Saturday, January 05, 2013

His plaything


The algae in the dog bowl grows back as fast as I can clean it out, a dark green velvet on the base of his otherwise blue bowl.  It has the appearance of close shaved moss and when stirred up makes the water murky.  

I am vigilant about keeping up the dog’s water supply.  Dogs unlike cats need a constant and fresh supply. The dog has none of the cats’ ingenuity in locating water. 

If only new ideas grew as readily as algae, or at least fresh and good ideas, but they’re as hard to keep up with as fresh water.  They take effort.  At this time of the year, so close to its beginning, I have run dry. 

My father came home with his first television set when we lived in Healesville in a log cabin styled house nestled in the valley off Myers Creek Road.  Reception proved a problem in those days and it was necessary to fix an aerial to the roof, stiff and angular like a scarecrow, but not a scarecrow to scare off birds, rather a scarecrow that might draw in sounds and frequencies.  

As well we had a small portable aerial that sat either on top of the television itself or nearby and needed constant adjusting whenever the picture began to run reel by reel over and on top of itself.  Sometimes one of us needed to hold the aerial in a particular way throughout the entire movie to stop the picture on the screen from warping and running on.  

The frustration of early television watching was only matched by the pleasure of entering into this new black and white world where people in the movies never seemed to bother with the trivia of life like earning a living or going to the toilet.  

Why ever not?  Why did these people in movie land not need things like toilets or money?  They ate food occasionally, or at least they gave some impression of eating in so far as they sat in front of a table of food set for dinner but rarely did they hoe in.  

They reminded me of the nuns at school, those black robed women whose bodies were completely concealed under layers of material.  They never ate or used the toilet, or so I imagined as a child.  Underneath their bodies were not like ours.  They did not therefore need to function as did we with eating and elimination.  Nuns were pure. 

Advertisements were the most intriguing aspect of television in those days, the way the model, the beautiful, bright smiling, impeccable model might bite into a chocolate coated ice cream.  

You could hear the crunch of chocolate as it cracked but never a drip of ice cream dribbled down the model's chin, and although she closed her mouth over the bite and smiled broadly as if savouring the sweetness, I imagined a spittoon nearby into which she might spit out the concoction, mostly because I had heard such advertisements take many cuts to make and if she needed to eat all that ice cream over and over again she would soon be sick.

By the time I reached adolescence my imagination was caught up in the bodies of these actors.  The way a man might hold a beautiful woman close to him to kiss her or to dance with her and she wore a backless dress.  His hot hand stroked up and down her back.  I imagined him doing the same to my back in horror.  My back by then was lumpy with pimples. 

I spent my time comparing myself to these on screen heroes and heroines imagining that no such life awaited me.  I was too imperfect.  Too hungry, too spotty, too poor to be on screen. 

By the time we left Healesville and moved to Canterbury, my TV tastes had changed from preferring a rich diet of cartoons, only available in the late afternoon, to the midday movie which we watched as often as possible while our father was away at work during school holidays.

When our father was at home, he commandeered the box.  He decided on boring stuff, the equivalent of Meet the Press with Bob Santamaria or the News, but we preferred Disneyland with its choice of destinations, Frontier land, Adventure land, Fantasy land, of which trips into fantasy land usually in the form of cartoons or fairy tales was my preferred destination. 

One day, I must have been around thirteen years old and conscious of my body in a different way;  conscious that tiny breasts were beginning to bud on my chest; conscious that I was beginning to outgrow my clothes at a much faster rate; conscious that my underarms and pubic bone were sheathed in fine hairs; and conscious of my father as he sat me on his lap in front of the television. 

We were watching Brian Henderson’s Bandstand.  Singers and musicians performed while my father played with the zipper at the back of my dress in unison to the music.

My father stank of alcohol and of cigarettes as he rode the full length zip up and down so that my entire back was one minute exposed the next covered. I wanted to get off his lap but felt glued to the spot.

I wondered that my mother who sat in a chair only inches away with her eyes fixed to the television set did not notice my father, or not so much my father as my discomfort at what he was doing. She smoked a cigarette, while tears rolled down my cheeks.  Silent tears. I did not dare let my father know that I objected to his zip pulling. 

It felt wrong, as if my father were doing something he should not do, as if he were teasing me the way he liked to tease my mother when he tried to take her apron off as she stood at the kitchen stove. 

When she pushed him away he lurched for her and she pulled back.  He ripped at her dress and tore the front half away from her body.  My mother stood in shock in her petticoat.  Bits of dress fell to the floor and my father looked triumphant as if he had exposed her at last. 

Was this what he was doing here?  All this activity on the television and my mind was a jumble of thoughts about the drama going on in our lounge room, only no one could see but me and my father.  To this day I am not sure how conscious he was of what he was doing, or of how he had made me feel. 

I was his plaything.  
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