Tag Archives: ambiguity

Night Duty, Aileen Westbrook

Print

i don’t know why i let the handles go – they’re ribbed and rubbery for safety’s sake – and how was i to know the brakes were dodgy? i’m sure this model was braced for all weathers, for all outbreaks of mothers, and at the clinic i’m a natural, i can breastfeed with one hand, it’s just the night watch that undoes me. i’m high up here on the ridgeline of midnight – Parramatta lies draped before me like a Russian diorama – a glow worm city of minarets where i can pretend i’m Anna Akhmatova as my pram bumps over concrete aprons stained a grimy sort of Pompeiian-grey presaging fallout. There’s a Gothic whirring of electricity lines swinging tight-ropes as the bats squabble

i can take a short cut

a mental zig-zag

an oblique criss-crossing through the village green riff-raff round the swingset before feeding time and if my nightie gets wet it’s a small matter of clinging on

flesh of my flesh

oops a kerbside wobble and i’m here on the precipice of gratitude bending to smell the honeysuckle milk of her bunny blanket under the cathedral of a camphor laurel

liquorice black asphalt spills out and i kneel down

touching the sealed sea of night streaked raspberry green

lost at the intersection of roads less travelled

a carousel of silver wheels and jaguars

giraffed by traffic lights haloed in fumes

was i distracted by a possum? i’m not sure, i tell you –
but it was something furred or feathered – a brush turkey?
In your mind, you say, it’s all in your mind, and i say, at least brush turkeys stay in pairs. But hark this, i warn as i throw out the bathwater, a female turkey can wander off, just like that, if she despairs. Virginia put stones in her pockets and sank to the river’s floor but i’m not one for premeditation. i didn’t mean for the pram to go rattling down the road to the river.

Now i’m tearing down that hill, possessed by loss and fortune, chasing a blue-hooded pram with shoddy brakes. A cyclist sees my wildness and plunges into the mangroves at the river’s mouth where the pram is fleeing from me. i follow but the pram lurches off the boardwalk cutting through gaps in the tea-trees

skittish, the pram cavorts across wet sand

over cockle-shells

is she alive alive alive a-live o the cyclist gasps

fluorescent with sweat

as i wade into river’s cold lapping indigo

and thrust my arms into the bobbing blue cradle

scooping out a tired wet bunny rug

it’s just a practice run i confide

wringing out the sodden hem of my nightie.

Print
Tagged , , , , ,

What the Sheoaks Saw, Rebecca Fraser

Print

Have you ever heard the wind through the sheoaks? In daylight the sound is familiar. Whispered secrets through sun-dappled branches; the ancient language of trees a comforting backbeat as you peg washing on the Hills Hoist.

When night stalks the bay, it brings the powerful breath of the south. The wind wrestles and riots all the way from the Antarctic giving voice to haunting moans that echo across the sand dunes. To hear the wind through the sheoaks on a wild June night is to feel a trickle of ice down your spine.

 

The night air slaps my cheeks as I pull my wool cap further down over my ears. The glow from the fire in the lounge room does not extend its warmth to the backyard. It elongates my shadow — a sinister, unnatural shape stretches across the lawn.

‘What is it, girl?’ I cinch my dressing gown tighter and follow the path Lucy’s taken toward the sand dunes. Her shrill bark competes with the wind and the bellow of the ocean beyond. I can just make out her small, white form near the fenceline where the grass meets the sand.

‘What is it?’ I repeat. Moments before, Lucy had been curled in front of the fire, soft snores matching the rise and fall of her chest. Then, in that unnerving way unique to cats and dogs, she’d sat bolt upright, eyes large, head cocked — yanked from slumber by an unseen thing. Her nails clattered on the floorboards as she ran to the sliding door. Her bark indicated it was more than her bladder that warranted such immediacy.

Just a possum, my mind now clamours to assure me. Brushtails everywhere this time of year.

Lucy’s bark changes to something I’ve never heard before. A fear-tinged growl that comes from the depths of her DNA. ‘Lucy?’ My voice is air escaping a balloon. She hurries back to me, a low-bellied scuttle with ears and tail down.

The sheoaks heave and holler. Streaky clouds ride the wind, their passage casting flickering shadows across the dunes with each pass of the moon.

A noise that dries the spit in my mouth cuts through the cacophony. The unmistakable, impossible, snarling roar of a large jungle cat. Between my legs, Lucy whines and quivers.

In the moonshine a hulking form emerges from the peaks of the dunes. A giant black feline pads down the slope toward me. I hold my breath. Snippets of advice gleaned from the Discovery Channel gallop through my mind. Do I run? Do I stand still? Do I…

The panther regards me with amber eyes as it passes, flank level with the Hills Hoist’s handle. The sheen of its midnight coat ripples as it slinks around the side of the house.

I exhale.

 

The Peninsula Panther. I saw it. So did Lucy.

The sheoaks saw it too. I hear them talk of it, especially when the south wind blows.

http://www.bigcatsvic.com.au/

Print
Tagged , , , , ,

Wanderer, Isabella Ison

Print

My boyfriend likes to wander when he’s drunk. Like wander. Far. I remember once, on his 21st birthday, we had to put him in a cab at 8:30 because he was so shit-faced. The amount of
time my friends and I have spent wandering Melbourne’s cobbled streets searching for him, I can’t
even tell you. He’s become somewhat infamous for being found in strange, but wonderful, locations. Finding him is like a strange, adult, urban-scavenger-hunt that more often that not ends up in either running away, or partying harder. There was this one night that especially sticks in my mind. We crashed a house party in Abbotsford. Just off that main street there, the one with all the restaurants. We stopped in at this bottle-o that was far too fancy for the area. One of those Barrel Something’s that stock wine no one can afford and have a serif typeface on the, round, monochrome sign. “What do you mean there aren’t any cold cartons of Melbourne Bitter tinnies?” The house, when we finally got there, with beer we clearly couldn’t afford, made derelict look lavish. The rusting fence was overgrown with vines. The front door was locked, so we tentatively walked up the wide concrete drive on the side. Pallets and old couches, the kind you find on hard-rubbish day, abounded. Hipsters who hadn’t had hair cuts in months, and were wearing just the frames of glasses, no lenses, sat around discussing politics and their latest, free-entry, exhibitions. Not really our scene. But still, we knew these types of parties could get interesting later.

As drinks flowed, these people, who normally put their facade together so carefully, began to
show their real selves. Just uni-kids like us. They stopped faking it; there was no one with enough sense around to fake it for anymore, anyway. I was chatting to an acquaintance, you know, one of those friends-of-a-friend, who are your best friend when you’re the only familiar face. And then it happened. He was gone. Just like that. I hadn’t really realised he was at wandering point yet. Two others were also missing. So he hadn’t gone on his latest escapade alone. He had gone barefoot, though; I found his shoes shoved in the gaping recess of the milk crate I’d last seen him sitting on. Three hours later, after almost calling the cops, I found him staggering along the street with a warm carton of Carlton Draught and blood dripping down his legs. He’d broken into the Carlton factory with two mates, snuck past two guards, cut his foot open on a roof tile and pulled a fresh carton straight off the back of an incoming truck before his bloody escape. Yes, I’m serious. We drank that beer, hot, as I cleaned out his wound with pure Dettol. Hoping each swipe would hurt a little bit more, for making me worry so much. True story… would I lie to you?

Print
Tagged , , , , ,

They are supposed to be fun, Jack Stanton

Print

Saturday night close to 9pm and I’m rolling a joint to smoke in my room when he texts and says I’m sorry, how are you?

Since waking up this morning I called in sick to work and lounged around and did nothing. All day dizzy with weed and the flu and dizzy with the Notice of Development Proposal glued to my fence and Thai food and three showers and Joan Didion, not once thinking of what he’s been doing all August.

I look at his text message, willing it to disappear.

I ring him and it rings out to voicemail.

My voice is probably tinged with the stone anyway, words|running|together.

He texts me right away and says sorry I missed your call.

I say it’s okay I’m good, you?

He says that he’s doing fine even though Mercury is in retrograde and it’s a full moon tonight.

I joke that since it’s a full moon he better be home before midnight, locked in his cage, and he doesn’t message anything else for the better part of fifteen minutes. In that time I finish reading Didion and get off the bed to close the window, because neighbours are drinking in their backyard.

Another text from him.

It says we agreed to be open and always tell each other what’s going on so he just wants to let me know that he’s been seeing that guy who came back from Reykjavik.

It’s cool, I text back, I figured you were.

He doesn’t want it to get between us.

It won’t, I say, don’t worry about it.

He says, are you sure.

Yeah, seriously, it’s fine, I reply, deciding whether to delete or include the smiley face I’ve inserted in the message: I’m seriously fine about it, man.

Then Google Reykjavik.

Print
Tagged , , , , ,

Looking at Lorikeets, Sheriden Goldie

Print

The street burst with colours. The liquid lipstick red of a car as it turned out of a driveway. Sun-drenched leaves tried to resist the cool breeze of autumn. Lorikeets suckled at the late-blooming blossoms. The heat clung between the concrete towers even in May.

The stream of pedestrian traffic passed under my window. They passed in ones and disconnected twos. All marching towards the station. An old lady hunched against the current persisted down the centre of the footpath. They flowed around her like a boulder in the stream.

I reached out to touch it, wondering if I was destined to be a part of that same army. Instead, I felt the cold shock of glass against my skin. The cold leeched up through my wrist. The fleshy mounds of my palm pulled taut, and the creases of my yet-unlived life stretched to faint memories. I imagined pushing outwards with all my might. Both hands pushing against the glass. What would it take? A sudden rush? A punch? Or gentle constant pressure?

I pressed my other hand into the glass, resting my forehead between my hands. I felt the pressure build in my arms. At some point would the glass crack?

Silvered spider webs would streak out from where my hands were, and I would push still. It would crinkle. Fracturing. Rupturing. Shattering. The pressure would finally release. I could almost taste the air on the other side. My tongue tingled. I swallowed. The shards of glass would shiver in the air, then they would fall. Deadly snowflakes. I imagined the shards diving around my fingers. Like silver translucent Olympians. They would slice through my skin with barely a shiver. I wouldn’t even realise at first, but the hot drip of blood would be the proof. Momentum would carry me. But, from this height, it would have to be a direct hit on the concrete. Landing on my side or legs would just mean a lot of broken bones. Shattered ribs, fractured skulls, a concussion for sure, perhaps even amnesia. Just a little more pressure, I think.

“What are you doing?” she asked. I turned. She stood in my doorway, concerned but unknowing. A patch of fog clouded the window from where I had pressed my face to it; imagining. The truth would have only confused her. I didn’t want to die, not really. I don’t think I did anyway. I certainly don’t now.

“I was looking at the lorikeets,” I said.

“Right,” she said, reassured somewhat. “When’s your bus?” she asked but really meaning why hadn’t I left for school yet.

I looked over at the clock on my bedside table. I was going to be late. I slid off the bed and found my school shoes in the jumble at the bottom of my wardrobe. I mumbled from the shelves, and mum turned away.

That day I imagined telling her the truth. Instead, I tried drawing a lorikeet in art class.

Print
Tagged , , , , , ,

A Simple Story, Mary Raposa

Print

This is a simple story. No metaphors or allegories. Just a tale that’s best told over family dinners or campfires. It’s ages ago, though, and the years had blurred the details. Now, I only know of the outline.

But the details are not the point. It’s the ending.

See, my cousin was getting married. I received an invitation and this being my first wedding invite I was stoked to go.

I flew to the Philippines and stayed at my uncle’s place the day before the wedding. It was a house located within a compound that would’ve been the perfect backdrop for an indie horror film. The trees were dense and cast a shadow over moss-stained paths. I arrived during the day. Upon seeing the house and the caretaker I was once again eight years old. I looked forward to my uncle’s perfectly cooked meals and raiding the stylish bar just to play with the little plastic cocktail sticks.

Turned out he was working that night. No nostalgia food for me, then.

This is where the details blur. Did I spend the day with the caretaker? Did I eat there? Did I eat out or order in? I can’t remember, but at some point I did eat. I remember not being able to raid the bar, but instead had the pleasure of getting acquainted with his bear-like chow chows. By the time I headed to bed I was exhausted; the next day I had to wake up early to get ready.

So I slept—uncomfortably. Philippine weather was humid and the portable air-conditioner didn’t help. I remember it being the middle of the night when the door opened loudly. I flinched. My consciousness hovered between asleep and awake as my bleary eyes caught a sliver of golden light upon the wall.

“HEY!”

The voice was deep, gruff, and almost inhuman. My haziness was so severe that I felt nothing but mild annoyance; I looked over my shoulder to glare at the person who disturbed me. All I saw was a shadow—tall, dark, faceless, and almost as tall as the door. Before I did or said anything the figure stepped back and closed the door. With no more disturbances I was free to sleep again.

The next day, I was getting ready. The caretaker was with me. For conversation’s sake, I asked if they opened my door last night. Confused, they said no; they were asleep in their own room. Now, I was confused. Well, I drawled, did my uncle return home? No, the caretaker replied with concern. My uncle was still at work. There it was: dread. For the last time I asked: did anybody else—a friend or another guest I didn’t meet—open my door by mistake? No, the caretaker said, it was just the two of us.

The coldest of shivers went down my spine.

Oh.

Print
Tagged , , , , , , ,

Advice from Grass, Trees, and Clouds, Daniel Hayek

Print

At 20, I attended my first music festival with two friends. Before the sun set on our first night I was a drunken, slurring, glittered mess. As we stumbled to the festival from the campsite, a young guy jumped at us.

‘Can I borrow your phone torch, man?’

‘For what?’ I slurred, still maintaining standards.

‘To find my stash.’

‘Of course,’ I said, handing my phone to the stranger.

He ducked into the tent, rummaging around his underwear.

 

A young woman emerged from the darkness, wearing very little besides face jewels. In a matter of seconds I had her face in my arms.

‘So my uncle died last week. Then my granddad. Then my dad,’ she sobbed.

‘Oh, honey,’ I said, pulling the stranger into a warm hug, my friends standing to the side watching with confusion and impatience.

 

Before long a head popped out of the tent.

‘Mike!’ The girl screamed.

‘Hey,’ he said, bug-eyed.

‘Mike, you have to give my friend some,’ Amanda said, wrapped in my arms.

In a matter of seconds, a key was dipped into a pouch then presented to my nostril. I inhaled the scarily large amount of powder before thinking.

‘Oh, thanks,’ I said. ‘I’ve never done coke before.’

‘It’s not coke, have fun,’ Mike said, leaving me at the entryway of a door I didn’t want to open. My head began to thump to the beat of the distant festival.

‘What did you do?’ my two friends asked.

‘Just snorted something. Let’s go.’

 

As my friends danced to music, I swayed and sweated. Suddenly, I felt a need to find three specific people I knew at the festival because the grass told me they were in danger.

“Ok, bye,” I said to my two friends, sprinting off into the festival.

I headed straight to the mosh pit, elbowing my way through the jumping crowd. I stopped, turned, and sprinted into the other direction, crashing into a woman. She was startled, then looked at me.

“Oh my god!” three voices screamed.

I found them in the middle of the giant crowd. It was this point that I realised I was psychic and the gods had me sent on a path. I hyena-screamed in their arms, thankful I found them.

 

I danced with them, until the swaying trees told me I had to find the two friends I’d left. “Okay, bye,” I said, sprinting towards the campsite and directly into a security guard. He asked me what I was running for. “Schnitzel,” I told him.

He lead me to a nearby food truck and sat with me while I ate. I hugged him goodbye and ran into the dark.

 

By the time I found our tents I knew (because a cloud told me) my friends were in danger. I lay, staring at the stars cursing past me. I later learned that as I lay between our tents, my two friends were following strangers to a van. Turns out the cloud was correct.

Print
Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Sleepwalker, Alyssa Fletcher

Print

My mother stood in shock, holding me, a sleeping bundle, a parcel of limbs, of skinny legs and soft cotton sleeves.

I don’t remember it of course, I just have that knowing kind of memory. Like the memory you have of being a baby in the bath. You’re too young to remember it, you know it from photos you’ve seen a hundred times. But you think you can really feel the soapy water, the light breeze on your damp shoulders, the suds between your palms. You don’t really remember it. But you know it.

She stood there, my mother, in the pitch blackness. On this night, we holidayed at Kangaroo Island. We slept early so we could rise at dawn to look for Fairy Penguins in the beach rocks of a bitter morning. The ocean groaned from beyond our window. It’s a more ancient place, on the island. The sand is older, greyer. The sea grasses are more weary, tired of being blown over day after day, year after year.

In a cabin we slept: my mother and father in a double bed; my kid brother sleeping in the bunk beneath me. He went all night with this sleeping noise—a distracted, contented sort of moaning. A crackly, grizzly sound that went for ages and then stopped suddenly. It would scare you if you didn’t hear it every night.

I was a sleepwalker, the child who sat up in the middle of the night. Just bolt straight up, in the depth of the silent night, asleep but alert, sitting up, ready to speak, and then—back to sleep.

I suppose I sat up again that night. Or I suppose I fell, my body paralysed in sleep. And I don’t
suppose why, but suddenly, my mother was there, just as though she knew to leap out of bed and rush over to catch me.

With the wings of an archangel, she flew to my bedside. Her feet never touched the icy wooden
floorboards. She hovered, light and sleepy, eyes closed, knowing and yet unknowing, just waiting with arms outstretched.

And I tumbled softly, effortlessly, straight into her arms. Like an actress in a play, I simply fell, dramatic, but trusting the arms waiting to catch me.

And it wasn’t until I hit her arms, that she jolted awake, and the world came rushing in with a sharp, painful breath that awakened her body. And there were her feet, on icy wooden floorboards. And there was her child, a dainty fawn, all downy softness and dopey limbs, in her arms like a baby. She woke with the shock of a snow shower, a freezing anticlimax. Like painful breathing after an early morning sprint. With the heady wash of relief, and the bafflement and confusion of a sudden start.

She carried me to the safety of her bed, and we slept with breaths climbing in one body and out the other. I never once roused, until I woke up, a little closer to the earth.

Print
Tagged , , , , ,

Checking In, Kylie Needham

Print

This is how my sister told it to me.

‘Mum’s stuck in Immigration. They’re not letting her get on the plane.’

‘Can they stop her?’ I was tidying the kitchen after Ben and the kids had left for Saturday morning sport. I hadn’t thought of my mother in months; hadn’t seen or spoken to her in seven years. Still, my question was stupid. I knew as well as anyone else no one could stop my mother doing a thing.

‘They’re showing her articles about Nigerian love scams. Like she doesn’t know.’

‘She called you?’ I flicked on the kettle and got out a teabag. Conversations with my sister had a way of eating time.

‘No, I called her. To tell her about Nanna.’

‘What’s happened to Nanna?’ I put the phone on speaker so I could at least pack the dishwasher and feel like I was getting something done.

‘Last night she wrote letters to everyone except mum, cooked a batch of Ladies Fingers, and then swallowed a bottle of Temazepam.’

I nodded. Almost every member of my mother’s family had threatened suicide at one time or another. None had ever succeeded. Uncle Elio came close when he drank a bottle of Domestos.

‘Anyway, I was ringing mum to tell her Nanna’s on life support.’

‘What’d she say?’

‘They should turn it off.’

‘Who was dumb enough to give Nanna Temazepam?’ I asked, filling my teacup with boiling water and at the same time remembering the kids had finished all the milk. I’d have to add it to the list.

‘Some shit doctor she goes to. She told him her daughter’s run off with a black man and she can’t sleep, so he wrote her a script.’

Unfortunately for everyone, my sixty-nine year old mother had recently discovered the Internet and, with it, Facebook. There she discovered her new husband-to-be: a fifty-nine-year-old white American guy from California. Really he was a twenty-three-year-old black Nigerian guy named Richard (I had doubts about the name) who stole a photograph of a middle-aged Turkish real estate agent and used it for his profile picture.

‘How is she?’

‘Nanna? Pretty pissed off she’s still alive.’

‘No, I mean mum. Will she get on the plane?’

‘Who knows? She’s going nuts they won’t give Richard a visa and let him come here. Calling them all racists. And she’s fighting Florrie on Facebook.’

‘Who’s Florrie?’

‘Richard’s girlfriend. In Nigeria. She’s hot, looks about twenty. I’ll text you a picture.’

I thought of the officials at Immigration, laying down documents in front of my mother and showing her articles about lonely women who’d been tricked into online romances by smooth-talking scammers. Women who’d lost everything. Women who’d gone missing. Women who’d been murdered.

‘Stupid bitches,’ I could hear my mum say, pushing back her chair and standing up to catch her plane.

Print
Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Empty Shells, Lani Watt

Print

When I was a kid, I remember my Grandma taking me for a walk along the beach. It was a day just like this: scorching hot sun prickling my skin like needles; the humidity encouraging the sweat to plaster my shirt to my back. But the sea breeze was heaven. And the water lapping over my feet as I walked the shore reminded me why the beach was the best place to be at that very moment.

I was a bit of a rough nut, as everyone liked to tell me. Shells were being tossed haphazardly into the basket Grandma used to keep her sewing threads in, sand littering over the top of them. ‘Why?’ was my favourite question at that age. I wouldn’t learn until I was growing up myself just how annoying that could be. Patience of a saint, Grandma had.

‘Grandma, where do shells come from?’

‘They come from the sea,’ Grandma explained as she handed me one that I had decided was a pretty cool looking one. Aqua-blue, shiny, clean. It didn’t immediately go into the basket with the others.

‘Why?’ I shot back, studying the shell.

‘Maybe they’re the souls of the beautiful people who passed away when they’re no longer with us. It’s a lovely view for them don’t you think, darling? Perhaps this is why we feel compelled to collect some and not others. They’re the souls we’ll always stay connected to,’ Grandma mused. I still remember the knowing smile she gave me then.

That was when I started to gather the shells out of the basket and put them back in the sand, carefully, with the opening facing out to the water. I kept that one cool shell she gave me.

‘What are you doing, sweetheart?’ Grandma asked.

‘I don’t want to take someone else’s friend home.’

Some things as you grow up just stick with you. I remember looking back over the beach from the direction we came, seeing hundreds of shells littered all over the place. It was nice to think about, even back then. But now, since I lost you, I keep coming back here.

I’ve been sitting here yet again looking at the beach. I keep getting drawn back here. This was our place. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve had to come here to feel like you’re still with me. But today is the first day I have ever sat right down beside an empty shell that is almost identical to the aqua-blue one I kept way back when. Your favourite colour.

Now I’m older, I don’t know if I truly believe Grandma’s sweet musings of the world and the beauty of the relationship between shells and the beach. What if they’re really not empty shells? I can’t leave this one here, I have to take it with me. Just in case.

For some reason, today it feels easier to turn away from the water and walk away without looking back.

Print
Tagged , , , , , ,