Purple Circle

In four years I’ve earned half a million dollars and have nothing to show for it.

We bought a bigger boat but then we had to buy a bigger car to tow it.  We bought a Thermomix with last year’s tax return but we never use it: yet another pricey wiz-bang appliance that has morphed into a glorified dust-collector.  The house is full of new stuff that I cling to.  I can let go of people, but I can’t let go of things.  I used to be able to fit everything into a backpack.  It was good.

When I moved in with Dave all I had to worry about was the next holiday destination, clean socks and getting pregnant.  I am so over Bali, that trashed and treasured playground of the North
West.  I am getting bored with Vietnam and Thailand as well.  Broome is over rated, full of litter and long grass.

On weekends he goes fishing out on the islands with his workmates.  I am left home alone, free to do whatever I want, whenever I want.  Glorious!  But I have no good friends.  At least I can relax.  I don’t miss him and I don’t feel guilty about it.  He misses me when I’m away, sexting me in sublimated desperation.

Where have you hidden my socks?

He has a ‘thing’ with socks.

All I ever wanted was a baby and a best friend.  Dave hates children.  He wants to make money, not babies.  The local yummy mummies parade competitively in the park and the café, styling motherhood into a fashion statement.  I am an alien in the town where I was born.

She wasn’t born here, that’s for sure.  I wonder where she is now.   Maybe she could have been my friend.  I felt I could trust her.  She was so sincere, so professional, so…so…EDUCATED.  They were intimidated because she was so articulate.  She challenged the purple circle.  We all watched her squirm; sitting alone in subject silence with no way out.  But she found a way out.  It was everyone else who stayed, too afraid to move on, move out, move up.  We could have been friends but I turned my back and stepped away.  I had too much to lose:  my seniority, our investment portfolio, this mining life.

Who would have thought that work would be so much like school?

Soapie

You’re leaving me after 15 years because he makes you laugh?  What do you mean he makes you laugh?

He makes me laugh.

He makes me laugh.

Go on.  Be honest about it.  You don’t love me anymore.  You haven’t loved me for a long time.  But you loved my money, didn’t you?  You sure knew how to rack up that credit card debt, maxing it out to the limit.  Working me like a dog on a chain, night and day, 13-14 hours straight, expecting me to play with the kids on Sunday when I was absolutely knackered and all I wanted to do was sleep for a thousand years.  Me:  maxed out to the limit.

‘You’re lazy’, you’d say, as they’d pound into my spread-eagled bulk prone on the lounge room floor, loving their bouncy bean bag Dad.  Stranger.  They were seeing more of him than of me.  You were seeing more of him than of me.  He was there in our bed, sleeping in between the two of us.  I could feel the grit in the sheets, smell the grease on the pillow, trace the crusty snail tracks.

Shafted.

You’re leaving me after 15 years because he makes you laugh?  Tell me another one.  That’s the best I’ve heard yet.  See me walk out our front door, laughing all the way to the bank.  Watch me kick that mongrel in the guts with my work boots, smash his kneecaps with an iron bar, cave his head in with a shovel.  Maybe I’ll hire some hit man from down the pub to do the job for me.  What a joke.  The joke was on me, too blind to see, too fatigued to see, too close to see.

Although I did wonder about the assorted laundry powders, publicly displayed on the window ledge, rotating inexplicably like faulty beacon lights, as stable as old gelignite.

Bang!

OMO:  Old Man’s Out

FAB:  Fucking Arsehole’s Back

OMO/FAB/OMO/FAB/OMO/FAB ad infinitum…..

I miss my kids already.

Sharon Payne 2011

On Ya Bike

6 o’clock start for a 4 o’clock finish and we’re off like a flock of pigeons: let’s get the flock out of here.  It took nine wharfies one hour to deflate a wet lifeboat today and it was like wanking a whale.   I’m on my bike, coasting at 80 clicks around the bend, gas plant on the left, mangroves on the right. Then this joker comes up out of nowhere and starts tailgating.  He wants to mount me.  So I slow down.  It’s legal to do ten clicks below the limit.  On the straight I speed up to 95 and he’s still tailgating.  Road train up ahead:  Another Trucker.  Need to keep a safe gap.  Then this joker decides to overtake, crossing the double lines.  What an idiot.  What happens?  He speeds up to the truck, slows down and tails it all the way to the highway.  He’s the filling in the middle of a sandwich.  Impatient.  He’s on his way to his own funeral, but I hope he doesn’t take anyone with him.  Idiot.  Up at the turnoff there’s one car turning right and four cars turning left.  Now’s my chance to give him the finger.  Oops.  It’s my boss.  So I just give him a wave.  At the toolbox meeting the next day I know for sure that he is the biggest tool in the whole box.

Mobile

If I put the phone down on the bench, walk away, boil the kettle, make a cup of tea, drink the cup of tea, check my email, hang out the washing, water the pot plants, take the dog for a walk, go for a dip in the pool, he will still be on the other end of the line when I get back.

Handbrake. Drainer. Oxygen-thief.

I don’t even have to offer encouraging responses – ‘Oh’, ‘Ah’, ‘Mmm’ – at appropriate intervals, although I do, out of courtesy.  Where did I learn such ingrained politeness? How do I unlearn?

I am so patient: too patient.  I have the patience of a saint, waiting all my martyred life, watching them walk off with their pitiful little self-inflicted broken hearts.

Fifty minutes later and he is still waffling into the void, mouthing vacuous sentences layered with subordinate clauses.  Listening to him is the epicurean equivalent of eating a stale takeaway hamburger.

I choose timely mid-breath breaks and lodge direct questions to make it worth my while:

What is the next step after…..?’
‘How do I go about…..?’
‘When is the right time to…..?’

I appeal to his precious sense of male superiority and reinforce my own carefully-cultivated deference.

He responds with heady gratification.  I can almost see him grinning, as he sways from side to side, gathering himself for the next round.

‘I’m so glad you asked that question.’

And he is off again, racing, springing from the gates like a speedy greyhound, sights set on a distant bit of buzzing fluff, sticking oh so closely to the rails, coursing round the track in futile circles, never quite catching his quarry.

Question:  How to end the tedium diplomatically?

Answer:  Abruptly block him with a credible diversion.

Baby, you’ve got to be cruel to be kind (in the right measure)

‘Hang on.  Wait a minute.  Someone’s at the door.’

This spirited visitor whispers on the wind with wild horses, not manic machines that lack pedigree and patent.  He knows when to speak and when to be silent, when to move and when to be still.  He hears the unspoken spaces between words.  He sees the shadows and a rainbow’s subtle spectrum.  He elevates the atmosphere and intuitively reads the other.

He is creative.  He is here.  He makes friends, not money; he invests in relationships, not real estate.  He is the universal lightening bolt that charges through me, striking stories onto the empty page.

He watches over me just like an angel.

Over the Limit

He is dressed in the best tradition of seafaring pirates.  Flashy gold bling drips from his ears, fingers, chest, but this chunky young man lacks a parrot on his shoulder, a patched eye, a peg leg and tatts graphically narrating oceanic adventures.  Pre-employment medicals detect physical impairment.  He does have a responsive winged familiar asleep in his luggage though.  This exotic presence eludes Customs and Border Protection.

The travel bag witnesses six long weeks living away from home on the supply vessel.  He cruises through the North West Shelf over rich unplundered fields littered with heroic names like Achilles, Pluto, Dionysus, Xena, Sappho, Cossack, Perseus, Maenad, Mutineer, Griffin, Gorgon.  Who said there is no poetry in hydrocarbons?

Pieces of eight, pieces of eight, pieces of eight……..

He reveals plans for his annual pissy pilgrimage to Phillip Island, where he will reunite with a mobilised crew of speed-freak mates all revved-up for MotoGP.   The enforced intimacy of the mine-equipped Toyota Commuter cab encourages personal disclosure. The bus driver listens and learns, collecting industry information for the next career move, the next story, the future, which will consolidate abiding passions.

The two great loves of his life are his missus and Casey Stoner.  She waits for him in Canberra, currently frigid and freezing with an expected top temperature of seven degrees.  The nation’s ice-box capital is 11 tedious hours away.  The distant city is also at least half a world away.  For now, all the offshore contractor needs is his bling, his mobile phone, his bare brown arms kissed by the kind sunlight and the driver who has an eye on the time(s) and an ear for the vernacular.

They clear the cutting and greet the southern vista.   Expansive evaporative salt ponds, the railway line linking inland pits with coastal ports, stretch out to meet colluvial ranges hiding ancient rock art galleries.

I am here in this present moment and this is where I am meant to be.

Half-way down the hill she decelerates to 75 clicks, anticipating gravitational momentum.

Safety first.

The intrusive thought consciously arises, as her right foot lightly feathers the brake pedal, being the mindless mantra of a brain-washed workplace culture she is tentatively entering.

An extraneous noise suddenly bursts from the bag, breaking the easy exchange, distracting her calm focus on traffic.  She glances behind her left shoulder, confounded.

What is it?

It sounds like an activated techno-mosquito from a freaky sci-fi show.  Sifting quickly through the scant contents of his luggage, he catches the strange being, intrinsically-lit and whistling insistent.  He presses its buttoned belly, raises it to his open expectant face and holds it up against his right ear, listening for a heartbeat.   He speaks in hushed lullaby tones.

His faithful wife, anchored-down in eastern seaboard suburbia, asserts intuitive telephonic possession over her absent FIFO man.

What of his other love, Casey Stoner?  Casey’s primal grand prix scream has been captured somewhere on the international racing circuit.  The ultra-engineered sound, so dependent on metals, minerals and crude, bounces randomly around the globe as a residual ring tone.

The grounded bus driver indicates left, enters the packed airport parking bay and deposits the traveller for the next leg of his discontinuous journey.  She thinks that this must be the best job in the world:  getting paid to pick up strange men all day (and night), spend 20 minutes with them, drop them off, and never see them again.  This gig will do for the next six months, until another opportunity flies out from the big desert sky like a rare wild luminous bird.

One fine dry season day she did 300plus clicks with Casey Stoner and a cashed-up pirate on the causeway linking the island to the mainland.  And she lived to tell the tale.

Snake Tale

Snake Tale

She is leaving.

I am crestfallen.

‘Think of it as another holiday destination.’

The offer is small consolation.  We both know it won’t be the same, but we also know that it is well over time for her to go.  She wants to see lush green grass, eat fresh fruit, relax and marry her lover.  She wants to reinvent herself yet again.  There will be no more confessional disclosures under the patio drinking spritzers buoyant with ice cubes, breathing warm desert air.  No more delightfully elevating conversations.  No more anguishing over the lack of educated, articulate, faithful, available, sober, residential, professional mining men in the Pilbara.  Where are they?  Do they exist?  Are they hiding under the rocks with the mythical gully monsters?  There will be no more priceless Pilbara anecdotes.  No more Pilbara stories.  So I must record the ones that she has entrusted to me, before they are lost forever.  That is her legacy as a storyteller and my duty as a writer.

**********

Our yap-yap terrier confronts a baby king brown hiding in the bushy border in the backyard.  The snake bites the dog twice, on the inside of the mouth.  By the time we find her, she is in shock, stiffening with paralysis.  I bundle her small body into a clean cotton blanket, to keep her warm.   Mum scoots swiftly from the lawn, through the patio and into the house within seconds, locking the sliding glass door securely behind her.  She is safe.

‘Snakes can’t open doors’, is her brilliant reasoning.

Lover-boy catches the snake and isolates it in a green canvas bag sourced from the boat, ready for identification at the vets.  I briskly scrape the car keys from the kitchen bench, along with my mobile phone.  Lover-boy delicately places the bagged snake in the car.  Mum has silently retreated into her bedroom.   Maybe she is suffering shock as well.  Vital minutes pass and Yap-Yap’s breathing fades, her pulse gradually weakens.

What are you doing?

I’m looking for something to wear.

This is not a time to stand on ceremony, yet the habits of a lifetime still surface in the midst of a domestic crisis.  Mum must face the public in style, parading appropriate outfit, makeup, coifed hairdo.

Out on Balmoral Road we are hiking it:  90kph in an 80kph zone.

‘Snake!   Where’s the snake?   Oh, my God!’

She plants the foot instinctively, pushing the speedo well over the limit, living on the edge as always, vainly attempting to flee the confined reptile, which is safely contained on the back seat.

**********

This place is a beautiful place but a hard place:  intense, demanding, dynamic, unsettled, tough, wild, dramatic.  This place is an excellent teacher, reminding me daily that I am in the middle of an amazing remote-area-mining-life adventure.  Everyone leaves here eventually:  this simple truth I must accept, wherever I am.  The North West, itself a bundle of wonderful contradictions, urges me to live each day present in the moment, not considering what has been or what is to come, but what is NOW.

Sharon Payne 2011

Mining Town Kiss

Mining Town Kiss

He skates playfully across the cool slate tiles lining the passage floor, polishing them with black business socks. A loose navy blue tie halters his neck, crossing the front of the freshly-pressed white cotton shirt like vertical iron bars.

She stares down darkly into the small glass bottle perched on the bathroom sink.  The designer fragrance was purchased during a hasty retail therapy session in the city, in consolation for their latest lucrative but lonely remote area posting.

The red desert dust staining the open yet defensive town is contained, except for the transient motes riding for free on his frequent-flyer leather dress shoes.

Ready?

She lifts the bottle, misting distilled droplets onto her left wrist, inner elbow, neck, cleavage. As she passes the bottle to her left hand he slides up surely from behind. He plants firm open hands on the basin, straight arms locked at the elbow, pressing gently into her strapless back.

In a minute…..

A subtle pause hovers in the citric air above them. He slowly exhales half a lungful of tangy top notes into her golden tips.

We’ll be late.

An explosive spark ignites spontaneously, flaming like fumes in the flare towers at the onshore gas plant. Vapourish shadows scatter erratically over the shiny white tiles resembling exorcised demons tripping on speed.

I’ve changed my mind.

He aligns his central mass mindfully, transferring his body weight alternately from left to right. Deliberately he shifts sideways to her left, then to her right, then above her, gazing dreamily into the middle-distance of the mirror, matching his somnolent motion with an inbreath, an outbreath, an inbreath. At the apex of his triaxial trace he invokes St Barbara, patron saint of miners and engineers.

Unbelievable!

Then he kisses the right side of her vulnerable neck, releasing the residual rage back into the air conditioned atmosphere. Her right arm moves impulsively to rid his restrictive tie and it slips slack to the floor. She melts for him and he knows that he is home.

Sharon Payne 2011

House Sitting My Way Through the West

One of my favourite Westralian houses is riddled with asbestos.  Intrinsic fibres lie dormant, like venomous snakes hiding silent in cavernous rocks, potentially deadly if disturbed.  The dwelling has been declared unfit for human habitation and is earmarked for demolition, making way for the next spiritless steel-clad shed.  The house radiates uncommon character, located smack bang in the middle of remote suburbia.

At the front door, occasional visitors are facetiously greeted by a long wooden sign announcing in carved white letters ‘GIANT TERMITE MOUND’.  Dense clumps of spiny spinifex conceal a raised dome of earth in the shady unfenced front yard.  The driveway is strategically overgrown with acacias that scratch the duco of unsuspecting vehicles.  In the densely-planted backyard a heart-shaped pond supports water lilies, replenished regularly by a green rubber hose connected to mains water supply.  In August the citrus trees lining the back fence bear small bitter fruit.  Dry corn-flake crunchy leaf litter from the competing native vegetation provides sustaining mulch, sheltering lizards, reducing evaporation and deterring invasive weeds.

Forged and wrought iron implements, tools and parts from redundant pastoral, mining and maritime technologies are collected into ironic statuary, unseen from the street. Conical sea shells and igneous rocks lie randomly scattered on the ground.   The path to the side gate is partly sealed with the flat, corrugated metal tracks from a decommissioned dragline.  Rusting metal chains, cables, pulleys, rods, hooks, traps and horse shoes decorate the rough-hewn veranda, built to accommodate an imposing white gum.  The treated green wooden planks are secured with bolts, plates and pliant plain wire, bush-carpenter style.  Cyclone fencing wire fringes the upper perimeter.  The oxidising relics swing slightly in the wind like melodious charms.  A seized exploration drill bit, a boat propeller and a butchered stationary oil engine arise organically from the earth like tree stumps. A green canvas hammock straddles the uneven cement pavers, between the tree and the veranda pole, collecting stray leaves, trapping airborne stories.  Swing there a while and listen to what the magic hammock has to say.

This garden is a low-maintenance bush camp fantasy and I am privileged to be here.  If I ignore the offensive blink from the neighbour’s perennial Christmas lights, the insulting drone of their superfluous back-patio TV, and the constant hum of vehicular traffic from the back road, I could be far away from human society.

In her instructive meditation titled Writing as a way of healing, Louise DeSalvo offers practical tips for nurturing creativity, which include travel and cultivating creative friends.  House sitting then is a way to move within my immediate locality, experiencing a familiar place in an enriching way. The bush camp house is a safe space for me, as I temporarily retreat from dodgy, dysfunctional and sometimes downright desperate share accommodation situations.  Here I can relax, rest, read, journal, and dream.  For three weeks during cyclone season, one bush camp house sitting gig turns into an opportunity to save exorbitant rent money, as I am temporarily homeless, but it is more importantly an opportunity to save myself.  I save myself from becoming too familiar with a place I still love.

Each time I return there are new books for me to discover: books that I would not have otherwise read.  When the student is ready the teacher appears.  When the reader is ready the book appears.  The work of other writers – historical and contemporary, published and unpublished – is a writer’s best teacher, after all. Accessing those new treasures lining the shelves is a way to connect to creative people who have come before, and to an absent tenant with whom I cultivate a convenient platonic mutual arrangement.

The engraved clay angel, with his eyes lightly closed in silent contemplation, her dark brown hands supporting a shallow offering bowl, is a gentle presence attending the entrance to the lounge room.  I hurdle the yellow sea kayak dissecting the room, to reach the comfortable old couch, covered in earthy-coloured cotton blankets.  Radio National streams from the kitchen.  I am gloriously free to read and dream.

Through my Pilbara house sitting portfolio I tend pets, pools and pot plants and in so doing, tend myself.

Karratha Hit by Backpacker Bug

Sustained weight-gain within Karratha’s

substantial overseas backpacker community

is rationalised by the novel concept

of being  ‘pregnant with Australia’.

The change in locale and lifestyle

often results in the dreaded ‘Tim-Tam Syndrome’:

bodily evidence of the localised culture shock

experienced by travellers to the West Pilbara.

Why is it then that the blue cotton drill pants

I bought in Perth, in expectation of yet more

menial, manual labour, hang baggy on me now?

Hard Yakka, indeed.

The Pilbara must be my new lover.

Hot, hard and rich.

Let the affair begin…..

Game

See her standing stone-cold sober on the threshold to the sports bar, rocking like a clipped skittle.

The stale air is malodorous with musty carpet stains and fatigued contractors straight from their sweaty shifts on the nearby industrial estate.  The syndicated sports channel drones monotonously in the background.  Sweeping shots of distant turf race-tracks screen repetitively.

Red Dog raises his open hand up to the safe enclave between her shoulder blades, like a slowly- floating starfish drawn to a smooth flat rock face.  Gently he pushes her into the rowdy room, offering encouragement.

‘In you go.’

She is on her own.

Stepping forward she is snap frozen by the sudden spotlight of an impulsive male gaze.  As they turn their heads in appraising unison, the air is sucked from the room, leaving a cool vacuum.  The vulnerable bunny shivers inwardly, moving intuitively just as she has done so many times before, in so many places before.

‘Fwaaaaaah’, the articulate operators register internally.

Half-consumed schooners are forgotten for ten seconds.   Intellectual AFL grand final post mortems are temporarily suspended.

The place is packed and pumping.  Win or lose, they are gathered here to drink until the tab runs dry.  Skinny British and European backpackers pour beers, mix spirits and counter offers, working and playing hard for their traveling coin.  Defensive bands of drinking buddies carefully maintain their tight social affiliations, repulsing intruders with a scowl, a 45 degree body-swivel, exclusive silence.  Informal allies can be summoned instantly to guarantee personal security.

A beefy middle-aged player breaks from his mates.  He is clad in uniform:  badged hi-viz two-tone shirt, blue cotton drill pants, steel caps, beer goggles.  Weaving through the mass of resistant bodies, he is irresistibly drawn to her expensive blonde style-cut, sourced in the far-flung city.  Her cleavage is mostly concealed by a floral cotton bodice.  Known onsite as ‘Jesus’ due to delusional religious precepts, he chases anything in a skirt at the best of times, much to the consternation of his long-suffering wife.  Enforced workplace safety rules conveniently prohibit personal adornment, including signifying finger rings.

With slurred speech heavily impaired by booze, he gushes,

‘You’re so beautiful.  I can’t believe you’re not married.’

‘I am married.  I’ve got one hundred husbands in an ashram in India.’

Struck by the brilliant logic of her swift reply, he contemplates his draught of heavy, seeking inspiration.  His wide-eyed gaze turns to the visual bliss of her inaccessible breasts.  She moves off to the bar, accidentally flouncing her knee-length skirt across the back of his hirsute hand.

Perched up on a barstool sits a lugubrious loner in melancholic stupor, voluntarily alienated from the crowd.  After each successive scull he checks his miserable reflection in the mirror, as if to confirm his physical presence.  She plunks her empty glass firmly at the end of the sodden bar runner, which is branded with random circles resembling disconnected Olympic rings.  He arcs up, stirred from recurring ruminations of verbal slurs, keen to earth her energy.

‘I’ll tell you what you’re gonna do, darls.  You’re gonna take your pretty little tits and move that out of my way.’

She flashes straight back at him with vitality.

‘I can’t help that you’ve got Small Man’s Disease.  Shift it yourself.’

A new-starter on the construction project intervenes, opportunistically sliding his taut body between them.  He pins his elbow to the bar, swinging around to face her, beaming like a shiny metal hinge.  He is just about to open his pretty-boy mouth for the next tentative move, when Jesus miraculously appears again out of nowhere.

‘Don’t even bother, mate.  She’s got one hundred husbands in an ashram in India.’

Pretty Boy glances at her quizzically, but she just shrugs her shoulders and raises her perfect eyebrows.

She is way out of their league, but she can play the game so well.
Sharon Payne 2011

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