Thursday, March 30, 2006

dusk

the slamming of the screen door
the koel calling in the dusk
a child's name, a few times in ascending volume
dinner is almost ready

a dog barks and the noisy hum of traffic in the distance continues

this might be the only time of day that I cannot separate the sound of the surf from that of the traffic

it is almost dark

an owl? i could swear i just heard an owl

echoing across the gully I can hear the clatter of dishes in the neighbour's kitchen

i stand and add my kitchen’s own clatter to the evening chorus

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Dorm

Along the wall on the left are the wardrobes, my memory exaggerates and I see forty of them or something, but there are problem only a dozen or so all lined up and when I think of them now I wish I had taken a photo. It would have been an arty shot, the peeling old white paint and the doors all ajar in differing degrees of dissarray. In my memory I walk towards them at the head of the pack, footsteps rumbling and stumbling down the winding staircase behind me. I head for mine, my footsteps racing in a panic that I don't want anyone to see. I grab the door and lean into my cupboard it's door a shield for me and for a moment I feel safe. In here they cannot see my tears, they can't see my shaking hands as I pretend to search for some misplaced item. They cannot know how weak I am.

Behind me there is a double sided row of drawers. My two are labelled with my name and number. Across the other side of this long narrow room are our beds. They are metal framed with wire bedsprings supporting our "horsehair" mattresses. They are not really horsehair of course, they are probably coconut husk or some coarse fibrous material like that, I can't remember them as being that uncomfortable as they were pretty much the same as what I had at home. A bed was a bed.

There was a story in the dorm about a ghost who came every fortieth night or so. She was said to drift above one bed and then below the next, stabbing the knife she killed herself with into every second mattress from below. Apparently her knife was snapped so you had to be pretty unlucky to get knifed, I still lay there at night waiting for the sharp pain in my back or closing my eyes incase she was floating above me and leering down at my face. Our boarding house was full of stories like that.

It was usually the seniors who passed these stories on, telling the gullible year eights then watching their eyes widen in fear before they slipped back to their twin rooms snickering with glee. My sister was my dorm prefect when I was in first year. It wasn't a good thing. My dorm scoffed at me for getting preferential treatment while my sister treated me extra harshly so that she would not be accused in kind. She found it wonderfully convenient though, having me close to run her errands and also to wake at five am so she could train me to swim as well as her. She desperately wanted to be proud of me. Alas I was a disappointment and in the end I rewarded her by getting suspended and shaming her name. Given that it was her stupid boyfriend that dobbed me in, I say serve her right.


Thursday, March 23, 2006

Remembering the milking yards

I can hear the Happy Families chattering as I hold my arms outstretched either side of me.
The timber beneath my toes feels almost shiny, small bumps where splinters used to be, worn smooth now from the hands and thighs of many bodies, sitting, waiting, watching the daily ritual of "doing the cows".
I look at the beam in front of me and let my feet find their way along with confidence. I am confident, I tell myself, I am I am....but always, as soon as I query my confidence I start to waver and I look at the ground below instead. I choose a spot to place my feet when I have to turn my fall into a jump. I look for a place deep with mud and manure; I know below that mud the gravel is sharp and cruel on my cold bare feet.
As I jump I think of myself as light like a bird and bend my knees quickly to break my fall and then spring up again before the soft skin in the arch of my foot can find the gravel. I am safe.
I hear an order barked from one of my parents.
'Let in that calf.'
The clunk and scrape of the timber gate latch then the squeak of the hinge, in need of oil again. I know every calf by name, they bunt their heads against me and their warm animal aroma is like a balm of contentment to me. I block the others and let the called-for calf in, to feed from it's mother. She lets out an appreciative bellow from above her finished grain bin. The calf knows the ritual and runs in behind the bail, behind the cow.
The cow begins to relax now, and she lets her milk down and we scramble for it. First the young bull then he is led away and I practice my knot tying to keep him aside until the next cow is brought through for him. Then my father sits on the three-legged stool. I watch the muscles in his chocolate brown arms flex and relax as he hand milks the cow, her teats slippery from the saliva of the young bull, I see him fight the calf for the best teat. The bucket fills quickly when my father milks. The deep foam on top, proof he milks well. Whenever I try, my arms get tired before the foam begins to build and I pass it on to him. Yet still now, thirty years later my hands are stronger than anyone's I know.
I pull myself up and sit on the rail where before I walked. In my memory now I can hear the rustle of the animals and the rumble and scrape as the cows lick their grain bins, the rip of milk as each stream hits the foam in the metal bucket. The meow of the yard cats, frantic for a taste of the hot frothy milk.
I can hear the sad desperate bleating bellow of the hungry calves still waiting, the deep bellow of the bulls in their stalls, my mother's voice, talking about this animal or that. I can hear the Happy Family's chattering together.
I can see my father's boots, caked in mud and manure and hay.
I can watch his lips move, but I cannot hear his voice.
In four days it will be seventeen years since anyone heard his voice.

Reposting again - First posted Mar 2004
In fact tonight it will be nineteen years since anyone heard his voice. And excuse that picture, I drew it with the mouse in Corel, and I am not that great at mouse control. Also excuse the slightly morose postings. I just miss my Dad and although I always promised myself I'd try to remember him more on his birthday than on the day he died, it's a hard thing to do, I rememeber him every day.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Sprint Training

In the mornings, after I would wake with that crisp cold air burning my cheeks and the sound of my father splitting tinder at the woodheap, we would crowd around the wood stove fighting for a turn to toast our thick slabs of white bread over the hot coals. My father would lean across the stove, his cup kept warm on the white enamel stove warmers and the ash from his cigarette sometimes landing in the ironstone thunder egg he used as an ashtray and sometimes landing on the floor where he would hurriedly spread it out on the mottled pink linoleum to hide his mistake before someone snapped at him.

The kitchen was crowded and stuffy, the yellow painted vj boards that lined the ceiling, black with grease and soot.

My parents voices starting softly, discussed what would be done that day; the fences to be checked, the cows to be preganancy tested and the performance of the new bull. It seems always that the volume would rise and my mother would begin to speak louder as she sensed my father was not agreeing with her, not bending to her will as she believed then and still believes is the only possible conclusion in all her conversations. Finally my father would dump his cup on the sink, stub out his cigarette and shuffle, sock footed, to the back stairs where his oldest heeled RMWilliams boots would slide over his boot shaped feet and his stained and holey second-best Akubra would land in its familiar groove upon his forehead.

Sometimes I would rush after my father, squeezing my backside onto the stair beside him, working my way through the box of old boots. Always hoping my feet may have grown enough to slide into them like his did but always, in the end, chasing after him my pattering feet wearing shoes of hard skin and painful cold.

His gentle silence and firm brown hands would guide me out past the woodheap, past the feedshed and the utes. Out there, just us in the front paddock, he would spring it on me suddenly. "Race you to the yards?" And I would run on my toes to avoid the sharp frostbitten grass, prancing like Bambi down the hill, reaching out in strides as long as I could make them.

My father never let me win though, he would stay just ahead. He made me try so very hard but when I held out my arms out to stop myself against the rattling hayshed gates he was always already there, slowing to a stop beside me, laughing and puffing and telling me how good I was and how hard it was for him to beat me now.

My athletics coach, my father: 24 January 1926 - 25 March 1987