Novel Excerpt – Prolix (working Title)
“All our knowledge begins with the senses, proceeds then to the understanding, and ends with reason. There is nothing higher than reason.” Immanuel Kant
John heard the back door slam and with a Pavlovian response his body sighed tension. This set his upper buttocks free, returned his chest and neck from pyramid-brick-state to house-brick-state, allowed his muscles to let go of their prepared grip and embrace the small amount of release only solicited by the departure of his wife for the day. A thin easily pierced calm settled over him. A temporary relief, imbued with a childish longing to escape from a moment without actually having to do anything but wish for it – as if the wish were hard and strong enough, anything could happen.
He sank into his high back leather chair, its years of careful creasing engulfing him. With a resentment laced in unexplainable guilt, John carefully examined and rewrote the morning’s scenario in his mind, tweaking and organising it into a cautious explanatory tale that displayed with a certain clarity the mornings drama, casting himself as its victim.
Illegal immigrants might or might not have thrown their children overboard to grab the attention of local authorities in an attempt to gain sympathy for their plight from the Australian people. Little did they know an act of this nature would never gain the sympathy of the Australian people, but it gained the sympathy of Johns’ wife, a woman of the left, a red-under-the-bed for whom every person safe and happy in their comfortable home was wrong and every person living in unsafe, unhygienic or war torn conditions was an automatic hero. Janet was one of those women. Her observations on the human condition burst with savant clarity into a timeless ocean of lost souls. Whatever she ‘felt’ had the precision of years of scientific research. Whatever she ‘knew’ was not constructed from the mosaic of her life, but forged from fact.
“I can’t believe they got away with it. That government is evil. It should be a war crime that they won the election – not once but twice – on that lie, and instead no inquiry can touch them.”
Janet stood in front of Sunrise, a wooden ladle pointed threateningly at the television, her legs spread a little further than hip width apart as though she were ready to take on the pink-suited mannequin-makeuped announcer more interested in the forthcoming dumpling segment than the final findings of the Children Overboard incident. John, emerging from a halo of bathroom mist wearing his white terry robe, watched the end of the story then looked at the back of his rigid wife. He saw a small droplet of eggy grease fall from the ladle to the white shag carpet beneath her and felt his ire rise.
“How could winning an election be a war crime?”
Janet spun ready for a fight. She’d been ready since the fall of the Berlin wall, and was only getting readier each day that capitalism sucked at her heels, moving her further away from her utopian dream. If communism was meant to herald a burst of creativity, Janet saw the death of that creativity in every logged tree, in every fee paying university student and in every mad Muslim suicide bomber. Capitalism could be blamed for all the modern ills and third only to George Bush Jnr and Tony Blair came one John Winston Howard, internationally self-aggrandised keeper of the status quo, stalwart of fifties values, he-who-would-be-blamed for all the hope and vision stolen from Janet.
“You know what I mean. This is a disgrace. You know it is. Come on, agree with me. It won’t kill you. Agree that this government should be held accountable and there is something wrong with a world that won’t do it.”
Suspended in the moment, John did know. He knew he should choose between fight and flight. He knew he could be his own god, bestow his own gift upon the moment, upon Janet, her stupid self, and upon the world. He knew he could, if he so desired, transcend this foolishness, acknowledge that this history, about to duplicate itself between the two of them was nothing more than the repetitious outlay of some secretly witnessed moment between his parents, or the emotional residue from the first removal of a cherished toy, or his first awkward glance at himself in a mirror. Briefly he had hope. Hope that a human can rise above their animal nature despite his passionate belief in the opposite. Hope that the world could be a different place from the one he saw so clearly played out like a David Attenborough film. A world where nurture could overcome nature and a human animal could rise above and choose to be more than the sum of its collective parts.
Faithfully, John chose no.
“I’m simply saying if you’re going to make these grandiose statements, you should at least get your facts straight. A government lying to its people in peace time is not a war crime.”
“We’re not in peace time, remember? There’s a ‘War against Terror’ going on.”
“Whatever. Even in WAR time, a government lying to its people isn’t a war crime in the true sense of the word. Now if you wanted this funny little idea to be a metaphor, you should have said ‘like a war crime’ or ‘as if it were a war crime’…” John thought for a moment as if it were terribly important that he get this right. “At least I think so. Your metaphor may be so bad it doesn’t even apply properly to the rules of metaphor.”
“Jesus Christ John, what are you on? I am just venting, in my own home, and expressing displeasure in something neither of us approves of. Why aren’t you on my side?”
Without waiting for an answer Janet turned toward the kitchen a final globule of now cooled grease making its way toward the carpet as she hunched her shoulders in an expression of mock disbelief. A sense of peace-free calm descended upon John; the same feeling he had as a child when he’d resuscitate dissected frogs in school surrounded by the horrified squeals of adoring girls, or when he won his promotion from a colleague who didn’t have his talent for networking although his qualities for the job far outshone his own. This was the survival of the fittest, the swift out running the steady, the ‘mind’ defeating the romantic notion of ‘soul’. He moved toward the kitchen with a predators stride, determined to win this most important of all conflicts. With battle savvy skill, he went for the jugular.
“It’s just that you get so emotional, and I wanted to add some rationalism to calm you down and help you see facts.”
Janet, worked up already, clinging to the very precipice of sanity, searching for a language that could not be found, was too far gone to come back with strength. Her already reddened face turned a deeper purple and John caught tears welling up in her eyes. “I’m not emotional, I’m being perfectly rational. You only say things like that because you know it gets me going.”
“So don’t get going when I say it and I will stop, if that’s the truth. Could it be possible that I am genuinely trying to help you? You never seem to be able to accept my generosity, and I know that is because your father withheld affection from you, but I wish you would see that when you get this angry it isn’t with me, it’s with him.”
Janet looked confused.
“I’m angry about the Howard government being completely let off over the children overboard incident, even though the independent enquiry found them to be guilty. They just ignored the findings.”
John shrugged. “I don’t see why you couldn’t see this coming; more emotion getting in the way. If you saw it rationally you’d be better prepared.”
He turned away from her, walking toward the bedroom, thinking of what to wear that day. She followed him of course.
“Maybe I don’t want to be prepared. Maybe I don’t want to be complacent like you. Maybe I want to be outraged when outrages occur. Huh? Did that ever occur to you? That I might LIKE the way I am?”
John looked through his shirts and chose a vertical stripe. Clean, linear, direct, and neat – like his thinking. He held the shirt in front of him, hand on hanger at the top, pulling it tight at the base, admiring the way the parallel lines never crossed, never left their course and bumped into each other. He stared at them, the muffled background nose of Janet’s hysteria easily and comfortably fading out despite the inevitable rise in volume, as he floated further and further away. Soon he noticed she’d left the room taking none of the stress with her, setting to stone his muscles, teasing the very start of a tension headache from behind his eyes. He’d never understand what was wrong with the woman, but she was like all the others. Something in their genes. Some rogue throwback defence mechanism now mistakenly fired at husbands and lovers in an age where such defences were no longer useful.
Carefully he buttoned up at the front, noticing the faint trembling in his left hand was a little stronger after these kinds of incidents. The woman was bad for him and bad for his health and that was another reason to flush fifteen years of marriage if he ever got the courage. Staring at the stripe in the shirt in the mirror, John suddenly got the impression life was a huge indecipherable text that scholars worked on, linguists interpreted and scientists analysed and still no one came up with definitive answers. If the world of academics couldn’t give him a straight answer, what were they worth? Surely, now we have the courage to declare god dead, we have enough to decipher life? Why was it taking so long?
John listened for sounds of his wife thumping through the house, slamming a cupboard shut in the kitchen, pounding feet moving toward the bathroom, door closing and lock being turned, not once but twice, as if John, who his wife always claimed got sexual at the oddest times, may attempt to enter the sanctuary and try something on her. John shudderd at the thought, grateful for the lock and its message. He slunk undetected to his study, and closed the door, hoping the unwelcome image would repel rather than entice his wife. Sometime she was up for more trouble, but John had to confess that happened less and less these days. He slumped in his chair, rubbed the back of his neck and twisted it gently in small circular motions, feeling the muscle pull all the way to the base of his spine.
At the slam of the door and the sound of the car in the drive, he had a moment of almost surreal calm.
John glanced with muted eyes at the days schedule in his diary. A lecture at the university, lunch with his friend Daniel, and a frighteningly free evening that looked like it might have to be spent at home. Now in his early seventies, time was running out to make the oceanic splash he’d promised himself for as long as he could remember. The talisman swung before his mind, his memory crystal clear on the subject; that fated night almost twenty years earlier when Professor Rupert Pratt, visiting academic and Philosopher in Residence, Cambridge University gave his response to John’s fervently whispered confession of his most closely held dreams and hopes.
“John old chap, you’ll never achieve anything brilliant in Australia! Let me tell you, it is now and always will be a colony. Why you’re only a couple of generations off convict yourself, how can you compete with genes working for centuries on the worlds more complex questions?”
How indeed? Rupert had gone on to explain to John, to make clear, to reference his place for him and it ran along the lines:
John got the picture. At least he got the picture Rupert painted. What he also got that night was a burn so deep and a fever so hot to prove Rupert wrong, that it obsessed John every day of the subsequent years in which he did virtually nothing about it. Volcanoes lay dead for many a year before they spew their world changing heat on the unsuspecting safe around them. John fancied himself a bit of a volcano, harbouring his ache for his genius to flow lava-like over the academic establishment, stop them in their tracks Pompeii style, and set in stone a new world order that will forever put Australia and John on the map.
But first, he had to do something about his wife.