

 

I ask. “While you were there, did you pick up this book? ( shown paperback).title: “The Last Lingering Kiss”?

 

Sr. M. “Yes, I did.”

 

I ask. “You were then seen to place this book in your bag and walk out of the shop….Did you deliberately intend to steal it?”

 

Fr. Mul. “Now Sister, keep in mind you have not yet been charged with any misdemeanor. so you don’t…Sgt, (He confided) I’ve had a call from Monsignor, He has suggested, not without a considerable amount of thought on the subject… keeping in mind the age of Sister and that troubling time of life for women of that age, maybe (he glances to Sr. M.) a touch of kleptomania brought on by the stress of menopause?”

 

I ask. “Do you wish to comment on that, Sr.?”

 

Sr. M. “I’d rather retain what little dignity I have left than to respond to ..to Monsignor’s …er, suggestion.” (she crosses hands on top of desk).

 

I ask. “Then I’ll ask again….did you intend to steal the book?”

 

Sr. M. (silence…turns eyes askance, blushes…then looks directly at me)”Yes.”

 

Fr. Mul. (groans).

 

I ask. “These other books were voluntarily given in by you….did you intend to steal these also?”

 

Sr. M. (breathes deeply)”Yes sergeant, I did.”

 

Fr. Mul. “Why Sister, Why?”

 

Sr. M. “Because Dennis , of a reason I very much doubt you would understand! neither you nor the Monsignor!”

 

Fr. Mul. “It goes beyond all rational thought, Sister, that you, in particular, could have the slightest interest in these…these trashy productions!”

 

I ask: “Fr. Mulcahy, I am at this time trying to establish the plea of the accused, I am not looking for whys and wherefores…Do you Sr. Margaret, admit to the theft of the aforementioned books?”

 

Sr. M. (Takes a deep breath)”Yes, Sergeant ,I do.”

 

Fr. Mul. “You do realise, Sister, where this places us, the church, in the eyes of the community?”

 

Sr. M. (heatedly)” Oh damn the community!….( Fr. Mulcahy leaps to his feet) and damn you Dennis and damn the Monsignor and double damn the damn Church!”

 

Fr. Mul. “Are you gone mad ,Sister, are you madl?”(I grasp Fr. Mulcahy by the arm and sit him back down).

 

I ask. “I must ask you , Fr. to restrain yourself, you are here only as a supporting representative of the diocese so please restrict your comments to that role….and I remind you, Sister, that all you say can and will be considered as evidence…”

 

Sr. M. ”Oh shut up Tom!…(She stands with fists pressed on table )and you Dennis!….both of you….shut up!…Are you blind? can’t you see we are all of us here in the same situation? (Fr. Mul and I remain silent)..All obliged to serve an institution….an unforgiving, blind institution!…and..and a so called infernal “COMMUNITY!” that denies us any right to a life of our own..no!, don’t you interrupt me Tom Flannigan, I know all about your last marriage, you lost that because of the hours you spent on the job rather than with your family. The police force demanded it. The community demanded it  and you ,Dennis, how many more years before the bottle claims your soul?…ah! don’t deny it, I know you only too well.. it’s written all through your eyes.. and those “Holidays” to dry out down by the coast..We’re all three of us damned to play a set-piece for the Community, the Law and the Church. (she sits wearily down)…Oh how I longed desperately to be able to go home at night sometimes to children of my own…a man! …of my own, be him hopeless, be him ugly , but be him human…just human… rather than the dried out wafflings of the writings of a “holy book”!…(she pauses, stares blankly ahead, speaks quietly, slowly) do you have any idea how empty a sound, is the parched, crisp, turning of the pages of a prayer book in the quiet of an evening always alone?

 

The three of us have committed social crimes here, only my crime is more visible….I haven’t neglected a family, nor tippled with the altar-wine…I am guilty of a crime of passion….I have tried to steal a modicum of illusion of fantasy….of lust with a man.”

 

(there is a moments silence as we gathered our thoughts)

 

Fr. Mul. “But why steal the books? Why didn’t you just buy them?”.

 

I ask: ” Yes Sister, why did you steal them?”.

 

Sr. M. (sighs, leans back in the chair )”Looking back on it, I could say I don’t know..the first one was an accident…I slipped it into my bag absent mindedly as I picked up another thing I wanted to buy…but when I discovered the error later, I stayed silent..why?..; a kleptomaniac impulse….a thrill? no, not a thrill I think rather, it was a part of the desire, an integral component of the hunger…a hunger for the love I did not have…I believe as we grow from the child to the adult, each of us seeks that love..that particular love, most denied…perhaps we are all assigned a set amount of little crimes in this life…alongside our everyday duties, little grubby crimes, along with the humdrum of responsibility and rules..and when we step outside of that regular pattern into the more shady area of our deeds, we must accept a completely different set of rules..”Oh what wicked webs we weave…”(a bitter laugh)….I fought with myself for years against the desires…like you, Dennis with the bottle..and you Tom with the duties of the police officer in a little country town but when can one stop?…can one stave off forever the natural impulse to drop the facade of religion. of law and order?…some can…I couldn’t…anymore…I desired a passionate embrace from a man (she leans forward over the table and speaks slowly)Gentlemen,…I too, wanted a moment of being desired!..how I envied Christ his Magdalene.. and these trashy books were as close as I was going to come to it in this God-forsaken place!…in this God-forsaken church in my own human forsaken life!”

(The three of us sit silently staring ).

 

Interview terminated….

 

Nine days later.

 

Tom Flannigan glanced up from his desk in the office to meet the eyes of Sister Mary Margaret. He stood to receive her proffered hand. She was leaving the district.

 

“Just to say cheerio, Tom…and wish you luck.”

 

‘Thanks sister…thank you and yourself.” he fumbled with the biro in his hand ,then dropped it casually on the table. “What…what will happen to you?” he asked

 

The nun laughed softly,

 

“Oh,…it’s a big institution; the church…I’ll be swallowed up in it somewhere after a little penance….I’ll become anonymous once again.. slowly ,I trust, the desire for the human touch will be “cleansed” from my soul.. like Dennis’s liver..( another chuckle)….and you ,Tom.?”

 

“Me!…oh, I’ll just….just carry on as usual I ‘spose.. hmm…. look, Sister, I know they are going to prosecute this case in the city, so I won’t be seeing you again….I want you to know that I erased that last part of the interview the three of us had I didn’t see it as relevant to the case and I don’t suppose it would have interested the people at headquarters ”

 

“Yes, I expect you are right, Tom, there are some aspects of the lives of our community leaders that are best left in illusion (she chuckled again)..a bit like a trashy romance.”

“Well,Tom, goodbye.”

 

“Cheerio, Sister, cheerio.”

The Love Bowl.

 

It stood on my grandmother’s dresser in the lounge. A strange, glass bowl about eight inches across, of several soft colours, neither striped nor layered, but like clouds in the sky, their burred edges blended and vague..touching and yet not..where two colours would have a common border , then interrupted by another intruding between the two.

When I was around twelve years old I asked her what it was. My grandmother came from Ireland, she was a tiny woman with a wealth of stories from the old country. She saw my curiosity in the bowl and after a moment’s hesitation, she got up from her arm-chair and came and reached up and took the bowl down from its place on the shelf.

“It’s called a ‘Love Bowl’ “ she spoke, not necessarily to me, as to a distant past. “Or at least that’s what my mother called it…It was hers …given to her by my father when they were courting.” She touched the bowl tenderly, turning it around slowly in her hands, the familiarity in which she caressed its surface demonstrated that she had done this thing many times in her life.

“Here,” she said , once again noticing my interest “ look at this..if I hold it to the light in a certain manner, like this..look..you can clearly see the blending of the colours..it all becomes clear and concise..you can see it all plain as day…But then, if I turn it this way..now look!..by just the slightest effect of the light, see how it now is clouded and opaque..like you have no clear idea of where one colour stops and the other starts…it becomes confused..you no longer can trust your own eyes…that’s why it is called a “love bowl”…because that is how love works”.

“What do you mean, gran’ ? ” I asked innocently.” How does love work?”

Gran’ placed the bowl on the wide board top of the dresser and leaned on her fore-arms and we both stared at the bowl while she explained.

“ When one is in love..truly in love, one trusts and one gives oneself completely over to that trust so that one’s eyes become clear and focused…like when the light falls in the right place on the bowl and you can see the blending of colours clearly..you have no doubts, you have no fear in your heart.” and grandma suddenly stood straight and threw her arms up in the air “ You feel full of life and full of joy..you feel you could take on the world and win!..and why not?..you are in love..”

Gran’ stopped in her enthusiasm and once more came to rest her arms on the dresser. She turned the bowl to another side and slowly spoke again;

“ But then..if you suddenly start to doubt your love..like the colours in the bowl when turned against the light, you can no longer see your way clearly..you start to doubt even your own eyes and you start to imagine what is not there..suspicion creeps into your soul and you blame others for what you yourself conceive..and then anger, jealousy and spite enters into the relationship and that’s when love leaves the house..” She took a deep breath and straightened..”That is why the bowl is always left so that the light strikes it at the right angle…so love will stay in the heart and in the home.”

I remember then reaching for the bowl and I nearly upset it, so that gran’ quickly grasped it and held it away from my greedy fingers. She was frightened.

“No!”..she cried “In the name of heaven, boy..be careful!..” She must have seen a look of hurt in my eyes, so she softened and explained..; “It’s the glass, lad..and the way it is made..It is worked in a certain way , of such glass, of a certain temperature that if it were to break, it would not just break into several bits, but shatter into a million pieces so that it can never be put back together..it would break like a broken heart..”

“Your dad must have loved your mum.” I remarked casually.

“ He did, lad..he did..but she died in childbirth with her forth child…and not more than a year later he remarried…” Gran was silent for a minute “He married his younger secretary..and I sometimes wonder…” She looked at me and stopped.

She then replaced the bowl up on its shelf, adjusted it to her satisfaction and dusted her hands on her skirt and stared for a moment.

“I suppose I should be thankful it is still in one piece then .”

Gran’ passed away a long time ago now, but I have often wondered what happened to the bowl.

 

 

The Big Catch.

 

A silent, still night on Darwin Jetty…fishing..it wasn’t my idea of an eventful evening, but Bernie wanted to fish…and after “fishing” him out of the local lock-up the last night, I presume the last thing he wanted was another “eventful evening”. I won’t go into the details of Bernie’s jailing, many and varied are the layman’s path to chokey, injured pride being the usual penance for the journey..better to go fishing!

 

Trouble is, Bernie had that unfailing knack of attracting attention. Perhaps it was the voice that carried , the unfortunate practice of an uncivil comment when commentee was not out of earshot, bringing a wincing to the eye and a moving away of the vulnerable body before-the-fight-started.

 

And there we were..on Darwin Jetty, fishing.

 

Someone once said (perhaps it was me) that fishing is akin to a sadomasochist waiting for the thrill of the dentist to commence! Translate that as you will. But there we were, the night was still, the water calm and every man-jack of fisherman tense for the first catch AND jealous as only fishermen can be, waiting for the BIG-BITE !

 

I was admiring the argent reflections of the harbour lights on the waters, taking no part in the fetish of fishing, leaving Bernie to bait-up and check the hand lines at decent intervals (laid down in the hand-book of code of ethics for fishermen…it is a thin book!)..I was dreaming, I had just sighed, when that annoying, too loud whisper that was Bernie’s trademark…

 

“Hey, Jay!….this line’s got something on it.” My interest was aroused..as were others nearby..I know..I saw  the sudden jerky twitch as the antennas were shifted “into the wind”.

 

“It’s gotta be something big…feel that!”…Bernie quickly let me feel the line…and just as quickly took it back and started to haul-in.

 

This is the highlight of action for the spectator fisherman, that proof-of-the-pudding time and much speculation and exaggeration is spent on the deed! Bernie excelled at both!

 

“Could be a bloody big Barra!”

 

He mused out loud to the gathering audience. Who, strangely enough, seemed to shove their hands deep into their pockets at this juncture., such are the habits of envy that you can tell the degree suffered by the depths of fist in the pocket..the hunching-up of the shoulders and uncontrollable rocking back and forth on the heels. None but the most hardened fisherman can show such cruel cynicism for other’s catches. Tell the yarn of your biggest triumph and with certainty, another will, with snarling lips dismiss it with a greater triumph on a lesser strength line than your own..that is how “fishermen’s tales” were perfected.

 

“Yep!”..called Bernie over his shoulder..”Big Barra’..maybe shark!” and he strained on the line to show the weight on the business end.

 

By now, all those who had been on the jetty (about twenty persons) were ranged along the edge of the planking gazing down to the silvered line as it dipped and strained out of the sea. Now and then one or another would remove a hand from his pocket and “feel” the line, then add his “expert” speculation to the pool of information as to the breed of monster at the other end. Bernie pulled hand over hand, slowly, methodically…the line “sang” and the spectators leant over the edge.

 

” Whatever it is” Bernie gleefully in formed us, “..it’s bloody BIG!”..fists plunge further into pockets..”Gotta be the catch of the night!” he added mischievously..

 

Oh the bitter bile of jealousy bites deep in fishermen! …and he hauled in hand over hand…till a wake could be seen to break the surface…

 

“There she is!” someone shouted and Bernie gave a sudden, nervous tug on the line that made the thing “jump” with the jerk!

 

“What is it?”

 

“Can you see it?”

 

“Get it up, man..get it up!..you’ll lose it!”

 

Bernie, addled by a feeling of simultaneous heroism and panic, quickly heaved the thing out of the water toward the jetty…there, in the sallow wash of the one single jetty lamp-light, the realisation of the “Big Barra” came to light.

 

It was nothing but a pair of greasy, clogged, heavy with mud workman’s overalls. They remained suspended there halfway between the jetty and the water, like a leper kept at arms length…a deep silence prevailed…so silent one could possibly hear the chirping of crickets way over the other side of the bay at Manurah….

 

Everyone was peering over at the catch, seemingly mesmerised, the whole lot of them dumbfounded…then..as if on cue to the stage directions of an invisible director..

 

Bernie looked to me, looked pleadingly to the others..who in turn, all together, turned their scornful, disgusted gaze on Bernie, who dropped the line and could only mutter..” I..I “…and they turned away as one and silently walked away, forever unforgiving that such a hoax could be played on their good persons…fists came swiftly our of pockets and much low muttering could be heard up and down the jetty.

 

Bernie and I quickly and humbly gathered out tackle together and stole away into the gloom, to slake our humiliation with a “cuppla beers”.

 

Bernie wiped the modicum of beery foam from his upper lip..” The blokes in the cells had more understanding” he muttered sadly.

 

The Story of Hannibal / Hannibal’s Tale.

This children’s story has it’s origin in two events. The first was in my wanderings as a much younger man trying my hand at opal mining…not so much mining, really as ; scratching around. In amongst those months of loneliness up in the desert, I had as a “pet” companion, a mouse that I caught one day eating at a packet of biscuits…I named him “Hannibal” and I kept him/ her in my top pocket fed on bits and pieces of crumbs .

The other part is filled by an old miner who lived in a “dugout” hole in the side of a hill a couple of miles away, like the pic below.

Image result for old dugout coober pedy pics.

He was quite old then and his “dugout” in the hill contained only a big iron-frame bed and one small picture hanging precariously on the cave wall..It was a painting of a sailing clipper-ship that he assured me was the very ship he sailed in to Australia so many years ago. The “dugout” he lived in had a big hole in the roof that with the bright moonlight shining in, would give the super-white alunite walls a kind of blueish-phosphorous glow…quite a sight with he there on the edge of the bed talking of ships and seas while we were both in the middle of a vast desert!

 

 

Image result for Spinifex hopping mouse.

Spinifex hopping mouse.

Rodent.

The spinifex hopping mouse, also known as the tarkawara or tarrkawarra, occurs throughout the central and western Australian arid zones, occupying both spinifex-covered sand flats and stabilised sand dunes, and loamy mulga and melaleuca flats.

Scientific name: Notomys alexis

 

The Story of Hannibal / Hannibal’s Tale.

When old Charlie took me in as a live-in companion, I was living out in the sticks…most of my life had been a close encounter with the seedy side of life..a pretty hairy existence. So I was quite happy to be nothing more that a “conversation piece” to a lonely old man while I got my room and board , along with regular meals free of charge.

It took me a little while to get used to his house and habits…some of those older folk have habits of doing things that have taken them dozens of years to perfect. But I didn’t mind, he was always quiet in the mornings as he come to the breakfast table…just saying ;“ Hello Hannibal”..that’s the nickname he gave me..He reckoned that anyone as tough and resilient as myself deserved a heroic name! He didn’t really expect too much conversation, and sometimes he would even ask me something and then answer for me as well.

Sometimes he’d take a piece of rock out of his pocket and ask;

“What do you think of that colour, Hannibal?” and he’d answer himself before I even had time to think..” ..well I think it’s nice…a bit on the pale side, but it will scrub up well”.

I think it was just the fact of having some company there that cheered him up, and sometimes we would do things together ..”I want you to stick close to me today , Hannibal..I want you as close as my shirt pocket.”

On some days, he’d take me with him to work..

“Today, Hannibal, we are going to drive a little way along the east ridge..I think we might find some colour there”…and if it wasn’t too much of a tight squeeze on the drive, he’d take me with him for a bit of company, keeping up a running commentary of what he was thinking while he worked. It was often quite entertaining and I didn’t have to contribute to the work or the conversation at all as he told story after story…he didn’t even expect me to laugh..  though they could be sort of funny at times, I think he would have been shocked if I did laugh!

At night, he would cook up a nice little dinner and I would get my meal from the best bits…with all the trimmings of a yeast bun dessert, or a biscuit .

Tilley Lamp

At bed-time he would see me to my room with his “Tilley lantern” , and make sure I was safe and comfortable for the night before going to his own bedroom…all in all, it was a very nice billet for the several months I was with him.

Eventually though, he had to let me go..I am afraid some of my nocturnal adventures had got the better of me and I came home with my three tiny babies…and he had to rename me ; “Hannibelle”. Old Charlie said he was too old now for the pitter-patter of little feet, and I had to find a place of my own.

He read out a letter his sister wrote to him to say she too had; “… found another nice “home” that HE could go into when he was ready..after all, he wasn’t getting any younger..” and he sighed and shook his head .

“Hannibelle” he said ; ” I’d rather live in a hole of my own choosing..if they don’t mind “.

Old Charlie has since left the district to go to another mining town , because that was his life ; he was an opal miner you see?..and he had to let me go my own way..after all, he couldn’t be expected to take a Spinifex hopping mouse and all her offspring with him in the inside pocket of his old jacket, could he?

Image result for old miner's trucks pics.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Work of Art? or: The Art of Work?

ESSAY: A Work of Art? Or; The Art of Work?

The motivation for this essay came from four packets of ladies’ cotton lace handkerchiefs. I had bought them some years before at a garage sale for the princely sum of fifty cents each. One was from Nth’n Ireland, two from Switzerland and one from China. Looking at them in their flat boxes, with the delicate lace folded into diamonds and squares, the brilliant whiteness and small embroideries of flowers, folk images or other set-patterns around the edges and in the corners, I thought they were too, too beautiful for their intended use so I made four frames and placed those “art of work” behind glass to be admired rather than soiled. I could imagine the girls and women (for that would be the reality) sweating over those pieces of cloth . Pieces of work became pieces of art, hence the title of this essay.

Another excuse for this article, comes from a dispute I am having with a writer on the whys and means of artistic licence. In my calculation, the presumption of “art for art’s sake” is a modern affectation that cannot be justified except in the market place for commodity exchange…the historical creation of what we call ; “art” was once the work-a-day depiction of cultural hopes and activities. The coincidence that such hieroglyphic imagery has a pleasing appearance to human senses and sensibility is more accidental purity of line and length combined with colour and pleasing perspective.

Certainly, there were some plundering tribes that made use of cultural depiction to amaze and frighten the opposition and then in the more sophisticated societies , the wealthy commissioned artisans to depict statuary and icons for decoration. But these were restricted to the wealthy and state propaganda, the rise of “art for art’s sake” was still a long way away.

I, am an artisan (tradesman carpenter), my father was an artisan (stone mason-bricklayer), the people who made those hankies were (or are) artisans! A multitude of people producing, constructing, molding, knitting and on and on and on are artisans ,from the French : ‘without art’.

Getting back to my father the bricklayer (you were perhaps wondering why I put him in?) . My father came to Australia from the north of Italy before the 2nd world war. Back in Italy, he was a stonemason, out here in those days where there was not much call for ‘stonies’, he worked under the more familiar nom de plume of bricklayer! But in his employment around the city and suburbs, he built quite a few stone walls and such. One was the long weather-wall along the foreshore at Glenelg . He told me years later that if I was to look at a certain place on that wall, I would see, shaped within the stonework, a map of Italy with all the provinces in varying shades of stone built cunningly into the wall (a stunning…. ,no; a cunning stunt!)….Artisan becomes artist!

It stands to be proposed: When and who stationed “artists” and “artisans” in their prospective environs? What are the boundaries of these environs, ie; when does artisan become artist and vice-versa? Who adjudicates on works that can be either? What can be done to redress the problem of “artistic” excess?

Perhaps the first true “artist”, that is; the first person who deliberately constructed a feeling for the sheer pleasure of it, was, perhaps, the person who, seeing the drabness of the cave so depressing, went outside and gathered up a handful of flowers, took them inside, placed them strategically and well, the rest is history! Many a person has gilded their drabness with a “bouquet of lilies”….and received just reward for their initiative!

There is another boundary, a rather more insidious thing a political thing….a class thing , hardly more ‘enforced’ than now, at this point in time, where the “artist” must be “educated” into the hierarchy, or be politically “in tune to the current needs of the populace!” This has polarized creative works into ; “Creative art” and “Marketable art”.

This combination of evils, being class-controlled by nurture, locks the more industrious of the producing class out of the race, being, as their ancient forebears, too busy “gutting the mastodon” to have time to become illuminati-ed into the “mysterious paths of creativity”, it has come to the point of my mocking, it’s just that I cannot abide the pretentious waffling of the “artistic” clique that claim unique ability to sway or impress upon the collective desires of the populace such mundane predictability.

There are no boundaries.. “art” does not exist in itself, but rather as an adjunct to physical experience and cultural existence!… it is not a separate construction of the imagination, if it was, every wicked deed, every insidious act must also be construed as a “work of art” alongside sublime desire! No longer do we aspire to the heroic deed or moment as depicted in Odyssey or Aenied, easier to descend to the lowest common denominator. Elitism in “art” has created a dearth of imagination in the population. So now we are indoctrinated to accept an ” “image” of the “artist”, the falsely constructed behaviour, the “fop”, the contrived personality ponceing around with those two inseparable companions: angst and ecstasy!

Art has a social obligation…a social objective , but it has been perverted by a market mechanism. There is a serious distortion of our perceptions of achievement within the realms of creativity once we accept the lie of “art for art’s sake” , this is a postmodern prescription and debasement of a noble act. We have given over both riches and recognition to those who ill deserve and abuse both and we receive (unlike our caveman ancestor) little or no representations of our collective struggles in return. The progression to true artistic depiction is a one way street: The artisan has every qualification to aspire to true art (by “true art”, we mean; creative art, including that which is esoteric or aesthetic) because of their connection with physical activity or cultural ambition. The skill needed to envisage, conceive practicalities, collect materials and thoughts and then to “mold” all this plasma into a cohesive design, makes experience in the practical work-fields an essential qualification for the undertaking of an artistic project. That and the emotional trysts of success and failure, strength and weariness , love and loathing of the work involved, gives the artisan all the training needed for creating a “work of art”. The “artist”, conversely, rarely. very rarely, becomes artisan they just do not have the skills.

Which leads us to ask; who judges on what is a ” work of art’? Who indeed! This leads us back to my statement concerning class boundaries. Invariably, it is in the interests of a certain class to maintain “ownership” and therefore set a “monetary value” on pieces of “art”. The judges, therefore, tend to be those who collect, contract, earn a living by, or just generally set commercial boundaries to : “Objets d’art”, whatever material they be.
This narrow-minded presumption confines the creation of beautiful objects or imaginative constructs of the mind again to those “qualified” to create!

A parable : A builder engaged in the construction of a room decided to enhance a window with a little ‘Australiana scene ‘ carved from wood and fixed on the surface of a window so that when the sun shone through it formed a “three-dimensional-silhouette” a rather pleasing effect! A visitor, admiring this scene asked the builder (ignoring the possibility that they could create such a work )..

“Who made the carving?”

“Oh, we got a bloke in to do it”. the builder flippantly replied.

The visitor then asked the owner;

“Who was the person that did the carving?”

“You’re looking at him!” the builder said.

The visitor raised one doubting eyebrow in query and had to be reasured by the owner. The insinuation is there. And that, I presume, is where the artisan is expected to remain.

 

The Puppets of Margie Meagher

We all, at some point in our lives become witness to another’s “situation”..In my first marriage, we sent the children to an “alternative school” and I have to say that while it was alright for the children, my growing involvement through my trade brought me into contact with many parents at that school …I have to say that there were a number that would “raise the eyebrow” of a rational person…Maybe no more than other ‘private’ schools, but this was my first and only contact with such “personalities”…Later, I came to know the type and would assiduously avoid them if I could.

I cannot say that the situation described in the story belongs to any one person, but rather as a ‘blend’ of  several..There was a puppet group and even I was called upon to speak a small part in one show..But of the others I have only this anecdote..

 

It went like this:

 

The Puppets of Margie Meagher:

 

“ If you could imagine us all walking side by side toward a sunset, with our lives trailing away behind; a shadow drawn in perspective from the point of our birth. We are all facing the front so none of us really knows the substance of our neighbor’s ‘shadow’, and we can only make calculated guesses from facial expressions and mumbled half truths.”

(From The last writings of Carl Jung. )

 

It seems to be always some physical event that motivates humans to “get up and do something constructive.” Such events have a propensity to the catastrophic, like a sharp jab in the collective ribs of  humanity, otherwise we’d probably just lie prostrate in the dirt like a contented sow with half a dozen piglets suckling on its teats! So it was not long after her husband left her that Margie joined the “puppet group” at the school. She joined to ; “Break that cycle of thought that possesses and locks one into a cycle of hate – contrition.” She had read that in a therapy pamphlet, and nodding in agreement, decided to join the puppet group.

 

They met once a week at Mauve’s house; this group of parents from the school. They met at eleven o’clock every Thursday to encourage and assist each other with their dolls. They made soft-bodied hand-puppets for the little plays they would perform for the younger children every month or so and at festivals through the year. When she joined, Margie did not know how to make a puppet in a pink fit! but, with the sympathetic encouragement from the other mothers (sympathetic to her marital situation, that is), she soon got the hang of it, and by and by the materials became “putty” in her hands. In fact, it wasn’t long before she was producing puppets with such beautiful and tender features that one of the women: Pamela, was moved to say that “It’s a gift….pure and simple…a gift.'” and Margie blushed  and said “Oh surely not,” and went on to explain that she had always been good at crafts; “From me mother…I ‘spect.”

 

“Oh no,” said Pamela, shocked, “It’s a gift…a real gift'” and Margie blushed again and said

 

“Oh well…”

 

The first play that they put on for the year was “Hansel and Gretel”…. Margie was given the job of making Hansel. The finished product was so good, so fine, that the other women gazed upon him open mouthed. He had a soul almost, behind those eyes, and what eyes! “as crisp as a Summer dawn, the left hand of God,” and his costume and the cut of the cloth made his shape, his proportions seem so unnatural, uncanny, so that next to him poor Gretel looked like a cheap “tart”….so much so that Margie was asked, nay: ‘implored’ to take Gretel home and to “fix her up,” and gosh! did Gretel ever look so beautiful, so innocent? that together; Hansel and Gretel as puppets matched the immortality , almost, of the classical tale.

 

After that performance, Margie was given the job of making the star puppets. And didn’t she fulfill that task admirably.

 

“It’s a gift…a real gift,” Pam would repeat in her parroting voice.

 

“I’d say it was a release from the stress,” Mauve would comment with a nod of the head then pinch her lips together.

 

Mauve was the expert on stress…. “Yes….you’re stressed,” was her usual prognosis whenever someone expressed a weariness. Yet another: Jocelyn, who held a degree in humanities and had studied a year in psychology, would pronounce in dry, measured tones (not for psychologists the heady passions of mankind!) that the beauty of the dolls was ;

“…quite naturally an acceptance…a bringing to the front, the beauty of self…the awakening..so to speak..of respect for self and realization of self after the defeat…so to speak…of the broken relationship…you understand?”

 

Others added their opinions to the pot also, but all were equal in their admiration of the puppets. And Margie basked in their praise, though her big, round  face would colour in a blush, she would smile and finger the dolls tenderly and say:

 

“Well, yes, it does bring me out of myself…helps me to distance myself from me troubles.” And she’d bend to her work, her clumsy-looking fingers deftly sewing a smock or line stitching a vest for the prince.

 

So it went on, story after story: Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, all perfect joys and didn’t the children Ahh! and the parent’s Ohh! and the applause after each show witnessed their appreciation, and Margie’s puppets were eagerly touched and stroked by the children as if they were exotic talismans.

 

“It’s a gift,” Pamela could be heard at one side telling a parent, “It’s a real gift.”

 

One woman: Bea, started to notice a certain similarity about the puppets, an air of something familiar about them, but, not having them all side by side (“….like a police line-up,” she would later say), could not be certain of her memory. But she had a feeling that behind those fabric faces, those carefully stitched costumes, deeper than the wool fibre stuffing in those familiar shaped heads, was the “raison d’etre” for their very being!

 

For, having once cast off all the shrouds of resistance, each of us enters the creative obligations of the psyche, whether we succeed or fail in these pursuits of desire depends on the depths of the individual’s well springs of courage, of the risk of surrendering to the will of the muse.

 

Bea, of all the women, was wary of Margie’s seeming fatalistic acceptance of the breakdown of her relationship, and though she had never met Margie’s husband, she, like any group of school parents still felt on “common ground” with the family. But now the family was broken, and Bea worried less the disappointment was too much for someone as exacting as Margie to bear, so she “studied” Margie, looking for cracks in the facade much as we all “study” people under trauma with that guilty morbidity of wondering if and when they will “crack”! Pondering on this, Bea decided to pay Margie a home visit.

 

As she knocked on the front door, she heard a raised voice emanating from within the house. It was the middle of the day, so the children were at school and although the voice was muffled, it nonetheless was quite tense. Bea knocked louder and the voice stopped, there was a hiatus and then the door was gingerly opened….Margie’s face appeared, flushed and wary in the opening.

 

“Bea?” she raised an eyebrow.

 

“Just popped ‘round to say hello.”

 

“Well…come in then.” Margie eased the door open, Bea hesitated with one hand raised in gesticulation: But do you have visitors….I thought I heard….?” Margie glanced furtively to one side.

 

“Oh….no…no, it was just the cat….” and she stood clumsily to one side so Bea could enter. A pot of tea was suggested and accepted so Margie adjourned to the kitchen while Bea sat on the edge of the lounge sofa and let her eyes wander around the trimmings of the room.

 

A photograph setting on a side table caught her eye….something familiar?….the slope of the eyebrows?…the cheeks? or maybe the soft contour of the face?…

 

“Your….your husband?” she enquired. Margie popped her head through the door.

 

“Oh…yes…ex-husband'” and she came into the room and took up the framed photograph listlessly.

“Richard….”the rat”….sometimes I call him “Dick,” short for….well, you know what” She dusted the glass with her T-shirt and replaced it on the table.

 

There, Bea realized, was the similarity between the male puppets….Richard Meagher with one “sleepy eye” and the brows sloping away “just so”, and those boyish cheeks that Margie had captured somehow in an abstract way in all the male puppets….”It’s a gift…a real gift.” Pam’s voice resonated in Bea’s mind…curious, the flow of mood from mind to hand in a clever person, again, that artistic interpretation of psyche. Bea gazed hypnotically at the photograph and wondered about the other woman, but discretion forbade mention of so delicate and wounding a subject. Having solved one of her curiosities, she was satisfied she would soon find the other elsewhere so she settled down for small-talk and tea.

 

“Who did Margie’s husband clear off with?” Bea asked Mauve one day.

 

“No-one I know, but I’ll tell you who does.”

So with a little discreet enquiry and conversation Bea was able to see a photograph (thank heaven for that invention that fixes time and place to deed!) of the woman in that duet of complicity. Bea came away from that visit with the second mystery solved: that of the similarity between the female puppets. And …also the knowledge that Margie’s husband had left with Margie’s own sister! a double blow! betrayal and treachery! Oh woe is the bearer of a broken heart, but even more vexed is the spirit betrayed….especially by one’s own kin.

 

Bea went quiet after finding out the background of Margie’s domestic life, sometimes enough is enough when it comes to insights into others tragedies, after all…one’s own life has to be journeyed, eh?

 

Then the time came for a production of that immortal theme of love and betrayal – “Rapunzel.” Once again the little group fell to making miniature props and scenarios and puppets for this, the end of year show and it was to be a real bang-up affair. Margie seemed to put all her efforts into the two main puppets. Rapunzel was beautiful, her eyes glowed with an innocence enchanting and childlike, her body lithe and well proportioned as one could imagine in such a waif with yet maidenly allure! like the eyes of a portrait that seem to follow you around the room, so in reverse were one’s eyes attracted to that doll….and then the hair…such golden bounty was unnatural, uncanny, it flowed (can that be the word?), flowed….like some mythical fall of golden fibres…so long…so silky…not a hand could resist trailing it through the fingers…ah!… And the prince, too, such were Margie’s skills that he complemented Rapunzel  impeccably, equally without over-shadowing each other, like a matched pair of flamenco dancers, each a part of the other. You can imagine the Ohhs! and the Ahhs! of complimenting Margie received for these puppets, even Bea, wary of over-reaction now she knew the hurt behind these marionettes, could not but help admire sighingly the aura of that duet of complicity.

 

“It’s a gift…a real gift,” Pamela sighed and they all laughed at the familiar compliment.

 

Around the middle of rehearsals for this play, Bea on returning home from the city one evening remembered a bolt of cloth she had to pick up from Margie, and as it was not too late, decided to turn down the street to Margie’s house on her way home. It was late spring and the wind rippled freshly through the new-leafed trees, almost like the tittering giggles of youngsters at play, such is Spring when the waking of nature seems to bring a friskiness even to the breezes! And the flowers…like the halting twirls of a carnival calliope their petals would duck and sway while overhead a mellow darkness swept upward through the trees into the night.

 

An old place, was Margie’s, with a laced wire gate sprung on squeaky hinges. The path led straight off the street to a flight of three steps to a verandah. Bea knocked gently on the front door, being aware as she did so not to knock too loudly as to wake the children. On receiving no acknowledgement from her gentle knocking, she gazed around perplexed as to her next move. A glow of light brushed silver over the flickering leaves of a rain-washed tree, a light from down the side of the house. Bea stepped off the verandah and made her way quietly down the side-path, the light from a nearby window was enough to show the precise, ordered garden beds between the fence and the path and like the front yard, they reflected the meticulous discipline of Margie’s personality.

 

Bea came abreast of the lighted window and through a small gap in the damask curtains could see a figure bent over a table. It was Margie, her large body adorned in those heavy woven clothes that she used to make her dresses, her hair pulled back in a wispy roll on the back of her head. A soft overhead lamp threw its light onto the work bench. Margie’s face was intent on the two puppets she was arranging on front of her on the table…her lips moved in a tight then relaxing pout as she sat the two dolls facing her, a slight musical hum in three notes of a descending order issued from her lips at small intervals of a few second each. She sat back, crossed her arms and stared at the two puppets, they were “Rapunzel” and the “Prince.”

 

“Well now, there yer be,” Margie sat back and put her hands on her knees.

 

“And now, my dear Shelia, what would you be havin’ to say for yourself?” This wasn’t Margie’s usual voice..She spoke a curious softened Irish brogue in a different pitch than her usual voice.

 

“Will ye not answer your own mother?” the voice more tense “just to be a sittin’ there dumb as pots!”

 

“I told her, Shelia,” this was the old Margie’s voice, “I told mother what you did.”

 

Bea frowned, for indeed this was something new to her, this behaviour, for with just a slight change of inflection in her voice, Margie had conjured up an entirely new personality; her apparent mother, a person long deceased..a sudden split in personality, then just as swiftly a return to herself, like an actor playing two roles at the same time on the one stage!

 

“Hush now, Marg!” the ‘mother’ interrupted, “You’ll not be interrupting me.” The puppet fell to one side and Margie leant to gently prop it up again, her tongue pinched between her lips in concentration. She sat back again.

 

“So you’ll cower in silence before me, daughter….Not answer to my accusation….you would be stealin’ your own kin’s spouse while all the time shelterin’ under her roof…. while eatin’ at the same table…exchangin’ glances of wicked delight all the while I’ll surmise, and there, in golden innocence your own sister ignorant of the treachery you and your lover conspire,” Her voice rose in intensity as she went  on.

 

Margie jumped up excited:

 

“They did, they did, Mother…Oh, the sin of it, all the while I worked, all the while I looked after the house they were scheming and smilin’ and I was the fool…the silly, silly fool for all their wicked coupling….and under my very nose….” She shook her fist at the puppet’s face.

“Well, I’ve got the thing to pay you for your treachery, my sweet,” and Margie swiftly took up a large darning needle and raked it again and again across “Rapunzel’s” face so the cloth fretted and shredded in its wake.

 

Bea put her hand to her mouth to stifle a cry, but still she watched. “What sort of madness was this?” she was thinking. Margie paused, put her needle down and astutely took up another with red thread in it and without a word set to swiftly and deftly line stitch red marks across the puppet’s face so it looked as if it had been raked by a claw! She completed this morbid make-up with little dots of red ink to simulate blood. All this was done so swiftly that Bea still had her hand to her mouth.

 

Margie then turned her narrowed eyes upon the “Prince.”

 

“And you, Richard,” (the mother’ again), “could you be so vulgar so underhand to your own wife?”

 

Margie stood and turned side on to talk out of the corner of her mouth.

 

“Yes…why Richard….why would you betray me so….was it for a bit of skirt?…an easy ‘conquest’?” Margie sneered the last sentence, “or would you just be a sheddin’ and avoidin’ your responsibilities….hmm?….”

 

“Richard!!” the ‘mother’ yelled. “Answer your wife! a coward’s life for a coward’s courage….and the devil take your soul,” she hissed while Margie turned slowly and leant to pick up a ‘Stanley’ knife lying on the bench, slowly she moved her left arm and grasped the puppet and raised him toward her, then with an angry gesture swiftly lifted her arm with the knife …

 

“This for your betrayal'” she cried hoarsely and swung her arm wildly to slash the puppet’s face from forehead to cheek so the tight-packed wool stuffing burst proud from the cut, and there, in jangling craziness of the light awry which she knocked in her violence, each in its own pigeon-hole shelved on the wall, leered and stared the other puppets made by Margie during the year. But! There were twins of each puppet! Twins of Cinderella, Prince Charming, Hansel and also Gretel and the rest, identically clothed and painted, doppelgangers in shape and face… except weirdly, while one would be whole and untouched, its twin was gashed, torn or mutilated this way or that… Hansel’s eye torn from a gaping socket and left hanging down by a thread, Prince Charming’s face too was slashed, Cinderella’s hair was almost ‘scalped’ from her head and so on, all of them sitting squat in their respective pigeon-holes and appearing to gaze interestedly down on this grotesque theatre of tortured souls. Bea looked back to Margie and saw that she was intently touching the lips of the slashed face with red dye on her fingertip so they bloodied with the ink, all the while humming that same three descending notes of sound in short intervals.

 

Bea’s eyes opened wider and a silent scream choked in her throat as there, in the flickering light, rack upon rack, stood the only witness to Margie’s despair, all those compliments she received must have driven her grief ever deeper into her soul, every “It’s a gift,” a nail into her heart so this charnel house of thread and cloth and dye grew out of the tempest of her hatred, this was the theatre of shadows that lurked behind her fatalistic psyche! And yes, there too in the recesses of that table, beyond the mutilated bodies of “Rapunzel” and the “Prince” stood their twins, gazing on in mute innocence with Margie busy putting the finishing touches to her macabre cosmetics while soft tears edged down her rouged cheeks and saying over and over with childlike hurt:

 

“You broke my heart, you broke my heart!”

 

Bea turned away shamefaced from the window, her curiosity satiated, her emotions wretched, for here in the silence of another’s despair she had gazed into the forbidden abyss and in doing so was she not edged just that little bit closer to her own?

The Resurrection of Herbert Griegs.

I have a war story..well, not actually about war itself, but about how it broke and remade a life…It is a true story and was told to me by Darcy C. an old farmer who lived on the farm next  to us ( in my first marriage) in the hills. He was one of those generational farmers whose family had been in the district since its inception. A dry old stick who knew everything that went on in the district , he was taken to telling a yarn or two when he had nothing else to do or it was raining…I was always a keen listener.

Of course,  Darcy told me the main parts of the incident and I picked up bits and pieces elsewhere in the district..You have to be a bit canny when making inquiries of this nature..the locals don’t like giving anything away…it’s a bit like fly-fishing for trout you have to know how to search the shadows.

 

It went like this :

 

 

“The Resurrection of Herbert Griegs.”

 

“Pray for me my sweet,

Lest I forget to praise myself,

For God is a distant star…”

 

The small casement window of the dining room of the old house lay slightly ajar so that the gentle afternoon breeze just lifted the cotton lace edged curtain and it brushed against the glass fronted china cabinet next to the window. A crystal-glass wind chime tinkled sweetly as the breeze chinked its pieces together making little pin-pricks of sound. On top of the cabinet stood three objects, two of which were framed photographs and one ceramic figurine of a young lady with a basket of flowers over her left arm. One of the photos in a gilt-edged frame showed a young snapshot of the just recently deceased Herbert Griegs with his new bride; Mary-Ann. Herbert is dressed in his army uniform. They both appear very, very happy. The other photo is of a young family, about the same age as Herbert and Mary-Ann. There is also a small child in the photograph. The man is also in a uniform, but it is the uniform of the Fascist army of Italy. The young family too, appear very happy. All these people, with the exception, perhaps, of the child are now deceased. Herbert and the wife of the Italian soldier died of old age. Mary-Ann and the Italian soldier died in the Second World War.

Here is their story:

 

Herbert Griegs and Mary-Ann were married in the local church at the small country town  where they were raised and intended to live after the war. They did not doubt that Herbert would return from the war, it just seemed impossible that he would not. There was so much life ahead, the promise of a fine full life on the farm.

 

Herbert was already in the army when they married. He had joined up some months before so he had finished his basic training and was on leave. He expected to be posted to barracks in the eastern states awaiting orders to go overseas to active service. They had been married a week and three days when Herbert’s orders came through. He kissed his new wife goodbye reluctantly and travelled with a large number of soldiers away to New South Wales.

 

In the days of the Second World War, in many country places in Australia, soldiers were billeted on farms in the countryside. If there was a shearing shed on the property, the army would staff it with a cook and kitchen helpers and put a hundred or so soldiers there under canvas. Such an event happened at Mary-Ann and Herbert’s farm, two or three months after Herbert had been shipped off to New South Wales. Soldiers from all parts of the state were camped there.

 

This was a very unsettling time for Mary-Ann, for she missed her husband terribly, and in the course of fate, whether it was similarity in looks, sympathy toward their fate or simply the uniform, Mary-Ann one day was seduced by one of the soldiers. Why? Well, who knows, as mentioned before, it could have been for a number of reasons or desires but for whatever reason she did, Mary-Ann was the most shocked, and fell to despair when she found she was pregnant to the soldier who had by now long gone away.

 

Mary-Ann became so desperate of the situation, that she somehow, someway found the address of a place in the city that would, for a price, do abortions. Mary-Ann paid the money and was attended by the anonymous people. But the operation was a failure. she hemorrhaged badly and it couldn’t be stopped. She died in the room of a house in the back-street of the inner-city. During the night her body was re-moved and left propped against a tree in one of the parklands that surround the city.

 

Herbert received the news with horror and disbelief. Impossible! How could she be dead, she was alive and healthy six months ago, she was smiling still in his memory, she was laughing just out of reach on the slopes of the field-daisy covered hills behind their farm-house when he chased her up the slopes and laughing, pulled her down on the yellow and green carpet and there amongst the miles and miles of open countryside under a soft sky they made love.

 

“No! It couldn’t be so, No!”

 

The letter from his brother didn’t tell of the circumstances of Mary-Ann’s death, and he didn’t find out till he returned home for the funeral on leave of compassion. But still he was so shocked that even the sordid details didn’t seem to sink in. How? How? he kept asking himself and he would sit for hours at his brothers’ kitchen table and sometimes look as if he were about to ask a question but then would close his mouth in silence and look deeply into his cup of tea. He mechanically went through the ritual of the funeral and stumbled from the graveside in silence. It was in silence also that he re-turned to the barracks in the East to be shipped off overseas to the war in Africa.

 

On the crossing to the front he searched again and again through all the details in his mind that he knew of the tragedy. He started to hate Mary-Ann. He stood her before him in daydreams and called her “whore”, “slut”, “betrayer” and any other names that he thought he could hurt her memory with, but in the end of it all he called her “love” and wept for the sadness of it all.

 

Then he started to hate the soldier who had seduced her. He looked around at the noisy men about him and tried in his heart to pick the types that would seduce “a lonely sympathetic woman”. Several times he fought fights with braggarts who told lurid tales of their “conquests” before they left home. He had to be dragged off one fight before he killed the man. Fortunately none of these fights reached the ears of the high ranking officers, it was just the “locking of horns” amongst the men, the release of tension before the approaching theatre of war.

 

The first action Herbert’s battalion was to see was the assault on Bardia in Libya. By now Herbert’s hatred was directed toward the enemy out front and there was no more eager soul for battle in the battalion. He was in a state of silent desperation. He silently nurtured the philosophy of “kill or be killed”, it didn’t matter to him at all. What was there home now? What was there here? Who was he fighting for? It just didn’t seem to matter anymore. He just wanted to throw himself into the teeth of war with a seething vengeance! He wanted to kill, if only himself, he wanted to kill! At zero hour the artillery barrage began. Herbert was humming and whistling nervously. Then the barrage lifted and the first wave of infantry attacked behind the engineers who blew the wire with “bangalore torpedoes”. Herbert was rushing, running into the acrid fumes amid the fires and shooting. He shot at a few fast moving shadowy figures near a guard post. The horizon jumped and jerked with the flashes from the Italian artillery. He ran past a truck destroyed by their own barrage, wild orange flames swept around the cabin of the truck from the burning tyres, the flames lashed and licked at the metal like the wet tongue of a huge animal. His temper was almost uncontrollable as he rounded the corner of supply building of the post. An Italian soldier suddenly stepped out of a doorway just ahead of him with his hands on the verge of  raising in surrender, he didn’t get the chance. Herbert shot at point blank range and the soldier fell in front of him. He rushed up and plunged his bayoneted rifle into the man’s chest. The soldier gasped. “Ah Dio Boia!, Dio Boia!” he cried and Herbert too yelled out amid the wild weird racket of battle all around him, it seemed as if a demon had escaped from the depths of his soul and he cried out for the release of it all while the filthy smoke from the burning machinery engulfed the entire battle scene and he fell to his knees beside the body of the dying soldier. Herbert felt his chest constricted and his breath laboured in short gasps as he knelt there with his hand on the Italian soldier’s chest.

 

He became aware of some words spoken near his ear. It was the dying soldier. At first Herbert was shocked, open mouthed, he lifted his rifle to strike the soldier again till he realized the man was no threat and that he was saying over and over again; “Non e colpa tua, non e colpa tua.” The soldiers hand moved slowly, falteringly up to his chest pocket, then quivering fell to his side. He was dead.

 

Herbert jumped to his feet and stood staring down at the first man he had killed, he was about to rush off when he was drawn, compulsively to reach into the dead soldier’s breast pocket. He did this quickly as if repulsed at the thought that he could be looting a dead body. He quickly put his hand in and pulled out a leather folder. He thrust it quickly into his own pocket and scrambled off to the battle further ahead in the mist of dawn and fire.

 

Herbert did survive the war and he did go back to the farm amongst the gently sloping hills of the hinterland. But he did not go to the grave of his wife in the grounds of the little church on the edge of the town. He could not face her name on a tombstone and he could not say her name for a long, long time.

 

His farm was suffering from lack of care and he himself moved about under an oppressive cloud of lethargy and listlessness till his friends and neighbours all felt it was only a matter of time till he broke down or cracked up. Herbert could feel himself being slowly drowned by his despair and was aware that he would have to do something to get his life back on track soon or he would go under. A friend of his from the district who had gone to the African war with him had returned and gone into a ministry with the church. Herbert drove to the city one day to speak with him of a certain matter that was troubling him. He was shown to the minister’s room and left to knock on the door.

 

“Come in” a voice called from inside. “Why hello Herb!” The minister smiled and rose from his chair

 

“Here, come over here and sit down.. cup of tea? good, good.” …he poured a cup from a pot. “..just had one myself…I’m afraid this isn’t the army now,…nothing stronger…” and he laughed.

 

“Ta, thanks, Brian…no, it’ll do fine.” Herbert spoke quietly.

 

After the cup of tea was placed in front of him Herbert started to sugar and stir the drink with slow solemnity. The minister settled back into his chair and gazed quizzically at his old friend.

 

“You don’t look too cheerful, Herb.” he spoke.

 

“Well, no, no, I’m not much fun to be with these days.”

 

“Is it the memories of the war?” The minister asked.

 

“That…and Mary-Ann.” Herb answered.

 

“Hmm, I think I can sense that…but what precisely is the trouble

with Mary-Ann?” The minister pried.

 

“I haven’t been able to go to her grave since I’ve been back,” Herbert spoke softly, a silence fell between them.

 

“You remember Bardia?”

 

“Do I?” The minister replied. “scared the pants off me.” He snorted “Glad it’s gone…why?”

 

“Brian…” began Herbert “Brian.. I killed a man there…”

 

The minister squinted his eyes a little, there was something more in this, he was feeling, he replied with a stock answer:

 

“Well…we all killed there…many of our side were killed also.”

 

“ No…” Herbert spoke slowly and carefully..” I murdered a man there…an Italian soldier…he was about to surrender, I see that now, but… but I was full of hate, full of Mary-Ann…I didn’t give him a chance…I killed him out of my own hatred…I killed a man…” Herbert dropped his head in shame.

 

The minister raised his eyebrows at the problem he saw before him, but then, he was thinking, who didn’t kill in hate of some kind, did people kill for love?…we were all full of hatred when we went there, otherwise we’d have stayed home and raised families! The minister spoke these thoughts and moved to quieten his friend’s fears, and because he spoke with the sincerity and honesty of friend to friend, he could see it sinking in…An inspiration came upon him:

 

“Have you told this to Mary-Ann?”

 

“What? But it’s too late now..she’s dead, Brian, dead and gone.”

 

“Dead maybe, Herbert…but not gone, surely.”

 

Herbert raised his head to gaze steadily upon his friend.

 

“Why don’t you go down there Herb, go down and visit the grave? It won’t hurt, and who knows, you may feel some sort of response to your worries..it certainly couldn’t really do any harm .”

 

It seemed a strange thing to do, to go down and consult the dead. He was a little apprehensive and also a little scared, so clutching a small bouquet of field daisies that he and Mary-Ann had lay in those days so long ago, Herbert walked through the whitened cemetery gates on a grey-clouded, winters day. He stopped before the white marble gravestone that read :

 

“Mary-Ann Griegs

Loved wife of Herbert Greigs .

Died Oct. 4. 1940.

A Tragedy”

 

Herbert stood before the grave, feeling lonely, not knowing what to think, what to say. So he just stood with his hands clasped in front with the small bouquet held upside down in his fingers. He thought over the happy days, the early days, the sad days in numbness and the war days in pain. The picture of the dying soldier came into his memory, the man’s life fading from the brutal attack of the bayonet.

“Dio Boia, Dio Boia!” The man had cried, the words now clear in Herbert’s mind. And then the final fatalistic sighing of the dying soldier :

 

“Non e colpa tua,..Non e colpa tua.”

 

Herbert never could understand what the soldier meant by those words, even when he heard them translated, surely it was HIS fault the soldier died..HE was the one doing the killing!… He repeated the words now to himself and the repetitive tone seemed to bring clarity to his thoughts till suddenly, as if illuminated by light he understood the juxtaposition of their lives, Mary-Ann, the soldier’s, his own, and he suddenly realized why Mary-Ann had risked her life and destroyed the unborn child, her child, for whoever the father, it was still her child. But she destroyed her child and lost her life, not out of self protection, but rather for a greater prize to her…Herbert’s love…she died for love of him…

“Oh God” he cried at the realisation “oh God! oh God! oh God!” and he fell to his knees in front of the grave and the meaning of the soldiers last words fell into place and he sobbed to same words to his wife:

 

“It’s not your fault, It’s not your fault! It’s not your fault!” he wept , falling down on his knees with his face clasped in his hands, he wept, and so as his tears were falling to the earth, so was his soul descending down, down, till he felt he could ‘touch’ the soul of his loved…and he now understood..; the unborn child she sacrificed to Herbert to save her love and the Italian soldier he sacrificed to Mary-Ann to show his love. “pity the killed, pity the killers, pity us all, God pity us all !” he wept to her .. a light rain misted over the small graveyard, beside the church on the edge of the town. The bouquet of daisies had slipped from his hands and lay softly on the flat polished gravestone. It’s yellow and green glowing brightly against the wet, white marble…

 

Herbert Griegs came back from that time of despair and started farming again. He never married again and spent his years in service to the local community and the church. The wallet he took from the dead soldier that night contained, beside other things, a photograph of a young family: The soldier, his wife and a young child. This photograph he put in a gilded frame matching the one of his own marriage and stood them side by side on top of the china cabinet in the dining room of the farm house. These people are now all gone and soon, but for this, I feel, will be forgotten.