Part past part fiction redux

 

 

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Image: eBay

 

 

At just two years of age, I find my martial spirit. Lying on my mother’s sofa, a bottle jammed in my mouth, transfixed by Vic Morrow in the TV show Combat I discover a world of evil Nazis opposed by noble GIs willing to sacrifice all to defeat their nefarious schemes. At times I’m so involved in the jaw clenching heroics on the screen I bite through the bottle’s rubber teat and find myself awash. War is hell, especially for late weaners.

To her credit – and in keeping with the times – my Mother makes no attempt to curb my burgeoning war lust. At three, I become the proud owner of a tripod-mounted heavy machine gun complete with plastic ammo belt and realistic battle sounds. I proceed to spend many a blissful afternoon in the back yard at Zetland hunched determinedly over the sights of my tin and plastic death machine as I mow down oncoming waves of hated Nazis.

On one such afternoon, a horse which lives in the paddock behind our rented house pokes a curious nose over the top of the fence and, immediately deciding I don’t like the look of his long horsey face, I give him a burst between the eyes. He doesn’t seem to mind awfully much. It’s all in good fun but the truth is I’m becoming obsessed with the idea of death and glory.

There’s a photo of me on my fifth birthday. I’m dressed in a way that only a mother can find appropriate, sandals with socks (ouch), shorts pulled up way too high, and a shirt tucked in much too tight. On my head is perched a plastic combat helmet replete with camo netting. There’s a plastic commando knife tucked into my elastic waistband and I’m holding a toy Tommy gun. I look very pleased with myself.

The fact is that war is a constant in my young life. Each night the TV news fills my sponge-like young mind with images from the conflict in Vietnam. Mostly, all that is shown are scenes of broken toy soldiers being carried out of rice paddies and loaded onto choppers. Occasionally there’s a brief shot of a soldier firing short bursts from his M16 at, as far as I can tell, no discernible target.

I keep wondering, “where are all the Nazis?” This TV war is strangely unsatisfying. There’s none of the glory or heroism that Vic Morrow displays every week in Combat All the soldiers on the news look scared. GIs aren’t meant to look scared, are they?. The good guys are meant to look tough and the bad guys are meant to look mean. Where are the bad guys? The news never seems to show them. They must be really good at hiding.

These questions will continue to perplex me for many years. Eventually, I will discover the awful truth, Vic Morrow is just an actor and Combat isn’t real. I will simultaneously become aware that WWII is long over, there are no more Indian fights in the Wild West, and England has not a single Knight in shining armour left to win fair lady’s hand. This unwanted knowledge will come to leave a bitter taste of betrayal in my young mouth.

©2017

Part past part fiction 10

 

This will be the final part past part fiction post I put up. As you could probably tell if you’ve been reading them, they are excerpts from a book I have been working on. I deliberately posted them out of sequence because I wanted to highlight the writing rather than the story. Thank you to all who have given me feedback, it was greatly appreciated.

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One cold Friday night, I find myself down in the basement with Simon’s crew. They’re getting ready to head out to a dance party. I’ve seen the posters for this, it’s in one of the big warehouses on Smith Street. They invite me along and since I can’t think of a good excuse not to, I agree to come. Rooting around in my bag, I drag out some clothes that might just pass muster on the dance floor – so long as no one looks too closely.

Having made my selection I disappear out back to get changed. When I return, I find the others gathered around Brian’s turntable deck, taking turns at some lines of speed. I hang back, watching the ritual with real fascination, observing the unspoken etiquette of the process.

To my surprise, Brian calls me over to the circle and offers me the makeshift straw. What the hell I tell myself, I take it and snorting the line in one smooth hit. The sensation is about as unpleasant as one might expect and as I move out from the circle my nose is stinging like a son-of-a-bitch and running freely. I pull a handkerchief from my pocket but Brian says “no mate, don’t blow sniff. You’ll lose half the hit otherwise.” Feeling like a complete novice, I sniff away like a maniac until the worst is over.

A few moments later the chemical charge is flooding my system. Grief suddenly drops away like a stone down a well. I can almost hear it hit bottom. Soon I feel exhilaration pulsing through my heart and limbs. This is a sensation I could learn to like too much.

At that moment, Simon pounds down the stairs in his big coat and gives the crew one of his toothy grins. “I got ‘em,” he says and then laughs out loud as he catches sight of my flushed face and wide open stare. “That’s more like it mate.”

I realise I’m grinning like a madman and attempt to re-calibrate, futile; I’m no longer at the controls. There’s nothing for it then but to enjoy the ride.

Simon produces a small baggy of tablets from inside his coat. And a girl, whose name I haven’t caught, claps her hands with unrestrained glee. The group gathers eagerly around their scarecrow benefactor.

“He threw in the sixth for free,” Simon grins obviously pleased with himself. He rifles about in a draw and pulls out a scalpel. Then he hunches over his prize and carefully cuts each tab into halves.

Over his enormous padded shoulder, he cocks an eye in my direction. “You in?”

“What are they?”

“Ecky,” he says and then laughs at my blank incomprehension. “Ecstasy, good shit.”

“How much?” I ask trying to sound less like a rube.

“I’ll sell you half of mine for twenty.”

I don’t let myself pause for thought. “I’m in.”

He smiles as he hands it over, “you can pay me whenever.”

I pop the pill immediately trying hard not to betray my disgust at the bitter grit that fills my throat. With the speed already coursing through my system, it doesn’t take long before I begin to feel the effects.

Portishead’s Dummy is slinking from the big speakers and everyone’s moving about the room like cats on warm concrete. My smile slips up a few more notches. Several minutes later a tickle way down in my scrotum flares up and bursts like fireworks, flooding my body with warm liquid pleasure. I moan out loud and clutch at a chair-back, feeling as though my legs may give way beneath me. “Wow.”

“Like I said, good shit,” Simon chuckles.

By the time we head out for the party I’m seeing the world through the distant end of a shiny, shiny tunnel. I stop looking at people when they speak to me because there’s a disturbing delay between when they move their lips and when I hear their words.

Everyone keeps talking about how cold the night is but I’m wearing a t-shirt and I’m warm as toast – burning up in fact. Brian says I should be careful or I’ll end up with pneumonia. “I could care less,” comes the glib retort from that part of my brain even ecstasy can’t affect.

Arriving outside the warehouse, we pile up the stairs to the second floor and, paying our money, file into a huge space that seems improbably full of the most startling horde of cosmic space hippies I’ve ever seen. As I gaze about me, I spy silver jumpsuits and day-glow flares, even the odd star topped antenna poking up from between spangled dreads. It’s spectacularly silly but I find myself entranced. That’s probably the drugs.

The party’s at full rev. There must be close to a thousand people in here, each moving to the internal pulse of whatever substance they’ve imbibed. I’m instantly captured by all the multi-various dance interpretations as they weave and writhe with the undulations of the beats. There seems to be a half revealed code here, a key to identifying certain personality types. The E in my system is showing me something but I can’t quite figure out what it is.

Many dancers have aligned themselves facing the DJ as though they’re performing just for him. These move with a scary machine-like precision, eyes fixed on his bobbing head. Others seem lost to the rapture of the chemicals slinking across the floor in the embrace of some invisible serpent.

I’ve been watching all this for some time before I realise that I’ve been dancing, myself, almost since I entered the room. The music feels so in-sync with my pounding heart I’ve simply plugged myself into the stream. At this moment, in this place, I’m more in tune with my surroundings than at any time I can remember. Finally, I have an insight into what techno music is really about, what it can do. It’s a revelation bordering on religious epiphany.

Every person in the room is vibrating at exactly the same level, tuned to the frequencies of the music. We are all of us extensions of the DJ’s ego as he floods the room with the rhythms of pure and ecstatic joy. They flow out and engulf us. We ride them like waves in the surf. All you need to participate is one-half of a tiny pill.

I dance until dawn without ever seeing a single person from the group I arrived with. No matter really, everywhere I look, every pair of eyes I meet, I find a smile. This is the friendliest place I’ve ever encountered.

All along one wall of the room is a row of large windows, facing east. I’ve barely noticed them during the night – too many other things to look at. I notice them now as the room is suddenly flooded with the most beautiful golden light. The new day has arrived. A sound rises from every throat, mine included; half sigh, half gasp. Then the music kicks up a notch and we dance the sun high into the sky.

Finally, at about eleven it’s time to go. Brian magically appears beside me and I re-join my new best friends. As we step out into the cold, alien environment of the streets, the last of the chemicals drain from my limbs and sudden exhaustion wraps me like a lead apron.

Back at the basement we drink chai and talk in slow, pleasant murmurs. Eventually, one by one, the others drift away to their beds. I close my eyes, sinking into the couch and at last, at long last, an eternity ends and I sleep.

1278 words.

Words and image are my own.

©2016

Part past part fiction 9

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One thing that stings about her betrayal is the fact that, a few years ago, I had the opportunity to stray and, like a fool, didn’t. It was a dreary winter’s night, long gone now, when temptation materialised unexpectedly out of the chill night air.

I’d worked some overtime at the printing factory until around eight thirty and was sitting now, huddled into my coat at Flinders Street Station, waiting for my train home.

At the far end of the near empty platform a tiny figure descended the escalator and wove unsteadily in my direction, a girl, maybe twenty-five, wielding a tartan umbrella that matched her ludicrously tiny skirt; obviously returning from a productive networking session at some city bar or other.

From the corner of my eye, I watched as she wandered straight up to my bench and plopped down at the vacant end. She was a pretty thing, small, doll-like, with big grey eyes that twinkled with mischief and secret humour.

I heroically pretended to be reading my book, fighting the urge to steal another look at her. In the end, though, the urge won out and I looked up into – and was captured by – the most frank and inviting gaze I’d ever encountered. She laughed then and, springing to her feet, did a wobbly little dance in front of me, ending in a curtsy that nearly pitched her into my lap. She was adorable and I began to feel a stirring that, if I knew what was good for me, I definitely should not be paying attention too.

She laughed then and, springing to her feet, did a wobbly little dance in front of me, ending in a curtsy that nearly pitched her into my lap. She was adorable and I began to feel a stirring that, if I knew what was good for me, I definitely should not be listening too.

The girl plopped down on the bench again, closer to my end this time, and looked at me with her head to one side like a wayward puppy. I tried to act as though I’d hardly noticed her but couldn’t quite keep the smile from my lips.

She was making strange cooing sounds now and each time my eyes stole a glance at her she would giggle. Her obvious attentions excited me to an alarming degree and my heart was pounding too hard in my chest. I was gripped by an intense desire to kiss her ridiculously red lips. I knew with certainty she’d let me and I knew I’d like it.

I also knew that there was no way that it would end there. There are some things that, once set in motion, cannot be reined in. The natural momentum of that simple act would carry us both forward towards an inevitable conclusion. Was that a journey I was prepared to take?

In that moment of indecision, a train rolled into the platform. I was suddenly relieved to see it wasn’t mine. Then the girl stood and took a step towards it and I felt my heart sink.

Abruptly she turned and reached out her hands to me. She still hadn’t spoken a word but her eyes said all that needed to be said.

Come with me. I don’t know about tomorrow, but right here, right now, I want you.

The yearning I felt in that instant was as strong as any emotion I’d ever known. I saw myself taking her hand and running onto the train. I saw us standing close in her room, gazing into each other’s eager, hungry eyes. I saw myself waking in the morning beside her, this tiny and exquisite creature. I saw all this in a blink and wanted it. She sensed my hunger then and, stepping forward, took my hand in both of hers and began to tug me from my seat.

That small physical contact broke the spell and I knew then that I wouldn’t go with her. I loved someone else, I couldn’t betray that. And besides, this girl was clearly beyond tipsy, what she thought she wanted now could very well be another, very different, story in the sober light of morning.

The girl saw the change in my face and knew that the moment had passed. She released my hand and backed away. In the doorway, she stood and gave me one last questing look.

Are you sure?

The unspoken invitation hung in the chill air. Then the doors of the carriage bleeped closed and her train pulled irretrievably away.

Profound regret was my companion on the long ride home.

I never even told her about that night. Now, as I think of her with him in that hotel room, I feel that regret solidifying into a kind of mindless, unreasoning hate. God help me, I actually wish I’d told her then just so I could throw it in her face now.

This is how pathetic my reasoning has become.

776 words.

©2016

Part past part fiction 8

 

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Greg turns out to be a somewhat volatile housemate. A couple of years ago his wife ran out on him, upping stakes and moving to Queensland. She took his two young sons with her. He misses them all terribly and constantly talks about how things are going to be different when they all get back together.

When he’s been out at the pub all night, though, a very different perspective surfaces. Several times I’ve woken to the sound of the poor guy pacing the house having long – and loud – arguments with his ex. The first time I thought he was on the phone to her, pouring his rage and frustration down the long distance line. It was only on the second occasion when I got up to tell him to keep it down, that I discovered him in the kitchen, reciting his list of grievances at full volume to the empty room.

I understand this kind of torment, the sort that has you howling into the void oblivious to the people around you, seeing only the desert of your grief before you. When he finally spotted me standing there in the kitchen doorway he slumped into a chair and said in a small, broken voice, “I just want the bitch to love me again, you know?” Testify brother.

I sympathise completely with his situation – unnervingly similar to my own – but his unpredictable shell-bursts of aggression repulse me, keeping me at arms length.

Of all my new housemates, David proves the easiest to relate to. He’s lived in group houses most of his adult life and has developed strategies I can see I need to learn too if I’m going to survive here.

While Siobhan is busy getting blitzed in her room and Greg is off getting smashed down at the pub, Dave is making sure that food gets bought and that there’s always a proper meal on offer for those who want to eat. I abstractly admire his determination to make this house a home.

And what am I doing to contribute? Mostly, I sit and I stare at the walls as the events that have brought me here play out again and again before my eyes. I know that I need to participate more, can see that I should be moving forward. But if life’s a river, flowing towards the future, then I’m a statue standing on the bank. I watch it rush past my singular reference point but can no more step into the flow than could any stone on the shore.

424 words.

Words and image are my own.

©2016

Part past part fiction 7

Danny comes to me at lunch and asks if I’d mind putting in some overtime tonight. We have a big magazine run on and he wants to try and get it through ahead of schedule. What the hell, I figure, what else do I have to do?

Everything is running smoothly by seven when Dan pops home for a bite to eat, leaving me to mind the run. For once the press is behaving herself. The radio’s on in the background and I give it one ear while the other stays tuned to the syncopated thrum of the machine.

I move around the room loading and unloading the stock, topping up the ink reservoir and occasionally whipping out the water bottle and refilling it at the sink. If you’re quick enough getting it back, the press doesn’t even notice it’s gone.

Printing is all about maintaining the balance between the ink and the water as they wash together over the surface of the printing plate. When you get the balance right, the ink only fills the image area, leaving the rest of the page clean. If you don’t have enough water, or if you let the bottle run dry, the ink begins to spread from the image to the rest of the page in ugly great streaks. Printers call this catch-up, and that’s as good a word as any for what happens to me next.

A half familiar melody suddenly cuts through my concentration. A tacky song about two lovers separated by circumstances beyond their control but who come together in their dreams blah, blah; truly dreadful. As I listen, though, I recall that several times over the past few weeks I’ve seen her turn the radio up whenever this song came on at home.

In an instant, understanding crashes sickeningly in upon me. I see, with a growing sense of horror, that this is their song. They have a song. They have a song because they are lovers. It’s stupid but they don’t care, lovers never care how stupid their song is because when you’re in love everything seems right and good in the world. Oh God, she loves him, not me, him.

When Dan returns from his dinner he finds that everything has changed in his brief absence. His professional eye takes in the situation in an instant. His printer is no longer bustling around the press. The job is no longer pounding through at ten thousand impressions an hour. The room is, in fact, unusually still. The only sound is the persistent buzzing of the jam alarm.

I am standing at the delivery end of the press, staring uncomprehendingly into the cage which is now crammed with a tangled nest of paper. The delivery tray has ratcheted all the way down to the floor and I have neglected to pause the run, remove the full tray, replace it, and crank the empty back up to the top of the receiving shoot. The machine has overfilled and crashed as a result.

One look at my fallen face tells him why this has happened. I stand silent and unmoving, my stricken eyes fixed unseeing upon the machinery before me. I am literally frozen within the ice wastes of my grief.

Dan leans past me and flicks off the press. Then he shoots around shutting off the computers and lights. There’ll be no more printing tonight. Once he’s satisfied that everything is off he takes me by the arm and leads me towards his car.

“You’d better come back to our place mate.” He says with a tenderness I’ve never heard in his voice before. This small kindness is the final straw and I feel my finger begin to slide from the crumbling dyke wall of my emotions.

In a few moments, he is gently shoving me through the front door of his house into the cozy warmth of his tiny lounge room. Beth, his partner, takes my other arm and together they steer me through to the kitchen table. I find myself sitting opposite two pairs of deeply concerned eyes.

“Tell us what’s going on for you,” Dan says simply. He might just as well have said ‘open sesame’. The story of these last few weeks spills from me like blood from an arterial wound. As I watch their reaction, I realise that they know next to nothing of what I’ve been going through. The telling twists my throat so that, at times, it’s hard to force the words out into the room, but my need to be rid of them drives me on.

Strangely there’s no sense of humiliation as I speak of the complete breakdown of my life. I would have thought that some taint of shame would accompany an admission of this magnitude. After all, my partner of nine years has just decided that I’m not up to scratch and dumped me for a better model, that’s not much of an endorsement. All I feel, though, is the depth of my hurt.

“How could she be so damned cruel?” Beth sighs shaking her head. I’ve asked myself that question a thousand times. Asked myself, too, if maybe I didn’t deserve it? Was I just a shit partner?  Did I neglect her? I don’t believe so but then why would this be happening to me? If there’s an easy answer, I must be too simpleminded to see it.

We talk for what seems like hours. Actually, I do most of the talking. Unloading can be unbelievably cathartic and I have a lot to get off my chest. As I speak a strange calm descends upon me. However, the calmer I become the more concerned Dan and Beth seem.

Finally, Beth says, “look I’m not working tomorrow. Why don’t you and I go up to the clinic on Smith Street and you can maybe have a chat with a G.P.?”

“Why would I want to do that? I’m not ill, I’ve been dumped.”

“I think you may need a little help getting through this. If you talk to a doctor they can help you work out a strategy for the next few weeks at least.”

I shrug. “Yeah OK.”

Later they make up a bed for me on their couch where I lay empty and waiting for the pale light of morning.

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1,050 words.

Words and image are my own.

©2016

Part past part fiction 6

 

There’s where we come from and there’s who we are. The two are inextricably connected.

 

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I call her at the bookshop where she works on weekends.

“Hello, what’s up?”

“You’re having an affair.”

“What? Don’t be…”

“I read what you wrote, there’s no other interpretation.”

“You’re wrong, you’ve misunderstood.”

I pick up the diary she left for me to find and begin to read, “made love with L in the forest for hours”.

No sound, not even breathing from her end.

“I’m curious to know what that line could mean, other than the obvious.”

“You’re wrong.”

“I don’t think so.”

“I’ll talk with you tonight. There’s another explanation, I promise. I’ll come straight home, I won’t go out after work. We’ll talk about it.” A loud click then and I’m alone with the dial tone and the void.

Of course, she doesn’t come straight home, she runs to him. He’s her default setting now. By twelve, that’s apparent even to me. I wait for her, alternating waves of fury and despair breaking over me threatening to drown my straining sanity.

The car finally rumbles into the garage at around three a.m. She walks through the door in a jangle of keys and I see her visibly slump as she spots me sitting in the dark by the dying embers of the fire.

“Oh, you’re still up.”

“We were going to talk. You were going to come straight home.”

“I’m too tired to talk about this now,” she sighs. “I’m not seeing anyone I promise. Now, I’m going to bed. I’m very tired.”

“No, you’re fucking not going to bed! Now sit the hell down and tell me what the fuck’s going on!”

I’m startled – even shocked – by the violence in my voice. I begin to sense how easily this could spin out of control. Then I see the flash of fear in her eyes and feel a surge of triumph wash through me. Reluctantly she comes and sits across from my chair, perching nervously on the very edge of hers.

“What do you want me to say?”

“I want you to tell me what you’re doing.”

She pauses, only for a second, and then it’s out. ‘Yes, alright I’ve met someone, happy?’

It’s funny; I’ve known the truth since I read her diary this morning but the shock I feel at her utterance of these few simple words is like nothing I’ve ever known. All my hopes are scattered like an armada in a hurricane. Abruptly, my sense of self begins to crumble.

“Why?” The word is little more than a lost child’s sob.

“I don’t know, too many reasons.”

“Who is it?” I ask, my face twisted by my efforts to keep control of it.

“You don’t know him” she replies dropping her head so that she doesn’t have to see the affect her bladed words are having upon me.

“How could you do this?”  But her silent avoidance is my only answer.

Strange animal sounds begin to rise from the back of my throat. I try to stifle them but they continue to grow in intensity. I’m horrified and ashamed but ultimately powerless to suppress the tearing birth of my anguish.

“Please don’t do that,” she says in a voice devoid of any recognizable humanity. As she speaks the words she raises her eyes and seems to actually see me for the first time.

“Oh, you’ve cut off your hair.” These are the first words of familiarity she’s spoken.

“So?” I hurl back; a rebellious child. “It’s no concern of yours any longer.”

“No.”

That single word is like the tolling of a funeral bell. It hangs in the air between us and I know without question that everything that was ‘us’ has been consigned to the ground. At some point, she retreats to the bedroom. I’m so lost in the shock I barely notice.

 

631 words.

 

 

 

 

Words and image are my own.

 

©2016

Part past part fiction 5

 

When I was six years old my father walked out of my life for good. Actually, if the truth be told, he’d been absent almost from the beginning. I can draw on maybe three clear memories from that time that involve him, all of them negative.

Memory one

A bright Saturday morning when my kid brother and I climbed into bed with our parents. We’d wriggled in between them and lay soaking up their body warmth like a couple of little lizards. Of course, kids being kids, we were all elbows and knees and barely contained giggles.

Some fathers would’ve told us to settle down or go away. Some might have joined in and tickled us into submission. My father had his own methods.

Without warning, his big hand closed over the front of my pajama top and lifted me bodily from the bed. Plastic buttons were popping in all direction as he swung me out over the edge of the mattress and unceremoniously dumped me onto my arse on the cold floor. My brother soon followed in a similarly undignified manner, bursting into tears as his own backside hit the parquetry.

It was an act so sudden and dispassionate that it left me in a state of shock for hours. I never climbed into my parent’s bed again, and neither did my brother. We were five and three respectively.

Memory two

The time I came crying to my father with a bad toothache. Smiling, he put down his newspaper and patted his knee, bidding me sit. Sobs of self-pity racked my small body as I climbed up onto his lap. Then he told me to open wide and I felt his rough fingers probe my mouth.

‘Is it loose’ he asked?

I shook my head solemnly. In the next instant, he’d whipped out a handkerchief from his pocket and, tilting my head well back, gripped the offending molar. Before I’d had time to register what was about to happen he’d yanked it from the gum. A stabbing bolt of agony ripped through my mouth but he neatly stifled my scream with the balled up hanky.

‘Keep that there ‘till the bleeding stops.’ Was his only comment as he plopped me, wailing, back onto my feet and returned to his paper.

Memory three

My sixth Christmas, my brother and I up at the crack of dawn, unable to keep our hands from the bright packages piled beneath the plastic tree for a single moment longer than absolutely necessary.

Mum getting up with us to sit smiling and yawning as we rip through the layers of wrapping paper unmoved by its feeble efforts to keep us from our hearts desire. My father was nowhere to be seen. All the cards on the presents read ‘Love from mum and dad’ but only mum was there to hand them to us.

After all the parcels had been dismembered and their contents road tested to our satisfaction, it was time to get ready to go to my Grandparents house a few blocks away in Byron Street. The entire family was living around Coogee at that time and they’d all be there today. Apart from the obvious presents, a happy consequence of having so many

Aunts and Uncles, there’d be turkey and roast pork and Nana’s amazing trifle to be eagerly devoured. A lot of the time the best meat mum could afford was rabbit, so Christmas lunch was always a big deal.

Eventually, she got us scrubbed, dressed and combed, no easy task with all those shiny new playthings exerting their influence over our meager attention spans. In the end, though, we were ready to leave. My brother and I were each allowed to bring just one of our new toys with us and, after an agony of indecision, clutched our choices possessively as we waited for mum to lock the door.

At that moment, I looked up to see my father standing, silent, on the other side of our front gate.

‘Hello, boys, what d’you have there?’

‘Batmobile,’ I said holding it out for him to see.

‘Hotwheels,’ said my little brother doing the same.

‘Who’d you get those from?’

‘You,’ hissed my mother coming up behind us and placing a hand protectively on each of our small shoulders. ‘You come home some time then, or have you just come by to borrow money?’

My father didn’t deign to reply, ruefully returning mum’s gaze. They both stood that way for a long moment. Even at this tender age I could sense the lines of resentment tensioning out between them.

Finally, with an exasperated sigh, she reached into her purse and withdrew a ten Dollar note Thrusting it towards him.

‘That’s all I’ve got. Try not to drink it all. Jesus Jim, it’s Christmas day.’

My father took the bill without comment and tucked it into the breast pocket of his shirt. Then he was gone, walking away from us. I watched his broad back disappear down the street feeling the first sharp sting of a rejection that was to stick to me through all the years ahead.

I have no other useful memories of my father from this time. When I was seven my mother took us to live in England and all contact with this mysterious and unsatisfying man was severed.

I saw him just once more. When I was eighteen my brother, who’d reestablished contact with him some years earlier, took me from Canberra, where we were now living, back to Sydney, to spend a weekend at our father’s flat. A much smaller, more faded version of the man I remembered met me at the door and embraced me, calling me son.

Inside he offered me a beer and a place on his couch and, for the rest of the time I was there, acted as though we’d never been estranged. By this I mean he made no attempt to get to know me at all. His girlfriend, the woman he’d eventually left our mother for, showed far more interest and curiosity in me than he seemed able to muster.

When it was all over, the sum total of the fatherly wisdom he’d managed to pass on was this vital piece of advice, when you’re in the shower and the water’s too hot, don’t turn the cold tap up, turn the hot down. It’s cheaper that way, words to live by.

I’ve never seen him again since that weekend and he’s made no attempt to contact me.