Sport 7: Winter 1991
Several months after I received the phone call which is mentioned in the first sentence of this story, I was sitting in the same room as the American writer mentioned in another part of this story who had spoken of getting even through writing. The room was not in the house of the writer, though I had, at an earlier time, looked in the pages of the phone book and walked past the house which is listed as the writer's address.
The writer was giving a lecture in this room on the subject of Philosophical Classics. I can recall none of the details of what the writer said about this subject, except an example he was giving as to the part Reason played in the life of our minds in which he mentioned a visit to the horse races. Say I go to the races, the writer said, and this is unlikely and indeed the Greeks would say I had lost my Reason by going to the races, that it was a waste of time, but I am at the races and how am I to pick my horse?
While the writer was speaking about picking a horse, I was thinking of the names of two horses, Gin Rhythm and Impressionism, and also of my brother who, for two years, had followed a system he had read about in a page 39 book on betting. It was a complicated system which involved entering in long, thin columns many numbers and then calculating mathematically a percentage figure which translated into that horse's chances, with that rider on board, on that track, under those skies, of winning or placing in the race. After more than two years of following the system, my brother calculated that he had come out about even, or slightly worse in terms of money outlaid and money returned. It was not unusual for my brother to win up to a thousand dollars or more on one day and then to lose a corresponding amount the next. And that through these wild swings, he had come out after two years at about even, or slightly down.
I remembered one evening of my second visit to Melbourne when my brother had showed me the log book where all the numbers and calculations he used in his system were written. The instant my eyes had settled on the endless columns of figures which filled pages and pages of my brother's book, I felt restless and anxious in the way that viewing any work of infinite patience always affects me. I remembered thinking in despair of the hundreds of hours which my brother must have wasted in writing these worthless marks on to the pages of his log book. I despaired of his weakness in submitting for more than two years to the endless routine of entering the numbers in their long, thin columns.
Then, as my brother was speaking passionately about the system and its rigorous tracking of every possible variable in the running of a race, of the search for an equation adequate to all factors of environment, skill, past performance, whim, and chance, of the absolute impossibility of finding such an equation but of the endless tinkering and reformulating of existing systems in an effort towards completing exactly this hopeless task, I began to see the figures not as columns which bullied my brother but as the work of a careful, responsive hand which sought in the finest mathematical adjustments a sequence by which something might be finally guessed, and I saw in the arrangement of the numbers themselves, in the shape of their marks on the page, a kind of beauty, as if every evening for more than two years my brother had taken cotton and a needle and painfully stitched the columns of figures through the pages of the log book.
I then remembered what I had completely forgotten, that when my brother was a boy he had been interested in painting and had attended Art Classes and had, through the ages of twelve, thirteen and fourteen, filled many canvases. He had, of course, I now thought, done several passable page 40 imitations of the works of famous painters, propping up books which contained reproductions of these works beside his easel in the bedroom we shared as boys. In addition to these copies, my brother had, of course, produced his own paintings, two of which still hung on the walls of my parents' house. I remembered also that when he was a boy he had wanted to become an architect, before, as a young man he had travelled to Melbourne and finished up where he was now, somehow, in a job which, he said, used no part of his brain.
I had completely forgotten all of this, though whenever I visited my parents' house, I often looked at one painting in particular which my brother did as a boy of fourteen. It is a simple painting with very few things in it, just a tree in a field. But the field is a thickly-applied gold-coloured crop of some sort—wheat or corn—which gleams in the foreground with a light which is almost too bright for the eye to settle on, so that one's sight travels over this luminous field towards the brown-coloured tree which sits in the distance. And often my eye has travelled like this across the expanse of my brother's burning field with joyful anticipation, as if it is very hot under the clear, pale blue sky and that there amongst the far-off dark branches I will find shade. It is seen as though from the wide, clear window of a passing train or vehicle and, indeed, my brother painted it from a photographic slide my father took from just such a travelling vantage point; through the windscreen of our family car while on holiday in Spain several months before our return from London to Wellington and my first visit to Melbourne aged eight years.
I then thought of the phone call I had received several months after I had returned from my fourth visit to Melbourne. On the fifth day of this last visit I had imagined receiving such a phone call upon my return to Wellington. Or rather, I had imagined receiving a different call, with the news that no more books would appear which carried on their gold coloured spines the name of the writer who is the subject of this story. Instead, the call I had received was from my mother who had just learned from a letter written by my sister living in Melbourne that the woman who had been living with my brother for several years had left him for good to travel to a distant part of Western Australia which my brother had no interest in travelling to. My sister had written that as a result of the woman's leaving, my brother had become even more uncommunicative than was his habit and that she was now worried about his future. She had written that all page 41 my brother did now was sit inside his house drinking beer and whisky and that he was leaving the job he had had for almost eight years in the Commonwealth Serum Laboratory to apply for entrance into a course in Design at a local school it was almost impossible to get into.
As my mother told me over the phone what my sister had written, I could hear in my mother's voice the exhilaration and relief which I also shared in listening to the news of the woman leaving my brother for good. I heard and felt the shared exhilaration and relief when she spoke of the sadness of the situation and of her own worries for my older brother's future. She repeated the words my sister had written, saying that it was an almost impossible thing my brother was doing. And as my mother was speaking, I was thinking of the image which the writer who is the subject of this story had used in the film my brother and I had seen together in Melbourne, to describe his own process of composition. The writer, whose feathered hat my brother and I had looked for on Derby Day at Flemington Race Track, had said he wrote sentences by placing each word into position as if he was using tweezers and that this task was almost an impossible one, though it was the only task, he said, he considered worthwhile.
The American writer went on with his lecture by saying that he would have no other method of picking a horse than by settling on a name which appealed to him. No Forgiveness, he said, there's a name I like, so I put my money on No Forgiveness, which method of choosing, as the Greeks will tell you, is a complete waste of time.
And while the writer, whose books I alone had truly loved as a young would-be writer in the years between 1984 and 1989, spoke of the horse in his mind named No Forgiveness, I remember thinking that perhaps I would now be able to leave the room in which I was sitting and return to the house, on whose walls are fixed images of the writer whom I had imagined as my father rising from the brown soil through the lilac of a special country blue sky, and there begin, finally and truthfully, to outline the story which appears on these pages.