The Suburban Problem of Evil

Our first scene is a Western Sydney suburban lounge-room seventeen years ago. It is very clean and tidy and full of shelves and little tables with small pastel ornaments on them. They are the figurines of angels and babies and little girls on tree stumps given out to the guests at Italian weddings and christenings. I am not Italian and neither is the woman of the house. She is a young, shrewd and attractive Australian girl- the boss's secretary in a big land development firm. She has married a sweet, deaf (too much noise on the building site), young Italian man, perhaps partly because she wants for the children she has by him a stable cultural background with plenty of family around. There are plenty of family around: boisterous uncles, and cuddly grandmothers and great aunts who can cook like Roman chefs. Some of these would still be shocked by the audacity of eating with their men, although the woman of the house and I eat with the men, since we are Australian. I am sitting on a lounge chair. At that time I am childless and in a wearing-out first marriage. I am feeling awed and alien but at the same time respectful, affectionate and deeply reassured by the little room and the beautiful children: a slender, vivacious little girl, a quiet, careful, watchful little boy and a pretty, fat baby boy.

Our next scene is a year or so ago. I am sitting on my old solid chaise lounge (an Edwardian not Victorian bargain), jotting notes for something (there is always something) and fielding incarnatory interruptions from my young daughter (doesn't she remember that I said three minutes ago that I had to concentrate, but then, why concentrate when one can talk to her?) when I hear a bit of a news item on TV. There has been a vicious attack on a nightwatchman at a local college of higher education. He has been shot repeatedly and left for dead after failing to unlock the contents of the Coca Cola machine for an impatient thief. The perpetrator has been captured after a police helicopter chase all over Penrith. He had a small silver revolver stashed under the carpet at home. I hear his name once, vaguely. It is the name of the quiet, careful, watchful little boy. Is it the name of the quiet, careful, watchful little boy? It's an unusual name and he would be the right age now. I ring my ex-husband, who seems less concerned because longer informed about the matter. He confirms that it is the same boy.

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Published 1 November 1998 in Writing the Everyday: Australian Literature and the Limits of Suburbia. Subjects: Australian literature and writers, Boredom, Evil, Place & identity, Sexuality & sexual identity, Suburbs, Sydney, Urban life, Violent death.

Cite as: Maiden, Jennifer. ‘The Suburban Problem of Evil.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 18, no. 4, 1998, doi: 10.20314/als.3a4b105649.