At the Hospital for Sick Children

A too large five year old fills a cot whose sides are raised. His limbs move unpredictably and without purpose. He plays with a six-month old’s bright rattle.

His Mum is Ebony, solid and calm, about thirty. She tells me some of the story of Simon, her boy, naming a heritable syndrome of faulty collagen that causes joints and bones to break or dislocate.


But Simon’s bigger problem is the stroke that affected him in utero. Ebony felt turbulent convulsive movements in her belly when she was 20 weeks pregnant. Her tummy had swelled excessively, a sign of polyhydramnios, a hint of underlying abnormality in her unborn child. An urgent MRI showed cysts in both sides of the baby’s brain. After Simon was born he suffered seizures. It took two years before the doctors found the right medications to control Simon’s fits.


Ebony tells me all this levelly, undramatically, without reflecting on the strain and the burden she bears for this child she loves. Somehow too, she shows me she is not denying that strain; simply this is Simon’s story; she, Ebony, is not the story.


Scanning the clinical notes I gather Simon and Ebony live alone. “What about Simon’s Dad, is he part of Simon’s life?” – I wonder.

“Yes. One day a week… he left six months after Simon was born. He said it was too much for him…he’s a social worker.” A smile, not bitter, but of learned knowing.


“I started studying Art while Simon was in Respite. My work is showing in Perth at the Biennale. I sold a picture!”

Another smile, this one of delighted pride.

“The man who bought it was a senior man in the government. When he discovered my opposition to our mandatory detention of refugee children he told me he wouldn’t have bought it if he’d known that.”


At my request, Ebony pulls out her portable picture gallery, a series of images on her phone. I lack the vocabulary for the power and originality, the life, in these electrifying images.

“I paint on paper in oils.” I can see from her phone how the oils give a vividness to Ebony’s pictures.

She continues: “I said to that government man, ‘You can have your money back if you want to return the picture.’ But he hung on to it.’” Another Ebony grin.

“And Mr. Morrison, the minister in charge of that cruel policy, he wanted one of my images for his Christmas cards. I said, ‘Sure. You can have the image free of charge. Just change your policy first.’ He sacked the man who took that message to him.”


I read Ebony my blog piece – “How We Killed Leo”. Ebony gasps when I read of Leo gifting his organs: “I knew Leo. Down Geelong way, we all did. We all loved him. Such a good person. I never knew about his organ donations. And now we’ve lost him.”


Two minds in unexpected harmony.


We look down at Simon who continues his sporadic horizontal calisthenics. His belly is large, oddly misshapen. As if it were filled with tumours. I ask Ebony some doctor questions. She shakes her head to all my questions until I ask about the boy’s bowel habit. “He hasn’t pooed for a week. Geelong Hospital sent me to the city because they know him here. They’ll do an enema here and then we’ll drive home.”

I make some calculations: nine hours from her door and back. Nine hours of time and waiting and caring. I look at Ebony and she smiles: “It’s a relief. As long as Simon’s alright…”

Missionary Positions 1


A ten year old boy is riding the red rattler across the suburbs of Melbourne. Plastic in his being, not yet firm in himself, quite unconsciously he absorbs the personas around him. One by one and all at once, he takes them in, trying to drink their apparent confidence, their certitude.

An older man enters the crowded carriage, looks around and selects the seat directly opposite the boy. He sits down, his knees only inches away. He carries a newspaper which is rolled into a cylinder. As he sits down, the train starts to move again, and quite quickly the movement makes the man sleepy and he nods off.

Every so often the boy senses the older man’s gaze upon him, but whenever he looks up to check, the man’s eyes are closed.

The ride is a long one. The deeper they go into the suburbs, the fewer the remaining passengers. Eventually, there are only the two of them in that whole cavernous compartment – the older one asleep and the younger one all too conscious.

He is uncomfortably aware of the man’s closeness in all that space: they haven’t even spoken. And the boy feels anxious, not knowing whether he even exists to this long distance sleeper.

He’d like to move, but he thinks he might offend.

The boy wonders whether the man will know when to get off. Perhaps he has already missed his stop. Soon the boy feels anxious about this too.

The train pulls into Hughesdale Station. The boy feels the stirrings of relief – his is the next stop. It will be okay then to move away.

But the sleeper has risen to his feet. He turns for the door, then pauses. The boy feels a light tapping upon the top of his head. It is the sleeper, using his furled newspaper to gain his attention.

He speaks: Good on yer, son. It’s a credit to you.

He taps the boy’s head again, this time touching the yarmulka that sits on his crown: You keep wearing that, son – it won’t let yer down.

The stranger alights and is gone.

The boy touches the top of his head. He feels somehow annointed.