Saturday, 10 January 2009

Frying an Egg on a Hot Road - Episode 13 of 'Paternity' an Australian mystery novel

This is Episode Thirteen of 'Paternity' in which Pip returns to the town where her mother was pack raped. The young journalist may soon know who her father was.


And please leave feedback in a comment at the end of this instalment.

As she humped her bag across the scalding bitumen Pip thought again of her cadetship days and another of those stand by fillers that Frank pulled out of his kit when there was a shortage of copy.

On a hot Australian summer day he’d get the newest of the photographers to crack an egg on the road outside the office and take shots as it gradually fried in the rays of the sun. Often, it was also a sort of twisted initiation for the cadet.

The city cooks in forty degrees heat the heading would scream.

Sure enough, Frank was wetting his whistle in the bar when she wandered downstairs after her shower. He caught sight of her and grinning hugely, enfolded her in a bear hug.

‘So you’re back mate.’ He held her at arms length and the smile in his eyes turned to worry.

‘You’ll have to be damned careful my girl.’

Pip shrugged with fabricated bravado. ‘Con will be the one who has to be careful. What’s the latest?’

‘Some bad news about George. He’s been flown from over at the regional hospital by helicopter to Westmead Hospital in Sydney. I’m afraid that his broken ribs have pierced his lung and there are other issues too. The doctors say he’s in a bad way.’

It seemed that George was in such a bad way that the assault charge could easily become one of murder.

It was a while before either spoke again, and Pip broke the silence.

‘This is getting out of hand … Perhaps I should let everything drop Frank.’

‘What difference would that make now mate? The damage is done. On the other hand Robson could get his comeuppance, if we’re lucky.'

Frank said the sergeant was still working on Gazza in the belief that self preservation would produce information to incriminate Robson.

‘I reckon Con is a goner,’ he said with conviction.

‘Let’s hope you’re right. Is the beer cold?’

‘They’re not game to serve it any other way … I’ll get you one.’

Frank was as good as his word. The beer was icy cold and as the fluid slipped down she could feel herself relaxing. Her old friend was looking intently towards her.

‘I don’t get why you’re here right now Pippin. What do you hope to achieve?’

Pip glanced outside the window and into the distance. The bare brown paddocks seemed to stretch forever. This land could be so impersonal. Her mind came back into the bar and her eyes met those of this kindly man.

‘It’s just a feeling that I needed to be here. It’s as though I’m looking after Selene’s interests … I can tell myself it is a holiday too.’

‘Well don’t do anything stupid.’

Pip hoped the look she gave him conveyed a confidence she didn’t really feel.

She had been given the same bedroom upstairs – Room 22 with its faded pink chenille bedspread and the swirling pattern of English-style roses embossed on the fake plaster ceiling. It was like old home week.

The trip had been long, hot and dusty and she really needed an early night. The mattress objected with a squeak when Pip threw herself full length on the sheets and opened her latest thriller at the post-it note book mark.

Tired or not, a couple of chapters were mandatory if she was to get to sleep easily.

It wasn’t too long before her eyelids drooped and the book threatened to drop to the floor. The central light still burned bright in the ceiling but she wouldn’t interrupt that dreamy feeling between waking and sleep for anything right now … right now …

The mobile shrieked her awake only half an hour later with a full blast of the William Tell Overture.

She’d left it on loudest for the trip so that she could hear any ring above the CD player.

Groggy, Pip staggered off the bed and over to the oak dressing table, and lifted the phone from where it lay on the starched doyley.

‘It’s Denzy – were you asleep? Sorry …’

‘Thatsh okay mate … wotchawant?’ She was half in dreamland.

‘I thought you’d want to know ASAP. It’s the Raven thing … They’ve ruled him out as well. Nothing like a match it seems.’

The news wasn’t a huge surprise. She had never thought that Raven was the one.

‘Pip? Still there?’

‘Yep. Sorry. And thanks Denzy. You’re a good mate. So it looks like I don’t have any African American in me eh?’

‘Seems not. Look I’ll let you get back to bed … I could do with some sleep myself.’

Pip let the phone drop on the sheets and gathered the pillow beneath her cheek. Of course she WAS awake now.

Not Raven. Not Gazza. Not Wimpole.

Surprisingly though, within five minutes Pip was lightly snoring.

Next morning Pip faced the distinct likelihood that Robson was her father. Con Robson, the sleaze who masterminded the pack rape and yet turned up for some spoils only after the others had kidnapped Selene.

Con Robson, the corrupt country solicitor who did old ladies out of their trust accounts. Robson who could have killed her that dark night out on Rouse’s farm. The guy who had the most to lose in all of this.

When Denzy rang Pip had been too sleepy to take in the reality. Now it hit her. Con Robson. But how to prove it?

She knew Frank wouldn’t be downstairs. He’d said he had to leave early to get over to the District Court before the 10am start.

The old journo would have to be told the news when he got back that night.

Someone had remembered her request to leave the newspapers outside the door, so she read them in her room. Even the front pages were full of the latest test cricket. When would they wake up that not all Australians were sports mad?

She checked her emails and then wandered down the hall for a shower and rinsed out some undies in the bath tub, rolling them in a towel so they wouldn’t drip all the way back to her room. There she spread them on the backs of two chairs near her bed.

Pip had promised herself a meal down at the Greek café. Anything but soggy toast and hard eggs at the pub. That meant a very late breakfast, so she drove the couple of doors to the petrol pump at the store and filled up before the café opened.

Irene Rouse was in the shop with her children when she went in to pay the bill, and the farmer’s wife rushed over to Pip with an anxious look on her face.

‘Miss Holmes have you heard?’

‘Heard? Mrs Rouse?’

‘The teacher just told me that George Wimpole is dead. He died just after they got him to the hospital in Sydney … George is dead.’

It was murder.

Pip gunned her car mercilessly down the main street, screeched left just past the warrior and roared down the straight dirt road that led into the bush. Here she slammed the car door and almost ran to the space of her mother’s nightmares.

In a rage of torment Pip gathered rocks. Gathered rocks and threw them in a flurry at the dusty ground and towards the trees. A dozen missiles she let fly, each one serving to lessen the pent up fury and anger that had been hers alone for too long.

Eventually, energy spent, Pip’s frame melted to the ground. A tear found its way down her cheek and became a flood. She howled with emotion.

Her rage had spoken of her mother’s years of agony. It screamed at the rapists who had lived their lives untrammelled, while others suffered. It bellowed at injustice wherever it was felt. Most of all it scarified Con Robson.

George’s death may have been the catalyst for this release, but Pip’s crisis was much more than that – it was a leap in which the past and the present melded into an understanding.

At this moment in the Australian bush the jigsaw puzzle that had been the lives of her mother and herself became one whole: an entirety that must now be cherished and nurtured; set into its own special safe place in the scheme of things; a basis that would become a springboard towards her future.

Pip now knew that life had to be lived and that the future would not look after itself. George’s death and all that went before had writ large the truth that life was no rehearsal but must be lived full the first time around. Life needed to be faced and dealt with, and the past placed gently in position ― prized yet no longer dominant.

Many minutes later, she grew quiet. She felt a relief that she had never known before.

It was still morning time, but Pip believed that she saw the moon – her mother’s moon – in the sky above. And it comforted her.

Calmed, Pip drove back to the Greek café feeling very hungry. She ordered spinach and fetta cheese pie and olives, biscotti and thick black coffee.

Cosmo, the son of the proprietor, was full of George’s death. Naturally it had by now become the talk of the town, and he was keen to chat. Even his father, the plump old Greek with the drooping moustache, seemed energised by the news.

Everyone knew Gazza was being held for the assault and it seemed the mechanic had few real friends in the town. According to the Greeks, he’d bullied too many of the locals over the years and now they had no sympathy to spare for him.

On the other hand George was well thought of, and regarded as an excellent teacher and a good bloke – even if he was believed to be rather strange.

Back at the pub, Pip walked through the rear door and along the corridor that passed the bar.

The place was just beginning to fill with thirsty workers and most were milling around the bar waiting to be served, or lighting up the first really relaxed smoke of the day.

Her eyes swept the room and came to a stop at the far corner where two figures were huddled at a small round table, sitting on tall stools. Gazza and Robson were deep in private conversation.

Pip slipped across the open door way as quickly as she could, and hoped she hadn’t been seen.

She’d imagined that Gazza would have still been in remand but of course assault wasn’t the most serious crime in the book and he’d have got bail okay – if he’d actually been charged.

The huddle put the two men together in common purpose. It was certainly unusual to see a solicitor and a mechanic like Gazza in a social situation, and showed they were reasonably sure of themselves. Although Con could always pass off the meeting as ‘legal advice’.

It was most unlikely that Gazza would have sought out Con if he’d actually dobbed him into police about the rape.

This probably meant that Gazza hadn’t split on Robson despite the police sergeant’s best efforts, and that they were comparing notes on how to face future events.

You can bet they would soon hear about George’s death – now murder.

Pip spared herself a smile as she thought that it would only be a matter of time before the sergeant put two and two together – and acted. That was good dream material, so she decided to have an hour’s sleep.

The foregoing is excerpted from Paternity by June Saville. All rights reserved. No part of this novel may be used or reproduced without written permission from the author.

Have you ever fried an egg on a hot road?

Before I sign off, may I vehemently disagree with the latest Google literary quote:
‘It seems, in fact, that the second half of a man’s life is made up of nothing, but the habits he has accumulated during the first half.’ Fyodor Dostoevsky (Russian novelist)

What do you think? Is this true for either man or woman?


  1. Wow!!!-is all I can say. Poor George. I sure didn’t expect him to die.

    Gazza and Con are going to be hot on Pip’s tail if/when they realize she’s in town again. Afterall -she is the source of their undoing. At this point, I’d grab my bag and be hightailing out of that town- if I was her. (I’d look like a flash in the night-I’d be moving so fast. )

    Well, the only Dad candidate left is Con Robson…..OR IS IT? I think I have a handle on how your mind works now.

    But- it’s getting scaryeeeeeeeeeeee! When the next segment?!?!?

  2. Vikki - so you have a handle on how my mind works? THAT is scary-eeeeee! You'll raid my credit card next!
    Should we have a funeral for George - so that his fans can mourn him?

  3. Hi June, When I was a kid we used to fry eggs on the sidewalk all the time when we were playing house. I also disagree that the second half of my life is made up of habits from the first half. Believe me, I have changed a lot of my habits from younger years! I don't think anything is going to happen to Pip at this stage because too many people know what is going on and Gazza and Robson would be really stupid if they harmed her. I think Robson will kill Gazza to keep him from talking. Just because her mother was raped by these men does not mean one of them is her father???
    About the red hat thingy. I thought what you said was hilarious. You might have been right! Then, you might have been wrong. I'll never tell. lolololol.

  4. Lots of wisdom as usual JUDY.
    I reckon we'll stay alive a lot longer if we do grow and change however old we are. Dostoevsky may have been goading us to do just that.

    Investigative journalists do sometimes need to depend on the public nature of their existence for protection. You're right, that may help Pip through this - and keep Robson and Gazza in check. But are we dealing with psychopaths here - people who don't/can't reason before they act?

    Red hats - that comment was very Judy. Only serves to prove me RIGHT! And for that I'm pleased and grateful.

  5. Ooooo good Chapter June ! After throwing the rocks and calming I'd be so full of pizz and vinegar wanting to take them both on !
    Thank heavens it doesn't get that hot here in Canada to fry eggs though there are days it is brutal. More please :) Cheryl

  6. So you're up to date with 'Paternity' Cheryl? Well done. I'm so pleased you're still with me.
    I'll be back asap.

  7. I'm leaving my comment on my site, you'll have to come over to read it. Sorry about that, LOL, but I hope you enjoy.

  8. ERIC!
    I followed your orders and what did I find? Delight!

    You have dedicated an entire post to my stuff and I'm quite pink with excitement. Thanks heaps Eric - that was so generous.

    And you have Pip perfectly. Couldn't have painted her word picture better myself. And it's great you've included Vikki's portrait as well.

    Your blog counter will go mad because I'll be over there having another look every five minutes!
    Sincerely June

  9. I told you I had a surprise for you. Vikki stole my thunder with her post, but I'm glad she did. That portrait is amazing. Thanks for the shout. So now I'm waiting for the rest of the story, sitting patiently by my computer, watching the blog updates. Personally I think Pip will deal with her Father in her own special way. Make him pay for his crimes against her mother if you know what I mean.

    I love a small scrappy sheila, not afraid of the blokes, and willing to deal blows, in a literary way.

    You Might like another blog novel I have followed,

  10. ERIC
    Thanks for everything. I reckon small scrappy sheilas can be interesting - and this one is proving so apparently.

    I have just got back from seeing 'Australia' the Baz Lurhmann/Nicole Kidman/Hugh Jackman Oz film and I loved it - surprising myself.

    It's a huge epic - generally not my cup of tea. But it said something and used caricatures which I find effective, plus magical realism. Have you seen it? Wonderful images of a dramatic country.

    You may find it's fun. although not everyone's cup of tea ...

    I'll check out your blog suggestion.

    I am battling a bit with time at the moment and I am fiddling with the remainder of the book. Want to be happy with it, so I hope that everyone will be a bit patient with me ...

    Tried to have a look at your suggested blog but was denied entry. Apparently invitation only. Any way of contacting the author to ask permission?

  12. June. Another strong chapter. Sentences/images that particularly struck me:
    “...fabricated bravado...” (Loved this!)
    “‘Thatsh okay mate … wotchawant?’ She was half in dreamland.” (Your detail as with reagards to lingo is brilliant!)
    “Eventually, energy spent, Pip’s frame melted to the ground.” (I could sense her total emotional exhaustion - what a roller-coaster journey she's been on!)

    There is so much frustration when one faces injustice/evil (especilly of the gravity that Pip is faced with) and one has to work within the confines of the law (i.e. investigations, and due legal process). I guess, more so for Pip who works within the system. I completely sense/connect with all her pent-up emotions.

    p.s. No – I’ve never had fried egg on a hot road. Kool image though!

  13. Thanks CATH - I really appreciate your comments - especially as most are positive (!)
    Seriously though I like constructive suggestions equally as well - as that's how we all learn I reckon.

    I'm pleased Pip's emotions seem valid ....

  14. June... okay... a few thoughts re development points:

    I wasn’t sure of the word ‘enfolded’ where you write: ‘...then enfolded her in one of his bear hugs.’ - the register of the word didn’t seem to match the piece.

    I wasn’t sure of this sentence: ‘She howled with emotion’ immediately followed by the paragraph starting: ‘Her rage had spoken of her mother’s years of agony...’ It felt a bit heavy (OTT). Also – the earlier sentence: ‘...Pip’s frame melted to the ground’ – is very clear, hence why I think the later use of the words ‘howled’ and ‘rage’ is a bit heavy – especially when this is already and emotion-heavy novel (thinking about the subject matter). In a re-draft I would keep the omniscient-god narrator more subtle by fine-tuning words/phrases because the characters and the subject matter can carry the weight of the heavy emotions and language (if that makes sense)! I think the omniscient-god narrator needs to be more neutral in a novel like this – thereby, allowing the reader to make their own inferences through the journey and actions of the characters.

    Finally, where you write: ‘Yep. Sorry. And thanks Denzy. You’re a good mate. So it looks like I don’t have any Negro blood on board eh?.’ I couldn’t make my mind up about Pip using the word ‘Negro’. It’s not that I have a problem with the word in literature (when it's valid and appropriate) – but, thinking about Pip’s character and the portrayal of her (in that painting) – I just don’t believe that she would use that word. Also, it suddenly made Pip seem quite American (in my reading) and so that jarred a bit!

    Well – hope these thoughts/suggestions are helpful. At the end of the day – the author has the final say in their work.

  15. Hi CATH
    Thanks for the comments. I did make a little change to the 'bear hug' sentence and I think it's better now.
    So far as the scene in the bush is concerned: I made it one of the most emotion-charged in the novel with intent. I wanted a contrast with the surrounding text ...
    'Negro' - is that word offensive in some cultures? If that's so I'll remove it just so quickly ... In fact I'll do that now in case it is.
    However, you may not have recalled that Raven (one of the rapists) was a black American and that Pip may have been his daughter.
    It is my impression that it is still used as a descriptive word in Oz - with no disrespect intended. To me, 'Negro' intones a proud race.

  16. I don't think it is Con, you have something up your sleeve.

    never fried eggs on the sidewalk (didn't get the hot in Kiwiland) But in the Pantanal in Brazil we used to fry them on a spade without a fire...

    Negro to me is a good healthy word, just that some use it with the wrong intentions so it has crept into those "no-no" words, my Brazilian ex never complained when I used it and she was, very... I used to tell her to smile so I could see her in the dark, it was a bedtime thing, 'nuff said.


    Ah - I must look up my sleeve ... I hope I don't find Con.
    Fried eggs on a spade without fire! Now, that is hot!
    Thanks for the comments about Negro. There's no way I want to be offensive, so I'm indebted to Cath and yourself ... The word is gone from my manuscript.

  18. Hello June. Ah - I understand better your thinking behind the word 'negro' and also - if it's lingo that is used in Australia... then, it works for me. I honestly didn't think Aussies used it (how utterly naive of me (lol))! I don't take any personal offense at all with that term - as I'm one of those that believe that the word has merit in literature. Do keep it in as it fits the story/character in light of the background re Raven. Possible alternatives could be 'black' or 'darkie' but you are more in tune with the narrative of Australian culture - so, whatever works best. Thanks for clarifying! I'll catch up with your next installment in the next day or two. Cheers!

  19. ‘Yep. Sorry. And thanks Denzy. You’re a good mate. So it looks like I don’t have any black American in me eh?.’

    Hmmmmm.... me again. I’ve re-read the sentence several times... and, I’m not sure it works (depending on whether you are trying to convey relief/disgust in Pip). As it stands, she comes over nonchalant but I’m guessing you are wanting to communicate a stronger emotion from Pip?

    In the former reading of this line... using the term ‘negro’ implied that she was relieved that she isn’t mixed race or black. The mention of ‘negro’ in the context of the character is derogatory. So even though I totally agree with you that the Negroid or Black race is a proud one - the reading and meaning of it here in Pip’s dialogue is not one that is affirming. I am not saying that the word shouldn’t ever be used – definitely not. In fact, I believe that as writers we have a duty/obligation to represent fact/history/truth/opinion/etc through our characters. And, if this is Pip’s truth/paradigm – then, the phrase ‘negro’ SHOULD stay. I think all I wanted was... clarification in terms of context and background (I’d not registered the Raven background) – because, I also believe that as writers we have a duty/obligation not to bandy about negative/derogatory words just for the sake of it. After all, our narratives will and do inform the next generations. When you used the word ‘negro’ – I understood/read what Pip was saying as: ‘thank God I’m not mixed race/or black’... and, there is ABSOLUTELY nothing wrong with that (if that is what she needs/wants to express). Perhaps, I was challenging (as I would anyone) the choice of using that term – simply because of the negative connotations attached to that word which also informs the reader on the character. Hence, on one level – with the use of the word ‘negro’ – I, as a reader, saw Pip in a different light (but, of course – this won’t have the same impact on all your readers). While, for example saying: ‘black blood’ or ‘I’m no darkie then’... is less intrusive in my reading of Pip as a character. I hope this makes sense (lol). Interestingly, I’ve had this same conversation with my husband, Joel (a white Aussie) – who is more reserved about the use of the word ‘negro’ in literature. We were having this discussion in lights of a recent debate about whether old literature that used the word ‘negro’ should be banned/banished in schools/education. I totally DISAGREED (it shouldn’t be removed from our heritage) and hubby was more inclined to agree! You’ve really got me thinking – how as writers we always have to try and get the balance right... in terms of keeping (a) the ‘integrity of our characters’ and (b) being ‘honest with our readers’. I really haven’t taken offense, June – but you’ve made me ponder (hence this lengthy post/reflection)...!

  20. HI CATH
    I am THRILLED that we're all having this conversation. The more attitudes towards race and issues such as the environment are discussed, the better so far as I am concerned.

    Pip would definitely not be racist, so in the context of that, 'Negro' is gone! I have put in 'African American' throughout - I think that's probably used more here now anyway, and now I understand why.

    Australians (and others outside the US of A) need to be more particular in their description, even though this is a bit ponderous.

    Pip's reaction was not relief/disguest, in my book, but more in the context of solving her dilemma. Witness: 'The news wasn’t a huge surprise. She had never thought that Raven was the one.'

    G'day Joel - I hate to come between partners, but in the case of a word so historically significant, I must come down on the side of NO BAN. I must say that is generally my stance anyway. No censorship.

    Are you reading 'Paternity' Joel? How about a comment or two?

  21. Hi again CATH
    My Australian Macquarie Dictionary speaks calmly about Negro being a 'member of the Negro race' or 'having Negro ancestry'. Nothing about political correctness.

  22. Re: G'day Joel - I hate to come between partners, but in the case of a word so historically significant, I must come down on the side of NO BAN. I must say that is generally my stance anyway. No censorship.

    [Joel's Response] It really depends on how believeable you want your characters to be, who your audience is and whether you want to carry them with you. The character you are creating must believeably use language within the social context of their life and history. There are words which have been used by Anglos which have come to distinguish the sense of division between themselves and other races, and which have been used as whip-hands of oppression and humilation, often (with an ironic sneer) from a scientific basis (such as anthropology) which has been twisted into a negative.
    It is unrealistic that a non-Anglo would use this language about themselves given the sense of brutality and powerlessnes manifested in the way Anglos have perverted the meaning of the words. I'm sure you are aware of many examples or horrid words used to describe Indigenous Australians which they would never use themselves for this reason.
    Catherine makes reference to the word 'darkie' which is a good example. It may seem benign but to Aboriginal people it's the equivelent of the American use of 'boy' to describe African American men, that is, it is demeaning and a reinforcement of intolerance, etc. Therefore, it is one thing to say 'no censorship' and another to consider the liklihood a character would use such langauge when knowing what that langauge 'represents'.

  23. Joel
    Thanks so much for entering the discussion.
    I absolutely agree with your stance - and my changes to Pip's speech are in line with this attitude - Pip is not racist and therefore would not use 'Negro' if she thought it was in any way offensive. To me that's not 'censorship'- it's being true to my characters, as you suggest. Do you agree?
    Hey did you see the inauguration in the States? Inspiring to see how far they have come, although we can't kid ourselves that it's universal in their culture. Good to see so many happy people.
    Cheers and see you around

  24. Hi again,
    I continue to enjoy each episode. You have a great way of moving the plot along and keeping me on the edge of my seat - waiting for the next surprise. I appreciate how clearly you explain things and how logical the events are.
    I am expecting a twist -and do not see Con as Pip's father. Just a guess at this point: Does Frank have something to do with it all?

  25. JOCK
    Thanks for the ongoing feedback - much appreciated!
    So it looks to me as though you see Paternity as a page turner (if it was on hard copy)?
    Great. That's what I wanted.

    I'm very happy that you find the story real.

    Remember that Con is a little man and Pip is a small person as well ... maybe?
    Again, nature or nurture?
    Guess away Jock!


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Cheers June