Finals Bliss: Who will tell a story; make us believe?

“And in it’s magical pattern there was now a new element, a new glow, a cast of a golden colour which suffused everything, the source of which was a character in a book he had half read of and would never finish. He was not interested in what happened to Jay Gatsby. He was only interested that Jay Gatsby should exist.”
– Peter Carey, Bliss

Do you know Peter Carey’s Bliss?

Harry Joy was to die three times.

Returning to life after one such occasion, he was greatly troubled to identify whether or not he had in fact been placed in Hell. Was this his old life? Or were these characters around him placed here only to torment him? And how could one tell the difference?

It was a perplexing riddle; impossible to solve.

It was only when apprehended by police following an attempt to drive his damaged Fiat home (the damage being sustained by having a circus elephant sit on it), and only when his attempt to explain the chain of events was laughed at as preposterous, and only when two goon-ish police officers roughed him up physically, did Harry make a significant discovery: stories are the answer.

As long as he told a riveting story, the policemen stopped beating him. If only he told a fancifully entertaining story, Harry’s children would interact with him. If only he could weave ideas together, his wife would pause momentarily in the clandestine (yet openly obvious) extra-marital affair she was undertaking with Harry’s work associate.

The discovery which from that day forward gave Harry’s life purpose was this: imagination is the difference (the sole difference – prove otherwise) between this life as Hell and this life as Possibility.

(Imagination and a story. K Hinkley as Harry? A Clarkson as Harry? R Lyon? J Longmire? B Scott? C Scott? The story is all. Who is the Harry Joy of 2014? N Fyfe? L Franklin? (So many, so many possibilities).

Once there was a footy club where two Des’s came to visit every Monday. Every Monday Des Pair and Des Peration breezed uninvited (like a virus) through the sliding automatic doors of club headquarters, past reception, without so much as a lanyard. The Des’s would enter the high school gymnasium-like atmosphere of boys’ jokes and testosterone-infused competitiveness and deflate the atmosphere with the efficiency of a well sharpened axe through a basketball.

Young men of short attention-span, seeing themselves as men of action rather than as men of sedentary pose, would be seated for a meeting; tapping their feet, shuffling their buttocks, farting, sniggering, touching each other. Members of the coaching staff, some of whom saw themselves as only recently retired and therefore more as “one of the boys” than as “one of the men,” would be torn between laughing along and offering outward gestures of stern indignation. Others on the coaching staff had no doubt about where they stood and felt consequently rueful, disappointed, frustrated and tense.

Des 1 and Des 2 thrived in this environment. The very breath of disappointment inflated their sense of worth and of purpose. Each week (after a loss) they paid a visit. Cumulative visits were difficult to take. It was about this time that Self-Doubt then came knocking. An enormous hippopotamus, Self-Doubt, once acknowledged, was difficult to ignore. The Des’s fed Self-Doubt with nourishment such that she grew to a truly preposterous size. With sunlight now eclipsed from the club headquarters, the club and many associated with it were plunged into darkness.

No amount of rationalising nor spreadsheets nor powerpoint prowess could shift Self-Doubt, for whenever analyses of carbohydrates, kilometres, soft-tissue injuries etc etc, took place, her nagging voice would sing in unmistakable falsetto: “you don’t know what you’re doooooing! You’re planning for the unplannnnnnnnable. There is waaaaaay too much outside of your control, sunshiiiiiine.”

Day after gloomy day, week after gloomy week, the club and all within her grew mouldy and flat. Little black streaks appeared on people’s skin. Even with vigorous rubbing, it was hard to shift.

“What’s going to happen?” the people/ supporters/ journalists/ members/ Board/ President asked no one in particular. “Let’s spend money/ buy a new training venue/ buy medical advances/ buy a few more coaches,” came the obvious (yet disingenuous) replies (again to no one in particular (which were comprehensively reported on free-to-air TV and then even more comprehensively reported/ discussed/ debated/ replayed seven different times on Pay TV)).

And then, along came Harry Joy. If this was life, then he could accept that. But if this was Hell, his method was working. Keep spinning the story. Keep them all alive to it. Make it great, original, a dance, bailando, bailando, bailando…

Harry walked into the club having spotted a large (and growing) hippopotamus blocking the sunlight. The first people he met were the Des’s.

“G’day gloomy men.”

“Who are you? What do you want?”

“Ahh, that’s it! That’s exactly what you’re supposed to say. I knew I’d seen you before.”

“Who are you? Don’t be funny.”

“Me? Funny? No, no. You’ve got the wrong idea there, buckaroo. No, this is a long way from funny. It was only last night that I learned of the boy from Ibiza. Do you know of this boy?”

“Which boy?”

And as Harry told them the story of the (imaginary) boy from Ibiza (could have been anywhere), the Des’s shrank before his very eyes. They shrank further and still further until they were no larger than a pair of Lego men. And still they shrank. (By now Harry had described a boy and a banana lounge and a rap artist and three sticks of celery and a talking cup (and that wasn’t the half of it)).

Poof! The Des’s were gone.

Club headquarters, still miasmic in the unnatural darkness, began to lift, just a little bit. Doors opened. Heads peered around partitions.

“Whoah,” said Self-Doubt from her position of lofty altitude. “You’re making waves, little man. Looks like I may need to crush you like so many other hopes and dreams.”

“Ah-ha,” said Harry, arching an eye-brow and licking his right index finger; in fact making quite a show of testing the prevailing wind conditions. “Now is not a good time.”

“You can’t fool a giant hippopotamus,” boomed Self-Doubt. “No story of yours can remove me.”

“Of course that’s what you’d say, dull figment of a combined fearful imagination,” yodelled Harry. “Fear is a great motivator, to be sure.” The yodelling was inspired and drew rapturous crowds from adjoining café’s and even had dozens of pedestrian commuters avert their eyes from their own mobile devices. “But it’s nothing next to the power of Possibility.”

“Huh?” said Self-Doubt, sizzling like a spent fuel-rod, in on itself.

“Take a chance! Back yourself! Play on! Have a shot! Go the barrel!” yodelled Harry, tap-dancing, coat-tails flapping, heels clicking, hat tossing, facial hair bristling.

Such was the assailment of unimpeachable belief that Self-Doubt, plaguing the club for so long, was instantly killed stone dead. She burst into a gazillion tiny purple droplets of hippo and floated away on the afternoon sou’westerly.

Harry walked nonchalantly past the commotion of office staff and those in the gift shop, calling to them as he went: “G’day. Come with me.”

In two shakes of a hippo’s tail, all paid and voluntary club staff and players were before him in Theatrette A. All club members and supporters were streaming him live via interwebbishness.

“G’day everyone. I’m Harry. Listen to this. I think you’re going to like it…”

“Ah-ha,” nodded the players of adventurous spirit with hope now restored. “Watch this. I think you’re going to like it…”

“Ah-ha,” nodded every other person. “I’m ready. I think I’m going to like it…”

 

About David Wilson

David Wilson is a writer, editor, flood forecaster and former school teacher. He writes under the name “E.regnans” at The Footy Almanac and has stories in several books. One of his stories was judged as a finalist in the Tasmanian Writers’ Prize 2021. He is married and has two daughters and the four of them all live together with their dog, Pip. He finds playing the guitar a little tricky, but seems to have found a kindred instrument with the ukulele. Favourite tree: Eucalyptus regnans.

Comments

  1. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Thought provoking to say the least , OBP !

  2. E.r.
    An interesting take on a number of concepts.
    I could never really get into Peter Carey, no matter how I tried.
    Until “True History of the Kelly Gang”, one of the best books I have ever read.
    Cheers
    Smokie

  3. Brilliant. Look forward to the sequel with the return of Self-Doubt. She is a cunning hippopotamus that can creep back into a club every time a player has a shot on goal or has the ball in a crucial moment and wonder what to do with it. Think Ivan Maric in the 2009 Adelaide v Collingwood final.

  4. G’day & thanks.
    OBP – good to give the noggin a work out.
    Fair enough Smokie – life’s too short to perservere with an author you don’t click with. And I also enjoyed the Kelly stotry. P Carey’s adoption of N Kelly’s “voice” worked incredibly.
    Dave – that’s true. For adults, children, whole organisations. Belief plays a part.

  5. Interesting stuff DW. I haven’t actually read the book, but I did see the film with Barry Otto, and was turned off by a certain scene (not because I was offended but because I felt Carey was trying too hard to offend with this certain plot development – that is presuming the film followed the book, which it may not have).
    But I have to say I love Carey’s short stories e.g. “Fat Man in History”, “Last Days of a Mime”, “American Dreams”, “War Crimes”, “The Puzzling Nature of Blue”. Absolutely brilliant. Have you read them?

  6. G’day DBalassone,
    I wasn’t aware of the film, but I’ve had to fight a rising nausea reading one passage recently. Don’t know if it’s the same scene, but Harry’s children were involved. It was fairly provocative. I wouldn’t say needless, as that’s the story he wrote.
    (Not since the mid winter of 2013 when I needed to hastily disembark a crowded tram and its close atmosphere, after reading a passage of Murakami’s “wind up bird chronicle”, had I been so affected. Good writing, I guess.)
    And no, I’ve not read any P Carey short stories. I’m onto it. Thanks a lot. Rgds etc etc DJWilson

  7. Luke Reynolds says

    Interesting read Dave. I’ve not read any P.Carey. Do you have a suggestion for a book/story to jump on with?

  8. ER – I always struggle with the more fantastical elements of magic realism, but I heartily endorse that a leader has to sell the saga/ journey/ odyssey to the tribe. It gives hope and purpose when there is no tangible reason to have any.
    I am reading basketball coach Phil Jackson’s “11 Rings” bio at the moment, and I find it intriguing to think what could and could not be extended from the NBA to AFL. Because he was technically brilliant as a coach, he could sub-contract that to assistants, and focus on the strategy, man management and the transformation from ‘me’ to ‘we’ within stars like Jordan, Pippen, Shaq, Kobe.
    None of the turgid game reporting of most bio’s except when it is essential to illustrate the journey.
    Phil is Harry Joy incarnate.

  9. G’day Luke,
    For a western districts lad I’d have to call ” Illywhacker.”
    It’s a hefty one. See if this grabs you…
    Starts like this:
    “My name is Herbert Badgery. I am a hundred and thirty-nine years old and something of a celebrity. They come and look at me and wonder how I do it. There are weeks when I wonder the same, whole stretches of terrible time.”

    If not- go “True History of the Kelly Gang”, as Smokie has. Written as Ned. Absence of punctuation and grammar, as evidenced in Ned’s surviving “Jerelderie letter.” P Carey copied Ned’s style of narration. E.g.

    “…after we ate we was silent on our blankets looking out across the mighty Great Divide I never seen this country before it were like a fairy story landscape the clear and windy skies was filled with diamonds the jagged black outlines of the ranges were a panorama.

    You’re going to ride a horse across all that.

    I know.

    He laughed and he were right I knew nothing of what lay ahead.

    See that there he pointed. That is called the Crosscut Saw and that one is Mount Speculation and yonder is Mount Buggery and that other is Mount Despair did you know that?

    No Harry.

    You will and you’ll be sorry.”

  10. G’day PB- beauty.
    Love it that you’ve found bits of Harry Joy in Phil Jackson. Love it that you’ve been prepared to say so.
    I’d suggest there’s a bit of Harry Joy in you as well.

  11. I have read “Fat Man in History” and “Oscar and Lucinda” (for obvious reasons). Like DB I thought Fat Man short stories were wonderful, but O&L a bit forced and twee. I will take up Smokie’s suggestion and dig up Kelly Gang. The language in the fragment you cited is wonderful.
    Only saw Bliss as a movie. The bit that sticks with me is Harry Joy’s (Barry Otto) panicked look every time he came into the bedroom, about what was happening to the level of the massage oil bottle and the whisky bottle. Each rise and fall foretold the fate of the cuckolded man.

  12. G’day Dave, that was indeed the scene I was thinking about. I hope you enjoy some of his shorts if you get around to it: I recommend “Collected Stories” which has all the stories from “The Fat Man in History” and “War Crimes” in one book. Unless of course you know some tricks on google! Cheers, DB

  13. N Dal Santo

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