Friday, 19 April 2013

About You

Pity is brought to you by the new range of Australian-made Imperial Soft Drinks, the soft drink of choice for AFL players.

            That stuff tastes like shit, the husband says through a mouthful of Weight Watchers lasagne.

            You don’t like soft drink, the wife says. Why did you even drink it?

It was free.


Welcome back to Pity! says Missy Douglass.

Who dresses these people? says the husband. I mean, short skirt and a safari vest? Does no-one tell her she looks ridiculous? Doesn’t she even look in a mirror before she walks out in front of the whole of Australia?

Our next contestant, says Missy, is a twelve-year old cutie from western Kenya. Please welcome to the stage, Jerim!


Hujambo, says Jerim.

Hello, says the interpreter.

Do you reckon he looks nervous? says the husband. Poor kid probably doesn’t even know what being nervous is. And why do all these African kids have buzz cuts?

My name is Jerim, says the interpreter. I like football. My father ran away when I was very young. Me and my three sisters are raised by my mother. We only earn enough money for two bags of grain each year and it’s not enough. A donation of $25 could give me food water and shelter and a hopeful future.

Please thank Jerim! says Missy.

He’s cute, yes, says the husband, and he dresses nicer than some of the dropkicks I see down by the station. But, I don’t know, there’s something about him, he doesn’t look as needy as the last kid. And, I know it’s wrong, but I don’t really like football either.

Now let’s see what our judges thought. Josie?

Adorable, lovable, you look like a winner, Jerim. I also grew up without a father and I know how hard it can be on a child. You’ve got to be a pretty cold-hearted person to say no to a face like that.

I like him, says the wife. He looks like he actually wants my help, not just needs it.

How did you come to that conclusion?

I don’t know, it’s just a feeling I had. It’s something about his face, that blank expression.

They all have blank expressions.

If you want to donate to Jerim, simply call the number on your screen now. Calls cost fifty five cents and charges are slightly higher from mobiles.

I’m going to donate, says the wife.

No, wait and see what the other kids are like. There might be one you like more. And besides, you have all week to donate. Eat your lasagne.

We’ll be back after the break with Tabith. You are watching Pity!

Ok, she says.


How much are you going to donate?

I don’t know. $25 maybe.

So that might be enough to buy Jerim a goat. But he’s still going to be impoverished and you’re still going to be living a better life than him. It’s all about guilt and you should feel guilty until you’ve given away everything you have. But you’re not going to do that, are you?

We should give something.

Will it make you feel better about yourself?

How does it make you feel to sit here judging which child you would, but won’t, give money to?

Just fine. It’s no different from window shopping.

I’m going upstairs.

But you haven’t finished dinner.

You eat it. I’m not hungry.

She walks through the house to their bedroom. She pulls the pillows from the bed and lies down. For a long time she stares at the white emptiness of the ceiling. Finally she retrieves the packet of contraceptive pills from the draw of her bedside table and takes them into the en-suite. She kneels over the toilet and slowly pops each pill into the bowl. The faint noise of the television drifts through the house but she can’t make out what is being said.


I say: “What if. Imagine. In the darkness is the beach and then the waves and then what? Anything at all.”
And you say nothing.
So I say: “Are you happy? I am. I don’t know why or how. But I don’t care.”
Then a shooting star passes over the hotel.
So I say: “Darling. Look up. Look at that. It is bringing us luck. You and me.”
And you say: “How can a rock millions of miles away bring us luck?”
So I say: “We are lucky. We need to be lucky to see one.”
And you say: “That’s cute.”
And then you say: “What if it were to fall out of the sky and crush us?”
So I say: “I’d be happy because I’d be with you.”
And you say:  “Do you ever think about how old we are getting, dear?”
And I say nothing. I just look into the darkness.
And then I say: “What would you do if a shooting star was falling out of the sky?”
And you say: “I don’t know.”
So I lean over and kiss you.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Prime Time Crime

Killer plunges in the dagger with a customary swagger
Hidden from the camera in the summer evening fuzz
The victim screams in pain, the only feelings that remain
And she looks just like a stranger, just like everybody does

Then the characters I know come in to run the show
The detectives, the forensics and their very handsome boss
And they don’t notice a streak but there’s a murder every week
But no-one ever tells the loved ones that they’re sorry for their loss

Then with standard issue wit everybody does their bit
Because they’ve only got an hour to catch up with this waif
And with customary zest the men make an arrest
Then there’s an ad for the army: help keep Australia safe

Killer has no hair and a semi-vacant stare
Big nose, big ears and eyes of the very deepest blue
He says he did what he did ‘cos he was bullied as a kid
But everyone I know was bullied too

Now I can walk my fleshy husk through the summer’s fuzzy dusk
With an eye over my shoulder in case bald men are about
And police cars just remind me that no-one is safe really
Law-abiding vengeance is all they ever carry out


I had sex with a girl named Charity in my room at the Comfort Hotel, Hestonville, on the 19th of December, 2012. They say that love is fate and when I saw her in the tavern sitting below a moose head (yes, it was that sort of town) I knew that I wanted to fuck her.

            At the time I was popping sleeping tablets because a strange side-effect was aphrodisia. If she asked I would say they were nicotine pills. (I also had a box of smokes in my pocket in case she was into that sort of thing.) I took a pill as soon as I saw her and washed it down with bourbon. 

            I bought her a Manhattan and made the bartender take it to her table. Small-town girls like anything associated with New York. She was bored, sitting with a couple of friends who were mashing faces. She looked over at me and I gave her the smile. She wanted me too.

            “You’re not from around here,” she said when she joined me at the bar.

            I told her I was drifting around the country, living off the spoils of my veteran’s pension. I like to let them know early on I’m a war hero, fighting their nightmares.

            She said, “So you must love the gun laws here in Hestonville?”

Truth is I knew nothing about Hestonville. I usually feel sorry for small towns since their identities are summarised by a beet museum and the cleanliness of their public toilets. I don’t really keep up with the news so I hadn’t heard about the town where it is illegal not to carry a firearm at all times: shopping, church, work (which, frighteningly for Charity, was a kindergarten).

“So you’re armed right now?” I asked.

Out of her handbag she pulled a pistol. She lay it on the bar mat as if we were in The Deer Hunter.

“Colt M1911 semi-automatic pistol,” she said. Nine round magazine capacity. 45-calabar. Seven round detachable box magazine. Light. Compact. Fast reload. Regarded as the best handgun on the market. I’ve named him Lancelot. And….” And she pulled a second clip from her purse.

“Why do you have a second clip?”

“In case I need it.” She paused. “I haven’t needed it though.”

“So does this mean you’re allowed to shoot people?”

“Oh no, you can only fire in self-defence.”

“Has anyone needed to use their gun?”

“I had a friend who was shot but he’s alright now. He saw someone reaching for their gun at the registers in the liquor store. It turns out the man was only going for his wallet but when he saw my friend reaching for his gun the man pulled out his own gun and shot him. It was in all the papers. People said it was a tragedy but it wasn’t really. He should have been quicker reaching for his gun.” She took a sip of her drink. “I love living here, though. There is no crime, no robberies or assault—or bar fights. I watch crime shows and shout at the television because they just don’t get it.”

How do you chat up a gun nut? It’s really no different to anyone else. They want to be loved too. So I told her about the guns I keep at home in New York (you know, where the Manhattans come from); my Glock, 10 mm, auto, 102 millimetre barrel, named Michael because it’s the name I wanted to give to my child. She ate up my bullshit and drank whatever I put in front of her. As she knocked them back she turned into a giggling, talkative, scatterbrained ditz and I knew I had her.

She gushed the usual crap at me: about her childhood sweetheart named Buddy or Rover or something, who chased a football scholarship to the big city (she wants reassurance that she’s is attractive); that she’s a good teacher but the kids are little shits and her mother—who runs the crèche—turns up almost every day to boss her about and it’s so embarrassing (she wants to be an adult), how her father fucked off when he found out her mother was pregnant (she wants to be loved). I popped another sleeping pill and held her hand. With each anecdote she leaned a little further forward until our lips were touching.

Now here comes the good bit, the reason you’ve read passed the opening line.

I asked her if she’d show me the town and she looked around for her friends but they were long gone. I led her outside and directed her between the California bungalows and prim gardens. She stumbled and giggled and I kept her upright. We passed a cop car outside the hotel going to God-knows-where.

The stale air inside the hotel room smelled of the last occupant’s deodorant. I kissed her before it could kill the mood.

“Do you do this often?”

“Never,” I said.

I carry her to the bed and straddled her hips.

“Is that all you’re travelling with?” she asked, looking at my luggage.


“Why do you have duct tape?”

“My areal fell off.”

I slid the dress straps from her shoulders and ran my palms down her arms until I was holding her hands. Gently, I pried her fingers from her handbag.

“No,” she whispered.



She pushed me off her chest and swung the pistol from the bag with the other hand.

“Ok,” I said. I’m sorry. Put the gun down.”

“Lie down on the bed,” she said. I lay down with my arms rigid and awkward by my sides. “And pull down your pants.”

So we all got what we wanted in the end.

When she was gone, I took my phone from my pocket and dialled 9 and 1 and stopped. I considered driving on but I didn’t. Instead I lay on the bed and tried to sleep.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013


In the beginning there was the word and the word was God. The world will end when the word does. I’m still talking and I don’t believe in God.

            “Please come home,” says my wife’s breathless voice in my ear. “I’m scared.”

            The World Health Organisation believes mobile phones are not carcinogenic. But once an idea gets into your head it grows like a tumour.

            “This is not the apocalypse,” I say. My voice echoes around the bathroom; eight steps long from sink to urinal. The freshener on the lip of the toilet bowl drools a lucid blue smear into the water.

            Africa is underwater,” she says in her nagging mother voice. “There are fireballs raining on Europe. Yellowstone has just erupted. You can’t tell me this is normal.”

The World Trade Organisation defines environmental crises as “largely unexpected changes in environmental quality that are difficult if not impossible to reverse.” This is optimistic. The known but unmentioned truth is that the environment has always been doomed. Look at The Club of Rome’s ‘Limit’s to Growth.’ Look at how the first world cannot bring itself to lower its standard of living to save the third world or even to save themselves. Last week my wife told me she was saving the environment because she recycled the egg carton. Then she drove to the shops in her four-wheel-drive.

We have always been in an environmental crisis. So when the religious nut-jobs call this the apocalypse it is not really.

“I can’t come home. They need me here. This is the opportunity of a lifetime. We were right! No-one can deny climate change now. The people will throw their money at us. The government will give us unlimited power. This is the day we can finally start saving the environment.” I start pacing again and let the patter of steps control my consciousness. She is acting so human. This is bigger than that.

“I’m putting your daughter on the phone,” she says, “And maybe you can explain to her why you don’t want to spend your last hours on Earth with your family.”

There is a rustling as I am shaken around in my wife’s fist. The bathroom door opens and Caldwell comes in with his fly already undone and a blood red slit of underwear winking at me. Without looking at me he moves across the room to a urinal. I don’t break stride.

“Daddy?” says that soft, milky voice. “I’m scared.”

“Darling,” I say, “don’t be. Nothing is ever as bad as the man on the television makes it seem.” I hear a gentle stream of piss hitting the urinal. He is trying to piss quietly so he can listen in. “Humans have been surviving for tens of thousands of years. Whenever something bad happens they think of a way around it. It’s called neoliberalism. Do you want to be scared or do you want to be an explorer of the future?”

I feel like a traitor justifying neoliberalism to an eight-year-old while my boss listens in.

 “What is he telling you, Emily?” My wife’s voice in the background.

“He says I’m an explorer of the future.”

“Give me the phone back,” she says. I stare at the bathroom tiles as I pace. Serratia marcescens, athlete’s foot, onychomycosis, plantar warts, all spread by bathroom tiles. And nobody ever cleans this bathroom.

“What do you think you’re doing?” she growls.

“Do you really want me to tell my daughter that we’re all going to die, because not only is it bullshit but it’s not helpful.” My voice is a coarse whisper trying to hide under the hiss of urine.

“Have you ever considered why people try to save the environment? It’s not for their children’s future but because they have the absurd delusion that they will live to see some difference made. It’s all bullshit.”

He hits flush. His urine begins the journey along thirty kilometres of piping, through the pump station, inlet screens, extended aeration tanks, sludge filtration systems and UV disinfection ponds until it becomes water again.

 “Well it’s been lovely to talk to you, honey,” I say loudly over the jet of the tap. “But I need to get back to work now. I will see you tonight. I’ll pick up takeaway on the way home. Goodbye.”

Caldwell is watching me in the mirror reflection.

“Everything alright?” he asks.

“Oh, you know; marital troubles.”

“I hear you. Don’t you miss the days of chaining ourselves to bulldozers and sleeping with those free love chicks?”

“I suppose we’re getting old.”

I follow him out of the bathroom. We walk through reception past rows of empty offices to the boardroom. The gaggle around the coffee machine dissipates as they see us arrive.

“Membership has gone up 400%,” Caldwell tells me. “The government is offering us a record-sized grant.” The boardroom is quiet, waiting for him to address them.  I take my seat at the end of the table and he stands by the whiteboard.

“Ok,” he tells the room. “We’ve got the resources, now what do we do?”

He looks at me. I’m not sure what to say.


One day, while marching, I recall
We came across a high brick wall,
And in the grass I heard a beg
From a broken scrambled egg.
I could see where it was he fell
And dashed his limbs upon his shell,
And in that dingy evening light
His broken shell was ghostly white.
His broken mouth asked me whether
I could put him back together.
“I’ve seen the horses and the men
And none can fix me up again.”

I told the brainless foetus “No!
You brought upon yourself this woe
When you sat cocky on the wall
And thought you’d never ever fall.

“So I don’t feel very bad for you
Because breaking is what eggs should do.
We left him there, my men and me;
For his yoke had obtained liberty.

So I led my army through the field
And when the king refused to yield,
We drew our swords and shields and then
Slaughtered his horses and his men.

I had no feelings of remorse
As I killed both men and horse,
But to note as each man lost his fight
His face had turned a ghostly white.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013


Empty car park, morning, sitting in Peter’s Hilux watching the river flow into my consciousness and out the other side. We swam here as kids, my sister and I, skipping stones, playing tag, duck-diving and opening our eyes to pick details in the morose slab of grey water. But it is winter now and nobody comes here. Frost clings to the grassy slope like dandruff.
I mocked Peter when he bought the Hilux. Twenty-four years in a country town and he’s never driven a dirt road. Better to be safe than sorry, he said as he kissed me, like a child kissing a scabbed knee. Jean loved the car, although she was still too small to climb into the back seat on her own. She loved looking down over the other cars as we coasted the main street for a car park. But then she’d always liked sitting on Peter’s shoulders.
She never liked to sit on my shoulders, so bony, slanted, like a shingled roof. Listen to me examine the phrenology of my own shoulders, how foolish. I lower my foot onto the accellerator to cencor my thoughts.
The car is excessive, everything now is excessive and nobody seems any happier, I’m not any happier. When I bought the gaffer tape the man behind the counter said it only came in packs of six, I only needed one. I used all six rolls anyway. Better to be safe than sorry.
It was I, not Peter, who gave  Jean swinning lessons, here, where the willow threads fingerpaint ripples, always within reach of a panicked splash. Peter believed all children must learn to swim, when he said it I believed it too. But Jean never wanted to learn. She didn’t paddle, she sunk as still and determined as a stone, knowing I would always save her.
My final failing: I won’t be there to pick her up from creche. Mrs. Coplin will call home and no-one will answer, so she’ll call Peter at work. Peter will curse me. When I don’t come home he will call the police. They will find the car eventually, find me silently watching the water like the mind watches dreams.
The mortgage paid for this car, like it pays for Peter to lose the night in the blackness of the Guinnes glass as he complains about the mortgage to his mates. Everything is about appearances in small towns; these people live in pictures rather than words. If I had left a note it would be burnt.
I have thought about what he will tell her. Nothing feels right and I like this. He might lie, say it was an accident, but nobody can keep a secret in Yarrawonga, especially the dead. He might say that I wanted to run away but grown-ups have forgotton how. He will most likely say I was crazy. I hope one day she will realise that craziness is simply a different form of logic. Most likely he will say nothing, she will never ask.
Everything is spinning except me. Long lethargic ripples spread across the sky, clouds disappear into the folds. By the river I can see a girl, a pre-schooler, testing the water temperature with the furthest precepice of her finger. It’s Jean, I’m halluscinating. I am amazed at how well my subconcious has captured her likeness, each strand of platinum blonde hair (so like her father’s), her favourite yellow parker, her skipping shuffling gate, the way she locks her knees as she bends towards the water. She hasn’t noticed me, I rev the engine, she’s ignoring me.
Peter will get drunk tonight. Whether he feels my loss or not it will be as though nothing has happened. One of his mates will need to give him a lift home. Tomorrow he might sell the car. Knowing him he will buy another exactly the same. He couldn’t live without that extra foot of visibility.
I have thought about what she will think of me. If I have run away then maybe she will try to find me, like we’re playing tag. If she is sad then maybe she will escape with me. I know these are only fantasies, not worth translating to words.
In the blur of faded greens and blues, the girl on the riverbank stops spinning, the ground whips out from under her and she falls with an effortless splash into the concrete-coloured water. I jump in my seat but I don’t fall. I race my mind around the smooth walls of my skull trying to catch up with the spinning, trying to see what is happening in front of me. The river surface smooths over. She isn’t paddling, she is sinking, like she always has.

The car door swings open and I fall into the dust. The air burns my thoat and lungs like I am an infant, I lurch forward down the embankment, onto my feet, crunching footprints into the frost, until the grass becomes pebbles and the icy water rises around me. My hand’s  scramble through the water but my fingers are numb. I can’t find her. I dive towards the bottom of the grey wash but I float to the surface like a cork beneath God’s thumb.