Download PDF Here
Live Encounters Poetry & Writing January 2023
The Wave, short story by Dominique Hecq.
The night belches hailstones the size of pearl couscous grains. They glitter in moonlight. The bellowing wind dies. Sleet falls softly on the balcony’s ledge. A northerly picks up. Silvery squalls hit the window. Rain drops gleam, glide, are gone. This is the spring of rain, slush, hail and more rain.
Yesterday, by the river they call the Merri Creek, all was soddened. The track deep in mud, stepping stones submerged, reeds and rushes bull and black all but drowned. Along headwaters extending towards the lake, long grass lay soaked. Overhead, wattle blossoms and gum leaves dropped random showers as if animated by some perverse intent. Under the bridge, brown water rushed, churned, rumbled.
Besieged by shadows, the mother flicks the light switch on. Nothing. She scampers downstairs in the dark. Fetches candles from the top of the kitchen cupboard. Fumbles for matches. She climbs back to her fiction room. Lights the pine-cone candle the man-child gave her last Christmas. The pale flame flickers. She places the cone on the desk, away from the loose leaves of paper, manilla folders, scrapbooks, photos. Opens the window.
A curtain of jasmine billows in the breeze. The air is burdened with silt. She is sure now the man-child scooted down to the rain-swollen creek. Rigid with remorse, she closes the window. Sighs. Plays Debussy’s La cathédrale engloutie on her battered gramophone.
She writes through the night in the space between hope and grief, feeling like a ghost from the future pluperfect.
zero time moonless dark
i should have hurtled after you in spite
of the curfew but instead recomposed my alphabet
were you to return from this too long
an impulse i’d tell you to sit with me
i’d tell you to listen
anatomists of love atomise agape into ablated symbols of absence
babies are born breathing with the unbearable burden of being
chromosomes come in pairs (ex)cruciating the stars
distancing describes the disjunction death demands of us
Debussy’s cathedral has long sunk. The power is back. Outside, rain streams down in sheets. Tap-tap-tap-tappety-tap: Zigzags zip and zap asterisks buzz zygotes fuzz in febrile air. In her past life as a lecturer, she was ashamed of her slow haphazard typing. Now she lets the rhythm of lines inhabit silence as conversations so often do. Tap-tap-tap-tappety-tap.
He returns at daybreak like a gust of wind. Scurries to his room. Bangs the door shut. Clears his throat.
A currawong keens its melancholy call.
She saves work-in-progress. Turns off the laptop. Shuffles to the bathroom. Washes her face. Combs her hair. It’s curly and unruly, the now greying mane. Frizzy with all that rain. Perhaps she could cut it all herself. Or shave it off, as the man-child does. As all man-children seem to do in this unending lock-down.
She knocks on his door.
Can I come in?
His bedroom window is full of the orange tree, its fruit aglow in the flaming dawn. He looks like a rabbit caught in headlights, but she can’t tell him that.
Where d’you go?
None of your business.
God’s sake, Manuel, I was sick with worry.
As if. Down the creek. Course.
In that storm!
If your father were here.
He’s not, is he? What would he say? NOTHING. No fucking balls.
Manni show some respect.
He doesn’t deserve fucking respect.
That’s a bit harsh.
What about me?
Hope you slept tight.
Wrote, right? About?
Mum, I’m so sick of you and your fucking words. The Zeitgeist. Fuck’s sake. Get a life.
Language, Manni Anyway, let’s have breakkie.
I need a shower first.
Go for it.
The mother checks the fridge: eggs, butter, milk, spinach, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, leftover Hollandaise, a wedge of mozzarella, limp stalk of celery. There’s half a ciabatta in the bread bin—she checks for mould. That’ll do. She’ll poach the eggs, wilt the spinach, roast the tomatoes and mushrooms.
She sets the table with the cyan cloth that catches the sunshine. Steps into the backyard. Smells silt and frangipani. She picks oranges and parsley. A magpie lands two feet from her stooped self.
Hi Kafka, she singsongs.
eeeeeeeooooooo eeeeeeeoooooooo eeeeeeeeeoooooo eeeeeeaaaaaa, the bird replies.
She wishes she understood bird language. Leaves the door ajar. Rushes inside. Cuts the ciabatta. Throws a slice to Kafka, who pecks pecks pecks, then offers a long melody in appreciation. She squeezes oranges. Pours juice in wine glasses. Fills a pot with water. Dash of vinegar. Salt. She lights the stove. Chucks tomatoes and mushrooms in the oven.
When the water just about boils, she breaks the eggs one at a time. Watches as the water simmers. Scoops out the eggs. Dries them on a fresh tea towel. Places them on toasted ciabatta, tops them with the vegetables. A knob of butter. Sprig of parsley.
She is pleased with the colour arrangement, time adjournment.
The man-child zips down. Opens the door, face closed. His cheeks are hollowed out triangular planes. She serves. He looks at his plate. When he finally turns up his eyes, something like a question mark in his gaze makes her shrink.
Fancy, he says.
Her cheeks flush at what must seem like a calculated extravagance. Gotta feed those six feet of living flesh, man.
Faint shape of a first smile on his face. The human body is the best picture of the human soul, he says.
Where’s that from?
Wittgenstein. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.
You’ve been reading Wittgenstein?
Interesting. Tuck in.
He eats. Quick bites at first. Then a looong chew. A burp. He crosses his fork and knife over green, amber, red. Eyes glaze over.
Sorry, not hungry.
Me neither. Doc’s appointment is at 7.00, she says with a shock in her voice.
He flips his phone open. Best make tracks, then.
She meets his brooding stare. Let’s do it, she says.
It’s an ice-bright morning: wisps of cirrus in the sky. Flashes of green, orange, red dart from she-oak: lorikeets. Cloying scent of jasmine. Dew, frosty on the lawn of forget-me-nots, skirts the house. The camellia spills white fleshy blooms all around. Pink, salmon, yellow and cream ice poppies rear their heads one step down from purple aquilegias.
She remembers planting them the year they bought the house. She’d rid the garden of naked ladies, digitalis and laburnum scared that Manuel would put them in his mouth like the stones he’d insist on calling rocks. Aunty Rachel swore she’d make an archaeologist of the boy. Nuncle Martin claimed he’d turn him into a natural historian. The boy’s father said he’d do a fine civil engineer. They all kept harping about it—what the boy would become.
Ever wonder what Manuel wants to be when he grows up? She, the mother, asked, doing the dishes after the boy’s third birthday celebration. Rachel and Martin rolled their eyes.
She’d cooked veal Oscar to honour her late father-in-law. That and a charlotte for dessert because it was the boy’s favourite. He loved to sort the lolly cherries and apricots. Watch her fold the fruit into the thickening filling of eggs, milk and sugar. Lick the whipped cream clean off the beaters. She regretted inviting her in-laws, but there was no way around it. The boy’s father, too, had rolled his eyes, she now sees.
They skitter down the thirty-nine steps to the street. The asphalt is mud.
You look like a crow; the man-child says under his breath.
She pretends not to hear. Pockets her notebook and dangles the car keys at him: Since you’ve got your P plates…
He sighs. Nah. You drive.
She wipes the windscreen, windows and rear-vision mirrors with the old nappy she keeps under her seat for that purpose
In the car, there is nothing to say. She turns the radio on. Ravel’s Mother Goose wafts in. He turns the radio off. She focuses on the road. Wittgenstein speaks softly from beyond the grave inside her head: What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence. She’s not convinced Wittgenstein is right, yet can’t find a way round this proposition, let alone an exit from it.
At the surgery, they sit together apart on squeaking chairs. There is a whiff of mould in the air. The man-child goes in. She stays behind, devotedly opening her notebook. Abecedarian poems are quite the challenge. Ergo her choice. She tinkers with a line:
zigzags zizz and zap asterisks buzz zygotes fuzz in febrile air / zigzags zip zap zizz asterisks buzz zygotes fuzz in febrile zephyr.
It doesn’t gel, Manni would say. Her attention is elsewhere. She writes:
unmasked and agile you wander down the creek as i close, unseeing eyes on dawn’s flamingo flamboyance, praying for a reprieve.
Mrs McNeil, I’d like a word. Please follow me.
She composes herself. Gets up. Walks in. Sits as instructed. A look at Manuel’s averted face. Her mouth goes dry.
The GP’s words come out in bumps and jerks. Your son… angry a lot… getting inside himself… not sure how to work through things… process feelings… not sleeping… suicidal ideation… intent… planning… anxiety… stress… clinical depression… medication… therapy… CBT.
The mother is stiff with shock. Her hands shake. Her stomach churns. She wants to retch. She is torn apart by the violence of the clinical language, the magnitude of the diagnosis.
A wave of grief swallows her.
In the car, they gaze at the road ahead. A silent hiss from his parted lips. Her hands sweat. Legs tremble. She forces herself to slow her breathing. Her heart will not stop throbbing, thumping, breaking. Her body is about to crimp and collapse. She clamps her hands on the wheel. Tightens her mouth. The car heaves with unspoken words. As she parks on the slippery slope of Newman Street, it crosses her mind the chemist is closed. They’ll walk, she decides. She’ll elicit the story from him.
Manuel, let’s get your prescription on foot, she blurts. Slams the door. The chemist only opens at 9.00.
Okay, he says, preoccupied.
She studies him. He looks haunted. Manni why did you say nothing?
I’m glad the cat’s out of the bag.
Me too, he says. A shadow of a smile. Cats aren’t meant to be kept in bags.
We’ll get through this, she says, unconvinced. They tread up the stairs avoiding dead camellia blooms and mud puddles.
Medication takes a while to take effect.
I know, he says.
No, you don’t. I speak from… experience.
You been on…
He casts her a sideways glance. Snatches an aquilegia bloom.
What do you want, Manni?
Dunno. Maybe change electives. Apply for special consideration.
I’m talking about your life, not your course.
Give me a break, Mum.
Okay, but remember what Ludwig says: If suicide is allowed then everything is allowed.
Ludwig talks bullshit. Lock-down sucks. I’m sick of it.
This will all end, you know.
Fuck’s sake. Nowhere to go. Nothing to do. What’s the point?
Rages rises in her for all the locked-down sons of this insane world. She wants to scream.
Back in the kitchen, she scrapes the plates into the bin, washes up, puts the table cloth in the laundry basket and opens the watery sunshine-filled window. Takes a breath.
She climbs to her fiction room with a brisk step. Her frenzied hands hurl reams of paper and manilla folders in the waste paper basket, sweep her notebooks in a cardboard box, fling scribbled and typed drafts atop the folders, toss pencils and pens on the floor, grab-
Fuck’s sake, Mum, what’s this racket?
Her weeping stops. She wipes her nose with the sleeve of her sweater, leaves a ribbon of snot on the black cotton.
I’m putting a fucking big nail through my fucking laptop, Manni
They both begin to laugh. It is a riverring laughter and it doesn’t want to stop.
Italicised citations are from Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, trans. D.F. Pears and B.F. McGuinness (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1961).
Riverring is a Joycean neologism.
‘The Wave’ was commended in the 2022 Ada Cambridge Literary Prize.
© Dominique Hecq
Dominique Hecq grew up in the French-speaking part of Belgium. She now lives on unceded sovereign Wurundjeri land. Hecq writes across genres and disciplines—and sometimes across tongues. Her creative works include a novel, five collections of short stories and twelve books of poetry. A runner up in the Carmel Bird Literary Digital Award, Smacked and other stories of addiction is fresh off the press. The second edition of After Cage: a composition in word and movement on time and silence has also been released (Liquid Amber Press). Con Brio was awarded second prize in the James Tate Poetry Prize and is forthcoming (SurVision).