In the Wee Wee Hours
You loved to shock. You always said what was on your mind, even if it upset people. You loved upsetting people with the truth – that was your reason for being. I always liked that about you, even if you upset me sometimes by telling me some truth nobody else had the balls or naiveté to say to me. You were only a kid. You could get away with it. You always knew the gossip of the household, even if you didn’t really understand it. You remembered everything.
There was no internet in the house. No Google. Maybe there was Google in other houses if you had enough money, that sort of information was expensive back then. So if somebody in our house wanted to know something about someone they would go to you and you would just tell them. You were an oracle.
You had perfect timing. You were a comedian. You practised the same material on different audiences to hone your skills. You were the first person to tell me that my breath smelt like a bum. You were the first person to tell me that I was going bald – I remember you referring to my “baldy bits” to alternate hysterical laughter and awkward silence, depending on the company. You spread it around. Awkward situations always amused you. You were puzzled by them but always aloof, speaking with your wisdom in your childish deadpan. Like an alien super being or a prize-winning scientist studying the behaviour of alien super beings.
The things that I done
One time me and your mum were having an argument and I suppose I was yelling at her and you clapped your hand over my mouth and it was just so unexpected I started laughing and then your mum was laughing again. We couldn’t help it, you were so funny back then. Everything you said was either very wise or funny. You were a sage. You made us laugh. I loved the sound of your mum’s laugh. You weren’t laughing though, you were serious. It was like you were never going to smile again. I can’t even remember what we were arguing about that time. But you remembered everything back then. You would know. If I asked you about it now you would remember.
Somebody out there listen
Now after all these years of incubation, I hatch out my master plan. I put the drawing you did of all those cows having Christmas dinner underwater as my Facebook profile picture in the hope that you will friend me. I post your drawing on Facebook like an egg and I wait and wait and wait.
When you accept my friendship on Facebook I am so happy. Look at my face on my new profile picture it is electric.
I shoot you a message straight away with an attachment of the picture you drew of Santa and the reindeers in the “One Whole Holfen Sleigh”. On that farm there is to ride a One Whole Holfen Sleigh, you would sing. We would sing that song together. ‘The One Whole Holfen Sleigh is a sleigh full of presents,’ you would tell me. You loved presents and the whole ritual of receiving, but not necessarily giving. You loved Christmas. And Easter. The orgy of chocolate and presents. The pomp and ceremony, the pantomime, like an Eminem concert.
Huh! Whooooooooo … Huh! Whooo-a-hooo …
I remember laughing with your mum about how you thought Santa lived on a farm. ‘I suppose it is a kind of farm,’ said your mum, ‘with all the reindeers and the elves and the workshop.’
‘It’s a battery farm,’ I said to your mum, ‘it’s a sweatshop.’ I am proud that I never shared my true feelings about Santa and the Easter Bunny with you. I did tell you what I knew about Jesus, though I am not really a fan of his. I just thought it was better that you heard it from me first. We talked about all three of them in the same breath. You were electrified by these ideas. None of it was possible without magic. You were interested by the idea of magic. It excited you. I guess you imagined Santa and Jesus and the Easter Bunny all living on the same farm to save money, in the same way that you and me and your mum lived in a house with an artist and a chef and a musician to save money. Because it was cheaper and a lot more fun to live this way. It made a lot of economic sense back then, even if it didn’t make much sense in other ways.
You liked eating pancakes. That was your first English composition in Grade 1. You wrote ‘My favourite food is pancakes’ on the computer in Times New Roman and you drew three pixelated pancakes with maple syrup. Your mum made you give it to me. She made a big thing out of it. It was a peace offering. I stuck your mum’s peace offering on the fridge. I think you knew what was going on. Most of your classmates had drawn pixelated McDonalds and KFC scenarios and I was proud that you had drawn pancakes on the computer with the mouse because pancakes were something we could
truly be proud of, something we could make ourselves, for each other.
Even today, if you walk into my kitchen and look at the stovetop above my oven, you will see the three pancake circles you drew on the computer in Grade 1, draped with generous irregular maple syrup shaded shapes. There were always enough pancakes to feed everybody in the house. Even after all this time, whenever I make pancakes I look at your dot matrix pancake picture and feel happy and sad, it is like I am being bombed by little jet fighters dropping little bombs marked ‘happy’ and ‘sad’. Over all this time the little splatters of butter and oil and syrup have made your computer drawing translucent. I can look straight through it and see you and your mum lying down on a blanket in the vegetable garden through the kitchen window of the old place.
Jammed up with talk ‘till you lose your patience
You wanted to make your own pancakes from scratch and I remember telling your mum how we should capitalise on this.
I tell her about an episode of Sesame Street I watched with you: “I’m gonna make a stool for me,’ says a little Hillbilly five-year-old with an axe and a tree her pappy just cut down.
‘That’s what we should do with the pancakes,’ I said, motioning in your direction. ‘Look at how independent and resourceful that kid is. We need some of her Hillbilly gumption.’
Of course your mum took this the wrong way. She thought I was making fun of her. She thought I was calling her a bad mother.
‘That’s not what I meant,’ I said to your mum. ‘You should eat something,’ I said. ‘You haven’t eaten anything. I don’t think you have the energy to even think.’
I was always trying to get your mum to eat something. Things could be so fantastic when your mother ate something.
You both liked eating pancakes. I liked eating pancakes. Everyone in the house liked eating pancakes. I tried to have maple syrup in the fridge at all times, but it was no good. The other people in the house guzzled the maple syrup spoon by spoon and the honey, sometimes we went without sugar for days. I never knew who was in charge of buying the sugar. It was like a Mexican standoff sometimes with the sugar and who bought the sugar. Sometimes we drank tea without honey, without sugar. All I knew was that it was my job to keep buying maple syrup and that’s what I did.
There were people in the house that depended on me.
Your mind gets hazy
I can’t remember now. These are things I thought I would never forget but I have forgotten them. I never did have your gift of remembering things exactly as they happened. When I think now about what I actually remember I am not left with much. Some of the memories are very sweet and some of the memories are very painful but most of the memories are missing. Maybe we all wanted it that way. Even if I try very hard, I can remember very little about all those old times with you and your mum.
All I have is a box of your writing and drawing and some letters you wrote to me. I taught you to write letters. If nothing else, I am proud of this small thing. You wrote letters to Santa and Jesus and the Easter Bunny and your dad and your mum.
I answered every letter you wrote me. I didn’t push it. When you stopped writing I did too. It was natural. You are not my kid. I get that now.
Listen to my last prayer
I prayed that your mum would eat something. She liked sweet things. If she was going to eat something, it would probably be something sweet.
‘Hey,’ I whisper to you in secret. ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to make some pancakes for your mum?’
So I taught you how to make pancakes. I like to think that you still make pancakes from scratch. Even though I don’t really know that for a fact. You might just buy the Shake ‘n’ Bake ones from 7-Eleven. Maybe you hate pancakes now, maybe they conjure up bad memories for you. I don’t know you anymore, not like I used to. Once I knew everything there was to know about you.
‘neath the refinery’s glow, where the black rivers flow, got a clear conscience, yo
The other good thing that was good to put on pancakes was lemon juice. Maple syrup and lemon juice tasted good on a pancake, we all liked that combination. We didn’t have a lemon tree but everybody knew where to get lemons. It was like a free supermarket for the people, all of the ripening branches of apricots and feijoas and peaches hanging over the bluestone lanes behind the fish ‘n’ chip shop on the main road.
Mr State Trooper
I can’t keep a secret. I tell you the secret ingredient in my pancake mix, which is yoghurt. I blurt it out to you. Vanilla yoghurt is best I think. That’s what I tell you. You don’t even have to torture me. It’s not that much of a secret. You can get a similar effect by letting the mix sit for an hour or so. You have to let it go a bit sour.
We have all gone a bit sour we have been sitting around for so long.
You don’t put your hand over my mouth or anything but I can tell you have stopped listening to me again. You were like the fuzz back then. You smashed my dreams, you smashed your mum’s dreams. She could have been on TV if it wasn’t for you.
Just talk talk talk talk
We walk all the way along the main road to Coles to buy the most expensive brand of maple syrup, all the way from Canada. I do not hide my contempt of imitation maple-flavoured syrups from you.
I show you how to steal nuts from Safeway and Coles, before they became hip to it. This was back when you were very moralistic. Everything was black and white to you at this age. Swearing was bad. Stealing was bad and you were allergic to nuts, so you were never going to approve of this. I can see that now. I get it.
I do not steal maple syrup from Coles, only cashew nuts that I eat casually while shopping for other products. I will go to jail for eating cashew nuts from Coles without paying for them you tell me.
As we wait in line to buy the expensive imported maple syrup, I tell you all about how maple syrup is made from the sap of maple trees in Canada.
Then, on the way home you tell me that sap is the blood of a tree. ‘Yes,’ I say laughing, ‘it’s tree blood.’
I tell you all about blood sugar and the xylem and the phloem and your mind boggles. After a while you put a hand over my mouth again. You are tired of this now. I talk too much, you don’t have to say it. Even back then you were a man of few words.
One time late at night, I ate one of your chocolate rabbits and somehow your dad found out about it and there was hell to pay. He really paid out on me for that. I felt very small that year and I would have melted away if I could have managed that. It didn’t matter how many chocolate rabbits I bought from then on. Your whole family was watching me now.
Radio relay towers
You were only worried about me. You were used to looking after your mum. You went to jail if you stole something. If you smoked cigarettes you would die of lung cancer. I remember when I stopped smoking in front of you. Your mum and I both smoked. We made our own. I remember when you became conscious of this: “My mum makes brown cigarettes, her friend makes green cigarettes,” you told your Grade 1 teacher. Your dad found out about this and made as much trouble as he could make about it.
I never wanted to be your dad. I never tried to do that. I always tried to leave a big space for all that to happen between you and him. He didn’t visit much but when he did I always made myself scarce.
I made like one of those maple trees from Canada.
Hi Ho Silver Oh
You knew all these things you were never meant to know. I don’t know if you actually remember these things or if you just heard the stories and made memories of them that way. One night you and your mum were visiting your dad and he was sitting on your mum so she couldn’t get up. He was angry at her for being with me and thinking about me when there were other more important things to think about. Why wasn’t she thinking of you and her and him? What was wrong with her? He started wailing on your mum with your little plastic hammer making tiny little bruises all over her pretty little face. You tell me this happened and you remember it, but you were only two years old. I don’t remember anything from when I was two years old. But your memory was a supercomputer. You remembered everything. Sometimes I forget that.
When she came back to my house to be with me and you, my housemate put some semi-frozen meat on your mum’s face and the next day we all agreed that it didn’t look as bad as it could have looked. Your mum was still very pretty in a hard sort of way. She made all the planes and helicopters fall from the sky, she made them crash into buildings. She was a little stunner. She was always causing traffic accidents and train wrecks as she
walked down the main road. All these blokes just drove into each other to be close as they could be to her.
Maybe you got a kid, maybe you got a pretty wife
I buried treasure in the sand. You loved money and finding money. You collected it. I would always tell you that the money you found was treasure. I would romanticise it. I liked the look on your face whenever you found a piece of the treasure I had buried for you in the sand. Your eyes were so wide with wonder. You hoarded your money in a secret place in your bedroom like pirate gold. You loved the idea of gold, you would dig for it. You and your mum were both digging for it. We were all digging.
I liked booty too.
I would drop coins for you in the checkout isles of Coles. A couple of times I hid the coins too well and homeless people found the money before you did. You should have seen your face. You knew it was your money and they had taken it from you.
And always the same song playing on the cassette player in your mum’s car, or on the record player in the house when I was moving furniture into my car. Every time I hear it on the radio I am transported back there with you and your mum. It’s like a time tunnel or a re-run of The Time Tunnel.
Listen to my last breath
When your mum met your new dad I wrote you a letter and stuck it inside a picture book about treasure called Pirate Booty with some Chinatown lollies in the shapes of pizzas and hamburgers in an old metal chest and buried it in the garden. I left you a treasure map, stained with coffee and burnt edges on the kitchen table. I buried the treasure chest really deep in the vegetable garden of the old house so it would take you very a long time to find.
None of this cost money. I got the book about pirate booty from the op shop on the main road for eighty cents. It was only loose change. I was careful with my money. I was an ideas man. A good idea is worth so much more than money and you understood that. That’s one of the things I liked about you.
Radio’s all jammed up
Now that we are Facebook friends, I am constantly being shocked at how casually you use the c-word on your Facebook status. How frequently this word is used by you and your friends. I am astounded by how much you use this word and how little I know about you now. You are drinking too much and driving too fast. I do not understand your new haircut. You look just like your dad. I feel so old when I look at the photos of you on your profile. We are strangers now.
Licence, registration, I aint got none
One night I drove past the old house and saw you on your bike. Your mum told me that you had my phone number and you would call me. This was when your mum was with your new dad. The one that was much better than me and your first dad put together. I wanted to stop. Even though I was driving quite fast I will always remember travelling past you in slow motion. You might have looked up and recognised my car but I would have already been long gone by then.
I just want you to remember that I have always been here for you. Me and your mum and dad and Jesus and Santa and the Easter Bunny, we have always been here for you. We may have taken it in turns, but whenever you needed somebody, one of us was always there. You were never alone. You always knew that. I always took comfort in knowing that you knew that.
I remember the song playing on the radio as I zoomed past. It’s stuck in my head.