Time to Think
I arrived a week early
Twenty years of failure had not diminished my grandparents’ hopes of biblical fruitfulness,
evidenced by the rosary-wrapped box on top of the fridge containing a photo of the Pope, a prayer,
and a plastic bag containing a syringe, several tiny needles and a dozen vials of a substance
guaranteed to produce an iron hard erection. On her fifty-fourth birthday, grandmother dropped the
hot-water kettle’s electricity lead into the gravy, and licked it. False teeth smashed against one wall,
body against the other. Grandfather carried her to bed, checked for breakage, then crawled under
the blankets to massage warmth into trembling limbs. Grandmother responded with unaccustomed
passion and after an arduous nine months and a difficult birth, Esther was born.
The wilful child grew into a vexatious young teenager, unappreciative of parental efforts to
transform her into a hard-working consolation and support for their old age. Esther hated the
isolation, loneliness, farm work, everything. The only other child in the district was Antony, a
handsome young lad a year older than her, who lived a couple of kilometres down the track.
On his fifteenth birthday Antony decided his viciously drink-sodden, layabout parents had
nothing further to offer him, so went to work at a uranium mine hundreds of kilometres away to the
north. He worked hard, saved every penny, shunned women, avoided alcohol, and in two years was
relatively wealthy and depressingly unpopular. One afternoon some workmates stripped him,
shoved an unripe banana up his backside, and threw him into the warm water of a sediment pool—
not the large dam regularly checked for contamination, but a small, very deep hole concealed inside
a shed plastered with signs warning: Danger! Radiation!
Skin already beginning to tingle, he hosed himself down, crept back to his hut, filled a rucksack
with essentials and took off.
Jag, a stringy, lean featured, curly-haired seventeen year-old prison escapee, found Antony
deliriously clawing at his clothes. He slung the young man over his shoulder and carried him to a
hideout beside a billabong, plonked him up to his nose in the muddy water, stripped, peeled off
Antony’s already disintegrating clothes and massaged calming mud into angry flesh. When his
patient stopped moaning, Jag poured cans of muddy water down his throat until he gagged, then
dragged him onto the bank and held him upside down by the heels until he’d stopped vomiting
dark, sticky muck, then lowered his burden gently onto his back. Scarcely breathing, Antony stared
vacantly at the sky and an ache filled Jag’s chest as he gazed on the handsome, hairless youth with
skin that reflected the sunlight like burnished bronze.
By the end of the second day Antony declared he’d never felt better, reckoned didn’t give a
stuff about his hair loss and new metallic sheen, and wondered how he could ever repay his tall,
dark, lithe and handsome saviour
‘You look like Cellini’s Perseus,’ Jag laughed.
‘Only the most perfect bronze male sculpture ever made.’
Antony smiled to himself, ridiculously pleased with the compliment.
The young men wandered, living on fish, sheep, berries, roots, blossoming friendship and the
fruits of love. After a week they arrived at a ramshackle dozen wooden houses scattered along a
dusty track—Jag’s hometown. The police had been sniffing around so his parents packed them off
to a large block of tribal land about six hundred kilometres north in the absolute middle of nowhere.
Unfortunately, a misguided sense of duty made Antony decide to visit his parents first in case they
were worried, so Jag drew him a detailed map of where he was headed and easily extracted a
promise that his lover would join him as soon as he’d checked up on his parents.
Back on the farm Esther had grown ever more rebellious. Her parents blamed the pre-
conceptual electric shock, global warming, positive ions, negative ions, and the world’s
godlessness. Their unhappy daughter’s brilliant escape plan was to get pregnant and force the man