local history (2)

Next time he went to the Town Hall there was just one couple turning on the wide floor. Nothing somnambulist about them: they were practiced ballroom dancers, practising. He, thin, sandy, suited, peremptory; she, buxom, brown, skirted, dutiful, wearing lime green high-heeled shoes. No music played and yet, as he watched through the plate glass windows from the foyer, it was as if something unheard lay upon the air and guided them through their moves. The same telephone hung upon the wall as before but he made no move to pick it up. There was a poster of a painting by Pro Hart on the noticeboard, boys playing cricket with sticks and apple boxes in some stony paddock. Just over the way was the Oval where Bradman made his first first grade century. Broke his bat on 97. Run out at 110. He could not help eliding, every time he saw the famous name, that r, turning super hero to villain. Upstairs he met for the first time the local historian. She gave him a box of microfiche on which were recorded the names on every inscribed stone at the necropolis. Largest in the Southern Hemisphere he recalled reading somewhere. The names were indexed according to religion: Old Anglican, Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Jewish, Indeterminate, No Religion ... the one he was looking for was not there, nor did he expect that it would be. It might not even be the right graveyard: the only clues were red earth and daisies, far out west. And a pale child interred there, who would bequeath his name to his grieving mother. The archives were held in the old Council Chambers where the dark wood and red leather furniture remained bizarrely in situ, as if the ghosts of councillors gone still mumbled over the traces they had left. Minutes turning to centuries as they watched. It was History Week. The display celebrated the place of women workers in the industrial suburb of the mid-century years, with a brief nostalgic glimpse at the bucolics that had preceded it. Coming down the stairs later he remembered nothing except the picture of the General Motors plant opened with great fanfare in 1926 and closing abjectly only five years later. The resounding names along the front of the building: Oldsmobile Vauxhall Bedford Pontiac Cadillac Buick Chevrolet GMC Truck. The Hall was empty, the dancers had gone; but the unheard music lingered. It carried him all the way back home, where there were lines out to places you could never go by car.

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