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One night when I am eight years old my father takes me with him to Darlinghurst in the food van. We park on the footpath across the road from where the boys slouch against the Wall, the mist from their mouths coming apart in the shadows between the street lamps. I help my father open the back door and we roll out the bench for the coffee urns and the hot trays of cooked food. People start appearing from nowhere in particular. The world tastes of sugar and sausages and sweat.
There is a woman in a sequined dress with bare legs, and she is wearing strings and strings of beads around her leathery neck. Silver ones like disco balls, blue ones you can see through. She rolls up her sleeve and shows me an elbow swollen like a tumour. “This is where I got hit with an iron bar,” she says, and nods her head, and bites into her bread and sausage. “Come with me.”
On the other side of the van there is the road, and the thin boys looking over at us. The woman makes me give her my hand. She shows me how to roll it into a fist. “Don’t tuck your thumb in girl. And punch quick, like this. No. If you swing from the shoulder they’ll see it coming.”
I watch her throw punches into the dark. I am eight years old and have never punched, or been punched, in my whole life, ever. The woman faces me, her mouth twisted and her eyes coloured with a fierceness I have never seen in anyone before, and she orders me to drive a blow into her open palm. I feel the dull shudder of my fingers against her bone, the curious power of my fist landing on her soft, loose skin.
“Ok, now try this. But watch first.” Left then right and fast she begins to fight, as if setting loose upon the whole world, her knuckles a blur just in front of my face. She has bread in her teeth and meat on her breath. My father is on the other side of the van. I stand there the whole time with my eyes open, somewhere between fear and exhilaration, and an inch away from being broken by her hands.”
ABOUT ERIN GOUGH:
Erin Gough’s short stories have been published in a number of journals and collections, including Southerly, Overland and Black Inc.’s The Best Australian Stories. Her stories have been read on ABC and 2ser radio. She is currently writing a novel with the assistance of an Australia Council grant and is working towards completing a short story collection. You can find more information about Erin at her website: www.eringough.com
“I spent four weeks at Varuna in 2005 after being awarded the Eleanor Dark Flagship Fellowship for “a project of particular merit and potential from a new writer” and loved every minute of it. I have since been an active member of the Varuna Alumni Association.” Erin Gough
SELECTED PUBLISHED SHORT STORIES:
Benny Wins Powerball, Going Down Swinging, No.32, Sept 2011
Honey, Australian Book Review website, December 2010
Trace, Etchings, July 2009
My Life as a Freeze-Framed Action Hero, Final Draft program, 2ser radio, 2 June 2008
The Promise, The Age Newspaper, January 2006
Jump, Frank Moorhouse (ed), Best Australian Stories 2004, Black Inc.
On the Way to Thursday, Hecate, v 30, n 2, 2004
Packing a Punch, Overland, v 171, Winter 2003
Scene on a Boat, Dot Lit Journal (online), 2002
The Wound Begins, Imago, v 13, n 3, 2001
Sheets, Southerly, v 60, n 3, 2000