Neither Right Nor Wrong

This story is not really a story at all: it was a dream of long ago, of 6.45 am 14 October 1983 in fact. It was the most vivid dream I’ve ever had. The landscape was fully experienced, I was there, no doubt of it, and it was real, not a fantasy place as often in dreams. Unlike most of my dreams, there was extensive dialogue. The contrast between the half formed aspirations of the main character and the firm moral values of the teacher was an important part of the dream. That character was called Wilson, and Henry Lawson has a character called Wilson who appears in many of his stories, yet I had not read Henry Lawson for years when I had the dream. I remembered the dream in exact detail for a week after I had dreamed it. Although the story itself is slight, the dream transcription is interesting, unusual at least for me. Transcribed here from my notebook of that time.

The rain was warm, a heavy, steady fall which flattened the long grass and spattered through the leaves of the gum trees, sending an occasional leaf to a watery grave in the mud at the foot of the trunk.

Although there were no houses or man-made structures in sight, it was hard to be sure they weren’t there, for visibility was poor. The horizon was dim.Through the trees one could see the misty outlines of more branches, and the muddy track seemed to wind onwards forever.

Sounds were muffled too. The pattering, muttering sound of the rain blanketed all others.

Five boys were cycling along in the rain, their hair plastered to their faces, clothes sodden. They were filled with exultation and called madly to one another.

“You look a picture Tom. Pity I haven’t got my camera”.

“I don’t think Mickey’s been this clean for years”.

“Hey, Wilson. You’re going bald. Keep your hat on”.

They had to yell. Bill Wilson shoved a battered hat on his head and drove his bike into a muddy rut. He and his bike went flat over onto the road. They were both covered in yellow clay. His companions scattered to avoid him.

Micky Thompson leaned down and tapped Wilson on the shoulder.

“‘Bout time you put some clean clothes on, Wilson”.

Wison smiled, pulling his sodden shirt away from his skin.

“All I’ve got left is my birthday suit”, he said, and began pulling off his clothes.

The others delightedly followed his example. Soon all were cycling naked, going as fast as they could, yelling in the downpour. Wilson still wore his hat.

Past the trees the track continued. The rain fell less heavily. Soon it stopped altogether, and the sun, which had been shining behind the downpour, began to draw up mist from the pools along the way.

Over the hill came the sound of children calling, playing a number of different games. Johnny Crane stopped his bike abruptly.

“What I need now is a drink of water”, he said.

“Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink”, Wilson intoned mournfully.

“What I need now is a piss”, Micky said.

Micky stopped his bike and swung it against a tree. He leant against the trunk with one hand and urinated into the road, making another rivulet among the many making their way meandering among the clay.

“You two should get together” jeered Allan Davis.

“Go and drown yourself, Davis” was Micky’s contemptuous reply.

Two small boys ran into sight chasing a ball that squelched along in front of them. One of them slid and sat down in the mud. The boys were momentarily embarrassed about the naked cyclists, as were the cycllsts themselves, but Wilson managed a swagger.

“Where can we get a drink of water?”, he asked.

The second boy had collected his ball.

“Back at the school”, he said.

The boys ran back over the hill, giggling to one another.One of them stopped to throw a stone, which clanked away from a wheel guard.

The cyclists moved on, wheeling their bikes beside them. On the crest of a hill they could both see and hear a school-yard, with twenty or thirty children playing. Behind it was a wooden frame building, small enough to contain two small rooms, and looking incongruous because of its fresh white paint.

Bordering the yard was a garden of sorts, a few sparse shrubs, some with broken branches. In the garden bed was a tap.

The cyclists pulled on their damp clothes. Wilson made do with a gaberdine overcoat. They approached the yard casually, stopping when they saw the schoolmaster striding towards them.

He was a burly man, tall and red-faced and ham-fisted. He called forcibly to two of his students.

“If you two ruffians must fight, fight like men. If I see you biting again, you’ll fight me”.

He ignored the cyclists, moving among his squalling brood with a stern, disgusted look on his face. When he was near the fence he addressed Wilson.

“What do you men think you’re doing?”

“Just looking for a drink of water”, said Wilson.

The schoolmaster pointed curtly to the tap, with an impatient twist at the corners of his mouth.

“Don’t you have anything better to do than cycle aimlessly about the country-side?”

“Like what?”

“Are you too stupid to study, or get work?”

Wilson spoke up, voicing vague aspirations he was only now aware of. It was unlikely any of his group would have followed him far.

“We’re doing no harm. Give us that. Only, now we’ve got a chance to get around without blinkers on. We want to see what there is to see, what people don’t have time to see. Just the rain, the darkening of the leaves with water, the patterns of the runnels in the clay”.

“Ah, a philosopher I see!”

The word was a sneer, the dignity of learning wielded like a slap in the face.

Wilson smiled. He wasn’t surprised. The others were squatting around the tap, cupping the water in their hands, their cycles blocking the gateway.

“I’d rather learn myself what I want to rather than have someone teach me what I didn’t want to know”, Wilson said quietly.

“And just how far in the world will that get you?”

Wilson leaned on the fence and his overcoat gaped.

“I see you aren’t adequately clothed”. The words voiced a deep repugnance, a distaste that Wilson found distasteful.

He smiled again. “Well then, clothes don’t make the man”.

“In your case, my man, I fear there’s nothing much to make”.

“That you could make, anyway. Given time, your little production line fodder won’t make much of Latin verbs, English grammar, or geometry either”.

“Don’t taunt me, young man. I do what I do because it’s worth doing, and if nobody benefitted it would still be worth doing.The trouble with you is that you’re too immature to distinguish between the discipline of freedom and self-indulgence”.

Wilson rubbed his nose. His companions were restively talking to one another. One stooped to throw back a ball that had come his way. Momentarily the debate was eclipsed by the clamour of a running cloud of calls and threats, entreaties and commands, as the children eddied to and from the group of adults. Wilson’s eyes were clouded. He felt full of some emotion which he could not name, as he had during the storm.

“If we don’t notice the world, where will our poets come from, schoolmaster? If we don’t allow ourselves to be moved by what’s around us, our music will die. I don’t want to be just clever”.

He felt like singing, but he didn’t know the words, and couldn’t find a name for the melody surging inside him.

The schoolmaster glanced at his watch.

“How many of these boys do you think would like to cycle with you lot, going idly about the country-side?”

“There must be one or two you haven’t frightened completely”, Wilson said.

The schoolmaster blew his whistle. The noise of play abated swiftly, and the children ran to their appointed position in the yard. With a brusque wave of his hand the schoolmaster called them to him. They jostled around his tall figure, vying for notice. He surveyed them sternly.

“What’s the next lesson, Watkins?”

“History, sir”.

“Who wants to be excused?”, he said dispassionately.

The children were confused. They glanced at the schoolmaster, at one another. No-one answered. They ignored the cyclists with their crumpled clothes and old bicycles.

“Now, what do you know about the Second World War? Spencer! To what extent did the Treaty of Versailles make possible the career of Adolf Hitler?”

Spencer responded. Question followed question, answered promptly each time. It became apparent that discipline was strong at this little school. The boys vied with each other for the schoolmaster’s commendation.

Wilson smiled bitterly.

He said, “I wonder if they’re learning how to stop World War Three?”

The schoolmaster ushered his pupils into ordered ranks and sent them inside. Turning to follow, he glanced ironically at the group outside the fence.

“You boys are wasting your time. And you”, he said pointedly to Wilson, “are wasting your time”. As an afterthought he added,

“What’s your name son?”

Wilson mounted his cycle.

“I’m Henry Lawson”, he said with a sardonic grin.

Wilson and the schoolmaster stared at one another, as though moving first was a concession neither could make.

©2010 Original material copyright Phillip Kay. Images and other material courtesy Creative Commons. Please inform post author of any violation.

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