Today I am excited to share with you a very enticing extract from the title story of John Kinsella’s new collection Pushing Back. Plus, thanks to publisher Transit Lounge, I have two ebook copies to giveaway to lucky readers in Australia or New Zealand.
Pushing Back by John Kinsella: Story Extract
with thanks to Transit Lounge Publishing
Make sure you lock the back door when you come in from the shed, his mother had said. She always said it, because he came in ten minutes precisely after her ten-minute pre-dinner call, to wash up and be ready to eat. He liked eating, but he liked working in the shed even more. He had things to do, things to invent, things to achieve. He liked being alone in there, with the day’s dying light just illuminating his workbench through the louvred window enough to ‘sign off’. That’s what he said, I’m signing off for the day. To no one in particular, and maybe to ward off anything that lurked in the long shadows of late afternoons as they handed the world over to evening.
He was methodical. He locked doors. The dog would already be in the laundry, having gone up immediately the call came for dinner, for her dinner would be laid out next to her bed in the laundry. She would have wolfed it down by the time he got back, even walked out for a quick piddle before the door was shut. But later in the evening, before Mum and Sue retired, the dog would be let out again for a final wee. They would unlock and relock the door. He knew that, too. It was all methodical. It suited him.
He wanted to go to bed early that night. Friday night. He had big shed plans for Saturday. He’d be up early, and Sue would follow him out to the kitchen in her gown, and they’d exchange a good morning, and she’d cook him something special while he studied his notebooks. She’d sit cupping her coffee and inhaling its fumes, and not waking at all, just waiting to crawl back into bed. Coffee, even strong coffee, seemed to make her more tired. And then he’d say, Thanks Sue, that was magnificent. And she’d add, as she always did, Spend some time with your mum today … she hardly sees you on the weekends. And then he’d be off, dog in tow, to the shed.
And he did go to bed early, as planned. Don’t you want to watch a movie tonight? his mum asked, and behind her Sue was motioning, Go on, go on … We’ve got … and his mum gave a title that skated over him and settled in the empty beanbag in the middle of the lounge room. Nah, thanks, Mum … if you don’t mind, I want to read a bit then hit the hay. He liked that expression. It came from his country cousins up on the farm, where he sourced so much of his bits and pieces that were the primary materials of his inventions. He liked the farm more than the shed, but they only went up there every third weekend. And the last time was last weekend and there were a lot of discoveries to be processed, a lot of bits and pieces to be bolted together or even soldered. He’d been given a soldering iron for his last birthday on the proviso he vented the shed well when using it. And he did: hail, rain or shine … louvres open, shed door propped open at forty-five degrees. Dog in doorway, away from the fumes. Sensible. Methodical and sensible.
He toileted so he wouldn’t have to get up again, read for fifteen minutes, and turned off his light with the occasional laughter of Sue watching the movie with his mum, breaking into his half-sleep. It wasn’t uncomfortable – he liked them being there, making bits and pieces of noise, even if he never really told them. He liked it a lot. But then he caught something that wasn’t right. It was his mum saying something along the lines of, But I am worried about him, Sue. He fought off sleep and dragged himself back up to the surface, the flashings of the television screen reflecting off the hall wall and down the corridor through the open crack of the door. He liked his door open just a bit, max. fifteen degrees. He propped himself up and bent his ear towards the door.
His mother’s voice faded in and out, and Sue was just saying, I wouldn’t worry, he’s still very young. He tried to piece it together, but couldn’t. He heard the word ‘socialise’ and ‘boys his own age’ and ‘no interest in girls’, and then Sue laughing – he loved that laugh – followed by, You’ve gotta be joking. Now come on. And his mum saying, It’ll just make it harder for him, you should know. Know what? But he was tired, and though distressed and interested, sleep grabbed him and took him back down, and he was neither happy nor unhappy, he just was.
He woke suddenly, sharply. He felt sweaty even though it was a coldish night. He switched his light on. He was sure he hadn’t locked the back door. His mind started running and he listened. Nothing. He worried that someone had come in and done something to his mum and Sue – before they’d let the dog out for its final piddle. But the dog (he always called it ‘The Dog’) would have barked if someone had come in. But not if they’d offered it a treat – just a growl, then a treat, then satisfied silence. Lovely nature, Sue would say, but not much of a guard dog. She’s anyone’s for a tasty treat. And she said it with that Kiwi accent Mum described as adorable, with Sue shooting back, And what makes it more adorable than your ABC Australian accent? So door unlocked, murderer came in with treat, placated dog, in through kitchen door from laundry – Mum or Sue would check it only when they signed off for the night – into the lounge where the movie’s blaring away, and death. Sudden and unanswerable death. But all was quiet. Total silence, and that was worse, much worse. The aftermath?
He was up, into his gown, found his torch, and was ready to head out and confront the murderer. No time for fear or weakness. He briefly worried about the contents of his shed – his secrets – but pushed that out of his mind. There were priorities to consider.
Disclosure: If you click a link in this post and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission.
‘The tall trees nearby called them up and red-tailed black cockatoos carried messages to them that they told no one else about.’
Pushing Back is John Kinsella’s most haunting and timely fiction to date. It is populated with eccentric, compelling characters, drifters, unlikely friendships, the silences of dissolving relationships, haunted dwellings and lonely highways, the ghosts of cleared bushland and the threats of right-wing nationalists and senseless destruction.
A couple make love in an abandoned asbestos house, a desperate carpet cleaner beholden to the gig economy begs a financially distressed client not to cancel his booking, an addict cannot bear to see his partner without the watch he once gave her, a mother casts her shearer son’s ashes on the property on which he worked, fascists pile into a little red car with the intent of terrorising tourists on the Nullarbor, a man more at home with machinery than people rescues a drowning kitten.
Yet throughout this assured distillation of contemporary Australian life, empathy rises like the red-tailed black cockatoos that appear and reappear, nature coalescing with the human spirit, the animals, the trees, the land, the people pushing back. These stories are at once disturbing, tender and hopeful.
‘One of the nation’s most significant living writers.’ Tony Hughes-d’Aeth, Australian Book Review
(Transit Lounge Publishing, February 2021)
Get your copy of Pushing Back from:
More story & essay collections:
The Butcherbird Stories by A S Patric / The Watermill by Arnold Zable / Rural Dreams by Margaret Hickey / Only the Animals by Ceridwen Dovey / Jigs and Reels by Joanne Harris
About the Author, John Kinsella
John Kinsella is the author of over thirty books. His many awards include the Australian Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Poetry and the Victorian Premier’s Award for Poetry. His most recent works include the poetry volumes Drowning in Wheat: Selected Poems (Picador, 2016) and Open Door (UWAP, 2018). Story collections include Crow’s Breath (Transit Lounge 2015) and Old Growth (Transit Lounge, 2017). Recent novels are Lucida Intervalla (UWAP, 2018) and Hollow Earth (Transit Lounge, 2019). He often works in collaboration with other poets, artists, musicians, and activists. John Kinsella is a Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge University, and Professor of Literature and Environment at Curtin University, Western Australia.
Pushing Back eBook Giveaway
Thanks to Transit Lounge Publishing we have 2x ebook copies of Pushing Back by John Kinsella to giveaway. Entry restricted to Australian or New Zealand readers and close midnight 25 February 2021.
See entry form below. Ensure you scroll to the bottom of this form and press submit to register your entry. You can improve your chance of winning by:
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SORRY, ENTRIES CLOSED – Winners announced shortly.