Norma thinks about her new tenant, fame and old Hollywood.
'Yes,' replied Desmond, turning his head to face her.
'You were miles away.' She looked at him, sitting there, in her kitchen and wondered whether she had already given away too much of herself. After all, her life had been pleasant enough before he arrived. She tried to regain a sense of equilibrium.
His jacket looked as though one step from becoming a rag and she suddenly felt a pang of sympathy and pity for this fellow creature. Oh Desmond. I hope you don't step on too many toes on your climb to the top. She had seen it before, this arrogance, this burning need to be a star. She had seen the anger turn on its host and tear it limb from limb. Blinded, maddened, lost, busted, broken; a corpse devoured by the maggots of memories. Silly girls, silly boys. And there was no saving them, actually. It could have easily been her.
She saw them everyday, sometimes with dazed mothers who had no idea what was at stake. Or alone with a suitcase. Pretty girls but so what? A pretty face is a dime a dozen.
She thought she had seen it all before she met Desmond. She had fully expected to continue her life as she had since Stanley's death. Taking care of the house, minding her investments, meeting her solid little group for lunch every Thursday.
And then Desmond knocked on her door and she fell for him like a silly school girl. Her heart still jumped when he was near her. How silly. Oh her mind was jumping all over the place. All the running off at the mouth she had been doing of late. As though trying to cajole him, charm him into loving her. Well one thing was clear: Desmond Furey loved only one person and everybody knew who that was.
She sipped her tea. He was still grinning at her. He crossed his arms on his chest, then uncrossed them and began taking off his jacket. He hung it on the back of the chair. Making himself comfortable. She suddenly got a flash of old Hollywood when you could drive out of downtown and suddenly hit a dirt track and it was all farmland and shrub. With each new change in the landscape, each new house and new road she felt an involuntary contraction inside herself.
She remembered driving through Hollywood soon after she and Stanley had arrived. She remembered the dust flying up and the landscape, somehow, and she didn't know why she thought this, how strange, but the landscape somehow felt as though it had been crying and was relieved and rested. There was no tension there, was how she felt it. It was terribly dry, of course. She had suddenly felt overdressed but she was glad for her hat since the sun was a mighty glowing orb and she felt beautiful in spite of her outfit.
They had travelled for days across the width of the country. As they neared Los Angeles, the sun sat high in a perfectly blue sky and orange orchards stretched out on both sides of the track. Oranges, oranges, oranges. Oranges as far as the eye could see and all she could think about was her new apartment and how it would feel laying with Stanley on fresh white sheets and him holding her and feeling his strength and imagining him inside of her and his taste and the way he turned his head
And still the green and orange landscape rolled past and she looked around the carriage at the other passengers, her fellow voyagers who had left the old world and, like adventurers and pioneers through the ages, were suprised, perhaps shocked into silence by their own foolhardiness. Who would choose to leave the familiar, the cosy, the happy, easy routine that formed a happy contented existence except mad people? Who would forfeit all they had built and learnt with no promise that the replacement would...? Oh dear. She felt a sudden momentary panic and moved closer to Stanley, who turned and looked at her.
'Lovely, isn't it?' he said, as he turned back to look out the window at the sun-drenched orchards.
'Yes. Oh yes, Stanley.'
'How are you, my love?'
'Oh, I'm happy. A little scared. But Stanley, I am happy.'
'I'm happy to be here with you. God you're beautful.'
He held her chin in his hand and they kissed and she felt so thoroughly modern and she felt so sorry - terrible, isn't it? - she felt so sorry for all her poor friends still stuck in their crowded routined New York lives.
'Oh don't you get too proud, Norma dear,' she heard her Mother say to her. Oh Mother, Mother! Can't I allow myself a few moments of rolling in it? To feel the absolutely blissful, incomparable feeling of having cracked the code?
'Pride goeth...' I know, I know but just this one moment, this perfect moment. And then the gloating feeling left as fast as it had come and she was back with her Stanley feeling the soft leather seat under her pretty bottom and she felt the intimacy of Stanley's elbow against her, and yes she knew it, lovely breast. She thought of Stanley's stomach and the tight band of muscle above his cock. She felt herself wetting and flushing. Her mouth moistened and her pupils dilated. She imagined again being in bed with Stanley but this time they are in a hotel room, the Waldorf Astoria perhaps, and have just had some champagne. She is on her back and the sheets, crisp, white, cool white sheets feel heavenly on her back. Stanley has her legs pushed open, and back, so her inner thighs are stretched and she is completely open to him. She squirms on the seat and the next thing she knows they are pulling into the station and there is Mack waving at them in his way. Oh Mack!
She knew, she just knew, that later that night they would all gather around a piano and demand, as they always did, that Mack sing some opera. And he would, as he always did, look faux-bashful, like a vaudeville school boy or school girl, more like it. And the room would hush and he would sing like the opera singer he trained as. Extraordinary if you turned it over in your head for longer than a minute. She was certain the man was a gifted artist and this gave her the confidence to put her future in his hands. The three of them had a lovely feeling when they were together. Stanley and Mack adored each other, they adored her, and she adored them.
'Stanley!,' she heard Mack shout. Stanley was leaning out the window waving. The train station was dusty and sun lit. So here she was! Here they both were. Their new life about to begin. Moving pictures. Her family had been in vaudeville so moving pictures was logical next move. She knew this world. She was sure that was one of things Stanley loved about her. He had said as much. Anyway they were all learning as they went. This place was an invention, an idea, a dream.
Oh look at him standing there in his suit and hair parted and his reliable face, waving his arm. Mack Sennett!
Desmond has a screen test on the Warner lot. He thinks about old Hollywood and stars like Norma who were swept away with the advent of the Talkies.
The day opened like a movie premier and, yes, Desmond knew that today was his day. After days, weeks, months of waiting, after countless false starts and meetings and promises he had landed exactly what he knew he needed. This very day he would scale the fortress wall. He had a screen test for a swashbuckling costume drama on the Warner lot. He liked a challenge and this one may have intimidated a lesser man but he understood that all he had to do was be there and not give a shit. It was a trick he played with his mind. He knew that the more he didn't give a shit, the more he didn't need something, the more it shifted towards him. Stay loose. Exercise, beat the shit out of your sparring partner, fuck as many broads as you can, drink, smoke reefers, swim in the big Pacific ocean and not give a rats arse about what anyone thinks and above all don't fucking worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow will take care of itself. Cross that bridge when you come to it. Today was here to be slurped up, sucked in, masticated, mangled, devoured, stroked, touched, felt, eaten, tasted, and yes, fucked. The day, today, was a neat block of time and you can either give it your best shot or dog-in-the -manger, mope and whinge.
That sun was unrelenting and the blinds on the pool house window provided no resistance. Up, up, lad, grab the pool net, give it a quick sweep, say hello to his lovely, (and I mean lovely, lovely, strawberries and cream lovely, would-do-her-with-no-encouragement, a fine, fine looking woman) new landlady, and to the noble Mr Takahashi, grab a bite to eat on Sunset and enter the fortress.
My, that sun was unrelenting. He was grateful that his profession, movies star, (for which he had served the best known apprenticeship, carousing and rollicking in the bars and whorehouses from Sydney to New Guinea,in a gold rush, for god's sake!, to Hong Kong, Bangkok, Shanghai, oh what a journey it had been) would be spent inside a sound stage.
He loved these dark, cavernous spaces. He loved the blast of light as he stepped out of the darkness into the bright, even L.A. light.
Desmond felt his cock, which had the same recuperative powers a the rest of his body, wake from its slumber beneath the sheets. It wanted his attention. Not now, old man, you have to wait until tonight. He needed the edginess, the tension of unmet needs.
The shower felt good. He let the hot water run down his back. His muscles still ached from his work in the garden yesterday. After he had towelled himself, he began shaving in front of the bathroom mirror. He was pleased with what he saw. He looked good and his brain was clear. As the steam began to fog the mirror he was reminded of the fleeting nature of beauty and how his looks were his fortune. He knew he was part of a freakshow and was glad of his freakish good looks. He had seen tough broads giggle and blush when he spoke to them. He had seen women's knees buckle, seen them swoon, moisten, surrender. And why? Because he was simply one of those that the Gods had decided to curse by giving them everything mere mortals could only dream of. What if his eyes had been set differently in his skull or if his nose or mouth had ruined the perfection of his features? What if he had been a fool or a choir boy or his cock had been smaller? The fact was everything had come together and screamed 'movie star'! The camera loved him and most importantly his personality kept ticking over even as the cmera whirred. If you don't freeze when they point a camera at you you are already half way towards being a movie actor.
The blade moved across his face and he thought about the breakfast he had planned for himself at th diner near the lot and the cute waitress who did the early shift. The test was at 10am which gave him plenty of time to wake up (done), shower and shave (almost done), greet his current employer and colleague, then stroll down the hill to the diner, have a coffee, eggs and sausages washed down with a freshly squeezed orange juice. Not a huge breakfast. Just something to kick start the day.
He could feel the adrenalin pumping and his hand shook. His stomach churned and he knew now more than ever he needed to not give a shit. This game was not for the weak hearted!
Ah! By God he felt good striding the cement sidewalk letting the cool morning and sun activate his senses. He felt like a million bucks! And he looked it too in his best jacket, shirt, trousers and shoes, which was confirmed by the way girls looked at him and giggled. As though he was already a movie star. Or his fly was down!
Ha! What a game! He thought of the blokes who talked themselves down - can't do this, can't do that. It will never work. That's why they were still desk clerks at Brown and Sons on Phillip Street and here he was on his way to the Warner lot to show all those bastards at Warners that he will be the goose that laid the gold. If they have his name on the marquee the movie would be a hit. The women would come to see him being himself, behaving like he wanted to fuck them by teasing the shit out of them, like a kid sister. Like he couldn't give a shit, and they would bring their boyfriends and husbands who would envy and hate him because they wished they were movie stars and could fuck anyone they wanted and sit around in their dressing room waiting for the next set up. Poor bastards!
Ah! What a day for life to begin! What a perfectly formed morning. It felt like the footpath wanted nothing more than to be there for his shoes to walk on. That the sprinklers were splish-splishing a rotating watery greeting. The girls looked prettier, the cars shinier, the old ladies kinder. The shine, shine, laugh, laugh. Oh! Desmond today is your day. You can feel it, can't you? You can, can't you?
The guard at the entrance of the lot checked his clip board and then pointed down a canyon-like lane between two sound stages. Desmond surveyed the scene in front of him savouring every part of it: the well manicured lawns of the main administration building, the lines of smaller buildings for production, writing, stars bungalows. The whole place had a feeling of permanency which its owners intended, although they knew, and he knew, that a few flops and the place could disappear. The flickering image in a darkening theatre had been joined now by sound. With the arrival of talkies actors and actresses like his employer, Norma, had been swept away. Who would have thought? Who would have guessed.
As Desmond was thinking about his place in all of this a battalion of dragoons marched past, coats open, cigarettes in hands and on lips, sweat on brows. God they must be warm in those outfits, thought Desmond.
The tall walls of the sound stage framed and shaded the activity through which he now walked. The sky and light had been marginalised as though this place knew its prime function -the corralling and husbandry of light (and sound). Light was the thing being manufactured here and when once the sun was a factor in production now it had been marginalised, as it was on this morning. All the architecture surrounding him filtered the light,like half shut eyes. Over in the distance he could see parts of the back lot with New York brownstones and Bohemian townscapes, but even there the sun was no longer enough. Huge banks of lights would bathe even the simplest of scenes.
Well. Whatever. They may be manufacturing light but this was merely a front for the real product: dreams and fantasies and that is where he, Desmond Furey, came in.
Desmond thought about the old days and the stories Norma told about old Hollywood, about a friend of hers who had bought up whole stretches of orange orchards on which now sat houses. The stories about Mack Sennett and the Keystone Cops and how they filmed scenes on the streets of L.A.
Desmond tried not to worry about whether he was too old or whether he had left his run too late, or whether he had arrived in Hollywood too late, at the end of the party. That the best days were over. The Golden Past of missed opportunities. Deal with now, Desmond, old man, he thought. He breathed in and wondered what activity was going on inside those sound stages.
Desmond Furey is dreaming of Hollywood stardom. It is 1932 and he is living in a boarding house in downtown Los Angeles. He decides he needs to get a job.
Desmond couldn't believe it. Rain had finally come to Los Angeles. He awoke to the pattering of water droplets on the window of the boarding house in downtown Los Angeles where he had moved after being tossed out by Mrs F. The light was different today. Filtered, quiet, soft light. If he had been in his own house, with food in the cupboard, no errands to run, nor friends to meet he would have been content to lay in the bed. The luck of rain, the reassurance and the promise it brought, would have been given its full due.
As it was he knew he had to get up and go out otherwise he would be driven mad. In a town where he knew no one he felt obliged to at least go through the motions of trying to make friends. Plus he was hungry. The raindrops ran down the glass of the window. It was too early for Miss Office Girl. The blinds were closed. The side of the building was there but today seen through lines of rain.
His stomach rumbled.
'Wait a little while longer, Sport,' he said to himself. He lay back on the bed so he could see the office window. He knew there would be no movement for at least another hour. It was still early morning and Desmond knew he must try to get a job today. To hang around for another day, killing time, dreaming of being a movie star, was putting him in a fug. He needed something to get up for each morning, but what?
What did he want to do? He knew very well what he didn't want to do. Under no circumstances did he want an office job. The thought gave him the creeps. Although it may be sensible to get a night job to tide him over and leave the day free for looking for acting work, he also liked having his nights free. He had already begun exploring the delights of the city, which he felt came into its own at night. With the sun banished and night installed, the city took on a smokey silkiness marred only by the stretches between different night spots. He dreamt of owning a motor car. Imagine chewing up the road from the Hollywood Hills to Beverly Hills to Malibu! Driving through the night, dashboard shining, moon sitting bright and full above the shimmering Pacific Ocean, one hand on the steering wheel of his Cadillac, the other around his girl.
He felt paralysed and this paralysis must end. The rain felt like the circuit breaker he needed. The sameness of the days, the lazy breeze blowing off the Pacific, the intoxicating scent of jasmine and frangipani, and the cloudless blue sky, had hypnotised him and today he felt as though he were coming out of a trance.
The realisation that he needed to act energised him sending his heart racing. The adrenalin pumped through his veins. He got on the floor and begun doing pushups. After doing fifty, he sat and did fifty sit ups. Then he lay down on the bed and drifted into sleep.
When he awoke the rain was still falling and the blinds of the office were lifted.
He would wait until the rain eased no matter how long it took. With no umbrella he worried about the effect of rain on his only suit. Perhaps it would disintegrate or dissolve. The panic from earlier had been replaced by a calmness. Yes, when the rain stopped he, Desmond Furey, would go out in the world with the sole purpose of finding a job. Seeing what opportunities availed themselves to him. He thought about Sydney and the back alleys of his youth. There was something odd about Australia that he could never quite put his finger on. Was it because it had started as a prison? He remembered his father standing in their garden, with its view of the harbor, squinting into the distance.
Gardening. Pool cleaning. It came to him on the corner of Sunset and Doheny. All those gardens and pools. Outdoors. He wouldn’t have to do it for long. Just so he could get some cash. And he had to get serious about making contacts. And one again, after all the walking and planning and thinking he found himself outside Warner Bros studio. And, as always, the studio sat there waiting for him. He thought about all the people toiling behind those walls. The films being created. The comedies, the gangster films, the costume dramas. He had made it this far, after almost getting killed in New Guinea, after that little kerfuffle in Penang. What an adventure it has been. They should make a movie of his life.
The footpath and lawns were still damp from the rain. The city had been washed clean by the rain and the haziness replaced by crystal clear brightness.
As he rounded the corner, back onto Sunset, he spotted Ronald Flannery. After greeting each other and having a short conversation Desmond had the address of a former silent film star who was looking for someone to clean the pool and do odd jobs around the house.
Soon he was standing at the front door of a large house set back on a vast green lawn. After introducing himself to the housekeeper he was led through to the back patio where she sat, as though waiting just for him. She turned and smiled.
After a short talk it was decided that Desmond would start the next day and could take up residence in the pool house.
It is 1932, and Des' Great Uncle Desmond Furey is in Hollywood dreaming of being a movie star. He catched the tram to the beach and swims out as far as he can. When he gets back to his boarding house he has a nasty surprise so he goes for a walk up in the Hollywood Hills.
Desmond didn't give a shit. That was his strength; his ace card. And when he did begin to give a shit he had another drink. He stood on the corner of Sunset and Hollywood outside the Warner lot. Across the road a splinkler sent out beads of water onto a wet, green lawn. The day was lit by what he had come to think of as 'Hollywood' light, as though a result of an executive decision made in one or more of the studios. An innovation, perhaps. Sprinklers were needed to keep this oasis green, to stop it returning to desert and this added to the general air of impermanence that hung over the place.
He looked at the tall wall and the people milling around the studio entrance. Truth be told he knew he was going to be a star. It was his dirty little secret. He, Desmond Furey. But perhaps every wannabe who had ever kicked the dust on this footpath, and looked at the fortress wall and sign above the gates, believed the same thing. You have to hand it to the Yanks, he thought, they had front. He didn't feel like waiting in line, and anyway he was hours late and the sun was already high in the sky. There was really nowhere to hide here and for a second he thought he could leave his climb to movie stardom. Just leave it as one turns around and returns home before night sets in. Just forget it. Leave Hollywood. Go somewhere quiet; get a real job. But he could no sooner do this than a show pony could become farm horse. He was a show pony. All front. He was fully aware of his hollow heart, all the better to charm you with, said the Big Bad Wolf.
He had already starred in a motion picture, had already appeared on the silver screen In Australia, and if he was good enough for Charles Chauvel then he should certainly be good enough for Jack Warner. He had jumped the first hurdle, perhaps the most challenging one. This thought released a burst of energy inside of him and he walked faster, feeling like a movie star already, on his way to an important meeting. There was a quiet, mid morning lull over the street as though everyone with anything useful to do was already doing it and the rest were waiting for lunchtime to fill the seats of the diner that he saw on Sunset. Cars passed, sending up dust. He spotted a tram and thought to jump on - hang the expense - and go to the beach. What an absolutely divine idea! He would swim and lay in the sun and have something to eat.
So then he was stretched out, lounging for god's sake, on the seat of the tram and feeling the breeze on his face. He watched the passing scene. Pretty girls. Old women. Dogs. Motor cars. Two men talking on the corner. The sky. The sun. And then the beach and the ocean, which looked as though it had been painted on, except where the waves pulled in and out leaving big wet patches of sand. Then he had his shoes off and the laces tied around his neck and he sure as hell had his swim suit so he changed and walked to the water, dropping his clothes in a heap. He ran to the water and when it was deep enough he dived in and let himself be enveloped by the ocean's salty coolness. He started to swim and let his arms cut through the water. He swam as hard and as fast as he could and tried to get as much distance as he could between him and the shore. When he felt he had almost swum to China he stopped and turned, and treading water, he looked back at the land and saw it for what it was. A bit of land where some smart guys had set up the biggest dream machine ever seen and he was going to be a part of it. A seagull squawked over head.
Oh shit! I'm a long way out, he realised. The people on the beach looked like he was viewing them from a great height, from an aeroplane. He lay on his back and looked at the sky. It was cloudless except for some whispy puffs of white on the distant edge of the tableau. If he tilted his head he could see the Hollywood Hills and beyond them the San Bernadino Mountains.
He wanted to remember this moment, to mark it as one would the page in a book. He felt the strength of his arms and stomach and thighs and the work he was giving them by being all the way out here at the edge of the vast Pacific Ocean. It felt like the beginning of something new and he had no idea why he should feel this. He was still living in the boarding house, still had nothing except his looks, his intelligence, his charm and his cock, but he knew very well that that was more than most men could only dream of having. In his lucid moments, when self pity wasn't crowding for attention, he knew he had been kissed by the Gods. Oh how easy it had all been! She had wanted to be fucked by him. He didn't have to do anything. Just lay back and let her take him in her mouth. The story of his life. The quietness in the house, with his father at the University and his Mother off god knows where. She had unbuttoned his shirt and with her free hand had caressed his chest. She was kneeling on the bed. The cover had been pulled back so they lay willy nilly on top. His shoes stuck up like two gravestones. The light through the drapes formed a pattern on the cornices and played on the ornate plaster ceiling. Her breasts, heavy and firm, pressed against his legs. Flesh on flesh. Her mouth and hand worked him and his feet tingled. He closed his eyes and all he could feel was the moist warm pressure and the mouning tingle. The light fluttered behind his closed eyes. Oh God. Oh God. And he was in her mouth and then she was on top of him.
A breeze rippled across the blue green surface leaving white crests, while beneath the surface deeper forces created the roll of the waves. It was time to swim to shore, rest in the sun a while, before catching the tram back to corner of La Cienega and Hollywood. He wanted a hot shower and a meal and then a drink. He wanted to feel the alcohol going through his blood stream. He wanted to forget.
When he got to the boarding house his two raggedy suitcases and box of papers were sitting on the front step. Clearly Mrs F. had some kind of nervous reaction and he hoped he could convince her that he was good for not only his back rent but future rent as well. Or he could cut his losses. He decided to walk up the hill a way, up off the main road. A dusty path wound upwards through the brush. The further he walked the quieter it became and soon the sound of the cars was away and below.
He clearly couldn't find a new place to live at this time. Or rather, he couldn't be bothered. He liked his room and he liked Mrs F. and her funny ways. They had an understanding, although he had sorely tested their friendship. The most pressing question then was where to get money.
He kept climbing and was soon at the top of the ridge. The sun was setting and the last rays bathed the greens and browns of the landscape in pink. For the second time in one day he wanted to remember this moment. He sat on a large, flat rock and watched the traffic move along the grid of the roads and streets below. He thought about the other networks and connections in this place. Mulholland Dr. wound along the hillside and he knew that one day he would have a mansion on this artery so he could sit above the grid and look down and be reminded of the mysterious connections, the brain waves, the incidences and coincidences and chance meetings, that had planted him here in this surprisingly fertile soil where he knew he would thrive.
The lights were going on on the grid so it looked like a circuit board. He knew that he was a part of all of this and that all the energy of the circuit board was passing through him. He was the circuit board and the one below him was simply a reflection of his own internal circuitry. This realisation was barely conscious and if someone tried to explain it to him in a pub he would have told them to bugger off.
A coyote howled howled across in the direction of Beverly Hills and just down the hill to the left a fire glowed from one of camps dotted across the hills. He pulled his jacket around himself and turned up the collar. As he did this he felt the edge of the reefer he had hidden in the coat's inside pocket. AhahAh! His heart sang and lifted. He took the reefer out of his pocket, wet the end so it wouldn't burnt too quickly, then struck a match and took the heavy fragrant smoke into his lungs and held it there. Ah! Perfect! The effect was almost instantaneous. He lay on his back and looked at the clear sky and let his mind take him where it might.
He thought about his mother and her anger. He thought about New Guinea and the Laloki River. Another time and place. He thought about himself and his place in all this. He felt his cock jump and thought perhaps tonight he needed something to lift his spirits. What would he like? Oh let what comes come. He felt the hard surface of the rock. He felt the energy of the grid and of the moon that sat, bright and big, in the night sky.
n. When he gets back to his boarding house he has a nasty surprise so he goes for a walk up in the Hollywood Hills.
In this chapter Des goes down into the city and then to the church for his Mother's funeral. He thinks about his Mother and the past.
Ever the banker, he loved nothing more than a dark suit, highly polished black shoes and a crisp, white shirt. All he needed to complete his ensemble on this, the day of his Mother's funeral, was a black silk tie. 'Natty,' he heard his Mother say. He sat down on the bed, as he had so often in the last few days that it felt as predictable as breakfast , and let the grief roll over him and through him. He had learned to be well prepared for the inevitable so he had a box of tissues (and a spare one) was at the ready. He leant forward, legs apart and let the tissue soak in the tears and snot as his mind tried to compute what his heart already knew - or was it the other way around?, -that his Mummy was dead. Never again would he see her smiling face, nor feel he love flow towards him. Never again would he see that very knowing reflection he caught of himself when she looked at him. God how he missed the way she saw him. It was as though she knew him altogether better than he knew himself. Was that possible? Was it possible that the knowing exterior view could make more sense of the complexity of a personality than the view looking out from the inside? What did it mean to be somebody's mother; to be a woman, for that matter?
These thoughts provided a very satisfactory diversion from the larger shit storm he expected this day to be. All the shaking of umbrellas, avoiding of puddles, coats and scarves on and off. He knew it would be like a pantomime, and if it was costume acting they wanted then it was costume acting they would get.
The first scene was in Fi's kitchen with the morning paper. Not so young man sits wearing a perfectly tailored suit. He is reading 'The Age.' In front of him is a cup of coffee. The house is quiet and the room needs an electric bulb to provide light since the morning is unwilling to supply it.
He puts down the paper, stands and leaves the room.
In the next moment Des is on the tram rattling towards the city. It is early and the morning rush has not begun. He looks like any office worker, albeit a successful one, on his way to work. The only thing missing is his briefcase. All he has is his coat, scarf, paperback, wallet (of course) and umbrella.
He left a note to Fi and Tom telling them he would be back before ten, the designated time for meeting. He figured this would give them a chance to get ready without having him around.
And he could see the city on a wet, winter morning! His heart lifted!
The little church on Toorak Road where his parents had married almost forty years earlier was packed. The first two pews on either side of the church were reserved for family but were almost empty. No one seemed to have the organisational nous to open up the seats. As it was Des felt like he had been quarantined and wanted to be among the crowd at back. Outside the rain fell and Des felt out of sorts. He found it all annoying and behind his annoyance was a mounting anger. He felt impotent and stripped bare. The whole thing seemed so ad hoc and thrown together and he wished his mother had left a plan for this service. He sat next to K. who looked delicious in her black dress and coat. Coll looked despondent, Fi smiled across at him, Tom stared ahead and Jack comforted Dad.
Des turned and looked at the crowd. Who were all these people? In what way had his Mother touched these peoples' lives? His Mum. She had had many lives. As a young model in Melbourne in the 1950's and working at the magazine. The time in Europe. Then deciding on Dad after gamely playing the field. Of course he couldn't see this woman in any other way than as his young Mother. The earliest memories looking up from his pram at her beautiful open face, a young woman in her mid twenties. He thought of how she must have been learning as he was learning. That he was her teacher, that this was a two way street and she was an open and willing student.
His Father had his head in his hands. Here in the church where they were married all those years ago, he was now saying goodbye. Passed in a blink. Des was relieved when they all stood and sang. He found it energising and enlivening and his annoyance dissipated, flew up and away, replaced by joy. Mum would have wanted this. She never looked back. She pushed on and out and was always getting ready for the next party, organising the next dress, making plans, talking about now. he past can eat you up and leave you with nothing for now. The past was like a jilted lover who won't let go, demanding recompense for natural failings. The past was too big to wrestle with, could steamroll or overwhelm; could eat the present. Let the present eat the past and past eat the future. Let the present rise up like the Ellfin Queen and let all the faeries, and imps, and little people dance in the dell and glen and in the fading light let it be said, 'Now is all we have! Now! Now!'
Well, right now Fi was reading about love and Des could hear people blowing their noses and the rain kept falling and the past was really nowhere to be seen, or at least in this moment it had been seamlessly compressed into the present, so it was one. And his Mother was there, as real as the soles of his shoes, and she turns from the kitchen sink and smiles at him and he walks towards her and she hugs him and they share that moment, that fragrant love-filled moment as the golden afternoon come in through the window of the old farmhouse kitchen.
Far from eating the present, the past was there all the time and buttressed the present. This moment now was made bearable and unbearable by the rich completeness of his memories of his charming, beautiful, funny, lovely, glamorous, practical, down to earth, ever,ever always with him in his heart Mother.
Des thinks about Melbourne and London and prepares for his Mother's funeral.
Melbourne was much the same as he had left it and apparently unaffected by his experiences in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. The two lions, replicas of the ones outside the British Museum, reminded him that London reminded him of Melbourne and vice versa. He would walk for hours across the length of the city, or just get out random underground stops. He had moments where he was sure he had been there before, a feeling he never had in Paris or Rome. Looking at the two lions, and at the night street, he felt again his connection to Melbourne. During school holidays they would travel down from the farm and he felt like a country boy in his R.M. Williams boots and cowboy shirt. He was tall for his age, big and athletic, and to leave the Windsor Hotel on his own and explore the city streets filled him with an indefinable sense of excitement. And the way those pretty daughters of old family friends treated him - like an especially lovely big dog or something more human. He felt the sunlit possibility of it all.
Standing in front of the statues now, he grinned at his own cluelessness. Had any boy in the history of humankind been as clueless as he was? He was grateful that those moments of discovering something completely obvious were behind him.
His family sat in a huddle. The senior surgeon, in a white coat, walked towards them. Des' father stood. Des looked at the surgeon approaching then turned and looked out the window into the small alley way formed by the back of the main building and a smaller one. He had watched orderlies push trolleys with the white sheets covering the bump of someone’s face through a door which he had a pretty good idea was the morgue. He turned and looked at family, arms crossed. Nurses in fresh white uniforms, no doubt sweet smelling, passed in pairs or threes. Memories reloaded; memories piling on top all the others. The crucifix on the wall reminded him where he was. As if he needed reminding. It provided a pin prick and only added to his rising tension. His grief had cut through his libido. He took a sip from his coffee cup and turned again to the alley which for some reason reminded him of the alleys formed between the sound stage in a Hollywood studio.
On the day of the funeral the sky was steely grey. He thought about the day he left for London. Everything passes and ends. New Guinea will end. The Golden days of Hollywood ended and the Roman Empire. Just wait long enough and everything will be over, like his Mum's life, over.
A cold wind carried bits of rain across the street outside. The day before he was at the funeral home looking down at what looked like the mummified corpse of his Mummy. It had never been so clear to him that once the life force had gone all that was left was a bag of bones. The makeup, the rouge and lip stick seemed to have been slapped on making his beautiful mother look like a dead madam or a vaudevillian second act. At least her outfit looked fine; small mercies. Her eyes were closed and sunken and the skin on her face hung across her skull. There was absolutely no life there. Her head was wrapped in a scarf. The room in the funeral home felt like a warehouse, with disproportionately high ceilings and the walls too far away.
And now was the day and Des was glad he had his good suit and a crisp, new white shirt. The feeling of being tossed up in the air was still with him. He pulled the curtain back further so he could see the rectangle of cement between the house and wrought iron fence. The rain was now falling in great sheets onto Rae Street and onto the glass and metal of the cars all lined up on the street.
The funeral service was at 1pm which meant he was up much too early. After the heat of Port Moresby, Des was glad to be again in a cold climate where he could wear his charcoal grey wool suit and woolen socks.
He was surprised by the steadiness of his feelings for Melbourne. Even the rain delighted him. It was so different from the bucketing tropical downpours which would pound on the corrugated iron roof, pouring off it in lines, mini waterfalls, shaped by the corrugations. He would sit in the living room, with Mahler playing on the stereo, and when the wind blew up he would catch a spray of rain through the open louvres. The balcony would be damp from the spray. By the next afternoon, after a morning of bright tropical sunlight, the garden would seem to have grown like some plant in a stop animation film.
During these downpours he would walk through the house enjoying the protective cocoon of its white walls and dark wooden floors. Today the rain was cold and damp and landed with reluctance. The wind carried it in every direction.
He sat on the bed and examined his shoe. He then opened the tin of shoes polish, laid an old newspaper on the bed, and began to polish his shoes.
In this chapter Des is on the plane to Melbourne and half expects to see his ancestors. He then imagines himself in the landscape of Australia. He sees his mother at St Vincent's and he drinks red wine.
CHAPTER TWO : Des at the Crossroads
So he slept, lulled by the quiet hum of the engine and the feeling that someone was in control of the aircraft. High up, way up. What the hell were the physics of this? How does the plane get up and stay up? He looked out of the curve of the window. His thoughts moved across the broad terrain of his memories so there he is standing beneath the knarled gum tree in the school yard in Thornton. It is summer and a gust had picked up dust and was whirling it around and he watches as it is carried across the playground, while in the school car park the cars sat passively. Then Des is sitting at the bridal table at Suzie's wedding and he looks across the assembled group. Earlier in the kitchen Suzy was having second thoughts. Gary looked like what he was, a country boy way out of his depth. Jacket off, vest unbuttoned, sleeves rolled up. Beer in his hand, eyes already bleary.
Oh sweet Jesus. The cabin was lit by the clear high altitude light: light holding the space. He hlaf expected to see his ancestors. His war hero grandfather. His too beautiful grandmother. His mother's parents walking towards him through the crystalized domain, down the carpeted space, their forms pierced by light and the scene suspended, slowed. When young and beautiful, perhaps on their first date.
Des felt the softness of the seat. The light still held him and he wanted to stand. He wished he could float out of the plane and up and up. The only thing to do was to sit there and feel the tingle move from his feet, up his legs to his stomach and heart while at the same time feel his face and skull vibrating with grief and his eyes unable to hold his tears. A sob rose from inside his chest, an involuntary convulsion. Part of him wanted to run from the aircraft, wanted to be alone. The other part, the bigger part, couldn't give a flying fuck. He remembered hearing his father sobbing in his bedroom and imagined him being cradled in his mother's arms. The men in his father's family were all great criers so he let himself be carried by his grief and by the waves that rolled through his body until he came to a quiet space and just closed his eyes and fell into a deep sleep.
He was awoken by the pilots voice and by the 'ding' of the 'no smoking' and seat belt sign going off. Out the window he could see the landscape of his childhood -the sweeps of green and brown, the lines of fences, the roads that stretched for miles and miles. His heart lifted at the sight of it all. It were as though he was looking at himself. This country was him and it seemed to express something about his personality and character and his family. His tribe. His people had worked this land. Built towns. Celebrated weddings in community halls. He had sat, on those long Saturday afternoons in the summer, with Ronny and Peter, at the base of the War Memorial with its tight sharp columns, the names all in lines, names that he recognised. His own family's name was there -his great, uncle Robert. They would feel the sharp edges of the letters and be reassured by the solidity of the structure, the way it stood there at the centre of the town garden, but was private, an island away from the main thoroughfare, which anyway was deserted now, after the bustle of Saturday morning. Just a few hours earlier the footpaths in front of the shops were all bright colours and smiles. Shopping lists, either in heads or paper. And once the shopping was done stopping for a cup of tea or popping into the dress shop. The gaiety of it all. His mother never looked more beautiful than when she was standing beneath the awning in front of the hardware store talking to Mrs Kennedy. She laughs and turns and looks at him and winks. He feels his heart melt.
They sit with their back against the plaque. The sun is high and it is hot. Their bikes lay willy-nilly on the lawn in front of them.
'What'll we do now?' asks Ronny, all tightly coiled energy.
'Let's go down to the river,' says Peter, taller than Des and Ronny. Intelligent, funny Peter.
'Yeh,' says Des.
So then they are off, racing their bikes towards the river. It didn't matter that they had no bathers. Their shorts would do fine. The water was cool and clean and clear and it was surprising, on a day like this, that they hadn't thought of it sooner. Perhaps it was in the back of their minds, the way Christmas was there from late November onwards.
Splash, splash. Watery coolness.
'Watch this,' called Ronny from the far bank, where he held the rope that hung from an old tree. His grin lit his nut brown face. His hair was wet and slicked back making him look like a sweet undersized seal. He pulled the rope back so it formed a loose line from the branch to his hand. He ran and left the ground, swinging out from the bank he is suspended at the highest point, then he releases the rope, curls into a tight ball and hits the river like a bomb, sending water in every direction. After a second his head pops up and he smiles and waves and swims to where they are standing in the river.
The new Tullamarine airport gleemed. Des stands in front of the conveyor belt waiting for his old black suitcase which had travelled with him on all his adventures. He looks around at the shining new airport and at his fellow passengers dressed in light summer clothes but already adding a jumper or jacket.
How strange to think that yesterday morning (was it only yesterday?) he stood in the shower fantasizing about a cold, wet, grey Melbourne day and here it was. Some kids raced around, nut brown, hair bleached from the sun, as their parents watched the belt. The mother held a baby.
Oh Jesus, Des, not now. He looked up at the small length of windows that framed the fading afternoon light. He found strength in his love for this city.
He spotted his suitcase with its thin brown belt holding it closed and the faded stickers from his boat trip from Sydney to London. It was like seeing an old, uncomplicated friend and it reassured him. Before he knew it the doors were sliding open and his Uncle Jack and Fi and Coll and Fi's husband Tom as standing there like survivors from some wreck. The wreck of their lives.
The street lights were on and the roads had that Sunday night stillness. Deserted. He watched the suburbs pass as Fi told the story on the last few days.
'Mum and Dad were in Melbourne for a reunion and they were staying at our place. The reunion was on Friday night at the Southern Cross. Mum wasn't feeling well all day but she felt well enough to go, but you know Mum. So they went and came home and during the night Mum got up and she fell and hit her head on the heater. Dad woke up at some point. We don't know how long she was laying there. I called an ambulance and we raced her to St. Vincents. She tossed and turned all night then went into a coma in the morning. Actually there was very little to be done. She had a massive stroke and the operation was exploratory. Not much hope really. So they operated yesterday and its all shocking and terrible.'
They drove in silence through Coburg. They passed a tram. Inside, a couple sat together, her head on his shoulder. She was laughing at something he said.
Des felt his heart contract. Oh he hated being single. At that moment he wished he had a wife, or a girlfriend, who he had known for years, who had been with him in London, Rome, Paris, Prague. To whom he could say 'Remember the time we stood on the Charles Bridge in Prague and looked at the Saint of Actors and Dogs? And the way the Palace stood on the hill shrouded by the morning mist and the sun was rising?' Oh Jesus.
He had let them go. And until now, right now, in this car with his family, he hadn't counted the cost of his carelessness, feel the weight of his philosophy. His faith shaken, he tasted the ash of isolation, his self created, once triumphal, splendid isolation. Splendid isolation. Portable, compact, mobile, no strings attached. Travel light. It had served him extremely well until this point and now he realised. He had an epiphany: he wanted to meet a girl who he could marry.
But first he had to wait for his mother to die, pack up in Moresby and move back to Melbourne.
'In shock. He's in shock,' whispered Fi.
Jack parked in the front of St Vincent's on Victoria Parade. Des felt like he had been transported from another time and place. He was struck by the clean orderliness of everything, by the guttering and the footpaths, the solidity of the buildings. He thought about the dusty Boroko shopping centre. In the tropics human habitation was sketched on the landscape as though any minute the jungle would encroach, a tropical downpour wash it all away and the blazing afternoon fade it. The sound of the car doors slamming reverberated off the heavy dark walls of the hospital and met no resistance from the Sunday night quietness.
Coll led the way up the stairs and down the tiled corridor, even quieter and more deserted than the city outside. They stood in front of the lift doors. A trolley passed, pushed by two orderlies in green shirts and white trousers. The patient, who was covered by a blue cotton hospital blanket, stared at the ceiling, hands clasped on her stomach.
They watched the numbers light up, then the door opened and they got in. Once out of the lift, they faced a similar darkened corridor. They walked, a tight group. Des' heart pumped. As they came to the end of the corridor his father appeared. They hugged and his Father gripped him. Des felt his solid compactness but also his frailty. His Mother was in the ward. He stood beside her and looked down. Her eyes were closed and her mouth slightly open. Tubes ran from her arm to a metal stand with bags of liquids hanging from it. Her head had been shaved and a jagged flesh wound sat across her skull. The sliced flesh was held together by stitches, darkened with blood. His mother's hand lay on the blue surface of the blanket, so he held it and leant forward. He whispered some words in her ear. He wasn't sure how long he sat there holding his mother's hand but after a time he felt Fi's hand on his shoulder.
The Italian restaurant was as empty as the street outside and Des wondered if there had been a civil alert to evacuate the city. He was grateful for the familiarity of the place. He drank his several glass of red wine with his pasta. He thought about Moresby. He wanted to tell them about the way the light hit the livingroom floor or how it felt driving back from the river, the mountain air rushing through the cabin of the car. The way the mist blew in and the corrugated surface of the muddy road. The feeling of the waterfall on his back. And smoking a joint with Janie, looking down from the peak to Port Moresby, a shimmer in the distance. Janie. Where was she now? Probably working in London. He held the image of her pale inner thigh as he viewed, with a hooded expression, his family. He felt as though his memory banks were full and all he had to work with was his heart. He felt a deep love for these people rising within him. Was it time to come home? He knew that the person under the shower yesterday morning, and all his quiet certainties, was gone forever and the new Des was being formed with bits of the fragments. He pushed his plate away and put his head in his hands and let the tears run down his cheeks. Coll put his on his shoulder and when he looked up again he saw his family in various states of grief.
by Clinton De Vere
You'll find my head beside the armchair in the living room
My arms and torso under the carpet in the same room
My other parts and organs
Will be scattered around the place
What you see in front of you
Now is a
Pretence, a joke, a caricature
In this chapter we meet Des who is working on secondment from the Australian Commonwealth Government, in Port Moresby. After a particularly big night at a party with a view over Port Moresby Harbour, he gets some bad news and must fly back to Melbourne. It is the early 1970's and Des, who doesn't realise it yet, is at a crossroads in his life.
The novel will take the reader from Port Moresby and Melbourne in the early 1970's to Hollywood at the beginning of the twentieth century.
A Phone Call
The morning light insisted itself through the curtains. Des thought of turning on the ceiling fan which sat above the bed like an aeroplane propeller. Outside the day was already underway and his hope of more sleep receded as each of his synapses clicked on. He looked out the louvred window. A patchy lawn bordered by the hibiscus hedge divided his dry dusty garden from that of his neighbours.
The throbbing inside his skull continued and he thought how nice it would be if it was a cold wet Melbourne day, a Sunday perhaps, with the prospect of one of his Mum's roasts, or just sitting in the Lord Newry having a beer with the boys. A dog barked. He closed his eyes hoping to find sleep but the day kept pushing in so he lifted himself out of bed and staggered to the bathroom.
The bathroom was the same as you would find in any 'govie' house - a shower in one corner with a water heater above it, lino tiled floor and a small louvred window sitting high on the wall. A sink and mirror sat waiting for his morning shave. Pulling back the shower curtain, he turned on the tap and stepped under the tumble of water, letting it hit his head. He gasped as the cold registered on his body. Now all he needed was two aspros, a chilled coke and a hamburger-with-the-lot from that place on Lygon Street and a grey Melbourne day of the type the city did so well. Blanketed by grey, a polar wind from the south, the city laid down in a grid, the buildings reflecting a civic pride he adored. He loved the stuffiness of it all. He'd jump on a tram just outside the Uni and sit back and let it carry him all the way down into the city. He'd watch the people on the footpath or catch the eye of some beauty, some lovely, lovely beauty with legs crossed and head tilted thinking girls stuff, very smart, girls; he liked his girls smart, never smarter than him. He'd never met anyone really smarter than him; in his way of being smart, which he was damn certain was not the only way to be smart. What about all the books Coll had read and the way he always beat him hands down in an argument? Dad would adjudicate and make sure Des didn't lose face. Imagine being tripped up like that! And the way Fi was smart. Now that was smart. She saw things in people. Like the time she became friends again with someone after making them a sworn enemy, a concept he still had trouble grasping. Well, you know, she says, as plain and straight as Mum would say something, feelings change. Just like that. Feelings change. He turned that around in his brain for a long time.
To just let the wind hit his face and to pop into that pub with the cute barmaid who always looked at him in that way.
The phone rang. Who would be ringing him this time on a Saturday morning? Surely none of the crowd from last nights party up on Turaguba Hill. They were all still in bed, I bet. He let it ring off despite its persistence. It made him think of an urgent message. A signal sent and the sender panicking when faced with the void. By now his headache and nausea had eased so he gave his body some warm water, then turned off the taps, pulled back the shower curtain, and stepped out onto the bathmat. He dried himself as he grabbed the old white icecream container, held it under the shower so as to fill it with hot water, then stepped to the small basin and began lathering the soap on his face.
The phone rang again. Fuck it. He hoped whoever it was would try again later. Later, like twenty minutes later. He began to shave and when he'd finished he used the warm water to remove the shaving cream from his face. After splashing his face with cold water he began to feel much better and was once again amazed at the benefits of the cold-hot shower method which he had first developed while at Melbourne Uni and believed it to be the source of all his good health and energy. He examined his eyes and although not as fresh as a daisy he was able to forgive himself those two last beers. He knew what he needed, and he needed it fast, but he was playing it safe. He didn't want to get entangled in some dalliance that would come back and bite him on the balls. Fuck that for a joke.
He certainly didn't plan to stay at the bank forever. God no. As much as he liked Barry he did not under any circumstances want to end up in his position, in a loveless marriage, a drink problem and three kids. Not that that was unusual. What about the guy at the Adcol who spent the time after his wife and kids went South scrawling little messages on the living room wall. He imagined the bloke slumped on the floor, fan beating overhead, tropical night alive outside, the whole scene lit by the flouro tubes, and him writing upwards on the wall so it looked spastic. Apparently he wrote such original things as 'Why am I here?' Oh dear. 'Don't be arrogant, Des,' his mother would say when he got that tone. He was always grateful when she said that and after a time he was able to identify the feeling.
Showered and shaved, he wrapped a sarong around his torso, then went to the toilet and emptied his bladder. He then walked down the hallway, past the wooden louvred wall of the bedroom through the dim light of the living room to the kitchen. He still couldn't imagine why they gave him this four bedroom place with its mementoes of past residents: the air conditioner in the back room, the little stickers inside the wardrobe of the room. He tried to envisage what it was like to live in this house with kids. They had had no other house available and wanted to make the job attractive to him. They needed him, he figured, and, anyway, they were getting him cheap. He enjoyed this, dispassionately observing his place in the machine, deciphering the signals, interpreting the messages, reading between the lines, not taking anything personally. Somehow it reminded him of sheep following each other across the dusty paddock up the hill on the farm. Standing with Dad on the porch, with the afternoon light fading, and watching the poor fucking sheep following each other up the hill past the rock outcrop with two gum trees on either side.
There was the farm, of course. When he was a kid, Dad, Mum, he , Fi and Coll lived in one section of the old farmhouse, built by his great grandfather, and Nan and Pop lived in the big part. Then after Pop died they swapped and Nan moved into the small bit and then she moved into town and there was peace across the land.
No, he couldn't take over the farm. Not after Melbourne and those nights in Fitzroy and Carlton, getting pissed with the boys and dancing with that gorgeous young woman.
Ah, Melbourne. He could imagine another line of work, as long as it involved numbers. Counting sheep was how he saw it, being a country boy and all. What he couldn't conceive of was the thought of not returning to Melbourne, and not buying a terrace in a nice quiet street, and not following the footy, and not meeting his mates, and not meeting a nice girl, and not having kids. Melbourne made that all seem possible.
In the living room he turned the dial of fan controls to three and watched as the machine came to life. In the kitchen he opened the fridge door, lifted out the bottle of coke and Chinese takeaways from Thursday night and placed them on the benchtop. He pulled open the drawer, took a spoon and began devouring the food. He looked out onto the balcony and past that to the scene outside. It was overexposed and he was glad to be in the shady comfort of his kitchen, which he loved the moment he saw it. The phone rang. He walked through to the living room, sat on his favourite government supplied armchair and lifted the receiver.
'Des. I've got some bad news.'
He felt the room tip. His father's voice sounded sad and frightened.
'Your Mum had a fall. A stroke. Last night. They are operating this afternoon.'
The room and the items in it went into sharp focus. His eyes rested on the sideboard and the stack of paper on top on it. His eyeball prickled and his stomach clenched.
'She's in St. Vincent's. We were lucky to be in Melbourne. Des?'
'It doesn't look good.'
Already he was calculating how soon he could catch a plane to Melbourne. As soon as he'd finished on the phone he would call the travel agent in town and book a ticket.
'Dad. I'll catch the earliest flight I can.'
And before he knew it the wheels were clunking into the undercarriage and he was looking down at the patchwork of dry season Port Moresby and at the black strip of sealed roads and the brown lines of dirt tracks, and dominating it all, which he saw so clearly now from his pressurised eyrie, huge stretches of sea and sky. Big blocks of blue and green- blue.
Resting his head against the headrest he thought about the last wenty four hours. After the phone call with his Dad he'd dressed, then driven through the hot day, past the houses and suburbs, down Three Mile Hill with the sea breeze hitting his face and the ocean right there, then in among the Saturday morning shoppers and finally into the travel agency and before he knew it he was on the TAA Sunday flight to Melbourne. He rang Barry who was very understanding and promised to keep an eye on things and told him not to worry about the big project, he would look after it, which made Des feel guilty about his thoughts that morning about Barry, and his heart flooded with gratitude for this simple human kindness. Des left a spare set of keys under the pot at the base of the back porch. The garden seemed to bid him goodbye as Barry reversed out of the driveway. Des had never been more grateful for Brry's ability to keep talking under every possible circumstance. He imagined Barry, under fire, behind enemy lines, still holding forth on the ineptitude of his superiors in Canberra. Des watched the landscape go by, the quiet Sunday landscape, as though the week has been exhausted, wrung out by Saturday night and was glad for the lie in. Small family groups, in their Sunday best, stood at the PMV stop and Des felt reassured by this image. Barry kept talking.
Now he was high up in the air and Barry was probably home. Des stared out the window at the ocean and the dark line of the reef and the cars moving along the line of roads; people continuing their lives. Soon they were above the clouds and the 'no smoking' and 'fasten your seat belts' signs were switched off so people stood up and others lit cigarette. Des leaned back and closed his eyes. He felt the softness of the headrest and reached up to adjust the cold jet of air onto his face.
Breathing in and breathing out the memories came rushing at him, tripping over each other to get his attention.
'You'd cut off your nose to spite your face.' Well this had proved to be one of the more astute character assessments anyone had ever made of him. There had been many an occasion when his mother's words had goaded him on, when his pride was hurt or when he was angry. Had she identified a character trait? Or had she inadvertently created one?
Oh dear. He felt his eyes prickle and no matter how hard he tried the tears pushed out of the tear ducts and onto his cheeks. He took his hankerchief, unfolded it and blew his nose.
Des was thankful that the flight was not even half full. The two seats next to him were empty. There was nothing to do except to let the memories roll in like mist over the mountains, shrouding everything, and turning the landscape into a white metaphor, and the gum trees a wet black.
He figured this was one of those moments in his life when the mundane falls away leaving him with the tautness of his feelings and memories. Grief, they called it, and it was the first time he had been thus. Anything before this had provided no preparation, indeed was barely worth mentioning , except, perhaps as a contrast. A dear old dog, the usual aged relative (he winced now to think of the callowness of his feelings). No, nothing, really nothing at all, even vaguely compared to the tidal wave of feelings that threatened, now, to sweep him away.
A Poem for Ant McMahon
by Clinton De Vere
I didn't need this to happen
Like some crappy excuse
Or the tragic image of a dancing bear
Time floated, bloated
And said, in a real gruff voice
Unspectacular in visage
'You, my boy! Today is your day!'
And the minutes pass
Dragged by the hours
And where does it stop?
All this - where does it lead us?
Does it interfere with our mental state?
You'd better believe it does.
Oh dear boy
I didn't need this to happen
Sweet nut brown boy
That photo of you washing the family bus
Head tilted defiantly upwards
As though taking on the world
Why did you have to leave us?
Stacked up here
Like jars in a pantry
Waiting to join you
I wish I could go back there
To the dark brightness
I wish I could go back there
The heart wants it so much the stomach burbles.
Clinton De Vere