Lonesome ghost

This is one of the stories I’ll be blogging from time to time. It’s a little longer than normal, so settle back, relax, and enjoy the tale of a lonesome ghost.

lonesome-Michael-Collins-Memoirs-writing-1There are writers who would give their eye teeth to be allowed to do their work in complete solitude. A cold windy garret, dank forbidding dungeon, or a pitifully provisioned castaway island isn’t high on most writers’ lists. However, most of us can see ourselves at some time, glass in hand, gazing out over the sun drenched Adriatic contemplating our next blockbuster.

Seriously, there are times when one feels that a little peace and quiet might be a soothing balm to the creative soul, encouraging mites of inspiration to swell and burst forth in a torrent of easy words.

One northern summer I was in a remote part of Alaska, visiting someone living in the quintessential log cabin deep in the woods. I felt exceptionally well staying there, so good, in fact, that I spent an entire day from dawn to dusk splitting wood for the winter supply, loudly singing, “I’m a lumberjack and I’m OK” until I was hoarse. Blisters prevented me from holding a knife and fork for a week afterwards, and the reason I was singing was to discourage that big mother bear from creeping up behind me and hoicking me off for dinner, but that’s OK too.

lonesome-Michael-Collins-Memoirs-writing-2I really fancied the idea of spending an entire year there alone. I could write screeds, at the same time enjoying the odd frolic in the snow and a touch of cross-country skiing. Wallowing in my romantic delusion, I’d completely forgotten that I despise the cold and have never skied.

So, imagine my delight when I had an opportunity to spend three weeks deep in rural Queensland, on fifty acres of tranquil land with only a droopy horse, silly ball-obsessed dog, and two cats (I didn’t know one had Alzheimer’s), and my wife for company.

After two weeks my wife left. No, no, it’s OK. Apart from the fact that she doesn’t really like being parted from excellent coffee shops for too long, there were other perfectly good reasons for her sudden departure. One of us had to go back to Brisbane and, before I could say anything, Jane Teresa was in her car and waving a cheery farewell. I swear I could see her laughing as she accelerated away at dangerous speed across the paddock.

Right, I thought, tripping over the dog patiently waiting for me to throw a ball. Apart from food, that’s all it was interested in. A ball, any ball, large one, small one, it didn’t care. You could throw a ball from morning until night and the nutty animal would chase it. Right, I thought again, stamping back to the house after sending a tennis ball into an overgrown creek, that will take all of fifteen minutes for you to find while I start some real writing.

Fast forward to the next day. It’s 10.30am and I’m sitting sans clothing and the sweat is dribbling onto my keyboard. I knew we were heading for a heatwave, but 34oC at this time of the morning is ridiculous.

The temperature rose relentlessly. Even the cicadas stopped their racket as an intense stillness descended upon the house. There was no air-conditioning and, to make matters worse, if I looked out across the veranda, a swimming pool sparkled in the bright sunlight, mocking my greater literary efforts. So I looked the other way, only to meet the baleful stare of Ball Brains, who would sit outside the other window, nose pressed to the fly screen, hour after hour, panting with noisy anticipation. Bollocks!

lonesome-Michael-Collins-Memoirs-writing-3After four days I began to feel a little odd. The dog had a strange, glazed killer look in its eyes and I’m sure its jaw had become larger, and more wolverine. The temperature had risen more each day and was now in the forties. The cat was driving me mad with its constant yowling. The problem was that it had dementia (my diagnosis) and would demand biscuits constantly, completely unaware that it had eaten only five minutes previously. If I relented, the cat would gobble up the biscuits only to vomit them back up on my shoes, or the carpet, never straight onto the tiled floor where I could wipe it up.

And then there was the bird. I hadn’t mentioned the bird because, well, why would you be remotely interested in a man-hating lorikeet in a cage? Not normally keen on birds being confined, I was grateful this one had a stout abode. Every time I went near the thing, even to be kind enough to feed it, the beast would lunge at me in a frenzy of insane rage and attempt to peck my eyes out.

After four days, the bird began to sing Pop goes the weasel, over and over again. If it paused it was only to lull me into thinking that it had gone to sleep, or died and fallen off its perch, before taking up the refrain with renewed vigour just as I was ready to write.

And then the internet went down. I know – the solitary scribe should be grateful that he was denied such distractions – but that, combined with no phone reception, really pissed me off. I could no longer communicate with my clients, whinge to my wife, or goof off by checking on the news.

lonesome-Michael-Collins-Memoirs-writing-4I was truly alone, suspended in limbo with a bunch of crazy animals. It was at least forty minutes to the nearest civilisation and that wasn’t up to much, but I began to construct solid arguments for going there. I would then debate the merits of taking a trip to see if anyone was left alive in the world against the importance of seeing the writing work through. It was then, as the most torrential rain I’ve ever seen began, that I realised there was every chance of going quietly mad.

It rained, and rained, and rained. The river threatened to burst its banks as the creek levels rose, cutting off roads. Yes, that bloody road; the one and only escape route to my café in Hicksville.

There was a real whiff of danger in the air. When I stepped outside the house, the mud-drenched dog now snapped viciously at my feet until, out of fear of rabies (and large teeth and mud all over my clean trousers), I threw the ball until the animal was far enough away to allow me to scuttle back inside. There I had to face the crazy cat, who took to swiping, claws extended, at any piece of my exposed flesh as I sidled by. And then the other cat, known as Medusa out of respect for her general crankiness, decided that one popping weasel that day was one too many and launched itself at the bird cage. At that point, the power failed and I screamed.

A couple of hours later, I lay in bed exhausted. It was dark, very dark, and, as I drifted in and out of a fitful sleep, I wondered what else was in store for this intrepid writer. I must have conked out at some stage because I awoke suddenly with the sensation of something cold and very heavy on my exposed arm.

lonesome-Michael-Collins-Memoirs-writing-5I kept very still, concerned that whatever it was may bite or sting if I upset it. My first thought was snake, but, please God, wasn’t it too small? Cockroach maybe, but it was too weighty. Spiders are known to be heavy, particularly the large mean fatal ones.

I was on my back with the thing on my right arm, which was stretched out towards the bedroom light. Slowly I reached out with my left arm, awkwardly crossing it over my body to reach the light. I was drenched in nervous sweat by this time, aware that some beasties sense fear and react somewhat antisocially. It took a good, heart thundering five minutes to get my fingers onto the light switch before I realised that the house may still be without power.

I squinted, desperate to see in the searing light, as the lamp thankfully came on. There before me, blinking, bemused, and rather beautiful as it squatted comfortably on my warm arm, was a large, green frog. We stared at each other for several seconds in happy coexistence before I was able to hop out of bed and return the animal to the wilds.

A couple of days later, having just drive
n back to Brisbane, I met my wife in one of our favourite cafés.

“Are you alright?” she asked. “You seem a little odd.”

Apparently I’d been staring into the mesmerising darkness of my long black coffee for some minutes.

“Oh, yes,” I replied. “I was just thinking about that log cabin in Alaska.”

‘Ah,” she said, patting my hand.

And, believe me, the subject will never be mentioned again.

Share this post

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email

2 Responses

  1. Reminded me of my own hut living beside a rice field.. I insisted and made a scene for spending time in that fantasy land..ended up fighting mosquitoes all night and I never felt so revealed seeing my mom n car in the morning. The Great Escape.. very nice narration.. will look forward for more..

Leave a Reply