My father-in-law is blind.
He builds things.
He built a bathroom at his daughter’s place
She burnt it down.
In a dystopian future
All of us wearing nerd VR helmets
Everyone’s crimes swinging in the breeze above their heads
You’d see her and the word
<<<A R S O N I S T>>>
And you’d think I reckon that was a candle.
No you wouldn’t.
That would be your first thought
Then either candle or oil burner.
She burnt it down and my father-in-law rebuilt it.
Because he’s blind when you tell people stories like that they miss the point.
The point of that story is not blind but candle and probably scented.
If you want to tell a story where blind is the point
You tell the story about how one winter instead of building an inside kitchen at their house he took
A beer keg and made a pot-belly stove
Hooked it up with a car radiator and
A hydronic heater
And he’s blind.
Once people have heard that story from me about how he is blind and can build stuff
I tell them about how he once drove his old car
Drunk down the dirt road
Leaning out the driver’s side door with his white cane
While we stood out in a field
Shouting out directions.
Except that didn’t happen.
I wish it did.
The night sky is really something above the farm.
Or maybe it did happen but I wasn’t there.
It’s a story that makes people laugh.
I tell it when someone asks me what apocryphal means.
Then one time someone said so you mean bullshit?
It means probably untrue but indicative of type.
I didn’t say that but.
I don’t know why.
When my father-in-law still had one eye he was a jackeroo in Goondiwindi.
Once they had drought-breaking rain
Mosquitos so thick you couldn’t see the dam water.
When he ran his hand down the neck of his horse it was painted red with blood.
Three days later tadpoles turned into frogs.
Frogs so deep you couldn’t take a piss without pissing on a frog.
Then the ducks came.
A month later you couldn’t drive anywhere without crushing ducklings under your wheels.
When you tell people a story about my father-in-law
Who is blind
They usually say something like
His other senses.
Meaning he is blind so he must have super powers like in that 80s movie Blind Fury.
Blind Rutger Hauer steps over an alligator
Tapping it with his white cane
Which is really a sheathed samurai sword
Says nice doggy before fucking up some crooks.
Or maybe they think he would be some sort of super-lover and it would be like boning Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman.
At my wife’s grad show one of her classmates
Walked around topless
In a G-string with a prosthetic dick rammed in.
When she saw that my wife said I am going to miss art school.
We wouldn’t have left Melbourne if it was up to her.
My father-in-law has built a few houses
A mud bricked spiral stair-cased one in Mernda
Windows caved in surrounded by a new housing estate.
He wanted to build that house by using wattle and daub.
After one wall he said fuck that’s too slow.
So he dug up some mud
Mixed it with a tractor
Dried the bricks in the sun.
As the bricks were drying him and his brother Alan pulled old sleepers from an abandoned railway line that ran through the property and made doorframes out of them.
Then they laid the bricks.
That’s how slow wattle and daub is.
He lost one eye working on a car.
He lost the other eye going through the windscreen of a car.
It’s okay to get naked in front of him.
That gets some getting used to.
Seeing his daughter
My wife ducking out of the shower and her Dad just there.
But you can get used to anything.
I sleep naked.
Whenever I get up to take a piss I think
Shit what happens if he is coming the other way?
And groping along he touches me in the nuts?
He doesn’t grope my nuts.
He doesn’t grope anything accidentally.
His night walking
Unlike the rest of us
Bent at the knees
Waiting for a surprise
Is the same as his day walking.
He just walks into things.
When he went to the doctor for a skin cancer check they put him under a special light.
Eric you’re covered in scar tissue.
Eric’s his name.
Some people call him Jack.
That’s because when he was a kid his grandmother lived in a cottage at the end of their garden.
Before the term granny flat was invented.
And he would come in pretending that he was a truck driver called Jack.
A lot of cattle in that truck eh Jack?
Don’t know when we’ll be done today
He once delivered a baby.
Cutting the umbilical cord with uncanny skill.
No he didn’t.
But I can see you anti-ableism at the ready to believe NASA once asked him for his thoughts on rocket fuel
What effect weightlessness would have on the human skeleton.
He likes a drink
We went to party recently
Across a paddock from our place.
The birthday boy gave him a special sausage roll
I yelled that’s got dope in it
Yeah I know
And down it went.
I felt dumb
I was looking out for him though I didn’t need to.
He can fix any car or tractor built before 1987.
He worked on a station on the Diamantina.
The next-door neighbour would drive a tractor into town when his ute was on the blink
He had a good name.
He lived 102 miles from town.
That makes me suspicious
The roads were so bad he refused to pay his rates.
The roads were so bad they tried one year to serve him papers and they couldn’t get through.
The roads were so bad they tried again the next year and got bogged in the same bull dust.
Bull dust is fine sand hard to see on the road
If you get stuck in it you’re fucksville.
When he was in town he got on the drink
Why else would he drive 102 miles on a tractor?
His name was Bluey Jenkins.
Bluey Jenkins said when the roads are good enough for them to get out to me I’ll pay what’s owing.
Bluey Jenkins put draft horses in with the brumbies.
If there is a more Australian name than Bluey Jenkins I am yet to hear it.
A lot of places try to sign my father-in-law up to email billing.
I wonder if they get all embarrassed when they get off the phone.
Sharing the maybe we shouldn’t be pushing email billing because who knows how many of our customers are blind story in the next team meeting.
They probably change the story to getting yelled at.
All call centre stories become somebody yelling at them.
He was conscripted to fight in Vietnam but by that stage he’d already lost one eye.
Good for something.
Back to Goondiwindi.
He would run cattle through a watering hole
U-turn back on his horse
Faithful Old Blood Neck
To pick up all the yellow-belly floating mud stunned
Filling his saddlebags.
He ate them with marble-sized native lime
The Diamantina station had two graders.
A medium one that was easy to drive
And a rough as guts one with three clutches.
You had to tow it behind a truck to start so they’d leave it running during lunch.
But they were losing money on marginal country so they sold the medium one that was easy to drive.
Because who the fuck would buy a grader
With three clutches
You had to tow start
And leave running during lunch?
That country was supposed to be on the margin of the marginal country but it turned out it was just marginal country.
When he turned up to work in Keith SA the head bloke said
Your quarters are over there
A hut with a meter and a half of sand drift against the door.
He went blind before my wife was born.
He did see his wife
When she was married to another guy who
After they divorced
Died in a tragic ride-on lawn mower accident.
That’s not funny.
They found him hours afterwards
The motor still running
On the property they used to own together with two beagles who would pack hunt wallabies
One tiring them out
The other going in for the kill.
Beagles are vicious cunts.
She’s from up-state New York.
Just down the road from Woodstock.
She didn’t go
You know, traffic.
If you had ever heard her voice
You’d know how funny that was.
Her son moved to Canada and she told him to watch out for bears.
That’s my wife’s favourite thing to say when impersonating her
Watch out for bears
Don’t eat all the olives.
I don’t know the context for that last one.
She worked for IBM in the ‘70s.
The first time we met she made me breakfast.
Homemade pizza dough donuts and the good bacon from Stewarts in town
Then homemade ice cream.
Would you like some lemon delicious cake?
After lunch she made the lemon delicious cake and we ate it.
Then she started talking about dinner.
When my father-in-law first moved up here he was out fencing
An eagle swooped down the hill
Smashing a wallaby over a cliff.
Coming back later with his wedge-tail mates to eat
Till it was just fur.
Then they went back to the eagle mansion to party.
Taking turns trying on the wallaby skin
Doing their best impersonations.
Watch out for bears.
Could’ve taught those beagles a thing or two about wallaby murdering.
When I first met my father-in-law
Post pizza dough donuts and bacon
He told me he was reading The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
I almost corrected him listening to
When you are hanging out with blind person
You are so worried about saying dumb shit like listened to
It builds up in you and you just want to fucking scream out all the dumb shit all at once.
He uses a white cane
Did I say that?
He’s left one up near a tree he felled for firewood
With a chainsaw.
He also juggles chainsaws
Plays a mean piano accordion
In the zydeco style.
We think differently.
If I leave something behind
I need to go get it then.
If too many canes break
Or get left out in the bush
He cuts a piece of poly-pipe and uses that
Until he can get another lot sent up from down south.
They don’t just give you the cane
You go to cane training first.
When he said that I thought Cane School.
With everyone throwing their mortar boards up in the air American college movie style
Except nobody would know which theirs was after they’d landed.
But I didn’t say that
That’s one of those fucking dumb things that scream around inside you.
He used to have guide dogs.
Fat from eating Blood and Bone.
They’d go roll around in a dead wallaby.
Praise be the Eagles.
And hide from his calls
Work-shy under the steps
His wife is Buddhist
Spending months of the year in India.
Today she is meeting the Dalai Llama.
But she’ll probably get to shake his hand or whatever Buddhists do.
So she doesn’t kill anything.
When cane toads got into her fishpond she fenced it off.
When they got through the fence she took a pair of kitchen tongs and fished them out of the water each morning.
When that got too much because of her dodgy knee
And her fish died of natural causes
Eaten by the cane toads
She got a friend and my father-in-law to pull the fish pond out
There was whole nest of brown snakes underneath.
Eleven of them.
All three parties have corroborated that figure several times over the years
Which makes me a 102-miles-from-town suspicious.
When my parents were first married Mum hung the doona out to air.
A redback’s egg sack
Caught on the breeze.
That night Dad said
Jesus the sand flies are bad
And they lifted the doona up and there was
Hundreds of redbacks
Twice their size.
When they got to emergency the doctor was South African
And they had to explain what a redback was.
At my in-laws’ place there are geckos everywhere
Their house is covered in cobwebs.
A big orb spider dropped onto my wife’s breast during Taco Tuesday
Nearly shit her pants
My mother-in-law got upset when a snake
Which they told me was the mother of the brown snake nest
Got caught in the bandicoot fence.
A rough year for that family.
I wonder how snake daddy is doing.
If there is a more Australian sentence than there’s a dead brown snake in the bandicoot fence I am yet to hear it.
All the snakes and spiders mean there’s less rats and mosquitos about.
Less ducklings to crush.
They do get antechinus.
So they have a non-lethal antechinus trap.
Which means you relocate them.
They are big on relocation.
Ms Scented Candle had a big python in her house.
Local Snake Guy came and moved it.
As far as the shed.
They are territorial
On a cold night it slithered under her car hood
Wrapping itself around the engine block for heat.
Hitching a ride to Dreamworld the next day.
Did you know it was there?
Yeah the twins were just really insistent on going.
The snake rode the three hours there
Sat in the carpark like a cool mum outside a rock gig
Three hours back.
They are territorial
Local Snake Guy moved to back to the shed.
My father-in-law has a drill press in the shed which runs on belts looped around the rafters.
Raining python blood.
We are building on my in-laws’ farm.
While we get our shit together we are living in their shed.
We’ve made it pretty twee.
I mounted my taxidermy galah on a post.
I bought it at a Diwali festival in West Footscray.
They didn’t call it Diwali
They called it the festival of colours.
Which suggests acceptance of all people.
Before the festival somebody spray painted swastikas on the front of the good Indian restaurant.
Families came down the next day and painted over them.
On the second night in the shed something ate the galah’s foot.
Antechinus are vegetarian so no beef there
We’re not the first to live in the shed
A couple celebrated their daughter’s first birthday there.
The creek went up
They had to ferry beer across the creek.
I asked my father-in-law
So people could get to the pub but not home?
A woman who left shards of broken glass behind from her lead lighting practice also lived there.
When my father-in-law mentioned her
My wife said she was the first person I ever met growing up who I knew was depressed.
Nobody thought she had super-powers.
My mother-in-law was impressed when I took a load of rubbish to the tip.
She talked about putting light fittings where the light fittings should be
So they could rent their place out.
Maybe moving the kitchen inside out of the winter.
I think they want us to take care of them when they get old.
Which is natural.
I said what happens when he can’t live on the farm
Oh, that won’t happen, he’ll just die here
What happens when you can’t live on the farm anymore
Oh, I’ll just move into town.
Note: Image supplied by the author.
Paul Shields is a short story writer from Central Queensland. His work has previously appeared in Meanjin, Headland and elsewhere.