Hello Goodbye - A Short Story

by Mark Cornell

Tim could do a whole range of brum, brum sounds long before he learnt to talk. He loves anything to do with engines. Once when he was playing with his Matchbox Cars on the floor, our friend Margaret exclaimed, ‘ Oh listen to him, he’s even changing gears.’ Tim heard an engine down the street while I read to him. We decide to go out and investigate after his last story.

          ‘I reckon it could be a big lawn mower or a digger. What do you reckon mate ? ’ I ambled down the street holding Tim’s hand while he nursed his furry possum puppet to his chest. Walking slow was one of the first lessons my son taught me now I was no longer part of the rat race.

          ‘Hmm…’ Tim’s blue eyes were lost in thought. ‘ I reckon it could be that bobcat we saw the other day.’ He stopped at a waxy green bush on the corner and knelt down to study some soldier beetles.

          ‘Dad, why are they stuck together like that ? ’ Tim placed his hand on the footpath and encouraged two enjoined beetles on to his little fingers.

          ‘I’m not sure mate. Maybe they’re making babies like what you saw in your dinosaur video. ’ Another lesson Tim had taught me; be open about things. This had taken some time, because I’d spent a decade in a crowded office where in order to survive the last thing you did was reveal your innermost thoughts. Tim and I watched the little black and red beetles go about their business. I used to fly around this corner every morning to catch the train into the city.

          Some of the people I worked with laughed when I said I was going on Family Leave to stay home and look after my son. One colleague stated, “ I knew a bloke down the road who did that and he ended up turning into an alcoholic.” My director tittered, “ You’ll be ringing up in a few weeks time begging me to come back.” Well, she may be a director of work but she’s a lousy observer of life, because here I am two years later still looking after my little man.

          The engine sound whirred as we crossed the road and made our way to the railway station. Tim jumped up and down and pointed to the other side of the track at an orange bobcat preparing the ground for a footpath. I shook my head and smiled back at him. We sat down on a platform seat to chat about the bobcat. The driver smiled and waved when he saw us. Tim and I laughed and waved back. The little boy in the man, who drives big machines, surfaces when he notices a child watching him. He always gets a happy gleam in his eye.

School kids trickled on to the platform across the other side. I stared up at the swollen grey clouds sailing towards the Dandenongs and took a deep breath. Winter’s on her way. You pay more attention to Mother Nature when you’re away from work. One of my favourite pastimes these days is making a fire in our hearth, grabbing a drink and having Tim on my lap. We watch the flames and he tells me of worlds where dragon’s blow mists and spit red stars up at the sky. My son claps and dances whenever I tell him I’m going to make a fire.

          A tall skinny man, with long grey hair and a shaggy silver beard marched towards us. As he got closer I noticed he had a huge glob of snot hanging down from his nostril to his chin. His wrinkled face looked wild. Don’t sit down next to me, I said under my breath. But he did and pulled a packet of cigarettes out of the breast pocket of his crumpled brown suit top.

          ‘The next bloody train’s an express which means it’s not gonna stop at my station ! I live in Auburn, hardly any train stops there these days ! ’ He lit up a cigarette and shot me an angry look. Christ what do I say back to this bloke ? I shrugged my shoulders.
‘Uh Oh ! ’ Tim jumped off the seat and pointed to a teenager who’d jumped down on to the rails to retrieve his yellow footy. ‘ He shouldn’t do that should he Dad ? ’ Tim shook his head.
‘No mate it’s dangerous.’ I scratched my beard.

‘He doesn’t miss a trick does he?’ The man smiled and nodded towards Tim.

          ‘He’s an intelligent little monkey all right.’ I replied, relieved that the ice had been broken.

          ‘How old is he?’ The man tapped his ash on to the ground.

          ‘ Six months ! ’ Tim declared as he climbed back next to me.

          ‘ You’re four mate, remember ? ’ I chuckled and leant towards him to count four on my fingers. My son followed with his eyes and lips.

The sign said the Flinders St train was due in fifteen minutes.

          Tim smiled shyly as he stretched over my lap and held his possum up to the man.

          ‘ I was wondering what that was. I thought it was a flaming cat.’ The man raised his eyebrows and roared out a laugh. Tim responded with a similar laugh then made a series of guttural possum sounds. Some of the school kids on the other side appeared puzzled by the man’s booming laughter.
‘Why’s he got a possum ? Most kid’s have teddies.’ The man wiped his moist eyes.
          ‘Tim loves possums we’ve got a family that visits us every night to knock off our food scraps. He loves hand feeding them.’

‘I feed them toblerone chocolate in Fitzroy Gardens. Some of the little buggers run right up to me and rip it right out of my hand. Do you guys live around here ? ’ He butted out his cigarette and lit another. He spent more time holding them in a claw like grip rather than smoking them.

          ‘Just round the corner in Viviani Crescent.’

          ‘I’ve spent the day with my sister…She lives in Great Ryrie. I can’t get over your little man. The possum sounds he makes are spot on.

He’s smart all right. That takes lots of observation.’

          ‘When they first put him in my arms he stared right through me. He’d only been on this planet for a few seconds but he knew me already. The nurses used to tell me that while all the other baby’s cried or slept in

the hospital, Tim was quiet and watched everything going on around him.’ I fended Tim off from attacking my face with his possum.

          ‘ That’s a bit rough isn’t it?’ The man grinned and took a deep drag on his cigarette. ‘ I’m a paranoid schizophrenic on the pension. I barely get enough money to eat and pay the rent. It’s even harder to do the simple things of life like having a few beers with my mates now and

then. My sister nagged me all bloody day about going on a budget, but I find something like that bloody impractical.’

‘ I reckon a budget’s the first nail in the coffin.’ I recalled how my wife had recently suggested the same thing and I told her I just couldn’t think that way. The man’s grey eyes widened.

The sign said the Flinders St train was due in ten minutes.

‘ The rich are getting richer. Everyone’s out for themselves these

days. All everyone seems to care about is money, what about ethics eh ?

It’s pathetic they way people display their material possessions to each other. One of the first things you’re supposed to learn as a kid is not show off. ’ He snorted as he pulled a dirty hanky out of his tracksuit pants to wipe away the snot. Another blob soon dripped down his whiskers.

          ‘ I’ve never had a job you know.’ He gazed down at his sandals.

 ‘ That’s all right, you’re not missing much, most jobs are pretty boring anyway. I’ve got more out of life by staying home and looking after Tim than I’ll ever get from years of work. ’

‘ Take a look at those kids over there. They’re all brimming with energy and life. Look at them laughing, chatting and playing games with each other. Yet once they enter the workforce they shuffle around the streets like zombies. All their joy’s gone. Everywhere I go I see people

walking around with miserable looks on their faces. They spend all day working for a boss and doing things they really don’t want to do.’ The man threw his half-smoked cigarette on to the track and lit another.

 ‘You’re not wrong. I’m so glad to be away from all that garbage.’ Tim jumped on to my lap and I rubbed his back. The platform opposite us was now jammed packed with school kids. The bobcat driver turned his engine off and we waved goodbye to each other as he leapt into his van.

The man stood up to take another look at the sign.

‘ God ten minutes is too bloody long to wait for a bloody train,

everything in life is stacked against me, that’s why I’m a paranoid schizophrenic.’ He sat down and laughed again. I found this man’s

thunderous laughter infectious and couldn’t help warming to him. I asked him his name.


‘G’day Frank I’m Keith and this is Tim.’ I shook his hand and asked Tim to say hello.

‘Hello. Uh-Oh ! He shouldn’t do that should he Dad ? ’ Tim pointed to the teenager who now stood on the roof of the train station rescuing his yellow footy.

          ‘ Yep you’re right mate.’ The teenager kicked his ball down to his friends. ‘ He’s a big kinder boy now Frank.’ Tim’s eyes lit up.

‘ My mother never sent me to kinder. She said they were “ enclaves of socialism.”

          ‘ Ah well…there’s nothing wrong with an enclave of socialism is there Tim ? The world needs more of them. ’  My son beamed as Frank and I laughed.

‘ My Mum was a Mick and she raised me as a Catholic. As a little boy I was forced to think about some pretty heavy things I tell you. That’s why I probably ended up being a paranoid schizophrenic.’

          ‘ I’m a half-caste. My Mum’s a Catholic my Dad’s a heathen. She wanted to raise me as a Mik but Dad put his foot down.’

‘ That was probably a good thing. My personality and morality were paralyzed by the church. As a kid I was shit scared by the idea of God up in the sky watching over everything I did.’ Frank sniffed and pulled out his hanky again. He threw his cigarette on to the tracks then lit up another. The smoke wafted over us. A bright eyed Tim poked his finger into it and sang, ‘ Whew ! Whew ! Whew ! ’ Frank and I laughed when Tim said there’s a bellbird down the track smoking a cigarette. The kids directly across from us raised their frowning heads to stare at Frank.  
The sign said the Flinder’s St train was due in five minutes.

‘ Where are you guys headed for ? ’ Frank cradled another cigarette.

          ‘ We’re going home to cook tea and listen to The Beatles. Tim loves getting out his ukulele and strumming along to their music. ’

‘ Two of them are dead now. ’ Frank sighed. ‘God how I loved The Beatles. Their music was so positive and uplifting ! Those were the days when giants walked amongst us.’

          ‘ What other sort of music do you like Tim ? ’ I took a water bottle out of my coat pocket and offered it to him.

‘ The Moody Blues.’ Tim held his bottle up like a trumpet player and gulped.

The Moody Blues ! ’ Frank’s face flushed. ‘ I love the Moody Blues. I’m an old hippie I smoked too much dope and that’s why I ended up being a paranoid schizophrenic too.’

 ‘ I love Night’s in White Satin and Mull of Kintyre.’ Tim gasped after draining his bottle.

‘ What other song’s do you love mate ? ’ I patted his head.

Hello Goodbye and Get Back.’ Tim flicked my hand away.

 ‘ I bloody love those songs too.’ Frank sang Hello Goodbye to a grinning Tim. I sang along with him.

The sign said the Flinder’s St train was due in one minute.

Frank stared at a young mother who walked by pushing a pram. He stomped on his cigarette and lit up another.

            ‘ This world’s got a sick sense of priorities. We idolize rich idiots, anyone can be a successful rich idiot, all you have to do is behave like a spoilt brat and demand that everything goes your way. Yet that woman over there is doing the most important job in the world. A job that’s overlooked and taken for granted. Time and time again a mother sacrifices herself for her child, that takes a lot of courage. Women are stronger than men.’ Frank held his cigarette on his lap like he was burning a stick of incense. There were so many questions I wanted to ask, but the city train suddenly zoomed below the bridge towards us.

          ‘ We’ll probably never meet again.’ Frank stood and ruffled Tim’s hair. ‘ It’s been wonderful meeting you little fella.’

 ‘ Goodbye mate take good care of yourself.’ I shook his hand. As Frank slowly made his way to the carriage he turned back to stare at Tim waving goodbye with his possum.

I felt sad watching Frank’s train disappear down the line. I pictured him sitting in the carriage with snot trickling down his beard getting disgusted looks from other passengers. I wish I there to tell them to mind their own bloody business ! I recalled the joyful way Frank responded to Tim and saw him in the pub laughing away with his mates. Poor old Frank, he was probably one of the sanest persons I’d ever met. Yet he’s an outsider. The Belgrave train arrived to pick up the school kids.

          I was annoyed with myself over the judgement I first made when Frank stormed towards us. Well; Tim had taught me another lesson, be generous to strangers. I shivered as I watched the Dandenongs dissolve below the rain clouds. The sky changes regardless of how we act. I held my son’s warm hand and made a detour to the bottle shop on our way back home to The Beatles.