canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

Men of Salt, Men of Earth 

by Matt Lennox

The boar is a furious captive in the cage and the hounds strain their leads and bay mournfully. When Ashley throws open the cage door the boar charges free like some coarsehaired black missile. Driven by the singleminded purpose of a beast cornered and illtempered to begin with. No calculation. The horseshoe of folks assembled in the yard breaks into formlessness, scatters. The women shriek with strange mirth. Now the hounds are let off their leads and they explode with the simple fury of their youth. They must be instructed, and blood is the price of their learning.


Afternoon quickened to evening over the Cooinda homeplace. Alan Harvey followed Vic out of the bunkhouse and across the turnaround and into the tractor shed. Creaking, vaulted. Barnswallows flitting amidst the rafters.

On a crossbrace behind the drillpress Ben kept an old single-shot .22 leaned against the stud. Vic took the rifle down and pulled back the bolt to show the clear breach and then handed it to Alan Harvey. Age had darkened the stock and the steel parts were pitted and worn. REMINGTON stamped into the barrel. The rifle was very light.

Vic looked at Alan Harvey speculatively. He was seventeen but mostly deaf and so his words followed a slow and careful tempo.

--It’s bolt action. You know how to use it?

--I’ve gone clayshooting with my uncle’s 4-10. It looked like that. Like it had a bolt action I mean.

--4-10 is a shotgun. This is a rifle.

--I imagine I can figure it out.

They commenced from the tractor shed to Vic’s half-tonne Kia at its place in the turnaround. Abruptly Alan Harvey stopped.

--Wait, wait. Would we eat it? If I got one?

--Nah mate. Mongrels is all wormy.


--But if that side of it worries you, the legs’ll go to the dogs. It’s good for em.

--Worms and all?

Vic pursed his lips and shrugged and so signified that this consideration was outside of his concern.

A quarter of an hour later Alan Harvey was sitting on the bed of the Kia with the .22 upright between his knees and a pocket full of rounds. Greasy spanners bounced around him as , hellbent, Vic careened his ute over the trenchant and calcified mud ruts of the old drover’s track. From the cab crackled 4-Z-R’s All-Country Hour, honkeytonk and steel guitar.

Something absurd unfolded with this situation and Alan Harvey had his trepidations about that act for which he was preparing. A score of years he’d walked the earth and never shot a living thing. He was troubled to find himself excited and groped for another word for how he felt but in honesty there was no other word for it.

Yet the evening was fine and sweet, midwinter in these parts an altogether milder consideration to what he’d known. But for the drover’s track and the ute the bush looked devoid of human travails. A flock of gaylas wheeled overhead, cascades of pink and gray, and emus strutted arrogantly in the clearings. He leaned his back and watched rolled by the gum trees and eucalypts and scrubby firs he didn’t know the names of. Impulsively he laughed.

Then the Kia grated to a stop and Alan Harvey was barely able to arrest his head from smacking hard against the cab’s rear window. He collected himself and turned his glaring eye into the cab and saw Vic grinning maniacally and pointing over the dashboard.

Into a wide meadow they’d come and not one hundred feet away three kangaroos watched, unmoving. Cast purple in this day’s last light.

--Jesus. Jesus.

His heart thundered. Hands atremble. He dug a round out of his pocket and held it in his teeth and pulled the bolt back. It did not slide for him near so smoothly as it had for Vic. He fed the round into the breach and brought the bolt home behind it and shouldered the .22 over the roof of the cab. He sighted down the irons and found it almost impossible to make the barrel stop describing shallow semicircles.

Vic stuck his head out of the cab. Quietly he advised:


Alan Harvey blew out a ragged breath and brought the rifle down. He counseled limpness into his thrumming muscles. Reshouldered the stock. As if governed by this moment’s will the kangaroos remained motionless. Alan Harvey moved the irons onto the tawny chest of the nearest of the three and drew in a half breath and held it and squeezed the trigger.

The .22 made a clear snapping report like a bough breaking and though he’d expected a recoil there was none. Then he watched the three kangaroos quit the scene in loping bounds.

--Well. Shit.

Vic was hooting laughter.

--Lookit em mongrels go!

--Thanks. That’s what I’m doing.

Vic got out of the cab and came around to the bed. His eyes streamed.

--The problem is this. You see?

Vic took the .22 and held it skyward and showed Alan Harvey how the barrel was bent a few degrees off true in relation to the stock. Alan Harvey felt his face colouring.

--You know you coulda showed me that before.

Vic shrugged his dismissive shrug.


A slobbering and growling trifurcate of living flesh, rolling in the red dust. The hounds are driven to attack on an oblique trajectory, seek out the ears. And when they catch the boar’s flopping ears in their grinding teeth, the boar voices a keening screech. But even pained the boar is nevertheless weathered and battlescarred, utterly full of meanness. With its tusks it lays open the foreshoulder of one of the hounds and sends her flying and when she regains her feet, her will to fight has been knocked purely clear. She limps to Tezza’s side.


It was full dark when Vic pulled the Kia off the drover’s track and onto the spit of clearing over the river. Alan Harvey hopped off the bed. Above the sky was cold and clear and profuse with the constellations of these climes. The southern cross and others unknown to him. The encircling bush a deeper black. John Larkin and his mate Tim came to meet them and lead them to the sandbar.

The river was low and sluggish this time of year and the sandbar thrust itself like a broad tortoiseshell out of the water. Two sleeping bags were rolled out on army cots and a number of folding chairs and deadfall were pulled around a cookfire. The flames licked high and by their light invited and thickened the dark around.

In attendance were John’s cousins. Jeremiah plucked away at a guitar. The twins were present, dumpy and bespectacled, Esther and Margot. Lastly there was someone in one of the folding chairs turned away from the newcomers and as they approached the head turned and a ponytail swung and Alan Harvey saw it was Jaye. She regarded them and smiled coolly and turned back to the fire. He hadn’t seen her since the wool show in Boolba.

Jeremiah got up and offered his hand:

--I see ya brought the Canada. How ya going Alan?

--Not bad brother.

Grinning affably, all teeth and eyes flashing with firelight and with Alan Harvey’s own reflection:

--Survived the ride then?

--More or less. Bit bumpy out there. But nothin I couldn’t handle.

--We heard yous comin!

Esther or Margot. Alan Harvey couldn’t tell them apart.

--We heard shootin.

--Well. What you heard was missing.

Tim offered up stubbies cold and dripping from the river. Ghastly Four X but good to have a beer regardless. Supper was laid out. A catch of yellowbelly and Murray cod and massive crayfish. Cabbage salad and bread rolls.

John leaned on his heels and scratched his chin.

--Hmm … well she just doesn’t seem right, does she?

Tim squatted down beside him.

--I shouldn’t worry mate. Such a mean table as this.

--Mean table or not it’s still the Lord’s.

Esther and Margot murmured assent and Jeremiah cut it out with the guitar. Jaye studied the fire as if judgment on this matter was written in the embers. John clasped his hands together.

--Yeah good. Just quickly.

Everyone stood up in a loose circle and joined hands. Alan Harvey had Esther or Margots’ small and sweaty palm tightly against his right and Vic’s callused fingers reluctantly clasped to his left. He caught a flash of Jaye’s hand disappearing into Tim’s. Lean and pale and tapering with sensible and undecorous nails. He stirred with the knowing that praying was not the only travail for which those hands had a talent.

And in staccato rote John offered:

--Heavenly Father bless this food to its intended use through Jesus’s name we ask amen.

Alan Harvey filled his plate twice. He liked the crayfish best though there was scant meat to be extracted from the carapace. Following the meal they chummed around, told stories. Jeremiah played the guitar and they all sang rambling folk ballads in which Jesus featured prominently. All but Vic who was mostly unable to hear the songs and Alan Harvey who didn’t know the words. He found it difficult to not look at Jaye. At no time did she betray any reflection on that event that had passed between the two of them at the wool show.

Eventually the question came. Esther or Margot was the asker of that question Alan Harvey had expected but was further surprised to find he had been waiting for. Yet put to him he struggled still. How to tell you people? The notion of one in search of something and maybe in search of searching itself. There were no words to simplify it or none that he knew. A long pause elapsed.

--My dad knew Ben from a long time ago. So that’s how I scored the job. But the rest of it?

He spread his hands in aspect of helplessness.

--To tell the truth I don’t know. I don’t know why I came.

John Larkin smiled.

--Yeah good. You don’t need to. Each to his purpose, guided by the Lord.


Sunday came and he and Vic went to the service at the Uniting Church in Galway. As usual Alan Harvey was unable to join in the raised hands or unintelligible moans of divine transport. He wondered absently if he carried in his heart an incompleteness, that in witnessing these devotions he felt no touch of grace but rather a crawling sensation that was akin to seeing your sister naked. Following the service they had lunch at the RSL and then returned to Cooinda. In the middle of the afternoon, Jackson’s foreman Tezza called the homeplace and invited them over and said that he and his mate Ashley had trapped a pig.

In Tezza’s yard were his and Ashleys’ ragged broods. Tezza’s woman Dolly flashed her lustful looks and squeezed their docile baby to her hip. Ashley was a small man, whipcorded with muscle and flesh blue with homedrawn tattoos. His hair hung long and his eyes were wild. His wife was a stout and foulmouthed apparition who jawed ceaselessly at her son, a boy of perhaps eleven years. He was peculiarly angelic looking and generally quiet and serious. As of yet lacking that set to his features that marked his folks, that look of one who survives by means fair or foul.

Ashley and Tezza each had a big shovel-headed pigging hound on a lead and these beasts were visibly agitated. They were almost fullgrown but yet unblooded. For a little while everyone milled in Tezza’s dooryard drinking beer. They dug their toes into the earth and threw stones and talked about work and utes and State Of Origin Football. Tezza had a .303 and proudly showed it off to Alan Harvey and Vic, the chromed steel and polished walnut.

Then Ashley assumed a spreadeagled stance and spat into the ground and with a gesture like that of some carnival showman , he turned to them and asked were they ready for it. He led them all in back of Tezza’s house to a corrugated metal lean-to beside the Bushman water tank. In this shadowed territory there was a cage and on their approach the darkened captive within smashed itself against the heavy-gauge mesh. Alan Harvey sucked in a breath.


These beasts are exhausted but their primal sense disallows compromise. They square off, skirmish brutally, back away, square off. The wounded hound cannot be made to fight anymore. She lays licking the jagged pink rent in her foreshoulder, occasionally whining at Tezza. The fighting hound is scored with shallower wounds and slobber hangs in gleaming ropes from her jaw and lolling tongue. The boar’s ears have been almost completely torn off. They hang in bleeding strings, enwreathing the coalblack eyes.


The end came with Ashley’s intervention. The fighting hound had the boar subdued by the unraveled ear. With lithe and unexpected grace Ashley descended on the boar’s back and flipped it and while it thrashed and shrieked Ashley hogtied it with coarse twine. The fighting hound leapt around its fallen enemy, snapping and tormenting. Tezza gave his .303 to Ashley’s son and the boy came forward. Grave and surefooted. In his small hands the rifle was much outsized but with an easy familiarity he cocked the action. The boar meanwhile had managed to roll onto its side and was madly trying to right itself. Ashley kicked the fighting hound away and then Ashley’s son put the muzzle of the .303 behind the boar’s flayed ear and Alan Harvey never had a moment to look away. The rifle reported hugely and terribly and echoed back over the flat surrounds. Blood and bonemeal cascaded across the dirt. The boar stiffened and twitched and repeated these kinetics, perhaps a dozen times, and then fell still.

The rifle report had freshly excited both hounds and they seemed to be trying to outsound each other. Ashley and Tezza together hefted the boar and hung it upside-down on hooks welded to the steel frame on the back of Tezza’s Land Cruiser. They worked with shit-smelling handrolled cigarettes in their mouth, and when the boar had stopped its pendulous swinging, Tezza took a long knife and slashed its throat and gutted it. Blood pooled in the dust below, thickened and beaded. Cast out to the grass the guts worked yet, operating by the echoed compulsion of a life gone to shadow. The hounds appeared to have gone insane.

Tezza finally turned away, hands clutching and clabbered with gore. He scrubbed sweat from his forehead with one forearm.

--Dolly get me a stubby and for Chrissake see to that fuckin dog!


With a few more beers Alan Harvey found that he remained curiously dry-mouthed. After sunset they returned to Cooinda. Later in the night Alan Harvey lay in his narrow bed and stared out the window. In the incomplete dark his mind projected a series of images: Tezza and Ashley and Ashley’s children. The girl Jaye. The kangaroos loping from the meadow, the boar sprawled on the ground, head shattered. He thought how an abstraction of fourteen hours divided him from home and those folks who peopled what seemed a different life entire. He wondered what he’d chased.

In the moments before sleep his last thought was of the old .22. The barrel bent a few degrees off true. He found he was glad for it.


Matt Lennox writes: "20 years of schooling and they put you on the dayshift ... " Bob Dylan sums it up for me. After graduating university two years ago, I have found myself, at 25, somewhat lost. I am currently pursuing an application for full time service in the Canadian Forces; in the meantime I put bread on the table by means of driving of truck in the city of Toronto. Although The Danforth Review will be my first time in publication, writing has always been an important part of my life. 'Men Of Salt, Men Of Earth' was inspired by travel and work misadventures in rural Queensland, Australia, in the summer of 2000.







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