- Published: 18 January 2022
- ISBN: 9781761046728
- Imprint: Michael Joseph
- Format: Trade Paperback
- Pages: 288
- RRP: $32.99
Cooper Not Out
In the summer of 1984, a country policeman was selected to play cricket for Australia. And this is what happened.
Roy Cooper lived in the town of Penguin Hill. It was two hours and 50 minutes from Melbourne and the unimpressive sign on entry read ‘POPULATION 2400’. This was not true. The real figure was more like 1200. A mistake was made in the 1981 census by a federal government official with a drinking problem, a recent divorce, and a lump on his neck that had yet to be tested for cancer. The locals knew the number was high, but they liked being over the 2000 mark so no-one asked them to count again.
The earth around Penguin Hill was flat, and the horizon was a straight line only broken by trees and fences. There was one sealed road coming in and the same one went out. In the middle of town, between the newsagent and a butcher, was the police station.
Like the population, the station was bigger than it should have been. When it was built in 1962, predictions of the town’s growth were made by a Victorian state government official. He had no distracting issues in his life, except he was too optimistic and gave Penguin Hill a police station more suited to a town of over 15,000 citizens. So, the local force of two officers worked in a large building with one divvy van in the car park, a row of empty holding cells, and a dozen rooms used for storage by any neighbour who needed it.
Every few years, somewhere in parliament or at police command, there would be talk of closing the station and relying on patrols from the bigger towns in the regions. But it always seemed harder to close things in Victoria than to open them, so the station remained.
As a sergeant, Roy Cooper was Penguin Hill’s highest-ranking police officer. He lived 10 minutes’ drive out of town in a red brick home that had once belonged to his parents. His long driveway came off a dirt road and the property was surrounded by gum trees, with no close neighbours. Behind the house was a shed and inside it was a 1964 EH Holden sedan. It was only twenty years old but it looked far older. It had had a hard life. The two sons of a sheep farmer had dedicated themselves to its destruction by bashing it through the paddocks and jumping levee banks, before they both moved to Melbourne to play footy. So Roy bought it from their father in early 1982.
The EH was a light creamy green colour that Roy always had trouble describing. Very little had been done to it while it sat in his shed. Some of the panels had been removed, and the engine was detached and suspended by chains – like a non-beating heart hovering over a body. And Roy kept the EH covered with a long bright blue tarp.
In early November of 1984, the days were getting warmer and Roy Cooper moved through his house with only a towel around his waist. In his bathroom, water was running into the four-clawed tub as he ironed a clean shirt and hung it with the rest of his uniform.
Roy was 48 years old and six foot three, and had a moustache that bent to his chin. He’d been slim as a young man and was considered the fittest in his academy squad when he trained at Melbourne’s St Kilda Road police depot. But with each new uniform they sent him, the sizes increased and his belly gave the towels less material to tuck in.
The floorboards squeaked under him as he went to his stereo, pressed ‘PLAY’ and turned up the smooth silver volume knob. The first bit of tape made a hiss before Bob Marley came on singing about three little birds. The handwritten label on the cassette read ‘SUNDAY AFTERNOON #23’, and the spools moved to match the rhythm of the reggae man’s voice as he assured that every little thing was gonna be all right. Roy hummed and sang a couple of words without really opening his mouth, as he carried a plate of sliced fruitcake from the kitchen and put it on the bathroom tiles within easy reach. Then he made another trip to get six cans of Melbourne Bitter and a pewter mug. He turned off the water and mumbled another line from the song, then dropped his towel.
But he wasn’t alone in the big bath. At the other end was Barry Midwinter.
He was two years younger than Roy. They were born in the same hospital and went to the same schools. Barry had a wiry build that didn’t collect fat in the usual middle-aged places. And below his elbows and knees the skin was leathery brown from the sun and there was a sunburnt V shape high on his chest. But the rest of him was white and lightly freckled. He sat in the water, only wearing his orange towelling hat, and the level lifted to his nipples when Roy got in.
Roy groaned and sucked in some air.
‘Too hot, mate?’ asked Barry. ‘You all right?’
‘Nah. Nah, good, mate. No worries.’
Roy reached over the side and got a beer and Barry’s mug and passed them over. Barry opened the ring pull and a few drops fizzed into the water before he poured it into the pewter. Roy drank from the can. They sighed and lowered into the bath.
Bob Marley faded and there was silence except for two drips from the bath tap. Barry cocked his ear towards the door and looked at Roy, waiting for what was next. Then the slow voice of Neil Diamond filled the house with ‘Red Red Wine’.
Barry smiled and nodded at the selection and sang the opening lines. Roy smiled back, knowing he’d got the compilation right so far. They drank and listened.
‘Hey, I got a new telly,’ said Roy, looking at the ceiling.
‘I bought a new TV. Got it on Wednesday.’
‘You bought a new telly?’ Barry stretched his neck to see out of the door into the lounge room. ‘You did?’
‘Yeah, Baz. Didn’t you see it on the way in?’
‘Ha. Jesus, you’re a blind prick.’
‘I wasn’t looking for it. How am I supposed to see it?’
‘How did you miss it? It’s twice as bloody big as the old one.’
‘Oh righto.’ He tried to look again, lifting himself up. ‘Nah, didn’t see it.’
Roy reached down and got the fruitcake. He’d sliced it thick into four pieces. Barry took one with his rough fingers and made a good bite.
‘That’s not like you, mate,’ said Barry through the mouthful. ‘Treating yourself to a major appliance. And a big one at that.’
‘It’s a big one all right. I didn’t need one that big, but . . .’
‘Nah, good for you, mate. Good for you.’
Barry finished his slice and washed down the strong mix of flour, dried fruit and brandy with two gulps of beer. Then he gave a smiling groan before he eased back into the tub.
‘I heard a little rumour about you, mate,’ Barry said.
‘Oh yeah, what’s that?’
‘Something to do with Saturday.’
‘Here it comes.’
‘That didn’t last long.’
‘Retirement. Your retirement.’ Then Barry dropped his voice to impersonate his friend’s deeper tone. ‘“Oh, oh, I don’t think I’ll play again.”’
‘“It’s getting a bit hot out there,”’ Barry mocked. ‘“I’m getting a bit bloody old. Don’t think I’ll go around again.”’
‘I’m gonna get this all week, aren’t I?’
‘I’d say so.’
‘From every prick?’
‘That’s a fair guess.’
Roy smiled and held the plate again for Barry. He took another slice and half disappeared with the first chomp. Roy didn’t eat and Neil Diamond sang.
‘Hey,’ Roy said, rubbing a wet hand across his face, making his moustache fall flat on his lip. ‘You don’t even have to get up to change the channel.’
‘The new telly – you don’t even have to get up.’
‘Hey? How does that work?’
‘You just . . .’
‘I don’t understand.’
‘It’s got a remote.’
‘It’s a little box on a cord that you plug into the TV. And you can change the channel without getting out of the chair.’
‘Yeah, I know. It’s good.’
‘Oh yeah, righto. I think I know what you mean. I might have heard about that. What is it, like a big bloody knob or something?’
‘No, it’s a button thing,’ Roy said, wiggling his thumb to demonstrate. ‘There’s a button to go up the channels and another to go down.’
‘One to go up and one to go down? Bugger me. Nice. Gee, you have lashed out, mate.’
‘Yeah, a bit silly, I know.’
‘Not at all, mate,’ Barry said and looked almost serious. ‘Sounds nice. Very modern. Good for you. Why shouldn’t you have it?’
Barry poured the rest of the can into his mug and sucked at the froth before it could spill.
‘Roy,’ Barry wondered. ‘We only get two channels, but.’
‘And you only ever watch one.’
Barry took a good drink and shrugged. ‘Good for you, mate.’
‘That sounds pretty sweet. Is the picture good?’
‘Don’t know – I haven’t plugged it in yet.’
Barry had another gulp then took off his towelling hat and flung it at the hook by the door. It caught and stayed. He turned his body around to put his back to Roy, who picked up an empty ice-cream container, filled it with water and poured it over Barry’s head. Then he squirted some shampoo and rubbed it into Barry’s hair.
‘What a bloody world, mate,’ said Barry, closing his eyes to keep the suds out, and the water ran off his chin in a stream. ‘You don’t even have to get out of your chair to change the bloody channel. Unreal. What time are you working?’
‘Same. Three o’clock. I wish had a bloody remote to turn work off,’ Roy said, rinsing the shampoo. ‘Bloody arvo shift.’
Three hours south-east of Roy’s bathroom was the Melbourne Telegraph building. From the top floor, where the executives controlled the flow of information and opinions, they had a beautiful view of the city and the bay and the Dandenong Ranges in the distance. But they rarely looked. Half-a-dozen floors below, where they covered the sport, the view wasn’t as good. The only thing to see was the sides of other buildings.
Paddy Hunter was the Melbourne Telegraph sports editor. He looked like a huge man when sitting behind his desk. He had a round face with a short beard, a strong neck and big forearms. But when he stood, he was just five foot three, and his trousers needed to be adjusted by an Italian tailor on Bourke Street who spoke only a few words of English and always did so with a mouthful of pins.
The height of Paddy Hunter was always a shock to anyone seeing it for the first time, especially if they’d just been shouted at while the editor was sitting. It made him no less ferocious, but it was still a shock.
It was Monday afternoon and Paddy checked the clock and swore. It was getting late. Through the glass wall of his office, he could see his floor of journalists. They were all men dressed in white and blue shirts, with sleeves rolled up to the elbow and their ties loosened with the top button undone. And each chair had a jacket hanging on the back that was rarely worn inside. They dressed like underpaid businessmen, moved like labourers, and talked like bookies. A mist of smoke sat just below the ceiling, fed by plumes from two dozen ashtrays. The racket of typewriters and telephones and impatient voices filled the floor, but anyone who’d been there for two weeks no longer noticed, and the smell of cheap instant coffee lingered well beyond the morning hours. And they were busy, but none of them could help with his current problem.
Paddy swore again and picked up his phone. The person he needed to yell at wasn’t in the building. She never was. His bulky finger gave the dial an angry flick with every digit.
Donna Garrett was sitting at the table of her Brunswick house. It was a small place – not much bigger than an apartment – just like the homes either side. Any family living there would have been standing on each other. But Donna lived alone. There was no front yard, and her door almost touched the footpath, but the long hallway went back into a kitchen and lounge that got plenty of light. And that’s where she’d be, unless she was sleeping.
The kitchen table was covered with papers and books and pens and a typewriter and phone and a cricket ball. There was little space for meals, but then she ate almost every meal standing up.
Donna was a beautiful woman, but she wasn’t glamorous, and she was waiting to turn thirty-six in February. She kept her brown hair short and only used a little make-up when she went out. Today she wore jeans, a mustard yellow t-shirt and no shoes.
When the telephone rang, she already knew who it was. But her face didn’t react. She just looked at the blank page that she’d rolled into her machine at noon.
Paddy always let the phone ring seven or eight times, then he’d hang up and dial again. In the brief silence, she lit a cigarette and opened the back door into her small garden. She smoked and looked at her bit of the sky.
She sat down again and stared at the page. Nothing had changed. She picked up the cricket ball, felt the hard stitches and rolled it in under her palm along the table. The ball was a Duke. She’d visited the factory during the last Ashes tour to England, and she watched them cut the leather and sew it over the cork. It was all done by hand, and to her it was beautiful. Sometimes she held the ball and remembered the process, and sometimes she played with it without thinking, but now she was hoping it would give her enough inspiration to get just one word on the page.
There were few decorations in her house. And there were no awards or trophies – although she had some. They were kept in a cardboard box in the spare room. She’d had a good decade of being recognised for her work, but she never went to ceremonies and every engraving had the same pseudonym. They all read ‘DON GARRETT’.
When the telephone was going through its sixth cycle of Paddy-rings, she picked up the receiver.
‘Hello,’ Donna said in a low and calm voice.
‘Jesus Christ!’ Paddy exploded in her ear, making the small speaker distort. ‘Jesus. Shit. Jesus.’
It was okay – from habit, she was already holding the phone away from her head.
‘Hello, Paddy.’ She was still calm. ‘What’s up?’
‘Don’t. Please. Just don’t. I’m really in the shit here. Are you going to give me something? You know what time it is? I don’t have to tell you. I shouldn’t have to tell you. Jesus. Have you got something?’
‘Paddy . . .’
‘Because if you don’t, I’m really in the shit here.’
‘Yes, you said that.’
‘I mean, really. And you know that. But, you know,’ Paddy started to splutter with anger. ‘Look, I don’t have to run anything at all. You know, not if you don’t want me to. If you don’t feel like it, I could just fill the space with a big photo of a greyhound. Yeah, let’s do that. They’ll love that. People love them. It never fails. Words, hey? Who needs them. Yep, all right then, that’s what I’ll do: a dishlicker with a caption. Of course, I’ll have to write the bloody caption myself, because obviously I can’t get any bastard to write for me anymore. Jesus.’
Donna waited with the receiver at her cheek, tucking a foot under her backside and tossing the Duke in the air. She knew Paddy’s rants well. They were predictable. They always started with anger before galloping towards an unreasonable suggestion.
‘And . . . and . . .’ Paddy said. ‘And if someone wants to know why Don Garrett’s column is not in the paper, I’ll just tell them that he couldn’t be stuffed and we decided that we like dogs better. So stiff shit. No cricket. No Don Garrett. Just a mutt. Lovable. Heartwarming. How does that sound? Donna? Donna? Donna?’
‘How does that sound? Donna?’
‘Are you going to give me something?’
‘Good girl. So –’
Donna hung up. The rant had moved to ‘good girl’ territory – that’s when she always hung up. The phone started again. She let it go through two cycles before she picked it up without speaking.
‘Okay, sorry,’ Paddy said. ‘Listen, please. Okay, please. What do you need from me?’
‘What do I need?’
‘Yes, what can I do to help you?’
‘Do what you were doing for me yesterday.’
‘I wasn’t doing anything for you yesterday.’
‘I know. And it was perfect. I can’t thank you enough.’
‘Piss off. Are you going to give me something? Just write it and stick it in the taxi.’
‘Yes, I’ll have something for you.’
‘Hooray. What’s it about?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Christ.’ Paddy went back to anger and Donna heard him hammer his fist into the desk.
‘Wait, no don’t. Please. Just hang on. Are you there?’ Paddy sounded like a hostage negotiator who’d had a long day.
‘Just tell me something – what the bloody hell is the matter with you?’
‘Nothing.’ Donna hated people presuming her mood.
‘Bullshit. Come on, you’ve been pissing about and moaning for the last three months. I’ve got to ride you for every bloody piece. And . . . and the bloody summer hasn’t even started yet.’
‘You got the columns, didn’t you?’
‘Yeah, and I had to have a conversation like this before every one of them. Come on, what’s wrong with you? Are you trying to give up the fags again?’
‘No,’ she said, lighting a fresh one.
‘Are you having your p–’
‘Don’t say it. Don’t you bloody say it.’
‘. . . your period?’
Paddy regretted the word as he said it. The last time he’d mentioned her menstrual cycle, it was a couple of summers before and he was sitting at her table. She stabbed him in the back of the hand with a freshly sharpened 2B pencil. The bone under his middle knuckle ached all that winter, and it still hurt when he typed.
‘Okay, sorry. Sorry. I just want to know what’s wrong. Come on, look, it’s cricket. You write about cricket. And it’s never been a problem before.’
Donna stood up with the rest of the phone and walked through the back door. She’d installed an extra-long cord so she could move around the house during conversations like this. It would twist up from her pacing and turning, so she had to untangle it at the end of every day.
‘Yeah, well, it’s never been this shit before,’ she said, putting her feet on the grass, feeling the cool ground underneath.
‘What’s shit? Cricket?’
‘Well, there you go then.’
‘Write about how rubbish it is. Tell them Australian cricket has gone to shit.’
‘Because it’s not even shit enough to be interesting. There’s just . . . nothing. Nothing. No-one cares. There are no stars. There’s nobody worth talking about. The team is just a mob of blokes that want to be big hitters but can’t make a run. They can’t build an innings. Come on, Paddy. You know what I’m talking about.’
To avoid being seen by their teachers or anyone in the frum community who might dob Yonatan in, they ignored the tram stop outside the 7-Eleven on the corner of Hotham and Balaclava and opted for one further down the road.
She stood before us, without notes, books or nerves. The lectern was occupied by her handbag.
The thirty-year-old mother of Madeline Zott rose before dawn every morning and felt certain of just one thing: her life was over.
Why is it that just when you think you have all the answers, life starts asking all the wrong questions?
The touch of his hand, lightly circling my belly button, woke me. Still half-asleep, I enjoyed the feel of his fingers tracing lower.