This piece appears in ‘Kitchen Table Memoirs’ which also contains contributions from Helen Garner, Denise Scott, Jane Caro and George McEncroe. Edited by Nick Richardson and published by ABC Books, it’s an anthology of 21 short stories. We donated our stories, and proceeds from sales of the book go to Foodbank, a hunger relief organisation that provided enough food for 32 million meals last year.
To purchase Kitchen Table Memoirs go to your nearest ABC Books seller or click here.
My five-year-old brother lay motionless on the table, arms flat to his side, as Dr Greg from number six poked and prodded and mumbled things about concussion, delayed shock and supporting the neck as we shifted him from kitchen table to bed. We’d already not supported the neck in shifting him from ditch in park to kitchen table, so there was an argument to say that any spinal cord damage that was going to be done had already been done. But the assembly of onlookers didn’t raise this. Apart from Mum, we were all under 10 and, apart from Mum, we were all guilty. Guilty of breaking the ‘one on the trampoline’ rule. Guilty of flouting reams of legislation outlawing double bouncing. And we’d almost been guilty of breaking Newtonian laws relating to earth-bound objects. Although what went up did end up coming down. Eventually. David, Michael, and I stood at silent attention, models of contrition, paying quiet respect to a fallen comrade who’d cast off his earthly shackles, and for a brief and beautiful moment in time, actually flown.
We were definitely going to be in big trouble. If we’d had access to hotshot lawyers specialising in Whining Pre-Adolescent Justification they might have advised us to fight the second charge. On a strict interpretation, we hadn’t double bounced Ned. Double bouncing involves two people jumping in perfect synchronicity and then the bouncer arriving a fraction of a second earlier than the bouncee, which transfers the stored energy in the trampoline springs into the bouncee’s next ascent. The physicists can thrash out the details there, but for the sake of our defence, by the golden summer of 1982 we were no longer trifling about with double bouncing. We were onto quadruple bouncing.
Mum had us cold on the first charge though. From the day the trampoline had arrived in the back yard, delivered by Santa Claus to four blond, eager, hopelessly vague and visually challenged children (‘What do you mean look in the backyard? I don’t see anything. There’s nothing out there? Daaad, what do you mean look in the backyard?’), the rule had been made clear. It had even been reinforced by Father Christmas himself in his accompanying note: ‘Ho Ho Ho. Merry Christmas! But remember, only one at a time on the trampoline!’
We tried to stick to one at a time, we really did, but by Thursday of the first week it was clear that from a fun perspective, the rule was just not going to work. Indeed, to put it in the vernacular of the day, one at a time on the trampoline sucked balls. So, borrowing methods from Gandhi and Mandela, we set out upon our campaign of peaceful disobedience. ‘One on the trampoline!’ Mum would shout from the far reaches of the deck and, for a moment or two, that is how it would be. But did Mum have the resilience to ask two times? Yes. Three times? Yes. A hundred times? We were young and exuberant and totally united in our campaign to make our state of the art, Olympic-sized trampoline the domestic hazard we knew it could be.
We couldn’t have got to quadruple bouncing without first mucking around with triple bouncing. I think it was David’s idea. On the morning of the accident, we were performing our usual tricks — leaping from shed roof to trampoline, attempting ‘screamers’ on Michael’s back, doing ‘sits’ and ‘back flips’ and ‘swivel hips’ — when David piped up: ‘Why don’t we all hold hands, and then on the count of three, we toss Michael a little higher … then everyone sits.’ We did it, and Michael soared higher than anyone had ever soared on our trampoline, a huge happy parabola. He returned to Earth with a grin, as if he was a different Michael and Tinkerbell had just sprinkled him with fairy dust.
‘That was unreal,’ he gushed, and for a few minutes we launched and relaunched Missile Mike. Then, with the spirit of inquiry and curiosity that has sparked so many great advances in human history, I uttered the fateful words, ‘What would happen with four?’
There could only be one fourth. Ned, my younger brother by four-and-a-half years, was born into the role. Only a year earlier, Father Christmas bestowed boxing gloves upon me, and in the absence of a second pair of gloves, we split them up between us. I, a right hander, kept the right. Ned, also a right hander, laced up the left. The referee, also me, stopped the fight after a long and lopsided first round. I told Ned that because boxing was a sport, he wasn’t allowed to cry because only sissies cried when they lost at sport. Ned didn’t want to be a sissy. He didn’t cry.
We found Ned and asked him if he wanted to play a game with us on the trampoline. Ned, unused to such offers of social inclusion, jumped at the opportunity. We told him we were doing a hold-hands ring-a-ring-a-rosy type game. We told him that he just had to wait for the count of three, and then do a ‘sit’.
From far below on the blue mesh mat, it was one of the most exhilarating things I’ve ever seen. Ned, five years old and already a more than competent trampolinist, shot past the lower branches of the mature lilly pilly like he was wearing a jet pack, climbing up and up into the far branches that none of us had ever reached. He was 10, 15, 20 feet in the air, kicking his legs, and squealing with joy and following a straight-line trajectory that made his small body seem even smaller against the perfect blue of the sky. We’d done it! With just the weight of our bodies and a hundred or so Extreme Bounce springs, we’d achieved human flight. The Wright Brothers, Yuri Gagarin … Ned. Finally, after what seemed like an age, he descended, unfolding out of the sit position to land on his feet, his knees collapsing under the force of the landing.
It was such a successful mission that there was never any question over the relaunch. Ned was ebullient, a young Lindbergh under a shower of tickertape. We hugged him. We hugged ourselves. Quadruple bouncing was the most fun we’d had since David had covered a pile of dog shit in blossom and encouraged Michael to kick it. We linked hands again. Our ambition to conquer the skies meant we would bounce even higher this time. ‘One, two, three, and SIT’.
Maybe it was the way we tossed him to gain the extra centimetres. Maybe it was a five-year-old’s mistimed ‘sit’, but from the moment Ned touched the trampoline we knew he was in trouble. It was an ugly double contact, his feet hitting first and then his backside, and as the power of the quadruple bounce propelled him, it was clear that this time his flight path would be anything but perpendicular. Instead, he shot out at 45 degrees, a human cannonball arcing sickeningly over the back fence and into Belmont Park. He travelled so fast and so far that my panicking nine year old brain assumed that he’d die. Eventually, like so many tennis balls and footballs had before him, he just dropped out of sight, landing with a hollow, windy thump.
He was lying on his side in a grassy ditch that ran about three metres from our fence. He wasn’t crying or making any noise at all. It was only when he rolled onto his back that I knew that he was still conscious, still alive
‘Are you okay?’ I asked, jumping down into the park.
His eyes were open, and they were staring at me. The blue trusting eyes of the brother I’d nearly killed.
‘Does anything hurt?’
‘My back,’ he said. ‘I hurt my back.’
Then, eschewing first aid principles that we didn’t yet know, David, Michael and I hauled Ned to his feet and half-lifted, half-dragged him through the back gate and back into the house.
Somebody had to tell Mum what had happened. I decided it should be one of my sisters.
‘Sam, can you tell Mum that Ned was jumping on the trampoline with us, and then flew over the back fence onto his back?’
Sam, who wanted to be and would one day become a doctor, loved two things — caring for the sick, and dobbing. ‘Man, you’re going to be in big trouble.’ The kitchen table was her idea. She told us that Ned had to be placed on a hard surface. She said that the table would be better than the couch because the couch was too soft. She didn’t tell us why she’d drawn a line at the floor. I think it was just that she felt more doctorly looking and prodding at him in a state of elevation, and never mind that we had to throw him around like a sack of potatoes to haul him up there.
Sam eventually summoned Mum, and our distraught mother summoned Dr Greg. Dr Greg was not exactly an expert in spinal injuries, he was a gastroenterologist, but he did remember the bit about not moving patients once they were in position. So Ned was up there on the table for ages, his childish body taking up Sam’s place and mine, some spilt Vita Brits threatening to dirty his golden curls.
Eventually, Ned said that he was fine. He said that his back wasn’t hurting and could he please get down, because the kitchen table was hard and there were left-over bits of cereal near his face. Dr Greg, satisfied that he was suffering neither concussion nor a spinal injury, said that he could. Then he disappeared, back to practise gastroenterology, returning occasionally for drinks and dinner parties, and once, seven years later, for an embarrassing middle of the night assessment of whether the 16-year-old me was just intoxicated or in need of having his stomach pumped.
‘That could have been very, very serious,’ Mum said after we were sure that Ned was okay. ‘How often have I said it – one at a time on the trampoline. Now do you believe me? Just one at a time on the trampoline!’
We tried to obey for a while, but even after Ned‘s flight, we still had years of joyful communal jumping in our backyard. We did, however, give up quadruple bouncing. Or at least I thought we did. Three years later, as I entered the backyard for a meditative, late afternoon bounce, I found it already occupied. Ned and his friends Dan and John Besley, were in a circle, gripping our five-year-old sister by the hand. ‘Now Pippa, when I count to three, you’ve got to do a sit, right? So it’s one, two, three, sit. And then you’ll fly up there.’ He glanced into the upper branches of the lilly pilly. ‘You really will fly.’