WISDOM COMES FROM THE GREATEST FALLS
A Rude Awakening
It took a while for Joe to realise he wasnt dreaming. The transition from dream fragments to being awake was becoming more sluggish lately. He was vaguely aware of light pressing against the thick curtains. He shifted his head slightly and could see little glimmering speckles on the timber floor.
Sometimes he didnt open the dusty curtains. In fact, it was probably over a week since hed done so. He usually shuffled from bed to bathroom and then down the steep, narrow stairs to the living area, where, more often than not, he slouched on the sagging sofa, summoning the energy to make some coffee.
Recently, hed resumed having black coffee. Not so much from choice as from the fact that there was no fresh milk in the house. Hed stopped buying it when hed had to throw out the festering remains from a carton hed forgotten was there. Most mornings, or more often it was early afternoon, Joe found it easier to walk to the corner store a few doors down for the indifferent coffee that was always simmering in the corner. At least it was cheap.
This morning, however, the hazy shift from dreams to wakefulness was different somehow. At first he couldnt work out what it was. A voice was calling,
Hey, Joe! Come out here and open the gate!
At first the voice sounded muffled, as if the speaker was shouting under water. Joe realised his head was under the pillow. When he threw it off, the voice was clearer.
Have you forgotten its today, you lazy sod? Are you still asleep?
The voice sounded familiar. Jack! Joe thought. The realisation was a shot of adrenalin. Coldness settled in his gut. The voice was here now. It wasnt back in his childhood, when it would be him shaking his twin brother to wake up and get going. During those teenage years, Joe had more energy than Jack. Back then, he seemed to need less slee
p than his twin who was half an hour younger than him.
Joe often liked to remind Jack who was younger. Sometimes Jack would just laugh at the old joke. Once in a while Jack would become so irritated that thered be a punch up and Mum would find them rolling around on the kitchen floor.
As the shouting below was repeated, more loudly, Joe remembered the time one summer were they ten? Mum had hosed them down, as one would to copulating dogs.
It had been years since Jack slept in the same house. How long was it? Oh, yes, that week, four years ago, when the brothers arranged the funeral for their parents who had died five days apart.
Dad had been killed instantly in the car he was driving late that night. Mum hadnt even realised that her husband of forty-something years had died while she was slowly slipping away.
Jack and Joe were confident that their mum would survive and theyd arranged their dads funeral. They couldnt consult her, of course. She was unconscious. Shed died while they were at the cemetery and they had to go through it again a few days later. It was a sad time!
Now it was a few weeks after he (they!!) had turned forty. Hed rejected Jacks suggestion to get together for their birthday. Jack had first suggested Adelaide, where Joe had moved back to live over a year ago, when he lost his job. It was near the sea but not close enough to hear it or feel its fresh spray. Jack had then proposed Melbourne, where he had an apartment near the city. Joe had visited it once, a few years ago. Slick and modern, it screamed success.
But through a series of phone calls and emails, Jack had persisted. Jack told him that for years he had wanted to drive from Adelaide to Darwin. He wanted a chance to connect with his twin brother. Joe became more irritated with each phone call and didnt reply to a number of emails.
Finally, Jack sent him an express postcard: Ive made your mind up for you. Im arriving on Monday 1st, a w
eek away, and were going on that trip north together.
Joe was initially furious with his bossy brother but then he recognised another feeling, settling somewhere under his skin, that he was relieved Jack had made this decision. He was almost grateful that a change, even if it was a temporary one, had been forced upon him.
He pushed the curtain aside, just enough to look through the half-opened window. Joe could make out the top of Jacks head but the rest of him was obscured by the big oak tree which dominated the small front garden.
This was the tree that for years had supported the swing that Dad had rigged up when they were four. When theyd outgrown it there was the makeshift tree house where they had spent hours throwing acorns at birds and the occasional cat. Joe was sorry when Mum made Dad dismantle it after he fell off the platform.
Joes fall had been softened by a few leafy branches but he still ended up with a broken arm. It was his bowling arm. After that he never enjoyed cricket as much as Jack did. Jack made the local team, while Joe almost convinced himself that he preferred bike riding by himself on those warm summer cricket days. There were some cold days in winter that Joe felt twinges in his elbow. A reminder of the old injury.
Another call from Jack. Whys the door locked? Dont you want me to come in?
Joe had forgotten the front door had been locked for months, if not longer.
Come round the back, he called down. Ill be a few seconds.
Pulling up his jeans, he heard the back door squeak and the fly screen snap shut. Jack was in. Back again after four years.
Jack looked up through the thick leaves that almost obscured the window where Joes face had just appeared. He felt a brief moment of annoyance, mixed with sadness.
All those years, growing up, the front and back doors were never locked. Like all the houses in that town, and towns all over rural
Australia, people could walk in and out, shouting Anyone home? The mother usually was. That is, if it wasnt her shopping day at the grocers, the butchers or the veggie man. Often she would shout Out here! from the backyard, where she was festooning the rotary clothes hoist with the weekly washing.
Had things changed so much in his childhood town? Sure, you locked your place in the city. He had done so for years. Decades probably, but the family home was cocooned, somehow, in the sepia, unchanging past. There, people could still wander in and out of their neighbours places, uninvited but always welcome.
Common sense told him that Mum wouldnt be out in the backyard, or in the kitchen, which in the past smelt of freshly baked scones. Dad wouldnt be sitting on the front verandah, with the sports page open on the wicker table, or with his transistor radio blaring out the races (on Wednesday and Saturday, that is).
No, they were lying in the windswept cemetery on the hill outside town, in a grave that probably had weeds growing around it, the simple gravestone engraved Mable and Richard together in life and death. Missed by their sons Joe and Jack.
Jack smiled now, as he remembered Joe insisting that Joes name be written first, as he was the older one. Did Joe ever visit their grave? Jack suppressed his annoyance with his twin. How could he judge Joe? After all, he had never visited the site either. But he lived hundreds of kilometres away. Couldnt Joe manage the kilometre and a half?
As he walked around the side of the house, Jack remembered those words of the Australian journalist was it John Pilger? The past is a foreign country. No, hed appropriated it from L.P. Hartleys novel The Go Between. Jack said to himself, How ironic that Ive thought of this, as he pushed open the back door.
He and Joe had both moved away from home years before their parents death. Theyd both been in different places in Melbourne. Then Joe had obtained
that good accountancy job in Sydney.
The house had stood empty for over a year before Joe moved back. Jack remembered Joes enthusiasm when he told him that hed run his consulting business from home. It would keep the overheads down, was his explanation.
Jack had warned him that the distance from his clients would probably be a problem but hed eventually shrugged when Joe insisted that this was what he wanted. It was no skin off his nose then, as Jack hadnt wanted to live there and neither did he need the half proceeds from the house if they sold it.
It was only some time later that Jack realised his twin had needed to move into the house. He was broke and had been unemployed for a while.
Whats keeping you? Jack called out to the shuffling sounds from upstairs.
Im growing a beard waiting for you!
At the bottom of the stairs, Jack stood in the hall and the old photographs on the wall brought the sepia past a bit more into focus. There was Mum and Dad on their wedding day. It was the early sixties and Jack was cajoled back to the past as he smiled at Dads shoulder-length hair and Mums flowing white caftan. They were young once. Almost hippies.
There was that shot of Joe and him when they were five, dressed in identical clothes, holding their special toys. Under Jacks arm,...