The Komatsu Wombat and the Fantastical Anticlimax
Those pending details took decades to work out. Arguing whether to go up or down, in or out, how much it'd cost to keep 2 000 000 000 people and their support infrastructure going through an impact winter. The social connotations of cramped conditions, how would people survive living on top of each other? Culturally speaking, we'd all kill each other outright!
Except we'd been surviving in cramped conditions living on top of each other for millennia. Didn't even involve a new paradigm or a new ruling class or, say, imposing martial law. Commonly speaking, we called this miraculous human survival model 'a city'.
And money? Just another way of keeping score. Arbitrary, as artificial as a tree in a city. Change the scoring system, and there we go. Wasn't like we'd eat our money.
Our ancestors stopped being mostly stupid and started thinking.
I didn't know any of this until I was almost 50. School probably taught us, but I wasn't at school, I was still being mostly stupid. Getting drunk, sucking cock and getting tattoos.
Called myself a free person. Carefree, right? Because I didn't care about the Alien.
Compared to Arunta, who took to the Pit because he cared about the Alien too much, I lived like a cat's furball. Would've told you it didn't matter to me whether I went in or stayed out forever.
Our governments worked out early on they couldn't force people into the Pit, or to contribute their labour or taxes to the Pit. All those years of people fighting for their right to choose, even the Alien shouldn't change that. Those that opted out of survival called themselves free people. No one would hire a free person, house them, feed them or pity them, only mothers their sons. I was 13, what could I say? Easier not caring about the future.
Don't you dare call yourself free, my mum'd shout. Living on the street, I still couldn't get away from her. She'd and my sister Sami hunted me down at least once a week, bringing me food. Free, what a laugh. Never try to convince your own mother you're worthless.
She was the one what conscripted me to the Pit. The government couldn't force us into salvation, but parents were a force no one bothered to document. No early warning systems for parental pride and expectation.
You're not going to find anyone who calls themselves free these days. We know what we owe each other.
Aldo was the neighbour Arunta and I had a couple of moves after Jaysee. She taught me all the world history school never taught.
Now, our Runt got itchy feet a lot. I think the cave-in did it to him. Even after we got out, we were still living in a cave, just bigger. So we moved every couple of years, easier than cleaning the house, at least. Then, when our first 3 fosters—2 brothers and a sister—grew up and settled into better circumstances, we took in our fourth foster alone and downsized from Coscatta into Tonorthwalk, which was, and always will be, distinct in vibe and superior in class from Epanorthwalk and Copponorthwalk, don't let the property prices fool you.
Aldo was a retired university professor. We swapped a few comments on our front porches where the sunlamps kept the strawberries healthy, and as I grew a bit less rusty at socialising with the intellectuals, she told me stories about how we'd got where we were.
I'd dug the hole Aldo lived in, and I think that impressed her. 8 big bangs and 3 scoops of the grand and worthy Komatsu Wombat, world's greatest digger. 'Part of the incredible human process', she called our holes, 'the turning of miracles into everyday events.'
Aldo talked to me about this concept of change. I grew up knowing my life would change, and even if I'd been a bit put off by that, I knew. Even a cheap shop-bought telescope showed us the Alien's cloud. Life was changing. Surviving meant change.
'No shit,' I'd said. I remember Runt on the step in front of me, reading the newspaper with our foster Cal, who had difficulty with words; on his seventh shade of hair colour this year. Like Arunta said back then, any colour but grey or beige.
'Once upon a time,' Aldo told me, 'people used to detest change. They would say things like: why learn a new operating system, what was wrong with the old one? Why do bank tellers have such an easy job these days, I remember the days when I used to count coins by hand, now there's a machine and they won't even tip your coins in for you! Why do things this way when I've always done them that way? And what they'd especially say,' Aldo shook her head, grinning, 'was this, are you ready?'
I don't want to change, said my ancestors' ancestors. It's hard.
Fucking hell, I remember thinking. I spent 7 years starving in the dark. So is life.
But they died, and their kids grew up, and their kids did things differently. That's the miracle, right there.
Aldo died underground, in the arms of her wife Rupert and a paramedic. She was 87 when I moved in next to her, with diabetes what got her in the end. Talk about human-made miracles all she liked, but she wouldn't say no to a cream cheese cake.
Rupert would bring out half a lethal production for me, Arunta and Cal, sometimes for Finnie and Roma if they were visiting. Slapping Aldo's hand away from the plate was useless; Aldo had a glare like the Alien itself.
'Fine! You'll kill yourself!'
'I thank our ancestors I have the right to choose how I'll die!'
'Then have your cake and eat it,' Rupert stormed off in a sulk. 'Death by cheesecake! Shakespeare would have written this as a farce!'
1 argument against using the Pit as our salvation: people weren't born to live in a hole.
People were born to live, though. The how was subject to change without notice. And we'd had notice.
Growing up, the Alien had been there long enough for me to dislike the sky. Used to be a chant, too: coming from above, to fuck us around, don't look up, look down!
By the time my mother signed me on as a digger, I took the job partly because it would take me below ground. Away from that sky, away from the 100s of countdown signs through the CBD.
Each area of the world negotiated its own, most likely solution, but Australasia was flat as cordial. Our only choice was to go down. Japan and Indonesia would be accommodated on our mainland too, because their whole landmass was going to go under, and we had the land to spare. The Kalgoorlie Pit was one of many, not even the largest. Felt a bit flat calling it the SuperPit, when Boddington's Pit was twice the size. Tokyo Pit would do your head in.
2 generations before I was born, Australia became Australasia Pacific. 1 generation before I was born, the name only mattered if you were trying to tell a bad joke.
Once, soon after we'd first got together, Arunta asked me what I thought about the fact that if we'd met 200 years ago, we probably would have tried to kill each other.
'What do you mean?'
'You know, ancestry. Our ancestors would have killed each other.'
After a minute, I said, 'Which ones?'
'All of them, Katashi. The Russians and the Japanese and the Indigenous and the Indonesians, the Australians, the British and the—'
He counted on his hands. He'd run out of fingers before he'd run out of ancestors.
'But they didn't kill each other, because otherwise we wouldn't be here.'
'Fuck you and your paradox,' Arunta said.
'Is that an offer, or an argument?'
'Reckon it's both.'
About 6 months after he'd arrived at the Pit, before we'd hooked up, I asked Arunta what he did with himself before coming to dig holes.
We were in the mess, morning shift, and Arunta was burned raw across the nose and cheeks from an inadvertent walkabout he'd taken yesterday. He never learned about putting on his sunblock.
'Barista,' Arunta said, stiff for the crackle of his lips, which looked kind of like he'd been eating popcorn and failing. The sort of burn we'd got used to seeing: antimelanoma shots were as good as B12 supps, those days when we still had a sky.
Barista didn't surprise me. True as blue Arunta made the best coffee for mornings after. Every birthday, football final or wedding night, the supe gave him the day after off so he'd happily brew the best coffee in the world, hand ground beans, would you believe, which made everyone nice and human.
'You?' Arunta had a way of framing things, real deliberate with the shape of his lips. He made himself bleed shaping the 'o'.
'Nah, mate, I was born a digger. Never wanted to do or be anything else. Life comes as it comes.'
'Pay's pretty good. I keep checking my bank and getting real happy, right up until I remember there's nothing here to buy. When I get back up after the shitstorm dies down, and - and we switch back on the economy, however the fuck we're going to do that, I'm going to buy me 1 of those manor houses down in Peppy Grove and have parties full of 16 year olds with really taut abs and no shirts. And volleyball. Beach volleyball. In mud.'
'Hate to tell you this, Runt, there ain't going to be a Peppy Grove when we get out, and you're probably going to be 102.'
'So I'll buy a big piece of toast and call him Peppy Grove.' Arunta tapped my beer with his. '102 isn't too old to get laid. Plus, ain't you ever heard of savior quotient?'
'Sure have. What got you the black eye you had when you got here.'
'Well, fuck me,' Arunta said. 'So you were paying attention. How many more hints do I have to bloody give you?'
That was when I gave him a Clancy.
Now this is a historical action the likes of which will never be repeated, so pay attention. Clancy of the Overflow was a poem from way before the Alien had made itself known, Australian before Australasia ever existed as a glimmer in a politician's eye. Damned if I read the poem, some old ranger who lived out by a lake, or a waterfall, but the poem gave the act its name.
What a Clancy involved was this:
1. I lift my beer.
2. While Runt's busy grinning at me, I crack the bottom of my beer on top of his.
3. His beer, the liquid part, being hit by vibrating glass on every side, fizzes up like mad.
4. His beer comes out all over his hand, the overflow giving him what is generally known as a Clancy.
Quick as a flash Runt slapped his palm over the mouth of his bottle, which stopped white froth spurting out the sides, and in the slickest save I had ever seen, he took away his hand and sealed his lips tight around the bottleneck. Cheeks hollowed, sucking and swallowing even with those split lips, Arunta Williams did not spill a drop.
That was probably enough of a hint, I thought. As if me stalking him for the last 6 months hadn't been enough.
After the Clancy died down, Arunta tipped the beer back - hands free, the fucker - and swallowed the last of it. He had a thick neck for such a fine looking kid, or maybe he was a fine looking kid because he had a thick neck. I watched his throat move.
'Would you like to fuck me blind?'
'I would fucking love to,' he said. 'Let me finish this off.'
I probably should have said nothing, or ignored him, or moved on. I didn't really do casual, and Arunta looked like he did casual like a casual thing to do.
Lucky I didn't say no.
Continue to Chapter 4 →
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