Fists (Peter Farrar)

Posted on November 24, 2011 by in Lies To Live By

 

Car exhaust unfurls from my neighbour’s garage. I don’t know if they are committing suicide or smoking meat. I roll a cigarette. Have progressed well past a pack a day habit. My cigarettes burn down to wet tobacco and fingernails. If I eat with fingers there is sometimes an aftertaste of tar and smoke.

On Sundays I sit on my front path and read newspapers. The path straight to the west. I see by the setting sun. In the yard opposite a woman plods along and sweats behind a lawnmower. I flap the newspaper so hard the letters and pictures might scatter amongst my cigarette butts.

I turn straight to the classifieds. Russian women are willing to wed gentlemen. Compost can be delivered free. Investment properties are for sale in Norway. In the next section there is a photograph of Liz Taylor. Could her shoulders be that perfect? No freckles, broken capillaries, not even a faint thumb print from someone who refused to let her go just because the dance ended. Real Liz must be mostly bones by now, but her photographic memory is pristine.

My Sofia could sometimes look like Liz in that picture. Frightened and vulnerable her mother called it. That was what she shouted down the phone when I rang to see if Sofia was there. That’s what I had turned her daughter into she yelled. At the time I thought Sofia’s expression meant ignoring me. Not listening. Thinking of someone else. Finding another street like this that only looked different when the wheelie bins wobbled out and lined the nature strip.

I rip out the picture of Liz. I try not to crease her beautiful shoulders. I tear around her slight smile like Sofia’s. Her hands are not in the picture but perhaps they are balled into fists.

 

Vox: Peter Farrar

Posted on September 24, 2011 by in Verity La Forum

 

Who will read this? I used to always think that as I started a new short story. As I rewrote that introduction over and over I at times tried to picture the reader. Maybe someone with a scalding cup of instant coffee before the household wakes, a traveller on the 7.38am to Flinders Street, a person in bed tilting the story into the beam of a reading light so not to disturb whoever is next to them or a worker hurrying out for a cigarette and a few pages while on a break. When I think of the next generation of readers the pictures are less distinct. I can’t see them.

When I first started writing it was for my children. They would have a legacy of their old man. Something besides a row of pruned roses and a beer stein with my name engraved on it. Here’s what caught my attention, the work would say to them. Now you can fill in the gaps between what we never made time to talk about or dream of. Eventually too I looked at their friends. Would they take a book off the shelf, open it at a random page before being drawn in? Now and then I hear them talking. The ideas in “Animal Farm” make no sense. “Year of Wonders” is boring. Why do we have to do Shakespeare?

You often hear how we have lost things along the way. Families don’t talk anymore. We rarely slow cook meals. Fewer people walk. We never seem to stop. Is reading the next casualty? Not the rushed reading of a quick couple of pages before falling asleep but the deep reading where you find nuances, themes, meanings and new ways of seeing the world. As my daughter’s generation pack away their study notes for the last time and prepare for post school life, what will reading be? Something between ad breaks and Facebook updates? A quick scan of the sports section? Reading is a baton I still want to pass to them. Along with a love of travel, films, recipes, art and all the things most parents would list. For this emerging generation reading is destined to struggle against the celebrity age, social media and dump down television. But I hope.

 

The Fourth Bus Stop (Peter Farrar)

Posted on July 11, 2011 by in Lies To Live By

 

The bus rumbles under him like a rushing heartbeat. He reverses, watching the cyclone fence edge closer in the trembling rear vision.

“Yosi!” shouts the supervisor. “We can probably take you off the dawn shift next week. As long as there’s no complaints about slamming on the brakes, throwing orange peels out the window or muttering while you hand out change.”

Yosi grinds at the gears. Last week he told the supervisor it was like pushing a dislocated shoulder into place. He turns the bus towards where the sun comes up. He had not seen sunrises like this since Bali. Clouds tinged pink on the edges like coloured tips through hair. Bali had been his only overseas holiday. It was so brief and long ago he recalled just a few memories. Nearly being hit by a bike in traffic. Spending two days vomiting after brushing teeth with the tap water. Never managing chopsticks.

There were few other cars at this time of day. Headlights bounced and shimmered in grey haze distance. On the main road he was quickly in fourth gear. It was the best part of the day; no passengers, especially no school kids blundering up steps, wafts of cigarette smoke off their clothes and shirts out. The first stop was empty of people and strewn with used take-a-way containers. He accelerated past.

Ahead they walked out of the next stop. Steaming breath smudged the air around them. One signalled him. I can see you Yosi wanted to shout. Can see you there like an outfit ten sizes too big hanging in a wardrobe. Don’t need a retina transplant to notice you.

Yosi only glanced at their tickets. They held them in front of his face as if he was short sighted. He waited for them to sit. With the school kids he liked to lift the clutch abruptly so the bus lurched ahead. They usually fell into each other squealing. It was his way of punishing them for their noise and graffiting the back of the bus. Sometimes he heard their metal rulers gouging into the seats and plastic.

Yosi had been down to his last job choice. Replaced by technology they said. One day keying accounts payable, stamping documents before filing them. Software was then introduced. What was the package? Number thunder? At first he helped introduce it, explaining how it worked to others, returning to manual systems when it failed. Eventually a manager came to his desk, leading him away as if he was pulled along by a guide dog.

“Sorry,” he said. “Times change. It’s just progress. Used to be people who poured petrol. Delivered milk. Collected tram fares. You’re not the first person to have this happen.”

It was winter then too. Clouds so low he could not see the tops of church spires. Shoved hands into pockets where fingers touched loose threads. He drove home to Louise. She was outside, fanning smoke away from the barbecue. He asked if she remembered him saying not to light the barbecue in winter. That all you’ll cook are cobwebs and dead ants. “Sorry,” Louise had said, second time that had been said to him that day. She had wanted to surprise him. Bloody surprises, he nearly said. Wait until you hear mine.

Joggers thump through the mist. Yosi pulls up at the next stop. When did office workers start this early? The older drivers said not long ago all you saw were shift workers with only taxis and garbage trucks on the road. But now the suits and dresses clamoured on. They had sleep deprived faces, as if shaken awake a few minutes ago. Yosi felt the same. His senses were dulled and quite possibly his reaction time too. If a fox or cyclist crossed the foggy tunnels of headlights he might swing the bus into a telegraph pole.

Yosi was glad his parents could not see him. His mother had lived an entire life between a vegetable patch and the kitchen. His father spent six day weeks driving a battered tip truck with loads of top soil smelling like a track through rainforest. Across endless dinners of lamb, garlic and peppers they said everything we do is for your education and your future. Hopefully they could not see out beyond the gates of the cemetery.

He felt distant from Louise. They sat hardly moving on the couch as the heater spread slow warmth. Louise sat with legs tucked under her, shoes discarded and lying on sides. He glanced sideways at her. She never looked back. Never smiled and tipped against his shoulder anymore. Television flicked dully, throwing shadows and light. She was unlined in the silver illumination, as if smoothed by a potter’s hands. Her face barely looked lived in.

“Louise,” he said last night. Not in his usual voice where it sounded like something coughed up. He spoke quietly, so it barely crossed the space between them. His wife looked up the way she did when she sensed something wrong. Yosi once told her she could smell sadness at a thousand metres. He saw her fear.

He flicked a smile and looked away.

 

 

The mist thins. Now it only appears in paddocks. It hovers in a thin layer like flying above clouds. Yosi pulls up to an intersection, the fourth stop just ahead. He does not move when the lights turn green. Even when the passengers start calling to him