Eternities : Lane Cove

The car comes to a halt in a pattern of light and shade under eucalypts down by the banks of the brown river; the engine ticks as if in insectivorous colloquy with the cicadas then goes quiet. We are wondering where to put the picnic when a sudden shift of atmos discloses another time : the body of a man in a shallow depression, his jacket laid across his bare shoulders, the piece of carpet from the boot of his car covering the spindle-shanks of his naked calves. There are drag marks and some distance away a woman lies with torn up pieces of a cardboard carton covering her unclothed body. Flies and rubbish; they have vomited and defecated in the agonies of death by poisoning; and someone has been here afterwards, trying to remedy what can never be made right again. As quickly as it came, 1963 dissolves back into the second decade of the new century but it is too late for us, we return to the car and drive up towards Fullers Bridge looking for some less malign spot at which to eat. It’s then I hear in my head the shocked whisper of my parents’ voices, before the unlit fire on a summer evening perhaps or else outside on the veranda where honeysuckle scents the air. Gib Bogle they say with a strangely proprietorial air before their voices fade into that murmur children are not meant to overhear. Gib . . . and I recall another of their friends, Jean Rowberry, she with the dark eyes, ruby lips and black hair that she used to toss when she laughed. Her husband’s name was Giff and she lost him and the kids when the couple-swapping they went in for got somehow out of hand. Giff was for Gifford as Gib was for Gilbert. Men who wore sports coats, grey strides and brown leather shoes, women in floral dresses gathered at the waist and flaring in a foam of petticoats past their knees. Lipsticked butts of Matinee and Du Maurier cigarettes in the ashtray, gin and lemon or Pims Number One Cup, the smell of pipe tobacco on the fabric of a tweedy shoulder. Her name was Chandler. Could they have taken LSD concocted in the CSIRO labs? Iboga or Yohimbine? Dog worming tablets? Or was it hydrogen sulphide exploding from a mud bubble on the polluted bed and drifting as a black mist up the river? What about ASIO, MI5 and/or the FBI? Who knows? We take a track down into another part of the park and spread our rug on springy buffalo grass overlooking mangroves and a muddy godown to the water; and still I hear the whisper of my parents’ voices saying his name, half-longingly it seems : as if some of the promise that was theirs also died along the littered bank of the brown river that New Years Eve half a century ago.

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