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Portholes in Your Coffin

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Janice Florence

Hell’s bells and buckets of blood. You could have fired a cannon on Sundays when Adam was a pup, when I was knee high to a grasshopper, said my Father to me in his pyjama pants with his work boots resting on the kitchen table, from behind the newspaper which he daily erected in front of himself in the kitchen, behind the milk bar in an earlier North Carlton, in dormant fifties Melbourne.

What’s up droopy drawers? Next thing you’ll want portholes in your coffin. You wouldn’t be happy if your bum was on fire. You’ve got that Bath pout on again. The Baths were my mother’s side. He would wander sporadically up to the shop and stand behind the counter holding forth to customers, while the shop bell rang from dawn till dusk and my mother slaved, getting arthritis of the hand from putting it down into the ice-cream compartment and drawing cold meat from the fridge to slice and wrap in white paper. Never complaining, mind you, but mentioning from time to time that my father was common. But that she probably couldn’t have done any better. And you couldn’t if you were tall and chubby like she and I, could you? And I probably wouldn’t either, she said.

He was specially drawn to students and bohemians who lived in the street among the Italians, Jews recently arrived from unimagined wars and the Aussies whose past, present and future were lived in three Carlton blocks or who had their eyes on cream brick veneers in neat suburbs where there dwelt unimagined joy.  He would lean into them with his over-hanging bulk and pummel them with words.

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