A revenant

Some creature has been at our rubbish bin in the night. Plastic bags and paper strewn everywhere but no signs of food leftovers or whatever else it might be the creature was after. 

A fox perhaps, thirty years ago non-existent in Melbourne’s suburbs but these days out on the prowl most every night.

Whenever I sit at my computer waiting for something to arrive in my mind before I write, I wait for a revenant, something pulled back from the past. Today I stall.

The present inches its way forward. Between the moments of sleep when I’m soaked in dreams, and the world of my imagination, to the time I finish letting the dog out for a pee and boiling up my first cup of tea, even before I speak to a single person, my conscious mind kicks in and nothing but traces of dreams remain. 

I’ve heard tell people don’t like to read other people’s dreams in literature. 

Who are these people? Those for whom dreams have no value other than a night-time cleansing of the mind. 

To me dreams are the essence of our internal wrangling. They tell us about what’s going on for us. They speak to us about all the irresolvable issues of our day. 

Sure, when we try to pull them back from the mists of sleep and give them form on the page they can become other worldly and lack all coherence. I won’t trouble you with an example here, besides which I ‘ve already lost this morning’s offering.

One day there was blood. My three-year-old sister screaming in the back yard after a fall onto the edge of my brother’s tin truck, its metal sides ripped into possibilities of damage to a small girl and her open hand. 

Blood comes in flashbacks. All the falls, all the wounds, all the time a sister or brother might enter the realms of damaged skin, wounds that healed into pale white strips of scar tissue, hardened against further assaults. 

We lived then in a weatherboard house my father built with the help of my uncles and any other helpers he might find in the small cohort of Australians he had met since his arrival in this place.

He worked hard on that house, and elsewhere as a carpenter, to earn enough money for house materials and food, while my mother continued to make babies, me among them. 

The blood that flowed from the three-year-old younger sister was nothing to the bloods that would flow in years to come from other cuts and falls among the many children of my father’s making. 

In Greensborough in the 1950s most of the land was still used for farming. Cows grazed in paddocks over the road from where we lived, and the roads were made of dirt. Down the hill a creek offered my brothers yabbies in return for their efforts with bits of rabbit meat cadged from our mother in the kitchen and dangled onto home-made wire forks that stretched across the murky running water and into crevices where the yabbies hid. 

There was no blood when the car ran into me, or should I say when I ran into it. A blue car in my imagination, a sturdy car with neat panels that might have stained or dinted on impact, but I was not hurt. 

Not that day, not in that accident which my five-year-old self can scarcely recall. Though I ran away when the driver stopped the car and came out to ask if I was okay.

He was shaken. He was worried. He had hit a small child, but this small child could think of nothing but her fear of the trouble that might follow. 

I ran and hid in the long grasses in the open field that flanked our house to right left and ahead. I sat at the base of the grasses and looked up at the blue sky and wondered about the body in which I lived and the way it could let me down simply because I had not been looking to left and right and left again as my brothers taught me. That I had run ahead of them.  

Which came first, my brothers and their teasing? That I would be in trouble with the police for running across a road without looking. Or for interfering with the traffic. That I might go to jail. A place I knew consisted of metal bar walls as unyielding as the bars on my baby cot.

The cot now occupied by my younger sister, not the one of the blood, but the one who came after her. The one who would not get into trouble with cars because she could not walk yet. 

I heard those brothers calling for me. ‘Come home,’ they said. ‘We were only joking. You won’t go to jail.’

How did they know I was not like the cat from our neighbours who one day skulked away from their its place behind the kitchen door and when they found it days later it was not the same cat?

It was dry and hard and its fur had turned mangy and damaged from lying in the wet of the early morning. 

‘The cat went off to die,’ my mother said to a neighbour. And their two voices blended into background noise as I looked at the cat on the ground, it’s glassy eye still visible on one side of its now shrunken skull.

How would they know it was possible? They could find me dried up and twisted in the grass as dead as the cat. Only I looked at my hands and they were still fleshy and pink. I still had fingers I could wriggle.

How long before I gave up to join my brothers? How long before I left my hidey hole and tramped across the grass to tell my mother about the car that had hit me, I cannot say.

There was no blood. My older sister was glad about this at least. ‘Watch out for cars,’ she said. And from then I did as she told me but I could not rely on the cars to look out for me when two years later and seven years old, I was half way across the Canterbury Road pedestrian crossing and a car ran into me.

This time there was not blood, not on the outside at least but something happened to the inside, my brain crashed against my skull and I disappeared into sleep. Then woke to find my crumpled body laid out in the sawdust on the butcher’s floor before an ambulance came to take me, not to prison, but to hospital. 

I did not deserve prison this time. I was on the pedestrian crossing. I was a good girl but in the morning when the nurse came to take orders for breakfast she looked at me as though I should not have been there.

‘What happened to you?’ she asked. 

‘I got skittled,’ I said, and she seemed not to believe me. 

Again, no blood. But she brought me a boiled egg and some toast and soon after my parents came to take me home. My father in the driver’s seat, my mother at his side and none of the others came along on the journey. 

Sometimes when there is blood, and even other times with no blood but a loud bang and with it a loss of consciousness, there is extra help and this makes it all worthwhile. 

2 thoughts on “A revenant”

  1. I was probably about seven when I got knocked down. The one and only time. In my head I was coming back from the chip shop on my bike (a task I got assigned now and then) and I don’t know what happened on the hill over the railway line but I came off the bike and a car ran into me. I wasn’t badly hurt, shaken more than anything, but the driver was very good, scooped me up, drove me home and apologised profusely to my parents as one would no matter whose fault it was. I really don’t remember much more about it. I suppose I had some scrapes and cuts but now I’m just guessing. I mean cuts and bruises were just a part of growing up; I thought nothing of them. Still don’t.

    Foxes were quite common around Jordanhill in Glasgow which is where Carrie and I had our first flat and that’s quite a ways from the countryside. Surprised the hell out of me the first time I was one. Scrawny-looking thing it was too. I felt for it. We saw one a week or two after arriving here, again not the healthiest specimen, but the countryside isn’t that far away. I think Mum fed one when we were wee but she’d feed anything that came in her garden. Loved all wildlife did our mum.

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