Lazy Luddite Log

29.12.06

Visiting Logan

A walk I went on recently took me past a dilapidated and very much abandoned old house. I have always been drawn to such things and so naturally I took a bit of a look into the broken windows of the old shack. I even wandered onto the rickety porch for a better snoop. As I did this I began to imagine what it may have looked like if inhabited, and who may have lived in it. I was inspired by that experience to pen this short story...

It has been about twenty years since you last stood outside this old weatherboard house. Back then you were a child of eight. Nothing much about the place has changed in that time. That sameness is more jarring than if you had found the place replaced with modern townhouses. So much has changed in your life that you would have expected something to be different here. Surely, you think, in that time a tree would have been cut down or a fence replaced. And could those two old Hillman Hunter cars covered in matted pine needles be the same ones that fascinated you as a child? It seems that you are stepping into a photo from your childhood.

You walk along the narrow path to the wooden porch. You knock on the door. You hear barking from inside and then some shuffling. A moment later the door opens. The enquiring face of an old man looks out at you via the fly screen door. You hastily introduce yourself to Mr Mallee as the child of your parents, and say that you decided on a whim to visit, since you just happened to be in the area. You hope he can spare some time. Of course he can. You are warmly welcomed in while the excited dog, similar to one you remember, is shooed away from you. Mr Mallee tells you to call him Logan.

Inside things are pretty much as you remember. You have entered a kitchen and dining area that is wider than it is deep. The wall to the left has one doorway into the small living room. The wall to the right has two, one each into the study and bathroom. The back wall has one door which you know exits onto the back porch. But what draws your attention most is the blackened iron stove, which dominates much of the back wall. There are photos and cards arrayed above it and you recognise one photo of you playing with that dog from two decades ago.

Logan asks if you want some lunch that he has just now prepared. You accept, despite the fact that you have never been a fan of baked beans on toast. You also accept the offer of a glass of homemade elderberry wine, made from the bush in the backyard. Logan asks you how your parents are. You tell him of the many moves the family made and of the eventual divorce. This saddens Logan. He then tells you the story of how he befriended your parents, despite the fact that they were much younger than he. You ask him to elaborate on a few aspects of the story, which he does happily. You wonder how you can possibly broach the topic of why you truly came here. You figure the opportunity will present itself soon, so you let the conversation wander for now.

You compliment the wine. Logan ushers you into the backyard to see the elderberry bush. Once more the scene is a familiar one. The left and right ends of the back porch were long ago enclosed to form two separate rooms. To the left is the bedroom and to the right is the laundry. The toilet is still the freestanding structure along a pebbly path that so disgusted you back then, and still gives you the creeps now. The berry bush is a topic of much interest to Logan, but is just another plant to you. Then you see something that you think can help swing the conversation your way. You ask whether that rusty tricycle is the same one you rode as a child. Logan says it is. You then comment on how you have lost many possessions from your youth. Logan says that it is important to keep things from your past and then beckons you back into the house.

In the study Logan shows you his sketches. He sketches to this very day, and shows you the collection he has drawn over five decades. There are recent sketches of his neighbourhood, older ones of the workplace he shared with your parents, and even older ones of his youth in Dublin. You comment on how images can bring back memory so well. Logan responds that he knows something that works better, and with that he takes you over into his overly warm living room.

Logan asks you to sit in a dusty armchair while he puts the kettle on. He suggests that you can peruse his record collection and find something to put on the player. You take a look. One half of his collection seems to be jazz, like Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis. The other half is folk music with names like The Chieftains and The Dubliners. You remark on this idiosyncratic mix as Logan returns with your tea. Logan smiles and says that his musical interests are determined by his 'Black Irish' ancestry. You look blankly at him so Logan sighs and explains his joke to you. He then puts the album you have chosen on his record player, drops the needle, sits back and closes his eyes.

You look across at your host sitting there, and wonder whether he looks any older than you remember from last time. Of course, as a child you had some issues with judging age, and anyone older than your parents was simply old. Logan looks ancient now, and yet, looks exactly as you remember him. However some minute change has come over him as he sits there and the crackling music washes over you. He then speaks with a slow and surprisingly sonorous voice:

“They say that smell evokes memory more powerfully than any other sense. But it’s hardly convenient to keep a library of smells and stinks. For me the thing that works better than any other is music. This song was playing on the wireless during my passage by ship from Ireland. I can remember the smell of the sea and the movement of the waves like it was yesterday. I recall the excitement of meeting my wife on that boat. I especially remember the thrill I got from the way she pursued me. It took a lot of gumption for a woman to be so bold back then. But she had all sorts of virtues, and gumption was just one of them.”

Only now does Logan open his eyes and gives you a small smile. “Are you sure you just came here for the heck of it?” You are taken aback by this question and stammer that – well – there was something you wanted to ask him. You go onto tell a story of your own in a somewhat tentative and almost embarrassed tone:

“To tell the truth, I found some of the conversations you had with my parents to be a bit boring. So, you remember, I went playing with my toys in the backyard. Well, I lost one of them in the ivy. At the time I forgot about it pretty quickly, and since then I got interested in other things. In my teens I sold my entire toy collection to help pay for my first computer, and that was several computers ago. Anyway, I’ve since been looking at old papers and documents of mine, and came across an old toy catalogue. I realised how much fun I had in those days and think it’s a pity I sold them all. And then I remembered the one I lost here and wondered if there was some chance that you’d found and kept it.”

Logan grins now and walks over to a set of drawers in a corner. Opening one, he retrives a brown paper bag and hands it to you. “That what you looking for?” he asks. You open the bag and think ‘Eureka!’ to yourself. There it is. You had imagined it would be caked in dirt, but it looks pretty much as you remember it. The stickers are still on it. The parts are all still together and still move fine. It still converts from robot to appliance mode. It even has its gun still attached. You cannot manage to suppress a smile. You thank Logan for keeping it better than you could have as a child. Logan tells you that he understands the importance of keepsakes and is happy that it has such sentimental value for you. You nod agreement, while succeeding now in establishing a neutral expression.

After finishing your cuppa, you tell Logan that you have to get back home, as you have a long drive and the day was growing old. Logan seems to understand that you have to go. He keeps you talking as you slowly go from one room to another, from the front door to the front gate, and finally to your car. Logan thanks you for coming, as he so rarely gets visitors these days. You thank him for lunch and conversation but say nothing more about your fortunate acquisition.

As you are driving along the freeway you reflect on what a long and tiresome afternoon it had been. But you consider it worthwhile. As a child you never cared much for the 'Specteron' toy, despite the fact that you had got it by saving ‘robo-credits’ clipped from other toy boxes and sent away for via post. The character corresponding to the toy had barely any role in the cartoon intended to advertise the toys. The toy itself was smaller than others and what it changed into – binoculars – was pretty boring compared with a sports car or jet plane or robotic dolphin. But how time had changed all that!

Specteron had been made in small numbers compared with those sold in toy shops. It had been flimsy in construction and so many had been broken and thrown in the rubbish. Then, in the process of one toy company taking over another one, the original moulds for Specteron had been disposed of, preventing the issuing of any ‘classic’ collectors edition, once the children of one decade had become the affluent collectors of another. All this you discovered surfing the Net during slack moments at work, and so you knew that very few mint condition Specterons existed, and suddenly any that did exist could be auctioned on-line for an exorbitant fee. Your carelessness as a child, combined with the care and consideration of a lonely old man, had delivered you this surprise windfall, and all for the price of a few hours of tedious conversation and the tolerating of baked beans.

Specteron had even less sentimental value for you now than it had in your childhood, but it did have a monetary value, one that you would very soon put to use in paying off your gambling debts. Let Logan think that the silly thing was more than that. Your toy is just a novel solution to a life problem, you think, glancing at it on the front passenger seat as you take the turn-off towards home.

I submitted this story to the City Of Monash Short Story Contest 2010. It got nothing. I was hoping for some kind of acknowlegement but was expecting too much in a contest of over a hundred entrants. I did enjoy attending some of the associated workshops and got some worthwhile feedback. I suppose I will just keep writing as the inspiration takes me and may well have another shot next time...

Also note the named character is now the focus of another story.

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6 Comments:

  • eew! That took at distasteful turn.

    I can't help but think that your feelings and opinions reside with the former nostalgic and sentimental impression you were giving of the protagonist.

    I do the opposite of your imagining 'what if someone still lived here now?'. I often look around and picture the world with no people in it - bare streets silence, stillness. What if aliens came down (or some other silent observer) and tried to derive meaning from our architectural, technological, and pollutory madness with no one around to explain it to them?

    I think this tendency to minus people from the world when I look about me first stemmed from reading Isobel Carmody, but also perhaps has been influenced by apocolyptic horror fims in which one person (who has been in a coma, or whatever) ermerges to find a still and silent world and all the evidence of human habitation except the humans themselves.

    By Anonymous Hooch, At 13 January, 2007  

  • I think I may start with that interest in the feel of something that is desolate. But then my grounding in adventure and fantasy and science fiction movies comes into play and that background tells me that a deserted setting is never truly deserted and that there is always some hermit or bandit or mutant hiding away in the shadows.

    And yes I identify more with the Logan character than with the 'You' character.

    By Blogger Daniel, At 18 January, 2007  

  • On Facebook I had the following exchange once I reported that this story was a losing entry...

    Sarah Carpenter -

    I liked this a lot! It reminds me a bit of a Roald Daahl short story I read once (I forget the name) about an antique furniture dealer who disguises himself as a priest so he can trick ignorant people into selling him their fantastically valuable furniture for next to nothing. Although he gets his just desserts in the end, unlike your protagonist! I like the second person narrative, because it makes me somewhat uncomfortable to be associated so closely with the person described in the story. Which I imagine is the whole point!

    Me -

    The comparison with Roald Daahl surprises me, only in that I think of mine as realist, much moreso than his somewhat skewed worlds.

    The second person started by accident and I just stuck with it... I think I went with it because _aspects_ of the character in childhood are like me. Yes it is a bit uncomfortable, and maybe that is why it did not impress!
    (-8}

    By Blogger Daniel, At 09 September, 2010  

  • Just wanted to stop by and say that I think you are very talented and I am so happy for you that things are falling into place. Your blog are soooo fun. Thanks for sharing.

    By Anonymous Susan Graham, At 08 December, 2010  

  • Thanks for the comment Susan (which I think refers to a much more recent entry than this one). If things are falling into place that is very much the basis of a mindset. And it can be difficult to preserve at times. Right now - feeling a bit adrift but that I expect will pass.

    Also your page seems to be for a shop...

    By Blogger Daniel, At 08 December, 2010  

  • A family friend by the name of John Brewer died recently. He was originally a friend of the brother of my mother but then became the friend of my father. Anyway some aspects of him and his home snuck into this story - definitely the Hillman cars and the elderberry wine.

    John was an important part of our extended family. Among other things I remember him helping me learn to ride a bike. Also due to his dog Mackie I suspect that both I and my brother Lukas will have a life-long fondness for German Shepherds. John will be missed.

    By Blogger Daniel, At 14 October, 2013  

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