Thursday, December 29, 2011

Girl with the wooden walking stick

When I asked her about the old lady that passed our house very slowly on her wooden walking stick every day, wearing a woollen beanie, long coat and thick gloves even though it was the middle of summer, she explained that the supposed old lady was actually a girl of twenty-two and that no-one had the heart, given circumstances that she really didn't want to go into, to question the girl about the kind of eccentricity that really wasn't all that rare in this part of the state.

Friday, December 16, 2011

An authentic flavour of Christmas

After yesterday I can say for certain that it is possible to get an authentic flavour of Christmas from one and a half hour's exposure to commercial radio and the several, tasteful tinsel and LED light decorations at the local suburban hairdresser's.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

At least intact

At the station I heard them arguing about whether the man was homeless. Who else knits a narrow scarf with baby blue wool over a Coles green bag as he walks, she was saying, than someone who is clearly mad and probably homeless? You have to look at the shoes, the other was saying. He has trodden the ends of his pants but his shoes look new -- cheap but new -- or not entirely new, she then conceded: at least intact.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Differing obsessions

In the class she had some trouble trying to explain to her partner that the work she wanted to do in the future was to design prostheses (she no longer liked ordinary drawing, she was saying, it now made her bored), but when her partner explained his own unattainable dream, she couldn't understand him either -- it being a question, not so much of English vocabulary, as of differing obsessions.

Friday, October 14, 2011

That was only last week

It was a smell, she told me. She'd been standing in the shop, just waiting around because the afternoon had been slow, when a smell she had smelled at the time of the accident slid into the space -- whether in through the vents or the lungs of the change-rooms -- such a physical, palpable smell, as if thick with scurf from the tyres, the brakes, the airbags expanding, or even the rent in the dashboard as the hot metal dark had belched from the body of the car. She could no longer stand or sit or talk or think. The boss sent her home for three days, with no pay of course.

That was only last week.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Getting pulled from below

At the very end of the concert a laundromat only a few paces away but around the corner from the building exploded into flame -- but this, as we all discussed afterwards, had happened without any of us noticing. Not even when a fire truck passed us, as we stood on the footpath delaying our departure from this, the final concert, did we think to expect that the fire was somewhere close by. No-one expects to see the actual fire, I heard someone say when we went round the back and our throats began to catch on the orange lit smoke that was funnelling upwards from where we had just been and then, in a matter of minutes, began to seep through glass and brick to fill our houses with a smell that should have been scalded shirt but instead impersonated the floury ash of a gutted gumtree that was nowhere nearby.

And meanwhile, quietly, white suds running down the gutters into the stormwater drain, quivering in a tower for several seconds and then getting pulled from below.

In a single, short experience

It was a hot breeze, but it was also cold, I explained to him on the phone. The wind was blowing my hair all over my face and this made it hard to notice what it actually was. I need to be still and calm to distinguish a wind that's hot from one that is cold in a single, short, experience.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Clearly impossible

I heard them disagreeing about the woman on the bench who was conversing in a loud drunken voice with a bearded man on a cafe stool: one saying the fact that the woman was without feet or hands and yet still able to smoke and even talk as she was smoking was something that, curiously, heartened her; the other that the continuing existence of this woman, who was also substantially toothless, and whom she saw week after week in a similar spot on the street, not so much depressed her as made her fearful because she often imagined the woman following her as she went up the hill to the station in the mornings and calling out her name -- and then wrestling her to the ground in that blank part of the underpass, which was clearly impossible, and vile.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

With only a slight bewilderment

I heard how it was sad: how instead of interminable lectures about the Pritikin diet, Rife's discovery of excitable pathogenic spores, Jesus in India, the supposedly misleading Kyoto Protocol, the danger in fluorescent tubing, coffee, natural gas, pasteurised milk, the need to reverse and then eliminate poverty, droughts, osteoporosis, religious misunderstanding and to aim our nuclear weapons at the sky for the comets which are coming, he sits in his chair and listens with only a slight bewilderment to the kind of conversation he would never have understood in any of the past decades of his long long life, and when someone leaves the table, he shuffles on after them as if afraid to miss an occasion for something --  but at least, as she said, these days he is able to joke.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Two houses along

When the rainbow lorikeet feeds its adolescent young in the tree two houses along, it's like a cat is hissing or someone with a leaking lung is trying to speak.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Five weeks on Facebook

We'd all heard his joke: that out of his eleven weeks spent overseas, travelling from one city to another in Europe and the States -- reading in town halls, clubs, bars, festival tents -- and a month in a writer's residence with a Matterhorn view -- he wasted, as he put it, five weeks on Facebook, which was good for the rest of us at least, one of us said.

Monday, July 18, 2011

To be different to everyone else

She told me that all through the first part of the concert at the studio she was distracted by a photograph on a cabinet: a wedding photograph that seemed to have a thick grey smear across the mouths of the young happy couple.

As the rest of us listened to Sondheim, Mozart, Cole Porter and Poulenc, she was so bothered that this photograph had a smear across the mouths as if deliberately placed there, as a sign of disapproval or even mourning, and therefore could pay attention to none of the songs. Had something happened to the photograph (such as mould) or was it a trick of what might have been a strong Sydney afternoon light in the park on the day that they had married -- a light that had also, she then noticed, cast a shadow across the bodies of the couple (perhaps a topiary, she was thinking, or thick cropped conifer on a rise on a hill)? It was just a wonder that someone had thought to place the couple in such a shadow for their photograph but, as she knew from bitter experience, so many weddings are photographed by well-meaning but incompetent (and unpaid) enthusiastic relatives or friends.

When the room lights came on for the break, and just as she was about to point out the grey on the photograph to me, she realised that the grey had in fact been a shadow that had been cast not by trees or mould but by the improvised stage lights that had silhouetted a narrow necked vase on the dresser and that the couple were actually a very ordinary looking couple and that the setting of the photograph no more remarkable or distinctive or strange than any normal looking photograph of a young couple in a park, and that this had disappointed her, strangely (as she said) because she had expected this singer with her Balinese puppets and cardboard Louis XVI mirror surrounds and Chinese vases to be different, she said, to everyone else.

Friday, July 8, 2011

On a winter's evening in Newtown

I explained how at five thirty on a winter's evening in Newtown a magpie might carol in the brownish orange light of a streetlight and that the beggars near the station usually call you darling -- except the one on the upturned milk crate I gave two dollars to in an attempt to salve my irritated mind.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The one extra detail

From his seventh floor student room, she heard, he could see the Eiffel Tower. He could also climb out onto the roof, although he had to be careful as he could slip and fall and die for sure -- whereupon she ruined the nearly Moulin Rouge image by a too detailed description of an eighth storey suicide over twenty years before: going into the context and the reactions of middle class Istanbul, as well as the thin red line from the mouth that the journalists had drawn onto the dead woman's photograph on page three of the paper -- this last the one extra detail that ruined the effect.

A functioning vegetable

At lunch, after my colleagues explained to me how a young woman they had recently seen on television spent one lucid hour a day with her otherwise comatose boyfriend thanks to the administering of a sleeping drug which, among the non-comatose, has been known to prompt the users to assault and battery -- or even driving -- while asleep, Eliza who was eating a mandarin on a length of kitchen paper told us about her time on a neurological ward, where a young man who had suffered brain damage after a honeymoon ballooning accident spent his entire day wanking. There were endless meetings about what to do with him. She didn't remember what transpired. He was a vegetable, she said: but a functioning vegetable.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Sheets of humid acrylic

Around a table only separated from the cold and wet of Blackheath by sheets of humid acrylic, he told us about the finger that someone he knew had found when he was clearing out the freezer. Admittedly it was a share household, and hence might have been lying in there for years, but no one seemed to know anything about it and so they just threw it out.

Friday, June 10, 2011

An odd enticing flower

On the radio she explained that when the bee was attached by its head to a toothpick with dental glue, it was able to fly through a virtual reality, and from this they were able to learn how the bee could navigate the dimensions of this virtual reality which, for all we knew, could have been a featureless concrete plain with the odd enticing, or even very crudely imagined flower.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Very early to pray

Although two of his fingers had been broken at work, and he still had a scar where he had been skinned by a circular saw, he told me that the only reason people in this country were so concerned for workplace safety was because Australian workers were drunk all the time and so got themselves killed, while he got up each day in the morning very early to pray.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Just slightly annoyed

Several of us read how the police had no choice but to allow the teenage orphan to live for fifteen months with the suspected murderer after her father and mother and brothers and aunt had been killed. It was then we realised that the publicised effort the police had gone to hide the girl from a killer who, as we had read just after the event, must have so wanted to destroy the entire family one by one, bludgeoning them to death in their individual beds, their faces unrecognisable from the force of the blows -- going to such effort to hide the current location of this girl and to screen her face so that the murderer, as we were then being led to believe, would be unable to track her down where she was safe with family members -- that this entire, too elaborate effort had been as much for us the readers of the news as for the uncle the police had long suspected but been unable to prove anything against -- in fact more, said one of my colleagues. Just look at the photo of him. He is not surprised, just slightly annoyed.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The house of his dreams

He explained to us that in the house of his dreams he is always alone -- the place is empty, desolate, disintegrating and filled with ugly, worn, disintegrating furniture; he is always alone in the sense that he has been abandoned by wife and daughters and nobody visits and the days pass by without anything happening, only eating and shitting and the sunlight travelling in long yellow shafts of dust along dark, warped floorboards he no longer bothers to vacuum.

He loves this term: the house of your dreams. His wife has the same dream, he has discovered, and these days they are powerless to avoid dreaming this dream unless they could stop themselves falling asleep or could force it so that they could sleep for a good six hours and never remember their dreams, whether they have them or not.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

In the pose of a David

On the way to the shops this evening, not wanting the man in the upstairs room without curtains to notice that I'd seen him from across the road, standing in the pose of a David (one hip up, one down) -- which these days connotes less an expensive threat to a neighbouring city state than an artist contemplating a canvas on an easel that he might have to change or destroy -- I only turned to look properly a couple of steps on, and so saw the flat screen television he was fixed in studying, and behind, in the Vermeer yellow light further back in the room, a small installation of sideboard, mugs, some cords and the oily black shine of some rock band poster on the wall.

Monday, April 11, 2011

A way of containing

As he told me about how he had been called from class that day to drive into the city to find the brother of the nephew who, as the police were still surmising, had just murdered his girlfriend and step-son and then killed himself -- so he might tell the brother before a brutal and sensationalised version of the news could get to him through friends or even just the internet updates on his phone -- while he was telling me about the body which had now been flown into Sydney for the funeral and all the relatives who were coming to their house to drink tea and to mourn at all hours of the day -- he wore the same shy, even half embarrassed smile that, less than a month earlier, after the graduation of his son from Sydney University, seemed then only to be his way of containing an immensity of joy he was too shy of inflicting on anybody else.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

A section of Japanese garden

It was, as he described it, on ledge sticking out from the pedestrian bridge at Redfern station: years of southerlies blowing dust from Botany Bay had left enough soil for a section of a Japanese garden, with bright, lush moss and a Bonsai tree with yellow flowers, but it is rare that anyone looks at it because going up those stairs it's hard not to step on the heels of the person in front.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Not in the city but in the suburbs

We laughed when we heard her say how it was impossible not to judge the figure of the overweight woman reading an article with the headline 'Fat and Fame Obsessed' in that free afternoon paper, MX, as she was walking along ahead of her the other evening, home from the station. She said she never read this paper as her work wasn't in the city but in the suburbs.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The lid

All through the time she had been telling me what I had done wrong -- which dishes, containers and utensils I should have put in which configuration on the dish rack and how I shouldn't have said something particular (a something in particular which I always regret the moment I say it) -- all the time that I was listening to what she was saying and yet continuing with what must have seemed a dumb, persistent, even stubborn disregard for what should have been a self-evident washing up logic, I had been looking every now and then at an upturned lid that was stained with olive oil and the black, viscous remains of balsamic vinegar (which I was intending to avoid trying to wash in this load), and so when, the next day, I was looking for this lid to make a new dressing, I remembered the monologue about my illogical system -- the lid becoming a sign of this illogical system -- and so when it eventually turned up, I shouldn't have been surprised that it was even filthier than I remembered and had to be soaked.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Leaning from a window

She told us during the break that she didn't usually remember her dreams -- and in fact this one seemed less of a dream than the experience of leaning from a window in a tower and looking down where, far below, her husband and the elder of her sons were running on the stone-paved quay by the steep undulations of a dark grey ocean, and chasing a turtle that was moving faster, she remembered thinking, than she ever expected a turtle to move. It was a very specific visual scene, with a minimum of elements, even a minimum of colours. There was nothing at all vague or elusive about it: just a leaning from a window and seeing them running and presumably then pulling her herself back to sit somewhere inside.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Envying the circle of dog youth

When he came back from the park, he said he he'd never realised how many young people lived in Newtown, and primarily clean young people, as he called them, with very small dogs -- all Brazilian terriers, long-haired chihuahuas, whippets and pugs. There had been a large circle of these people on the top section of the grass. One of them had a black and white pug on a leash which was leaping in the middle of them, and the others were watching with those forced, sunny smiles that he remembered from when I was young and he'd taken me to the zoo with his sister and her friend -- all these overly, uncomfortably positive people, who seemed to assume by the way they were exclaiming that he, with his patched corduroy coat, must have been envying the youth that they were inordinately proud of -- and as well: that he had grandfatherly feelings for their dogs.

He also said that in the fenced off play area nearby, a young woman was sitting on the ground in front of a baby that had been clipped into a swing but was not swinging, and he could tell as he watched her (while he was waiting for me to return to let him in), that she was the one envying the circle of dog youth -- unless she was just staring at something else beyond them, say at the Moreton Bay fig trees at the edge of the grass.

Monday, February 21, 2011

At least she had done what she had to do

At the coffee break our colleague told us how she had missed the start of the meeting because on the way to work she'd driven past a young woman in a short summer dress dangling at the end of a rope from a balcony railing over a garage -- not a real rope, as she said: more like a child's coloured skipping rope (which must have been hard to hold onto) -- and the girl had looked back at her as she passed; she had slowed right down and might even have stopped to ask if the girl was okay, but hadn't.

She told us that her first thought, actually, was that she had caught the girl in the middle of trying to break into the house, but the shortness of the rope and the ridiculous colours -- the sparkles she thought she had seen, or tassels even -- made it look as if the girl had been trying to get down from the balcony rather than up, and it was this puzzle about what the girl was doing or trying to do that occupied her as she turned into the car park when she arrived at work. But as soon as she got out of her car, she knew she couldn't go on to the meeting. The girl could have dropped from that balcony and broken her arm or her leg or fractured her skull. She could have come to in a hospital bed, with the one clear memory of the woman who had driven by in her car and hadn't stopped -- this woman who had looked at her full in the face only moments before her fall -- and she would have been able to describe this woman to someone -- if not to the police, who wouldn't have cared, but to her mother or her boyfriend, who would have kept his eyes peeled from then on for this bitch without a heart in a three year old Holden Astra with her initials on the plates.

And so she had to go back, she told us. She knew she'd be late for the meeting but she didn't have a choice. How would she ever be able to live with herself if something happened? She decided not to drive this time -- the car was too obvious -- but just to walk the few blocks, retracing the journey she only ever took in her car. She had to see if the girl was still dangling from the railing and if she was, she would offer to call someone -- such as the police, the girl's mother or the boyfriend. She would say to the girl that she'd been worried about her ever since she had passed in her car and so she thought that she should come back straightaway to see if she was all right, and the moment that she thought this thought about what she would say, she calmed right down. Then all the way down the street and around the corner, she prepared herself to see this girl and her house from much closer and from another perspective; you drive past somebody in a situation like that but it is different when you are in the street itself, and so she prepared to see that girl either dangling still or on the ground in a bleeding, summery mess close up.

It was then that she said that the girl had been fleshy and blonde and so couldn't possibly have been doing exercises in that dress as somebody else was suggesting -- the kind of girl that she would normally have nothing to say to -- and in fact, it was the thought of the other's blonde and probably insolent youth that made her hesitate to cross the street near the house in the end. The driveway was sloping and so she couldn't see the ground from where she eventually stopped on the other side of the street, but she was sure she could see that there was no one dangling from the railing on the balcony, and that the rope had gone; after all, if the girl had fallen, the rope would have still been there.

As she walked away and back towards the meeting which was now nearly twenty minutes in, she was glad that at least she had done what she had to do. 

Of course just as she was turning into our building, she heard a siren go by -- it was either an ambulance or the police -- and for a moment her heart started to race, but as she said (and the rest of us agreed) we are always hearing sirens like that in the streets around here. It's not exactly a dangerous suburb but still, for many reasons, most of us prefer to drive to work rather than to walk or to catch the bus or train.

Friday, February 18, 2011

It's my house not yours

It's not your house, I heard her shout at her six year old child in Stanmore: It's my house not yours.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The hysteria of the internet

After we killed the wolf spider -- first attacking it with spray until it was white and then flattening it under a brick (since I had read on a website that it could kill a dog in three hours) -- I learned from the Australian Museum that the symptoms of their bite are usually minor, restricted to local pain or itchiness, and so lay awake for a while, thousands of kilometres south of the cyclone, pondering the hysteria of the internet and other related subjects.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

So she shouldn't run out of staying power

When she rang from a nearby Sydney suburb she told me how she had been watching the live streaming of the early stages of Cyclone Yasi on some website, where she saw a red towel lashing around in a palm tree through somebody's window -- and how she had been following the Twittering, was addicted to the Twittering -- but now thought she should call me so she shouldn't run out of staying power. And how terrible it was; it was one of those terrible things.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

As fans

I demonstrated how, even though Samuel Beckett's First Love and Other Stories, is in fact taller and wider than my Livre de Poche edition of Nerval's Sylvie, the latter being thinner makes it a much better fan in this weather, and that The Cultural Cringe by A. A. Phillips, although very slightly taller than the Nerval, a fraction thinner and much the same width, loses what it gains in height and loses in depth by a textured cover that bends less easily and must trap the air.

Knocking Wagner onto the floor

She maintained that she only held on to her assertion that Wagner was kitsch, quoting from Kundera here  -- in fact quoting Kundera's definition of kitsch which was the kitsch that mattered, as she said, in this culture of ours which pretends that kitsch is only the tooth bling of the TV characters Kath and Kim, when in fact it makes grow all our most noblest bad lines and seemingly moving endings -- only holding onto this assertion about Wagner even if she didn't know anything about Wagner -- since she was seized with an urge to destroy. And besides, against her admittedly more knowledgeable friend's flat dismissal of everything she had to say, it was always preferable to knock Wagner onto the floor than do anything else.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Writing the treatise

Although I actually said: every time I pick up Gitta Honegger's biography of Thomas Bernhard, a mosquito circles around me, trying to bite my hands, she thought I had said Thomas a Becket, and from this evolved an entirely different conversation from the one I might have had about this writer that nobody around me has read -- or entomology, of course, since mosquitoes have formed the one long plague of these past several weeks, and to think otherwise, as I harangued her later, you would have to have been living in a fridge or the very interior of an abandoned lime works, merrily writing the treatise your companion, at the point of homicidal mania, has been trying to write for years.

Friday, January 14, 2011

A woman cogently arguing with no one

Just to list them: first a woman cogently arguing with no one, unless it was the toddler, who wasn't answering; second, a woman in a long-sleeved glittering top in the heat pulling along a young child who pulled along with him a flowering plant that was soon pulled out of the soil; third, an elderly golden retriever trailing a long black udder in the lawn.

Finally: when crossing the park, is it better to walk in the grey rut that everyone has worn in the grass or to walk, as I do for no clear reason, about a metre parallel?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Happiness from a rascal

When I told her that I would never give money to the particular busker we saw pocketing the gold coins some people had given him, presumably so that the contents of his guitar case might continue to look pathetic, she said how, when she'd given him two dollars a week ago and he'd thanked her and told her she'd been the first to give anything all morning, even someone saying that he had just said the same thing to her had failed to erase the stupid lightheaded happiness she was experiencing -- the kind of happiness from a rascal, as she said, you'd like to see cuffed.