I’m a Tourist Here

So many novel things here, Nearly everything here different, odd, fresh, unexpected.

Seated in the tram I can see a leaf, pea-green, curving across the right rear of the neck of a young man. Beneath the leaf’s stem a scarlet circle the size of a florin encloses a second red circle, the size of a shilling. The man’s bronze skin is tight around his skeleton. On his bony chin curling black whiskers struggle for a quorum.

People on the tram wear small ear appliances as for the deaf. The hearing aids connect by fine white wires to shallow cuboids of steel or of plastic. Some travellers’ fingers tap the flat upper surface of the flat cuboids, some speak to the appliance, some nod and sway as to music. Is this tram a conveyance for the deaf? Or for devotees of some religion which is new to me in this place where I travel as a visitor?

Few are those who read books or newspapers. Few converse with a neighbour. I hear Mandarin, Spanish, German, Japanese. English too is heard. Most of the speakers address unseen interlocutors. Strange, very strange to me, the ways of this place.

From the open front of a young woman’s blouse two breasts swell and fall as she leans forward to tap a plastic card against device attached to the tram’s interior. No-one looks, no-one remarks, no-one warns the lady of her deshabille. Many are those who tap plastic cards against the fixture. Truly and devoutly observed are the rituals of the tram ride.

The headline on the discarded newspaper reads: GEN Y SHORT ATTENTION SPAN. This message, written in lettering I recognize, refers to nothing I know. Elsewhere I read of GEN X. Another hieroglyph: is there an alphabet of GENs?

Legs, arms, faces everywhere, inked in black, sienna, greens, pinks, yellows and magenta. Skin with calligraphy, with illustrations, with In Memoriams. Human integument as art gallery.

Springtime, announced by recognisable blossoms, by my itching eyes and my sneezing, yet confuses me. One day cold, bleak, blustery with rain, the next day hot. Really hot. Exposed breasts greet the sun. The weather changes mood with a violence new to me.

People pass me in the street but few eyes meet mine. Instead the eyes regard those same flat rectangular devices that the hearing-assisted cultists watched on the tram. People pass in haste. Few smile. Haste and flat devices deprive me – deprive all of us – of communion. In this springtime, the flower of community fails.

So much new, strange, odd. Fast, brief, solipsic. The new poverty. In my own country I ride and I pass, fascinated, a tourist.

John Bracks Collins St 5pm

I Tried to Drown

I tried to drown my enemy last night. I thought he and I might become friends. He seduced me, and I fell. I told myself he was the apple of my eye. I knew what I was doing, I saw behind that gleaming façade the black tunnel and the signs that warned me, give up hope all ye who enter here.
I dressed him in candy pink, the better to declare to him and to all who beheld us together, this is unnatural, this is absurd, we do not belong together…I made him look ridiculous the better to ridicule myself.

Early in our – what was it? – a friendship? – an affair? – he showed himself in all his treachery. Yet I could not put him to one side.

I had, I knew, sold my soul. I had no recourse to a Divinity, no-One to pray to.

I spoke to my friend, saying:

Wert thou my enemy, O thou my friend,

How wouldst thou worse, I wonder, than thou dost

Defeat, thwart me?

Lying in the bath last night, pleasuring my marathon-weary muscles, my friend called me. I reached for him with hands all slippery. My friend was in my fallible grasp, at my mercy. I dropped him into the waters, to his fate.

Some time later (I cannot say how much time had passed) in an act of mistaken morality, I hoisted him from the depths. I shook him a little, dried him perfunctorily, turned my back on him and plunged my face beneath the waters to remove the soap. I had done with my bath and I had done with my friend.

I emerged and I dried myself. Just then my i-phone rang and I knew I had failed to drown my enemy.

 

Blog On?

Like every wise man I operate in thrall to my womenfolk. One of those womenfolk helps me manage this blog. Readers might have observed the blog stuttering in its cantering gait recently. I have slipped from my regular Monday and Friday postings, to no-one’s great regret. Noting this delinquency the Blogmeistress has commanded me to address my readers with some questions. She says I need to ask you what you want me to write about. The conversation went like this:

BLOGMEISTRESS: Ask your readers what they want.

HG: Why?

BLOGMEISTRESS: Why what?

HG: Why bother them? They’re enjoying the rest.

B/MEISTRESS: You need to blog, so you’ll reach new readers…

HG: Why?

B/MEISTRESS: Why what?

HG: Why do I need readers – old or new – of my blog?

B/MEISTRESS: You need blog followers so they’ll become readers of your books: your writing is OK; it’s just your attitude to technology that stinks. You write passably but all three of your books have been worstsellers. You need to get known.

HG: Look, no-one, not a single person has written begging me for a new post. No-one misses them. A blog that appears on your screen twice a week is an imposition. I’m giving them a break.

B/MEISTRESS: Blog – or fail as a writer!

HG: When I blog I fail because I take time and energy away from serious writing.

BM: Blogging is serious. You’re an appalling snob. You’re going to fail.

So, dear reader, dear slumbering follower, here are the questions a wise man must ask:

What would you like me to write about?

The news – all miserable – that I whinge about already?

My moral quandaries, in which I flail and thrash in a mighty masturbation of the conscience?

Oddities, trivial observations, exercises in whimsy and gentle self-mockery? Or would you prefer brutal self-mockery?

Family stories? Isn’t your own family is just as lunatic as mine?

***

Here is the question I am forbidden to ask: Could you care less?

Sorry to disturb your hard-earned respite.

She Died with a Smart Phone in Her Hand

She approaches the kerb, this young woman, walking diagonally across the footpath towards the verge. As she walks her regard is upon the screen of the phone in her palm. Nimble fingers dance across the small keyboard as she composes her message.

The face is intent, neither unhappy nor animated, as she drifts in her fugue onto the roadway. Dancing fingers pause, poised above the screen while she searches for the word that eludes her. Her feet walk slowly. She has no regard to the now quickening flow of feet before her.

The message, the letter, these occupy her.

The red light tells her nothing.

My car moves forward with the greening of the lights, as others do on either side of me and from the opposite direction.

What does she write? To whom does she compose these thoughtful words?

Is there a beloved for whom she writes? Inching closer I imagine her words: ”Dear one,

Last night was so…”

The last dashers against the red light have made shore. But the drifting lover faces her palm. Her fingers busy again, she writes her closing words…

***

When one tonne of plastic-clad metal encounters sixty kilograms of human flesh at 50 kilometres an hour the tender flesh gives way. The body leaves the surface, rising briefly above the roadway before landing in an attitude determined not by volition but by physics. A gust of sound as air is forced from the chest. The head makes forcible contact, soft brain and delicate vessels slam against the hard vault of bone. Slender cervical vertebrae are wrenched violently, internal viscera suffer shearing forces.

I have seen these changes, seen them all, attended them at post-mortems and at roadside.

***

And then there was Barry, my younger brother. Barry was five when the phone call came. I was home sick, genuinely sick – we couldn’t put anything over my doctor father – and I watched Mum take the call. Barry had gone off to school that morning, unescorted by a bigger brother.

Mum stood with the phone in her hand, her face urgently attentive. “Yes, I am Barry’s mother.”

Frowning, silent, burning with inquiry, Mum finally cut in: ”Sir, I can’t understand you. Please compose yourself.”

Then, “Oh hello Mr Zizzis, yes, yes I do know you… from the milk bar. Please tell me…”

Mum listened for a moment or two.

“I’ll come now. I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

As she headed for the back door Mum said, “Barry’s been hit by a car…crossing Warrigal Road. Mr Zizzis says he’s alright. No, you stay here. You’re sick, remember.”

When Mum returned Barry was alright. He had an egg on his forehead and a guilty, relieved look on his beautiful face. Perhaps he was just pale, but his tight dark curls never looked so black.

Mum explained: “Barry ran in front of a car. The driver couldn’t stop in time. He was an old man, he said he’d never had an accident in all his life of driving… I couldn’t understand him on the phone, he was crying so much. Mr Zizzis saw it all through his window. He said the fender caught Barry and threw him up into the air. Barry just floated up from the roadway, floated and Mr Zizzis saw him going up, then landing on the bonnet. The driver wasn’t going fast. He just brought his car to a stop.

And Mr Zizzis knew Barry. He brought them in and gave the old man his phone. Poor man. Poor, poor old man.”

***

The daydreaming letter writer is safely beyond the eastbound lanes. Will she claim sanctuary on the double lines? The nearest westbound fender catches her. Her body rises, floats – I will her to follow Barry’s gentle parabola – she is young, too young to die. I am old, too old and too young – to bear witness again to the sudden extinction of breath, of life.