In the sadness of afternoon, shadows of former happiness lengthening, sounds of other lives muted, lone tyre howl receding, future appalling, I recall my past. I read curved across carpet like a cat, aggravating my father, a boy lost in American struggle from afar; Steinbeck, Dos Passos, Sinclair Lewis. On Friday nights I sat engrossed, face ghost-lit, sometimes watching cinematic adaptations of those books.
During a barren fog of factory hours in my excited teenaged loneliness, my yearning a storm to go somewhere, go there, a chaotic jumble of imagery merges with books and movies. A moody John Cassavetes type, I prowl the clangour of a poverty-shrouded waterfront area, sling my hook with longshoremen, argue with an emphatic unshaven priest who demands a beer, and workers’ rights.
World now moved on to these tragic times, light fades as if weary, reflects from familiar surfaces; the great dumb fridge, TV’s blank screen. I drift back again, seize my chance in neon-festooned Vegas, run numbers, survive on actors’ charm, bounce along Atlantic City’s boardwalk, Lucky between lips, ready to rebel, stumblingly articulate like James Dean’s shooting star, high on hope, adventure, revelling in American grunge glamour.
In my refuge’s silent splintering memory doubles as medication. This plague spins its web, trapping world travellers. Remember jetlag? Narratives of life and death disappear faster than turned pages. Among my cramped comforts screens much smaller than those of youth’s captivation occasionally transport me in isolation to a better time when I flew across a broad ocean, then a continent, heaved my heavy backpack into the Newark night. Veni vidi.
Ian C Smith, Australia <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Watching yachts, tinnies, round Old Man’s Head in this thrum of wind ruffling the feathers of patrolling sandpipers, he considers the choice of a single word to describe the way gulls flicker across sifted cloudlight blanketing Bass Strait. Each summer he dwells there like a gipsy, staying wherever he can overlook this cove.
Barefoot, sunburnt in the lamplight by the beach of an island in a primal sea, they played rummy, two packs, jokers wild, a rum recipe of clan rules. Nobody could decently shuffle such a knackered elastic-banded deck. The father, off the grog, going around in circles, dealt, cards flying, acolytes alert for arcane witticisms.
Here, in the lee of the roaring forties, sand engulfs the ribs of an old wreck. Children have built a Lord of the Rings realm, a stark beachscape weathering tides, reminding him of sojourns when his children sculpted sunlit sand, when, like most, he was unable to foretell the haunted whispering of his blind spots.
Sensing glory, one might reach for the discard pile, taking a chance on a bait-stained handful, only to be stunned by the winner going out with a whoop. Caught with your pants down, was their chortle. A king of spades, beard curling, looked sad for a family man on holiday. If he used that sword on some hapless subject it was for the common good.
Where the sea furls, muscular young men run. He would wind this vision down to slow-motion like the opening scene of glorious athletic youth in Chariots of Fire. How can they be his sons from long ago? Yet their names are the same, the blond manes, their self-conscious shouts, a narrative nothing like his own best-forgotten youth. They plunge into foam, a weight shifting in his heart.
A queen of hearts resembled Anne Boleyn on the way to her own execution clutching a posy of forget-me-nots, wondering what happened to romance. Two jokers idled on crescent moons peering down through binoculars, prankster gods bemused by in-house catchphrases, deft mental arithmetic, the way the suits always ended up together.
Near a pioneer’s grave silent women from the yoga retreat exchange smiles with him as a pair of sea eagles circle the tinted sky. He catalogues his picaresque past, wonders about absolution, if he is a recurring antic dream to his sons, silence ringing like the cessation of a tolled bell, marking seasons that all too quickly fell.
Shucking the duvet on runny-nosed mornings that winter, the view from my attic window was often of frosted fields. Instead of slouching off to work in those pre-computerised days I filled pages with biro ink. Adlestrop station nestled nearby, unknown to me, as was Edward Thomas’s aching poem evoking a past all changed. Wind-borne rain ruffled rooks in tall elms sheltering horses, rattled that window of what I fancied a garret atop the mansion where I attracted the law, ineptly triggering the burglar alarm several times scrubbing six bathrooms for my rent, to the cops’ smirking annoyance. A gas heater on castors like a metallic seeing-eye dog companion-cum desk collecting an Olympian pattern of coffee rings, completed my joy of faux hardship, days I once did, the rest memory.
In Lower Oddington’s Norman church I stood, silent before the pale colours of medieval paintings, imagination brimming with people’s fate. In that sanctum’s musty mortar odour I thought of hope’s constant struggle, the word Beloved mind-echoing. Born in Twickenham, Australian-raised, I remembered Sunday school, hassock dust smell, knees hurting, apostles of stained glass pitying poor sinners, our quivering vicar praying for salvation. Now in Gloucestershire, befriended by a local woman who exercised hunters for a pittance, I accepted her invitation to join the villagers calling on the wealthy, an annual event on Christmas Eve, my birthday.
Surrounded by servants we chorused for local charity, this carolling crew of the Cotswolds below portraits galore: We Three Kings within tall walls. A Who’s Who of privileged begetting, lords in tweed, looked down on menials warbling their way through grand equestrian estates. A feed of mince pies, mulled wine from a silver tray, was served with wit from one squire about booze and Aussies. I bit off the crust, near choked, but these workers were anxious to amuse the weed. How funny is a rich man’s joke? I chased a maid for more wine, flashed a grin at this unwise man, their chief with no chin.
Biog: Ian C Smith’s work has been published in Antipodes, BBC Radio 4 Sounds,The Dalhousie Review, Griffith Review, San Pedro River Review , Southword, The Stony Thursday Book, & Two Thirds North. His seventh book is wonder sadness madness joy, Ginninderra (Port Adelaide). He writes in the Gippsland Lakes area of Victoria, and on Flinders Island.