THE CRUCIBLE 

BY MARK BRANDI


In the boot of the Kingswood

With a bag of feed

Pouring out slow. 

 

They are too weak to chase.

 

All bones they are – 

Yellow teeth, bleeding dags, and flystrike. 

Been shorn just once 

Before the drought hit.

 

His father cuts the engine 

And decides the weaker beasts.

 

He carries the rifle 

Behind his back 

In case they know.

 

‘Don’t tell your mother,’ is what he says

‘She loves the buggers.’

 

But she never comes out to the paddock

Which is probably just as well. 

At home 

She’s frowning concentration 

A machine of bare, veiny hands

And clickity clack needles.

 

The wool

Clean, thick and creamy white

From skinny sheep 

Who wait their turn

For sweet mercy.

He doesn’t know what she’s making 

But hopes it isn’t for him. 

In town

The Pleezall Café 

Froth from her cappuccino

Sweet chocolate on his lips. 

 

Clickity clack, clackity click.

 

He asks her

But she just smiles.

 

Clickity clack.

His father doesn’t watch her knit

Or say a word about it. 

 

He sits there

On the good chair

His back stiff.

 

Then the old couch 

With blue overalls

His endless, heavy snore.

 

The usual routine. 

Up too late

He hides behind the couch

And watches:

 

Vinegar Tits

Meg

The Freak

 

In that order.

 

She watches too 

But somehow keeps her pace. 

 

Clackity click.

She eyes him like meat

A lamb roast

In the butcher’s window.

 

He sees her size him up

Imagining its fit

Measuring the arms

With her deep brown gaze.

 

The neck

The shoulders

Cables upon cables

Weaving in and out.

 

Clickity clack

Clickity clack

 

Clack clack clack.

He imagines his friends 

In their Nike, Adidas and Puma.

 

It won’t go well.

 

He stares as hard as he can

Tries to stop her with his eyes.

 

But she is relentless.

There’s a play at school

His brother and Smelly are in it.

 

Smelly is his brother’s friend 

Who lives up the road.

 

Smelly doesn’t know

This is what they call him.

 

He thinks his name is Darren

But it’s Smelly

 

Then suddenly 

It’s John Proctor.

The night comes too soon

She’s done up fancy

In a silk dress she’s never worn  

Or ever will again.

 

His father 

On the couch

Whistles at her

As you might expect.

It scratches against his cheeks

His neck

It’s woolly and prickly 

And complete.

 

‘Do you like it?’

 

He looks down his chest 

It’s different up close.

 

He sees each knit

Each weave

Each tiny clickity clack 

She clickity clacked together.

‘Yes,’ he tells her.

 

On a basketball court

Indoor bright with fluoro lights

Squealing plastic seats 

Loud voices.

 

He’s there

But he doesn’t watch.

 

He doesn’t see his brother

The Crucible

Or John Proctor.

 

Only the jumper

With its wool

The wool on his skin.

 

Scratching 

Heavy 

Alive and warm 

Like blood.

 

All he can think of:

 

How they huddled together

Between life and death

And the crack of gunshot.

 

Still for a second

As the bullet passed through

With its whistling hot relief.

 

She must have heard.

Someone brings his brother 

A bunch of flowers

No-one knows why.

 

They take his photo for the paper

In black knickerbockers

And long white socks.

 

Everyone stands

They clap

Even cheer.

 

For his brother

His mother

The dead sheep

And the jumper.

The only time he’ll ever wear it

 

With its hot streams of red

Through creamy white 

 

She clickity clacked together.