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.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013


We kiss
            And I squeeze out
My lungs
            Into her own
And fill her
            With my thoughts
Picked up
            By my breath
Delicate as paper

And then
She bursts
And her skin

And I cannot smell
            The morning’s coffee
                        Passive smoke
                        Fermented conversations

She is only skin
She is only colour
            Torn open
She was always wrong
She was never right
            For       My red thoughts
                        My blue thoughts
                        My yellow thoughts
                        My white thoughts
                        My orange thoughts 
                        My green thoughts

She is nothing now, but I think of her lips
            Lashed together with ribbon
And I remember how we argued so often
            You and I
And we shouted our love and hate
Into my passing breath
Into my mistress’ lips
                        Lashed to you
                                    Together with ribbon
Two halves of an argument
And blue

You don’t know
What I told her.
My love.
            My loss.
What I whispered into her lips
                                    With my breath
                                    What I lament with the sharp tip of my pen

Thursday, 31 January 2013


Before you founded Eden, you were a one fingered private from the fourth battalion killing Nips in the jungle, and each Nip you killed bled colours into your lapel of glorious royal green and silver and red and gold and the blue of your eyes which cried clear teardrops into the mud that swallowed the faces of men so that he died alone with his eyes closed and his lips pressed lovingly against hers until he is sodomised by a bayonet and the mud drains through the plug hole in his back until the final gurgle of his throat proclaims all of the lessons and miracles of enlightenment, the poor soul, carrying a burden heavier than a lee enfield while your feet lick feebly at the mud until you are ready to follow your muddy footsteps back from Papua to Melbourne and the clean carpet which the government rolls out in you honour leads you down a corridor of grey wallpaper until the carpet turns to gravel and the gravel turns to mud and the mud dries and the rabbits dig their holes in thin drays to ratchet your square of departmentally issued Mallee scrub by the highway which runs to both sides of your eyes: Up to where the silhouette of a grain silo blemishes the line of the horizon and Down to where the scrub stretches its spindly limbs high into the empty sky and lone clouds wonder as lost sheep, and you stop tending the rabbit holes to watch their shadows passing freely over the wire fence that you had thrust into the soil along the line on the Government’s map of the empty blue sky, the blue of your eyes which are parched and dry and follow the trail of strawberry seeds back along the rabbit holes to your shack where the great irrigators rest in the tin hanger like buffalo on the plain, walking up and walking down pissing life and mud through the mornings until fat bloody strawberries, like the hearts of men, rise from the mud and fall into your basket and the basket into punnets and punnets into the shed you found, hot and flyblown and reeking with a gut full of maggots and rusting drums of peroxide that give each strawberry a bloody glaze found only in Eden, dropped by lost clouds into plastic punnets for two bob a kilo from large wooden trays built from the twisted Mallee scrub under an abandoned sheet metal bus shelter by the asphalt catwalk of utes and paddock bashers going from Up to Down to Up to slow their tread to a stop then leap down from their carpets somewhere between the silo and the horizon at a paper sign waving furiously in the borderless winds and screaming ‘Garden of Eden Strawberries’ into the dusty gale where the buffalo and the rabbits are locked as zoo beasts behind the wire staff and you stand bearing the smile you learnt from the scantily clad harlot on the cigarette box and a genial greeting of “hello sir, I have tended the government’s garden well and the lord has rewarded me with strawberries that taste of God’s own blood” and the stranger takes the fruit between his fingers so that he marks his fingertips in the peroxide glaze, and then the stranger takes the fruit between his lips which fall into a smile and dribble juice down his chin and he tells you of his boundless fortune in discovering your oasis in the Mallee scrub and you smile as he leaves you with several gold coins and the joy which beats in your chest for the knowledge that you have made a man happy and as you wait at the bus stop in the afternoon, cars come by like lost clouds and their vampire smiles continue towards the horizon until the sun is punctured by the silo and you return to your fibro shack to eat war rations of stale bread and butter then sleep in confidence that a new sun will arrive soon to follow the old and in its light the buffalo will rise and piss soil into mud and by the afternoon men will disembark from their lost sheep with tales coming from Up and Down of the scrub swallowing rams with their jockeys slumped against the steering wheel smiling while the sun drapes down their faces and a new sun the next day and again and again the smiling men with bloodied chins leave you under the sky with a smile on your face reminding you that you have created something so precious and beautiful that it makes a man happy and content in their own death, so you wait behind the strawberry trays on a rusty banana lounge beneath the bus shelter through the empty silences that sing the same tune as the Papuan jungle until a flurry of noise (from the distance; from close by) leads to an exchange and you keep the lee enfield propped up against the bus shelter to calm some fear you remember from before you started dealing in joy but in the silences you find some discomfort as you watch the rotation of the silo’s shadow and question what lies within its shell that it should be a pulse to blemish the flat horizon so you bargain with a Model T to take you there and your hair pulls backward as the vehicle pushes forward and the scrub circles in from all sides and it is crawling with Nips who want to push your face into the copper dust and piss in your hair until you become lost in the mud and the bamboo shoots sprout through your chest, your mouth and splay branches of strawberries as full and as red as your heart should be if only you could see it and you are marooned by the highway with your legs twisted and splaying beneath the soil until you are plucked by the vampire teeth of a passing car and dropped at the foot of the silo which is as empty as the sky had told you it would be and you wonder where the other soldiers went when they stepped off the carpet into the scrub if they are not beneath the dome of the horizon which swallows each sun and vomits a new orb into the sky to awake the buffalo each morning but the peroxide tins are almost empty and you don’t know where to get more so you ask a smiling vampire that afternoon what there is when you reach Up and he tells you it is the town of Rainbow and you ask him what is there and he tells you it is nothing of interest and he doesn’t think they have stocked peroxide since the war ended; so you ask the next handful of coins what is Down and he tells you it is the town of Rainbow which you clarify to be the same Rainbow as before but the cars continue to strut by along the catwalk from Rainbow to Rainbow, exchanging coins for joy before continuing towards nothing of interest, not even the peroxide which you empty onto your final punnet of strawberries then sit by the road beneath the bus stop and wait for a car to come and take your final smiling mouthful of joy a little bit closer towards nothing of interest and you feel as empty inside as the horizons around you where the buffalo and the rabbits are still and the silo stares at you and you stare back with the strawberry between your lips and a smile on your face as you lean your back against the bus stop, hold the lee enfield in your finger and take pot shots at the sun.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Two Smokers on a Sunny Morning

Mick and Tim lean on their shovels under the row of elms which mark the point where the cemetery joins Roy Canning’s cabbage field. Roy liked to joke that all the human meal in the soil was doing wonders for his crop, and that the people of Inverell would be less likely to buy his cabbages if they realised it was their dead friends and relatives which were giving them the flavour. But that is the magic of death, the men would say: nobody is supposed to think about it too much.

The two men smoke and watch the magpies picking worms from the ceremonial lawns. It is late in the shift and already the first of the day’s funerals are gathering around the newly dug graves. They shimmer in the mid-morning heat like a poorly tuned television that at any moment could change stations to something more jovial.

“Funeral clothes aren’t very suited to summer,” says Mick. He drops his cigarette butt into the buzz-cut grass and lights another. The lighter is the cheapest Bic he could find at the IGA and it takes a few pumps to get a flame. Mick knows that with his smoking habits he will have a blood blister on his thumb in less than a week.

“Then why don’t you market a line of clothes especially for summer funerals and see how many you sell,” says Tim.

“It was just an observation,” says Mick. “A joke really.”

“I know,” says Tim. “I’m joking too.”

Dust blows across the cemetery, like the bodies of ghosts, to where the pale sky meets the fields. The mourners hold their jackets up to their faces. Somewhere in the distance a car hushes past.

“Look at those people,” says Mick, jabbing the hot end of his cigarette at the neat crowd of mourners. “Do you think they have any appreciation for what we do?”

“I suppose that depends on how much they want to see their friend buried.”

“Like, I know we’re just digging holes. But they’re a very specialised type of hole. If we dig it even a fraction too small then we can turn the whole grieving process into a farce. When people talk about grandpa it’ll be the thing that they remember.”

“Oh yeah. And anyone buried five feet under is gunna look like an idiot for the rest of time.”

“And the walls need to be dead straight and the bottom dead flat and its all gotta look perfect. It has to be perfect.” Mick’s voice trails off. He looks across at Tim. He’s got to be about ten years older than Mick, with a sun-beaten face like cracked clay. He’s not old enough to be Mick’s father, but he’s not young enough to be Mick’s friend. So what is he?

Aware that his eyes are lingering for too long, he loses himself in the thick mess of lawn.

“I don’t want someone like us digging my grave,” says Tim eventually. “I’m gunna dig it myself. Then when I’m lying in it, I’m gunna have a little label over my head which points out to passers by not to dig in this spot.”

Mick cracks a grin and nearly loses his cigarette. Tim is staring out over the lines of graves. There is a wry smile in the corner of his lip and his cheek crinkles around it like a cloud of arrows.

“You’re absolutely right,” says Mick.

“And I’m not gunna have a funeral, because who wants to spend a whole morning feeling bad about themselves. And worse: having the expectation that they should feel bad about themselves. What sort of friend would want to inflict that kind of pain onto the people he supposably loves?”

“I’m not even going to let anyone know that I’m dying,” says Mick. “I’m just going to leave a note at home saying that I’ve died and am buried in a non-descript place. Somewhere out of the way. I suppose a cemetery is as out of the way as you can get.”

Tim looks across at Mick and drops his cigarette butt into the grass. It smoulders briefly in the nutrient-rich mulch then goes out.

“Let me ask you something,” says Tim. “Why do you care how you die? Or what happens after? You’ll be dead anyway.”

The mourners are returning to their cars across the lawns. They talk in hushed tones and make mournful sweeping actions with their heads. A few people linger: two girls, two middle-aged men wearing sunglasses and an old man. Then they turn to leave too.

“I don’t know,” he says finally.

Tim stamps on his cigarette butt. He wraps his well worn fingers around the handle of his spade and swings the shaft into his other hand.

“I suppose we better get back to work,” he says. He begins walking across the lawns, scattering the magpies as he goes. Mick watches the old man walk away. For a moment he imagines he is on his way to dig his own grave.

When it feels like he has waited too long, he follows.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Eleanor Rigby

Ah, look at all the lonely people. Ah, look at all the lonely people.


I never really noticed that there are people who live in the houses that flicker past the carriage window. I wonder if they would invite me into the house to drink coffee at their breakfast bar, or if they have any Kafka in their bookshelves. They must have read at least one book that I like. Suddenly we have a conversation and they invite me back again the next week, this time to sit in the lounge room. Making friends is easy because everyone is doing it.

            The girl sitting across from me is reflected in the carriage window. Each house passes through her head like a thought then disappears.


Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice in the church where her wedding has been. Lives in a dream.


She is watching the window too. Her eyes are heavy with mascara to hide the wrinkled lines of fatigue. She is imagining the end of the world. The sun falls out of the sky and the water climbs out of the sea and the lounge rooms and rumpus rooms and living rooms and family rooms all crumple into the ground.

            And still this train keeps moving to wherever it is taking her.


Waits at the window, wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door. Who is it for?


I know where it is taking her.

            It’s her second year since high school, her first job. At the call centre, today is the day she will be fired and she is excited. She will tell the customers that she doesn’t care how they’re going. Then she will tell them about the company’s competitors. If they are still listening then she will ask if they are lonely.

She has made up her face and undone her top button for someone. She doesn’t know this person yet. She looks for him in the street or around the office or on the chat forums when she should be working.

Tomorrow she will sleep in.


All the lonely people, where do they all come from? All the lonely people, where do they all belong?


But meanwhile the world is ending. She watches God rain judgment on the people of Earth. She thought God had forgotten about Earth since he’s been building the universe.

            Instead he is opening fissures filled with fire.


Father Mackenzie, writing the words of a sermon that no-one will hear. No-one comes near.


There is a boy sitting next to her, about the same age. It is impossible to tell how much time he has put into choosing his polo shirt and shorts or arranging his hair, but his eyes are heavy and his cheeks are shaven until pink and his skin is dry like dead leaves. He picks at a scab on his knuckle. His eyes remain on the window.

            He cradles a backpack in his lap. Padlocks remain on the zippers from some lonely adventure.


Look at him working, darning his socks in the night when there’s nobody there. What does he care?


He is going from his mother’s house to his father’s house, but somewhere along the way he has forgotten where he lives. He is going to the city to walk through the busy stations of white and grey people brushing and pushing but never touching each other, appearing and disappearing behind buildings until it looks like they are not moving at all.

He will move through the crowd and search for memories, painful memories preferably, directing him where to go, and losing himself in the depths of his head where he can finally be alone.


All the lonely people, where do they all come from? All the lonely people, where do they all belong?


But he won’t get there. He will notice her face in the window, will see how long she has taken to make herself beautiful and assume she is taken.

But he will try.

He will mention the copy of The Bell Jar closed in her lap and how much he loved it when he read it in high school. But he has never read it. She works this out quickly. It’s cute.

He will ask where she is going and she will tell him about the call centre and how this evening she will be fired. He will ask why should she wait until then? Why not skip work and have coffee with him? She’ll smile and show off her pretty teeth that her parents paid for in time and her in pain. She likes the effort he has or hasn’t put into his appearance. She says yes.

By the evening they are in love.


Ah, look at all the lonely people. Ah, look at all the lonely people.


Except he doesn’t notice her. They simply watch the townhouses and diorama gardens and letterboxes flicker by.

            There is no apocalypse either. Now that she thinks about it, the whole idea seems silly. Why would God create life if he wanted to destroy it?

I watch a house, small and single storied and containing a small single storied family with a dog named Spot and a Corolla and a mortgage they will have paid off in three years and a copy of The Trial on their bookshelf, and I watch it slide across the window until it hits the frame and simply disappears.


Eleanor Rigby died in the church and was buried along with her name. Nobody came.


Something moves. It is his reflection, his head then his lips. Something about The Bell Jar? She laughs and turns away from the window until they are simply staring at each other. He takes his hand from his side and places it on her knee.


Father McKenzie, wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from her grave. No-one was saved.


He leans forward until their noses are almost touching and their lips come together. She pulls closer and opens her lips, letting him inside.

            When it is over he holds her in his arms.


All the lonely people, where do they all come from? All the lonely people, where do they all belong?


She buries her head in the cradle of his neck and together they stare at the city flickering past. Or maybe they are staring at themselves. People who are looking for love tend to find each other in the end.

            Or maybe they are watching me.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

The girl in darkness

I will confess that physical attraction drew me to her. But lust is a natural benefactor of love and love is a meaningless word used by fools. What we have is more than that.

            I don’t know her name so I call her Juliet.

            I have seen her only once. It was enough to notice that long blonde hair which can be summarised only in the vagueness of perfection. I watched it fall over one eye to be impulsively swept away with a playful flick. Then, like a dog with a stick, that hair just came on back again to cover her eye. She has condensed the mundaneness of awaking and thinking and consuming and feeling and hating and living and forgetting into a simple reflex. And she is too alive to even notice.

            Her strides were so delicate. Her screams silenced the birds. She was not afraid to let me see her cry.

She had enchanting breasts.

            She lives on the uppermost floor of a drab 1970s apartment complex on Sixth Street that is so unbecoming for her. I wait in the street below and paint pictures onto the black depths of her window. She never comes out. But humans are weak: she will need to eat something soon.

I need to eat too. I think about nothing else. I am such a simpleton. I have impure thoughts of my teeth in the soft flesh of her wrist as I take her as my own. A love bite. I will bite her where I was bitten. It will be so poetic when we are in love.

It seems I am starving myself for her. If only she could see what she is doing to me. I am disappearing, rotting, fermenting in the sun that watches me forever but is forever out of reach. I am making myself ugly for you, Juliet. Only ever for you.

I walk around the building. I push at the fat ceder doors and rattle the bars across the windows like a prisoner trying to break in. My mind slips under door. It knows the inkblot grains in the polished timber floors of the lobby. It climbs the six hundred and thirty six stairs to her door. It has laughed on her sofa and lain on her bed (What a bed! Plain. Shameless. A place of business). It has taught her about impressionist art and romantic poetry. It has heard stories of her childhood under the folds of a blanket of Minneapolis snow.

And every time I will look at her I will be amazed by her beauty. Beauty is so rare since the outbreak. I know she is smart too: the way she sneaked home in the dead of night so no-one could see her beauty. No-one but me. What a brain she must have encased in that fishbowl.

Sometimes I worry that she won’t love me back. I worry that what I plan to do is sexual abuse. If only she knew the agony she caused me every day just by living. Is that not sexual abuse itself?

She is so beautiful.

Tonight I am watching her window and imagining her waving to me. Her waves are slow and rhythmic and completely erotic. She doesn’t blow me kisses like a cheap whore. Just a gentle smile as she plays with her hair until suddenly there is a flash of torchlight across the glass. She is coming to me, my love. The beam of light descends to the fifth floor, then the fourth. I hurry across the empty street. I have rehearsed this so many times. I have seen her open the door and fall into my outstretched arms.

I stand behind the door and listen to her untangle the chains on the other side. All that keeps us apart is six inches of dead wood. I listen to the short shallow drags of her breath and allow them to fill my chest until with a sudden sing-song scream the door opens an inch, then another inch and I can see her short chipped fingernails curl around the ceder. And then her breasts appear and her hair and her smooth round skull encasing that perfect brain. It is even more perfect for its little bumps and flaws, because it is the soil that sprouts her perfect hair, because it is right in front of me.

She turns. She sees me. What does she see? I can see the blood pulsing over her temples. I need to say something.

“Brains,” I say.

I have never been good at first impressions and this is especially poor. She screams. Oh that beautiful voice, like a siren song it paralyses me and suddenly she is running across the street. Her footsteps tread where once my own had been, waiting. And I can’t do anything but watch as she morphs once more into darkness.

My love has just gone out for a little while. She will return. This is her house after all and she has nowhere else to go.

The lobby is not as I imagined. It is carpeted and soulless and filled with cheap and spiteful chairs. I count seven hundred and fifty six stairs to her filthy Ikea apartment. Food wrappers are strewn like seaweed around a yellowing mattress on the living room floor. There is no art or even wallpaper. But then I remember her beauty. And that hair, forever falling, waiting to be caught. It crosses my mind that maybe I am only in love with her beauty, that once I have her I will lose interest. I don’t care. I will do anything to stop feeling this way.

So I sit on her mattress and wait for her to come home.

When the sun finally rises I feel completely alone.

Love Poem

If I were an ending
I’d want to end where you begin
And if I were a black eye
I’d want to catch on your skin
If I were a curse
I’d want to flow across your lips
And if I were fat
I’d want to hang around your hips

If I were broken glass
Then I would give you what I had
And if I were anger
I would love to make you mad

If I were a bee
Then I’d offer you my sting
And if I had nothing
Then I’d give you everything

If I’m at rock bottom
I’d be there to break your fall
And if I were silent
I’d answer when you call

If I were unhappiness
I’d be there when you cry
And if I were deceased
I would wait for you to die

And if I were to be me
Then I hope that you’d be you
And if I say “You love me”
Then you’d say “You love me too”