Ralph Malvern

By American Creek there’s a fig tree
with someone’s name written on its
trunk. I hesitate to say mine. Okay,
yes. In some fit of adolescent vanity
I carved the initials RM there one day,
after school. Never have gone back to
look at it. What would be the point?
Just a memory now, like the fig tree

that’s been chopped off at the waist.
I suppose it was infected with some
Kind of disease. I used to drive past
it every day, you know, on my way
to the F6 and Sydney. This kind of
semi-dead tree, down by the creek
there, at the end of our street. Then
someone chopped it off at the waist.

Nothing but a brown stump remains.
I can’t look at it anymore. In fact, I
drive a different way now, cutting
across Figtree Heights to reach the
on-ramp. It’s actually about fifteen
minutes faster. A lot less traffic. As
a result I don’t drive past the school
that often now. Or the fig tree stump.

It’s the reason for my suburb’s name.
I’d like to crawl inside that name and
sit there for a while, listening to its
silent refrain. Fig tree. Figtree. Two
words fused together to form a name
that’s no longer valid. A kind of lie,
perhaps. Cruising in a Newcastle lane.
Anyway, what’s in a suburb’s name?

As for mine, if you ask, Ralph will do.
Yeah. Ralph Malvern. And you? Well,
pleased to meet you. So what do you
want? A lift? Sure, hop in. I’m driving
that way myself. Working in Sydney?
Yeah, I used to catch that one too. It’s
not too bad a commute. I’m stationed
out at Holsworthy. No, Ralph will do.

Mr Malvern to their friends at school,
of course. Not that I get to see a great
deal of them. It’s in the nature of the
job, as they say. Not much more to it,
really. I enjoy the driving, as long as
I break it up a bit. About a thousand
clicks a week, at the moment. Yeah,
Ralph Leyland’s about right. Malvern.

Watch them walk down O’Brien’s Rd
like Brown’s cows, the herd of them.
Another reason I never come this way,
most days. Good to see the old streets
again, every once in a while. God, kids.
Where was the last place I so much as
Talked to any of them? O’Brien’s Rd?

Reflected in the Fairlane’s rear-view.
Then they’re gone. Turning left onto
the highway, the Figtree Hotel in my
right eye & Westfield straight ahead.
I’d be almost at the entrance by now,
If I’d come the other way. Yes, well,
anyway, there won’t be any delays.
A fig tree in the Fairlane’s rear-view.

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