A bastard act

Papa had always enjoyed walks, especially the long, head-clearing kind.

Though he tolerated the meanderings we used to take together as a family, he was at his best after having lugged a heavy backpack over forest trails for days, tracing mountains and beaches with his hiking boots, drawing from the source of perfect solitude and silence.

It was only later that he began enjoying walks of a different nature: the unplanned, unattended, and unencumbered by compos mentis kind. On these he’d turn up at the side of highways with an axe, scratching his head and asking the responding constable where that expletive tree he had to fell was hiding, or asking for Nancy, my mother. Once he’d wandered off, leaving the tap running on the 22,000-litre tank. Days later he called to complain both about the lack of shower water and the length of green patch that had erupted on the paddock. Such things attract snakes, he’d said. From the cottage to the closest shop might have been seven kilometres, but he walked it. Blazing heat, not so much as a bead of sweat, not even when he commanded that responding constable to mind his own expletive business.

Continue reading “A bastard act”

A Welcome Visitor

A battered car door leaning against a highway sign announced in spray-paint letters Hugh Singh’s arrival in the EXTRATERRESTRIAL OUTBACK.

After crossing the invisible border, he eased his foot off the accelerator, lowered his window, and gazed across at the ochre and khaki ensemble of hillocks and flats, low bushes and grasses. Nothing in the landscape moved.

The town was a collection of one-story buildings and windless treetops huddled along a single, tarred road. Heat shimmered from the roofs of parked cars, a bright sun offered no respite for shadows. Hugh stopped outside the pub, consulted the map, checked the time, ran his hand over the ventilation outlet as he leafed through a loosely-bound folder of photos and hand-written notes. He threw the folder onto the back seat as a man approached the car. The man’s eyes were lost in his dark face, and his lips were blistered.

“Welcome, brother,” the man said, revealing a trio of milk teeth. He wiped a patch of dust from Hugh’s bonnet with his hem of his shirt. “Nice to get visitors in town. Wash your car for five bucks.”

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The Face of the Leviathan

‘Such heat!’ said the Commander, fanning himself with his hat. The two uniformed men at the front of the bus made a panicked show of fiddling with the air-conditioning levels and redirecting the fan grills. ‘I’d forgotten how searing the heart of this country is. Positively Hadean. What can we do about this heat, Dickie?’

Dickie put down his pen, twisted the top off a bottle of sparkling water, and handed it to the Commander.

‘No, no. I mean this,’ the Commander said, and tapped on the window. ‘The dying trees, if you can call them trees. The red dirt. I say, it is little wonder that so few of our citizens care to venture this far inland when the whole place burns like a kiln. They say they used to come in droves, by the millions, to tramp around an unadorned slab of rock, and eat flies by the dozen. Spend their own monies to do so! And now the railway line we built from the capital lays dormant and warping under the sun. How much did it cost to build?’ Dickie opened his mouth but the Commander held up his hand. ‘Never mind. Don’t remind me.’

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Hang in there

The DivideWhen the tyre blew, there was no explosion of rubber. No extended hiss.

No sudden slump in the cab, or grinding of rim on rock. Nothing to indicate that the wheel had put up a fight. Only an unsatisfying and noiseless wobble, an deflationary apology for having left me perched perpendicular to the descending mud track, and enveloped tip to toe in mountain forest.

It was eleven past midnight. Continue reading “Hang in there”

Tales from Shelley Beach – The Bus Ride home

Short chapters inspired by my new, coming of age novel, Sandbanker, available at no bookstores near you (yet)

The bell at St Christopher’s was not a real bell, made of brass or anything, but electric — it droned, like the torpedos in River Raid. (I didn’t actually have an Atari 2600 to test the theory, and didn’t really know anyone who did, at least someone who I could ask, but that’s what I’d heard.) Whoever they’d gotten to ring the school bell on that Friday afternoon had morsed-coded ‘S-O-S S-O-S’, and everyone had a good laugh about it, but I would’ve bet a case of chocolate frogs they had no clue what it meant. Continue reading “Tales from Shelley Beach – The Bus Ride home”

Take 24

There I was: cloaked in Victorian coat and tails, in thirty-five degree heat and waiting for my sausage dog to finish squeezing one out under a tree.

All around me, thrashing like a school of tuna in a whirlpool, were makeup artists and their assistants, camera crews and their assistants, boys chasing tangled cables, girls driving racks of plastic-wrapped suits between trucks, small men in yellow caps who seemed to do nothing but run up and down the set with coffee cups; and us – the extras – standing helplessly in the broiling sun, waiting for instructions from the loudspeaker. Continue reading “Take 24”