Australian literary legend (and good friend), Nick Earls, recently blogged a section of his marvellous 2014 novel, Analogue Men, that was binned during editing. Whilst enjoying this tasty morsel trimmed from the published main meal, I thought: “Let’s cook up some leftovers, too!” In Are You Seeing Me?, I had one I’d prepared earlier.
Pasted below is a long-removed, never-read, never-seen-apart-from-a-select-few section of AYSM. It wasn’t surrendered during the publisher’s edit or the final draft. It wasn’t canned as a condition of the book’s contract.
It was cut from the ORIGINAL MANUSCRIPT!
And, although I liked the original very much, the cut wasn’t unkind. Quite the opposite.
It helped turn a homeless tale into a Random House resident and, ultimately, a Booktopia 2014 Book of the Year.
A little context for readers familiar with AYSM…
In the published book, narration alternates between twins, Justine and Perry.
In the original draft, narration is shared between Justine, Perry and…(wait for it)…mother, Leonie.
The scene below is Perry’s meltdown at the PNE.
In the published book, this scene is written from Perry’s perspective.
In the original draft extract below, the scene is written from…(you guessed it)…Leonie’s perspective.
The ‘Teacher Resources’ created for AYSM requires students to write a scene from a different character’s perspective. High school students everywhere: you’re welcome.
I hope you enjoy this spurned morsel from so long ago. Feel free to let me know your impressions in the comments.
The white paper bag has fallen to the street and tipped over on its side. Spilled donuts stretch from gutter to gutter. The backpack containing the seismometer and other calming objects sits on the asphalt, leaning left, its main compartment open and gaping. Two women pushing prams make an inquiry then move on. Several people observe the strange happenings from a safe distance. The majority of patrons walk on by.
Perry is on all fours, resembling adho mukha svanasana, the downward-facing dog. He rocks forward and back, low moans accompanying his movement. His ball-cap hangs off his right ear. His hands claw at the earth. Hot coals scorch my guts and a sweat breaks out in my palms and along my spine. Where the hell did this come from? Seconds ago, he was walking, talking, opening my eyes wide; now, he’s at the bottom of a cliff, bowing before the demon that tore us apart a lifetime ago.
I must help him.
I must go to him.
He needs his mother.
My legs are water. My feet won’t budge. A thousand scratches and bruises prick at my skin. A man in a blue ‘Vancouver 2010’ shirt enters the scene – he bends down and introduces himself as ‘Andrew’. He asks if there is anything he can do. Perry continues to moan and rock. Andrew stands up, rubs the back of his neck and looks around.
“Anyone belong to this guy?” he asks.
The spectators – half a dozen or so now – murmur and shake their heads. A skinny redhead says she thinks he was here with a group of “other retards”. Her boyfriend disagrees: “He’s at the PNE on his own.” Andrew’s imploring gaze stops on me for a second.
I’m his mother.
I avert my eyes, notice the Hurricane ride operating to my left; it’s disgusted at my cowardice, hissing and throwing its arms wide. When I look back, Andrew is beside Perry, down on his haunches. He places an arm over my son’s shoulders. The world splits in two. Perry lurches forward onto his elbows, presses his forehead to the asphalt and screams. The sound of his anguish is muffled by the ground but it’s still harrowing, like the cries of a madman dumped on a desert island. I close my eyes, hum, and visualize Ganesh laying soothing hands on each of my chakras. I open them again to find Perry fully prone, prostrate on the street, his four limbs each occupying a point on the compass. The screaming has ceased. Andrew is gone. The concerned bystanders can now be called a crowd.
I can’t think, not with reprised sorrow so squarely in my face. I need distance. I turn my back to the scene, walk seven paces to the nearest bench, sit. The seat is warm, almost hot to the touch, but I ride it out until the temperature settles. It occurs to me the street must be a few degrees higher than the bench; in my periphery I can see it isn’t affecting Perry. He hasn’t moved an inch. A new Samaritan enters the fray: an Asian man with high-waisted khakis is attempting to give him a drink, presumably water. The crowd is much the same. Some have departed, others have taken their place.
Are you seeing me?
Are you focused?
I rein in my breathing to allow a sliver of coherence, a dash of fortitude. The reparation of my errors has come so far – one more fix is required. If our new future is to truly bury the past, then I must be present today. And I can do it. I can. I can be brave and strong, the same as my boy. It will sting to stand firm and the journey forward will be fearful, but I will be brave and strong. And the right destination will be secured. The logical conclusion will assert itself.
Mother Leonie saves the day.
I rise from the bench and balance on trembling legs. I take one step. Another. A third. As I close in, finer details of the scene saturate my eyes. A child, no more than six years of age, watches proceedings, chewing gum, blowing the occasional bubble. An elderly man scoffs at someone’s suggestion of heat-stroke: “It’s a damn-sight hotter at the Red River Exhibition in Winnipeg and you don’t see folks belly-down in the street.” Perry’s almost-black hair glistens, a combination of sunlight and sweat. A fingernail on his right thumb is bleeding. I pierce the bystanding membrane and stand beside my son. An attempt to speak to the crowd becomes a series of coughs. A second effort bursts forth like a horse out of a starting gate.
“I am his…His carer, Leonie. He has a brain condition. It causes him to get upset in different places and circumstances. He um…He has trouble with people – mixing with them and communicating with them – and it sometimes results in…How did she say it…Inappropriate behaviours.” I jut my chin, pull my shoulders back. “You can all fuck off back to your lives now, eh?”
A comment sails out of the crowd: “Where the hell were you up to now?” It’s a fair question; the other, less audible comments from the affronted gallery are probably fair, too. I don’t care. I’m here. I’m focused. I’m seeing my boy. He’s still stressed, muscles bunched in every part of his body. He’s speaking, rapidly, clumps of words.
“Too much pressure…Too much build-up…Something has to give…”
“Perry, it’s Mum. Can you hear me?”
“Are you hurt, Perry? Can you get up?”
“We weren’t prepared for this…We weren’t ready for this…”
I grab the seismometer from the backpack, place it by his left wrist, dome touching skin.
“We weren’t ready…”
I extract Lost in Katrina and lay it above his right shoulder.
His voice trails away, leaving only shallow breaths in its place. I wait for a minute then kneel down beside him.
“Do you mind if I touch you?”
The breathing slows, deepens. The muscle tension begins to ease. The clenched fists open and the fingers spread. I reach forward, hands steady and sure. My body radiates warmth, light, love. My arms slide through the spaces between Perry’s shoulders and the asphalt, his armpits settle in the crooks of my elbows.
“Is that okay?”
He turns his head toward me, the left side of his face exposed. His eye remains closed.
He whispers as if uttering a sacred spell.
“Would you like me to help lift you into position?”
I heave my arms back. Perry levers his chest off the hot street and curves his spine. We hold the pose while the surrounding carnival rolls on, the carefree masses feeding their senses, the onlooking sun inching closer to the horizon.
And I don’t feel like a saviour.
I feel like a present mother.