Wednesday, April 30, 2008


"The first thing you'll notice is that there central heterochromia." The salesman had his pitch down to a smooth art. His fingers worked their way through the dog's body like he was conducting a detailed autopsy, which, perhaps, he was.

We peered in closer, following his fingers. The husky stared straight ahead, seemingly unfazed by all these pairs of fingers flitting across its vision. The salesman was right: each of the dog's eyes had green swirls sliding circularly across the ice-blue pupils.

"Nothing wrong with him, of course," said the salesman. "Just melanin levels in his eyes is all wronged up. Course you don't often see such interesting patterns. Usually you get one eye that's brown and one that's green, something like that."

He was right. This dog's eyes were startling. He was the only Husky in the lot that wasn't shifting around nervously in the unseasonal heat.

"We'll take him," I said.

Richard nudged me in the side. "Um, Tracie?" His face told me all I needed to know.

"But look at him," I pressed.

"You don't want to check any others out?"

"This one just spoke to me. I don't need to see any others."

The salesman grinned a sharky smile. "He's a beaut, that's for right sure."

Richard relented. "Your choice," he told me. "Your choice."

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


Somewhere, a cat is crowning. 76 000 readers turn the same page of a newspaper. These are simply the facts that permeate this oh so strange world. At four pm, someone will become a professor. At the same time, an associate professor will arrange some photos in an album, removing all those pictures of that holiday where The Great Sadness fell upon him. Later today, a timpani will be made. One ant will make his decision to kill the Queen. A young woman, who has just come off her lunch break at a hardware store will suddenly consider the phrase "hatchet job". You will have to take that left-hand turn. I will refuse to douche.

Monday, April 28, 2008


Anti-tank dogs were employed by the Russians in WWII to combat those pesky German Panzer tanks, which were just too damned fast to combat. The dogs were systematically starved, then trained to fetch food from underneath tanks. Explosives were strapped to the dogs' backs, and when they went under the vehicles, a small wooden lever attached to the explosive packs would depress, causing significant damage to the exposed underside of the Panzer (and even more significant damage to the dog). It is estimated that the trained dogs took out at least 300 German tanks.

What is less well-known, however, is that many of these anti-tank dogs did not always do what they were supposed to. There are numerous instances of the dogs simply turning around, content to seek food under Russian tanks, and, in turn, blowing up their masters. The anti-tank dogs were officially retired at the end of 1942.

Unofficially, there are a few notable instances of these dogs turning up well into the late 1940s. One such dog, known only as испаряющая шерсть (roughly translated: volatile fur), fell into the hands of a family in the western Russian city of Belgorod. The family's youngest son, Gregor Polikanov, was reported to have found the dog wandering in some woods near the family home. Luckily for all parties concerned, Gregor Polikanov was of a particularly standoffish disposition, and was certainly not the type of young boy to run up and hug a strange dog, least of all one nearly starved with a suspicious wooden box attached to its back.

The dog followed Gregor home, and Gregor didn't really care much about this one way or the other, as he was the sort of boy who took little notice of things that didn't concern food or marbles. Gregor's father, Ivan Polikanov, welcomed the dog by patting him on the head. Ivan also was not the sort of man to put his arm around a dog, even one his usually antisocial son had seemed to take a shine to. Even more luckily, the entire Polikanov family were abnormally tall, and as such, their tables and beds were constructed as to be unusually high off the ground.

As can be imagined, the dog maintained a fairly successful life with the tall-tabled, socially inept Polikanovs, until one fateful day when the mayor, Igor Klosov, dropped in to see if he could count on the Polikanovs' vote in his upcoming re-election. They mayor, a man whose politicking skills were honed to a fine point, never missed a chance to kiss a baby, shake a firm hand or pet a beloved family pet. He, of course, misinterpreted the wooden box on the dog's back as some sort of peasant potato-harvest accessory (these were desperate people, after all, he thought, who could not afford a strong ox to plough their fields). Moreover, when he saw the lever attached to the dog's box, his voting-day instincts kicked in and, while leaning over and thinking Vote One Igor Konstantine Klosov! he pulled heartily on the lever.

A local postal worker happened across the sad scene some days later. The remains of the Polikanov house consisted of one chimney, pointing sadly at the sky. The postal worker kicked among the remains until he spied the obtrusive glint of Mayor Klosov's official badge, dinted, burnished, but still intact. The postal worked shook his head. He muttered to himself, будет эт мы ые для?, which, roughly translated, means, Is this what we fought for?

Sunday, April 27, 2008


We were sitting in a room very similar to this one. Three of us: Henry, Colleen and I. Henry's this pouch-faced fellow who looks as if he's stepped out of the 1500s and Colleen's been the object of my sexual fantasies since I was 15. As I said, the room was remarkably similar to this one, right down to the dubious objet trouvé that seems to have so enchanted the decorators.

In fact, Henry's eye was immediately caught by some painted driftwood-and-wheel-spoke number and he went over to it and remarked on its "naive beauty". Colleen and I shared a look and then she snorted with laughter. Henry reeled around, as he so often did, with an imperious air. Henry was always reeling.

"Oh come on," said Colleen, "you surely can't think that this is art?"

"As a matter of fact," said Henry, "I think you're missing a lot."

"I think you're missing a lot," I said, tapping the side of my head. Which was a far less clever line when actually said out loud.

"Anyway," said Colleen. "We're waiting for him here, so we'd better get used to it."

This "him" Colleen was alluding to was her so-called partner. When Colleen first used this word, I had hoped it referred to either a business associate or grizzled cowboy. Unfortunately it meant neither. His name was Jack, but out of respect for me (I like to think) she just called him "him".

Henry pulled out a pack of cards—pretentious gold-leafed cards and shuffled them in what he hoped was a nonchalant way. In fact, bug-beads of concentration sweat grew noticeably from his temples. "Can't be long now," he said.

"Can't be long," I agreed.

Friday, April 25, 2008


Buggs watched his silhouette stretch away from him, across the painted yellow lines, all the way down to the wall at the far end of the carpark. He shifted his weight on the bonnet of his Skyline, relishing the familiar creak that accompanied it. He bent his neck in sympathy, feeling the crack in a dull place behind his left ear. Somewhere in the distance, there was a bell: the church, or an alarm or something.

Nothing was happening in the afternoon, but he sort of thought that something might. The Arcade carpark was empty as a collection tin. He squinted up his right eye and kneaded his lips for an absent cigarette. Maybe down at Bellie Park, he thought. Maybe something going down at the grandstand.

The automatic door behind him shivered, and a fat woman came out, holding a brown string shopping bag. Her possessions stared out from their carry-cage: the bulge of a generic sugar pack, a log cabin of chocolate bars, two giant oranges like fat testicles. The whole image, the complete lack of effort this woman showed annoyed Buggs immensely. He hated people who didn’t make an effort. He let his glance drip down her like grease, then he spat at the ground. The fat woman hurried on, back to her car, her ankles drooping over tight canvas sneakers.
Buggs entertained the thought that he might follow her, trail her in his car at snail’s pace, make her speed home with chocolate melting on the dashboard. He snuffed out a laugh, and felt nothing much at all.

The sun was going down at the wrong angle behind the bandstand, its colour bleaching at the edges, shaking like one of those giant Chinese gongs. Buggs pulled his car in from the far side of the street and parked it across two spaces. He opened the door and stepped out, feeling, not for the first time, as if he was unfolding himself. He took off his cap, pushed back his hair, put his cap back on. A little ritual: keeping everything smooth.

He saw Courtney sitting on the broken end of the boat swing, her feet scraping hard cavities in the dirt. Her white Adidas hoodie glinted like a road sign.

“What’s going on?” said Buggs, knowing he was too far away for her to hear him.

Courtney looked up. She lifted up her feet and put them back in the swing.

“What’s happening?” he said again.

“Nothing,” replied Courtney. “Just sitting here.”

Buggs leant a hand against the swing, pushing it slightly. “Anyone else around?”

“Shell was here, but she nicked off.”

“Got a smoke?”

“Only got one left.”

“I’ll buy you some more tomorrow.”

Sighing, Courtney reached into her jacket and pulled out a folded pack of Marlboros. She threw it into Buggs’ chest. He grappled at it childishly.

“Jeez,” he said. “Marlboros? You got no taste at all?”

“Give them back if you don’t want them. Nathan got them for me.”

Buggs rubbed his chin. “Fuckin’ Nathan. Tell him I want to see him.”

“You know where he lives.”

“Fucked if I’m gonna visit him.”

Courtney shrugged her shoulders and looked off across the park. Buggs noticed her hair was held back with a rubber band. He felt a kind of rubber pain in his own head. He quickly unfolded the Marlboro pack and probed inside it with his index finger.

“It’s empty,” he said.

Courtney looked at him blankly. “There’s one left.”

“Bullshit there is.” Buggs held up the mangled pack like a lawyer with an evidence bag.
Courtney snatched it from his hand, reached in, and pulled out the Marlboro. “Magic,” she said.
Buggs was never sure of Courtney. Her mouth sagged where someone had hit her once, and she always had an expression like she was pissed off. Everything she said—serious or not—came out like an accusation.

Buggs lit the cigarette expertly, shaking his head as he breathed in the first smoke. He sniffed, and put one foot on a step on the side of the swing. Courtney didn’t move, so he climbed in, sitting on the opposite edge. The council had taken down the other two boat swings a few weeks before, because of safety concerns. They sat at the other edge of the park, abandoned, run aground.

“Wanna find something to do?” asked Buggs.

Courtney sniffed. “Not with you, anyway.”

The main street was dead, too. The usual lights were gone, turned out by an invisible switch, absent like a heartbeat. The power had cut out just after six-thirty according to the radio. Wild storms behind The Range. Courtney had switched the station; it was a new one that played the same stuff Buggs saw on TV every Saturday morning. She had her elbow out the window. One hand tapped the beat out against her knee.

Buggs turned his head. “So what do you want to listen to this stuff for?”

“What do you listen to, then? Classical FM?” Courtney’s top lip had freckles on it that quivered when she talked.

Buggs swung his eyes back to the road. “Just don’t see the point of this chicken-shit music.”
“Shows what you know.”

The headlights on Buggs’ car lit up the main street, casting shadows over it he hadn’t seen before. A couple of bodies loitered outside the Sports Club bar, but Buggs didn’t feel like a big crowd. A low moon had come out, and it sat big and dirty yellow like a baby’s head. Buggs came out of the main street and heaved his steering wheel all the way around the roundabout. He took the last exit, out of town, out towards the highway. KFC and Red Rooster lit up on either side of the road. Buggs thought it was pretty sad that they were the only places in town that thought ahead enough to have generators. The amount of blackouts this town had.

Courtney rested her head against the side of the window. Buggs was annoyed that she had let her seatbelt slip around her waist. “Where are we going?” she said. Stray blonde hairs whipped across her face with the outside wind.

“Dunno,” said Buggs. “This place just dies sometimes, you know?” He bent his neck down and peered up through the windshield. “Maybe we can go somewhere and watch the stars.”

“The stars?”

“I mean, there’s no other lights, hardly. Means we could see them all, if we wanted.”

Courtney made a sound like a stubborn horse. “Fuckin’ . . . stars,” she said. “You’re just weird.”

“At least I’m making an effort,” replied Buggs. “What else are you going to do tonight? Drop by Shell’s, smoke some weed, stare at the wall?”

“Yeah,” said Courtney defensively, “sounds good.”

“Maybe you’re just keen on her boy. What’s his name—Cliff?”


“Yeah. Clint. Cunt. You like him?”

“Get fucked. He’s a loser.”

“What’s it to be then?” said Buggs. The car groaned as it began to climb the hill.

Courtney sighed. “Okay,” she said. “But staring at the wall or staring at the sky, you owe me some smokes.”

Buggs shrugged. "Fair enough," was his reply.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


There were five faces pressed against the windows of the taxi as it sped past. Susan looked at them without really looking, only left with an image sitting there in the night, Polaroid-bleached, long after the vehicle had passed.

She returned her gaze to that big pulsing moon, which tonight was a cracked heel, a blister, in the air. Beneath it, old-fashioned clouds were building—childhood billow-busters with lightning at their hearts.

There was smoke somewhere very near, thick as fists, scratchy as matchsticks. Susan held one hand with her other, safe in the cave of her jumper pocket. She walked on.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


If you really want to trace the whole thing back to its point of, let’s say, origin—though some might argue termination—you must understand that Dr Fur was under “a whole lot of pressure”, which, to some people may seem a rather arbitrary measurement, but, as Dr Fur was not in the habit of telling people exactly what he was thinking, it was just as accurate an estimation that could, with any confidence, be ascertained. Dr Fur broke his glasses. To be more specific, a filing cabinet broke his glasses when—as is so often the case in a life too full of dedication to a profession and not full enough of the repetitive practice of simple motor skills—Dr Fur had so much trouble catching a pen thrown to him by a colleague that his head came into damagingly forceful contact with an open metal drawer. Amidst the panicked confusion that generally strikes a white-collar office when faced with a relatively domestic emergency, Dr Fur’s mind had a rare moment to itself. Lying on the thick waiting room carpet, blinking blood from his eyes and onto burgundy shag, watching blurry shapes he knew as his co-workers and patients buzzing ineffectually above him, Dr Fur began to wonder what he was actually doing. It was not quite the existential query that prompts so many textbook epiphanies, but rather a simpler, more prosaic wondering of why we are who we are. Dr Fur realised he had no idea how and why his life had led him to this particular point: i.e. prostrate, slightly concussed, bleeding, in the vestibule of a highly regarded psychological research institute. As Dr Fur tried to move his arm, and found he couldn’t, he reflected on the awful paradox of him being an avid instigator and discoverer of the mind, and yet unable to find a simple reason for his current position in not just his own life, but everyone else’s. How did he arrive at this moment in time? Who decided where his dot would land on an axis of x, y and z? But, such was the nature of Dr Fur’s personality that, when asked if he was alright, he said, “Yes. Of course.” Which, in point of fact, was a lie.

Dr Fur’s vision came and went, like a camera shot just below the water line, lapping between two refracted worlds. He wasn’t actually worried until someone who sounded very much like a television doctor said, “The first minutes are crucial when there’s broken glass and eyes,” and Dr Fur thought he’d knocked over a vase or tumbler before he realised that it was his glasses that were being talked about, which weren’t, obviously, made of glass, but rather some sort of Perspex compound. He put his hand up to his face and felt a mangled twist of wire where his spectacles had once been.

“Get him a glass of water,” said the television doctor, whose voice Dr Fur suddenly recognised as the colleague who had thrown him the pen. Other voices made murmurs of apparently professional agreement. What he needed most, Dr Fur knew, was a bowl of clean water, a towel, and a basic first aid kit. The irony hung over the room like a palm tree: How many PhDs does it take to put on a band-aid? Although he was feeling mostly alright, Dr Fur remained on the floor. He was ready for a little sympathy, and was enjoying the uncomfortableness of the people around him. The room, as it happened, just happened to contain most of the great regional minds of paediatric behavioural psychology, and as such, a fair chunk of Dr Fur’s regular social circle. They had been gathering for the morning session of a particularly regular conference meeting at the offices of a certain Prof. Ptarmigan, employer of all present, owner of the waiting room, and indeed the research institute to which it belonged. Now Dr Fur’s friends and colleagues proved as useful to him as spinning tops on a sinking ship.

Dr Fur sat up, observing, first, the constellation spatter of blood down his aquamarine shirt. He removed the sad post-script of prescriptive lenses from his face. The filing cabinet drawer still stood ajar, seeming to have sustained nowhere near the level of injury he had. The drawer, in fact, remained stuck in a pulled-out position, as if the force of a grown man’s head was not even enough to force it into its most basic function: rolling inwards. “Smarmy bloody thing,” said Dr Fur, under his breath. He added this incident to a growing list of things that were wrong with a compartmentalised society.

A face appeared: very pink, very much a nose, very many red tributaries linking all vital features. Professor Ptarmigan was nothing if not noticeable, with or without corrected vision.
“Can’t imagine this will put us too much behind schedule,” was his observation of the situation.
Dr Fur replied, “Can’t imagine it will,” and attempted to stand up. In the usual way of overweight men, this involved arranging both legs into a position normally associated with marriage proposals and knighthoods, then pushing the body up with both hands braced against the upright knee. When Dr Fur arrived, eventually, at an upright position, he found himself in the middle of an almost too well arranged semi-circle of bodies. Eight esteemed psychologists, including Ptarmigan and the television-doctor-voiced-pen-thrower, looked at Dr Fur as darts players would a fresh board. They all seemed, to Dr Fur, to be staring intently at his hand. When he looked down, he discovered to his surprise that he had actually caught the pen.

“Does anyone remember,” he asked, holding the pen aloft, “why I needed this?”

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


It is foolish to admit to such things, but I never really held that much faith in our ability to even get the damned thing to print. We were scientists, my colleague and I, not entrepreneurs, and although I never entertained these ideas in front of Edwin, I had envisaged the whole sorry affair to have fallen over within the first week. But, to Edwin's credit, I had underestimated his persistence, and some six months into our venture, words such as typesetting and layout had entered our lexicon.

I had spent so much time away from my laboratory, I had begun to feel like a sailor far from home. I was no proofreader, and yet the nights I spent poring over some other fool's scientific prose! My microscope remained under its cloth cover, but all the time I felt I could imagine it looking at me, peering up with a pleading cyclopic eye. The damnation of an inanimate is not a pleasant thing.

I met Edwin at our usual table in the old teahouse for the umpteenth time that winter, shivering sleet from my shoulders as I entered, welcoming the stale warmth. Edwin sat, as he always did, surrounded in shrifts of paper, shirtsleeves rolled up to his elbows, with that harried look on his face that had settled there of late like a nesting bird.

"What ho, George!" came his robust welcome.

"Hello," I said. "What news?" I ordered my weak Ceylon with a nod of the head towards the service counter.

"We're going to print!" Edwin exclaimed.


"Next week."

I searched my brain for the right words. This was a moment I really had never imagined. "I thought we still had some ... revisions."

"Done, old boy. Finished and done." His face constructed a nearly convincing grin. "The Quarterly Journal of Microscopical Science is almost ready for its adoring public!"

"Who are we using to print it? Not Worther & Sons?"

"The very same."

"But they're completely incompetent. Those ham-handed so-called sons have done nothing but lose our proofs, underquote and generally prove themselves to be unprofessional."

Edwin pushed his pince-nez up to the bride of his nose. "Ah, that was before, George. I have spoken to Mr Worther himself this very morning, and he has assured me that he will be personally dealing with our printing."

And for this, there was not more argument needed. Edwin had made up his mind. He had shipped off the galleys, unknown errors and all to Worther. Whatever was to come was to come. My tea came, and Edwin downed it for me.


The grand unveiling came some weeks later, in the form of a large package arriving one morning at my doorstep. I had spent the morning pottering about in my laboratory, enjoying some time following my favoured hobby of viewing biological specimens from the water of a small pond in a lake near my house, but this small enjoyment was interrupted by the loud knock at my door, and one of the larger Worther sons plunging an enormous package into my arms. It was terribly heavy, covered in brown paper, tied in thick twine.

When the Worther had left, I sent word at once for Edwin. I didn't want to open the copies of the first issue of our Journal without him, so I spent the time cleaning my desk in lieu of the various distribution and invoicing tasks that Edwin would inevitably lumber me with once we realised we had 400 copies of a periodical in our hands and in no one else's.

Edwin arrived, half-shaved, odd-socked and thoroughly out of breath.

"This is it, old chum!" he said, reaching into the pocket of his greatcoat and removing an alarmingly dangerous looking Arabic letter opener. His hacked away the twine and ran the blade down one side of the package, before peeling the brown paper back carefully. His face went white.

"What's wrong?" I asked him. I couldn't see into the package from where I was standing.

Edwin's hands shook. "Journal ... " he stammered, " ... Microscopical ..."

I pushed his shaking body aside and looked into the package. What I saw was what looked like piles of shredded paper. I looked closer. "Oh, they didn't," I said suddenly. "They couldn't have."

Edwin put his head in his hands. "They did. With my pre-paid deposit."

"You didn't sign anything, I hope," I said, searching somewhere for a receipt.

Edwin just nodded. "The contract looked fine," he gasped. "How was I to know they'd ... oh God!" He hit his head several times, luckily with the hand not containing the scimitar letter opener.

I found the receipt, handwritten proudly by Worther the Elder, no doubt. I read from it, aloud. "For Mr Edwin Lankester, being Four Hundred copies of his scientific magazine The Microscopic Journal of Quarterly Science."

Edwin just groaned.

I must admit, although I did not make it obvious, I smiled. My colleague and I had become unique, being the owner of England's (and I would hazard to guess, the world's) tiniest professional quarterly. I picked one up between thumb and forefinger. "They have done a good job," I said, "you'd have to admit. This is very intricate work."

"We'll be the laughing stock of every worthwhile mind from here to Cornwall," seethed Edwin. "Imagine the laughter."

"Oh, I don't know," I said. "At least we know only people with microscopes will be able to read it. That's quite a sales angle. In fact, I can see this working."


Yes, I thought. Really. I pulled the cover off my microscope placed our journal beneath it. I began to read.

Monday, April 21, 2008


I have this friend who thinks her vagina smells like a wild animal, a possum of perhaps a bat. She seems obsessed with describing it using the smells of things that live in trees, whereas I have never imagined a vagina being something that could fly. I say friend, but really she was sitting across from me at a dinner party. And when you think of dinner party conversation, you don't really think sex organs. Or at least I didn't until that night.

I don't even think she introduces herself by name until the dessert, and by then I've already learned about the washing machine and the spray bottle and all those conga lines, and my head is already so full that it takes all I can manage just to hand onto four letters. G. w. e. n.

We all sat around a fancy onyx table and felt slightly woozy because the host of the party was an architect and had filled his house with so many impossible angles and so much improbable stability that it felt like you were working hard just sitting still. So I sat down opposite Gwen, although at that stage I only knew her as Strange Girl Who Stole My Fork. The thing is, before we'd even spoken, she'd leaned across and taken my fork from its place in an impressive cutlery rank. I tried to look as placid as possible. Maybe this is just what friends of architects did. I considered sampling the spoon of the woman to my left, but I thought better of it.

Gwen (SGWSMF) looked me straight in the eyes and said, Rather you than me.

I nodded my head. Was she saving me from my own cutlery?

I had a cousin, she continued, as if we had been talking for hours, well, she was more like a colleague. She got an infection from a dirty fork. Had a keloid growth in her mouth for like three months. And you can't always cure those.

All through the entree—some sort of horrifying terrine I had to pick up with my knife and translate to my mouth surreptitiously—skin diseases were our sole topic of conversation. And when I say our sole topic, of course I mean Gwen's. Keloid growths, bullous pemphigoids, dyshidrotic eczema, there was not one dermal fault that Gwen was not well versed in.

Which brought us, inevitably, to her vagina. During the main course, which thankfully was a seafood gumbo and therefore able to be eaten with just a spoon, she told me about her morning with the washing machine.

I was just putting some clothes into the machine, right? The same way I've done, I don't know, a million times, but then I see a pair of my undies.

I gazed desperately around the table, but everyone else was in a deep and interruptible conversation with someone who wass not me and was certainly not Gwen. I clenched a forkless fist.

And so I noticed the crotch was completely worn away. Only I didn't think "worn away" when I saw them, did I. I thought, "these panties have been fucking eaten away!".

Gwen explains her theory in great detail, and as she does, less and less of my meal becomes edible.

Yeah, I mean I sniffed it. Wouldn't you? I mean you do, don't you. Because you can't smell it unless you're removed from it.

This is where I laughed. Gwen, it seemed, had discovered a rogue element waiting in her nether regions. I told her this, and she wholeheartedly agreed.

And it had this, oh my god, this smell, and I thought, "How long has this been going on?". Is it so bad that it's eating through fabric?

The host swooped in, taking our mismatching bowls from us. When he had gone, I asked Gwen what happened next. Her face lit up, and it was then I realised she had snared my interest, in a way my interest had not been snared at a dinner party for some time. Stock options, house prices and mainstream movies were no conversational match for monstrous vaginas. And the number of times she said the word that night, vagina vagina vagina, I saw myself saying it casually at a kindergarten or civic meeting some time down the track and not realising the fuss it made.

Then, oh man. I wanted to clean it. The number of things I tried. I've got this chemist who's this lovely guy who won't even speak to me now. This man who's known me since I was 13, who came to my 21st and made a fucking speech, he's now so disgusted by me that I have to drive all the way to a different suburb just to try a new douche. Can you imagine?

I told her I couldn't.

So I'm spraying this thing with bleach in a spray bottle like every single morning and then I realise I have to go dancing this one night.

Sweets arrived. Fucking chocolate mud cake. The forkingest dessert of them all. Thick, crumbly chocolate cake. I sat there with my spoon. Not even any cream to mix with.

I'm Gwen, by the way. Anyway, so I have this sort of dancing class I go to every now and again. It changes venues, and one of them is close to my house, so I only end up going once every three weeks or something. Anyway, so there's this guy that goes, and we'd been sort of doing this whole ... thing for the last few classes, like we'd had a few drinks afterwards, but never anything else, and here I am thinking, "I'm probably going to bag him tonight, and I've got this freak vagina that smells like a dead owl that can eat through surfaces like acid. That's brilliant."

It occurred to me then that Gwen had managed to be talking for three whole courses, and had still managed to clear her plate. I had hardly said a word, and here I was, still hungry.

So I decide I have to go. I mean, like I wasn't going to go, right? So we're there, doing this big conga line like we always do to warm up, and I'm thinking, everyone is just smelling my vagina. All down the line, people holding back vomit, being polite, trying to figure out how to get away. The guy I like is all the way down the other end of the line, so he probably can't smell it yet, but, I mean, it's just a matter of time, right?

I was actually becoming so involved in Gwen's story I didn't notice the sound of ergonomic chairs being pulled out around me, the sounds of farewell. The dinner party was over. I asked Gwen quickly what she did about the dance, about the guy, if he eventually smelled her vagina. These questions were actually coming out of my mouth.

Nah, I mean it was fine. Just my overactive imagination, as usual. Turns out those undies were just old. They'd just frayed away.

What about the smell, I asked her. What about that freaky vagina smell?

This is where I hear that awful nothing sound of people stopping talking all around you. The architect was the first face into my line of vision. His inch-thick spectacles framed a perfectly constructed look of social horror. Throats were cleared, feet were shuffled. Then Gwen laughed, a big black-and-white belly laugh.

The freaky vagina smell is still there, my friend. Don't you worry. By the way, I think you dropped this.

Gwen held up my fork, her excuse to talk to me all night.

What's say we take this fork out of here. These people just don't appreciate the art of fine conversation.

And I really had to agree with her. We took her tree-dwelling-smelling vagina and my empty stomach and our fork and left, with a certain grace.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


We were called to the house at about 4pm, and were only late because I had a severe craving for a fillet of crumbed fish, and we had to take a slight detour in order to pick it up. The fish and chip shop we went to I hadn’t been to before, and so was understandingly unfamiliar with a) their menu and b) their ordering policy. After some minutes, I found a takeaway menu on a chair, but I had no idea a) how old it was, b) if it was different from their normal menu and c) if this mattered. It took some moments to catch the eye of one of the people behind the counter—in the course of which I had to decide if the proper term for their role was a) fishmonger, b) shop attendant, c) server, or d) retailer—and when I did, they did not seem to understand my question about the menu. The shop was quite crowded, unusually for such a time between lunch and dinner. I postulated some theories about the fish and chip shop’s unusually high rate of clientele. The way I saw it, either a) there was a high percentage of shift workers in the neighbourhood, working strange hours and therefore having strange mealtimes, b) the shop itself was only open and certain hours, perhaps because of outside commitments the management may have, such as sporting pursuits or hobbies, c) the fish itself was unusually good, having received either a series of good reviews, or infectious word of mouth talk-ups, d) a coach of tourists had just happened to break down outside the shop, and they all were taking the opportunity to get some food, or e) my watch, and the clock in the corner of the shop was wrong. After some deliberation, and when my turn was up, I ordered a particularly fine piece of haddock, and ate it in the car before wiping my hands and making my way safely to the scene of the alleged domestic violence dispute. As to whether I was negligent in my day-to-day duties as a police officer, I can only think of many reasons why not.

Saturday, April 19, 2008


When we got there, the land was like a bird with a bent neck, not the soaring eagle from the pamphlets. The faces that turned to us frowned; they didn’t smile like in the pictures. Mama, who was always glowing, appeared now downcast, as if in reflection of our new equals. The first man who met us on the docks looked like someone who believed the world—continually and without ever admitting it—kept letting him down. He tried to talk, but his mouth seemed to have been bent down so far by gravity that it seemed impossible for him to lift it.

Papa spoke with the man softly, with his Papa hands making Papa shapes. The man looked past him, over his shoulder, into a private middle distance. I could tell he didn’t hear a thing Papa was saying. The man directed us over to where everyone else was standing, where families just like ours huddled in confused groups, competing for a thin strip of shade beneath a rusting roof. Baba had been holding my hand since we stepped off the boat, and now she made mouth sounds that meant she was hungry. I caught her eye and made comfort sounds, and I squeezed her fingers. Baba squeezed back.

When we walked over to the place where the other families were, we had to stand in the sun, which was a perfectly round ball and was perfectly in the middle of the sky, so it sent heat right down onto the tops of our heads. Papa tried talking to one of the other Papas, but the other Papa did not speak our mouth sound. It seemed like all the families spoke different mouth sounds. Everyone talked in rushed, hushed whispers, as if trying to keep their air from mixing with anyone else’s.

It seemed like a world’s breath before anything happened. I was drowsy, sleeping in Mama’s lap, and Baba sleeping in mine, when I heard the rough sound of a voice. The voice jagged itself into my ears, like it was a blunt knife and my brain was a frozen ham. Suddenly, I could sense everybody moving, and, like dominos, Mama, Baba and I were forced to our feet. Everybody got into single file, and Papa swapped us around so Mama was in front of us and he was behind. I felt his hand, warm, on my head. The rest of the line was the same; everywhere hands were touching, backs were being leant against, arms silently embraced.

In the brochure, everyone had perfect teeth: white and waxy like fruit skin. Here, I had not seen a single smile. I heard the jagged voice again, and I turned my head to see the man the voice was coming from. His coat was the colour of rabbit blood, and buttoned itself from his chin to his knees. He was red-haired, like me, and had not had a haircut for even longer than I had not had a haircut. He barked orders, and his red hair shook like a mane. We all began to move slowly forward. Papa pushed me gently with his hands, and I did the same to Baba. There were more men in rabbit-blood coats, and they looked grim and stony in their faces. They had guns slung over their shoulders.

We walked along in our family line. Just kept walking.

Friday, April 18, 2008


Roget discovered the seed packet at the back of a dusty cupboard, covered with flaky old spiderwebs, criss-crossed with gossamer so efficiently it appeared to be wrapped in film. Holding the packet up to his ear, shaking it, he heard clearly the life-rattle of small botanical lives.

He poured the seeds onto his desk, placing a strong lamp near them so that he could see them better under a magnifying glass. The packet itself held little clues, having long ago faded to that strangely ebullient yellow all paper eventually becomes. The seeds themselves were kidney-shaped, brown at one end and black at the other, nearly fifty of them in total.

Roget imagined his grandmother choosing the seeds from some West Malvern trader, having them poured into the packet with a copper scoop. Why she had left these particular seeds were as much a mystery as why he was so intrigued by them now. Pressing his finger down upon his desk, he brought up three seeds, temporarily embedded in his skin, up to his face. Sniffing them, he detected little scent. He gingerly placed them on his tongue, meaning only to search for any recognisable taste. When none was found, Roget found himself placing the seeds, with his tongue, beneath his molars. He ground them down, searching for some time before he felt the gritty crunch of a captured husk.

It would have made far more sense simply to cut one of the seeds open with a razor, but blades held painful memories for Roget, too keen an instrument in endings to be any use in exploring beginnings. And what did he taste? What Roget found, as his teeth broke the hard shellac of a pre-germinate kernel, was life.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


The house Jesse moved into was nondescript, in the best sort of way. Tucked away—or as tucked away as houses could be—in a quiet street lined with trees and pleasant birds, it was a simple brick home with white painted walls and a small front garden that required neither too little nor too much attention to look just right. Jesse took a day off work and began to move in on a Friday, and by Saturday night not only were all his possessions now contained in the new house, they were in just about the places he wanted them to be.

On Sunday morning, he opened his new front door—everything was so new, as if the house and all its accoutrements had just been created—and stared out into the thin mist of a crisp sunrise. Breathing deeply, jangling his set of new keys in his pocket, he started to stroll down his new street, vaguely in search of a Sunday paper, but really wishing his feet to take him anywhere they pleased.

To the right-hand side of Jesse’s house was a small leafy park, where the street intersected with the next corner. Jesse decided to walk the other way, however, to experience the more neighbourly feeling of walking past the houses that shared his street. The house directly next door to Jesse was of an older style, fibro or weatherboard, and seemed slightly unkempt, compared to the rest of the street. It had peeling paint and the roof looked as if it had been picked up and put back down back to front. Still, Jesse thought, it had character.

Jesse wondered if it was too early in the morning to whistle. He decided no, and began an aimless tune that carried nicely through the thin morning air. He made it past the characterful house and walked past the next house along, a slightly taller home with a shin-high fence all the way around the front yard. The lawn was green but bare, save for what looked like a few very healthy lemon trees spotted around in no particular order.

“Morning!” came a rounded, mellifluous voice from somewhere nearby.

Jesse responded, “Morning!” without even knowing whose voice he had heard, such was its friendly tone.

Then the owner of the voice stepped out from behind one of the lemon trees, a shortish man in a paisley dressing gown. His right hand waved in a cheerful, side-to-side way. His left hand was wrapped in one end of a thick leash, which in turn was attached to a fuzzed mound of dog, currently defecating on the lawn.

“Beautiful morning!” said the short man, shielding his eyes from the sun. “Makes you feel glad to be still alive and kicking.”

“Sure does,” said Jesse, although he hadn’t really time to assess this statement for himself.
“Haven’t seen you along this street before,” said the short man. The dog was still squatting on the lawn, its raisin-like eyes turning to Jesse while yet more thick brown sausages plopped from its other end. “Oh, don’t worry about Cornelius,” said the short man, “this is the only time he does it. He’s got to get a day’s worth out.”

“Ah, yes,” replied Jesse. “I’m Jesse by the way. I’ve just moved in next door.”

“Next door?” The short man’s face drew itself inwards. He turned his head to the house with the strange roof. “Really.”

“Oh, not right next door,” explained Jesse. “Actually two doors down. Sorry, figure of speech I suppose.”

“Figure of speech,” replied the short man. “Of course.” Cornelius, finally satisfied that he was finally emptied, walked back behind the lemon tree.

“Lovely street,” said Jesse. “Makes you really feel at home, you know?”

The short man, whose eyes had remained trained on the strange roof house for some moments, seemed to suddenly snap out of a trance. He looked straight back at Jesse. “Where are my manners?” he said. “The name’s Wilson. Welcome to the neighbourhood.”


Wednesday, April 16, 2008


I buy the flowers from I don’t know where. They are bright and loud: great tassels of things, like hair and gloves shoved into wrapping. The cellophane hisses as I walk. I hold the bundle out in front of me like a firecracker. The world is wet here, as it always is. Grass bent too far over. The sky a limp sheet strung from the trees.

The strength of unspoken words is a thick thatch in the air, something you press against as you move, almost comforting in its restriction. The thick hem of my coat flaps at my calves. My shoes are silent: my steps shadowless.

Through the main gates, clean small gates that could have opened onto any winter garden. The main path swings violently down the hill, and the headstones fall towards it with a gravitational ungraciousness. I hate this clutter and the confusion—this haphazard arrangement—like cards from a scattered deck. Worse: they are individual monuments gasping for recognition, each one gaudier and grander than the last. For some people, it isn’t enough just to remember.

I prefer the order of mass tragedy: the war memorial at the next hill: the white, equal dignity of the graves, laid out like hopscotch. The fallen soldier slumps against his rifle at the hilltop; a bronze plaque below him tells all there is to tell. I walk past the names—rank and date—stepping prematurely from the path, allowing the grass to give way beneath my feet, denying an architect their appurtenant of permanence.

Then my thoughts score into me like a knife into wood: the fibre-splinter of elements unbinding. The family graves. The Plots. Like rows of vegetables, planted anew at the dawn of each season. But here is this horrible space. A season missed. Beside my vacant plot—the place my winter body will lay—is a fresh grave: incongruous to anyone, inconceivable to me.
My grandson was not as high as his headstone when he was lowered beneath it. A body not yet fit for description. A character not yet worthy of definition.

I put the flowers down gently on his grave, worrying as their brightness splashes against the greying ground. I am worried the colours will seep away, the amount of sadness they mean to convey. As I stand here, the wind taps at my head. Gravity tugs at my fingers. The cold air welcomes my warm breath.

I ache for this assurance of time inching by. I long to feel myself wearing away.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


Many years on, Jarvis Henry will meet the love of his life in an identity parade. The walls will be painted white, fresh paint over old, so little dark shadows run behind each other like brush-stroked layers of cloud. The police officer waiting in the room with them will step hesitantly on the balls of her feet, so that when she walks it is always as if she is about to fall over. They will all watch her, everyone in the parade, as she topples past them to turn on the lights. Many hands will begin to reach out instinctively to catch her as she teeters on tiny feet.

When the lights flicker on, everyone is truthfully revealed in the raw bite of fluorescence. They all wear the same clothes, of course. They stand together in dark blue tracksuits and black jeans—the clothes that were handed out to them on arrival. Every person, however, seems to Jarvis to be dressed slightly differently, each with a defining detail. Jarvis’s tracksuit top has a white line running down each arm, and his jeans pants taper down to the ankles: strutting rock star jeans. To Jarvis’s right, a man wears his long black hair swept back, strands of it caught in the hood of his tracksuit top, coiling up like a pile of snakes. No one is told who the real suspect is. Jarvis tries to read the eyes of the policewoman: he hopes to catch a meaningful or worried glance. She is impassive.

Jarvis Henry is five feet and eleven inches tall. He has a clean-shaven face, no sideburns, straight black hair touching the tips of his shoulders. His skin is faded brown, almost orange at the elbows and knees. The three people to his left and four to his right look almost exactly the same. Variations on a theme. Jarvis imagines paper dolls, cut out of paper and strung out. The eight figures in the parade are reflections in the two-way mirror on the opposite wall. He sees her then.

She is just another reflection at first: a mirror-him: then he notices a birthmark or a mole at the base of her neck the exact size and shape of a coffee bean, complete with the long indentation separating its two sides. It is a detail suddenly crystalline to him, even seen reflected in the inexpressive glass. It is as if Jarvis’s senses have not properly functioned until this moment. He sees her at his left shoulder now. He smells gardenias on his hair. He hears her fingers—nails painted British racing green—scratching the wall behind her back. He turns his head and watches the tiny movements of her eyes as she stares straight ahead; eyes like air. She smiles, and Jarvis realises she can see him watching her in the mirror. He stares immediately at his feet. He realises no one thinks she is a woman. Thick glasses break the lines of her face and the baggy clothes hide her figure, but still, to Jarvis at least, her sexuality is obvious. His heart beats with trainee jitters.

Gentlemen, says a boxy voice from a hidden speaker, please stand up straight and put your backs against the wall.

The policewoman steps forward unsteadily, as if the spoken instruction is one that needs enforcing, but everyone in the line has already dutifully obeyed the hidden speaker voice, and she steps back, a fissure of disappointment just visible in her face. The coffee-bean girl picks pieces of plaster from underneath her nails.

Everyone will be made to turn left, to turn right, to hold their head just so. After an age, the hidden speaker voice will return: Number 6, would you please step forward. Jarvis will watch as the coffee-bean girl pushes herself off the wall with her green-tipped fingers. The overhead lights will switch off. The policewoman will grab the girl by the elbow, her fingers pinching the soft skin white and then red. The coffee-bean girl will be led forcibly from the room. She looks over shoulder as she goes. She will catch Jarvis with her eyes, and will smile.

Monday, April 14, 2008


When all is said and done, I’m still stuck inside a kettle. And sure, you’ll laugh at this, but it’s just the result of a bit of stupidity, and don’t tell me you haven’t you done anything stupid in your life. One little bit of ignorance, one corner cut, and I’m sure you’ve ended up in worse places than trapped in the confines of a Sunbeam.

How did I get in here? One limb at a time is the answer, if you must know. It’s not as if I tripped and fell down the spout; give me some credit; I just found myself getting into the kettle because it seemed like the best place to be. As long as no one turns it on, I guess I’ll be relatively safe. Did you know how much electricity goes into heating just two cups of water in a kettle? A shitload, that’s how much. And I’m straddling the sinister looking heating element as we speak—literally as we speak, so if you want to get your laughing done, I’d get it over with right now, before I’m broiled inside my own skin, and you’ll be left with a smirk hanging off your lips like a shark with a bit of distastefully mangled meat.

I suppose it could be cleaner in here, too, now that I have the chance to look closely at the walls, if I can call them walls. But I suppose they are now. You just assume, don’t you, that because a kettle’s always boiling, that somehow it kills all the germs and dirt in some crude science-experiment way, but let me tell you, some of the things I’ve seen on the walls in here would frighten a grown man. And these are the things that touch the water that you put into your tea and into your mouth. I don’t even want to think about the bits and pieces that don’t remain stuck to the sides of the kettle.

How long have I been inside here? Long enough. Long enough to have really reflected quite philosophically on the circumstances that led me here. I have resigned myself to the fact that I may spend the rest of my life here. And, you know, I’ve had my moments of panic, my seven-stages-of-whatever, and come out the other side feeling surprisingly good about it all. I’m a fatalist, deep down, and I have reconciled my current position, vis-à-vis inter-appliance. I have ‘made peace’, as someone who far more spiritual than I might say.

So no, in answer to your question, I don’t really need any help. I have made my bed, as they say, and I intend to lie in it. I could murder a cup of tea, though.

Sunday, April 13, 2008


We are all there when the call comes through. Usually the team is spread out, or split-shifted, or just plain slacking off, huddling furtively around vending machines and smoking lounges. But, here we all were, like something out of a university brochure, dutifully peering into microscopes, thumb-pressing pipettes, spinning 3D matrices on computer screens like scientists are supposed to.

And then the big screen flickers into life. A few of us literally jump in our seats. The wall-sized television screen at the end of the room was just, to most of us, a blank constant, an idle and redundant reminder of the amount of money spinning all around us. All our heads turn towards it, and I see the logo of our Think Tank logo reflected in at least four pairs of safety goggles.

Myron, who works partially at the end of my desk (his other work surfaces are stacked around him like a keyboardist in a prog-rock band) looks at me and raises his eyebrows. No one has to say anything. This is momentous. The Research Arm—as to which our department is so anatomically referred—is almost always never bothered with the inter-company directives that apparently bombard the other, more public parts of the organization, but now here comes—on the big screen—a generic looking letterhead. Text begins to follow, spitting itself out like someone’s writing it in real time. Except it’s too smooth, the pace too constant, and I realised someone has just set up a Powerpoint presentation to make this effect for them. Shona, who works by the door because of her nosebleeds, actually gets up from her chair to get a better look at the writing.

I can see the screen fine from my desk, but I’m already losing interest. It’s nothing but a directive—I scan phrases like imperative action, forward planning and mission goals and tune out. I turn back to my computer, back to the website of a particularly interesting organization in India which has built its own particle accelerator. But when I try to move the mouse, my screen turns blank. I’m about to say something when the company directive—the same one on the giant screen—comes up on my computer screen.

I start to hear noises of consternation from all around the laboratory. It appears other people are having the same problems. I turn back to the big screen. We reluctantly begin to read, more carefully, actually processing what the directive is telling us. As we reach the end of the page, expletives begin to flutter around our sterile environment. We had it pretty easy for so long. I always thought this sort of thing might happen. Terence, who always eats the same thing each day but will never show us what it is, puts his head in his hands and I swear I hear the first hesitant breaths of open sobbing.

That night, as the last of us leave the lab and we enter the forced intimacy of the last working elevator, we finally talk about what has happened. Tina, who arrives every morning in a taxi, says she doesn’t even know where to buy an Hawaiian shirt. I put my hand on her shoulder, squeezing her surprisingly human arm through the thick fabric of her lab coat.

Casual Fridays, I say solemnly, shaking my head.

Can we just pretend we never saw the directive? says Tina.

But even she knows this is just futile desperation.

We say goodbye to each other in the car park, lingering longer than we ever have before. We all know that come tomorrow, on that day that is loved by so many as the gateway to the weekend, not all of us will be back.

Saturday, April 12, 2008


“When you see bear dance, you make to laugh,” is the first thing my grandfather says to me, in the first few minutes of my life. No one has ever told me this—I discover it quite by accident, rewinding an old videotape, looking for something with which to tape a television show I like. It comes back shockingly clear for a recording nearly 22 years old. There I go, the young me, appearing from the static hiss, clean in my mother’s arms, blanket-swathed as only babies can be. As I watch it in rewind, my finger on the remote control, I assume it to be a documentary or badly lit soap opera. The baby—the little me—is lifted up, placed back in the doctor’s hands, smeared with blood and afterbirth, reattached umbilically, and thrown back up the cervix.

It’s only when I see the woman’s face, the nameless woman I’d assumed to be a documentary extra. It’s my mother. The hairy arms reaching down from outside the frame are my father’s. This is the tape of my birth. I rewind back as far as I can go, holding that little plastic button—the fast rewind function long since deceased—and all it is is my mother’s frantic face. My father has shown nothing else of cultural interest, no chance of bell-bottomed trousers or brown vinyl décor or anything quite so interesting. Just my mother’s young, red, pleading face. She puffs and screams and she sometimes looks straight at the camera. And then, here I come, swelling out like an inevitable excretion, bulbous blue head and all. And then there I am again. Safe in towels and blankets.

Then there’s my grandfather, that fuzzed-up corduroy memory, in clear definition. His eyes, which I’ve only ever seen in photos, are dead black, but I can see a shine of welcome. He winks at the camera, one side of his mouth rising in a smile. His son—my father—shifts behind the lens, adjusting what must have been a tripod because the image suddenly lurches downwards and then back up. Dad must have the camera on his shoulder now, because the screen goes shaky, and it swings around, skimming over my mother, and the stark white of the hospital room. The image settles on my grandfather, holding me in his arms, fingers shaking and bent, but holding strong. And there we are, the beginning and the end of life.

“When you see bear dance,” he tells me in his faltering voice, “you make to laugh.”

My pruned up newborn face is nothing but a toothless hole where my mouth should be, but I’d like to think that somewhere in that baby brain is comprehension, some link of reasoning that only those with one eye on life’s backstage can understand.

I smile.

Friday, April 11, 2008


We regret to inform you that due to the author's drunkenness, today's post will not be uploaded. He has, however, come up with this frankly awesome pun for a title and is at least pleased with himself for this. I mean, really, all he had to do was change two letters around and the title you thought you knew (or at least thought you'd heard in Richard Burton's rich baritone, so syrupy it could easily leave some marks underneath a crumpet if you spread it on top) becomes something totally different and, dare I say, better. Yes, I dare say it. Better. Suck shit, Coleridge.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


Take, for example, this rolled up cuff at the bottom of her jeans. Twice rolled over, ever so carefully. This shows a real care taken at the start of her day. So many of us, we wouldn’t take the time to roll up our jeans, we’d just let them hang however they wanted, dragging behind us in the dirt, grinding down the hem beneath the back of our shoes. Not her. And her shirt, a rancher’s button-down with embroidery curled above her breastbone. There’s not a crease, not a frayed edge to be seen. There’s a gold thread running through the check, the sort of material that no one bothers to make any more. Her shirt is so obviously old, but so obviously cared for. She wears a backpack, beaten leather, shrugging off the convention of giant bags that hang off one shoulder, wrecking your posture. And, of course, it suits her.

As for me, I’m slouching terribly. I’ve slumped down way too far in my chair, and the worst thing is that I don’t notice till my head is almost touching the backrest. My mouth is a tobacco graveyard. I feel worn-out, spent, in her presence. But why should I? In this flat-street city, in this beach shack kiosk, there’s no reason to be anything but exactly who you are. I’m halfway through some chips that have already gone soggy in their cardboard container. Grease grows like sunspots on the butcher’s paper tablecloth.

She orders something from the counter, paying for it with this year’s coins. I swill coffee in a chipped mug, thinking how Hell is just so much less work than this place. But, as you know, I made my choice.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


It was just what happened. No washing machine. No overhead lights. And it’s either that the carpet’s too thick or the door’s too low because no one’s bedroom door will close without backbreaking effort. After seeing houses in suspicious craters, houses with burnt walls, houses with cat piss curtains, this place is heaven. I put my arms around my potential housemates—and this is something I never do—because I want to tell them that we have to take this place. My embrace is just four fingers on each housemate’s shoulder, and my enthusiasm is just as tentative. We have no idea what a good house looks like. We are from the country.

We have been to Brisbane for school trips, for drama camps, for day trips. We have seen our share of student housing—friends and friends of friends—but only in passing. Always old Queenslanders, or so it seemed: those high ceilings and cornices and all that antique gnarled iron. Overgrown backyards where you threw the morning toast and never went out in. The houses we have seen are nothing like this. The house we decide upon, the house we’re standing in now, is like nothing before or after.

I wish I could say I remember the first night alone in a new city, or the first day that first piece of furniture hit the ground, but I can’t. Only those things that stick in your mind because they’re so banal. The fake-wood wallpaper. That smell in the kitchen. The loose bricks. The grease on the windows from all the buses idling outside. Those things, they seem to stick.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


When we were wolves we were so much better off. No one knocking our door down for surveys, no war documentaries flashing at us night and day because we couldn’t make them stop, no more blasted suit coats, which are really just so unnecessary.

When we were wolves, the sun played, and we played. Water colder, breezes brighter. The rain a cooling friend. Now it’s tabletops and “pine fresh”, folded napkins. Which are always, always, only ever unfolded again.

Our teeth, now, are capped, filed down and filed away, future problems mapped out already. Our bones are weary from our strange new positions, hunched like a hibernator, narrowed to a point.
No more can we simply walk away.

Monday, April 7, 2008


The air was tense. The atmosphere was so palpable that if you ran your finger over it, you would feel a little bump. A little bump called tension. Like bubble wrap, where you run your fingers over it, feeling all the little bumps, except in this case, it’s not plastic air-filled sacs, it’s the feeling of tension in the air. Not that you can really feel it, but if you could, you would. The air was thick, so thick it was like walking through a thick soup of uncertainty.

Jason Banks pushed back his thick black hair with the back of his thick, muscular fingers. The museum was dark, its exhibits casting dark shadows across the marble floor. This was no ordinary night, thought Jason Banks. He had been led here like a thread off a spool of cotton, unwinding slowly, threading back to its beginning. The mystery of his life was about to be unwound in front of him, unspooling like a spider’s web. Except Jason was caught in the web. The web of his own life. Like a helpless fly. No longer able to fly.

Jason Banks’s footsteps echoed in the giant hall, echoing the beats of his own heartbeat, playing in time like a drumbeat. Suddenly, there it was. A noise. Splitting open the darkness and the silence like a speedboat. Jason caught something out of the corner of his eye, catching peripherally the view of a shadow, coming out of the darkness. But it was too late. Too late.

Jason knew what was coming at him even before it hit him. He was too late.

Sunday, April 6, 2008


It’s only ten minutes that later she’s flying across the highway, rain coming out of the dark straight towards her, turning the windshield into an old screensaver. She quickly puts another tape in the player, not bothering to look at the road. It’s a strange thing, she thinks, this constant search for stimulation. As if she can’t trust her brain to entertain her.

Except it’s not music, it’s a children’s story. A kindly English female voice talking. A bell-chime to tell you when to turn the page. She turns the steering wheel only when she feels she needs to. She lets the story overtake her. A fairytale. Good and evil, right and wrong. She keeps on driving, into the night

Saturday, April 5, 2008


Blues music. Thump thump thump. Someone has a harmonium, droning its sinister insect hum. Heavy with pills from a dusty packet, I teeter only a few degrees above the floor. From down here, pairs of feet betray their owners’ voices, shifting nervously below falsely confident voices. A lonely strobe light—that modern mirrorball—snaps out light, half-speeds us. A blonde does the splits right in front of me then scoops herself up with the insides of her feet. That sort of disregard for gravity gives us all a bad name.

Taking my cue from the microscopic fade-down between songs, I approach the bar. One day, I think. One day I will tell someone about this. I order a drink using a hand-signal I’ve seen successful people use on TV when they’ve reached rock bottom. The barman shrugs, pours me a glass from a bottle he’s already holding. Something burning, cointreau maybe, makes me see in stripes. I tap the bar with two fingers, another cinematic convention leaching from beneath my brain. Three more drinks. No one ever pays for drinks in the movies. I slap down a note on the bar and turn to leave. The thick arm grabs my wrist. It’s a tender moment, only ruined by my wrist bending back until it snaps.

Friday, April 4, 2008


There’s a spot on Sadie’s balcony where the fallen raindrops form a line between wet and dry, a boundary line where the roof has stopped the rain from falling. At what point, she wonders, do they change from raindrops to just water lying on the tiles? She gets up from the floor and fetches the mop from the corner of the laundry. She mops up the rain, the water, the puddle—whatever—and squeezes it out over the edge of the balcony, watching the liquid air-dance the two storeys to the ground. It hits with a pleasing sound—the wet snap and watery fizz like a cutlery drawer closing. The water leaves a dark explosion on the concrete. The raindrops, now, are something else.

Thursday, April 3, 2008


I can never quite remember when I first saw him. That’s the thing about Party God—he’s part of the scenery; he’s always there. But you can never help but notice him.

They say there are people who light up a room when they enter it. When Party God enters a room, he takes it by the arm, slips it into something more comfortable, puts on its favourite song, gives it a tall glass of something vibrantly alcoholic, and then lights it up.

He arrives late, and on foot, because he’s always going somewhere, always on his way. He slides down the hallway, nodding his head coolly, taking off his jacket—depending on fashion and the weather. Then it’s into the kitchen to greet the host, who thanks heaven he’s arrived. Party God gives the host just enough time to think he wasn’t coming, but still enough time to give the party his indelible mark.

The host, and maybe a brother or sister or flatmate, try to corner him with a drink, but Party God’s already on his way, through to the lounge room to infiltrate the drinking circles and the dancing corners with a unique social osmosis. The beauty of Party God is that everyone’s sure he’s right next to them, reassuring their worth with his presence, but at the same he’s leaning against the wall across the room, one jean-leg bent, one t-shirt arm folded under the other, silently approving.

It’s later in the night when I have my first definite sighting. I’m out on the deck, sitting in a sunken chair, and he’s standing by the railing: probably smoking, probably not.

I wonder how many people will see Party God tonight, in living rooms and garages, patios and kitchens, all across this Saturday night city. Is he ever really there, or is he just a projection of a purple-golden place we’d all rather be? It could just be that I’m drunk.

Later still, when I’m dragged to the dance floor, I see Party God laughing, sitting on a stereo speaker in a way no one else can. Everybody’s happy and relaxed; it’s been a good night.
Party God dissolves the heat and the sticky floor and the sweaty faces, leaving shining, drink-softened memories behind him like a ship’s wake.

When it’s time to go home, when all that’s left are legs on armrests and empty bottle cities, we all look to Party God. We want to follow him to wherever he goes next; we never want the party to end. But of course, when we look, he’s gone. He’s always on his way, leaving us only hope for next weekend.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008


It was the stripes that fooled them, I suppose. They crept in there like it was some candy-striped kingdom. They had stories in their heads—fairytales, really—of castles made of chocolate, entire houses of gingerbread and musk sticks, lakes of sweet strawberry milk. The biggest one was only 14, the youngest just a tyke at six. Too much made of candy stripes, these days. The thick-thin bands on gobstoppers that emerge from mouths blurry and slick. The secret interior of a black suit coat. And the bright lines of a fumigation tent.

When the police found them three days later, their bodies were zipped up and whisked away before anyone could see them. In our minds, though, we knew we all thought the same thing: five children on their backs, legs in the air, fingers splayed—the exaggerated rictus of the very cockroaches the fumigation was meant to eradicate. We pictured their mad final scrambling breaths, knocking into one another, walls, and the fridge. The littlest one trying vainly to crawl under the stove.

It was all anyone could think to talk about for the entire week after it happened. They were holiday kids, come down to the Cape to watch the leaves change colour. We pictured their parents, what they were doing as their children choked into obtuse shapes. They were sipping cocktails by the lake, we knew; they were parking boxy expensive sedans across somebody’s driveway; they were laughing their loud voices, snapping their fat fingers.

We helped with the search, of course, because that was what a community did. We knocked on our neighbours’ doors, while our neighbours knocked at ours. Meanwhile, the parents held phones right to their ears for hours at a time, not trusting anything to local knowledge, calling in lawyers and investigators and emergency favours from the deep heart of the city. The Cape suffered a fresh wave of human indignity, washing over us like a sandstorm. You lose five people, we said to each other, and you gain five hundred.

Fingers pointed in various litigious ways at our councillors, at our public health system, at the fumigators. Nothing, we knew though, could really be done. Those big tents look the same, we told them, here as in the city. It was just the way of things. Had been as long as we could think. An unfortunate accident, that’s what we said to them.

The next autumn, the Cape was a sparse place. We shrugged our shoulders at each other as we passed in unusually empty streets. We plunged our hands deep into our coat pockets as we walked through the suddenly desolate parks. We smiled, sitting on the pier, sitting only exactly where we wanted to sit. The cockroaches stayed away, too, or so it seemed.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


The black box was discovered only because a curious child in the area had the habit of prising up rocks to check for worms hiding underneath. The child, a young boy, turned over this particular rock on this particular day, only to find the black box, which is really more of an grey-brown, enveloped almost totally in the dirt.

He scrabbled at it with his fingers for a bit and then used his shoe to kick it loose from its tightly packed resting place before lifting it up and putting it down next to his bicycle, upon which he had ridden some five kilometres from his home and had decided, for no particular reason, to turn the handlebars and swerve off from highway just because he felt like it and consequently discovered some interesting looking rocks which, in the end, turned out not to be rocks, but rather the remnants of a chartered plane.

The black box had a green light hidden in its side panel, a blinking green light that pulsed every two seconds and which the boy noticed only after giving the black box a thorough going over, as any curious child would when confronted by an unfamiliar object. When he eventually read the tiny lettering on the underside of the box that told him that whoever found the box should ring the Aviation Authority, he pushed his fingers through his hair and whistled softly.

The boy pondered the logistics of transporting the black box home, whether he would be best to hold it under one arm and steer with the other, or whether he should attach it to the bike, or to himself, somehow with the length of chain he used as a bike lock when he parked his bike in town. When the boy picked the box up, he discovered that he couldn’t, in fact, fit it under one arm. It wasn’t just that it was too big, or too heavy. It was just that it somehow didn’t fit. Likewise, the chain he used as a bike lock was too short to fit around the box and besides he had no real way of securing the box with one piece of chain.

So the boy pushed his fingers through his hair again and made his decision. He picked up the box with both hands and carried it that way, with both arms wrapped around it, back to the side of the highway, pausing only to mark, with a set of small stones, the place where he should stop and collect his bike later on.

When the boy was inevitably asked, later on, why he didn’t just leave the black box where it was, cycle back into town and return with a parent or guardian, possibly in a car this time, the boy simply replied that he thought it wasn’t right to leave something so important sitting out there under a rock, something that so obviously was meant to be kept safe. When the boy was asked if he knew what the black box was, he just shook his head.