Excerpt from Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Boy Swallows Universe

by Trent Dalton

Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton X
Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton
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  • Published:
    Apr 2019, 464 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Karen Lewis
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Print Excerpt

Boy Writes Words

Your end is a dead blue wren.
'Did you see that, Slim?'
'See what?'
'Nothing.'
Your end is a dead blue wren. No doubt about it. Your. End.
No doubt about it. Is. A. Dead. Blue. Wren

*

The crack in Slim's windscreen looks like a tall and armless stickman bowing to royalty. The crack in Slim's windscreen looks like Slim. His windscreen wipers have smeared a rainbow of old dirt over to my passenger side. Slim says a good way for me to remember the small details of my life is to associate moments and visions with things on my person or things in my regular waking life that I see and smell and touch often. Body things, bedroom things, kitchen things. This way I will have two reminders of any given detail for the price of one.

That's how Slim beat Black Peter. That's how Slim survived the hole. Everything had two meanings, one for here, here being where he was then, cell D9, 2 Division, Boggo Road Gaol, and another for there, that boundless and unlocked universe expanding in his head and his heart. Nothing in the here but four green concrete walls and darkness upon darkness and his lone and stationary body. An angle iron and steel mesh bed welded to a wall. A toothbrush and a pair of cloth prison slippers. But a cup of old milk slid through a cell door slot by a silent screw took him there, to Ferny Grove in the 1930s, the lanky young farmhand milking cows on the outskirts of Brisbane. A forearm scar became a portal to a boyhood bike ride. A shoulder sunspot was a wormhole to the beaches of the Sunshine Coast. One rub and he was gone. An escaped prisoner here in D9. Pretend free but never on the run, which was as good as how he'd been before they threw him in the hole, real free but always on the run.

He'd thumb the peaks and valleys of his knuckles and they would take him there, to the hills of the Gold Coast hinter land, take him all the way to Springbrook Falls, and the cold steel prison bed frame of cell D9 would become a water-worn limestone rock, and the prison hole's cold concrete floor beneath his bare feet summer-warm water to dip his toes into, and he would touch his cracked lips and remember how it felt when something as soft and as perfect as Irene's lips reached his, how she took all his sins and all his pain away with her quenching kiss, washed him clean like Springbrook Falls washed him clean with all that white water bucketing on his head.

I'm more than a little concerned that Slim's prison fantasies are becoming mine. Irene resting on that wet and mossy emerald boulder, naked and blonde, giggling like Marilyn Monroe, head back and loose and powerful, master of any man's universe, keeper of dreams, a vision there to stick around for here, to let the anytime blade of a smuggled shiv wait another day.

'I had an adult mind,' Slim always says. That's how he beat Black Peter, Boggo Road's underground isolation cell. They threw him in that medieval box for fourteen days during Queensland summer heatwave. They gave him half a loaf of bread to eat across

two weeks. They gave him four, maybe five cups of water.

Slim says half of his Boggo Road prison mates would have died after a week in Black Peter because half of any prison population, and any major city of the world for that matter, is filled with adult men with child minds. But an adult mind can take an adult man anywhere he wants to go.

Black Peter had a scratchy coconut fibre mat that he slept on, the size of a doormat, or the length of one of Slim's long shinbones. Every day, Slim says, he lay on his side on the coir mat and pulled those long shinbones into his chest and closed his eyes and opened the door to Irene's bedroom and he slipped under Irene's white bedsheet and he spooned his body gently against hers and he wrapped his right arm around Irene's naked porcelain belly and there he stayed for fourteen days. 'Curled up like a bear and hibernated,' he says. 'Got so cosy down there in hell I never wanted to climb back up.'

From Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton. Copyright © 2019 by Trent Dalton. Reprinted courtesy of Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

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