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The lapping of the river is like a giant dog licking itself. A constant slurp. It is skinny milk café latte. Sometimes it shimmers. Sometimes it is smooth, muddy brown. Bottomless. When boys get atop canoes and kayaks it becomes Huckleberry Finn territory. They have legs like twigs. Hobbit feet. Notoriously unsteady. They wear life jackets because a father said “what if a boat hits them” – one is unconscious, and then the other is forced to try to rescue a dead weight and then they both drown. Could happen? Fear makes you drive to Ray’s Outdoors and spend more money. Dog eyes make you buy more slow releasing dog food toys since there is a City Farmer’s next door. And whilst you’re at it purchase a piping bag for the Birthday eclair making later in the day. Since Master Chef these things are easily purchased, as is a madeleine tray, or blow torch for creme brûlée.


It is a river that flows and all rivers have their own strength. Beneath its silky surface, it is all force and wanting. Sometimes stronger than the muscles of an eleven year old. Especially ones so sinewy and strapping. More like sapling trees that bend and sway, than meaty boys. So not solid. Rubber limbs. Life jackets makes sense. It gives mothers and fathers peace. It gives boys freedom. Specks now as they paddle away. Urged on. Laughter carries on water.


Mosquitoes keep mothers inside. They suck even through denim. Mighty. Squashed, they are filled with more blood than their size allows. A baby keeps a young girl occupied. She has been abandoned by the sapling boys who have told her not to follow them. Her white blonde hair would make her a Gretel in the forest. She must stay with the women who drink tea and talk endlessly about how to make babies sleep. At least she has Nutella.


The baby is soothed by pumpkin and breastmilk. He seems easy, and hard to please, at the same time. Mothers of saplings remember back and can’t. Have stories, but stories could be made up. Memory is so mutable. It seems hard work – the baby thing – being so attached. Having to be carried, picked up, pushed around. I tell how I have spoken of Jasper in the plural to make him sound like more than one baby. I speak of “children” when I should have said “child.” To make myself sound equal to a mother of six. How hard can one be? I hear them all thinking. So I multiply him.


Now the saplings are off most of the time, or else take themselves away from the adults to commune in their room with their own music. Macklemore. What headphones they would buy if only they could save up the money. They run most of the day, jump in and out of pools, scrape knees, chew gum, and then at night fall they are couch-bound. Like heavily worked horses, they need watering, feed bags full of grain.


At night the river turns syrupy. Molasses. Really treacherous now. As if the snags and concealed boughs could move and strangle. It slurps and pulses. It grows stronger. There is a blood moon. It hangs heavy and low in the sky – disguises itself as a street lamp.


The dog stands on the jetty, peering. He is intrigued, but not stupid, and not brave either.


We talk of another dog, left home in the care of a comforting cleaner. Gold dog has had rounds of chemo to little effect to shrink down the size of a facial tumour. Despite the mass, she bounds happily in all types of tepid, stinking water. The smellier the better, you get the sense. If she was a person you might describe her as loopy, as the type to approach everything with gay abandon. The kind to strike up conversation with any stranger. She has anxiety too, and now is on multiple drugs to ease her disquiet. Sometimes she is panicked and wide eyed – her thoughts only on demons. She tears up whole rooms and, when a nail splits, it is as if an ax-murderer has been in the bedroom.


Solving her dilemma might be more than science and love can muster.


A new study shows that women look at their dogs with the same eyes they have for their newborn babies. Makes perfect sense to a woman whose love for her dog makes her curious about what he might be feeling and what makes him happy. He slips out the front when the rest of the house is eating dinner and could easily take off down the street. Instead he waits patiently outside the front door till someone realises he is missing and lets him in. He spends the rest of the night at the feet of the couch-bound saplings.


Babies and dogs are not so very different. Mothers are vets and vets are mothers. Babies are dogs and dogs are babies. Love is love.

Gorgeous Boys into Good Men

It is Tuesday afternoon in the middle of May. Time to collect the boy from the entrance of the Fremantle Arts Centre where we meet after school. I am always early and I look at my phone while I wait for him. The Virginia creeper has turned crimson. I take pictures with my phone of clouds and edit them with Instagram. The dog waits patiently too, on the warm bitumen, moving only if he has sat on a trail of ants. His nose is wet and twitching. Waiting for the smell of his boy. Sometimes he is tricked by the shape of another person coming down the hill and he gets up, prematurely, and starts wagging his bum. Then he realises it is not his human and flops back down. Then the familiar slap of his sand shoe. Then maybe the whiff that only a dog can sense. The smell of him hits the Murphy’s nose and the wag becomes sincere.

“How was the test?” It was NAPLAN today. Persuasive writing. The question was; Why cook at home? He was happy with his response. His kicker was that if you got really good at cooking you could become a contestant on Masterchef.

We have football. “Get your boots on.” I have his mouth guard. I have his things ready. It’s what I do.

After footy he is hot, even though it is getting dark and he has lots of bare skin. We arrive home and he is going to go over to the neighbour’s because I am off to a talk by Celia Lashlie; On Turning Gorgeous Boys into Good Men. From our car parking spot outside our fence we can see three dodgy types by the stairs that lead onto the park. Jasper says, Drunks Mum. My neighbour will give Jasper dinner and then Graham will pick him up when he finishes work at 7pm. Jasper is eager to get to the neighbour’s and play with his mate and wants to go over straight from the car. He wants to dump his boots on me. He wants me to hand him the house keys so he can race ahead. But I want him to wait for me, so I can lock my car. After all the drunks might be watching. Also I want him to put more clothes on. “No you cannot go over in your footy shorts and that top. Come inside and change into long pants and a wind cheater.” We have our familiar to and fro. He gets shitty with me. I persist.

It is so mundane and so well-known to mothers. We hate the sound of ourselves, but can’t turn ourselves off. I am thinking why can’t you just do what I want you to do.

He does some storming around but changes into jeans and a sweater and is over the fence and at the neighbour’s. Barely a good-bye. I think, well at least he is warm. I have half an hour before I need to leave to go to the talk. Long enough to heat some left-overs in the microwave, switch off the lounge room light and sit but the window and watch the drunks on the steps by the park. They are twenty feet away but it is as if they are in the next room. Hey, she yells. I sit in the dark with my Malaysian curry left-over on my lap and watch them while I eat. I am forking food into my mouth, and peering from my blackness through slatted cedar blinds, into the growing dusk and cooling night at three drunks on the steps, as if I am watching the television. Hey. A man sits half way up the limestone steps and in front of his splayed legs on the step below is a woman. Prancing about in front of them is a younger man. He is spider-like – perhaps he has sniffed something. He is leaner and taller than the other two. He wears black jeans and a singlet top. He could be in his late teens. The man seated is in a red t-shirt and he has pale skin and a three-day growth. He looks mid thirties. The woman is of an indiscriminate age – somewhere around her twenties or thirties. She has smudgy makeup and a pudgy torso. Her body has lost its youthfulness. She wears black leggings and a low-cut black top that reveals her cleavage and sagging breasts. Hey. The man she has wedged into has his hand across her bare front but is not really fondling her, more just drawing her back into him. Making sure she stays put. She cranes her neck back and around and they start kissing while the lanky man drains some liquid into the funnel of his mouth from the silver bladder from a cask of wine held high. Red shirt is sucking the face of the woman and lets his hand with the cigarette hang down near his side. Lanky man comes round to the base of the steps and eases the cigarette from the hand of red shirt. The couple break off from kissing and yell at one another. Hey. They have a phone between them and are holding it out from them and looking at it. I guess they’re taking a photo. The woman has a green and black checked cap on. Lanky man takes it from her head and she yells at him. Hey. Some tinny music plays from the phone and lanky man dances around in front of them. The couple go back to kissing. Lanky man squats down and watches them, swaying a little on his haunches.

I have to go.

It is getting dark.

The talk is at a posh boys school, full of other western suburb parents of teenage boys. Most of the women are blonde.

Celia Lashlie tells the audience of would-be perfect parents that we need to let go. Over two hours of stories she tells us that we need to help boys find their own intuition and learn to access their own feelings by not riding over the top of them with our mother-need to fill in the empty space. If we ask them a question about how they feel we might need to wait two days for them to answer it, but leave the space for silence. There was a lot of knowing laughter as she held a mirror up to us mothers. Descriptions of women nagging men to put out the rubbish could easily have been from my house. In our desire and want to keep our boys safe we take away their ability to look after themselves. She told the fathers that the boys would walk over broken glass to have themselves seen by them. Fathers; see your boys. She told mothers that we stood atop a box of love. As she illuminated us to ourselves there was that spine tingling feeling and that moist eyed awareness that what she spoke of was wise and true.

When I got home the drunks had gone. The steps were empty and cold, the silver bag deflated and left. I wondered about the parents of the drunks. And who do they parent now?





Skateboarding Dude


Jasper’s collects the Lego mini figures. In fact he collects all sorts. This is why boys need pockets (and their mothers carry around bags with bits of Lego floating about in them) and when vacuuming there is the telltale rattle of a small something being sucked into the bag. Boys hoard. He has a crazy bone collection. He has football cards. He has a pile of rocks, a bucket of seashells, a booty of stick guns, a menagerie of plastic animals, a tall boy covered in stuffed toys and a “car drawer” filled with many, many Hot Wheels.

He has always liked figures that he can hold and play a make-believe game with. This is why the superhero guys were such a big hit. He has Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Silver Surfer, Iron Man, Bad Iron man, Spider man, Bad Spider man, The Hulk, Flash and a few Wolverines. I could have left someone out. They are battle damaged, hardened through years of heavy playing. They have travelled up North, down South, across oceans in airplanes to distant lands. A favourite Batman has red splotches painted on him in an attempt to mimic blood. He has been through the wars. His cape is torn.

A new guy might give him many hours of satisfying play. Gradually the game will grow tired and the man stored away in the “man drawer.” But he is just resting awhile. Awaiting a new adversary. A new adventure.

The Lego skateboarding dude has a different head when he arrives in the mail with the catalogue. Black rimmed glasses? He looks neither dudish or cool till he is sourced a new head with the appropriate hipster beard. Hoody zipper half undone to reveal black T shirt. Beanie.  Better, says Jasper. Let’s skate.