Ghosts I and II
(Sarah St Vincent Welch)

Posted on March 3, 2012 by in Lies To Live By

I

Ghosts shift by the road in the moonlight, standing in line, alert.

A collision with a kangaroo is not only unpalatable to the kangaroo but is expensive to the motorist with the average panel-beating cost estimated at approximately $3000.

It was as if I dreamed his dying while half asleep in the front room, listening to him roll over in the gutter, lifting and dropping his tail. My ghosts called to him and let him in; I tried to wake. I heard the ranger come with her winch, her gun, her soft voice, and I continued to dream, listening to him still, even though she’d taken him away.

Foot length was used to estimate age in preference to head length because of the difficulty of obtaining consistent measurements of head length from multiple field staff. Leg length was not used because of the high incidence of broken legs in macropod road-kills.

Dogs lick blood off metal.

There were large and statistically significant differences in kill rates between different moon phases, seasons, and between males and females for immature animals.

I just collected him. Saw him in my lights. A little one. He hit the bonnet, then the roof, and I kept driving, while holding my boy’s hand.

II

In the 1960s in country New South Wales churches were open every day, any time you visited them. We’d pull up, grind up the dirt roads and swerve round potholes, our dust rising over the gentle church—open for us— light behind it, an overexposed photo in my mind.

I touched the font. I touched the holy water, the pews. I touched the organ, pulled the stops. I wasn’t allowed to touch the cross. Flowers on the altar wilted mid-week. We signed the Visitors’ Book. My father kneeled, bobbed and crossed himself. My mother’s aching knees would not let her worship. And out the back—the graveyard—our destination.

I loved the babies’ gravestones. In the arms of Jesus, a month, or only a year old, I calculated. Jesus said, Suffer the little children to come unto me. ‘Gentle Jesus meek and mild, look upon a little child, pity my simplicity.’

White moulded flowers in wire mesh. Broken headstones. My father rubbed the words with chalk to reveal the names, the dates, the dedications, the shallow grooves in the worn out stone.

My mother says I’d lean over from the back seat and whisper, ‘Drive on, there’s another graveyard, don’t let him see it,’ as my father slept. I don’t remember it that way. I remember graveyards, their dirt in my mouth and under my nails, and the child ghosts I met, and wish now we’d stopped at every one.

Dad parked the car on an empty road and kissed Mum under the mistletoe (or what they called the mistletoe) a heavy parasite hanging from the Stringy Barks. I pretended to sleep in the back.

In the 2000s, New South Wales’ country churches are locked against vandals, their Visitors’ Books closed.

In Bendigo, Victoria, my little boy and I visited a Chinese temple. Shadows touched the red and gold walls. The year before we came the ancestor scrolls were smeared with shit and burned. He counted the remaining scrolls, practising his numbers.

We believe in ancestors, believe in ghosts.

***

Report text from LIVING WITH EASTERN GREY KANGAROOS IN THE A.C.T. – PUBLIC LAND THIRD REPORT TO THE MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT, LAND AND PLANNING A.C.T. KANGAROO ADVISORY COMMITTEE October 1997

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