15 February 2007

John Howard, Semi-Conscious

This is a short story I wrote a few years ago for The Age Short Story Competition. It got an honourable mention, which pleased me greatly.

John Howard, Semi-Conscious

If I met John Howard I’d ask him if he remembers when he was in China in 1988 and my mother called out to him “Hello John Howard! My name’s Helen Howard from Tasmania.”
If I met John Howard we could go for an icecream if it was warm. I wonder what flavour he likes? Mango, pineapple, lemon sorbet, old English toffee, hokey-pokey? I think he’d have a plain cone, not a waffle one.
If I met John Howard the stars would hold their breath.
If I met John Howard I’d ask him what the fuck he thinks he’s doing.
If I met John Howard I’d take him home and play him ‘Some Girls are Bigger than Others’ by the Smiths. See if he likes my toy monkey that screams when you smack it on the floor.
If I met John Howard I’d grab his arse. He’d try and kiss me - see if he can slip the tongue in.
If I met John Howard, and it was a Saturday, we could do the quiz in the weekend magazine. He’d go well on the sport, politics and maybe the history questions, but I’d win.
If I met John Howard I’d rob him with a knife.
If I met John Howard I’d steal his glasses.
If I met John Howard you’d hear about it.
If I met John Howard I’d get his autograph, then type:
“Please afford the bearer any assistance he requires. He acts with my authority and blessing. The Right Honourable John Howard, Prime Minister.”
above his signature. If I did it on really nice paper, maybe vellum, and put some sort of facsimile of the coat of arms underneath I could probably get away with all sorts of shit.
If I met John Howard our relationship would be at the crossroads.
If I met John Howard science would take great leaps forward.
If I met John Howard there’d be a sale in every shop in town.
If I met John Howard I’d get him hammered on cheap vodka and, when he passed out, tattoo “Viva la Revalución” on his forehead.
If I met John Howard I’d show him my photos from Cuba. He can never go there if he wants to stay friends with George, unless he were to travel in secret, and so he’d probably be quite interested. We could look at pictures of all the crumbling buildings on Industria and at the May Day festivities. I could show him the various places me and my girlfriend stayed, tell him about the rickety stairs, the dodgy showers, the amazing fan in our room in Trinidad that had a ‘wind’ button, and about the games of dominoes we played on the balcony in Viñales.
We could pore over the old cars, the people walking along the Malecón, the restored buildings in Havana Vieja, and at the hilarious diorama of Che and Cienfuegos emerging from the faux jungle in the Museo de la Revalución. Maybe he’d be so inspired he could actually pay a visit to Fidel - imagine, he could become as respected as Jimmy Carter.
If I met John Howard we could have a number one single. With a bullet.
If I met John Howard we’d be the talk of the town.
If I met John Howard I’d ask a passing tourist to take a photo.
If I met John Howard I’d break his nose.
If I met John Howard I’d tell him about the day last week, walking to work, when I saw this particular bum that I often see around the City asleep against a sunny wall. He looked peaceful, but also pitiful, huddled against the wall as he was. I had a desire to stop and talk to him, to give him money, to fuck off work for the morning and take him back to my place for a shower and breakfast. Instead I just kept walking.
That same day, on my way home, I saw a kid asking people for money as he walked down the street. I spotted him a fair way off, as you learn to do, and made to avoid him, but he got me anyway. I did my usual “Sorry man” and he said “fuck” - pretty frustrated. The exchange struck me as routine, rehearsed, pre-ordered, almost inevitable.
Yesterday some guy approached me and I automatically descended into the fend-off-the-junkie routine, before I even registered that he was only asking for directions. A bad habit to get into, I thought.
I wonder what John would say about all that. I don't suppose he has to develop any ‘fend-off-the-junkie’ routines, living and working in Canberra as he does, but I imagine he has a similar hardening of the moral sensibilities. Then again, maybe I’m wrong about him and he would have helped all of those people without a second thought - he does profess to a sort of middle-class Christianity, whatever that is.
If I met John Howard I’d ask him if he ever goes down on Janette.
If I met John Howard I’d ask him if he plays an instrument, and what his favourite books and movies are.
If I met John Howard I’d force him into a sort of Dice Man style drug roulette: 1, 2, 3 and 4 being LSD (because that’s what he needs), 5 marijuana and 6 heroin.
If I met John Howard I’d tell him his fly was undone.
If I met John Howard I’d have a mental breakdown as I shook his hand.
If I met John Howard I’d run screaming.
If I met John Howard I’d cook him dinner - something traditional with a twist, maybe roast pork with pears and caramelised fennel. Homemade icecream for dessert - saffron or ouzo.
If I met John Howard I’d show him this piece, and when he got to the one about robbing him with a knife he’d become offended and flustered.
He’d say something like “I don’t think that’s very mature young man.”
I’d say “Fuck that John,” then I’d kick his legs out from under him, boot him around the body for a few minutes till he started to really lose it, till he began a sort of panicky, desperate pleading. Once his pleading became formless, incoherent, I’d jump on his chest and smash his head against the pavement till he was unconscious. After that I’d saw at his neck with a table knife, douse him in petrol, and set the bigoted, petty minded, unapologetic, fascist, unAustralian little shit on fire. Hopefully he’d wake up and scream as he burnt.
If I met John Howard I’d keep it to myself and only reveal it on my death-bed.
If I met John Howard I’d never wash again.
If I met John Howard I’d shake his hand and remind him that he’s a hell of a lot better than Ruddock.
If I met John Howard I’d ask him if he ever considered calling either, or even better, both, of his sons Howard, instead of Tim or Richard. I’ve always thought Howard Howard a very pleasing mix of the dignified and the odd. Also slightly reminiscent of the protagonist in Nabokov’s Lolita.
If I met John Howard I’d abduct him and try and explain a few home truths to him:
- Colonial Australia tried to commit genocide against the Aborigines. This is in the same league as the Nazis versus the Jews and the Turks versus the Kurds. It is very bad. The government, as the elected representatives of the people of Australia, need to make a complete apology on our behalf. Now.
- Australian foreign policy should not automatically coincide with America’s. American foreign policy is notoriously bad. Their leader is a fool.
- The two most important things a government can do for its people is provide for their health and their education. Address this. Invest the three-hundred million dollars a year that our six billion dollar surplus provides into these two fields.
If I met John Howard I’d get off my high horse and run after him, yapping like a dog, till he had me arrested.
If I met John Howard I’d buy the t-shirt.
If I met John Howard we’d form the greatest double act the world has ever seen. We’d make a beautiful couple.
If I met John Howard I’d furiously ignore him.
If I met John Howard we’d cross the road together, huddled against the cold. We’d pass an orthodox church, rain speckling our glasses, talk in low tones about the elm tree that has fallen in the wind. He would exclaim gently at a dead bird on the wet footpath. We would continue up the street together, the lights of the houses beginning to come on.

2 comments:

Dreck said...

That's a wonderful piece of short fiction.
I like the juxtaposition of tenderness and savagery.
I like the multiple perspectives but the preponderance of the lefty/liberalish most of all.
Thanks you.

Phyllis said...

Good for people to know.