One Divine Night
Unpublished Manuscript Shortlist
Title: One Divine Night
Author: Mick Cummins
Protagonist Aaron Peters jumps off the page in this pacy, gritty and compelling manuscript exploring homelessness, independence and the ties that bind on the streets of Melbourne. Cummins raises profound ethical questions about the choice of individuals, the failures of the social system, and what family does – and does not – mean.
The manuscript depicts drug abuse, overdose, soliciting and physical violence without relying on stereotypes or cliché. The experience of homelessness in inner city Melbourne – long overdue – is explored with nuance and depth, with elements of the storytelling recalling Mark Brandi’s The Rip. The relationship between Aaron and his mother is particularly memorable – unexpected yet realistic – providing emotional complexity to the narrative. The character of The Man introduces a dark, almost-crime fiction feel, driving the plot and enabling Cummins to critique (although not quite satire) the predatory nature of established male power.
The judges unanimously found this a vivid, timely and strikingly authentic work.
Panic attacks Aaron with such force he struggles to breath. He unclips his seat belt and stabs at the locked window button, but there is no escape. At the intersection with Flinders Street he looks back toward the train station at the lights and the people and the loss of what he desperately needs to soothe and protect him. Instead they are heading west past Wurundjeri Way and a statue of Bunjil, a wedge-tailed eagle and spirit creator of the Kulin Nation. The twenty-five metres high statue makes Aaron think about the dream he had of Timmy trying to fly from the top of the You Yangs with the eagle. Right now, trapped in the Man’s car with hot flushes, scattered thoughts, trembling hands and legs, and a crushing sense of foreboding, that’s exactly what he would like to do too.
They merge with a continual stream of trucks and cars on the Westgate Bridge with a solo violin playing rapid arpeggios on the radio and colliding head-on with Aaron’s anxiety. They follow the unbroken line of taillights off the bridge as the orchestra’s brass section comes in with dramatic broken chords before the piece plunges into an intense question and answer pattern. Aaron is about to explode and his hand reaches out for the buttons on the radio but the Man slaps it away.
“Do you want to change the music?”
“Then you ask me first.”
Aaron recognises this game and does what he’s told.
“Can I change the music?”
The Man curses the semi-trailer braking in front of them but as he attempts to overtake it a car horn blows hard in the passing lane forcing him to retreat quickly back behind the truck. With the violin concerto playing on relentlessly the Man tries again. Successfully this time.
“The music?” Aaron asks, submissively. “Can I change it, please?”
The Man glances across with a face of authority matching his black suit and his cufflinks.
Aaron quickly finds 102.7FM on the dial where he hears the driving drum and bass beat of Dick Diver’s Head Back. It’s a song about taking a break from a chaotic life and he lip-syncs the first chorus as they flash past the concrete bollards and hoardings lining both sides of the night-lit freeway.
You take a week
From doing all the things you usually do
You start doing
All the things you want to
He imagines himself on stage with the band playing a red guitar, the sparse melody lines, the playful solos but it doesn’t stop him thinking about what lies ahead. Listen to the music, Aaron. It’s only four nights, maybe only three, and you can start doing all the things you want to.
“What’s wrong with you?” the Man asks.
“Nothing,” he says habitually. As if he doesn’t know what’s wrong. It’s his grandfather again, pleasure without remorse.
“Open the glove box,” the Man says as they pass another exit sign to another new suburb sprawling across the flat land.
Aaron opens the glove box instinctively; it’s a distraction from the conflict in his head. He is looking at a tarnished pewter hip flask.
“Whisky. Single malt.”
He takes the flask out and unscrews the top feeling like he is being cajoled with an ice cream or a hot chocolate. It’s all going to be very pleasant, Aaron, so you just need to calm down. It will be better that way.
Scattered house lights fade to rows of eucalypts and post and wire fences in the car headlights. The music shifts to a band Aaron recognises as LCD Sound System but he doesn’t know this track, I Can Change. He swigs again on the flask of whisky helping him to stay with the electronic rock beat and a story about a man wanting to change so his ex-lover will fall in love with him again. The chorus repeats itself over and over with a trance-inducing rhythm:
I can change, I can change
I can change, I can change…
Aaron thinks about his mother and the same words she stopped listening to a long time ago. A blanket of melancholia descends on him and he yearns to be with her at home, to touch her, to smell her, to hear her laugh.
The tick, tick, tick of the car indicator brings him back hard to the Man taking the exit to Little River. They swing back over the freeway on to the narrow country road with the RRR announcer chatting enthusiastically about the bracket she has just played. The Man reaches across and kills the radio.
“That’s enough of that.”
Aaron doesn’t object, his eyes are fixed on the familiar shape of the You Yangs lying dark and alluring across the distant horizon. Through the hum of the tyres on the bitumen he thinks he hears a voice, faintly at first, then as they continue down the narrow road the words become clearer. Timmy is here waiting for you, Aaron. He has an answer to all your pain. Is it real or is it the whisky? He doesn’t care, just the thought of Timmy being with him comforts him and he holds on to it tightly. The road changes direction a kilometre further on and the You Yangs disappear completely behind a thick stand of trees. Anxiety bites at him until they come out of the sweeping bend and he can feel his dead friend’s presence again in the ancient peaks dominating the night skyline.
He swigs from the flask of whisky wanting more of the calmness it induces in him. As more alcohol is absorbed into his bloodstream he does feel braver and ready to face whatever is in front of him. Dutch courage springs to mind, a term that his father often used, and he allows himself to wonder where it comes from. Are the Dutch famous for their courage? A wombat appears suddenly in the headlights with its stocky body on short legs moving slowly into the path of the car. The Man makes no effort to avoid it and Aaron feels it thump against the floor under his feet. He looks across at the Man who glances briefly in the rear view mirror before driving on as if nothing happened.
About the author
Mick Cummins lives in the Melbourne suburb of Coburg where he is now writing full-time after many years juggling writing with his part-time role as a social worker. His first full-length play, Window Without a View was elected for a reading at the Australian National Playwrights Conference and was produced in Hobart at the Theatre Royal Backspace. His second play, Perfect Madness was developed with the Melbourne Writer’s Theatre before a production at the Carlton Courthouse. Mick has also worked with various community groups writing and producing collaborative theatre projects. In 2001 he won the NSW Premier’s History Award for the documentary film Thomson of Arnhem Land before co-writing the ABC docu-dramas, Monash: The Forgotten Anzac and Menzies and Churchill at War. He also wrote and directed the ABC documentaries The Woodcutter’s Son and Portrait of a Distant Land. He has written two unproduced feature film scripts developed with the assistance of Screen Tasmania, Film Victoria and Screen Australia while his latest screenplay, The Hut is in pre-production. One Divine Night is his first novel.
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