Sunday, August 31, 2008


I had a piece of grit stuck right down at the edge of the fingernail on the little finger of my right hand. A tiny black dot sticking out against the pale pink of the skin under the nail. I tried everything to get it out, even went as far as to stick a pin down there, but the pain level was indescribably high. So I went to work with the piece of grit stuck into me, and as I was on the bus, I thought: How did it get in there without me noticing? I held my finger up to the light and tried to work out what the black dot was and where it came from.

When I got to work, my cubicle looked strangely different. Something wasn’t right. My finger was throbbing by this point. I had been picking at it with my thumb in my coat pocket for the entire walk from the bus stop to my office and it was so sore but I just couldn’t stop aggravating it. But what the hell was up with my cubicle?

Craig walked past then and tapped me on the shoulders with both hands in a weird way. Craig was always behaving in ways people really shouldn’t. He rode a scooter everywhere, for one thing, and had a girlfriend who was morbidly obese and dressed like the host of a 1930s horror revue. This morning, Craig is eating prunes and I know this because I can see their sludgy remains in his mouth when he talks at me.

“How’s it going, Ted?” Sludge. Munch. Prunes.

“Alright. How are you, Craig.”

“Fairly rocking.”

“Good for you.” I tried to squeeze past Craig and into my cubicle, which is a difficult manoeuvre, but one I have practiced often enough. Except this time, he stepped in front of me so I couldn’t get past.

“That’s a sweet throw,” he said.

“A what?”

“That cosy throw, on your chair.”

I looked over to my chair and sure enough, that was the thing that was different about my cubicle: a soft throw rug slung across the back of my chair. “That’s weird,” I said.

“How’d you score it?” asked Craig.

“I didn’t score it,” I told him. “I’ve never seen that thing before.” Craig nodded, but didn’t move, as if I was holding something back from him. “Anyway,” I said. “Should probably start some work.” Craig threw three more prunes to their death.


All day, it was either the grit in my finger (which I swear was getting bigger) or someone popping their head over my cubicle to check out my new throw. “Looks cosy,” they all said, and it was cosy, but I couldn’t understand why it was such an attraction. Some of them lingered there, disembodied faces above my wall dividers, waiting for something. I even offered it to Trudy from accounts, who had begun to look like a dog at a butcher’s window, but she just turned up her nose at me when I held the throw out to her, like it was a poisoned chalice. “Couldn’t possibly deprive you of such a soft, luxurious throw,” were the actual words she used.

By the end of the day, an official memo landed on my desk, put there by Craig himself, who had left tell-tale pruny fingerprints all over the manila envelope. Employees are NOT to bring to work any “comfort” accessories, i.e. cushions, pillows or fuzzy warm throws to work unless otherwise approved by a medical professional and management. Not only does this issue contravene many Health and Safety issues, it does affect the morale of other staff members, those of whom who do not have the financial security to purchase such luxury items as a chocolate cashmere shawl to cuddle up to during the day. It was the most ridiculous thing I had ever read.

I stuffed the throw into my bag, now that it was banned from my workplace, and set off for home. I was only fifteen metres from the bus stop when I fainted. As they told me in the hospital later, the black spot under my fingernail had turned out to be a particularly aggressive cattle tick, which I can only assume had burrowed into me on a recent bushwalking trip. The doctors kept saying how lucky I was to have collapsed in such a well-populated area. Apparently if it had gone untreated over night I may well have died. But what the doctors were really interested in was my cosy, comfortable throw. When I finally offered it to a particularly insistent toxicologist, he just shook is head and said, “You just really don’t understand anything about your throw, do you.”

Saturday, August 30, 2008


When we cracked open the door, and the smell hit us, and Shawn went What the freaking Jesus is that? this was the smell of Ricardo Rezlik. We thought he was just a pile of clothes at first. He had slumped straight to the floor and wasn’t moving, but then Cathy poked him with her foot and he groaned. That’s a dude! said Shawn, and after our initial shock, we helped Ricardo up and took him out to the lounge room and got him a glass of water and some banana chips.

At first, Ricardo wouldn’t talk at all, and then he just made hand-gestures and I said we should get him some paper to write on in case he was mute but we didn’t have any paper because none of us had really unpacked yet so Shawn ripped some particle board from the kitchen wall where someone had tried to cover up a crack and Cathy found some lipstick in her pocket and we gave them to Ricardo and tried to show him what to do, but he just started drawing patterns instead of words⎯intricate, ever-repeating patterns⎯and eventually we gave up.

Should we put him in the tenant’s report? said Shawn drily. I was making us all toasted cheese sandwiches with cheese and bread I had bought from the corner shop at the end of our new street, and Cathy was sitting with Ricardo trying to draw a map of the world so he could point where he had come from. What if the people before us kept him as a slave or something? she said, suddenly worried. I told her we’d have to ring the real estate agent the next morning, but that it was too late to do anything now.

I was so tired after a day of moving, and I knew the others were too. Really, we should have called the police or something, but all we wanted to do was get to bed. Cathy and I hadn’t had our bed delivered yet, so we gave Ricardo the couch, and then we all climbed awkwardly onto Shawn’s futon. Normally, I suppose, this would be weird, but tonight w just wanted to sleep, no matter how or where. From the moment I lay down my head, I didn’t think of Ricardo once.

The next morning, we woke together, an embarrassed tangle of limbs and dry mouths. Hot summer sun waffled the uncurtained windows. We wandered out to the lounge, remembering, all at once, our mysterious house guest. Wonder if he’s going to talk this morning? said Shawn wearily. When we rounded the doorway, and when we saw what Ricardo had done, our stomachs tied themselves in awful sour knots.

What the hell? said Cathy.

That’s disgusting! said Shawn.

I’ll grab his arms, I said. Shawn, get his legs. Cathy, you open the cupboard.

Friday, August 29, 2008


When Celandine reached the end of her life, she realised that yes, she'd been right to hide a little toothpaste aside each day. She got her nurses to lift her gently into the bath. She enjoyed the minty-white caress against her skin just as much as she thought she would. She died, just as she noticed a small strip of blue, just by her knee, that had survived intact all these years. Her smile, when she passed, it was perfect.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


She arrived, on our doorstep, like some abandoned child, swaddled not in hasty blankets but rather carefully chosen shawls and Indian throws.

She looks like a fabric shop, said my husband quietly, after she had finally gone to sleep, passed out heavily on our couch.

She's always been like that, I told him. Always collecting quilts and material to wrap around herself.


She was still there in the morning, even though I know we'd both hoped she might have up and left. She snored loudly through a gaping mouth, our dog Winston draped across her stomach shamelessly.

She padded into the kitchen as the last of the coffee percolated through to the jug. My husband peered at me meaningfully over his newspaper.

How are you feeling? I asked her.

She blew some hair from her face. Oh, she said, you know. That fair trade? She pointed at the coffee.

Um, I don't really know. It's just from the supermarket.

Steve, she asked. You know if it's fair trade coffee?

My husband shrugged his shoulders. It's just coffee, Janice, he told her.


When I get home from work, the house smells different. Steve staggers out of his study, hands ink-stained, face pained.

She hasn't left yet?

He shook his head. She's been brewing herbs in the kitchen all day, he said. She wants to exorcise Gary or something.

Shit. I stomped into the kitchen, whose lovely long window was now covered with pinned-up bunches of dried herbs and flowers. My sister stood by the stove, reading a beaten-up paperback with one hand, stirring our largest pot with the other. An evil-smelling purplish smoke chugged around us.

Did you ask Steve if you could foul up our kitchen?

Janice looked shocked. This is how I heal, she told me.

What exactly did Gary do to you?

He was an unfeeling, callous bastard.

Anything specific, though? Any particular reason you've landed on our doorstep.

Janice plucked a sheaf of herbs violently from the window and tossed them in the pot. Not that you'd ever want to understand, she told me.


We lay in bed, Steve and I, each with our own private, stewing thoughts.

Eventually, Steve said, Do you think she'll ever leave?

And I told him, no, I don't think she ever will.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


They dug up a potato at midday that looked to all intents and purposes like the President's head and which—after some detailed inspection—turned out to actually be the President's head. They let it sit in the sun for a while, but instead of a healthy tan, as they had hoped, the head began to take on a blueish-green tinge.

The president's wife arrived after a few days, as she had not yet been able to make herself believe her husband's head had been discovered sitting in dirt. But after the worst of the rotten flesh had been scraped away, even she recognised her husband's distinctive cheekbones. She let out a single tear and—so those were there said—cursed aloud God's name.

The funeral was held to great fanfare. A phalanx of trumpeters arrived from two towns over, along with three entire divisions of trained doves who had been draped in the gold and crimson livery of the late President's favourite racehorse. The President's head was given pride of place in the ceremony, sitting resplendently on a large cushion, which had been specially prepared by a team of widows and orphans. The head had been reassembled (from all the parts that could be found) by the court artist, to the best of his recollection. The effect was striking and regal from a distance, but utterly frightful from less than three feet away.

The funeral was a resounding success, but once the final pigeon had been swept away, the late President's advisors had time to realise they were in something of a pickle. They spent many days combing through the constitution, seeking guidance as to what should happen next. Presidential changeovers had, up until now, occured through either simple heridity or bloodless coup. A decapitation was something else altogether. The late President had no sons, and all the Generals of his army were toothless tigers, far more intent on securing a good place at the dinner table than excercising any Presidential ambitions.

Confusion reigned for forty nights, and apprehension for forty days. As luck would have it, however, on the forty-first day, the President's body turned up, uncovered in the field next to the one in which his head was found. When the news reached the city, the mood lightened considerably. The Presidential advisors installed the late President's body at once to its rightful position of power, and it ruled over the land for many prosperous years.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Jemima had come to the cliffs to do one thing. Her heart was a vacancy. She skirted the edge of the earth, as close as she could get to air. The grass was far too long where she walked, as no one could get near it enough to cut it, and, she guessed, no one would really care either way. On the tops of the grass stalks were puffy dandelion heads, shivering, too delicate against the chopped up wind. She kicked through the grass, but rather than disintegrating, the grass spores simply waved and sprung back upright. She wondered at how the world could be so overwhelmingly optimistic.
She came to the place she had decided on; a rocky outcrop that stuck out just below the land’s lip, hidden by its own shape. She fingered the fabric of her summer dress—chosen long ago in a shop with high walls, and took her final steps onto solid earth.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


Down at the end of the tracks, where even the dusky dogs had stopped pacing, was that house, ever-standing. Built by someone's hands back in the days when people did things like that: pioneering, trailblazing, fate-forging. Logs, it was, locked together, real wood that you could tell was wood, and not particles of timber forced together like all our houses were.

We stood outside the house for a while, each of us shifting out weight. Pete said, Reckon he's home? And I said, Where else would he be? Those dogs were growling up by the main road, but we knew they weren't every hungry till well after dark. Pete told me once that the dogs got so hungry that they cracked their own ribs just from barking.

But that was just a story. This, the house, this was real. Through the tiny cracks in its wooden walls seeped the presence of a bloodthirsty pirate. The real blistering breath of evil, resting four feet from where we stood.

Dare you, said Pete.

Dare me what, I said, my voice shaking. He had to say it.


We had never been this close before. We had invented excuses for ourselves, wandered away. But tonight we were here.

Knock, said Pete.

Knock, I said.




My name is Jack Johnson. I am very succesfull american singer-songwriter with much appeal. I came across your contact through american songwriters alliance and know you are such a person for this opportunity. I am retiring soon, and would forsee much beneficial for you in the once per lifetime opportunity, in so much and so far as some one must step in my shoes as america's next popular lazy-fingered surfing acoustic poet.

I know that you, dear friend, have the heart for this not to be missed chance to fame and fortune. Can I tell you dear friend that what i offer you is %100 genuine. You will soon enjoy many free wetsuits, skateboards and guitar strings, as well as many hit records with three chords only needed! You have many friends easy such as actor Ben Stiler, musician Bob Harper and surf-pro champion Keli Slater.

All i require from you dearest friend is bank account details from you for me to transfer my gold records and album earnings directly to you!! I hope I hear from you very soon. Send all bank details (including PIN) to my personal email:

Flip you on the underside dud!


Saturday, August 23, 2008


Dear Fiction Reader,

I am writing to excuse Christopher from his "Furious Horses" blog post tonight, as he is feeling under the weather, due to a persistent and virulent influenza virus. I want to assure you that he had every intention of writing tonight's post, such is his dedication to his craft, but unfortunately, just as he was about to sit down at his computer, his hands were accidentally bitten off by his girlfriend, who, due to an existing condition, often confuses human appendages with Indian food. In this case, she thought Christopher's hands were two succulent pieces of Tandoori chicken and it was only some minutes after that they both realised what had happened.

Also, due to Christopher's extensive charity work with blind orphans, he was unable to fully commit his energies to tonight's post. Really, he does so much for those kids. There should be a medal or something.

Christopher has given me his assurances he will post a story tomorrow night, and he apologises for any inconvenience tonight's post has caused.

Yours Sincerely,
Chris's Mum

Friday, August 22, 2008


El Sanchez woke with a start. The sound of metal shovel against hard clay dirt was not one he had heard since childhood, but there it was, cutting through the night. The darkness in El Sanchez’s room was not something his eyes were ready for; what with his ears receiving such strong signals, it hardly seemed fair.

El Sanchez followed his ears to his bedroom window, across the room from his bed. He climbed up onto his window seat, and looked out into the gloom, feeling the cold night air pressing up against the outside of the glass. El Sanchez only had a small strip of lawn running beside his house, and the rest of his view was taken up behind his back fence, looking out into his neighbour’s backyard. El Sanchez could tell this was definitely where the shovel sound was coming from. As he waited for his eyes to adjust, El Sanchez’s mind raced ahead of him, trying to picture what could be making the sound. Surely no one could be digging at this time of night, he thought. Perhaps it was a dog, but then again, El Sanchez was not sure his neighbour had a dog.

Then, suddenly, there it was. Teredo, the neighbour, he of the hulking shoulders, was crouched next to a hole right in the middle of the backyard, flexing his back, like it was sore. Teredo did lots of weight training, almost too much, El Sanchez thought, although he didn’t really know about these things. Teredo was usually always indoors, or at his gym. El Sanchez had often wondered why Teredo’s enormous backyard was kept so meticulously tidy when Teredo was never there to look after it.

Teredo stood up, wiping his forehead with his forearm. Then he plunged the shovel into the dirt beside the hole, ploughing his weight behind the wooden handle, pressing down on the shovel with one foot, which sported what looked like—to El Sanchez—a medicated massage sandal. As the scene became sharper in El Sanchez’s eyes, he saw Teredo was digging a very large oblong hole whose edges seemed to suggest considerable depth. What was most interesting, though, was the care with which Teredo piled the dirt he dug out of the hole. After every two or three plunges of the shovel, Teredo very carefully climbed into the hole and scooped out the dirt, tangled with clay and tree roots, and placed it on the grass. Then he climbed out of the hole, put the dirt back onto the shovel, and placed it into a black garbage bag that sat next to four others that were already full.

El Sanchez lost track of time as he watched his neighbour—whom he had hardly said hello to before—performing such a strange task. It was only when the first pink leaks of daylight began to spill over the horizon that El Sanchez realised how long he had been watching. Teredo seemed to sense the light too, because soon enough he stopped digging, tied up the garbage bags, and dragged them back into his house. He came back a few moments later with a large blue tarpaulin, which he used to cover the hole. Then he was gone again, and El Sanchez was left to reflect on what a strange thing it was he had seen.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


I bought the bottle of shampoo just before we left Toulouse, from a small corner store close to the airport. I buried it deep in my suitcase and forgot about it until we landed in London. We moved so much, in those days, that the shampoo bottle lasted me until we safely lying in a Brisbane park, thinking about the remnants of the house we'd left there two years ago. We unpacked our cases in the sun, letting our clothes and meagre possessions soak up the sweet mango air of a place we had not remembered until now.

It's there I find the shampoo bottle, near-empty, squeezed so much it has bent over like an old woman struggling home. I read the ingredients on the back of the bottle, and follow the translations right down to the bottom, retracing our steps through the world. You ask me why I'm looking at an old bottle, and I laugh and fall back into your arms, and the warmth of the grass.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


There are lines through the broken bricks. Fragments of your city. Cut up, cut out. In my hands are the remnants of what I own. Please don't close your blinds. Not tonight. I've travelled so far just to stand in this unfamiliar spot, with that long long line of mistakes snarling behind me. But for once, just once, everything around me is silent.

Happy, your family. They look pleased, in that way where they don't even have to look pleased. Your husband has big hands. They look like they could crush a melon. And your kids, so absorbed in what they're eating. You know, don't you, that their food will never run out.

I weigh the brick in my hand. I've chosen a nice one, with thick obtuse edges. It will break the glass, but it won't cut through skin. I'm not a complete monster. Do I want you to see me out here, haggard and lost under the streetlights? Maybe I do. Maybe I don't.

Monday, August 18, 2008


He had to get it right, and yet the clock wound on. He hadn't even cut his fingernails yet, and already the yoke of final expectations had began to hunch him over. He took his shirt from out of the microwave and slipped it over his head. The polyester was tolerable, but the buttons burned. And as his feet found their way, in a practiced fashion, from the tiles to the carpet to the cement, he knew the final chance to turn back had slipped away, again.

Sunday, August 17, 2008


The police car waited underneath the window, humming. It was another animal hiding in wait. Tina lay on the ground next to the wall, chest heaving, grabbing air, her lungs two closing fists. Somewhere out across the city night, coffee poured into blank cups, pavements welcomed aching heels, lights in vacant offices were echoed out into air. All without her. Tina was not part of anything.

She heard footsteps on wet ground, the slippery stick of leather on wet concrete. Voices talking low to fill a void. The veil of death was not one that lent itself to easy conversation. Two police officers, unnamed but variously striped, nodded as they muttered to each other, swishing their shoulders like birds in a mating dance. Tina picked up words, pieces of code, from their voices, but the sounds she heard best came from the ground: the ticks and shivers of urban ants, the dried paper rustle of sidewalk rubbish. Hers was the language of ground zero.

She managed to make out some words, official growling nouns: … Station … Report … Estimation … Overtime … but they meant nothing new to her. Her life, as it now was, had become official talk, filled out forms, language meant for certified word processors and squares of black on fresh white paper. Even the space around her was sectioned off like a biology survey. Wooden stakes with fluttering flags mapped out corners, everything joined by a misty web of yellow tape. Everything in its right place. Except, of course, Tina. She was the reason for the pomp and ceremony, but she felt like the only part of it that didn’t fit.

The first of what Tina guessed would be called later, perhaps on the news, onlookers, arrived with goggle eyes and bright Friday night shirts. The media would no doubt lament the lack of passers-by, of interviewable witnesses, when it all kicked off, but here were the vultures now, come to add a personal, public touch to the night. Here they were, three young guys with professionally uncut hair, bobbing along their night’s easy road, cruising down back alleys, between clubs, stopping at the blue-light flash on the usually darkened walls. Tina listened as they shuffled behind the police tape, mumbling TV cop-show quotes to each other. Tina ached to turn her body over, show them the reality of it—not smart computer-enhanced profiles and imaging, but grit in fleshy gory glory—but she couldn’t. She watched them anyway, enjoying the growing tension between tired policemen and cocky youth. The Friday Night Lads taunted the police with predictable barbs, to which they received, at first, a stony silence, closely followed by mild annoyance, then, inevitably, outright hostility. The Lads were chased away, partly by threats of arrest, but mostly by the staleness of a once exciting situation. Tina was dying. She wasn’t going anywhere.

The woman who had found her here first—a woman dressed in work clothes, but with bright white sneakers for the walk home—had stifled a scream, gone through the clichéd ohmygodohmygods, before laying her fingers on Tina’s forehead and cooing in a way Tina found quite uneasy. Although she guessed this woman was someone’s mother, Tina was not at all comfortable with being treated in such a manner, and when she found she couldn’t speak, she blinked, angrily, several times at the woman to make her stop. The woman didn’t notice because Tina’s face was right up against the wall and so the motherly consoling continued until Tina guessed the woman felt something sticky on her fingers and called the police.

Tina heard the two policemen shuffle their feet. She heard the fizz of a cigarette meeting the pavement. Another voice, an older man, then three walking sounds: foot wood, foot. She felt what she guessed was his walking cane in the small of her back. He prodded her for some time, before she felt hands on her sides, and suddenly the streetlights were above her, and she was looking straight into the sky. A rough face filled her vision, then the cane returned, waving in front of her eyes.

Ugly, said the old detective. He shook his head, and Tina looked incredulously at him. While she was almost completely sure the detective was talking about the situation and not her face, she still did not like the possibility that her looks were being judged without a right of reply. With one expression, Tina drew the old detective’s attention to the tasteful way she had done her hair tonight, swept up in a classic, Hepburn-esque swirl. She arched her finely shaped eyebrows. Or at least she tried to.

The detective seemed to take no notice. He motioned to one of the policemen. The policeman grunted agreements and shuffled officially in Tina’s direction. She felt his breath as he squatted down. She noticed his navy pants stretching at the knees. The worn holes at the crotch. The smell of cheese.

This one done? said the cheese policeman.

The detective nodded. Running his hands wearily through his hair, he said, What's say we get an early night, boys?

Want me to call it? said the other cop.

Sure, said the detective, walking away. Then, over his shoulder, Cause of death unknown.

Saturday, August 16, 2008


On the bus ride home I open the pack of toothpicks and arrange them between my fingers so that when I close them into fists I look like a poxy Wolverine. I promise myself that Lyle will be the first to see this discovery. I bring up his message again. There’s a photo of him in my phone, hiding under my doona, head and arms sticking out one end, reading a book. Lyle understands seafood salad and poxy Wolverine fingers.

Happiness, for me, is not a warm dinner. When I get home, I throw my shopping bag in the fridge and go immediately in search of trakky-daks. Blouse and skirt sail expertly into their assigned pile on the bedroom floor and scungy Tastes of Thailand t-shirt envelopes me in post-work unembarrassed comfort. At the bathroom sink, I splash water on my face and untie my hair. I give myself a wink and a finger-click in the mirror. Looking sharp.

Despite the usual supermarket humiliation, I’m in a good mood. One day away from the weekend, an email waiting from the man I love and my favourite dinner cooling to optimum temperature not metres away. I flip on the TV and the habitual colours of The Simpsons greet me. If I could be bothered to click my heels, I would.

I pour myself a glass of wine and open my laptop, brushing off the mulch of junk-mail on top of it. My neighbour is evidently home, and so is his wireless network. I log on and fire up my email. Lyle Barnes is the name at the top of my inbox. I open the email.

Dear Sadie…

My eyes flick down to the solid block of text below, and then something very bad begins to happen. My mind flashes back to childhood swimming lessons, where I couldn’t learn to tumble-turn, where my sadistic teacher kept somersaulting me underwater until my mouth tasted of sour snot and the world became hopelessly, irrefutably blue. Lyle’s emails, never more than a few lines, and never with such formality, don’t usually make me feel like this.

I don’t know quite how to do this…

Motherfucker. Motherfucking motherfucker. I drag myself through the next paragraph like it’s barbed wire.

It’s just never felt quite right. And I don’t want to hurt you. I care for you so much, Sadie, I want you to know this…

For a writer, I think to myself, he’s pretty godawful at getting the point across.

I’m just not ready for…

This was the man I was moving in with next year. Motherfucker. How long had he felt like this? Chickenshit motherfucker breaking up over email.. No, via SMS and email. Double-fucking-coward shitbreath cunt.

I read the email. Then I read it again. And again. I tear a hardware store catalogue into tiny pieces. And then I cry. Stupid, empty, hot tears. Lyle’s break-up email is 500 words of self-pitying, lame excuses. This is the sort of thing you’re supposed to see coming. This was Lyle writing this. My Lyle. Two years together is not worth 500 worthless fucking words.

I get my phone and call his mobile. It rings and rings and of course he’s not going to answer it. I jump back on my computer and start typing my reply. I write furiously, and my words are impassioned and true and pleading and … useless. He doesn’t deserve a reaction. The spineless texting coward can stew. When I close my laptop, the TV screams an ad at me about a couple who bought insurance when they were young and are now happy and old together, eating caramels by a lake. No emails, just fucking caramels.

Friday, August 15, 2008


It’s what’s left over from seafood, I tell myself. It’s waste, packed into random shapes. Red and white coloured marine waste, smothered in mayo. It’s not right.

My feet find their way past the fruit and vegetables, burning with healthiness under the supermarket lights, past the bakery (the same anaemic lemon cake always on display) and I arrive at the cursive neon heaven that is DELI. Ralph is on tonight. Ralph has seen it all. We understand that I won’t stare at his birthmark and he won’t comment on another tub of seafood salad making its way into my canvas shopping bag.

“Evening,” he says.

“Hi,” I reply. We know each other’s name, but this is courtesy at its basest, like a dealer and his junkie. Ralph’s one of my favourites. He’s not like John, who says my name all the time out loud so anyone can hear it, and sings “Sadie the Cleaning Lady” at me, because he’s seen to many movies with incidental greengrocers who are jolly and whose homely wit brings light to everybody’s day. Ralph is surly and discreet.

“What can I get you?” he mumbles.

I feign indecision. My eyes briefly scan the other offerings. I’m fooling no one. The fancy players are all up the other end of the cabinet—sun-dried tomatoes, pesto and marinated bocconcini luxuriating in imported oils—but I’m standing right where things are served on a bed of old ice.
“Maybe just a large tub of the seafood salad,” I say.

Ralph scoops a huge spoonful into the plastic container for me. The unidentified pieces of things that once lived near the sea ooze wonderfully together. “Anything else?” he asks me.

I shake my head, wish him goodnight, and move on. I scan my head for other things I can possibly buy to make it look like I’m not having seafood salad for dinner again. I need distractions. The deli guys I can handle, it’s the Friday night checkout wenches I have problems with. I settle on a bottle of pineapple juice and some toothpicks. Like I’m having a party and these are last minute purchases. This must be what it feels like for guys buying just condoms. Except you’re pretty sure you know what a guy’s going to do with a condom. There’s something far more sinister about a girl buying a large tub of seafood salad.

I join the jaded get-me-the-hell-home-and-out-of-this-12-items-or-less-queue queue. The girl in front of me has a small basket filled with pasta, apples, yoghurt and nuts. She stands there, work clothes impossibly unrumpled and ponytail impossibly perky. I close the top of my shopping bag. I consider taking a Mars Bar from the kid-tempting display next to the queue and slipping one into her basket, but then I hear the next please call and there’s a raccoon-eyed teenager waiting for me behind a register, one skinny bangled arm held in the air above her with the world-weary indignity of a political prisoner.

“howsyourdaygoingtoday,” says the checkout girl without looking up at me. Her lopsided nametag says CAROL.

“Alright,” I say. “And yours?”


“Ah… no.” I place my shopping bag up on the counter for her. Carol takes out the pineapple juice and scans it. Just normal purchases, I say to her subliminally. Nothing wrong with pineapple juice. Next comes the toothpicks. Fine. Then the seafood salad. Carol holds it up to her face. I emit manic brainwaves that say just sell it to me bitch but she just holds it there.


“Not … really, no.” As far as I understood it, this was the sole responsibility of the checkout chick.


I shake my head. Maybe I should have used Ralph’s name. How hard is it to put a sticker on a plastic container? Carol reaches for a microphone next to her register. Oh indignity of supermarket indignities.

“pricecheckcheckoutten,” she drones, and then just stands there, looking at me with black-hole eyes like I’ve just thrown up on her feet. The girl with the healthy shopping basket whisks her ponytail away from the next register, off home to bathe in mountain streams. I grind my palm into my right eye.

“It’s $7.99 a kilo,” I tell Carol.


“The … that. The salad.”


“Yep.” I grimace gainfully.

Carol shrugs her shoulders and types something into her keypad. “thatstwelvedollarsfifteen.”

I pay her and walk out of the supermarket, past the other registers and the their attendant judgemental adolescents. All sufferings for my addiction.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


We raised birds, didn’t we, you and me. We crept out on those freezing mornings and plucked them, shivering, from the ice. It was all we could do, wasn’t it, to patiently wait for their tiny feet to thaw. You liked penguins, didn’t you, and for me it was pelicans. Even now, I strain not to write their names. We gave each one a name, didn’t we, chosen carefully from thick random books. We spent a lot of time in that library, you and me. It was the only place warm enough for the birds. We’d smuggle them in, under our jackets. Our pockets wriggled and our beanies squirmed. Nobody ever bothered us in Natural History.

And the Safe Handling Room. We both sniggered at its name. A place meant for reading precious books, just as good for egg incubation, cotton gloves and all. Nobody ever knew. We ratcheted the lamps right down to the table, and the little birds stretched out their weak wings in the growing heat. We loved this moment, didn’t we.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


The way these people were said to have met their untimely end, the way their passing was painted for them by sycophantic artists, it was like they dropped dead in the middle of a party. Napoleon, stone cold amongst so many admirals and clergymen, children even—as if he had wanted them there. Medals and satchels and sailor’s caps all crammed into that Longwood bedroom like a ship’s hold in a sudden storm.

When all you want to do is lie alone a little while, feel the world slipping through your own small space. You want to be there, by yourself, carefully, horribly, wonderfully, as the last of your fading fires disappear. You want a simple view: a crumpled palm, a plain cracked ceiling: a reminder that all this worry is naught but simple moments stitched together, and this is just one more.

He walks the grounds on the days before his death, a scarf muffling his face, protecting his throat from the random slashes of the wind. So strange that all the will in the world would keep him here, in this modest house with only one cannon facing the sea.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


There's years of space ahead of you, all those aching lungfuls of chlorine blue, but still you can't stop. You're an awful, monstrous aquatic monster, but it's okay. You're doing the only thing you've ever been good at, ever. Those hungry lunging handfuls and frog-kicks propel you down through the water, just a little more forward than back. The sort of motion that reminds you of running in a dream. Above your head are all those fetid worries, all that junked-up noise. But down here, as you follow the chipped black stripe like some religion, you feel as if you're actually okay.

Monday, August 11, 2008


He peels my eyes from the pavement, and he doesn't even try. Me with hands stuck deep in winter pockets, deciding what's warmer: fist or fingers. A solemn promise weighing down my every single thought. Yes, yes, of course, of course I will, dummy. His smiling, oblivious face, so filled with joy.

He never wants to see balloons deflated, or a losing team rejected. He is the fulfilment king. I have agreed with the question he had never thought was in question. And so even in a Tuesday morning pedestrian-killer crossroads I think of him. I bump into countless people, skewing so many carefully calibrated urban angles off-course. A woman in an angry power suit hits my shoulder so hard that when I examine it later, in the safety of the company restroom, I have a brooch-bruise the colour of plums.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


The airport, which had for so long been just a series of sheds in dirt, has evolved a more modernised presence, and in front of me, beyond the paddocked carpark stands an impressive building of metal and dark glass, sloping down to one end like a giant shoe freshly landed in the desert. Vaguely landscaped hedges line the wide entrance to the building, their tapered shapes the same shade of red as the long pagoda roof of the airport, looking for all the world like an old Chinese temple. I steer the motorbike gleefully into a section of the carpark clearly labelled No Parking, and, leaving my vehicle overturned in the dirt, wonder why people don’t always rent transport. No responsibility, and all that. I walk up to the building whereupon the doors slide open for me silently. I marvel at their magic—not the voodoo magic African tribesman supposedly attribute to televisions and solar eclipses, but rather a simple wonder at a mechanism that has managed to work out here in the land of breathable grit.

Inside, the cool balm of air-conditioning washes over me. It’s busier in here, too, as an oasis often is. I begin to wonder how many people were here on day trips—escaping from everyday life into this glimpse of comfortable escape. Mostly though it’s fat men in business suits trundling wheeled suitcases behind them, clutching boarding passes distractedly, going somewhere intently. I stare up at the big computer monitor above my head. I’m not entirely sure what I’m looking for, but I search generally for the word Canada, which I don’t see, let alone any arrival times or gate numbers. I walk up to a desk attended by a young woman wearing a horrible sky-blue blouse and a tired smile clinging desperately to her face. I have to wait behind three other people, and when it’s my turn I ask the girl when and where the next flight from Canada is coming in.

“It wouldn’t be coming straight from Canada,” she says.

“Why not?” I picture a plane touching down in another place, so far from where I am, with passengers un-boarding passively, with no hope in their faces.

“Because you can’t come straight from Canada to this airport. You have to catch a connection.” At my blank face, she adds: “You have to come via somewhere else. Probably Nairobi. Hold on, let me check.” She taps some noises into her computer. Her tongue, I notice, peeks out the corner of her mouth while she concentrates. She looks back up at me. “Ah, well, the plane would usually come through Nairobi.”

I sense the expectation in her face. I feel a little part of my stomach give way. “But?”

“There aren’t actually any planes coming in from Canada today,” she tells me.

Dammit. Fuckit. Dammit. “Are you sure?”

“Afraid so,” she says, eyes flicking up to the person in the line behind me. As if I’m wasting her precious time.

“I’m going to need you to double-check that,” I say, using my best diplomat voice. It comes out thin and weak.

Her smile disappears, and she fixes me with a human, impatient stare. “There ain’t none comin’, little man.” A covered-up accent slips through her clenched teeth. “Now get along so’s the important people can get where they’re going.”

And for once, I have nothing to say. I flash her a winning smile and give her the finger, but through my pocket. Something tells me she doesn’t deserve disrespect straight to her face.

I stalk out the exit, hardly waiting for the automatic doors to open before I’m out them. But then, when the sun hits me, something stops me from jumping straight back on my bike. Instead, I walk right down the length of the airport until I come to a chain-link fence: all that separates the dirt of the open from the dirt of the tarmac. And before I know it, I’ve stood for hours, knuckles crab-clawing the wire, waiting for his plane.

Saturday, August 9, 2008


I save up three weeks pay and hire a motorbike and soon I’m threading through a packed marketplace I’ve only ever visited in early childhood, back when everything was bright and spicy. Today rain hangs in the clouds ready to fall like a sudden upturned umbrella, and everyone hastens to get home. I beep my horn with one hand and choke the throttle with the other. I’m fishtailing dirt everywhere, and old men in fruit stands swear at me. Tourists and Indias and Tarquins look on disgustedly. This is not the country they want. Fuck them, really. My left leg hangs off one side of the bike and scrapes in the dust, wearing away the already filthy plaster cast at the heel. I’ve tied a bandana around my mouth to stop myself swallowing flies, but I feel them hammering my face as I swing out onto the highway.

Little out-of-town kids run beside me for as long as they can, and then their dogs, and then it’s just me. The motorbike seat is so hard it feels like there’s no skin left on my arse by the time I get to a decent flat stretch of road where I can hoist myself up by my arms and hurtle straight ahead. I pass two rattling trucks full of farm equipment and before I know it, it the airport gates loom up before me, and there’s the big sign. Jamhuri ya Muungano wa Tanzania, written in a font that was popular maybe 30 years ago. Before I saw the airport for the first time, my rheumy-eyed grandmother would whisper that planes left this city eternally but she never did see one flying in. I thought it profound at the time but then I learnt from my dad that grandma was lucky to see a hand coming fast at her face lest of all a plane high up in the air.

I ride the bike through the front entrance, under the watch of two armed guards in their own glass booths. They both bear the facial scars of some hand-to-hand civil disquiet, one of the many before I was born. The one on the left wears glasses, but his eyes glow white behind them like broken china pieces. He lifts his head at the other guard, and they both step out to block my path. I kill the throttle on the bike and coast to a stop in front of them. Disgustingly, I find my hands lifting from my sides without thought. They pat me down on either side with gun muzzles, and I give them an ID card. The guard on the right, tall as a spire, scrutinises my face against the ID image. He grunts and throws my card back at my chest, which I grapple at clumsily, allowing my sentries snorts of wan humour. The one with the glasses says, “Get going,” and I do. I try to spray dust up at them as a parting shot, but I fishtail lamely, waggling the bike across the dirt in embarrassing shakes. One of the guards calls after me: "Never send a boy," he shouts, "to do a man's job."

Friday, August 8, 2008


I think of putting nails in the big garden hose, but I soon reconsider. The children are watching me, because I am bigger than they are, and their important mothers are not far away, wearing don’t-fuck-with-me sunglasses and actually-do-fuck-with-me-quite-hard sundresses. Equally important fathers sit behind tinted glass in the clubhouse, smoking cigars worth more than GDPs, enjoying smoky quartz time away from their interminable families.

I put the bag of nails into the pocket of my boardshorts and wander back to the novelty sprinklers, which today are arranged into an aqueous representation of Kilimanjaro and its surrounds. The whole thing repulses me, of course, but the oppressive heat compels me to jump beneath the nearest waterspout, which is meant to represent the minor foothills of some unimportant mountain. The others kids jump around in orgasmic summer delight—little Tarquins and Indias feasting a joyous moment from their incurable childhoods like meat from a bone. I stand, somewhere between a fictional Kenya and Tanzania, and I picture the rest of their lives, these privileged children around me: lives lived above so many others and any sense of innocent fun. Summer sprinklers are the great leveller, I think, no matter how artfully constructed.

Outside this party, beyond the fence, is a part of my life I can hardly make myself think about. Behind the stained wooden railings is my everyday appointment with banality. Out there, I am up on a roof somewhere kicking off dead pigeons with my shoe, breathing carbon-filtered air from behind my heavy mask.

Soon enough an apologetic looking woman with blocky black hair pulls me aside and whispers something in my ear about not being quite the right height for the other children to play with properly, and that maybe I could come back later when things were a little less busy. I untuck my scrunched up T-shirt from the back of my shorts and put it on.

“Where’s your nametag?” the woman asks.

“I lost it,” I lie.

“Where did you lose it?”

The woman actually looks quite like a man. She has broad shoulders, and the merest hint of an Adam’s apple. I ask her, in fact, whether she used to be of a different sex.

She looks at me as an audience does a great magician. “I think it was time you were going,” she says, the words seething out from between her teeth in dragon smoke. She walks past me, elbowing my ear quite hard.

“Strong blow for a woman,” I call after her.

The police hit me harder, of course, when they come for me. I’m standing under a palm tree and I suppose, really, I’m waiting for them. I try this thing with them I’ve heard about when a crocodile attacks you. You’re supposed to act as relaxed as you can—actually go limp, because the crocodiles can’t chew, they can only bite, and if you offer no resistance, they can’t tear any bits off you and they eventually leave you alone. It doesn’t work with police. They’ll try everything. I go limp when I think I feel the first blow coming but my eyes explode red because it’s a graphite baton and not just a fist like it usually is. On my way down to the dirt, my brain finds enough time to curse me in two languages.

Thursday, August 7, 2008


Down past the silver dolphin paintings and the coked-up sculptors desperately carving Yoram had wedged himself into a crack between walls to roll up his shirt and bend his head over gently. He picked some lint from his bellybutton, a pointy purple piece of fluff that was a perfect cast of the space between his strange folds of skin.

The security guards all but left him alone now. He was authorised now, or near enough to authorised. His mentor, Deryl, had explained to him often enough how much of an important artist he was, and he had begun to believe it. He peered again at the lint on his finger. Not lint, perhaps. A wizard's hat. A pile of rare Morroccan ochre. Something to be put into a frame.

A couple speaking German came up to Yoram, flicking their eyes constantly from his face to their information pamphlet. The man gestured his hands, tracing the air from Yoram's head to the ground. Yoram held out his lint. Even when someone tells you they are perfect, without a blemish, he told them, you say to them no, they in fact have a scar. Everyone has a scar, he said, right here. Yoram pointed at his bellybutton. The Germans conversed excitedly, pointing from Yoram's uncovered belly to their own, which were safely ensconsed in fleecy travel vests.

The birthmark of us all, went on Yoram. Our link to the great continuum of life. He held out his lint. It is our talisman of creation, he said, and still it creates!

The Germans' faces went serious, and they chatted for some moments in solemn tones. Eventually, in broken French, the man said, We would like to purchase it. Your piece. Is it for sale?

Yoram let out a laugh. I am but a vessel, he said, I am but an agent through which nature speaks. He nestled the lint back into his bellybutton, being careful to put it back the right way. He pulled down his shirt and nodded to the German couple. I will see you tomorrow. I hope this very much.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


In front of the mirror, or in front of the fridge, was where he usually found himself. Like a drunk waking up after a blackout, he would be staring at his own eyes or at a Tupperware container, and each would hold so many mysteries that he would have to physically make his face relax.

Now he was tired all the time, a deep nerve-weariness that tried always to pull him inwards. Padding across the cold floor, morning after grey morning, feeling the cold rush up his legs like a frightened animal. He was living, being, but not aware.

And when, in those rare hours of lucidity, he would walk outside, conversations, interactions—the sharp shock of that other world—would puncture his awareness so completely, so wholly, that he would take weeks to recover.

He watches out the window, through a cracked continent of broken glass, as the world lets itself pass in the clear air. Up here, he thinks. Up here is where I am now.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


Please be aware that I am the hero, despite me saying otherwise. The others I mentioned—volunteers, brave members of the public, those bold boys in blue—only became involved directly after, or, indeed because of, my actions.

Yes, certainly, as I said, I was "just doing my job", up to and including the moments of what will I have no doubt be described by the media as "the bravest, most noble act one human can perform", but, really, my job description does not include the unbelievable act of courage and sacrifice I performed.

I was very disappointed to hear my heroic deed described in one question as "in some way reflex". No one knew what was going through my head but me. To think—and what's more to have the callous insensitivity to infer in a question—that I in some way had no control over my actions is not only offensive to me, but to all those people who would not be here today if not for my actions.

When the briefing sheet I had prepared was handed around to the attending press, I noticed many people simply ignoring it: shoving it into a folder without reading it, placing it under their chairs—and—in one horrifying instance, tearing it up. In this age of instant media, what self-respecting journalist would not want the opportunity to "scoop" his or her rivals by posting the heartfelt and tremendously accurate report I had ignored a real medical doctor to prepare. My writing evoked the true horror of the situation I was in, and the true wonder of the way I handled myself in a situation where many would have fallen apart. I fear that no media outlet may truly let the public know that I did indeed accomplish "the bravest, most noble act one human can perform" (page 8).

My chair could have been a lot more comfy.

Monday, August 4, 2008


After all the jazz and politics of last night I crave innocent sunlight and laughter. Things you get for free just because you’re walking down the footpath of your town and not expecting anything and not paying to be entertained. There’s a kid in the park spinning giant plastic noughts and crosses with his starfish hands. There’s ducks landing like broken aircraft on the pond making ungracious ripples that fight each other to become proper waves. There’s a backyard that I see into because I’m on top of the hill and in it is a washing line with identical black robes hanging off it in a line and it looks like laundry day for some cult but really I know the backyard backs onto a café who have black tablecloths and the people that serve you wear black clothes and aprons. Strange how things seem when you don’t know about them yet.

Coming down the hill I feel the temperature dropping and I hear the starfish kid crying behind me with his voice carrying on the breeze and I imagine one of the noughts or crosses have broken off or someone’s beaten him at a game although I don’t know if a kid of that age would really know the rules yet. Maybe he thought he lost but really he’d won and one day his mother or father would tell him about it and he’d feel okay because he was the real winner in life. Maybe it won’t matter to him at all.

I cross the road nearby to the crossing but not exactly at the crossing because you don’t need to as all the cars have already turned off to go up the high street so I get across easily and walk briefly to the sound of a drumbeat coming out of a clothes store, as if I’m in a film clip and it’s important that my footsteps synchronise with the music. I can see the spire of the church in the distance and it’s not that it’s scary but it’s more imposing than anything when I really begin to think about it. I try to catch my reflection in the paned window of the post office but my eyes focus behind the glass instead and I count the number of different types of postbags and they’re lined up like children in a class arranged from smallest to biggest and so I don’t see my reflection and so I have no idea what I look like when other people see me. Not that you can really see what you really look like just from looking at a reflection because it’s not you and it’s actually the mirror you because what you’re seeing is you backwards. To really know what you look like, you either have to look at yourself in the reflection of one mirror reflected from another which is really too hard or you look at yourself in a photo which can be quite strange especially if you’re seeing yourself for the first time.

Oh well.

Sunday, August 3, 2008


A bloke by the name of Chopin,
Was desperate to be seen a man.
But O self-deceit,
He became more effete,
And dated a girl called George Sand.

The wonderful Modest Mussorgsky,
Invented what's known as a fork-ski.
As users admit,
They must do the splits,
To stop themselves falling awkwardskly.

That irascible Gio Rossini,
Was at pains to avoid all zucchini.
So strong was his hate,
That a sign on his plate,
Courgette? Attaccabottoni!

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky,
Had a name that was perfect for the first line of limericks.
The rest of the limerick, though,
Was a little harder,
Even though Swarovski crystals were around when he was.

Saturday, August 2, 2008


And even then it's a good few moments before he turns around, as if the sound isn't enough: he has to see it to make it real and he's shaking his head even before he sees it, maybe to get some jump on the timeline of worry.

And it's like in the computer store, surrounded by new white machines, when the saleswoman says you should never ever touch your fingers to the screen as if this is the only piece of advice he'll ever need and as soon as she's gone he presses his middle finger to the middle of the screen, once, hard.

And there are crazy-quilt creases on his letter because he can't quite fold properly to fit in the envelope and he thinks this is perhaps why no one writes letters any more at least not anyone that he knows.

And he catches himself in an unexpected reflection in a shop mirror and he's changed angles since he's last seen himself in full-length—a torso-shift back, a neck-shift forward—and he wonders if the ageing process can be eliminated by constant personal attention.

And he experiences one of those wonderful moments of small happiness returning home, because the sun is out, and the promise of a good day has not yet been wasted.

Friday, August 1, 2008


He suggested it to her first when they were hanging out the washing on their new clothesline, on their new balcony, in their new flat.

Why don’t we use it in the bedroom?

Eight words. Eight words that struck her first as confusing, then as strange, and then as quite worrying. Whether it was intentional or not, at that moment she was holding a pair of his underpants, the green ones she had seen every week, but now—for some reason—seemed new and repulsive, like a baby crocodile.

She looked up at him, and he was calmly pinning a towel to the line, as if what he had just said was the most normal thing in the world.

In the bedroom? She repeated.

Yeah, he said. I thought it might make things a little . . . different.

Different, she thought. Different? Did things really need to be different?

Just a thought, he said, his mouth pushing up in that way she used to find endearing, but now wasn’t so sure about. Just a thought.

They went back inside, and he started cutting up carrots for dinner. She sat on the couch—their new brown suede couch—pretending to read a magazine. Something about his calmness worried her. The way he could suggest something so unusual (not quite shocking but close to it) and then carry on like nothing had happened. She stared at their new carpet, shapes like circles appearing in it as she unfocused her eyes. Why would he want to use that in the bedroom? Why would he even say it?

He came and put his arms around her, holding two glasses of red wine. She had the nasty sensation that her arms had become his, and she shuddered. It was like looking out through his eyes, seeing the world from where he did, with his strange, twisted arms: hairs like hooks on the backs of his hands. He nuzzled his cheek against her neck, and she felt every bump and imperfection of his face. Their two faces touching, rough on smooth, was nothing but an endless series of little accidents. She saw that now. She saw the concertinaed maps of complication. She now shared a life with the owner of this chaotic face. This face said: why don’t we use it in the bedroom?

She slept with him that night, made love to him, as they did every night in their new flat, with their new lives, with their reaffirmed union. His body, which she had once considered a perfect form, was obvious now only by its faults. She saw overhangs and dints and long, ugly cracks. A run-down temple. Rust and old plaster came off in her hands when she touched him. He left the feeling of long streaks of dirt down her body. She knew all he was thinking about was what he wanted to use in the bedroom. That thing he wanted to bring in here.

She held back her breath until he slumped into spasm and rolled off her, spreading—asleep—like a stain on the bed beside her. She turned her head away, on their new feather pillow, and tried to expel him in one long breath, choking out the stale air he had pushed into her. When she turned back, the moonlight had exposed him, his fat white star body: a pink, gnarled gargoyle scowling at her from between his legs. She ran to the bathroom and—without turning on the lights—coughed out a rope of burning vomit. It dribbled over her lips and down to the shell-pearl tiles. She braced her hands against the sink and stared at herself in the mirror, reflectionless eyes between tired threads of her hair.

She turned on the bathroom light, pulled off two handfuls of toilet paper, and started to mop up the floor. As she knelt down, the hem of her nightie wedged itself under her knees and it pulled the fabric drum-taut against the back of her neck, forcing her head downwards, as if in prayer.