Treausre hunt

The silver glints in the ti-tree. A clue is wrapped in foil, peeled from the lining of the cigarette pack and rolled into balls. The clue says, look behind the beach hut. The rosaries clack as sister strides through the yard. The bell swings with her right arm. A boy’s hands are full of paper. Ten paces from the chapel a blue cape. On Sunday afternoon we play monopoly. I land on community chest. That’s Victor’s dog, Dad says. A Jack Russell explores the walkers and wheels. When I was a boy, Dad tells me, I made treasure hunts for the other children. What was the treasure? I ask. There was never any treasure. Sister Gertrude sees his cuffs are frayed, the singlet and shirt tucked into his shorts, his socks pulled up in shoes he gives a lick and polish at the gate. Five boys and a girl gather. Once upon a time, Joe says, there was a rider on the moor and mist hung all around. A bird called out a single note and nettles stung. The bell. Dad lies in bed. The TV shows an old war movie. We used to watch Saturday matinees, I say. Hmpph, says he. Forgive me, she says, as she bustles past in the corridor tight with dinner carts and walkers. She’s a nice one, Dad says, likes my little funnies. Dining, Dad sips chardonnay. We’ll get there, he says. Joe writes on the back of an old composition. At lunch, a horse whinnies on the moor. Water pools in the asphalt and the shoes. Joe, Joe, a boy yells, I found a clue: under our lady’s toe, the crushed head of the snake. I got it Joe. I got it! How many clues are there? I can’t wait to see the treasure. A personal attendant admires the picture on his wall: beach huts in a yellow light. I painted that, Dad says, forty years ago. For an hour today, he tells me, they left me in the corridor. I used to be top of my class, Jim says. Jim’s lost it, says Dad. The virgin’s foot covers a clue. The wattle’s gold hides another. We’ll get there, Joe tells the children who eat clues for lunch. His mother leaves the church with mop and broom. Sister Gertrude drops a few coins in her hand. A grey shawl hangs on the moor all day. I might be a modern-day Dickens, he writes. Under the crocheted rug at the foot of the bed, the gap for a toe is a word that just escaped him. We’ll get there, Dad says. Small fingers wrap clues in silver foil.

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Anne Elvey’s most recent chapbook is Bent toward the thing (Seaford, 2012). She was shortlisted for the Peter Porter Poetry Prize 2012 and the Newcastle Poetry Prize 2011 and was a recipient of a Writers Victoria Writing@Rosebank Fellowship 2011.

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