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A Candid Conversation

Ten Tales … Dieci racconti … Decem Fabulum.

English, Italian, Latin … in whatever language, stories have come down to us as a delightful medium to offset worry or boredom … In the time of The Plague in Italy, Giovanni Boccaccio wrote of the stories told by just such a group as they while away the hours in isolation from the Black Plague.

In keeping with this tradition, we offer you likewise some stories here. These stories may or may not have appeared on this site before, but it could be from a long time ago and many may not have read them. Let us now go to story number six:

A Candid Conversation

… And the afternoon sun illuminated the panorama with dazzling glare so that the sea, with its distant choppy water flashed a glitter reflected off the waves. There were trees out the front of the hotel over the road, big trees, shrubs and bushes, the tops of the tall trees hidden from view by the edge of the roof from the fascia up with leaves hung in long hanging fronds down the trunk and out a little, dangling heavy like those big gum leaves do, the palm trees swirled a little with the slight breeze that had whipped up from the north across the backwater swamp.

The beach sand a muddy colour with the tide right out and a couple of kids throwing handfuls of the stuff at each other down by the creek, laughing and running away with a quick glance over the shoulder at his chaser, their laughter a stabbing staccato, rattling across in the heat from a distance.

Two of the few ‘long-grassmen’ that lived down by the make-shift shelters next to the beach crossed the road, their hair lank and greasy, the same could be said for their shreds of clothing.

“You could be worse you know,” the friend said, “You could end up like those.”

“At the way I’m going I’ll be worse than those,” the man answered. He picked up his beer and had a sip. They sat quietly for a while, and one fiddled with his beer glass, the kids swimming now down across the creek, splashing and ducking each other, childish squeals between the silences of the hubbub of the hotel bar behind them.

“Have you told her yet?” the friend asked.

“No, I’ve been sort of putting it off on the chance of an improvement.” He winced and sipped.

“That won’t help you know,” the friend motioned to the beer.

“I’ve got to.”

“Why? It would be better to leave it alone … well … at least until they finish the treatment?”

“I know, I know … but if I don’t get sozzled these nights, I’ll have no excuse for not doing it.”

“Oh come on, she must think there’s something wrong if you come home drunk every night?”

“Yes, she thinks I’ve developed a drinking problem.”

His friend grunted. A waitress come to the table, picked up the empty glasses and wiped the table top down with a damp rag.

“And how are you gentlemen today?” she spoke as she wiped.

“Oh very well thank you, Min, very well.”

“That’s the way to be,” and she smiled a little smile … “No good being crook in this sort of weather.” The men just grunted. The waitress went on to the next table.

“How are you boys today?” she repeated.

“Nice girl, Min, always friendly,” the friend remarked.

“I’m beginning to think no girls are nice.”

“You just picked the wrong one that night.”

“Yes, I should’ve left her well alone.”

A fisherman steered his dinghy up the small creek, water slipping off the bow and fanning out in ripples behind, the man standing erect in the boat with tiller in hand. He gave a little wave to the excited kids running along the bank. His progress tracked by flashes of boat and man between thick green bushes and trees, going to his moorings.

The man brought his fist down firmly but quietly on the table, his face twisted in bitter frustration.

“I don’t know, a man’s a fool.” … His friend was quiet.

He wiped his hand over his face, then dabbled his finger in the condensation made by the drink.

“I know I’ve been a fool, but then I wanted it, for some strange fucking reason I needed it more than ever that night, after all” ( he did a quick movement with his finger in the liquid). “I’d just become a father then … and it’s been so long.” He had a quick draw at the beer as if to wash the weak excuse of words away.

“How in Heaven’s name do you put her off?”

“Well, its (let me see) about two months now since little Pauline arrived, and I’ve been saying that we ought to be careful cause it might not be best to start just yet, give it another coupla’ weeks. And then you know she’s not supposed to go back on the pill just yet, so I’ve used that as a backup. And now I’ve got on to this drinking thing.” Here he reflected a little. “Trouble is she’s starting to blame herself for my not being able to get it up. She thinks it was all those months of confinement that bought it round … Shit, shit, shit.”

“Why don’t you come right out and tell her?”

“No!” He looked shocked. “Hell no! She’d leave me, by Christ, she’d leave me quick, it’s one thing we got, or had between us; trust … no she’d just give up and go.”

He looked suspiciously at the friend. “You won’t tell anyone else about this will you? … You better not.”

The friend was shaking his head quickly …

“No, no … don’t you worry … boy, I wouldn’t tell anyone about that don’t you worry.”

They sat quiet again for a little. The friend stood up.

“Well … I gotta go.”

“Oh, well, I’ll see you later, I guess.”

“Yeah, listen … I hope this works out for you … ”

“Yeah, thanks.” The man smiled weakly. the other smiled back. He tried a joke.

“Just watch out all this pissing on doesn’t develop into a drinking problem.” They both chuckled a little and the friend walked away. The man finished his beer, walked over to the bar got another and went back to his table. He stretched his legs out in front and clenched his hands behind his head. He just stared out to sea.

“Damn that bitch,” he thought “and she looked so clean … that’s the trouble, who’d have thought that a quickie in the car-park could cause all this. Bugger it, I just hope those damn doctors can fix it soon as … ”

He sat there staring out to sea.

The kids had gone home. The leaves of the eucalyptus trees had come to life a little with the coolness of the evening, while the tide crept stealthily over the brown sand and up the running water of the creek, the big gums threw soft shadows crookedly over the bonnets of parked cars.

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  1. Joseph Carli

    A Gap in the Line.
    He touched the medals tenderly, the ribbon colours sublime,
    The case of burnished velvet, the soft attractive shine,
    He touched the medals tenderly, an Uncle’s Great War “shrine”.
    Posthumously given for courage, in “closing a gap in the line”.

    In closing a gap in the line he died, in mud, gore and slime.
    It was for these tokens of honour, he marched, to fill a gap in the line.
    With Union men, many of them with those medals he’d proudly stride.
    Union men, many of them and a title his Uncle wore with pride.

    Himself, a Wharfie, born and bred, right down the family line,
    His Uncle too, t’was always said, could lump a hundred-weight a time,
    Bagged sugar, sticky with sweat, soaking wet, at eighty tons an hour,
    The men would lug from those cargo holds with no break for tucker.

    In the Summer strike of ’98 they marched for conditions fair,
    When “Patrick” crawled to Howard’s Government to send the coppers there.
    Along with the Farmer mercenaries trained by the covert ; “Sandline,”
    They sought to break the strikers…to break through a gap in the line.

    In the middle of the night they sent in the thugs, the scabs and the dogs,
    It was hard to tell which was which among the slavering, crawling hogs.
    And deals were made and rights were trade between the ruling class,
    That left the strikers on their own to hold the line tight to the last.

    Howard set the dogs on the men and the women and children in kind,
    Reith, the crawling bastard, banked the scabs through a mercenary company; “Sandline”,
    And the Journalist sucks and the Murdoch hacks lent their honour to that shameful crew,
    And wrote of “overpaid wharfie bludgers” when of sweat and blood they NEVER knew.

    And he saw the look in the breaker’s eyes, he saw the hate confined,
    So clasping tight, holding the next striker’s arms with all his might,
    He called and bellowed fit to wake in fright..:”Hold boys, Hold!”
    “ Hold my bastard boys!…we’ll not let them force a gap in the line!”

    There comes a time in everyone’s heart, where honour and justice combine,
    We must choose which side we’re marching on..what a sense of honour defines.
    Would his Uncle have him march for nought, but just a place in a line,
    Or should he honour best his Uncle’s pride with his class aligned.

    Today he touches those medals tenderly, with a habit long refined,
    But he’ll not march on Anzac Day…not while those Tory scabs declaim,
    No..there’ll be a space where he held his place with the others marching time,
    And owed in respect for his Uncle’s indebt’..they’ll now see clearly outlined,
    That in the place of his marching space…there’ll be a gap in the line.

    There’ll be a gap in the line my fellows…there’ll be a gap in the line.
    Owed in respect to an Uncle’s indebt’…Today there’s a gap in the line.

  2. Phil

    For my Grand mothers first husband.

    The guns fall silent it’s late and cold on the western front
    Another night the lads all so tired taking most of the brunt
    The lads all soaking wet and their hands blue full of frost bite
    They try to stay warm huddled together another long night

    Now dawn the only sound are the scurrying starving rats
    If they were this big in Blighty they wood feed on the cats
    They climb on each body a bight from the ears and a nose
    The mangled body of a soldier although dead in cold repose

    The word comes fix bayonets lads we are soon over the top
    We are going to kill some bloody Krauts they have had their lot
    So off we go to meet the Hun out in the open in no mans land
    They told us the killing would be easy it’s glory oh so grand

    So to my country men I am here they say to keep you all free
    So if you want to honor me don’t buy a poppy plant me a tree
    Give a homeless man some food and money maybe a nights stay
    Teach your children right from wrong in the end it’s the only way.

    To my Grandmothers first husband who died at the Somme
    I didn’t know you but I will be thinking of you on remembrance day

    RIP Albert.

  3. Joseph Carli

    Phil..Nice piece….Nothing says it quite like a piece of poetry.

  4. Phil

    .Nothing says it quite like a piece of poetry.

    Cheers Joseph.

    Not as good as yours but I try. There was a time when I had all my marbles I would win the odd competition for my Schlock. My youngest son is the artist in the family. He has had his work ( paintings) displayed at several councils in the state etc. He was the Dux of the high school in his leaving year.He went to art college for a while. He could have gone on to Uni and picked a profession but, he had his heart set on being a soldier. He did a trade with them so it has been time well served. He is one of those blokes that can lay pavers with out a level or cut a molding for a window with out a ruler. (Gives me the shits)He is a career minded bloke the Army will be his home until he retires, I am very proud of him.

  5. Joseph Carli

    Phil…A story I still and always will hold close to my heart is Alan Silitoe’s : “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner.”…..The determined and forceful protest the runner makes in standing stock still just before the finish-line and challenging the Warden’s middle-class ideal of the status quo is in my opinion one of the best images of workling class defiance in literature….a beautiful piece..a beautiful moment….I adore that moment.

    Your poem is a war poem, Phill, whereas mine is more a labour protest poem…I feel for the loss so many women and mothers suffered with those wars..loss of a loved one can be such a lonely patience….but in the end, Id say we are both like that long distance runner…quietly defiant…and still running!

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