M.F. McAuliffe, 6/26/2011
Current Occupation: Co-founder & contributing editor, Gobshite Quarterly, co-founder GobQ Books, publisher, GobQ e-books
Former Occupations: Co-founder, contributing editor, Gobshite Quarterly
Contact Information: I was born and educated in Adelaide and Melbourne. I have an Honours degree in English and some graduate stuff in photography, video, and anthropology. My work has appeared in WORK, The Adelaide Review, Australian Short Stories, FEMSPEC, Overland, Jacket Magazine, and The Clarion Awards; Cataclysms (a book about cats for wise children of all ages, especially those 7 and up) is currently available as a Kindle edition. In 2002 I co-founded Gobshite Quarterly, an award-winning multilingual magazine based in Portland, Oregon. I continue at GobQ as contributing editor and publisher.
Films for All
(Swimming with Heraclitus – excerpt 2)
The Tasman Bridge was destroyed, unemployment was up, Whitlam was furious, the Federal Treasurer’s secretary was screwing the Federal Treasurer, she was back at work.
It was pleasant enough, with almost nobody there. Laddie’s door was open; his office was uninhabited; the big main room was almost uninhabited; Connie went for longish bouts of tea between shortish bouts of typing. She herself had finished the appraisals. She yawned, stretched, and began thinking about updating a catalogue.
“I was wondering —”
An old woman was coming in from the street entrance, tilting her head at the angle for receiving permission to enter an apparently empty house; the woman herself was enclosed in an ancient hat and a long, lightweight lavender coat.
“— if you could help me?”
She managed to look gravely at the hat.
“There is an Adult Education class,” the woman said. “And we’ve had wonderful help from a gentleman here, from a Mr. Laddijoy, if you know him, dear. For many years.”
The woman put a tentative hand to the hat, to straighten it perhaps, or just to be reassured. There was a fine trembling in the woman’s fingers.
“Would you like something in particular?”
“Altogether about four hours on the history of English Literature, dear. And we need it by Friday afternoon. That’s tomorrow. The class is on Saturday, but of course we have to pick the films up on Friday because everything is closed on Saturdays.”
The tremor the woman could neither want nor control.
Of course, yes, she smiled; she’d attend to it herself; the films would be waiting at the counter.
The woman thanked her and left, a frail stepping.
Christ, she thought. Eight hundred years in four hours. She began at the card catalogue, found enough to cover most of the subject, noted the numbers, booked the films, grinned at Dispatch, made sure he’d be looking for the order, settled back down, began on the updating, and forgot about it.
The following Monday Laddie was consulting the Ministry by phone behind his closed door, Connie was typing, and she was finishing the catalogue, contemplating her lunchtime excursion and a series of hands, perhaps, blue, copper, sepia, wondering how to assign tint, enjoying the quiet and the lack of Laddie’s attention, thinking of ringing Keough, going to the Valhalla on Thursday, being free on Thursday because photography hadn’t started and Video Access hadn’t opened —
“Where’s that girl who helped me last week?”
She recognized the hesitant, tilted voice. She dropped everything and darted. Whatever she’d done, she didn’t want everyone in the place knowing about it as soon as she did.
“Where is that girl?” The woman was in front of Laddie’s door.
“Oh there you are!”
The woman wouldn’t move from the spot she stood on, reached out with a small gloved hand.
“I just wanted to thank you, dear. It was wonderful.”
The woman smiled, required a smile.
“Oh. Well, I’m glad you enjoyed them.” She smiled again to cushion the woman’s continuing, appalling, unalterable frailty, the heavy cameo at her neck, the faint waft of lavender from her cheek.
“Oh, we did, dear.”
The woman took her arm in a birdlike clasp.
She was caught at Laddie’s door. Greg Wigg was grinning and walking past, then Sandy was smiling and stepping nimbly to avoid them, eyes sliding when she wanted to wiggle her eyebrows, shrug, do something to make him look at her with some sort of inclusive humour and appreciation — But he was going, had gone, and she was left with the old woman and her own duty, and the woman would still not let her go.
“I’m so pleased.” She was almost bowing, trying to withdraw her arm. “And thank you for taking all the trouble to come in —”
The woman smiled, released her arm, began gathering her coat and preparing to go; she herself was starting to breathe a sigh of relief. Laddie’s door opened.
“Why, Mrs. —” waves of hair, eyebrows, open-pored smile. “We haven’t seen you in ages. What brings you to our humble abode?”
Miss Miller tried to become invisible. The woman groped for her arm again. Miss Miller stepped back quietly, out of range. The hesitations in the woman’s speech finally became a single silence. Laddie took over. Hooray, hooray, she thought, her own face impassive; we can all totter off and dwindle now, out of each other’s day.
The woman left, the same unbearable, uncertain steps.
“Silly old bat.” Laddie’s eyes swung back to her; the smile sank from his lips. “So what did you do that was so bloody marvellous?”
“Nothing,” she said. “Just got her some films.”
“Let’s have a look.”
She and Connie would simply have laughed and gone on with what they were doing. But now she had to turn and go while Laddie waited, get a copy of the slip from the pickup counter and hand it over. She’d done the job because Laddie hadn’t been there; the job had been good enough. Why couldn’t they all just leave it at that —
“Mm.” Laddie frowned. “A lot of this is very old.”
“Yes.” She knew the films were old when she’d read the catalogue. She assumed he hadn’t ordered new ones because the material hadn’t changed.
“But the material hasn’t changed.”
“And a lot of it’s in black and white. Especially the longer films.”
She knew the black and white films were in black and white.
He held the slip out, looked down the room. “Mix them up next time. If the long film’s black and white, put in a couple of coloured shorts. You’ve got to give people a breather. Programming’s an art. That’s what he —” a nod at Alex Lente’s end of the complex —”doesn’t understand. You can’t make people sit through hours and hours of solid information.”
“Oh,” she said, reflexively folded and folded the slip until it became an unfoldable, sharp-pointed wad. She stood, rigid, unmoving, having no idea whether he meant her to stay or go.
“Well, onwards and upwards.” The pores and shadows of his face folded in repose. “I’ll be in the canteen.”