RALPH MALVERN

By American Creek there�s a fig tree with someone�s name written on its trunk. I hesitate to say mine. Okay, yes. In some fit of adolescent vanity I carved the initials RM there one day, after school. Never have gone back to look at it. What would be the point? Just a memory now, like the fig tree that�s been chopped off at the waist. I suppose it was infected with some Kind of disease. I used to drive past it every day, you know, on my way to the F6 and Sydney. This kind of semi-dead tree, down by the creek there, at the end of our street. Then someone chopped it off at the waist. Nothing but a brown stump remains. I can�t look at it anymore. In fact, I drive a different way now, cutting across Figtree Heights to reach the on-ramp. It�s actually about fifteen minutes faster. A lot less traffic. As a result I don�t drive past the school that often now. Or the fig tree stump. It�s the reason for my suburb�s name. I�d like to crawl inside that name and sit there for a while, listening to its silent refrain. Fig tree. Figtree. Two words fused together to form a name that�s no longer valid. A kind of lie, perhaps. Cruising in a Newcastle lane. Anyway, what�s in a suburb�s name? As for mine, if you ask, Ralph will do. Yeah. Ralph Malvern. And you? Well, pleased to meet you. So what do you want? A lift? Sure, hop in. I�m driving that way myself. Working in Sydney? Yeah, I used to catch that one too. It�s not too bad a commute. I�m stationed out at Holsworthy. No, Ralph will do. Mr Malvern to their friends at school, of course. Not that I get to see a great deal of them. It�s in the nature of the job, as they say. Not much more to it, really. I enjoy the driving, as long as I break it up a bit. About a thousand clicks a week, at the moment. Yeah, Ralph Leyland�s about right. Malvern. Watch them walk down O�Brien�s Rd like Brown�s cows, the herd of them. Another reason I never come this way, most days. Good to see the old streets again, every once in a while. God, kids. Where was the last place I so much as Talked to any of them? O�Brien�s Rd? Reflected in the Fairlane�s rear-view. Then they�re gone. Turning left onto the highway, the Figtree Hotel in my right eye & Westfield straight ahead. I�d be almost at the entrance by now, If I�d come the other way. Yes, well, anyway, there won�t be any delays. A fig tree in the Fairlane�s rear-view.

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