For those of you who are non-Australians (and for those of you Australians who are not Queenslanders), the Ekka is a once-yearly agricultural show in Brisbane, our state’s capital. I believe it’s proper title is The Royal Brisbane Show. It used to be called The Exhibition, and as Australians we decided that Exhibition was too long a word to say, so Ekka it was. The following short story is a timeline of the Ekka, from multiple viewpoints, told through the course of one day. For my fellow InMonsters, yes, this is a bit of practice for Voice Week. Comments and criticism always welcome…
5:32 am: The Early Bird Gets the Worm
He wakes to the lowing of cattle somewhere beneath his feet. The rattling thunder of the morning’s first trains echoes the throbbing of his head, the mingling smells of hay and of vomit, the stench of last night’s roll-your-own tobacco and of Bundeberg Rum guzzled in the Stockman’s Bar sends another wave of nausea flooding his stomach. His narrow cot stretches high above the floor of the Cattle Pavilions, a mile above the still-to-be-swept cow shit and the memories of the night before. But home is wherever you leave your hat. His nimble fingers pick at the strands of tobacco still in his pouch as he contemplates the morning before him. His hip flask warms his stomach as he slowly enters reality.
6:02 am: Childhood Nightmares
She sees them still, each night they stalk her dreams. She dreams of brightly flashing fairy lights and crowds crushing against her, of the day her mother walked away, engulfed by the swamp of people coursing through the Showgrounds. She sees them still, with their wide open mouths painted a garish red, silently screaming their nightmares into her sleep. She sees them in the opening wall of sweating human flesh, these alien monstrosities waiting to swallow her up. She just wanted to go home, just wanted her Mummy.
And people ask how she could possibly be afraid of clowns.
8:30 am, Daddy Dearest
“These fucken kids have been pestering me for hours, mate – ‘Take us to the Ekka, Dad, take us to the Show…’ I swear, twenty-five bucks just to get through the fucken gate! Fucken rip-off! But you know they love their bloody showbags, don’t they? It’ll cost me a bloody fortune, it will. You coming along, dickhead? Ha, too easy, see ya there mate!”
10:15 am: City Cowboy
He’s got his RMs polished, thrown his beat-up old Akubra through the dust in his backyard. Got his white jeans on – they’re a bit tighter than last year – and his over-sized Brahmin belt-buckle is sitting one notch back this time around. He spits against the trunk of his Frangipani tree, belatedly looking back to make sure the wife isn’t watching. Cocks his hat back, brim touching the raised collar of his old flanno. She didn’t see. He’s waiting for a taxi, leaving his BMW shining in the driveway.
Today he’s sinking the piss in the Stockman’s.
12:20 pm: Butter-board Sandwiches, Strawberry Ice Creams
Every year she goes for the same reasons. Butter-board sandwiches and strawberry ice-cream cones. The cake decorating contest, the cable car and the Ferris Wheel. She goes because her mother took her there, her mother who won the CWA prize in 1958, her mother who’s been dead for the last thirty-years. But mainly for the strawberry ice-creams and the Butter-board sandwiches.
5:30 pm: Sideshow Alley
She walks through Sideshow Alley as carnies and hawkers promise aloud that “Every child wins a prize!” She smiles at children passing in the milieu, feeling cast adrift as fairy lights wink on and off, surrounded by the constant, hypnotic buzz of ten thousand people all descended on this converted car-park. Her heart skips a beat as she follows her own shadow, as she walks in the footsteps she leaves here every year. Teetering along on too-high heels and in a too-short skirt she paces the crowds – seeking her lost innocence, hoping for some reconciliation.
8:35 pm: Palliative Care
A husk of an old man, dried out and slowly dying lies on the hospital bed. His white skin shines against the clinical green of the gown he has worn for the last six months, everyday a new gown, everyday exactly the same bare-arsed gown. He lies, the blue of his respirator tube and the red and gold spider’s web of wires attached to every inch of his body, an effort to determine what’s wrong, to decide what the next course of action will be.
What do they bloody know about action? George Thomas, Lt.Col, ret., had served in Vietnam, he had been there during the bloody Tet Offensive, now that was action. Gooks had come crawling around their flanks like ants, invisible in the overwhelming jungle. They had taken the only course of action left to them.
He could still feel the kick of a sub-machine gun in his hands, though they could no longer peel an orange, let alone deal death and destruction. He could still smell the foliage burn, hear the popping explosions of hand grenades, the deafening giant’s footsteps of mortar shells and flare guns in the night, illuminating that massacre.
And they had the bloody nerve to give him a bloody gook doctor, too! Can’t bloody trust ’em, regardless of what little Jessica says. Little Jessica, he smiled to himself, Jess had a family now, her own kids to look after, and here she was thinking I’m bloody one of ’em!
Another explosion rocks him, there in his hospital bed. Another flare lights up the night sky in brilliant chameleon green – another night of watching his friends die.
George Thomas, Lt.Col., ret., falls from his bed, his respirator tube slipping from his nose as his head smacks against the cold linoleum floor. The sounds of fireworks drown out the klaxons sounding out all around him, only for a moment, and that moment was all that he needed to help him fall asleep.
Finally able to sleep.