I'm Being Stalked By a MoonshadowAuthor: Doug MacLeod
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When Mum and Dad decided to build their dream home, they bought a beautiful block of land in a suburb called Kinglet at the foot of the mountains. For a year we lived in a luxury caravan parked on the corner of the block at 17 Jacana Avenue. I helped my parents make mud bricks – huge blocks of congealed mud and straw.
Mum and Dad were at their happiest when they were filthy dirty. There were mud fights, and I'd join in, while my little brother Jack watched from the caravan annexe, painting his fingernails and hoping he was adopted. 'You're disgusting!' Jack would cry. 'Rude gestures!' Dad would say. 'Rude gestures to you!'
The bellbirds would ping away, unconcerned.
When they were built, the walls of the dream home looked rough and ratty. I was disappointed. The mud bricks didn't have nice smooth surfaces, like normal bricks. But my parents weren't finished yet. What came next, and what marked the beginning of our problems, was the rendering.
Mum and Dad collected manure in big bins from a nearby dairy. Then they happily sloshed the cow manure on the walls. Dad explained that people in the Middle East did this for insulation and appearance. This might have been a good idea in the deserts of Oman. But here, in the suburbs – even the outer, outer suburbs where hippies still lived – it struck me as a bit odd. The bellbirds certainly thought so. They stopped pinging when the walls started ponging.
But I ended up helping with the rendering. After all, it was only herbivore poo. It wasn't something truly horrible, like uranium or seafood extender. It was grass that had passed through the digestive tract of a cow. Jack kept telling us how revolting we were, and continued moisturising under the annexe.
My mother and father were slightly 'alternative'. They drove a Toyota with stickers on the back telling the government to stop doing things. They had long hair that they wore in ponytails, even though Jack begged them to get haircuts. Girls often fancied my father. Fortunately, Dad only fancied Mum.
Dad was an I.T. architect, though he didn't like it much. His hobby was collecting interesting facts. Thanks to Dad, I knew how long a giraffe's tongue was.
Mum worked as a professional organiser. She'd been on television once when she organised a rally to protect a colony of endangered seabirds called 'brown boobies'. I suspect the reason Mum got on TV was that the presenter liked saying 'brown boobies'. Mum ran The Shared Learning Centre, or SLC, in Kinglet. It was a place where people went to learn skills such as pottery, leadlighting, cat psychology or how to make goat's cheese (not recommended). The SLC was a real rabbit warren, as though a bunch of cubby houses had decided to get together and become one big building. It smelled of damp hessian and raw wool. It was a much better place than regular school.
Girls might have fancied Dad, but they adored Jack. At the age of thirteen, Jack had movie-star looks. His hair was straight and dark blond and he could gel it into incredible shapes. He had a little upturned nose and brown button eyes, as far apart as it's possible for eyes to be and still look cute rather than alien.
My face was pointy, with close-set eyes that were such a pale shade of blue they often didn't show in photos. My hair started out blond but decided to go red when I turned nine. Very red. And it refused to obey gravity. When I turned fourteen I had a growth spurt. Overnight, I became 180 centimetres tall – 186 if you included my hair. Jack said I was starting to look like Nicole Kidman. He could be a cruel brother sometimes.
Jack also called me a pervert. This was because I liked women with big muscles. When they broadcast the Ms Olympia bodybuilding contest on TV, I fell in love with the bronze medallist. Her name was Opal Honey, she had massive shoulders, and I wanted to marry her. I was eight at the time. Dad said my preference for muscly girls had to do with yin and yang.
'The yin is feminine and the yang is masculine,' said Dad, strumming his guitar one night. Dad wore a necklace with a yin/yang charm on it. This is a black and white symbol from Chinese philosophy, the symbol of balance.
'I think I like girls who are yin with a tiny bit of yang,' I said.
'That's all right. It probably means you're yang with a little bit of yin.'
Which bit of me was yin? My hair? My nose? My vertebral aponeurosis muscle?
'No one is pure yin or pure yang,' Dad said. 'Everyone is a mixture of the two. And if you put together all the yin and all the yang of everyone in the world, they'd balance perfectly.'
Mum entered, brushing her long black hair streaked with silver. It looked better when it wasn't tied back. The muscles in her upper arm moved as she dragged the brush through her hair. Mum probably had a pinch of yang in her arms.
'What on earth are you talking about?'
Dad decided to keep our conversation secret. 'Seth and I were discussing the mating ritual of the giant panda. Did you realise, Zilla, the female panda walks around backwards in order to attract a mate?'
'How interesting,' said Mum. 'She also pees.'
'Would you find me more attractive if I did that?'
'No. But a male panda might, so don't do it. You could get approaches from huge Chinese bears stinking of bamboo shoots.'
'I might enjoy that,' said Mum.
'You're both idiots,' I said.
'Rude gestures!' said Dad.
'Rude gestures to you!'
'And now we're going to have a singalong,' Dad said. 'Seth, do you have a request?'
'I request not to be part of this singalong.'
Dad started strumming an old hippy song called Moonshadow by Cat Stevens. This was one of my parents' favourites. Mum sang along. Soon she and Dad were laughing together. I knew that when the song was finished they'd run off to the master bedroom, and since we were still in the luxury caravan, that was only eighteen centimetres away. They had a very healthy physical relationship.
Dad, Mum, Jack and I lived a fairly happy life. Our trials didn't begin until we started rendering the house and my father made a mortal enemy.
It was the middle of summer, the start of a new millennium, and we were about to move into the dream home. While Dad and Mum and I were rendering, we received a visit from a representative of the local council. He handed over a business card. It said his name was Jeff Raven, the senior environmental health officer for the district of Currawong. He was a humourless bald man with a clipboard. Even though it was a hot day, the top button of his spotless white shirt was done up and his tie firmly knotted.
'Can we help you?' asked Mum.
'There have been complaints,' said Mr Raven.
'What about?' asked Dad.
'You're putting dung on your walls. The smell is most offensive.'
'We're rendering.' Dad explained all about insulation and the Middle East.
'We aren't in the Middle East,' said Mr Raven. 'We're in a residential street.'
'It's our house,' said Dad. 'Surely we can do what we want.'
'This is a serious matter. Please stop what you're doing.'
Dad tossed his trowel into the nearest bin of muck. He did it carelessly and a fleck splashed onto Mr Raven's grey creased pants.
'Sorry,' said Mum.
'I think Mr Parrot should apologise,' said Mr Raven, 'since he's the one who flicked dung at me.'
'It wasn't deliberate,' said Dad.
'I still think you should apologise.' But Dad didn't apologise.
'Please tell us what exactly the issue is,' said Mum.
'The smell. People don't like it.'
Mum reassured Mr Raven. 'After it dries it won't smell.'
'I'll have to visit again when your walls are dry and smell them to make sure.'
Mr Raven looked at me. I was covered in muck. He shook his head in disgust, then straightened his tie unnecessarily and strode off.
'What an officious man!' said Dad.
'You shouldn't have flicked poo at him,' said Mum. 'It was an accident.'
'Are you sure?'
'It was only a tiny speck, Zilla.' Dad went back to work. 'I wonder who reported us? Perhaps it was Mr Robbins?'
Our silver-haired neighbour was quietly tending to his flowers in his back garden.
'Mr Robbins is far too nice to report us,' said Mum, waving her trowel at him.
Mr Robbins smiled and waved back.
At the Shared Learning Centre, Zoran the gardener shook his head in dismay when I told him what my parents had done to the house. In Serbia he had been an accountant. But he couldn't find any accountancy work in Australia. Zoran disliked gardening and refused to learn the names of any of the flowers. He just called them Serbian swear words.
'Why they do this, Set? Don't they like house?' said Zoran.
'It's supposed to be ecological,' I said.
'You help your parents to put this cacka on wall?'
'How did you guess?'
'You stink like gypsy donkey.'
'It's not me, it's your fertiliser.'
Zoran sniffed his bag of fertiliser. 'Maybe you right. But you still dirty boy. In Serbia they put boys like you in prison. You lucky to live in free country like Australia. In Serbia you can't do nothing. You need permit to eat sandwich in park.'
Zoran emptied his bag of fertiliser straight onto the flowers.
I screwed up my nose. 'Aren't you supposed to put that around them?'
'I hate these flowers,' said Zoran.
I asked Zoran why he was so miserable all the time. Was he lonely? Did he have a serious girlfriend?
'I am married since I was eighteen. In Serbia many people marry young.'
'Is your wife in Australia?' I asked.
'It is very sad story.' Zoran gave me a look of deep despair. 'Yes, she is.'
Mum was right. The cow manure smell did go away and the walls looked good – smooth and light brown with the occasional sprig of dried clover. We moved into the dream home and sold the luxury caravan.
Mum was drinking a glass of wheatgrass juice when Mr Raven called to smell our walls. When she offered him some wheatgrass juice he said he'd prefer plain water. Mum gave him water in a black cup.
'Could I please have it in a clear glass?' asked Mr Raven.
Mum politely gave Mr Raven water in a clear glass. He held it up to the light. 'This glass has greasy fingerprints on it.'
Dad snapped. He took the glass from Mr Raven and examined it closely.
'My God, you're right! Zilla, destroy this glass immediately. It has human fingerprints. It's disgusting.'
'Eric, stop it!'
'And there are some fingerprints on the fridge. We'll have to destroy that as well.' Dad was in full flight. I could see Mum getting mad. 'My God, there are finger prints absolutely everywhere! We'll just have to burn everything, starting with the children.'
'Eric!' Mum growled.
Eventually Mr Raven had to admit that the walls were indeed odourless. Dad suggested that Mr Raven should concentrate on more serious matters. This annoyed Mr Raven, who immediately found fault with the toilet door.
'It opens inwards, not outwards,' said Mr Raven. 'It doesn't conform to regulations. I'll have to send a building inspector.'
'There's no need,' said Mum. 'We'll fix the problem. Thank you for pointing it out to us.'
'Good day to you,' said Mr Raven, turning away.
'Chromedome,' muttered Dad under his breath. Mr Raven stopped in his tracks. 'Excuse me, did you just call me chromedome?'
'Certainly not,' said Dad.
The senior environmental health officer for the district of Currawong left.
'Eric, sometimes you can be a dingbat,' said Mum. Dad was a good carpenter and he fixed the toilet door in no time, though he was angry about being made to do it. He preferred a door that opened inwards and not outwards. I helped because I was a devoted son and also Dad paid me. Jack watched and complained when some sawdust stuck to the green gloss he was applying to his toenails.
The next day we saw Mr Raven walking up our front path.
'Don't you dare say anything silly to Mr Raven,' Mum warned Dad, as she went to answer the door. 'If you do, I'll jump on your guitar.'
Mr Raven spent half an hour inspecting our kitchen. He said he had concerns about it.
'I can fetch you a microscope,' Dad offered. 'That won't be necessary,' Mr Raven replied. 'Would you like a drink of water?' Dad asked. 'We have a glass in the steriliser.'
When Mr Raven had his back turned, Mum pretended to jump on Dad's guitar, to make Dad behave. Mr Raven continued his job in stony silence.
'Can I offer you something to eat, Mr Raven?' suggested Mum. 'Perhaps some carrot cake?'
'No, thank you.'
'It's very good for constipation,' said Dad.
Mum did more guitar-jumping mimes at Dad. Mr Raven caught Mum in the middle of her mime act. She pretended she was trying to stomp on a bug.
'This kitchen is not a healthy food preparation area,' Mr Raven said, handing us a list of things to fix. 'Please attend to these matters as soon as possible.'
Then he left.
'This means war,' said Dad.