She had waited three days for him to come home, and during those days she had never worried. If you haven’t done anything wrong, she reasoned, why should you have anything to fear? On the fourth day she got the Telegram.
On the fifth day she went to Martin Place to leave a bouquet at his last-known place of breathing, but the Brave Digger there moved her on. Poppies only, he told her, and she looked down at the cluster of pink-grey proteas—he’d always loved proteas, like plump galahs he said—clutching them silently amid the sea of red. She wept, and the Brave Digger wept with her: for the bravery of those boys, he comforted her; for their sacrifice, for our freedom.
At the foot of the statue of Burke and Wills—supine beneath the Lone Pine, ‘DIG’ carved in its tragic trunk—she tore the petals from the proteas and scattered them in the Memory Pool, unnoticed by the guards whose heads bent solemn at the hourly recital of Lest We Forget.
He had been a good man, a good Aussie, a good Digger. Every weekend, he had dug. Their municipality won prizes for its trenchwork. She crumpled the Telegram, printed now in her pocket. He had gone every year to the Cove, their savings hoarded for the pilgrimage. Even the year his father died, he had gone. To honour his memory. The one year he could not, when her surgery had drained their bank account, he had joined the digging of the symbolic trenches at the Mateship Courage Ground, had cheered afterwards in the stands as the medal was awarded to the player best displaying the Anzac Spirit, tears streaming down his face.
He was a good man, a good Aussie. But he had always struggled with the daily Minute’s Silence, she knew that.
Dave had been raised a larrikin, from a long line of larrikins who traced their proud origins back to the Rocks Push. Larrikinism was in his blood. But even so, when the dictate came down that japes and good-natured disrespect for authority had been deemed ‘inappropriate’, he had tried. He’d really tried. He had trained to overcome his shortcomings. Every day he called the Minute’s Silence Hotline and listened to General Peter Cosgrove saying nothing for sixty seconds; every day he tried to say nothing the exact same way the great man did. He’d embraced earnestness and sanctimony, he’d completed his delarrikining conversion and been granted his ceremonial patch. He wore it proudly on his regulation Commuter Slouch, ‘THIS NATION’S SACRIFICE IS NOT A JOKE’.
He had probably been wearing his Slouch last Wednesday as he rode the escalator up from the station. He would have taken it from his head and clutched it to his proud chest as the gathered commuters intoned the Lest We Forget. With his eyes on the mural of Sidney Nolan’s ‘Ned Kelly and his Donkey in the Dardanelles’, he would have chanted ‘We shall remember them!’
All that she could only imagine, but for the facts she had the Telegram.
It is my painful duty to inform you that a report has this day been received notifying the death of AUSSIE DIGGER DAVE FENTON which occurred at MARTIN PLACE on the 15TH OF AUGUST 2015, and I am to express to you the sympathy and regret of the Government at your loss. The cause of death was FATAL BLEEDING FROM A BAYONET WOUND TO THE STOMACH DELIVERED AS PUNISHMENT WHEN DURING THE LAST POST, THE DECEASED YELLED, ‘PLAY SOME CHISEL’. HE DIED BRAVELY AND SILENTLY. YOUR FAMILY HAS BEEN PLACED ON A WATCH LIST.
She folded the Telegram, put it back in her pocket. She was sitting still by the Memory Pool, the de-petalled proteas strewn at her feet. The Lest We Forget had ended. ‘Mrs Fenton?’ a Brave Digger asked her, and she nodded. ‘Come with me please,’ he said.
Jane Rawson is the author of two novels—A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists and From the Wreck—as well as a novella, Formaldehyde, which won the Seizure Viva La Novella Prize. She is the co-author of The Handbook: Surviving and Living with Climate Change. Her short fiction has been published by Sleepers, Slink Chunk Press, Overland, Tincture, Seizure, Griffith Review, Funny Ha-Ha and Review of Australian Fiction.