Swimming

April 20, 2011

Morning. Your bullet body, wheaty and raw. Blankets asunder. A short-tide of round limbs collected up against me.

Far too hot. Christ.

Upright, we walk slowly then fast, alongside the river, straight to the sea. It’s hazy already, the sand-fire salt-flats sprawling under a neutral sky.

Down at the beach a swimmer steps into the water, squinting hard against the light. The ground shudders with a blunt wave but he’s past the break already, neatly clipped strokes return him along the last set of rocks.

A sea-eagle scoops overhead, then another. Two boys lean their bikes against the shed, their scuffing sandshoes too-loud on the dry gravel. Seagulls watch for skerricks of fruit or chips. Holidays.

Sweat slides under my breast, pressing your curls wet against your neck. I ask you for permission and we make for the water.

On my hip you quicken, your heartbeat cellular, extra-terrestrial. Sea-birds dive to the horizon and two boats take their time on the bar. The boys on the beach kick sand at each other. It looks like they’re dancing.

A skein of weed, thick and toothsome brushes my neck. You stare at me, and I duck under, emerging with a ‘boo’.

And then the cold sea curdles us apart.

The Leases on Radio National

April 4, 2011

ABC 360 recently produced my work, The Leases. You can hear it here.

If you like it, tell them so they continue digging up unknown authors!

The leases

May 24, 2010

Early evening, cusp of a southerly. Milos and David, forked in the silt and sand. It’s cold down here in the leases. Milos is humming something. Maybe a hymn. He can’t remember. The boxes slide to the right as he stacks. One after the other.

They’ve been out here all afternoon, and still have hours left to go. It’s the right time though, evening. Night. A row of spoonbills watches the men work, swivelling their pin-heads side to side, waiting for a flurry of insects.

A flounder slips by. Then another. Should have bought the spears, he yells.

In English, dad.

He’s as deaf as a post anyway

Milos stands for a moment and watches his son, scooping and picking, baseball cap slowly flipping up and down like semaphore. He’s a good worker, that one.

Then, more flounder. Quickly, he is surrounded by hundreds of them, so dark and tight, moving so fast and uniformly they might in fact be completely still. Fifty years on this river, and still something new everyday.

And suddenly, he’s thinking about the war. It comes on this fast. The same old squeeze of images. His mother leaving the house, hurredly dabbing perfume under her jaw as the guards chaparone her into the narrow street. He can smell onions frying.

The fish skitter against his calves. He blinks down at them. Must be the king tides. This time last year he was on his way out. Two heart attacks in the gunnels of winter. But now, now he’s good. He looks toward the house. It’s small compared with the new line of palaces, lit up like Christmas. It’s properly dark now, but Milos can still make out their lights hussling through the casuarinas, the wide hedges of camelia bushes, their thick leaves refulgent, plated with the artificial yellow glow.

An opening breeze shifts the water. Milos turns to look for the southerly but it’s still dark and close, the low, flat horizons of the river slotted atop one another. Later though, it clears and the river stands up, leaving each man alone in his cold shaft of stars.

Winter.

Oxygen

April 23, 2010


Dusk. The easing of summer. The footpath is covered completely in smashed gum-nuts and bat-crap. Suburban pulchritude: a eucalyptus tang and the fruity smell of shampoo.

George the Greek is in his driveway, sluicing down his tinny.

The whole river, bank to bank, is visible from the top of the hill. Glimpses of cars on the other side, stripped of sound.

It’s utterly still. Pelicans stretch and settle on the lightpoles, articulating the last of the light through their pink bills, faintly glowing. A bike wheel pokes out of the mangrove mud.

Wasn’t there yesterday.

An enormous motorhome hulks on the very edge of the jetty, its bulbous white bonnet looming over a frail couple. They’re fishing. Metal chairs. Hats.

Lazy bastards. Might as well sit in the thing and fish out the bloody windows.

Closer though, and I can see heaps and coils of clear tubing tumbling out the van door. One end slithers across the stained jetty and straight up the old woman’s nose.

The man in the hat looks up at me.

You should have a rod.

Yeah? Got anything?

Not really. Just tiddlers. She got a leatherjacket.

He angles his thumb slowly toward his wife. She smiles at me. The tube moves up and down. She’s wearing slippers.

S’in the bucket, she says. Not much of a fish though. Bit small.

Hat-man cuts in,

If we don’t get another one to go with it, we’ll chuck him back in. Too much work for one little fish.

I peer at the fish in the bucket, its crescent ribbon fin quietly pulsating, waiting for a partner. Breathing.

I never realised leatherjackets were so pale, I say.

There’s a smattering of bronze speckles on its back, almost alien in their symmetry. The fish slots perfectly in the yellow bucket, nose to tail, going nowhere.

Beautiful aren’t they? Hat-man says.

I nod, slowly, and head back up the hill.

The Pictures

April 10, 2010

The first picture is slightly over-exposed, but still clear enough to make out my mother, standing in front of an anonymous grey-stained fountain somewhere in Paris.

‘Not one of the main ones’, she says, holding the photo out at arm’s length.

She’s wearing a yellow A-Line dress, her shapely legs drawn out from its hem, a half-smile on her face.

She doesn’t know it yet but I’m in there, inside that bright yellow dress, planting my flag. She came home because of me.

The next photo is almost the same, only this time there’s an angled smile on her face.

“What’s going on here?” I ask, poking her

“Can’t remember”, she says, looking away.

Here she is again, at a party, in a black and red Mondrian dress, ankles crossed, her modern skirt refracted through the thick, square prism of a Cinzano bottle.

‘Nice dress’

‘Your father hated it’

And now she’s standing in front of an MG, nursing a little bullet of white blankets, her tan-coloured driving gloves folded neatly over them. She’s smiling her small, straight teeth at the camera. She’s smiling her small, straight teeth at the camera.

‘You had an MG?’ My brother and I, together.

‘British Racing Green. Such a neat wee car. Your father wrote it off’, she paused, ‘On the A4. Full as a bull.’ She pronounced the last word, bull without the ‘l’, like a child.

Then, an airport, all in yellows: Bahrain. And then the ferry in Hong Kong.

Suddenly, we’re back home.

We’re all in the next picture, the Aunties, all us cousins. On the front step at Gran’s. We look terrible, dirt-faced, mostly scabs and Stubbies. But it’s the women who stand out, rangy and sunburned, pitched in between 15 or 16 little kids.

Mum looks larger, fatter, mostly in the face but more than that, more flesh, more cartilage. There’s a distinct tan-line from her wrist-watch. She’s got a bad perm and too many freckles. She’s pregnant with my brother.

We arrived in November, the start of the real heat. Mum’s squinting hard into the sun. They’re at the farm. The old farm, before Gran  moved into town.

‘Look. Here’ My brother slid his laptop in front of me with a satellite picture on Google earth.

‘You can see the old house. The driveway’s changed though’. I stare at the screen, trying to get my bearings. He runs his finger upwards,

“There’s the Gowan, follow that up. There’s the bridge, at the cutback, where it narrows at the top’

And then I see the farm, obviously overgrown, and the ugly brick house, wedged into the humid nape of the upper river. Suddenly I can feel the rough concrete step sharp on the backs of my legs, my new school sandals raw with sweat by mid-morning.

Mum changed those first few months back. She was meaner, more sarcastic. She got pissed with her sisters. She drove into a ditch. One day she dropped us off at Gran’s and told us she’d be back for tea and didn’t show up for a week.

But she also expanded to became the mother I know. She moved differently, horizontal, hinged with the light. So much light. I remember her elbow out the car window, one leg folded up on the seat in front of her, her arrogant breaststroke out past the headland. I remember her jack-knifed over a pile of abalone, the wet hem of her skirt puffing and snapping in the wind.

Maybe it’s the country I know, more than her.

NB.Post script: this is a fictional piece. I never saw my mother misbehave or sip more than a thimble-full of champers until I was about twenty. Also, she can’t swim. At all. It’s tragic.

The Inspection

March 21, 2010

“There are two sheds, and maybe an easement down the side of the driveway for one of them. I’d have to check. We’ll go in through the side. It’s a deceased estate of course, so there’s bound to be a bit of stuff that needs tidying up”

The agent made her way up the concrete ramp, following the edges of the broken steps carefully.

“I’m pretty sure they didn’t use this entrance much. There’s a ramp out the front”

All the windows were shut up tight. A trapped tongue of net curtain flapped in the hot wind.

Hydrangeas the colour of tea flopped around her ankles as she struggled with the door, which finally gave in with a short squeal. Inside was dark and cool. We blinked at one another in the gloom, waiting for our eyes to adjust after the bright heat on our foreheads. A large room came into view, a built-in verandah, with timber paneled walls bowing slightly to one another. I waited for a stink, a fridge’s memory, perhaps old cigarette smoke, but there was none, just the faint sweet smell of dust and dry wood. Two large plastic bags marked, RUBBISH, sagged against another: ‘Vinnies, pick up Sat‘.

Mottled shag pile carpet pressed this way and that like a herd of beasts had just wandered up off it. The kitchen was empty except for the strange things that are always left behind. The things that have nowhere else to go. A neatly folded tea towel, two batteries on the windowsill, a small bedside clock, a ceramic cat, some screws.

“The son stayed in the house after his mother died, but he didn’t live much longer.”

We hung back with the polite arms and vapid smiles of strangers in someone else’s house, quietly nodding acquaintance at each new room.

“I think in the end, the Son had trouble keeping up with the place”

In the kitchen, a badly chipped incinerator lumbered in the corner, disconnected, next to a fireplace, boarded up. A scattering of mismatched cups gathered dust on the too-high cupboards, next to a greasy looking collection of ice cream containers, also out of reach. Lower down, a marble chopping block, too heavy for frail wrists, was pushed to the back of another cupboard. Tidelines of dust-grease testified the retracting life of the Man and his Mother.

We moved on.

The first bedroom was dark, and contained a single bed and small bedside table facing the door

“This is the main bedroom” said the agent, leaning over the threshold but keeping her feet on the hall runner.

From the doorway the room seemed completely standard, a woodpanelled box, with one looming sash window. But, as our eyes adjusted we realised there was something else; a false wall that terminated three feet from the ceiling, a room within a room. The agent sang out from the kitchen;

“I’m just on the phone…” and then, from behind us, “The son looked after his mother in here. I think, when she was too old to go outside. It’s the only bathroom in the house”

We stared at the skinny brown bath and uncleaned toilet. How many people knew this was here? And how did the man get his mother off the cloistered toilet without getting shit on his pants? Did the old lady ever leave the room? Could she hear him taking a piss those winter nights when it was too cold to go outside? We backed out.

The front rooms, facing the street and the sun were in the best condition. Kept for good while the real living happened out the back. Wearing channels in the floor. The human plumbing. The fruit trees. The tiny stove.

“Of course, you’d turn this into a main bedroom. It’s the nicest room. With an ensuite down the side. Make it a two bedder”

More shag pile carpet. Rolled glass windows. Formal blinds, almost black with soot.

We nodded and smiled at one another, stepping around a little wooden table, piled up with ancient linen. The agent stepped through to the last room, another closed in verandah, draughty in the afternoon seabreeze. A random collection of hard narrow chairs stumped up against the walls, unmoved since the wake.

“This would have been the main room. Kept for best. Watch the tacks on that end of the carpet…”


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