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1 Porphyria’s Lover
I spent a lot of time ignorant and flippant. It took me a long time to get better, to realise how hard it is to put words onto a page. I got mad at the people around who weren’t doing the same, their silence indiscriminate acceptance spread out into the universe, like monster children running up and down the aisles on buses. We have people masquerading as creators when they are mere curators.
I don’t hate them for retelling someone else’s story — we’re all guilty of that. I hate them for pretending it’s theirs. I hate them for distilling something so spread out and reconcentrating it into one place. They’re outsourcing trauma and trying to sell it back to us, the ones who had to tear it into shreds and dispose of it in the first place. I hate that their repetitions make it feel like it’s meaningless, even though I know it was played out before I ever heard it.
And here I stand nearly 20 years after the last time I saw you, staring at someone who’s just trying to get by day-to-day, appropriating someone else’s words into their art form, wondering if you’re still doing okay. I that last time we spoke you seemed distant — experience has taught me that people forget. You were a huge part of me but I’m such a small part of you. Maybe there’s no place in your memory for me, leaving me the custodian of an irrelevant legacy.
I’m not sure how to reconcile that.
Sometimes you want to not say things, let the gaps between sentences tell the story. You want to do away with all the words you ever had, and just get to the core of the thing.
I miss you.
2 What Guilt Looks Like
The stick sits on the bathroom counter. There’s no pink cross. Again.
‘We can try for next month,’ says Aaron.
‘What would be the point?’ says Lisa.
Aaron’s brow drops.
‘The point would be having a baby, wouldn’t it?’ Aaron’s question is laced with concern about the stony look on Lisa’s face. ‘I … I can get tested,’ he says.
‘Tested for what?’ asks Lisa. ‘What is there that we both don’t already know?’
‘Maybe I’m the one with problem,’ offers Aaron.
‘I think we already know you are,’ Lisa says.
‘What?’ says Aaron. The blood has drained from his face. This is what guilt looks like.
‘You had a vasectomy. You had a vasectomy but you let me keep trying to get pregnant. You kept going with me to buy tests.’
Lisa glances down at the stick on the counter.
‘I’m sorry, Lisa, I’m so sorry. I just didn’t know how to tell you I didn’t want … ‘
‘Don’t! Just don’t.’
Lisa pulls open the cabinet drawer and starts loading the contents into a zip bag with little red hearts on it.
‘Where do you think you’re going?’ says Aaron.
‘I’m going to Pete’s.’
‘Because Pete doesn’t lie. Pete doesn’t pretend he’s someone he’s not.’
Aaron studies the pregnancy test.
‘So, if you knew we couldn’t … why the charade with the test?’
He looks at Lisa’s hands, adding to the bag of cosmetics. She has a new ring.
We couldn’t… Aaron finally understands.
3 The Nestling
Daylight filters through trees and ferns. The forest, momentarily silent, returns to its usual twitters, rustlings, and screechings. The sound of an echidna’s snuffling for ants softly rises from the damp ground.
A tiny young bird lies at the base of a tall gum-tree. It has fallen from its nest at the base of a forked limb. The structure should have been secure for its feathered inhabitants, but the combination of a sudden gust of wind at the same moment that the baby stretched to take food from its parent’s beak resulted in it toppling over the side. As it fell, its wings fluttered weakly, and its legs searched for a twig or stem to clutch at. Shaken but uninjured, it is helpless. It’s not yet able to stand on its spindly legs. All attempts to do so result in a pitch forward or backward, or from side to side.
A feral cat hides behind a mass of wire-grass. It pushes its nose and whiskers past the stiff stems, and with its head now showing at the edge of the small clearing, it scans the area with a darting scrutiny. Eyes narrowed, it stares intently at barely-breathing food. With its belly on the ground, the cat’s body seems to lengthen as it silently pulls itself forward with extended paws and claws.
The wild cat draws closer to its meal, and, sensing that the feathery little lump is at its mercy, it stands upright and casually walks toward its prey. It rears, ready to pounce on the morsel, as a shot rings out.
A young man with a .22 rifle kicks aside the now dead cat and gently places the tiny bird back into its nest.
The youngster walks away chuckling.
4 The Vortex
Anna coughed as she choked on her sip of wine. Neither of her dinner companions seemed to notice. They continued to shove food in their mouths and look at each other without speaking for another twenty seconds while she cleared the obstruction. Not once did they look at her. She was officially invisible.
Anna glanced down at her hand. It sat, propped on its elbow, still holding the glass. She swirled the thick red wine around in her glass until a hole appeared to form in the centre. She’d seen something similar on the surface of streams. Once, when the river flooded after too much spring rain, a boy and his dog were sucked down into a large whirlpool. People searched for weeks. It was assumed that they had been drowned, their bodies washed down stream. But nobody ever found them. Nobody could say for sure. Maybe it took them to another world. A world that nobody knew about, except those who’d been pulled into its depths. And it was so wonderful there, nobody ever came back to share its location in case it got too crowded.
She wished to be sucked into the vortex of liquid. That a kind of doorway would open up and take her away to another place. She took a sip. Then a mouthful. Then a gulp until the liquid had disappeared inside her. Nobody would know her there. No one would expect her to be thin, or smart, or be somebody’s wife, or save the world.
She filled her glass and repeated the steps, each time wishing harder until she’d done it so many times that she forgot how many, or what she was even wishing for.
Outside the window it rained. The soft Melbourne rain that shows as a fog hugging the light, barely staining the path she stood on.
She didn’t look up or move or notice us as we eased to a stop. Our light spilled out and mixed with the gloom of the station. She was stillness in the bustle of people who shoved to get off or rushed to get onto the train.
A sparrow shifted easily amongst feet. It found food where it could, preparing for the night ahead, as ignored as the woman who still stood.
In her hand a device held her attention. It cast shadows and reflected her tears.
My train moved on. She didn’t want this train. Not this time.
As I felt the cool waters of the Mississippi River pass between my fingers I knew I’d made it.
Every mile a marathon they said I’d never complete. Leaving the hospital in anything other than a wheelchair was the best diagnosis they could give me.
“They”. So often in life we are told what “they” think or say, but “they” were wrong.
One foot in front of the other 4,640,576 times. That’s how many times I proved them wrong.
Each step forcing my body to put into practice everything I’d spent months teaching it.
I’m still not sure which was harder, relearning how to walk, or doing it without my brothers.
Being the sole survivor of the bus crash was something else “they” could not explain. My football career was certainly over I hadn’t suffered enough brain damage for me to believe that was ever going to be a possibility again. They rebuilt me with more spare parts than an old junker, but somehow I managed to make those parts do things, they said I never would.
Despite or maybe in spite of everyone’s advice I set off upstream. Every step taking me further away from home. Training had been a wonderful distraction from life before the accident and rehab after it had been no different. With each step though, it was harder to ignore the question, what do I do when I complete this journey. Will I, had never been a question, only when. I still don’t have the answer, but as I feel the cool waters of the Mississippi River pass through my fingers I know that if I’ve made it this far I might as well keep going.
7 Into The Void
The headlines in The Ararat Advertiser October 1964 read: ‘Hikers Lost in the Mountains.’
The Advertiser reported four young hikers went missing overnight in The Grampians; the temperature had plummeted to four degrees as heavy rain teemed down, and police were fearful the hikers would not survive the night. A search party was quickly organised. Local men gathered in the car park where the hikers were last seen, concern on their faces as they set out along the track with torches, calling out as the night closed in.
The young boys had set off carefree that afternoon, confident of hiking into town. They were familiar with the bush; spent weekends clambering through the woods near their home, returning late in the evenings, never concerned at getting lost. But on that day along the track in the mountains, as night was closing in, the boys were in unfamiliar territory. This was not the bush they knew. This was vast endless mountain ranges, posing dangers not seen before; not known before. Ominous rocks loomed large, jagged and threatening in their unyielding strength; the air haunted by the ghostly presence of people long-ago. As the wind howled through the trees and the birds gave out an eerie call, they sensed the isolation of the mountains and huddled close together.
Stumbling along, they came across a fork in the track; a signpost damaged and unreadable. They hesitated; turn back or go on? Which path should they take?
Peering through the trees they searched in vain for the lights of the town nestled in the valley below. Shaken and uncertain the boys agreed to keep moving, then turned towards the new-found path, and like silent ghosts, disappeared into the darkness. Heavy clouds hid the moon as sheets of rain swept in across the mountains.