Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Numbness, be my friend.

Libraries have this thing called the "Stack". Actually, it's just "Stack". No preposition, no article, just "Stack". Stack is where old books go to be stored, and asked for by old buggers. Let's face it - who remembers Dennis Wheatley these days? That's right: old farts. Right now I feel as though I should be sent to Stack for a rest. A quiet decade of being shelved with Enid Blyton, Leslie Charteris, Gerald Durrel and his brother, John Creasey and John Cleary, perhaps checking out Mickey Spillane's dust-covers... slightly foxed, I see, Mick.
It was a hard day. As hot as a rocket's exhaust, and I had to get around a vast retirement village with 8 boxes of books... and no hand trolley. Some bastard nicked it from the back of my van.
A box of books weighs in at anything between 12 and 25 kilograms. I was humping them, one at a time, by hand, for up to 200 metres each. That's because the nearest park I could find was way the hell over there, by that tree. The closest door to my van was 73 paces. On the longer one I was staggering a bit. That was at 10 in the morning. The day of lifting and carrying didn't finish until 4.30. Yes, I had a half-hour lunch break.
So this will be a short post. I am, to be blunt, buggered.
But let's take time for a quick happy moment. I spent ten minutes yesterday with John and Jean Birkbeck. He's 84, she's 6 months younger. They're English - and they've known each other since they were two. I frankly thought I'd been hopelessly romantic writing about a couple (Henry and Mary)who'd known and loved each other since they were 7. Jean and John have had an eventful life: they lived a half-mile from an RAF fighter base in WW2, and were subsequently bombed a few times. Once, John's parent's home was half demolished by an anti-aircraft round that had failed to explode. It came down, crashing through the roof, demolishing the dunny, and then ricocheting around the parlour, where John's Mum was sitting, knitting. Apparently, she didn't drop a stitch. Jean and John: even their names are the same, allowing for the genderising. Nice people.

LISTENING TO: The Raconteurs. Just how staggeringly geniussy is Jack White?
READING: Nothing new, but I do have the new John Birmingham on order. Explosions! Science Friction! Derring Do!
WORD OF THE DAY: Discombobulated. Thankyou, John Campbell.


“Well, Arthur. You’re in a right pickle here.”
“Miz Jayne. ‘zat you?” He was mumbling. The pain in his arms was intense. He flicked his eyes either side, and he could see Jayne Francis’ denim trousers at one side of the car, and Amy Copthorne’s floral dress on the other.
“Me and Amy,” Jayne murmured.
“Thank you.”
“Don’t say another word. Amy: those blocks of wood. Stuff a couple under the wheel hub here. I’ll put a couple… no, three, under this side.”
Arthur hears a scraping, and a second voice. “Hello, Arthur. Not to worry, we’ll have you out of here in two shakes of a dead lamb’s tail.”
“Thanks, Miss Amy,” he said, and relaxed. The wheel hub hit the timbers at Amy’s side too hard, and they flew away, and the car dropped. He made a grab at the axle again, and stopped it a fraction of an inch from his throat. The crack from his arm was like a small rifle-shot.
The pain that shot through him as the bone in his left arm broke made him yell. “Christ!” The sound ricocheted through the workshop, an angry sound that made Amy scream. Jayne swore, scrambled around the car, grabbed the hub of the wheel, one foot on either side of the weight, and hoisted up. She barked “Amy, grab the man’s legs and pull him out of there. Now!”
Amy did as she was told, marvelling at her unexpected strength, at Arthur’s dead-weight. Jayne swore again as the hub slipped through her fingers, and the car crashed down. The spring leaf tore a flap of skin away from Arthur’s brow, and blood gushed. A bone poked through the skin of his forearm, and it, too, bled freely.
“Christ, I’ve killed him,” mourned Jayne, a sob thick at the back of her throat.
“No. He’s all right. Look.”
Arthur’s sweat-stained chest was bare, his black singlet having been hiked up to his armpits. There, to the left of his sternum, a sparrow was leaping and battering under his skin.
Jayne Francis crossed herself vigourously, and caught Amy’s surprised eyes. “Sorry. I spent a couple of years in a boarding school in England, being beaten by bloody nuns. Some habits are hard to break.”
“We’d better get the doctor.”
“Not a chance. Didn’t you hear the commotion from the Lee’s place? The Doctor’ll be there for sure. ”
“They’re Chinamen. Arthur’s a white man!”
Jayne’s slap set Amy back on her heels. “If I ever hear you say anything like that in my presence again, Amy Copthorne, or even hear of you saying such a thing, then you’ll not be welcome in my home ever again. Imagine the like! Your father would be disgraced, to hear you say such a thing.”
And it was true. Jayne Francis knew Amy’s father, Albert Copthorne, well: he was a regular at the weekly poker games, and, since she arrived in Northridge, had made sure that Jayne never went short of firewood. Amy was curious about the friendship, but her Mother had never made any comment, and it did seem on the surface to be innocent. Amy was aware only that Jayne and her Father shared a deep knowledge of one another, and a great friendship.
“How dare you hit me! How dare you!”
“I dare because you are my friend, Amy. And my friends do not ever say such things. Nor do your Father’s friends. Now, which is it to be, girl?”
Amy snorted, and bent to rip her skirt hem into long, flowered strips. She was blisteringly angry, purely because she knew she was in the wrong. “Let’s get this head bandaged,” Amy said. “His arm’s broke, but I don’t know enough to splint it. We’ll need to wait until the doctor’s free,” she said.
She busied herself for a moment, wrapping the wound, which immediately turned the makeshift bandage scarlet. There was a minute’s silence, which Jayne broke. “I’m sorry, Amy. I should never have lifted my hand to you.”
“No,” said Amy. She looked up, and tears were glistening at the edge of her eyes. “I don’t even know where that came from. You were right. My Da’ would be shocked to hear me say such a thing.” At moments Amy’s North England background came out in her speech, despite having been born in this new country at the bottom of the Earth.
“So be it, then,” said Jayne. “So be it.” Jayne reached out, and touched the smear of Arthur’s blood on Amy’s hand. She looked deep into the younger woman’s eyes, and was only mildly surprised at what she saw there.

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