Today’s guest post is perhaps an unusual one. The author, Zac Newnham, is family – my second cousin – although family promoting family, there’s nothing very unusual about that. His knack for top-notch short stories (from the very short to the slightly longer) meant that when the Melbourne Writers’ Festival asked people via Twitter who their favourite short story writers were, I immediately tweeted back about “a relatively unknown up-and-comer, Zac Newnham” and predicted “big things ahead for him”.
At the age of 20, Zac already had one qualification under his belt (non-writing related, just like me) and was studying for another (in professional writing and editing, again just like me). He was beginning to have small pieces of writing published here and there. He had an eye for the unusual. He had a liking for telling the stories of old men. And another theme in Zac’s writing was the casual bystander. Although he often wrote from the first person perspective, he was often narrating the story of someone else from the sidelines. He was a natural observer of the banal, the beautiful and the heartbreaking aspects of life.
On the Thursday before Easter 2013, I received a telephone call from my mother. She had news. Terrible news. Zac had tried to take his life. I found out later that he had gone to Kmart to buy Easter eggs for his family and girlfriend, then gone to Bunnings to buy a length of rope, which he tossed over a tree in a park and hung himself with. He was on life support in hospital but it didn’t look like there was going to be a happy ending.
And there wasn’t. Zac died just a few weeks before his 21st birthday. There would be no big things ahead for him.
Why? There are no answers to that question. Nobody knows why. Nobody saw it coming. The only things that we have now are our memories and the few pieces of writing that Zac left. So here’s “The Man who Cut His Lawn with Scissors”.
My next door neighbour should be in a retirement home; instead he has a carer who visits once a day. He used to need her. When she wasn’t there he spent all his time kneeling on his lawn, a pair of scissors in hand, trimming away at the grass.
His lawn was already pristine when he began each morning, a flat carpet of green, but he stayed out all day regardless, trimming at blades that might have grown by only millimetres overnight. Her job was to help him up and lead him back inside. If she didn’t, he would stay out all night.
Last weekend, a car pulled into his driveway, suitcases on the roof and children inside. The man’s daughter emerged to help him into the passenger seat, while his carer brought out his packed bag. As they reversed out and drove away, his eyes never left his lawn.
A Doctor Turf truck arrived shortly afterwards. The carer glanced up from her book only once or twice throughout as a team of burly men dug up the lawn, eventually leaving a grassy mound on the footpath.
Now the man is home again, although he hasn’t acted any differently. All this week he’s watched his new synthetic grass from his porch, sitting in a chair with his scissors on a table next to him. I guess he’s still waiting for it to grow.