Flighnay

REMAINS TO BE SEEN: TRACING JOE HILL’S ASHES IN NEW ZEALANDrema

Davidson, Jared (Rebel, 2011. ISBN 9780473189273)

In a bum one sees the mystery of how he got there. Seasick Steve ran away from home. Joe Hill fell into the Great Depression. Ours came from a tatterdemalion public library on Cooke Street, where he’d spent the morning chroming petrol from a lemonade bottle. Whomever they’d sent to pick him up hadn’t arrived, so we offered him a lift home in Colin‘s Subaru.

The bum lived in a shelter on a street he pronounced, “flighnay!”

Hold your tongue against your front teeth. Now holler, “flighnay!” out of the corners of your mouth like the captain calling for the men to charge. If you do it right, your top lip should flutter against your teeth.

“Flighnay!”

After a few misidentifications, we found his shelter on Viney Street in Clarinda. He couldn’t have stayed in the car longer than a quarter of an hour. Driving home, we started to congratulate ourselves on having performed just the sort of facile act of charity requiring neither courage nor sacrifice that Australia so much admires – when we got the first whiff of the smell.

Imagine the most revolting smell you can think of. Now imagine that that smell spent the morning chroming petrol and choking down Wild Irish Rose.

Nothing could dislodge it. The months passed and still it lingered. A professional service cleaned the car and still it lingered. A year passed and still it lingered.

The smell seemed strongest in summer. Like a punch to the groin, it took a few seconds to set in: when you first sat in, you’d inhale and say, “Nothing! I think the smell has gone at last!”, but then a few seconds later it would rear back up to renew its monstrous assault upon your nostrils.

How could a smell from a man remain after more than a year? He’d sat in the car just a quarter of an hour.

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