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Yesterday on telelvision, after Martha Stewart, a guy came on who lines fruit and vegetables up in front of a scanner, and without closing the lid, makes still lives. They look like Caravaggio's or something very chiaroscuro. Black background. Very sell-able. So this afternoon we get the dog and put its head under the scanner. It refuses to cooperate at first but then settles down, objecting only a bit by stiffening its leg so we can't get its face all the way flat against the glass. 'Is this illegal?' says my cousin putting his finger over the dog's open eyes.
Bored, I call up a girl I went to school with. 'I'm bored,' I say, 'are you free?' 'Bloody house looks like a bomb's hit it,' she says, 'come over, though,'
I get to her house and she's holding a piece of half-star shaped foam rubber on top of a child's head. 'Hi,' she says, then introduces me to the child's mother. 'I'm making a seahorse costume,' she says, and laughs, 'I've been making bloody costumes for days, weeks,'
She's been dancing since she was five, this friend of mine, Now she teaches it and there's a concert coming up.
The woman and the star fish child leave and another friend shows up with her kid, her husband and a photo album. After I sit down on the sofa again after getting up to hug her husband, my friend gives me the photo album. I remember the photo album, the white vinyl cover and the brown embossed pattern down the left hand side of the cover. 'Shit, I remember this album,' I say. I lay the album on my lap, open the cover, look in. The three of us start laughing immediately at the young faces we used to have.
I'm watching a story on television news about a woman who has killed a goat called Maddy. In a fragile mental state and apparently drunk, the woman and some friends stole the goat and slaughtered it on the altar of a church. Next there's a some footage of the goat killer walking to court, wearing Jackie O glasses and a lime green three piece skirt suit.
The next story tells of a woman who gives birth in a car on a Brisbane highway. 'I didn't have to go through long labour pains,' says the mother, laughing from her hospital bed.
My niece and I go driving, looking for a view that I can draw. My niece has her container of coloured pencils, her lunch box and we've brought a roll of toilet paper.
On Romsey Road I see a bitumen turn off.
'Look, there's a road on the hill called Pelican Close,' I say, 'shall we stop here?'
'Yeh, yeh, let's,' she says.
It's a Close of new houses.
The hills below are bald, stripped for more Pelican Closes.
I drive slowly past a man who's poisoning something green with a spray.
'I hate this place.' I tell my niece.
I'm sitting at the kitchen table writing when the cleaning woman, the curly haired one, drops the microwave plate in the sink and breaks it.
'Oops,' she says, 'I've broken the microwave plate. It slipped out of my hand,'
I look up to see she's holding up the halves of the plate, suds dripping from them into the sink.
I start feeling sorry for her.
'I'll say I did it,' I say, because I've heard the other cleaner, a blond pregnant woman with a fringe, throwing orders around all morning and I don't want the plate-breaker to be in trouble.
Today, walking up the hill toward the school carpark, I see another car with personalised number plates.
On the 4 days I’ve walked up to the school to pick up the children, I’ve seen 5 cars with personalised number plates.
‘BEVVY 17', was the first one I saw.
Then about ten minutes later I saw ‘TINA 01.
The day after that, again at the school, I saw ‘MYBABE’.
Now today I see, ‘MAHUNNY’.
‘DEBBSIE’, my favourite, I saw 2 or 3 days ago.
I’ve also seen ‘TREV’, though that wasn’t at the school, it was in the carpark at Safeway.
I'm sitting in the room my brother's family calls 'The office', typing, when I hear my niece in the kitchen start a conversation with my mother about my father.
'I miss Bobby,' says my niece.
I stop typing, waiting.
No one says anything.
Then a few seconds later I hear, 'How did he die?' from my niece.
My mother, who must be cooking because I hear slamming doors and pans, says, 'He had a sore leg,'
It's not true my father died from a sore leg but no one wants to tell a 9 year old her grandfather hung himself.
We're on the way back from the supermarket, and because we're talking about car accidents, my brother says, 'Listen to this fuckin' thing that happened at work today,'
'Oh, shit,' I say, 'did someone get hit?'
He laughs and says, 'Yeh, but she's a fucking bitch, anyway,'
Then he tells me how a woman he works with got hit by a DHL van.
'This fuckin' van pulls up, delivering something, and he just backed into her,'
'Was she knocked over?' I say.
'Yeh' he says, 'but he must have thought he'd hit the curb because he backed over her again.'
The first personalised number plate I see in Mill Hill is 'Drifter'. Drifter comes out of a car park, fishtailing, smoke coming from his tyres. 'Cunt,' I say and my niece laughs. At the lights he comes up beside us, laughing. 'Pity he didn't hit a tree,' I say to my niece who's dipping mcdonald's french fries into a 50 cent soft serve ice-cream cone. On the way back from Mill Park I see 5 personalised plates in 8 minutes. I get excited. 'Keep your eye out for them,' I tell the children, 'Find a pen and write them down.'
This afternoon we take the car and leave for Geelong. 'How do you say that, Geelong?' Catherine says, using a J for the first letter. 'That's it,' I say, 'Jeelong,' I start laughing. 'It is not,' she says, so I tell her the right pronunciation. 'Gee-long,' I say, 'like in Gee-Whizz,' We both laugh. 'I'm going to pull over, you can drive,' I tell her a bit later. Then I sit in the passenger seat, feet up on the dash looking out at the Macdonalds, the KFC, the Bargain Bed Bonanzas and feeling sad and very sorry for this country.
In the afternoon we go to Epping, same as last Friday, the day we saw the personalised number plates. Just out of Wallan, over the railway line, my niece takes a paper and pen, ready to record the plates. I start laughing. The first one we see, just inside Whittlesea, is 'VINNIE'. My niece thinks this is the best one yet. 'Wait,' I say, 'there'll be more. Coming back from Epping Plaza we see 'BYTEME'. On the drive home we watch for plates and I think about how the light at this hour turns a red brick house fluorescent orange.
After dance class I wait in the foyer to talk my niece's teacher. There's a table set up and two women are ordering tickets from a woman sat behind the table. 'I won't be having the concert DVD this year,' says one of the women. 'I'm only getting it because her father will probably want it,' says the other. The woman behind the desk is making a line of ticks on a piece of paper. Waiting, I look up at a notice board behind the table. Stuck to it are photographs of children, their faces painted like fancy dress harlots.
There are 9 photographs stuck to the notice board and I look at them clockwise. The top one features a small girl dressed as some kind of unidentifiable animal in a sort of jungle setting. It is obviously taken in a studio and the set is amatuerishly made of cardboard. The child stands hands on her hips, hips slightly forward, staring straight into the camera, mouth wide, almost rectangular, teeth glowing. The next one along is a slightly older child. This child also has the rectangular smile and hands on hips but her right foot is up on a ball.
There's a hot wind this morning and a grey sky. The leaves on the trees make me think of fingers moving fast on a keyboard. A green bucket on the patio is rolling back, stopping and then going forward, and the dogs are wandering around slowly, looking like they're looking for something to do. A black bird stares at them. The trucks come down the highway behind the house, their brakes brakes bubbling as they reach the 60-km an hour sign. The cars going up the highway, out of the 60 zone into the 80, pass the struggling trucks.
It's in Chinatown, Melbourne, that for the second time I notice Nicole Kidman on the cover of Marie Claire. The first time had been in the Target at Epping Plaza, the same day my niece and I compiled that list of personalised number plates. 'Look at Nicole Kidman, I'd said to my niece, 'doesn't she look a bit weird?' It was true, Nicole Kidman was starting to look like someone that wasn't her. So today, in the Chinatown branch of Target, I point her out to Cathy. 'Look, her eyes look almost... plastic.' I say looking down at 'Our Nic.'
We change trains at North Melbourne and I stand in front of a young lady who is seated, knitting, who is holding a conversation with a woman who, being behind me, I can't see. 'So, like, what went wrong?' says the knitter to the woman behind me. 'It just wasn't happening for me,' says the woman behind me, 'Like, I got sick of it. Like you just shouldn't have to work so hard, and it just, like, came to me that I didn't like really want it anymore.' The knitter, who is working with a burgundy coloured yarn, says 'Uh-huh.'
In the evening, after he has gotten rid of the spider, my brother plays his guitar while I thump at his punching bag. My brother, now muscled, was once fat. Someone called him fat and that changed him. Then because of his weight loss he appeared in an international magazine about fitness and weightloss and, as a result, people started asking him to make them look like him, make them lose weight and be fit. Now he gets up every morning at 5.30 am and people come to his house and he makes them work out until they almost vomit.
Today it rains. From my bed in the morning I watch a tree through the bedroom window flip forward in the wind and stay there. Then it springs back. The dogs play in the mud all day and in the evening, Kelly, the black and white mother dog is all black, any white fur covered by dirty water and mud. I cook dinner and watch them through the kitchen window. Kelly's nose is in a muddy hole. 'She's looking for mice,' my niece says, 'they live in the compost. 'I saw a little grey on there last night,' I say.
From the car, in the street outside the college, we watch the teenage girls and boys shout at each other in the college bus shelter. Later, because we've already finished talking about the wind and the trees and the teenagers in the bus shelter, I look at the Queen's face on the coins I find in the space between the seats where a take away coffee can be sat. 'Look,' I say to Catherine, 'you dip the coin, down, up, you see the Queen negative and positive,' Cathy takes a coin. 'Look at that 1967 coin, how young she looks.'
'They must be cheap here, they're cheap in the States,' says Catherine. We're talking about personalised number plates. 'What made you get one?' I say, after she said she'd had one. Don't know, just cos,' 'Did you think it was something cool?' 'Don't know, really,' 'What was the first one we saw?' I say. I want to remember the plates I've seen on the way home. 'Pies 65, Buckley 3,' Catherine says. 'Yabbi, Majazus,' Sam says, 'Sassy 6.' At the top of the road we see 'Wazzaa'. 'Find a pen and paper. I don't want to forget any.' I say.
The party was in a flat in Fitzroy. The wall opposite the door we entered through was all window, starting half way up the from the floor. The window was slid open and from it we could see the lights of the city. Guests stood the length of it blowing smoke through it. Later, a woman I didn't know and I stood at the window, looking at the lights. 'It's makes you feel like childhood,' she said. 'It reminds me of fairy lights at Christmas,' 'I've never been to Paris.' she told me later, blowing her smoke into the night.
It's afternoon, 30 degrees or more, and my niece, who is still in her school uniform, and I are fooling around in the pool. 'My boyfriend and I don't talk to each other,' she tells me. 'Why not?' I say. 'We're just the kind of couple that don't talk to each other,' she says. My niece is only 9 but already she has this strange relationship going on. She'd once pointed the boyfriend out to me in the schoolyard. 'There goes my boyfriend,' she'd said. 'Why don't you say goodbye to him?' I'd said. 'Duh?' she'd said, 'Why would I?'
In the morning I promise the children that dinner will be a picnic. 'What time's the picnic?' they ask me when they get home from school. 'Later,' I say, 'when we're hungry,' Later, at 6pm, I tell them to start preparing. 'Get a rug, put it on the lawn,' I tell them. When I get back to the front lawn with a platter of food for them they've put out a picnic rug, plates, knives, forks and a glass jug with roses in it that they've picked from my sister in laws rose bushes at the front of their house.
At 6pm I start watching the election, sitting on the sofa in my shorts. The house is empty and Kerry O'Brien talks about swings and percentages. I don't now the meaning of all he says but, early, it seems like what he's saying might be good. At half past 8 my brother comes back from golf. 'He'll be loving it, Old kerry "The Red",' says my brother looking at the TV. My father would have said the same. I remember him once calling John Pilger a 'Red' and thinking I'd like to be a red if John Pilger was one.
I'm sitting in my mother's kitchenette, listening to cars and trucks on the highway behind the house. I can hear a crow over the top of the noise, the neighbours caged fowl screeching and other free birds singing. From the kitchen window I watch the trees being flicked at by the wind. I listen to my mother's wind chimes on the porch and stare at a basketball, faded to pink, stuck in the neighbours wire fence. From the colour of the sky and trees and the light that falls on the basketball, I know it's going to be hot today.
After dinner we sit on the bench under the front porch and eat cake and look at the sky. 'Look at that,' Catherine says about the pink bottomed clouds against the blue. The trees are black against the blue, the blue so blue because of the pink and black limbs of the pines. 'Red sky at night, sailor's delight,' Catherine says walking toward the little house to get her camera. 'The weather's too weird these days,' I say to my sister in law. 'Bloody oath,' she says and then we just sit there looking up the blue, pink and black.
I see the car go up the driveway and I go out to meet Maggie before she gets out of the car. 'Are you alright, Mags?' I say. My brother has just phoned to say Mags has seen an accident. 'Mags has seen a car accident on the freeway. She's upset,' he tells me. 'God, it was awful,' Mags says, 'the guy was like this, over the steering wheel,' She leans forward and hangs her arms over the steering wheel, her chest pushing on the steering wheel. 'His eyes were closed. I heard on the news he's dead,' she says.
'If you served up the constituent parts of a Mcdonald's to your child at dinner, brain, corn syrup, hydrogenated fats etc, It'd be child abuse,' I say entering the McDonald's drive-through. Catherine laughs. 'Also, I don't feel safe here. If a teen massacre-ist came, we'd be trapped in the car and blown away,' 'Why do you think like that?' she says. 'Because it actually happens,' I say. At the food window the teen McSlave asks if I want a girl or boy toy with my happy meal 'You have one for hemaphrodites?' I say, laughing, but she doesn't laugh back.
Just after we've brought the McDonald's, a car pulls out in front of us, it's tyres squealing, smoke coming from them and the tail of the car, a ute, fishtailing. We both tsk a couple of times. 'Look at that fuckwit,' I say,' and look, personalised number plates,' The Whittlesea area is rich in personalised number plates. 'What's it say?' I say to Cathy. 'Can't read it,' she says. I speed up. 'BOOF 1,' I say as we catch up to the car at the roundabout. 'Should say CUNT 1.' I shout 'cunt' at the driver through my closed window.
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