Category Archives: EssayIssue5

The Japanese Bridge – Jenna Wassell

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The lens focused; the shutter swirled open and, as I released my finger from the button, snapped shut. Click. I lowered the camera and gaped. The branches descended like herringbone over the pond below, while the viridescent leaves reflected across the glassy surface. I edged closer, seeing the clusters of water lilies that hovered in the centre of the pond. A shadow veiled the water, inching toward the lily pads. Above it stood a bridge: green and canopied in leaves the colour of snow peas. It had become commonplace, a stock image suspended in waiting rooms. Yet, here it was, framed by two deep-crimson shrubs and flooded with capris-wearing tourists.

* * *

It was early. My half-opened eyes scanned the foreign apartment around me. Light streamed through the French shutters, illuminating the small dining table, fireplace and bed facing towards it.

The mattress felt like kneaded dough beneath my back. Hannah’s dormitory-floor was now a fleeting nightmare, only plaguing my muscles for a night.

I hurled the duvet off my body and wandered into the kitchen. Opposite the single wall of kitchen cabinetry—and beneath a second window—laid a doona-covered mound on the pull-out-lounge.

‘Hannah… It’s almost nine, do you want to get up soon?’

The duvet moaned back. Pitying my previous sleeping arrangements, she had volunteered to sleep on the pull-out lounge.

The kettle gurgled. I emptied two Nescafé sachets into a pair of mugs—our attempt at being frugal. I pulverised the powder into the simmering liquid, then gulped down a mouthful. A ball of dry powder touched the tip of my tongue. My face contorted with disgust; the undissolved ball plummeted into the basin.

‘Hannah, I am already sick of these coffees. I’ll leave yours out, but I’m chucking mine down the sink. I might get a coffee at the patissier on the corner.’

‘Yeah, and we should get a baguette for breakfast. I’m starving.’ Her eyes were now open and glued to her iPad.

‘What if we aim to leave by ten? I still really want to buy some groceries before we leave for Giverny, so we can maybe make dinner one night.’

‘Sounds good! I might just have a shower.’

We arrived in Paris the night before, yet clothes were already strung across the apartment. I clawed through what was left in my suitcase and slipped on a dress and a jacket.

The whistling of water stopped and Hannah emerged. We were both dressed in all black and white.

‘Monochrome sisters!’ We laughed in unison.

Hannah pulled the door shut as we began our descent down the five flights of stairs. The thumping of our shoes echoed around the small stairwell and connecting hallways. I began to tiptoe down, but the floorboards continued to creak. The owner of the apartment insisted that we: ‘be as quiet as possible in the apartment, particularly in the stairwell.’ Hannah had spent the night and early hours of the morning flicking between music channels, moving to the throbbing bass. We turned the volume down, but I imagined the bass still permeating the walls and waking our French neighbours. As our panting reverberated across the foyer, it was clear that our attempts to be quiet would again fail.

* * *

I left my parents at the departure gate. Tears welled from their eyes; my eyes followed suit. This was my escape from the sheltered walls of my home: a self-constructed prison. Stepping out from my room full of paint and books, to explore the world for the first time by myself.

* * *

We peered into the patissier on the corner, but it was empty. I would typically yell out to shopkeepers until they came out of hiding, but the thought of repeating ‘bonjour’ to an empty room felt unnatural—did the French even say ‘bonjour’ to gain someone’s attention?

Supressing our hunger for caffeine, we passed the pastry-filled window, turning left and then right, gawking at the compact rows of cars lining the streets until the navigational persona beamed, ‘You have reached your destination.’

Chill emanated from the freezers on each side. The shelves were packed with cheese, butter and meats. Everything was different from Woolworths: there were meats I had never seen, labels laden with words I could not understand. I knew what buerre was and picked up a small block. I also knew what lait meant, but was clueless as to which bottle was whole, or of the skim variety. The blue-label looked familiar, like I had seen blue-labelled milk in my parent’s fridge, so I picked it up.

We picked up a few rolls of overpriced toilet paper, a bag of madeleines, and then scanned the aisles for baguettes. They were beside the cash registers, housed in a long wicker basket like arrows in an archer’s quiver. I picked up a roll and emptied my armful of products onto the conveyer belt.

‘Bonjour,’ I delivered in my best French accent. The cashier lifted her head, shot a glare towards the two Australians at her register, before lowering her face to the groceries. A smug look passed across her face. Perhaps my French accent was not as French as I had hoped. We piled the loose items back into our arms and walked back to the apartment.

Our thigh muscles cramped as we reached the fifth floor of the building, our arms now contorted, juggling the groceries.

After eating half of the baguette and refrigerating the milk and the butter, we tiptoed back down the staircase in pursuit of Convention metro station. Our tour to Monet’s House and Garden was scheduled to leave in the early afternoon and we did not want to be late.

The intersection was surrounded by scarlet cafés, the Metropolitan sign obscured by leaves. People bustled across the cobblestones: the men donning tailored jackets, the women clad in black. Following the crowd of Parisians, we walked down the steps to the metro. I pulled out our tiny tickets and, navigating our bodies through the turnstiles, made our way towards the M12 line, in the direction of Concorde.

The train emerged from the dark tunnel to our right, the brakes screeching along the metal tracks. We hovered in front of the train door. It did not budge. A woman pushed past our dazed faces and, lifting the lever, the doors flung open. Seats stretched across a single-level carriage. I sat on a fold out chair in front of the door and sat clutching my handbag—I had heard about pickpockets in Paris and did not want to fall victim.

Eleven stops passed. Doors opening, doors closing, my bag still in my hands, clenched. At the twelfth, we stepped out of the carriage. We rose from the underground and into the sun-soaked street. Shopfronts etched their way onto the footpath: rotating stands filled with postcards of Le Tournee du Chat Noir had taken up residency on the pavers, while protruding rows of chairs and tables faced the road as if they were facing an audience.

We sauntered along Rue de Rivoli until we reached an intersection enclosed by stucco buildings with grey slate descending from their roofs. On the far corner was the tour office. Hannah and I peered into the windows before entering and handed our receipt to a lady at one of the desks.

‘Your tour will depart from Stand Two in just under an hour.’

We strolled up the long road toward the Palais Royale, took a few pictures of the masterful architecture, and walked back before the hour was up.

Turning back onto Rue des Pyramides, we saw a double-decker coach parked at Stand Two. Our strolling turned to sprinting. A long line rolled out of the coach. It had just arrived. Panting, we joined the end of the line. As the line grew, we were sandwiched between two groups of American tourists gloating to each other of their travels. I rolled my eyes; Hannah looked unperturbed.

As we stepped onto the bus, the tour guides greeted us in English and handed us each a fluorescent sticker to wear. We took a seat on the second level and placed our stickers on our chests. I peered out the window and up the road. A golden light reflected across the stucco and shop windows, causing an inerasable grin to spread across my face.

I sat, ears perked and eyes alert, listening to the guide’s commentary as the narrow streets of Paris merged into the vast French countryside. She listed off details about the Impressionist movement, what defined it, and how it originated. Although I had read a few books on Impressionism during school, I still found myself engrossed by every word.

* * *

I would set up an easel in the school courtyard and paint. A mixture of fresh air, the smell of oil paint and the repugnance of turpentine encircled me: en plein air (in the open air) like the Impressionists. Every lesson, the sounds of nature and the distinct amalgamation of smells consumed me. Art was not necessarily about technique: it was an all-absorbing endeavour for the artist that would be portrayed on a canvas—the artist capturing their experience, to share it.

* * *

Hannah had, as per usual, taken the coach ride as a signal to close her eyes. We had—much to her advantage—made a decision that one of us would always stay awake while the other slept. As the guide concluded her speech, my eyes longed to mirror Hannah’s.

Two hours later, the coach slowed, parking beside several other coaches. Everyone hopped off the bus; gravel grinding under our feet. Hannah and I shadowed the tour guide as she navigated her way through the underground tunnel, and then handed us our tickets at the gardens entrance.

From a distance, the garden looked untamed. Splotches of raspberry, violet and lemon stood atop the green shrubbery. Like paint strokes altering from artwork to artwork, the petals changed shape and intensity from plant to plant. Unfurled petals revealed a textured stigma in the centre, while others clustered on top of a single stem, bursting in opposite directions like fireworks. The dense clouds diffused the sun, yet a dewy-warmth seeped through, causing sweat to trickle down my back. I rolled the sleeves of my leather jacket up to my elbows, while juggling my phone in one hand and my camera, which dangled from my right wrist.

The tour guide edged further up the aisle of flowers toward the dusty-pink house carpeted in vines and green shutters. Swinging my camera up into my palm, I tried to capture a flower that looked like a caterpillar with a tuft of lilac hair. The photograph captured the furriness of the plant, but also gave an uncharacteristic furriness to the surrounding leaves and pink florets behind it.

I slung my camera back onto my wrist and strolled up to Hannah who was almost at the top of the aisle.

‘Man, everything is so pretty!’ I called out to her. Hannah smiled back, and seeing that the guide was now waiting in front of the house, we strolled along the pebbles and gathered around her.

‘Welcome to Monet’s House and Gardens! You’re all actually very lucky that you chose to come today. Yesterday it was, uh, very busy, making it hard to move around, and also to see all of the flowers. Mind, if you were to come back in two weeks time, the entire garden would be different,’ the guide began, commenting on the team of gardeners that would plant and replant the garden.

* * *

I envisioned Monet’s canvas stretched across a wooden frame: blobs of viridian oil paint alongside swipes of scarlet, then, after they had dried, mauve flowers painted in place of the scarlet—a constant rearranging of pigment and light.

* * *

The guide, adjusting her scarf, reiterated that the coach would leave at quarter-past-five and disbanded the group.

We dashed into Monet’s house, wary of the minimal time limit. To our left was a room brimming with tourists, the walls laden with copies of Monet’s paintings; camera flashes gleaming across the oil paint furnishing the canvases.

‘No photos, please,’ demanded an employee.

We attempted to examine each work individually: a woman with a parasol, a group of boats, waterlilies, and the Japanese bridge.

Dragging ourselves away from the paintings, we walked up the staircase to Monet’s bedroom, the walls of the stairwell filled with Japanese ink paintings.

‘I love these paintings, Jenna!’ Hannah remarked. I agreed. The lines of navy ink were clean. Intrinsic detail.

After plodding back down the stairs, we walked through a yellow-drenched dining room and a kitchen enrobed in the colour blue, before exiting the house.

Nature’s paint palette surrounded us. We wandered down another aisle of pigments and through an underground tunnel, reaching Monet’s Japanese garden. An oasis: verdure hunched over the pond, green pigments reflected across the glassy surface. I positioned my camera and released my finger from the button. Click. Unfurled bulbs sat on top of the lily pads, like cup and saucers floating on an aquatic tablecloth. Above it stood a bridge brimming with capris-wearing tourists.

It was ever-present, but conventional. Displayed in lounge rooms, waiting rooms, adorning placements and coasters—a serene image with universal allure.

Growing up surrounded by straw-like grass and faded gumtrees, the vibrant flora Monet had depicted in his paintings were mere dreamscapes; such vibrancy was unimaginable. But in front of me, the dreamscape materialised, the Japanese bridge—the nucleus.

The sound of scuffling peppered the tranquillity; sneakers stomped upon the planks leaving specks of dirt, dulling the green paint. It felt sacrilegious. Hannah and I edged closer toward the bridge, waiting for a few pairs of sneakers to alight.

Looking down at the wooden bridge now underfoot, I became conscious of the pilgrimage I had completed. I was at the source of the work that was suspended in my living room; of the set of placemats my siblings and I spilt spaghetti bolognaise on.

It was an intangible epicentre of memories of home, of my infatuation with art, and of my family. The sand-coloured stucco reminded me of the innumerable times my family and I had watched Woody Allen’s film, Midnight in Paris; Monet’s blue kitchen and Japanese prints reminded me of the willow-patterned dinner set my grandparents used—slices of familiarity in an unfamiliar country.

Monet’s legacy, not merely sown in the soil at Giverny, but through the understated, framed pieces mounted in the background of our lives. A universal familiarity portrayed through erratic strokes of paint.

The bridge consisted of ordinary planks of wood, stretching across a semi-ordinary body of water, yet its essence transcended time and setting.

I looked down at my phone. It was late.

‘Hannah, we should probably start walking back to the coach now.’

‘Sounds good.’

I zipped my camera away in its case, as we journeyed back through the tunnel and toward the coach.

We saw a pop-up stand further up the road. The owner was serving an American, his accent distinguishable from down the road. But, as we moved further toward the stand, the sun reflected off a platinum machine, flaring into our eyes.

‘Hannah! Coffee!’

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Itchy Feet – Allysia Murray

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The wheels of my black suitcase rattled along beside me and my Converse squeaked on the polished concrete floor. I power-walked through the international departures terminal in Sydney towards the Qantas check-in desk. I was going away. I stood in the queue jumping from one foot to another looking at my watch and at the woman at the check-in counter kneeling in front of her open suitcases as she tried to redistribute the weight of her clothes to avoid paying extra for her checked baggage. Eleven minutes went by. I walked up to the next free counter and handed over my passport. ‘Oh, I’m sorry, check-in for that flight closed seven minutes ago. We can’t get you on that flight.’

‘But the traffic was really bad and it says online you stay open until 30 minutes before departure. Isn’t there anything you can do?’ I would have sold my soul to get on that flight. But they didn’t want my soul, just cash. And as it turns out, in an airport, seven minutes costs thousands of dollars. I left later that day on a more expensive flight, because going home with a suitcase full of awaiting adventures for even one more night would have been unbearable. I had fought too hard and come too far and I was going to make my escape that day.

In hindsight I now see that I was overly optimistic. Two years ago I had been inspired to grow vegetables and own my own chickens when the topic of food security came up in my Environmental Management class. It was disheartening to discover that I knew relatively little about where food comes from, and that seeds bought in your local store were often modified to only flower once. I needed to find heirloom seeds; ones whose fruit would produce usable seeds of their own for the next generation. I needed them before the coming of my imaginary food apocalypse. And I needed chickens. I had a vision (which I now understand was a delusion) of going out into the garden, collecting three perfect eggs from the coop and pulling perfect carrots from the soil ready to eat. ‘The chickens will eat food scraps and we’ll get free eggs! It will benefit the whole family!’ I bought three chicks and, when I opened their shoebox-home in my living room, quickly learned I was terrified of birds – even the little fluffy kind. When they started laying my sister refused to eat their eggs because, ‘No way am I eating eggs from chickens I know. It’s disgusting.’ The fridge was full of eggs.

I planted pumpkin, coriander, beetroot and tomato seeds. Each day I’d gleefully go out and find new vines on the pumpkin plant curling out into large dark leaves. I found a satisfaction in gardening, in watching a planted seed come to fruition, like in any craft one might invest in, I suppose. It felt good to get my hands dirty. When the chickens grew larger they loved it too. They especially loved the worms in the soil. The dog loved the ground bone fertiliser, sure that if he dug deep enough, he’d find the meat he was searching for. Wearing slippers and pyjamas, I stood crying in the back yard one morning, cradling the shredded remains of stunted carrots that had been torn up by chicken talons. Their roots were broken and couldn’t be re-planted. I wanted to feed the chickens to the dog. I peered into the graveyard my vegetable box had become and assessed the damage. The few carrots that survived the attack had three more days of growing before the dog thought that that patch of soil might better serve as a safe hiding place for his old bone than my carrots. Defeated, I brought the massacred vegetables inside and served them at dinner. My family ate in silence that night, each of us with two small carrots on our plate. Despite their size and lives cut short, they were delicious.
Feeble attempts were made to deter the dog and feathered raptors I had come to loathe from the plant life I was trying to create. Despite the elaborate booby traps and even hazard tape wrapped around sticks nature always found a way. Possums and birds enjoyed the feast I laid out for them, and in time, the chickens were given away and the vegetable box was knocked down.

Months before I had made the shameful move back into my parents’ house that most 20-somethings dread. Very little money and the desire to go to university drew me back to Australia as I thought it was time that the carefree student life I had grown accustomed to in the UK over the past four years might be better spent if I was actually a student at the same time. I was restless living at home though. My brief foray into the world of gardening was both an environmental choice as well as one more deep-seeded in the hope that if I invested energy and time into something in Sydney, I’d be less likely to want to leave. It baffled me that anyone would want to stay here with so much of the world out there to see. With my recent defeat in a battle against poultry still fresh in my mind, the opportunity to go on student exchange to Colorado was too good to pass up. Any excuse to leave would have been welcome – it just so happened that my means of escape was deemed scholastic.

As with most things I set my mind to, there were complications. Call it three metaphorical chickens coming to mess with my shit but ten days before I was due to leave Sydney, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. With a clenched jaw and tapping foot, I compromised with my neurologist and postponed my ‘escape’ an extra week to have more tests done and get onto the right medication. My parents were concerned but knew better than to try to convince me to stay. My determination – and desperation – was almost tangible. My father said outright to the neurologist that ‘we’ could consider postponing the trip indefinitely, should that be the best course of action. Last time I checked, ‘we’ didn’t have MS – I did. And I was going overseas. So I left my nervous and slightly sweaty neurologist behind and farewelled my parents at the airport to embark on my ludicrously expensive flight as they stood half waving, half wringing their hands to say goodbye.

I was in denial about my diagnosis and drove myself forward with the intense desire to be anywhere but ‘home.’ The emptiness I felt in Sydney was suffocating. I had spent the first thirteen years of my life in Australia, but we moved often because of what my mother described in hindsight as her boredom. I had called seven different houses ‘Home’ and before the end of seventh grade we had left the country to move to England – another move initiated by itchy feet. Cue cards and leaflets for young girls moving across the world do not exist. When I walked into class that first day of school the disappointment was almost audible because I didn’t arrive wearing a bikini and holding a surf board. One of the first things somebody asked me was, ‘Why are you ginger?’ and it didn’t take me long to learn what the social implications of having red hair were. I spent the rest of my high school career as ‘the tall girl with the great personality’ who was almost as low down on the list of girls to have a crush on as Kerry, the overweight girl with hairy moles all over her legs. They’d never seen a red haired Australian on TV before, and I’d never seen just how bad English teeth could be. There are rewards and disappointments in many things in life. It would take a full school year until one friend said, ‘You know, I always thought you were such a bitch, but you were just joking the whole time!’

Over the next six years I kept my accent but adopted the demeanour of my English friends. I moved quickly from weekends rolling down grassy hills with my sisters in rural Brisbane, to going to the cinema, shopping, and talking about boys in a town south of London. Girls there had a desire to grow up faster than I ever wanted to. They asked me how many boys I’d kissed or how many boyfriends I’d had. To me, boys were still icky. Only the year before, a boy called Rhys had sat cross-legged, picking snot from his nose, inspecting it, and then eating it while the teacher was reading to us. I saw up his shorts that one of his balls had escaped his loose underwear. If that’s what boys were carrying around, I didn’t want any of that anywhere near me, ever.

I dreamed of a homeland that I had partially created in my head, looking forward to returning to a place where food was better, weather was better and people had the same sense of humour as me. I returned at eighteen, guilty of the same crime my English classmates had made in imagining a Neighbours-inspired Australia of sunny days at the beach and barbeques with friends. I had dreamed up a homeland in my head, one that I had never fully experienced and that could never exist the way I wanted it to. I had made it my business to play the character of the aloof foreigner and relied on my accent to be the conversation starter for six years. At the time I thought it was my only noteworthy feature. That social crutch I’d come to depend on sent me right back to the UK after barely a year living in Sydney. It was comfortable, and I embraced it. When I got to Colorado for my exchange, I made it work for me there too. Most people I met were not originally from the town the university was in, and I took that as a competition to have the best answer when people asked, ‘So where are you from?’ It surprised me that so many Americans would say, ‘I wish I had an accent, it’s so cool.’ They did have accents. They just weren’t foreign ones. I carried mine around like a trophy, one that I did nothing to earn except be born in Australia.

I needed to stop chasing the idea of my perfect home that I’d planted in my brain at the age of thirteen. That deep-rooted existence of growing up in one place with the same friends in the same town was something that I longed for. I had been searching for something external to signify home for me and to confirm my identity. My family have lived in Sydney now for eight years, but I feel no emotional ties to it at all. Since I first returned, I have carried around the disappointment I felt when I learned the Sydney in my head was fictitious. Without realising it though, I’ve made wherever I’ve found myself ‘Home.’ I’ve even felt like I was coming home to places I had never been before. Albeit while after physically and emotionally draining journeys to get to my destination, I’ve found my heart racing faster, tears falling, grinning constantly or overcome with emotion simply by looking out the window of the train, plane, or bus that I was on.

In Colorado on the bus ride from Denver Airport to Fort Collins I watched the sun set over the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, changing the sky to shades of rainbow ice cream. I knew that it was somewhere I could call home. I felt that way visiting a friend in Scotland after I moved back to the UK. When the train crossed the border into Scotland and I was an hour from Glasgow, tears filled my eyes. And it wasn’t because of the smell of the rotting jacket the man next to me was wearing. I felt like I was coming home. Views from the train window showcased my new home like a movie trailer. I was supposed to stay for two weeks and I stayed for two years.

‘Home’ is a transient idea. Home can be wherever I find myself. It’s exciting to be able to find and make a new home wherever I go, to feel that quickened heartbeat that sounds out to me, this could be it. I urge everyone to try it sometime. Once you learn which coins you’ll need to pay for your drinks at the bar, you’ll thrive. It would be a terrible shame to one day wake up thinking, “Now I wish I’d done that.” Sometimes things don’t always go as planned though. Sometimes a metaphorical chicken will come and shake you from the ground, unsettle your roots and leave you crying in your pyjamas for the neighbours to see. Humans are resilient though. I’m resilient, it just took me a little while to get there. I’ve been cursed with the blessing of having no roots to a particular place in the world. Having itchy feet is the metaphorical heirloom, passed down to me by my parents who got a little bored doing everything the same as everybody else themselves.  After all, we’re all just trying to find the sun, feel the air in our lungs, and maybe even grow a little in the process.

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Family Values – Thomas Meehan

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When we were kids, I looked up to my older cousin as if he were a god.

Only a couple of years separated us in age. Before I could talk, he spoke for me. The sandpit was his sphere – if another kid took my Tonka Truck, my cousin brought it back. He had me entwined in his stories before I had even started Catholic school. I didn’t know any better. I thought he did. He always had an explanation for everything. He taught me that flies were so small, because they only lived for twenty-four hours. I thought I’d hate to be a fly. They have one day on this Earth, so they spend it sniffing dog shit and annoying us. If there were such a thing as reincarnation, I’d hate to come back a fly.

A floppy-disk video game was used in his favour as a form of enticement. Play by his rules and I could take control of Commander Keen for the afternoon. He may have thought he owned me at one stage, but before I’d even heard the screech of a dial-up connection, my cousin was my Urban Dictionary for the necessary playground lingo. This, at an age where a large vocab was praised by other students rather than scorned.

Psalms were delivered in the form of unmarked compact discs, able to pass undetected under the nose of my parents. I hid Eminem within the ear buds of my Discman, only I could hear ‘these ideas, that are nightmares to white parents.’ And I had a taste for American Pie at an age far from ripe.

Before anti-bullying was a play put on by drama students with friendship games, my cousin had taught me how to disclose one’s personal details in the form of torment. I wouldn’t dare tease him though or he’d dob on me. My mother saw him as an angel. He could always get away with anything around my house.

At least I could tell him anything – he wouldn’t tell anyone. Even if it meant having to share almost everything with him. My cousin would come round and watch me do my chores, and when mum gave me my pocket money, she’d tell me to make sure I split it with my cousin.

* * *

‘That was your aunty,’ mum said after hanging up the phone.

‘Cool,’ I replied unsure of why she was telling me.

‘They asked me if you would like to go down to the snow with your cousin these school holidays and stay with nonno and nonna.’

‘Yes?’ I answered with anticipation, my attention affixed on the new information.

‘Go pack your bags.’

We referred to our grandparents in Italian to respect our heritage. In the late 70s, when their Sydney home was a nest all but empty, the idea of retirement had my grandpa ready to relocate. He purchased a small one-story dwelling in East Jindabyne after falling in love with the Snowy Mountains on a family ski trip and began taking my grandma south for the winter. As they grew wiser, they started spending their summers there too.

East Jindabyne was built by those looking to cash in on Australia’s fast growing snow industry. It didn’t take too long for my nonno to see the potential. He put an extra floor on the place so they could accommodate the working man, who couldn’t afford the high-priced hotels and lodges on the mountains.

Between my cousin and I, over the six-hour journey, a great amount of tension had been generated on the back seat of the car with one Gameboy. Our grandparents greeted us with sweets – first hot beverage of the trip and I had already scalded my tongue rinsing a stale wafer from my mouth.

Across the lake, the sun was in pursuit of the Snowy Mountain peaks. We had arrived with little light left in the day, but had six hours of energy to burn. We grabbed a jacket off one of the hooks by the door as we ran through it.

The lake wasn’t always there.

In the mid-twentieth century the government sought a way to increase the flow of inland rivers so it could be utilised for irrigation and renewable energy. When the snow softens in spring the Snowy River has an increase of water. As part of a grand scheme, the town was relocated to where the southern shore would soon be, before the old town was flooded in favour of hydro-electricity. In times of drought the church steeple rises from the water as it lowers.

‘Verse you?’ My cousin said, holding a skimming rock in his hand. ‘Who can bounce the rock off the water the most times in one go.’ I loved a competition. Not that it at all mattered which one of us could get a rock to stay above water for longest before it fell to the bottom of the pond.

‘This is boring,’ we agreed before long.

We traversed up the bank of Rushes Creek, which flowed into the lake. The creek was overgrown with bush land extending far further than where we had ever dared to journey. A small house, clearly abandoned in its early stages, was perhaps man’s only addition to the sanctuary; however it had long been reclaimed by the land. Not even the imprint of my fat-tongue skate shoes left a mark worth remembering.

‘What should we do?’ I said, leaping down off a rock onto a slightly smaller rock. It rocked hazardously under my feet.

‘Jesus!’ I exclaimed, lowering on to my hands to stabilise myself. I stepped off the upper side of the rock and with a bent knee, placed my right foot back on the face of the rock.

‘Watch this!’ I yelled to my cousin who was still on the rock above me. Extending my leg, the rock was released from its sediment and sent on a trajectory of chaos towards the creek bed below, releasing an echo that raced around Rushes Creek.

‘Come on. Let’s do it again,’ I cheered as my cousin lowered himself from the rock above me. Together, we worked to conquer as big a rock as we could find, every next rock increasing in size. Sticks were used as extra levers wedged into any crack we could create. When it was separated enough from the dirt, we made the final push. My cousin was bigger than I was, but I worked twice as hard with him there. I think the thrill would be just as satisfying as an adult as it was as a kid, getting to watch the boulder bounce from rock to rock before eventually settling in the river.

The sun had dipped below the mountains, leaving a mirror image imprinted on the lake. We made our way further up the creek in search of ‘our Everest’.

‘This is it,’ my cousin said, raising his hands wide above his head with enthusiasm, before thrusting them around the rock. Feet placed firmly, he threw his weight at the rock. I sat next to him with my back against the rock, my feet pressed up against the steep wall of rocks that separated us from the forest above. As it separated from the ground, my cousin shoved a stick under it so we didn’t lose progress.

‘I swear to God, if you pests make one more noise, I’m calling the police!’ We heard a voice growl from behind. My spine went stiff and I slowly shifted my head before the rest of my body span round. A grey-haired man appeared over the ridge without our recognizing. Rocks obstructed our view of the path we had taken.

To this day I’m unsure exactly what brought my cousin to his knees: a fall out of fright, or sheer repentance? Regardless, apologies on all fours tend to resemble the latter. I didn’t have to say much as my cousin was doing enough talking for two. It may be a hazy memory, but I can only remember broken English as he attempted an apology before the man left. We had worked for too long to forsake it now, just because it had interrupted Sale of the Century for Charles Montgomery Burns. I rubbed my hands together in the river, removing the dirt from my scratches. My cousin stood a little further down the river, dipping his head into the icy water. I’m not sure it had much effect – his face had already lost all its colour when the old man crept up on us. I ran back up the bank towards the boulder we had been working on. My cousin’s face was still as white as the mountains watching over us while he walked up the bank.

My work was done. A tremendous crash reverberated out of Rushes Creek.

An ‘Oi!’ was fired back from over the fold.

My cousin pushed straight past me, gripping onto the steep rock wall. My cousin remained silent, but the man’s bark had sent him soaring up the cliff face. The old man covered our pathway back to nonno and nonna’s and it was really our only option. The sound of ankle-supportive shoes hitting the dirt was increasing in volume before the silhouette appeared above the crest. I turned to follow my cousin. In his ascension stones were falling from under his feet. I dodged the rocks as they fell, complicating an already challenging task – just a few more scratches added to my already reddened skin. As I turned to avoid the rocks hurtling at my head, I picked up movement in my peripherals. The old man was already at the stage of the hill, where his legs were moving too fast for his body and he had to swing his arms in an attempt to equalise momentum. Each step he took, he applied more force in an attempt to stop himself. I wasn’t sure the old fella would hold up.

At the top of the rock wall we scattered amongst the forest.

I lay behind a rock with my hand over my mouth, holding onto the adrenaline. My cousin stood behind a tree a few metres away, eyes wide as they stared across at me, his pointer finger forming a cross with his lips.

We couldn’t hear any noise coming from behind us, so we came out of our cover. I snuck back and looked over the ledge. He was gone. Eventually, I spotted him making tracks towards the houses and waited until the checkers on the man’s flannelette shirt faded to a shade of red before making a move. What next? I thought. My cousin was still behind the tree.

‘I wonder if he’ll call the cops,’ my cousin said, coming out from behind the tree.

‘You think?’ I worried.

‘That’s what he said, you shouldn’t have done it!’ He raised his voice.

We shouldn’t have done it,’ I stated, staring into his eyes.

‘You were the one who made the last push.’ He held the stare.

* * *

Rudimentary questions over dinner felt like an interrogation. We weren’t even talking about what happened that afternoon by the lake, but any minute then I expected to see blue and red flashing through the window as the police came to take me away.

Nonna, when the water is low, can you still see the steeple?’ I asked.

She paused, squinting her eyes behind her spectacles, staring into space for a brief moment.

‘I seem to remember hearing that they removed it, for people’s safety.’

I sat across from my cousin at the dinner table, any eye contact made held angst. Paranoia convinced us that the grey-haired man was parked next to us in the Perisher car park the next day, however it didn’t go any further than that. We haven’t spoken of that day since. There was no more conflict for the remainder of our trip. Things were okay between my cousin and I, we just didn’t go anywhere near the lake again.

Holidays were over but I held a new perspective of my cousin. Contrary to his ‘creative ideas’, the teacher told me that ‘Abo’s’ are just like us. My cousin grew up eventually.

* * *

In high school, my cousin’s ideas were further disproven.

‘While many people believe that a fly lives for only twenty-four hours, when a fly has finally reached its adult form, they tend to live for about two to three weeks.’

I had gone my whole life off what my cousin said, and now I found he was wrong all along. A minute detail of my life, only every time I had swatted a fly for the last ten years I had told whoever I was with that minute detail, as a form of validation.

At Mater Maria Catholic College there were as many kids in my year as there were in the entirety of my primary school. It didn’t take long for me to realise there were more than seven girls my age. Between school, footy and maintaining a physical and online social life, I had little time for a cousin who was travelling in a totally different direction. Maturity seemed to mean repeating anything my mother would say.

I love my cousin, but the novelty eventually wore off for the sips of alcohol he gave me at family gatherings, as I too was allowed beer amongst kin. He was still always there to talk to though, hear my problems when no one else would. I just didn’t see him as the solution any longer.

I am taller than my cousin now. We don’t see each other as much – only when we are accepting new members into our family or bidding farewell to the old. We’ve never forgotten Christmas and Easter. I might not remember everything he told me, some of it may be better forgotten, but I wouldn’t be who I am today without my cousin. I tell my own stories now.

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Becoming Bond – Kurt Gray

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I was staring down the barrel of a .38. As a seven year old it’s not something you expect. It’s not something you know how to deal with. The man at the end of it was well groomed. He was dressed in a dinner suit with unusually large lapels and pants that flared out into bell-bottoms.

He didn’t make eye contact until the last second. His right hand brandished a Walther PPK handgun and discharged it in my direction. The gun shot left bloody-crimson spilling down the screen.

Compared to the rainbow coloured, gimp-suit wearing Power Rangers or the collection of super hippies with their rings of environmental power and fearless blue leader and his Brunswick-green mullet – Go Planet – a well-dressed man shooting the television dead was realistic.

Based on an early edition of Ian Fleming’s spy series, Roger Moore’s portrayal of Commander Bond in For Your Eyes Only would lay the foundations of my own self-discovery and my pursuit of adventure, which I would come back to emulate over a decade later.

Was it Moore’s quick wit and humour that appealed to me? Could it have been his romantic association with the stunning Melina Havelock that I was most drawn to? Probably not. I wasn’t that clever as a seven year old, or that much into girls. I didn’t understand the suggestive context in which most Bond movies are built on. Luckily for me such suggestiveness was fairly limited in this Roger Moore installment.

Bond: Don’t you ever come up for air?

Bibi: That’s why I’ll get the gold medal: breath control.

Bond: You can’t loose.

Dad had chuckled to himself, but cleared his throat to avoid answering the awkward question he thought my brother or I would ask. We didn’t ask. We grabbed our cap guns and tried to kill each other. As magic as the movie was, it wasn’t captivating enough for two hyperactive kids to watch it from start to finish. Watching Bond was only ever interrupted, in my defense, by Bond-related activities.

I searched through the corridors of my house carefully inspecting each room, looking under beds, behind doors and inside the inbuilt wardrobes. I tried to reenact as best I could what I had just seen on television. An erratic red-and-white Bell 206 Jet Ranger chopper had been droning towards the algae-plagued waters of the River Thames. A crippled madman vaguely resembling Dr Evil all the while had been sitting on the roof of an abandoned factory undertaking an overly elaborate plan to murder Bond. Bond had incredible success avoiding death. I wasn’t so lucky. I heard three shots from my brother’s gun and turned around to see the smug smile on his face.

‘Killed ya’.

I’m not sure if the success of Bond is directly related to the suit-wearing, scotch-swilling, martini-sipping, womanizing 1950s ideal gentleman who Ian Fleming may or may not have based loosely on himself. The success of the franchise could have been bolstered by the unique attributes the cinematic Bond actors interjected into the role from their own personality. The different Bonds, between Connery, Moore and Craig, allowed me to pick and choose attributes from each that I wanted to embody. But the basic outliers of Fleming’s Bond were what I most thought to identify the ‘gentleman’.

I don’t discredit the Pierce Brosnan era. He did justice to an aging cold war spy, with the corny one-liners and some poor acting in part. To me it seemed like the franchise was trying to rehash the best parts of Connery with the gadgetry power of Moore’s Bond. Daniel Craig’s portrayal is so refreshing, as agreed upon by his predecessors, because the franchise didn’t try to do what it did with the Brosnan Bond. It was Moore’s comment about Craig that to me displayed an honesty of Moore’s own character and highlighted a truth behind Craig’s portrayal.

‘To me, he looks like a killer. He looks as though he knows what he’s doing. I look as though I might cheat at backgammon.’

I never wanted to look like a killer myself. I just wanted some adventure and to occasionally experience the finer things in life.

‘Hey dickhead, are you ready?’

We were halfway down the black run when we noticed the majority of skiers and snowboarders had slowed down, cautiously approaching the final steep descent. I peeked over to see the almost vertical 300-metre slope. Memories of my skiing accident popped in my head, a tingle in my back reminding me of the dangers that crap skiers and living slabs of timber possess. I sized up the pine and birch trees that bordered the run.

Could it happen again?

I wasn’t in the ideal position of being a professional skier. This was my second time skiing in eight years, but standing still was doing me no good. Millions of tiny flakes floated through the sky, their unique patterns easily identifiable by the naked eye. It was verging on two minutes and the cold was pushing me to jump. Icicles formed on my eyelashes and moustache and the tips of my ears and nose were becoming solid.

‘Fuck it’s freezing.’

I glanced at Sammy. The rosy glow of his cheeks were all that was visible underneath that wool blend balaclava and goggles.

I’m not sure why it popped into my head. Maybe it was the hypothermia setting in, but suddenly I remembered the ski scene in For Your Eyes Only.  The energetic disco-themed score, similar to the Rocky music, followed Bond down the slopes of the Cortina d’Ampezzo. Unlike Bond I didn’t have to worry about black clad, henchmen on Yamaha XT 500 motorcycles, with metal snow spikes and rotating machine guns, while weaving in and out of bush land and over picnic tables. I was actually the one doing the chasing because my friends were already halfway down the mountain.

By nighttime the mid-January temperature dropped to minus-thirty. The wind had picked up and I was waiting for the bus to the airport. I was due in Stockholm by mid-afternoon the next day. I had the option then of either saving my money and finding an empty bench in the departure lounge, spooning my backpack, while the smaller one watched, or finding a hotel.

By this time the whole Bond thing was at the back of my mind so it came down to choosing comfort and class over cost. It just so happened that the Hilton Hotel was a five-minute walk from my gate.

Standing at the lobby desk I felt out of place, surrounded by the formal-suit- and dress-wearing business people that made up the hotel’s clientele. I was that lost person who had managed to Bear Grylls his way to civilisation.

The ladies at the desk didn’t bat an eyelid. They even upgraded me to include the full buffet breakfast, sensing that I hadn’t had a substantial meal since beginning my travels.

‘Oh, I am going to enjoy this.’

I had been travelling alone for a month, and when among people in between my destinations it wasn’t unusual that I would voice my thoughts for my own benefit. This generally got weird looks and cautious approaches to the elevators I was using from the people who saw me and possibly listened.

I slid that electronic key card in the door lock … Luxury.

‘Fuck yeah’

Staring at the King-size bed in front of a 37-inch LCD flat screen TV, I was greeted with that clean hotel smell, as if sterility and homeliness were mixed in an aerosol can and emptied into the room.

My bathroom was bigger than some of the hostels I had stayed in earlier that month. Sitting next to the complementary soaps and lotions were towels. Not one towel. Towels. It was a full 42 degrees warmer inside, which emphasised the pleasant watching of the snow falling around the airport with a glass of wine in my Hilton slippers.

Luxury really agrees with me, it’s one of the main reasons outside danger and adventure that makes the Bond lifestyle so appealing. The only other times I got a glimpse of this sort of extravagance was getting to ride in an Aston Martin Vantage V12 and playing black jack at the Grand Casino in Monte Carlo.

 * * *

Eight chandeliers hung overhead, perfectly symmetrical of the La Salle Europe, the artwork…

‘Monsieur?’

I glanced up at the Monegasque dressed in a custom tailored dinner suit, then back at my cards. I was too busy admiring the building’s interior and architectural design, not to mention a little thrown by the ten thousand euro chips sitting thirty centimeters from my right hand.

‘Oh, I’m sorry’

He gestured his hand towards my cards awaiting my decision.

I tapped the soft green velvet of the table, indicating my intentions. He looked puzzled. I looked to my right at the expressions of those around the table.

‘Êtes-vous sûr?’

‘Pardon?’

My knowledge of French was minor and a little shaky. Plus with my Australian accent he still wouldn’t have been able to understand.

‘Sir, seventeen is a good hand?’

I sensed he was taking pity on me, probably thinking I was an idiot. At a stretch I would say he wasn’t too far off. Gambling wasn’t really my scene. I’d only ever seen this game played in movies and I didn’t have the cash or skill to back myself up. I relied on dumb luck.

‘Monsieur?’

Deciding against advice I tapped twice for the card. The little nod of confidence may have had people believing I was a seasoned player, but we were about to see how that belief would pan out.

I sipped on my cucumber-infused Hendricks gin and tonic watching the dealer draw another card from the deck. The other players remained on 19 and 16 respectively.

‘Four of diamonds, congratulations Sir’

The dealer’s stern face and monotone accent hinted of insincerity but I didn’t care. I asked him to send over the waitress for a congratulatory drink. I may have only won been fifty Euros, but a win was a win.

‘Sir what would you like?’

‘Do you have Belvedere vodka?

‘Yes of course’

‘Can I grab a martini, please?’

I was still a world away from mastering the confident ordering skills of a 00.

Parked on the edge of the runway, the Cessna Grand Caravan was dwarfed by The Remarkables ranges only a few kilometers away. The single turbo-propeller purred patiently as the crew finished the last-minute safety checks. Wearing my white leather diving cap, my glasses and gloves tucked under my right arm, I swaggered out of the hangar towards the plane. I felt like Tom Cruise as Danger Zone played over in my head. The lush green airfield with all of its minor imperfections provided the bouncy takeoff that scrambled my delicate insides into a nervous knot of uncertainty.

My heart started beating faster. The roller door slid up. The wind blasted through the tightly packed cabin. Not enough to destroy the plane but enough to send a chill through my body. I watched the photographer step outside, gripping the small rail mounted on the Cessna’s exterior.

I looked over. Five years ago that was me, without the injured instructor. I had been the first to jump, fear-filled with no idea of what to expect.

And I moved down the cabin, getting ready for the jump. The forty second lead up had passed and before I knew it my brother had disappeared. I could hear the faint sound of the other jumpers yelling something at me, but between the wind and propeller noise I couldn’t understand.

Ready to go, we moved into position. I hung outside the plane, legs tucked under and leaning inside slightly. My hands were across my chest gripping opposite shoulders while my back was slightly arched. I got the signal. I threw myself forward, flipping out of the plane and into open sky. I caught a faint glimpse of the plane flying overhead.

That initial feeling of ‘what the fuck am I doing this for?’ was soon replaced by a smack of adrenalin. Suddenly I was hurtling back to earth at two-hundred kilometres per hour with only the little drogue chute keeping me from spinning out of control. The wind pummelled my face into all sorts of ugliness. My cheeks flapped in the breeze, with a drop of drool just hanging there like a St Bernard.

After forty-five seconds and seven thousand feet the harness had constricted my breathing. My lungs were almost completely drained of oxygen. The straps were loosened to allow me to breathe as I sailed through the cloud cover. I was viewing paradise as if from an airborne deckchair.

 * * *

It’s weird reflecting back on how a fictional character has had an impact on the last seventeen years of my life. As I get older, the lewdness, extravagance and action have become more appealing than the reality that most people my age have embraced. The change from Fleming’s Bond (Connery is thought to be the closest) to Craig’s portrayal has given me the chance to develop my own individuality in amongst the joys of getting older.

I’m yet to go full Bond, still wanting to master certain characteristics and experience new adventures, but at the same time I don’t want to become the world’s greatest secret agent. The idea of Bond served me as a reminder that in amongst the complexities of life there is always more than one approach to dealing with problems. I now try to avoid the seriousness of an issue by taking a step back to enjoy the lighter side. I guess

‘It comes from not growing up at all’.

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Out of the Rabbit Hole – Maddison Colgate

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Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On plays in the back of my mind as I stand at the bow. My hair flies back as the ferry sweeps around Cremorne Point past the lighthouse. Despite no dreamy DiCaprio caressing my waist and whispering in my ear, ‘Do you trust me?’, I pretend I’m Kate Winslet and close my eyes. For a moment I feel lighter and freer. The sensation I imagine a dog has when he hangs his head out a car window. I know I’m near home when the ferry shudders and reduces its speed, sliding alongside Musgrave Street Wharf. I open my eyes and return to the bright red bench. Groups of sailing boats, with names like Flying Brandy, When the Fat Lady Sings and Escapade are moored along the bay’s rocky edges. The hulls and masts of the boats rock and ring in a domino effect as the ferry snakes through to the next wharf, my wharf: Old Cremorne.

I gaze along the Cremorne Foreshore Walkway and spot my house with its large arches, burgundy balcony and terracotta chimney pots. My house seems to be the only thing that has remained constant in the past 21 years. From losing childhood friends, to gaining new hormones, to the death of my ‘first love’ – my pet rabbit Marshmallow – to my brother moving out and replacing me with his girlfriend; it appears I am always being left behind.

I think about the real estate agents that came to value the house. They’re all the same: stiff posture, grey suits with showy ties, fast-talking and holding iPads. I hear Dad give them a detailed tour of the house, his voice confident, before the men take down some measurements. Mum and Dad say the valuations are just out of interest but I know there’s something more. Dad’s been sick for a while and it keeps coming back. In a few weeks I’m graduating from university and hope to do an internship overseas. Is the house now leaving me? Will it still be here when I get back?

 * * *

I’m fifteen years old, gawky and wearing a blue uniform two sizes too big. I’m sitting outside on the ferry on my way home from school. I’m wondering why my neighbour, Olly Churcher, always looks away when he sees me. He is sitting four rows in front and wearing a Newington College uniform with a black and white tie and high grey socks. As the ferry leaves Circular Quay, Olly puts on some chunky, black headphones and I imagine what his iPod shuffles to: Zeppelin, Hendrix, Metallica, Rolling Stones, Doors, Guns N’ Roses, Black Sabbath.

Why won’t he talk to me? What’s changed to make him so shy?

I think of the baby photo in my living room; of Olly and me with Santa Claus beards in a bubble bath. The Churchers were our closest neighbours growing up: sharing babysitters, handymen and lawn mowers, taking turns hosting Boxing Day lunch to share Christmas leftovers and acting as our 24-hour personal vet. My brother would hang out with the Churchers’ two daughters, whom he would never admit to having massive crushes on. Yet I’d catch him admiring them sunbaking in their bright, floral bikinis. Olly was born only a few months after me. In my earliest memories of him, we’d venture down to our nearest ferry wharf, Old Cremorne, and imagine a cluster of dangling tree branches near the water were ladders and ropes on a pirate ship. We’d shoot at the ferry with water guns and sword fight with long cardboard tubes from Mum’s fashion workshop.

Our friendship largely revolved around my trampoline. We’d beg my brother to lift the trampoline up from underneath and shake it. Olly and I would lay on our stomachs, holding tightly onto the metal frame and competing to see who could stay on the longest. In summer, we’d place the sprinkler under the trampoline, causing a small fountain to erupt through the netting. We’d play ‘crack the egg’ and jump from my veranda onto the trampoline when our parents’ heads were turned. Other times, we used the trampoline for stargazing and as bar in forty-four homes when we had play dates.

When we hit high school, Olly replaced outdoor games with video games and I never saw him. His bedroom was a mysterious lair where a light shone until 2:00 AM. I pictured him venturing out only for food or school. Music seemed to be his main contact with the outside world. I’d hear him strumming away on Guitar Hero, and later on an electric guitar. I imagined his room; an unmade bed with black satin sheets, piles of Rolling Stone magazines chucked on the floor and band posters covering the walls.

I asked Olly to my Year 10 formal, despite hardly speaking to him throughout high school. He arrived at my door with his mum, Ione, and a bouquet of white flowers. He looked like a suited-up version of Anthony Kiedis, the lead singer of Red Hot Chili Peppers. A strong jaw line, messy, sandy blonde hair and dark brown eyes. He wore an untucked, white cotton shirt with a black jacket and brown shoes. Olly slung an arm around me when Ione insisted on taking a photo. Mum chuckled at the few centimetres of height I had on him. At the formal he was polite and softly-spoken. I remember grabbing his hand to avoid losing him as we pushed through the crowd on the dance floor. His hand squirmed and pulled away fast.

I thought the formal would change things but afterwards Olly continued his clamping on of headphones and turn of the head whenever I was on the ferry.

I’d ask my brother, ‘Why are guys so shy with me?’

‘You’re too pretty Maddy. Young blokes are scared of getting rejected,’ he’d say.

I’d roll my eyes.

 * * *

Warringah Mall – shopping Mecca for the Northern Beaches – 2001. I’m eight, fidgety and obsessed with rabbits. He is the size of a Gold Lindt Bunny, with blue eyes, upright ears and disproportionately long whiskers. I call him Marshmallow ‘because he’s fluffy, white and springy,’ I say. In summer, he lies stretched out on the cool tiles of the hearth, with his head propped up as if to say, ‘I’m handsome and I know it’. Then he leaps onto the sofa next to me and rests his front paws and chin on my thigh.

Every afternoon after school I’d skip up from Old Cremorne Wharf. I’d wave to Gigi, my neighbour two doors down, who would be reading on her red balcony with Rufus her ginger cat. I’d detour through the Churchers’ house and past Ione knitting and watching the news; past the sound of Olly playing ‘Stairway to Heaven’ in his room. After chucking some Chicken Crimpy Shapes and celery sticks in a plastic bag and changing into my Mr. Bean T-shirt and footy shorts, I’d collect Marshmallow for a walk. His hutch reminded me of the White Rabbit’s ‘neat little house’ in Alice in Wonderland. Intended as a safe house for chickens the wooden hutch had two floors with a steep ramp, peaked roof and a nesting area on the top level used as Marshmallow’s bed.

I was like Alice running after the White Rabbit across the field and down the hole under the hedge. Marshmallow would lead me to the back of the house, where the popping sound of frogs echoed from our fish pond and hop through the rainforest of tree ferns, palms and enormous bird’s nest ferns. In summer, blooming gardenias, jasmine and red and white roses would together create a wonderful scent under the canopy. Too much pollen would cause Marshmallow to stand up on his hind legs, lick his front paws and use them to clean his whiskers and ears.

Marshmallow would then leap up some large steps and jump into the Churchers’ backyard. He’d hop around the fish pond with its camouflage of water lilies, before stopping to nibble on blades of grass and blossoms fallen from a pink crepe myrtle. We’d often find Ione here in her maroon Mambo T-shirt trimming her box hedges. She had shoulder-length brown hair and freckles, loved animals and cooking and adored Marshmallow. Her husband Richard, a local vet with a silver Porsche, would often clip Marshmallow’s claws despite his speciality being dogs and cats, ‘not rodents’.

One afternoon, Marshy and I were playing in the front yard when I heard Ione yell, ‘Dog! Dog!’ In a flash there’s a greyhound track around my house. Marshmallow runs for his life with the kelpie in close pursuit: down the side, through the backyard, downstairs to the front lawn, under the trampoline and around the left side again.

The dog’s owner comes rushing from the Cremorne pathway, screaming ‘Benjie, Benjie come here!’ She’s a middle-aged woman with blonde highlights and black, Lycra leggings with a pink stripe down the side. I’m visualising the coyote hunting the hare in the National Geographic documentary when I hear the thump of Marshmallow’s back foot. He whips through the back door of the house and scampers under the claw-foot bath. The dog follows, his long legs slipping on the marble tiles. My brother erupts from the living room. He grabs the dog by his studded, leather collar and yanks him as though he’s a piece of meat. He kicks him hard and the dog whimpers, running out of the house.

‘Get the fuck off our property and get a lead!’ my brother shouts at the woman. It took forty-five minutes to calm Marshmallow down and stop him trembling.

After munching on the Churchers’ lawn, Marshmallow would dash to Gigi and Michael’s; a modernist house perched on the side of a cliff, reminiscent of a tree house. Gigi and Michael were former professors of demography. I used to picture the inside of their house: a library and rolling ladder, bottle-green Chesterfield and things – old and new – collected from all over the world; antique maps, old silver and African masks. Marshmallow and I liked to play a game of cat and mouse across their wide garden. I’d run and pat my hand on my right thigh and he’d chase me. Then we’d follow the stepping stones that meander like Hansel and Gretel bread crumbs, past a tall lemon-scented gum and up stone steps to a grass patch where Marshmallow liked to graze; rainbow lorikeets congregating around the rim of the bird bath.

‘Hello, Maddy, how’re you?’ I’d hear from the balcony above where Gigi would be writing; an ashtray, a glass of wine and Rufus by her side.

As Marshmallow’s life petered out and he gradually shrank in size – his head slumping as if he had a widow’s hump – the marks showing my height climbed the frame of the kitchen door. When Marshmallow died, I felt like Alice when she drinks the tiny bottle and grows too big for the White Rabbit’s house.

 * * *

I’m sitting on top of what used to be my brother Harry’s big bed. The room has a set of wooden shelves with stacks of CDs, a white cupboard with old clothes he couldn’t part with and a private door where he occasionally sneaked visitors in at night, unbeknownst to our parents. I’m sitting in the same position as when I was six years old watching Harry, twelve years old, have a diabetic seizure. Dad placing a drop of honey on his lip while Mum injects the glucagon needle into his thigh. I’d sit calmly until he woke up. Then we’d snuggle on the sofa with our ‘Where’s Wally’ doona, watching reruns of the Simpsons and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, sipping on apple poppers. Mum says she often heard me tiptoe down in the middle of the night from my bedroom to check on him, the wooden floor boards creaking on the stairs.

The room looks over the balcony to the front yard where Harry hosted monthly house parties. The front garden would turn into a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party with bottles of wine, salad bowls, sausages and prawns being passed around a trestle table. A dribbling Saint Bernard called Reginald, owned by one of Harry’s mates, would be tied to the trampoline. We’d all cheer when Harry returned from the barbecue with his signature monk fish; stuffed with garlic, ginger and shallots. One afternoon, the trampoline nearly pulled the table over. Reggie had decided to go for a wander.

Harry has the face of Heath Ledger with blonde ringlets and porcelain skin. He’s always been a snappy dresser, wearing suit jackets, skinny leg jeans, army boots, belt buckles in the shape of eagle wings and rings on every finger. As I look at the industrial sewing machine in the corner of the room, I think of the leather jacket he made me. Jimmy Hendrix printed in metallic gold on the back. Harry, following in Mum’s footsteps, studied costume and dress design at East Sydney TAFE. Crammed with paint buckets and dyes, the balcony became Harry’s screen printing station where he’d design fabrics and garments to sell at the Glebe Markets. I still have the navy jacket he gave me on my eighteenth birthday, with its dollops of splashed paint and eyelets at the back laced with orange cord like a corset. At Halloween and fancy dress parties, I’d be the envy of all my friends in his creations: nineteenth century gowns, the Black Swan styled tutu and Cirque du Soleil jester costume.

Harry was responsible for most of my music knowledge. We’d stay up late watching ‘Rage’. We’d collect band posters from Red Eye Records and use family car trips as opportunities to analyse the lyrics in CD booklets. In the spring of 2010, Harry took me to my first heavy metal gig, Metallica’s ‘Death Magnetic’ concert. I wore a pair of patent, hot pink Doc Martens Harry had bought me, with deliberately torn, skinny leg jeans, black nail polish and a band T-shirt. It had Metallica written in bloody red above a zombie hand holding a skull, with metal nails drilled through it. I remember feeling Harry’s stinky breath against the back of my neck in the mosh pit as he shielded me from the death pits that formed around us, like miniature fight clubs.

I was nineteen and in my first year of university when Harry left home and moved in with his girlfriend, Laura. He didn’t move far; only to Waverton a few suburbs away. Yet I knew things would be different. Spending time with each other became difficult to organise. I no longer had an advisor on fashion, music, relationships, small bars or my career constantly at hand. As I look around the bare room: leftover Blu-Tack stuck on the walls from torn down band posters, empty shoe racks and dusty sport trophies, I am upset that Harry’s den has been downgraded to a spare bedroom.

 * * *

The windows of the ferry shudder as it slides next to Old Cremorne Wharf. I follow the afternoon commuters onto the pathway and turn right to head home. The trampoline still sits in the front yard. These days with its missing springs, padding and rusty legs, it carries an imaginary sign saying ‘Not Suitable for Children’. As I walk to my back door I hear Olly strumming away in his room to Beatles songs. He still doesn’t talk much, but he sneaks me shots of Jameson whenever I visit the small bar in Oxford Street where he works.

When Marshmallow died, an important part of my childhood was over. Yet sometimes when Dad is gardening in the front yard, passers-by on the footpath ask him about the white rabbit and the girl with the long, blonde hair.

‘You’re turning into Harry!’ Mum tells me. I host house parties on the balcony, dress in leather jackets, army boots and band T-shirts, and bring boys back late at night. Now when I enter what was Harry’s room, it hits me that I too will move out one day, whether the house leaves me or I leave it.

I may be emerging from the rabbit hole, but it wasn’t a dream.

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Unweaving the Cobwebs – Dionne Alaveras

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The classroom halts, all heads turning to face the pair of them. The word ‘slut’ bouncing off the walls. The boys started roaring and ooing, if it wasn’t for the lack of chest hair one would suggest they were gorillas. High school is a fucking zoo. She stood facing them, facing the jeers and taunts. The alpha male, the biggest ape of them all stood back, watching the depth of the word take its toll. Her eyes glazed over briefly, she pulled her shoulders back, pouted her lips, a sly smirk playing on her mouth.

 ‘Yes, I love sex, and I get it, loads of it, you have a tiny dick. Tell me, who has it worse?’ The apes sat silent, looking up at their alpha for an indication of how to respond, his chest deflated, and he sunk back into his seat. She recovered herself, but the word hurt, we all saw that fleeting expression before the pouting lips and retort. The word had stung.

From the age of thirteen this word had cast a shadow over her high school years. The word was thrown in arguments, like throwing a white creamed pie, slapping her in the face. Slut crept up on her, followed her in forms of snickers and mutterings as she walked through the school halls, and all because she’d had sex.

I am quite different. Watching the sex scenes in shows like Games of Thrones and True Blood is the extent of my sex life. Apparently the opposite sex believes I have a Loch Ness Monster hiding within the darkness of my crevice.

My story began when I was sitting on the floor in my best friend’s bedroom. Her much older boyfriend and his friends were with us. Everlast tracksuits, Nike bumbags, cigarette stained teeth; real panty droppers. My best friend, like so many before her, found them to be the equivalent of a James Dean.

‘Do you have a boyfriend?’

I don’t even remember his face. I was fixated on his one hundred dollar bill print Nike TN’s. Hideous. Before I could lift my face off his shoes and respond, my best friend had interjected.

 ‘Yeah, right, cobwebs,’ they laughed. I did too, not really understanding what she was implying. I had to ask my older cousin later.

‘It’s because no one’s been in you. She’s saying it’s all dusty, like with spiders in an attic. No one goes there.’ Lovely, just lovely. Whenever my girl friends and I would meet a new group of guys the label Cobwebs would have to be mentioned. Some would laugh, others would congratulate me explaining how hard that is to come by, as though it is some sort of lifestyle choice. I didn’t wake up choosing to be one. I am not a vegan choosing soy milk over full cream. With this realisation it hit me; if you are a woman you cop it (no pun intended), either way. If you are a virgin, you are considered too hard to date, as if you come with baggage. No, don’t have sex with me, I will fall in love with you as soon as you’ve ejaculated inside of me and stalk you until the day I die. No. On the other hand, if you are comfortable with having sex with multiple people, you enjoy it, and then you are the slut. Ladies, we are either throwing our cats at every single male, or we have a serious arachnid infestation up our hoohas.

For the remainder of this essay, I will be referring to myself as Cobwebs, the young lady we saw earlier on will be referred to as Monroe. Later on I will introduce you to a young man; he will be named F-Alot, self-explanatory really. The three of us have different views on sex and how a young woman should conduct herself amidst this enthused sex culture. Growing up, I believed it to be something adults did when they were in a relationship. Simple. However as a teenager, hearing all these stories of young women giving themselves up to men, who would then throw it in their faces, it changed to not wanting to be disrespected. Not wanting my name to be brought up in conversation like that. Considering that I am too frigid to do highly intimate things with men I think are hot, and often finding once they’ve opened their mouths the attraction falls off them like leaves during the season of autumn, I would have to be in love.

Monroe on the other hand, just needs a spark. If he’s hot, saying the right things and she’s feeling it too, they are on. People view sex differently; it is either something that is intimate and personal, or just a physical act. No matter which way it is viewed it is apparent that there are repercussions. Labels will be attached no matter what you believe. What I will be discussing is the different way people practice and idealise sex, as well as the aftermath, and I don’t mean STI’s. Stop it, Chlamydia is nothing to laugh about.

In today’s society young women are more sexually active and are conducting themselves in a raunchier manner. Ariel Levy coined the term Raunch Culture. Understanding the idea that women have moved away from conservativeness and are conducting themselves in a less ‘orthodox’ manner, Levy encourages the discussion of feminism and how it fits in within this new raunch culture. ‘This new raunch culture didn’t mark the death of feminism; it was evidence that the feminist project had already been achieved’. Women in the 1960’s and 1970’s fought to lift the view of being seen as a sexual tool. Levy believes that we ‘no longer needed to worry about objectification or misogyny. Instead, it was time for us to join the wild party of pop culture where men had been enjoying themselves all along. We would beat them at their own game and be female chauvinist pigs: women who make sex objects of other women and of ourselves’. Women can now conduct themselves as males do, however they still receive backlash for it. After all, they were fighting for equality with men, so why is it that women are still being ridiculed for being sexually active?

On another note, is it right in saying that a woman should conduct herself in a sexual wild manner for the sake of being seen as equal to a man? Levy brings the same questions to light, ‘How is resurrecting every stereotype of female sexuality that feminism endeavored to banish good for women? Why is labouring to look like Paris Hilton empowering? And how is imitating a stripper or a porn star –a woman whose job is to imitate arousal in the first place –going to render us sexually liberated? ‘Raunchy’ and ‘liberated’ are not synonyms. It is worth asking ourselves if this bawdy world of boobs and gans we have resurrected reflects how far we’ve come, or how far we have left to go.’

 * * *

Monroe and I sat in her white Volkswagen Polo, she was pulling in deeply on a long, thin cigarette. Looking at me expectantly she asked, ‘So what’s the main gist of this interview?’

‘Sex,’ I replied. Throwing her cigarette out of the window she clapped her hands together.

‘Okay, I’m good at this, go.’

* * *

Cobwebs: How would you personally define sex?

Monroe: Both physical and emotional. Depends on who you are having sex with. If you are having sex with a partner it’s emotional and physical. If it’s just sex, it’s just well, sex. It’s a penis and a vagina (laughs) and a blow by the end. Hopefully.

Cobwebs: Describe your first sexual experience?

Monroe: Here we go, thirteen, in a hotel room, with a guy that I was dating. It was romantic and it hurt. I wanted to get rid of it. I didn’t want to be a virgin. I had thought about it and wanted to try, it so I did. Having an older sister, and knowing that she was sexually active, I wanted to be like her. I was too young. So, now growing up and seeing girls that are that age and realising how young I was it is like wow. I had told my best friend, she told a boy then it went around the school from there. Then from that age, up until I was in year twelve the entire school knew and called me a slut.

Cobwebs: Describe a slut

Monroe: Someone who constantly has sex with different men, girls having sex with men all the time just for the fuck of it.

It is more of a female thing. But there are men who are sluts as well and it should be acknowledged. They should cop the same label. If you want to do it, do it, have sex. It’s all over Television, music and the internet. Kids get intrigued because their parents won’t let them watch it, all these people are talking about it, glamorising it.

* * *

The movement from modesty to raunchiness is encouraged by the media, according to The Australian. Angela Shanahan writes that ‘using the moral yardstick of the women’s magazine, today’s little Alice reads Dolly and gets tips on fellatio. It is amazing any girl comes out with her sanity, let alone her virginity, intact…If you value sex, marriage and sexual modesty, the last magazine you probably read was Australian Knitting Patterns 1970, or thereabouts… If you read the magazines for women that are supposed to set trends you will certainly have a different view of Australian sexual norms’. It is apparent that the media is advocating young women to take a view on sex. Encouraging the education and liberation of sexual liberty for younger women. Monroe agrees with this sentiment, and I do as well. Media does play a part in promoting this raunch culture for women. Social media outlets such as facebook and tumblrcan easily be described as porn sites. With Vine videos showing young women shaking it in their underwear. Regardless of how it is promoted the question still remains, is it female empowering to be active in this raunch culture or not? And is this why women are becoming more sexually active at such a young age?

 * * *

F-Alot sat at Padstow Maccas with a ripped open bag of food in front of him. I was watching him intently. I had always been intrigued with how men had a strange ability to shovel copious amounts of highly saturated fats into their bodies without gaining any weight.

‘So what are you going to ask me? Like positions and that?’ I shook my head at him in reply.

* * *

Cobwebs: Define sex?

F-Alot: Something I enjoy. Physical, just physical.

Cobwebs: Best and worst sexual experiences?

F-Alot: With my ex, a bender of sex, for a good like, four or five days, pretty much not leaving the bedroom. A lot of rack. My last girlfriend was an escort, she was a good fuck. Worst, well I’m a guy, if it’s in, it’s in, it’s not bad (laughs).

Cobwebs: How do you think females should view sex?

F-Alot: Nah nah (laughs) you’re women, I know what you’re getting at. It’s different, it just is. It’s dirty when a girl goes around having sex with all sorts of people. It’s just how the world works.

Cobwebs: Describe a slut

F-Alot: A slut, a girl that fucks around heaps. With a guy you can’t really call him a slut, he is going to enjoy being called a slut. With a girl it’s a negative thing.

* * *

‘That it?’

‘I believe so,’ I tried ignoring his sigh, turning my recorder back on and asked, ‘What is your favourite sex position?’

‘Doggy.’ Of course it is.

 * * *

Using the few sexual experiences I have as a lens, I appreciate the value modesty holds. Women should be held to the same standards as men in all areas, including sex, however, women should accept that this may never happen, and that being ‘one of the boys’ could have the opposite of intentions. F-Alot implied, when a woman conducts herself in that manner she is simply used and abused. If the raunch culture means women are placing themselves on equal par with men in terms of sex then why are we still being beaten down for it? The media promotes this raunch culture, staring your people in the face constantly. This is the reason as to why ‘girls have gone wild’. This is the asserted pressure that is placed on young women to lose their virginity, to join the party. To be one of the boys in this culture means that a woman loses her modesty, which in turn could result in a young female being disrespected and used. Slut or virgin, you may cop it either way, at least being a cobweb doesn’t sacrifice your integrity.

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