Sunday, August 31, 2008

Arrogant as

Brett told us how when they were invited to China to do aerial gymnastics for the Beijing Olympics, one of the kids from the ensemble had bought a super powered laser light, of the sort that has recently been banned in Australia – a super powered laser that he bought at a street stall for fifteen dollars – and shone the light from the window of his hotel, dispersing the police in the street below and sending them running like ants in all directions, as the kid later boasted (or so Brett said).

The police had been furious as hell, Brett told us. They stormed into the hotel, demanding to know who it was that had shone the laser. Everyone knew who had shone it – even the police had been able to pinpoint the room – but the kid wouldn't admit it, and even tried to make it seem that someone else had shone the laser – his laser – that someone had stolen it and had somehow broken into his room to shine it.

This same kid got the super powered laser through customs into Australia. One of his friends had his Ninja star confiscated, Brett said, but that kid with the laser seemed to slip past trouble and was always a jerk and arrogant as.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Going to report it

All she talked about these days was the refrigerated truck that parked every other day outside her house and on the wrong side of the road, what was more – a danger to anyone coming around the corner. She was going to report it. She just didn’t know who to ring.

It was always the same truck, she said. The dashboard was covered with car magazines and she often saw the shoes and sometimes the bare, hairy calves of the driver who slept along the seats. When he awoke he would probably sit up and look down the street to watch the trains as they passed behind the fence, on the other side of the road that ran perpendicular to hers, unless instead he looked sideways, hoping to get a glimpse of whoever he imagined was living inside the house that he always parked next to.

She bet it was the trains, though. Otherwise there’d be girlie magazines on the dashboard and she’d never seen any of those.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Rat corpses

The second was so large, so sleek, so nearly beautiful, she said – its fur flecked with brown and gold, its eyes receding but not yet infested – that, before she wrapped it in newspaper and dropped it in the bin, she spent time on the internet – to the great derisive amusement of her husband – just making sure that they hadn’t poisoned a native rat by mistake.

The first might have spent longer as an intact corpse than it ever did alive, as she told me: its small, desiccated and completely flattened body a rushed impression of a running rat. She said she’d had to flick it with a stick last week from the path where she walked under trees along the railway line, so that it might not continue to be trodden on where it lay, camouflaged by bottle caps and brown glass and turpentine leaves.

I could therefore see, she said – as far as the corpses of rats were concerned – she was fast becoming an expert in the field.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Any half-brain on the motorway

Yesterday, one of my students – an Iraqi in his early twenties – told us how, the day before, he had accidentally driven the wrong way down a motorway exit and the only vehicle coming the other way – a large truck – leant on its horn but, otherwise, made no attempt to slow down or stop or in any way avoid what was going to be a head-on collision. My student had then pulled on the hand-brake and, after spinning around two or three times – narrowly missing the truck – found his car, by chance, facing in the right direction, and so was able to drive up beside the truck, which was now at the traffic lights, waiting to turn left.

He then told us that what had most shocked him about this – he, who as a taxi driver in Baghdad had had many near misses with explosions and drivers that panicked during sniper attacks – was that, at the lights, he could see the truck driver laughing. He wound down the window and shouted that the truck driver had very nearly killed him, but the man called back that it wouldn’t have bothered him as it wouldn’t have been his fault. Anyone watching – any half-brain on the motorway – would have seen by half a mile it was the car that was in the wrong.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


In the one shop in Cabramurra they told us that, despite being Australia’s highest town and always sure of a good snowfall in winter, business was usually far better during the summer, when the Khancoban Road was open.

As we were leaving the town, our daughter noticed that the one, small petrol station looked as if had been built out of giant Lego pieces. This comment made us all look at the houses a second time: at the steep, Lego-like roofs and the Lego-like, thick walled courtyards – all of which, we had read in a leaflet somewhere, had been built for employees of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme.

We realised, then, how far this architecture was from anything we were used to in Australia and, while we had all grown up making towns out of Lego, none of us actually had ever expected the world to resemble the pictures on the box. We could now see that Lego assumed a world where, it not only snowed, but, unlike the rest of snowed-covered towns in Australia – which have largely been built for the inhabitants of resorts – everything had to be built for people who faced the drear ordinariness of work in the snow.

One of us even went so far as to say that Lego had nothing whatsoever to do with Australia and, the fact that this tiny town received more of its visitors in summer was probably less to do with the town – whose aesthetic was evidently incomprehensible to us – and all to do with the practicalities of being able to use the Khancoban Road to get from one end of the Snowy Mountains to the other without having to go the long way around.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The sole survivor of the family

When I told my colleague how our pet rabbit had died suddenly this morning, after struggling as I was trying to administer the 0.5 ml dose of antibiotics that was intended to stop her dying from pneumonia – how I had virtually killed our rabbit by insisting that she take all of the medication, despite the desperation of her struggles, when instead she might have died in peace, her lungs filling up with bacterial fluids – this colleague then said that she would comfort me by telling a story too ghastly to believe.

On the weekend she had run into an old classmate and this old classmate had told her how, some years ago, another classmate of theirs had gone to hospital to have her fourth child and, learning that it had been born with severe disabilities, had left the child at the hospital to return to her family. Subsequently – and my colleague wasn’t able to remember how long after the birth this had happened, but together we conjectured that it must only have been a matter of a day or two, if not a matter of hours – the husband of the woman went mad, as my colleague said, and murdered all three of the children, his wife and then finally himself, and so the child with the severe disabilities became, by virtue of its neglect, the sole survivor of the family.

The story had indeed comforted me, if ‘comfort’ could be the word to describe the way my mind moved for a moment beyond the repeated image of a rabbit struggling and then lying still – as I attempted to give narrative form to the gruesome plight of six people I had never met and now will never meet, unless it is to meet the last: the sole survivor of the family.