Saturday, February 28, 2009
The girl could remember coming this way once before; there was a memory ever-present, gilded with regret—the hollow feeling of what could have been. Hers was a harsh land, stretched like cracked skin from end to end, pockmarked with some dead botanist’s observations.
But her insides burnt when she thought of him. Of his certain steps flattening the dead grass. He was a riparian incision through brown growth as good as dust.
So she walked longer, under the midday sky, with its clouds like raked-through cream. She knew he was somewhere here, amongst the iron and the ironbark. Waiting to be seen in a half-caught glimpse, like sunlight through the moving leaves. Iñez, she heard him call. Iñez. Pure. Her name was like a drug; she had not heard it for so long.
In the afternoon, inside, she sated her saccharine habits, feasting on good thick chocolate because it clumped away at the dead dust of her throat. Black coffee to follow, burning and sealing like tar. Was she sure she had seen him, or heard his voice? His was a name she knew, spoken in dreams where she danced—wraith-like—to the tunes of his tongue.
He was a black mark on the town. His feet were well cleansed by the locals’ spiteful aim.
In the evening she heard someone on the porch; boots on blue gum in the twilight stillness. Three hits of a fist, intonations of intractable force. It had to be him. She opened the door, and swept the gritty ground with a hard heel. He seemed to stare through her, but she saw, in his eyes, a reflection of her own fascination.
He did not move from the doorway. He was a shipwreck on the stifling shore of outside heat.
She moved towards him, and began to stroke his hair, his arms, his tight folds of skin. His places of imperfect air. She closed her eyes; let him kiss her, let his pulse beat through her like a fingerprint. His slow deliberate steps of life.
Later, and later still, she would know his taste, how his abdomen pulled back when she touched it; soft then hard like flexed metal. He would be inside her and tell her long melodic stories that opened like flowers, each corolla a semblance of history.
She would dance in his dream times. His whispers like welcome weather.
When she woke, she felt strangely at home. Mulga. Gidgee. Weonaworri. The trees and the spears of thunder. A partial face. A straining muscle. Land. Sea. Sky. Moon.
He slept, like something nocturnal given up to winter’s call. It was still night, but so luminous in lieu of morning. A belt of stars brightened the sky like scattered sand. She turned her body towards him, rumpling their bed of spinifex, and slipped under his arm with a breathless and welcome warmth.
The cold night lifted from their embrace like dew, and the first light filled the air with promise. The sun raised them from the earth. Lifted them from the dirt, past the house, past the town, past the country, past the world. Their throats tightened as the oxygen thinned. They were on their way.
Friday, February 27, 2009
“It’s a bilby,” I say.
I blink a few times and say it again slower. I try not to look at Brendan’s yellow teeth that smell of peanut butter. He picks up my drawing and stares at it for a minute.
“What’s it wearing shoes for, Dumbo?” he asks with a nasty smile on his face.
“It’s for the Olympics, Brendan. We were supposed to draw an Olympic mascot for school.”
Brendan turns around when I say the word school. He starts poking the girl sitting in front of him with his finger.
For the rest of the bus trip I look at my bilby. It is the best drawing I have ever done.
I had the idea while I was having dinner, and I was allowed to stay up and work on it until 8 o’clock. Dad even let me sit at his desk to draw it, his big brown desk, with the seat so high that my feet don’t even touch the ground. I wrote BONZER BILBY on top of the page in thick pencil. Bonzer Bilby is yellow and black and white and wore bright red shoes.
The hot bus seat sticks to my back and the banana in my lunch box will be squishy by morning tea, but I don’t care. Today I will do something the same as everyone else.
“Now class,” Mrs Borbley’s bright pink fingernails tap on her cheek, “can we all get our work books out please?”
I smile proudly at my desk. Desk number 12, if you count from the left. Just behind Mary Gillett, who always wears a big bow in her hair, and just in front of Brendan Pritchman, who doesn’t wear a bow, but calls me names and always looks like he is chewing something. Richie Smith, who sits next to me, told me Brendan eats things out of his nose.
I reach into my bag, and get out my blue book with a sunflower on the front. I practice writing Yous and Doubleyous (I can’t write them that way though) between dotted lines while everyone else copies something that is written on the blackboard.
I always have a different book to everyone else. Wednesdays and Fridays I even go into a different room, all by myself, and practice speaking with a tape. Mr. Willard helps me. He’s nice, but he talks strangely sometimes.
I stop writing when I know Mrs Borbley is standing right behind me. She likes to do that.
“Don’t worry about me David,” she says when I tip my head backwards to look at her. “Just carry on with your writing.”
Her mouth looks funny from upside down, and she has hair under her nose. I don’t tell her this though. I start on a new row of letters.
She says, “Try to keep those Ns inside the lines.”
It’s morning tea break now and I’m sitting on a bench under a big shady tree, pulling the gladwrap off a biscuit. I hear some kids over behind the Grade Seven building playing. One of them will be throwing a tennis ball at the others, who stand in a line against the wall, trying to dodge out of the way. The teachers try to get me to play sometimes but I always get hurt.
I see Richie Smith coming towards me. He is wearing a smiley face badge on his blazer.
“Hi David,” he says, throwing up an eraser in his hand and catching it again.
Richie is a good friend. He sat next to me on my first day of school and showed me his stamp album. Richie told me his dad drove aeroplanes all over the world, and every time he came back, he would bring Richie new stamps. He even one from India, with a green tiger on it.
“Can I sit next to you?” says Richie, in a funny voice.
“Okay Richie.” I try to copy the voice, but it doesn’t sound quite the same.
Richie laughs. He has a strange sort of laugh—it sounds like he is coughing but he isn’t. He pulls an orange lolly out of his pocket and puts it in his mouth. Richie is lucky because he gets lollies from the doctor that he’s even allowed to eat at school. His eraser has a funny dog on it.
“That’s a great eraser,” I say.
“You can have it,” says Richie, giving it to me. “I’ve got another one at home.”
I thank him and put it in my pocket. Mrs Borbley always makes me rub out my mistakes.
“Want to see my Olympic picture?” I say.
I pull it out of my bag carefully, using the fingers without crumbs on them. Richie looks at the picture.
“Wow!” he says. “That’s really good! Much better than mine. You should show Mr Willard. He’d love it.”
“I think I will,” I say, putting the gladwrap back in my lunch box.
After morning tea, I go down the hall with my picture to see Mr Willard. I walk past the shelf with the shiny trophies, past the door with the fuzzy glass and a sign that says PRINCIPAL . The door opens and Brendan steps out. His shoelaces are untied and he has a frown on his face.
“What’re you looking at, Dumbo?” he says. Brendan is always in the principal’s office.
“Hey, give me a look at that picture,” he says, sort of smiling.
Brendan snatches my picture and walks down the hallway.
“Hey, that’s my picture Brendan!” I shout. But he keeps walking.
“Thanks Dumbo,” he says. “I don’t have to draw one now.” He folds my picture and puts it in his top blazer pocket. As he walks off, he shouts over his shoulder: “Not a word to the teachers Dumbo, or it’s trouble!”
My mouth is wide open. No picture – no Bonzer Bilby. I was so proud of it and now no one was going to see it. I start to cry. I feel a hand on my shoulder.
“What’s the matter, dude?”
It’s Mr Willard. I don’t want to look at him. I don’t want to be here any more.
Mr Willard takes me to the teachers’ room and gets me a drink of red cordial.
“This is pretty cool,” he says. “You’re the only student I know who’s been in here. Probably thought it’d look a bit more like a torture chamber hey?”
I smile a little bit.
“So what’s the problem, buddy?” he asks.
I tell him I lost my picture.
“Can’t you do another drawing?”
He didn’t understand. That was my best picture ever.
“Just give it a go, dude,” he says. “I’ve got some really radical textas in my desk.”
He gives me some paper and a blue pencil and goes out the door. I start writing BONZER BILBY as hard as I can on the paper, imagining the letters going in and out of the dotted lines. I screw up my eyes hard and open them again. The letters mix around. Inside and outside the lines.
All of a sudden I see it. I don’t want my picture back any more. This is even better.
Brendan Pritchman takes off his blazer, throws it down next to the monkey bars and runs off with a wet tennis ball in his hand. I munch my sandwich and watch him disappear behind the grade seven building. I put my hand in my pocket. The funny dog eraser and Mr Willard’s pencil are still there. I walk over to the monkey bars.
“Now class, it’s time for show and tell,” says Mrs Borbley. “I asked you all to do a drawing of a mascot for the Olympics. Did everyone draw one?”
Everyone says yes in a quiet voice.
“Who would like to be first to come up and show the class their drawing?”
Brendan sticks up his hand.
“I shouldn’t have to tell you again Brendan,” says Mrs Borbley. “You have to go to the toilet before class starts.”
“No Miss,” says Brendan. “I want to show you my picture.”
Mrs Borbley stops in the middle of a yawn and looks at him strangely.
“Um ... all right Brendan,” she says. “You may come up here and show everybody your picture.”
Brendan stands up in front of the class and speaks in a posh voice. “Hello teachers, girls and boys, here I have my show and tell.”
He is looking right at me. He unfolds the piece of paper and holds it out in front of him so we can all see it. Someone starts giggling. Then someone else. Then we’re all laughing. Brendan looks at us and his smile turns to a frown. He turns the page around so he can see it. He stares at the picture. He looks as if his underpants have been turned inside out with him still wearing them.
Our teacher sees the picture too.
It doesn’t say BONZER BILBY any more. It says MRS BORBLEY.
“I suppose you think this is funny do you Brendan?” says in a very angry voice.
Brendan makes a little squeak.
“I’ve had just about enough of you Brendan Pritchman!” she shouts. “I’m ringing your parents right now!”
“But ... but it was David’s picture!” he whines.
“Don’t be stupid,” says Mrs Borbley. “You know David couldn’t have done that.”
“I can’t draw that well Brendan,” I say, smiling.
Mrs Borbley pulls Brendan out the door by his arm. Everyone is still laughing. I open my blue book and start practicing my letters with the blue pencil.
I give Richie back his eraser. I don’t need it anymore.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
He would take one more elevator trip for lunch, plus one more, which I generously attributed to miscellaneous office tasks, bringing to a grand total the time my boyfriend spent in the elevator over a single day to fourteen minutes and ten seconds. So that meant--I explained to him as he downed the last of his coffee and made for the door--that he spent 70 minutes and fifty seconds every week travelling either up or down in an elevator!
I was about to tell him how many hours that came to in a whole year, but by that time we had reached his floor, the doors had opened, and he stepped out, pacing down the hallway like he was running late, like he had no time to spare.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
he was no longer Gary, but Mr Gazelle,
and his hoof-boots were hard, and his horn-hat was tall,
and his pelt-coat was thick, and his tail quite small.
And with firm resolution he knew what to do,
which of course was Escape! From Crazy Zoo.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Monday, February 23, 2009
This party in October was in deep suburbs. So there was a marvellous yard without the errors of homes closer to the city, which all sloped or were populous with stumps. Everyone sat in circles – small ones with their friends. And as circles broke, as people went upstairs to pee, the groups loosened and rejoined. But in circles, always circles, as though the cosmos held a slow light compass.
Danny sat on a chocolate couch beneath the house talking to Aaron, who he hadn’t known lived there with Luise. Through his time on the couch, he caught the motions of the yard through the load-bearing posts. Those who stood, or were hoisted by their lovers, came close to the house and spoke privately, not knowing a splinter cell relaxed beneath. When Danny climbed the stairs to pee and looked upon the panorama, the configuration had reached its apex in one circle twenty-strong.
He couldn’t get drunk tonight. They probably have to do with the speed you start at: those nights where no matter what you do, you keep that three-drinks feeling. He descended the stairs and the sailor ghost had out one nut, another fun thing that was not so special.
Danny had never really ‘regarded’ Aaron. Aaron came to some parties when he moved to the city. He tried people on and found those who fit in Danny’s periphery, and became someone Danny saw a couple times a year. On the chocolate couch, their conversation had felt free-floating. It contained a degree of good electricity and a degree of harm, but Danny was unable to determine what these degrees were. They established that it was not Aaron’s party, but Luise’s. Aaron was uncomfortable tonight for probably no reason. And Aaron was studying comparative religion and listening to Dismemberment Plan. Danny was no longer living alone – someone had moved into his spare room, a girl he cooked with. And it wasn’t so far away for Aaron in this suburb, just you had to catch a train, a system for which Danny held fear. Everything Danny and Aaron spoke of was boring, but the conversation was like tasting someone else’s meal. Hardly consciously, once he’d peed, Danny corrected a stagger in the circle, placing himself in a sort of mirroring position to the person creating the stagger. A mirroring position is probably the wrong term. He created a shape optically pleasing when you considered the limbs and focuses of the other people in the circle.
Although Danny had the three-drinks feeling, everyone around him was walking and falling and failing to hoist, and the air had snapped, releasing coldness. The sailor ghost was flexing the dancing girl on his arm. Danny got a funny feeling from the tattoo; she resembled the sailor’s girlfriend so uncannily, the breasts must also have been hers. For feeling so funny he called a cab, and sat on the curb with the girlfriend and the sailor ghost. After half an hour a cab came and he let them take it; the cab was black and white, but no one could remember who had called the black and white company and who yellow. He felt he was sitting in mist. He called both the black and white company and the yellow, though it felt like lying. Neither company had a booking for this address. He realised the mist was not still, but was a slow drift of rain. The air snapped again and the rain fell more quickly and Danny ascended the stairs and Aaron stood by a wall. He said Danny could sleep in his bed. Danny said, Top to tail? Aaron said, Why not? But Danny recalled what he’d promised the girl he cooked with: that he was through spooning boys. He had been spooning too many, and though the promise was unsolicited, he thought that it was good. Anyway he said to Aaron, Sure. Then another black and white came, even though Danny knew the yellow company had a fleet almost double in size. He was quiet to the driver, who spoke with a clip.
When the new winter began, Danny ran into Luise and followed her home. The sky shifts to cold, to such clarified black, and someone like Danny gets ideas in his head. Like exercising too much, or following acquaintances home. The beginning of winter is a dangerous time for the healthy. They sweat and it’s a time for sweat to freeze. Danny was aquiline like a shark, but he’d been doing push-ups and felt strong as a bull. A bull shark.
Luise’s room was at the top of the stairs. Her door had been closed at her party, and looked so like a wall that Danny’d missed it. He began to smoke. You can’t smoke there, she said. My clothes. These were all dresses, and looked fine. So they sat at the bottom and Luise bummed his smokes and put them out in one piece of junk mail. She loved the band Roxette. You’re not into Aaron, are you? she said. Danny had not really ‘regarded’ Aaron since Halloween. I think that Aaron is straight, he said. Come on, said Luise, let me show you his room.
Aaron had a raised bed, half a bunk, and a little desk beneath. The blue of the bunk bed pulled away the desk’s rigour and made it childish. This was the Seuss box set Luise had given him for Christmas, these were the books in miniature, and this was his CD drawer, including Dismemberment Plan. The CD triggered Danny’s feeling of Aaron – the good electric and the harm. So the room’s childishness was ready to lift when Luise said, That bed creaks. Her statement reminded Danny that Aaron had gone out with Luise when he first moved. Why did you show me this? said Danny. Luise said, You asked, which wasn’t true at all. Feeling energised, Danny decided to walk part of the way home and hail a cab. This walk felt like when you walk somewhere new but have directions. The walk is not long, but indeterminate, like it could be. It felt as though every sound could be a human sound. Danny made up a game called Tree or Person – where you try to work out whether a dark shape is a tree or a person – and played it in his head. He texted Aaron.
Aaron could not find the party later that week, and when he arrived, he was uncomfortable. For Danny, parties were compressed people, so he could not find fault in them. This was the small birthday of a friend, and everyone was inside. Inside-parties are choppy and no matter how good the couches are, people hover in the kitchen on silver wires. The sailor ghost played poker. Danny and Aaron sat outside among the plants. The birthday girl grew garlic. Danny still cooked. Aaron said he was attending job interviews, to work out what to do. This caused Danny to consider what to do in general with his life, which brought their electricity to ground. Hungry? he said, and offered risotto.
Aaron said Danny’s apartment looked like a human-box, though he didn’t sound too critical. Danny had lived alone although not single, and the girl moved in when he was done. The human-box suited them, and the rule was they could wake each other with coffee. Aaron hovered in the kitchen while Danny cooked. Mostly they were silent, because he cooked with the music up. The risotto came out like pudding, and Aaron thought it might work with cheese. He said, I’m sorry if I was weird at that party. You weren’t, said Danny, not sure which party he meant. Aaron said, It’s just I’ve never had someone come so full-on onto me. On the chocolate couch. He was looking at Danny very openly.
Danny experienced one of those memories where you vividly render not only what happened around you but also yourself. He was spooning Gavin or Zach, post-drunk and tired out, saying something stupid about how the blinds lined the moonlight, or how the lights widened their limbs. Then specific things he said: Have you ever done this before? And eating risotto in the human-box, he felt as tired out as in the memory. He felt the need to sleep diagonally in his giant bed. Later on he heard the girl he lived with come home, and in the morning he made Aaron coffee, another later for the girl.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
His sister called in the afternoon to say their mother might be dead. She didn’t say those words exactly, never actually mentioned the word ‘dead’, but they both understood the subtext.
“She’s not picking up her either phone,” she said, “and I’ve been calling for hours.”
Maybe she was at the shops, he said. Doing some gardening. Taking a very, very long nap.
“Usually, I’d think that too,” she said. “Except I called her last night, and she didn’t pick up then either. Then I called this morning, and I’ve called over ten times since then. Nothing.”
This worried the brother. Immediately, his mind went back to the day before, and the last phone call he’d had with his mother. During the course of the conversation, she had stated the following things:
- They did not call her enough;
- She resented the fact they did not call her enough;
- No one returned her calls any more and she may as well be dead; and
- If she were to die, how would anyone know?
It wasn’t exactly a pleasant conversation and, so, ironically, didn’t provide much incentive for him to stay on the line. Considering the chat centered on how no one apparently called her, the phone call struck him as a precise, borderline-genius exercise in self-sabotage and passive aggression. Well played, he’d thought at the time. Well played. Then midway through the conversation, he became frustrated and exasperated—and a little bit bored—and told her he needed to go. When she insisted on talking more, he said cheerful goodbye and promptly hung up on her.
Recalling the conversation now, he started to sweat. Usually when he sweated, he didn’t smell any differently than normal, but if he became nervous or frightened, his armpits begin to secrete an odour that was not unlike garbage. In his mind, it was like a defence mechanism, similar to a skunk’s. If someone was to attack him in a dark alley way, he would smell this way. He smelled like that now, the thought crossing his mind that he’d inadvertently killed his mother, or at least driven her to suicide. If the purpose of the weird armpit smell was a defence mechanism, right now, it was defending him against accusations of murder.
Both he and his sister lived over an hour’s drive away from their mother. They could not possibly know whether she was dead or not. Neither of them said this out loud.
They called their other sister. The mother and the other sister were arch enemies. But for inexplicable reasons, she was the only sibling who lived within a 20 kilometre radius. They asked whether she could drive by, to ensure their mother wasn’t dead. Again, they avoided the word ‘dead’, and instead told her to check whether their mother was ‘okay’—which, by extension, implied ‘alive’.
“Okay, I’ll do it,” the other sister said. “But I don’t have the keys.”
The first sister explained that their mother kept emergency keys, and gave her precise directions as to where to find them.
After the other sister started to drive off, the brother started calling the mother again—on the landline, on the mobile—leaving messages on the answering machine, even though he knew she wasn’t there. As always, the greeting made the mother sound like she was caught in a blizzard, a thousand miles away, at the ends of the earth, somewhere where satellite reception was fading fast. He left messages—Where are you? Are you dead? Why do you even have a phone?—and kept calling and calling and calling, the same way someone continues with CPR long after they know their loved one is dead, long gone, kaput.
When the other sister arrived at their mother’s house, she called back.
“I’ve rung the doorbell, no response,” she said. “I’m about to go inside now with the emergency keys. I’ll call you back again.”
She hung up on him before he could say anything, and he quickly realised they should have stayed on the line together. What was the point of hanging up? Was she going to call back only after she’d found their mother’s corpse, dangling from the rafters like an effigy? Was she going to call back when she’d found her vomit-stained body on the linoleum floor, still convulsing from having forcefully ingested bleach? Was she going to call back when she found their mother’s electrified cadaver in the bath, a faulty appliance still plugged into the wall and—
The phone rang.
“She’s not here,” his other sister said on the phone. “No one’s home.”
She’d checked the garage too. The doors were locked. The blinds were closed. The phone and purse had been taken. These were all the things their mother did before she left the house. Nevertheless, the brother started calling hospitals. Each of the hospitals said the same thing, before transferring him to another line: “You’ll want the emergency ward, then.” All the hospitals said no one had been admitted under their mother’s name, but things like this happened all the time, and for them not to worry.
Together, the siblings waited in silence, their phones in their hands.
When the mother eventually returned from the shops, where she’d been for the past five hours, she was irate that the other sister had entered the house without her permission.
“But we thought you were dead,” the other sister said.
“Well, I’m not dead,” the mother said. “Not that anybody’s interested.”
She hadn’t recharged her phone battery, and on her way out, it had died. Out of everyone, she was not afraid to use the word. My phone battery was dead. But I’m not dead. And even if I was dead, would you even care? Care that I was dead?
Days later, they would discover she had done it all on purpose. But even before he’d known the details, the brother had a lot of things to say to her, some of which made sense, others not so much. You need to keep your phone charged. You are irresponsible. My armpits smell like a bin. You need to grow up. I have spent the last three hours on the phone. I’m hungry. We have no food in the pantry. Maybe I should buy some eggs. Do you realise how worried we were?
“Hold the line,” he told his other sister. “I want to speak to her.”
At that moment, the mother was coming out the bathroom and was about to receive his call. He would say all of these things to her, he realised.
And just at that moment, his phone battery went dead too.
Saturday, February 21, 2009
Friday, February 20, 2009
Pink and speckled, elbow folding up. Fingers red-tipped triangles.
Yesterday's eye-shadow: charcoal crumbs. Asleep, her head tipped
back. Clock on the table beside. Cheap and green. She dreamt of
birds. Blue, delicate things. Not fit for any world.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
We were sitting on opposite ends of the couch, his feet pointing towards my head, my feet adjacent to the stretch of his body. It was a large corner couch and there was a lot of soft space between us. Velure. I was in my bra and pants because I liked the feel of it on my skin while I watched television and I had to reach for my dress and slip it on before following Graeme outside.
He was looking up. I squinted into the dark outline of leaves and the stars beyond them and there was the sound again and I knew what it was, suddenly, that whoosh of flames and hot wind and the little click of the torch being turned off as if it were a tap.
We had been up in a hot air balloon on our first anniversary. My treat. A surprise. I remembered darkness and dew and the sleepy warmth of a cab as we headed towards the sports grounds where the balloons rose into the air like magic mushrooms, tethered by their earthbound baskets and the ropes and their tamers, wrangling them like elephants in a circus. I remembered Graeme's face drained of its sleepy glow, paling to the colour of the moon as he saw them lit up by the park lights.
"I'm afraid of heights." He said, unsteadily but he submitted himself to the trauma of the surprise ride, fingers white on the basket as we dipped down over the silver curl of the river, relaxing, finally as the sun rose and the buildings became nothing but a patchwork quilt beneath us.
The sound of the hot air balloon was very loud. It should have been right above us there, hovering just on the other side of the tree. We looked up past other people's balconies. We saw the blue flickering lights of televisions in other apartments. I could hear the theme song from the news programme that we had been watching. There was no billow of silk, or flare of a torch, just the sound of the thing firing up. Perhaps it was on the other side of the building, out of sight but still, it seemed strange.
Graeme's fingers twitched and for a moment I thought that he might reach for my hand but he didn't. I wondered if he was remembering that morning when we drifted up above his vertigo, when he allowed me to take him somewhere unsafe and admitted eventually that he had liked it. I smiled, but it was dark and he didn't notice the change in my expression.
"We should go back inside. We are missing the programme," he said.
We sat on the couch and Graeme watched TV and I shifted on the couch making the velure rub back and forth against my skin and I remembered the times we had made love on that couch and the positions and how perhaps I would get tired of the feel of the fabric one day.
The sound of the hot air balloon continued, firing up at irregular intervals. I felt as if it were perhaps hovering right above the apartment building, looking down into our courtyard, taking photographs. I stood and walked outside and I could hear Graeme yelling at me to put some clothes on, but I just stood in the dark and listened, and it seemed like the sound was coming from one of the apartments, two floors up and a little to the right. The window was in darkness. I listened till the sound came again and the man in the unit directly above us stepped out on the balcony and leaned out and looked up. Then I stepped back inside, pulled the dress over my head and lay on the couch again.
"Anything?" Graeme didn't look up from the programme on the television.
I shook my head but he wouldn't have seen this and he didn't ask again.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
She could not understand why I had to take her.
As the knife glided across her throat, blood spilled onto the rocks by the edge of the river. By the time midnight had come, the river was running red.
She wanted to know so many things, which at the time, I could tell her. Peeling away the layers of my black heart, there are no sharp answers; only a fog of what seemed right at the time. M had been snitching, putting our family in jeopardy. She had retreated to a house by the river, interstate. She knew she wasn’t free, but maybe she realised that sometimes the best place to live, is the best place to die.
Nikko had been given a brief to rape her, but when she begged for her life and screamed for her mother, my spine turned to mush. I could see the little girl she had once been, and Nikko stared through me with his dead eyes, just as I had looked at him with mine. We both knew he wouldn’t do it; that he couldn’t do it.
She cried for so many things. She cried out for her mother and her baby daughter. She cried out for her best friend, but I could not answer. If I had an answer, it is one I cannot remember. Perhaps it will come to me while I tell you my story.
It all seemed so simple. I loved her, but it was not enough.
All I remember is the code. It had been burned into my head – into all of our heads and it had been branded onto my chest with ink and hot irons where my arms and face told a story of how I had risen through the ranks. I do not remember if I was conscripted or whether I enlisted. Small details like that escape me and are not easily remembered, but they bubble and surface when you’re thinking about something entirely different. Like flowers, owls, or books.
One of my brothers spread out his tool kit, snapping her teeth with pliers one by one until she could no longer speak. The noises coming from her mouth, with the sprays of blood, came from a place I never thought I would see. Not a groan. More like a primal scream.
It was flaunted as being a gang but in the end, it was my family. I had brothers, sisters, and a father. I was given tasks, orders, instructions and I followed the code. I still felt the sting from where three tears had been tattooed on my cheek. I didn’t feel the sting when the needles hit my face, but I was a different person then. Pain was my friend; an odd ally. Heroin and speed would numb me, but when the high waned, I was alone again with my thoughts, certain that what I was doing was right.
I was told I had a good face for killing. My eyes were kind. ‘People will trust you’, my father would say. When I was first recruited, my face didn’t have any of the sharpness it now had. My cheeks were soft and plump, ideal for cushioning the black ink of homeland markings, but within the course of three years, my lips had shrivelled and my nose was cracked from beatings and the sun.
It took a long time for my brain to stand to reason; to realise what I was doing was wrong.
I had been beaten, stabbed, shot and tortured, but it had never been clear to me that what I was doing – and what I had been ordered to do – was not right. I wonder now, if you live it, do you become it? My brothers and sisters would grab fistfuls of leaves; clutching at them like money, as heavy as the earth.
I knew I was home when I could no longer smell the river.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
They whistled cheerfully in their verdant surrounds, leaning back, hammering the planks together to form a crude but effective stock. The intended victim crept closer, perhaps equal parts horrified and enraptured. His final moments, he knew, were not far from here.
Monday, February 16, 2009
A few lazy whiskeys later, my Tarzan arms swing from the bedroom door. I see my bed, swimming there in the soft fog of early morning decisions, and I smile. Some music, at last—this is the key. From a record player, my old record player that I haul from my cupboard's tallest hiding place. I unplug my sleek silver stereo, rest its slim frame against the television, and plug in the gramophone. Whatever's left in there, I think to myself, struggling to read the writing on the record.
I sway with a clarinet. I dance with pianola. An old song. A very old song. The very best kind.
Sunday, February 15, 2009
At work th’smorning I was pumping that gun. Sticker, sticker, sticker. Rez (boss) says he don’t know what he’d do without me. Quick pricer. Fast dismantler. Speedy assembler.
‘Happy to be here’ I say, chortling back over my tatt. I tell him about the party I hit. Heavy tunes. A chick half-passed out on my lap. Some topless babes in the pool, pink bikinis bobbing on the surface like jellyfish. It was the friend I was interested in. She checked out my bike.
‘You’ve been drinking.’ Curled her soft arms together, smiled.
I’m not stupid, I didn’t drink and ride. I took her by the fingertips and dragged her round the side. The music a hollow thud. The air was blue so I wrapped myself around her. More smiles before I slipped inside. The heat spread outward.
‘What was her name?’ Rez asks. As if I wouldn’t know.
‘Nicki’, I say, or something. She hasn’t heard from me. Not that I didn’t like her. Not that it wasn’t perfect, digging her in the grass. But I haven’t the time. I don’t want phonecalls all night. That’s when I run. From the headland to the jetty. Light long strides. Mum’s little meteorite, who shot out of her womb. ‘The bullet’ at school. Running and heart thumping over ideas, where next, who with? A party, a princess, my presence—required? Working all day, riding all night.
‘Mike?’ Rez asks.
‘Your socks don’t match, y’no?’ So. Who has time for selection? They’re pulled out of the drawer and wrenched on. Sometimes a little puckered at the toe. Then scuffed sneakers overtop. Normally I have pants, but today the shorts betrayed.
‘Sorry man.’ He is my boss, Rez. I’ll try harder.
Today I am going to see Nanna. Nanna who frustrates with the rate she moves. Nanna whose crinkly face ignores my inked arms. I haven’t seen Nanna for a while. Bad grandson. But Nanna never smacked me as a bub, only gave lollies.
The Ducati, my shiny horse, complains at lights. It snorts and puffs and readies its hoofs. The green is my eye’s beacon, my stairway to heaven. I don’t react well to no. All is want is go.
Mum’s little meteorite spins through, the corner is blocked by a truck and then, some dude.
Up on my windscreen - his face. A grimace.
His bones crunch all at once before he flies, and then he slowly pirouettes to the tarmac. Sound arrives and it’s all screeches. Have I stopped? The motor goes on. Baby green bike clatters to the ground, from my hands, my hands, that are something like blue. And the girl with him is hunched, a foldable spoon. And dizziness overtakes me. The curb, the curb. I sit at the curb. My body—still. My heart still rides.
Saturday, February 14, 2009
The first time I noticed him, he was lying back at the lifeboat's edge like a Hollywood playboy, trailing his fingers in the water. I prodded him with my foot and he flipped up his sunglasses which were, for some reason, on tiny hinges.
"Who are you?" I said in my scratchy, ever-thirsty voice.
"I'm here for the party," he said, grinning at me with unnatural intensity.
And I had to admit that amongst the horrors and adrenaline-fuelled despair of the shipwreck, I had quite forgotten that today was, indeed, my special day.
The man took a little wrapped gift from his shirt pocket and handed it to me. Which I had to admit was very thoughtful of him.
Friday, February 13, 2009
Once, while travelling around with my family, we stopped in the town where Ned Kelly had been briefly imprisoned. Our hotel was a few minutes out of town, with large rooms and a view over the neighbouring farmland. I was sick, I’d caught some kind of stomach bug. My father had made us look all look at the cell, and stand in there alone to feel it. It was important that we felt it. The floor had just been plain brown dirt.
Years later I was watching an explosion from a safe distance. I was holding a clipboard and talking to people through a radio. We were pulling the buildings down in that whole section of city, and smoke and dust was thrown up in the air. It moved slowly, like sand disturbed on the bottom of the sea. I felt it then, watching this perfectly formed cloud before the wind came along and smudged it all. I figured that was what my father was talking about, this kind of unhappiness that has a way of filling your mouth like water.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
But, no, it really was there, and it really was Her. The gentleman, who had been known to refer to himself as a "prolapsed Catholic", observed within himself some very strange feelings. Firstly: was this important? Secondly: who, if anyone, could he tell? The gentleman's dog, a well-aged beagle called Elias, seemed little interested in the gentleman's discovery; he was already pulling away at his leash to get home and be fed. The gentleman rubbed at his beard, still surprised to find it there. He had grown it in retirement (an experience, in truth, only three weeks old) as a sign, perhaps, that he was relaxing, but it still felt like a foreign body attached to the old him.
He reached out an index finger to touch the Virgin Mary, to test, perhaps, if the paint was fresh. He couldn't be sure, but her image felt warm, or at least warmer than the wall around it. He thought of his old colleagues back at Turku, wondering at their faces if they could see the semi-famous professor now, entertaining thoughts of magical appearances. The gentleman chuckled, and then laughed. Elias, who had given up and rolled over onto the cool concrete, raised a wrinkled eyebrow to his master. The gentleman met the beagle's eye.
"Perhaps," said the gentleman. "Perhaps this is just for us." He clicked his tongue, and Elias got up.
They walked home, the two of them, the fog enveloping their steps like time closing, becoming history.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Paper thin walls. Cheap rent. The Real Estate didn't say anything about those tears: like they would.
The Weeper weeps. Next door weeping. Always fucking weeping. Used to know his name. Forgot it. Just the Weeper now.
Still I wave if ever we're out on our balconies. Wave and smile. Polite as all hell, watering my succulents. Waves back too.
But that damn crying. Gets under your skin. Pierces the earplugs, rests in my aorta; a throbbing ache. Shit, let me tell you. It settles there. Fucking earplugs. I spent up big on those. Back when I could afford to.
I lie in my bed, curled up away from that sound. In the heat, sweating out my day, but never enough of it. No way to spend the summer nights with all that crying.
Midnight long past, and there's weeping and no sleep. All that so-so-sobbing. Red and red. I slap my hand against the wall. I shake the walls. I growl. And the fucking engine of tears runs on.
Enough. Enough. Enough!
My knuckles crash against the door. One of my earplugs drops to the ground. I kick it away in disgust.
The weepers eyes swim in their moat of tears.
But I'm all rage.“Why the FUCK ARE YOU CRYING?”
“Because I knew you would come.”
He pulls me through the doorway, easily, and shit, I'm not little. The Weeper Weeps. The door closes.
In this room, I know at last why the rent is so damn cheap. Bodies float in all that salty water, turn and tumble in our wake. Him crying and dragging me, deeper and deeper into the tears. The Weeper Weeps.
“Sorry,” he says, and pushes me under.
And I get a moment, a moment of such sweet silence that I forgive him for what comes next.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Two children in pyjamas crouched to lick the surface of the slick. But, like all the war’s wonders, there was something amiss. The toffee was explosives-tainted, metallic, stuck with grit from the road. When the men followed the stream into the factory, they found a sixteen-year-old factory hand, dead, with his mouth and nostrils full of syrup.
They cracked free the body and lay it in the street, in front of a house that had taken a hit. Inside the house a clock could be seen on an upstairs mantelpiece, lightly dusted, but otherwise undamaged. As they covered the face of the sugar-coated boy, the clock struck seven with perfect timing.
Monday, February 9, 2009
Which is why it was a shock one morning to hear him screaming, at the top of his lungs. Most of us, me included, shot out of our beds, where we had been enjoying a Sunday lie-in. R. was out in his yard, running around, literally tearing out his hair. His eyes pleaded with us for some unknown solution. Then we saw it. All his wide things, taken out of his garage, and turned on their sides.
Long things, soaring up into the sky.
Sunday, February 8, 2009
Saturday, February 7, 2009
You begin feeling left out, left in, left behind.
You start feeling the headaches in high school: melancholy, maybe—ennui, perhaps; you pronounce it en-you-eye.
You walk around a university, and all those blank stares of learning makes your voice scream inside your head.
You leave the ground of your city, stomach lurching as you enter empty air, but you feel, otherwise, absolutely nothing.
You step into the blasting cold air and a dusty, foreign smell, and think, this is the new me.
You widen your legs just a bit and he takes it, obviously, as some sort of signal and then you’re in the back of a hostel bus getting your bare skin get caught on cheap plastic that really looks nothing like leather.
You fold his photo so many times that it falls to pieces in your pocket.
You find yourself in a temp job, up north, in a grey office booking domestic flights for incompetent men who make twelve times more money than you ever will.
You find out that he’s shacked up with a Korean exchange student somewhere in the outer suburbs, suppressing his natural fear of the other for some shameful, transactional sex.
You take up gardening, half-heartedly but intensely, spending hours in misty half-formed nursery worlds.
You talk about children, in that roundabout way, and start watching Disney films again, the ones before computers.
You end up in a museum, somehow, working with dead things in drawers, opening and closing that one tiny window you have because it never gets cool or warm enough.
You let your hair turn to wire, a hard helmet you leave all to fate and a unisex one-price salon.
Friday, February 6, 2009
She wakes irritable, and turns over to scowl at Ainslie who, in the dream, had not paid the gas bill, and who now sleeps as though dead and probably dreams of flying, or sex with French film stars.
This is somehow all her fault.
Before Ainslie, Isobel had vivid, elaborate dreams.
Of leading her grandfather’s ancient, split-hooved horse through the dark, up a mountain, to a pit in a forest to eat the snow from the faces of dead men. So that the cold might not wake them. So that they might never know of their death. Her long fingers pulling softly through the great bay’s tangled mane while it ate.
Of birds pecking at the skin of her wrists and her throat to uncover something, though she never did find out what because her sister was there saying Come on, come on, with her hands full of bright plastic, I’ve gone and made a killing on this woman in a hazelnut dress…
And of course, she dreamt of her teeth falling out. And of coins in the dirt and of her furniture being rearranged while she slept. But nothing to do with electricity bills or supermarkets. No endless days at work. She would sometimes dream about a leak in the ceiling, but the leak flooded the house to ankle-depth and somehow—Isobel was not sure, even in the dream—there were fish. Fish and seahorses and other tiny creatures which she is not sure exist outside of the dream. When she remembers the dream now she can still feel the gentle butt-butt of their snub noses against her bare feet as she drifted from room to room.
When she met Ainslie the several inches of water drained from Isobel’s dreams. She watches her sleeping lover’s face and asks aloud where it has all gone to, but Ainslie does not answer.
Isobel imagines that if she looks hard enough, she will find them—the tiny bones of the tiny fish and the seahorses dried in brittle hoops along the skirting boards and under the hallway rug.
She could take an empty glass jar and collect them, and she could keep the jar on the bedside table or high up on the mantle where Ainslie could see it, and understand it as proof of How Things Were Before I Loved You.
In sleep, Ainslie lies curled on her side with one arm flung out across the pillows, hand open as though to receive something—a coin or a snowflake, or a tiny bone.
Isobel leans over to place a kiss in the waiting palm and watches the fingers curl slightly to accept it. She tucks her knees up, presses her face between Ainslie’s shoulder blades. Matches the curve of her body. Then she goes back to the pilot light going out in the hot water system. Her train being cancelled. The A string on her cello refusing to stay in tune.
Thursday, February 5, 2009
Emma greets him with a half-smile.
The rest of us invite Luke to sit down at the empty chair, across from Emma. We always do this; we want Luke to be part of our group, even though we know what always happens.
“So, Luke,” I begin. “How’s it going?”
Luke pulls a cigarette from behind his ear and gives me a monkey-mouthed stare. He asks Emma for her lighter. She hands it to him, stretching too far across the table so no one else has to touch it. “So where’dya wanna go now babe?” she asks.
Luke lights his cigarette and disappears momentarily behind the haze. His shadowy form shrugs, and someone clears their throat.
“Wanna get some Thai, or Indian?” asks Emma.
Luke’s eyes emerge from the grey-white mist. They’re half covered by his beanie, which has a ring of flames along its edge. “Nup,” he says.
Emma slumps back into her chair, defeated.
“What’ve you been up to today, Luke?” I impart into the silence.
“Not much,” he says. “I was pretty bored this afternoon, so I had two wanks and came here.”
And we all believed him.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
My legs dangle listlessly over the edge of the beam. There is nothing to support me here, nothing to lean against, and nothing for my shadow to rest upon, except a few metres of thin steel. But I feel at ease with the fragility. Any movement I make is within my own power. It’s a power I don’t understand.
There are a few uniformed men below, talking to me through white megaphones.
‘Stay right there, everything is okay.’
They’re big, heavy megaphones. I can see the men’s arms shaking from the weight.
‘We’re coming to get you.’
We’re coming to get you. It sounds like a threat.
The pigeon is resting beside me, its head nestled against the damaged feathers. For a while it coos, testing its voice against the still air. I ease myself lower, so I’m lying face down with my limbs wrapped around the metal. It feels nice to hold something. The crowd below applauds. I didn’t do it for them.
I grope at the sky, and my hand brushes the pigeon’s soft body. It launches, and for a moment everything stings from the brightness of cream on blue.
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
I feel sick.
‘She likes you,’ he says. Her father—drunk and sweaty and drinking more.
The girl punches my shoe, screeches loud like a monkey. I get out a notepad and pen, set them down on the floor and I’m cold now. All the sweat from the long trek to the village is making me cold. I take a sip of butter tea. Hot and salty—the fat stays on my lips, coats my mouth and tongue.
‘She doesn’t speak,’ he says. Her father—sitting cross-legged on the wide wooden boards.
She picks up the pen, scribbles hard packed circles of black lines. She punches my shoe. I turn the page, another fast scribble, another scream. I turn the page.
‘I took her to Thimphu. Two days walk, then the bus. They said take her to Calcutta but I cannot afford it.’
She stops scribbling and there’s that eye again.
‘She has a hole in her heart. She will die and I will cremate her.’
Her face is about as close as it can get to my face now. That eye right in my face.
Look at me. I am here. I’m not dead.
Then she’s gone. Crawls over to her father and plops down in the crook of his cross-legged knee. Like a seat, like a throne, she sits up straight with her arms to the sky.
‘I will cremate her.’
I look down at my shoes. My brand new Colorado Hiking shoes—waterproof, lightweight, good in snow. I didn’t even need to break them in. They were perfect straight out of the box.
Monday, February 2, 2009
Ya know, we were way out deep once, and we come across this white line in the water, looked like a slipstream in the sky and it went as far as I could see from one edge of the ocean to the other. I thought, this is magic. Maybe if we cross this line everything will be different. Maybe it's the edge of the earth and we'd finally gone out too deep, we were going to slip right off it. We motored up to it real slow like and when we got close I realised it was a rope and I thought, I've gone starkers, bloody raving mad, troppo. It was a rope and we were all pissing ourselves laughing because we'd thought it was all mysterious. I was laughing, but inside I was going, this is mysterious. How long is this rope? Fucken, where the hell did it come from? I thought again, this is magic. We started pulling it in, and I swear to you it took four hours to pull in, four bloody hours. When we finally ended up measuring it, it was 3000 metres long and weighed over a tonne. It was one bloody beautiful piece of rope. I admire something like that, such a long piece of rope. But what were we supposed to do with the thing? It took up the whole bloody deck but we couldn't leave it out there to get tangled in someone's propeller. It's dangerous that kind of thing. So we knotted it into a kind of clumped net and dragged it behind the boat. After a while birds started to alight there, we'd see them all preening each other, squawking and settling down for a rest on the folds of rope. I swear to you, they started nesting there. They picked seaweed out of the water and other bits of flotsam, little bits of rope. They laid their eggs right there in the middle of the ocean, ruffled their feathers and settled down to keep their eggs safe and warm. I saw a chick take its first flight from that rope. The rope got harder and harder to tow, heavier with all the bird shit and nests. Finally we couldn't even pull it. We realised we'd been towing an island. So we cut ourselves free from it. I still got that stub of rope, kept it as good luck.
Bill took a swig of his beer – grimaced – it was warm, he should have paused to take a sip, instead he'd flapped his lips for too long as usual.
Long line fishin mate, said Robbo. He adjusted cock and balls beneath his overhang of a gut.
Long line fishin mate, it would have been a long line fishing rope. Nothin mysterious about long line fishin.
It wasn't even lunchtime, and Bill hadn't even had one whole beer yet. He decided to let the obviously inflammatory comment pass.
Sunday, February 1, 2009
And the way silence held a new grip around each of our throats you'd've thought we were stuck in a bad dystopian paperback, committing thoughts only to our deepest selves, all words stricken, dead, before they'd begun. The newspapers arrived, still, even though we no longer paid for them. Piling up outside our door. Words bulging under plastic wrap, well-protected from the nonexistant rain. Rex had taken to kicking them each morning, further each time, more violently each time, until our lawn was a graveyard of unwanted opinions.
Me, being the youngest, being the girl. Piecing together what I could from sidemouth gossip: snide words I picked up from the bitumen. From teachers hardly muzzled merely by a threadbare sense of duty. From the holes dad left in the wall. And mum, fingers burnt bronze with caustic soda; she cleaned away our inside lives.
The Kids. This was what they had become. Fresh-faces unnaturally caught in school photo freeze-frames. Nothing like they were, I'm sure. The forehead of the driver—a blonde broken-nosed type, a footy player and a swimmer—had an acne streak nearly purple on his cheek. I pictured him fighting his way to the top, in that teeth-and-nails desparation so often brought about by early highschool, pounding his feet, his fists, for the glory of adolescent anonymity. And now he was glorious, immortal even, in death.
His one passenger. She was the real story, the real reason they sold papers. She was why newscasters pulled on their neckties in the evening. Even the name, Jaye Vamaya, was already tailor-made for smooth repetition. She of the chocolate-almond eyes. The white wide smile, that no manner of pixelating, of dot-matrixing, could ever diminish. She was the real reason anyone cared. Of this I was sure. She was the face that launched a thousand threats.
That first morning, the paint seeped up through my window somehow, like a living thing. Mum out there scrubbing at the front wall, peering up at me as I looked down at her. Her eyes red, unfocused. I left my bedroom, and entered this new world that had grow up around me overnight. Rex, standing at the top of the stairs, still wearing yesterday's clothes. His knuckles white on the banister. He turned around. Fucken Stop, he said, and fucken Go. How hard can it be?
Then I saw dad's shirt. Back-to-front on the chair. The jam stain and the collar and his name printed beneath it. I focused hard on the council logo, a black squiggle stitched on in acrylic. He still had on his boots, tanned with churned up dust. Head in hands, medication bulge in his back pocket. That's when I saw him. Just the way he was. The very last time.