fiction | Ben Peek

188 cover

spring 2007
ISBN 978-0-9775171-5-2
published 20 September 2007


We buried Jarrah on company time, with me and Birch digging up the earth we didn’t have no rights on.

There’s no kindness to dropping a mate into a hole you just dug, let me tell you. The tall smokestacks coughed up dirty breaths behind us and there ain’t none of Jarrah’s family there and there ain’t never gonna be. Just those stacks and tall, lean Birch with his arms resting on the shovel he didn’t own and me on me haunches like a dog once we’d finished. The two of us as witnesses and diggers and priests staring down at skinny Jarrah still in his worker oranges.

I wanted to say something profound, but all I could think about was working out here in the fucking dirt and on the fucking stacks. About spending ninety per cent of my time in protective clothing with me face sealed behind a helmet. About how most of me conversations were done through the static in a mike. About how when not in the fucking suit, I was sleeping in a fucking oxygen chamber and losing half my fucking pay sucking back that clean company air while resting. Which would mean fuck all if I died like that Jarrah. Dying like him – sudden and right there in front of his mates – means that the toxins got right into me. Me mates’ll bury me like him cause ain’t no-one in the company going to allow you to be cut open for cause of death and they’ll burn first. They got the rights to burn us as they please, too. You gotta sign it to get the job.

But I’m thinking – I’m thinking about what will happen to me if I’m buried like Jarrah? Will anyone have something profound to say? Or will they just stare dumb into the hole, thinking that something ought to be said right before the concrete pours in? There ain’t much to say, I know that. Instead, I tossed a spray of dirt in over Jarrah and said all that there was left: “No more fucking contracts to sign now, mate.”

Inches of Dirt, Talia Gulara, page 1.

When Howard finally fucking died, I said, I said to everyone, fine-fucking-ly, and I got good and drunk.

My Happy Year with the Union Riots,
John Bowen, page 409.

Monday, 3rd June.

Dad’s one-year anniversary of working at the McDonald’s came up today, the day rent went up. Getting the notice made his strong, square face crumble. McDonald’s isn’t enough anymore. Working the ten hours in gumboots, plastic apron, and in blue vest, blue pants, white shirt and blue cap, all so he can slaughter animals in a wire cage to sell as cheap food – a job that doesn’t pay enough to live in Melbourne. Even with the off-cuts of meat he steals, it isn’t enough. Even with the Coles night cleaning job on odd nights it isn’t enough. No. What he needs now is a third job. A third job to take away the hours of sleep.

I told him I would get a job, that I could get one after school, I was twelve now, it was allowed, but he said no.

I need to stay in school, he said. I need to study. That’s how you get more money.

Melbourne Notes, Mahsati Singh, page 82.

A stark and elegant office on the sixty-seventh floor of the Tri-Dax building in the heart of Sydney’s CBD. William Ferguson, standing straight, gazing at himself in the reflection, seeing where the cosmetic surgeon’s knife sliced beneath eyes, around mouth, and cut away the sagging skin beneath his jaw, looking at the full head of hair that came as a result of being treated through a hair specialist thirty years ago and was now dyed black; William Ferguson, staring. William Ferguson wondering what kind of man he was now. He knew the Cliff Notes version: CEO of Tri-Dax, billionaire, married three times, divorced once, widowed twice, close friends with presidents and prime ministers, media shy, media controlling. He was that William Ferguson; he was sixty-two but looked thirty-eight but none of that spoke about what kind of man he was, what he was capable of.

Girl with a Gun, Jim Moody, page 19.

When I was five, my parents told me about the bright technicolour future, and it was filled with space colonies, jet packs and healthy genetic manipulation.

It was also a lie.

My parents’ future gave me fourteen-hour days:time spent in a shaft, digging in the dirt, with new eyes to see in the dark and to spot the seams, and bombs tied to our DNA to stop us stealing. We worked under the vid screens of programmed overseers who told us that we were all part of a team, part of a family. They told us this in voices that would never have to breathe the sour, toxic air that was the legacy of our parents, and their parents, the legacy of raping the Earth clean for resources and of the wars that had been fought for it.

Sci-Fi Luv, Jennifer D. Jones, page 45.

Mickey was beating that yellow, slope-eyed bastard pretty hard, all fists and muscle and anger, far as Charlie could tell, but it’d been coming. You couldn’t let no-one undercut your hourly wage like the chink had.

Last Days of the Beautiful Light,
Alexander Brown, page 112.

On September 23, the painter Daniel Watson was shot three times in the chest and once in the face. He died, five minutes later, in his own blood and that of his killer who, with a fifth shot, had taken his own life in a mix of despair and desperation. But. But before that. Before that final moment in the life of a man who was not yet great, but would be within ten years, before that, Daniel Watson woke up suddenly in a cold sweat. He had been dreaming that he had grown up in a small, one room apartment that he had shared with five others and that, when he awoke, the air had been coloured a faint brown and tasted like copper. He could not easily shake this dream: there lingered the tactile sense of grainy carpet beneath his back, the black dots of dust that clouded his vision when he opened his eyes, and the heat from five bodies – two children, one older than him, one not, and two adults – so close, without any personal space, without any privacy … he couldn’t forget any of it. Even when he rolled over in his large bed, even when he saw the hairless, naked back of Greg next to him, on the other side of the bed, a sign that the two had drifted both metaphorically and physically, even this trouble in his life could not hide the dream. He knew why, however. When he stood and walked out into the living room and commanded the blinds to open and the sun shone through the clean, clean air, he knew why that dream, and why now. The dream was the past, but not his. It was the past he had given when he entered the art world, a past to make him appear more real, and a past that he had pretended to own for the last ten years and would, once again, speak of in today’s interview. The interview he would never make, of course, since he would be shot – shot by Alex Do, the man who had lived that past and shared it with Daniel in the intimacy of lovers, and from whom Daniel had stolen to make it his own.

‘The Painter’s Lover’ in Drowning in Nothing, Mohanea Tapa, page 201.

When I first met Danielle Greene, she was six years old, and learning how to write the names of her illnesses.

She was writing the words with a pencil that one of the doctors had given her. She wasn’t allowed anything metal, due to her allergies, and so she sat on her thin plastic bed with an old-fashioned wooden pencil. According to Doctor Tam, a thin, nervous Chinese-Australian man with round glasses, he had expected her to draw. Ponies and houses and whatever else it is that children draw, I suppose. What he didn’t understand – and what I understood the moment that I saw her – was that Danielle was not like other children, and so it never occurred to her to draw fantasy objects; instead she chose to interact with the world around her by copying the words off the medical screen that hung at the end of her bed.

I watched Danielle write for fifteen minutes before I interrupted. She had auburn hair and skin so pale that I could see her blue veins without artificial light, and the nervous, unsure hand that all children with the beginnings of muscle control loss had. When I did interrupt, the first thing that she asked me was not, – Who are you? or – What do you want? as one might expect, but instead she asked me to describe each illness that she had written. The illnesses she had.

In response, I told her I did not know what they meant. I was just a psychologist, I explained, not a doctor, and therefore I could not possibly know all the ways to pronounce, much less explain, those complex words.

– You’re lying, she said, her voice snappish.

– Am I?

– Everyone knows I’ll be dead in ten years, she said, holding her head up high, proud in the way that children are proud of things they do not fully understand. – Only idiots don’t know that. Are you an idiot?

Indeed, I was not.

Danielle Greene, Z, page 3.

Again, Mr McMahon spun the knife round and round before me. Beside me was Annie Crook, five years younger.

Mr McMahon was turning the knife with his index finger, spinning it on the hard mahogany surface of his desk. It was a new desk, but not a new knife. The blade was still long and straight, though it had a few more scratches at the tip and a line of rust at the hilt where the stainless steel had been gouged out somehow, during the last eighteen months. Mr McMahon’s white index finger spun the blade by the cheap plastic handle. He hadn’t said anything, not yet, but he hadn’t before. I knew what to expect. I’d been to Bali, like I told you, but I didn’t want a holiday this time. I had something more important now. So I watched his mouth, not the knife, watched for the words that would come out of his expensive, white-toothed mouth, So, ladies, which one of you has a more of a right for paid time off?

His mouth was opening. Lips moving. Words starting. My baby was due in two months. Annie Crook never stood a chance.

Factory Days, Amelia Craft, page 392.

The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.

Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.

In the earlier epochs of history, we find almost everywhere a complicated arrangement of society into various orders, a manifold gradation of social rank. In ancient Rome we have patricians, knights, plebeians, slaves; in the Middle Ages, feudal lords, vassals, guild-masters, journeymen, apprentices, serfs; in almost all of these classes, again, subordinate gradations.

The modern bourgeois society that has sprouted from the ruins of feudal society has not done away with class antagonisms. It has but established new classes, new conditions of oppression, new forms of struggle in place of the old ones.

Manifesto of the Communist Party, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, page 1.

© Ben Peek
Overland 188 – spring 2007, pp. 46–48

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