Lockdown Fiction: Stand LIke Stone

This week’s prompt from Improbable Press made me think of Australian poet, Adam Lindsay Gordon, and how I’ve often wished there had been somebody to rescue him.

Gordon’s poems are generally much more glum than his most famous few lines suggest, but I’m glad he’s known best for the hope than the despair.

Stand Like Stone

Cal knew it wasn’t done to climb statues, but he did it anyway, there in the middle of a Melbourne night. The metal was cold – colder than the night itself – but Cal was so cold already it hardly mattered.

Being held, or at least holding someone, that’s what mattered. Months of alone, months barred from touch. Months in an inverted world.

His chest ached and his breath wheezed on the ascent, but he made it.

Some joker had attached a mask to the statue’s face. Adam Lindsay Gordon, bush poet, his noble features concealed behind the message: breath was dangerous, lately. Cover up, protect yourself, protect others.

Gordon’s statue depicted him sitting loosely in a chair, the accoutrements of his riding days underneath the chair, a pen in one hand, a book in the other, his index finger marking a page. On the verge of writing another poem.

Poetry had been the death of him. The printing debts, and the acquired brain injury of one fall too many from the saddle.

Cal sat in Adam Lindsay Gordon’s lap and leaned his head against the metal folds of his shirt. Cal was still cold on the outside, but he felt warmer inside, and he recited his favourite of Gordon’s lines.

Life is mainly froth and bubble
Two things stand like stone
Kindness in another’s trouble
Courage in your own.

Clumsily, Cal removed Adam’s mask and fixed it on his own face. It was a kindness in others’ trouble; it was courage in his own. Homeless, hungry, haunted. But he could do this. Protect others. Protect himself.

‘You all right up there, son?’

Cal, cradled in metal arms, looked down towards the face looking up at him. A man in a puffy coat, a beanie pulled over his ears. A big fellow, with broad shoulders and big arms. Masked.  Maybe like a bandit; or like a superhero. Hard to tell which these days.

Cal coughed behind the mask, a nasty, chesty cough.

‘Do you have a home to go to?’

Cal shook his head and coughed again, a terrible fit of it that left him exhausted. He leaned against Adam Lindsay Gordon’s solid torso and closed his eyes.

‘How about we get you somewhere warm?’

Cal was surprised the man was still there. Coughing fits were a sure way to clear a bench, a room, a whole fucking side street these days.

‘I’m sick,’ Cal said.

‘I’ve already had it,’ said the big man. ‘You shouldn’t be out here in the cold.’

‘Nobody wants me,’ said Cal, and wheezed again. ‘I’m not safe.’

The big man didn’t ask why, so Cal didn’t have to tell him about the shouting at home, the hitting, being trapped indoors with a father who hated the difference in his son, who was mainly only different to him. There were loads of people just like Cal, really, out in the world. There was nothing wrong with him, really, except, of course, for the obvious.

‘Come on. Let me take you somewhere warm.’

Cal peered over Adam Lindsay Gordon’s arms to the big man. His eyes had adjusted to the gloom and dear god, the man was huge. Like a bear. Like a statue come to life. His eyes seemed kind, but Cal had been fooled by kind eyes before.

On the other hand, here he was, sitting in the arms of a statue, waiting to die of cold and loneliness. Might as well take a punt. Courage, Adam Lindsay Gordon urged. Maybe the bear man would be kind.

Cal tried to climb down again, but a coughing fit seized him. The mask protected the Bear Man but made it harder for Cal to catch his breath.

But then the Bear Man climbed up the statue too, and helped Cal. Arms around that thick neck, across those broad shoulders. Bear Man was warm, the heat soaking into Cal’s chest and belly and it made him want to cry.

‘Hold tight. Here we go.’

The bandit/superhero reached the ground again and scooped Cal into his arms.

‘You’ll be safe with me, I promise,’ he said to Cal, walking across the park to the blocks of flats on the opposite side of the park. ‘We’ll get you fed and warm and work out if I should take you to hospital.’

Cal should have had an opinion, but all he felt was safe as this stranger took him home and wrapped him in a doona and gave him soup and pillows and paracetamol and care.

Then there was sleep, deep and long, and fourteen days in isolation, during which Cal learned he had a chest infection but not a virus, that some people really were as kind as they looked, and that the hero-bandit’s name was Adam.

Of course, Cal thought, smiling. Of course the strongest, safest arms he knew belonged to Adam.