With the Tidal Festival now over for another two years, it seems almost silly to not continue the work started by the Get Blogging workshop participants in the launch of Devonport Regional Gallery‘s first blog. So, here we are four weeks later and at the end of another exhibition, the National Photographic Portrait Prize 2014, toured from the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra, to share The Final – a collective short story written over the course of this exhibition at the Gallery by visitors and students.
With the assistance of Launceston based writer, Cameron Hindrum, the collective short story grew and developed over the course of the exhibition, using the portraits as inspiration for character and plot development. And, on the final day of this fascinating exhibition, here it is… [image credits below]
“Don’t wake your mother.”
Justin’s shadow paused in the half-light of the hallway. “I won’t,” it whispered.
“You off for a run?”
“Yeah. Coach wants us doing three kilometres a day.”
The shadow drifted backwards towards the kitchen door, and finally half of Justin appeared from the left hand side of the door frame. He was getting tall, his father noticed. He needed a haircut. In the early light, though, he still looked like a child, like the kid who’d chased the footy up and down the park all those years ago. He chased the ball for real now, Club Junior Champion two years in a row, Best on Ground in last year’s narrow grand final loss. Nick leaned on the kitchen bench.
“You going to do the loop?”
“Yeah. Twice if there’s time.”
“That’s nearly five kilometres.”
Justin shrugged. “Coach is meeting us on the oval. Gonna run with us.”
“Take a water bottle.”
“I’ll be right.”
“I wasn’t asking you.” Nick opened a cupboard next to his leg and pulled out a plastic bottle. He walked to the tap over the sink and filled it, screwed the lid back on, threw it across the room. Justin caught it cleanly, held it to his chest.
“I’d come with you,” Nick said, “but the knee, you know.”
“Off you go then.”
And the boy was gone, the doorway empty. Nick listened to the back door open and close carefully. He’d forgotten what he’d come into the kitchen to do. Justin wasn’t normally up so early. The game tomorrow was a big one, the Crows’ chance at consecutive grand finals, and the Coach wasn’t leaving anything to chance. He pushed the boys hard, and Nick knew Justin was up to it, but the team was more than his son and there were some inconsistent performers on the list. They should clean up the semi tomorrow but Nick wasn’t sure they’d take the Flag, and he didn’t want to be in the rooms afterwards if they lost two Grand Finals in a row.
Cups of tea—that was it.
He made two, one with sugar and one without, and carried them into the bedroom. Jen was still asleep and Tahlia had found her mother’s iPad, turned it on and was watching some cartoon or other. She had turned the sound down and Nick had to admire her courtesy, for a five year old. He set the sugarless tea down on Jen’s bedside table and took his outside to sit in the garden. He’d been there less than five minutes when his mobile rang. It was Justin. Nick pressed the green phone icon.
“We’re at the oval. Coach’s car’s here but we can’t find him. Some of the blokes are worried.”
“Tried his phone?”
“Don’t know. His car’s locked. His stuff’s in it.”
“Okay. Stay there, I’ll pop down.”
The oval was a five minute walk away, but Nick went back inside and grabbed his keys. Jen was still asleep and Tahlia was still glued to the small screen.
“Won’t be long,” he said.
* * *
The old woman came slowly down to her fence. She could only move slowly these days, which suited her; there was nothing to hurry for. She pulled her fist out of her pocket, closed around a couple of sugar cubes, and held them out for the horse who lived in the paddock behind her house.
“Come, come!” She said quietly.
Obediently the horse wandered out, slowly muzzling its gentle face over the fence smelling out for sugar.
“Good, good.” The old lady said.
Distantly she could hear voices, over on the oval, people calling to each other, cars pulling up. She could see a hoard of boys standing around outside the clubrooms, talking to each other, arms crossed. She felt the moisture of the horse’s mouth on her hand, and watched the boys. Something didn’t seem quite right.
* * *
Andrew stands in a void watching, waiting, thinking as traffic around, above rush by not even noticing he is there. What will his decision be? Which way will he go?
The lights play tricks on the water around him, his indecision worries him. How long can he stand there? How long can we wait for his mind to be made up? It will have to be forever for that is how long this picture will last.
“Good luck, Andrew,” the voice of his wife in his head rings over and over. She was referring to the semi-final game his local football tea, which he coaches, was preparing for this week. But was it luck he needed? His head swam. He was supposed to be at the oval now. The boys should all be there, but he couldn’t take his eyes off the water, and light from the early morning sun.
* * *
Nick pulled up in the car park at the oval. Already there were fifteen boys standing around, making phone calls. He spotted Justin near the change room door.
“Hi,” he said. But his son was looking elsewhere, dazed by the sun and his own thoughts that had taken him quite to another place.
“Any word from the coach?” Nick asked.
“Nothing.” Justin replied. “The others think we should just start our warm-ups.”
Justin shrugged, looking to his Dad for an answer. Nick nodded.
But he was here and this was now. He shouldered his sport bag and went in to change.
* * *
His grandmother wasn’t getting any younger – 88 but still holding up well and looking after the business. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to take that on – her death – her business – his life in different circumstances.
Graham sat on the early morning train, heading out of the city. He was on his way to visit his grandmother to have one of those conversations he was beginning to dread – plans for her departure from this world. She was always so organised, which was one thing he always loved about her. But this was getting to be too much.
The train pulled into the last station on the outskirts of the city and Graham collected his things and started walking the four blocks to his grandmother’s house near the football oval. He had always loved this place as a kid, with all of its wide open space. But, today he certainly wasn’t feeling it.
* * *
Nick watched the boys run past each other on the well kept grass of the oval. In light of Coach Andrew’s disappearance, a longer run had been postponed, and instead the team were belting through some short power sprints, over twenty or thirty metres. Back and forth. They were focused on the job at hand, Nick noted with some pride—despite that morning’s distractions. He had agreed to stay and supervise. The boys were calling encouragement to each other, the sound sharp and percussive in the quiet morning air.
He tried Andrew’s number again. This was the fourth time. It was not turned off anymore—it had been earlier in the morning, when Justin had first tried. But no one was answering it either. Nick let it ring, listening to the muted tones in one ear and the boys yelling in the other.
The voice surprised him. He turned away from the running boys and focused on it, staring at a spot of peeling paint on the changeroom wall.
“It’s Nick here mate, from the footy club. The boys…ah, thought they were going for a run this morning.”
“Yeah, I know. I’m sorry I let them down.”
Nick didn’t like the sound of that. “Is…everything okay?” he asked.
“I’m not very well. I haven’t been for a while. I thought I was okay about it all, but I don’t think I am.”
“Oh.” What were you supposed to say to something like that?
“I’ve been stupid. I’ve tried to carry on as if nothing’s wrong, probably hoping I could convince myself and everyone else that it will be. But it’s not working and I need to have some time out.”
“Mate, take all the time you need. You know we’re all here for you. Me and some of the other blokes can keep the boys in shape for next weekend.”
“That’s very reassuring.”
“Yeah no worries at all. You just take care of yourself, okay?”
“I will. Thank you for being understanding.”
“Righto. Chat soon.”
Andrew ended the call and placed his mobile phone carefully on the ledge beside his foot. He loved this view—everything stretched out in front of him, to the horizon, and it all seemed so balanced. He had walked to this bridge from the oval that morning, taking over an hour to reach it, and realised as soon as he got out of his car that he couldn’t be responsible for the team any more, that he needed to take care of himself. So he’d started walking.
He took a deep breath. He could hear traffic sounds getting fainter, the air getting cooler. He really liked here. Everything seemed balanced. He might stay for a while, floating above the traffic, breathing carefully and not moving.
* * *
Graham had reached his grandmother’s gate. Her front door was open, as usual, but she did not respond when he called for her. Instead of entering the house, he walked around the outside, reasoning that she would be at the back fence, stroking the long nose of the horse in the paddock. And there she was, slightly stooped, leaning on the fence, touching the horse with such love and patience that Graham stopped and watched. He realised that what he had come to talk about didn’t matter anymore. He could not remember the last time he had sat down with this brave, faded old woman and just chatted to her. She was reasonably healthy for her age. There was no hurry. There had never been a hurry for her, Graham realised. It was the rest of the world that was always in a hurry, moving on, changing, day bleeding into day.
He was as guilty of it as anyone. His grandmother hadn’t said anything to him yet but he was telling him something very clearly. Just stop. There’s always time.
He left his black leather folder on a seat by the back door and went in to put the kettle on, and to look for some more sugar cubes.
* * *
Nick gathered the boys around for a talk after they’d finished training, the rest of which had comprised a few laps of the oval and some marking and tackling drills. They were grinning and sweaty, laughing and mucking around.
“Sorry this morning didn’t quite go how you’d planned,” he told them. “Coach has been on the phone to me. He’s okay but things have been getting a bit much for him and he’s decided he needs a bit of a break. Timing’s not brilliant but it’s what he needs to do right now.”
“When’s he comin back?” asked Taylor, the hulking ruckman.
“I don’t know to be honest. Certainly won’t be this season.”
Nick caught the sideways glances, the jostling. He put his hands up.
“Settle down, lads. It can’t be helped. We’ve still got a game to win and we’re going to win it. You need to keep working with each and digging deep. Do it for yourselves and do it for your Coach.” A light flutter of nods rippled across the pool of heads in front of him. “Andrew’s bought you this far. So close. Ask yourselves how bad you want it, because if you want it, you can take it and no one else on that footy field can stop you! Now go and clean up and head home.”
Justin lingered as the others dawdled into the change rooms to hit the showers. “What’s wrong with Andrew?” he asked quietly. “Will he be okay?”
“He’ll be fine, mate, don’t you worry.” Nick patted his son on the arm. “Go on, get in there.”
He watched the boy, an inch taller than him now, walk way and vanish in the shadow of the change room door. He didn’t need to know anything other than that. Not at his age. Not when there was a game to win.
* * *
Image credits [top to bottom]:
- Nikki Toole, The Last Season – Jake Toohey, 2013, digital print
- Justin Aaron Spaull, The conscious unconscious, Saturday morning sleep in, 2013, digital print
- Grace Costa, Portrait of Minika, 2013, digital print
- Andrew M Lance, Andrew, 2013, digital print
- Tamara Dean, Neil Gaiman, The Sandman, 2013, digital print