This Knife Ain’t Sharp Enough

My Dad is back in the hospital. His remaining penis is like a bloated poorly-cooked pork sausage.

I am reminded of a neighbour beyond the pickets whose favourite children’s party game was called pork sausage. The children would be in a line. No smiling, laughing, giggling allowed. He would go along the line and point and grope you on the body or the face and in a heavy Welsh accent say, What’s that there? And your answer had to be pork sausage but you weren’t allowed to laugh. Laugh and you were out. I was good at this game. It seemed the saying of pork sausage was hilarious to most small children. And when coupled with a big bellied man pointing and fondling your ear lobe, and asking you what it was, and having to say it was something it wasn’t, something as ridiculous as pork sausage, it was very nearly impossible. But I could do it every time. He could pinch my nose, my ears, grapple with a roll of tummy, fiddle my fingers and I could say it straight-faced. Pork sausage, Mr Elliot. Till I was the last kid standing. Grim-faced. Thinking, not funny Mr Elliot.

Winning this game did not endear you to adults. They wanted to see kids giggling uncontrollably. They loved to tickle you till tears were welling in your eyes. A kid that didn’t find pork sausage funny was a kid with no sense of humour.

This is what we are here for; to exam the pork sausage and decide its fate. No giggles. Not funny. The nursing home GP thinks an area of tumour recurrence can be seen near the urethral opening and he has organised Dad to go back to the private hospital to be seen by the surgeon who did the partial penectomy in the first place.

The ambulance is transporting him. I meet them at the doctor’s rooms but there has been a mix up. He is to be admitted and the consultant will see him on the ward when he has finished his appointments.

In the ward they have him down for 2pm. We have nine. But they find him a room. No 13. I sit talking to him but he has his head turned away and is not answering me. I go to the other side of the bed and then he realises it is me.

Oh Nicole, what a surprise. I explain he is in the hospital to have his penis looked at. Because it is sore isn’t it Dad? That’s why we are doing this.

He starts out just a little old man, a little confused. After six hours he no longer knows what he is, where he is and he’s as mad as a cut snake.

A nurse comes in and wants to take a peek downstairs. He is saying no more no more but she manages a look and with her ultrasound measures his bladder volume. It has 138mls in it and he has wet his pad in his pants. Reluctantly I call it a nappy.

He has bitten his lip or his tongue in the transport and has some blood in his mouth. I ask him about it but he doesn’t seem aware of it. I get him a choc milk and he drinks it with a straw.

He starts talking about leaving and all the things he must do to leave. He will need a bus on the highway. But where is he going to? What is his home address?

He is trying to swing his legs out of the bed and attempting to sit up. He is easy to push back down. And when I do he has to start his effort all over again. It weakens and tires him.

I wait till he is nearly up then down I push him. I think he probably doesn’t know I have done this to him half a dozen times. Each time I stop him getting up he is surprised I have stopped him.

When he is nearly upright I stop him again and he says, Oh no oh no. Exasperated. He leans back down in the bed. You have to stay Dad to see the doctor. Over and over again I say it.

I am driving myself nuts.

Oh I love you darling, but I have to go. I have so much to do at home.

He asks me why. Why must we stay for the doctor? I have him booked next week and he gives me a wink. That’s the way the cookie crumbles.

I have a lot to do at home. The dogs and cats need to be fed.

No time for yakkity yak.

He says I am trying to hoodwink him. He says the nurse is part of the secret service. Everyone is keeping stuff from him. Like information. Like addresses and where he is.

They move his bed from room 13 down the corridor close to the nurses’ station and he falls asleep. He has his glasses on. When I tried to take them off he objected. You want to hoodwink me. You know I can’t go without my glasses. Why have you taken my socks and shoes off? I can’t go without my socks.

When he wakes up he is gripping the side bar of the bed like he thinks he is moving or falling.

Dad. Dad you’re okay. I try and peel his fingers from the side bar. But he is hanging on.

No, he says. He has woken up different. More stubborn. Ready to fight.

He has woken up in another world. He starts talking about straw. You need to move the straw. Give me the pliers. You have to dig it there. When I try and move his fingers he gets  snarly with me.

Okay okay. But you don’t look comfortable.

Don’t take stuff without asking.

I can recognise the consultant’s voice outside. He’s on the ward. I feel relief to know Dad will be seen soon. He is slipping into further delusion and the longer it takes the harder it will be. I hear the consultant talking to nurses and then his voice fades as he heads into another room.

I poke my head out. Only nurses. A plate of cream cupcakes on their bench top.

I tell a nurse I am worried that I won’t see the urologist. Paranoia catching. Don’t let him skip us.

No no your Dad’s on the list.

The consultant’s voice wafts in and out of ear shot.

Dad is talking gibberish. Ellen on the TV.

The urologist enters the room smiling. He has beautiful teeth and a polished head.

Righto Alex. Do you remember me? I am your doctor who did your surgery. The nursing home wants me to have a look. They’re a bit worried about it. Despite Dad’s demented state the urologist talks to him like he is compose mentis.

I wonder why he bothers. Perhaps it is for my benefit. Maybe he thinks something might get through. When I tell him about the past month and how I am struggling with it all, he tells me how when his grandmother was dying he would gets calls from his mother all the time telling him today would be the day and how badly the grandmother was faring. In the end he said to his mother don’t call me till she’s dead. By the time she finally died he had done all his grieving, it was simply a relief. I think he is trying to empathise with me. But I am like his mother. I am the one who is doing it. I can’t say don’t tell me for there is no one else to do this.

Gloves snap on. He tries to move him in the bed; to get him to let go of the rails. But Dad is resistant and starts telling him to get off him.

You don’t ask, you just do.

Dad is shouting and the doctor pulls back. But Dad keeps on shouting. Swinging fists on skinny arms.

We might give him something to settle him before we look or else it’ll come to blows.

Two haloperidol, he tells the nurse.

I’ll be back. Gloves snap off.

Dad tells the nurse to go to. He is pointing at the door. Get out. Get out. You have no manners. Ask. You should ask.

Dad you need to take the tablets. She is proffering them close to his tongue and I am fearful she will get bitten. It’s feeling very veterinary. I am thinking of chemical restraint, muzzles. When faced with an aggressive dog we get the owner to help. Like the nurse is using me. Do you think you can get him to take them? I am like the client who stands back and drops the lead when the dog begins to growl. I don’t think I can do it, I say. But it is my dog. I am required to try.

When the owner gives up in the vet clinic the dog is put in a cage and the pole needle is used. As the dog is cornered the needle advances on it through the bars and a quick hard jab to the thigh muscles is attempted. Hopefully the needle doesn’t snap off. Hopefully the whole dose gets got. Victory is a dog that can’t curl its lip, can barely lift its head.

I suggest a needle for my Dad. The nurse thinks this might be just as hard. We persist with the little white tablets. Dad put your tongue out.

Don’t touch my nose, he shouts.

I try and give him the tablet so he can put it in his mouth himself. Perhaps it is control he wants. Trying to get him to take them from my fingers he is uncoordinated and we are not getting anywhere. Our fingers are like polar opposites on a magnet and he can’t take the tablet from me.

She gets a mini tub of ice-cream and I put the tablet in a teaspoon of vanilla. Here you go Dad. We get them down.

It has taken 30 minutes.

He is not very sedated when the doctor comes back. He is just as angry. He starts swearing. Fucking hell.

The nurse tells me not to worry. He’s not responsible. He’s not your Dad when he’s like this. Her being nice to me, tips me over and I am crying.

I am trying not to cry in front of Dad thinking this might upset him more but it doesn’t seems to effect him. He is oblivious of my noisy nose blows into paper towel. He has forgotten about me, who I am even. Why are you staring at me? he says.

The doctor tries to get him to pull down his pants but he can’t do it.

Okay Alex lift your bottom. Nothing. So in the end he yanks them. I am placating. Its Okay Dad.

You’re cruel to an old man.

Yes Dad I know.

He’s not that strong. You hold his wrists, can you? the doctor says to me. I am the client who digs in. Who says yes I can hold him, my writhing rabid dog, while you trim his nails.

Okay. I will. I grip them. They are thin. I push them down so the doctor can get a look. Dad is swearing and cursing me.

Get off me. Get off me. You brute.

The doctor is pawing down there.

He might as well be sawing it off for all the screaming Dad is doing. Is it really that sore I wonder? Is it just being restrained? Some dogs (think Cavalier King Charles Spaniel ) start to panic before a thing is done to them, screaming before anyone has touched them even. Is this Dad?

It’s thrombosed and woody but its not recurrence, the urologist says. I suspect the issue the staff is having is getting to it to clean him. But I don’t think there is benefit in doing more surgery. It might end up with a worse non-healing area. We could do some radiation for the pain. But he is still urinating. Actually if he stopped urinating it would be quick. It’s a good way to go. A potassium spike stops the heart.

We are talking about him across his woody penis while he rants and shouts. The urologist is pulling his nappy back up and we are telling him its over but he is still shouting abuse at us.

I want to hear the doctor Dad. Shh shh.

I think what we need to do is talk to the nursing home about what they see as the difficulties in managing the area. We can give him more pain relief but I think surgery is ill advised and he isn’t a good candidate. And he can’t have more clexane after the subdural bleed. We’re limited in what we can do.

I ask about a suprapubic catheter.

Hmm not necessary while he is urinating.

I just don’t want him to be in pain, I say. I don’t want him to have more intervention if it is likely to be bad for him. Tears are welling up again. I’ll be guided by you, I say. I am thinking what I want is for someone to take the responsibility out of my hands.

In my head I am thinking how crazy it is that we are talking about a urethral blockage causing a spike in blood potassium as a good way to go. Now we are imagining scenarios that are quick and painless. I think I know a quick and painless way – it’s called euthanasia and I do it to animals on a regular basis.

People don’t want to see their animals suffer and at the end of their lives they decide the time to bring them to the vet clinic. I give them a sedation that sinks their head to the table. They probably feel like they are floating. Then I clip a foreleg and put a tourniquet around the elbow. A vessel stands up. I slide the needle into the vein and a rush of blood comes into the hub, mixing with the green pentobarbitone, the red turns blue-black. I unclamp the rubber band and tell the owner I am going to inject now and they might sense their beloved pet slipping away. I inject slowly, as slowly as I can. By the time the ten mls is into the animal all breathing has stopped and the heart has slowed down. I change syringes for the next ten mls. By the end of this syringe the heart will have stopped. I say Nice and Peaceful like saying it will make it so and place a hand on the dog’s head or on the client’s hand if it is nearby. I check the heart. It is never beating but I take a minute to listen. Then I tell them their pet has passed away. Then they cry.

But my old Dad must hope for a quick and painless death some time in the future. We still don’t know how it’ll be. But this hospital business is not helping him.

We have been here six hours and the decision is made to do nothing. He can go home tomorrow. Endone might be a good thing. He’ll be more sedated.

The nurse brings me a cup of weak, luke-warm tea the colour of a muddy puddle. She had no teaspoon so she brings me a knife for which to stir. I am stirring my tea with a knife and Dad is asking me why I am staring at him.

I am thinking of how to kill you Dad, but this knife ain’t sharp enough.





Making Cake

I feel like baking. I feel like creaming butter and sugar till the mixture is pale and fluffy. It is one of the wonders of the world that sugar and butter can turn to this. Of course it is easy to do in this in the Sunbeam. The butter is cubed; usually it is still too cold from the fridge and the sugar is measured into the glass bowl. The motor is switched on and at first the mixers have trouble because the butter is too hard and the bowl vibrates and it all feels like it will never come together. Like an old car starting on a cold morning. Another image hard to conjure these days when cars start no matter what the weather. I use a spatula to push the stuff down to the centre so the mixers can start churning the butter and really soften it. It starts to change colour to a paler yellow as the sugar is rubbed into it.  The granules of sugar, so clearly detectable before, are dissolving. It is turning to something other than butter and sugar.

I wonder who thought this could happen. Who was the first to discover that sugar and butter could do such a thing? And the end result of cake has no resemblance to its individual ingredients . When the people of France were starving during the French Revolution and there was no bread the French Queen was supposed to have said – Give them cake. She lost her head shortly after. My mother loved to tell us this whilst creaming.

When we were very little, before my mother had a mixer, and even after she had one, since she wasn’t very good at using machines, she made cakes by hand. This meant beating the sugar and butter together with a spoon. By forearm and wrist. It was aching stuff. Everyone got a turn at sitting with the bowl in their lap and having a good beat. Till their arm was so sore and it was handed over to someone else. You needed to sit down with a tea towel in your lap because you didn’t want to be the one to drop the bowl and you were too little to do it on the bench.

The necessary implement for this is a wooden spoon and the butter must be soft. The cake making must be known to be happening and the cake maker has had to get the butter out and put it on the sink well in advance of the need to use it. It cannot be a spur of the moment decision to make a cake where the butter and sugar must be creamed. And who would make a cake that didn’t need creaming. It is the only real cake after all. Easy quick cakes that just need melted butter and are whisked together are not cakes, proper cakes, my mother would say. And so later when she turned to the White Wings packet cakes this was what I thought. The thing did rise, it was still soft and cake-like, but it wasn’t a proper cake. After all the thing had come from a cardboard box and white sachets had been ripped open and poured into a bowl and a bit of milk or only water added. How did they turn eggs to powder. Mother didn’t know but she thought it was marvellous. Hardly any beating was required. Somehow all these dry powders made a cake that before had needed work, real work.

Back to the real cake; the arm is aching and the adversary – butter and sugar – seems unbeatable. Then it happens that the two have melded. Slowly they have transformed themselves from two things separate and different to one thing – magical and soft. Perhaps ten minutes has passed.

Then the eggs are added. One at a time. Some one might have to go down to the chook house for more. Cracked into the bowl and whisked into the beautifully smooth mixture. But oh the mixture looks ruined. It separates and yellows and curdles into bits. All that work creaming seems wasted by the adding of eggs. But a mother knows this is just a stage. It’ll be better when some flour is added. The sifted flour is sprinkled in. It binds and heals the curdled mixture. Another egg – more flour. Some milk too. Pale yellow and air light the mixture is scooped into a baking tin, already lined with parchment.

Then there are spoons to lick and a bowl too. One sibling gets the spoons and the other the bowl. Depends how fastidious a mother has been to get all the mixture into the bowl. Who will get the better deal?

Jasper shares the mixers with no one. Being a single child he has no siblings to squabble with over whose turn it is for the bowl. So sometimes the mixture is too much for him. I am left with the bowl. Pushing a finger around its rim. Like a child again I feel furtive, even though I am allowed. Something tells me it is greedy to keep licking. To keep poking a finger about till every morsel of mixture is gone. The bowl hardly needs washing.

But the mixture is so good. Almost better than the cake. Always.


from “Revolutionary Road” by Richard Yates

“He took a gulp of whiskey, seeing a quick blur of stars and moon through the wet dome of his glass. Then he started back for the house, but he didn’t make it; he had to turn around again and head out to the far border of the lawn and walk around out there in little circles; he was crying.

It was the smell of spring in the air that did it – earth and flowers – because it was almost exactly a year now since the time of the Laurel Players, and to remember the Laurel Players was to remember April Wheeler’s way of walking across the stage, and her smile, and the sound of her voice (‘Wouldn’t you like to be loved by me?’) , and in remembering all this there was nothing for Shep Campbell to do but walk around on the grass and cry, a big wretched baby with his fist in his mouth and the warm tears spilling down his knuckles.

He found it so easy and so pleasant to cry that he didn’t try to stop for a while, until he realised he was forcing his sobs a little, exaggerating their depth with unnecessary shudders. Then, ashamed of himself, he bent over and carefully set his glass on the grass, got out his handkerchief and blew his nose.

The whole point of crying was to quit before you cornied it. The whole point of grief itself was to cut it out while it was  still honest, while it still meant something. Because the thing was so easily corrupted: let yourself go and you started embellishing your own sobs, or you started telling about the Wheelers with a sad, sentimental smile and saying Frank was courageous and then what the hell did you have?”


That There, That There


That there, that there, she said, pointing at the man seated in a chair behind a table. He had his head down. He didn’t dare catch her eye. She started to shake. A frenzy now took hold of her. Her knees buckled, like a filly striking a pot hole. She was down. A crumpled mess of skirt and cloth in the dock. She was weeping too. Blubbering really. Someone had to help her but mostly they just stood by, unused to the spectacle.

But now it was almost over, she could let herself fall. She felt like she would go through the court room boards, as hard as they were, and beneath the building, so prim and proper, and through the dirt and deep into the earth where it was black and cloying and warm and cold. Part of her could not escape it. It would come upon her again and again. She could once more feel the soil on her face.  After all, they’d filled her with grit, and not only her mouth.

She’d been dragged behind a shed. One had pushed her down and stood with his foot on her hand, grinding her skin beneath his army boot.  Are you ready? he’d said to the other man. After raping her, one after the other, in the railway yard, they’d filled her up with sand and stones as far as they could put them. They’d been two boys in a gravel pit; she – a broken kewpie doll, their vessel.

She’d pleaded with them not to kill her for the sake of her baby. They’d been heedless. The one that had done her first complained to the other that he’d filled her too soon. He’d wanted to go again. So they started on her mouth. He broke her teeth.

Left alone in the yard of soot and black metal she rolled over and pulled down her dress.  She found her shoe. She’d not been wearing a hat. They would despise her for this. It would become evidence of her poor standing. She wiped blood from her mouth. She coughed dirt. She saw them running off, again two boys. Army greens, same as her son. They too were heading for the Front. Perhaps in a foreign trench mud would fill their mouths.

She crawled to the outside, to the world she felt no longer part of. Into the night she called, Police Murder.


(this story was inspired by true events reported in the newspaper of the day. The story was reported under the headline “East Perth Horror” – Emily Lawson was raped by two returned soldiers in the July of 1917 and both were found guilty by a judge and were given life sentences.  The judge said,” Were you standing before me as a judge in NSW it would be my duty to sentence you to death. The legislature here is more merciful perhaps but it has never the less armed me with power to deal with you severely. I cannot conceive a worse case or one more richly deserving the full penalty of the law than in this case. You both must be imprisoned for life.”)

Minyon Falls

The boy in a blue raincoat, the father in a red. Both take a piss in the bushes side by side. A kookaburra is nearby. The boy skips every few steps as they walk , his joy irrepressible at being outside the car. They are walking to the water fall through the rain-forest.

Before this the parents have yelled, the both of them, at various times at the eight year old. They suggested he sit in the middle of the back seat to get a view out through the front windscreen. But would he listen? No. Stubborn to the point of car sickness again.

Then he started groaning, moaning, driving them nuts.

The boy doesn’t get what excites his parents about driving through the country side. The miles of small roads they choose to Ooh and Ahh at. Every for sale sign gets a new intake of breath and a scribbling of estate agent names and numbers.

But where are the shops? asks the boy. No shops.

Just wet roads, damp boggy earth. Tree canopies that meet over roads, like fingers interlocking,  making a tunnel of leaves. Wet. Ferns. No doubt full of leeches. Primitive plants. Everything here is dripping. The ground squelches, so water logged it oozes. It is like walking on foam. There is moss. Imagine that. Moss. She hasn’t seen moss for the longest time.

Because they live in Fremantle. Land void of moss. Flat, dry and hot.  Hot and windy. Windy and hot. Water is scarce. The Water Board recommends three minute showers. People have fake grass.  Roads don’t wind. They are straight and hot and baking. People’s suburban gardens have palms, yellow and crisp. Like they dream of an oasis. Grass turns yellow and then brown. Water sacrificed to sand slips off, repelled, afraid.

The parents long for rain, for moisture. They watch the falls, the way the water, in endless buckets, spill over the rocks. Mesmerised by gallons of the stuff. The spray comes off it and turns to mist and all the air about is liquid and cool.

from “Disquiet” by Julia Leigh

The boy had a go. He planted himself on the ground and kicked at the door. He kicked and kicked, first a hard low kick and then a one-two kung-fu kick. He took a few steps back and, like a high jumper, standing on the balls of his feet, gathering concentration, he readied for a run-up: he launched himself against the door. At the point of impact there came a dull thud. He did this again. Over and over, uncomplaining. He picked himself up, wincing and walked back to his starting position, lifted his heels, ran at the door. But the door was oak and he was boy: his shirt was torn and bloodied. He snuck a glance at the woman and with a slow blink she encouraged him to continue. In the end he forced an opening.”

from ‘So Long, See You Tomorrow” by William Maxwell

“When my father was an old man, he surprised me by remarking that he understood what my mother’s death meant to me but had no idea what to do about it. I think it would have been something if he had just said this. If he didn’t it was possibly because he thought there was nothing he or anybody else could do. Or he may have thought I would reject any help he tried to give me. As a small child I sometimes had the earache, and I would go to him and ask him to blow cigar smoke in my ear. He would stop talking and draw me toward him and with his lips almost touching my ear breathe warm smoke into it. It was as good a remedy as any, and it was physically intimate. One night – I don’t know how old I was, five or six, maybe – bedtime came and I kissed my mother good night as usual and then went over to my father and as I leaned toward him he said I was too old for that anymore. By the standards of the time and that place I expect I was, but I had wanted to anyway. And how was I to express the feeling I had for him? He didn’t say then or ever. In that moment my feeling for him changed and became wary and unconfident.”

Inside the Chook House

Don’t go inside the chook house without your thongs. Chances are you will step on something squishy and it will make you wince, jerk, scream a little even. Because the floor of the chook house is dirt and chicken poop and bits of rotting vegetables. Your mum has asked you to empty the chook bin. It lives under the sink and all the scraps are thrown into it. The dog wishes he was so lucky. It is a soupy mix of rotting things that the chooks go nuts about.

You are before an awkward age. Maybe ten or eleven. You have no breasts. You haven’t even thought about that. You have yellow terry toweling shorts on with a string tie. They are super short and your legs are like two brown leather straps. When you stand your knees overextend so your legs bow a little and your mum tells you this is an ugly way to stand. But it feels right. If you bring your knees forward you feel like you will crumple.

You love that you can run fast. But your hair bothers you. It never does what you want it to.  So different from everyone else’s. Your mother said it went strange when the hair dresser used electric clippers on it and you believe her. In baby photos you have normal hair. Something happened after that. Each hair now like it has had the fright of its life.

You take the bucket down the back yard and the chooks see you coming. They pile up around the entrance to their yard like paper blown. Some cheeky chooks attempt to fly to get to the bucket scraps first but each has had one wing cut so they can only do a flutter. Like a stalling engine. Putt putt. Crash.

Dad does the wing cutting.  My sister and  I do the catching. Cornered they crouch in fear. Picked up they are light, filled with air. One at a time we hand them to him. As he takes each chook up he calls her darling. He holds a chook under his arm and extends one wing. With hand shears, freshly oiled,  he snips the wing feathers and they float off like snowflakes. One of us must rake them after the job is done.

You enter the yard pushing them away with your thong-clad foot. Even in thongs you feel something wet slide beneath it. Ooh. Like you are hard wired to worry over texture. Like the way you can’t eat gristle and scramble egg makes you gag.  Then you empty the bucket and their heads go down, their feet start scratching away madly. They’re in chook heaven. Even the ones in the boxes have clambered out and come running. They bust through. Look pumpkin seeds. The vegetable detritus can’t be eaten mostly and just turns old and grey on the soil. It decays. And then dad puts it back on the garden to make more vegies.

You duck your head to go inside their house and search the boxes for eggs. Some are still warm. They fit perfectly in your hand. One at a time. You steal them while they fossick.


from “The Culture Clash” by Jean Donaldson

Top Ten things we Know about Real Dogs

1. It’s all chew toys to them (no concept of artifacts)

2. Amoral (no right vs wrong, only safe vs dangerous)

3. Self-interested ( no desire to please)

4. Lemon-brains (i.e. small and less convoluted brains that learn through operant and classical conditioning)

5. Predators (search,chase,bite,dissect and chew all strongly wired)

6. Highly social (bond strongly and don’t cope well with isolation)

7. Finite socialisation period (fight or flight when not socialised to some social stimulus category.

8. Opportunistic scavengers (if it’s edible and within reach eat it NOW)

9. Resolve conflicts through ritualised aggression (never write letters to editor, never sue)

10. Well developed olfactory system.

At My Father’s Bedside

While I wait at my father’s bedside I read Cormac McCarthy’s first book, The Orchard Keeper, published in 1965, the year after I was born.  It is a bit of a vigil. There is something peaceful about watching the shadows change as the day progresses.  A yellowish glow tints the scene as the day goes on. All the while in the background the wind whooshes and whirs about the building. We are on the seventh floor of the hospital, up under the roof, and there is a view of sail boats on the Swan, like folded paper napkins. Another woman waits and watches too. She has the title  of PSA but I don’t know what it stands for. Her job is to sit and watch the demented, the wanderers, the ones who might decide to get out of bed and fall. She reads a thick book but she is close to finishing. I can tell it’s a romance from its cover; a damsel in the arms of an officer. The thin waisted beauty leans back but he traps her in his strong arms, moves his rock jaw close to her cheek.

My father is asleep. He has had a subdural bleed. Sandwiched between skull and brain there is blood. Now we wait. They check his eyes for light responses, lifting his lids like raising the morning blinds. He sleeps on.

Over pages the character from McCarthy’s book, Sylder, is in a physical fight for his life with a man he has given a lift to. It is 1933. They are fighting by the stationary Ford car on a dirt road. The man has struck the first blow, striking him with the car jack. The killing takes pages. One paragraph I read over;

“He was jerking at the man’s head but the man had both hands over it and seemed lost in speculation upon the pebbles on the road. Sylder let his hand relax and wander through the folds of the neck until they arrived at the throat. The man took that for a few minutes, then suddenly twisted sideways, spat in Sylder’s face, and tried to wrench himself free. Sylder rolled with him and had him then flat backward in the road and astride him, still the one arm swinging from his broken shoulder like a rope. He crept forward and placed one leg behind the man’s head, elevating it slightly, looking like some hulking nurse administering to the wounded. He pushed the head back into the crook of his leg, straightened his arm, and bore down upon the man’s neck with all his weight and strength. The boneless looking face twitched a few times but other than that showed no change of expression, only the same rubbery look of fear, speechless and uncomprehending, which Sylder felt was not his doing either but the everyday look of the man. And the jaw kept coming down not on any detectable hinges but like a mass of offal, some obscene waste matter congealing and collapsing in slow folds over the web of his hand. It occurred to him then that the man was trying to bite him and this struck him as somehow so ludicrous that a snort of laughter wheezed in his nose. Finally the man’s hands came up to rest on his arm, the puffy fingers trailing over his own hand and wrist reminding him of baby possums he had seen once, blind and pink.”

But still the man is not dead. He takes another page to finally succumb to the brutal force of Sylder. Finally extinguished the man relaxed “his hand and the fingers contracted, shriveling into a tight claw, like a killed spider.”

How hard he fights to hang onto life. How hard is it to die? Even old Dad seems to struggle on inwardly. Inside is he at war, dueling in hand to hand combat to hang on and not die? To emerge the victor.

The vivid richness of McCarthy gets me thinking about murder. I imagine bringing the pillow down, like in so many movies. I think of Francis. So many teenage tears shed watching Jessica Lang turn vegetable. Maybe the guard is here to protect Dad from me and what I might do faced with the diagnosis just given; “he might be starting to pass away.”

Lying in his hospital bed the nurse comes to clean his teeth, no matter that he is sleeping, or at least mimics it. No matter that clean teeth no longer seem a priority.  She asks him to open his mouth and he obeys. He has three teeth that she cleans with a bicarb swab rotating it around his mouth. When he’s had enough he bites down on it and attempts to draw it away from her. I think of a dog at tug of way. Ok you’ve had enough of that I see, she says. Give it up. The toothless gums hold the brush and then he lets go. He has won this fight. She retreats.

He sleeps on.