* * * FIRST INSTALMENT OF THE "HERALD'S" SECOND PRIZE NOVEL * * *
YOU CAN'T SEE ROUND CORNERS
By JON CLEARY
Illustrated by JAMES PHILLIPS
THE street ran down the hill
to a dead end, stopping above a sheer drop of some forty feet. At the bot- tom another street ran at right angles. The hill was steep and the houses in the top street, narrow, two-storied, once brown and now faded to a dull yellow, a mono-
tony of design and colour, seemed to lean close together against the slope of it, fearful of sliding down into the street below. Doors stood wide open, privacy sacrificed for ventila- tion, and faint jumbled talk floated out from the backs of the houses. A home-made kite, box wood and brown paper and a pathetic tail of coloured rag strips, some child's es- capism, dangled from the power wires and a flight of pigeons from some local loft fluttered in nervous grey and brown movement on a roof.
Halfway up the hill a shop, on the corner of a cross-street, shouted its prices in coloured water paint on its
windows, and its awning was an is- land of shade in the street on hot days and an intermediate shelter on rainy days for those going up to or coming from Oxford Street.
Now the postman came down the street, the old leather bag on his back, worn so long, looking like part of him, a physical deformity. The whistle hanging from his lips birruped at irregular intervals and sun flashed on letters as he dropped them into the boxes. His mind was three days ahead of this day: thinking of Satur- day night and the party for his daugh-
ter, the coming-of-age party.
It would be a double coming-of age: he had been twenty-one years on this round. He looked at the
letters in his hand and without the names really registering he dropped them into the right boxes. Long ago he had ceased to be interested in the correspondence of other people. There had been a time when an offi- cial letter had been matter for con- jecture, when a black border pro- duced a sympathetic sadness, a re- luctance to deliver the tidings, when a scented envelope was a hint of romance. Now he delivered love and hate, joy and sadness, money and debt, notice of birth and death, and he was no longer interested.
He crossed the street and began the climb back. In the third house from the bottom he dropped a letter, an official one, and passed on. He saw the open doors, the insight into crowded living, the argument for lebensraum (had Hitler been born in a house such as these?), and auto- matically, like a card taken every morning, clocked on a starting bundy, and returned to the rack, the thought rose, I'm glad I don't live down here. He went on up the hill.
Mrs. McCoy, answering the whistle, came through the narrow hall from the back of the house and out on to the small front verandah, separated from the footpath by only an iron railing. She took the letter from the box and saw the phrase, "Department of the Army," in the bottom left-
She stood in the sun, only half
OUR second prize novel is a realistic and frank
character study of a young Paddington starting-price bookmaker who turns to violent crime. Literary critics and clergy have acclaimed the story as a profound moral force and a distinct
contribution to Australian writing.
aware of its warmth, looking at the light brown envelope. This was the warning of separation, the abandon- ment to the lonely house, the letter that was forerunner to other letters, but the other letters coming from him, written from a strange place, and, perhaps, the final telegram from the Department of the Army, completing the circle. To the mother this was more than a summons to report; this could be the beginning of the end. She turned and went inside.
"Letter for you, Frankie. Looks like the army."
The voice answered from upstairs then he appeared at the top of the steep flight and began descending, strapping on an expensive wrist watch, worn well below the cuff of his shirt so that its quality would not be hid- den, as he came down to his mother and the letter she held outstretched
"What is it? Your call-up?" "Yeah. Gotta go t'morrer."
"They didn't give you much time."
"Not unless they sent it along with a birthday card yesterday." He had been 21 yesterday and now he had the right to vote. When he received the opportunity to record that vote he would vote against conscription, the statute that had produced this let- ter. "They must need me."
The mother smiled. Forget what this means and look for the humour. Dimly she remembered the words: Laugh, Clown, Laugh. "If they do, thank God for the navy."
He grinned, a good-humoured ex- pression, but without warmth. "I'm the new secret weapon." He went out to the back of the house and in a moment returned, pulling on a coat, and, with a hat balanced precariously on the back of his head, the studied attempt at jaunty nonchalance. "I'm going up the street. Won't be long."
HE walked in the sun in the street, climbing the hill, smoking a cigar- ette, his arms hanging wide from his sides, the shoulders squared in a chal- lenging arrogance, an unconscious re- sentment at superiority in others, yet full of his own conceit, a paradox who did not understand the word.
"Hullo, Mrs. Watting."
The woman leaned on the gate of her verandah, her ample breasts, a cushion, the street's gossip, part of it and yet its main spectator, a tin-
voiced woman built like a bundled mattress, who herself provided gossip for the street each Saturday night when her husband, a stupid giant whose strength, till it ran out, would guarantee him a job at a Darling Harbour bond store, would come home drunk and beat her soft flabby flesh till it was black and blue, then, while she lay crying, fall asleep be-
"How'd you go Sat'd'y?"
It was not an idle question. Every- body's business was her business, food for a starved mind, a hobby where other people read books or collected stamps or bred pigeons.
"Finished up in front." You duck- brained old stickybeak. "Got a skinner on the last."
He kept walking, offering no more information, anxious to escape her. She looked after him. I wonder how him and that girl of his are going? About time they got mar- ried. They been going together long enough. Unless he's getting what he wants without marrying her.
Behind him now, out of sight, he had forgotten her. He put a hand in his pocket and felt the letter again. He had been expecting this for the last two months. This was the result of the call to the man-power authorities. He had been lucky to escape with only a reprimand. Two years ago, when he was due for mili- tary call-up, he had gone down to the man-power office and asked for a job in a munition factory. They had sent him to a place that before the war made metal toys for children and there he had laboured for nearly two years, standing before a machine, reeking of oil, that spilled washers in a glistening brassy rain, a machine that required no intelligence to ope- rate, but that offered exemption from war service, hating every hour, every minute of that labour.
Then had come the Christmas break and, drawing his pay for the ten days' holiday and telling the foreman he intended enlisting, he had not gone back. Instead, he had gone back to being a starting-price bookmaker, to being his own boss, to working in his own time. He had continued to run a book in his months at the munition factory, but he had not been able to run it regularly shift-work was subject to the needs of a nation at war, not the running of the Doncaster or the Newmarket.
Two months ago, his name and case probably salvaged from a pigeonhole by some clerk, also exempt and with time on his hands, a letter had come from the authori- ties and he had appeared before them. He had told them of his widowed mother and of the necessity to sup- port her and of his own weak chest
that prevented him from working indoors and they had listened with- out comment, taking notes, and then telling him to report back in three days. On the second visit they had told him of the compensation that was still being paid to his mother, the compensation arising out of the cable that snapped, the bale that fell, the crushed body on the wharf that had been his father, and that they would not let his mother see. They could tell him nothing about his chest, but they gave him a slip to report to a medical officer for an X-ray and then fold him to go home and he would receive word from them. This was the word.
He kept walking up the street, passing from the sunlight into the shade of the awning of the corner shop, then out into the sunlight again as he crossed the road. For the first time he was noticing the street, observing it with the sharp eye com- mon only to the stranger or the familiar about to leave a place for the last time. He knew this street. He knew every light standard, every house, every front gate, every person who, passed through the front gates. He knew where the cracks were in the asphalt, the drain that was so inadequate when the rain-water poured down the hill, the pigeons that strutted now on the roofs. He knew the milkman and the baker, the postman and the time-payment man, the men and the women and their children. He knew this street, realising only now just how well he did know it.
He did not know this place where he had to report to-morrow morning. That was another land on the other side of a door he had never opened.
EMPTY, but for the man behind the counter, the bar had a look of stale, musty deadness about it, as if life had never walked or shouted or sung in it. It was almost gloomy and ghosts might walk here, shades of those who drank here forty years ago. The sun filtered through brown win- dows, illuminating queer yellow let- ters that spelled queer words, words that meant nothing till they were pro- jected on the floor or, in the after- noon, when the sun dropped lower outside, on the upright woodwork of the counter and then they named the drinks the pub sold. Light gleamed dully, elusively, on bottles and the nickel-plate of the beer-taps and the dingy woodwork in the bar had no sheen to it. It was hard to imagine the noise and push and bawdy atmos- phere of the closing time rush.
The big man behind the bar, polish- ing glasses, hummed an old ballad in a high, flat voice. He was tall and very heavily built, and leaned back against the weight of a big stomach, the advertisement of confidence in his own wares. Leaning back and being tall, he looked down his nose at the world and this gave him a false air of disdain. His calling as a publican was further advertised in the colour of his nose, but drink had had no effect on his eyes and they were dark blue, bright, and very shrewd. Hair grew only along his temples and on the lower back of his head, but he grew it long and wore it in strands across the top of his head to camouflage his baldness. His hair had long ago ceased to fall out, and he would grow no balder, but it was a constant source of worry to him and he was forever glancing at himself in the several fly- specked mirrors on the walls of the bar. He was dressed now in dark brown trousers and a fawn shirt, a shirt that showed the slip-shod work of war-time laundries.
The door on to the street opened and light flashed into the room and
was gone, like some inquisitive urchin's face, as the door closed be- hind McCoy. The big man, still polishing a glass, walked down the bar toward him.
"G'day, Frankie. You're early." His voice was a sudden shock, high and thin, ridiculous in a man of his
" 'Lo, Flanagan. Yeah, bit early." "Want anything?" "Make it a beer."
Flanagan walked back along the bar and put the glass with those he had already cleaned. He picked up a larger glass and moved down toward the beer taps, looking across the room at one of the mirrors and ducking his head to see if the camouflaging strands were doing their job.
McCoy leaned on the bar, his hat pushed well back on his head, and slowly looked about him. Having begun in the street outside, he was now saying good-bye to everything he knew, the condemned man's farewell. To-morrow might be too late. Out- side a tram rattled by, harsh loud noise coming and going quickly, and he could hear a car moving from second gear into top as it gathered speed and went away. He looked about the bar. The first time he had
been drunk was right here, on his eighteenth birthday. This, then, at which he was looking, was part of the last three years of his life. He had been drunk often since that first time. Then, they had taken him out- side to the lavatory and he had been sick as a dog, the cost of experience the sour taste in the mouth and the tearing in the belly, and then they had let him sit in the backyard, his head between his knees, so that if his mother had been coming down the street she would not be able to see him. His father before him had drunk too much and his mother hated drink and what it could do to a man who could not control its effect on him- self. Even with his mind fogged and so sick in the stomach, he had remembered that and told them so and they had let him sit in the back- yard till he felt well enough to move on his own. Then he had got up and gone for a long walk, vomiting again up near the park, leaning against the pole and feeling shame as well as sickness, but when he went home a long time later he was all right. After that he had learned to hold his beer, but sometimes he still got drunk and then he would not go home till the effects had worn off. He would go somewhere, perhaps up to the Park or, if it was raining, down to the factory area where he would sit down
in the doorway of a loading dock and sleep it off. Then he would go home, still hollow in the legs, and some lie would be spun about the delay. A lie hurt his mother less than know- ledge would. He had read it some- where or more probably heard it, since he very rarely read anything but the sporting pages of the newspapers. But whether he had read it or heard it, the thought was there and it applied to his mother: ignorance is bliss. Well, from now on it would not matter how often he became drunk. He would be too far away for his mother to know it. From to-morrow her bliss would be impregnable.
"I go into the army t'morrer.",
"You don't say?" Flanagan was surprised, his voice going high like a girl who had been pinched. "That's tough, Frankie."
"You're telling me?"
Flanagan put the glass, still empty, down on the counter and reached up to the shelf that ran above the bar and brought down a bottle and two smaller glasses.
"Skip the beer. Have a whisky."
"Glad to see me go?" Sentiment was an embarrassment and the chip on the shoulder was the defence.
Flanagan felt resentment well within him, a slow, hot feeling that would boil if he let it get the better of him. His grip tightened on the bottle, but he lifted it and began to pour. He recognised the remark for what it was worth. He had been born and raised in the district and his memory was clear. Life on the streets had been a battle and there had been no trust in anyone. He had grown out of that distrust, and so in time would McCoy.
"There was no call for that. Frankie. This is a farewell drink. I give it to all the others who've gone."
"Sorry." The apology was a gag in his throat and he managed to spit
it out. "Thanks."
"Where'll you go?"
"Dunno; haven't give it a thought. Hope it's close, like Ingleburn. I can go home now and again then."
"What're you going to do about
That had been their connection, their relationship. They were kin by virtue of their interest in the race- course—bloodstock brothers. McCoy found it necessary to have a place to conduct his betting transactions, and a back room of the pub had been ideal. The arrangement suited Flana- gan. He had a radio in the bar, and after the men had gone into the back room to place their bets they would come into the bar to listen to the races, and it was much more con- genial to stand with a glass in the hand than with the hands in the pockets. The businesses were com- plementary.
"Just have to let it go, that's all. They don't call it a reserved occupa-
"It's throwing good money away. You got a good connection here."
"Are you drawing me pictures? Don't you think I know that?" They raised glasses to each other, the empty salute, the tradition spoiled by over-usage; people now even toasted each other in lemonade. "Just as I'm
getting on my feet I have to chuck it away for six bob a day. I know all that; you don't have to rub it in."
"It's tough, all right." There was nothing else to say, and so Flanagan said it again.
THE door opened and a tall thin young man, a nondescript char- acter hiding behind one prominent feature, a big long nose, came into the bar. He saw the two men and came over to them.
"Lo, Flanagan, Frankie." His eyes flickered on the whisky bottle and the two glasses, the sharp, observant glance of the professional bum,
"Just," McCoy said. He disliked this Morgan, and now he resented his
"He goes into the army t'-morrer," Flanagan said. He too disliked Morgan, knowing him for a cheap tout with an eye only to the main chance; but the bottle and glasses were in full view and there was no- thing else to do. Meanness was not one of Flanagan's characteristics and he hated to see it in others. "We're farewelling him. Have a drink."
Morgan knew he was disliked, so he kept his eagerness for a drink in check. "Thanks." Unwittingly he played the same tune Flanagan had played, and McCoy noticed it and
resented him still more. "That's tough, Frankie."
"That's what Flanagan told me. I'm beginning to believe it."
"You should've listened to us,
"And heard the sheep bleat?" '
Morgan ignored the insult. He still had the free drink in his hand. "We told you you should've stayed in munitions. They don't let you run around loose any more."
McCoy emptied his glass. Here was the first of the I-told-you-so's, the first to crow. "I tried munitions. I tried it for two years—two years too long. Me and munitions don't mix. I like to earn my dough the easy way. I'll take it off you mugs that know all the fast horses."
Morgan could not resist the open- ing and his glass was almost empty. Flanagan was putting the bottle away and there would be no more drinks. "Not any more, you won't."
Some of you mugs arc classic at the comeback. McCoy did not say it. Morgan was already past history add it was easier to ignore and for- get him. He had finished his drink and McCoy was hoping he would
"Where you going?" Morgan was just an echo of Flanagan. Was there a standard set of remarks for an occasion like this?
"Dunno. I hope it's close."
"We going to miss you, Frankie," Flanagan said. "You been coming up here two or three years now and I can remember you a long time before that. Remember you as a
The memory was not as sharp as his own. It was not so many years since he had been a kid. It all came back in a rush, childhood crowding into a musty bar: the laughter that was not forced, the small worries that were gone with sleep, the dutiful prayers, school, and the knowledge that had never penetrated, the pain
of the broken bottle in the bare foot, the queer stirring that he had not recognised as sex till he was eleven years old, his first attempt at love making. Innocence came into the room and retreated before the serried ranks of bottles, scared and defeated. It had not been so long. Childhood, he suddenly realised, was just down the road behind him, and, he was too young to have years taken out of his life. And that was what the Army would do and they would never give
them back to him.
"Yeah," he said. "You grow up quick, don't you? Think I'd better be going. Got a lot to do. Probably be home at the week-end. See you
"So-long, Frankie," Flanagan said. "Look after yourself."
Morgan just nodded. He did not care about McCoy or McCoy's des- tination. McCoy's farewell had served its purpose and there would be no more free drinks.
The pub door closed behind him and he turned down Oxford Street. A tram, going to Bondi, went by, its noise shutting the rest of the street into silence, and, seeing a man in a rear compartment with a towel and bathing trunks, he decided he would go out to the beach this afternoon. Swimming might be another rare plea-
sure after to-morrow.
He walked down the shabby noisy street, lost again in the thought of what he would be losing when he left here to-morrow; he was writ- ing his autobiography, taking it with him, defence against the future. There were many scenes and this street was one of the backdrops. The shops were small and their windows had little of interest to arrest the passer-by; only the necessities, that one bought automatically, day after day, and a few cheap luxuries, diver- sions for women, the adult's escap- ism, the counterpart of the child's kite: trinkets in the dingy jeweller's shop, the model head with the arti- ficial hair in the hairdresser's window, the invitation to come in as you were and go out beautiful, the subtle (or was it unintentional?) insult; and on the other side of the street the pic- ture theatre advertised its pro- grammes, brightly coloured posters that blared this week's duplicity, worded for the gullible: Hilarious Entertainment, A Laugh A Minute (the picture publicity men, who laughed only at the stupidity of the public, had timed them); Ginger Rogers looked beguilingly over the shoulder of a man waiting for a tram and oblivious of her charms; Eddie Cantor laughed uproariously at a sour-faced man sweeping the steps of the theatre who could not see the joke.
The priest spoke to him after he had passed and he stopped and turned back, reluctantly, when he saw who
"Oh, hullo, Father. Didn't see you. Must be walking in my sleep."
Father Malone was the parish priest. He was a stolidly-built man with a red face that was accentuated by the whiteness of his hair, a bluff hearty man, a friend to the world, Catholics, Protestants, and heathens alike. He had created the bluff hearty character in the early days of his priesthood, when he had been sent as assistant to a country parish, and now, after thirty years, it was be- coming tiresome. He had read once where an actor on Broadway had played a role for five years and had asked for release from his contract as he was beginning to hate the char- acter. Father Malone knew how he felt, multiplied by six. But it was too late now. There was no release from his contract. Priests were typed: you chose your face to show to the world and the world would accept no change.
"How have you been, Frankie?"
"Oh, fair, Father. You know—" He could remember when all priests were mystic creatures. They were a race apart, men who knew none of the habits and worries of the ordinary man. He had seen the funeral of a priest so that he knew they died and, of course, went to Heaven. But their beginning was wrapped in mys- tery and birth and childhood things not to be connected with them. Then one day he had seen Father Malone sitting in the presbytery yard smoking a pipe, and again, calling at the pres- bytery on an errand for his mother, he had seen the assistant priest, stand- ing by the open bathroom window, shaving with a safety razor, his face hidden by lather, and the final dis- illusionment came when he discovered Father Malone coming out of the lavatory, struggling with his braces like any ordinary man.
"Haven't seen you at Mass lately. I thought you might have been ill. I was coming down to see you."
"No. I been all right. I—I been going into St. Mary's."
"Oh, well, I suppose the Cathe- dral's as good a place as any." You're a liar, Frankie, but I can't say so. I wish I could and ask you to be honest with me, ask you why you haven't been to Mass. Perhaps then I'd know why so many of the
others aren't coming. In wartime, the country is not alone in its battles; the Church has a battle, too. "Just so long as you go."
JUST so long as you go. He had
not gone to Mass for almost six months now. He would not ever go
again. But he could not come right out now and state his defiance of his upbringing, his rebellion against the years of teaching. Here in the middle of the street, amid the noise of trams and lorries, breathing the dust of the traffic-ridden road and the smells of the fruit shop and its next-door neigh- bour, the pastrycook's, here could you ask a priest what there was in going to church, in being religious? Could you ask him the compensation for getting out of bed on Sunday morn- ing, your head still stuffy from Sat- urday night, to go and kneel in the bare uncomfortable church? What compensation was there for keeping your soul free from sin? Eternal happiness, he would tell you, standing here in the main street of poverty. And who had ever proved conclu- sively there was life after this? After this struggle, after this existence that was called life, there were many people who just wanted to die and be nothing but dead. It was no use. He had finished with religion.
"Well, don't desert our church alto- gether, Frankie. Come round some Sunday, just so I'll know I've still got you in my parish."
"Sure, Father. I'll come along. G'bye."
McCoy stopped by the telephone booth on the corner of the street. The booth was occupied by a woman, a fat, untidy woman whose mouth in the silence beyond the thick glass windows opened and shut like a fish's as she chattered into the telephone.
He looked at his watch. Half past eleven. He lit a cigarette and leaned back against the wall of the shop, being warm in the sun. A plane went across the sky, its noise beating down to the earth, and he looked up. If he had to go into the services maybe that was the life. A pilot—but he knew the ambition was just a dream. His education was not sufficient. He could tally up a book, he had always been good at figures, but there was a difference between the starting price and loss on Tranquil Star and the computa- tion of a bearing on the North Star. It was either the Army or the Navy, and the Navy was out—he had heard the discipline was too strict.
Tom Johnston carne up on the other side of the road, walking slow- ly, hobbling on a stick. Johnston waved and he waved back. He watched him go down Oxford Street, the body leant above the stick, a third leg. Suddenly he went cold
inside and for the first time he ad- mitted that in his reluctance to go into the Army there was a good deal of fear. There was Johnston, crip- pled for life. Jeez, what a future. That might happen to him. John- ston had been sent home from the Middle East. He had a pension now and a job as a lift driver in the city. A gammy leg and driving a lift. Before the war he had been a first grade Rugby player, close to representative honours, and he had driven a five-ton waggon for an oil company. McCoy looked after him and bit on the end of his cigarette. That isn't going to happen to me. When I have to use a stick to get
along I want to be grey headed and drawing an old-age pension, not a
He looked at his watch again. Twenty to twelve. He walked across to the booth and knocked on the glass. The woman turned and stared at him, an inquisitive stare as if she were wondering what he was doing
there. She had paid her twopence, her lease on the 'phone, and she had hardly begun her conversation. Who was this lout, this bad-mannered lar- rikin who was asking her to hurry up?
McCoy gave her another two min- utes then he pushed against the booth door. The woman's prominent be- hind stopped it from opening more than a few inches, but it was suffi- cient for him to be able to make himself heard.
"Righto, missus. Can I see your bill of sale?"
She put her hand over the mouthy piece and looked over her shoulder at him. "What d'you mean?"
"I thought maybe you'd bought it." She turned back to the telephone. "There's some young lair out here trying to hurry me up. Probably wants to call up some young bit. I better go, Mag. Can't stand in the way of young love."
She laughed, a sound like air being released spasmodically from a tyre
tube, hung the receiver back on the hook, and came out of the booth.
"When I win the Lottery," McCoy said, "I'll buy you a phone."
"You oughta be in the Army and you wouldn't need to hurry other people."
She tossed her head, pleased with her reply, and waddled down the street, her massive quivering posterior another insult. Anger was a wild wave lashing furiously at the rocks of his self-control. The jibe had stung, a poisoned dart falling on an open
HE pushed open the door and went into the booth. He propped open the door with his foot while he dialled his number. The air in the booth was thick with the smell that only sweaty fat women can leave.
He pressed the button and the two pennies fell into the slot.
"Hello? Betta-Fit Manufacturing Company. Whom do you wish to speak to?"
The telephoniste had brought her elocution lessons to the switchboard with her. Her voice rose and fell, the echo of the graph the teacher had drawn on the board, the return on the expenditure of six guineas a term. She had ambitions: it was but a step from the switchboard to the stage.
"Margie Harris, please." "Is it a private call?"
"No, love, it's a national broad- cast." This was a new girl. There had been none of this questioning with the old one. Over the phone he called her Toots, and once or twice, without Margie's knowledge, he had taken her out. This one sounded as if she would go out with no one less than the owner of a Packard.
He stood there, holding the door wide open while the air slowly cleared, then he heard the voice at the other end, soft and having the effect on him as it always did, and he shut
"Hullo, hon. It's me. Frankie."
"Oh, hello, darling. What is it? I wasn't expecting you to call me up?"
"I been called up myself."
He could hear the crackling in the wire as there was a short silence. She was surprised, too. They all were.
"You mean the army?"
"Yeah. I gotta report t'morrer morning."
"Oh, Frankie! Are you looking forward to it?"
Well, that was a new tune. "Oh, sure. I can hardly wait. I'm the corpse waiting for the nice warm comfort of the grave."
There was hesitation at the other end. "You don't sound too pleased about it."
"Let's talk about it to-night, hon. Can I see you?"
"Of course, darling. Same place,
"G'bye, hon. See you t'night,
He hung up and went out of the