23 May The Lift
…so here we are stuck in the lift. It’s been quite a while. You know what it’s like when you get up and get dressed and come to town, on a day that you know you would definitely prefer not to come to town, when you would certainly rather stay at home, but you came to town to go to work and it’s not working, and the car didn’t like it and the traffic didn’t like it, and the people in the street didn’t like it, and they should have stayed at home on this day too? And here we are stuck in this lift, and how are we gonna get out and how long are we gonna have to wait before we are rescued? You try the emergency phone but there’s no dial-tone and the lights are on the blink and you think, please don’t go out lights, that’s just something we can’t endure, it’s bad enough with the lights on, but it will be far worse if these lights go down right now, and we just know we won’t be able to cope. And today being the day it is you just know it in your bones that these lights are going to go down and that is the scariest thing imaginable. Stuck in a lift is one thing but stuck in a lift with no emergency phone line and the buttons all dead and the lights gone down is just too scary to contemplate and blow me down if they aren’t going down. There they go. Shit! What to do now? Should I remain standing or should I just sit down on the floor, huddle in a corner to protect myself from this cold? Of course the fucking air conditioning has gone down too and there’s a draught in the lift-well and this damn lift’s cooling down fast and so am I. Please get a move on you rescue folks, I don’t much like being stuck here where I don’t want to be on a day I should have stayed at home in my warm bed far from the world in that warm comfortable land of nod where it is never cold like this, and of course I didn’t choose the right sort of clothes for this excursion today, couldn’t I at least have chosen to wear the sort of clothes that would be right for every occasion?
I suppose I’d better huddle myself into the smallest possible shape to retain my core temp and just hope they come soon, my rescuers, do they even know that this fucking lift has broken down? What if no-one has reported it to the management and I’m the only person in the building, in the whole world in fact, who knows this lift is stuck? Oh God! I feel like a cane-toad that’s been put in a fridge and left to slowly cool-down to freeze to death, and although people say that’s a merciful sort of way to die, they say it’s painless, but they haven’t tried it, only the cane toads have tried it and they didn’t like it, but they didn’t survive to tell their tale, and if I die here in this cold lift I won’t be able to tell them that it is not fair! And it’s definitely not painless and it’s pretty damned scary.
I must have passed out or something, and now I feel I’m coming to and I’m definitely not dead, I can move, and it’s still dark and cold, but dear God, thank you God! I’m still here. Here in the dark where I have lost all sense of time and all sense of place and all sense of destiny. This cave is certainly a cold cave, but no cold comfort. I was lucky to have dug this cave before the hypothermia set in or else I would really have been done for. And of course it was very sensible to leave my skis outside stuck in the snow to signal to my possible, potential, hopefully imminent rescuers, where my snow cave is here on this mountainside where I shouldn’t have come to work today, because it would have been far better to have stayed at home in my warm bed. I’ll bet that was what Nansen was thinking when he was hibernating out that winter in the arctic, here I am going to die with my companion, Johannsen, and we could have stayed at home-base on the ship with the others, whom we may never see again, and all because of my desire to be the first human to get to the North Pole and from this perspective in this hole where there is no perspective, it seems like such a silly idea. And Hjalmar stinks and I stink, and he hasn’t changed his clothes for months and nor have I but we’re still hanging in there and sharing the same sleeping bag to keep our core temps up, but the smell of him or me or both of us is enough to make you sick, but at least it is a sign of life, at least you know you are still alive when you can smell and be sickened by the body odour of your companion who like you is just hanging on by a thread. Am I driving him mad with my conversation as he is driving me crazy with his? If either one of us was to die the other would certainly be a goner. Will we ever see home again? It’s hard to imagine that we can ever get back to the ship and the crew, let alone back home in Oslo from where we are now. Most fortunate that I learned a few life-saving tricks from the Inuit in Greenland and we can still get meat to eat because of all the bears and foxes we’ve been able to shoot who have been lured here by first of all our stinking body odours, and after that the remains of the animals we have shot from our hole in the ice. But why should I think of Nansen and his ridiculous quest at this time when I had no such dream of being the first person of the human variety to reach the North Pole or the South Pole or any other fucking pole? All I did was get in my car and drive along the road and now I’m in this hole, this hole in the ground, this cave with metallic walls, I think it’s a lift, but what am I doing in a lift, out here on the slopes of this mountain in this cave I dug to keep myself warm from the cold of the Universe? But it doesn’t feel like a lift, the walls are not regular verticals on either side of me, the floor is not horizontal and carpeted, they all feel bent and the floor I’m sitting on feels like the curved seat of my car. How can the floor feel like the curved seat of my car and how can the wall feel like the door and window of my car and the window has a break in it and there’s extremely cold air coming in from my right side and the steering wheel is pressing me into the back of the driver’s seat and I can’t move very much of me as I’m obviously pinned in this damned car. And the night outside is cold and black and there’s a fetid smell of foliage and greenery and animal smells all around me, and some animal nearby is munching munching munching…grass? There’s no grass in a lift you fools, why are you munching grass in my lift? Why don’t you go somewhere else, to another lift and munch the grass there and leave me alone in my car fridge where it seems I am gradually, slowly, but oh so inevitably freezing to my very own death? This pressure on my chest, it’s such a weight, if only I could move it and breathe a little more freely, then maybe I could warm up a little. But the object which is pressing so hard on my chest is immovable and my arms are unmovable, and my body is almost entirely motionless except for my shallow breathing and the slight movement I can still make with my head, turning first to the left, then to the right. Well, at least that is something, eh? That’s another sign of life just like the smell of Hjalmar’s farts and his body odour and his endlessly chattering teeth. Any small sign of life is most welcome when you fear the jailer is going to enter the door at any moment and drag you outside for another round. I know I just can’t go another round. I don’t like to admit defeat, but I fear and must admit that I am utterly defeated. I can’t take any more of their torture. They can’t consider themselves human beings when they treat someone like this, can they? I wouldn’t treat anyone the way they are treating me. Even my worst enemy, if I had an enemy, I wouldn’t treat this way. So how did I get here if I don’t have any enemies? Here, among these rotting carcasses of these dead animals we have slaughtered through the long months of the Polar night and the Arctic wolves baying so very close. But they will not find me in among all these cold dead bodies, will they? Surely the odour of all these rotting bodies will mask my odour from the sharp noses of the dogs of my jailers. And the baying of the dogs are at least another sign of life and that’s not to be sneezed at, don’t sneeze now, you fool, you’ll give the whole game away and then you’ll really be done for. They seem to have receded further into the distance, still trying to track me down. Is it safe for me to lift myself out from among these corpses, at least to lift this one off my chest? It’s impossible. If I can’t lift this fucking corpse off my chest, how did I get in here in the first place? Ah yes, now I remember, I crawled in here when the searchlights were scanning for me and the dogs were let loose and the sirens were screeching shrilly into the night that one prisoner had got through the sharp wire and had escaped the inner enclosure. But they had not reckoned on me running into the shed where all the bodies were being stored waiting their turn for the crematorium in the morning. So I had better get myself out of here before the morning comes or it will be far too hot to handle.
But maybe it would be better to be too hot than to be as cold as I am now. Maybe the best place to be is where you are neither too warm nor too cold. And not too smelly. What if this overwhelming odour is only my odour, what would that imply, would it imply that I am disintegrating, that I am falling apart at the seams, or mightn’t it just be the sort of exaggeration one experiences in delirium at the hour of the wolf? And could it mean that my jailer has had a weekend off-duty and they have failed to replace him for a couple of days, as they don’t seem to have many people to man the shifts in this remote Siberian prison where they have incarcerated me these forty years since they rattled my Sabre and I downed it in their territory. And not a word from any of my countrymen, no word from my family. Not a word in all these years! Do they think I am dead? I try to send them messages every night, I am still here in this fucking Siberian prison and I have been tortured and subjected to all the known indignities which humans perpetrate upon each other and I didn’t give away any state secrets, I didn’t tell these bastards anything about how we made our Sabres, and no-one has come to save me no matter how many times I scream into the night. So my fellow countrymen, why did I sacrifice myself for you all? Why did I risk my life flying a brand spanking new Sabre Jet over enemy territory in Korea just for you all, and fuck you Harry Truman, I didn’t have anything against those commie bastard Koreans in the first place, well not enough to be shot down for, and you don’t even care that I was taken prisoner and tortured and abused and incarcerated for forty something years! I’ve lost track of some of the time, scratching days and weeks and months onto the side of your cave wall is not the most reliable way to mark time Robinson, as there are times when you pass out and you don’t know how long you have passed out for. And although I loved flying my Sabre on those fleeting few occasions, I did not expect to be abandoned as you have abandoned me my fellow countrymen of the land of the free. You are free to go to work, to come home to your wives and children and the warm bosom of your family but you have forgotten me in this lonely dark cold cell somewhere in the centre of Siberia where the only point to my existence is that my imprisonment gives a few Russian guards a job, an excuse to earn money and to live, and to go home to their wives and families. And I haven’t had even a letter from my mother or my sister, Amelia, my dearest sister, you wouldn’t just accept that I had died back there would you, without any proof of my supposed death? Have you given up on me too Amelia?
Amelia, if you have given up on me and Mum has given up on me, what hope is there for me? What if they’re no longer alive over there, while I’m still just hanging on by a thread in this cold dark hole? That munching noise again, it’s so close. I wonder what sort of animal it is. It is definitely not an animal of the human variety, and not a carnivore. It does sound very much like grass munching. Is it a cow, or a horse? I can’t see it in the dark of this moonless night, but it’s not an unpleasant sound. My golly gosh, there it is, just a few feet away, it looks like a kangaroo, might be a wallaby, can’t be sure in this darkness, but the loveliest softest silkiest munching sound, what is this kangaroo doing here in my cave? Dear Mother of God, how I would love to reach out and touch that lovely creature and pat it and caress its silky face, and to have the solace of some gentle animal contact in this dark cold place, how I would so love to reach out and touch this beautiful creature before I freeze to death in this car fridge, somewhere between the twelfth and fourteenth floors, somewhere between hell and heaven, but I can’t move my arms and there’s a weight on my chest as heavy as a thousand stinking corpses, and I can hardly feel the cold breeze coming through the broken window…
* * *
It was some days before the car was discovered by two bush-walkers on the lonely track in a valley near Bundanoon, N.S.W. The body of Mr. John Worrall, was cut from the wreck of his car and taken in hand by the Coroner.
In 1955 John Worrall had been the first secular English teacher at Marcellin Marist Brothers College in Melbourne and had deeply inspired the young and impressionable Peter Tammer.
Peter Tammer had two friends, Kit and Bobbi, who lived near Bundanoon and they had become close friends of John Worrall. They had no idea that John had taught their friend Peter Tammer when he was a child.
They told Peter that John had been out to dinner. His hosts tried to convince him not to drive, to stay overnight, but as he felt he was sober enough to drive he set out for his remote mountain retreat where he had lived as a recluse for some years.