Oscar

Old Father Kennedy used to tell us about the ghost in Ireland, when he was training for the priesthood. He saw it twice, he said, walking across the field and into the side of a great mound; it just stepped in like nothing was there at all.

"What would cause a ghost like that?" someone would ask.

"A great trauma," he said. "Some evil deed meaning the poor thing got no peace. It reruns like a move clip stuck in time, where the lost soul keeps trying to walk where it was going." His brogue would get more Irish by the word!

"And why the hill? Why would he be walking into a hill?"

"Well, it was an old Irish fort," he said, "that embankment. Whenever that poor soul was walking happened way before they ever built the fort. In his movie," the priest would say, "there wasn't any fort there at all, so he walked straight on through. Probably still does."

"Well, if ghosts are real," they said, "how come we don't get them here?"

"It's a young country," Kennedy said.  "No real old houses. No battlefields. Most of the ghosts here would be Ngadjuri people, if there are any, and they were thin on the ground; it's hard country for living off the land."

Father Kennedy's long gone. We have some pious fool in town; it's Catholics only now. The only church for 45 miles, and if you're not a Catholic... well, there's no Communion for you and we'd really rather you didn't come at all. So I don't.

Which brings me back to Father Kennedy. Because I've been going down to the creek for my Sunday worship, down by the dam where Margaret and I used to walk, and take a picnic sometimes. And I've met  my ghost.

And like the Father said he would be, he's an aborigine. No old One Pound Jimmy. A young fella, hardly in his twenties I would think. Just walked past me one Sunday morning... straight into the wall of the dam.

My grandfather dug out that dam when he was young. It's probably a hundred years old now, and it would still be a fair bit of a job with a bulldozer. So when this young chap went past on his way down to the creek he walked under the top of the dam with room to spare.

I never heard we had a ghost! Dad never said anything. And grandpa… well, I don't know. I never really knew him. He never liked the church and used to potter off round the paddocks when we went in. One Sunday he never came back.  They dragged the dam, and when we had the big drought—I was in my thirties then, Dad and I went down into the dry bottom and scratched around with a blade on the back of the tractor. Nothing.

Anyway, Oscar went past me one Sunday morning about twelve months ago. Margaret would tell me I was being disrespectful calling an aborigine Oscar, but it fits, for some reason. He didn't seem to mind. Just walked past, didn't  look at me, and I would say, "Morning, Oscar."

I must have seen him four times; might be five, over about six or eight months. Then he got real regular. I've been seeing him every week now for three months. And a month ago I said, "Morning, Oscar," as usual, and he stopped. Just for a moment. Looked at me with big sad eyes, and then kept on walking down into the side of the dam.

A funny feeling that. I'd have expected to have been a bit startled, but it was just like someone looking at you for a moment in the street, and then realising you were not who they thought you were. He did the same the next week too, except I'd been thinking about something and looked up to see him watching me. "Morning, Oscar," I said, and he walked off.

Last Sunday morning at 11 o'clock he came as usual, right on time. I've begun to realise he was keeping as good a time as my old watch; he might be better actually. He stopped again. "Morning, Oscar." And then he gave me the merest nod of the head—like you give the dog when you're going out in the Ute and want some company round the sheep. He was asking me to come, but I've never hurried into anything, so I didn't move.

And so we've come to today. Eight days later, 11.00am, and Oscar was on time again. "Morning, Oscar." I felt my voice shake. He gave me the nod, and I got up off Margaret's old red gum seat and followed him down to the dam.

I happened to look down and saw the bank come up past my right knee, and suddenly realised this is what happened to Grandpa. This is where he went. I don't remember stopping, but when I went to take another step, I couldn't move. I was up to my knees in the dirt.

I think I knew before I started it wasn't going to work, but I dug my pocket knife out of my belt and I've got one leg clear down to the ankle. I can't make it even quiver. It feels cold and clammy like wet sand, but it's held tighter than concrete. I'm stuck in the door, halfway into another world.

The sun's going down, and it's a whole week before they run the movie again.

© Andrew Prior 


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