by Andy McQuestin
I walk him there along the thin streets. The small houses pressed up to the curbs, potted herbs balancing on window frames painted in primary colors.
He carries a walking stick. He wears slacks and a button up shirt: the comfortable shoes that await all of us who live long enough. Men of his generation never dress down.
“Just the other side of this block,” I say. He nods.
Even at this distance you can see the dust of destruction in the air. He sees it too, his rumpled eyelids blinking. It’s nothing, I guess, to what he has seen. But now we have the lucky country. No wars on our shore; we knock down our own buildings.
We see the pivoting head of the crane from the other side of the block, a prehistoric carnivore, its avian gaze, its shadow cast over the commish flats where they used to sell heroin in full view of the careless world. Now there are bright murals painted by school children and a cheerful, new playground. Not all progress is backwards. The dealers hang back now, concealed in the shadows of the crane.
There are others when we get there, milling, like people do before auctions or funerals. The machines move in like a grazing herd advancing. I didn’t know they still used wrecking balls. His knuckles rise on the grip of his walking stick, purple blood visible beneath the skin. He helped put the building here.
After the war he was still young but unskilled in the gentle-again world. Outside Mr. Fulbright’s office, his uncle intoned, “Back straight, back straight, strong grip.”
Mr. Fulbright took him on. First with errands and women’s work, later as his assistant and finally, brilliantly, as a draughtsman. His finest day, he says.
It starts. The noise climbs all over our bodies. I put my ear to his mouth to catch the end of something he is saying, “… fine man…is it worth…”
I start to doubt my decision to bring him here, to see history demolished.
Someone in the ground crew gives a thumbs up. The man in the cabin relaxes his jaw and eases the ball away from the wreckage, an attack dog called too late off its prey.
It takes time for the memory of noise to subside.
The dust doesn’t settle, it just hovers and wanders menacingly. We have tears in our eyes from the debris, or not. We walk back lesser than we came.
Andy McQuestin lives in Melbourne with his family, writing when he gets the chance.