A Second Chance

By Sue Clennell

sfgenreI suppose you’d think there was nothing weird about my grandfather serving me a cup of coffee at a snack bar. Or a lady in a queue saying to me, “Your grandfather says you are just like your mother!” Except for the fact my grandad has been dead for four years now.

Haven’t you ever been in this situation? Someone has died and yet you think you catch a glimpse of the back of their head, just turning around a corner. And you wonder at the coincidence of someone looking just like them.

I can understand Perth being a sort of Purgatory. We’re situated right where Dante thought it was when he saw the Southern Cross in his mind’s eye. When he said, “Then I turned to the right, setting my mind upon the other pole, and saw four stars not seen before except by the first people.”

I can easily imagine we are all treading water, or rather air, trying out for Heaven with all these little tests. Do you beep your horn if the guy in front doesn’t realise it’s a green light? Can you pinch that extra large stapler out of the stationery cupboard and get away with it? That female who ignored the queue and hailed a taxi out of place after the Christina Aguilera concert definitely lost a few marks.

I ponder a lot of things like that; like what the silver angel in Hay street does when she’s not being an angel. Or what the lunchtime sword swallower-Houdini does the rest of the day. I guess you can tell that my job is fairly routine, data entry, keyboarding the engine numbers of motor vehicles. I got the police commissioner’s vehicle on the screen by mistake one day and thought, wouldn’t it be fun to give it a yellow sticker? Notch up a few marks against me too.

Anyway, I’m supposed to be telling you about Troy, a homeless thirteen-year-old youth I met for the first time in William street when he asked for money to buy something for his sore throat. I felt like saying, “If you didn’t smoke, you wouldn’t have a sore throat,” but that would have put the years on me.

The next time I met Troy he botted a container of yoghurt from my grocery bag at the bus stop. I thought, this kid is tin-sharp, one day he will be broken-bottle sharp.

Troy wasn’t so much a city boy as a river boy. He would describe the Swan in all her phases. How sometimes on a rainy day she was like an old man’s cardigan, how he liked her best in the early morning when the river was like glass, but night with all the lights following her course was pretty good too. Just like in his grandma’s postcards of Blackpool.

And he was always curious to see how the bathing statue next to Crawley boatshed was dressed. Hat and dress for the Melbourne Cup, silver tinsel for Christmas, flag hanging from her arm for Australia Day.

Troy said he had sailed on the Duyfken and climbed her highest mast in a gale.

He told me about always having to swap schools. Each time he’d deliberately find out who the school bully was and challenge him to a fight so he wouldn’t be pestered by any kids from then on.

I found out all this in bits and pieces over several months, mind you. Everyone has a story, we just don’t make time to listen.

I don’t know where he hunkered down at night. Maybe under one of the bridges. I know it wasn’t with his family since his grandma died, and his parents said he was too wild, too worrisome to stay at home. I suppose they just couldn’t worry about him any more, their brains gone into overload mode.

Troy confessed to being a bit stuffed in the head. He’d hear people in bursts, as if his head had been held under water. At four am one day he ran from Canning Bridge to Perth, convinced that the world had ended.

Troy would get the frights really badly. And then he’d watch out for police because you can’t be too different. You can’t upset other people and get away with it.

I don’t know whether it was the wrong kind of drugs that caused his condition but probably. Anyway, the end result was that he felt a bit of an outcast, a dropout, and said that was the good thing about the river — it’s non-judgemental. It doesn’t care whether you’ve got a job or a good education.

One of his idiosyncrasies was to believe in the stars, and he would raid the city’s rubbish bins for newspaper predictions. Of course he’d scoff too, like the stars don’t tell you you’re going to have a mental breakdown today, or your house is going to be burgled, flooded, burnt.

Why am I talking of him in the past tense? Well they didn’t name him in the news, there was just a paragraph about a boy floating face down in the Swan. Families can have that sort of thing suppressed sometimes. I heard it from the crowd outside Hungry Jacks.

So what do you feel when someone dies unexpectedly? Disbelief, anger…mainly anger.

Voyeuristically, I checked on his stars that day, they said it was a good time to be creative.

But there’s no need to feel too sad about Troy, because I saw him just yesterday skateboarding and leaping on the steps outside the Bank of Queensland in St Georges Terrace.

Like I said, this boom mining town is Purgatory, and we all get a second chance.

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About The Author

Sue Clennell

Sue Clennell has had three plays performed in Sydney & Canberra’s Short & Sweet Festivals, and short stories published in newspapers and journals. Two poems from her poetry CD, ‘The Van Gogh Cafe’ may be viewed on youtube at: bit.ly/1wdTfcM

 

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Coming In Bumper Issue 235

A Day In Caaatahlona 1 - City Beneath The Waves
by Robert Caldwell

Ace Zone
by Eugen M. Bacon

Arial
by Brian Biswas

Betty Cyberchin
by Steven Translateur

Broadcast
by Kathryn Flaherty

By Kindle Light
by Jessica Nelson-Tyers

Digital Gods
by Pascal Inard

Disposable World
by David Scholes

E-mageddon
by C A Clark

Emallgration
by Brianna Bullen

Lonely Hearts Of The Spinward Ring
by Paddy Kelly

Marhaen Sukarno In Las Vegas
by Wes Parish

Mickey Spillane Lies Bleeding
by Kevin J. Phyland

My Parents Went To Vegas And All I Got Was This Lousy Robot
by Matthew F. Amati

My Window
by Mark Tremble

The Sandman's Couch
by Matthew Kerber

Out With The Old
by Alexander Nachaj

The Master
by Kim Rose

The Queue
by Ishmael Soledad

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by Steve Pool

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The Australian Science Fiction Foundation (ASFF) is pleased to welcome entries in the Norma K Hemming Award for works published in 2016 and 2017. Designed to recognise excellence in the exploration of themes of race, gender, sexuality, class or disability in a published speculative fiction work, the Norma K Hemming Award is now open for entries. The award is open to short fiction, novellas, novels, anthologies, collections, graphic novels and stage plays, and makes allowances for serialised work.  For more information:  <https://normakhemmingaward.org/2017/11/08/entries-are-now-open-for-the-2018-norma-k-hemming-award/>.

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Genghiscon 2018:  Gaming convention. Trinity Residential College, University of Western Australia,19-21 January 2018. <https://2018.genghiscon.org/>.

Walker Stalker Convention: Walking Dead convention The Dome at Sydney Showgrounds. 3-4 February 2018 and 10-11 February 2018 Melbourne Showgrounds. <http://walkerstalkercon.com/sydney/>.

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SF Quote

If your God is everywhere, if He is always watching, why should your people make houses to go to worship Him? Faced with an all-seeing, everywhere-being God, I would think what is needed is a place to hide.

Tad Williams, Caliban's Hour