Drug Deals

Drug deals go on outside our house on the park by the community pool’s fence. It is out in the open really. It is not clandestine. The guys wear baseball caps; one even has it backwards. They have the requisite baggy pants, the crutch of which is around the knees. Like babies whose nappies are sodden and heavy, they walk with an awkward swagger.  It is sunny and clear and the air has a fresh washed-down smell to it. Or no smell. No sheep ship.

Lately the local paper has complained of the drug’s trade escalation and some locals have died due to the high purity of the stuff on the streets. I am reticent to let Jasper take the lane way home after tennis, in case he comes across a drug deal. It used to be the homeless and the drunken who made us take the long way. Now it is the pushers with the puffy shoes and the oversized trousers. Yesterday hail came down and shred the Golden Robinia of its spring leaves, peppering the footpath with yellow.

It is time for school pick up so I drive to the school near the ocean. I take the dog so he can exercise his nose. Three foot high cliffs of sea weed border the shore. Winter storms have dumped it here, to stagnate and smell. To dogs it is heaven sent. And perhaps heaven-scented. The waves carve out caverns making shipwrecked hulls of the grey mounds. Bees are busy about the dunes, their legs bulging with the burden of Yellow Dandelions.

Four Chinese girls sit on the kerbside by the beach. One hands the others a Kleenex baby wipe each to rid their feet of the soft white beach sand that you or I would neither notice or care about.

We return home and the drug dealer’s oval is awash with after school sport. Criss crossing it are high school students and a pair stop midway to kiss. They stand facing one another and she puts her hands on his shoulders as if to steady herself and to secure him to the spot. The pony-tailed girl is a couple of inches taller than the boy. He breaks off the kiss. He spins her around by yanking on her rucksack and they collapse together on the grass. She leans over him to kiss him again. Look Mum sex on the oval, says Jasper.

Jasper at Home from School

There is giggling coming from the lounge room. He, the home-from-school-boy, is watching Megamind. It is animation so typical of this era. I give him a bowl of strawberries, washed and cut. The strawberries are enormous. Unreally so. They need to be cut in quarters. I remember when strawberries were small and sweet. Popped into your mouth straight from the backyard bush.

I have taken the home-from-school-boy to the doctor to be told it is most likely viral. There is nothing to do but to rest and drink plenty of fluids. Animation has advanced in leaps and bounds but there still remains no cure for a common cold but to stay at home and sip lemon and honey.

When I stayed home from school I watched Play School, even when I was way too old for what else was there? Besides, I still loved Big Ted and wanted to look through the round window. Most of the day I had to stay in bed, out of mother’s way. I have no memory of where she was or what she did as I dozed.  From my bedroom I could hear the going ons in the kitchen; a clatter of pans and washing up, a drone of radio. The Country Hour. She would go to the shops and leave me alone. Most mothers would have done the same. But not these days. Someone might ring the door bell, the child might answer, he might be kidnapped, the house could catch fire.

My mother grew quickly impatient with a sick child. Especially if I vomited. Somehow vomiting, especially when it was all over the bed, left my mother nonplussed and likely to start yelling. My stay-at-home-boy seems a lot less sick than I had to be to be at home. He has complained of a sore throat and he has a temperature, detectable on the battery operated ear Thermoscan. The thermometer became an essential item when Jasper was a baby and headlines of children dying from meningococcal disease seemed common. My mother detected a fever with the back of her hand across my forehead. If you had a temperature you stayed in bed, might not even be allowed out to watch Play School. You didn’t go to the doctor since she knew what to do. Fluids and plenty of rest.

Jasper and the Yellow Burley

Good Friday means there are no cars on the road. The pool is closed today like it is on Christmas day. There is no music blasting from aqua aerobics. No drone of leaf blowers across the cement. No whistles from the coach punishing the squads. Our neighbourhood is at its quietest. Someone will probably bake Nigella’s Norwegian Buns and invite the others around. Yeasty, buttery, sugary cinnamon buns. No ordinary Baker’s Delight Hot Cross Buns around here.

People go away for Easter, if they can, and this year the holiday is longer than most with ANZAC day thrown in. Families leave the city with car roof racks piled with surfboards, bikes clinging to bumpers, eskies full. This is when the weather changes in the West. Marshmallow clouds hold promise. It will rain, we hope.

Jasper has a new football. It is a yellow Burley. A Rover. For nine to eleven year olds. Snug in his mitts. Made in India,  Jasper tells me. He is surprised. Isn’t India a poor country? You’d think they would be wealthy from all the footballs. Pumped hard it stings the tops of his foot as he bombs it as far as he can.

We can’t go anywhere. On watch for frailty. My dad has had a suprapubic catheter put in. This means his bladder will drain into a bag, by-passing his urethra which is becoming narrowed and invaded by the cancer in his penis. Like a rocky gorge its insides have become craggy, spiky; a place of pain.

We wait for him to come back to the nursing home in an ambulance. We can hear him coming down the corridor. His familiar chant to any staff required to move him; No more No more.

But we do more. Always. Pushing and prodding.

He is slid over from the gurney to the bed. Not until there are no hands on him and he is in the bed does he settle.

The catheter means the staff will need to fuss less around the painful penis.There will be less changing of pads and beds, less sensation to urinate and no urine stinging its way through the diseased urethra. Now the urine is bloody, but this is supposed to be temporary.

But the RN on duty looks dubious as to the difference it might make to his pain. Still very painful, she says.

Can we leave him alone now, I wonder. Can we finally stop all the intervention? There is talk of radiation. The urologist thinks it might ease the pain. But it will not cure the cancer. It has gone beyond that. No one thinks they can do anything more but alleviate pain. But pain still exists. He is still irritable, asking to be left alone.  But then again can’t be left alone because he can do nothing for himself. His hands are like claws, grabbing at rails. Hanging on. The skin of his face is suctioned to his skull. His skin is yellowing, but stubble continues to grow. Like stubborn weeds his eyebrows sprout in mad directions off his brow.

Jasper wants to go and kick the Burley. The nursing home smells. Daisy Jones has lost her room again. We take her to room number seventeen, remind her again, that this is her room. How much do I need to pay for it? she asks. She shuffles in a wheelchair using her feet to propell herself, one arm across her chest, useless from a stroke. Her eyes begin to fill with tears as we talk to her. I don’t know where I am , she says. Walking through the dining room, on our way out, the oldies all look at the boy with the yellow ball spinning on his hand. He bounces it and catches it, because he can.






How to not get in trouble

Jasper is at cricket. It is his third day of five hours per day at an expensive boys’ school.

A man not right in the head asked if he could feel his hair. What kind of man? We are on the bed together while I quiz him. I am getting dressed because when you are paralysed dressing means rolling around on the bed, moving the lifeless legs like they belong to someone else. The dog is with us. Jasper is rolling with the dog. I am rolling with my trousers. Occupied by movement he often comes out with stuff. The other place to talk is in the car when there is no eye contact. The worst place to talk is the kitchen table.

The man wished he was playing cricket in the under nine’s, Jasper says. My mind goes to paedophile. What was this man doing there I ask, not wanting to sound alarmed, alarming. He knows I am worried. I am always a dead give away. Did you let him feel it I ask? Well kind of. I got away from him pretty quick because he was kind of weird. The man spoke like a kid but he was an adult says Jasper.

In my head I am asking Was this man a pervert? Or was he an innocent keen on the blonde, messiness of a small dude’s hair.

I don’t spend too long on these thoughts. I can extrapolate. I can delve beyond.

When I was in primary school I took sweets from a man as I walked home. He was an old man; I think he wore a large coat. He handed out sweets from a crumpled paper bag and I took them. Boiled lollies; the type that take ages to suck down to nothing, so I had to dawdle to avoid getting home before the sweet had dissolved to nothing. Till the evidence was gone. My tongue worrying the indents of my molars where the stickiness stuck. The only bad thing about it, I thought, was that it could rot your teeth.

Then in Assembly, the entire school sitting crosslegged on the verandah, the dusty boards dirtying our school tunics, we listened to the head master talk about not taking sweets from strangers. Had I been seen? Told on? There had been reports and it was dangerous. How so, I wondered. But nobody said how so. I thought maybe the sweets were poisoned. I thought of the old man who gave the sweets and how sad he looked and how much sadder he would have been if I had said no to the sweets. I wanted to defend the old man and say the sweets were good, really good.  And taking the sweets had made him smile. But I didn’t want to get into trouble for having taken the sweets in the first place.

When asked in assembly if anyone had taken sweets from the old man no hands went up. Heads swung round and we all looked at oneanother, but no hands went up.

There was a cemetery near where we lived as kids and my sister and I spent many hours in its unkempt bushland.  It was a wild, hot place. Its bush rang with cicadas and the earth was dry and cracked under our feet. Gravestones were lopsided, flowers were old or plastic and weeds grew. Large black crows picked their way over headstones cawing. Dead leaves and twigs underfoot rustled with the movement of disturbed reptiles. For suburban kids it was our wildnerness.

Only the soldiers’ graveyard was well kept with green spongy lawns and rose gardens. Here we were solemn. This part we visited with our parents, walking peacefully, reading plaques. Marvelling at young death. Imagine dying at 18. Our parents had taught us to respect this part of the cemetery. We weren’t permitted to rush around it or make a noise. Just like church, but outdoors.

But the remainder was a playground.  When our parents banished us from the house on a hot summer’s afternoon, when they couldn’t bare more Monopoly, we rode off on our bikes to the cemetery, dropped them in the gravel and played on fallen tree trunks and behind grave stones. We were nearly always alone. Sometimes people passing through, or walking their dog looked at us askance and we would still ourselves till they passed on.

Here we came upon a man who turned and opened a coat to show us his erect penis. We skedaddled. On bikes, we could get away fast. Gravel crunching beneath black rubber. Back to the pavement, outside a house with a picket fence. Safety. We were surprised. What would he want to show us that for we asked one another? No pleasure could be gained from that sore and swollen thing, surely. We knew it was weird. And children have an instinct to run and avoid weirdness. We thought we were somehow to blame for what we had seen. We instinctively knew that we would be in trouble for having seen it. So we told no one. Telling no one means you stay out of trouble. Just like taking the sweets. No one but the old man who gave them to me knew I took them. Then how could I get in trouble.

Because when your nine you just don’t want to get in trouble.

You want to play fair. You don’t like people who cheat. Jasper gets out in cricket first ball and the coach, the nineteen year old, tells him it is up to him if he is out or not. But he was stumped fair and square so he says he is out. Otherwise it is cheating he tells me. No one wants to cheat like the English.