Thecuriousmail’s Weblog

THE FEVER OF LIVING — I

8/8/09

[This was written about 20 years ago (I am getting around to typing it here in full), within a year of my older brother dying. Then I had to write something. Is not strictly autobiographical or biographical, but some characters and events are for sure based on real people and events. I am under no illusion as to it being a great work of fiction, but it’s important to me, it matters to me, and ultimately I don’t care what you think. This is a story of  a soul and their times.]

Chapter One:

Of course there are the moments that must be remembered; perhaps even you cannot forget: all those glancing blows, transitory intentions and incomprehensible encounters — the moments that must be remembered.

A cacophony of cries from innumerable voices coalesced into a kind of grotesque assonance. He was afraid. of the fear. but he thought he knew. he thought he understood. For a moment in vairagya a thought formed, then unrecognized, having never meant to be, ceased to be.

His eyes filled with blood and his teeth shattered, cutting his lips and the inside of his mouth– the shards of teeth were slow moving spiralling points of light in darkness; he tasted blood, but he didn’t feel any pain.

He awoke abruptly from the disquieting dream. It was late morning, hot, humid, and it was raining. He lay uncovered on the bed, staring at the wall and listening to the murmur of voices in another room, and still tasting blood.

The rain fell in torrents; that exacting belief, and yet always somehow insufficient. Huh, as if faith as large as a grain of sand could ever move a mountain. A ticket to heaven bought with indulgence, of  lies and threats, of resurrection and  of armageddon. In his underpants he walked from his bedroom to the bathroom and washed his face, drinking several gulps of water — but the taste of blood remained, and the dream not now certain, save for a pervasive unease.

He did try and remember, staring into the wet and warm mirror; disinterested but distracted by the stubborn contemplation of ennui, with a fleeting but intensely disturbing feeling of deja vu. Vajnadatta was still deceived: he only saw what was obvious, he only saw what his mind would allow  him to see. Still he watched: with great ceremony the Idiots are crowned Kings. Long. Live. The. Idiot-Kings!

Emotions discarded, but not and never experienced. To be taken, swallowed like a pill — he couldn’t swallow, the taste of blood remained. They proudly but stupidly claim to be free, as if claim and repeated reiteration make it real and true. Choice? CONSUME. Delusion?? CONSUME. decay . . . . Decay . . . . DECAY. I have a recurring dream of two mirrors facing, he thought. I have a recurring dream . . of bodhicitta and ??  Is this the cost of living? he wondered, amused and saddened by the banality of the euphemism. There is a shopping mall in our souls: the abject normality. of plastic. people. parading. pretensions. The apparent paradox: he wants to be alone; he wants to love. Watch the office, watch the factory: people moving inside outside being led being fed imitation artificial. And consuming, oh always consuming.

He wants to live, but the walls are closing in and the floor is falling away. His existence is r.e.c.e.d.i.n.g. It hurts when he screams too. And work and reward and service with a smile, and life and death and were they mine (?).  He wished that he could too. Is Buddha sitting monkey-like on his shoulder, chanting contrite entreaties of transcendence in his ear? But nothing is perfect that we witness. Perfection is that which is beyond the konsepts. Civilization? Er, cities you mean?  CONSUME. Waste. CONSUME. Decay. Purposelesness: now a lesser god. CONSUME.

The rain on the tin roof was like crashing heartbeats. His breathing tightened, and he felt suddenly colder: now reflected in the mirror was a vaguely familiar visage, but shockingly not his own. The phantasm panicked him: Help me! Help me! Please help me! I fear . . . I fear . . . . In the rippling mirror the demogorgon smiled, gratified. It’s mockery and pitilessness poured into the room. He thought he was drowning!

He was indeterminably afraid of madness, afraid too that he was somehow aware of his madness. Scattered memories mimicked a kind of madness, and he felt again the fear, knowing that he could never merely understand and be understood. Anon, under the auspices of fine ideals ignorant people make stupid decisions — all prisoners in their own dark and dank solitary cells of the world-made, and yet with an adjuring sympathy we still abide the promises so readily given. but not and never meant to be kept. We applaud. We CONSUME.

There was rain in his eyes now.

Another appeared beside the demogorgon in the mirror. Horror and Chaos. Different reflections of the same image. You must be afraid. Must . . Must . . It will burn: Falling . . Failing . .Forever. givemepeace. Give me peace. GIVE ME PEACE.

—-Bellum omnium contra omnes, Chaos whispered plaintively.

(He knew: the war to end all wars).

Each time I hated you, a sense of eternity stupefied me.

—- Horror said with malicious jest: You die, they die, oh and  nobody lives happily ever after. But don’t fear. Aren’t you going to be saved?? Ha, just where is your saviour? Show me now the prophet of profit! I wish you were innocent! You were always an uncontrollable dialectic. The poor are not anonymous you know. They do drift into violence. A patter of tongues in a glass and: now nobody applauds.

—- Fear is greater than knowledge. D.R.E.A.D. A cornerstone of obedience upon which the severed heads. sit. smiling. And yet order from nature and the severed heads would watch with indifference. contradictions. absurdities. The years will pass, harried by their only truth: sin, guilt, and maybe salvation. I am bored and I’m tired and I want to be alone! I am old, I am old, and my skin is cold.

—- Roll up! Roll up!

For the war of enlightenment.

Enrol! Enrol!

In the schools of holy terror.

Fight! Fight!

Their satanic civilization.

Kill! Kill!

For Allah, the Ayatollah, the Hezbollah.

Kill for me!

—- Remember! Remember!

Suicide! Suicide!

—- But don’t you worry about that. We’ll look after it. You can trust uuuuuusssssssssssssssssssssssssss.

—- The worst is over. The end is nigh.

—- Why do you resist me??? Do I not give you what you want?

—- Ah! Joie de vivre! Oh . . again! . . . .

—- In the crowd there is untruth: the heads swell with platitudes and promises, and staring faces wildly contort with anticipated meaning. A crowd is a lonely place!

—- Now there is nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.

—- You would CONSUME every fucking idea!

—- The unemployed are now the working class.

—- How tenuous are our ties to each other.

—- A tree’s a tree. How many do you need to look at?

—- I am the eternal jester to the court of barbarism. I like to think of myself as that anyway. It happens to explain  many things.

—- I’m not smart enough to lie. As if, hahaha.

—- The world is a stage without direction. Amen.

—- His laughter

is washed ashore with a careless smile:

the decision is made to joke,

for such behaviour could never be permissible;

but alas . . . dumb humanity.

I digress again! What motivates? How to explain the substitute? Is it just too much emphasis? Predictability: drip .. drip.. drip . . .

—- Seeing a young woman and thinking you could grow old with her. She looks about 14 and wears a t-shirt: ‘no romance, just sex’. Er, but you are old and you will die soon. You’ve missed the boat fella.

—- A conscience vote is a very strange thing indeed.

—- Seems almost pointless really, Chaos said effacingly in a drawl.

The phantoms disappeared and a rainbow serpent danced slowly in the mirror:  the darkly-shinning coiling and uncoiling serpent fixed attention with it’s cold eyes and baleful stare; the taunting potency of its erect tail was an offer and a warning. The rainbow serpent could yet have possessed death, but did not comprehend all that was possible. Death knew permanence, and offered the gift of a flower to the serpent, but the serpent derisively picked off the redolent petals. Death dismissed the challenge and patiently waited.

A complicit wind scattered the dried and crumbling petals, and the serpent and the wind revelled in the irredeemable: the ridicule of grace. The serpent felt secure because its challenge was not met, its preeminence finally undeniable.

Death struck! Death’s tongue bit into the serpent which reared in pain and fear and fell; the wind was still.

The phantasms reappeared in the mirror.

—- I am Law, said Horror.

—- I am Order, Chaos added perfunctorily.

—- Fear gave us law and history said fear is the only truth. One must never know oneself  history warned; a warning now unquestionably heeded, and an apologia  to some kind of nobility of purpose. We crowded together and listened curiously. but from afar. moving closer though. and so came upon us the last moment of uncertainty. An edacious fear now consumed us blithely, darkening the effulgence of dreaming. The darkness of avijja descended and we dreamt no more never more.All there was left was the fear, only our fear: its spurning sentiment burned through the dreamtime, razing and wasting. We gifted ourselves: desolation

—- The rampage of order scattered the ashes of dreamtime, and the outrage of Law and Order herded the people to trespass. The people proffered their obedience, still not realizing that it had been presumed, and they disparaged of the furtive whispered doubts: for they knew they had the answers! The self-evident truths, they knew:  were there! were somewhere! A fragile peace, easily broken but somehow always reformed, and broken again and again in the delight of ignorance. Their folly: the sublime had degenerated into the uncertainty of deliberate thought. This menace stalked their lives, and they sought the inveiglement of duty to allay their doubts.

—- We have created Law and Order! Oh they congratulated themselves heartily! It was the allure of destiny perfected, of a divine promise somehow fulfilled. Yet the dreamtime order of harmony –of life, cloud and water, in change and of order– was betrayed by a willingness to realize fear and doubt and  was felled.

“Hurry up Sean! You’ll be late again!” his mother called out from the living room. The phantasms fled from her voice. Sean surfaced, the mirror now reflecting his pensive countenance. Early twenties, short, red-bearded and with a shaven head, most people said he resembled a goblin (an observation of perverse satisfaction to him), and a few people said despondently that he was nihilistically-flawed.

“You’ll be late!” his mother repeated. Leaving the bathroom he wrapped a towel around his waist. He sat down at the table in the living room, confused and tired, and still endeavouring to grasp something in what had just happened. Unacknowledged by him, sitting at the table was his mother, one of his sisters, and her boyfriend.

“I’m not sure I’ll go,” Sean said flatly to his mother.

“There’s a letter from William for you,” she replied. Disappointed, she disregarded what he had said.

His mother had made him a cup of coffee, which he slowly drank. It was still raining and he was heavily perspiring from the heat and humidity, and a television without a viewer babbled in an adjoining room.

Tiffany, his nineteen year old sister, was a fashion model. She had the patiently vacant face of a model, seemingly waiting for an expression or an idea; she was a successful model, and artistically proud of her work. Goblin-like Sean embarrassed Tiffany because of his contempt for her personal aesthetic; she often stressed that appreciating beauty is what separated man from animals, and even though Sean looked like a goblin, Tiffany thought he should still be able to appreciate beauty without prejudice. They had this conversation many times previously, reiterating descriptions of their mangled Forms. Tiffany would insist Sean be more concerned about his appearance, an idea to which he would reaffirm his contempt. Eventually they would no longer be brother and sister, even in name.

Sean’s appearance had interrupted a conversation, which resumed because of his silence, and he only half-listened. He wondered what his older brother would say in the letter, but he was reluctant to read the letter immediately.

Again.

Hedonism copulates with elitism.

Again.

There is a price but no value.

INSANE LAUGHTER. Again.

Does it matter? Did it ever matter??

Again.

What is wrong???

Why do we never seem to have the answer?

Do we ever ask the right question??

Implode explode run away away until it is a distant detached memory.

What saves us?? The truth is:

We are doomed.

We know. We don’t care.

Again.

Truth? Where??

Truth in advertising??

Truth in politics??

Promises!

I think you lied.

Again. No trust. And lies! Again and again.

Always damn lies!

Tiffany’s latest job was as a hand model for a jewellery company’s print advertisements; the same hand that pulled off her boyfriend and wiped her arse.

Kevin Lamb, her boyfriend, laughed and nodded assent to something she said.  Sean knew it was the same kind of laugh Kevin made when he showed her the dildo he bought her for her birthday . Kevin said to Sean: “How are your studies going?” Kevin was a Science student at a Brisbane university where Sean studied English.

“Who knows?” Sean replied indifferently.

“Well if anyone does, you should” said Kevin pedantically.

“Ok. Well, it sucks!”

“Oh right.”

Sean smiled because of the look of bafflement on Kevin’s face. Kevin smiled back, thinking that Sean was joking.

Sean’s mother said: “I wish it’d stop raining,” and Tiffany and her went into the kitchen.

Sean continued, intending to leave Kevin in no doubt: “I hate uni. It sucks. It’s like a rich person’s club, soooo incestuous, and there are boundaries beyond which no discussion is allowed to move. You would disagree of course.”

“You do seem to need academic rehabilitation,” replied Kevin, believing Sean was lazy and disturbed.

“We’re allowed only a taste comrade, but I have a habit. It’s control comrade.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’ve got a career to think about mate. You’d do well to put some thought that way too Sean.”

“Have fun. You’re going to have to pay for free education you know. Oh, of course. Silly me.”

“I’ve got a career to think about Sean,” replied Kevin.

“So you’vesaid comrade. I bet that if you work really hard, you’ll be ok? Not! It’s like our lives are so meaningless we exalt selfishness, call it a career, and that’s now supposed to provide meaning in our lives? Fuck that! Well, does it?? And does your cream rise to the top comrade haha?” Sean knew that saying such things to Kevin annoyed him, and that was plenty reason for Sean to do it.

“I know exactly what I mean, and I don’t need you to put words in my mouth. Thank you very much.”

“Huh? As if. . . you know what you ever mean?”

“You’re the weirdest person I know Sean.”

“Do you think so? If I’m not, can I be anyway comrade? I’d like that haha. I sure don’t want to be like most of the fucking people seem to be on this planet.”

“I don’t follow you at all sometimes Sean; well most times actually.”

”That explains a lot comrade. Or means as much as anything in this make-believe world haha.”

“Sean there’s nothing funny about having to work. What do you think you’ll do for money then?”

“Oh indeed comrade. If I was rich I’d sure invent the work ethic! And I wasn’t being funny comrade. I’m forever tipping my cap; always out there in the jungle, bringing home the bacon, doo-dah, doo-dah. Remember the donkey and the carrot I say haha.”

“And that’s supposed to mean something to me? You’re very strange Sean.”

“It just rolls on and on and on. Look ma, no hands! I want to stop the world from turning, just for a while, just so that we can have some free time to discuss and decide. Then act”

“It doesn’t keep me awake Sean.”

“Well I’m glad to hear it  haha. Just who am I to think I’m right comrade? Well, absolutely no hypothetical questions, and never ever the whole truth comrade. See? See??”

“I’ve noticed you do pick on rich people. ”

“Not me comrade! I know it’s divine right, or luck, or innate superiority, or an inheritance, or destiny, fate. What do the poor say comrade? The starving? The homeless? The oppressed? That they’re happy? That they will be when they’re dead? That they get by?”

“Where’s this going then?”

“Ah, don’t want to give a fuck comrade?Are you wholly comfortable with your prejudices?”

“It’s the way the world is Sean.”

“That’s the pedantry of an editorial.”

“Well I don’t need it Sean.”

“Who does comrade? It just is, or just appears or happens or something. Does Social fucking Darwinism make more sense the second time around?”

Kevin was determined to change the subject. “Have you been to Expo yet?”

“Must I? No comrade.”

“Leisure in the Age of Technology is a terrific theme. Don’t you think so? After all, everyone’s got a right to quality leisure time.”

Sean laughed and Kevin blanched. Sean said: “Oh to be sure! Hang on, everyone?”

“Technology might just be the answer,” said Kevin confidently.

“What was the bloody question comrade?”

“I think I know what science and technology can do for us.”

“Not us; the machines — each new gadget a step up the evolutionary ladder? We pollute, deceive, and kill, and live in a violent world obsessed with power and wealth, but thank fuck science and technology will save us haha.”

“Science and technology opens up possibilities to us.”

“Possibilities of what? For what? To all of us comrade? I can see the starving so happy to have their own walkman.”

“How about smarter people who live longer?”

Sean laughed.

“You are a bit of a Luddite Sean,” said Kevin emphatically.

“Haha. I sympathize. And you’re a parrot. There’s something missing in all of this, don’t you think?”

“No.”

” . . a shell or pebble by the ocean comrade.”

“Think what you want Sean. And please stop calling me comrade.”

“What dinkum Aussie term would you like to be called?”

“You could never convince me you were much of an Australian Sean.”

“Haha. Guv, I plead I’m not much of anything haha.”

“You’re lucky Australia is a tolerant country, or you’d be in a lot of trouble.”

“Ah, what a lovely threat! Are Australians really that tolerant comrade? Racism goes pretty deep here. How about: tolerant only of those like themselves? So not tolerant.”

“You’ve had a fair go I think.”

“Haha. A fair go for those tolerated maybe.”

“God Sean, you really are strange aren’t you?” Sean responded by smiling broadly, which disconcerts Kevin even more. Kevin continued: “Just celebrate the Bicentenary like everyone else.”

“Haha. And the Aboriginals are celebrating?? Fuck, I must have missed it. Comrade, it is not in the least equivocal: we invaded this country. The enormity of our violence. And it’s not just in the past, it continues today. The bicentenary is a celebration of destruction. Fuck that.”

“Nothing, nothing of the sort Sean.”

“Well one of us is right comrade.”

“Whatever you reckon Sean,” said Kevin dismissively. Then: “I’m going out to uni. Do you want a lift?”

“Yeah. I’ll just throw some clothes on. I’m actually tired of endlessly having to justify myself.”

Kevin ignored Sean, and called out to Tiffany in the kitchen: “Tiff, I’m going out to uni.”

“Yes darling,” she called back. “I’ll see you when you get back. I love you.”

“I love you too honey.”

Sean and Kevin walked down the backstairs to his car parked on the street. Underneath the backstairs was a rock garden, and two garden gnomes stood precariously balanced amongst rocks and protruding cacti; the facile resolve to decorate frozen on their faces, a resolve unmoved by facetiousness or castigation. “Bye boys,” Sean said as he passed the gnomes.

“Cor blimey! Get a load of ‘im!”said the leprechaun-like gnome — the scowl painted on his face conveyed the impression that it wasn’t his fault he was scowling.

“Who? Me?” said the other, an Aboriginal gnome, with one leg bent so that his foot rested on the knee of his other leg, and balancing by holding onto a spear dug into the ground, he was uncomfortable in a suburban rock-garden, but resigned to the ultimate mystery of Fate. “Do yer mean me??”

“I weren’t talkin to da man in da moon, if dat’s what yer mean?

“I didn’t like say nothin.”

“Can yer imagine bein stuck in dis rock-garden forever already?”

“Forever’s long time.”

“Blimey!  Nah kiddin. I sure wudn’t know dat.When yer dead right, wot den? A lifetime of boredom an frustration, well dat’s kinda bearable, but an eternity already?! Reliving it all, oh boy. An you canna say it’ll gi better, cos it can’t. Blimey! Git it?? You done it all before, an you’ll do it over agin an agin. Cor blimey!”

“I see. Sum rut.”

“An were not in a rut now already?”

“If ya say so.”

“Wha?? You tellin me there’s nothin you’d rather be doin den wha you’re doin now?Blimey, nah place you’d rather be den here??”

“I dunno. Is it like dat?”

“Bet on it already. Yer know hat it means? Well, it means we gotta be happy-go-lucky boys about town. It’s der the only way already, der only way.”

“How’s dat?”

“Blimey! Foreva is a long time yer know.”

“I dunno if I can.”

“Yer jus think about wot you’d ratha be doin forever already.”

“I kinda thought it wuda been diffrent.”

“Blimey! Nag nag nag . .”

At university, Sean deliberately walked away from the crowd of students, down to lake where only a few people were laying about — reading, napping, talking, or watching the birds on the water. The rain had eased, but it was still hot and humid.

He sat down on a bench underneath a tree and lit up a joint: drawing in deeply the smoke, what was urgent and uncompromising became leisurely contemplative, and he could feel his body begin to physically relax and stresses evaporate. He was stoned. A gentle breeze rustled through the branches as he lay along the bench, eyes closed and listening.  This is a pleasant retreat, he thought, but immediately observed that it could not, would not, last — he was eroding his own sense of contentment.

A young woman was sitting on a bench across the path from Sean. He hadn’t noticed her arrive, but glancing at her now he imagined himself walking over to her, sitting down and talking to her. But he realized this was mere fantasy, for he despaired of his consumptive lack of confidence — how even seemingly simple things were so difficult to him, and how he always, always, seemed to default. Admist the confusion he knew that he would leave soon, having said nothing to her, yet realizing that even one world could change his entire life; he felt trapped and unable to escape, but even so knowing that the trap was of his own making.

Sean was still stoned as he made his way to the lecture through milling, garrulous students. He walked into the lecture theatre looking for an inconspicuous seat. People were babbling, loudly and incessantly, talking the new nonsense. This was a special occasion: an invited speaker was to give a short speech, and students were expected to ask questions, and a report then had to be written — questions were fallacies, and answers examined minutely to determine their conformity; answers were whatever they wanted to say.

The invited speaker was a politician, and he entered the lecture theatre amid a flurry of predominately female admirers: power is a penis and giggling girls waited to gag. He was obsequiously introduced to the class by the lecturer: girls drooled with carnal delight, and confused boys had strange feelings of homo-eroticism. The class were emphatically bidden to keep their questions inoffensive.

The politician said brazenly: “I’m going to tell you what is reasonable.”

Sean was dumbfounded — it was a struggle just to keep afloat in the malapropisms!

The politician continued: “Because of worsening economic conditions, the government has introduced a program of compulsory sterilization and culling. All males between the ages of 16 and 60 are to be sterilized. It will be illegal not to be sterilized, and there will be penalties for non-compliance, including fines and imprisonment. Those still refusing to comply will be forcibly sterilized. After extensive and exhaustive consultation, the government has finalized a list of the 10,000 Greatest Living Australians. They will be exempted from sterilization, but must make weekly deposits into the sperm bank. Population growth can therefore be better planned, and the resulting births will give this country a definite competitive advantage. Let me say that the era of unregulated reproduction is well and truly over.

“The sick and elderly have also been targeted. Let’s be frank here, our society can’t continue to provide for those who can’t make an economic contribution themselves. That’s fair isn’t it? Commonsense really. All sick, injured, or handicapped persons requiring long-term hospitalization, and all those over the age of 90, are to be humanely culled. And let’s be clear about this, they will feel no pain. I guarantee that.

“There are exemptions: to be exempt, a person must not be in receipt of a government pension or benefit, they must have private medical insurance, and they must have a minimum of $250,000, indexed to inflation, invested in a bank or elsewhere. To continue to be exempt, these conditions must be met.

“When economic conditions have improved sufficiently, these initiatives might be reviewed. We must not only be a clever country; we must also be one that pays its own way.”

The politician meandered through justifications, his droning rhethoric blandish but threatening. To Sean’s amazement, the students were clearly accepting: their deferential questions sought clarifications, but the decision was accepted bye-the-bye: You asked and the country has answered — this is what you can do!

To the obvious satisfaction of the politician, and indeed to his appreciative audience, he concluded his speech with a re-affirmation of the utilitarian imperative in democracy; somewhat disgraced, but still evocative, all were comfortable with such a reason so near.

They wallow in the mire of their democratic self-importance, where a vote means no more than their favourite colour or particular prejudice. They prized their inalienable human rights (which had first to be legislated) — they conferred and agreed: a bargain!– while they accused human nature of those actions they still condoned.

The students streamed out of the lecture theatre, and Sean hurried along to a tutorial. As he walked through the cloisters he read the inscriptions on the facing walls of the buildings.

‘Knowledge, learning, achievement’.

Was this an invocation or a lament? Lost was Kant’s teaching to think for yourself.

‘A place of light, of liberty, of learning’: a place of the disinterested latter-day intelligentsia, supine to the technocrats and bureaucrats view of Science as Right and Society as Good. This university reinforces complaisance and rewards conformity.

‘Great is truth and mighty above all things’. Ha-fucking-ha! As seen on t.v. And then on a billboard: ‘Australia’s most successful graduates’. What is this thing they call success?? If not at this university, then where is this question asked?

Sean arrived at the tutorial room early and waited outside, idly wondering when he was going to be sterilized. Many times he had arrived at a tutorial or lecture but left soon after; he’d make the attempt at least. Now deferring the decision as to whether he would remain or leave, he read the letter from his brother.

Dear Sean

I didn’t have any ID when questioned by cops in Ravenshoe today. A very tense moment (I “look like a greenie”). I didn’t endear myself to the crowd by laughing involuntarily at the words ‘Fabian’, ‘Greenie’, and ‘Communist’, all of which are inter-changeable in Ravenshoe.

“Arr  ya a Fabian??” a redneck bawled at Senator Richardson.

“No not yet,” he replied, with more courage than I think I could manage in his place.

There were a thousand idiots screaming at Richardson, and behind him was a noose hanging from the crane, with “Hang Richardson” spray-painted along the boom. Imitation is the sincerest form of amazement,  but this time there was no provocative humour, and no physical restraint on the part of the pro-logging demonstrators.

It’s difficult keeping up the pace on the dole, and getting information from the loggers. “Put yourself in my shoes mate. I’ve got a wife and two kids and I’m paying $800 a month on the house.”

Don’t these people expect to be fucked up the arse?? People on the dole are expected to bend over AND say thank you. The logging industry has no hope of producing a submission that will convince anyone they’re responsible rainforest caretakers.

I was going to say: don’t worry, I’m not taking this too seriously. But the reality is that the North is a really troppo place– it’s like living in a pinball machine; you just don’t know what’ll happen next. But yeah, yeah, come up for a visit.

You know that if either of us were institutionalized, we’d have to lie our way out. It’s so depressing for me to be in places like Ravenshoe. This town could be forgotten for another hundred years, BUT, it has to be faced sometime.

As Federal Environment Minister Richardson’s actually in the position to do whatever he likes (which he may still do anyway), he still seems concerned enough to want to know about the welfare of the arseholes in Ravenshoe, and his manner is tempered by the great ALP tradition of (often unintentional) superb humour.

The blockade site at the Daintree is really where the line is drawn. I’m hoping that the single most important concept (blah!) to emerge from this, is that roads can be closed. This is a completely new concept, and extremely difficult to achieve, given the Bicentennial Roadworks Program.

I like that story idea of yours: those two epicentres of consciousness, those two paradoxically identical yet separate ultimate chaktas. Well what’s the point of that level of consciousness? When they’re seemingly communicating on a human level, they’re still not communicating, they’re still like two mirrors facing. I like the way the story collapses.

It’s only advice, but don’t feel too much for this world. Remain aloof; otherwise, madness. There is nothing aesthetic in this world; just slow death. But take heart brother. I suppose if we don’t witness this barbarism, we wouldn’t be able to recognize beauty. Maybe, well I hope so!

Love

Billy.

 

The tutor arrived and Sean and the other students entered the room. Sean asked the tutor for her opinion of the government’s so-called initiative.

“It doesn’t really affect me,” she said. “I’m only young for a start, and if I wanted to have children now, and I don’t at the moment because I have a career — but if I did, I’d apply to do so. Really, it’s the least we can do.”

“I give up,” said Sean flatly.

“It’s the least we can do,” she repeated. “I wonder if we get to choose the sperm we want,
 she mused.

Because of the way the desks were arranged in the room, Sean sat with his back to the class, looking out of a window.

He was coming to intensely dislike his time at university. He had little in common with the vast majority of students, who were rich, privately-schooled, and materialistic. He distrusted the stolid staff, and loathed the conspicuous elitism. He was also tired of being the odd one out. Because he had no idea of what else to do, he remained at university, but he knew it was just a matter of time.

You see, they admire television newsreaders.

Better dead than red

Better dead than red

Only a matter of time

Better red than dead

Better red than dead

A serious young man: frustrated, increasingly desperate, maybe unresilient. There seemed no escape, only some kind of self-imposed exile. Or suicide: the guiltless killing of those to whom life in the free society was re infecta; cowardly and selfish, not ever after the fact, and it is they who somehow something lacked.

Through the window, Sean could see the dark swirling clouds of an approaching thunderstorm. The storm clouds were turning the day sky into a peculiar twilight. Lights were turned on everywhere. There was an excitableness amongst the students at the impending storm. Sean felt it too: he was, for him, in the unusual position of having the same feeling on the same matter as most other people.

Lightening flashed. The stifling heat dissipated in the stark coolness of the dark clouds. A peal of thunder rang out, and heralded a torrent of roaring rain. The rain fell in sheets, and a viscous wind pummeled the rain. A meaning to their life? A teleological solace? the wind jeered. Give them hope in a world of tragedy? Promise them life when death is imminent?  They desire animadversion; they have their petty squabbling after all, their silly intrigues, their precious ignorance. They have their memories: cold imposing reminiscences, not to trust in hope, not to trust in a harmony they neither crave nor comprehend. The quiet secrets of the Bardo Thotrol are lost in the din din. From Socrates to Russell: it is as if it were a jigsaw puzzle, and we were blind.

The tutor dismissed the class, her command terminating Sean’s reverie. Outside the rain was still falling, but it was easing, retreating before an adamantine wind.

Sean entered a bus that would take him into the city, where he would catch another bus to take him home. A crowded bus in the rain was one of the justifications in a pessimist’s life, he thought: the over-crowding, the barrage of loud voices, the gagging, sweaty and stale air.

He had to pass through a gauntlet of handicapped people soliciting donations –they have a permit to beg– to reach the other bus. In the bus passengers were seated facing forwards and backwards, with the implicit notion that their perspective had not actually changed. Their faces were a collage of the moments that must be remembered.

Sitting near Sean was a mentally-retarded boy, who looked to be in his teens. He was drooling, clutching a small bag in his lap, mumbling to himself, and inoffensively watching other passengers with uninterpretable eyes. The old people ignored him; they knew they would die sometime soon, and he was just another bitter reminder of a senseless life. The teen-age school children relentlessly taunted the boy, obviously distressing him. He shared their secret; he profited. The school children filled the bus with their emerging, expanding egos. They were playing roles in a game, but the rules to which they did not fully understand. They were blows; they idiotically mimicked; child, there is no future!

Sean wanted the school children to desist, but he was reluctant to confront them, afraid of his own unimportant fears. The boy prepared to alight from the bus at the next stop, to parting abuse from the school children, who laughed amongst themselves at their malice. The boy had exited in front of a line of billboards. One sign advertised a private employment agency. ‘We’d like to find you a better job.’ Why? ‘Better jobs for better people’.

Sean arrived at home and Alison, his other sister –who was 20 years old– was in the kitchen.

Alison cheerfully greeted him, and Sean responded somewhat subdued.

“What have you been doing?”

“Been doing it well . . I think.”

“If only you knew what it was you’ve been doing well, eh?” joked Alison.

“You took the words right outta my mouth! haha. No, just been out to uni. I haven’t seen you much lately.” Sean felt strangely stilted.

“My exams are soon, so I’ll mostly be living in the library until then.” Alison was at the same university as Sean and

Kevin. She was studying Ancient History, which Sean often joked to her about.

“That doesn’t sound like much fun.”

“No, it doesn’t does it? Are you going to pass your exams?” Alison asked hesitantly.

“I don’t know. . if I do some work, if I go to my exams, if if, if I really care. Who else is home?”

“No one.” If Sean had been paying attention, he would have noticed Alison’s disappointment at his answer.

“Where’s father?”

“Mum took him to the hospital; it’s just routine I think — they’ll be back soon.” Their father had a degenerative brain

disease, and whilst it would eventually kill him, it had also made him prematurely senile. Since Sean had been a young

boy, his father had been like this. “And Tiffany is meeting Kevin in the city,” Alison added.

“Ah, the Flower Pot kids. I’m so happy for them.”

“That’s not true, now is it?” Alison chided him.

“Kevin as a brother-in-law; oohh fuck, I can hardly wait!haha. I wonder if they’ll invite me to the wedding?”

“Do you want to go?”

“Oh sure; I think. What is in the mind of a model? Not very much at all I’d say. You’re prettier than her anyway.”

Alison laughed, and said: “But I don’t need that Sean.”

“What: can’t I even give a compliment?”

“I guess all compliments welcome then.”

“I wish they didn’t exist; in my life anyway.”

“Well they do, so you can forget about that.”

“What: life as this precious thing? The only thing they see missing in their lives is that they’re not famous or

celebrities!”

“Sean, that kind of thinking doesn’t do any good.”

“I wish they didn’t exist . . or that I didn’t exist haha. Or I wish I was somebody else. As has been said: terrible times

and awful people.”

“It’s good to see you’re not taking it too seriously,” Alison joked.

“It’s ridiculous, I know. I’m a poisoned rat in a hole under a poisoned tree. But will anything, ever, change?”

“Melodramatic, and sad Sean.”

Haha. “That’s me! haha. But not boorish I hope. I sure don’t want to go around again, if you know what I mean.”

“Ah no. What are you talking about?”

Mmmm “Nothing. I’d like to express myself without feeling so inadequate, but I am settled in my disillusionment.”

“I should take the fifth on that.”

“Closer, no closer, passed by; kinda like passed away.” Sean had a dry mouth, and his heart was beating so fast and so loud, he thought Alison must hear. He noticed the earing in Alison’s ear, simple and elegant. Some women were so graceful and it came to them so naturally. “We should have sex Alison,” he blurted out, then immediately hating himself for having said it, yet not enough to have stopped him doing it.  And he wondered but could not anticipate Alison’s reaction. Nor could he look her in the eye.

She paused before replying, then said deliberately: “Is that supposed to be some kind of joke?”

“No, no joke.” Sean was still hating himself, but he persisted with it; it was as if something was pushing him or drawing him on.

Alison was of course unprepared for the waves of thoughts and feelings that swamped her. “But you’re my brother,” she said, with a break in her voice.

Despite any lingering best intentions, Sean was persistent: “I want to mean more to you.” He felt desperate, and he knew Alison could see it.

“By having sex with me??”

“Kevin said I was worried-looking; what do you see Alison?” He looked at her, seeing a face he knew so well.

“I see what I want to see,” Alison replied unhappily.

I’m a bastard, thought Sean, I know it, and I can’t help it. He said: “I think I love you,” but said to himself: Oh I know I do.

There was the sound of the front door opening, and their mother talking to their father in the hallway.

Sean said quickly to Alison: “If it’s what we both want, then nothing else matters.” But even to him it sounded precursory and sullied.

Alison was looking everywhere but at him, then she faced him defiantly: “You creep!” she said hoarsely. “Why did you do this to me?” she pleaded. He could hear the tears in her eyes.

And Sean panicked: Oh my God I’ve made her cry! . . Please don’t cry!

Their mother entered the kitchen, leading her husband by his ear. He was muttering unintelligibly, his eyes downcast. “Now behave!” she admonished him. “I won’t tell you again father.”

Since Sean’s childhood it was with increasing infrequency that his father was lucid, latterly seemingly exhausted by the effort, and pained by a self-realization. He had become a wretched half-child.

He was seated at the table, now wearing a baby’s bib. He clenched his teeth, refusing to eat from the opened tin of baby food on the table, afraid that his teeth would fall out if he opened his mouth.

Tiffany and Kevin arrived back, hand-in-hand and laughing. They stood in the doorway to the kitchen. In a stage whisper, Kevin said to Tiffany: “Guess what I got in an exam today, out of one hundred?”

“What darling, tell me.”

“Hold on to your socks people — ninety!” Kevin raised his arms as if in victory.

“Aren’t you a clever boy!” Tiffany hugged and kissed him. Sean snorted; he thought it was feeble vaudeville.

The father threw his spoon across the room, and his wife leaned across the table and head-butted him. With a puzzled look on his now bloody face, he slumped back in the chair.

Sean said he was going to lay down, and not looking at anyone, he went out of the kitchen and into his bedroom.

The bright sun filled a sparse, brilliant blue sky. An old man stood on the verandah of his small hut, looking down the hillside to the village on the shore. Fishing boats bobbed on waves in the bay, slowly returning with the day’s catch. Children played on the beach, and some went to swim out to meet the boats.

An old old man, blessed he thought, unwilling to die but happy to do so. Yet what felt a lifetime ago, it was not always so. Then there was nothing of meaning and no purpose, a realization obstinately repudiated by others, satisfied that  beliefs must collide in a chaotic world of contentious truths. Their beliefs indicated an attachment to a false notion of themselves, an antagonistic expression of delusions and fears. But the old man felt blessed, peace having been made with the world.

Atrocities and wonders, one’s casual accustom. Once witnessed, never forgotten. They will fall, chased into a smoke-filled abyss where the corpses always make room. Once witnessed never forgotten, but seemingly lost forever: no simple wonder, no simple reverence, no belonging, no grace; just greed, consumerism, and the power-hungry. The corpses are jealous and vengeful, want death but cannot die, and dig diligently and in silence.

They dig with their hands, scoop out the dirt and eat it: dig and chew, dig and chew. By chance the corpses become as intimate as lovers, pallid skin always hungry and ever so covetous, they seek out a caress, just a touch, however brief, however accidental, like a breath of air to the drowning.  They stridently attempt to recapture what they have lost, but in vain; still so hungry, but bitter and frightened now — they demand what they can no longer ever have, but refuse to leave the world as they fearfully await punishment. Beware the corpses.

The hole fills quickly, and so the corpses must constantly dig and chew, dig and chew. But beware the corpses.

Sean was awoken by a scratching sound in the laundry across from his bedroom. He was unsure of the time, but it was dark and the house otherwise quiet. The sound got louder. He walked cautiously out his bedroom, across the hallway to the laundry’s open door.

He turned on the light: his broadly-smiling father was squatting over a cat’s litter tray, defecating. “Happiness is an empty bowel,” his father said, and began to eat the faeces. He sang tonelessly while chewing: I’m going to be rich, rich, rich, I’m going to be rich, rich, rich . .

Sean turned off the light and went straight back to his bedroom. He quickly grabbed a few things and put them into a knapsack, went out of the house, got on his bicycle and rode away.

It was pleasantly cool, late at night. Near to his destination, a patrolling police car passed slowly by him, and then stopped, blocking his way. A policeman and a policewoman got smartly out of the car, and stood both sides of Sean, who was still astride his bicycle. The policeman’s hand never left the pistol holstered at his side.

“What’s your name, address, and date of birth?” demanded the policewoman.

Sean answered and nervously asked what it was all about.

“If you’ve got nothing to hide, you wouldn’t mind helping us with our enquiries,” said the policewoman matter-of-factly.

The policeman said to Sean that he didn’t like the look of him, and Sean didn’t know what to reply to that.

“But it doesn’t reply matter,” said the policewoman smiling.

Sean agreed. “Nope, guess not.”

“Smart-arse are we?” said the policeman threateningly. “How would you like a broken arm? Empty your fucking pockets.”

Sean wondered what kind of game this was. He got off his bicycle and emptied his pockets onto the car’s bonnet.

“There was an armed robbery near here tonight,” said the policewoman.

“And I’m doing a getaway on my bicycle??”

The policeman exclaimed: “Look! Look what I’ve found!” He held up a small plastic bag containing a white powder and waved it around.

“Now you know that isn’t mine.” Sean had the distinct feeling that if the situation wasn’t already out of hand, it soon could be.

“All I know is that this looks like heroin, which I say I found on you. The policeman glanced confidently at his colleague, as if his performance was entirely for her benefit, and she nodded her appreciation back to him. “I told you I didn’t like the way you looked,” he said flatly to Sean.

“And that’s reason enough?” Sean asked more confidently than he felt.

“I know what’s reasonable and what isn’t! And who the fuck do you think you are?! . . Boy, I’m going to do you a favour; yeah, even though I don’t think you deserve it. You can go.” The policeman expected Sean to show he was grateful, and Sean knew that. The policewoman was thoroughly enjoying her colleague’s exhibitionism.

 Sean mounted his bicycle. The policeman stood in front, holding the handlebars. “I don’t want to see you around here again,” he said. “Ok, now piss off.”

“Thank you officer,” said Sean appeasingly, but not without what he hoped was some mockery; the policeman either didn’t get it or didn’t care.

“Come over here stud!” the policewoman growled to her colleague. She reclined on the bonnet, and hitched her skirt up over her hips; she was wearing no panties, and began to masturbate. “Come on big boy,” she cooed. “Pump me! Oh I wanna hurt!”

The smirking policeman moved over to her, unzipping his pants.

Sean arrived at his destination. As he walked his bicycle into the backyard, he noticed someone throwing paper into a bin, in which a fire was burning. “Oh hi Oscar,” Sean said recognizing him.

‘Hi Sean. How’s things?”

“Don’t ask. What’re you doing?” It struck Sean that for some reason maybe he should know.

“I’m burning my philosophy notes from uni, and some writing I was doing. I brought a teddy-bear into a lecture and that wanker Ball threatened to expel me for it. What a dork. That straw broke this camel’s back.  Well I saw the fatality close up; I saw it in  me.

“Yeah? And your writing?”

“It doesn’t mean anything mate. There’s no damn point. And I’ve been trying to get rid of all my possessions,except for a few clothes. The notes and writing were just about all I had left. You know, I even burnt my favourite work by my favourite writer, just to see what it felt like. And I’m not about to jeopardize the gingerbread.”

“I couldn’t burn anything,” said Sean. “I’m a hoarder. I collect heaps of shit. Just imagine all the stuff that could have meant something that’s ever been turned into ashes. Your writing was good Oscar. I mean that.”

“Yeah well, can’t cry over split milk. Have you considered that some things are just not meant to be said? All that’s left now is Sontag’s aesthetic of silence, and ultimately, some things don’t seem to matter much anyway.”

“To someone else?”

“To anybody really. Better to have done with it now I think. I’d want it to mean something, but it never can — don’t you see that?  Not even what I intend it to.”

“I don’t see it. I wish I did. Are you going to drop out again?”

“Hey I tried,” replied Oscar, smiling. “It’s not like I didn’t try or anything. I gave it one more chance, but you know we don’t fit in.”

“I think I do know that; I think I don’t want to hear it tho. Save your energy next time and just don’t go back.”

“I will never go back,” said Oscar emphatically. “The bloody university gave a corrupt politician a honourary doctorate — for fucks sake!”

“I wish I knew why we didn’t fit in. Anyway, I was stopped by the cops on my way over here.”

“Yeah? What happened?”

“They’re still flogging that silly motto of theirs: firmness with courtesy, hahaha. Just who are they kidding?”

“You know, earlier tonight I saw a cop carrying a shinny foot-long vibrator.”

“God, I hope they never use that on me.”

“You’re not that lucky fella. Imagine it happening, saying that in court, and then having the judge say the police would do no such thing. But he’s wondering where he can get his own from, hahaha.”

“For his wife of course, and maybe himself when she’s not looking, hahaha. But solely personal use. hey, I heard you were raided for drugs.”

“Yeah, Monday night. The cops said they only came around because they were bored!”

“Did you tell them to take up knitting or something, and stop bothering you?”

“No, even I’m not THAT stupid. They said they’d bring around the Health Inspector if we don’t clean the place up.”

“You should have offered them a broom.”

“Then they could have flown away, hahaha.”

“I’ve been having some weird dreams lately. I wish I knew what they meant. I should register for the rock’n’roll. I probably won’t sit my exams.”

“They’ve made it really difficult to get and keep the dole nowadays. No free lunches.”

“Unless you’ve got an expense account. Does anyone have a smoke?”

“Sure mate.” Oscar walked over to a tree against the fence, and pulled a plastic bag out from underneath a pile of leaves. He rolled a joint. “This is really good pot, for a change. We shouldn’t really smoke in the backyard. There’s spies everywhere. Ring, ring . . Police? There’s a fugitive smoking pot in his backyard. Thank you good citizen. We’ll be right around . . I wish the neighbours were further away –  like Poland.”

“We could climb a tree and have the joint up there,” suggested Sean. Oscar and he climbed up a large frangipani tree that was in flower. “I really like trees. It could be the Celtic in me.”

“I always thought you were a bit funny. But trees are so much like trees, don’t you think?”

“But what do you want a tree to be like?”

“Ah . . a triffid without the mean streak? Or you could ignore me; I’ll grow up soon.”

“When I grow up I want to be a Bee Gee!”

“The tight pants don’t help circulation you know.”

They had finished the joint and were relaxing, sitting on a bough with their backs against the trunk – a surprisingly comfortable position. And so stoned –for the moment absorbed in their own thoughts– that neither felt inclined to speak.

Oscar looks glum, thought Sean. The ugly blotch of the large port-wine birthmark on Oscar’s face sometimes seemed to deepen in colour and slowly enlarge.  If I’m honest it all scares me too — surely a vindictive god’s revenge, or some kind of mad hatter creation. I don’t feel a part of anything in the world. An oppressive unreconcilableness between a sense of the future, and a sense of futility. I’m hoping that I will be able to accomplish what I want, that circumstances will get better, but then. I realize. It won’t, it can’t. Ha! Oh well, it’s easy you know; I do it all the time. Sean rallied, and said to Oscar: “Do you feel better after your bar-be-que?”

After a short pause, Oscar replied: “Truth is, I didn’t feel anything. All I said to the waiter was that I’d have mine charred.”

“Here we are, up a tree, ten days to Christmas,” said Sean, but thinking, yes, I too am drawn to perceived predicaments. Sean continued: “I wonder if my family has planned anything for our not-so-white Christmas.”

“I don’t even wish I had a family. Huh, I’m a Christmas refugee. Not likely to snow, is it?” said Oscar brightly.

“I can confidently forecast that it won’t snow.

Oscar smiled broadly, but then abruptly his smile was gone, and Sean wondered if it had not just been invention. Said Oscar: “Dear God, I am astonished at the spectacle of your mercy, but free will is not what it seemed, and I’d like to give it back.”

“Do you really want that on your record Oscar?”

“Ah, I’m afraid it already is. Say, are you going to the demonstration tomorrow?” About the waste of money on Bicentenary self-congratulation.”

“Aw, but I like statues or fireworks or whatever they’re going to do, you know. What are they going to do, by the way?”

“Buggered if I know. Build a sauna in the desert for aboriginals? One thing’s for certain, you can always rely on a politician to do something stupid or meaningless.

Are you looking to make Australian of the Year Oscar? It ain’t working, hahaha. The best you can say about what they do is ‘cliche’. Critics would say I’m just reciting the Bleedin Obvious Gospel according to Aunt Dora, who’s always been a bit of a lefty. And I like her for that.”

“I wonder what they’ll say in ten years time? What does hindsight mean when some people now are saying things that will come to pass? Why do some people see things so fucking differently to most others? What’s it mean if the minority are right anyway? Fucked if I know. Most of them end up dead, you know. And if they give up, who the fuck could ever blame them — why would you bother?”

But Sean was doubtful. “Street marches are banned in Queensland. And besides, the cops enjoy beating up demonstrators, and then charging them with assault! You know: Your Honour, his head assaulted my knee. And you get found guilty hahaha ! And if demonstrating doesn’t actually achieve anything, well what’s the point?”

“I still think we should go,” persisted Oscar.

“But it doesn’t achieve anything.”

“I think that’s what they want us to believe, because people getting out on the streets really really frightens them.”

“Maybe, but I doubt it. Million dollar question: Just what would it take to get the stupid and lazy out on the street?”

“Isn’t it strange how all the little things add up to, presto, history. I mean, it’s the changing complexion of a chameleon. It’s whatever we want to make it, you know.”

“Hey, I’ll tell you a secret Oscar, if you promise not to tell anyone else.”

“Ok, you’re on.”

“Umm, what the fuck are we going to do with our lives?”

“That’s no secret!”

“You’re sounding a lot like bloody Aunt Dora you know.”

“A wonderful lady incidentally, much maligned, but I for one would trust her.”

“I guess you just can’t give a fuck about anything.”

“Nothing at all?”

“Nothing. It does no one any good, not least of all the two of us.”

“But I mean well, I really do.”

“I know, and that’s the rub.”

“And I know not to jeopardize the gingerbread.”

“Here comes Nick.” Nick was walking down the backstairs. “Hey Nick!” called out Sean. Nick reached the bottom of the stairs. “Nick, I’m a tree, come and talk to me.” Recognizing and locating Sean’s voice, Nick smiled and walked over to the tree.

“Hello Sean,” said Nick. “It’s good karma being a tree. But what does a tree say?”

“A tree says good karma is hard to get, but fairly simple.”

“A phallic symbol?” said Nick doubtfully.

“No, fairly simple.”

“What are you doing in the tree?”

“Ah, smoking a weed in a tree in backyard suburbia.”

Oscar said: “I haven’t finished yet,” and jumped to the ground, about to move over to the fire still burning in the drum.

“Back to the bar-b-que?”

Oscar nodded and left.

After he left, Sean said to Nick: “He’s looking really tired.”

“Last night he was really out of it. I don’t know what he’d taken; pills I think. He was banging his head against a wall, yelling ‘I’m banging my head against the wall and nobody cares’.”

“People are bastards and I don’t care whether they care or not.”

“I think he was just really out of it. Craig and Jane said they’d ask him to move out if he doesn’t cut back on his drug-taking. I tried to calm him down, but he kept throwing things at me; he did eventually stop banging his head against the wall tho.”

“Fuck, I wish he’d get it together. Oh well, I  can’t really point a finger. But a bone, haha, now that’s different. Are you going to the demonstration tomorrow?”

“Are you?”

“Yeah.”

“Sure.”

“Are you still coming up to the Daintree with me to see Billy?”

“Absol-bloody-lutely,” replied Nick, smiling.

“I’d like to leave in a couple of days. I’m looking forward to seeing him. We’ll have to hitch; that’s the only hassle.”

Nick was older than most of his friends (nearly ten years older than Sean), but he was genuinely liked by most people who met him. He had never been to university, had never wanted to, and had travelled widely in Australia.

“So the cops want the house cleaned up?” asked Sean.

“Yeah, that’s what they said. I think it makes their searches too difficult, but there aren’t any drugs in the house anyway. Hey, do you want to have a trip tomorrow?”

“A trip? I haven’t tripped for a while; but yeah, I’d like to.”

“That’s great. We’re going looking for magick mushrooms in the morning. Jane said we could borrow her car, so that makes it a lot easier.”

“But not when the farmer springs you in the middle of a field, eh?”

Oscar returned to the tree.

Nick said to Oscar: “Are you going to trip tomorrow?”

Sean interrupted: “Tripping cleans up the house of the soul. I read that somewhere.”

“I don’t like tripping,” said Oscar. “I don’t think I have a soul, and if you ain’t got a soul, tripping sure won’t do you any good. Besides, tripping seems to be making everyone crazy, or crazy-ier. And there by the disgrace of God goes I.”

“I once met a guy who everyone said had tripped out. Whenever I’d talk to him, he’d stand really close to me and stare at me straight in the eye. And he never blinked. You ever meet someone who never blinked? And I heard he got elected to parliament. That’s probably the only way you could get rid of him. I never really wanted to talk to him; was way too exhausting, you know?”

“Shall we adjourn upstairs for a cup of coffee?” suggested Nick.

Craig and Jane, a couple who shared the house with Nick and Oscar, were sitting at the kitchen table.

In an exaggerated manner, Jane said to Craig: “Jane loves Craig, so there!”

“What the fuck is love?”

“What the love is fuck?”

Nick went into the kitchen to make the coffee. Sean was standing in the doorway, and Craig said hello to him without much enthusiasm.

Before Sean could reply, Jane said to Craig: “Do you love me Craig?”

“Of course I do,” he said, but without much affection. “So what have you been up to Sean?”

“I’ve just been smoking a weed up a tree in your backyard.”

“Did you enjoy it?” But Craig didn’t appear to be interested in any answer to that question.

“Yep.”

“Well that’s what matters,” and maybe Craig believed that.

“Are you going to demonstration tomorrow?” Sean asked Craig and Jane.

Jane pulled a face, as if to mean ‘yukky’, and Craig said that he didn’t demonstrate.

“Do you remonstrate then?”

“Demonstrating is not something we’ve ever done, or likely to really.”

“You seem pretty definite about it.”

“I am. I can say I’m not the least interested in it.”

“Could the money that’s being spent on the Bicentenary be better spent elsewhere?”

“As far as the money is concerned, probably.”

“So there is something to demonstrate?”

“No, something to object to, but it doesn’t mean I have to go on a street-march.”

“Well, if the money is spent in your name, and you object, maybe you should tell them.”

“I’m sure they’ve been waiting to hear what I think about it.”

“If the money could be better spent, what does it say about our priorities?”

“What do you want me to say Sean? That from next year, say, no child will live in poverty. That do anything for you? That make you feel better?”

“BE SILENT.CONSUME.DIE.”

“So what?”

“I’ve heard that sperm bank supplies are contaminated. All offspring will be incontinent. They’ll have to wear nappies all their lives. The same nappy I hope!”

Craig and Jane kissed across the kitchen table.

With cups of coffee, Nick and Sean joined Oscar in the living room. In one corner a chastised tv set faced the wall, slumping chairs were covered by stained and torn sheets, and a mattress lay about on the floor.In the room was also an old dentist’s chair that was everyone’s favourite chair.  A coffee table hung from the ceiling, gently rocking in the breeze from an overhead fan, and on the walls were various drawings and posters, and a red paper-mache rhinoceros  head jutted out from the wall below an upside-down clock stuck on 12 o’clock.

Sir Mediocre sat tall in the saddle on his perfect prancing white charger. His armour gleamed, his helmet plume stood proudly erect, and his lance trailed colourful dancing ribbons. He even wore a chaste lady’s scarf tied on his arm.

Men shuffled their feet, abashed, envious of this Great Knight; there were no dry panties amongst the women, as each fantasized an assignation  and the consumption of his magnificence.

‘Peace and love brothers and sisters’, said Sir Mediocre. Men were ashamed of their spite, and women went weak at the knees as his eyes met theirs. All knew this was the best and truest they could aspire to –that he was noble and pure– and that there was maybe a tiny bit of each of them in him.

Sir Mediocre, this teacher of men, did trot off, his mission to change the world driving him ever onwards. Men could return to their toil, with uplifted hearts that such nobility existed, and women wiped away their tears, glad at least to have seen him and to call him their champion.

“All I’ve ever wanted was a good time, you know,” Sean said.

“No good times left I’m afraid,” Nick said smiling. “Can you settle for the good life?”

“Ah, the good life; but no, not just yet.”

“That reminds me of this woman I knew a while ago. Everytime I saw her she’d say: ‘Are you happy now? Are you happy yet?’ Of course I always told her I was happy; but eventually, I’m sorry, I had to tell her to fuck off.”

“How people out to behave is for sure beyond me. Do a people without understanding ever come to grief Nick? I think what we’re missing is televised executions. Don’t you reckon?”

“Yeah, that could work. But it’d have to be handled properly. Nothing cheap or nasty you mind, and not just for the ratings, haha.”

“A sure-fire ratings winner if ever there was one. I’m surprised they don’t do that already in Amerika — it’s not like them to let good taste or decency interfere with making money.”

“Are you confused about something Sean?”

“But not yet recusant. Populus vult decipi et decipiatur.”

“We still have to repay our debt to society.”

“But we can’t condone anti-social behaviour. Tell me that I’m free Nick. You know I like it when you talk dirty, haha.”

“Oh I know, but I’m sure you could make me blush fella. Personally, thinking on freedom is like contemplating sex with a nihilist.”

“Can we have a smoke?” asked Sean. “Wot, another?” he added, smiling.

“Anything but mediocrity I say. And you know, you can’t be too stoned.” Nick and Oscar went downstairs to get their stashes.

Craig and Jane came into the living room.

Jane was the only one in the house who was employed, the others being full-time students, or on the dole. She worked in a trendy jeans store. She seemed to move from one relationship to another, as if casually disposing of what was now familiar.

Sean quickly tired of what he thought was Jane’s games, and she knew this, and he knew that she knew. It was a sort of perturbation.

“How’s uni going Sean?” she asked him.

“I didn’t know you were interested.” Sometimes tho, he did appear to over-react. Yet to this he would say that being compliant with Jane was a situation she exploited.

“Well I am Sean.”

“I think I’m going to drop out Jane.”

“Really?  I’d have though you’d be studying your whole life.”

“Haha. What? The much-malinged professional student? Or do you think it’d take me that long to graduate, haha?”

“Whatever. What are you doing for Christmas Sean?”

“I hope to go up and visit Billy. I haven’t seen him for a while. God, for over a year.”

“We’re having a break at a lovely beach-house. It’s a very expensive place you know.”

“How’s Billy?” Craig asked Sean. Craig and Billy were once close friends while at university, but had begun to drift apart.  Billy thought Craig was a dissenter who joined the clergy — what with the majority enforcing a conformity, Craig simply did not want to be publicly recognized as different. Fair enough, Billy had said, but we was disappointed in Craig; and yet, perhaps Billy too was unsure of the choices he himself had made.

Sean thought it strange that Craig and Kevin disliked each other, as ostensibly they both had similar attitudes and aspirations.

“He’s been trying to get appointments with local politicians up there,” said Sean.

“Even though he doesn’t vote?”

“Is it a pre-requisite? Ah, I don’t think he tells them that.”

“Well, as long as he’s enjoying it.” Craig seemed pre-occupied, at least in conversation, with enjoyment, as if it were somehow defining or validating, which always rankled Sean;  perhaps he was secretly in the cult of Dionysius.

“I don’t know that he’s enjoying it. He just thinks that it’s something he must do, to make up for people like us, who do nothing.”

“Good for him.”

“Haha, I wish you meant it.”

“Well I didn’t ask him to do anything for me.”

“Are you going to have a smoke?” Nick asked Craig and Jane.

Jane pulled one of her faces again, but craig siad he’d have a small one. And then to all present, he said: “You know we’ve been thinking about moving out, don’t you?”

“Why are you moving out?” Sean enquired.

“I don’t think much od share-houses,” replied Craig. “Or maybe just this one. It does need to be cleaned up, and the cops do keep coming around. And I really want a break from all the people who keep coming around all the time.”

Sean wondered if Craig was talking about him.

Nick said: “But Sean’s ok though.”

“Yeah,” Craig said unenthuastically. “But when we find another place, we’ll move out.”

“I like people coming around,” said Oscar. “And I don’t remember the last time you two cleaned up.”

Nick packed a cone and passed the bong to Craig, who quickly smoked it and passed it back.

“You know, I’m incredibly fucking bored,” said Oscar, to no one in particular. “You know, I’m incredibly fucking boring, haha.”

“Oh I could have told you that. Here,” Nick said, passing the bong to Oscar.

Jane watched the ritual of the session. The match struck and held to the pot in the cone– the unmistakable odour, the smoke drawn thru gurgling swirling water, sucked thru a hose, held, then slowly exhaled.

“Stoned again,” said Oscar. “Oh and out of time.” He yawned. “I wish I knew what happens when you die; it’d help to make sense of stuff. I’d really like to know, and the sooner the better as I see it.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” said Jane crossly.

Oscar frowned, and said : “Nothin.”

“No, I’m sure it was something stupid.”

“Look, as I see it, everyone has a reserved right to rationally reject life.  And I reckon that when I die I just can’t lose. I’ll at least be rid of something that causes me a lot of pain, something I’ve decided I don’t want anymore; and if there’s some kind of life after death, it’s got to be better than life is here now — but even if there’s no life after death, wouldn’t I still be better out of here?”

“What does that mean? Are you saying you’re better off dead?”

“I’m saying .. I’m curious about what happens after you die.”

“Dickhead, most people probably are, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to kill themselves to find out, dickhead.”

“Did I say I was going to kill myself?”

“Who are you kidding? That’s seriously fucked up.”

“All I’m saying is if it happens I’m not too worried about it.”

“You’re looking forward to it you mean. You want it to happen.”

“I knew I shouldn’t have said anything. What’s all things to all people Jane?”

“But it might be more than just looking forward to it; you might want to do something about it, right?”

“I didn’t know you cared haha.”

“Oh, trust me, I don’t.”

“I’m not saying anything more about it.”

“You started it.”

“Well I’m stopping it then.”

“Do whatever you want, but don’t involve us you dickhead.”

Sean said to Oscar: ” You could try understanding Buddhism you know.”

There followed a period of strange, almost strained silence, that experienced pot-smokers know well.

Nick thought: I lived thru all the Ages! All the moments were mine! I watched the expressions of joy in each remarkable life, but somewhat jealously. I felt their anger, sadness, and pain; to these I could empathize. To their ignorance and violence I stood aloof, my greater doubt mitigating their actions. They made their bland supplications — their transgressions venial, they assured. Oh but without conviction.

They demand the right to perpetual forgiveness, they demand the right to a freedom that would excuse their stupidity — such rights that none other have. I could conceive of the boundless expanse of their souls yet; I am entranced by every nuance of emotion still. After the quiet longing I came to self, glimpsing in-self moments through which self becomes conscious of it-self. I see in them: me.

Sean thought: O Father, initiate me, weariness has hold of me; loosen its grip, cast out the doubts, quell my rage, affirm my destiny. O Father, initiate me, liberate me, it is the moment of my death. The baseness of my life, that was your legacy, but Father, now I reached the point of departure. You had disdainfully denied me the touch of your love; you had forced my renunciation, but the storm of your indignation did not abate. Let this rancour rest now. Father, only you can liberate me, only you can guide me my destination. in Oblivion.

O Mother, initiate me, weariness has hold of me, loosen its grip, cast out my doubts, quieten my despair, affirm my destiny. O Mother, initiate me, resurrect me, it is the moment of my death. Wrap me again in the blanket of your love: comforting, constricting, protected, isolated. Mother, give me to myself, return to me what I am about to lose. O Mother, initiate me, resurrect me, give me to myself for I will emerge in a world of selves. O Mother, I am born.

Oscar thought: Is there a greater ignominy, in a Licentious Age, than to die a virgin. Especially when I’ve hankered for so long. I clumsily groped, I was always drunk at the wrong time. Impotent. I apologized to her; she said it was her — ah, but I knew better. When first I met her I had to say it, I was stupid and I had to say it — I stuttered and lisped, then in desperation I fawned, vaguely affirming all the while my feeble love. She didn’t laugh, and for that I was grateful.

 Why did I have to say it? It wasn’t even really her. I didn’t even know her name. I withdrew: alone I ranted, and as the –fuck her!– anger ebbed, I was: alone. Sometimes I spy on her –surely she can see me?– and sometimes I farcically ignore her. I desire her, I hate her; I am alone — surely an attestation of my perversion. I can only imagine that I will always be alone. And still, sometimes when I see her I want to tell her; I want to shout out about it!

Talking to her I even fumble the banalities: I say ‘hello’ but I mean ‘I love you’, and yet I don’t know what love is. I say hello, and she says hello. Usually then we’re interrupted, and she’ll go and talk to someone else. Occasionally we’ll talk a while, but it’s all too brief and we never confide. If only we could go to a quiet place and talk . . . we talk in a quiet place — she says: Why are you so nervous?

Tired, not able to sleep, becoming more tired, harassed, thinking only of the tiredness. . I’m going to die. I know I am. And I want to die, squashed under the unbearable weight of their –no! of mine too– fantasies. I don’t want to discuss my future. When a desperate parent asks its ageing offspring: Just what are you going to do with your life?! My life belongs to other people, however well-intentioned they might be, or might say they are.  My future: a house? a car? a career? A . . . what’s the point? I don’t want and can never have these things. But I am determined not to be afraid. How can I explain? What can I say? How could I make anyone understand? Do I want to die? No, I have to die. Why? . . I don’t want to live in this world.

Why?

There is no future. I am lied to, threatened; I am not responsible, only culpable; not free; no reason; no choice; always they intrude — their violence and pollution are inescapable.

They they they . .who are they? They are . . not I? Of course!

How predictable.

Peasants, I have  . . to die.

Amongst the misery the critics search for precious subtlety. And not even understood.

I bequeath to them —SLAM!

I don’t want it to end this way.

–the vestiges of my existence: my memories– SLAM! . .So, immutable, succinct. So. Sorry.

THE CONSTANT DISTRACTIONS AND INTERRUPTIONS.

I almost . .almost . . felt real.

Who puts flowers on a grave?

Who remembers? . . . .

A Department of Social Security officer had interviewed Oscar earlier in the morning, regarding his ‘work efforts’.

“Well Oscar,” said Craig with obvious satisfaction, “You might actually have to get a job.”

“Yeah, maybe. He said I was confusing a right and privilege. I apologized of course. He insisted tho that my work efforts had been unsatisfactory.

“You don’t think he was right then?”

“I’m not in the mood to say something you don’t want to hear Craig.”

“What are you going to do then?”

“Buy a gun. I’ve got another appointment tomorrow.”

“Doesn’t sound like they were amused,” Sean said to Oscar.

“You know ‘public servants’ don’t have a sense of humour. If they had one when they started work, they lose it very quickly.”

“They don’t need one. They can cut off your dole whenever they feel like it.”

“Maybe it’d be easier if you just got a job,” Craig suggested to Oscar.

“Maybe you’re right . . But then again, maybe you’re wrong. And why the fuck should I really?”

“Should you claim the dole and not look for work?”

“Come on! I should be grateful for these loose coins? If you must know, I’m taxing this society’s greed.”

“Very poetic. I bet you’ve convinced yourself of that.”

“It’s our damn right,” asserted Sean.

“We should throw away all that crap,” said Nick, “all the stuff like rights, and privileges, and guilt, and punishment.”

“Yeah I agree,” Oscar said, “but this fucking society owes me.  A paltry amount it pays for total control over me. And I never ever jeopardized the gingerbread.”

Said Sean: “If I’ve got no money, and I’ve nothing to eat, I won’t starve, I’m going to steal to eat. It’d be best though if we could forget all that crap for a generation, the re-invent or re-discover. It could be wondrous, all this crap might actually begin to mean something, like that rights actually do mean something.”

Do they really believe they’re owed a living? thought Craig. I’m sure sick and bloody tired of the unceasing complaints. I know I too would lose. What do they really expect? All they do is to try and disguise their failure; they just don’t grasp that they deserved to fail. But I can’t allow their failure to distract me. Look to the future, and success, and enjoy the rewards — a success or failure that will be deserved, and the only blame will be one’s own.

Everyone’s so quiet, thought Jane. Stoned. With these strange fixed expressions on their faces; wooden, as if . . they’ve clutched something and refuse to let it go, determined to exhaust all its possibilities; or obsessed, simply incapable of lifting themselves out of their malaise. They’re so sad — casualties of their own lives; cripples limping behind the parade.

“Are you bitter Sean?” asked Jane, breaking the silence.

“Huh, bitter? Should I be bitter Jane haha?”

“Well are you?”

“Mmm, I don’t really know. I’ve never thought about it. I could be I guess; but if I am then I shouldn’t be??”

“Is that really how you feel?”

“Hang on, let me double-check. Ah, guess so. What do you think?”

“I think you want to be bitter.”

“Haha, fuck off Jane.”

“Hey!” Craig said to Sean, “don’t talk to her like that.”

“Aw shucks, she started it you know.”

“Nobody said anything was fair Sean,” said Oscar quietly.

“What about you Oscar: are you bitter?” Jane asked.

“No, I’m deliriously happy. If I was bitter, I’d be a burning star.”

“Happy being bitter you mean.”

“Ok then, haha. No, I’m just happy. But I tell you, it’s a full-time job just being stoned most of the time, haha.”

“What would make you more happy Oscar? I’m just curious.”

“I don’t know if what you just asked makes sense, but . . money?”

“Really? I wouldn’t have thought you’d say that. You’ve always been so, well, anti-money.”

“I deny that rumour haha. But it’s an obvious answer. Money does, as the poor have always suspected, gives you greater choices, and if it can’t buy happiness, it sure can buy a better chance at it, or more of it.”

“So are you going to be happy?”

“How much can I spend Jane, haha?”

“Then you’ll have to get a job,” Craig said to Oscar with obvious satisfaction, as if he had proved a point.

“Oh sure. But it’s never that simple brother. It’s all relative haha.”

“It’s interesting people want to deny they’re bitter,” persisted Jane.

“If indeed they are.”

Sean said: “Well it’s an accusation of a kind of failure, isn’t it? It’s like a ‘chip on the shoulder’.”

“Yeah but what does it really mean?” said Oscar. “I’m despicable and conniving, but  I’m not bitter haha. No way siree haha. You can be nearly anything except bitter.”

“How do you rate a person’s worth?” Craig asked.

Sean and Nick laughed hysterically; Oscar looked aghast. Sean said: “I think you can count it, or count on it, or something like that.”

“What’s so funny?”

“I don’t think I can take the question seriously,” said Nick, “but what do you think Oscar?”

Oscar grinned and said: “I think it’s clear that the richer you are, the better person you are. Er, a better kind of bastard haha. Who said there ain’t class in Australia.”

“Well you don’t have any haha. But thank you Oscar,” said Nick, bowing in his chair.

“Good on you Oscar,” said Craig seriously, obviously misunderstanding the tone of the replies.

“Ah, I was taking the piss Craig. Wasn’t it obvious?”

“Well not to me.”

“I know you’re not stupid Craig, but . . but, God, why bother (?).

“Because it’s all we can do, ever,” said Oscar.

“No, that’s our appalling pride. It’s so . . pathetic! I mean it! I’m just not going to bother anymore. There!”

“Let’s not be too hasty. We have most of an average, very average, lifetime to go.”

“I know! It feels like it too haha. It feels like I’m trying to fill a very very deep hole with spoonfulls of dirt.”

“Don’t worry, I’m reliably informed there is a future.”

“A future? Fuck that! Ah, is it that I’m just looking for someone to blame?”

Sean joked: “Do you want to talk about it Oscar? Feel free to unburden yourself.”

“You could take it seriously you know.”

“We could, but as Joh says, we choose not to.”

“I wish I could look people in the eye. .”

“Well it is difficult sometimes, isn’t it? Well look, tomorrow we’ll all take nothing, absolutely nothing, seriously, look nobody in the eye, and let nothing bother us. Are you in?”

“Good luck Sean, I think you’re going to need it.”

“Craig,” said Jane, “we have to talk.” They went into the kitchen.

“It’s been a while now,” Jane said to Craig, “and you still haven’t got a job. Do you want a job?”

“Of course I do! Of course I do. It’s just been more difficult than I thought it would be.”

“You’ll have to make more of an effort then Craig.”

Easier said than done, he thought. I’ve applied for what seems like hundreds of jobs, but I can’t even get an interview. Does anyone really know what that feels like?

“Why don’t you ask your father for help?” Jane suggested.

Why? I want to kill the bastard! But he agreed: “It looks like I’ll have to. He says that everytime I see him it’s just to ask him for money.”

“I’d like to have rich parents, even if I didn’t like them.” And Jane was being honest: given a choice of poor parents she liked, or rich parents she didn’t like, she would choose the latter.

Ah, but he may not want to help me.

Jane continued: “You do know that you are going to have to ask your father for help.”

“I know. I will.” What have I got myself into?

“You don’t seem very certain.”

“Well he might not want to help me.”

“You should have told me this before Craig!”

“I’m sorry. I was afraid to I guess.”

“Sorry? You’re sorry? Easy for you to say. . .  You really think he mightn’t help?”

“I’m afraid so.” I’ve been a fool.

“Well that’s just great! Why did you say he would?”

Craig shrugged his shoulders.

“I counted on you,” continued Jane, close to tears now.

“Yes, I’m sorry Jane.”

“Sorry just doesn’t cut it. It’s ok for you, but I have to be practical.”

“I’m not sure what I want anymore.” And I just don’t want to ask the bastard for help.

“Well that’s great! How long have you felt this way Craig?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Isn’t that just marvellous! Well you know what I want you to do.”

“Do you really love me Jane?”

“If you’re asking me if I think I’ve made a mistake, I don’t know the answer to that. For all I know this could have been a mistake.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“”I’m sorry too. But that doesn’t really change anything, does it?”

“What are you going to do?”

“I want you to do what needs to be done Craig.”

“You don’t really love me, do you Jane?”

“You know I can make an effort. You know that.”

“I’m trying to explain my feelings, but you don’t seem to care!”

“When did just your feelings become so important. Tell me that!”

“Jane!”

“I have to be practical. You should realize that, but you’re so caught up in yourself.”

“Ok Jane, ok. I’ll do whatever you want.”  But I seem to fail in most things I do — never give a sucker an ever break. And my lies always get me into trouble.

I’m looking forward to seeing Billy,” Nick said to Sean.

“Yeah me too. What a place to live: a rainforest beside a beach.”

“As long as it wasn’t being logged or mined.”

“Uh-huh, bummer. I’ll have to go home soon. It must be getting late.”

“It’s past midnight. You’re welcome to stay here of course.”

“Thatnks, but nothing like your own bed eh. I must be getting old. I never ever thought I’d say that — nothin like my own bed haha. Thanks for the smoke mate.”

“No problemo. See ya Sean.”

“I’m off. See ya later.” Sean went into the kitchen to say goodbye to Craig and Jane.

The ride home was uneventful, and Sean was pleased not to have seen the cops again. When he arrived home, he saw Alison sitting at the kitchen table. Sean thought about going straight to his bedroom, but he veered into the kitchen. Perhaps I can apologize, he thought; maybe I can fucking mean it too.

“What a night,” he said tentatively, unsure of her mood, and wishing that he could take back what he had said earlier. Alison looked vulnerable sitting there at the table; Sean hated himself.

“Have you fallen in love again,” Alison said somewhat spitefully.

Sean was hesistant. He said: “No-o. Not that I remember. . . But if I did, I’m sure I promised not to talk about it.”

Alison’s mood seemed to change abruptly. She smiled and said: “Well I’m grateful for that at least.”

“I mean, just who would I be kidding more. You know?”

“I don’t know actually. And I kind of like it that way.”

“I get it. It’s Christmas time, right?”

“Sean, dad died tonight.”

“What happened?” I guess I’ll have to go through this, he thought.

“He had a heart attack. He was died on the way to hospital. He didn’t suffer.”

A curious expression, thought Sean. Wasn’t suffering supposed to be good for you? “Where’s mother?”

“She’s asleep. And you’re stoned.”

Sean anticipated the permanent easing of his discomfort at having to pretend to care about his father. It was a long time ago since Sean could say he cared about his father. “I feel silly now after the way I acted.” I feel silly because I’m a twit.

Alison didn’t reply; of course she concurred.

Sean continued: “I don’t really want to go to the funeral you know. I mean, what’s it prove? :

“You’ve got to go Sean! You know that. Mum expects you to go, and to be happy about it.”

“You know I don’t care he’s dead.”

“You don’t really mean that. I know you don’t mean that.”

“He was never a father.”

“He was our father Sean. I think we owe him something, don’t you?”

I’m not handling anything very well lately, he thought. He said: “It’s ok. I’ll fucking go. You don’t have to talk me into it.”

Alison paused, then said: “We’re too alike Sean.”

“Haha, are you kiddin me?”

“No.”

“Too alike for our own good or something? Is that what you mean?”

Alison was subdued now. “Yes, something like that. But I’m certainly no expert.” She reached across the table to hold Sean’s hand; a most unexpected action, and Sean had to consciously stop himself from pulling his hand away. “There are no happy endings,” said Alison, strangely equivocal.

“If only I could take back what I said . .” And that was what Sean most wished for.

Alison withdrew her hand. “Not possible tho, is it?”

“I’m going up to see Billy soon.”

“After the funeral?”

” . . after the funeral.”

Tiffany and Kevin arrived back. “It’s so sad,” said Tiffany. “How’s mum?”

“She’s asleep,” replied Alison.

“At least he didn’t suffer.”

“Not half as much as he did when he was alive,” said Sean, thinking her concern artifice. “He died nearly happy and almost rich you know.”

“You’re so callous Sean!”

“I’m not pretending anything; that’s the difference.”

“Dad is dead: what is there to pretend?”

“Oh you’re so cut up Tiffany. When is the last time you actually said something to him? Or did something with him? Or for him?”

“Yes Sean no Sean sure Sean. Why don’t you grow up?!”

“Grow up and out of it you mean.”

“Kevin, have you ever heard such stupidity?”

“No, I haven’t Tiff,” answered Kevin. “You know Sean, it’s time –it’s overdue– that you just started to behave normally.”

“Thanks for the advice comrade, O fucker of my sister.”

“You’re disgusting Sean!” interjected Tiffany.

Kevin was angry and said: “You’ll end up a charity case Sean, mark my words. And your father is dead; you could show some concern.”

“For whom? After all, he is dead.”

“For your mother you idiot, and your sisters.”

” . . for me too.”

“I really don’t know what you feel.”

“Me either. I’m going to bed.” Sean left the kitchen.

Tiffany said: “I don’t think Sean’s ever going to change.”

“He’s not sure he has to, maybe not sure of much,”  Alison replied, distractedly.

“That,” said Kevin, “is succintly his problem.”

Alison said she was going to bed, goodnight, and left the kitchen.

Tiffany said to Kevin: “I’m glad you were here tonight. ”

“It was the least I could do. These things happen. There’s not much we can do about it, but I’m glad I could help.”

“I’d like to go out for a meal tomorrow. I need cheering up.”

“Easily done. Where would you like to go?”

“Hmmm, somewhere expensive.”

“Only the best for my girl.”

“I’ll have to buy a new dress. Do you want to come shopping tomorrow morning?”

“Love to.”

“You know, we’re really lucky to have each other.”

They kissed. “I know,” said Kevin, “and I’m grateful.”

“When you’ve graduated and you’ve started your career, then we can get married.”

“I want to make an honest woman of you as soon as possible. Are you going to keep modelling?”

“I think so. I do enjoy it.”

“Oh I know you do. And you’re good at it. You’ve a right to be proud of it darling.”

“Are you going to stay the night?”

“I’d like to.”

“I’d like you to.”

Sean lay awake in bed. He heard Tiffany and Kevin enter her bedroom, their whispering surprisingly loud in the otherwise quiet house. Their light was soon turned off, followed by a few minutes of silence. Gradually Sean became aware that they were having sex. He realized too that he was jealous. Certain that he deserved more, doubtful that he could do more than he really deserved. He squirmed about his feelings in the dark, frustrated because he could see the light of their intimacy and he was attracted, but he was no closer than he had ever been. He willed himself to sleep.

In the bitterly cold early morning, the priest walked briskly along the leaf-strewn path. His figure appeared and disappeared in the swirling mist. The forest both sides of the path loomed threateningly out of the mist, distorted branches signalling ominously to the priest — he thought they moved to grapple with him, as his drab brown robe flapped against his legs. DHARMA. My solemn duty, he reminded himself, is that I serve Him.  It is a duty I wholeheartedly submit to. He is strong, I am weak.  He is the Saviour, He is Blessed. I have sinned, I am undeserving. So why do I struggle now? I am imperfect, only He is perfect.  VASANAS. The struggle empties me of my faith.  Conviction deserts me, desire overwhelms me. My duty . . is to me! Resist! Scourge! I am a Man. Duty denies me the opportunity of being just a Man. Admit the Man and offend the Divine. In the mist shapes blurred. Does it matter what I am expected to do? But how could they possibly know?  . . One either is, or is not, does or does not. Yet there are so many, so many possibilities. . . and none. The mist swallowed the priest, as if he was walking out of the world.

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