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Authors: Phil Sanders

Bite The Wax Tadpole

BOOK: Bite The Wax Tadpole
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ISBN: 9781626753082

BITE THE WAX TADPOLE

If television is considered by some to be a vast wasteland, soap operas are thought to be the least nourishing spot in the desert. The surest way to damn a film, a television program, or even a situation in real life is to invoke an analogy to soap operas. . .

Tom Kuntz, New York Times

CHAPTER ONE

Another night, another dream of escape...

It began, predictably enough, with an establishing shot. This one was of a military transport plane flying from right to left across a dazzling, faultlessly blue sky. Another angle showed it moving left to right, its bold, black shadow skimming over a mirror-flat ocean. A wider shot showed the plane and the ocean and the sun, huge and yellow and high in the sky. Unfortunately, it also showed the studio lights reflecting on the wires holding the aircraft up in front of the blue-screen. A poorly scripted, low budget, badly directed dream. Bloody typical.

Cut to an interior shot. Here it was stark, cold and cavernous. Rows of hard benches ran along both walls of the fuselage and Rob Jones, the dreamer of this particular dream, found himself seated uncomfortably and incongruously amongst a platoon of grim-faced Special Forces troops. He watched with detachment as they professionally checked and re-checked their weapons and equipment or spread Max Factor camouflage paint over their sharply chiselled features. They were very obviously hard men, trained to within an inch of their lives and Rob could imagine them biting the heads off their first Action Man dolls at the age of two or three. And then turning on the cat.

A jump shot. Time passed in the way that it doesn’t in the waking world. Rob was dimly aware that the soldiers had been joking and joshing with one another over what could have been minutes or hours. He was also aware, by some osmotic process, that the drop zone, wherever that might be, was coming ever closer. Gradually, the soldiers became more and more pre-occupied with their own thoughts until the only noise came from the four huge turboprop engines droning on like an idiot savant reciting pi to thirty two thousand places. He knew, somehow, that somewhere below them a fierce and determined enemy lay in wait and death wore a thousand faces. And with that realisation came another: this was not where he should be.

“Excuse me”, he said, politely clearing his throat, as a blonde stewardess in a perky blue and red uniform sashayed by, “but I think I may be on the wrong flight.” This should, he thought, have been obvious to the most casual of observers as, in contrast to his fellow passengers, he was wearing an ill-fitting dinner suit and carried nothing more lethal than a fully-loaded multifunctional Parker executive pen standing proud of his breast pocket. He searched inside the jacket for his boarding pass.

“Virgin Atlantic to London?”, smiled the stewardess.

“Yes, but...”

“We’re code sharing with the Department of Defence.”

“Ah, that’d be it, then”, he nodded, relieved.

“Just a slight detour to rescue some hostages in Somalia and we’ll be in London for breakfast.”

“Somalia? Break... I have to be in London tonight! Six thirty for seven at the Dorchester Hotel. It’s an award ceremony. Really, really important.”

The stewardess frowned, her index finger pressing on her cheek in the thoughtful pose authors are often forced to adopt for dust jacket photos. “Hmm, maybe you should have a word with Sir Richard, see if there’s anything he can do.” Said index finger now pointed to a brightly lit and thoroughly out of place on-board wine bar that Rob had inexplicably failed to notice. Behind it, a bearded, sandy haired bloke was juggling with three bottles of Veuve Cliquot while chatting to the late Queen Mother.

“Thank you, I will”, said Rob, standing up. Sir Richard had always come across as eminently approachable. Perhaps a word in his shell-like and things would be resolved. But, before he could take a step, a large red light flashed on the ceiling. “Red light on”, boomed a deep military voice in superfluous confirmation. Immediately, the lines of paratroopers on either side of the fuselage sprang to their collective feet and turned towards the tail of the plane where the cargo doors were opening up like the jaws of a crocodile who’d just spotted a tourist doing the backstroke towards it. Ice-crystal scalpels of cold air sliced through Rob’s knock-off Armani as he found himself involuntarily shuffling towards the ever growing patch of blue. This was wrong, all wrong. He should be relaxing in Upper Class, quaffing wine, nibbling cashews, catching up on all the movies he couldn’t be bothered to pay to go and see. He’d have a word with that girl at Flight Centre when he got back to Sydney.

“Red light, green light, go”, the military voice barked.

The soldiers at the front of the line disconcertingly started to disappear out of the back of the plane as Rob continued to fumble around in his pockets.

“Get a move on, mate.”

“Sorry, sorry. Ah, here it is.”

He stopped in front of the Jump Sergeant, a grey haired, wizened chap with a dew drop on the end of his red nose, and held up the boarding pass.

“Hello, there. Could I have a quick word?”

“Come along, sir, no need to be nervous.”

Rob dug his heels against a spar and leaned back against the man behind him. “I rather think there is. For one thing, I don’t have a parachute.”

The Jump Sergeant sniffed the dew drop back up his nose and smiled reassuringly. “We’re only jumping from 5,000 feet today, sir. Nothing to a fit young man like yourself.”

“Five thous... are you mad? Anyway, I’m not a fit young man, I’m a writer. And I have to be in London tonight. I’m up for the Booker, you know, the big award thing.”

“Ah, thought I recognised you. Saw you on Book Club with Jennifer Byrne. Yes, I’ve read your book. Bit literary for my tastes but still a page turner.”

“Thanks very much.”

“You’re welcome. GO!”

By way of encouragement, the literary critic of the RAAF shoved Rob out the cargo door with the sharp end of his boot.

Bloody typical, thought Rob as he spiralled towards the dusty African coast. First nomination for a major literary prize and this happens. Do they award the Booker to dead writers? He’d prefer to be around to spend the prize money and soak up the glory but posthumous literary fame would be better than no fame at all. He imagined, though, that they probably didn’t. Where’s the mileage for the Booker people in a deceased author? Can’t have a corpse posing for photos with the Managing Director or a coffin propped up on the stage at the Frankfurt Book Fair. He sighed as he pictured the scene at the Dorchester, a dream within a dream. Under the huge chandeliers, from which hung effigies of Geoffrey Archer and Dan Brown, champagne cascaded into scintillating crystal glasses as the literati and glitterati exchanged bon mots over the lobster thermidor. On the stage, Stephen Fry fumbled with the gilded envelope, took out the precious card. “Ladies and gentlemen, the Man-Booker Prize for 2013 goes to Rob Jones.” Applause echoed round the ballroom with even the lifeless Dan and Geoffrey joining in. The venomous spittle of thwarted nominees rose toward the ceiling with the champagne bubbles as the TV cameras panned to an empty chair. The clapping died away and a murmur began to rise as a flustered assistant ran on stage to whisper in the great man’s ear. “Really?”, Fry said in response, his eyebrows arching. “Well, bless my trousers, seems poor Rob’s suddenly got himself deceased. In which case, it looks like it’s Peter Carey again.”

In the normal course of events, Rob’s tolerance of heights ended at the top of a short step ladder but here in Dreamland he was more frustrated than terrified as he tumbled through the mushroom field of blooming parachutes. Odd, he thought as he looked around, when did the soldiers change into circus clown costumes? And why? Somali pirates aren’t renowned for their sense of humour so they were hardly likely to become helpless with laughter at the sight of them. One of the paratroopers turned towards him, a grotesque, red slash of a smile splitting his caked white face. He squeezed an old fashioned motor horn with one hand while using the other to squirt water from a plastic flower stuck in his lapel. Whish! Square in Rob’s eye. Excellent shot, he conceded as he wiped his face but, again, not much use against a drug crazed Somali buccaneer armed with a Kalashnikov.

The ground was beginning to spin like a whirlpool, sucking him in. Down and down, round and round, time to wake up...

Rob flapped a hand at the alarm clock and, after several ineffectual swipes, managed to connect with the off button and “Death of a Clown”, The Kinks’ sixties hit, died an instant death. Alison groaned and turned away, tugging the thin doona with her. Here we are again, starting off the day like a poorly plotted novel with himself, the cardboard cut-out protagonist, cursing his pitiful life and the wasted day that was to come. It was a beginner’s error he certainly wouldn’t make in any of his novels. If he ever got round to writing them. Well, finishing them, really. Starting was easy.

Pale rods of sunlight streamed through the gaps in the vertical blinds and formed a fuzzy bar code on the carpet. A rivulet of sweat was already trickling down his back. Another stinker coming up. Like Macbeth he was ‘ginning to be a weary of the sun, up there every day mocking him. “You’re supposed to be out in my glorious rays enjoying yourself (with some slip, slop, slap obviously), sunbathing, surfing, sitting on the deck with gin, tonic and improving novel. Instead you spend your days stuck in a windowless room hacking your way through life’s sunless jungle. What’s up wid you, man?” Perhaps the answer was in his DNA, his ancestors being natives of the South Wales border, old South Wales in Old West Britain. Which meant that he was genetically programmed for coal mining, long dark winters and repelling Zulu attacks while singing “Men of Harlech.” Although it was a bit of myth that it was the South Wales Borderers who held Rorke’s Drift. In fact it was...

OH, STOP PROCRASTINATING AND GET OUT OF BED!

His thoughts turned instead to his dream. There was no need to consult a cigar chewing Viennese psychoanalyst or even read Mystic Olga’s “1001 Dreams Interpreted” to figure out what it was about. Especially as it was the latest in a series that he’d given the working title of “Escape from Stalag Luft Sydney.” He hadn’t actually tried tunnelling out yet but he’d attempted to flee by boat, car, train, rickshaw and even by mushing a team of huskies down the Parramatta Road. The other common thread was that they all ended in some sort of disaster. At least in this one he’d made it out of Australian air space.

A large, black fly buzzed desperately about the room. What was it looking for? A way out? “Aren’t we all, mate? Aren’t we all?” From that part of his brain that dealt with matters mathematical – a place where the synapses rarely fired – he recalled that Descartes, lying in bed, watching a fly, had been inspired to invent spatial geometry. If, indeed, that was what it was called. Why didn’t inspiration strike him in a similar way? Why, instead, did he fall back on clichés about a fly looking for a way out?

He lay back, head sunk into the pillow, arms along his sides like a neatly turned out corpse, ignoring the fly, staring at the ceiling. Maybe he’d just continue to lie here, take to his bed like Proust, spend his days drinking coffee, eating madeleines, if you could get them from Baker’s Delight, and writing vast philosophical novels. “Remembrance of Things I Never Actually Got Around to Doing.” Yes, well, as far as he knew, Proust didn’t have a pregnant wife, two teenage kids and a mortgage. If he had, and he’d been alive today, he’d probably be writing “Les Voisins” or “A la Maision et pas a la Maison” or whatever. Learning French properly was one of those things that Rob had never actually got around to doing. Ou est la gare? Je vais visiter le...

COME ON, SHAKE A BLOODY LEG AND GET UP!

If he did stay in bed at least he wouldn’t have to have words with Neil today. He hated having words with writers. Well, with anybody, really. Why on earth had he got himself into the position of having to have words with people? It wasn’t in his nature. Who was it who had said that writers, great writers, needed a splinter of ice in their hearts? Possibly the same bloke who’d said that writers, great writers, should be prepared to murder their grandmothers for their art and that “Ode to A Grecian Urn”, or possibly “A Nightingale”, was worth the lives of any number of old ladies. Whoever it was, he probably didn’t have much to smile about when his granny’s will was read out. Anyway, point was, he, Rob, had, at best, a sliver of whipped fondant in his heart. Which could be why he’d so far failed to write an ode to anything.

He slapped his palms across the swelling dome of his stomach. God, he was getting fat. He must, he must, he really, really must make time for a run. He’d been quite good at running at school. Would have won the fourth year cross country if he hadn’t collided with that cow in the fog. Maybe he could take up squash. Or join a gym. No, not a gym, he couldn’t stand the music, couldn’t fathom out why it’s not possible to exercise without Tina bloody Turner screeching out that you’re simply the best. Especially when, in his limited experience of modern gymnasia, most of the people leaning on the pec deck or watching MTV while trudging on the treadmill were simply going through the motions. Running, that was the thing. He’d get a new pair of...

BOOK: Bite The Wax Tadpole
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