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. 


The boy’s name was Kevin. I met him at a party where they served beer and you brought your own spirits, to mix with lemonade if so inclined. Where almost everyone, although past the age of entry into adulthood, could be mistaken for a child. Kevin more so with his fresh face, his blue eyes and clean shining hair. A boy/man who left me feeling like a sophisticated woman of the world, even though I was barely past twenty-two. 

Kevin lived in Balwyn with his mother and father. The youngest of a tribe of siblings, all of whom had left home by the time I walked into his life. I was not with him for long, but long enough to spend several nights alone in the single bed of a spare room attached to the back of his parent’s house, where his mother ushered me that first night Kevin asked her if I might stay over following another late-night party.

She had no idea what Kevin and I did in the flat I shared with a younger sister several suburbs away, where we had no parental supervision. No one keeping an eye out for what Kevin’s mother considered unacceptable behaviour in a couple not yet married.

 Kevin knew cars. He was in training to be an electrician but also knew everything anyone needed to know about the workings of machinery, of pistons and gears, of crankshafts and motors. One early morning after I had kissed him goodbye – unbeknown to his mother, Kevin had stayed at my place overnight – I watched him stride downstairs to the car he used as a work utility, even though it lacked all the necessary accoutrements of a real electrician’s car. Kevin was still apprenticed to a man who took responsibility for his learning and mistakes. After Kevin left, I decided it was time to take responsibility for my own life and drive my own car to work, instead of taking the train as I had done since I began my new job in Glen Waverly several months earlier. 

By then I had been licensed to drive for months but only took my car out from absolute necessity. Without a driving instructor at my side, the trip in my car terrified me. I knew how to operate this lump of machinery – I had spent two years learning – but there was something about the process of stopping, of coming down the gears to a neat and even full stop that evaded me. I preferred to reduce my stops to a minimum to keep the car moseying along, if possible. 

A big mistake this morning when I turned to drive under the bridge on Dandenong Road only to encounter a coca cola truck that had stalled. I was travelling in second gear. A good thing. The truck driver barely noticed the impact, but the back corner of his truck took out my left head light and left a gash in the side of my VW. My little beetle looked like a person who had been punched in the face by some thug with evil intent.

The car was still road worthy, enough to get to work, but I needed to leave early before night fall as I had no proper headlights left and was in terror of being stopped by police with an unroadworthy car.

I was unroadworthy.  I was ignorant of the needs of cars and the people who drove them despite now holding a full and proper licence to drive.

‘Your car needs a service,’ Kevin told me the following Saturday when he came to examine the damage.

‘Whatever for?’ 

‘People service their cars,’ Kevin told me, patient despite what must have been his surprise. Or was it my surprise? As far as I knew, cars just ran on and on. They needed petrol to run. This much I recognised, and I filled my tank whenever the petrol gauge pointed to empty, but the idea that a car should need any other attention, that there were things under the bonnet needing to be changed, like oil and water, came as shock. 

‘I can repair the headlight and the dint,’ Kevin said, ‘in my dad’s garage. But you’ll need to book it in for a proper service. At least this once.’ 

And so, it was I entered a different realm of responsibility and as much as I continued to see Kevin as an innocent when it came to matters of the body, I valued his boy-like, at least to me in those pre-feminist days, his boy-like love of machines. He kept my engine running, until one day it was time for a change, and I said goodbye to Kevin, as kindly as I could, with as little bloodshed as possible. We could still be friends.

So much so Kevin came to my wedding two years later. He bought me a gift of Waterford wine glasses. When I opened the box in which the glasses nestled, long elegant cut crystal with tapered stems, well after the wedding was over and the guests had left, two of them were broken. Great chunks cracked out of each goblet. They me reminded me of the state of my car behind the coca cola truck. 

I did not have the heart to tell Kevin about the breakage, nor did I see him again. Strangely the two glasses that remained intact are still in my possession. I took them wrapped in wads of newspaper whenever we moved house and put them high in a cupboard. Hidden. 

The other day, spring cleaning, my daughter came across them. ‘What about these, she said, in admiration. 

They were as new as when they first arrived in my possession, snuggled alongside their broken siblings. Like quads in some hapless woman’s womb. Too much to carry.

‘Useless things,’ I said. ‘Not dishwasher proof.’

‘I’ll have them,’ my daughter said. ‘When I leave home.’ And I was pleased to think the glasses might begin some sort of life, albeit brief. They’re the type that will not live long in use. Not like my VW that went on for another five years in my possession. I even drove it as far as Canberra and back before I sold it to a friend for $200.00. 

My husband was relieved when it was gone. 

‘A two-horse engine. It drives like a tractor,’ he said. ‘What a mistake.’ But it was my mistake and one of those memories I now look upon in awe. The way we look back on events in our lives and wonder how we survived them, given our complete ignorance at the time.