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cliffy’s copper and farah pahlavi’s gold

Sometimes you have to take the job that’s on offer, this is gospel, a man needs a paycheck, weekly, in cash. Wealth. So that’s why he’s sitting in the afternoon sun on the back step of a weatherbeaten mansion on the Hawkesbury River talking to Cliffy the handyman.

Cliffy is about seventy, a rickety old white-haired man with bent legs and a thirst not even the pub in Brooklyn could satisfy.

Steady drinker, Cliffy, unsteady walker, needed a shoulder to lean on when the time came to leave the hotel and head for the boat to take him back to Fisherman’s Point.

Pack him into the bow out of the weather then head up into the black of a river night, no spotlight allowed to show the way because the local boys like their darkness.

Eyes like cats, those river rats.

Cliffy did the electrics and plumbing on the old building and over the years had accumulated a sack of copper ends that he kept by his back door. I’m leaning against it listening to Cliffy tell me about his tin mine up north, both of us drinking slowly, no hurry.

Nobody works up here on Sunday. All is to do is check the batteries and fuel level on the generator then cook dinner. Whiting on toast. Same as last Sunday. Who buys food when you can catch it. Cliffy sits, drinks, farts, ruminates. All in order.

I listen. Wondering what twenty pounds of scrap copper is worth.

They came in three long black limousines which emptied themselves of half a dozen men in black suits and sunglasses. None of them smiling. Then they arranged themselves around the last car like it was a hearse and they were waiting for the coffin to emerge.

I’m in the office with Ian the troublemaker, Ian with his crazy jerking legs arms and head. Cerebral Palsy can make a mess of an eighteen-year old full of the juices of life. Sometimes he takes off one of his boots and smashes it on my desk because he thinks I’m not hearing his distorted, guttural grunts. But I do.

Ian wants some love. Not mine. A woman’s. My only advice, because we like each other, is that he should clean his teeth more often. Then he laughs like stormwater running through a clogged drainpipe.

A lady emerges from the last car. Such beauty. So elegant. And slowly makes her way down the ramp to the front door, black suits fore and aft. Waits for someone to precede her then slowly enters the lobby. I’m wondering what her perfume smells like up close.

A royal vist.

The Shah of Persia is in town and we have his wife on a charitable mission, here, only yards away. Farah Pahlavi.

Farah does charity. The poor and disabled her pre-occupation. Ian meanwhile is looking a little dangerous given her beatific smile, middle-eastern elegance and suggestion of long slender legs underneath the chiffon and silk that clads them.

A half-hour after leaving us the company MD asked me to care for the gift Farah left us, just a little something she managed to spare for the benefit of lads like Ian.

A gold filigreed cigarette case with a few strands of tobacco lingering in its corners.

Used then discarded. Bright and shiny. Just like a copper end.

Cliffy would have got a laugh out of that.


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