Short Stories

The End: Part One

May 2014

The Foot long meatball rolls from Subway are five dollars on Monday. All the salads, lots of pepper and ranch sauce. I asked the sandwich artist to load the loaf with more mozzarella cheese, this excited me because I woke up late this morning and didn’t get to have breakfast. Yes, I believe you when you insist that the bread is ‘Italian’. Lots of mozzarella cheese. The thought simply plants a feeling of longing in my stomach which I know will make the taste of the food better before I say ‘fuck yeah this is what you want.’ Wait, I didn’t ask for capsicum, and old English cheese…I could walk back to the shop in fifteen minutes but that would mean losing lunch time and probably having to smuggle the aroma expelling item past the damning gaze of Mrs Fawthrop. On top of that was the elongated cue that poured out of the establishment and past the pharmacy next door where soon-to-be-eating delicious piles of mush people just wouldn’t be able to help themselves but read the awareness posters about Kidney Disease and Liver Failure. Like randomly selected pieces of newspaper clippings that are used to fill the black spaces in collages, I accidentally spotted minor posters about the difference between HIV and AIDs behind the glass display windows. They looked more like wallpaper in combination with the pictures of teddy bears with speech bubbles, offering fun facts for avid learners. Honestly, no one in this town gives a shit, they read it and later after work they go home. The posters have no more effect than that. Sure. They’re intended to warn people but that subject has been blown up in the country’s face so much that I don’t think this particular community cares for it. Not that I see anyway. People in this place tend to drag their untapped attention and imaginative capacity to new or less talked about stuff. Not sex, drugs or alcohol. That stuff is a normal topic. Though it’s not like people here set out to seek the most unacceptable thing-but I look at my town and their attitude towards safe sex campaigns and it makes me wonder what warning would grip their attention. Flyers on the dangers of the boat people? Hm. Yeah that would actually grip their attention. It’s quiet unsettling actually.

During my departure from the take-away shop, my exit past the impatient throng of men, women and children, I had heard one boy child with a foreign accent ask his guardian; ‘What’s HIV papa?’ ‘It’s a disease Michael.’ The father’s accent was harsher. Russian? The rather awkward parent and son moment of teaching was lost from earshot when a car on the main street had sidled past. From the vehicle was the disgusting blare of electronic crap and rap. What happened to Bruce Springsteen? I wondered if the child had heard the lyric amplified by the sound system in the car; ‘…bitch you lied to me, you shot me with the gay disease, now my whole family is in dis-ease.’ Their public disturbance had stained the beauty of the still and wistful willow trees lined on the brick pedestrian counterpart in the centre of the colourful street. When the sun shines in this part of the country, everything seems a little happier. I had noted the cops across the x junction and I chuckled at how they are going to have a fun time with the silly hooligan promoting a stigma.

The walk back to high school is uneventful and I think about nothing, knowing though that my brain is still functioning intensely with its neural circuits despite my thoughtless brain patterns. I walk around a corner and step towards the entrance next to the blue stone wall. There is an interval of thinking though when the same car from the vexatious incident of before drifts in an unstable screeching manner around the corner. Good on you for speeding. I am impressed and rather turned on by your daring and masculine use of a vehicle that kills more people in your age bracket than people die from snake bites. The police car soon races behind and for a moment and for some irrelevant reason; the idea of my life crashing into something of stark difference to its banality breaks into my brain without prompting. I don’t need to worry about it because it is adrift by the time I turn to the entrance of the school. Giving high-speed chase for profane music. In front of kids. Is that necessary? I ready my mind for new thoughts about the themes of a novel to populate and overwhelm my thinking. The subway loaf all of a sudden became one of many unhealthy lunch rolls to me and not the appealing and fulfilling giant one.

It is one twenty three in the grey afternoon when I sit at the table. The assembly before lunch introduced to us, we the ‘Christian, grounded young adults’ about goals for future careers. This subject slowly nurtures itself under the topic of our conversation which is environmental science and how it’s meant to be one of the most lucrative fields in work at the moment. I call it ‘work’ and Greg call it science. What’s the difference? Ten minutes into my fragmented interaction with Greg-for I am profusely munching and savouring the mix of that meatball sauce and cheese, the juicy bitterness of olives in the background, ignoring tat bland capsicum and a surprising taste of jalapenos. Greg asks me ‘what are you gonna do when you graduate?’ I recount to him how my grandfather revealed to me before the start of first term that I will inherit the mechanic shop and I’ll start an apprenticeship when I leave school next year. Greg looks at me like I don’t know what the world is like. ‘No one’s going to take you on, don’t be stupid and get your year twelve certificate. At least…look you should really think about doing VCE.’ ‘Ever heard of VET?’ My retort is a futile effort. Ever since Mr Jaffo has started indoctrinating our grade about the fruitful benefits of VCE as compared to VCAL, Greg has taken it upon himself to talk long minutes with Jaffo about his goals in VCE. I think he does it to gain a ‘meritorious referee’ on his resume who coaches the girl’s netball, basketball teams and runs the annual mouth to mouth marathon. More outstandingly he does it obviously without him intending it to be because he likes recognition and the feeling of being liked by nearly everyone. Academia is not my forte but according to the ‘smartest’ dickheads in our form; VCAL is for ‘trolley pushers’ and ‘you can complete a semester’s worth of work for VCAL in a couple hours’. And aren’t tradespeople in higher demand than university graduates? I am not keen to argue with him that there are different reasons that land people in situations that invite them to work long and hard hours at the local Woolworths because he is too ignorant to understand that you gotta do what you gotta do. If you don’t accept the invite, you are either relying on money to be given to you or live like a sloth with a gradually building layer of lethargy. Greg…this ignorant and insensitive Prick. I know he aint lying about the second statement though. Which is why my folk aint payin for another twenty grand next year for me to sit in a class and do jack-shit except watching immature boys and girls throw plastic chairs at each-other. Well okay, let’s get this straight. It is generally the male boisterous toddlers who do this whilst the girls tend to bitch about their boyfriends and what a ‘slut’ Danika is for sucking off Bill in a car in front of Greg. I have overheard intelligent and rational conversations between them but not on a daily basis. When I reflect on the work ethic ineptitudes of both genders in VCAL, I often wonder what is worth more to a teacher who wants to change the way it runs, a firsthand account with the ‘colloquial’ language of a sixteen year old. Or a ‘report’ that the unqualified ‘personal development’ teacher would over load with adjectives and fancy words that have no fucking use in the context. The truth laid clear-the boys and girls are not giving a shit about the work because their task to be the ‘architects’ for a new garden was completed two hours ago. After that, fifty percent of the study syllabus is done. What next? Good question Mr Jaffo, why don’t you walk into the classroom and see why they don’t have anything to do next.

So to a degree it is not Greg’s fault for having his strong opinions of VCAL, because they support the opinion with their juvenile behaviour. However Greg wouldn’t want to listen to someone say that it is partially not their fault. Living in a town that is not the city narrows what you don’t want to accept. It doesn’t cut you off, it just reduces the exposure you get to a large variety of people and types of living. And a lot of people are not exactly eager to accept that a hard working mechanic or experienced plumber is worth more than twenty five psychologists. Greg in front of me doesn’t know that my grandfather runs a chain of mechanic shops in the South West region, but why do I need to boast when I know that there are too many science, teaching and childcare graduates being produced by this country and not enough tradies. And people wonder why we are taking in tradies from overseas. I want to tell him to compare the number of people in TAFE to a university but he is the sort of guy who wouldn’t listen to the more rational opinion that is not his own. One of my friends who attends an all-girls school in Gavindell has very similar views to me and puts it down to ‘uneducated moronic bogans.’ It makes me wonder if the term is not ‘only’ reserved for the lower class as stereotypes allude it to be and who Jessica refers to by the word ‘uneducated’. The literally uneducated or those who grow up with an education that flows in one ear and out the other.

Later I am sitting in one of those chairs battered by boys who give their ‘Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning’ an infantile reputation. The teacher is explaining too enthusiastically about the meaning behind the element of sensory input incorporated in the language by the author of a coming of age novel about a boy who is kidnapped from northern Italy in the years of lead and is hidden in an insulated community with very little inhabitants in rugged Puglia. I liked reading the novel because of its atmospheric story-telling and the swift progression of the primary narrative. Not too big like the stories where the authors over appreciate the show of their writing. No way could I read Cloudstreet again. The problem with Ms Fawthrop’s unique interpretation though is that I feel the wind from the sea and the heat of the sun most days and that don’t make the times when I come home on the bus more climatic than watching a helicopter shine its searching, creeping and angelic light down on you in the night. So I zone out, stop taking the notes about the teacher’s irrelevant chatter and I listen to some of the students who think life is in their control because they want to do VCE next year. The guys and girls I hone in on with my large oval pinna shaped ears are whispering. I hear that James who went to become a carpenter’s apprentice in year ten is ‘as dumb’ as Wendy who left school in year eight after ‘she got two percent out of one hundred in-on a maths test which was on the subject of numerical algebra and complex abstract fractions’. Jesus Christ. You sound more stupid than the prime minister. Of course they don’t know that Wendy now works at that hair dressing salon in Warrick and is quiet content and confident with her talent. But to these kids they think education defines your post school life prospects and I’m not eager to feed their snobbery. I force myself to stop listening and go back to the doodling I began at the start of the lesson. At one point we watch some scenes from the film adapted from the novel, one scene stands out to me and it’s of a mother pleading in Italian for her child’s captors to treat him like they are his parents and that he has done nothing wrong for himself to be victimised brutally. She cries knowing that her son has already being maimed and she cries even more because all she sees right now is every inability to save her son.

When I get home, my older brother is in the kitchen cooking tonight’s tasty grub. I have to tell ya it smells amazing. ‘What you’re making?’ My older and industrious brother replies with a tinge in his voice that I have absolutely concreted comes from his enlightenment in domestic house work. ‘Beef stroganoff, garlic bread’s in the oven.’ Yep, speaks it like a father who says he’s going to mow the lawn. ‘Sweet, you wanna come shootin before it get’s dark?’ James tilts his head up at me from the bubbling stew in the pan. His given name belongs to the person my classmates were slandering about today. He failed VCAL because the administration at our school had given him a copy of the study design from 2005 and not 2012. So in summary our parents paid twenty grand for him to work very hard and get A pluses or B pluses on nearly every assignment and be told: ‘Sorry, there was a mistake, please read this letter and we will organise a certificate under specific conditions.’ And the VCAL co-ordinator walked away. So my brother had completed the wrong bulk of work in the most vital year in Highschool. The ‘letter’ really was an apology where I assumed the teacher and administration was what the writer referred to as ‘they’ and ‘they’ worded their mistake in giving James the wrong syllabus as if it was a technological fault or a miscommunication from the Victorian Curriculum Assessment Authority. It was a disguised way of saying, we fucked up but we cannot offer special consideration by letting you repeat year twelve for free. We are going to try make ourselves feel better by looking at our successful students and pretending what we did to your son (which we won’t actually admit, just imply it in the subtlest way possible) is not related to us. That day my father and mother had waltzed into principal’s office with a bag of fury and their own reply to the letter which they outrageously voiced to Mrs Tallow. I imagine they asked questions in a chain of yells such as ‘How on earth could you give him the wrong work and not know anything about it when other students are producing different work!?’ ‘What excuse is there for being an irresponsible dim-witted leader of a ‘’prestigious’’ educational institution!?’ And yes. I think the latter was the question that rocketed from my dad’s frustrated mouth. My brother’s misfortune is a major reason why I am distrusting of my ‘best school’ in the ‘Normanby region’, as boasted about in the annual report in the national newspaper.

‘Alright.’ James says to my offer for the hunt. So we do it. Two hours before six we spend the afternoon sprawled on the beaten down vegetation behind a log at the edge of the wheat fields that make up the wide grainy and gristy belt of yellow around our house. The outer circle belongs to the bush and the greener and reposeful national park is four of five kilometres to the South which is behind a calm flat plain that extends to the thin outlines of beaches on the coast. Our father promised the previous owner of the property that he wouldn’t cut down trees to allow greater space for the cattle and sheep. There’s no wind so everything is silent as we lay with our chests abroad the smooth incline of compact dirt against the side of the log with our elbows dug into the weak bark on top. Any crickets, passing utes and trucks back yonder, trickling water in the creek that opens into a dam are approximately fifty or more meters behind us and the little animals are hushed up like as if we are actors on a stage before an array of living incoherent things. That thought is muddled by a flock of cockatoos that float over us and reach the bush but one of them turns around after they glide into the canopy where the lowering sun doesn’t reach and the moving pure white cloud follows the retreater and they all fly far away east. They didn’t make a sound. Thinking about how the birds looked like banana topped ice creams flying absurdly against the descending rays of the sun made my stomach grumble and grind, I wouldn’t utter a complaint or feel scared if a golden gay time or musso ice cream fell onto the ground next to me. The temperature has dropped a little and I can see my smoky breath which disappears into the stomata of the log. Also my vision has become clouded with mist like those mornings when the dew steams under the sun or when the windscreen of a car becomes foggy with condensation. It’s actually very cold now. Not too cold but chilly enough that Greg would go back inside if he was here with me. I am looking at the world through foggy goggles but my eyes are uncovered. ‘Your eyes getting sore?’ ‘Pretty itchy’ I reply. ‘You?’ ‘Nah.’ James doesn’t have his gun propped up like me, he is leaning with his back pressed into a smooth clove in the log, looking back behind me at the darkening big sky and the dim farm below it.

He speaks again; ‘Before you were born and I was three, dad was driving trucks up to Mossman and it was just me and mum at home. I found what I thought was a real pistol but what was actually an air one. I was walking in my nappy out here-‘I laugh at the absurdity. ‘Oi mate just listen-‘Oh my god James, you’re a lunatic.’ ‘Alright sorry continue.’ James resumes the anecdote; ‘so I walked all the way here and I climbed into the log…with the gun, thought I was playing a game of cops and abbos with myself…’ ‘Well…what happened?’ ‘A brown snake bit me dick.’ ‘….HAAhaha!!-‘I spend the next minute or minute and a half laughing like a ludicrous guttural high pitched rat. ‘HOOoooly shit, what the fuck?’ ‘Yep. I think I tried to shoot it but I must have missed because nothing happened. If I didn’t scream like I was feeling a knob piercing for the first time, mum never would have found me. Which was straight away. The snake still had its mouth around-well you know. So she pulled me out and grabbed its neck and held the head still between her head and forefinger and she plucked out its eyes to make it let go.’ ‘Fuckin motherfuckin hell!’ My bitter jovial manner doesn’t seem to be registered by James. ‘Yeah…well she threw the blind thing away as soon as that was that and then I passed out. She took me to the clinic and I must have got anti venom because I’m here.….’ ’how the hell do you remember that?’ I ask. ‘It doesn’t matter if it’s right, it’s how you remember it. Brother, on the eighteenth of December I was a silly duffa and walked out and got attacked on the penis by a venomous snake that causes more deaths than shark attacks. Our mother was quick thinking and brains was more useful that day than the air pistol and it would have been more useful than an actual gun. That’s why I remember it, because of mum.’ A resonating pause passes through. ’What a legend.’ I proclaim. I look at him with the typical sly and boyish facial expression. ‘So, so does it hurt?’ James just looks at me. ‘What the fuck do you think?’ I laugh some more. ‘Oh screw you.’ I see him grin a little too though, god you gotta love him. He stands up and faces the country contemplatively in the same direction as he was before. His gun leaning against the log with the barrel pointing to the sky. He brings out a cigarette and lights up, the little flame from his fire giving his face an orange glow against the intense surroundings. He puffs once and says this after tapping the embers into a small muddy puddle on the ground next to him; ‘do you wanna wait for a shot and get in trouble with Dad or go back and set the table.’ ‘Let’s walk back.’

It takes thirty five minutes and by the time we are at the gate I look back and raise my gun and glass the length of the edge of that area and through the scope I see a kangaroo. ‘They knew we were there, the smart son’s o bitches’ James says this like he thinks what I am seeing is an animal that knows how to play a game of I-come-with-a-gun and you hide. Evading the hunter before showing itself when he gives up. The distance is maybe too far and the bloody prickly cold would work against the path of the bullet. Couple hundred meters at best. A couple small hills rise between us and the mammal but it’s possible. ‘It’s bloody freezing mate.’ James mutters to me as much as to nothing with his rifle in his right hand with the cigarette still burning in the left hand. I say ‘Wait.’ I climb over the gate and walk to the closest wooden pole in the ground and I seat the gun in the back of my hand which is on the pole and the barrel slides between my ring and forefinger. So the gun moulds into my hand like it’s the weapon’s own contemporary stand. I’ve seen it on movies like ‘The Hunter’ where Dafoe holds the sniper rifle with one arm with the guns belly on his forearm against a tree. I am trying to imitate a similar position and the best I can get is looking like a bloke about to go for his shot at a game of pool. The kangaroo has its back to me when it falls forward with the sound of killing reverberating over the outer grassy rings of the country. ‘You go back and tell dad and mom I’ll be back by sevenish.’ James nods and walks away. ‘Alright mate, don’t take too long or we’ll get the shits.’ ‘Don’t worry. I won’t.’ I laugh again at the thought of James quirky story. I start walking back to the edge of home.

‘Fuck.’ The bullet had gone through its spine and took the life of its child that I never knew was there. There is a cylinder now profusely clogging with blood with strands of flesh around the hole violently forced back by the blow. The path as I make it out enters the mother’s back and out through its baby’s chest. ‘Oh well. Nobody’s complaining.’ I separate the mother and child and I carry the big roo in my arms and with the joey flipped over my shoulder with the rifle bumping against my shoulder blades on its sling. I trod my dirty way to my brick home with its insulating walls and where I want to welcome a natural fire in the fireplace. The sky is cerulean by the time I take to skinning the animals on the wooden desk out back of the house. It’s only five minutes into it when dad comes out and the wind that died early this morning lives up to a hair billowing breeze. It would have been better to talk to him without the wind because it wouldn’t be irritable as much. ‘James said you shot something.’ ‘We can have it for tomorrow and Thursday night.’ ‘James what did you shoot?’ ‘Just some kangaroos.’ ‘Be honest or you aren’t having dinner. Did you shoot a joey?’ ‘…Yeah…but it’s alright Dad…there were no rangers around.’ ‘Because you didn’t see em you nutter…don’t try to be an idiot again. For that you aren’t going out for the whole week.’. ‘C’mon dad…yeah I get it, we could get a two thousand dollar fine. But no-one saw me.’ ‘No you can’t, what you are on about, you can’t get fined.’ James says this in his surprised voice as he leans out the door behind dad and I can’t read his outline because of the shadow dad casts back over him. ‘If you shoot a mother, you kill the joey in the pouch.’ ‘Didn’t you know that?’ My helpful brother googles it on his phone that he saved money for himself and shows our dad. ‘Well fuckin oath sons, the rangers have been buggerin me around for a long time. I’m going to write a complaint.’ Our dad walks back into the yellow glow of the house with the movement of man on a mission. James just folds his arms and leans against the side of the door. ‘You got it bro?’ ‘Yeah.’ As I wrench the knife through the abdomen our dog barks. Probably another koala. ‘Did he say you weren’t allowed to go out for the rest of the week?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘Doesn’t matter, me and Ben are going to Sawpit on the weekend. Listen I need help tomorrow with mum’s present, you have an hour to spare?’ ‘Yep.’ Their warm blood had gone a little cold during my walk back. The joey was curled in a foetal position with the mother curling around it like it was hugging its child when the boy pulled the trigger. ‘Cool, hurry up, dinner’s ready.’ ‘Okay.’

I finish fifteen minutes later by putting the meat in an eski with ice thickly coating its interior and I walk to a round table that now has one of two still warm plates of that saucy stroganoff. To the side is cauliflower that is not as white as the eyes of the mother kangaroo was when I turned over its body. Chloe is still eating. ‘Hi.’ ‘Hey.’ ‘Can you help me with maths homework when were done.’ ‘Sure.’ I don’t want to really. ‘I can’t wait for tomorrow.’ ‘What’s going on tomorrow?’ She looks at me as if I’m stupid. ‘I’m going to get my books.’

I end the night on an addictive note by having a beat to a nameless woman online-going at it hardcore with a man she met an hour before she agreed to do the film. The man I learn the name of at the very start and before I fall into the sleep that is partially induced on me by the experience, I feel ashamed that I just noticed for the first time that you never are told their names. That they are referred to as the ‘wet girl’ who is ‘ready’ for a ‘pounding’ and other degrading things. At the same time I feel guilty about not doing the study I was supposed to do and the fees my parents are paying for me to be as slack as what I condemn other lazy blokes at school for. Some opting for VCE and VCAL. And then like how no-one could have ever seen the speed in which death left my gun and touched another family…. The only trace of reality that falls into sleep with me is the sound of the song of ‘Yellow’ by ‘Coldplay’, coming from the TV in the lounge room. The lyric ‘You know I love you so’ stays with me. Dreams of touch and wanting warmth and shameful secrets begin from that lyric, like a springboard, splashing into a new emotion. That is the clearest description of what happens to me in the first moment of crossing into sleep. Everything else is gone in the narrowest nanosecond. Today was a warning. And I had ignored the solution.

One of many properties in Heathmere. The location I visualise the major story arc to happen in.

One of many properties in Heathmere. The location I visualise the major story arc to happen in.

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