Saturday, 9 November 2013

Chapter 23: A Fickle Mistress

The weather is not something that can ever be planned for, at least not when its accuracy is required months in advance. An ideal year would consist of a warm-to-hot summer, interspersed with occasional summer storms and the odd cool day, gradually cooling across autumn until consistent showers set in from early May and continue through waves of cool to moderate temperatures until the start of October, before slowly warming and drying until the end of year. Of course within this pattern the weeks when the farmer wants it to remain dry it must remain dry, and the weeks that the farmer wants it to be cool and wet it must be so.
The weather is a fickle mistress. A winter may break early in April and send all and sundry out into their paddocks to plant their potatoes and onions in the hope of being able to fit that extra crop swing in before the rains end, only to have the rain clear up and stay away in any reasonable quantities for the remainder of the year and prevent any of the crops from flourishing; while in other years it may stay dry and hot right up until mid-May and then rain incessantly for 5 months, burying everything in mud and rotting the crops in the ground.
            A couple of years after Phillip and Beth were married the rain started falling early, and right on cue all the farmers took to their fields on their tractors to prepare for and plant their winter crops. However the rain just continue, it got heavier and heavier. It rained until the ground simply couldn’t hold any more water and rivulets started to scar the flesh of the hills. As the rain intensified the scars deepened and widened, sweeping sections of the crops downhill into the dam. Cows, calves, ewes and lambs got caught in the mud and the shallows of the waterholes, and their distressed bellows and bleats rang up to out of the valleys throughout the day and night.
My roots kept me safe on the side of the hill, spreading deep and wide to cling to the earth. I watched steadfast and immovable, unable to help, for all appearances a passive observer.
            While our valley lost a lot of its crops during this winter, as a mere upstream tributary we were protected from the worst. With the accumulation of waters from the many valleys just like ours the river transformed from its idyll into a swollen torrent. The river broke its banks and rose all the way up to within a couple of feet of the bottom of the dam wall. The force of its torrent picked up rotting logs from the forest floor, uprooted ancient elders and cleared the undergrowth from around its banks. Others died from the waterlogging over the following months. Farms lining the river were washed out, flocks were lost (although in one instance an entire herd was found a week later about 10 miles downstream), houses, sheds, machinery and bridges were damaged or destroyed, The one thing to be thankful for was that there was no loss of human life.
            The cleanup was a long and arduous task. Debris had to be cleared and mud transferred from the flats back up to the slopes. Those farmers that escaped largely unaffected pitched in with their time and machinery to lend a hand. The damage was so extensive in a couple of areas closer to the coast that some simply walked away from their farms, while others were claimed in the following months by depression.

Not long after the flood the Mayfield’s sold up to finance their buying of a larger farm closer to the limestone coast, where they would be amongst the first wave of farmers to transform their rolling pastures into vineyards, creating a dynasty of their own and a considerable fortune in the process. The Mayfield block had long been a thing of envy for my family, containing as it did the greatest area and quality of arable land in the valley. The hill rose steeply from the water’s edge to a crest, and then receded slowly towards the north- a fertile slope that caught the best of the sun. The rockier southern incline had long been established as an orchard containing varieties of apples, pears and nectarines that provided a great source of fruit for the kitchen table, as well as being a nice little extra money-spinner.
Only a couple of weeks after they had bought the Mayfield’s farm, Phillip and Beth announced to the family that they were expecting a child. They had known this information for several weeks and had successfully managed to keep it hidden, but now that the truth was out the cause of Phillip’s recent vagueness and Beth’s coy smile were only too apparent, and their mothers in particular berated themselves in private for not having put the pieces together before now, while simultaneously implying that they had known all along.
Of course everyone was overjoyed at the news. They had been married a couple of years and whispers had begun in the bedrooms and studies of their families as to why they hadn’t conceived by now, so the news caused a palpable ripple of relief across their faces. The grandmother’s set to work crocheting little boots, gloves, pants and jumpers, erring on the side of yellow since the sex of the little one was not yet known.
When she did arrive, little Olive was possibly the most doted upon baby in the world. Both grandmother’s would visit daily and developed something of a rivalry, which Beth tried to mediate by dressing Olive in clothes made by the two elders on alternate days. Meanwhile Dad, Albert and the Moriarty’s never tired of slapping Phillip on the back with a sly wink and bringing up stories of when Phillip was a wee one. Not one of them could disguise their pride.

The years following Olive’s birth were a time of great change for Karabup. The roads into the district were widened, and some of them sealed to give better access for the logging companies whose bulldozers, loaders and trucks cut their way deeper into the forest. With the improved infrastructure the school bus also extended a spur from the schools in Manjimup along the highway that serviced the districts and forests behind Karabup. The arrival of the bus heralded the closure of the school. Its two teachers were transferred to town, leaving the small wooden building to serve as the local children’s playgroup, before also being moved into town many years later as a historical relic of the failed Group Settlement Scheme.
The local store would battle on for another decade, but would eventually succumb to the greater range of goods available in town. The post office continued to receive and distribute the local mail for 20 more years until the postmistress Ms Giacomo finally died of old age. And so for all intents and purposes- other than for the local’s themselves- the district of Karabup was lost from the postal chain and so too the maps. The road signs notifying travellers of its existence still pointed the way from the highway and the old postcode remained, but these were now merely relics of an age lost but for the memory of a few.
Society was changing fast and hordes of young people from right across the globe set upon the world searching for some other meaning in life, and in order to find and fulfil this quest they needed money, work. My family welcomed in these young travellers- backpackers as they came to be known- with the promise of food, board and a small wage in exchange for their time working on the farm. For the first few years these backpackers, usually between 2 and 4 at a time, were put up in any of the spare rooms either in the house or the uninhabited cottages, until some bright spark had the idea to set up a business of her own accommodating, feeding and drinking these youth on an old tobacco farm out of town, finding them work on local farms and ferrying them to and from work as required. It took a lot of the obligation off the host farms, and strong bonds were developed between the locals, the hostel owners and the backpackers so that there was never any real shortage of workers or locals. So long as everybody treated each other well and with the right spirit, everything worked harmoniously.

From an early age Olive displayed tendencies not at all like those of a normal little girl. As soon as she could toddle she would follow her father around the yard and as he left the house in the mornings with the backpackers she would stand there, hands pressed against the wooden slats of the front gate, wailing. As a child she would prefer to sit for hours digging amongst the chook shit rather than play inside with the dolls that her grand- and great-grandparents insisted on buying her, and which sat barely noticed in a box of similar such toys in the lounge room.
Given Olive’s proclivity for hands-on work, by the time she had started school Beth had put her in charge of looking after the chooks and a small patch of the veggie garden. Just like her father and grandfather before her, Olive took to her tasks with verve. No sooner had she jumped off the school bus, ridden her bike down the track and dumped her bag in the corner of the kitchen, than she would be outside in the mud scratching away at the dirt pulling out the smallest of weed sprouts or searching for earthworms, so that by the time it came to clean up she would be caked in a heavy layer of drying mud. Phillip and Beth would joke at night about how this daughter of theirs seemed to think that it was the chickens that were her parents and not them at all.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Chapter 22: $ = N(1/Q)

Marshall, [Wed 9]
First off, two things: 1) Sorry about the early start, and b) thanks for driving me to the airport.
I’ve arrived in Sydney and await my connecting flight across the ditch. Seeing as I have a couple of hours to kill I’ve hunted down an internet connection and here I sit, writing.
Last night was pretty full on emotionally. I had to contend with the conflicting emotions of wanting to be with my Dad, and not wanting to leave you. I know that you don’t begrudge me this trip, but I also know that you are suffering. As strange as it may sound (stay with me on this. I think I have a point), even after 9 months together (or maybe because of it only being 9 months together), that intense stab of emotion shows how much we love each other. Not that I ever doubted it, but sometimes it’s important to have it highlighted. I love you so very much and am sorry that I have abandoned you so suddenly (don’t protest this point. I know you feel abandoned despite your sentiments of ‘you have to be with your family’). It’s stupid, but part of me still feels that my actions over the past 48 hours have been selfish, but I am hopeful that this will not cause you to love me even a little bit less for fear of this happening again. I am not even sure that makes sense. I know what I’m trying to say, just having problems finding the right way of saying it. And I hope I’m not being misinterpreted.
I hope that this time has some positives for you (bed-hogging, time with the boys). Get drunk, and I shall see you soon for some world-class spooning action, hanging out and general life loveliness.
I love you so, so, so, so, so much.
All my love always
Hazel XXX

Hazel, [Wed 9]
I imagine that you have now made it safely to Christchurch and that your Dad is OK. I doubt you will be checking your emails tonight, but this message will still be in your inbox in the morning.
I think I understand what you were trying to say, and I’m in complete agreement with you. I hope you didn’t mis-interpret my emotional state last night as me trying to manipulate you into staying in Perth. Please know that I would never try to keep you from your family, especially at a time such as this. They need you there, and you need to be there. I hope you don’t think me selfish after my comments last night. I have to let you know that my upset for you far, far, far outweighs my upset for myself. I am glad you went, even if it means that I’ll be lonely over the coming however long.
I went in to work briefly this morning. Yoshi, Piers and Karl send their best wishes. I wasn’t in the mood to fool around, so I came home early with a few journal articles. It remains to be seen whether I even get them out of my bag. I’m tired after last night, so I can’t even begin to imagine how tired you must be by now.
I love you and hope you are well, and that the outlook is not as grim as you imagined.
Marshall XX

Marshall, [Thurs 10]
Morning. I hope you managed to get a good night’s sleep sprawled out across the bed.
Anne picked me up from the airport and took me to Mum’s. I wanted her to whisk me away to Dad’s side before dropping my suitcase at home, but it was midnight and well past visiting hours, so I had to be content with going in first thing this morning. I’m a little underdone sleep-wise as I’m sure you can understand, but cest la vie. I’m staying with Mum as morale support. Anne, Sid and Elise are talking about sleeping over at the old house tonight as well. Elise is super excited that I’m back and has already called dibs on sleeping in my bed tonight. She is constantly grinning at me through her missing front teeth, lisping my name (Aunty Ha-thel) and generally being cheeky about the place because she knows I’ll let her get away with it.
While it’s great to be here by his side, seeing Dad was also quite confronting. All kinds of wires and pads are taped to his freshly shaved chest either side of a raw, black-stitched scar. Tubes exit and enter his nose, and machines bleep, blink and wheeze out of time, composing a fugue on the theme of purgatory. He’s still in an induced coma. They are going to start weening him off the drugs either this evening or tomorrow morning. All things going well he’ll be awake tomorrow.
It’s kind of disturbing just how quickly I’ve settled back into my old life in Chch. A wave of sepia toned nostalgia hit me as soon as I hit the tarmac. Maybe it’s the circumstances for which I am back here, or maybe it’s the sheer amount of time and memory I have invested here, but straight away I felt safe and calm. It’s as though the air itself is composed of something different; less bleached, softer. The chewing gum pressed into the concrete spell out familiar shapes, telling the stories of the city.
Take care of yourself. Much love,
Hazel xxx

Hazel, [Thurs 10]
I’ve composed myself and am thinking clearly again. Sorry for being a douche the other night. I’m sorry that I was standing between you and your family at this terrible time. I feel really bad about it, so: Sorry.
We had a talk in the department over lunch today by some epidemiologist. It may even have been a good talk, but I was permanently distracted by her upward inflection at the end of every sentence? Making everything she said into a question? I couldn’t even tell you what the talk was about aside from the preamble introduction. Apparently she’s won all sorts of awards and shit. I noticed the inflection from the second sentence she said, and I couldn’t let it go. And it just wouldn’t stop. I thought that once she got into her stride and relaxed a bit she might start talking normally, but alas no. Leigh got the giggles, which set Karl off, and they had to leave the room.
Again, sorry about my behaviour. Please send my best wished to your father and everybody else over there. I can only imagine what you all are going through.
With love,
Marshall X

Marshall, [Fri 11]
Good morning. I’ve been at the hospital for most of the day. We slept in till 10 this morning, having stayed at the hospital well past visiting hours last night. The nurses eventually managed to persuade us that it was in the best interests of everyone for us to go home and reconvene in the morning.
Right now I’m in the visitors lounge. My legs are curled up beneath me on the chair in a far corner, notebook on my knee. Well away from the prying eyes and fast questions of other visitors looking to compare notes on who I’m here to see, their ailments, their prognosis- the macabre symptom death-match played out in hospital waiting rooms the world over. Some call it polite empathetic chitchat. I call it NONEOFYOURGODDAMBUSINESS.
Dad is doing OK. They pulled him out of the coma, and within a couple of hours he was able to briefly converse and confirm that ‘yes indeed, I’m still alive’. He’s napping atm. Anne has ducked out for a smoke and Elise has gone for a walk with Mum. It was hard to prise them away from the bedside. They’ve been shaken up pretty badly. Mum looks like she hasn’t slept a wink. Who would have thought I would be the one holding it all together, being the supportive shoulder, the one who gets shit done? You’d be proud of me. I cooked up magic porridge and pancakes for breakfast, and have been the one entertaining Elise and running those little errands you don’t notice during the regular course of the day. I make it my oath that the vending machine at the end of the corridor will be empty by the time I’m through with it.
I am actually a bit scared that, now that I’m with my family- near my father- that I’m not feeling the emotion of the situation as fiercely as when I was in Perth. Whether it’s because time has passed and I have gotten used to the idea of Dad being sick, or something within that has closed off from the outside world to protect me from the intensity of the emotions involved, I don’t know. But I’m feeling a little edgy about it. I don’t want to turn into this cold-hearted bitch that can no longer empathise with others, even family. It is that possibility that scares me, regardless of how stupid that may sound.
So that’s pretty much it for now. Sitting, waiting, surfing, reading trash, trying to write, reading more trash, waiting, waiting, waiting. There’s not much else to do, but it has to be done.
I’ll nip in and see whether Dad is awake again. If not I’ll go for a bit of a walk and get some clean air into my lungs. The hospital is located pretty much within the bounds of the botanical gardens, and is usually a good place to just sit and clear your head.
On a lighter note, Elise insisted this morning that she wouldn’t be leaving the house without her hot pink tutu, pink leggings, pink shoes, pink top, pink gloves, pink earmuffs, tiara and fairy wings of, you guessed it, pink. With her pink face and pink tongue sticking out through pink gums she was terrifying little ball of pink. Oh yeah, and it’s currently 30 degrees outside. She’s nuts.
I hope you are OK; that nothing too dramatic is going on. Of course I hope there is some drama, but just enough to keep life ticking over in interest. No more, no less. Keep on ticking along. Also, keep me up to date on any Karl/Leigh developments, and tell Yoshi he’s a sex pest for me.
Love you,

Hazel, [Fri 11]
I can completely understand your fear of becoming some caricature of a cold-hearted bitch. I think it’s perfectly natural to relax once you are with your family again. All the uncertainty that you felt has been eased because you now know, and can physically see, exactly the same as the rest of your family. I think it’s probably that you are more relaxed, and so the emotion associated with all the uncertainty is no longer as intense. You can see that your father is doing well and is going to be okay and get better, so now those heightened emotions are no longer required. So don’t be scared that you aren’t as emotional as you were. You are reacting in just the right way.
In unrelated news, there is a hole in the crotch of my jeans. I guess my balls are too big and chaff-y.
Right, I’m being hassled to go to the Tav. I guess I must do as my captors bid… I’ll call when I wake up tomorrow afternoon.
Marshall XxXxXxXxXx

Marshall, [Sat 12]
Thanks for your words of empathy today. It’s good to know that how I’m feeling is perfectly natural, that I’m not the cold hearted bitch I thought I was, and that I have somebody who cares enough to reassure me of that. Thank you.
I know that as I left you at the boarding gate I said that I’d write. Not just email, but physically write. But alas I must apologise for my failure to do so (thus far). There is something about the tactile nature of paper that makes the act of writing- and reading- so much more special. There is a sense of excitement in opening the letterbox to find a personal, hand-written envelope buried amongst the bills. The palpable, tingling anticipation of opening the envelope- trying, failing to open it without tearing. The rush of reading the scrawled script, reading it slowly to savour the voice and ideas contained. Devouring it as you would a good meal- all senses heightened. The idea of letters fills one with romance, but how often do we actually take the time to write and send. It is a romance laced with lament.
I will endeavour to write- my thoughts are with writing- but whether letters will ever materialise is a subject for the passage of time. Until then I hope you’ll be satisfied with this electronic form.
So how was last night? I’m going to take a wild guess and say that you got drunk, went to The Cellar and got a kebab (doner w extra garlic sauce) on the way home?
Me? Well I could now quite reasonably be considered an expert on the art of C.M Coolidge (the guy who painted the series ‘dogs playing poker’. There are examples of his work hanging in the visitors lounge). Last night we all went out for pizza, and then I sat on the couch and downed a bottle of pinot while watching old Cosby and Sinatra movies. Thrilling stuff. Stay tuned for the next exciting instalment of ‘Hazel goes to Christchurch’ for details of her ride on the tram. Certainly not to be missed.
I love you.
Hazel x

Hey Hazel, [Sat 12]
Remember, you’re not the only one who promised to write. I’m afraid that I am just as culpable as you are. So you see, the two cancel each other out, so neither of us is in the wrong. Perfect!
Well, as you expected, Tav-times ended up snowballing out of control again, and preceded in much the same manner as you imagined. We ended up at The Cellar again (where else?), where we flailed the night away. Pilar, Alby, Zach, Donna, Mattias and the rest of your crew appeared at about 12, and our groups merged somewhat. Karl decided that Leigh was getting overly friendly with Mattias (even though Leigh was more like a deer in Mattias’ headlights), and Leigh was upset with Karl for chatting and joking around with Pilar (who was off her chops and consequently talking closer than soberly appropriate). Rather than talking rationally about it they both huffed around and decided, independently, to leave the other to it, leaving at pretty much the same time via different exits. They are a regular comedy duo. But aside from those two the rest of us were in fine form; taking turns to dance (ridiculously) in the centre of the circle and grinding ghetto-style against each other; gay-chicken between Zach and Alby. Importantly however, Alby and Pilar had a bit of a pash in the line for the toilets towards the end. But then, this has all happened so many times before so it’s hard to gauge its importance. As to the question of after-dancing kebabs- no such luck. I did have a pie from the servo on my walk home, though.
Anyway, it’s hot here again and your crew are on their way here to pick me up on the way to the beach, so I’d better get my togs on, put contacts in and grab a towel. We all miss you, love you and hold out the best hope for your Dad (this was a common topic of last night, before memory cuts out). Know that.
Love you,
Marshall xxx

Marshall, [Sun 13]
Awww, Friday night sounds like a hell of a lot of fun. I wish everything was fine and that I was back there celebrating life with you all. Your stories make me nostalgic. I miss you guys, and take your love and thoughts in the spirit in which they were sent.
Me? Well, it is my very firm belief that technology is the scourge of creativity. The hospital in its wisdom has seen to having free Wi-Fi available throughout its halls. I suppose this is invaluable to the staff, and a useful tool for patients and their visitors to have some sort of access to the world outside the cloistered corridors and wormholes, but truly the internet is the enemy of art. To steal a phrase from Jonathan Franzen, “It's doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.” I’ve rarely had this sort of time to sit, contemplate, read and get down on paper the stories that clutter my mind, and yet I’m not doing as such. The internet is proving hard to ignore.
I haven’t read anything with any real depth since I landed. Every last word has been trash- soul-destroying ‘women’s mags’ and tabloid newspapers litter the coffee tables in the visitors lounge. Not only that, but my writing has gone down the crapper. I tried earlier to write something, anything. I took out my notebook and pen, opened it up, but nothing came out. I tried reading back over what I’d written on the flight, but was hit by a wave of revulsion at my own preciousness. I flicked to a few pages earlier hoping to find wisdom and inspiration in the quotes that litter the pages, but was crushed by their brilliance. Let me give you the tip: never keep quotes from the literature you read in the same notebook as you write in. When you read back over them you will only feel depressed. I feel like a charlatan. There is no possible way I can live up to the standard of my idols.
Be that as it may, I have to do something about this funk. I can’t keep going along reading naught by crap and expect greatness to somehow fall on me. I have resolved to take some time out either this afternoon or tomorrow morning to hunt down a bookshop. I feel lethargic, numbed and slack. But I can’t keep going on like this. It has to break.
Yours in torment and torpor,
Hazel xx

Morning Marshall, [Mon 14]
Just as I set out to do, I found a quaint little second-hand bookshop yesterday squirreled down a side street between the hospital and the centre of town. It’s either new, or a store that had completely missed my attentions all those years ago in school. But in either case I couldn’t have dreamed up a better result. It’s one of those long narrow stores stacked with shelves up to the rafters, and any spare space on the floor was taken up with stacks and stacks of paperbacks teetering precariously above my head. The musty homely smell of old paper greeted me at the door; the owner remained engrossed in his readings hidden behind piles of magazines atop the counter to my left. I could only manoeuvre through the store sideways like a crab, and had to lead with my satchel as my prow. The slightest nudge would have caused a rolling wave to fan out across the room and drown anybody in its path.
Anyway, piled amongst leftover copies of Dickens, Austen and anthologies of Shakespeare I found a 1930 hardback copy of Anna Karenina (sans dust-jacket unfortunately). It was actually ‘catalogued’ alongside an ironically water-damaged copy of Moby Dick. Anyway, I bought Anna for a scandalous $25. I feel as though I’ve stolen it. I’m tempted to go back there and hand over some more money. It’s certainly one of my more exciting second-hand finds.
It’s sitting on the coffee table in front of me. I’m imagining it jittering and jumping on the table, begging me to open its pages and savour the words within. I have a tingling sense of excitement and anticipation when I’ve just bought a new book and I know that I’m about to delve into it. I can’t help but grin. I guess this would be akin to you discovering a new and important piece of scientific information. It’s the thrill of discovery of the new and unexplored.
I’ll leave you with that little anecdote. I will now take a deep breath and start reading. Hopefully I’ll be able to immerse myself straight into the story and ignore all distractions. Who knows, maybe it’ll get my creative juices flowing again.
So long. For now I’m off to Russia. With love.
Hazel. XX

Hazel, [Mon 14]
That bookshop sounds amazing, like something out of Ali Baba. And I’m glad you are excited about reading/writing again.
So yeah, not much happened yesterday. I’m sorry that I didn’t email you, but I got caught up staring at the TV (cricket, you see). I only left the house to get Cheetos and ginger beer from the servo. Didn’t put clothes on until then (5pm), and certainly didn’t shower. I haven’t had a day like that in, like, forever! The TV was my power cord and I recharged in its warm electric glow all day and into the night.
Yoshi was just in my office telling me about his latest plan to help foreign women get permanent residency by marrying them, or by finding someone else to marry them, so they don’t have to leave the country. A network of pimped out marriages across the land. Sometimes I seriously wonder about his sanity.
Yours in lethargy,

Marshall, [Tues 15]
It sounds as though your television is my bookstore; I feel alive again, sparking on all six.
Just as you said, the finding and reading of a good great book has reignited my flame for writing. I’m taking the liberty of wallowing in the minutiae of Tolstoy’s world, his precise descriptions and poetic meanderings. I didn’t get to start reading until after dinner, and I found myself not turning out the light until 3am. I’d curled up within the warm embrace of a high-armed chair with a bottle of pinot, a thermos of Earl Grey and a pack of Tim-Tams by my side, and got completely transported into the elegant and sophisticated world of 1800s Russia. I’d forgotten the magic spell that literature has over me. I haven’t been in that position in quite some time. I feel reinvigorated, in love with words again.
Dad’s condition has improved a lot these past couple of days. He’s lucid again, and itching to be out of this place, but the doctors are saying it’ll be another week or so before he can be sent home. They’ve backed off his pain killers, and he’s getting back to being the man he always was, albeit one that is confined to bed and short walks to the bathroom. He’s already bitching and moaning about not being able to leave the ward, not having the energy to shower unassisted, and the interminable stupidity of everything on the ‘idiot box’ bar the news. The rest, in his opinion, is garbage. The spouting of one of his pet gripes is heartening (if you’ll excuse the pun) to say the least.
Yours in resuscitation,
Hazel xx

Hazel, you magnificent beast! [Tues 15]
It’s great that you’re getting back in to the game. I’m here in the office eating the gustatory triumph that is the Katsu Chicken Curry from the Japanese place down at Broadway. You just KNOW it’s bad for you but by god it’s tasty. The chef is surely a giant amongst men.
I have a Western running at the moment, so I have about another hour to kill. Then it’s back to the lab for fun blocking, incubating a washing times. Fuck yeah. You can’t hold me back. Don’t even be trying.
I rode to uni this morning along the windy cycle path on the foreshore. The Easterly was starting up again after yesterday’s cool change, so I figured I could catch it in to work, then float home on the sea-breeze this evening. Riding is so much more fun when you have the wind behind you.
I spent the morning trawling PubMed for papers of interest, and trawled the Nature and Science websites for things that might not be immediately relevant. I’m tying to write at least my lit review as I go so that when it comes time to discuss my results all the references I need will already be catalogued and notarised, so it’ll be less work at the end. That’s the plan anyway. Whether it works or not is up for debate. Mostly what happens is I get sidetracked by a tangent, read up on it extensively, then when I take a step back realise that it actually has very little to do with the precise mechanisms of my thesis. Still, mind expansion and all that.
Yours in literature,
The man with the ever-expanding brain

Marshall, [Wed 16]
I am excited. This morning I was struck by the overwhelming urge to write. I took out my notebook and pen and started to put down the ideas as they came to me, weaving lines into each other. Usually I like to have some semblance of a plan of what I’m going to write about, however often the story takes on a form and course of its own ungovernable by my initial intentions. It is only once it is all down on the page that I can start to cut and change and direct the story into a form befitting its themes. The hard part is often taking these seemingly disparate threads and ideas and moulding them into one coherent narrative. It’s like a wild steer pulling against the ropes and constrains placed against it. The best I can do is let it have its head and go wherever it wants to go.
So my mind has been purged of all these snippets and ideas. They are still weaving into and out of each other in my mind. The earthquake may have occurred, but the story will continue to roil with aftershocks until they feel they are bedded down into the landscape that best suits them. I feel as if I am merely their conduit to the outside world.
Anyway, this is all a bit Meta. I feel I may have embarrassed myself by putting it out there like that, but once I’m moving I find it exceedingly difficult to put on the brakes. I’m excited by the speed and mystery, adrenaline surges along the path from my head to my hands. All else is superfluous.
Oh dear, there I went again. I’ll calm down now. Promise. The central thesis I wanted to discuss with you today is this hypothesis I have come up with. I am fairly confident that my writing output- its scale and quality- is directly influenced by the quality and quantity of my reading. A few days ago I was reading nothing but trash, and writing nothing but trash in response. But now having read half of Anna Karenina- often in vast swathes and in single sittings- I am again inspired to write. This morning I covered nine pages in scrawl. And while I haven’t read back over it (I usually like to have a cooling-off period before reading and editing), I am fairly confident that much of what I wrote is salvageable into one, maybe two, short stories. To steal a cliché, I feel as though I’m walking on air. I’m elated. This must be how you feel upon having your scientific ideas validated by hard data. You know, when something is just right, and then having that feeling validated by actual evidence.
Yours in inspiration,
Love you, Hazel

Hazel, [Wed 16]
So what you are saying with regard to your writing is that your writing output is directly proportional to the amount and quality of your reading? Or in mathematical speak:
$ = N(1/Q)
where $ is output (obviously); N is the quantity; and Q is the quality of those words on a sliding scale from 0 to 1 where 0 is shit and 1 is perfect. That ought to do the trick!
In Yoshi related news (you have been warned), this morning he tried to give me a USB loaded with porn. He figures that with you being away I may be in need of some extra stimulation. There is no way I could use it without having the image of Yoshi beating his meat popping into my head. It’s just plain wrong.
Yours in mathematics and masturbation,

Marshall, [Thurs 17]
You, Sir, are a massive NERD. It made me literally LOL.
Rarely have I ever had this sort of space and time to hunker up with my own thought and form ideas and plot. Hard to believe given my history of unemployment, but it is true. I feel refreshed, energized. I’m starting to understand your compulsion for space. There is something about having time, space and complete freedom of thought that imparts on you this incredible internal poise and grace.
Yours in a world of time and space,
Love you, Hazel

Friday, 18 October 2013

Chapter 21: Dynasties

As Phillip grew older and approached the age at which his father had left school, the question arose as to what path in life he himself would follow. Just as his father had done before him, Albert granted his own son a patch of dirt to do with it whatever he wished. Phillip tended to it with the utmost care and diligence, and while things didn’t quite come as naturally as they had to his father, he compensated for this with graft, effort and the sheer force of his will.
For their part, Albert and Dad were absolutely chuffed that their life’s work would continue long after they no longer had the strength to do so themselves. Three generations toiled side by side towards a common goal, and a dynasty was propelled through the cycles of seeding, irrigating, fertilizing, tending, spraying and harvesting.
            Now that life was running exactly how they had always wished, Albert and Sarah slowly grew restless. They had all this land, their crops were consistently successful, their animals routinely achieved top price at the markets, and their personal lives were going gangbusters. Sarah was secretary of the local branch of the Country Women’s Association- or as Dad and Albert referred to it, the Chin-Waggers Association- and a jams and preserves judge at the Manjimup Show, and Albert, despite his natural shyness, was an influential member of the State Farmers Federation and a district football umpire. While he didn’t talk much, people who knew something of his history would sit up and pay attention whenever he did have something to say, and would carefully consider his words because he had so obviously considered his own.
And so it is through this prism of success that Albert and Sarah grew bored. They decided that something needed to change. And given that they still lived in Mr Elliot’s original Groupie house- just basic timber, weatherboard and rusting corrugated iron- they decided that building a new house was just the sort of project they needed to prevent them from growing fat and contented.
They began preparations in earnest, enlisting the services of an architect and surveyor. They chose a spot on top of the ridge just around a fold in the hill from the cottage with views across the lake to the front, the bush to the back, and down the valley to Dad and Ma’s house. The house itself would be dug into the crest of the ridge, with the excavated earth to be compacted and transformed into the walls. Floor to ceiling glass windows would capture the best of the winter sun and the veranda would shield them during the burning months and provide spectacular views of approaching summer storms. The framework would be of exposed jarrah salvaged from the farm, and the roof would be a gently sloping vegetable patch.
Sarah took charge of the project while Albert concentrated on the farm, allowing her to make the most of her organisational and managerial skills. She was in contact with the architect every couple of days with new tweaks and changes, and when the builders were on-site she rolled up her sleeves and pitched in with her own hands to build the bricks and erect the pillars and pour the concrete and put up the tank and guttering. Friends and neighbours noticed the new vitality and energy that overcame her- the flushed cheeks, the effervescent smile, the new lease on life.
The pad was rapidly dug into the slope and the earth compacted into cubes and stacked one on top of the other to reshape the hill. Finally the roof was laid out on top of a concrete and mesh slab with square holes cut through to allow the natural light to filter through into each of the rooms. Soil was shovelled on top and beds mapped out for vegetables and flowers. Plumbing and electricity were connected; the kitchen and bathroom were kitted out.
Nine months after the first clod was removed, Sarah, Albert and Phillip moved into the cool and musty air of their new home, moving their existing furniture, bedding and appliances on the back of the Bedford truck across the hill. Sarah stood on the threshold and directed her men like a drill sergeant- “That goes there”, “Move that in here”, “put that down over there”. She knew where she wanted everything and the best way to get it all done in the shortest possible time. It was all overseen with military precision. The change revitalised them- the build itself kept them busy, and the transformation of the space into a home filled them with a feeling of absolute contentment.
Once everything had settled into its new shape and the cooking smells melded into the walls to give off their lived-in smells Albert and Sarah started to pester my parents about rebuilding and moving themselves. The original Groupie shack, despite the continual maintenance and love that Mum and Dad put into it, was now looking well past its use-by-date, and to my brother and sister-in-law’s eyes the only logical conclusion to this was that they start again.
But to our parents this was nought but the vague notion of a new generation. They saw no real reason to leave their existing home regardless of the physical appearance it may present to an outsider. Together they had celebrated, mourned, toiled and loved within its humble confines. All their memories were papered into its cracks and flaws. So there they stayed, surrounded by their precious memories until frail and beloved in their old age they would die within 2 weeks of each other through pneumonia and heartbreak.

By the time they were settled in their new abode, protected from the chill of winter and heat of summer by the insulating earthen walls, Phillip has started courting the eldest daughter of another influential farming family from a district on the other side of the shire. They first met at the traditional barbeque after the annual meeting of the shire branch of the Farmer’s Federation. The State President Mr Heathcliffe tended to the sausages and steaks while the Shire President Mr Blakers served as his general. Beer flowed easily from the iced esky’s and in time honoured tradition scarcely a scrap of meat escaped the blackening tongue of the fire and the dogs went home well fed and comatose.
            Phillip had only recently begun to associate with the farmers from the neighbouring communities under his own steam. His father had challenged him to get to know what was happening on farms outside of his own cloistered little world, to call on neighbours and foster his own relationships with them rather than merely treading along idly in his father’s footprints.
            He had ventured across to the familiar homes of the Monroe’s and Mayfield’s to get a handle on the idea and technique of talking with farmers about the weather, their crops, their land, their habits and their ideas. It was a tradition intended not just to spy on what the competitors were up to, but also to foster a sense of community and an exchange of wisdom. Phillip listened intently to what his elders had to say, sifting for any grains of advice that his father and grandfather had either omitted or had not thought of before.
As with everything else he did, he was intensely focussed on all that was said and done so as not to miss out on anything. He naturally assumed the position of student, presupposing that his peers knew more about the topic that he did, and tried to absorb as much as possible so that he could put into practise all that he learnt. Sensing this naivety, his hosts, rather than using the occasion for opportunism, were actually more helpful and less guarded than they otherwise would have been with his father or grandfather. Here was a young man trying to live up to the reputation of his ancestors, living in their long shadows and searching for his own patch of light, and so they were empathetic towards him based on his clear earnestness and enthusiasm.
Now that he felt that he had learnt as much as he could from the Monroe’s and Mayfield’s Phillip felt it his duty to approach those farmers whom the Spring’s as a whole respected. He had met Mr Scott a few times before at similar events and the Manjimup Royal Show, and knew of his respected stature in the Farmer’s Federation and the basics such as where he was based and what he grew. So while his father was off acting as lieutenant to Mr Blakers and his grandfathers were larking about with old Mr Monroe, he summonsed all his courage to go up and join in Mr Scott’s conversation with his son Rodney, Oscar Monroe and old Henry Kelly. It was time to be an independent man.
Even though everyone knew exactly who he was, Phillip waited for a break in the conversation to make his introduction, and as duty dictates started up a new thread in the conversation, asking about the health of the poddy calves considering the early and cold start to winter. As with all conversations of this nature it was interspersed with much grunting, contemplation of the sky and prophesising that this would be the year that their respective districts would collapse into ruin. It was never in the farmers lot to be optimistic; no matter how good the weather or prices there would always be something to grizzle about.
The conversation drifted from stock to weather to crops, and through it remained fluid, with other farmers joining or leaving the huddle, Phillip remained the ever-present at Mr Scott’s side. As the cold wind again began to blow, Mr Scott’s eldest daughter Beth came up to him to ask him something or other on behalf of her mother. While she waited for a break in the conversation she scrutinised the interesting looking if not handsome young man at her father’s side. She watched the minimal yet succinct movements of his already rough and tanned hands, as though all his energies were invested in ensuring that his every movement suited the tone of the conversation perfectly so that no charge of indifference of misunderstanding could be levelled at him. She admired his all-too-apparent earnestness and his overwhelming desire to be welcomed into the company he was keeping; the way he presented himself as a proper young gentleman.
Phillip noticed her presence, but tried to focus instead on the topic at hand so as not to be distracted, or worse- to come across as other men his age were wont to. But try as he might his eye kept wandering to her deep black eyes, her strong cheekbones, her distinctly feminine figure accentuated by a red belt cinched around her waist, and her casual, almost flippant, stance. She smiled an introduction towards him and he forced a smile and nodded in reply. A distant rumble sounded deep in his stomach.
At this nod, Mr Scott looked from the young Mr Spring to his daughter, and acted as though he had only just noticed her presence at his side. He introduced the pair, and instinctively Phillip offered out his rigid hand. Miss Scott stifled a laugh and extended her hand to meet his. She shook his hand with the force of a farmer; the corners of her mouth curled into an involuntary smirk.

She persuaded him that he was pursuing her without ever letting on that it was her directing their relationship. She guided him through their first conversations, their first romantic touch and their first kiss behind the town hall on the night of the lunar eclipse.
Phillip was of the age that it was now expected of him to attend the farmers and town meetings and contribute to the running of the district. He put his name forward and was elected into various committees, so he was able to manoeuvre himself into positions of familiarity with Mr Scott. Beth on the other hand always had to find some excuse to go with her father to town, usually on the pretext of wanting to meet up with old high-school friends in town. Beth had recently finished her end of school exams, and was intending to move to the city and start her nurses training. Her parents had conceded to this on the proviso that she take a year off between school and college to work on the family farm. While she had initially begrudged this compromise, in her new situation it seemed almost serendipitous.
Her father would drop her off at a friend’s house, where she would stay for a time before leaving to walk to the town hall in time for the end of the meeting and the chance of again seeing Phillip. Once the meeting had adjourned there she would be waiting, and Phillip would try to disguise his eagerness to run straight to her by joining her father in conversation with whatever first (after Beth) came to mind as they descended the granite stairs together. Mr Scott pretended not to notice the plot.
As things developed between them Phillip would call upon the Scott house and they would appear together around town and at parties, and it transformed from an open secret to an open knowledge that Phillip Spring and Bethany Scott were an item. They were married a year after their meeting. The wedding was greeted with excitement throughout the Shire- the merging of two farming dynasties. A better match of breeding and spirit couldn’t be imagined.
A month before the wedding Phillip had moved back down the hill to the old Elliot cottage to prepare it as their new marital home. He furnished the house with new sofas, a new bed, new sideboards and new tables, and got a good deal on a refurbished slow-combustion stove. All this activity was conducted with precedence given to function rather than any matching colour or pattern scheme or finer touch, and upon moving into what would be her new home Beth set about rearranging those items she could salvage and ordering new furnishings with more tasteful and soft floral upholstery. Phillip accepted this in much the same spirit as he would throughout their lifetime together- with self-deprecation and gentle mockery of the roles of husband and wife within their marriage.
Phillip and his groomsmen readied themselves first at the old Elliot cottage, then put the finishing touches on up at the new house. Sarah fussed around them, making them take off their shirts so that she could iron them properly, and darning a small rip in the seat of one of the groomsmen’s trousers while he stood to the side awkwardly covering his front. When all was completed to her satisfaction she stood back and looked at them in turn, before settling her eyes on Phillip and bursting into tears. The men stood awkwardly scuffing their feet, taken aback by this sudden display of emotion from one considered so hard-as-nails. Up until that day Phillip had only seen his mother cry twice before in his life- at her sister’s funeral, and when she accidently spilled the mutton stew from the stove after a particularly long and sweaty day in the shearing shed. And each time he had been lost for words.
But what surprised everyone even more was that she did so without hiding her face, without fear. She bawled openly and proudly, and enveloped her son in a vice-like hug that threatened to collapse his ribcage. The groomsmen averted their eyes and shuffled off to the next room as Albert wandered upon the scene. Immediately summing up the situation he smiled to himself and followed the boys from the room.
Once Sarah had finished dressing her husband she loaded him into the drivers seat of the FJ Falcon and plonked herself in the passenger’s seat. As they headed off down the driveway Sarah bellowed final instructions out the window like a drill sergeant on the parade ground. Her words were lost to the wind and the crunch of gravel under the wheels, however the congregation had turned their heads in her direction so she felt that she had made her point and the car drove on.
Phillip Spring and Bethany Scott were married in the little Anglican Church nestled amongst the oak and weeping willows in the bride’s hometown. From what I’ve heard it was a joyous family affair, as all weddings should be. The immediate and extended families were all there, along with notable members of the community and a few select school friends. Phillip apparently had a barely contained and permanent grin on his lips from the moment his bride appeared through the glass-paned doors between the foyer and the aisle dressed in white lace, right through until the exhaust pipe of the lipstick-smeared Datsun shot the potato clear through the window of the town hall.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Chapter 20: Icecream and Flowers

The tattered vinyl stuck to the sweat on Marshall’s back. The air hung sour with the stench of the thousand passengers that had braved the bus over the course of the day. It had been a scorcher. Those who weren’t hiding away under air conditioning were at the beach, and those not at the beach roasted like spit-pigs in the shade. The doctor had arrived as regular as clockwork, but it had been so weak that the city remained suffocated beneath the stagnant heat. Black cliffs cloaked the sun ominously just off the coast and wet the air until it threatened to burst apart.
All the windows were open and the ancient air conditioning was chugging and shaking overhead but still the air inside the bus was clammy. Rivulets of sweat ran down faces, backs and legs. His mouth hung limply open like a magpie on a hot day. Marshall leant forward to peel his shirt from the vinyl, the two surfaces eliciting a disgusting muted rip.
Businesses drifted by through the haze as the bus crept slowly through the Mount Lawley snarl. Water from the air conditioner smeared down the bus windows, splashing through an open window onto the seat beneath and down onto the floor until it was transformed into a river that flowed backwards as the bus cleared the congestion. The disgruntled mob hurriedly lifted their bags beyond the streams.
Marshall hit the button and the bus slowed to a standstill. He swung his satchel over his shoulder and water flicked onto the seat next to him. The middle-aged woman looked at him with venom and Marshall shrugged an apology that was probably rejected, but he was already down the steps and out onto the footpath. He judged the speed of the oncoming cars and dashed behind the bus to the median strip, then on to the other side of the road. A van blew its horn.
He strode quickly along the footpath, his gaze flitting absently between passing cars, shop windows and the path ahead. The glass doors of the supermarket swished open and he was hit by a refrigerated blast. He opened his mouth to taste the air as it rushed past his teeth. He headed straight to the freezer section at the back, smiling as goosebumps coated his bared arms and legs. After mulling the options he selected a tub of triple choc swirl, then opened the fridge door adjacent and pulled out a large glass bottle of ginger beer. With his cargo chilling his armpits he took up a place at the end of the cue. As an after thought he picked out a posy of carnations.
The teenager who served him was suitably surly and the lack of even a glimmer of conversation suited him fine. He accepted his change and receipt, declined a bag and walked out the door, awkwardly stuffing the icecream and drink into his satchel with the flowers tucked under his arm.
He crossed the road again, more carefully this time, and followed the zigzag paving through the community centre and the car park beyond. Thunder growled in the distance and the sky half-heartedly spat down infrequent marble-sized drops. He stepped up his pace, but by the time he reached the house the rain had retreated as though god had only sneezed.
One side of a conversation drifted through Hazel’s window. Pilar was sprawled out on the tattered couch beneath the awning, Naomi Klein in her hands and bottle of white on the table, sans glass. She smiled ruefully over the top of the book.
“Hey. How you doin'?”
“Mmm. OK. That looks intimidating.”
“Yeah, it’s a big’n.”
”How is she?” he asked, concerned.
“Dunno. She sounds pretty upset.”
“Hmmm.” They both looked at the bricks forming the outside of Hazel’s bedroom wall. “It sucks.”
“Yeah. Poor thing.”
They sighed and grimaced smiles; Marshall continued to the door and Pilar returned to the sentence indicated by her finger. The door was swung wide open to allow what breeze there was to trickle in and cool the house, even if only imagined. He knocked softly on Hazel’s door and opened it enough to stick his head through. Tissues were strewn across the unmade bed and clothes formed discrete piles throughout the room. A stiff green suitcase was open on the bed with an assortment of clothes already thrown in. She waved distractedly at him with her free hand and kept listening to the phone. Her eyes were puffy and her cheeks stained with tears, but at least for now their flow had halted.
“I know, but I want to be there.... Can you book it for me...? I don’t have a credit card.... Can we sort that out when I get there...? Yes, I do.... I know.... When’s the next flight... Can you check...? Sure. Call me back.... Ta.... Bye.”
She breathed heavily and held her phone up to her forehead. Marshall moved towards her and pulled her close, holding her for a few moments as she composed herself and lost herself in the safety of his embrace.
“Hi. Sorry about all this.” She sniffed and wiped her cheeks “I’m a mess.”
“No. It’s OK. I understand.” He offered the flowers towards her.
She accepted them with a laugh. “Oh Marshall. You shouldn’t have.” Fresh tears began to build.
“I thought you could do with them.”
“It’s sweet.”
“How is he?”
“He’s in the hospital. They’ve rushed him into surgery. His heart gave out- just like that- at work. Luckily he was harnessed in coz he fell off the roof. He was just dangling there. Anne says they had a bit of trouble getting him down.”
They chuckled perversely. “I bet. C’mon. I also got you these.” He held up the icecream and ginger beer.
Hazel sniffed and wiped her nose as Marshall led her into the kitchen where he got a couple of spoons out of the cutlery drawer and glasses from the cupboard above. Hazel made a successful grab for the icecream and ripped the lid off, while Marshall cracked ice into the tumblers.
“Should we offer some to Pilar?”
Hazel screwed up her face and started towards the veranda.
“Pee-lar! Do you want some icecream and ginger?”
“Aww. I’ll have some icecream...”
Marshall hunted around for another spoon, but could only find a clean fork. “Ah, the joys of shared living.”
Hazel sat down next to Pilar and plunged her spoon into the tub. Marshall offered Pilar the spoon and she took it from him once she’d pulled her dress underneath her bum.
“Are you sure you don’t want any ginger?”
“Nah, I’m ‘right” She put down the tome and lifted the wine bottle to her lips and took a healthy swig. A trail of condensation ran down the green-black glass and dripped from her lip to her chin. She snorted and wiped it away.
Once they were all comfortable and the icecream had down its first circuit Marshall spoke. “So, are you gonna go back to Christchurch?”
“Yeah. For a bit. My sister’s looking into flights for me. She’s gonna call back when she’s done.”
“When are you wanting to go?”
“As soon as possible, really. Tomorrow?”
“Wow. That soon?”
They sat looking at the table, trying to take it all in and slukking on their dessert. Marshall alternated between thoughts of what exactly there was for him to do while she was gone, and feeling guilty about his own selfishness thinking of his own immediate future rather than that of his lover. He felt ashamed, but the thoughts persisted, swimming on through his selfish guilt.
“So how long do you think you’ll be gone?” Pilar finally asked.
“Oh. I haven’t really thought about it. A couple of weeks? It all depends on how Dad is. A few weeks, a month? Fuck knows.”
“Do you want us to do anything while you’re away?” Pilar didn’t have anything specifically in mind, but the thought of sitting there without at least trying to help in some tangible way appalled her. She had to say something to back up the embrace she buried her friend within.
“No no.”
“We’ll make sure we call every day, and look after Marshall for you. Look at him, the poor delicate soul.
Marshall put on his best hangdog expression. “I’ll miss you.”
“Aww, poor thing,” Pilar extended her hand toward him, beckoning him towards them. He leant over the table and put his arm around them. The tears redoubled down Hazel’s face, and the other two had to look away to prevent themselves falling prey to the emotion.