David Stevens

Among the dead

In Uncategorized on February 10, 2019 at 8:39 am

My grandfather sits in the ruin of his house. It is always night when I am here. The sky is my skull, a low dome seen from the inside. His jaw is strong and held hard, grinding the fossils of his teeth. (Even if he still smoked, he could not. His pipe stem could not be forced between those lips. It would be snapped by those teeth. The end of it would stay in that mouth a hundred years, preserved.)

Wind sweeps the ash. I do not feel the cold. I stare at the strength of that head. I remember bending and kissing that head, like a child’s, as it lay on a pillow. The man I never kissed, who only ever shook hands, even with children. The skull beneath the skin.

That he came back to sit here, among the ruins. He does not decay, instead the house does. Each time I come, it has deteriorated further, taking his place in the grave. The elements do not bother him. If the wind wears him, if water drips him away, leaching away the minerals of him a drop at a time, perhaps it is for the best. Perhaps it is what he desires. As he weathers, mountains are ground down, oceans rise, seas fall. Forests grow and are consumed. The constellations shift, all sped up for him. He is the Time Traveller, he is Rod Taylor in his chair, encased in stone, then freed again. In my visits, I am a shadow. I am the flickering ghost. It is I who am death, I am mortality. We are worn down around him.

He gulps sometimes. The throat works, the jaw moves and clenches. He is biting deeper, getting a better grip on the world. Once or twice he has looked towards me. I stand close. He does not stop me. I am calm in his presence, calm with the nostalgia of grief. The longing for those other worlds I can never visit. Childhood. The past. The lives of others. The drowsy warmth of everything will be alright. The knowledge of grief to come.

That he has returned, and so far, not the others. Preserved in his pride, his inflexible ideas of proper behaviour. The feuds that burned silently within, in his room as he read, as he listened to talk back radio.

It is monochrome here. It suits the grey hair, slicked back along his scalp.

I love him, I miss him, I miss them all. All the faces from the Christmas photographs of my childhood, who no longer gather around the table.

My aunt, white gowned against the window, arms raised and pressing the glass. Could only I see her? I am staring at the house, the others have their backs turned to her. Were the adults pretending it was otherwise? My other grandmother, from the other side of my family, smiling, her lips uncertain, her eyes betraying an unease when I caught them. She knew. We mourned when my aunt left, why did no one tell me she was back? Kept inside, a secret.

All the dead are kept inside, a secret that no one else wants to know. We are all haunted, and sometimes they stare out from the windows of our eyes. They come back, but they are not the same.

My grandfather sits amongst the exposed beams, the drooping wallpaper having outlasted the plasterboard beneath. He has made himself comfortable in the chair that was thrown away long ago. Its return is as great a miracle as his. He is silent. Why do we protest? Why do we bother to rage? The brave new world was always coming, and there was nothing we could do about it. We shall consume the whole world, we shall eat our young, the forests will die, the skies will burn.

There is no moon, no stars, no electricity, no peasant mob brandishing torches, but I see him clear in this night. I cannot think how I first found him here. I think I just knew. He cannot be in this house. It was sold years ago, and rebuilt, and another family lives here.  They have covered the verandah, hung a little sign advertising a business. Still, it is where I found him. Perhaps we are in one of those other twenty four dimensions of folded string. I do not know. I just gaze upon him and sit in his quiet presence.

The dead stare. What vision is imprinted on their eyes? We fear what they have seen.

His wife is not there. Will she come? Nobody told me my grandmother was in hospital. I could not answer the phone. I was freezing in a bath of ice, sitting with a child who refused to be comforted unless someone was in there with him, trying to bring his fever down. Later, when I finally was told, in the emergency ward with her as she, unconscious, clawed at the air, as though prematurely buried and scraping at the coffin lid, I prayed and prayed into her ear, a hundred Hail Mary’s to calm her down, and then those arms rested, they allowed themselves to stop. Thank you God for that.

My child, shaking, terrified in the night. Eventually telling us that someone else had been in the house with us, while we all slept. She struggled to get the words out. Her eventual description: “he was like a cricket man”. Cricketers dress completely in white. She could not see his shoes, for his feet were beneath the floor.

The dead are all inside. How many skeleton arms drag torsos forward through the mud of my mind, skulls drooping, exposed spines drifting away to nothing? How many more bony arms are yet to come? When shall I join them? What shall I see?

Or will death be banished forever, all of us infested us with nanobots that work constantly to keep us fit, keep us happy in our jobs, content in the hell we have made?

These are thoughts I think, when I awake after my visits.

Advertisements

A summer story

In Uncategorized on January 27, 2019 at 2:30 am

Summer time here in Orstraya. Floating in the ocean yesterday in between the waves, all the beach moments of all my life joined together, as though the rest of life is a mundane interruption to that Eternal Now that is me floating, I was reminded of how that is reflected by the end of my story, This Neil Armstrong is not dead. Without meaning to be, it is my (not “the”) quintessential Australian beach story – I will never write a better Australian beach story, than this story which is not about Australia, or the beach. Of course, I hope one day to write a better story, which may be about Australia or the beach. Oh mind, be still.

Straya Day

In Uncategorized on January 26, 2019 at 6:01 am

ALL the beautiful young things are wondering about the place dressed in their swimwear and large Australian flags, so it must be that day again. I was once abused by two bikini wearing teens on this day for not smiling enough (“BE HAPPY! Its Orstrayuh day”) and I will always be grateful that despite the wave of Hulk-like rage that immediately swept over me, for some reason I did not respond. I was pushing a pram overladen with my offspring at the time, and did not notice the two bulky figures behind a tree who were ready to step in with their fists (is that a mixed metaphor, no it is an actual description) to deal with any who sought to disagree with the young beauties / harridans. I remember when nobody celebrated Australia Day, it was just a dusty little public holiday tucked up the back near the start of the school year. It wasn’t the subject of national division that it is becoming, because really, nobody cared much about it. My good mate Stephen used to describe it as “the national day of not working for Australia”. Then along came the 1988 bicentenary, rhyming nation with celebration, and everything went downhill. Just let me have a little rest, is that too much to ask?

FLAG DAY

It was Flag Day

so we wrapped ourselves in our flags

and went to the pub.

Everybody else had the same idea, but.

All the flags were the same

because we are all Flaglanders.

It would have been nice to wrap myself

in the flag of difference

but I was too scared.

Everyone looked the same.

The fun idea had become

A Sad Party Thing.

It doesn’t matter.

The flag unites us.

Our fear of looking different unites us.

All eyes are wary on Flag Day.

Everyone smiles with their mouths

as they lift their beers,

but all those eyes are looking about.

And those eyes are quick.

You don’t want to stand out.

Not on Flag Day.

There are no excuses.

It is not “I pay my taxes” day.

It is not “I am a human being, I have rights” day.

It is fucking Flag Day.

Alright?

You sad party thing