He made them into bookmarks...
|I wasn’t the first in the neighbourhood to hear it but I certainly wasn’t the last. Awakened from my noon-whiskey stupor (Note: usually my parents would have prevented such lax wastage of time, but they were safely tucked behind a fold in the rural maps) by a sudden cacophony of feminine squealing, I took a cough drop from the behind the panel-in-the-cupboard-above-the-keys and walked out onto the veranda, searching for the perpetrator of the irritating disturbance. It seemed I was just in time to see the ladies of the local Knitting Benefit tossing themselves out of the house opposite, slipping and sliding over each other and yelling a mixture of phrases I was unable to make out.
Tossing the (lemon-flavoured!) confectionary into my mouth I was laughing confusedly at the amusing vision of an overexcited dame (who really should have known better) trying to free herself from the windowframe’s rigid embrace when I heard a lyric whisper its way from the babble to my left shoulder and bellow: HITLER-DEAD… VICTORY… ALLIES! into my delicate left ear. Such was my surprise that the yellow candy rolling over my tongue had a chance meeting with the surface of my pharynx. When I had recovered from my slight indisposition (sadly the sweet was MIA), I saw that the window was lonely once more, but could not find his mistress amongst the crowd, which seemed to have trebled during my lack of attention.
The May clouds hurriedly flew away so that our legendary Sun roared onto our heads and into our eyes. A flag was brought among the mob, and snatching hands and crushing lips anointed its stars with delight. A little circle formed in the heart of the throng, a woman was flinging her arms about to enthralled spectators. She assembled a gun from her fingers, shot herself through the head, and crumpled to the bitumen. The women surrounding either folded in mirth or made the sign of the cross.
Jane Baker, daily nursemaid to fifteen borrowed babes sang her laundry song so loud each note was tattered, and tossed fumbling fistfuls of the sugar she normally reserved for making toffee onto gleeful heads. She then threw the black ration-sized tin to the asphalt and jumped on it with disturbing enthusiasm.
The harmonious final bars of an opera I hadn’t heard since my records lapsed whistled amongst the oranges, wines and shoes that caroused in the translucence of my mind’s eye, and as I absently spat over the railing, I tasted the creaminess of chocolate…
And then came the girls from the factories, dishevelled, searching for little faces amongst the amassing crowd then gaspingly, laughingly shimmying into one house or another before joining in the festivities in the street, tufts of hair visible in their weathered arms.
A distressed noise caught my interest, and I rotated ninety degrees to the right so that I was looking into the garden of Katie Johnson, widow, 42. A telegram had arrived at the Johnson’s house the day before, informing the district that Private Thomas Johnson had been killed in enemy fire. Tom had been in the year above me in the North Perth’s only Secondary School. He was handsome, popular, a whiz hand at squash and an artisan of the viola. He only deemed to notice me when the squash ball he had been tossing around leapt over the wall between our houses and into my lap as I was reading a book. For a few happy weeks we were inseparable, but an unpleasant incident involving a stray dog divided us. Tom continued on to the next playmate, I returned to my tomes. He signed up for the army, I stayed on the home front. And in front of me, now his mother was breaking into fragments of Katie Johnson, which her best friend was desperately trying to collect from the floor.
When Rose Lee had all the pieces of her companion safely stored in her pocket, she shook the dust off her apron, and happened to catch my bystanding eyes. The glare I received was horrific! Like her slanted dark eyes would tear into my chest and expose the secret workings of man to the light. Mrs Lee’s sallow skin and empty cheeks burrowed through my confidence and planted a little curse behind its walls. Then she turned and swept the dust inside.
The crowd had migrated to claim new prey, but the road had hollows of dancing feet and the brisk air was thick with excitement. As I sat on the edge of the veranda, feet a breath above the baked earth, twirling a pristinely snowy feather between my index finger and thumb, I gently congratulated myself on having lost nothing during the greatest turmoil the world had ever seen.