The Last Lingering Kiss.

Image result for Romantic pulp fiction books pics.

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 McCarthy ..Sr. Mary Margaret

Questioning..: Sgt Flannigan..:

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

Fr. McCarthy. “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. McC. “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. McC. (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. McC. “Why Sister, Why?”

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

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

I ask: “Fr. McCarthy, 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. McC. “You do realise, Sister, where this places us, the church, in the eyes of the community?”

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

Fr. McC. “Are you gone mad ,Sister, are you mad?”(I grasp Fr. McCarthy 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. McC 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. McC. “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, to steal a moment of lust, 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 Magdalene her Christ.. 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 Arrogance of Power.

Image result for Siege of Glenrowan Inn pics.

A Play..

This is a condensed part of a play that is centred around a well-worked story ; that of  “The Kelly Gang”..But the difference is displayed in the title..I hope to have delved a little at least into what I call ; “An Arrogance of Power”…It is political and social power sometimes held by a charismatic  individual like Kelly , or an Authority of governance…or subordinate officials who aspire to have it.

In Ned Kelly’s case, He possessed it as a natural strength , the Colonial Authorities jealously guarded it as their perceived right , and other minor officials desired it as a personal treasure. In the story of the Kelly uprising, this “arrogance” was played out by several people.

I want to try with this portrayal of Ned Kelly, to elevate the man from what may be called in some quarters ; A “criminal” mythology, to where I think he more rightly deserves to be placed in our Nation’s short but colourful Colonial history..:

That of Heroic Mythology.

Act# 4 Scene :2

….A jail cell Kelly sits on wooden bench…hands clasped, head down, he is musing on his fate a cock crows, Kelly starts!

Kelly- “Hark, the dawn, sweet Christ! dawn.(he places his head in his hands, then raises it to gaze straight toward audience).Dear Lord, give my distress reason, this last moment before sunrise….this last moment of my life on this earth. What dire fate carried me to this end? Where my brothers now…my friends?..Must I face this darkness alone amongst my enemies?..Ah, damn. damn, damn! What humour of the gods threw me to such beasts…is it for the meanest pun that I am cast so? a murderer they call me, yet they have killed more than I.  A thief they call me and still they rob the poor and ignorant ( He stands and paces the cell) Yet, there are many who see such injustices done.. but why was it to me that fell the responsibility to try to correct such injustices?….I who wanted no more than a farm, and a quiet life. What trick of circumstance brought me to these gallows?…No!.. settle your mind, Ned…hark now while there is still time.. go steadily over the facts, for there.is the secret of the rebellion”.

( He sits down, hands apart in front and reflects)

[  Here the stage is divided into two, Ned in his cell on the right,(from the audience’s viewpoint) the Governor, Judge Redmond Barry, superintendent Hare sitting in comfortable chairs, on the left. They are surrounded by all the trappings of their class, they pour themselves glasses of wine from time to time whilst they talk. Their conversation is calm, well constructed and carefully considered. Kelly’s soliloquy is questioning, his answers full of self-doubt till the end where he finally gains the upper- hand., then he becomes calm, self-assured, certain of his conclusion, whilst the others shift about in their chairs, squirming as they become evasive. doubtful….

As each question is put up by Kelly, his side of the stage darkens, the other lights up and his question is answered by one of the three as if they were talking to him and vice-versa.]

Judge Redmond Barry holds out his glass, superintendent Hare starts, quickly servile but clumsily reaches out and fills the glass from a carafe on the table..as he fills, they hear a cock crow..they all turn to a window on the set wall.

Governor: “Dawn..it won’t be long now!”

Sir Red. Barry: “If it were done, best it were done quickly”.

Gov; “No passing regrets, Redmond?”

Sir R.: ‘With each mans’ death I too am diminished.. ha ha! But no, not this time…for Kelly’s crimes shaped his own end eh, Hare’?”

Hare: “Certainly, we had all the evidence..(snorts humourously) if such were needed, for he convicted himself by his intent…and that was clear enough”.

Gov’: “What then the talk of his mother?”

[stage darkens, return to Kelly.]

Kelly:”When the troopers harrassed and arrested my mother,…. did I act too hastily and with too much temper’?”

Sup. Hare.:”Well, to be accurate, the evidence against his mother was a little…thin on the ground (a soft guffaw from the others) to warrant her arrest…but!..we had to create a catalyst to follow through with the suppression of the district radicals.”

Gov’.:” Hear! hear!”( the judge snorts approval)

Kelly:” Did I act in too much haste to avenge the treatment given to my family , and friends?..perhaps I was bold beyond reason?”

Sup’. H.:” Likewise his father and assorted relatives and friends…, we had to make an example of the clan lest their outspoken behaviour be seen as a quality of leadership and so spark rebellion amongst the larger Irish community there in the district. Amongst such clannish people we had little evidence,…but we had power and arms enough to divide and accuse regardless of guilt…it is our right to rule…and the prisons , ours to fill!”

Judge Barry:: “ Tis a pity Kennedy, and his patrol didn’t rid us of the problem early in the piece.”

Gov’..”Being their own kind..you’d have thought they would have been more cunning….set a thief to catch a thief..”

Sup’. H.:” Ah!..they were ambushed…’twas bad luck for them…armed to the teeth they were too….’twas bad luck for us. that!”

(Lights up his pipe).

Kelly.:”Kennedy and his lot…that was an evil day!..for Kennedy was a brave man, the wrath of God be upon me for his death. I’m sure. But then…what were they to expect? Irishmen hunting Irishmen, they could expect nothing but trouble! Those canny bastards always set us against ourselves…divide and rule is the order of the day. “

Sup’ H.:( he draws on his pipe, expels a long breath)” ‘Twas very important to have their own countrymen hunting them, sets the train of doubt and mistrust amongst their community..They have a long memory: the Irish. And a long memory gives rise to a shorter temper!.

(all three laugh).

Gov’.:” He’ll be but a memory in a few short moments!…ha! ha!”

(the gov’ throws his head back to laugh at his own joke…the other two look at eachother and roll their eyes)

Judge Barry.:(taps the tips of his finders together)” Though in the eyes of the Crown…we have achieved the desired effect of suppressing a sedition and or a potential uprising of the rebellious contingent in the community.. there is a mild..mild I reiterate, moral question that begs discussion. eye-eee (ie.) the deliberate setting-up of these people and incidents and subsequent loss of life to achieve the objective…vis-a-vis : the rooting out and extinguishing of seditious elements within the community”

Gov’.:” Deliberate setting- up?”(Gov looks to Sup.Hare).

Sup’.H.:(clears throat)”Well, Sir…er, to be honest….(clears throat again).

Gov’:” Out with it man!”

Kelly; (pacing the cell, stops, turns head to side,ponders) All the circumstances, all the petty infringements of law, the paltry nit-picking and harassment of our clan….(paces floor as he reasons) the Irish agin’ Irish, relative against relative it seems as if there was a more deliberate force at work than mere chance, it seems as if everything fell too, too smoothly into place, as if all the trivial accusations were deliberately set up to “strike at” our family but…no!,no!..surely it couldn’t be so ….. ?

Sup’. H.:” I did have a report from Superintendant Nicholson that, among other people, most strongly recommended the (gazes quickly to Judge Barry) “rooting out” of the Kelly family from the district and to (if I may quote)”send them to Pentridge even on a paltry charge” to take them away from the community and to reduce their influence in the area so, yes Sir, in some ways it was a deliberate “set-up” as Judge Barry mentioned, though I must admit that it did not go always as planned and I think it was our good fortune that there was not a general uprising at the siege of the Glenrowan Inn!..and if they had succeeded in the derailment of the troop train…?(he finishes with a nervous swig of wine)…thank heaven for the schoolmaster”..

Gov’.:”Ah, yes…the spoiler..”

Sup’ H ;”Spoiler, Sir?”

Judge B; “We have our own “spoilers”, Hare…every Jesus has his Judas…” He gulps his wine.

Gov’;” Quite so, quite so….That close, eh?…(Sup Hare nods in silence)Hmm, is this report common knowledge?”

Sup’.H.:” Only to the higher echelons of the department, Sir”.

Gov’.:(stands and begins to pace the floor with hands clasped behind back)”Then keep it such and Nicholson?…good man that, sees deeply into a problem….(pauses, reflects on his statement)..reward him with a promotion(suddenly raises finger) no, wait!..not promotion, money! give him a supplement to his pay..heh!heh!..money is the most subtle gag!…besides, we don’t want a too competent man near the “top” (stops pacing, looks to the others meaningfully)do we?”  (no word from the other two, so he smiles). You know I have received a petition of plea for clemency for Kelly….thirty thousand signatures…(he looks from one to the other, reading their reactions).Yes..(he sighs and sits back down)that is an awful lot of support in the community… of course there is no chance of it happening, as if the Crown can relinquish so firm a grasp on law and order! No, he shall hang as ordained in the courts of justice.” (Gov raises his glass toward Judge Barry).

Kelly.:” But if it was such, if there was a deliberate conspiracy to victimise our family and friends, ….let me think..(counts out on fingers) Me. Mother, Dan, Jim, Joe Byrne, Aaron Sherrit, Jack Lloyd, Bill Skillion, James Quinn. Pat Quinn (stops counting and looks toward audience in a state of shock) all sentenced, all served time…there can be little doubt but that we were hounded into the courts for some covert reason . Damn their eyes that they have played us into an insidious trap! That the authorised government would sink to such depths to isolate and oppress a group of people as an example to the general mass. What twisted frame of mind would seek such notorious security? That it would selectively sacrifice individuals for its own greater comfort. No, it was not I who was the criminal in this escapade. Let the filth of their cunning permeate into the furtherest reaches of their administration, for they will reap just reward for the evil they sow this day (clenches fist in anger).

Judge B.:(swills wine in glass whilst gazing down reflectively)”I fear we have set a precedent with this action that can lead us down a treacherous path,”

Gov.:”How so. Redmond?”

Judge B,:” ‘Tis a fateful pity we picked on such courageous an individual as Edward Kelly, on the surface he would appear “easy-meat” ; poor, uneducated country-bumkin! But there is a natural leader under that impoverished hide that may yet become a beacon to others.”

Gov.:” Come, come,Redmond. You colour us as tyrants and that..that(waves fingers) dirt as a new Brian Boru !”

Judge B.:”You heard him in my courtroom?…You read his “Jerilderie Letter”?

Gov.:” Ravings! my dear man, ravings!”

Judge B.:”To us, yes, for we deem them as such….We dismiss the crude rhetoric as a maniacs rave….but I tell you there was a power in both those “ravings”, a power that came from a deep belief in the injustice of his jailing…of his family’s convictions….of the oppression of his peoples..MY peoples still!..Such a power has its own silent brooding strength within!….we are indeed fortunate if there is not an uprising after dawn today!”

(a silence prevails)

Gov.:(stands and thinks)” Then we must “colour” the man’s last moments.”

Sup’ Hare;.:”How so Your Excellency?”

Gov.:”Why, we shall apply that time-honoured system when dealing with the “honest ” opposition we shall LIE!..lie and dishonour their memory! (pounds fist into palm of other hand)Let the sentence follow its rubric script, only we, (pauses, wags finger) shall darken the language to the pitch of blood! What is left untarnished… let them adore! But I beg you, fellow corpsmen, let it be little or best still…nothing of respectable substance! We hang Kelly as a murderer; let us paint him as more than such! You; Hare, make sure you report his “cowardice” at the hanging, use any language at your command to make an unfavourable impression with our friends of the Press of his last moments….we must start now to nip any sympathy in the bud and we shall use all means available to do it!….”

Kelly ; “And still it was I who took up the challenge to right their criminal intent but Why?…why was it left to me?….many a time gladly would I have given over the reins to another…(softly).Christ too begged release, yet there was none to take it. Likewise my own position….Joe Byrne?…too cavalier….Dan? too young, likewise Steve Hart but of the rest?….like the disciples of Christ: no vision, it would have all frittered away till there was only the cruel oppression left and us rotting in Pentridge goal….No, there was no other to take the initiative….only I (slumps down on bunk, arms limp on lap…slowly looks up to audience, stands, points to audience accusingly) ..and you! you stand by and let me and the likes of us carry the burden of responsibility and pay the price!….what is your part in this history?..(stands transfixed, mouth slightly open, pointing finger lowers slowly softly speaks)..But what am I saying…they are invisible: the silent majority, they do not figure in history, till the suffering attains a greater magnitude, then and only then does the collective whinge become a moan of anguish!..aaaahhh ! (flings arm wide).bugger the lot of them!…it is too late to lament my lot now , I am condemmed to die dishonourably to give cold honour to a cowardly population….well, I’ll give them one thing to think about: at least I’ll die game!…(shouts)I AM NED KELLY…SON OF RED KELLY!…”

Gov.:” I t is nearly time now, superintendant, go and witness Kelly’s “cowardice” and give it favourable report in the daily press”. ( sup’ Hare stands to attn, salutes and departs.)”Good man that (nods after Hare), I must recommend a suitable reward for his services” .

Judge B: “More money, Your Excellency? (Gov is about to sit, stops mid action and gazes questioningly at the judge)….since I’m sure we don’t want too competent a man near the top ” (sips wine innocently)

Gov.: (sits down slowly but comfortably)”I’m sure I can manage my …subordinates….Redmond..yes, more money, never fails (sips wine, sighs) I’ll have to order in another crate of this most enjoyable red, it sits most delightfully on my digestion!”

Judge B.: “It disturbs mine.”

Gov.:” That is because you gulp it down too fast my dear Redmond…I’ve watched you. no! ..don’t deny it, but listen, good wine is money to the blood..as the coins feel reassuring when they jingle in your pocket and you “embrace” them with your fingers before you spend them….So it is with wine, you let it lay a little on the tongue then press it gently against the palate to feel the richness of it’s fruit before you consume..BEFORE you consume, my dear Redmond….then it will not sour your gut!…(looks to the judge and laughs)ha! ha! ha!”

Kelly.:(returns to bench and sits, hands on knees) “Ah well, they destroy me….but I will take some of them with me…for I will be the nemesis of their hatred!…they have “roped ” themselves to me. Now, as I die…so must they..mine is not the only neck that will be gracing the rope !”(places head in hands and sobs gently he then stops, looks up) Mother… please give me strength to die like a Kelly.”

Judge B.:(taps fingertips together as he speaks) “Of course all this damn drama has risen out of the selectors’ poverty. There is such a thing as too much poverty, Gov’, I see it before my bench continually…”

Gov.:”….and where there is poverty there is crime…”

Judge B.: “And where there is wealth, I contritely add : Is there not greater crime ?”

Gov.: “Ahh! but that “crime” is affiliated, my dear Redmond , affiliated ”

Judge B.: “And we, I take it, are all shareholders?”

Gov.:(stands up abruptly, looks to the judge) “Yes, by God!, that or poverty!…I leave you choose the more favourable….(lowers voice)but come , Redmond, I didn’t make the rules, I am only a caretaker and I too must answer to a greater power….well aware am I that the substance of the poor always goes to enrich the wealthy (hunches shoulders appealingly)but what would you?…Those of us who pull the levers of Authority know only too well the tenuous hold we have on that power..and we know only too well that we rule not on our own strength..for what really are you Redmond , or I, if challenged to arms…but through the obedient strength of those we command..those we own…and if they but knew what we know…So, dear Redmond..Let us be thankful we are only hanging one man, not a whole class!”

Judge B.:”(drains glass with a wince)Pray we are not , in the long run, hanging ourselves!”

( stands to leave.) stage darkens.

Exit scene.

The complete play can be read here..: https://freefall852.wordpress.com/2016/04/13/an-arrogance-of-power/

“Do I miss thee?”

Do I miss thee?

Does a field of blossoming flowers,

Not miss the sun at high noon?

The gull in full flight,

The sea on a glowing dawn,

Wind blowing above fierce and free,

Tossing the crowns of the Mallee trees..

And. . .

You ask if I miss thee?

The sweetheart who turns the page of a letter,

Writing to wish good health to their lover,

Sunset on the seashore,

Hand in hand we explore,

Finding strange shells, creatures and more,

Kicking the seaweed up in wild scree,

Laughter shared over such nothings with thee,

These things I crave to happen with me..

And you ask ; “Do I miss thee?”

Miss thee?

If I could but shape my love from pure clay,

I would shape that feeling from start of the day,

From that waking sweet kiss of delight,

The sight of you beside me at first light.

I would mould my love in the form of desire,

That I see in thine eyes by an evening fire,

In the mould of your arms as you reach for me,

The glow so soft of your limbs sweetly..

That..is how my love plays for me,

Music passionate..a Puccini symphony..

So ask no more, my love ..

“Do I miss thee?”

O’ that we crossed that bridge of dreams.

“Man is forbidden to concern himself with anything but the struggle for bread. If his capacity for dreaming, imagining, inventing and experimenting is killed in the process, man will become a well-fed robot and die of spiritual malnutrition. The dream has its function and man cannot live without it.” …Anais Nin..: “Journals ; Vol’ 3.

Once upon a time humanity in the West moved about from mountain forest to open plain, from village to city armed with a plethora of myths and superstitions that were the backbone of the individual cultures and even individual tribes within those cultures and even right down to local villages with their “haunted” locations or sacred places with local copse or deep pools of water. We carried our favoured talismans to ward off evil or to invite kind spirits whilst on our travels.

The world of the Pagan…(Paganus ; Latin : of the village/countryside) was a world of complex mix of spiritual beliefs and mythology…the heroes of such myths moving among the Gods as representatives of the human desires…and the blending of both God and humanity became a favourable norm’ of explanation for some difficult to explain situations…Many an Emperor of the west proclaimed his father was one of the greater Gods who blessed his mother with divine conception and birth to explain away a more base truth that it was perhaps a wild night in the cot with a favourite slave that did the “hard, dirty work”.

The mythological worlds of those Pagans, from the Northern Lights to the Mediterranean Sea was “peopled” with all the colour and actions of a dreamtime equal to any ever described in the history of any tribal nation on the planet…Crazy heroes of both sexes, wild and strange animals, and beasts, wicked and malicious Gods, vengeful and jealous, that created stories and tales of wild abandon and filled the night air like the sparks rising from roaring camp-fire with any amount of delight and fear as story after story unfolded around rustic camp or ampitheatre stage…and the world as we know it was created and filled by the actions of those wonderous ephemeral beings.

And a “teller of tales” was a qualification as equal to if not surpassing the high priest of the temple….It was a time for dreaming…It was a time of wonder..

And then came the nightmare…..; Orthodox religion.

 “ By the sweat of your brow
    you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
    and to dust you will return.”  .. Genesis 3:19

The pragmatic brutality of the demands of adherence to the orthodox religious dogma of the three Abrahamic religions, set about with measured and structured determination to destroy the Pagan world of humanity and replace it with the more manageable rules of a singular God..a monotheist religiosity that fell in line , length and step to what was required by the rulers of the nation state for unity under rule of law..THEIR LAW..for all its citizens.

The Emperor Constantine designated that one God, one faith, one religion will only be tolerated under the Roman state. So from that date forward, with the exceptions of a couple of apostate Emperors, that monotheism became the norm and mankind stopped the en-masse worshipping of their favourite Pagan deities and household Gods and fell in line to the golden doors of the church..

Humanity stopped dreaming.

“Things now became rather hectic for me.  I forgot all about my Tales and became much more conscientious.  How could I have let all those years slip by, instead of practicing my devotions and going on pilgrimages?  I began to doubt whether any of my romantic fancies, even those that had seemed most plausible, had the slightest basis in fact.  How could anyone as wonderful as Shining Genji or as beautiful as the girl whom Captain Kaoru kept hidden in Uji really exist in this world of ours?  Oh, what a fool I had been to believe such nonsense!

“The wistful tone is present from the beginning, but as the writer nears the end of her life, it becomes unmistakable.  By the time we approach the final pages, there’s  a palpable sense of ‘if only’…” ( As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams – Recollections of a Woman in Eleventh-Century Japan )

With the ending of the mind’s dreaming of mythology and the age of heroes, became the beginning of the enslavement of the body to time and motion of the capital-based society. I lay at the feet of those orthodox religions the blame for so much of the brutal waste of humanity’s potential for cross-cultural respect. I lay at the feet of those “governors” of the West the reason for so much warfare and destruction as they utilised their creation of the “one faith..one God…one belief” to further enrich a so small minority of inner-circle acolytes and pseudo-devotees of their own false God.

Blasphemers of the true spirit of humanity.

Heretics of the desired destiny of humankind.

Sacrilegious destroyers of the dreamtime of the human race….Indeed, if there is a place in the hell of our recorded histories, those “high priest” traitors will deserve to occupy the most disgusting and effluvious depths of that hell. What has been created to replace those eons of “slow-life” can be described as a rapine of the most wanton destruction upon both nature and humanity..a curse of the worse description more wicked and wasteful than the most cruel witch or warlock, the most vengeful God or Goddess and more lasting than ever the Fates would condemn.

“ As I have said before, my mind was absorbed in romances, and I had no well-placed relatives from whom I could learn distinguished manners or court customs. Apart from the romances I could not know them.I had always been in the shadow of my antiquated parents, and had been accustomed not to go out except to see the moon and flowers. So when I left home I felt as if I were not I nor was it the real world to which I was going.I started in the early morning. I had often fancied in my countrified mind that I should hear more interesting things for my heart’s consolation than were to be found living fixed in my parents house” (Sarashina Nikki..: “As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams”)

And in the end, all she “found” was routine and authoritarian expectation of duty.

I have a relative who is keenly looking forward this year to a hip replacement…he needs it because he has carried so much weight over so many years that his natural one has worn down with the effort..of course, he will say otherwise..but that is the awful truth..and likewise are many of us “blessed” with such medical interventions that prolong an aged existence. We really have little choice..there is the suffering..here is the solution..what madness to refuse?

But I don’t think I need to extrapolate on the “long, winding road” that led us to this place. If we can’t identify it distinctly, we have good intuition of the what’s, why’s and wherefore’s that brought us here. The over indulgence of that relative of mine to the gluttony of a whole epoch of humanity has brought us here, where there is no longer a time for dreaming…of imagining…of procrastination while we relax on the laurals of our hard work..For it has already been costed and if there is not an algorithm already that calculates down to the last cent every individual citizen’s capacity of a lifetime’s contribution to the treasury coffers of the state and gives a rating on that citizen’s worth to the state..then there soon will be!

We have traded a dreamtime that promised no more than a frugal if colourful existence for a civilisation that promises us no more than a frugal if “colourful” existence…In the horse-racing game of betting, that is nothing better than a low-priced “odds-on” to win….but it will take an expensive gamble to profit from those odds.

As a person who deplores medical intervention at the worst of times, I have to wonder what we have gained with all this “civilising”…certainly no improvement on those seven deadly sins..perhaps a bit on convenience and technology, but nothing on happiness levels and contentment..let alone on wealth and well-being…a longer life perhaps..if you can dodge the traffic as you cross the road to do that bit of shopping.

Can’t blame the indigenous peoples of this or any nation for not really wanting a bar of it!

Poems.

Of people, times and places.

Always the dreamer…

Y’know..

I go outside in the mornin’

Pause..take in th’ weather..;yawnin’,

Mark how the dawnin’ sun

Gives the silver’d branches of the Mallee

A dun coloured sheen…nice ‘n clean.

Matching the wing of a galah

Tight-cling’d there…..on a spar.

An’ I’m thinking..

In this quiet, morning haste

That one oughta’ feel some poetry

Whilst in such a place..

But then…ah..it’d just be a waste…

xxxxxxx

A Summer Evening Walk.

A melodious whistle serenades the Summer evening air,

A gentler light falls tonight upon the buildings where

I walk a solitary walk down the empty street,

In company to the tune I whistle, my foot falls to the beat.

And I murmur simple flattery to the prism of the sky,

It’s strata’d colours ascending in layered symmetry.

My eye is caught by a flutter of geraniums upon a wall,

A host of colour trembling, a sight to be enthralled!

A woman appears, a laughing toss of golden, long-tressed hair,

Her laughter balanced the moment caught,

. . . I stop whistling to admire.

You know…treasures can be stolen from life’s relentless drudge,

That would sweep our eyes, our ears, our heart ever over its fidgeting edge.

Then…I continue my melodious whistle serenading the evening Summer air,

A gentler light…I feel…falls tonight,

Upon these buildings here.

xxxxxxx

The Tide.

Like a sailor old, who watches the tide,

Life’s many moods I do abide…and still I watch,

For there comes a wash of the river flow,

That carries the ebb, what comes and goes.

That “tide in men’s lives” that carries their thoughts,

Like flotsam swept before a wave wild wrought

By wind and storm or by deceiving calm they be brought,

To wreck upon Charybdis rocks or wash up on rugged tor.

Fortune for that sailor who with astute eye,

Will risk the temper of mood and tide,

And call the exact moment makes best to ride.

He casts the ropes that hold him belay,

All wind and storm be no delay.

Yet I and thee, chained to life’s fickle destiny,

Can but watch as the vessel sails away from we,

While idly biding…

Like empty shells scattered on a wide, broad shore,

Awaiting tide and waves also, to move us ever-more…”

xxxxxxx

Ah..growing old has its mercies..but also its regrets…would that one could drink from Ponce de León’s fountain of youth..I’m sure I would not let so many chances slip by…

If only..:

Would my wit be a sage much wiser.
Would my courage be somewhat bolder.
Would that time could take me back yonder,
To de León’s youthful fountain mythical . . .
There in a blush of delight so typical,
Would I and thee..as Adam and Eve,
As those children in the garden of Ede’,
Brighten our eyes to that first sight,
Of a new dawn rising over the mountain’s height.

If only. . .

xxxxxxx

Ode to Women’s beauty.

Speechless and numb, I gazed on her beauty there,

Her limbs, her hands, her soft flowing hair.

Her voice the whisper of an angel’s prayer..

SHE..roamed her eyes over the banquet fair,

The roasts, the salads, the fruits so rare,

And of my adoration, just so….au contraire.

“There is so much beauty before us here ,

It is so hard to decide….you tell me, my dear,”..

She said..”What to you is the most desirous fare?”

xxxxxxx

The Rose and the Plough.

In the back-blocks of the mallee

‘Neath Mrs. MacFarlane’s sill,

Grew a rose bush many years ago,

(I ponder it’s there still?).

 “ ‘Twas planted for my Louise

When she was newly born.

I mark the contrast of the rose:

The blossom above the thorn!”

MacFarlane ploughed the dry soil of that block

With machines tended of sweat and tears.

While Louise blossomed with the rose

All through her growing years.

But age slowly wearied him,

The years of labour took their toll.

So young Tim Brey that season worked the plough

And a bumper crop did sow.

Creeping fingers of evening shadow

Edged ’round mallee scrub and tree,

As Tim drove through the station gate

And Louise, he did suddenly “see”.

One warm evening ‘neath a mallee tree,

With the harvesting finally done,

The “old man” grumbled toward the house

While Tim and Louise talked on alone.

A silence fell after all was talked about

With dusk thru’ dust aglow.

Tim clasped the bough above her head

And leant toward his “rose”…

…The wind would move the fields of grain,

A swollen swirling “sea”:

Of “ebb and flow” in the crops

On the Breys’ new property…

Themselves now grown so old,

Their children too have flown.

But still the rose bush given

For their wedding blossoms on.

The mallee is not so prosperous,

The price has gone from wheat.

The farm is dusty, the house too old;

Deep lines fan Louise’s cheek.

Tim Brey harrows still with his plough

The “home paddock” into rows,

While Louise battles with their accounts,

As dust silently falls-on the petals-of the rose.

xxxxxxx

A cold night on the range.

Was the year after the blast that ended it all,

Not a whole room left standing..just rubble and sprawl,

And we were camp’d freezing amongst it all.

With nary a stick to burn to keep us warm,

But a box full of books packed in haste,

A box full of books found buried among waste.

So we lit a fire with those learned tomes,

Warmed our hands to the rhymes of poems,

And in jest to our plight using the fire we might

Read a line or two and laugh with vulgar delight!

“Here’s a good one”…Louise called out,

Holding the screed aloft in theatrical tout,

And with an exaggerated voice of stage,

Read those prescient words from the page;

When first the tottering house begins to sink,

Thither goes all the weight by an instinct”.

A moody silence fell from those words,

A warning wasted from a long-lost world,

The predicted path of how it all fell…

Wisdom in the silence, it’s echo did tell…

‘Twas Burton’s “Anatomy of Melancholy”,

Come to think..I recall..but whatever ‘twas,

It made good fire…a roaring good fire for us all.

Freezing our bones amid the sprawl.

xxxxxxx

The Secret.

Ladies…

I know a little secret,

I’ll not share with other men.

It’s deep, it’s dark, it’s truth is stark,

It’s come down millennium.

It’s so complex that a genius,

Would have to give it a rest,

Yet, so disarmingly simple..

A child could tell it best.

I first heard it’s whisper in the wild oats,

Whose husks had shed their seed.

The breezes hustled the golden sheaths,

Where small lizards scurried beneath.

It was told me in the cries of birds,

The scratching bark of the mallee tree.

It was told me in my lover’s embrace,

When we kissed our anniversary.

The secret came from the other side,

Of the wide, vast universe.

But it really started right here and now,

In the confines of this Earth.

It is nothing strange or unusual,

But it can never be told.

It is as young as a first desire,

As a drama about to unfold and

As needed and as fought for,

As  the last breath of the old.

The secret was known to those,

That first built ancient Athens town,

That sculptured the mighty Empire of Rome..

And then in anger tore both down.

It was known to Cleopatra,

When as concubine she went to Caesar

But when in the time of anarchy,

Presented as a Queen to Marc Antony.

It was sought by Van Gogh’s sad postman,

His crows in a wheaten field,

It was held in the breast of Manet’s

Absinthe Drinker’s desolate  gaze.

It is a hunger never satiated,

A thirst never quenched.

A vein to mine as rich as Croesus ,

Yet a pauper would have more  wealth.

But..

It is denied to the cruel and greedy,

Those seekers of mammon and of wealth.

For it can be seen in their gold and silver ,

Their  envy and their pelf.

That there, at the base of every grand building,

Be built of marble or Platinum.

Lay the broken, twisted bodies ,

Of  abandoned, homeless humans.

So they will never be rewarded,

With it’s velvet glove of desire,

Their hands too full already,

Their eyes too blind to inquire.

So :

Ladies…

There is this little secret that ,

I’ll not share with other men.

It’s deep, it’s dark , it’s truth rather stark.

Though the wording mostly unseen.

You may know it or at least sense it,

For it was whispered you at birth.

You wear it as a heritage,

You shed it at your death.

Though you may not explain it fully,

There are times , I think you know..

When the call of men and children,

Must need your attention most of all.

I promise I will never reveal it,

Because that secret is held you see..

In a knowing look , a furtive wink,

exchanged in passing,

Just between you and me.

xxxxxxx

Three blows on the church bell meant a child, twice three a woman and thrice three a man. After a pause the years were counted out at approximately half-minute intervals. The word teller in some dialects becomes tailor, hence the old saying “Nine tailors maketh a man”.

The Day.

I stare at the wet leaves

Of the Camellia bush,

In the patio..In the rain.

As I take in with my eyes,

I stir the cup of tea.

The spoon chimes on the porcelain;

I mind the strikes;

Tailors.

Three..Six..Nine..

“Nine tailors maketh a man”

So much to see out in the patio.

But nothing to absorb.

Just the everyday…

I will forget the vision,

But will remember the peace.

xxxxxxx

A Gap in the Line.

He touched the medals tenderly, the ribbon colours sublime,

The case of burnished velvet, the soft attractive shine,

He touched the medals tenderly, an Uncle’s Great War “shrine”.

Posthumously given for courage, in “closing a gap in the line”.

In closing a gap in the line he died, in mud, gore and slime.

It was for these tokens of honour, he marched, to fill a gap in the line.

With Union men, many of them with those medals he’d proudly stride.

Union men, many of them and a title his Uncle wore with pride.

Himself, a Wharfie, born and bred, right down the family line,

His Uncle too, t’was always said, could lump a hundred-weight a time,

Bagged sugar, sticky with sweat, soaking wet, at eighty tons an hour,

The men would lug from those cargo holds with no break for tucker.

In the Summer strike of ’98  they marched for conditions fair,

When “Patrick” crawled to Howard’s Government to send the coppers there.

Along with the Farmer mercenaries trained by the covert ; “Sandline,”

They sought to break the strikers…to break through a gap in the line.

In the middle of the night they sent in the thugs, the scabs and the dogs,

It was hard to tell which was which among the slavering, crawling hogs.

And deals were made and rights were trade between the ruling class,

That left the strikers on their own to hold the line tight to the last.

Howard set the dogs on the men and the women and children in kind,

Reith, the crawling bastard, banked the scabs through a mercenary company; “Sandline”,

And the Journalist sucks and the Murdoch hacks lent their honour to that shameful crew,

And wrote of “overpaid wharfie bludgers” when of sweat and blood they NEVER knew.

And he saw the look in the breaker’s eyes, he saw the hate confined,

So clasping tight, holding the next striker’s arms with all his might,

He called and bellowed fit to wake in fright..:”Hold boys, Hold!”

“ Hold my bastard boys!…we’ll not let them force a gap in the line!”

There comes a time in everyone’s heart, where honour and justice combine,

We must choose which side we’re marching on..what a sense of honour defines.

Would his Uncle have him march for nought, but just a place in a line,

Or should he honour best his Uncle’s pride with his class aligned.

Today he touches those medals tenderly, with a habit long refined,

But he’ll not march on Anzac Day…not while those Tory scabs declaim,

No..there’ll be a space where he held his place with the others marching time,

And owed in respect for his Uncle’s indebt’..they’ll now see clearly outlined,

That in the place of his marching space…there’ll be a gap in the line.

There’ll be a gap in the line my fellows…there’ll be a gap in the line.

Owed in respect to an Uncle’s indebt’…Today there’s a gap in the line.

xxxxxxx

Just as we guard our treasure lest it be plundered,

So should we treasure our pleasure lest it be squandered.

A lover’s thoughts.

When I laugh,

‘Tis a lover’s laugh..

My love’s smile enough to lift my heart.

When I weep,

‘Tis with a lover’s tears..

My lover is gone and my heart grows drear.

When I lay at night,

‘Tis a lover’s thoughts..

That I think of my lover and my love flows clear,

A rippling stream over flowering fields steeped in snow…

And these thoughts I think, I think my lover knows.

xxxxxxx


Ronin.

Adrift in a sea of language,

The Ronin without a master..

Am I too that same lost soul,

A writer without his muse..

A Teller without a tale,

A wanderer in the lingua franca?

Sing a song for the dreamers,

Whisper a secret for the Lord,

Twist of the knife for a schemer,

The brutal thrust of the sword.

Please remember me my darling,

And don’t forget my name,

For whence those words escape me,

I am not to blame.

xxxxxxx

A Simple Love Affair.

Related image
Small country town.

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…”

So I have built a story around that moment, that awful reality…and I have moved the story to the mallee, to another older 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..a simple love affair, set in a mallee town with two young people? Yes!..let us create our own “reality”..our own desire if only for one moment, one afternoon! And even as the some may attest; that only 1% of people are interested…so 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%.. We must accept that our “Art” is failing us..there is a loss in western interpretation of “romantic inspiration”..by romantic I mean that desire for the imaginable reality rather than the “cynical certainty”..bad things in life are a given, but hope is always there…without desire, there is no hope..without hope there is no life.

So, dear reader..as the story unfolds, let us desire…

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 of those times seemed to lock the young of that era into behaviour systems that exclude, in the majority, any dabbling in relationships away from the physical and physiological norm…sadly, any who went against this “norm” had to leave the community for the wider understanding of the cities. Not that this is an unforgivable 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 once old Peter Porter retired , 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 social crowd in the Hall meeting, or 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…and their mutual company gave confidence to the two companions as they grew more familiar with each other’s idiosyncracies.

No more than a stage of evolution I suppose ( but you knew this was going to happen; quiet 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, something most of us in our safe, sheltered worlds have never to face or confront: 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 cautions in romance, 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 then one day Harry “popped ” the question. And Anna accepted and indeed, why shouldn’t she?….She desired children, a home to raise them in….but should one feel a little raising of hackles at this servile “acceptance” of a woman’s lot? Should she rebel at this “presumed” social construction?..for after all it is but a story..a facsimile of a life..ah!….permit me a smile….and I ask : do we 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?….Have we not all waited…and yet inside each of us there is that strange hunger, that desired want for a kind of fulfilment..and so we may now smile… Yes. Anna accepted, yet there was one unsolved dilemma left in the air and she meant to speak, felt she had to speak to Harry about it soon.

Saterdee arvo, 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 bundle of cotton waste 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 ..”Ahhaha!..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 onto 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 so much more 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 other 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!”

The Gelded Stallion.

Pedro the Great Dies at Haras de la Haie Neuve - BloodHorse
Pic of Pedro The Great.

Martin Menzell was getting old. Martin was of the generation from the era before the war when horse power was the major means of farming production..before tractors became more efficient and the horse era was brought to a sudden and inglorious end..who could have foreseen that the development of those brutal machines of war, would make for the development of the tractor to become the machine for farming that would completely, in such a short space of time, sideline the draught-horse as the work-horse of agriculture. Gone in an instant was all those allied trades and skills that supported and surrounded the horse industry for uncounted millenia…all the experts in breeding, breaking and training horses in so many communities..gone also were the farriers, blacksmiths, saddlers and harness makers and repairers…and the conversations at store and hotel moved from muscle and hoof to the mechanics of this or that machinery.

An era of companionship in leisure and labour between horse and man, that had stood for uncountable millennia had passed.

Martin Menzell watched with concerned eye this passing of an era..He first had an inkling of it when old Glastonbury retired and on-sold one of the first cumbersome tractors that came to the district..a great lump of a thing called ; “A Lanz Bulldog”…sure, it could pull its weight on the plough and then some, but it was a beast of a thing to get started and the noise , and the smell and the fuel it needed was filthy and most distressingly..it scared the horses!….But when old man Glastonbury retired, young Rosenswietz made a lunge to buy that tractor quick-smart that demonstrated an eagerness for this new age of machine driven farming that gave warning to Martin Menzell that here was a thing whose moment had come..and it was coming to stay.

Martin was worried.

Martin loved his horses.

But Martin was getting old.

There were still several horses that he kept as personal companions that connected him to a passed age. He had relinquished the running of the farm several years before to his two daughters, his only children for he had no son…after his wife passed away.. The daughters too had an affinity for horses, but in a more “sport-horse” capacity…that is, they worked and trained them for equestrian competition like dressage or Hacking events…an occupation that Martin scorned as frivolous and undignified for serious horse breeding and working.

Martin kept his skills and observing eye to himself regarding what HE thought would make for a good breed of horse…and on that matter, he had his eye on a mare of his own that he had for some time considered good brood stock for a likely stallion. Many times he could be seen leaning over the rails of the mare’s yard watching her movements closely…Her stepping movements. The muscular frame of her body..strength of the forequarter and hindquarter…the swing in her trot or canter..that shimmer of her coat…but most of all was this instinct for the whole picture of the mare..an instinct cultivated over so many years of handling, breaking and grooming of those beasts..yes…he was thinking..there is a good brood mare…and he knew just the right stallion he would want to mate her with.

Another old friend from the days of serious horse farming, Charlie Kruger had just the stallion Martin had in mind…Charlie had paid a tidy sum for him back in the day and was charging more than Martin could afford for a mare servicing..but that was then…Similar health problems coming with ageing were troubling Charlie Kruger now and Martin heard that Charlie’s stallion ; “Nobleman” would soon be put up for sale.. Martin approached his old friend and made him an offer that Charlie accepted with the rider that any foal could not be signed off on a breed certificate as a progeny of “Nobleman”, as the mare had no breeding papers….and the pair of horses were left in a yard to “go about their business” once the mare came on season.

The mating was successful and in due course, fortune came forward and a colt was born.. and what a fine colt he was…and once weaned, the colt’s body and frame started to really develop into a fine figure of a future stallion…and he named this stallion ; “Ctesephon”, pronounced ; Tesephon..after the ancient capital of Persia…yes…he thought..a noble name for a noble beast…A dark Bay coloured horse with black lower legs without blotch nor blemish…and just a splotch of white on its forehead..a beautiful beast. 

Martin knew he no longer had the physical strength to break the stallion, so when Ctesephon was two years old, he called in a local young man that he knew was up to the job… Gary Sommer…and under Martin’s tutelage and Gary’s skilled nerve, they gradually brought Ctesephon under the control of bridle, bit and saddle without breaking that glorious strut, trot and canter of the beast…he truly was a magnificent animal..and once he was good enough for Martin to lunge, they would go to the Round Yard and Martin would put Ctesephon through his paces, developing his frame and balancing his movements, so that when he trotted or cantered, it was with an unfaltering stride and with his head in perfect symmetry to his pushing steps…Martin would never tire of admiring that marvellous beast and he felt more than a little proud that his breeding judgement was proven so sound with this fine example of equine purity..

Martin held the lunge rope and put Ctesephon into a fast trot, holding him in the frame so he could study the stride and pitch of the body..

He was as a butterfly in a flock of moths. He bounced on his hooves with all the grace of a prancing pony, circling, lifting,  dipping, feinting. He floated in the air at times with what seemed all four hooves off the ground and Martin found he could time Ctesephon’s strides with a snap of his fingers…Snap! Snap! Snap! Snap!…and the horse’s muscles flexed and pumped out shimmering waves of his coat with a combination of controlled speed and controlled step like some boxing greats.

“He’s like a Panther with a pretty face.” Said Gary as he watched from the rails….Yes..Martin agreed he’s almost like a big cat stalking around the yard…beautiful.

Martin would spend hours training and grooming his steed over many months..

But Martin was getting old.

One day, one of the daughters found Martin laying on the couch in his “Granny flat” in a frozen immovable state…he had suffered a stroke…and for a long time, he was at death’s door…then came the struggle in convalescence and then in rehabilitation, for Martin had lost much of his capacity to move around or speak and even to comprehend what was being spoken to him..so it was a good nine months before he could ask or be told of events down on the property.

When Martin did finally get the chance to lucidly put words together, it was to ask of Ctesephon..

“Fine..He’s fine..” said his eldest daughter, Fiona…” He’s down the back paddock fattening up on the new growth grass there..he’s just fine..”

Fiona was the more authoritative of Martin’s two daughters…it was she who managed the property once Martin relinquished it to his daughters…and it was Fiona who changed the business model from an agricultural system to primarily an equestrian centre with indoor arena, where the more affluent of the district would congregate and take lessons or agist their horses…the younger daughter, Kaylene, was more of the party animal type and though she too was keen on the equestrian side , she had little to do with the management of the business and followed..albeit insubordinately…her older sister’s instructions.

“Is he being worked? “ Martin mumbled out…There was a pause before Fiona answered.

“ He’s ….resting..” she cautiously replied.

“Better get young Gary to keep working him…it won’t be good to leave off with the training at this young age..”

Fiona stopped folding some items she had brought there for Martin and sat gingerly on the edge of the bed…she clasped her hands together on her lap and spoke..

“Gary doesn’t come to the farm anymore….I had to let him go.”

“Why?…he’s a strapping young lad..I’d think he’d be quite useful to do the heavy lifting there on the farm.”

Fiona averted her eyes and replied..

“That’s the problem…he was a bit too much of the “strapping young lad”   at least as far as Kaylene was concerned….He’s too much of a distraction for her and the other girls working there..”

“What girls..they’re all grown women!” Martin exclaimed. “Kay’ must be..oh, twenty eight by now..that’s a grown woman in my book..your mother was younger when we married…mind you, I was much older than her..but she had you two by the time she was twenty five!…would’ve had more but for Kaylene’s difficult pregnancy!”

“ That was then, dad…now, thirty is the new twenty..and Kay’ still acts like a young teenager..Look ( and Fiona stood up from the bed and with hands on her hips, she confronted her father with her explanation )….if you are so convinced that Kaylene is the grown woman I’ll tell you about her.. I was walking past the feed room a while back and I heard a noise from inside and while the door was shut, I could see through that hole where the old lock was ..and there was Kaylene flat-strap on her back on the lucerne bales with her ankles up by her ears and with Gary giving her a lot of what YOUR generation so crudely calls ‘ ‘ow’s yer father’ …so there’s your “grown woman”..

“Oh…” Martin mumbled..” Did you confront her about it ?”

“I did..and I said that I saw what she and Gary were up to in the feed room…but the only reply I got was a casual..”Did you dear?”…and with a slap of her riding crop on her jodhpurs, she walked away..Well, I told Gary I didn’t need him there any more and I paid him off”.

“The cheeky little sprite!” and Martin chuckled “ Oh well..your mother and I were no better behaved when we were young….I remember one time after a local dance….”

“I don’t want to know!” Fiona quickly and sharply interjected..and she gathered her purse and things to go..

“Well, you better think of getting him back to do some work on Ctesephon..because I won’t be back on line for quite a while and you can’t let a stallion stand idle…they’re troublesome…like young strapping lads..” and he gave Fiona a wink on her parting.

It was several weeks before Martin could get back to his home on the property and then only move about the granny-flat with the help of a walking frame or a stick on some days…His speech had almost completely restored, but his left side leg and arm were only partially useful..but he still insisted on doing for himself as much as possible…the only fly in the ointment at this juncture was his concern for Ctesephon and the lack of training he was getting…he decided to ring Gary himself and get him to come over.

“ Oh..hello, Martin” Gary answered the phone “How you getting on?…You home yet?”

“Yeah, I’m home and I’m still ratshit!…can only get around with this bloody frame… or a stick…it’s shithouse…say..how about you coming over an’ helping me?”

“What for…changing the nappy?” and he laughed.

“Don’t be a smart-arse, young whipper-snapper…I’m talking about Ctesephon…he needs working.”

“Don’t you know I’m banned…?”

“That’s your fault…don’t you know not to take your honey where you make your money?…and anyway..I’m unbanning you..I need your help with Ctesephon.”

“Why..the girls can manage him now..can’t they?”

“NO they can’t!” Martin yelled into the phone “I saw him drag Fiona about the yard just yesterday..he’s too much of a handful for her.”

“Hrumph!” Gary grunted..” I suppose he’s still pissed off with them”…There was a silence from Martin’s end of the line and a cold fear came over him.

“What do you mean ;’pissed off’ ?” He asked…Gary twigged that he hadn’t been told…and while he regretted ever giving hint, it was too late now to avoid the issue…Martin would find out soon anyway.

“ They had him gelded”…there was a silence..so he continued..” about six months ago…didn’t they tell you?”….Gary could hear his own breathing…” They didn’t know if you were going to survive..and he was too much for any of the women to handle…and one day he broke out of his yard and there was all sorts of havoc…Fiona had to call me over to get him back into a yard…she was shitting herself he would get into the mare’s paddock”…there was silence on the line..then it went dead.

That night when he sat to dinner with Fiona, half way through his meal, Martin carefully put his knife and fork down and sat up straight in his chair…never one to beat about the bush he straight up asked his daughter..

“When did you think you would tell me about gelding Ctesephon?”…Fiona stopped eating and with cutlery in hand paused while she cogitated on her answer.

“Soon…very soon…..Look…I had no choice…I suppose you got the news from Gary?”

“Yeah…I got the news from Gary…said you couldn’t handle him”. Martin spoke sarcastically…Fiona placed her cutlery on the table..

“You heard of the break-out then..I was at wits end how to manage him”

“And THAT’S the crux of it all…YOU couldn’t “manage” the stallion…like YOU couldn’t “manage” Gary with Kaylene..so you bent both situations to YOUR will…your control..you gelded both situations.” Martin wiped his lips and flung the napkin to the table.

“That’s right!” Fiona, now angry also..shouted ..” I couldn’t manage him…NONE of us women could..he was too fierce…too strong…the vet had to tranquilise him with a gun just to get near him!”

“What did you expect..He was a solid built stallion..NOT some poncy, prancing pony…You should’ve called Gary in…HE could manage him”

“ Oh yes!..’get Gary’…’Get Martin’….’Get the men in to help the girls manage a situation’…I COULD manage it…just NOT in the way YOU would let me…”…Fiona shouted across the table…Martin pshawwed the comment..Fiona continued ” Yes..and while we’re at it, perhaps YOU can tell me what else I am supposed to do with a stallion that no-one except your ‘darlin’ Gary’ could ride..a stallion no-one would want the foal from seeing as it has no breeding history save a stallion from some MATE of yours and bloody “Stumpy the mare”…” all this with Fiona stabbing her finger in the air and making inverted comma signs with her hands..

“He was a bloody perfect breed…you could see it in his frame, his stride, his movement, his muscle structure…a beautiful boy ..you don’t need any PAPERS to tell you that.”

“Yes…he’s a beautiful boy alright..a stunner…but not worth a red-cent as far as people in the industry go…There is no-one in this era that has use for an idle stallion that has no breeding heritage and no re-sale value save for a school horse..anybody with the amount of cash needed and willing to pay the big-bickies for a bred horse in this game will want their bloodline papers to show breeding that goes back to William The Conqueror!!…It’s all show-pony now, Dad..There’s no horse-drawn ploughs any more…there’s no milk-oh wagons plodding the streets either…and no-one has a sulky or cart that needs a horse in harness…”…and here Fiona softened her voice…” . . . and seriously..we didn’t know if you were even going to survive the stroke…or if you did you’d perhaps be a vegetable…I had to make a decision and that breakout made it for me.”

“ That’s the trouble, isn’t it…that’s EXACTLY the trouble…there’s no use even for such a beautiful example of a beast of nature just to admire…a perfect specimen…save for what can be got from it…if it can’t be “managed”, it can’t be of any value…it’s no wonder they can’t even sing a decent song anymore”…and Martin got up and left the table and hobbled with his walking frame back to his flat.

It was the early hours of the very next morning, with the wind bustling the branches and leaves of the low trees about the property, that Martin opened the door of his flat and with a long bag slung over his shoulder and his weakened body being supported by a walking frame, Martin made his way cautiously to the horse yard where Ctesephon was held…upon arrival at the rails, he pulled out some cut carrots from his coat pocket..and motioning toward Ctesephon, he called him to the rails..

Ctesephon recognised his master and also saw the carrots and he came to the rails..

“Ah, yes…can’t resist a carrot, eh, “Tessi”…Martin crooned…”My goodness, you’re still a fine looking boy..if one can call you a “boy” any more…they called men who had their balls cut off ; ‘Castrati’ back in the days when they did such things to humans…what am I to call you?..hmm…my beautiful fellow…my beautiful boy…yes…you’re still my beautiful boy..”and dropping several carrots onto the ground in front of him, so that the gelded stallion bent his head to pick at the reward..Martin caressingly stroked Ctesephon’s face…and then, lifting the long bag there that he had prepared before he came down to the yard, Martin unzipped the end and reaching his arm into the bag to cradle the trigger of the twelve-gauge shotgun loaded with a solid-slug 12-bore shell, he lifted bag and all so as not to alarm the horse to point it to the correct place on the gelded stallion’s head..and with a final “Goodbye old mate”….he pulled the trigger..

The Collected Poems of Adam Lindsay Gordon.

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Once upon a time, out in the deep Mallee forest near the Murray River there lived three sisters, aged sixteen, fourteen and thirteen…for as was common in those days, children came in quick succession. Their names being..from the eldest : Tess, Maggie and Rose. It was the years of post-Great Depression and the second world war raged another world away…in the deep Mallee where the sisters lived, the war was only a policy inconvenience, or in their case an opportunity for their father and mother to gain steady employment at a charcoal burning camp as he; a mechanic, and she ; as cook to around a dozen men who cut the mallee wood to burn in the pits to make charcoal. The two younger girls helped their mother with the preparation of the food, while, Tess, the eldest worked not far away at Portee Station, a cattle and sheep station on the rim of the Murray River.

Being of a family that by necessity throughout the Great Depression had to make their living moving from town to town, seasonal crop to seasonal crop for work, the girls were schooled at home by their mother who was fortunate back in her native Ireland to have had an excellent education because of her middle-class family…coming to this country to be suddenly married and a mother of three girls at the start of the worst set-back for the nation’s economy in its short history while moving around seeking casual employment left her to make do on her own capabilities.

A long time back she had abandoned her middle-class sensibilities to the practical bent of survival..another thing that she had abandoned was her Protestant religion to swing to Catholicism…and she embraced that faith with all the fervour of the religious convert…she was unbending and unyielding in her reverence toward the belief and standards of that faith…and as such would not tolerate her daughters becoming corrupted by such deviant subjects like romantic novels or poetry, herself having a long time before cast out such publications from her possessions till the only tome of any literature in her domestic enclave…which by frugal providence was a hand-stitched, split wheat-bag tent of her husband’s own design, for rarely was there a actual house over or around them…was her large, prized edition of The Bible (with illustrations).

So when her eldest daughter brought home a second-hand book of poetry, “The Collected Poems of Adam Lindsay Gordon”, accompanied by Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights”, her lips pinched, her eyes narrowed and her heart hardened and at first opportunity, she cast both editions out of the tent-flap with an admonishing chastisement and appropriate irony considering their present establishment to her daughter that such wanton literature will not be tolerated under HER roof while she yet lives!

This did not deter Tess from pursuing her secret inner desire to one day become a poet herself…she dreamed of lines of absolute beauty written with the most delightful script on pages of soft paper..Her favourite poem from the book she now held most dear to herself was “Thora’s Song”..her romantic heart ached for the chance to just feel the same emotions Thora felt for her lover…and Tess would dream of one day meeting just such a poetic soul as herself to be able to exchange that similar felt emotion in tender moments of love…As such a time had not yet come, Tess would stroll to the river’s edge on her evening off perambulations and there under the fading light of an afternoon’s umbra shine, read softly out to the air the works of Adam Lindsay Gordon, taking particular care on that most loved poem “Thora’s  Song”, her lilting Irish falsetto matching tune with the many river birds calls and warbles there so that the lingua franca of the evening on the river’s edge was a song in itself..a melody of harmonies that lay a hymn of sound floating just above those primrose-lit waters of the soft flowing Murray River.

To this dream of poet, Tess would, in between chores in the kitchen of the riverside station where she worked, take time to compose poems of her own hand. Most of these crude attempts she screwed up and burnt in the big kitchen stove…some..a few she felt happier with she placed between the pages of a school exercise book she used for her home school lessons that she taught to her younger siblings when she went home for two days a week to the charcoal camp where her family lived.…Tess would sometimes read these poems out to the giggling frivolity of her siblings who had little interest in literature and more in ribbons and hats.

Now the world of that district held to habit and routine and the celebration of “Empire Day” was one of fan-fair, parade and concert in the main town institute, where a repertoire of songs and short skits of plays and dances by locals were encouraged. So that when Tess arrived at her parent’s tent on the Friday afternoon, her sisters excitedly greeted her with the news that they were going with old Eddy in the truck to Truro to audition as sailors in a skit dancing The Sailor’s Hornpipe…and surely Tess would come along to watch!…Of course Tess was as excited and delighted and went to sleep that night formulating a desire to approach Miss. Josie Rudge, the organising person, on the morrow to see if she could perform a poetic recitation at the event.

The dour Miss Rudge, school teacher and choralist for the Truro Congregational Church, was a disciplinarian type who “took no prisoners”, as she was want to say whenever the children got out of hand…

”In line! In line!”..she’d demand “and no fooling around…I’ll take no prisoners if I see anyone mucking about!…you there!..back in line..watch the markers on the floor…in line!”

But yes, They were seeking appropriate recitations for the “in-betweens” of the songs and dance routines and Miss Rudge gave Tess a time that afternoon for a reading. The piece Miss Rudge picked was a short poem that tested the elocution of the reader..more suited to one of the preferred young ladies from a “good family” of the district who were favoured with an exclusive schooled education in Adelaide and spoke the “King’s English” with just a little bit of plummy accent. Of course, Tess, coming from the Mallee bush with the hint of brogue of her Irish mother slipping off her lips like a syrup of Sligo was hard pressed to wrap those words around her tongue and she stumbled in quite a few places with the desired entrapment placed there by the cunning Miss Rudge.

And as she finished the reading from the elevated stage, Tess, who had prided herself on her practiced poetry was somewhat shy and reticent of her chances..The stern Miss Rudge did not dismiss Tess there and then, but rather encouraged her to practice when at home and she will be notified of her placement within the fortnight.

Tess felt encouraged by that short advice and regardless of a faint feeling of caution, spent the following days at and after work bending her spoken language to deliver to the best of her capability those immortal words of her beloved bard ; Adam Lindsay Gordon, and his poem ; “Thora’s Song”.

Unbeknownst to Tess, from the first introduction of herself to Miss Josie Rudge, she hadn’t a chance of stepping out on that stage at Empire Day to deliver any thing at all, as her family situation was already known and scorned by the stern protestant Miss Rudge, who despised anything Catholic entering within her perimeter of “England forever”..and after Tess and her sisters departed, she was heard to say to her assistant most viciously..:

“The nerve!..to think I would allow the daughter of that Irish Catholic woman to stumble and ramble with her atrocious interpretation of the good King’s English upon my stage…On Empire Day of all times..The poor child threw out more “Haiches” from her mouth than Clem Highett would dud hen’s from his hatchery!…and that mother of hers!.a face the map of Ireland…”As Catholic as Connaugh” they would say..No, I won’t have it..I will send a letter to her this week or so..don’t want to break the poor kitchen maid’s heart here and now…I’ll let her sisters dance The Hornpipe though…don’t want to appear too officious…do we?”

Unaware of the futility of her ambitions, Tess kept softly practicing her recitation whenever she had time..so that the Lady of Portee Station..Margaret Esau, would smile to herself when she heard her young servant girl softly reciting poems on the back verandah of the Portee Station Homestead on many a quiet evening.

Margaret Esau encouraged Tess to work on her pronunciations, for she was well aware of Tess’s poetical ambitions which were innocently and proudly confessed when Margret first interviewed Tess for the position of kitchen maid… an ambition that made Tess’s eyes shine with delight when she said it and brought a sympathetic smile to Margaret’s lips..for she could see that while the ambition was worthy, the letter Tess had written and the language of her spoken words displayed a working class accent with less than ready education. And so  Margaret would sensitively correct any of the more exaggerated mistakes of interpretation when Tess served at the table… even promising Tess a day off so as to be able to attend to rehearsals when required. So it was a rather worried Margaret Esau that heard the gentle sobbing on the back verandah outside the kitchen one evening…Upon enquiry, she was shown the letter of rejection from Miss Josie Rudge of the Empire Day Hall Committee, citing (dishonestly) a lack of space within the program for Tess’s poetry recitation. Margaret comforted the sad Tess and taking the letter from her hands, Margaret said she would see if she could persuade Miss Rudge to find space for Tess’s reading.

This reassurance did little to comfort Tess’s unease, for she had read something unsettling in the tone of Miss Rudge’s letter..a more than hint of slighting tone of voice..even the opening address of “Dear Child” felt like a dismissal of her as a working girl with a place in the household of a large station..a position of responsibility that Tess wore with some degree of pride…And even though the wording was seemingly polite and respectful, Tess (as did Margaret when she read the letter ) could feel her eyes burn with indignation when the writer had consoled her with the expression that “. . .regardless of this lost opportunity to recite with those fine young ladies from the Adelaide private finishing schools, she was sure to use her accrued skills learned at the kitchen table to further herself in the arts of scullery maid or another hand trade”.

This example of passive snobbery on Miss Rudge’s part did not go un-noticed by Margaret Esau and while Tess wept for the burning insult, Margaret’s lips pinched together in anger for the presumption of Miss Rudge’s to insult her ; Margaret’s young study, with such language reserved for that middle-class to use against one of their own…”She has no right to presume” Margaret hissed and took it upon herself to sort Miss Rudge out by putting HER back in HER place in the order of status in the district.

Tess had gone to that spot on the banks of the Murray River where she felt most private and secure, she took with her that tome of poetry of Adam Lindsay Gordon’s that she felt in kinship with and began to read out loud that most private of her favourites ;

“Thora’s Song”

“We severed in autumn early,

Ere the earth was torn by the plough;

The wheat and the oats and the barley

Are ripe for the harvest now.

We sunder’d one misty morning,

Ere the hills were dimm’d by the rain,

Through the flowers those hills adorning —

Thou comest not back again.

My heart is heavy and weary

With the weight of a weary soul;

The mid-day glare grows dreary,

And dreary the midnight scroll.

The corn-stalks sigh for the sickle,

‘Neath the load of the golden grain;

I sigh for a mate more fickle —

Thou comest not back again.  . . . ”

The soft lilting of her voice now pitched less high as a sadness weighed down upon her soul..that gentle wash of the Irish brogue inserted from her mother’s talk and homeland as sweet as the honeyed air of summer skies.. Her Irish tongue a whisper of angels in the voice when saddened enough to sing a lament to her own destiny. for there was growing in her heart a dread that her ambition to aspire for a poet was but a pipe dream…the words of her mother damning such heathen verse to Sheol and the tittering laughter of her sisters when she tried to share with them her love for the written word in rhyme and metre and now that letter from Miss Rudge, a teacher at the Truro school no less, that gave more than hint of Tess’s incompetence with the language, all buffering down on her spirit and telling her that she was just being a silly girl to try to reach for a place above her station in life..the life of a servant girl and workhorse for her betters and nothing more..her dreams of one day writing poetry that sang with the spirits of the Gods of air, fire and water…a dream of smoke and mirrors..a will o the wisp that will vanish with the first puff of wind…silly person…silly girl.

Tess stood and straightened her skirt and turned to go…she had noticed the silence of the birds as she read her verse..and she sensed that even they were in accord with her sombre mood and were wont to intrude too cheerfully upon her mood there…Tess stopped for just that moment in her departure and,turned to address The River….

“Goodnight” she said.

A few days later, Tess was called to the telephone to receive a call from Miss Rudge of the Empire Day Concert Committee..the short of the conversation..for it was short and terse..was that, yes, there now appeared a place in the program for her to recite some poetry and it was imperative that she MOST PROMPTLY attend to rehearsals on the fifth of the month ten am SHARP..at the Civic Hall Truro..and report to her, Miss Rudge. And the telephone went dead at that demand. Tess was beside herself with joy and handed the receiver back to Margaret who smiled in kind.

“Did you….?” Tess asked and then stopped.

“I think Miss Rudge looked into her heart and reconsidered” Margaret cut any further conversation on the subject short…”I always say, Tess…that The River has ways of letting a poor man live like a king and in turn making the wise man look like an ass!…You know..I wasn’t always the wife of Mr, John Esau…”

It was after Tess had left to walk to the river that evening on receiving the letter, that Margaret Esau placed a call through to Miss Josie Rudge’s residence…there was a controlled anger in Margaret’s voice as she explained that it would be a pity for herself and her husband John, who were quite generous to the school and hall committees, to make the trip to Truro for the concert only to find that her house-maid, Tess was being denied a chance to recite a most favoured poem that she had been practicing assiduously for the last few weeks…

“Oh but really, Mrs Esau..the girl is totally unsuitable to recite on stage” Josie Rudge complained “She is almost illiterate and her elocution is as deep and broad as an Irish bog!”…Margaret let a long silence hang in the air before she answered..

“I have been coaching her, Miss Rudge.”

There was a sharp intake of breath at the other end of the line..then a new tack was tried..

“Well, the McBain twins have come back for the holidays from their finishing school in Adelaide and I have promised them a quartet of songs with piano accompaniment in the program”…

“Yes, we are well acquainted with the McBains of Anna Creek Station…quite well acquainted and I can assure you that they will not mind if you reduce their girls to a triplet of songs and make shift to place young Tess into the repertoire.” This last with the stern voice of the Lady of the Manor…of course, Miss Rudge complied with Margaret’s wishes and a telephone call was put through several days later to tell Tess the good news.

Tess walked out onto the stage of the Truro Civic Hall on the evening of the Empire Day Concert and stood proud to recite her favourite poem..;

“From the collected poems of Adam Lindsay Gordon.” She spoke in a clear and precise voice..the hint of Irish brogue adding a lilt of delightful colour to her words..

“Thora’s Song” Tess announced..and she began the recital.

And when Tess had finished the poem, and a suitable round of applause rent the high ceilings of the hall, she surprised everyone to announce that she . . .

“ . . . would now like to do a short poem of my own hand in recognition of our benefactor Mrs Margaret Esau of Portee station…on a theme gratefully borrowed from Mr Henry Wadsworth Longfellow .. ;  “Hiawatha”…and Tess began ;

“On the shores of the mighty Murray,

By its calm and tranquil waters,

Stood the halls of Portee Station . . . “

John Esau leaned over to whisper into Margaret’s ear..

“Be blowed if she hasn’t stolen some of the thunder of Mr Longfellow”..and he chuckled.

“I suspect Mr Longfellow can spare a bit” Margaret smiled.

“The cheek of the girl” John smirked.

“Yes” Margaret agreed “marvellous isn’t it?”

There is an announcement in the regional newspaper of the times of the proceedings of that Empire Day evening..it reads thus:

“ Items that were particularly well received were “The Flag Makers”, a patriotic tableau presented by grades VI and VII . A nautical song ; All Over the Place by Pauline Harris assisted by the senior girls who danced The Sailor’s Hornpipe.

Films were also shown on the school’s projector, interesting and instructive films in keeping with the observance of Empire Day. They were entitled “Battle for France” the “Evacuation of Dunkirk” and the fall of France (two years ago) and “The Navy at Work”.

A variety of songs and poetry recitals were given by the young ladies of the district..Of particular appeal was the recital of a poem “Thora’s Song” from The Collected Poems of Adam Lindsay Gordon, by Miss Tess Jones of Portee Station.

The dancing and other items were arranged by Miss Josie Rudge and Mrs I. Richards was the pianist for the evening..A grand time was had by all!”

Sacred Site.

Image result for Old Aboriginal Woomera pics.

Australian Aboriginal Woomera ( spear launcher).

Ahh!…yes..I can see that you are all a tad jaded and tuckered out with the political shenanigans. I tell you what..I’ll tell you a story. It is constructed from two events..one, when a friend told me of finding a very old woomera in the cleft of a very old tree on the edge of the Simpson Desert..as told in the story below..The other was told me by a Italian brickie mate of two brothers who actually did go through the described scenario below…only difference was; they drew straws.
I hope I never have to be given such a choice..but then..there are others who have done the same.
It goes like this..:

SACRED SITE:

Two men stood side by side at the rear of the four wheel drive truck. The setting sun was behind them. Their shadows stretched out in front like long thin pencil lines over the salt-bush and stubble.

“Come over here Bob, I’ll show you something.”

Antonio stepped away at right angles to the track and fence. The desert air was cooling, and the distant horizon purpling with the coming of evening, the darkness was tumbling towards them from the east. After a short distance the first man stopped suddenly and stood with his hands in his pockets but the thumbs outside. Bob strode up next to him and gazed at where Antonio was looking, he saw nothing but one lone, long dead tree amid an expanse of desert shrubbery.

“See there?”

“What?” Bob queried.

“There at the base in that small cleft.”

At first Bob didn’t see anything unusual, but then an object took shape, a man crafted object of symmetrical design. He moved a few steps closer so he was only yards from it, in the dusk he made out clearly the shape.

“Why … it’s a woomera” he said surprised “ an … an Aboriginal woomera … but it’s old … so old”.

He spoke in awe, and indeed it was old. At least a hundred years old because the wearing of the elements on it, it had been sun- baked and sand blasted, the resin and fibres holding the spur onto the body had deteriorated and the patterns cut into the body of the woomera were now obscure. Bob leant forward as if to touch it but Tony gripped his wrist fiercely.

“No, Bob … don’t touch it, let it lie there. I haven’t touched it ever in all the years I’ve known it’s here, you’re the first I’ve ever shown it to … it must remain as it is till time takes it back to the earth … as it will take us all … as it will take Francesco.”

Antonio released Bob’s arm and straightened up still gazing at the woomera.

“Come, we will camp nearby for the night it will soon be dark.” Both men turned and walked back to the truck.

A soft fire glowed in the centre of a ring of stones, but its light seemed too frail to penetrate deep into the darkness, unable to wash into the deeper crevasses of their eye sockets and the hollows of their cheeks, so the men’s faces quivered into grotesque shadowy masks.

“Who’s Francesco?” Bob asked.

Antonio squatted, one arm on his knee with the other hand prodding a stick into the coals.

“Pass me that piece of branch, Bob..ta…Francesco was my older brother … he died a long time ago … twenty years now … or rather tomorrow.”

Bob stretched one leg out in the cool sand and made himself more comfortable.

“You never told me you had a brother” Bob remarked quietly, in a tone that suggested he was a little bit piqued that this close friend would keep such a secret from him.

Antonio didn’t look away from the flames, his eyes didn’t blink as he stared into the syrupy yellow.

“It’s why I asked you along on this trip actually,” Antonio solemnly spoke.

“Oh?”

“You’re a priest, I want you to help me bury him again..”

“Who?”

“Francesco … my brother!” “…

“…You alright Tony? .. I mean; where’s the body?”

Antonio leant back and felt inside his clothes bag and swung back with a small wooden urn.

“Here …” He said quietly “His ashes!”

Bob squinted at his friend with one eye closed.

“In there?”

“In here”.

There was a pause in the conversation and the fire crackled and hissed, the silence of the desert night crowded in all around them, listening.

“So what did they bury all those years ago?”

“Ashes … plain wood ashes!” Antonio smiled and leant back to place the urn into his duffle bag. Bob let out a slow, low whistle.

“You better enlighten me Tony.”

“I’ll get the billy boiled first.” Antonio dropped a palmful of tea into the boiling water. He slowly stirred the contents with a piece of stick.

“I’ll tell you Bob, not as a confession, but still…maybe for Francesco’s soul!”

“How did he die?”

“He shot himself.”

“Suicide?” Bob raised his eyebrow Antonio leapt up angrily…

“No! … No … No, a thousand times no …” he strode two steps away then turned and strode back, the ball of his cupped left hand slapping onto his right fist, he shook his head empathically as he spoke. “Not suicide, … no! his was a sacrifice … yes, a sacrifice to the filthy God security!” Antonio stopped suddenly, hands frozen apart, his heavy breathing noticeable in the still desert night.

“Security,” he whispered. His shoulders slumped and he sat back down by the fire, reached over, took the billy and filled two mugs with the brew.

“Sugar, Bob?” his voice still tense.

“Please … and milk”.

“I take mine black.” Antonio leant back on his duffle bag and stretched one leg out comfortably, his boot pushed up a little mound of the red sand..

“Dammit Bob, it still upsets me after all these years.” He guffawed, “Suicide!” and he guffawed again. He took a sip of his tea and a deep breath.

“Francesco … was ten years older than me and we were partners in a building company before the recession. We started out as brickies you see, then it just grew from there “Collossus Constructions” we called ourselves and it did get colossal! Ended up flat out just organising the other trades. We did a lot of estate housing projects in those days for those big real-estate companies. We were in it up to our necks when the recession hit and it all went bust! Oh God did it go bust! Overnight, two of our biggest contracts went into receivership and left us holding the bag. Subcontractors to be paid, contracts to finish etcetera, etcetera and it cleaned us out … or nearly …”

“Didn’t you see any signs of the impending collapse?”

“Nah! they were still signing contracts up till the day before … so someone was pulling a shonky!”

“It’s always the way” Bob chipped in.

“Anyway we were running around like scalded cats all week, cajoling this one, pacifying the other, putting someone else off till finally on the Friday night Francesco comes ’round in his ute and says to throw in a sleeping bag and the billy and let’s go bush for the weekend. I couldn’t have agreed more. Hey, isn’t it good out here in the desert?..clean, peaceful. It was at this very spot that we camped … right here, the same place I come to every year since then … but this will be my last … this will be my last.”

“You look good for a few years yet Tony.”

“But I feel tired Bob, so bloody tired.”

“You been carrying some of the weight?”

“In a way … it could’ve been me … it could have been me that died.” Antonio sighed. “He found that woomera, not me, he wandered over there to go to the toilet, after a while he called out to me: ”

‘Tony … come here, have a look at this!”

“No thanks!’ I called in disgust.

“‘Nah … not that … it’s interesting.” He had found something.

When I got there he was squatted in front of the woomera staring at it.

“Hey!” I said, “that’d look great above my mantelpiece” and I reached out for it but he rapped my knuckles with a piece of branch.

“Don’t touch!” he barked. “Have respect for the dead.”

“What dead? It’s only a woomera.” I said.

“Oh he’s dead alright, after all those years, and its still his..it was probably left here by mistake.”

“Finders keepers…” I began, but Francesco wasn’t listening to anything I said, he just stared at that thing.

“He was a hunter … and he rested here … for a camp maybe … maybe he speared a ‘roo, he leant his woomera against the tree … it would have been a sapling then surely …” and Francesco went on in this quiet monotone, building up a picture of this lone Aboriginal hunter and the desert and the need for food that sent him on long journeys …I just stood there listening to him talk and it was enthralling in it’s depth of feeling. I’d never known Frank to think of these things before.” Antonio stopped and stared into the fire, it’s flickering glow so enticingly rich and comforting under the stars. When he finished, Francesco stood up, turned to me and said: “We’re still all hunters, you know,” then turned and walked back to the camp.”

“It seemed to have touched a spot in him” Bob remarked.

“I’ll say,” Tony agreed. “He went back to look at that woomera again and again over the weekend. But he said no more about it. Then on the Sunday afternoon as we were packing up he said to me:

“‘Tony … we’re done for, you know that don’t you?”

“How do you mean … financially?”

“Yes financially stuffed..but I’ve thought out a way to beat the bastards!”

“Like how?” I asked.

“You remember those insurance policies we took out on each other two years ago?”

“Yeah, in case one of us kicked off, but they’re not worth a quid yet … unless one of us dies … say! you’re not thinking of faking a death, then disappearing or something?”

“Not faking … but a death, yes.”

“What are you talking about, – you lost your marbles or something … what are you talking about …” I was shocked I can tell you. Francesco got angry.

“Grow up Tony” He yelled “Grow up, we’re finished. In less than a month they’ll have our business, our houses, our cars, … our balls … everything .”

“But Frank”

“Don’t Frank me … you know what it’s like to live in poverty? Do you? and your wife and your kids … what’re you gonna tell them … “sorry kids, sorry honey but we gotta go live in a shack and eat porridge and potatoes!” hey? you tell them that … listen, you’re too young to remember back home, but I can tell you; I remember and I don’t intend to have my family go through those times,” and he slammed his hand against the side of the ute.

“What … what do you intend to do”

“Better you don’t know.” But I knew.

“Frank … no … be reasonable … Stefania … the kids …”

“It’s them I’m thinking of “ he said softly, then; “Listen Tony, I’m fifty eight, been working in building since I was a kid in shorts..what’ve I got; ten, fifteen years left, what of it? Fifteen years of nothing for me and my family, or else … I’ll never have more than I got now, never, I’ve reached my peak and I don’t want to go down into the depths, it’d kill me anyway.”

“We argued back and forth and I followed him around the ute talking to his back, but he was stubborn.

“Listen,’ he said “You wanna go live in a ditch you go live in a ditch. What do you think the old people suffered in their lives for? So you could have it easy and to hell with your kids? Every comfort has its price, Antonio, what do you want your kids to be? tramps? bums? No, … I don’t want my kids to battle out of a poverty trap like the old people had to. If there’s a price in it I’m prepared to pay everyone pays sometime … it seems my time is now.”

“But me, Frank, what would you have me do, sit by and see you knock yourself off and then reap the reward .. what sort of man do you consider me?! No, we’re both of us in this together, I won’t let you take it on your own …”

“It’s the only way Tony, you’re ten years younger, your family’s younger.”

“Give me a risk on it … toss a coin Frank, you always like to toss a coin for a decision, toss a coin now and we’ll take equal risk!” …

“Alright” He relented. “We’ll toss … and the winner loses!” He grimaced at his own joke.

He pulled a few coins from his pocket and picked out a twenty cent piece.

“I’ll call, since it was my idea” he said and he flipped the coin.

“Heads!” he cried.

Bob..Bob, have you ever been so scared that your stomach was just one big knot wrenching your innards together so they just ached? Well, that’s how mine were. Don’t ask me why I agreed to that madness but I knew the loser wouldn’t back out. The more I think of it, the more I refute it, but strangely, strangely the quick fix of the idea attracted me then and I loved my family enough to kill anyone that would hurt them, so why not kill myself to save them from hurt?! … all those kind of thoughts went through my mind in the split seconds of that toss as that coin flickered in the light. Of course it came down heads and Frank bent down and picked up the coin. He slapped his hand on my shoulder and said.

“Now, it’s decided. let’s not talk about it on the way home. Who knows, maybe I won’t have to go through with it after all,” and we packed up and left.

“On the Monday afternoon I was in the office when I got a call from the insurance agent.”

“Mr Gustoni?’ the agent asked.

“Yes” I replied, thinking it was me he was after.

“Yes..I was right, I inquired into the policy agreement and yes, your accident indemnity does cover accidental death outside the working site and hours.”

I went weak at the knees … and almost speechless. I could just mutter into the receiver

” Oh..right..thanks..thanks” and I hung up and raced out of the office and drove to Frank’s place.

“Oh mother of God! mother of God!” I prayed as I drove through that endless traffic. I didn’t think it would be now not straight away! Give it a bit more time please! Please!

Stefania, his wife, was there.

“He’s gone out Tony he said to give you this contract to look at …’”she handed me a fat manilla envelope, then I knew it was too late.

“Is there anything wrong?” women they’re so sharp.

“No more than usual,” I remarked and quickly left in case I betrayed my feelings.

“He didn’t give me a chance to say goodbye, Bob, not a chance, not a chance. “Why?” I asked myself…He made it look like an accident..like the gun went off as he was climbing through the fence…”

“In the envelope there was a goodbye note and a few items he wanted buried with him and – also this …!” Tony tossed a coin to Bob’s feet. Bob picked it up examined it and turned it over.

“Why … it’s a double headed twenty cent piece, it’s been cut and another face glued on to make one coin! …”

“The cunning bastard … I always wondered how he won all those tosses, and you see that nick on the edge, that’s how he picked it out amongst others with his fingers.” Bob snorted and tossed it back.

“Well he did go through with it and in the note he asked that I somehow get his ashes and bury them with the few other personal items next to that woomera up here.”

“And did you tell Stefania of it all?” Bob asked.

“What do you tell the women? : Frank knocked himself off so we can pay our bills? What did that hunter tell his people if he came home without any tucker ‘I lost my woomera’? ..’left it somewhere’ ? No Bob, Frank was right, we’re all hunters and each must guard his secrets. No, I didn’t tell them, but she’d guess, women have their damned intuition.”

“Why didn’t you bury him, then?”

“I couldn’t bring myself to put an end to it all, I didn’t understand the connection between that hunter’s primitive woomera and our own highly complicated lives, that is till now. Now I know what Frank realised that weekend twenty years ago. That woomera over there is a totem of men’s responsibilities, the women bear the children, the men provide, that is the base line of our cultural life. Some women die in chldbirth some men die in the seeking of provisions. I’ve been on building sites myself where workmen have been either killed or badly injured. They’re taken away and another fills his place. No-one can shirk his responsibilities, we all take our risks. So the hunter’s woomera left here by accident must have wrought danger to that whole family’s existence so was that recession the calamity that befell our family’s existence … The insurance policy was just another means to provide … at a price, everything changes, but nothing is changed. The immortality of all things mortal … ashes to ashes, dust to dust. He lost his fear of death.”

Antonio sighed.

”And this is where you come in, Bob … would you mind … a simple ceremony …?”

The dawn laid silver sheets across the sky as the two men stood before the tree that held the woomera in its cleft. Tony gave the wooden urn to Bob who lay it in a shallow hole near the woomera. Then he gave Bob a flick-knife with a carved ivory handle.
“He bought that in Italy years before, and you see that carving … here, give it to me for a sec … this carving of a woman, he’d sometimes take the knife out amongst a group of us men and he’d rub the ball of his thumb over the tiny breast there and he’d sigh and say, ‘Ah, my Stefania, she once had breasts like this,’ and then he’d press this button here, like so: “

Swish! the silvered blade of the flick-knife shot out of the handle so it made Bob jump.

“And Francesco would sigh sadly again and nodding his head say: ‘And me, my cock once sprung up like that!’..he’d always get a laugh.” Tony smiled and folded the blade away and gave the knife to Bob.

“And last of all this” sneered Antonio as he flung the double headed coin into the hole.

Bob pushed the sand over the urn and knife and coin. He stood up and spoke in a clear concise voice:

“Let this site remain sacred to the memory of Francesco Gustoni …”

“Could you say the prayer in Latin Bob, he preferred Latin.” Bob nodded and began:

“In nome il Padre e Filio e Spirito Santo …”

Carmello Comes Home.

Image result for Italian village piazza with Bar pic.

The plight of the “escaping from warfare refugee” has figured large over the last few years with much sympathy, while the “economic refugee”has been somewhat scorned as an “opportunist”…I can assure many that it is far from true..the desperation and need can be felt  equally by the “starving stayers” as by the fleeing desperates..and it didn’t always go that well with such “legitimate” immigrants.

This might ring a bell with some of our older citz’ here…Do any of you Adelaidiens remember that strip of garden between Nth. Terrace and the wall of the Governor’s residence?…It ran from the Light Horse statue to the Arch of Remembrance, between the Governor’s residence and Nth. Terrace …and it was a real garden, not like now where it is just a lawn. It was once full of exotic flowers and shrubs and they would give blazing colour to that walkway that used to carry so much foot-traffic from the railway station to the university or Rundle St (as it was then)..I’m talking back in the 60s / 70’s …well, the entire kit and caboodle was planted and maintained by this little Italian Gardener…I remember seeing him there a couple of times, in those green bib-n-brace overalls. He used to work out of a corrugated-iron shed hidden snugly behind a hedge of some low shrub-like trees near the war memorial end…he could be seen there with his wheelbarrow and some tools in it…he would plant out and till-up where replacement was required or needed, according to the season.

He migrated to this country around 1960 and intended to settle here with his new family..this is a little piece of his story.

It went like this..:

“Carmello Comes Home”

( I )

“All journeys start in hope,

So many end in despair.

The migrant sets his mind to the first,

Tho’ his heart overflow with fear.”

Carmello Notori stepped off the boat at Outer-Harbour on a very hot February day. The year was 1960. The sharp sunlight cut daggers spark-ling off every bright object into his eyes so that he squinted continually and some obscure god had scattered wanton stars onto the sea that glittered and danced.

“This is a pale country,” was Carmello’s first thought. “I hope it treats us well”. By “us” he was referring to himself and his wife and two year old child who were to join him later, about six months later, after he had got a job and set up a house for the family.

Carmello obtained employment with the city council and rented a small flat in a near suburb and wrote short informative letters to his wife back in the village in Italy about his progress in the new country. After six months, he wrote for her to come and join him, but she put it off as “the child was ill with influenza and she needed to rest him.”

Three months after that it was something else that would delay her. His letters became a little more terse and then cajoling in the hope of persuading her to come out, but she stay put in the village. After a season of excuses which Carmello “saw through”, she finally confessed she was too scared to go away from her family, her friends in the village. Where would she get help with the child? Who could she talk to in the lonely hours that plague the mothers at home. No, she was too scared to be alone in a strange house in a strange land. He clutched that letter in his hand and rested his cheek on his arm on the kitchen table. He could see her point in his heart and he did not try to argue her out of it, for he too had felt the loneliness of a faster lifestyle, a more grasping lifestyle that left little time for friends to gather impromptu to savour the joy of a sweet moment. He changed the tone of his letters gradually to one of fatalistic acceptance and sent money back home on a regular basis.

He would have liked to have gone back to his family but he remembered the acute poverty that drove him, and many others alike, away. He remembered too the bragging he had done in the local cafe of the good life he would have in the “new country”, so he stayed, though it was mostly the memory of the poverty that kept him at his work and he sent money back home to his family.

Carmello worked for the council looking after a long stretch of garden next to a busy city street. It was a narrow piece of land that ran from the main city intersection by the Parliament House, a half a kilometer to end at the War Memorial. He would till the soil and plant shrubs in the autumn. He would rake the speckled yellow and red leaves from the deciduous trees that lined the street and shed their foliage in the cool autumn days. In the winter he would sweep the path that ran through the garden or sit quietly in his hut amongst the creeper vines when it rained. After some years he was left to be his own boss so that his schedule was a very obliging one that saw him through the years. When the spring buds came out he weeded and tilled between the flowers as they grew. A small fire always burnt in one corner near his hut, where he would incinerate twigs and leaves and bits of scrap paper people discarded on their daily commute through his garden.

The softness of the small fire cheered him in some lonely times and sent a slim, scented plume of blue smoke twirling up, up over the trees into the city skyline. No-one noticed him so no-one bothered him. He was an anonymous immigrant in a big country, and so the years passed by and he sent money back home to his family.

One day a woman stopped and admired a flowering plant just near where he was standing.

“They’re nice aren’t they?” he spoke.

The woman gave a little start. She hadn’t noticed him standing there. She gazed at him and blinked. He blended in so well with the leafy backgound that he almost seemed a part of it. His brown cardigan hung loose on his short nobbly frame..  a pair of bib and brace green overalls untidily covered his body, the knees of these overalls had been crudely patched as if he had done the job himself (which he had). His face was “chunky” with a big nose and his curly hair, though not dirty, was neglected so his general appearance looked as one who needn’t impress anyone.

“You have a garden?” He asked.

“Why, yes I do”, the woman answered cautiously.

“Here, I give you one of these,” he spoke softly, confidentially.

There was a small heap of cuttings of a green shrub with spiky blue flowers which he had been pruning. Kneeling down with a small trowel, he grubbed up a bulb of one of the plants, then rising and looking over his shoulder in a secretive way, put the bulb into a plastic bag supplied by the woman. They exchanged pleasantries about the flowers and gardens then bid each other cheerio. Once a month the woman would come down the path on her way to the library and they would chat and exchange details about their gardens and the weather and this and that…

“Fifteen years I have worked this garden now,” he told her one day. She seemed surprised she had never noticed him up to when they first met, such was his anonymity.

“Soon I have my long service,” he smiled.

One rainy winter’s day there was a ceremony going on at the War Memorial so that he wasn’t working just then. There were a lot of people standing around listening to the Governor giving a speech. The Governor and other dignitaries peeked out from under the broad black brims of umbrellas. Here and there you could see some old soldiers, medals and service ribbons on their coats and them just standing out in the pouring rain, the water streaming in little waterfalls over the brim of their hats and their gaunt faces streaked with the drenching rain so you’d think they were crying rivers of tears.

Carmello stood under the lee of his hut. The woman stopped next to the gardener.

“Oh hello missus”, he greeted her quietly and they stood there listening to the address. After a little while Carmello leant over to the woman and softly whispered: “I’m going back to Italy soon.”

“For good?” the woman asked.

“No, No,” he shook his head emphatically, “Only for a short while ; a holiday..I have my long-service leave.” He smiled at the thought.

When he returned from his holiday he seemed unsettled, a bit more determined as though he were fighting an uneasy desire.

“If I could go tomorrow, missus…,” he would say, shaking his hand in a gesturing way and he’d sigh. “But I must save, missus, I must save now”, he turned as he spoke, the rake in his hand with the head resting on the ground. “I must save now,” he spoke earnestly.

He was sad at leaving his family back home, and to make matters worse, he had learnt that his wife was now expecting another child and he could not be there to assist as a husband ought.

Another wet day she came along the path and saw the gardener sitting huddled just inside the door of his hut with a little fire of sticks burning by the door. He looked miserable sitting there.

“Are you well?” She asked.

“Ah! no missus, I have this cold..una raffreddore!..I should be home..but what is the use of staying alone in an empty house?” he stared at the fire as he spoke, and it was around that time he decided he would have to go back home…the final decision was made as he read the latest letter from his wife in the village. She told of the everyday events of the season in the village ..and he was not there…

“…it was a good year for the grapes,” she wrote “ but the olives were not so good, with many rotting on the trees..Alfonso ( the grandfather) got a good deal from the miller for his wheat and we now have plenty of flour for the pasta this year…” Carmello read on..”…the saint’s day parade went well as it was a lovely day with the sun shining bright and all the children dressed up and the flowers so pretty placed at the feet of San Giovanni…” the memories flooded in..all this was happening as he had himself seen so many years ago..and he was not there.

Carmello looked up at that moment from his reading as he heard a strange noise across the road..There , dressed in their light, flowing bright orange robes, were a troupe of half a dozen Hari Krishna shaved-head devotees chanting and ringing their small cymbals and tambourines as they skipped and swirled down the footpath opposite in single file…It was the strange sight of this totally , to Carmello, alien image that steered his course of action, a craving for the familiarity of homeland swept over him so he almost swooned from a sense of isolation and loneliness ..but he would stay and save and save..then after three more years, he calculated,  he would return to his home.

The woman’s husband had a stroke at around that time, that knocked him flat and kept her home for several years so she never saw the gardener again. A long time after she was walking through Carmello’s stretch of garden and she noticed the gardener’s hut was being pulled down by some workmen.

A little way along the path another man was digging up the green shrubs with the spiky blue flowers. The woman stopped .

“Where’s the little Italian gardener?” She asked one of the workmen there.

“Oh him? He’s gone home, lady, back to Italy.”

“Oh?” She queried.

“Yep” the man continued. “Twenty years here was enough for him.” He laughed. The woman turned to go away, then stopped.

“Tell me; what was his name?” She asked for he had never told her.

“To tell you the truth madam,” the man scratched the back of his head “I wouldn’t know. We called him ‘Gino’ but we call all the eyeties ‘Gino’.” And he laughed again.

( II )

Pellegrino Rossi sat outside on the footpath under the blue and yellow lighted sign that said “Tony – BAR”. The word “Tony” was smaller than the word “BAR” and was in the top left hand corner. Pellegrino Rossi sat out in the morning sunshine at a small round table drinking a cup of espresso coffee and observing the movements of the people of the village. The daily bus from the big provincial city pulled up over the other side of the road with a squeal of brakes and a hiss of air. Pellegrino could not see who had alighted as the bus was between himself and the far footpath. But he knew someone had got off as the driver too had alighted and there was a clatter of baggage doors opening on the far side of the bus. After a short time and a degree of muffled conversation, the driver sprung back into his seat and with a hiss of shutting doors, the bus accelerated away in a cloud of fumes, smoke and dust.

A short nobbly man of about fifty remained on the far footpath where the bus had left him. He was escorted on both sides by two enormous tatty brown suitcases with large belts and buckles around their girth. His suit of clothes matched the colour of the cases. They were crushed and misshapen from being worn on a long journey. His belt, like the ones on the suitcases, was pulled tight around his girth so that his trousers were “lifted”  high on his waist and left too much ankle showing down around his shoes. Pellegrino squinted at the man who remained standing there as though trying to comprehend his situation. A smile of recognition gradually crept over Pellegrino’s face. It had been a long, long time. He called out:

“Well, well now, “Panerello” (for that was Carmello’s nickname), we were wondering when you would come home.” His hand was shaking at the new arrival in that flat openhanded on edge way that Italians do. Carmello smiled and nodded as he recognised his old friend.

“Hey! “Dry as sticks”,” Pellegrino called into the doorway of the Bar. “Pour a glass-full of the fatted calf to welcome the prodigal home!” He laughed as he stood.

At the mention of “the prodigal”, Carmello’s hand went automatically to the inside pocket of his suit coat. There it felt a fatted packet. Fatted with banknotes of a foreign currency. Payment for all those years of tending the gardens. Payment for all those years of loneliness in a strange country. Payment for all those years of patience and endurance. He gave the packet a squeeze and it seemed a weight fell from his shoulders.

“Payment for the children” he sighed.

Carmello smiled happily as he surveyed the scene, the Bar, his friend, the round tables on the footpath, the yellowing paint on the house walls, the orangey-pink of the old church in the square, the cobblestone road, the sound of his friends’ greeting, the feel of the mountain air on his cheeks.

“Carmello, Carmello!” a woman’s voice cried from down the narrow street, the sound rebounding off the walls of the canyon of houses. He recognised her sweetly,…the photos,…the memory of her longingly treasured in his heart…his wife called again in a gentle dropping inflection of voice.

“Carmello…Caro, Carmello” she came quickly down the street in little skips and runs as older woman do when they want to go fast on foot. He could see the tears in her eyes, a couple of people stopped and some popped their heads out of nearby houses. His friend, Pellegrino called again from across the road.

“Ah Panerello, Panerello, it’s been too long.” He was smiling as he came onto the street. Carmello looked to him, at his approaching wife, a tall young man at her side..his son.. the young girl at her skirts…his daughter..had it been five years already? A sob of joy welled up inside him, he lifted his hands as though wishing to explain something with them but no words would come to his lips…his wife coming closer, his friend reaching out for his hands with both of his, his village shone bright in the morning sunlight, a shaft of sunshine snipped a star off the glass ashtray on one of the tables at the “Tony-BAR”. Carmello felt the tears run freely… He was home,…at last…he was home!