16 extracts from M & N
I am in a large hi fi/photographic store which occupies the former premises of the high school. I am buying uncontrollably. I buy a camera $535, a portable radio/cassette $350 and some other, smaller items (which I have now forgotten). The total is exactly $1000. I justify the cost as M's birthday present to me. (I hadn't received one.)
This is a town full of lovers, each distilling an aspect of you. There is a passionate lover, a languid lover, an impatient lover. There is one distanced, one thorough, one tender; a rhythmic lover, this one joyful, this one moaning. This lover reminds me of you. This one is entranced, straddling, contented. This lover is mechanical in action, this one intoxicated, this one rasping; a lover who teases, one who is angelic, one engulfing; one political, one didactic, one well-organised; here is a lover who is reckless, who is self-important, who is selective, experimental, warm, tense, haphazard and public.
As the town empties, its residents take their skills and habits, their attitudes and attributes elsewhere. The residents of Mary Kathleen fill the country with lovers.
You are a snowy plain in the mist, a flight of stairs in a packing case, a touch. Some of John's friends are painting the front door, screaming at someone outside, commencing residencies. I am discovering sex, studying science, waking up. I miss classes, am unable to cry at 3 a.m., drink a bottle of gin on the roof. The people move between two places fast, smoke too many cigarettes, write about death. You lend me books, tell me about the day, show me how to core a lettuce. Some of John's friends are going to Indonesia, interested in botany, hoping for a change of weather. I am walking through the back streets late at night, watching a flag wave on a tower, happier than 1 was yesterday morning. I remember phone numbers, am careful crossing roads, hurl the picture across the room in digust. The people are elegant in an understated way, really care about you, are as blue as the song. You move from photograph to photograph, constantly restructure your ideas, pulse in the sun as you dry. Some of John's friends are filling the house with the stench of cooking meat, tucking a wisp of hair behind an ear, in sympathy with the political left. I am thinking about those times, cartwheeling across the sand, deciding between two postcards. I lie on my back as a plane flies over, check the quality of the seams, reject the use of colour. The people sit in the shade, rock on their heels, agree that we are making progress.
This is a different city from that which we had been led to believe existed. The people are different. They have different habits, schedules, imperatives. Their dialect differs from that of our own. For one thing, they dress differently; their skin tends to differ. The streetlamps here are more orange than ours. The cars are slightly longer and less rusty on average. Also: older. The number-plates reflect the city's personality. They are more practised in their small-talk, more interesting. There are more bald men, probably because of a shortage of hair-restorants.
The principal mode of transport in Melbourne is agricultural machinery. Here, this is permitted on the freeways. It is authorised to proceed. If it were not, everything would come to a stop. The roads are interminable.
This is the largest small town in the Southern Hemisphere. It's visible from Alpha Centauri. It's visible from everywhere. To each naked eye. It's one visible place, Mittagong.
When electricity was brought to this nation around the turn of the century, Mittagong was the first place to be fully illuminated. Everywhere in this place is lit. Fires burn atop chimneys. The smokestacks are so tall that but for the flames we could not see their pinnacles. Searchlights fill the clouds with stillness, freezing each moment into the vast memory bank which is the visible. Beacons guard the coast from marauders.
In this town, there is no plane of consistency. It takes more than grandiose scheming to bounce the ball so it strikes every step. It demands a high level of coordination and a just-so flick of the wrist.
Is there such a place? What must it be like? For what purpose must so many people have striven to construct so many buildings? Do the red roofs stretch to the horizon? Are the rolling hills covered with the rich fumes of industry? Are there roads of varying lengths and widths? Who dwells here and how must they occupy their nights? Are the actions of the residents coordinated with the sounds of the industrial hammers? Is the peace shattered by the screams of children from the parks and gardens? Do the more serious minded of the residents congregate in meeting halls to hear the thoughts of famous philosophers? Do the young hang on every word of their professors? Do the residents lean forward to more closely watch the lips of their neighbours? Is there a need here to respect the opinions of enemies? During street battles, are rocks hurled through the dust? Do the lynching mobs bear their victims before them to the gallows tree? Do workers plead for the lives of their friends? Is mercy ever shown with the same spontaneity as anger?
The people's heroes still live in this locale. Heroes of politics, tourism, the arts, science, sport and industry are concentrated about Moss Vale. One cannot venture far in this town without encountering a hero of some description. In local cinemas and cafés, heroes may be spotted at surrounding tables and seats. The public bars, too, are full of leaders of the people. Naturally modest, nonetheless these heroes are not averse to sharing a brief conversation with visitors. Much can be learnt in this town about the nature of heroism from men and women who have lived it as if it were the easiest role in the world to fulfil. Visitors leave Moss Vale transformed by the experience, a new spark in their previously dull eyes.
All along the street people are hastening the death of language. All that remains are bones. That tumour which is language's so-called evocative function has been cut out. Sentences are no longer written. The people of Mundubbera seek the destruction of grammar and its study and to that purpose cause their words to overfill 'normal' sentential constraints until the sentence bursts in a frenzy of syllables. Every line plays vertiginously about on the edge, dancing the ultimate game of strategy.
Note: A refutation takes little time to excise. To disclaim is not only to disown, it is also to introduce a quack remedy which relieves none of the symptoms.
Also: In our generation, one can no longer be sure of the appropriate course of greeting when meeting someone for the first time. The shaking of hands is awkward and stiff. In many cases a brief hug is a suitable substitute.
Across the channel people are beginning to wake up. They're dragging themselves out of their beds and washing their faces. They're scratching around for food. They're loading themselves up with coffee. They're finding yesterday's bread in a bag and breaking off chunks to eat. They're eating the bread and washing their faces again. They leave their houses and apartments and tents.
They're walking along the roads. They're reaching the smaller watercourses. They're finding their boats at the moorings and untying them. They get into the boats and start the motors. They travel downstream to the channel and cross the channel. They arrive at the wharf, tie up the boats, and walk into town. They've arrived in Narrabri.
In Narrabri the shopkeepers throw open their doors. Waiters and kitchenhands drag tables onto the sidewalks outside cafés. The postmaster polishes the brass doorknobs of the post-office. Carts and taxis fill the streets. Everywhere are the smells of pastry and of coffee. Touts outside the Department of Immigration hand out leaflets to the new arrivals. Every look is a smile of welcome.
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In the play of the same name, Player 1 moves to the stage centre, gazes out over the audience and says,'Hey! This is some party.' It looks like this in the script:
Player 1 [Moves to Stage Centre, slowly surveys audience]: Hey! This is some party.
In the short story, Betty is on the 40th floor of National Banking Corporation Tower. It is dusk and has been raining, but a westerly wind has blown the clouds away. The streets are wet and the streetlights, headlights, traffic lights, shop lights reflect from the bitumen. She turns to her companion and says, 'Some party, eh!' Ros smiles all the way up one side of her twisting face.
In the novel, Benny is walking through a crowded market on Saturday afternoon. Touts are screaming, 'Hey! Hey! Come here a minute.' An auctioneer with microphone says, '52 to the black hat. Is that that? 52. 52. Where's 55? Where's 54? What do I hear? I hear 52. 52 once. 52 again.' Cages of chickens squawking. Monkeys, cats, dogs, parrots. The smell of rotting fruit. A puff of cigar smoke. Benny steps over a young man asleep, oblivious. She ducks under a rack of hand bags and says to Ros, 'What a party!'
Dear Ros, thanks for everything. I haven't had such a wild weekend since 1976. 1 couldn't believe that party. And you are really wonderful.
Nic's friend's grandfather rid himself of the flu in the following manner, which Nic calls the two-hat method. He lay on his back on his bed with a hat between his feet and a bottle of scotch in his hand. Perhaps he left his big black boots on. Perhaps he wore a woollen nightshirt and a cap. Perhaps he lay on a lumpy straw mattress with the thick quilt tucked under his stubbly chin and his head propped up on two fat feather pillows. He drank the scotch and watched the hat. He drank until he could see two hats. Then he passed out. When he woke the following morning, he was cured. This is true. I have agreed not to embroider the story, nor to speculate on other aspects of the old man's life.
When my sister's leg became caught in a cotton-picking machine, she screamed so loudly that the driver switched it off immediately. There was no sound of bones cracking. She had not injured herself too badly and was told she was very lucky. I remember her walking on crutches while the swelling went down. When it is cold, her leg aches even now. They did not give her scotch to ease the pain because she was too young. (I think she was nine at the time. This story is also true and I quote it with her permission.)
In this village small prophecies come to pass. There is not the capacity for major considerations here. There is no complexity to the visions of the seers. Truth is implicit in each of their words; what the seers say will come to pass; but do not expect to hear grand visions, for if you do you will be disappointed.
What they say: you'll hurt yourself if you're not careful; you'll be okay; dinner will be ready soon; tomorrow's another day.
Noosa Heads is a friendly community, but not one in which to spend too much time, for the concerns of the residents are small, and such smallmindedness becomes overwhelming within hours.
Finally we went into a coffee lounge where Paul and I abused John for making us drive 180 kilometres out of our way to pick up and drop off his damned skis and wasting five or six hours here and also at Sunset Beach. We got louder and louder, much to the amusement of people at neighbouring tables. We tried to calculate how much he had cost us in petrol money while he explained that if it weren't for him, we wouldn't have had a good time at all. Eventually we invited two Melbourne girls over to our table to talk. They were catching the same flight as John in the morning. We tried to convince John to buy us all coffee. He went off and returned with one for himself. The people at the next table went to catch their flight and for some reason gave us five dollars. Anyway, we said thanks and I got coffee for Paul and me and the girls. My diarrhoea was no better.
As dusk moves—streaky as anything—over Nowra, policies are locked away in top drawers and filing cabinets all over the surrounds. Education, health and prisons recommendations rest from another day of intensive editing. Discussion papers on housing await further tightening; memoranda on public transport are still to incorporate the latest figures on fare collection and customer relations; financial reports have yet to be phrased in the language of the day. Any enquiries regarding this statement must be directed to the telephone number shown above.
Note that by now it is already dark. Lines of stars show between lines of cloud. The moon blurs the distinctions. Inside the buildings, light-emitting diodes set into security panels flick on and off in red or green.
I feel so sad and I don't know why. There's a man above the stairs looking down at me. He's looking at me. I feel so sad. I bite my cheeks hard to keep the tears from my eyes. He doesn't hide that he's looking. He doesn't mind that I'm sad. He looks anyway. I bite my lip to keep from bursting into tears.
All the glass is frosted so you cannot see in. The bass string is missing. Garlands of myrtle slowly turn brown. The road has nothing of merit. The sea below the cliff is deep green. It breaks over the boulders in white. There is space between the boulders through which the sea could run. The deep ocean green is beautiful. The white is transient.
I have not much more to read. Take the mouse and go outside, puss puss. Take it outside. Go on, pussy. Pick up the mouse and take it out.