Author: John B Kelly
“Yikes,” screams the good lady wife.
There’s a mouse in the house.
It’s over there, it’s under the chair,
Open the doorway, it’s down the hallway,
Grab the big broom, it’s in the bedroom.
What to do?
Ginger the cat is scratching the mat
She’s going mental, no longer gentle
She’s also too fat, my fault that.
But, has she the nous to catch that mouse?
She has no pace, but watch this space…….
It took days before it was all over. Ginger was useless. All noise and no grit. A full investigation on how the mouse got into the house revealed Ginger had carried her in, hanging by the mouth clutched between those razor sharp teeth of hers. Ginger was not a killer, as it happened. She just wanted to play. But she loosened her grip, let the rodent slip and now this mouse put both fear and loathing into the hearts of we two gentle, if not slightly demented, definitely forgetful, aged pensioners.
We never realised there was a mouse in the house until we noticed that Ginger was showing more than a passing interest in the goings on underneath the single seater armchair adjacent to the three metre long entertainment unit. It was unusual for her to be lying on her back with one leg reaching out underneath the couch as far as she could stretch it. What a sight! She already had a scratching pole. Why was she doing calisthenics on the floor?
What was she up to, I thought, just as the Brisbane Heat star opening batsman smacked a mighty six into the SCG crowd. That’s when the mouse caught my eye, as if the cheering of the crowd was the cue to make its bid for freedom.
It’s under the unit, I just saw it
The furry little thing, I’ll give it something
But now that we know, it’ll probably keep low
I should buy a mouse trap in the morning.
Ginger sprang for the chase
Tried to grab it with her face
Didn’t work drat, it’s too smart for that
As it made a break for the pantry.
After some convincing, the good lady wife agreed that we keep the pantry door shut thus assuring the safe incarceration of the rodent overnight. Morning came and my local Coles had the traps stacked on the shelves. There they were alongside a plethora of deadly alternatives in nicely packed boxes all blazoned with colour and design that oozed success.
I decided to throw some ratsac in for good measure. You never know what fear does to one’s culinary tastes. And, one never knows what else might be lurking in the dark corners of an overstocked pantry.
Do we have any cheese, I asked of the good lady wife, as I recalled those images of Tom and Jerry I use to love at the Saturday matinee at the Broadway theatre in Camberwell. Ah, those were the days. Lots of mice hung around the house back then. Lots of traps set. Lots of waking during the night to the sound of a sudden and precise snap that pierced the still night hush. I never saw the poor things in the morning. Dad always protected us from psychological traumas during our tender, formative years.
I arrived back from Coles and planned the assault with my deadly weapons. As I opened the pantry door, a lone trickle of sweat rolled down my cheek. The big moment had come. My heart was pumping a zillion to the minute. There was no turning back. The hinges made a squeak and immediately ruined any element of surprise. No sign of the rodent as I entered the field of battle gently closing the door behind me. I rustled a few items in the waste paper basket and listened for some movement. Nothing!
There was only one way to do this; clear out the pantry, one item at a time. Laborious to say the least, but what can one do? The good lady wife took up position just outside the pantry door. We called it a rearguard defense in the army because she was in the rear and it was defense, of sorts.
We tried so hard not to make a mess
But in the end I must confess
Bottles fell and opened packs spilled
Liquid flowed freely, oh my god, really?
Then in a flash the rodent appeared
Stuck his head out looking weird
I reached out suddenly, not very well planned
And grabbed it firmly with a clutching hand.
“I got it,” I yelled to the good lady wife. “Open the front door and let me out.” With that I scrambled to my feet and headed off down the front driveway. This intruder would never darken our door again. As I walked across the street to the vacant lot, a feeling of confusion overtook me. My plan was to kill it stone dead but compassion took charge of the moment.
It was an honourable victory
No need to be cruel
We fought a good fight
A gentleman’s duel
So I let him go
To live another day
Told him never come back
As I waved him away.
“I wanted to kill her but, damn it, death was too good for her, too easy. I wanted her to suffer, long and hard. I wanted see her struggle, to hear the groans, know her pain and celebrate her agony.”
Its leaves, so soft and green, towered over the tiled roofs of the near neighbourhood, a lookout for those who thrilled at the challenge climbing its highest branch.
He stood there at its base, staring ever upward, wondering, dreaming. Today, he would triumph, he would scale the heights and look down upon the surrounds, master and commander of all he surveyed, king of the world.
Never mind past failures, never mind the bruises and cuts sustained in earlier attempts. They were mere dress rehearsals for that great day he knew was coming. It was always going to come. He just needed time; time to learn, time to practice and most of all, time to grow.
And now he had grown. He had been too impatient thus far, too ambitious. Trying to scale its lofty heights last summer had problems. Excessive heat under a burning sun caused exhaustion through dehydration. There was no water fountain installed along the upward journey.
Autumn wasn’t a good choice either. The leaves were changing, falling; a disturbance that he could not afford. It was a long way up and fraught with danger coming down. Too much dead matter was an unwanted distraction.
Winter looked a possibility. Clear vision, enabling wise choices, careful treading, the top always in full view. But winter meant moisture on the branches. It would be slippery, there might be high winds. One might lose one’s grip. Injuries would be serious, perhaps fatal.
Spring, in the late afternoon was the right call, after the sun’s warmth had dried the branches and with the breeze at his back; that ticked all the boxes. The early spring growth not yet hiding possible pitfalls added weight to his conviction that today was ripe and right to conquer this beast.
Today would be the day. It had to be today. His honour and self-respect were on trial. He had telegraphed his intentions too many times only to leave, to walk away, pretending it was of no significance. There had been too many delays. Each time there was a reason, a good one maybe, but possibly also the realisation that the daunting prospect of failure brought not just loss of face but physical injury as well.
So, there he stood, looking up, pondering, calculating the route he would take. He could make it to the broad branch about twelve feet up easily, the one that stretched out to within inches of the upstairs bedroom window he shared with other family members. He could climb up there and calculate the next phase.
He decided it should be done in stages with a break each time, both to celebrate making it this far and then mapping out the next move. The excitement was building. He walked around the base, looked up to the sunny blue sky and felt that welcome gentle breeze brush across his face. A few cars drove past as he readied himself. He must not let them distract him.
Then, with one huge leap his journey began. This was it. Today was a rite of passage. He clung tenaciously to the bark and just as he was about to spring forward once more, he heard the call.
“Ginger, Ginger, where are you?” And then the sweetest sound of all. She always tapped the top of the can with a spoon to let him know dinner was about to be served.
His ears pricked up, he looked toward the front door, saw her standing there with what he knew to be the contents of something hearty, healthy and filling. Suddenly, the tree would have to wait.
He leaped back down onto mother earth, landing on all fours and ran as fast as those legs would carry him.
There would be other Spring days.
He had a fascination for water, be it a bath, a swimming pool, the ocean, a river, any water feature captivated him such that he couldn’t resist approaching it, without fear, without any consideration of the consequences.
His mind wasn’t what it used to be. Not since the accident. Impending danger was not on his radar. His physical limitations were a pale imitation of the brain damage suffered when, five years earlier at the age of 32, his head speared through the windscreen of his brother’s car.
He needed constant surveillance all his waking hours and everybody knew water was the main enemy. When near the water, Richard had to be supervised. Today, however, distracted by the need to win an argument, two of his carers, his father and younger brother, forgot.
While they were arguing over who should mow the lawn and who should wash the car, Richard was more and more mesmerised by the shimmering, glistening pool and eager to investigate. He struggled to his feet and stumbled out through the sliding doors, toward the protective fence. The gate, as it happened, had been left wide open by the same brother who drove the car that terrible day.
He reached the pool and leaned over to see his reflection in the water. Stumbling briefly, he regained his balance and sat down at the edge, dangling his legs over the side, his shoes and socks, and the lower part of his trousers now saturated. He delighted in the cool, fresh feeling of being near the water, being in charge.
Minutes passed, while out front, those that should have kept an eye on him were still arguing. It was a trivial dispute, but neither was prepared to compromise. Suddenly, there came an almighty scream from inside the house. It was Richard’s mother, Elsie.
He was floating face down when they got to him. Elsie was frantic. “Get him out,” she screamed. “Get him out!” His father Brad, was the first to reach the pool. He jumped in fully clothed, and immediately turned Richard over, getting his arms underneath his elbows and edging him to the side of the pool. Elsie was seriously distressed. “How could we have let this happen?” she sobbed. Elsie and her daughter Susan tried to contain their emotions. Warwick, their other son, still smarting from the spat with his father, arrived. “Someone give him mouth to mouth,” Elsie cried out.
Brad and Warwick heaved him out of the pool. Richard’s lips and nose were blue, his eyes closed, his body weight twice normal. They laid him down on his side. “Don’t let him swallow his tongue,” Brad said. “Somebody do something,” Elsie screamed. “Shut up mother, we are doing something,” Warwick yelled. “Susan, call an ambulance, quickly,” Brad said calmly. As Susan ran inside, Warwick looked at Brad. Brad looked at Warwick. Neither had any training in CPR.
“I don’t know how to do this,” Warwick said. Brad just shook his head. “Neither do I,” he said.
“Stand back,” the voice cried out. Everybody turned around.
It was James, the next-door neighbour. “I can do this,” he said. “Give me some room.”
James quickly knelt over Richard and called out to him. “Richard, Richard,” he yelled. “Can you hear me?” There was no response.
James rolled him onto his back. He carefully tilted his head back, one hand on top of the head, the other supporting Richard’s chin. He lifted the jaw to open the airway. He placed his ear directly over Richard’s mouth to listen for any air escaping through the mouth or the nose, while checking to see if his abdomen was showing any signs of moving. It wasn’t. He then pinched Richard’s nostrils, and began blowing air into his mouth.
“Is he going to be all right?’ Elsie asked.
“I don’t know,” James said. “There’s no pulse.”
“Is there anything we can do?” Brad asked.
“You can see if the ambulance is on its way,” he suggested. James ripped Richard’s shirt open. He placed his fingers on the lower part of his ribs and felt for where the ribs met the breastbone. After several compressions, he reverted to blowing air into Richard’s mouth.
“How long will he keep doing this?’ Elsie asked Brad now standing alongside her. “As long as it takes to get him breathing again,” Brad answered.
“Oh, Holy Mother of God, what a day!” Elsie exclaimed. Susan came running out of the house. “The Ambulance is on its way. They said they’d be a few minutes. You can speak to them on the portable if you wish. How is he?” Susan asked, offering the phone to James, who made no effort to take it. “Tell them I’m doing CPR, but he hasn’t responded,” James said, not taking his eyes off Richard and continuing with chest compressions.
“They said to keep going, they’re almost here,” Susan said.
Again, and again, James repeated the compressions with a gentle rhythmic action, helping the heart fill with blood. One minute passed, then two. Warwick leaned over and looked down on Richard. “Please move away, “James said sharply. “I need space here.” Warwick backed off and stood alongside Susan. “At least if he pulls through, we won’t have to worry about brain damage,” he said.
Susan stared at him utterly disgusted and thrust her elbow into his ribs. He doubled up winded and gasped for air. Seeing her chance, and using both hands, she then gave him a hefty shove sideways, which sent him crashing into the pool.
“You insensitive arsehole,” she screamed, as he came up for air. “You bitch,” he cried out as he splashed around. Above the sound of the splashing and the astonished cries from Elsie, the faint sound of a siren could be heard in the distance. “Listen,” Susan yelled. Everyone was silent as the unmistakeable, piercing sound increased.
“How is he?” Susan asked frantically.
James turned his head toward her. The look on his face said it all.
The neighbours are tuned into his condition. All he needs to do is call out when he finds himself in a predicament and someone will come and rescue him. Nev lives alone. The children have grown up and moved out. His wife left him years ago. We go out to lunch once a week. We trawl the local pubs, buy a seniors’ meal, have a drink and come home again.
For someone who hasn’t quite got his marbles in sync he’s still tuned into good food, pretty women and cricket. He may have forgotten where his front door keys are, he may dribble food down into his unkempt moustache but just ask him which players scored a century at Lords in 1975 and he’ll rattle off the answer quicker than you can google it.
Nev used to have a great sense of humour, he still has, but the sharpness and timing has gone. Once, at a neighbourhood gathering some time ago he passed himself off as a film producer to some guests who didn’t know him, pretending to borrow money for a new project he was about to undertake. He said it was about some ex-con who tries to redeem himself by doing stuff for charity only to be falsely accused of dipping his fingers into the till.
The guests were intrigued and wanted to hear more. So Nev took it a step further and suggested Russel Crowe was interested in the lead role with Peter Weir directing. Nev swears the guests were about to write the cheque just before his wife interrupted the conversation to tell them that he was out on weekend release and had to be driven back to the nursing home the following day.
Nev liked to borrow things. Anything. It was so easy, he used to say. People lent him stuff they wouldn’t dream of parting with, because they trusted him. He had a large shed at home where he would store his borrowed goods, then allow others to borrow them from him. He always knew where stuff was when it wasn’t in the shed, until the dementia kicked in.
And the day Charley Winslow came looking for his motor mower, the jig was up.
‘Where’s my motor mower, Nev?’
‘What motor mower?’
‘The one I loaned you last year when yours broke down, remember?’
‘Did you? I don’t remember.’
‘Well where is it? I don’t see you ever mowing your lawn anymore.’
‘No, I don’t. I get that franchise fellow to come in once a fortnight. It’s all too much for me these days.’
‘So what happened to my mower?’
‘I don’t know. Are you sure you loaned it to me?’
Nev was stalling for time.
‘Of course I am,’ Charlie said. ‘I gave it to you when I bought a new one. Yours was on its last legs. I was doing you a favour. It still worked.’
‘Oh, so you have a new one now?’ Nev asked.
‘Yes, well, no. It’s not new anymore.’
‘Does it still work?’
‘Yes, it’s fine.’
‘So why are you asking about the old one?’
‘Because I need it now.’
‘What do you need it for? You said yours is working fine.’
‘Charley had to think about that.
‘My son needs it. He’s just moved into a new house and there’s a lot of lawn.’
‘So where did he move to?’
‘Not far from here. It’s a really nice home, lots of room for the grandkids to play.’
‘That’s great. It’s so tough for young parents today. Expensive homes, mortgages, kids to raise. I’m glad I’m over all that.’
‘Me too,’ Charley replied, momentarily forgetting why he was there.
‘I never did get a decent return on my kids,’ Nev said. ‘They’re a bit selfish.’
‘Tell me about it,’ Charley said, regaining his sense of purpose ‘So, do you have it?’
‘Jesus, Nev. Do you mind if I look in your shed?’
‘No, go ahead.’
Charley prised open the old wooden double doors of Nev’s shed.
‘Christ Almighty Nev. Have you been running a business here?’
The shed was filled to the brim, hardly a square meter of space to move. Everything from and old TV, and a kitchen chair to an array of garden tools to die for. Luckily, Charley’s mower was at the front of the pile. That was it. Nev’s best practical joke was exposed.
‘See that mower, Nev?’
‘Yeah, I do. Is that yours?’
‘It certainly is, Nev.’
‘Well that’s funny,’ he said, ‘what’s it doing in my shed?’
But back to my computer. After the children left, it just sat there staring at me so I wondered if I should feed it. Then one day I turned it on, played around a little and realised it could feed me. Suddenly Rufus’ privileged position in the house was under threat. He never realised that I had found a new love, but it didn’t matter. He still got fed, got patted on the head as he sat at my feet, got taken for walks; he never knew the truth.
“I’m going to write the great Australian novel,” I said to Rufus. “What shall I call it?” Rufus looked up and turned his head slightly sideways, the way dogs do when they think you need help. It was then I noticed the old photograph on the side cabinet; the one of Mum and Dad standing together in the garden of our family home. That photo had been sitting there on that same cabinet for nearly thirty years. I rescued it from the family home when Dad finally passed away. They are both gone now but I recalled how much they loved their garden, how they loved sitting out on the porch to enjoy the view of their garden after a full day weeding, planting, edging, mowing.
“So, what shall I call it?” I asked again of Rufus, who once again cocked his head. Then, as if in direct response to my question, he got up on all fours and walked to the sliding doors leading out to my rear garden. He looked out, then looked back at me. I got up and joined him.
“You’re a genius,” I said. That’s what I’ll call it. I returned quickly to my computer and typed in, “The View from My Garden.”
It was no longer a blank page.
As her citizens both military and civilian, went about their early morning activities, busily preparing for their day, travelling to work, riding in buses, travelling on trams, children on their way to elementary school, the temperature rose quickly to twenty-eight degrees centigrade. What began as a bright, sunny Monday morning, gave no hint to the death and destruction that was shortly to follow.
At 7.00 am, fourteen year-old Masako Yamada cheerfully said goodbye to her mother and set out to join her school friends. Her class had been ordered to help with the demolition parties clearing fire breaks across the city in anticipation of American bombing. As she left the house, she heard the all-too-familiar sound of the air raid sirens warning people of approaching aircraft. Masako looked up above to see a lone B-29 bomber streaking across the sky; not unusual, she thought; they were often seen flying reconnaissance missions; no need to be concerned.
Half a mile away, Dr. Kano had just finished breakfast and settled back on the balcony of his private clinic, beside the Kyo Bridge to read the morning paper.
He too, looked up when he heard the sirens and saw the bomber passing over. Like Masako, he was not concerned. B-29’s were passing over Hiroshima every day, on their way to some other city in Japan. Twenty miles away on the island of Miyajima, Shigeko Suzuki sat with her parents in the kitchen of their home enjoying breakfast.
In one way or another, some four hundred thousand people went about their normal routine that morning, most of them steadfast in their belief that Japan was winning the war, and that soon the soldiers would be coming home, victorious.
Above them, at 30,000 feet, Major Claude Eatherly, of the 509th Composite group, piloting Straight Flush, radioed his weather report to the command pilot of Enola Gay several miles to the south: ‘Cloud cover less than three-tenths at all altitudes. Advice: Bomb primary.’ That message sealed the city’s fate and the lives of 130,000 people. Had the weather report been unfavourable, Enola Gay would have proceeded to either Kokura or Nagasaki.
On the ground, it was 7.30 am, Straight Flush could no longer be heard or seen and the all-clear siren sounded, advising people that it was safe to resume normal duties. Few had even bothered to take shelter. Masako Yamada met up with her school friends and arrived at their prearranged location while Dr. Kano continued reading his paper on the balcony overlooking the Ota River.
To the south, and climbing to 31,000 feet, Colonel Paul Tibbets, piloting the aircraft he renamed Enola Gay after his mother, was leading a group of three B-29’s on the most important and by far the most expensive mission the United States had ever mounted. The Manhattan Project, first begun in 1942 and culminating in the production and successful testing of nuclear fission at a cost of two billion dollars, was about to change the world forever.
‘It’s Hiroshima,’ Tibbets announced to the crew through the intercom. The long night flight was over. Now, the months of intense training and the realization that this mission was itself historic in nature brought them all to a new level of anticipation. Each man aboard was there for a specific purpose; each a specialist in his field. Thirty-five minutes later and within sight of the city, Colonel Tibbets set his course for the bomb run. As they approached from the east, Tibbets’ group bombardier, Major Tom Ferebee, took control of the aircraft, piloting from the bomb bay, and manoeuvred the M-9B Norden bombsight, the most advanced of its kind ever constructed, into position.
The target was the Aioi Bridge, so chosen because it was so easily recognized from aerial photographs, forming a perfect T-shape with the Ota River. Just minutes before release, Ferebee could see the city’s suburbs appear beneath him as he made a slight adjustment to his delivery angle to compensate for the wind. At 8.15am local time, he flipped the switch that released a 9000lb uranium bomb, the first ever constructed, from the pneumatically operated bomb bay doors of Enola Gay
Three minutes earlier, in the hills east of Hiroshima, the lookout at the Matsunaga monitoring post reported three high flying aircraft tracking west toward the city. One minute later, the officer on duty at the air raid warning centre at Saijo confirmed the sighting and telephoned the communication centre in the bunker underneath Hiroshima Castle. From there a frantic attempt by a schoolgirl in the bunker to relay the sighting to the local radio station, in an attempt to warn people to seek shelter, was too late.
When Ferebee reported that the bomb was on its way, Colonel Tibbets turned off the automatic pilot and immediately banked sharply sixty degrees to the right. At the same time, the second B-29, The Great Artiste dropped three aluminium canisters attached to parachutes, and its pilot Chuck Sweeney hard-banked to the left, both planes attempting to outrun the expected shockwave. The blast-gauge canisters dropped from The Great Artiste would record vital information and relay details of the impact by radio signal back to the aircraft.
The third B-29, Dimples 91, later renamed Necessary Evil, hung back some 18 miles to the south ready to view and photograph the results using a slow-motion camera. The bomb dropped into the freezing air and began its deadly descent, set to detonate at 1850 feet, the height calculated by the scientists who built it, to inflict the maximum damage on the city of Hiroshima.
At ground level, just seconds after detonation, the impact was appalling. The temperature at the core reached greater than one million degrees centigrade, intensifying outward in a brilliant flash of light followed by a roiling display of electrically charged colours; reds, greens, yellows, purple.
On the ground directly below, the temperature peaked at 3000 degrees centigrade, twice the heat required to melt iron. Those immediately exposed to the heat at the burst point were vaporized where they stood or turned into blackened, overcooked lumps of scorched char on the street. Within a one mile radius of the hypocentre, all manner of life and matter melted in the thermal heat, clothes disappeared from human bodies and skin fell away from flesh like wrapping paper from a parcel.
Human organs liquefied, boiled and vanished. Later estimates suggested 50,000 people died in the first few seconds. Cats, dogs, birds, pets and insects of all description, all plant life simply ceased to be. The shockwave followed; a force of high pressure, initially greater than six tons per square metre travelling in excess of 7000 miles per hour propelled its way across the city, destroying everything in its wake.
It demolished Hiroshima’s predominantly wooden structures in seconds, blowing out windows and sending splinters of glass into the seething fiery air, flying indiscriminately, piercing anything and anyone in its path. The shockwave thundered in all directions, setting fire to everything it struck, but even worse, carrying with it, the deadly neutrons and gamma rays, that would poison the air and ground for years. As the entire city was set alight, the radioactive particles spread their silent, invisible legacy.