I am moving into my “Italian period” with these few stories. I do like those extraordinary personalities and situations that mark the characteristic of the Italian short story..I don’t think you can find the depth of “commitment” to the random acts of delinquency or romance and indeed ; superstition from an Anglo-Saxon community..But I could be wrong!
My sister told me of this “event” when she was last here from Italy. I like it for it’s example of “the vendetta”,that long-lasting animosity that exists in these small villages and the resulting act of vengeance by both parties.
It went like this:
An Act of Contrition.
Gemano Filosi, the cobbler of the village of San Pietro di Messana was making his way back to his home one Sunday morning after attending Church . He was suddenly overtaken by a man on a horse going at a steady trot..Gemano had to quickly step aside as the horse and rider passed.
“ On the hoof, Gemano?..You should get yourself one of these.” The rider shouted as he passed.
Now, to any other person such a comment would have been seen as nothing more than a friendly mock…but the fact that it was spoken by one; Cesarino Marchesso , a son of one of the largest land owners in the district, and the lingering distaste of an old family hurt concerning these two families, made it strike home with all the force of a spear in the heart…
Gemano swore vengeance.
The insult dated from back to his grandfather’s time when a foal was purchased from the Marchesso family farm by Gemano’s Family which turned out not to be the expected horse, but rather a mule!..At least that was the accusation..in all probability it was just a goofy-looking horse..but that is the way with inter-family feuds..they mostly all start with a rumour…one can construct the ongoing feud without assistance from yours truly…and then even this last “slighting” may have been overlooked but for the painful corns that bothered Gemano with every step.
Gemano swore vengeance….but was yet to figure out how.
The solution came in a flash of inspiration with a request from his sister; Elvira, the next week.
“Gemano..for the love of Gesu , put some new heels on these shoes before I twist my ankles” she complained.
“Yes” he replied “I will have them done by next Thursday and I will leave them outside the shop door for you to collect as I have to go to the town that day.”
Indeed, Gemano was as good as his word, for he did finish those shoes and he did leave them outside his shop Wednesday night for his sister to pick up that Thursday…but not before using them to disguise his own footprints when he stole over to set alight to the Marchesso’s hay stack on that same Wednesday night before quickly scurrying off to make his alibi in the provincial town.
Of course, as anyone who has lived in a small village knows, every family has a ‘list’ of sworn enemies that can be referred to in times of conflict and the police wasted no time in looking up the list provided to them by the Marchesso family.
The upshot was that the clear set of woman’s shoe prints left at gate which led to the scene of the crime could be traced to the sister of Gemano Filosi. There was even a slight trace of the very soil from the site on one of the shoes. But naturally, the police would never imagine the possibility of Gemano wearing the ladies shoes as that sort of thing just wasn’t done ..
Of course, Elvira pleaded innocence and protested she was home that very night with her recently born baby..This fact threw the police a little, but still she was arrested at the insistence of the Marchesso family and placed in a holding cell on remand while they investigated. The baby could not be kept with her and had to be brought to her for feeding several times a day. This was a very distressing time for Elvira and though she suspected Gemano, she would not accuse him openly, so she sent him a secret message pleading with him to come forward on his own volition. Gemano refused and pleaded his innocence, claiming that since the shoes were placed outside his shop overnight for his sister to pick up in the morning, anyone could have used them and then replaced them with the deliberate intent of shifting the blame onto his family!
This was a line of reasoning that did have a degree of possibility about it..so that after exhausting their inquiry into Elvira, they had to admit defeat and after three months, released her. But the “stain” of accusation had been placed onto Elvira and such accusations cause long-term difficulties in a small village. Elvira and her husband moved away to the provincial city to live as a result. She still suspected her brother of the crime and never forgave him for dropping her into it and bringing such trouble and turmoil into her family’s life.
But the years passed and they all grew old..indeed, Gemano was ill for a long time and now he had reached the end of his life..He was on his death bed. But still Elvira had not forgiven him as he never confessed to her the truth of his deed. But now he was at his last days and the dottore had informed the family that he was slipping in and out of a coma and they should come to arrange last rites with a priest as soon as possible.
Elvira arranged for a priest to come with her to attend to her brother’s extreme unction. The old priest from the village being called away to the next parish that week, Elvira arranged for a new younger priest from the town to do the ritual..Gemano who had embraced the faith even closer to his heart in those later years, was not able to notice that his old mentor was not there.
Gemano lay still on the bed in the old family home. He was attended by the close members of his family and the doctor. They all moved respectfully outside as the priest heard Gemano’s last confession and was given the last rites. Being almost unconscious, Gemano could hardly comprehend what was being said to him by the priest. But there was one driving need he wanted to confess..
“Father”..he gasped weakly.
“Yes my son”..the priest replied.
“Tell Elvira….tell…tell her it was me..” and he nearly collapsed from the effort.
“Yes..the haystack..it was me” and he went silent from the effort. The priest smiled a little and whispered into his ear..
“I think it best you confessed that to her yourself…for the love of God and for your forgiveness…”
Gemano lay still for a while, then nodded weakly in consent…he knew it would be his last act of contrition.
The priest sent for Elvira and the doctor to come to the bedside of the dying brother.
“He has a confession to say to you my lady.” The priest spoke so both Gemano and Elvira could hear. Elvira sat at the side of her brother and leaned in to hear from his weak lips.
“It was I…sister…I set fire to Marchesso’s hay..” Gemano’s eyes were wide and he gasped and looked like this statement would be his last act, his last words..Elvira stilled him and held his hand to comfort him.
“Shh, shh…dear brother..” she whispered. Then she leaned down close to his ear so as to secretly whisper into it.
“I know..brother..I always knew..and I could never forgive you for the hurt you brought to myself and my family…but I do now..I..forgive you..But while you have performed your act of contrition to me…you also have a difficulty..You see that young priest at the foot of the bed?”…
Gemano, whose eyes were closed, weakly blinked and looked to the young priest who smiled quietly and gave him a little nod…
“..well that young man is not really a priest, he is an actor friend of my daughter.and he is pretending to be a priest and you really have not been given extreme-unction..The sin remains on your soul , so you will have to go to God and beg him to forgive you..”
Elvira sat back satisfied that she had at last taken her own sort of vengeance.
Gemano’s eyes went wide as this profound knowledge slowly sank in ..but it was already too late and indeed, this treachery brought on his demise by the sudden surge of shock to his system..He gasped, raised one arm to point to the “priest” and tried to speak..but only a gasp and a croak emitted from the dying man.
“Ah!..ah!..no!..” and with a last gaping gasp of breath, Gemano fell back stone dead onto the pillow.
Elvira leaned to her brother, kissed his forehead and tenderly said..
“Yes, dear brother..now I forgive you.”
Carmello Comes Home.
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!
It was a month now since he had first gone to her, and his perceptions of her had shifted from that initial phase of blind adoration to a more abstract collation of her little mannerisms.
Malcolm was twenty-seven years old, an illustrator-painter who, like most artistic types that arise from the ranks of the working class, made his living from menial labour: Malcolm worked in a shop selling pizzas! His illustrations were sometimes commissioned by obscure magazines and he also sketched houses for real-estate agents’ catalogues. He never associated with any ‘artistic’ set, in fact he winced at the pretentious grouping of that elite class. Instead, he spent his spare time nurturing the skills for his temperamental dedication to his craft that helped him to produce, for his own needs, a creditable portfolio of water-colours, sketches and pastels which he kept in a room of his small flat at The Bay. Now it was high summer, the acres of beach thrilled to the delightful squeals of childish glee and the shoreline oozed that faintly sulfurous tang of heated sea-water that flares the nostrils and excites the brain! Like a beacon to the idle and dispossessed it lured youth to that sandy expanse, the gentle lapping of waves playing a sweet tune to the laughter and cries of a delightful seraglio!
Malcolm stood under the kiosk verandah. He had come to buy drinks and an ice-cream for themselves and her children. He paused under the shade of that portico and gazed out with his artist’s eye over the road to the sea. All was opposites; black to white, sand to bitumen, light to shadow, silhouette to glare, diamond to iron. The shadow of the verandah cut a sharp, precise line edge to the bitumen footpath. The sun was at its zenith, there was no blurring of shadow to light, just a clear-cut concise line to demark one from the other.
He grimaced as he stepped bare-footed out onto the waxy bitumen, then juggling drink and ice-creams, danced with a fire-walker’s jerky step as he tiptoed swiftly but painfully across the scorching road. With each placing of his foot the hot road ‘bit’ and the sun seared down onto his sea-salt dried skin so it raked across his shoulders like a harridan’s claw! But oh! that lovely sea air and the cries of happy children, a gull banked spread-winged against the azure sea; a collage : a fixed image in his mind – another time will recall…Pausing momentarily under the shady boughs of a small tree on the edge of the path to the beach, he gazed hungrily at the long white of sand sweeping north to The Bay with the ‘stretched’ optical illusion of the seashore and esplanade buildings all a-wobble in the rising waves of heated air. He inhaled ecstatically…
“Sometimes (he reflected for the words) …there is too much of nature and not enough of human,” he sighed.
“Malcolm,” she called…
He turned and went down the path to the expectant faces crowded under the beige ‘moana’ beach-shade. As he came close to her, she turned her gaze upon him, stunned, he stopped for a moment to admire her flawed beauty, flawed, for a small scar penciled over her left eye from a motor accident in her youth, but still so beautiful for her obvious Irish features and that calm patience that seemed to weigh down on motherhood as an accepted fate.
Malcolm stared at her for that moment and a thought arose in his mind:
“I’ll have to paint a portrait of her” …he decided all of a sudden… “a portrait of a Madonna!”
That evening he broached the subject of his painting a portrait of her.
“Uh huh,” …she responded calmly… “with or without any clothes on?…and will there be any paint on the brush?” she finished with a wry smile.
“With clothes on, of course!” he answered defensively, “…and what do you mean by ‘paint on the brush?’ ”
She smirked cheekily..with worldly knowledge of men more sophisticated than she let on.
“Oh, you would read of those men that were always looking for “photographic models” but there was never any film in the camera!” ..and she tossed her blonde tresses back carelessly and laughed and her eyes sparkled for that worldly absurdity and naivety of men’s hunger for the female nude.
Her laughter awoke insight in Malcolm just at that moment ( for isn’t it always only given in fleeting moments? ;…a spice scent on a zephyr sent…a stranger’s eyes reflected upon a window pane in passing….should one stop? wasn’t that….? no, moment gone!) and he realised that encompassed within that feminine physiognomy of beauty are all the genetic instructions for confounding the male of the species; all the wilyness of thousands of years of the socially bludgeoned “faithful servant,” against which the male has but one advantage : physical strength, brute strength and in degrees does a man grow weaker and more feeble, in the same measure must women lose their youthful allure..yet their character grow stronger..the man cannot win, must not win!
For the next few weeks he worked at the portrait, the portrait he had fixed in his mind from that afternoon at the beach. Sometimes he would paint from memory of her; at other times she would model, draped with a silken cloth so he could capture light and shade within the folds of the cloth as it curved over her shoulders.
It was at these sittings she would tease him, not taking seriously that desire of artistic creation sought by Malcolm; the artist, but already unknowingly possessed by herself ; the woman.
“Some native tribes would refuse photographs to be taken of themselves as they feared it was stealing their spirit…” she coyly said… “Are you trying to steal mine?” she smiled.
“Don’t smile and don’t joke,” he commanded…”Madonna’s are too sacred to be flippant” and he bent close to the canvas to touch a little paint. She took this moment of his lack of attention to re-adjust, stealthily, the soft cloth draped over her breasts so that between the folds gentle, one erect pink nipple and a blush of oriole protruded proudly, she settled back poker faced and waited….he looked up again, palette aslant, brush poised…his brow knitted but for a moment at something different about her pose…then he saw…her left eyebrow rose ever so slightly, ever so slowly….he placed the brush and palette on the table and turned to her.
“That’ll be enough art for today,” he spoke quietly.
Her hand reached out and lifted a long stemmed rose off the side table. He sat close to her. Her hands cupped and cradled the pale, pink rose, its long stem lay across her garment, she lifted it gently to inhale its scent, his fingers softly flowed through her voluminous hair. A petal fell silently onto the folds of soft cloth; his eyes followed its descent, one eyebrow arched:
“Of jealousy….despair?” he teased.
Her lips formed into a confident smile:
“And why not?” she toyed.
” ‘Tis woman’s privilege…” he answered gently, she settled back into the soft pillows on the couch.
“And man’s pleasure?” she coaxed.
“Ah!…” and he bent down to kiss her, at the same time taking the rose from her hand and dropping it onto the floor, as it touched the tiles, some petals fell off exposing the rich , rosy heart of the bud inside…
The finished portrait bothered him, it was all there but it was dead, flat, strictly two-dimensional and if one thing killed the portrait it was the eyes…the eyes, the eyes…try as he might, he was unable to excite in that Madonna the life needed to complete the picture. He made visits to the art gallery to study portraits of past masters, but to no avail, he looked over prints of other Madonna’s by Da Vinci, Titian, Raffael…. They had captured that serene beauty, that silent power of the patient pose. What was their twist!? Were the skills of those past ages so much greater than now? Was his talent that much inferior that given the same subject, same material, where they produced gold he could only master clay? Was it a greater affiliation with the artistic psyche, something which modern man has traded away along with so many other emotions?
Malcolm stood awed before these other portraits, just so much history now, yet greater than our own feeble posturing at art, he flung the prints to the floor, bitter and frustrated at his own failings.
“What is art now,” he asked himself…” but a whore modern man satiates himself upon when he tires of the fight….” he pursed his lip thickly, sulkily then spoke again. “Sometimes we admire it….sometimes we are it,” and he threw himself down on the couch and stared fixedly at the portrait of his Madonna.
After dinner that night they sat talking to each other at the kitchen table, small talk of minor events of the day. The children played in and out of the kitchen, they played chasing games, dressing games and guessing games, they played continuously and as Malcolm talked he worked combination after combination of eyes over and over in his mind and applied them mentally to the portrait much as a police officer would do with an ‘Identikit’ portrait. He started pondering on a line of thought in his conscious mind.
“Could it possibly be that modern woman defies depiction in that once seemingly ageless style of motherhood?” he mused. “For here is a ‘single mother’ with three children, would the pressures of money, food, clothing, housing and then our relationship place such a heavy burden on her life as to extinguish all illusions of naive innocence?”
“What are you thinking?” she asked.
“Oh,” he moved his arm, “of how you manage by yourself, with the kids….then me.”
She gazed at him squarely with deadpan eyes.
“Sometimes you silently scream, sometimes you softly soothe, and then sometimes you go a little mad!”
She turned her head and narrowed her eyes for just at that very moment, the youngest child reached up from behind the chair in playfulness and pulled her long locks of hair. She resisted, he laughed and pulled harder.”Sam,” she spoke threateningly “if you don’t let go at once, you’ll – be – dead – meat!!” and as she spoke these words she turned her face down to him and her eyes narrowed cruelly.
Malcolm gasped as he witnessed this little scene …for there, contrasted against that Irish beauty of face, the long tresses of golden hair and soft mouth were the threatening eyes..; there in an instant, alongside the wily eyes, the loving eyes, the caring eyes, the worrying eyes, the killing eyes…these were the eyes of his woman on the canvas, as changing as a chameleon’s colour, one moment as warm as an autumn sunset, then as cold as polar ice!
These were the eyes of a modern Madonna…a more worldly Madonna….a cruel Madonna!
A Candid Conversation.
. . . And the afternoon sun illuminated the panorama with dazzling glare so that the sea, with its distant choppy water flashed a glitter reflected off the waves. There were trees out the front of the hotel over the road, big trees, shrubs and bushes, the tops of the tall trees hidden from view by the edge of the roof from the fascia up with leaves hung in long hanging fronds down the trunk and out a little, dangling heavy like those big gum leaves do, the palm trees swirled a little with the slight breeze that had whipped up from the north across the backwater swamp.
The beach sand a muddy colour with the tide right out and a couple of kids throwing handfuls of the stuff at each other down by the creek, laughing and running away with a quick glance over the shoulder at his chaser, their laughter a stabbing staccato, rattling across in the heat from a distance.
Two of the few “long-grassmen” that lived down by the make-shift shelters next to the beach crossed the road, their hair lank and greasy, the same could be said for their shreds of clothing.
“You could be worse you know” the friend said, “You could end up like those”.
“At the way I’m going I’ll be worse than those” the man answered. He picked up his beer and had a sip. They sat quietly for a while, and one fiddled with his beer glass, the kids swimming now down across the creek, splashing and ducking each other , childish squeals between the silences of the hubbub of the hotel bar behind them.
“Have you told her then?” the friend asked.
“No, I’ve been sort of putting it off on the chance of an improvement”. He winced and sipped.
“That won’t help you know’, the friend motioned to the beer.
“I’ve got to.”
“Why? It would be better to leave it alone..well..at least until they finish the treatment?”
“I know, I know.. but if I don’t get sozzled these nights, I’ll have no excuse for not doing it.”
“Oh come on, she must think there’s something wrong if you come home drunk every night?”
“Yes, she thinks I’ve developed a drinking problem.”
His friend grunted. A waitress come to the table, picked up the empty glasses and wiped the table top down with a damp rag.
“And how are you gentlemen today?” she spoke as she wiped.
“Oh, very well thank you, Min, very well.”
“That’s the way to be,” and she smiled a little smile..”No good being crook in this sort of weather.” The men just grunted. The waitress went on to the next table.
“How are you boys today?……..” she repeated.
“Nice girl, Min, always friendly,” the friend remarked.
“I’m beginning to think no girls are nice.”
“You just picked the wrong one that night.”
“Yes, I should’ve left her well alone.”
A fisherman steered his dinghy up the small creek, water slipping off the bow and fanning out in ripples behind, the man standing erect in the boat with tiller in hand. He gave a little wave to the excited kids running along the bank. His progress tracked by flashes of boat and man between thick green bushes and trees, going to his moorings.
The man brought his fist down firmly but quietly on the table, his face twisted in bitter frustration.
“I don’t know, a man’s a fool”….His friend was quiet.
He wiped his hand over his face, then dabbled his finger in the condensation made by the drink.
“I know I’ve been a fool, but then I wanted it, for some strange fucking reason I needed it more than ever that night, after all”( he did a quick movement with his finger in the liquid )”I’d just become a father then…and it’s been so long.” He had a quick draw at the beer as if to wash the weak excuse of words away.
“How in heavens name do you put her off?”
“Well, its (let me see) about two months now since little Pauline arrived, and I’ve been saying that we ought to be careful cause it might not be best to start just yet, give it another coupla’ weeks. And then you know she’s not supposed to go back on the pill just yet, so I’ve used that as a backup. And now I’ve got on to this drinking thing.” Here he reflected a little. “Trouble is she’s starting to blame herself for my not being able to get it up. She thinks it was all those months of confinement that bought it round..Shit, shit, shit.”
“Why don’t you come right out and tell her?”
“No!” He looked shocked “Hell no! she’d leave me, by Christ, she’d leave me quick, it’s one thing we got, or HAD between us; trust..no she’d just give up and go.” He looked suspiciously at the friend. “You won’t tell anyone else about this will you?..You better not.”
The friend was shaking his head quickly..
“No, no.. don’t you worry…boy, I wouldn’t tell anyone about that don’t you worry.”
They sat quiet again for a little. The friend stood up.
“Well..I gotta go.”
“0, well, I’ll see you later, I guess.”
“Yeah, listen..I hope this works out for you…”
“Yeah, thanks” The man smiled weakly. the other smiled back. He tried a joke.
“Just watch out all this pissing on doesn’t develop into a drinking problem.” They both chuckled a little and the friend walked away. The man finished his beer, walked over to the bar got another and went back to his table. He stretched his legs out in front and clenched his hands behind his head. He just stared out to sea.
“Damn that bitch,” he thought “and she looked so clean..that’s the trouble, who’d have thought that a quickie in the car-park could cause all this. Bugger it, I just hope those damn doctors can fix it soon as…”
He sat there staring out to sea.
The kids had gone home. The leaves of the eucalyptus trees had come to life a little with the coolness of the evening, while the tide crept stealthily over the brown sand and up the running water of the creek, the big gums threw soft shadows crookedly over the bonnets of parked cars.
Kenneth Williams ..: “I got a viper in this box………….It’s not an asp..oh no…some people think it’s an asp..but it’s not…oh no..it’s a viper…”
Eric hauled his vintage 350cc BSA motorcycle back onto the centre-stand and placed his gloves and jacket over the seat..his helmet he placed over the rear-view mirror…he ran a comb through his hair, straightened his clothes, dusted his trousers down and, extracting his handkerchief, gave a quick polish to his shoes…He then walked through the gate to the front door of the farmhouse..and by the by, if one was to look to the way Eric walked, a noticeable limp can be detected and further examination would reveal his right foot make a small, almost undetectable flick with each step that showed the result of an accident in his youth concerning the as yet incomplete training of the bay mare that pulled the sulky, shying at just the moment the young Eric hopped down off the sulky and the offending foot was run over by the wheel and fractured somewhat..in the bad setting of the ankle bone, the resulting limp was created that stifled Eric’s opportunities in both sporting prowess and appeal to the young ladies of the district.. so it was with a trepidatious hand that Eric knocked on Bennie Kroenig’s door.
“Oh..hello, Eric”…Bennie greeted the familiar person of Eric Lischke jovially “…What brings you to my door this time of day?”
Now there are two things here that need explanation..: 1) How does Bennie know Eric so well?..2) What DOES bring Eric to Bennie’s door at that time of day?
Kenneth Williams..: “Oh yes…it’s not an asp..Cleopatra had an asp..but I don’t ..I have a viper..I mean, some people think an asp is easier to run…but it’s not..oh no..my viper is not easy to run…it eats like a horse!…”
In the first case, Bennie is quite familiar with Eric because Eric’s parents run the local general store and he has frequent dealings with Eric in that store…as does all the Kroenig Family…which consists, by the way, of just three people..; Bennie, his wife, Elma and their one child..a daughter; Alice.
It was Alice who most interested Eric and by way of coincidence, the reason for this surprise visit to Bennie’s front door, for at that particular time of day, any who knew would think that Eric would be at the counter of the store checking out customer’s purchases or in the back storehouse sorting stock to place upon the shelves..yet, here he was at the front door of the Kroenig’s farmhouse to talk to Bennie, Alice’s father about a subject close to Eric’s heart.
‘…But where are my manners, Eric…come in, come in and I’ll put the kettle on…I’m afraid you’ll have to make do with my making the tea as Elma has gone to town to do her quilting classes…”
Elma is Bennie’s wife…they have been married many years and first became engaged when Bennie came back home after the war…The primary reason for their marriage was not only that they had known and were fond of each other for many years prior, and that they both went to the same school together, and the fact that their families lived in close proximity within a cluster of only three families in the area..but the engagement and marriage predicated on the reality of Bennie giving Elma “one up the trouser-leg” at the celebratory party on the event of Bennie’s return from the war and in consequence, getting Elma pregnant…a situation agreeable in any rate to all parties concerned, and the fact that the resulting child ; “Alice” was born in under the normal allotted time for confinement after the wedding, was of no cause for comment as it is well understood and accepted in these Mallee communities that the first child, being new to the situation, could come at any time, but any subsequent children generally serve out the full nine months confinement.
But there were no other children for Bennie and Elma for no reason both the parents and the local doctor could ascertain save that divine intervention had restricted the Kroenigs to the one child and that was their lot…The Kroenigs, on their part fully accepted the will of their God and got on with their life regardless…and truth be known is that Elma, witnessing the lot of other multiple birth mothers in the district was silently relieved by the fateful consequence and each Sunday at the Lutheran mass, would give secret prayer of thanks for her situation and applied her spare time to the local sewing club she had been attending since the days in her teen years when she would ride her pushbike the ten miles into town along a dirt road to learn sewing lessons from Mrs Auricht at the institute where the club still met every Wednesday afternoon.
Kenneth Williams..: “…The man in the carriage said; ‘like a horse, eh?’…”yes..I like a horse..I could do with a horse….but I couldn’t get a horse into a little box like thiissss!…oh no…it’s NOT a HORSE BOX!..oh no..a viper..yesss…but a horse..NO!..”
The two men sat at the kitchen table facing each other in curious silence for a moment when Eric, to break the ice and create a more comfortable environment . . .
“ How’s the farm going, Ben?…has it been a good year for the wool?”
“Well…you know the corporation collapsed and with that buying certainty gone, we’re on our own now..at the mercy, so to speak, of the buyers in the marketplace…and I can tell you, young Eric..I’m no good at bartering and bargaining…no good at all…”
“That’s no good.” Eric sympathised.
“nah…it’s no good alright…the farm isn’t paying at all right now…like so many others around the district..and I don’t quite know where it’ll go from here..” and Bennie sipped from his cup..”But it doesn’t look good.”
“Well I suppose it must be a help having Alice back home to help with the tasks?”
“Pity the circumstances that brought her back though…losing a husband like she did brings no happiness to the house and home.”
“He died of heart attack, I believe?” Eric posed.
“Heart attack be jiggered….more like a kidney attack if the truth be known…was never troubled by a stuck cork, that man…and if what I hear besides is correct, there were other “substances” he was more than familiar with..” and Bennie nodded his head and tapped the side of his nose..”I just hope he didn’t drag our Alice into his shady little world..” and Bennie lifted his cup to his lips and sipped his tea.
Indeed, there were rumours doing the rounds since Alice had returned after the death of her husband under suspicious circumstances…the drug ‘heroin’ was bandied around somewhat, but that word being one of the most vague and exotic words for a district and world such as the Kroenigs were living in, it had little dramatic effect on them..the fact that he was a drunkard was the more impressionable and easier understood fault of the passing of Alice’s husband.
Eric, of course, was familiar with the rumours floating around the town, being on the front-line of the gossip pool as counter-jumper at the local store, he heard first hand every sanctimonious, schadenfreudian and salacious accusation levelled at all and sundry in the citizen body of that little country town..and in the case of Alice, whom he had worn a heart on his sleeve for many a year, this was another reason that brought him to front the door of the Kroenig’s farmhouse.
Eric was getting older and still unmarried and alone after all these years…his gammy leg, added to the impression given of his simple minded attitude to life in general made him a small target for any woman looking for future prospects in a son of the owners of the local general store…even IF he DID have the beneficial inheritance prospects for the future…the prospect of fronting his person for the rest of one’s life in a situation of marriage was just too much for any prospective young woman in the district to contemplate..indeed, Eric did try his luck on Alice many years ago when he was a tad more confident of both his personality and person, only to be looked up and down like a totem-pole and then firmly, if not…quite…scornfully rejected by Alice…it was the one and only time Eric had propositioned any women thereon in up until he heard of Alice returning to the family home after the death six months gone of her husband…it was in such a circumstance that Eric considered his chances more favourable to ask for the hand of Alice this second time..even if to herself it could be seen as a “marriage of convenience”..and it was in coming to the family farm that he sought to seek a more favourable response..
Kenneth Williams..: “ I also would like to have a fish..but I haven’t got a fish in this box..I couldn’t get a fish in this box..a fish would need water…and cardboard is not waterproof..oh no..they haven’t waterproofed cardboard yet!….or if they have they haven’t told me…….”
On this front, Eric thought he was on solid ground…the prospects for Alice to regain a respectable living standard rested on her still reasonable age and looks to remarry and establish herself in the district as wife and mother with one of the more established families as indeed was Eric’s…and since Eric was aware of the lately closing and settling of several old family accounts at the family store, demonstrated the passing from the district of much of the “old stock”, leaving evidence of a state of ennui prevailing among the farming community, pointing a spiralling toward the beginning of the end of a once thriving agricultural district…added to this the arrival of those considered flotsam and jetsam from the outer suburbs of the capital of the state…desperates seeking cheap accommodation and cheaper living standards that kept himself and his brothers on their toes for shoplifters and the like…the fact even that the shop had its front doors forced on more than one occasion demanding a fortified security system unheard of in the history of the store and town..gave Eric confidence his proposal to Alice for marriage would meet with a more favourable reception than the last..
“I have been considering selling up, to be candid..” Bennie continued “What with the failing crops and the market gone out of it, coupled with Elma and my age and the threatening health of us both, there’s not much to keep us here…young William Schmidt has demonstrated interest in the place since he purchased the east paddocks off his old Aunt there, the addition of this farm would give him a continuity of acreage right through from the Stiller’s spread to the pipeline..a very useable spread of country…and he being a young fellah, he could develop it.”
“What would Alice do?” Eric asked.
“Alice!?…..well, I suspect she could pick herself up another fellah and make a new life of her own.” And Bennie squinted one eye whilst looking toward Eric meaningfully…”..is this the purpose of your visit, Eric…to ask about Alice?”
Eric shifted his person in the kitchen chair so it creaked in the quiet afternoon air….in the silence of that moment, he became aware of the television being on in the lounge area in the next room and he presumed, accurately, that this was the occupation of Bennie when he intruded with his knock on the door..Eric turned his head to indicate the sound coming from the lounge..
“Ah…yes..I was watching the afternoon show on the tele’ ..” Bennie confessed..”there’s a very funny episode with that fellah that starred in those “Carry on” films”…and snapped his fingers several times in recalling the name…”what is it ..what is it…” suddenly his eyes lit..and he leaned into the table toward Eric…” Kenneth Williams…that’s it…yes…that poofy looking chap…Kenneth Williams..he’s doing a show by himself on stage…weird sort…funny but…love those Carry On films..as does Elma..we both have a sidesplitting laugh whenever they come on..” and he chuckled a little at the thought..
Eric let it slide..
“Yes…I suppose that’s the nub of my visit, Ben..I did come to ask if I could take Alice’s hand…”
Bennie tapped his fingers on the table top and gave the idea some thought..he then raised his face to look to Eric..and Eric could not help but see a sadness wash over Bennie’s features as he cogitated on the (unknown to Eric ; the impossibility) the reality of his Alice hitching up to the likes of Eric Lischke.
“Well..I s’pect THAT is a question you’ll have to ask Alice about, Eric…” and that was all he would offer in the way of advice to what he saw as a hopeless quest.
In the hiatus of the accompanying silence and soft mustiness of that kitchen, the chatter of the television seemed to increase in decibles enough so that the talk show voice could now be heard clear in the kitchen where they sat in pensive contemplation…
Kenneth Williams..: “I haven’t got a toad in here if that’s what you’re thinking..you wouldn’t catch me with a toad I can’t abide toads..urr..vipers devour toads and I’m glad they do..serpents hear through their jaws, you know…it’s the bone structure that does it..”
“But at the moment, Alice is not here..though I expect her back at any time…she was picked up by a friend of her late husband’s to go to Nuri’ and said she’d be back before tea…so there you go..”
Eric could see that Bennie had tired of the chat and was of an itch and a scratch to get back to the television show…so with the cursory thanking yous and such forth, Eric bade Bennie cheerio and assured him he would indeed ask Alice the next time he met her..and he showed himself out..
It was outside in the clear air of the mallee afternoon whilst kitting up for the ride home that Eric saw Alice get out of a tatty old ford car driven up at that moment by a seedy looking chap with long hair and beard..the man squeezed Alice’s arm on her alighting and whispered something menacing to her as she did so..Alice pulled her arm away and shut the door forcibly, and the man accelerated away with a spinning of the wheels and drove off.
“Hello, Alice.” Eric greeted..
Alice didn’t look too accommodating for idle chat at that moment, but made the best of it..
“Oh…hello Eric…you come to see dad?”
“Well…I’ve seen him…and now I’m seeing you…how are you, Alice?”
Alice shrugged and looked at Eric’s motorcycle..
“You still riding this old thing…why don’t you get a more modern one?” and she wrinkled her nose at the saying…and as she scornfully roamed her eyes over the machine, Eric couldn’t help but notice her absently scratching at her lower arm that was covered with a long sleeve even on such a warm day as this..
“You got an allergy?” Eric asked..
“Yeah…maybe..” Alice seemed irritated by Eric’s concerned question “Why..what business is it of yours..”
Eric was taken aback by the shortness of Alice’s temper..
“I was just thinking that this is the time of year for such things..”
“Yeah..well…I suppose so…sorry for getting angry…” and Alice then turned her head toward Eric like she saw him in a differing light..”It’s just that I owe Steve…the bloke you saw dropping me off…some money and he’s after me to pay him back..”
“How much do you owe?” Eric asked..
“Oh..it’s only twenty dollars..but he’s shitty on it..” and Alice looked hopefully to Eric..” I don’t suppose you could lend it me….it would only be until the dole cheque comes through and then I’ll pay you back!..” Alice hastily finished and she set to scratch her forearm again..
Eric thought for a moment..for money was inculcated into his psyche by his parents as the creed of faith of his family and class..but the immediacy of the request overrode for the moment his caution…but just for the moment…for in the passing moment of his assessing the scene of Alice arriving with the suspicious man and the subsequent behaviour between them, put together with the strange temper of Alice herself then the sudden softening of her attitude toward him in regards to her asking for money, Eric’s natural radar of suspicion honed in on what was the actuality of the situation between himself and any possibility of his dream of starting a life over with this woman in front of him…and he paused in his response..and in that hiatus between the action of “giving and receiving” that allows us clear insight of the moment of doing the action, Eric had a clarifying perception of their situation..for whatever her relationship with himself, this was not the same Alice he had harboured feelings for all these years and to whom he was on the cusp of proposing to….and a sinking feeling of a lost cause swept over him and he could feel all the warmth of his first sighting of Alice this day become but a mockery to his vanity and a sudden, sharp, bitter hatred of life’s false promise overtook him…and in the swift, cruel battering of this awful truth, Eric could hear in a faint waft the silly words of the comedian playing out on the television that day..;
Kenneth Williams.: “I haven’t got a bee in here..I don’t know why you think I got a bee in here..I got no bee in my box..you listen..you can’t hear it buzzing..there are no fangs on a bee..vipers have fangs..they are very fangy creatures are vipers…”and the absolute absurdity of the comedian’s chatter matched to a word in equal absurdity his dreamsand his fantastic imaginations..they struck and battered his ego to a pulp so he nearly slumped to the ground there and then…Eric leaned onto the seat of his motorcycle for a moment…He then quickly regained his composure…
Eric took his wallet from his jacket pocket and opening it, he saw a fiver, a twenty dollar note and a fifty dollar note…Alice gazed pensively at the notes in his wallet..Eric pinched the twenty dollar note in his fingers to extract it…he then looked to Alice, who returned such a pitiful, hopeless gaze to him that he stopped…and he recalled the rumours of the drug-taking..he then knew why the temper, the conversation between Alice and the man she owed money to and the scratching…he knew..he knew..then with a sharp, snapping action took the fifty dollar note from the wallet and pushed it into Alice’s outstretched hand and without a second look toward her, quickly pulled his helmet on lest some wetting tears in his eyes would be seen by the woman and he mounted the motorcycle, started the motor and rode out of the gate of the Kroenig’s farm swearing in his heart, never, never to return.
There is innocence in childhood that has the capacity to reduce a complex situation to the simplest of solutions. It has it’s own shining beauty in that it need not be corrected, nor adjudicated upon…just to be sure that such innocence will be perhaps, irretrievably lost once past the “coming of age”. But then, surely, each age has its’ attractions..even old age can offer a “safe harbour” for memories of the child we all once were.
At my mother’s passing last year, I came into possession of all her archived household accounts and diaries…THEY were meticulously kept, from 1962 – 2014…right down to the last cent. Her correspondence, however was not so conscientiously maintained.. they were bundled or loose, in no discernable order of from any particular author…and all in a big box along with pamphlets and postcards. So it was no surprise to me when I came across one envelope that had written in one corner in her perfect script ; “ Keepsakes”.
Upon examination of the contents, among snippets from Aunt Lou of Sth. Africa, or some distant relatives (on my father’s side) in America, there was a small cut square of wrapping paper..a faded yellow in colour with the print of two bells tied with a flourished ribbon and the script ; “Your wedding Bells” half circled above them.
This piece of paper ‘rang some bells’, if you’ll excuse the pun..and, begging your indulgence,I’ll tell you the story. How do I know the story so well? you’ll ask after it has been told…You see, like all those childish adventures and miss-adventures that come to the attention of parents, they are told and re-told and repeated with some embarrassed amusement, right into our adult lives at every Christmas or family gathering…but then, one has to fill in the subtle details from memory of one’s own actions in the “ adventure” !
It went like this :
A Box of Spoons.
It’s a curious cycle that has parents giving their offspring Christian names that would elevate them, if only in nomenclature, above their poverty-enriched status. So was the only child of Ruth Hogben given the name “Alistair” at birth with a surety of decision that stopped short any debate on other possible names for her child. “He is to be named Alistair” she spoke wearily after the birth, then lay silently to feed the child. Ruth Hogben was a single parent in a “Trust” house on the fringe of the southern suburbs of Adelaide. How and why she was without a male companion shall remain a mystery,… that is not our story.
“Damn poverty!” she would grumble to no-one in particular, “Oh to have a little extra money…even to buy some decent cutlery rather than this mish-mash of rubbish!” and she cast a plain steel knife into the dishwater.
Alistair heard this complaint many times as he grew up to his six years of age, so it formed an impression on his gentle child-mind that associated knives and forks and spoons with a degree of wealth. When his mother went shopping at “Tommy Johnson’s 4 Square” grocery store, he would wander out the front of the market to gaze into the plate glass window of the jeweler next door. But not at the expensive, glittering baubles of diamonds and emerald rings and bracelets, nor at the expensive timepieces. No, he stared hungrily with sweaty hands flat pressed against the glass at a set of glowing silver cutlery all embossed on their handles with delicate textures that mesmerised the tender-mind of the boy. And the fact that they were embedded in a rich, red plush of crushed velvet that itself seemed to shimmer was an added bonus. Oh how he would love to be able to make a gift of that set to his mother! If he stood there too long staring, a frowning face would inevitably appear above the cutlery set and a hand would make shoo!, shoo! away motions that would send Alistair backing slowly away over to the store door to wait for his mother.
There were two major events that affected Alistair’s life, both to the frustration of his mother, one was his susceptibility to asthmatic or bronchitis attacks, which with the croup in his lungs and the fits of coughing would keep him home from school for days at a time. It had even put him in hospital overnight a couple of times so that now, when he had an attack, a district nurse dropped in to check on him. The other event, one that brought rapture to Alistair’s heart was the opening, in a nearby gully of a mega council rubbish dump. Alistair became, to his mothers concern an inveterate “tip-fly”. He would descend onto that refuse heap every spare moment that the council men weren’t there (for it was “forbidden to scavenge”) to pluck little treasures from that miasma of debris. He would come home with a box full of trinkets and toys and, of course, always a little “something for Mum!”…And!…and, despite her distaste for the subject, a certain curiosity would compel her to look into his “treasure chest” of swag.
“What have you got this time?” she’d ask as her eyes scanned the collection of knick-knacks. And Alistair would rummage expertly amongst them hummingly to produce a little treasure for her…for her he found it, a piece of colourful patterned china? a bauble of a cut glass vase perhaps? a book of verse… (she loved verse, he knew). And his mother would smooth his hair with her hand and plant a kiss on the top of his head in thank you and place the trinket or whatever up on the “special shelf”.
Ally would smile happily, but always at the back of his mind was that lingering awareness of his mother’s concern for what she called ; “their poverty” and that elusive set of cutlery, one day he would bring her a set of cutlery, he was sure he would, for in his child mind, there was nothing to distinguish this throw-away society from all that in the shops on the high-street. The measure of wealth was to him nothing more than the collection of material things..of trinkets ..of glitter and shine.
Come one winters’ day when the rain rattled on the glass of the window next to Alistair’s bed fit to drive even the hardiest birds to cover, Alistair gazed up from the picture book that was to amuse him as he lay resting from the latest attack of croup. He coughed a hacking , phlegmy cough that bought his mother in from the kitchen.
“Ah, dear, dear,” she fussed with the crumpled bed clothes and placed a warm moist hand on his forehead. “How’s my little chap then?” she cooed automatically. Alistair shrugged. “I’ve got the nurse coming today to look at you.” she consoled, “you just lie down and rest till she comes” and with one last smoothing down of the blankets she left the room.
Rest? Rest? tell a six year old boy to lay and rest when, if not for the blasted coughing, he could be out in the wild…rest!! From out of his window Alistair could at any time see down across the open sweep of paddocks to the gully that was the dump. Hardy scavenging seagulls would on most days circle like vultures then settle on the heaps of domestic garbage to feed. The site drew Alistair’s attention like iron to a magnet.
“It doesn’t look like the men are working now it’s raining,” he thought, “I might be able to sneak down for a look.”
This logic resolved his boredom and he quietly slipped out of bed and dressed for adventure. He opened his window carefully and climbed through into a bush of pelargoniums, the boy was free! His many trips to that “El Dorado” had worn a track through the grass and around the sparse, wild-olive trees that dotted the paddocks. As he got closer to the tip, each olive tree had a clear patch around its base furtherest away from the cyclone-wire fence of the tip. Here he’d spy out the ground. The way was clear, the men were not working with the steady rain, they would be in the shed. Raindrops dripped from the dark leaves of the olive tree down Alistairs’ back, he shivered in reaction, but he didn’t really notice the wet; he had other distractions! He crept to the fence and along to the large corrugated iron shed that housed the bulldozer. There were a lot of old nail holes in the sheeting, to one of these Alistair put his eye as he had done on many occasion. Two men sat at an old table in the shed, they were playing cards. Alistair listened:
“Where’d you get these cards from?” one man asked mockingly, there was a moments silence.
“Found ’em t’ other day,” the other grumbled while in deep concentration on his cards. After a few cards were thrown down and others picked up, one threw his cards triumphantly on the table.
“Full house” he boastfully cried, “Kings high!” and he smiled. The other frowned quizzically then nodded. ‘
“Not bad” he said “I’ve only got five aces!”
“What!!” the first man exclaimed in disbelief.
Alistair left them at this point to argue the toss and seeing that they were involved in other duties, he made for his goal through the steady rain. He had gathered a few little ‘lovelies’ in his swag when he came across a jumble of wrapping papers and discarded ribbons amid confetti and used papers plates. The whole lot was next to a pile of rancid domestic waste. He poked about amongst the wedding debris (for that is what it was) with his seasoned eyes searching for booty. Then, all at once, amongst the scrap paper wrapping, he plucked out a small box, a card-board box about six inches square and one inch thick, it had a buffed crimson lid. He shook it, it rattled dully, he pondered on its’ contents and tried to guess, he played this game often, coins? buttons? No, too solid, nails? No too few! give up…carefully he eased the crimson lid off and gazed into the container.
Gosh! his eyes glowed with delight. He quickly closed the lid and slipped the box under his shirt less it become more rain speckled in his box of loot. His box! No, mustn’t forget that and he picked it up, he’d got enough now, yes! Oh how wonderful! he turned to sneak back home, gloriously happy, wait; paper! wrapping paper everywhere!, he snatched up a piece that had “Your Wedding Bells” scripted over it, along with a length of white ribbon and he ran over to his spot at the fence which he crawled under to make for home,…home, there past the shed with the huge silent bulldozer smelling of dust and diesel and the two men laughing inside, home, past the dark olive trees and across the grassy paddock home, home, and how he ran, the grey clouds tumbled and the rain streaked in silvered incline toward his house…home!
The district nurse had arrived, Ruth showed her in and led her down to Alistair’s room. He wasn’t there!…and his window was ajar!
“Oh lord! where can he be?” Ruth exclaimed, but she had a pretty good idea. “Boys, they’re the hardest things in the world to keep in one place!” and she moved to gaze out the window. She couldn’t see him, but she knew he wouldn’t be long.
“He…he must have gone to look at something,” she explained weakly, “I’m sure he’ll be back in a minute…would you like a cup of tea while you wait?” The nurse looked at her watch and remarked that yes it was near lunch time anyway. and yes a cuppa would be nice..ta! so they both adjourned to the kitchen.
Alistair crept up to his window and climbed through…he coughed harshly…his mother heard and excusing herself went to investigate. She found him standing at his dresser wrapping a package, drops of water fell onto the rug under his shoes.
“Ally…Ally…where have you been? why, you’re soaked !…and…and your shoes, they’re filthy!” Alistair gave scant attention to his mother’s angry remarks, but thrust out a small, hastily wrapped package toward her. Ruth was taken aback by the tactic, she gazed dumbly down at the package that had “Your Wedding Bells” emblazoned on the wrapper.
“It’s for you Mum,” Alistair quietly but eagerly offered. He stood there soaked to the skin with the length of white ribbon he had no time to use, dangling loosely in his hand.
“It’s…it’s a…” but no! he wouldn’t tell her what it was, though one look at his wide-eyed expression and you could see he was dying to tell, he bit his bottom lip to stop himself and handed his mother the package, then clasped his hands together eagerly.
As Ruth took the clumsily wrapped package, the paper unfolded itself like petals of a flower to reveal a small box about six inches square and one inch thick, its’ lid was a crimson wash, speckled with rain-drops that raised welts on the smooth surface. She gazed wonderingly down at the box.
“Open it Mum, it’s for you…I found it for you.” Ruth gently praised open the lid and her mouth formed a little “o” with an accompanied sigh. Alistair crowded next to her and peeked into the box also. There, embedded in a plush of rich, red crushed velvet lay six bright, shiny silver tea-spoons, all embossed on their stems with delicate textured patterns that mesmerized Mother and son, a soft glow from the single filament light in the ceiling reflected spangles up into their eyes.
“It’s a box of spoons Mum.” Alistair whispered, “a box of spoons for you to have so now we won’t be so poor.” he said keenly.
Ruth looked to her son standing there all a tremble and took him into her arms. She smoothed and kissed the top of his head and murmured more to herself than to him.
“I never knew how rich we were.” The nurse called down the corridor, Ruth quickly stashed the spoons. They put Alistair back into bed and the nurse attended to his needs. He was ordered to stay put in his bed. Alistair snuggled down into the depths of his blankets and smiled contentedly at the thought of his days’ glory. He listened to the hum of conversation between his mother and the nurse in the kitchen, the chiming of the spoons against the side of the tea-cups as they stirred their brew rang an angelus in his heart.
“Oh, what lovely spoons” the nurse cooed syrupy, “where did you get them?”
“Oh these?” Ruth replied nonchalantly, “why, they were a…a gift, from someone… someone very special to me.” Alistair pulled his knees up to his chest, he coughed several times. His mother listened to the nurses chatter and cocked one ear to listen to her child’s coughing she nodded big-eyed at something the nurse had said, but at the same time sighed comfortably, for those coughs had a particular sound, the croup was easing, Alistair was on the mend.
The most common insults and abuse that are given , are done in an atmosphere of intimate coercion, where the dominant party can take advantage of their position and the moment to exercise without criticism or reproach their quiet act of oppression.
My first job when I arrived in Darwin in the early seventies was with an Italian cabinetmaker / joiner..He was a dodgy little bastard who specialized in “fit-outs” on new blocks of flats and cash jobs..my wages seemed to fluctuate between his own fortunes in and out of the betting shops, which were tenuous at the best of times…it was an “experience”.
It went like this
I was working for Fusco then, (pronounced “Foosko”) doing some carpentry, cupboards and the like. Fusco was one of those greasy, little Italians you see around the place, looking greasy always because of the “shadow” on his shaved face, one of those blokes that have that five o’clock shadow no matter how much they shave.
We had a stack of cupboards to fit into these new flats out in Nightcliff, belonging to one of his mates (they were always his mates). So we were there early in the morning to start and Otto’s car was there too, had been there all night, we knew because it was the wet season and no tyre tracks there.
“Otto!” Fusco yelled as we crossed the door step.
“Hey!” an answer echoed through the empty rooms.
“Where?” Fusco yelled back, then stood still to listen, his hand raised flat to still me.
“Here, the bathroom”. He was in the next flat.
We walked through the back door into the other flat, Fusco quick stepping, his thongs slapping against his heels as he lifted his foot. A light breeze billowed his loose, unbuttoned shirt from his back.
“What, you sleep here now?” Fusco called in a joking tone. Then we walked into the bathroom and the girl looked up at us both, Fusco’s eyes went real wide.
“Ehh, what’s this?” He motioned with his hand flat, like Italians do.
Otto was squatted, cross legged on the floor with the ceramic tiles he was lining the walls with. He had a box of matches on the floor by his knee and was breaking them into short pieces to use as spacers between the tiles.
“It’s my sister ,” he spoke without looking at us “from the old country”.
Fusco smiled, his arm still outstretched with the gesturing hand.
“Ah, so, a fine family you have”.
The girl was young, in her late teens, an indigenous girl. She sat on a tartan rug on the concrete floor, her legs tucked away under her. She had on a short print dress with some sort of yellow flowering pattern on it, which she pulled coyly down closer to her knees when we walked in. She seemed shy.
“The resemblance I can see” Fusco continued.
“No”, answered Otto, still concentrating “We have only one thing in common” He leant over and gently pinched the girls cheek. “Eh, my little flower,” He winked at us, then leant back over to the other side and guzzled out of a flagon of red wine. He offered Fusco a drink, but he said he wasn’t drinking yet.
“You been here all night?” Fusco asked.
“Ah, that useless Eddy, he wouldn’t stop drinking at Lim’s last night, always one more, one more. PUHH!!!” he waved to the wall which we took to mean Eddy was in the next room. “So we pick her up” he motioned to the girl “and stayed here. The first guests huh!”.
Fusco turned his attention to the girl, he was grinning from ear to ear.
“You stay here last night?” he asked. The girl just giggled and looked shy. Fusco turned to Otto for an explanation.
“I told you, all of us, all night, here” Otto replied “What do you think, I lie?”
Fusco shrugged his shoulders.
“Look here,” Otto turned to the girl “How many times we do it last night, you know…” he cocked his hand back on his wrist, curled his fingers in and gave quick little stabbing motions forward in the air with his arm and the ball of his hand..; “Bohm – Bohm?” he spoke quickly with the movements.
The girl giggled, Otto took hold of her arm and looked at her closely.
“Six, wasn’t it, six?” Her eyes were down, then she looked up and the whites of her eyes were brilliant
“Yes” she nodded.
“Aha!” Otto cried triumphantly,
Fusco placed both his palms flat on the sides of his head and slowly moved it from side to side
“Oh ho ho” he groaned mockingly..his eyes shut tight, he then quickly dropped his hands and got down on his knees as though in search of something on the floor. Otto looked at him, puzzled..
“What are you doing?”
Fusco lowered the bucket he was looking under and gazed at Otto innocently.
“I’m looking for the pencil you tied on to keep it stiff”. He mumbled.
“To buggery with you” Otto exclaimed and flicked a little tile cement at him.
Fusco stopped and stood up straight and still, with a finger pointing up by his eye.
“No! You must not do that, as you see, I am clean, you must not dirty.” his face was serious.
“Oh well in that case” Otto shrugged “I was going to ask if you would like a little of this” He pointed to the girl with his eyes.
“No, she’s probably had enough already. How much you have a day?” Fusco spoke the last to the girl, she never answered Fusco’s questions, just giggled. Otto had a tile in one hand and bits of matchstick in the other. He was just about to glue the tile on. He took up the questioning.
“Yes, how many times, black and white?”
The girl gazed down.
“Oh, some”..and she hesitated..then..a little more than some”. she answered, shrugging her shoulders.
“Men?” Otto asked.
“Mmmm” she murmured in reply. Otto looked at us and smiled.
“Do you like the whites better?” Otto asked.
“Mmm..” she giggled.
“And do you like this fat Otto?” Fusco piped in and laughed, the girl giggled and Otto picked up a handful of cement and made to throw it at us;
“Arh, ah” Fusco pointed at him and he replaced it in the bucket. Otto then looked at me, then to the girl;
“Would you like this young one?” The girl snuck a glance at me then turned away quickly and giggled again. “Jack, you want her, have her,” he gestured with his hand “Fusco and I will go out, we will go out and smoke a cigarette and talk of the weather. eh, Fusco?”
“What you say Jack? A nice young girl for you, better than this eh?” Fusco spoke then made suggestive movements with his hand. Otto and he laughed. The girl was quiet, it was then I noticed she was about the same age as myself.
“No, thanks all the same” I quavered out, trying to sound “worldly”..then I remembered something I had heard. I spoke to Otto “I know which ward you go to every week”. They both laughed and Otto turned back to his work .
“Alright, ok, but it’s the last time I offer it to you, I’m a generous man, but not that generous”.
Fusco stood there a second with his arms folded, then ;
“Come, we have work”.
So we moved our gear into the next flat and got to work. He gave me the job of fitting all the linen presses. It wasn’t a big job, just a matter of cutting the toe rail to size between the two walls and fixing the shell of the cupboard to the wall. I was working well, getting them in quick, I had left the flat that Otto was in till last, I didn’t want to hang around there and was hoping they’d be gone by then. But they were still there when I was ready for that flat, Eddy was there in the bathroom too, I could hear his voice asking the girl something. She answered quietly.
“No, no more, let’s go back to the pub” she complained.
“What for, nothing back there” Eddy answered.
“My sister’s there, she’s waiting for me, she worries”.
“Hey move over a little”. Otto asked them both, tiles rattled.
“Alright, I take you back, but first one more, for this morning”.
“But I do not want it now” the girl said softly.
“Look my little flower” this was Otto now “Give him the one then we take you back, we all go back and have a drink. No, don’t worry, it’s true”.
“Ok then” the girl answered after a little silence “But just one”.
There was no doors or anything in this place yet, and I was working near and it was hot and sticky, very hot and sticky..I couldn’t concentrate and this cupboard was giving me trouble, this one of them all. Then through the doorway I could see her stretch her legs out, then his were there and his shorts down by his knees and Otto asking them to move over a little as he had only the two tiles to do there then he was finished, so there was a scraping movement then it was quiet, but in a moment I could hear that sound like the oil makes when you rub it thickly over your body to stop sunburn, so I stood up and walked outside to go to the shop and Fusco yelled from the second floor :
“Where you going?” but I didn’t feel like answering so he yelled again “Are you going to the shop?” and I shouted back “Yes” without turning “Then get me a salad roll,… you want the money?” but I kept on walking to the shop, strangely angry .
But, well, that was a long while back now, when I was working for Fusco and was quite young.
If I consult this little pencilled in book of a shopping bill from a Mr. D. Lambert & Son, general store and victuals supplier of Towitta, for the fortnight in February 1936, I see that a packet of Yo-Yo biscuits was a mere 7 pence, and while the entire shopping for that bill was a total of 1/14/7 (one pound fourteen shillings and seven pence) there was deducted for 4 dozen eggs and 6 pounds of butter as barter for a total of 9 /6 pence taken off the bill….and then Mr. Lambert would continue on his way in his horse and sulky delivery wagon to the next family farm to repeat the procedure…a round trip he did once a fortnight to deliver the grocery list and pick up bartered exchanged produce. A congenial and fruitful arrangement of the times.
These casual trades between shop-keeper and households were common fare in the times…there is also record of an Indian dry-goods trader used to do the rounds, selling or trading cloth and haberdashery goods, staying at this or that farm for a day or so then moving on. Of course, many of us from the boomer generations remember the “milky” with his plodding horse drawn cart running from house to house with billy-can and scoop…the ice-man and baker…of course, who could forget Mr. Hahn, the green-grocer, parked up in the suburban side street with a clutch of housewives at the back of his truck while he proudly showed them his cluster of fine fresh chokos!
All this was done in the most amateurish manner, the local trader, the (mostly) women of the house, the common supply of goods and the casual chiaking between them all….I remember staying at my auntys in Sedan and her delivery of groceries from the local store included one single biscuit..”Oh look…that silly man…just because I wrote ; biscuits / one…instead of a packet he sends me one biscuit!…silly man!” …such were the frivolous back and forth of trading in those times.
The same could be said for the male side of the farm in the cropping and upkeep of animals and equipment. The farm blacksmith shop an integral component of farming practice, needed to repair or invent parts required for harness and wagon…sheds and homesteads…the entire structure, social and practical a continuity of the self-sufficient amateur application…local women as midwives…local apothecaries with their huge tomes of folk medicine and a head full of experience and old-wives tales and “cures” that must have cost as many lives as they saved..possibly an average equally contested by some modern medical practices and could compete with the traffic causalities of these times.
But what stands out most is the skilled amateurism of those times. The time-lapsed photographs for the post and beam “pioneer hut” to the cut-slab and thatch sheds of the first settlement to “The new house” bracketed the obvious faults of the DIY constructs of the first to prefer the hired trades to build the second…and it was the pause in between the original claiming of the property and the sweat and tears that built up the family fortune enough to bring in the tradesmen to make the growing family’s life more comfortable and life in general more liveable…for the burden of home life of the times fell solidly upon the shoulders of the women. Whilst on the farm, developments in agricultural machinery remained pretty static right up until the second world war…the cumbersome stump jump plough the major improvement while all else was structured for application to horse-drawn machinery and it’s risky use, for horses could be prone to fright and flight, taking chains, harness, equipment and handler on a wild unrestrained gallop across lumpy, ploughed paddocks and straight through fences toward the home stable…a most unsettling experience.
And it was about this time that with the advanced development of mechanical tractors that all this came to an abrupt end…and with that sudden killing off of a labour intensive era, was the decline of community connection, for the mechanic and his garage has become the “go-to” person for both fuel and expertise of machine maintenance. No more saddler, blacksmith/iron monger..no more farrier and horse doctor of even the exchange of local knowledge on animal husbandry and with the demise of intensive labour farming, went the families to the city or elsewhere and with them went the town choir, the town band, the town baker, bank, church and assorted community businesses, not to mention the sporting teams..and in the end in some cases, the town itself…for the once “family farm” being bulldozed and the property held in the portfolio of an Agri-corp absentee owner.
But by far the most damaging wreckage from this demise was the loss of the ethical creed associated with labour and its work…the mantra of : “Responsibility – Work – Reward “ …to be replaced by the capitalist cant of Debt, Chance, and Compound interest. For tooling-up for the demands of this new era of “Agri-corp” farming meant mortgaging the family farm and then the squeezing of the profit margins to compete within an open market of high-risk cropping…pre-sale of crops and borrowing to sow, to harvest even in some cases to just get their product to market…the final result ; collapse of family fortune, community structure and the town fabric itself.
Welcome to the new world of “professional consultants” and political influencers…high debt, high risk, low return, no future for the generational family farm.
“ If you could imagine us all walking side by side toward a sunset, with our lives trailing away behind; a shadow drawn in perspective from the point of our birth. We are all facing the front so none of us really knows the substance of our neighbor’s ‘shadow’, and we can only make calculated guesses from facial expressions and mumbled half truths.” (From The last writings of Carl Jung. )
It seems to be always some physical event that motivates humans to “get up and do something constructive.” Such events have a propensity to the catastrophic, like a sharp jab in the collective ribs of humanity, otherwise we’d probably just lie prostrate in the dirt like a contented sow with half a dozen piglets suckling on its teats! So it was not long after her husband left her that Margie joined the “puppet group” at the school. She joined to ; “Break that cycle of thought that possesses and locks one into a cycle of hate – contrition.” She had read that in a therapy pamphlet, and nodding in agreement, decided to join the puppet group.
They met once a week at Mauve’s house; this group of parents from the school. They met at eleven o’clock every Thursday to encourage and assist each other with their dolls. They made soft-bodied hand-puppets for the little plays they would perform for the younger children every month or so and at festivals through the year. When she joined, Margie did not know how to make a puppet in a pink fit! but, with the sympathetic encouragement from the other mothers (sympathetic to her marital situation, that is), she soon got the hang of it, and by and by the materials became “putty” in her hands. In fact, it wasn’t long before she was producing puppets with such beautiful and tender features that one of the women: Pamela, was moved to say that “It’s a gift….pure and simple…a gift.’” and Margie blushed and said “Oh surely not,” and went on to explain that she had always been good at crafts; “From me mother…I ‘spect.”
“Oh no,” said Pamela, shocked, “It’s a gift…a real gift’” and Margie blushed again and said
The first play that they put on for the year was “Hansel and Gretel”…. Margie was given the job of making Hansel. The finished product was so good, so fine, that the other women gazed upon him open mouthed. He had a soul almost, behind those eyes, and what eyes! “as crisp as a Summer dawn, the left hand of God,” and his costume and the cut of the cloth made his shape, his proportions seem so unnatural, uncanny, so that next to him poor Gretel looked like a cheap “tart”….so much so that Margie was asked, nay: ‘implored’ to take Gretel home and to “fix her up,” and gosh! did Gretel ever look so beautiful, so innocent? that together; Hansel and Gretel as puppets matched the immortality , almost, of the classical tale.
After that performance, Margie was given the job of making the star puppets. And didn’t she fulfill that task admirably.
“It’s a gift…a real gift,” Pam would repeat in her parroting voice.
“I’d say it was a release from the stress,” Mauve would comment with a nod of the head then pinch her lips together.
Mauve was the expert on stress…. “Yes….you’re stressed,” was her usual prognosis whenever someone expressed a weariness. Yet another: Jocelyn, who held a degree in humanities and had studied a year in psychology, would pronounce in dry, measured tones (not for psychologists the heady passions of mankind!) that the beauty of the dolls was ;
“…quite naturally an acceptance…a bringing to the front, the beauty of self…the awakening..so to speak..of respect for self and realization of self after the defeat…so to speak…of the broken relationship…you understand?”
Others added their opinions to the pot also, but all were equal in their admiration of the puppets. And Margie basked in their praise, though her big, round face would colour in a blush, she would smile and finger the dolls tenderly and say:
“Well, yes, it does bring me out of myself…helps me to distance myself from me troubles.” And she’d bend to her work, her clumsy-looking fingers deftly sewing a smock or line stitching a vest for the prince.
So it went on, story after story: Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, all perfect joys and didn’t the children Ahh! and the parent’s Ohh! and the applause after each show witnessed their appreciation, and Margie’s puppets were eagerly touched and stroked by the children as if they were exotic talismans.
“It’s a gift,” Pamela could be heard at one side telling a parent, “It’s a real gift.”
One woman: Bea, started to notice a certain similarity about the puppets, an air of something familiar about them, but, not having them all side by side (“….like a police line-up,” she would later say), could not be certain of her memory. But she had a feeling that behind those fabric faces, those carefully stitched costumes, deeper than the wool fibre stuffing in those familiar shaped heads, was the “raison d’etre” for their very being!
For, having once cast off all the shrouds of resistance, each of us enters the creative obligations of the psyche, whether we succeed or fail in these pursuits of desire depends on the depths of the individual’s well springs of courage, of the risk of surrendering to the will of the muse.
Bea, of all the women, was wary of Margie’s seeming fatalistic acceptance of the breakdown of her relationship, and though she had never met Margie’s husband, she, like any group of school parents still felt on “common ground” with the family. But now the family was broken, and Bea worried less the disappointment was too much for someone as exacting as Margie to bear, so she “studied” Margie, looking for cracks in the facade much as we all “study” people under trauma with that guilty morbidity of wondering if and when they will “crack”! Pondering on this, Bea decided to pay Margie a home visit.
As she knocked on the front door, she heard a raised voice emanating from within the house. It was the middle of the day, so the children were at school and although the voice was muffled, it nonetheless was quite tense. Bea knocked louder and the voice stopped, there was a hiatus and then the door was gingerly opened….Margie’s face appeared, flushed and wary in the opening.
“Bea?” she raised an eyebrow.
“Just popped ‘round to say hello.”
“Well…come in then.” Margie eased the door open, Bea hesitated with one hand raised in gesticulation:
“But do you have visitors….I thought I heard….?” Margie glanced furtively to one side.
“Oh….no…no, it was just the cat….” and she stood clumsily to one side so Bea could enter. A pot of tea was suggested and accepted so Margie adjourned to the kitchen while Bea sat on the edge of the lounge sofa and let her eyes wander around the trimmings of the room.
A photograph setting on a side table caught her eye….something familiar?….the slope of the eyebrows?…the cheeks? or maybe the soft contour of the face?…
“Your….your husband?” she enquired. Margie popped her head through the door.
“Oh…yes…ex-husband’” and she came into the room and took up the framed photograph listlessly.
“Richard….”the rat”….sometimes I call him “Dick,” short for….well, you know what” She dusted the glass with her T-shirt and replaced it on the table.
There, Bea realized, was the similarity between the male puppets….Richard Meagher with one “sleepy eye” and the brows sloping away “just so”, and those boyish cheeks that Margie had captured somehow in an abstract way in all the male puppets….”It’s a gift…a real gift.” Pam’s voice resonated in Bea’s mind…curious, the flow of mood from mind to hand in a clever person, again, that artistic interpretation of psyche. Bea gazed hypnotically at the photograph and wondered about the other woman, but discretion forbade mention of so delicate and wounding a subject. Having solved one of her curiosities, she was satisfied she would soon find the other elsewhere so she settled down for small-talk and tea.
“Who did Margie’s husband clear off with?” Bea asked Mauve one day.
“No-one I know, but I’ll tell you who does.”
So with a little discreet enquiry and conversation Bea was able to see a photograph (thank heaven for that invention that fixes time and place to deed!) of the woman in that duet of complicity. Bea came away from that visit with the second mystery solved: that of the similarity between the female puppets. And …also the knowledge that Margie’s husband had left with Margie’s own sister! a double blow! betrayal and treachery! Oh woe is the bearer of a broken heart, but even more vexed is the spirit betrayed….especially by one’s own kin.
Bea went quiet after finding out the background of Margie’s domestic life, sometimes enough is enough when it comes to insights into others tragedies, after all…one’s own life has to be journeyed, eh?
Then the time came for a production of that immortal theme of love and betrayal – “Rapunzel.” Once again the little group fell to making miniature props and scenarios and puppets for this, the end of year show and it was to be a real bang-up affair. Margie seemed to put all her efforts into the two main puppets. Rapunzel was beautiful, her eyes glowed with an innocence enchanting and childlike, her body lithe and well proportioned as one could imagine in such a waif with yet maidenly allure! like the eyes of a portrait that seem to follow you around the room, so in reverse were one’s eyes attracted to that doll….and then the hair…such golden bounty was unnatural, uncanny, it flowed (can that be the word?), flowed….like some mythical fall of golden fibres…so long…so silky…not a hand could resist trailing it through the fingers…ah!… And the prince, too, such were Margie’s skills that he complemented Rapunzel impeccably, equally without over-shadowing each other, like a matched pair of flamenco dancers, each a part of the other. You can imagine the Ohhs! and the Ahhs! of complimenting Margie received for these puppets, even Bea, wary of over-reaction now she knew the hurt behind these marionettes, could not but help admire sighingly the aura of that duet of complicity.
“It’s a gift…a real gift,” Pamela sighed and they all laughed at the familiar compliment.
Around the middle of rehearsals for this play, Bea on returning home from the city one evening remembered a bolt of cloth she had to pick up from Margie, and as it was not too late, decided to turn down the street to Margie’s house on her way home. It was late spring and the wind rippled freshly through the new-leafed trees, almost like the tittering giggles of youngsters at play, such is Spring when the waking of nature seems to bring a friskiness even to the breezes! And the flowers…like the halting twirls of a carnival calliope their petals would duck and sway while overhead a mellow darkness swept upward through the trees into the night.
An old place, was Margie’s, with a laced wire gate sprung on squeaky hinges. The path led straight off the street to a flight of three steps to a verandah. Bea knocked gently on the front door, being aware as she did so not to knock too loudly as to wake the children. On receiving no acknowledgement from her gentle knocking, she gazed around perplexed as to her next move. A glow of light brushed silver over the flickering leaves of a rain-washed tree, a light from down the side of the house. Bea stepped off the verandah and made her way quietly down the side-path, the light from a nearby window was enough to show the precise, ordered garden beds between the fence and the path and like the front yard, they reflected the meticulous discipline of Margie’s personality.
Bea came abreast of the lighted window and through a small gap in the damask curtains could see a figure bent over a table. It was Margie, her large body adorned in those heavy woven clothes that she used to make her dresses, her hair pulled back in a wispy roll on the back of her head. A soft overhead lamp threw its light onto the work bench. Margie’s face was intent on the two puppets she was arranging on front of her on the table…her lips moved in a tight then relaxing pout as she sat the two dolls facing her, a slight musical hum in three notes of a descending order issued from her lips at small intervals of a few second each. She sat back, crossed her arms and stared at the two puppets, they were “Rapunzel” and the “Prince.”
“Well now, there yer be,” Margie sat back and put her hands on her knees.
“And now, my dear Shelia, what would you be havin’ to say for yourself?” This wasn’t Margie’s usual voice..She spoke a curious softened Irish brogue in a different pitch than her usual voice.
“Will ye not answer your own mother?” the voice more tense “just to be a sittin’ there dumb as pots!”
“I told her, Shelia,” this was the old Margie’s voice, “I told mother what you did.”
Bea frowned, for indeed this was something new to her, this behaviour, for with just a slight change of inflection in her voice, Margie had conjured up an entirely new personality; her apparent mother, a person long deceased..a sudden split in personality, then just as swiftly a return to herself, like an actor playing two roles at the same time on the one stage!
“Hush now, Marg!” the ‘mother’ interrupted, “You’ll not be interrupting me.” The puppet fell to one side and Margie leant to gently prop it up again, her tongue pinched between her lips in concentration. She sat back again.
“So you’ll cower in silence before me, daughter….Not answer to my accusation….you would be stealin’ your own kin’s spouse while all the time shelterin’ under her roof…. while eatin’ at the same table…exchangin’ glances of wicked delight all the while I’ll surmise, and there, in golden innocence your own sister ignorant of the treachery you and your lover conspire,” Her voice rose in intensity as she went on.
Margie jumped up excited:
“They did, they did, Mother…Oh, the sin of it, all the while I worked, all the while I looked after the house they were scheming and smilin’ and I was the fool…the silly, silly fool for all their wicked coupling….and under my very nose….” She shook her fist at the puppet’s face.
“Well, I’ve got the thing to pay you for your treachery, my sweet,” and Margie swiftly took up a large darning needle and raked it again and again across “Rapunzel’s” face so the cloth fretted and shredded in its wake.
Bea put her hand to her mouth to stifle a cry, but still she watched. “What sort of madness was this?” she was thinking. Margie paused, put her needle down and astutely took up another with red thread in it and without a word set to swiftly and deftly line stitch red marks across the puppet’s face so it looked as if it had been raked by a claw! She completed this morbid make-up with little dots of red ink to simulate blood. All this was done so swiftly that Bea still had her hand to her mouth.
Margie then turned her narrowed eyes upon the “Prince.”
“And you, Richard,” (the mother’ again), “could you be so vulgar so underhand to your own wife?”
Margie stood and turned side on to talk out of the corner of her mouth.
“Yes…why Richard….why would you betray me so….was it for a bit of skirt?…an easy ‘conquest’?” Margie sneered the last sentence, “or would you just be a sheddin’ and avoidin’ your responsibilities….hmm?….”
“Richard!!” the ‘mother’ yelled. “Answer your wife! a coward’s life for a coward’s courage….and the devil take your soul,” she hissed while Margie turned slowly and leant to pick up a ‘Stanley’ knife lying on the bench, slowly she moved her left arm and grasped the puppet and raised him toward her, then with an angry gesture swiftly lifted her arm with the knife …
“This for your betrayal’” she cried hoarsely and swung her arm wildly to slash the puppet’s face from forehead to cheek so the tight-packed wool stuffing burst proud from the cut, and there, in jangling craziness of the light awry which she knocked in her violence, each in its own pigeon-hole shelved on the wall, leered and stared the other puppets made by Margie during the year. But! There were twins of each puppet! Twins of Cinderella, Prince Charming, Hansel and also Gretel and the rest, identically clothed and painted, doppelgangers in shape and face… except weirdly, while one would be whole and untouched, its twin was gashed, torn or mutilated this way or that… Hansel’s eye torn from a gaping socket and left hanging down by a thread, Prince Charming’s face too was slashed, Cinderella’s hair was almost ‘scalped’ from her head and so on, all of them sitting squat in their respective pigeon-holes and appearing to gaze interestedly down on this grotesque theatre of tortured souls. Bea looked back to Margie and saw that she was intently touching the lips of the slashed face with red dye on her fingertip so they bloodied with the ink, all the while humming that same three descending notes of sound in short intervals.
Bea’s eyes opened wider and a silent scream choked in her throat as there, in the flickering light, rack upon rack, stood the only witness to Margie’s despair, all those compliments she received must have driven her grief ever deeper into her soul, every “It’s a gift,” a nail into her heart so this charnel house of thread and cloth and dye grew out of the tempest of her hatred, this was the theatre of shadows that lurked behind her fatalistic psyche! And yes, there too in the recesses of that table, beyond the mutilated bodies of “Rapunzel” and the “Prince” stood their twins, gazing on in mute innocence with Margie busy putting the finishing touches to her macabre cosmetics while soft tears edged down her rouged cheeks and saying over and over with childlike hurt:
“You broke my heart, you broke my heart!”
Bea turned away shamefaced from the window, her curiosity satiated, her emotions wretched, for here in the silence of another’s despair she had gazed into the forbidden abyss and in doing so was she not edged just that little bit closer to her own?
God I was feeling good..you know those days when you set out with a heavy work-load of appointments and things to do so you think you’ll never have time to do them all..and then suddenly this one and that one falls off the list through no fault of anyone’s and suddenly you have half the day to yourself to relax and just enjoy…Those were the circumstances that found me idling my time away in the shoe repairs, in the arcade in the city, getting my good lady’s riding boots repaired.
“Cosimo’s Shoe Repairs” ; it is one of those small shops there off the side of the arcade. I always take my good shoes there to be fixed, have done so for years. Whenever I’m in the city, which is not that often, and I needed some leather work done I’d go to Cosimo’s.
Cosimo is a little bloke, light framed and with one crook leg. He is rather soft spoken but has the loveliest eyes, now I say that as one human to another…lovely eyes, you see them sometimes… but when I look I notice it’s not his eyes so much as the slope of his eyebrows…they slope away to the sides of his face at such an angle as to draw your attention toward his eyes…or at least that’ the conclusion I’ve come to!
“Are you in a hurry Mr. Gregory?” Cosimo asked. “For I can fix the heel while you wait.”
I waved my hand casually.
“No. No hurry for me, I’ll wait if it’s ok with you.”
I rested one arm on his work counter and gazed out of the little side window display into the arcade. There was a greeting card stall in the middle of the walkway and a young couple were browsing through the cards while holding hands and smiling into each others eyes upon mutual enjoyment of a particular card. I smiled for them.
“Isn’t love grand?” I remarked flippantly then I turned my head over my shoulder to the busy Cosimo and asked casually: “Have you ever been in love Cosimo?” I paused then ; “excepting the lovely signora of course.”
Cosimo looked up at me with those eyes.
“I have never loved my wife, actually…and she has never loved me… respect each other…yes…endeared to each other ..yes..but love…no!” He switched off his machine and rested his hands on the bench. “Raising a family, feeding it, working a business for it, let alone giving birth to it takes more than love, Mr. Gregory,…I’d say I was deeply dedicated to my wife, but love…no!”
I raised my eyebrows. Cosimo wiped his hands methodically as he pondered. Fate picks strange moments for its pronouncements of insight, this was one of those moments. He looked at me for a moment and then said.
“As for love…yes…I was in love once,…with a boy I served my apprenticeship with”…I must have raised my brows a little higher for he immediately gave a quiet chuckle… “Oh no Mr. Gregory…not like that”…he chuckled softly…”Men can love each other without there being any homosexual overtones… such insinuations are mostly foolish presumptions by foolish people…” he sighed “It takes growing up to realize that but yes I did love that boy and as you can see, I’m not the kind of male who’d attract the eyes of too many women eh? It’s the truth…I’ve never been handsome it’s as simple as that!”
He put my shoes down on the bench and gazed at his wrist watch.
“It’s smoko time,…do you fancy a cup of coffee?” I was pleasantly surprised.
“Why yes, yes…love one.” Cosimo nodded
“Good…come, I’ll shut up shop and we’ll go out back for some lunch.” and he did just that.
After we’d settled down at his laminex table with some bread, cheese, slices of meat and a rich brew of coffee in front of us, he began.
“I’ll tell you a story of those times, you might find it interesting and I’ll be able to put it to rest. I s’pose this leg was the catalyst of it all…It’s this gummy leg that’s let me down, they nearly wouldn’t let me migrate to Australia because I had a “crippling affliction”. It was only after I got some glowing references as to the quality of my work that they changed their minds…that and the fact that I’m self-employable, being a shoemaker, was what tipped the scales in my favour.
“ I’ve had the crook leg from birth, one shorter than the other, that’s why the extra thick sole on my shoe. The kids used to tease me about it, called me “draught horse” on account of the way I drag one leg after the other sort of…you know? I see it in other people with the same problem as me…that sort of heavy legged look, like one boot is full of lead, but you can’t see it in yourself…you know?
“ I learnt the leather trade from old Gino Barrina, he took me on as his apprentice along with his own son …Angie…a kid my own age. I used to board with them on account I came from a village out in the sticks as you’d say…By god, he was a good lookin’ kid that Angie! Not like me, I wasn’t any prettier then than I am now. You’d think life would give you something in compensation for ugliness eh? ha! oh well…Angie said to me once that I should get a job in a cheese factory, they could just stand me in front of the vats of milk to make it curdle!…but he said it in a more humorous way than those other boys…but it still hurt. “It’s alright for the more fortunate to poke jibes at the less privileged” I said “because they don’t have to live with the insult”.. and he never poked fun at me again.
“And I had their respect; old man Barrina and Angie, ’cause I could work…If you pull your weight in the workplace, you’ll always get respect from the other working people…There’s no worse person than them as try to worm their way out of their fair share of labour.”
” We would go to the piazza in the evenings after dinner, just when it was becoming dark and hang around with other working boys and girls. In the early days of our apprenticeship, we had no money at all, so we just used to mull about the streets, hands in our pockets kicking the kerbs and generally making a nuisance of ourselves, you know, like most young bucks with hot blood and no action to quieten it! But then when we got older we’d go to a specific cafe or “bar” and play the machines and drink coffee or whatever and it was at one of these “bars”…the…the “Fiori di Napoli”…the”Flower of Naples” cafe that Angie first met Rosa.
“It was just after we’d brought this little moped type thing, you know, one of those motorised bicycles. All the young blokes had them, those or scooters, and the first thing we’d do is knock the muffler off to make them louder…god! the racket!…when I think of it now…tch tch! Oh well, we were younger then.”
“We were able to buy this machine because of a stroke of luck came our way in the shape of a couple of Americans from New York we met at the monthly market, who were looking to buy lots of Italian shoes “wholesale” or rather “black-market”…they would buy hundreds of pairs, take them from their boxes and pack them in these big zipped bags and take them back to the States as personal luggage to avoid import duty. and then rebox them and sell them as high-class Italian shoes for triple or more what they paid!
“Angie and I knew all the shoe-makers in Naples , so we arranged the sale and bunged on a dollar a pair for our efforts and with the profit, we brought the little moped.. and that’s how Angie met Rosa.”
“Angie used to ride it and I’d go pillion whenever we went out at night. I would ride it too during the day and Angie’d go pillion but when we went to the cafe’s he’d always be up front, it was just an unspoken agreement we’d come to…look:…we all know our places eh?…he was strong, handsome and I was the opposite…with a ‘club’ foot…I tell you this…if you don’t know your place in this world, there’s plenty that will put you there for free…eh?”
“Anyway, we pulled up in front of the “Flower” one summers evening and no sooner had we slowed down than I slid off the back like those cowboys slide off their horses in the movies, I was off and hobbling about in excitement and this girl that was standing in the doorway up and laughs this great big loud laugh that froze us both and we looked at her and she says:
“Well, if it isn’t the Lone Ranger and Hop-along Cassidy!” And she tossed her head back and roared with laughter. I sidled up to Angie and said:
“What’s she laughing at..the trollop!”
Angie was smiling a little and he gave me a squeeze around the shoulders with his arm.
“Ha! don’t take it to heart..hoppy!”
“And a little later I noticed him talking to her over in the corner of the cafe and I thought then…it’s funny how you get these premonitions…they looked a matched pair and her name was Rosa! And over the months they got on…Angie and Rosa, but there was trouble afoot with her family…father at least. He just didn’t like Angie…no reason that I know of…just didn’t like him…bad blood between the famlies?..Perhaps he had other visions for his daughter I guess…haven’t all parents got plans for their children?…but I ask: do they ever pan out? eh… ever?…the instincts have it over reasoned intelligence every time. The ancients knew more of the passions of mankind than we do. They knew certain gods had to be appeased. They understood the power of love…we think these days because we can place an explanation at the foot of the deity of the day that is both concise and clever that the case will rest there…but the gods just smile at our simplicity and, thankfully, the young continue to confound us! ha!”
“But Angie, he was too wild and Rosa too fiery for a quiet romance. And listen! I was as much in love with them both as they were with each other. Angie was my alter ego, strong where I was weak, handsome where I was ugly, so why shouldn’t I feel for her, although platonic, an affection equal to Angie’s love? Dammit , Mr Gregory, have you ever desired out of frustration with a crook part of your body, to simply tear it away and replace it with a better part or for that matter, the same with a part of your life! Ah! but we’re all frail creatures, so very, very frail…So when the father refused permission for Rosa to see Angie, was I not the perfect conspirator, the lookout in the shadowy doorway and at the same time the “lover” caressing his maiden…ha! ha! oh weren’t we innocent! “Her hair Angie…isn’t it lovely!” I’d say at some moments, as if I shared her with him, which in my mind I did. “Isn’t that skirt nice.” I’d say , ha! and she was a very pretty girl, that Rosa.”
“And so it went on ; these secret meetings, for months till it blew up in our faces one day at the markets. There is a point of balance in any event both physical and emotional that once tilted accelerates away regardless of our desires. Angie and Rosa had reached that point of balance.”
“The place was crowded…Jews, Arabs, Morrocans, English tourists all squint-eyed and suspicious, Americans…everybody it seemed shouting and over it all that eternal sound of Naples…the quick toot-tooting of car horns! Angie’s father sold shoes, boots, belts and leather jackets and that sort of stuff…and a few brass buckles to go with the belts. Angie hadn’t seen Rosa for a couple of weeks because of her old man’s opposition to it all, so he was all short-tempered and irate with everybody, even giving cheek to the customers so that his father had to chastise him in dialect a couple of times even. Angie just shrugged and went on touting the goods till I spotted Rosa coming down with the crowd, she was with her father.”
“It was a cold day with a strong wind blowing off the bay. I nudged Angie and pointed her out him eagerly (didn’t I too desire?). She stopped over the other side of the avenue whilst her father went browsing at a stall there nearby. She looked cold as she stood there with her arms wrapped around clutching her shoulders. Angie gazed at her longingly. She looked lovely, but yet sad, her long dark hair swished about with the breeze so she tossed her head every now and then and her little red lips all pouty and her body all impatient looking as she waited for her father.”
“Suddenly as if inspired by a reckless angel, Angie snatched a nice little leather jacket off the rack that sent a rattle down the rest for the violent of the snatching that attracted the attention of his father. Angie leapt the trestle in front with his father two steps behind calling angrily: “Angie…Angie…che cosa fai?” with his hand raised in front. But Angie didn’t even look back, he pushed hurriedly through that crowd toward Rosa. I was craning my neck in anticipation.”
“She hadn’t seen him coming so that when he reached her and gently placed the jacket around her shoulders she gave a little start and her red, red lips formed a little “o” of surprise as she saw it was Angie and her hand went quickly up to rest over his that was on her arm and I saw their eyes lock together into that silent sphere where lovers go and I felt as if I was with them too, I was that thrilled for their affection, till suddenly her father turned and saw them there and he started shouting fit to raise the devil and Angie’s father put in his bit telling Angie not to waste time and money on the daughter of such a rat-bag and Rosa’s father pushing toward the stall, his finger pointing and his face all contorted with anger so that both fathers had to be held apart until they cooled down and when he did, Rosa’s father turned to Angie and said :”
“No more, boy…no more seeing Rosa…I know the secret meetings, and I know how this…(and he pointed to me) this cretino keeps guard like a nobelman’s lackey…you think I am stupid?…No… finished. If I see you near her again there will be trouble.”
“He spoke this quietly with a real tone of threat that it would be carried out…probably with a knife! Then he dragged Rosa away by the hand and she shot a look so appealing over her shoulder as would’ve broke the heart of a statue, till the crowd swallowed her up. Then Angie’s father got stuck into him also and finished by saying that he’d have to pay for the jacket out of his wages. Angie said nothing during both tirades, but I could see he was thinking.”
“Sure enough, a week later he took me to one side at the Flower of Naples and said:
“I’m leaving with Rosa next Saturday, I’ve sent her a note to meet me tonight and I’ll tell her.” I was agog! ”
“You mean you haven’t even told her yet?”
“No…but listen, she’ll agree…I know. I’m going to meet her under the bridge near her house…you have to be in this with us”…
“Of course I agreed, I couldn’t think of them leaving without me, they were my life! We met Rosa after dark under the bridge. I went and stood “guard” and that phrase “nobleman’s lackey” rose in my memory and irked me somewhat as I stood there in the shadows of the bridge pylons. But it was alright as her father had gone to his local bar for a card night. Would she go! Yes, yes, yes, oh! he only had to ask, hadn’t she thought of the same thing herself these last few weeks! And they embraced and kissed and laughed so I kept saying;
“Shh, shh..you’ll wake the dead with all that noise.” But I was happy too, we were all going away to a new life..wonderful!
“Angie arranged for the following Saturday as Rosa’s father always went to the football every Saturday and that would give us time to get to the station to take the train to Rome, then on to the north.. to…to…Switzerland or even Germany. Yes, anything was possible, we were young, there was nothing we could not do..it would be fine! North, away from all the frustration of a secretive love, of stunted desires and I rejoiced, even though I had never so much as kissed Rosa, I felt she was mine as Angie was me as I was them both. Such was my dedication to my alter ego. His happiness was my happiness, his elation was my desire, I was fates’ go between!
“And that Saturday we were secretly packed and on our way and we would have made a clear break too if not for fates’ vindictiveness. It was a very wet day, so wet in fact that the soccer was washed out after the first half. We were crossing the piazza in front of the railway station with all our bags and Angie hurrying us along.”
“C’mon, c’mon the train leaves in a couple of minutes!” and suddenly we hear an almighty yell from across the square and it’s Rosa’s father calling to her at the top of his voice so we all jumped in our skins!”
“ROSA!, ROSA!” he bellowed and she cried out in shock
“Angie, run, we must run!”
“Quick…down here” Angie responded and we ducked down beside a row of empty carriages. I was last and I glanced back and there was the old man belting across the square in a raging pursuit.”
“Quick, through the carriages.” And we clambered up into the empty carriages then ran down the aisle with our bags held up in front.”
“Out, out, out,” Angie yelled and we leapt for all we were worth out the other side of the row of carriages. I looked back and Rosa’s father was catching up quickly. The loud speakers suddenly barked noisily:”
“The three-thirty express to Roma: departing platform six…all aboard please.”
“Under here” Angie cried again and we scrambled under another row of carriages.”
“Platform six, quickly Angie” Rosa yelled “We won’t make it!”
“There, run, hurry” Angie called and the father was right on our heels as we reached platform six. They were just about to close the gates when we rushed through, Angie threw the tickets to the guard there and did we scamper. All our bags clumsy and Rosa running fit to fly, her rich black hair like the flowing mane of a wild horse, it was all I could do to keep up, with my gummy leg .”
“I looked over my shoulder just as Rosa and Angie reached the last carriage and the train let out this mournful cry that was the siren as it was starting to roll. I looked back and her father was two steps behind me, his face all flushed and his breath labouring from the exertion of it all, but he had plenty of anger in him to carry him to the train. I lunged out with my duffle-bag and it collared him in the middle and he stumbled and fell cursing and rolled over and over.”
“Cosimo, Cosimo…c’mon, the train’s going,” Angie yelled as I picked up my bag and ran toward the slow moving-away train and there was Angie leaning out of the last door of the carriage so far that Rosa was holding him by his shoulders and a hell of a look on her face and he had his arm outstretched toward me and I was going flat out with my gummy leg making an odd “clopping” sound as I galloped along that empty platform.”
“The bag,” Angie yelled “Drop the bag, drop the bag” and my breath was struggling so I threw the bag to one side, I can see it now cartwheeling along beside me and I was running, running as fast as I could and gaining on the train.”
“Cosimo, Cosimo…harder” cried Angie.
“My leg Angie…it’s…my leg”
“Grab my hand” he cried and Rosa was there with her anguished face staring over his shoulder and her arms wrapped around his shoulders to stop him falling out of the train and I put on a spurt and reached out with my hand and our fingers touched with my other arm wind-milling around and he reached as far as he could and our fingers interlocked and I looked up at Angie and Rosa and then…and then..something strange happened inside of me. In that split second of touching Angie’s hand, I looked up at he and Rosa and I realised…I realised they were a pair…matched in love and they had their lives before them and I could never be a part of that life, never…never…never and oh I could have wept for the realisation of it all. But I saw in that split second that my illusion was over. You see, I had tried to take a free ride with love, as I had taken a free ride with Angie’s personality all those years and though I still might have made that train, at that same moment my spirit deserted me and I grew so tired, so tired as my fingers slowly slipped from Angie’s grasp, slowly, slowly…
“No, Cosimo..don’t give up now, Cosimo!” he cried as the accelerating train gently pried us apart and he called to me again but it was drowned by the mournful wail of the trains’ siren.”
“My leg won’t go anymore.” I sobbed as I watched my old life slip away with the leaving train. Rosa’s father suddenly rushed past me crying abuse to Angie and Rosa.
“Lazzeroni! lazzeroni! delinquents” in a hoarse grasping voice and he hurled a heavy stick he was carrying after the train. “Delinquents…delinquents” he cried more weakly as the futility of it all came home to him.
“They were gone. He stood there a while breathing heavily and mumbling curses, then turned and came back toward me, slump shouldered, defeated. But when he came abreast, he suddenly gave me a back-hander.. then another.. then another, that knocked me to the ground. He was about to hit me again with his arm raised when he pulled himself up and just looked down at me in disgust and spat on me. I…I didn’t feel any insult, any pain, for what was his anger? With each blow I had taken loves’ penance, for she is a cruel mistress, and on every kiss she puts a price, and every embrace is measured. And that was it. The old man turned and walked past a group of gaping people toward the station gate.”
“I s’pose I could’ve followed Angie and Rosa if they asked me, but I suspect they too came to the same conclusion I reached in that moment…my point of balance, and they went their own way which is only right for a man and a woman. And now, I’ve got my own life and family and I don’t think I’d exchange it for any other desire, no matter how alluring! “”Another coffee Mr. Gregory?” I mumbled yes.
“So you see, I have been in love, and I don’t know if I want to be in love again! I might not now have the courage to face loves’ penance.”
Jean Clements came home from work to an empty kitchen. She came from her work as principle of the Hudson Street Primary school often in an agitated manner, primarily because of certain incidents that bedevilled her at the school, mostly concerning the behaviour of students and parents reacting to certain students there, or because her husband, now recently unemployed lacked what she considered “ attention to her implicit instructions” to fix this or that maintenance problem or purchased the wrong brand of product from the supermarket when she had made it perfectly clear that if he’d just looked at the nutrition values there on the label, he would have seen that the carbohydrates per hundred grams were by far too many for one with her condition!!…IF he’d just had taken time to read the label.
“Heaven’s knows it is not a difficult matter for one to do” she insisted. “ and heavens knows how many times I have been there with you as I purchased the product!…AND haven’t I showed you as much?…anyone would think you did it on purpose just to vex me!….and on this day of all days, when I’ve had nothing but trouble at the school”…Jean again read the label on the offending item…she then placed this item to the back of the upper cupboard with other miscellaneous offending items.
“God only knows how difficult it is to deal with the everyday conflicts between those tenacious little terrors and their fussing mothers on any given day…really..the way some of those mothers fuss..you’d think their offspring were forged for a jeweller’s diamond tiara rather than some random spray of semen after a night on the Pimm’s number one and lemonade!” Jean herself never had the enthusiasm toward childbearing or children in general that her position as principle of a primary school demanded of her…teaching was an act of professionalism, NOT maternal instinct that guided her career.
“Did you see this list of jobs I put on the fridge?” she called out to her husband upstairs..”The tap over the bath keeps dripping and it drives me to distraction when I am trying to do my make-up….and for heaven’s sake..can you PLEASE do something about the shade cloth over the rose garden before it completely blows away and that “blue moon” gets thrashed by the damn flapping thing!”
Jean filled and placed the electric kettle in its cradle and prepared her regular afternoon cup of soothing tea…she extracted a shortbread biscuit from a container and placed it on the rim of the saucer..this biscuit was her reward after what she considered a trying day…the one small “allowance” she would make in an otherwise strict diet..
“ That caretaker at the school, Martin, pulled a whammy today…caused an awful fracas with one of the prep’ teachers…Pammy Shorren…the Prep’ teacher who is married to the footballer chap…You’ve heard me mention Martin before, I’m sure..Can’t be far off retirement himself..usually a witty, congenial fellow…good with the kids..you know, he sometimes gives these impromptu little stories to a gathering of kiddies when they come to his janitor storage room to ask him silly things…you know how kids always ask the most silly things..like..oh..why do you do that?..or why is water wet?…those sort of things..and he’s never short of an interesting yarn to spin to the kiddies…sometimes so ridiculous that you just have to smile..and he’d catch me lurking there and he’d give me a wink as he finished and shoo’d the kids away or he’ll never get any work done…”
Jean cleared her handbag and an assortment of files from the table and sat down to enjoy the “one peaceful moment in an otherwise troubled day”…she placed a sweetner tablet into the teacup and stirred, making sure to chime the spoon on the side of the porcelain cup..a chime that resonated throughout the stillness of the room and injected a sweet sensation into the silence…She pondered aloud on the day’s events that now vexed her.
“Yes…a real whammy..that’s what it was..Pammy came to my office in a tizz accusing Martin of making a suggestion toward her that she found disgusting…especially from one as old as himself…I had to sit back in shock at her accusation..for I had never heard Martin even make ANY double entendres of any sort to ANY of the female teachers…being aware as he has informed me of his sensibilities toward the “placid nature of the feminine gender of the species”…He has a way with words..a bit “old-world” perhaps, but I have always held him to that knowledge…as I have to all the staff…one cannot let the least infringement go unanswered lest the whole situation get away from one…not in the least.”
“By the way..What did the mechanic say about that grating noise as you put the brakes on in the four-wheel drive?..Is he going to keep it there for another week?…heaven help our chances for that trip down the coast if he does…I have to wonder sometimes if we should’ve taken it to that Greek fellah over in Croyden where we used to get our cars fixed…George was a good mechanic…never pressed for quick payment like they do now..I sometimes wonder if moving to the Eastern Suburbs was a good move..what good is a better post-code if your Range Rover is worse off I ask?..”
Jean picked up a brochure from the days post and perused the items offered…”don’t know if we need a garden mulcher just now…hard enough to get something to just grow let alone cut things down to feed the blasted machine..”…she heaved a sigh of weariness and took a delighted sip of her drink.
“ Anyway, I had to bring Martin into the office to explain himself…but between you and me, if Pammy’s account was anything to go by, he was skating on thin ice…I don’t want to sack the fellow this close to his retirement..but there it goes..if he had done the deed, there could be no other way..
So I dragged him into the office, sat him down and gave him the floor to tell his side of the story..
“I didn’t “suggest’ anything really” he started….” I thought I made a rather innocuous statement, considering the situation,” he said…well tell me, I replied…Martin shuffled a bit in the chair and said that thinking back on it, it may have seemed like that sort of thing a younger man might use as a pick-up line, “..but I certainly didn’t mean it as such…give it a go!…at my age?..and Pammy’s age!?”…I just raised my eyebrows enough to show him I was getting impatient..He began..” I was there just outside my storeroom with the mop and bucket as one of the little kids had dropped and broke their water bottle there and I was clearing up the mess…the kids had just gone home and I thought I was there alone in the classroom block…but as I was finishing up, I saw Pammy.. Ms Shorren come out of the end classroom and start walking toward me…She was walking toward me down the corridor past the other three rooms like she was walking down a modelling catwalk..and I have to say that those micro-miniskirts she wears and the black stockings that ascend to..to… where my memory forgets..AND the high heels that went a tap-tapping like some sort of Morse code upon the tiles did create an image in my mind that I should have just let pass by…but as she drew nearer, I leaned on the mop handle and contemplated the scenario..she stopped just away from me and looked at me in silence..and I don’t know what made me think of it, but as I leaned there on the mop handle with this image in front of me, I said ..”You know, Pammy…I’m not a religious man, so I don’t believe in a God….But when I look at you, I sure as hell believe in the devil”…and I swear to heaven that was it!..” He finished with his hands thrown in the air..
You do know that Ms Shorren and her partner are quite the religious couple don’t you?…I told Martin.. Pentecostal..every Sunday without fail…down at the centre, singing to Jesus..I believe it is she that leaves those religious pamphlets anonymously at the front counter from time to time?…It was the reference to her having association with the devil most offended her…”
The long and short of it was that I would have to give the situation some thought and I sent him home…”
To be honest, I did contemplate sacking him and I was needing a bit of time to frame my response..But then a strange thing happened on my way home to change my mind…I was there at Donahue’s Hardware getting those hose fittings THAT I distinctly remember asking YOU to get and there was Martin walking down the footpath by that line of high school buses that park there..I was getting into the Statesman and there was Martin slouching along looking just a bit careworn..as those older men look..perhaps the burden of the day’s events weighing on his shoulders…and as he walked past this bus, there was a young man…oh around sixteen or seventeen years old, leaning out of the window of the bus calling and whistling to the high school girls…like young men do..”Hey blondie!…What’s your number?..give it to me..”…those sort of things and the girls tittering and giving him the finger…little good it did to dissuade him though…and through this noisy back and forth calling, just as Martin passed, the young fellow leans out the window of the bus, looks to Martin sympathetically and says “ G’day old timer”..in a confederacy sort of way…like two mates from the same background, fighting the same conflict but with one just came off the field of battle while the younger one goes on..; “G’day old timer”, he says….I mean really….men!
And I suddenly had a glimpse into that male world where there are behavioural expectations and rules that define their manner toward women..and it does not change from one generation to the next..a strange world of driven demands upon their own expectations…and I thought ..”I could sack him and bust him and make him regret even thinking what he thinks about women”..but I could never change that male desire within that makes him…and that young man behave…or at least think..the way they do…it is a choice between cause and effect..and really, I have to wonder if it is the male “weakness” in regards to matters feminine that makes us women stronger…Oh the choices one must manage to keep the ship on a steady and even keel…What is it with you men?
So I have decided instead to play the mediator and get Martin to apologise to Pammy, after all he IS a very good caretaker…and to make an edict about the placement of non-education literature in the school and perhaps even make a suggestion for a dress code for teachers and pupils at the school…really, the needs of caretaking in one’s working life demand a continuous review…”
Jean finished her cup of tea and called for her husband to ask what he had prepared for dinner that evening as she was famished.
The man Who Discovered Forever.
If you were ever to ask old Jack Henke about it, he’d go all modest and dismiss any such notoriety about his discovery, and say ;
“I wouldn’t say I ACTUALLY discovered it, because it was already there!…Had been all along…Like Penicillin..or Australia…they were always there, but someone just recognised the fact..I just happened to be in the right frame of mind at the right time. “
Pressing further on the subject, he confided that he had to give some credit to a couple of Mormons who by chance came down his drive way at the very moment he was pondering on the word ‘forever”..
“I was weeding around a nice batch of flowers in the garden, flowers with the curiously named ; “Live Forever”..I think some would call similar flowers ; “Everlasting daisies”..I suppose everlasting and forever are the same meaning..and I was pondering on the creation of the word ; “forever”…not in any deep-thought way, just letting the word roll around in my thoughts while I weeded..you know the feeling..we all do it quite often…And these Mormons came straight toward me, one with his hand outstretched holding a printed pamphlet..He held it to me as if to give it away and then when I took the paper he held it still and with his other hand pointed, in silence, to the printed phrase at the top..It said : “ In the beginning there was the word.”..I released the pamphlet to him and politely dismissed them from my interest..but that phrase ; “in the beginning. . . “ stuck in my head, along with the other mystical word; ‘forever’….”
Jack paused…considered his next words and then surprisingly asked ..
“Are you a gambling man, George?”
I had to confess that I had such little faith in the chances of Lady Luck smiling in my favour that I had never wanted to place my hard-earned money in her hands. Old Jack smiled gently..
“Then you have never felt the soft kiss of fortune nor the hard slap of fate…But you have gambled none the less, for what else but a wager with social politics would get you such a career?…Good education?…chance appointment?….the right place at the right time?….I would think the latter played a very important risk factor in your life ambitions…a day late, a missed train, a stopped watch, a flat tyre….a horse-shoe nail…all these can alter the entire track of one’s life.”
Jack sat back in his comfortable chair and sipped at his tea before re-telling his story.
“When I was a young bloke and liked to “play the ponies” as we used to say, I had very plain luck at picking winners..but one day I accidentally and temporarily hit on a winning method of picking the horses…..Becoming sick and tired of “form picking” from the guide, I decided to try another..more loose and carefree approach..a riskier option…Working on the proposition that there are approximately 12-15 horses in a regular race, I got a deck of cards and randomly flipped over a card and put a win/place on that number..with ; 11-12-13-14 for Jack , Queen, King, and Joker..for each race…and would you believe it!..I started winning!…Daily doubles, even a couple of trifectas!!..and individual races..lots of them..I kid you not…not big winners, but it was good enough..I was only a penny-punter after all……BUT…now here’s where the Human Failing came in…After this initial good fortune had become an expectation, I altered the methodology..Now, having turned over the card, I would then check its form in the race guide..and if it was such a long-shot outsider, I would choose another..so then the corruption crept it..as did the doubt..it was the old “Silken Ladder” moral all over again…I tried to resurrect the system, but my doubt rose and my courage failed.. and I would over shuffle the deck of cards, I changed from the cards to numbers on slips of paper picked out of a tin… trying to once again grasp that elusive God of fortune..but to no avail, I had betrayed the gift of luck and now had only the deserved, futile company of hard fate….and I have to say by this time I was getting older and thinking of marriage…and life got the better of me and I gave the punting away…But it did give me a clue to a much wider knowledge of patterns of chance…in that the secret pattern of chance is : The fact that IT HAS NO PATTERN…and there is where the pattern lay!…ie; you cannot play chance AS a pattern, but you can “play” it using random choice as your “pattern”….if you get my meaning..because sometimes the best thing to do in a chancey situation is to do nothing, for there are so many variables in life operating all at the same time, there is sure to be the chance that something will intervene as much IN your favour as against it.”
I must say that while I could see a vague perception of where old Jack was going with this information, I was wondering if it did have anything to do with his theory of “Forever”. I was soon enlightened to this fact when he moved the conversation back onto the subject.
“It was the chance meeting of those Mormons and the one pointing to those words from Genesis that set me on the road to the discovery of forever..Those Mormons would’ve gone to the front door and spoken to my good lady if I had not been there in the garden..If I had been in my shed, which is where I was before taking a break to come to weed the flowers, I would not have had that trigger sentence to give me the clue..that ; “In the beginning…”
A care attendant came into the room at this juncture and placed a plate of food on the table. It was lunch time…I dismissed myself from Jack’s company so as to let him eat in peace..He thanked me for my time and said we can continue the discussion later.
There was never to be any “later”, as old Jack Henke passed away peacefully in his sleep that very night.
It was several days later that I had opportunity to make an appointment to visit Jack, only to be told by the aged-care nurse that he had passed away.. I was surprised and saddened by this news as I had wanted to talk further on his interest..and mine now too..of the “discovery of forever”. However, luck, of a kind was at hand and the station nurse touched my arm as I was about to turn away and held out a large notebook to me.
“Here, Doctor Jenke, He asked that this be given to you if anything happened to him.”
“What is it about?” I asked automatically as I took the notebook.
“Not sure,” she answered “But it is in his own hand-writing, so it may have something to do with his strange interest in the obscure”.
“The obscure?” I queried.
“Well..it had to be something like that I suppose, judging on his somewhat cryptic replies he’d give to commonplace questions.”
“Like?” I raised my eyebrows.
“Oh..nothing in particular, just that ..well if you asked if he’d like to go out for a bit of air, he would sometimes shrug and say ; ‘Out, in, up down inside out and all around…who will laugh at the tumbling clown’…that was one of his favourites..and another one was his asking any new carer if they knew the secret of forever.. He’d always grab the attention of a new carer with that one. I mean, it has an attraction of curiosity about it , doesn’t it?..but he never did tell his secret.”
I must have frowned at this seeming innocent jollity from old Jack, because the nurse then blushed a little and said that well, he was a little different from the other clients..THEY never said anything like that!..I inquired of the nurse what Old Jack’s occupation was when he worked for a living and was surprised to hear that it was in the trade of joinery.
“A Joiner?..”I repeated, surprised as he seemed more well read than most tradesmen I have spoken to. I made this observation to the nurse.
“He read a lot of books” the nurse informed me..and added that those books had been given already to the home’s op-shop for resale.
I thanked the nurse and made my way to my office to examine the reports of my day’s patients. I placed the notebook in my briefcase to take home for a more relaxed perusal later in the evening.
At home after a long day, the penumbra of a winter’s evening fading with the last light, I stoked the wood in the fire to a satisfactory warmth and settled back with a glass of Muscat handy to my reach and with the soft but ample glow of a standard light behind my shoulder, I sank into the broad reach of the sofa chair and opened the hard-cardboard cover of Jack Henke’s notebook.
It was Quarto sized, of approximately one hundred pages. The covers were of a thick, firm cardboard, covered with a pattern of false marbling with a red cloth binding. It opened to a well-written text, in a carefully scripted hand, as if wanting to be clearly understood by a strange reader.
In the first pages, there were two sketches of what looked to be mechanical descriptions of enactments for the, in the first, raising of building stones for the constructions of a pyramid..as in the pyramids of ancient Egypt, and in the other, the raising of one of those huge solid stone obelisks..also, I believe, of ancient Egypt.
I am wont to go into too much detail of those drawings and the simple notes that accompanied them, sufficient to describe them such:
The pyramid drawing described the lifting of those heavy stones from what looked to be a ramp that took them to around a third height of the completed pyramid and from there a slide that ascended up the rest of the height that the stones were elevated upon using a lubrication of mud on timber skids set parallel to each other up the side of the structure.. and hauled up by ropes that were pulled through a wheel…much like those cables seen through huge wheels on pictures of old mining operations in the English Midlands of the nineteenth century. These ropes were hauled upon by what looked like many men descending down the slope of the pyramid while the stone went up…much like, I ascertained from notes in the side column, the sash of a casement window being counter-weighted by the sash-cord tied weights in the side casement of that window. A side note indicated that enough men were used that counter-weighted the stone because they were the only “counterweight” that could ascend and descend repeatedly of their own volition to work the principle of weight-counterweight. Whether such a principle would work I leave to an engineer to peruse.
The second sketch showed one of those large obelisks on its side, with just over half, the lower half, protruding over the sharp edge of a ramp but attached to what looked like a quarter-circle wedge of a wheel-cradle, made, as old Jack indicated, of huge wooden lengths and of four short, stout spokes. There was an algebraic ‘X’ denoting both the measured length of the circumference of the cradle’s arc from the lowest point of contact with the ground to the foot of the obelisk resting on the upper lip, then from that same first point of the cradle, to where the obelisk would sit on a plinth already sited on the earth nearby. A high, formidable tower stood on the immediate far side of that plinth that would site and stabilise the obelisk temporarily when it was raised to its zenith. Stout ropes first soaked in water tied the obelisk to the cradle so that when dried, the ropes would shrink and fix the two together in a tight, rigid bind enough to secure the obelisk from slipping from its bed while in motion.
I studied the principle of the mechanics of the raising of the obelisk and I have come to the conclusion, in accordance with Jack’s notes, that once a chock is pulled out from the base of the cradle, the weight of the lower section of the obelisk would slowly fall in a controlled motion of the arc of circumference of the cradle, following the laws of gravity till it picked up enough momentum and force of speed with the arc of the cradle controlling both speed and accuracy of direction, to allow with using the obelisk’s own falling weight as the source of energy to assist the lift of the complete obelisk toward the huge frame that would secure it in place while a coordinated crew of workmen would swiftly chock and then cut the binding cords of the cradle so that the obelisk would not be encumbered with its extra weight once it reached its peak position, quickly secured with ties to the tower.
I am not an engineer, so will have to leave the calculations of these two extraordinary documents to those who can confirm or deny their competency..But given the numerous theories put forward for both these subjects, I can but give old Jack the benefit of the doubt that he can compete with other orthodox explanations.
But it was in his notes on the subject of “Forever” that I had the most interest and it is there that I will trust in his own words to relay to you, the reader, the basis of his discovery.
“ It was the most extraordinary of revelations..perhaps best described as a “road to Damascus” moment. I had just returned inside to my workshop from weeding some flowers and having been accosted by those nuisance religious folk proselytising for their absurd religion. I turned to resume my attention to smoothing a length of pine I had fixed in the bench vice for use as a shelving frame in the pantry. It was a clean length, meaning no knots or other defects that sometimes mar timber mass-produced and sold in the bulk merchandise warehouses in the suburbs. I had selected the timber myself, seeking the cleanest lengths from the shelf there.
I adjusted my sharpened smoothing plane and started to shave off the milled edge. I had taken a couple of runs to get the rough off, and then to give the timber a smooth, sharp-edged finished, I ran the plane straight along the entire length in one smooth cut, the shaving peeling back in a flowing curl to fall complete to the work-shop floor..It was that moment, that shaving curling like it did and the crisp sound it made as it peeled away from the timber…like the sharp, crisp zizzing sound made with the tearing of a piece of fine rice-paper…and the gentle scent of the wood…it was magnificent!
I made a couple more passes of that length of timber just to hear and see that perfect moment. I then picked up one of those complete curls from the floor, sat in a chair nearby and just stared at it…the words ; “In the beginning” and “forever” suspended above my thoughts. How these three different worlds of substance, language and possibility combined to coalesce into my “Discovery of Forever” I put down to the creative mysteries of the mind.
When I pressed that long curl of shaving into a singular, flat circular ring, the skin encircling each other over the top of the other to become a circle of about two inches diameter, I saw I couldn’t tell which end originally came from which end of the length of timber and as it was a complete circle, you could say there was no end..that is; no beginning and no end…just a continuity of circle without start or finish..a kind of eternal circle…a ; forever.
And I have noticed this quirk of religions that they embrace as a justification of Godly creation, a “Beginning”..which, proceeding along logical lines would determine that there then must be an implied ending..for nothing can begin except where there has been another ending..giving those who are inclined toward ecclesiastical belief a perimeter of understood boundary of territorial ownership…”In the beginning to the day of judgement”..an allotted time and also a perceived length of time.
I let the shaving of wood fall while holding one end and it described a smooth, even helix as it hung down, two surfaces, outside and inside exactly the same, if I joined the top and bottom ends to their respective planes, one to the outside and the other to the inner, it would form a continuous repetitive track up and down the spiral…where the inside of the shaving goes on to become the new outside of the helix and so it continues on forever…
Now, given that we have these words ; “eternal” and “forever” in the language that describe a perception of endlessness, and given that we, even those of ecclesiastical bent, accept the notion of “forever” and now when I look at that example of endless continuity in the joined shaving in front of me, I have to conclude, which you who read this must also conclude, that if there is no beginning and if there IS such a thing as “forever”, then that “forever” has the capacity to reach BACK in time gone as much as it reaches forward in time to come…ergo, since like a circle where there is no beginning or ending, then the notion of forever is at any point of that circle…so one has to conclude that as much as our ancient ancestors looked to the future and saw US in the here and now as a point toward forever, WE can as easy look BACK toward those ancestors and say THEY are at a reverse point in the future because there is no beginning nor end and forever is neither here nor there, neither out, in, up down inside out and all around…here, in this very spot, this workshop in the suburbs, here and now IS forever..! ”
I have to confess to not knowing what to make of this dialogue of forever. The theories of helixes, circles with no beginnings nor endings is nothing novel and putting aside Jack’s theories on the Egyptian puzzles, I have to say that I had to wonder how or why a joiner would think of these things..
I could see the line of rational thought that old Jack’s premise ran along, but given his lack of qualifications in the realm of science, theology or physics, I would be inclined to dismiss his writings as the ravings of a mad-man..were it not for that niggling inquisitiveness..that curiosity for the strange and elusive that lures many including myself to ponder further on such theories…perhaps such are the temptations of pursuing raw knowledge in the privacy of one’s own thoughts.
Here was I, an educated man of medicine, now becoming interested in this strange treatise on a subject that I would have thought irrelevant but a few hours ago. And then what of old Jack Henke?..What pulled him into this vortex of obscurity?..The only thing I have concluded is that it must be a universal attraction of inquisitive intuition.
If we give it some thought, the inquiries of the world have brought us down three distinctive paths : Religion, Science and Tribal intuition. I abhor the first as a “Black art”, suitable only for the parking up of those basic human fears of superstition and death. Science is more reliable for the pursuit of solid knowledge, be it in the various fields; organic, mathematics or physics, but even there it has to obey and prove itself eventually with concrete resolution.
But tribal intuition..THERE is a fascination for the human intellect!..and it is there that I would park old Jack’s ruminations..it is there that such imaginations appeal most to my relaxing hours..and I would wonder if such thoughts and revelations played more often that we like to accept in the conversations of our ancient forebears..Perhaps the notion of “forever” crossed the minds of those tribal groups as they made the regular rounds of their seasonal camps. The knowledge of having to regularly shift camp so as to renew and let regrow the worked-over site and hunting grounds would surely have become obvious and then habitual then become ritual as each season, each regular phase of moon and stars made their impression on the observant eyes and astute minds of those tribal elders, so that over many thousands of seasons, the regular pattern of activity that matched the geographical location of the camps brought the notion that here, in this repetitive movement and stillness, in the consumption and renewal of bush, berry and game was a hint of the notion of “forever”..
But yet, against the established orthodoxy of religion and science, tribal intuition doesn’t much get a consideration, yet I have concluded that with Jack’s personal discovery, he has hit upon a much larger piece of the jigsaw puzzle that humanity has been remiss in excluding from its complete knowledge..its wholeness ; the intuitive understanding of our “tribal place” in the universe and how forever is not in the far future, but is here and now, a moment that comes and goes with each circumference of the circle of life.
For this understanding, I give thanks to old Jack Henke…tradesman joiner, the discovery of forever.