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Congratulations to the winner of our short story competition - John Hawkins of WA. His story, Dad's Last Words, was our competition winner and for his efforts John receives a $200 iTunes card. Well done John!
Thanks to all those students who entered the competition! We were pleased to receive many great entries.
Read the winning entry, Dad's Last Words, below.
When my father was dying, I sat there in the darkened room holding his hand. The TV glowed busily, but was silent. And the monitor shot his progress across the screen in regular intervals, like tamed lightning in a cage. Otherwise, it was dark and quiet, except for the sound of my own heartbeat, which grew louder between thoughts like the automatic gain of a microphone. Other objects in the room seemed unreal, amorphous. Looking at the tube coming out of my father's mouth, it reminded me of the time he'd taken me to an opium den and lay there almost imperceptibly drawing on a hashish hookah, eyes closed, smoke strands drifting upward in the candle light like question marks in no rush for answers.
And then I recalled the time he talked about his pilgrimage to Gallipoli one Turkish summer with his dad, when the chill and monotony of life in Prahran, the ding-a-ling and electric sizzle of streetcars outside his window, drove Papa "half-mad" and made him restive. Papa circled the bluff, stopping in thoughtful intervals to gaze out at the sea below. A lone gull luffed overhead in the salt seasoned wind, and about a dozen compatriots chatted amiably and respectfully over by the monument that connected two worlds and cultures, now inexorably linked in time by the weird afterglow of survival and courage which binds diggers everywhere. Dad said that while Papa sighed and silently reminisced, he went trudging through the trenches, looking for a place to take a piss, almost falling over the escarpment and tearing his jeans on the rusted barbed wire, which caused him to let out a "Fawwwk!" That night, Papa told stories of gripping fear, of artillery shells strobing the night, dread dancing in their stomachs, while fireflies went on and off in an open field. Overhead, Dad said, the stars didn't seem to so much glow as well, like the sad appeal in our dog Harry's eyes, which turned out to be glaucoma.
Dad told me about this time with Papa during our own trip to Gallipoli many years later. I don't recall many details of that visit, except that there were many Aussies there, circling the monument, like the way you see them do at the Haj on TV. Dad knew one guy in the crowd who he was trying to avoid because he'd lost a bet over the Melbourne Cup and hadn't paid up yet. All I remember of that trip was the long bus ride back to Istanbul, civilians quietly chatting, the diggers all united in something, looking straight ahead; although one old soldier two seats down and across wept silently. Outside, past my reflection in the glass, the landscape rolled by without any real shape or form, like a hologram or mirage. Back at the hotel, in picturesque proximity to the Aya Sofia and the Blue Mosque, Mum sat polishing a samovar she'd bargained for at the Bazaar ("Look what I found!" she beamed), and regaled us with tales of carpet shop come-ons and archaeological digs in the ubiquitous Ottoman op-shops. Outside the underground Roman cistern, where our gasps had echoed together as we beheld the marble Medusa's head glaring up at us from the wet depths of the dim cavern, Mum and Dad had a fight, which ended with Mum storming back to the hotel while Dad and I stood there in the heat, cars whooshing by.
We walked, going over a bridge that crossed the Bosphorus, as night fell, and found ourselves in Taksim and the red light district. Cops patrolled with machine guns, looking for terrorists. We came to a booth, where Dad forked over ten lira and received two tickets, which allowed us entry to an alley filled with the sounds of disco music and rap, cigarette smoke and flashing lights. Lip-sticked girls from Romania gestured with their bodies and beckoned us with promises of bliss. It felt like we were caught in a Fellini film, or a cinema playing Fellini, the strands of projected light shifting from frame to frame like currents in the river of Heraclitus. Dad was fond of saying we lived in a world ruled by unseen forces "too big to fail."
On the telly in the hospital room, they were showing images of the golden catfish of the Kalahari, blind and unseen, streaming through the underground sluices beneath the desert's emptiness, like dharma monks in pilgrimage.
As Dad's life left him, I could feel his blood flow seemingly recede like a river going dry with time-elapsed precision. I sat in the silence, the moment's Big Bang, before the alarm sounded and the nurses bustled in, and the darkness was gone in a blink.
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