Sam’s Hands

•January 21, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Tent Poles

The town’s camping store was hushed. Except for the presence of the customer before him and the voice on the easy radio, Sam’s shop felt pleasantly empty. He was measuring a tent pole, which the man said had snapped in last summer’s winds. Clutched in his hands with the same ruler he had used for decades, the pole looked toothpick-thin.

‘Ten mill across,’ he said gently, his huge thumbs bracketing the two numbers. ‘Ten mill. Ten mill…’ With his right hand still subduing tent pole and ruler, he reached his left below the counter. He stood with his back to the road.

The customer was hoping the old man would be able to replace or repair the pole so he could go camping again this Christmas. He disliked camping, but only during and after the experience. He was looking forward to this weekend very much.

Sam slid a thick book onto the bench top and, with his thumb already in the middle pages, heaved the thing open to reveal rows and rows of tiny words and numbers. With his heavy index finger pressing on the paper, he began to read through the figures starting from the top. Partway down, he raised his eyes to the air before him as if he had forgotten his present purpose, or had been surprised by a memory.

‘Ten mill?’ his customer suggested. Wordlessly, Sam returned his gaze to the letters and numbers at his fingertip.

The radio sang softly, unselfconscious. Neither man said anything more. The longer they stood there, the more certain the customer became that he would not be camping this weekend. A lovely trip ruined. Cursed winds. He did not say these things, of course, but simply looked over Sam’s shoulder in the way cashiers lift their eyes so as not to see a client’s fingers punching a PIN. His own card was in his wallet. He wished he would be able to swipe it soon and get back to packing.

Behind Sam’s shoulder, across the street, was a woman rapidly encroaching, a thick bundle of fabric on one hip and a baby on the other. Leading with her forehead, she stamped briskly and barefoot towards the shop. The silent baby shuddered and shook with each step, clinging to the dress strap of the woman whose leathery eyelids squinted beneath the sun. The automatic doors parted without judgement.

Her heels thudded as she made her way to the other counter behind Sam, where she whumped the fabric onto the bench.

Sam turned his head. The woman glared, because her face had grown used to doing so. He took the five steps with which he was so familiar – from one counter to the other, past the radio by the cash register – and looked down at the khaki-coloured pile. The woman spoke in quick, low tones, her top lip twitching in indignant and frightening spasms. The man watched as Sam’s rounded shoulders rose, his tender baritone coursing through the floorboards, before falling once more, like rolling waves in a cardigan sea. The conversation was over.

Lips pursed and eyes wide, the woman lunged her chin towards him as she strong-armed the weight back onto her hip. The baby gripped the dress strap, quiet as luggage. Clomping out into the sunburn, the woman’s curses echoed from across the street back into the store until the automatic doors closed behind her.

Without a word, Sam shuffled languidly to his customer. It was as if the woman had just been a thought, a memory. Something to distract him from his measurements.

‘Ten mill,’ he said to his left hand, as it moved assuredly down the page.

The radio chirruped quietly.

The customer smiled. He was looking forward to camping.

The band V

•January 11, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I Love You

None of us saw it coming.

I certainly didn’t think he had it in him, neither did Adam T or Chris. No one in the school believed he did it, even when they ran, pressed their collective nose to the classroom window gaped, gasped and pointed as one. The mess was everywhere.

It was very clear that somebody had done something very terrible in that room. It was all over the walls.

But Adam D? Inconceivable.

Where had he been, though, that final lunchtime when the three of us were preparing for our show in the Hall? What had he been doing when we were plugging in lights, adjusting our borrowed guitar straps and decoding the manual for the VHS camcorder? Where had he been?

We found him outside the principal’s office. Wide eyes averted to the linoleum, manicured hands folded between the ironed seams of his shorts and his t-shirt covered in… In something. What was that?

Chris broke the silence.

“What’s all that mess on ya top, dude?”

Adam D looked up at us. Whatever the substance was, we could now see it was in his hair too, specks of it on his cheek. The rest of the school was pointing out smatterings of the same stuff on the posters and student projects in our room. Mostly up high.

“You know the ceiling fan in our room?” Adam whispered. We nodded, slow and synchronised. His face broke into a smirk. “I threw bananas up into it.”

We stood before him muted, our mouths wide as sideshow alley clowns. I just remember his eyes, like sunny blue lakes beneath a windy sky. All the diamonds in those tiny pools.

“I threw heaps of ‘em,” he smiled, eyes dancing. “Heaps and heaps of ‘em.”

Somehow my father managed to get him out on bail, perhaps in exchange for grade five completed in detention, and we finally got to rock that Hall.

We might not have known how to play those instruments, but we knew why we wanted to play them. It was written all over Adam D’s face. And in his hair. So we borrowed a wig for the show.

The band IV

•November 24, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Old Drum Sticks

With barely a week until showtime, I catapulted my nine year-old self into action. Chris would need an electric guitar, Adam T would need a microphone, and they would both need a string of days without detention so as to be allowed to take part. Cherubic little Adam D would need drums.We would need lights, camera… Actually pretty much everything we needed was well beyond the horizon.

We had no idea what we were doing. None of us even played an instrument. We certainly didn’t own any. So, with religious vigour, I began to see everyone around me as cows for the milking. And I was thirsty.

I started with the neighbours. The lady at number 57 had a friend who had a son who played electric guitar. Within days, this anonymous adolescent’s axe and amp were sitting at our back door.

Our landlord told me he had been to a nearby hall which had a set of drums backstage. When we visited, they were stacked like a dusty black wedding cake. I monitored two adults shaking hands before helping them load the kit into our family station wagon.

The principal was supportive, so the hall was to be ours that Thursday afternoon. The music teacher found me some drum sticks. The lady who helped with the school play found me two spotlights. I made a mix tape and earmarked our cassette player for use on the day.

That week, Adam T and Chris were flawlessly focused. Neither of them were sent out of class once that week. Adam T didn’t throw anything and Chris even wrote some words at one stage. Adam D was just Adam D.

Everything was coming together so easily.

This was meant to be.

It was during the lunchtime before the concert that Adam D snapped.

The band III

•October 29, 2013 • 1 Comment

Cricket Ball

The next morning, my truant band mates were amidst the dozen cricketing boys skulking around the pitch wishing it was their turn to bat or bowl. Adam D was cross-legged on the bench near fine leg, silent as a sculpture, reading a book.

He had already said yes to my idea of a concert. Now Adam T and Chris, singer and guitarist, needed to be converted.

Wide-eyed, I was about to sprint toward the pair before I decided to jog. Less earnest. And, so as not to betray my fervent commitment to our potential performance debut, I removed the smile from my face.

I slowed to a moseyed nonchalance before coming to a standstill beside them. Their eyes remained on the batsman. Dispassionately, I voiced my proposal.

“So, Adam D and I were thinking our band should play a concert…” I began. It was a sketch of a sentence, barely identifiable as the vista I had prepared to depict. Not a brush stroke of depth or detail anywhere.

I hadn’t even obtained their eye contact and yet, with grunted monosyllabic assertion, they agreed to the plan.

They had nodded. They had spoken affirmatively. They might as well have signed their names in blood. They were in. Within days we would shed our puerile selves and be revealed as the members of The Greatest Band In The Universe. Our cocooned peers would butterfly into screaming Beatle girls and our tired school hall would roar with Wembley approval.

And all the while, Adam T and Chris were each staring at the batsman like a hungry dog beneath a fencetop kitten. Didn’t even look at me. But we were now in it together.

Far from harm, Adam D turned a page and once more became statuesque.

The band II

•October 14, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Christmas decorations

As the school year was being tied into gaudy red bows in that lower socio-economic Eden, a new sun was smoldering above the smog and, somewhere beneath my skin, a new light had begun to burn.

That morning, with the council Christmas baubles swaying overhead, a new thought was dawning within me.

I’d had an idea.

Let there be light… (Didn’t it all start with an idea shared?)

Let the waters be gathered… (Why don’t we actually play some music together?)

Let there be land… (With real instruments, not just tennis rackets?)

Let us make man in our own image… (On a stage with lights and a video camera?)

Let there be rock!

We would put on a show! We would borrow instruments, lights, hire the school hall, borrow a video camera and film the whole thing! And we would have to do it before summer break, when I knew my family was moving interstate.

That left us with ten school days to put on The Show Of The Century.  It had to happen.

Schoolbag heaving left and right, I sprinted through the school gate in search of our drummer.

Adam D’s hair was always neatly parted. His mother ironed seams into the front of his jeans and he tucked his t-shirts in. When he laughed, he covered his mouth with a precisely fingernailed hand. His socks had fully functioning elastic at the tops.

I found him in the library. I told him we would be doing a concert on a stage with real instruments under lights with somebody filming us. He said OK.

Our guitarist and vocalist were both away that day. At recess, someone said they saw them over the road at the milk bar.

That left us with nine days.

The band I

•September 29, 2013 • Leave a Comment

School Desk Graffiti by Jackie Diane

My first band. It was the foundation stone upon which I began to construct the rambling shack of my identity. If you hired a jackhammer today, you’d still find the slab down there somewhere.

With eight tiny hand prints impressed in the stone.

It was easy. We liked the same bands. So we started our own.

When we were together we spoke about it all at once, their ideas and mine collaging in the air between us. It was as if time was speeding up and we were sprinting, stumbling, scampering to catch it, our faces pyretic with the pace of it all.

When the other boys were around, we were a clamorous murder of crows. We were conquerors among commoners. They just could not understand.

When the girls were around, we cooed like pigeons. Oh, the band? Yeah. Just a little something we’d been working on.

We discussed our hair, what to wear, practiced punk rock stares in the mirror when we should have been washing our hands. Bags and books became billboards for our new religion. Desks bore the scars of our ball-point branding.

One Monday morning I watched Christmas decorations swinging high above the main street and wondered if we would ever play music together.

Part III: The backyard

•September 9, 2013 • Leave a Comment

was common land back then.

Dog Meets Tennis Ball

Zip’s ears were rustled by dozens of different hands in a week, and it wasn’t as if we ever walked her. The neighbourhood would come to us.

Our pool was a kind of local swimming spot. Sometimes we would scrabble out of our car to hear what sounded like a zoo burning down out the back. We would wander from the driveway to see if we recognised any of the animals in the above-ground. We usually did.

One Saturday morning a herd of them arrived at our door, shirtless and shorted, towels over one shoulder. The told us Alan told them they could use the pool. We didn’t know Alan and neither did they, but they were polite and didn’t leave a mess.

Before we could play backyard cricket, we would have to establish the rules. Tippity-go. One hand, one bounce. Over the fence is six and out. If Zip gets out from under the door of the outside dunny and takes the ball, it’s a replay…  It was remarkable how completely and instantly we would integrate the list. And, when the original players grew bored or dry, the game would be passed on to latecomers as bare feet ran back to the water.

Remarkably, no bones were ever broken on the trampoline. Plenty of legs were pinched by the springs. Plenty of heels were bruised as we made our final jump and dismounted far too abruptly onto the lawn below. But nothing broken.

We used to lather that thing with detergent, hose it down and tip it lengthways while the combined body weight of brothers, sisters, friends and strangers kept the makeshift slippery-dip so perilously angled. One kid would climb to the top and slide back down, jump from the top or take the fall as the crowd simultaneously leaped from the other end, leaving the structure to plummet back to earth.

One lunchtime, a classmate found himself in our backyard. He’d had me over at his house once to let me watch him play Atari and I had returned home feeling as if I’d been asleep.

The day he came to our house, he left his shoes under the trampoline. Zip found them.

 
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