When I read the newspaper today, I was shocked to discover that John Gill had died late last week. He was a highly regarded ragtime and stride pianist, but if you’ve ever been to Murray Street Mall in Perth during lunchtime — whether you’re a local or a visitor — there’s a good chance you’ve seen him entertaining Forrest Place with his wooden piano-on-a-trolley.
I had the pleasure of talking to John just five weeks ago while researching an article about busking for Perth Walkabout. He was polite, affable and knowledgeable. He even stayed behind after he’d finished playing to chat to everyone, including trying to help an international student with an assignment, eventually vacating the area for another group of buskers.
I emailed John the link to the article when it was published online, but I haven’t been into the city since. I still have his business card in my wallet. It’s a strange, empty feeling to know that I’ll never see or hear those keys again.
Two towers of pride come crashing down
But their spirit lives on.
We stand united
under a banner
of shooting stars and military stripes.
These fingers snugly guide a gold pen
With a flourish, signing new words to entrap your heart
tying you to your place in our world.
Forget the content of your character
Colour and clothes determine if you live or die.
I take my pick and take aim
just as my daddy tells me.
Who knows what sins lie under that scarf?
All we know is that every Mohammed is a terrorist.
Blood drips from the pages of history
Mixes with drying blood
Your corpse, a monument
of our triumph over something. I forget what.
Now we line our silver pockets with black gold.
It spills from slimy suits.
We send our men and women
to kill men, women, and children
and leave men, women, and children
alone and broken
This is a depature from anything I’ve written in the past few years, but is a semi-return to my roots. Until I was about 13, I wrote a lot of soft science fiction; mostly alien stories though, so this isn’t quite the same. The title is a reference to a song called Circus, by now-defunct Sydney band Masonia. Their lead singer and songwriter, Altiyan Childs, went on to win The X Factor Australia last year.
He called me Jay. I called him Dr Corvid. Until the very end, we lived alone. We had no use for any other companionship. I was Dr Corvid’s finest achievement until he perfected his Disintegration Ray. I was the first working prototype of Project Novus.
Dr Corvid created me in man’s image without the flaws. Emotion… Fatigue… Poor health… These do not trouble me as they do Them. I served Dr Corvid, protecting him from Them and their world, protecting his work, stealing supplies from towns as required.
The Disintegration Ray consumed the last three years of his life. He worked 18 hours a day on it, and I guarded it with my life.
Until my wayward sister intervened.
Following his success with me, Dr Corvid made the fateful decision to create another, bearing female features. But Raven was unable to carry out her purpose, fleeing in search of a phenomenon she called “human touch”. By this time, Dr Corvid had put Project Novus on hold and thrown all his focus into developing the Disintegration Ray. New fuel sources… Pest control… Behavioural programming. The possibilities were endless.
“You’re evil,” said Raven, during her last night with us. Dr Corvid glanced over at me and shook his head sadly. Raven had been spending far too much time in the towns with Them, reading their books and watching their films instead of working for Dr Corvid.
“And you know what’s even worse?” Raven turned her attention to me. “You don’t even know it! You’re just a clown in his circus.”
In hindsight, Dr Corvid should have eliminated her there and then – I, too, was prepared to be shut down permanently if required – but the truth was, he’d grown attached to us as more-than-experiments. So he – we – let her go. I never expected to see her again.
The night Dr Corvid died, I was on guard outside the lab, which is annexed to the main house. In the dim light, I skimmed passages from Dr Corvid’s slightly scuffed copy of the Book of Genesis to pass time. Suddenly I heard a twig snap. I bounced to my feet, my rifle ready in a fluid motion.
“Who’s there?” I demanded.
There was a pause, followed by the crunching of leaves that got louder as the footsteps got nearer. “Hello, Jay.”
She stepped into view. “How have you been?”
“Loyal,” I replied.
Her eyes flickered over to my gun. “You know why I’m here,” she said softly.
“The Disintegration Ray.” I raised my weapon and aimed it at her head.
Our eyes locked. She cautiously inched towards me. “You can’t hurt me, Jay. I’m your sister.”
“Dr Corvid is your father, then.”
“Jay, I’m doing this so no one gets hurt. Please.” She closed the remaining distance between us and, with an unreadable expression in her eyes, kissed my mouth long and hard.
Unsure of how to react, I did nothing. A heartbeat later, my gun had been loosened from my grip and was firmly clamped in Raven’s hands.
I cursed at her.
She blasted the door of the lab, setting off a deafening alarm. “I’m sorry, Jay!” I felt a shot penetrate my leg, disabling my left stabiliser. I lunged at her and predictably fell face down. She stepped over me and into the lab.
I scrambled to my feet and half limped, half hopped after Raven. It was a losing battle. By the time I made it to the case housing the Disintegration Ray, it was empty. I cursed again.
“You’ve picked up some foul language from Them.”
Raven’s silhouette emerged once more from the shadows, a wry smile twisting at the corner of her mouth.
“You won’t get away with this,” I told her.
She looked up, and I heard the frantic whop-whop-whop of helicopter blades approaching. “Maybe I won’t,” she replied, opening the back door and exposing the lab to the chopper’s bright lights, as well as the mini-cyclone of leaves and grass it caused.
Raven started towards the helicopter, before turning back to me. I noticed Dr Corvid off to the side, gaping forlornly at her. Raven acknowledged us both with a slight nod. She tossed the rifle back in our direction with a Hail Mary-like pass. It landed on the grass near Dr Corvid’s feet.
Raven sprinted into the helicopter and took off as I stumbled towards my weapon.
I lifted the gun and pumped bullets into the air but my shots barely grazed the helicopter each time. It was obvious Raven was behind the controls now. She knew me too well, and seemed to anticipate what I would do a few seconds before I could do it.
When the chopper was an invisible speck, I put my weapon down and limped towards a cowering Dr Corvid. Brilliant as he was, he could not escape the affliction of human emotions and I could not guard him against them.
“Raven is a fool,” Dr Corvid whimpered. “Does she honestly believe her human lackey can be trusted? They’re all the same.” He held up the Book of Genesis that I’d dropped at the front of the lab and threw it into the ground with disgust. “Always fighting over money or fighting over faith. They’ll use my work to destroy us.”
He looked up, his eyes like murky little pools, before gesturing at my left leg. “She damaged your stabiliser.”
“I can fix it,” I replied. “What will you do?”
“I don’t know,” he admitted. “My heart can’t take this.”
“That’s what I thought,” I murmured. “I am sorry I failed you.”
I squeezed the gun to his head. This time I fired a single shot and I didn’t miss.
Then I sat down and began to repair my leg. I would need to be fully operational in order to find Raven and avenge Dr Corvid.
This story was a product of my angst-ridden teenage years (I think I was about 15 when I originally wrote it). I recently reread it and (after a good edit) decided it wouldn’t kill me to share. I know that some people will find the narrator melodramatic, but there are people out there who will have felt the same way before. Warning for offensive language.
She sits with them, chats with them, styles her hair and shops with them… yet she is not one of them.
People look to her left and see an Australian girl. To her right they see an Australian girl. They look at her and see a Chinese girl (or rather, an “Asian” girl, because all Asians look the same). Nothing more, nothing less. And that’s okay. It took them many years to understand that it was possible for her to be born here. Australian Born Chinese. ABC. Easy as 123… mate.
She has now been on this sunburnt country for 13 years. She remembers the pasty white kids in primary school who thought they were so cool, so clever when they said, “Are you an ABC?” If she said no, they would triumphantly chirp back in their sticky voices, “You’re not Australia’s Best Child!” Well, duhhh, she would think, because there’s no such thing. If she answered yes… well, she can’t quite remember what those kids would say back, but she knows it was something racist towards the indigenous people they displaced centuries before.
She feels trapped between cultures. There was no Christmas growing up; why should there be, for her family was neither Christian nor materialistic. Before school, she had never heard of Santa Claus and the other kids would tease her about being a naughty girl, telling her she would get coal under the tree. She never received any coal. She never received Christmas presents either. Just little red packets at Chinese New Year, and that was enough for her but not enough for her Westerner friends to understand.
Trapped between cultures. She knows she has lost almost every microbe of her Chinese culture now. She is a pure Aussie girl in every way that matters. She loves cricket and football and swimming at the beach. She can’t even speak her first language anymore. She’s lost to that. Too Australian for her Chinese family. She has no Asian friends. Listen to her with your eyes closed. She is more Australian than those white kids she mixes with. Yet to her country she is, and always will be a yellow-skinned chink.
She’s an introvert. She has friends, but she’s a loner. That’s okay. She likes her privacy. She has deep, dark emotions which she records through graphic drawings and artwork. She loves to draw and receives praise for the cute little pictures she doodles at school but there is no feeling in those. She tells her friend about this very secret sketch book, this picture-journal. And her friend laughs at her. Teases her. Says that when the girl dies, she will take the journal, sell it and become rich. The girl trapped between cultures is horrified by this potential betrayal. She thinks maybe her friend is just joking but she can’t be sure.
But no one must ever see her picture-journal. There are parts of her in there that seep through that even she didn’t know about.
Her friend comes over to do an assignment with her. They set up a place to work in the girl’s room. The friend takes a packet of chips from her bag. The girl says she is not allowed food in the bedroom but the friend insists she will be very careful. The girl says she will get a plate, and heads for the kitchen. When she returns, she halts dead.
Her friend is sprawled lazily on the carpet. The chips are centimetres from her fingers. She is looking at an open sketch book in front of her with interest.
The girl’s picture-journal.
Her friend has gone through the bedroom – under her bed! – to commit the ultimate betrayal.
The girl hears herself screaming and bawling, feels gnawing prickles in her eyes and the salt water running from them. Her friend is startled but she acts like she’s done nothing wrong. Like it was her right to look through the girl’s things. As if the girl’s own room were Terra nullius.
The girl has never felt such monstrous hatred before, not even in the most violent depths of her picture-journal. She wants to kill this “friend”. This ex-friend. How could any true friend do this to her?
The girl comes forward and with every grain of her anger, she slaps her friend across the cheek. A heartbeat later, she feels her palm ringing, but she is too upset to care.
Her friend shrieks. Her face distorts in shock. Indignation. Fucking Asian bitch! She swears forcefully at the girl and runs out of the house, holding her cheek.
The girl is still a moment longer. Then she starts shaking, and she breaks down and cries all over again. Because word will get around by tomorrow. Such is this wide brown land. And her dream will never be realised. Not here. She will always be trapped between cultures now.
She picks up a pencil, finds the next clean page and begins to draw. It helps her. It’s the only thing she trusts. The only thing she can trust. It’s all she’s got.