Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Divided House - a story

from w
M and J Adventures posted in their blog about a car cut in half after a marital dispute. I am posting a story here about a similar situation - but about a house divided. It's fictional and a bit long but if you are interested, read on. I read this story at an art exchibition at the Geelong Gallery.

The Divided House

Story written after viewing Rick Amor’s painting ‘The Philosophy Department’ 1994 gouache on paper.
He sits without writing and his knees are aching, toes gouty. He tries to focus, to block out the trivia, glottolalia, the insistent contradictory voices. I WANT TO ASK THE BIG QUESTIONS IN LIFE.

She said he was not grounded enough for her. He was unworldly, he didn’t even notice dribbles and food staining his vest. Says he’s a nocturnal animal, and then mutters something about a pointy head, a fake IQ.

These are chiaroscuro evenings of writer’s block in his Italianate tower, given by a Jesuit friend. The computer is idling at this stage, pushed back, as he prefers the contours of his own handwriting. He bends over pages, cover the A4 notebook with squiggles, word maps, question marks. The light is a small lamp and above a narrow window separates him from the city smog. This is the ‘Philosophy Department,’ as she called it. A joke then.

The ‘Why’ is harder than ‘ How’ when he sees before him his friend’s bleak face at the funeral, mourning loss of kin, knowing the possibilities of accident and error. Yes, we are part of an animal kingdom. He is the philosopher who does not know why as he pores over texts on texts, over centuries of riveting questions.
The ugly split house is loaded onto two trucks, moved snail-like across the verge into the wide road, turned awkwardly and announced by Vic Roads men in orange vests. The trucks negotiate the lights and turn towards a recycled life in another suburb - with a younger couple, without the spats of difference and history of unloving.
Act One is over for him. She’ll get half the house, a friend had joked, and he’d sold it in two pieces. Barely two pieces of silver for her.. Now as she idles with her new man at Surfers.

He had stood on the grass, watched the dissolution, the detritus of fifteen years, bricks left idle from a chimney, a fence down. The hearth became cold ash. Once was the focus of the living years. Glitches in life brought a parting.
She used to ring him at the rented tower, until he took away the phone in order to concentrate. She used to cajole him, insist he take time off to smell the roses, as she naively put it. ‘Leave your books. Notice the sunshine, even on a chilly day,’ she said. He went with her to the You Yangs on her birthday, ‘See,’ she said, ‘clouds do hover like a tail of light. And the mountaintop beckons beyond the fire blackened trees. Look beyond the sighing casuarinas. See the fine fields, laid out, ordered, the grid of trees and lanes and civilization. Listen to the laughter of young people as they stride up the walking tracks.’

She did go on and on.

Being misled by a beautiful shape, he had admired the flowerlike lines on the wood. But what a deception. It was only a sawn cut tree trunk, abused, cut off, for lichen and moss, and orange fungi to thrive.

‘If you want to write, dear,’ she’d said, ‘Write about the ambience of the everyday. You talk in abstractions all the time, touch that broken tree, run your hand along the scorched trunk. Get real with the world. Your philosopher’s tower is not lovely, not ivory at all. It’s dark, old-fashioned, 19th century. There’s no need to pretend to be the hero of La Boheme.’ She pulled a bunch of leaves from a wattle, stripped them, then said, ‘Don’t be a jellyfish as life swells about you.’

That was just about the last thing she’d said before …

What was she on about? He looked up ‘jellyfish’ on the internet. A grey shape morphed, grew larger until it nearly exploded across the screen, then faded away. He understood the allusion – to be tossed by waves, pushed by currents, without goal in mind, letting chance rule actions. A jellyfish is 95 percent water, 3 per cent salt, 2 per cent protein. He got the drift, it’s about no plan, no ultimate destination. A wanderer without a home and then you meet other drifters and call that a deep and meaningful, a network, a lifestyle but there’s no potency. Then you are crying, but without passion.

‘Je ne sai quoi!’ I don’t know what I know any more.

I know where I’m going, I know who’s going with me I know who I love.. She used to sing that and mean it when they were young and graceful with poems in their heads spilling out to please each other.

Spineless, he now drifts, carried along by the awkward circumstances of the divorce. Jellyfish are called a medusa.. That’s the adult.. Dangerous. His wife, she is the medusa. Most dangerous is the Australian box jelly – toxins are more potent than cobra venom. However the leatherback sea turtle eats them. He will be that leatherback eh!

Does she really think he is floundering, a groper, a fumbler? Of course she does
All the lonely people, where do they come from?

Let me take you by the hand and walk you through the streets of … Her contralto voice haunts him still and he knows she will be singing to some one else any time now.

Jellyfish belong to phylum Cnidaria, and - listen to this – they have a reputation for stinging. Yes he’ll sting her. She’ won’t even get half the house when the cheque comes in. And she’ll find that it’s an empty block when she returns from Surfers. A pile of bricks where the family hearth was.

Humans fear jellyfish, let her know fear.

Oh, here’s a problem. Jellyfish have no heart, blood, brain or gills. Sounds like Dorothy tripping on that yellow brick road with an assortment of friends, but they have a goal don’t they, to see the Wizard of Oz. They feed on zooplankton which includes other jellyfish, ah cannibals they are as humans all are, biting off one another, snapping, snarling, teeth on edge.

They usually perish in rough water. He drives the pen furiously into the page, tearing it.

They are 650 millions years old, older than the shark. So there Jan. Not happy Jan. He looks down at his notebook – he have covered twenty pages with words, drawings, maps, but everything is circular, going back all the time to the spineless creature that he is.

But the venom is there, lurking.

He decides it’s time to leave the tower, to go home. He stands up awkwardly, rubs his shins for the wintry pain Then he remembers that the house is gone, divided into two strange halves, shifted to another suburb. He’s only got this borrowed room without a kitchen. He’ll have to eat at Makkas.

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