Saturday, 28 September 2013

The Following (8) "Without any idea..."

Without any idea of where the compulsion came from to link a future prime minister of Australia to the wit and wisdom of a state hangman, I simply obeyed, in the early pages of The Following,  the fiction-writing imperative of sticking to an idea as long as it persisted. The connection lasted through to the final draft and the printed page and Marcus Friendly MP,  and Bert Shepherd, butcher of Harden, remained linked to the end.

As a writer I offer no explanation for this unlikely alliance of innocence and creepiness reducible to common sense,  relying instead on a gut feeling of inevitability, or conviction, conveying itself to the reader.

Only after The Following was published did something around this conjunction of opposites became clearer to me. At their first meeting (on page 5) Bert dubs Marcus his "friend-boy". This was a phrase used to me years ago by a European refugee in his forties, nicknamed the Professor, who was fond of me and my teenaged mates -  his "friend-boys" - when we worked, in uni vacation, as Station Assistants loading goods' vans for country trains on Central Station. The Professor was thin, pale, hesitant, respectful, shy and trembly. His domain was a two-carriage electric parcels' van plying the suburban rail network. Sydney in that era was home to a population of displaced persons. World War II had rolled over the Professor leaving him physically intact but only just, and mentally shaky as a parchment blind hanging in a dusty room dark with secrets.

The Professor was nothing like the robust Bert Shepherd, he was unmistakably a victim not a state operator, but what he exuded was unnatural understanding, as if he could see past  the brash shells of who we were into or towards a better self not yet revealed to us.

The next year, when we came back on the job, sporting our union badges and student smart-arsed attitudes, we asked after the Professor and learned he'd been found dead, suicided, in his one-roomed flat in the city.

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