First words of ‘Breeding Season’, Amanda Niehaus, in Overland, Spring 2017
I’ve been buying literary journals for a couple of years now, reading short stories to see how writers write in the 21st century. My translations are mostly of 19th-century stories, so I need to prompt myself to read today’s writing. It’s never good to get stuck in the past.
Overland is one of the Australian journals I’ve been reading. Not every piece is to my taste, but there’s usually one in each issue that I read and re-read. ‘Breeding Season’ was such a story, drawing me in with the very word breeding, not in the title but in the first line. And then, later, the mention of an antechinus.
I once caught sight of an antechinus in a sawn tree trunk in Wangaratta. I’d heard about them, how they resemble mice and rats, how we can confuse them all, but this one was prettier than any rat and I suspected that the crevices of the old trunk were more suited to a native marsupial than an introduced species. He stood still long enough for me to snap his photo. I wrote about the antechinus and my trip to Wangaratta in an earlier blog post.
To return to the great opening line: my interest was triggered by the word breeding, evidence that the first words of a story can click somewhere in the reader’s experience, or in their hopes and fears. I wasn’t disappointed, for within ‘Breeding Season’, Amanda Niehaus writes about the jelly-bean sized babies of the antechinus and a woman’s own baby growing inside her.
I read this prize-winning story in my copy of Overland but it’s also available online.
Today – at Burrinjuck Dam: It might be a famous spot for fishing competitions, but the fish in our fish and chips was sadly not from the dam. Still, we enjoyed eating it at a picnic table in the sun, in the serenity of the Burrinjuck National Park, even in the company of five kangaroos that hopped up to us like seagulls coming begging from snackers at the beach. One kangaroo, her joey frequently popping its head out, moved in closer and closer, which would have been more fun if she weren’t drooling and dripping her drool close to our food. But it was not the scent of the fish and chips she had picked up, it was my leather bag. (A clue to the type of leather?) The further away I pushed the bag, the further across the table she stretched.
Last week – at home: A kookaburra was lingering in our front yard, sitting in the old ash tree, on the hose reel, on the gate, and finally on the tap post. Merry merry king of our yard is he. My son felt a personal challenge to try to pat him, and succeeded. It’s a fun Australian memory for Josh now; a few days later he moved to Munich with his wife, and today sent me a photo of himself beside a pretty German stream.
May – at Wagga Wagga zoo: Another son, Ben, took me to the Wagga zoo for Mother’s Day. I felt just a little sorry for this emu confined to its own bit of park. But perhaps I was just endowing him with human emotions. He was probably looking back at me thinking: what goggly eyes you have, and what bad hair!