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Authors: Noel Beddoe

On Cringila Hill

BOOK: On Cringila Hill
10.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

The poetry, journalism, short fiction and young adult fiction of Noel Beddoe has been published professionally in Australia for some decades. His writing for adults includes the personal memoir
Dad and Me
, published by the University of Western Australia Press, and
, published by William Heinemann. The University of Queensland Press published his historical novel
The Yalda Crossing
in 2012, and it won warm praise in reviews across Australia. Noel lives with his wife in the Illawarra region of New South Wales.

For Callum, Antonia, Harriet and Georgina

Chapter One

He's resisted waking as long as he can but there's pressure in his bladder and it drives him from sleep. He lies still for a while, hearing wind, the crash of surf, the squawking of some nearby birds. He can feel sand over his face where his cheek is pressed onto the beach, feel sand down the back of his neck. His eyes blink open but for a while that's his only movement. Then he lifts his head and looks around.

Heavy wind is gusting from the south-east, beating up waves that are uneven and rough. He watches as opaque sheets of green water build and hang, then tumble and foam up onto the land. He looks further, to lead-coloured sea, the roll of tumbling clouds. He swivels his head to see where big houses have been built at the edge of a cliff, over the view. Under the wind the beach is empty of people.

He's wearing only a t-shirt and shorts and he's cold. He gets onto his knees, pulls the waistband of his shorts beneath his thighs and pisses a frothing pool into the sand before him, then he stands up, rubs at the gritty feeling in his eyes, shudders. It's nearing twilight and he's very hungry.

He turns his back to the ocean and makes his way to the edge of low forest – tea-tree, scribbly gum, tough, short bushes. Up a hill he goes, grunting at the exertion, then down the other side onto clear, mown grass above the highway. It's the evening traffic peak. Some rushing vehicles have their lights turned on. He waits at the kerb for a break in the procession then sprints over the bitumen when he gets the chance. Across the road the parking lot is full of cars with people who have come to enjoy the lake. He waits and checks out possibilities.

Before him Lake Illawarra stretches up to the mass of the escarpment. Clouds hang from the lip of the mountain to halfway down its face. At the western edge of the lake a fine mist of rain is falling and blowing back towards the mountain on the wind. Fishing dinghies are heading for shore and at this distance look to him like little black beetles bumping across the choppy surface of the water.

Houses on the Primbee peninsula have their lights turned on, the windows warm dots in the falling gloom, and he can see the neon signs of the yacht club on the lake's northern edge. He walks north through the parking area, reaches the edge of a little bay, turns west along a footpath. Across the road there are small brick dwellings built years before by the Housing Commission. He crosses the road, further west, and comes to the entrance of Legoland.

Legoland must have another, official name but no one can remember what it is. This is an estate built by a government to house those who can find nowhere better to live. There are narrow streets and winding alleys, here and there an abandoned vehicle, units two storeys high behind old wooden fences. A couple of homes have been damaged by fire and not yet repaired. Legoland perhaps looked like a good idea to someone once, on paper, but the passage of reality has not turned out so well.

He opens the gate into the yard of one of the homes, walks a pathway between garden areas overgrown with weeds. The front door is unlocked and he pushes it open.

Light in the lounge room is dim, though a television set is turned on and flickers away in a corner. There is no sound from the television but its colours fall across the room and light up the remains of food on plates on the floor, wads of paper, empty cartons and cans, animal excrement on bare floorboards.

A woman is seated in the room. Her head lolls down over a shoulder. Her eyes are open though – slitted and glazed. One arm dangles beside her, the other, fist clenched, is thrust into her lap. He picks his way across the floor, stands beside her, watches her for a while. Her body and limbs are long but very thin. He reaches across and uses two fingers of his left hand to check her neck for a pulse as the lady from the Department of Community Services has taught him. He feels a weak beat. He turns to look for a time at the television screen and sees a woman on a dais crying at the fact of her Olympic success, watches as the station cuts away to show restaurants with tiled walls, crowds in a stadium, boats in a harbour. He has learned at school that the Olympics are being held in some city called Barcelona. He wonders how long they will continue – they've dominated the television for what seems to him to have been a very long time.

He turns back to the woman. ‘Mum,' he says, but the woman's eyes don't move. ‘Mum, Is there anything to eat?'

But he's seen her paraphernalia on the floor and knows that she won't be talking for a while. For a moment he wonders where she got the money and whether there's any of it left. Then he walks to the kitchen, opens the door of an old refrigerator. Inside is a tomato oozing a thick pus, a margarine container. He takes out a milk carton, sniffs the contents, wrinkles his nose, replaces it. He closes the door and, without looking at his mother again, he leaves the dwelling.

As he walks outside the garden fence there comes a cry, ‘
excited, exultant. When his head jerks around he sees a group of five young men, jeans, joggers, spray-jackets. At once he turns away from them and sprints desperately along the winding alleyway with strength given him by terror. At a break between buildings he heads west, north at another intersection, hearing behind him the swearing and abuse from his pursuers. He enters the mouth of a cul-de-sac then hurls himself at the fence of a burned-out derelict construction site, scampers over the broken ground of its courtyard, reaches an entrance to an area amidst its foundations, pushes back a sheet of fibro, crawls onto the damp earth under the building. He thrusts the fibro back into position and lies in total darkness, his shoulders against the brickwork, his heart leaping in his chest. He gasps from exertion and fear.

He listens. Beyond the slab-dark of his hiding place footsteps pound over bitumen. There's silence. His pursuers have stopped. He hears the fence shudder under the weight of someone jumping against it but he can't know whether he's clambered over or just dragged himself up for a look. He hears, ‘He's not in there,' the noise of someone falling back to the roadway, then the beat of feet again, the sound fading as they run away.

He lies in the blackness for what seems to him is a long time. When he thinks there's been enough of a lapse and there's no sound of a return he fumbles a cigarette lighter out of the pocket of his shorts, gropes to find a stub of candle where he's left it, lights the wick. Lit by the meagre flame he crawls between foundation pillars to where he's left two more substantial candles. These he lights, and in their glow he gazes at a picture, which he's glued to the brickwork. Satan smiles back at him, his lips thin, muscles stretched over his cheekbones, and in the countenance, as always, Piggy finds cruelty and command and power.

He ruffles the foliage, now long dead, which he has placed beneath the illustration, then lowers his head. In a whisper he prays, ‘Oh my Master, my Lord, please take your servant into your heart, please place me under your protection.' Then he leans back against a brick pylon, closes his eyes, waits.

In the end, though, he is so hungry and feels so weak that he thinks he might vomit. One by one he snuffs the candles and crawls back to his fibro shield. He inches it to one side and listens. All is silent. He crawls back into the courtyard, peers through a chink in the fence. The cul-de-sac is empty. Over the fence he clambers, trots into a broader estate thoroughfare, heads north.

At the edge of Legoland he runs as hard as he can across an empty paddock, slides into the cover of long grass, climbs on hands and knees up a steep hill and emerges onto the fringe of the sporting fields of Warrawong High School. He trots to the brickwork of a school building, leans against it, catches his breath. The school seems deserted. The last light is almost gone and misty rain falls across him, driven by a stiffening wind.

He crosses the empty carpark built for teachers, climbs over the back fence of one of the Housing Commission houses that neighbour the school. Along a pathway beside it he goes, then out onto a footpath that borders the southern edge of Flagstaff Road.

Piggy stands for a time, looking into the warmth of lighting at the windows of the little row of houses along the roadway. Streetlights have come on and their rays make patterns in wet bitumen. Soft rain glides down, slowly soaking him. He looks east.

A figure comes around the bend from Cowper Street. Piggy smiles for a moment, waiting, watching. The boy is older than Piggy, maybe seventeen. He's tall, over six feet in the old measurement, and broad-shouldered. He carries little weight – he's not yet as big a man as he will become and he walks with a well-balanced swagger, his hands are thrust into the pockets of his zippered jacket, his head is leaning forward under the rain.

He sees Piggy, approaches, nods, stops. Under the streetlight his high cheek bones, the deep dark of his eyes, the little flop of black hair across his forehead are visible. He has the handsome, even features that many Macedonian men have. A car passes heading east, its tyres hissing up wetness off the road.

In greeting, the older boy says, ‘Pig.'


‘Watcha doin'?'

‘Ah. I just run up here. Emilio and his boys saw me, and chased me.'

‘Yeah? Well you're alright now. They won't bother you now.'

‘No. Cos you're here.'

‘Yeah, maybe me, a little bit. But mainly about Grandfather. They won't want to do nothin' upsets Grandfather.'

In the gloom they each watch the shape made by the other.

Jimmy says, ‘You eaten?'

Water sprays from Piggy's head when he shakes it. ‘Not for a while.'

‘Got any money?'

Piggy shakes his head.

‘Any food at home?'

A dollop of rainwater drops from Piggy's nose to burst on his chin. He doesn't reply.

Jimmy makes a noise – part chuckle part sigh – takes a wallet from his jeans and draws out a five-dollar note. ‘Get yourself down to Warrawong,' he says, and gives Piggy the money. ‘Buy a kebab.'

Piggy takes the money, thrusts his balled fist with the note inside it into the pocket of his jeans. ‘And it's a
,' Jimmy says, ‘not cigarettes.' Piggy nods again. ‘And if you're stuck for somewhere to sleep come to my place, knock on my window. You can sleep on the floor.'

‘Nah. It's cool.'

Jimmy lifts his gaze towards the west. Piggy sees him stiffen, the hands come out of his jacket pockets and ball into fists. Piggy follows the gaze. Someone is walking east, down from Cringila Hill. The boy comes within twenty metres of the pair, stops in a pool of light thrown by a streetlight.

Piggy says, ‘Jim. It's Abdul.'

The three boys wait in the rain. Piggy blinks, frowns – a vehicle is gliding down Flagstaff Road behind Abdul. It is a pale work van, such as an electrician might drive. Its headlights illuminate shafts of falling rain. Piggy watches it cross to the wrong side of the road, reach where Abdul is standing, stop. A long arm comes out of the open window beside the driver. In the fist is a large pistol.
There's a sharp, high detonation and, later, Piggy believes that he has seen both flame at the pistol's muzzle and Abdul's head rocking at the impact of a slug smashing into his skull. Abdul staggers a couple of steps towards Jimmy and Piggy then falls forward, arms outstretched, palms down. They can hear the smack as his head lands on the footpath cement. Piggy watches the arm vanish into the cabin, the vehicle ease forward a couple of feet, the arm comes back out and he hears the explosion of two more shots. He watches Abdul's head bounce under the blows. He sees a fountain of blood shoot up, weaken, falter and merge into a dark pool on the cement. Piggy looks at the dark glass of the van windows. The arm has been withdrawn. Later, Piggy will remember this as clearly as any of the rest of it. The driver neatly signals a deviation to the left, pulls away from the kerb, returns to the correct side of the road, heads down to Cowper Street, turns right and vanishes.

Neither Piggy nor Jimmy speak. As one they turn and walk briskly in the direction of the van. Neither boy has his hands in his pockets as they've come to believe that hurrying in such a posture suggests guilt. They cross Cowper Street, then, when they enter the mouth of the alley on the other side, they break into a sprint, knees high, arms pumping, legs stretching out to drag back distance. They pound along the bitumen, their passage provoking loud baying from guard dogs tethered in backyards along the alley. They come to an alcove in the back wall of the Catholic primary school, fall into the space, press their backs against the brickwork. They stand there, panting. There are no sounds of traffic.

Jimmy says, ‘Shit!'


‘I mean, shit!'


‘Something just happened.'

‘Yeah. Abdul got shot. Maybe killed.'

‘Maybe? Three in the head? No comin' back from that. But more. Somethin'
just happened. Somethin' big.'

The dogs settle, going back to shelter from the rain. The boys can hear the quiet
of rainwater over iron rooves, the soundtracks of television shows, far off and muted.

‘We should ring someone up,' Piggy says.


‘We should ring
. Like an ambulance.'

‘An ambulance.'


‘Three in the head and we're gonna send him an ambulance? For what? Collect body parts for handin' around?'

Piggy covers his face with his hands, shudders. ‘Well, we should ring someone up, tell them he's there.'

someone? Pig, he's lyin' there in a pool of blood on the footpath just above the high school. Trust me, eventually someone's gonna notice. I'll tell you what we're gonna do. You walk down into Warrawong …'

BOOK: On Cringila Hill
10.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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