from the novel Undercurrents
Two months following a tragic day trip to Gunnamatta beach, teenager Jack McIvor and his father Mick are just treading water. Whilst heroics on the cricket pitch and the attentions of a certain girl have shed light, Jack is weighed down further by new dramas entailing family, school and local low-lifes inhabiting Melbourne’s hard boiled north.
In this short extract from Undercurrents (a new novel by Stereo Stories contributor Jeff Dowsing), Jack and his father Mick are headed in the direction of Bendigo where the family farm is in decay, and so too it seems the mental faculties of Jack’s grandma. The rusty Camira’s trusty cassette deck allays a painful silence.
Northern Highway, past Kilmore, 1988
With negligible traffic, the highway is theirs within ten minutes. Only the odd semi-trailer and night stragglers share the road beyond Kilmore.
‘What’s this?’ enquires Jack, tentatively breaking the ice.
‘Billy Thorpe. Cool, huh? Most people I know, think that I’m craaa-aaa-aaazy… And I know at times, I act a little haaa-aaa-aaazy,’ croons Mick, very badly, in an attempt to inject some life into the day.
‘Good grief Dad. Can’t say I’m a mega fan.’
‘Jack, Billy Thorpe was the man, back in my day. What a legend. Jeez, what a legend. Did you know I took your Aunt Tess to see him blitz the Sunbury Festival. Bloody awesome… Oh well, how about some Elvis then?’ stirs Mick, anticipating with glee the outrage to follow.
‘How many times do I have to tell you, Dad? Elvis is like Halley’s Comet. Overrated. Like, what was the big deal?’
‘Excuse me, you’re talking about one of, if not the greatest solo artist of all time. What do you suggest Molly?’
‘Can we just put it on 3XY?’
‘Alright, whatever stops your whinging.’
Mick flicks to the radio. Peter Fripp’s distorted guitar wail instantaneously strikes a crashing chord;
I, I wish you could swim
Like the dolphins, like dolphins can swim
Though nothing, nothing will keep us together
We can beat them, forever and ever
Oh, we can be heroes, just for one day
‘This is Den’s favourite song, yeah?’ enquires Mick innocuously.
Neither father nor brother is accustomed to speaking about Dennis in the past tense. Mick glances across. Rather than a nod, Jack’s face contorts. Tears streak uncontrollably down both cheeks. As a Bowie aficionado Jack couldn’t hold a candle to Dennis, but this track burns deep at the best of times, and obliterates him in the worst. Such as now.
‘Do you want me to change it?’
This time Jack nods.
‘Do you want me to pull over?’
Jack nods again.
Mick veers into the emergency stopping lane and Jack bursts from the car, his momentum sending him several metres ahead. He hunches on the roadside. Mick kneels to face Jack and extends his hand to meet his shoulder. An enormous B-double roars past. The suck-back knocks Jack even further off balance.
Undercurrents by Jeff Dowsing, published September 2017, is rich in references to music.