And this is going to be a rather weird post, which I will send off with considerable trepidation.
A few days ago I spoke to a man about the end of the world.
Declan and I were standing outside the Florey Emergency Department. He was wearing a hospital gown over a pair of boardshorts, and I was wearing a hospital badge and stethoscope. It was hot, thirty seven degrees that day, and Declan was having a cigarette, prior to possibly having an appendectomy.
A thin man came up to us. The man was many other things (Aboriginal, elderly, courteous, suspicious, earnest), but it was his thinness that was most remarkable. He seemed a flannel shirt, an Essendon Football Club beanie, a pair of stovepipe jeans, hung upon a wire.
"Hey, mate" he said to Declan. "Got a light?"
Declan obliged. The thin man took a half-cigarette from his breast pocket and bent forward to light it. He sucked deeply, holding the cigarette filter outward, glowing tip concealed in his palm.
"Will you pray for my mother?" he asked.
Declan's eyebrows shot up. "Your mother?"
"She's a spirit woman. There's a lot of bad shit going down. Lot of bad shit. They laughed."
The thin man jerked his head towards me. "The doctors, her sons and daughters. I'm her son, but I'm not like those sons. No flesh of mine, no flesh of hers. Christmas Day, that's when she had her turn."
Declan nodded, slowly.
"They was all sitting down, sitting around her. All in a circle. We was meant to be watching the cricket. Someone gave her vodka and orange - they knew she had the sugar diabetes. The doctor said no vodka and orange, but they went gave her vodka and orange. That's what set her off. Fell down, can't walk, side of her face all twisted up. Can't talk now."
There was a pause. I thought about bleeding in the brain.
"You got to watch out for these bastards. These bastards" he said, jerking his head dismissively at me, and I glanced down at the hospital badge and the stethoscope. I know them all. I know this place, what it's like."
"Been in there, hundreds of times." He indicated over Declan's head to the nearest building, the psychiatric ward. "That place, emergency, all that shit. Been locked up, lots of times. Had to go in there few weeks back to hide. My brother -" and here he gathered me in with his glance, three of us huddled together on the hot day "few weeks back, my brother, he broke in, stole my bones."
I looked at his eyes, dark, almost teary, terribly earnest.
"Took all of my bones out my body" he continued, "sucked them. To get to the salt inside them. Every last one. Came in, in the night."
"Ah" said Declan.
The thin man spoke slowly. "Broke my mum's heart. I reckon that put her part way to her having her turn." He leant forward, came closer.
"But she's not gone yet. We'll know when she goes. She's a spirit woman, spirit woman. Big power, definitely." He glanced around, nodded, as if reassuring a wavering crowd, and went on. "Before she goes - the thunder. Hotter, hotter, night of thunder. All the night. And then..."
"Then?" I asked.
"Nothing" he said. "No nothing. No trees, no sun, no big fuckin' hospital. All gone in dark. Nothin', never again. Spirit woman. Big power. You pray for her?"
We assured him that we would, and he shook our hands, each in turn, and I saw the veins on the back of his hand, big, ropy, good to stick a needle in. If I ever had to. Declan and I shuffled back into the hospital, back to the bright light and the air conditioning. I glanced behind me as the sliding doors opened. The thin man was gone.
And I forgot.
Until just then. I drove out of the ED today, and just outside the gates was a flannelette shirt, lying on the road, the same pattern and colour he had worn, the same pattern and colour every unemployed man around here wears.
It was in the gutter by the side of the road, and as I glanced in my rear-view mirror, a gust of wind must have caught it, and an arm flapped emptily at me, and the shirt inched along the road. I think the Essendon hat was there, too.
I could have stopped and looked, but it was hot. Forty one degrees, and the humidity was rising, and I wanted to get home before the storms forecast for tonight. So I drove on, forgot about it, got on with things, did the things on my list, did what I was going to do, like any other day.
Until tonight, tonight when I heard the thunder.
Well, like I said. Weird. Don't know that I managed to get that across. But anyhow, a less peculiar post next time, and comments.
Thanks for listening,