Sunday, October 4, 2015



The Last Asbestos Town by Helen Hagemann ©
 


Chapter 1

May Camille Lyons stood beneath a blood moon and was not afraid. Nor did a prophecy of an apocalypse worry her, or that the red sky was sending a biblical warning. It was more the nervous pleasure and significance of the landscape around her; the spacious, tree-filled terrain of a country town. And in all her studies of astrology nothing could match the beauty of the heavens, the stars pulling down their abundant light, the river, the waterbirds and the stillness.
   During the day, she had walked along the banks of the river where the edges had been trimmed by a landscape gardener. A woman had fed the ducks with bread, and it was obvious that they knew her call. Hadn’t they banned that, too?
   Things functioned in this town that she knew little of, arriving with Isaac at the Girl Guide Hall just under three weeks. There was nothing in her mythology that would help her with the task before them. The building needed maintenance, the stage removed, the old kitchen renovated along with the ablution block outside.  All had to make way for the new, especially with the addition of hot water.
   On their first night, they’d acted out an imaginary play, as if the stage had been their own theatre, choosing a romantic performance of the classic Romeo and Juliet; Isaac standing on a milk crate, thrusting out his arms, professed his love for her. May could only watch and giggle. But she was never fearful of their new venture and convinced herself, although she never spoke about it to him, that since he had stopped smoking Jinx he would discover new things, new beginnings, the serenity; perhaps experience a natural adrenalin rush from their new surroundings.
   City life had been the beginning of the end of their marriage, and so she needed all the magic she could muster. If she had stayed, she would have continued to suffer the anguish of watching a zonked, young husband, toss and turn in fitful dreams. He suffered from nightmares too, especially seeing himself as the principal actor in all of them, running from guns, gangs and killing. Sometimes during the day, he stopped, startled by an amorphous object that seemed familiar, yet there was nothing there. Isaac was mixing dream with reality, and often in his inebriated state he would change the appearance of the real world, interpreting everyday things as magical. May was always apprehensive of these moments, and because his habit was illegal she never spoke about it to anyone.  It was the price she was paying for Isaac’s drug habit. 
   Although he had continually promised to give up the drug, he missed work and started smoking in the mornings even before she had her coffee. But because Isaac was both loving and kind who else would have thought he was well worth the effort to rehabilitate in the country.

  
Each morning walk brought new sights and sounds, and standing on the shoulder of the hill looking towards the town May could see nineteenth-century cottages, the two churches, one Anglican, one Catholic Gothic-style that rang Sunday bells. It was easy enough to jog down the hill in the opposite direction towards the river and parklands.
   The park had three miniature gazebos, barbecues, swings and a large stretch of grass that ran down to the river. The tended park with all its shelters, basketball courts and soccer field held no excitement for her. Rather, the river fascinated May as a pure piece of nature. In the early morning, the sun lit the colours of the purple swamphens, the wood ducks, geese and spoonbills.  The vegetation spread its green tangles beneath the wooden structures that jutted over the river and for at least ten metres a boardwalk joined one picnic area to another. On the other side of the bank, where May rarely ventured, was the golf course and further along towards the bridge the familiar snorting sounds of horses in their stables. 
   The magic strangeness of the river was enhanced by its curious calls. May knew there was more to discover; they’d already heard green tree frogs at night. What amazed her was how full and crystal clear the river was, as if it only needed the tender care of the waterfowl who plucked its banks.
    She ran through the trails and stopping for breath, bent over holding her knees. There was only one section she didn’t like and that was the lurid graffiti under the bridge, but once she reached Pioneer Park with its roses and jonquils her footfalls slowed on the loose stone paths. She liked reading the dedications to the women’s suffrage movement. It was an artificial wilderness, but with each new section of her morning run through the different streets, she passed more curious buildings: the Museum, the Old Courthouse, the Mine Workers Institute, and the War Memorial.
   At the crest of the hill, near the hall, she flung up her hands in an exhausted gesture of surrender. It was spring and now she wanted to tickle that young flesh of her husband, a beautiful boy who was trying, and with whom she was training. In the last two weeks all her anguish had disappeared, so she resolved that they would stay in Farmbridge forever, not budge one inch from Buckingham Street. She decided she would ignore all the claims her brother made about living in a dangerous asbestos shed. It wasn’t a shed. The previous owners had convinced them that the Girl Guide Hall was safe and intact. Relocated and raised on stumps it had also passed a white ant inspection. 
   Their plan was to reinvent the hall into a designer shop for her and part studio for Isaac. Besides she was rather disgusted with what was happening to the city and outer suburbs. The Grey Shirts were physically removing every square inch of asbestos from homes, office buildings and hospitals. Hopefully, they were far enough away, and now the kangaroo paws were beginning to flower in the front yard. She loved their furry fronds that looked like red and green paws.
   She ran down the graded railway sleepers the previous owner had built as steps to the front door and along the side of the hall. There were no doors to the toilets, so she concealed herself behind a large beach towel. She sat there for a few moments in that ambiguous hour of the day, thinking about the bush, the soft breezes stranding her long hair, the curious ducks, and the fascist institutions they had left behind in the city.    
 

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Helen Hagemann's first literary collection, Evangelyne & other poems, was published by the Australian Poetry Centre in their New Poets Series 2009. She has two e-books, The Joyous Lake & Par écrit: poetry of the feminine @ http://issuu.com/evangelyne/​​docs/joyous_lake/

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