|My yard - wet season|
Friday, October 22, 2010
For some reason I write very little about Townsville, where I live, and about the seasons, which shape life in the tropics. We still call the seasons spring, summer, autumn and winter, but those terms don’t fit the tropics. We have two seasons here: dry and wet. The dry season corresponds with winter. Days are lovely, nights are cool, and the tourists start to appear. The wet season, summer, is a different story.
The following are excerpts from a manuscript I’ve sort of given up on – it turns out there’s only so much you can write before you need to figure out where the hell it’s going. The protagonist, J (it’s not a literary device, I just couldn’t think of a name), works as a security officer in a refugee camp in a dystopian near-future north Queensland. It’s the wet season, and I’ve tried to make it feel as long and oppressive as the real thing.
In late October the rain came, and the Town vanished behind its dark, shifting curtain. The Camp was thick with mud. The Brothers splashed through it with their umbrellas held high, while J and his colleagues turned up the collars of their jackets and grew accustomed to the feeling of always being damp.
The palms fronds shone a brilliant green in the rain, luminescent against the grey world. Grass grew from nothing and was flooded again, like reed beds.
Mould spores appeared on the ceiling of the barracks; the next day they extended down the walls, grey and mottled. The towels that they had hung up after their morning showers were still clammy the next day. In those brief hours of respite when the rain stopped it was humid, and the mosquitoes and flying ants came. The flying ants had long, thin gossamer wings. J could feel them crawling on his skin as he tried to sleep. His sheets smelled of sweat and insect repellent.
It wasn’t the summer J had been promised. The rain felt incessant, and confined him again to the barracks. The Camp was quiet in the rain and, if it wasn’t, at least the sounds of violence were muffled by it.
The mango stalks were long that year, and the ants had built their nests on higher ground. There would be a cyclone, said the people who knew how to read these things. They were the long-term inhabitants of the Camp, and they were wretched and vicious but they knew the weather. They had watched it their whole lives.
The Camp was flooded, and strewn with palm nuts, leaves, sticks, and all the debris the rain had dumped there. It would take another two weeks for the water to drain away into the earth, and mosquitoes bred in the stagnant pools that were left behind. The shining larvae spun and twisted in the water.
It rained again by the afternoon.
J burned mosquito coils in his room, and the smoke gave him a headache.
J grew accustomed to the rain, to the long gloomy days, and to the sound of water; it overflowed from the guttering of the station roof onto the concrete path, it coursed out of the downpipes, and it flooded down the gentle hill from the Mission in a hundred different little cataracts, around the government buildings, and down into the Camp.
J gave up wondering when it would end.
Up at the Mission the Brothers were preparing for Christmas already, teaching their kids carols and hymns, and there was talk of putting on a Nativity Play. J, dropping in there one rainy afternoon, stood on the verandah of the little dormitory and watched the kids inside.
“Lo,” said one of them anxiously, “A child is born in Bethlehem.” He scratched a bleeding mosquito bite on his arm.
J looked at the paper chains lying on the floor, made from streamers. Damp little hands were busy gluing the links together, and the colours had already run. By Christmas, J thought, they would look awful.
November passed slowly, each grey wet day the same as the last. J crossed them off on the chart in the rec room. The chart was damp and speckled with mould, the corners curling off the wall. J couldn’t remember the last wet season like this one.
The creek broke its banks. The saltpans flooded. The water rose in the Camp. J, patrolling the Camp, tipped over stagnant rainwater containers with the toe of his boot and watched the mosquito larvae wash into the mud.