50 FALSE STARTS

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By John Dickson

Writers know this. A blank page beckoning, a spark of inspiration, then…nothing. Here are 50 of my first hurdle falls. Only because it is our 50th edition. I wonder what happened next…

  1. Chris ran a fingernail down the edge of the package. Nine copies of his first book shed their biodegradable plastic skin and spilled free. One fell open. The chapter head read, ‘From the comic to the tracig’.
  2. She slipped the token into its slot and pulled on the handle of the shopping trolley. Its umbilical chain slid free. She felt the human grease beneath her curled fingers.
  3. Of the applicants, only one was clearly under-qualified. Mathieson wanted to speak to that one first. ‘Any monkey can learn a bit of software,’ he said. ‘I want a creative mind.
  4. Bevan was miserable. Buttocks clenched, teeth gritted, mind shutting down, he was incapable of knocking on the bathroom door. This would acknowledge that he was aware of what was transpiring behind it, and that was unthinkable.
  5. Manny decided to linger in the big warm bed a little longer. By squinting slightly, she had transformed the flocked wallpaper into a bacchanalian orgy and was curious to see its outcome.
  6. Her head still rested on the keyboard where it had fallen midway through a sentence that began ‘Central to this pivotal outcome is…’.
  7. Bidgee was piloting his new Toyota Celica towards the Mt Olympus Gymnasium and Spa. The remains of his frontal lobes were being pattern-bombed by the four-chord repertoire of Acetylene Torch from the belly of a 100-watt boom bin occupying the entire rear seat.
  8. Pouch performed an elaborate ceremony of snuffling and dabbing and the giving out of loose hoks and tight expectoral coughs. Each time he snorted the powder, he would drop the salt shaker into his lap, raise his wrists, his fingers pointing loosely at the carriage floor, and mutter, ‘King hell!’.
  9. My dad’s name is Silo. His skin replaces itself every 16 days. You will stare at him as much as you stare at me. We are inseparable.
  10. I like to go into our second [yes, second!] bathroom and sing Bohemian Rhapsody really loudly. I can hit those notes in there. Well at least that’s what it sounds like to me.
  11. He’s as drunk as his money will let him/in a bar where nobody goes/ All he’s got left is a mountain of debt/and a suitcase she filled with his clothes.
  12. From the tumbler’s dripping condensation, Barry let a puddle form on the glass tabletop. With his finger, he began a portrait in water of the infamous industrialist sitting opposite him – Mr Francis Otto, who was warming to his favourite subject: himself.
  13. Well, well, well. What am I to make of this?
  14. Brian ’Tank’ Leah’s toilet mouth was as loud as the outer. He was as strong as a Mason’s handshake and as smart as a library. He was a bloke that other blokes could count on. So when he came out, Gary began to weep.
  15. Campbell knew Crouch was coming for him. Had known from the moment he clocked him dinking his way between the rows of desks. Crouch arrived in his face sooner than Campbell expected, his disability proving no impediment to pace.
  16. Having danced around her stupid death with tortured euphemisms, the Reverend Andrew Lime was about to launch the ‘ashes-to-ashes’ incantation when a magpie carved a thumb-sized lump from the top his glistening bald head.
  17. His wife’s favourite son, Bobby [he preferred ‘Bob’] had been staring down at his father with the slovenly sneer he always wore when the two were in close proximity.
  18. The incongruous couple seemed to disappear into the blast of yellow of the surrounding wattles. If they stood there much longer, Soft feared that they just might vanish.
  19. Away from the city, a belligerent wind bullies the chain-link fence that corrals the rusting skeleton of Burnside’s Drive-in. It closed a generation ago when the town of Baron fell victim to disinterest, then rot.
  20. Listen to this strange little clump, his eyes roaming independently of each other while the two remaining fingers of his left hand stab at your new Chromlan™ Supple Suit jacket, leaving scab-drop scattered across the lapels. Listen while he insists that ‘folks just disappeared into that damned Jesus light’. Listen to that.
  21. 170 Nautilus Avenue was empty. Had been for months. Maybe years. Nobody came, nobody went. There were never any lights on. No cars. No bins. No signs of life. Behind the lawn forest, this sturdy double-brick bungalow sat awkwardly on a large, gum-treed block.  Geoff Hicks caught a whiff of it first.
  22. Marie is cast adrift. Sobs erupt in her feet and roll through her arid body. It seems like she is emptying out. The others give her space.
  23. I am facing a door with a state-of-the-art locking mechanism. I am confined to a bed by the best the pharmaceutical industry has to offer because I behaved in a way usually reserved for people who don’t look like me. I have undone Jane’s view of things for which she reserves her deepest disappointment.
  24. Gone are the blokes like Pighead McEvoy who would shoot a big hypodermic full of adrenalin into his dog’s arse as he lowered him into the ring and then sit there with an old Smith & Wesson .45 in his lap for when things came loose.
  25. On Monday, he put his suit on/then splashed ‘spice’ around his head/he tidied up his night before and rearranged his bed/ he tumbled all his laundry into the yawning laundry chute/then packed his bag with a paperback and a trophy piece of fruit.
  26. Bhavi Singh is on the platform ahead of me, his head buried in the financial pages. I tag his elbow as I stride by. ‘Buy low, sell high’, I toss him. He shows me his teeth while his eyes scramble to identify me.
  27. His silvered thinning hair is brushed straight back from a forehead that must be 15 centimetres high. A verandah of eyebrow bush keeps dark flashing eyes in permanent shadow. The patrician nose appears to be in perpetual motion, sniffing out the dirty little secrets – your dirty little secrets.
  28. What made her job especially delicious was when another fallen star from the shining firmament dragged their low-slung embarrassment through the double sets of double-glazed double doors and down the corridor into The War Room for a little chat.
  29. This tiny raisin of a woman lived in her own head like a squatter, refusing to budge – she knew her rights.
  30. I hired him off a photocopied business card pinned to the wall of the Sudsy Laundromat I frequent on those long nights when sleep won’t come near me. In three decks, it read: Oddjobs and dogs; Patience is a verchew [sic]; Anything done – Patience Vaughan. A mobile number had been scratched out twice. Its third incarnation was upside down and trailed off the edge. That’s how I knew he would do it.
  31. The Hendersons were indentured to a careless toss of ramshackle housing jammed between the freeway and acres of warehouse and factory skeletons long abandoned to the vicious winds that arrived angry off 200 kilometres of empty flatlands.
  32. It had all the ingredients: it was reviled and deadly; it attracted fringe dwellers comfortable traipsing about outside the law; it only happened at night on secret little islands of madness; it involved large sums of untraceable lolly. In short, it was everything I wanted and nothing you could stomach.
  33. She lets her long hair loose, gathers it, twists it into a rope, then winds it in on itself until a bun rests at the nape of her neck. A small, intimate ballet of neatness.
  34. What did she say? What? Five words. Five steps to vertigo. Five walls of claustrophobia. Five cacophonous words: ‘I don’t trust you, anymore.’
  35. Dear Ms Hending, I prised your address from Jenny Spitz after a brief bout at the Marvison’s a fortnight ago. She reluctantly assured me that she would alert you to this encounter, so am hoping this missive does not arrive as too much of a jolt. It was me who shot your horse.
  36. Joe sat at the wheel of his ute for an extra smoke and to see if that funny prick on the wireless was going to make him laugh again.
  37. The town centre had suffered the indignity of gentrification. Ancient facades mounted by brutalist boxes highlighted this schizophrenic development and left the visitor anxious and keen to depart as quickly as possible.
  38. ‘There’s no place I would rather be,’ I whisper, adding perhaps one more egg to the pudding than absolutely necessary.
  39. Brunton wore a salty suit/the same one every day/its pants shone shiny on the arse/sloven knees were stained with grass/a swollen pocket held the glass/into which he poured his pay.
  40. The rain had stopped battering her window some hours ago and the light was seeping in early. Winter was drifting into spring and with the warmer weather her gloved hands would begin to attract all that attention again.
  41. Caught in the warmth of the sunlit back door of Govern’s Chinese, Fish & Coffee, Dymphna Price is honeyed to the spot. She is waiting for me to negotiate the high gutter. ‘One leg at a time Harry, don’t want to tempt old slapstick fate in front of Dymphna.’
  42. We were sitting in the Fraser Room. It gained that appellation from its curious dimensions. It was taller than wide and the two lone windows were set close together either side of a fireplace that tumbled too far across the wooden floor.
  43. The sun floats in low, muted and flat through filthy glass. Dust motes fly around as he slaps and bangs this and that. He’s squint angry, but not blood angry. Not anymore.
  44. His first lecture was entitled Introduction to Philosophy. He opened the big green book in front of him to the first page of blue-lined paper and wrote it down. Before Tweed Suit destroyed his life, he had fallen in love with three of his fellow students, two of whom were women.
  45. The dawn arrives in the form of a three-year-old projectile landing close to an area that he too will learn to protect with vigour. I follow him to his room where ritual demands we play a complex game involving a number of stuffed toys, a miniature coliseum and four pieces of fruit. I allow him seven minutes of my now valuable time. It is barely enough for one rubber of a game that demands a minimum of four.
  46. The table setting gave it away.
  47. Last carriage on the 5.25, heading home. I’m bent over, staring at the ridges on the floor. In the valleys, little cruds of human discard are caught in the amber of the age – chewie. Those ridges remind me of the hair thing on her dresser. Among the shamble of bottles and jars, the hair thing stood as a resolute reminder.
  48. With clumsy hands and stupid legs, she climbs into the day/Her clothes a modest flattery, precise in what they say/Tasteful, thoughtful, classic, this woman knows her mind/She’s smart and strong and poised and lithe, she’s savoir-faire defined/Or his she? It’s hard to tell, her carapace is strong/But out she goes into the world, as if there’s nothing wrong.
  49. This corridor may just go on forever. There are no pictures on the walls. There are no signs. Same-doors alternating from side-to-side are not numbered. The nothing-coloured carpet is a runway to nowhere.
  50. Her father found them in the shed. He beat the young man and sent him on his way. The young man took it. She took it too. The sudden storm of blows. Like her mother. She found refuge in her books. The rhythm of them soothed her. Here she was safe. Her mother, dewy-eyed, became increasingly skittish at her success. ‘Be careful,’ she warned. A girl should not have to pity her mother.

Words and picture © John Dickson 2020

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