Hard Rubbish

Kes drags his billy cart from house to house, pile to pile. The old crate where he’d normally sit to race down the steep suburban hills is already full. He’s put a busted door over the top so his cart looks more like a wonky coffee table on wheels.

Out the front of number 12 there’s a box of books. He doesn’t want to stop too long because that’s the house where the lady went off one day and never came home. His mum used to look in every time they passed but if he even turned for a moment she’d say, ‘Kes, don’t stare,’ and hurry on. That was long ago.

The books are bound in the old style, fancy like leather, and they might be worth something at the market, cause it’s old stuff that people want. So he takes a quick look over his shoulder. There’s no sign of anyone at home. He darts to the nature strip, grabs the whole box, balances them on his door and quickly moves on.

When he’s home he checks his booty. He leaves the books from number 12 until last. The first ones aren’t that interesting. He writes prices in pencil on the inside covers – 50c for an old atlas, the same for a cookbook. There’s a dictionery, a book of Shakespeare, a bible and a book on flower arrangement. He’s pretty good at guessing how much people will pay.

He gets to the last three books. The first two are photo albums. In nearly every picture there’s a lady smiling. She’s very beautiful. At the back of one album he finds five loose photos. There’s one of the lady in a bikini at the beach. She’s smiling. Her eyes are covered by dark sunglasses.

He slips the photo into his bedside drawer. He doesn’t know why exactly. He thinks the lady looks too happy to be the one in the stories they say about number 12. That smile just sort of takes him in like there’s a secret between him and her. Besides there’s no harm keeping an old picture someone doesn’t want.

His attention returns to the albums. They’re an old kind with frame pockets cut into the grey blue card pages. He takes the other pictures out and puts them in a shoebox and writes ‘old photos – 10c each’ on the front. The albums are in great nick. They’ll sell for five bucks each at least. He writes ‘$10-00’ inside the cover. Always leave room to negotiate is his moto.

There’s nothing on the cover of the last book. Its pages are filled with dates and paragraphs written by hand. Kes glances at his bedroom door. His mum is over at Pat’s. His brother’s down at the school shooting hoops. Kes shuts the diary. Looks outside at the clothes on the line. Opens the book again. Flicks through the pages. Closes it. He walks to his window. The day is warming fast. He throws some darts at his board on the wardrobe door. He craves the words. The secrets between him and her. The bikini lady’s smile. He closes his curtains, sprawls onto his bed and begins to read.

Ripple

I haven’t published much verse on this site. The following piece emerged somewhat unexpectedly today. Melbourne readers will recognise the context.

 

Ripple

 

Not yet the hour

for downing sorrows,

nor time elapsed enough

for sweet regret.

The morning’s noisy magpies

haven’t settled,

the whistling postie’s whistle’s

not yet wet.

The sun is inching

timidly from slumber

as if it doesn’t really

have the will,

and on the bay

the sheets, all slack,

not clacking,

tell passing joggers

the air is breathless still.

 

Then

something stirring minutely

on the river,

disturbs the fall,

of the first leaves

onto the waiting grass.

 

One hundred voices

in one hundred places

mutter,

‘oh.’

One thousand half-read Heralds

slowly shut

and all turns quiet.

And at that moment

spreading out like suburbs

the thoughts begin

to ripple

‘I never knew him but…’

 

Rip

Peter had taken up body-surfing in his forties and now chased waves every weekend. He’d met Clarissa in July, at the water’s edge looking out on huge sets coming through onto Slippers, one of the south coast’s legendary breaks. He’d decided the swell was too big but Clarissa, ten years younger and full of energy, urged him to join her. It was something he’d never forget, the sheer power, the speed of tonnes of water rushing forward and the exhileration of riding those steep, glassy faces.

She lived in the next suburb. Peter started calling for her on Saturday mornings after he’d dropped Gina and the kids at his mother’s. Clarissa always knew the best breaks, secret places away from the holiday crowds. In gravel carparks at the end of obscure sidetracks he’d help her prepare, zipping her into her wetsuit’s sculptural neoprene curves.

One afternoon they drove to Cluster Cove, Clarissa tucked tight beside him in the middle seat he only usually used to carry one of the kids when the car was full. An enormous swell was rolling in. Clarissa couldn’t wait to tackle it. Peter hesitated momentarily. But the sight of her easing the tight suit over her bikini bottoms was enough to convince him.

They each caught good waves in the first set. But the next was twice the size, crashing in under a darkening sky. It scared them both. Clarissa called time. ‘I’m taking the next one into shore,’ she yelled above the surf’s constant roar. ‘This is getting risky.’

Peter nodded.

They took off together on a huge wave, Peter next to her but closer to the lip. Partway in the breaking wave caught his ankle and flipped him. The last he saw of Clarissa before he went under, she was racing towards land.

The wave held him under for so many long seconds that his lungs burned with the need to breathe and the random colours of semiconsciousness obscured his perceptions. When he finally got his head above the foam and recovered his bearings he’d been swept hundreds of metres down the beach. A funneling rip took hold of him. He was too exhausted to fight it. Within moments he’d been swept way past the headland and only the very top of the lighthouse was visible over the towering seas.