"BOO" by Cliff Ellen


by Cliff Ellen. [Short version].

A BACKYARD. LATE AFTERNOON. TELEPHONE RINGS....Ignore it. So much for the 'Don't call register'. There’s a long queue wherever you go. The great wall of bloody China. People ready to tell a man what to do. The '"They know best" society?......They can all bugger off....Bloody quiet I know that much. Talk to yourself half the time, no bastard ever listens. Bloody moth. (brushes it away) Big black bastard. Did you see it? (stops. listens) There it is again. Hear it swishing? Spooky. I get goose bumps. I shiver yet it’s still warm. Like when you think you’ve been somewhere at another time, de’ja-vu. It’s the fashion these days. Sixth sense? Someone’s watching, you think. Peter Dutton? ASIO? A concrete courtyard - new wooden fences. 6 feet high. An olive tree. Neat and tidy. I get restless...bastards. 


I’m in a race and they’re after me, running on the spot. Like the nightmares I had as a kid after seeing those mummy horror films. Big boofhead Boris Karloff chasing me, arms outstretched, dragging one foot after the other. The bastard’s getting closer and I’m getting nowhere. The witch in the Wizard of Oz? Frightened the daylights out of me. The bloke in the park showing his donger under an enormous fat belly. Nightmares. Things always look better looking back, don’t they? (CALLS) Show yourselves! Bastards! Can’t be Mary? (CALLS) I love you darling. 14 years, no response. Maybe she didn't make it? 


Spiritual. Ghosts! The goosebump brigade. All those stars. The milky way. The universe, the black hole. Getting old. Edgy. Mind you this is a far cry from a retirement home. This is living heaven. Went with my son, a 'pretending to care' visit. El cheapo. It was the room. A waiting room. Always waiting? Stuffy. Smelly. She didn’t think so. 


“It’s nice and cool here Mr Lachlan you’ll be comfortable here dear. We’ve just had the ac serviced” Talked down to me. 83 tomorrow. I'll give you 'Dear'. No wonder they drop off like blowflies. “Have a read of this Mr Lachlan” A copy of a bloody Woman's Day? Occasionally in a doctor’s surgery. “This should get the mind ticking.” I said to her. Sarcasm gone astray. “Try Superman, Mr Lachlan”. Bloody A/C. Likely to cop Legionnaires.


You can argue “bullshit” till doomsday but you don’t know anymore than I do what is, or is not. Those same people who did not believe in ghosts thought the world was flat. Looked up at the sky and didn’t realise they were looking at a miracle. Still don’t. Safe out here. Ghost sightings occur inside the house, or in a theatre?...including some of the actors, or in the audience, disguised as critics? Not in my courtyard. It’ll be dark soon. Bobby says ghosts don’t exist, apart from his 'Holy' ghost. Brought up a catholic, poor bastard. Votes Greens. Can you believe it? Bobby rescued me from that nuthouse. If you think someone’s a nutter for believing in ghosts, it stands to reason you’re a smart arse for thinking you know the answers. Bobby says I'm agnostic. Fair cop. I was cold inside. Thought I might go for a walk. Bobby walks. He used to walk to keep fit. Now he walks because he can. Nice and warm out here. If there are ghosts surely they’re allowed out to play.  Freedom of choice?  


Friend of mine had a nasty experience at the old Athenaeum theatre. He was in the toilet having a quiet pee, minding his own business, as one does, and a presence brushed against him. On his own, a relaxing slash. Got a nasty fright. Also got pee all over his shirt. The presence brushed his right hand, the holding hand, and it jerked up, he copped a spray. Try drying your face on one of those hot air blowers.


Old houses? Ghosts in some they say. I don’t deny my friend could have been into the whisky, told him to keep it in mind, when it’s his turn, as in bye bye Percy hello St. Peter, he can look him up, or her, a word in his ear. Revenge is the sweetest of feelings. We thrive on revenge. Television. Movies. Politics. Football. Bobby's religion! Revenge. 


”Human beings, vegetables, or cosmic dust, we all dance to a mysterious tune, intoned in the distance by a mysterious player.” [Einstein] Vague old bastard. A bit each way? Albert was no fool, unless dementia came knocking. Splitting the atom. e equals something. The theory of relativity. Indigenous people say there is no death, just moving on to another world. The world of the dead. A return to the universe. The little wave does not disappear when it reaches the shore, it becomes part of the whole again...and again. All those rellies, friends, people you loved, people you don’t miss. Buried or burned; spirits! Socialism prevails in heaven. Kennedy, Menzies, Chifley, Mum, Mary, spirits floating about, getting in for nothing, seeing the shows. perhaps knowing what I really think, or feel? We may find out, in that dreaded final minute, in that tunnel. The 'Boo' tunnel, the 'too bloody late' tunnel. Sad. Mary was there in her tunnel. For now we live on in the hope of being happy, of dying happy. Not caring when I go, the fear of how I go. (CALLS) Are you happy ghosts? Tell me what happy means! 


Unless there’s a register? Heaven's register. A posthumous register of bad deeds? And/or rewards, frequent flyer points. A pure score of 1000 points and you drop a point for each sinful deed, or a scale of points depending on the degree of sin?  The spirits get around with lycra type football jumpers on, the colours of their country, maybe their planet, the numbers on the back of their jumpers represents how they fared in living a life, assuming we only have the one life. Visible, front of their jumpers? All with less than zero are banished, sun-baking in hell. Baking in hell. 


Checking out who’s there. Hey, haven’t seen Sarah. Excuse me friend, have you spotted Sarah Mountjoy in your travels? “She’s not up here buddy” How about Mary? Mind you if he had a higher number on his jumper he probably wouldn’t answer. Stare in disdain. Sarah Mountjoy. I always suspected she was a bit of a goer. Looked innocent, but those lips told the tale. "Not for you Horace?" That's what they said. Who would have guessed. Sarah? 


Ronny Wilmott with the angelic face, big brown eyes, the charmer? Everybody spoke well of Ronny. A true Australian. Not a trace of the bastard in the little prick. Traditionally handsome unless you looked closer and spotted the prick within. People warm to those handsome bastards, never considering the Ronny types were about themselves. Can take a year to see through the fraud of the Ronny types. What did Ronny get up to? Didn’t skite like the rest of us, spent most of his time sucking up to important people and quietly bad mouthing the rest of us. “Don’t be vain” Mum used to say to me. “look at Ronny.”                         


Sarah wouldn't have a bar of Ronny, or Mason obviously. Mason was a dyed in the wool low life who haunted me those first 12 years, two houses up in a street full of kids. The War, fathers overseas. The rumour was her and Ronny had something going but it wouldn't have lasted. Sarah worked on instinct. Loved the slap and tickle and a gorgeous shape, but her niceness was the key, not that Mum thought so. Mum was conned by Ronny but judged Sarah on her sexuality? Always a pleasure to look at Sarah, secretly. 


People who know all the answers are to be avoided. Teachers! Forcing me to play sport. Physical instruction. Forced me to dive into swimming pools and sending me home with a headache. Why do so many smart-arsed people insist we play sport? Why do so many smart-arsed people become swimming instructors, or parking inspectors? The misery of forced competitiveness. I hated school. Childminding centres.  


That bloody waiting room. Long wooden seats like they had in the old railway stations. Faulty air-conditioning. Had to take two panadols. “Where’s the toilet” I said. “Straight down the hallway Mr Lachlan. See? The yellow line down there dear” Follow the smell.  Stale piss I should think. Hold your breath and pee, very fast. Worth every cent, my son said, ungrateful bastard. I didn’t make him play sport. So much for the law of karma. Use a cubicle in case you dribble. We don't talk, my son and I. Better that way. I can smoke a cigarette in peace, outside. I should give them up. Too late now anyway.


Adolescence is the best period outside of the school syllabus, and sport, and authoritarian teachers who always say you can do better. The consumer society, the search for fulfilment. The need to earn gets in the way, of trees. Trees get in the way of business.  (TELEPHONE RINGS. ANSWERS) Hello...hello...is that you Bob? (HANGS UP) Philippines?


If I'm spiriting around with number 77 on my jumper I couldn’t front up to those with a higher number, say over 500. They would have an elite class, socialism notwithstanding. The high rollers at the casino, the members at the racetracks, the football. Television sports commentators. Do not enter. Only those of superior quality allowed. Perceived superior quality. People are divided by classes, right? Forget nationalities, queen and country. Everywhere you go. Communism, socialism, nazism, capitalism, authoritarianism, racism, religion. Division by class, talking in a foreign language, written and spoken. The roosters rule the roost. Why should heaven be different, assuming Bob's right and there is a bloody heaven? “Our class have nothing in common with your class, because we are in a higher class. We are not devoted to leisure. We run the country.” Thinking persons, gazing with fascination and love...at their own reflection. Head prefect angels, the primal magnetic force. Stands to reason...if reason is a factor.


A lot of people say God exists in all of us. In spirit. No statues. No idols. We are all part of the universe, including the red roses, the trees. God may have a lot to do with my goosebumps...and the voice. I hear this voice. Guiding me through my guilts, fears. Judging my every move. Losing the plot when I spot a sensual looking female with long legs. But if God is also instructing said female, she will know to keep well clear of Horace and his guilty thoughts. Maybe God is testing her? The sermon on the mount. Gideons bible, budget motel in Coonabarabran. Said it was a sin to think the wrong thing...“Whosoever looketh on a woman, to lust after her, has committed adultery with her already in his heart.”                                                    Way over the bloody top was Jesus. Fair go mate. Half a dozen times a day 30 years ago. I'd need a million bloody points. Are we expected to correct our mistakes? The esoteric religious life? Must have missed something in the translation. Bad enough trying to understand Bob's logic, worshipping statues. Why?


If you talk to yourself out loud you’re a nutter. I see them in the street, the RSL. Oldies coming at you raving, whispering to memories. Or the poker machines? Keep your head down and walk quickly. “Sorry mate I don’t smoke.” (COUGHS) Feeling guilty, again. I talk to myself. A conversation with the inner voice?                 


Those letters in the newspapers where they say, any 'thinking' person would know this, or know that? Fellow in the supermarket sprouting about the refugees. “They should shoot the lot of them”. he said. I felt like saying “the women and children too?” The voice said I was as weak as piss. Only a matter of time before I talk out loud. The older you get the quicker it goes. Panic can set in. Where did the last 10, 20 years go? They say if you’re on death row you treasure the time, bit of certainty there. I remember trying to treasure the time, tried to get wiser, didn’t work.


I rent a room from Bob. He’s a fencer. His wife Mavis died 5 years back. Bob’s away for a couple of days, down Mornington to do a job. Bob’s a great reader. Novels, biographies, you name it. If I want a bit of information I ask Bob. He’s read Patrick White, James Joyce. Finnegans Wake took 17 years to write, and 10 minutes to send me to sleep. Gave ulysses a miss. Bob loved them. A man of knowledge...and yet? Hasn’t made a skerrick of difference. A good fencer, no jerry built as you can see. Well, you can’t see,  This is theatre.  Bob works like a navvy five days a week. Reads every night in bed. So how come if he reads all those wonderful words he’s still the same man I knew 30 years ago? Knowledge yes, but not wisdom. It’s one thing to read a book, no offence to Bob, but another altogether to hear the words. I read 'To kill a mockingbird'. Made me think alright. Treat other people the way you’d expect them to treat you. Don’t know that I practice it. Yet to meet the person who does. Love everybody. Forgive everybody. Is that compassion? How about those refugees? Should be made a law of life. No pissy corridor smells then. Respect for age?  


God decreed wisdom would not arrive at my particular doorstep. Maybe I'm shifting the blame, maybe the brick wall was made of bluestone. Would have been nice to be smart. Clever, like Bob. Worked 44 years at the SEC of Victoria, a linesman. Mum got me the job. I didn’t have a Dad. Had to pretend at school. Kept to myself mostly, hated it when they used to ask my Dad’s occupation. I'd say he was a soldier. I lived in mum’s rented cottage after she died, until they pulled it down to build units. I can still visualise every room, every piece of furniture. Climbing up poles. Wooden poles, privatised now. United energy, united thieves. Out and about all those years. met a lot of people. Many a crooked thought passed through the mind, but few crooked deeds, excluding adultery of the heart. Been into houses where they swore spirits were living. I never saw them. 


I'm told if you’re receptive the spirits will come. I had a lady friend who swore by it. Not so me. If Midsomer Murders is about spirits I don't watch it. One night she heard a noise in her lounge room, middle of the night. Discovered every window wide open, deadlocks front and back, chain latch on the door, windows locked with nails either side and one bathroom tap was running! I slept there the following night hopeful of a different result, none. The dark of night, loneliness, makes a man edgy, non-receptive. 


I had a similar experience recently, 3 in the bloody morning. Heard this noise coming from the kitchen. Thinking it was Bob or the fridge. I heard it again in the lounge? Couldn’t be a ghost. The house was only built 25 years back and no-one’s died in it. Mavis went in the hospital. Listened, stock still for about 10 minutes. Nothing. Maybe Mavis paid us a visit? Next thing someone hits me whack on the back of my skull. Took the video, the bastard! Bob’s DVD. Riverdance tape. No loss, shaky for a day or so. They took me to the hospital, a shot of something, bloody doctors. They never tell you exactly what’s wrong with you, which is what you really want to know. No antibiotics. Stick a needle in your bum and give you pills. I should be thankful he didn’t stick his hand up. They seem to enjoy that.  


A lot of people my age do turn to God. A life of atheism and they suddenly turn to God. Likely they wake up to the importance of time, eventually concluding you have to control it or it will control you, so you run the real risk of leaving your soul behind. Have they seen something, felt something, which is not a bad thing, or are the goosebumps causing them to have a little each way? Before you get to 70 you think about death, but you don’t give it serious thought but after 70, or 75, it becomes a reality, gone forever, or copping emphysema, maybe years of hell on earth. Scientists, talking in light years and the black hole, some of them switch. Saving their soul? 


Mark Twain said “We live for the good opinion of our neighbours.” I wonder if Ronny Wilmott did? I wonder if anyone does? Mark was dreaming. Certainly not Mason. You always think there’s more. Surely I was here for a reason? Six million dreams, strung together by the person who wrote “Hope springs eternal”, written by a nervous capitalist. I’ll talk to Bob about that. Bob always said he was glad Mavis went before him. She was only 57, heart attack, went overnight. Said he didn’t like the thought of her being left on her own. Bullshit. We all like to say what we think is the right thing. Fear of death can make us justify anything.   


(sfx-a loud crack, as in a branch of a tree breaking.) shiiit! what was that? 

Sounded like a tree?  Could be a signal? Anyone there? If you’re out there speak. Helloo. Intangible pricks. Helloo.


Used to try that as a kid, the believe in God bit. God, talk to me. The racetrack. Please God, just this once. Let my horse win. I'd do deals with God. Let this horse win and I promise I’ll give up smoking for life. Didn’t work. Well, maybe it did and I buggered it up. Occasionally the horse would win and I would welsh on the deal.I 'd feel guilty for a short time. “This time I mean it God. Not one more puff.” Guilt’s a funny thing. Hound a man to his grave. I get this vision of St.Peter reading out my list of misdemeanours...   


“Ahh, yes. Horace! 248 imaginary sexual escapades. Show me remorse” They love it if you show remorse. A man up on a rape charge shows remorse and winds up with three years instead of twenty. 2000 years ago the worst crime in the book was a wife being unfaithful. Worse than murder. Women had it tough. Justice is strange.


It was probably a tree? You think? Lady next door, Cecilia, she doesn’t look after her trees. 79 and lives alone. I help her out when she lets me. I love oak trees. A huge oak tree in the middle of this concrete yard. I stand and stare in the park. They live a life. A sense of spirituality. The longer you look the more you feel. The Jehovah’s Witness people say only humans come back to life and each time you’re better? Should be plain sailing in the next life. Happily married, rich, respectful children? What does better mean? That’s one way of looking ahead to dying. We all want to die happy. Is that the real definition of happiness? 


If I lose points for bad behaviour do I get credits for good deeds? The anonymous philanthropists, building their credits? Frank Sinatra is said to have done good deeds anonymously. A contradiction in terms says Bob, but if Frank was to receive credits against debits, he’d be in with a chance. I found $20 a month back, on the floor of the RSL. Near the TAB. I called out instinctively “Anyone lose twenty bucks.” There I was trying to get something for nothing, just a simple gambler refusing intellectual effort with my entertainment, and I don’t recognise it when it comes beckoning. Another joker straight away claimed. I thought I might have been conned. He had that sleazy look, similar to Mason. Why do crooks have crooked faces? And politicians, apart from the odd Ronny Willmotts and pedophiles. Still, wasn’t my twenty, worth a few credits.  


Bob's into the internet on Facebook. I never know what he's up to because whenever he's on it and I pass by he seems to pause, cover it up. Suspicious, but not my problem. It's his house. On the other hand they say we've all got a dark side. 


My cousin Melanie says she not only sees spirits, they talk to her. I asked her straight out “Do they truly talk to you Melanie?” She says they do? Channelling apparently. Or is it another part of one’s personality playing tricks?  “What do these spirits look like?” I say. Melanie says they’re hazy, like a presence, like my mate in the toilet at the Athenaeum. Melanie can explain to her way of thinking, which is nice. She says they don’t look like themselves, but it’s obvious. She’s a good Christian, whatever that means. They grow on trees. What about good Protestants, Mormons? Moslems? God knows what these spirits say to Melanie (God probably does?) it seems to work for her. She told me there were spirits in this house, or a spirit. Wanted to do an exorcism. Bob wouldn’t let her.    


(sfx- a  sound to indicate somebody at the front door)  

 Ahh, that’s sure to be Bob. Home at last. (exits.)                          

Filmed: (as Horace exits sounds of much laughter. It’s Casper and cohorts, with accompanying music, and a huge black moth as backing. suggestion Horace is teetering on his last 21 points, pissed themselves laughing at their tree joke. Refer to third eye.  Approximately 70 seconds.)

(Lights up-it’s now twilight. Horace re-enters with a stubby of beer) 


That was Bruce, Jehovah’s Witness. I gave him $1, promised  I'd read the magazines, my Sol Green bit. For me. I listened to Bruce, 10 minutes, being nice, appreciating his efforts. (watchtower-awake booklets. puts them with the rubbish.) I tell myself I'd read them, but after a day or so of guilt I pitch them. 


If one can speak to the spirits it might be an idea to set up an interview with the bigtimers of days gone by, Socrates, Einstein. I'd have a thing or two to say to Bob. Knock his socks off with my brain power, if I could retain what they told me, an impossibility. I sometimes wonder as to the purpose of wisdom. Assuming I was super smart, would this knowledge make for a better life or would I spend my time on the internet? Is there a better life on the internet? 


One other thing, the most important of all. Arguably. Language. The limitations thereof. What we mean by what we say? All those religious people, different denominations, arguing over the various meanings in the bible. We have wonderful television, commercial and cable, big brother CNN, Google if your rich and understand the internet. Bringing us the world. World leaders, economists, geologists, psychologists, 24 hours a day, every day. Endlessly arguing. What they think. What they mean. “The bottom line.” “At the end of the day” “Take us through it”. Nobody is ever wrong. Not the Yank, nobody! Bob said "Marriage is between a man and a woman". I asked him to show it to me in his bible. He couldn't? Assuming the presence of the spirits; I'm prepared to assume, can I also assume they understand what I  mean by what I say? What I'm thinking? Surely the minute you become a spirit you don’t automatically acquire genius status? Language stuffs us. Causes countless divorces, physical conflict, wars. And money. Language may well be beautiful,  but it surely is the largest of all our problems. The ability to keep one’s trap firmly closed, generally speaking, is always an admirable, though near impossible, aim. 


They rarely talk during the sex scenes on television. Neither do I. Did I. The woman always seems to get on top. Fascinating. Bob likes those world movies. I should have got married again. More kids. Didn’t see my son for another 10 years. A stranger. Mum would have loved grandkids. I went out with a young lady in my youth. She was 16, and fat. Worked in a shoe factory. Some of my mates said she was hot. Took her to the pictures and come interval I asked her if she wanted any lollies. She said no, so I bought myself a block of chocolate and ate the lot. I sensed something was wrong; should have offered her some;  beautiful Nellie Preston. Before your time Mary. Stuffed up there. 

(Horace opens his stubby, has a swig-no beer)  

Shit. bloody thing’s empty.  (SHUDDERS) I'm feeling cold.   

Auntie Ethel gave me two shillings as a kid, first bet on a horserace. 1949 Melbourne Cup. A shilling each way on Foxami at 16/1 and it won.  My mate Rocky and I hit Luna Park and rode the big dipper all night, then along to the esplanade with ice cream and lollies and watched two prostitutes at work. One was a skinny lady with purple hair who told me to fuck off. The other lady was fat but she was doing all the business. Can’t be too bad being fat? Maybe cousin Melanie has a touch of it? It’s fashionable today. Melanie is safe today.


I met Nellie at Luna Park, just for fun, and perving. I was with Rocky outside the river caves and there she was. Rocky bet me five shillings I didn’t have the courage to ask her for a ride. I did, and she said yes. I was in a dream. I laughed, tried to hide my sweaty hands. Why hadn’t I wiped them clean? I felt really good in front of Rocky, even though she was fat. Comes the next boat, but it was empty, just us? As she stepped into the boat her dress came up, just enough to excite my nether regions. Shit! What if I go in my pants? Rocky called out “Go, Horrie” as we sailed into darkness, no escape, my mind racing at 100 miles an hour, trying desperately to think of something to say, to concentrate, self control. Froze for the entire journey. Rocky still owes me. 


(SIGHS). Bloody doctor said he hit me twice the bastard. 


Mum. Be nice to catch up when my turn arrives. Truth be known I'm scared. Always meant to speak to her on matters personal. Didn’t realise she was going until she was gone. Cecilia next door has 6 kids. Looked after them for 20, 30 years. Why can’t her kids look after her when it counts? Selfish pricks. They'll come good after she's gone. They’ll feel guilty, thinking of selling the house and sharing the proceeds? Compassion made to order. When they go.  


(sfx. trees blowing in the wind.)

Yes I'm still here if you have something to say. Bob said there was an American fellow who said...“The laws of the universe are inexorable - violations are punished instantaneously, not after death.” Must have got it from google as I was walking by; interrupting his porn. Deep stuff? Maybe to do with guilt? What about murderers, rapists? (calls.) I'm still receptive. There’s no wind. The trees say different. Bob says trees don’t have a spirit. Bullshit. There’s more to it when I look at a tree. Maybe that’s Bob’s guilt, dealing with dead trees every day, fences. 


Slowly we progress. someone picks up a rock at a beach, and someone else can talk for an hour on the history of that rock. 50 million years, 500 billion years? When the answers do come in 10 thousand years, maybe, it could be as obvious as sin. A drop in the ocean of evolutionary time. We will have long destroyed ourselves by then. Rome is smoking as I speak. Over at Southgate, casinos, pleasure unlimited, idleness gone rife, politicians, inside traders. Self-interest, good tucker, money, power and sport, always sport. The global economy. Trickle down bullshit. 


Fellow called Dorotheus, born in the 6th century. “We remain all the time against one another...grinding one another down. Each considers himself right or excuses himself...all the while keeping almost none of the commandments, yet expecting his neighbour to keep the lot.”  Spot on. Nothing changes.


The spirits from civilisations past? Atlantis? Ashes to ashes, seems more logical. When we were kids, looking up at those same stars, wondering, always wondering, still wondering What’s up there. Mum sent me to Sunday school every Sunday.  “Be a good boy.” she’d say. Told us these stories from the bible, nightmares. All in a good cause. If we toe the line we will be looked after. How about now?


If we don’t know the answers, and we’re no closer now than we were 5000 years ago, it stands to reason there’s a lot still to learn, assuming reason is a factor.  Perhaps not the trees or fences, but if they are here, with us now, I should be building up points. The undefined qualities of the ethereal spirit. The aura of all things naturale. A decent number on the back of my lycra football jumper. I get the feeling it’s time to think seriously. Freud said something, or was it Sergeant Bilko? "When a man has receded from society in his mind, and the frustration is inside him, he will withdraw from society." 


That’s the trick isn’t it, the mind. One good deed cancels out one sin. Maybe 10 deeds for a bad bad sin. Gambling’s not a sin. The hopeless quest for the free ride. I stole a comic book once. Hid it down the window sill of my mate’s sleepout. Didn’t read it. Probably still there, 50 years later. Age makes you cherish your good name, reputation, pride. Mark Twain was right.  


My mate’s sleepout. The boy who lived next door. Johnson Smith. Probably given that monicker to have a bit of class,  go with Smith. I called him Joey. He reckoned he could see things in the future, a sixth sense. Bad things. His mother had dark skin and no husband, so we sort of had something in common. His dad died in the second world war, which put him one up on me because my dad, like my wife, pissed off. Joey’s mum was a big woman, attractive, a terrific cook. Made her own biscuits; cookies, same as the yanks. And bread. Skinny little olive skinned Joey. The other kids picked on him a bit. I said nothing. On our own we were good mates. Joey stopped me going to the pictures one Friday night. Said it was dangerous. Serial, two movies, a B grade and a feature film. Often the B grade was better.  


Hopalong Cassidy. My mates still went that night. Sarah Mountjoy would have been there, in the front stalls pashing on as always. I'd blush if she looked at me. I decided Joey knew best. When you’re young you do a lot of things without knowing why. Joey wasn’t a best mate, but only because popularity was so important. Friday there was a huge brawl, front stalls. A rebel mob from North Melbourne arrived. Tried to make time with our girls. A few of them got injured. Police arrested a couple. Gave them a hiding. They could do that back then. After that I always respected little Joey. His dreams every so often came true. They moved away up the bush somewhere when I was doing national service in the army. Another nightmare. Later in life, when I became a bit of a punter, I often thought of Joey. His dreams. Wishing he could have the odd one about a horserace.                                                                                            


I had this fantasy where I walk into a pub, a rough pub, dressed to the nines, with a gorgeous super model on my arm, and a swarthy, unclean, sleaze, very much like Mason, says something like: “Hello, the shit’s arrived” and I laugh and say nothing, I order a gin and tonic for Elle, a lemonade with a dash of lemon for myself. The scunge says,“Ooh, a long lemonade for suavo the poof’  and I reply, smiling, “why don’t you go fuck your fist, you rat-faced ugly scum of the earth” and Elle and I laugh. The swarthy lunges, I weave like Fred Astaire, and left hook the bastard, short and sharp, Jeff Fenech style. He’s off with the fairies. That and winning lotto.


Khama? The sum of a persons actions in successive states of existence. Seems to have a connection with the lycra footy jumper theory. A third eye? “Couldn’t contact the spirits today, the third eye wasn’t functioning.” All those different levels, spirituality, energy, the avatars. Messengers of God? Bearers of bad tidings? Boggles the mind. Forty years ago the average age for dying was 67. Retire at 65 with 2 years to whoop it up. Now it’s 83. Time to get my house in order, a few credits, expunge the guilts. Arrive at the next plane. Time is space and space is time. If we all evolve physically, questionable in itself, do we all evolve spiritually? 


When I reached 40 I was sad. Time I got to 70 the idea of 40 was a balmy dream. An invisible senior citizen in a tracksuit from K-Mart. The pension with a dash of  annuity. An invisible older man with younger thoughts? What you say doesn’t matter, you’re not here anyway. Soon those who cannot see will also be unable to be seen. And so we sit, cappuccino in hand, watching, the passing parade... 


Chadstone, Northland, Westfield, all the same. No smoking allowed but space for 5 million cars. Better they build a forest around the shopping centre. Walk through the forest to get to K Mart. Healthier? Observe the gorgeous young female, full of life, bouncing along, proud of her wares, front and back, her youth. Look across to the medicare queue and spot the same young thing eight years on. Not full of life now. Two screaming young ones in tow, another in the pusher. Hope her husband has a job. Across the table at our cappuccino consortium she's there again, ordering a long black. more relaxed now, another 10 years on. More resigned? Different colour hair. Kids at school, or uni if she’s rich. Marching inexorably towards the future; time, the fourth dimension. Ad infinitum. The more you snuggle deeper into the 70’s, the more you experience reality.                                                                         


(telephone rings again. answers.) Do what you like mate. Yeah. yeah. Adios amigo. (hangs up.)  

I had this strange dream last night. Driving the old Datsun along a cluster of strip shops, decided to stop. I saw the old milk bar where I grew up, a sleepout at the back of the shop where Mum worked 45 years ago, same as Johnson’s. So I went in. As you entered the counter was along the right, going the length of the shop. A few tables and chairs along the left. We used to sit at those same tables, me and the boys, discussing females, football. They were chest high now, and the chairs were gone, replaced by stools along the counter, with three or four men sitting on them, drinking beer. The moment I entered a man started laughing. Couldn’t remember his name. He came up to me and launched into an argument we had, years before, a broken transistor radio, admitted breaking it. Lenny Callaghan! Bloody Lenny, after all these years. Same face. same laugh. I ordered a beer from a surly shopkeeper. He grunted and walked off. He looked very much like the others, sitting on their stools. Statues. 


Lenny. Some people never leave home, birth to death. I had my back to the counter. A lady shopkeeper approached my beer. I turned as she put it down, looked into her face, her eyes, and almost cried. It was Mum. Hadn’t seen her in all those years. Never occurred to me she would still be there. I didn’t say a word, just a half smile, thanks. paid. In shock, or dementia? Mum’s face was blank. Lenny stood there grinning, and Mum walked away. Was the surly shopkeeper with the rugby league neck her husband? My dad? All those years of missing her, wanting to show her the watch they gave me for 40 years service. Lenny went off to join his unknown friend. I drank my beer slowly. the surly shopkeeper at the far end. Mum approached again, said nothing,  put some photographs on the counter. I picked them up and they were photographs of me at my presentation. Mum knew! I wanted to reach across and cuddle her, like she never cuddled me. She picked up the photos and walked away. I watched her, held back the tears, drained my glass and turned to leave, waving goodbye to Lenny. Walked back to the old Datsun and pondered. Mum and those photos. Then it hit me. They were dead! Lenny was dead, and Mum, especially Mum. Goosebumps. A sign? Get into the Datsun and drove away. 


The catholics are lucky. We have no-one to confess to.  

(Calls) “Speak to me. Give me a hint, a sign?

Must be off. Buy some lotto tickets. 5 million dollar jackpot tonight.                                                                                              


(sfx-a loud knock at the door.) A VOICE:  “Horace”.                                                                        

Maybe I'm already a winner. Number 999 step forward. Much obliged Saint Peter. Sorry about the fantasies. Maybe Saint Peter’s a woman? Someone has to make up the numbers.  Can’t be famous if you haven’t got the numbers. Ghosts eh? Spiritual bloody counsellors.   


(the sun  is slowly sinking. sfx-another loud cracking noise.) (turns)  

Bloody teases. 

(sfx-another loud knock at the door.) “Horace!”

I'm not deaf!  (stops) Headache’s gone?  


I had to have a tooth out once without an injection. Abscess, gave me morphine. Floating. on another plane. (walks. calls) All alone. (stops) The movie. “Philadelphia.” Tom Hanks, dying of aids. He looked at his partner, Antonio Banderos, and said...”I'm ready”. Can you believe it? Who is bloody ready? Death is the great adventure, and all that wanking. (walks...turns) How can anybody be ready? What is it they say? “Nobody loves life like an old man” Life's a hoax, with a series of mirages? Getting darker.


(The black moth re-appears-brushes it away) Go away. Big black bugger. What are you, his bloody agent?  (walks-stops again)  

Louis B Mayor at the departure gate for eternity.  “Nothing matters. 

Laughs, walks...final chorus of oedipus  “Call no man happy until he is dead”   


Ungrateful bastards. What’s the alternative to heaven? A void? Ashes to ashes? I used to dream of being a hero. Best swimmer, batting through the innings for Australia, starring for Collingwood, beating the shit out of bullies, being recognised...noticed... not forthcoming your worship. Wonder where the voice goes when I go. Move on to another poor sucker?... As Mister Gene Kelly said...”That’s life”... 

Hope Sarah’s up there. Nellie? Mary? Sorry darling. Bloody scary.


(Nightfall-as the sun disappears. Horace exits.)  (music up)


 (blackout / curtain)

by Cliff Ellen