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Authors: Nick Earls

The Thompson Gunner

BOOK: The Thompson Gunner
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Allen & Unwin's House of Books aims to bring Australia's cultural and literary heritage to a broad audience by creating affordable print and ebook editions of the nation's most significant and enduring writers and their work. The fiction, non-fiction, plays and poetry of generations of Australian writers that were published before the advent of ebooks will now be available to new readers, alongside a selection of more recently published books that had fallen out of circulation.

The House of Books is an eloquent collection of Australia's finest literary achievements.

Nick Earls is the author of fourteen books, including the bestselling novels
Zigzag Street
and
Bachelor Kisses, Headgames
, a collection of short stories, and several novels for young adults, including
After January
and
48 Shades of Brown
, which won the Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Award for older readers in 2000.

His work has been published internationally in English and in translation, as well as being successfully adapted for film and theatre. He worked as a suburban GP and medical editor before turning to writing. Nick Earls lives in Brisbane.

HOUSE
of
BOOKS

NICK EARLS

The Thompson Gunner

This edition published by Allen & Unwin House of Books in 2012

First published by Penguin Group (Australia), a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd in 2006

Copyright © Nick Earls 2006

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher. The Australian
Copyright Act 1968
(the Act) allows a maximum of one chapter or 10 per cent of this book, whichever is the greater, to be photocopied by any educational institution for its educational purposes provided that the educational institution (or body that administers it) has given a remuneration notice to Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) under the Act.

Allen & Unwin

Sydney, Melbourne, Auckland, London

83 Alexander Street

Crows Nest NSW 2065

Australia

Phone: (61 2) 8425 0100

Fax:     (61 2) 9906 2218

Email:  [email protected]

Web:    
www.allenandunwin.com

Cataloguing-in-Publication details are available from the National Library of Australia

www.trove.nla.gov.au

ISBN 978 1 74331 297 1 (pbk)

ISBN 978 1 74343 008 8 (e-book)

Contents

Calgary — two weeks ago

Perth — Tuesday

Ballystewart — 1972

Perth — Wednesday

Calgary — two weeks ago

Perth — Wednesday

Ballystewart — 1972

Perth — Wednesday

Calgary — two weeks ago

Perth — Thursday

Ballystewart — 1972

Perth — Thmrsday

Calgary — two weeks ago

Perth — Thursday

Ballystewart — 1972

Perth — Friday

Ballystewart — 1972

Perth — Friday

Banff — twelve days ago

Perth — Saturday

Ballystewart — 1972

Perth — Saturday

Christchurch — five days ago

Ballystewart — 1972

Perth — Sunday

Ballystewart — 1972

Perth — Sunday

Ballystewart — 1972

Brisbane — Monday

Belfast — 1972

Brisbane — Monday

Acknowledgements

I
T'S THE SAME DREAM
.

A man standing over me in a hood,
spraying arc after arc of bullets before him, the gun bucking in his hands and he's shouting, mouthfuls of jumbled slogans coming out like the bullets and I can't quite hear. I
can
hear but the words don't make sense. And he leans back, braces himself against the gun and fires and fires, and I'm too sick to think and gunfire echoes in the middle of the city as if every street is rising up and fighting. Nowhere's safe, nowhere in the world.

And I lie at his feet on the hard cold road, looking right up at him with one eye, and he doesn't see me. I must be invisible. I lie very small, very still. It's hard to breathe and my head hurts, and my hand. My hand really hurts.

I've been sleeping on my hand. Thirty-five thousand feet over the Nullarbor Plain and the Great Australian Bight, somewhere between Sydney and Perth at the end of the longest and stupidest of days, I've twisted in my seat, slept on my hand, tangled myself in the headset cord and dreamed myself into this dream I could well do without.

I fell asleep,
I'm sure, during a boring tourist video about wild flowers in Western Australia. That's the last thing I remember. Perfect for dreams, endless wild fields of flowers, but is that what I get? No. We had a news update as well, most of it news I was seeing for the second time today. A suicide bomber in the Middle East, then a tank in Bethlehem, its barrel swivelling around as if it could see fear, or smell it.

It's not good to think that way, as though tanks are creatures or people.

There's blood in my mouth. Worse than that, there's bloody drool on my shoulder. But the cabin lights are down now, the evening's caught up with us. I take a tissue to the drool, delicately, as though it'll leave no mark that way, pick up all the blood. That's not how it works, of course, but no one seems to notice. Across the aisle, a man in his forties dressed for business twitches and shudders in a messy dream of his own.

I broke a tooth today, smashed it to gravel and swallowed the wreckage, in a city that until three days ago wasn't even on my itinerary.

I started this morning in Christchurch. I ran in the gardens there in air too brisk to carry much of the smell of the flowers. Or maybe it's just all the time I've spent in airconditioning lately, and the way it blocks you up. It was cool in the gardens, but not particularly cold. I ran laps, in a disorganised way – past flowering shrubs, over bridges, sending ducks onto the water, each one chased by the V of its own ripples. I looked at the trees and read their signs – temperate trees familiar from long ago, other trees I didn't know.

I got taken to the airport after breakfast, had a brief and unsuccessful fight with someone there about departure taxes and whether or not they were included in the ticket price, and I boarded the plane for Australia.

I was settling into my seat and connecting my headset when the flight attendant came up to me and asked if she could check my boarding pass. She called me ‘Madam' and began the request with ‘Do you mind . . .', but then she read my name and laughed and said ‘I knew it was you' and she slugged me in the shoulder, without ever knowing she'd done it. Alexis, her name was, and she looked a bit like Naomi Watts, but with dark hair.

I was on my way home, and that's when I knew it. Home after the strangest time away, but not quite home yet. Not Brisbane. Perth via Sydney first, but back in the country where I don't do much in secret.

‘You're my favourite comedian,' Alexis said. ‘I hope you don't mind me saying that.'

And I didn't at all, because I don't see why you would. She said it as though she meant it, and this was a plane – a relatively public place – not my backyard. When your face has been on TV enough times, and in the papers, you reach a point where it's best to assume that nothing in public is private – plane flights, groceries, every kickboxing class you take, your worst hair day.

‘Let me know if you want me to leave you alone,' Alexis said, and I said, ‘Don't leave me alone. I've been alone for weeks.'

Which is
true, largely. Or at least it feels that way.

‘Don't let them keep you inside.' That's what Paul Newman told George Clooney who told Matt Damon who said it on TV once while I was watching. And I realised I'd got into the habit of leaving home by the back gate and the quiet lane, just to keep home private. And my life isn't a movie star's – I'm not deluded, and that's not what I'm thinking – but it's not as completely unlike it as I'd expected.

‘Our in-flight entertainment is about to commence,' Alexis's voice said throughout the cabin. ‘First we have the news, followed by the sitcom
Everybody Loves Raymond
.' And she stopped at that, but held the stop like a pause, not like the end of the announcement, and then she went on, ‘Not as funny as Meg Riddoch, I know, but it's the best we can do for you this morning. The sound will come through on channel one.'

People laughed, enough of them that I knew my place on the flight was no secret. In Canada last week I'd been anonymous, and that had been good sometimes.

There are always updates to the itinerary, and my agent tracks each one and keeps me sane – or at least functioning. Sydney, originally just a connecting flight, had become most of a day, and it complicated itself as it went along: a photo shoot with a designer, a long cab ride to a book megastore in Parramatta, the broken tooth – its corner, or in fact two thirds of it, snapped off clean by a piece of bone in a Cajun chicken filo. A bone, a stone, it hardly matters which – I swallowed it, and the pulverised chunk of tooth with it. And the people in the bookstore couldn't have been nicer, more horrified, more urgent in their wishing that it hadn't happened, more happy to pay for its fixing, wherever that might take place.

The fantasy
ball-gown photo shoot was at a studio in Darlinghurst, and I turned up with my flight-addled brain having bought the fantasy. As I got out of the cab, I was imagining a rack of possibilities to choose from, all of them glamorous, and the entrance I would make from the change room to the studio and the sharp intake of breath it would provoke from everyone there. And the designer would say, ‘Darling, it's yours. Keep it. I don't want to see it on anyone else.'

But no. There was no change room, no actual garment to change into and soon I was standing there, in a concrete-floored warehouse, wearing only my functional bottom-of-the-suitcase Kmart underwear, and the stick-thin assistant was frowning and I wanted to tell her it's a very practical bra. I have one or two better, but it couldn't be that kind of day. I've been on the road for weeks, and it gives excellent support. I've just flown from New Zealand, dammit.

But you lose with these people if you even think about coming up with a real-world context for your underwear, and it's best to pick your battles.

‘Darl, I think we're going to have to lose the bra,' the designer said, and battle lines were drawn.

I told him I wanted to see some fantasy ball-gowns. I told him we could lose a couple of spare people who just seemed
to be hanging around for no particular purpose. I told him I'd be keeping the bra on until and unless it was absolutely essential to remove it, and what did he mean by his surly ‘You realise this is for charity?' remark anyway? Sure we might be promoting a fundraiser ball – one I might or might not be going to – but I never said I'd get my breasts out ‘for the kids'. It just doesn't seem like it should be part of the deal. And, no, one of the
spare people going to the kitchen and whipping us all up some daiquiris would not help.

He never liked me, not the whole time I was there, but I liked him far less. I kept my breasts to myself, so I was trouble, difficult, as far as he was concerned. Not that my breasts were of any interest to him – that was always clear – but he had definite issues with the bra. He found it aesthetically nauseating when it came to the clean, sculpted, ridiculous lines he wanted for the fantasy creation we were to pretend was a garment. Bras wouldn't work for it. Nor, it turned out, would my thighs.

And when they called the agency last week to line up the photo shoot, I'm sure they told Emma it would be fun, a bit of fun, and flattering and good exposure and very helpful. A big help ‘for the kids'.

BOOK: The Thompson Gunner
10.06Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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