Tag Archives: Friendship

Pub Grubs, Rohan Viswalingam

Sydney is dead. That’s what you’d hear people say and everyone seemed to agree. I didn’t. It was Sunday, the ninth of October 2016 and I was standing in Belmore Park, a two-minute walk from Central Station, Sydney. The park was filled with people, mostly young. They were all there for the second ‘Keep Sydney Open’ rally.
I looked around and saw people talking, smiling and some dancing to minimal tech being shot out of a couple of speakers in the centre of the grass.

The speakers framed two DJs working their decks in the back of a hired Ute, their equipment festooned with rainbow ribbons. I didn’t know their names.
When the lockout laws were first rolled out in Sydney in 2014, I like many others, was afraid nightlife in the CBD would flat-line. I was afraid because I loved to go out and I thought I’d lose the ability to make sparks fly when the hour was late. But a setting doesn’t dictate the experiences you have and the ones you want – your attitude does.

I wandered through the groups of people, looking at the signs they’d made and chuckled to myself. I saw: ‘Baird – Culture Vulture’, relating to our turbulent premier Mike Baird, ‘Sorry Nightlife Is Currently Unavailable’ and a personal favourite of mine and a well known classic, ‘It’s Not My Baird Time’.
I then saw the back of someone I recognised. Sam Hansen. A guy I met on a whim at a university party. I’d offered him pizza for no particular reason and invited him to a party I was having. He turned out to be a good presence with all his faculties in check. What made him different was his noticeable proclivity toward protesting. So, I smirked as I walked up behind him. A roll of white card stuck out of his backpack.
‘Of course you’re here!’ I announced. He turned and looked at me for a moment. It’d been a while since we last spoke so I was a stranger to him at first. Then he smiled back.
‘Rohan, mate, how’re you?’ I shook his hand.
‘Very well, you packing heat today?’ I asked as I motioned to his rolled card behind his head. He recognised it.
‘Haven’t written anything yet, gotta come up with something good you know?’
‘What about “No Lockout Laws and Happy Greyhound Paws”?’ We both laughed and Sam pointed to the centre.
‘Let’s go to the middle, people are dancing there.’
‘Amen.’

Dancing in the midday summer heat would have been favourable had I not had work in two hours. I predicted I’d make a little of the march then would have to leave – a shame, as the vibes of democratic protest were starting to become intoxicating. The music beat was fast and the bass was muted and deep – just the way dancers liked it. It blew my mind that so many people could rock up to a place like this on a weekend, voluntarily. So I celebrated and bopped and swayed among the forest of wooden posts, sporting their signs high up like a canopy of leaves. Someone tapped me on the shoulder, it was Sam.
‘I’m gonna find my friend I’ll see you around.’ I gave him thumps up and returned to solo exhibitionism. Learning how to dance and have a good time on your own is a slowly-learned, vital skill that I had acquired. I’d recommend it to anyone. Losing your group of friends while you’re out is a common experience and a potential downer. But if you know how to operate alone the stakes get a lot lower when you find yourself adrift. For girls this was different, and this is why many of them stuck together like industry-strength adhesive. But issues of gender are another story, not this one.

The music suddenly stopped. Groans galore. A man named Tyson Koh swapped places with the DJs and spoke into a mike. He was the spokesperson for the campaign, this was the first time I’d heard him. His eyelids were sleepy but his eyes were not and they beamed out through his beady, hipster rim glasses. He spoke words of stealing Sydney, the death of culture and live music, of fat cats and casinos, of violence and of friendship and creativity. He also spoke of Melbourne, a city south of us that had so far avoided the dreaded one thirty AM lockdown.
The march began and the crowd, in a slow current, started plodding north. We moved onto Hay Street, under the train overpass where our voices echoed for a moment and out onto Elizabeth Street.
I called Ben. He was to meet me up at the corner of Liverpool a few hundred metres up. The crowd wasn’t too loud but I had to yell into my phone. The corner came and I waved to him from the side of the worm and he joined in. He was well built and walked with a gladiatorial eagerness, his forearms would swing high and both hands were open like they were about to catch a footy. He had pug eyes but that didn’t seem to be a flaw, merely a singularity in a beautiful and jovial face. Of course physical beauty had its place, but there’s no sin in luxuriating in it, like a girls waterfall hair or sand dune legs, or a man’s knife edge jaw line and craggy brow.
We walked up to Oxford Street. People watched from unit blocks above, tiny people way up in the sky looking down at the swirling mass of people below. Cars sounded their horns on the other side of the road, raising cheers from the crowd. A guy in front of me brandished a handheld speaker, held it over his head like a trophy, spitting out more EDM, fuelling the spirit even more in his radius. I saw so many beautiful women, dressed up in lively summer denim and baggy white shirts with those knots done at the torso. The men were all so sanguine, striding up the white lines of the road, with their revamped nineties snapbacks and Mac DeMarco rat moustaches. There were a few older folks dotted here and there, veterans of the night, still bobbing their heads to the plumes of music wafting in the air.

Over the past year or so I’d been out with Ben at night so often that he’d become a best friend. I only had one other from school but Ben satiated my underworked impulsive side. He was the best host, a better drinking buddy and if you could weather the rollercoaster then you’d have a great time. He, like me, could keep his head screwed on no matter how wild things got, which made for some interesting and well-remembered stories. There was never any memory loss; we enjoyed it too much for that to happen.
He was one of the many Sydney nightlife success stories that the anti lockout crowd chose to ignore. I loved all the signs I saw but one at the first rally. It said this: “F**k this, I’m moving to Melbourne”. There seemed to be a sentiment of faithlessness in Sydney. Like these people wanted it to provide them everything they needed to have a fulfilling nightlife. And that if it didn’t deal out a winning hand every single time they went out, they’d simply pack their bags and move to a very similar city. I’ve been to Melbourne and it’s a hoot but that was because of my attitude, not because the bars and clubs were open twenty-four seven.

For better or worse, my attitude was uncompromising in having a good time and sharing that with other people, making them feel included whoever they were, making them feel thankful they got on a train and hiked it all the way into the CBD. Ben shared the same impulse and I had made so many good memories with friends and also strangers before the lockout laws. After lock out laws were introduced in February 2014, my memories and the experiences that forged them actually got better. This was because I now had to be mindful about the way I planned my night.

With fewer resources one is forced to be more creative and I was able to do that on my own or in league with Ben. We sort out different venues, different events for different crowds. I got into the deep house dance scene, jazz bars, whiskey bars, poetry reading, book clubs, performance art, rock metal gigs, late night film screenings and festivals, warehouse parties, dress up parties (even though I hate dressing up) and even a fetish party. Plus the old faithful beer and footy with mates at the pub. The nightlife never went anywhere, it wasn’t dying off under the stairs, and it was all still happening, waiting for people to dive in.
So why was everybody so angry? Because a lot of crowd were cynics who saw Kings Cross as the face of Sydney nightlife and that if they didn’t fit into that scene, all two-to-four streets of it, they would give up all hope and write off the rest of the city as a sloppy failure. The angst would permeate most social groups as the groups’ themselves couldn’t be bothered, or were for whatever reason unable to go to places other than the now deceased workhorses Bar Century and Soho.
If we were so against the lockout laws we should have been protesting but also filling up the dance floors, bars and stages of the venues we loved, great and small, mainstream and underground.
Jimmy Barnes, lead of Cold Chisel, spoke out about the forty percent drop in attendance to live music events. That was our fault. How can you make a stand if you show up to protest, but not at the locations the protest aims to protect?

The crowd plods up Oxford Street, a place where I had seen a decline in populace happening at night.
‘We’re going so fast aren’t we?’ said Ben.
‘Yeah like F1, I have to go work soon.’ I said and then proceeded to make an F1 sound with my mouth. Ben and I did this together. You squeeze your lips tight and then tense your stomach and force air at high pressure through your lips while trying to keep them closed. The sound is like the old V12 engines the cars used to have – the ear splitting, earthquake sound. But for us it sounded like slowly letting the air out of a balloon.
‘Two o’clock right? You’ve got ten minutes to walk all the way back to Central’ He asked, I nodded like a head banger and made a face.
‘Yeah got caught up in the vibes, everyone’s all about our generation not caring about things, but look at this shit.’ I gestured to the masses. Ben jumped, peeking at the line snaking ahead, and then he did the same to see the rear.
‘Quite a lot of people.’
‘Yes.’
‘Protesting the fact that it’s a little bit harder to get a shitty drink past one thirty.’
I laughed. He did have a point.
‘Only the biggest issues in this country.’
‘Oui, you know what else is big?’ No joke is too shameful for Ben.
‘You’re a big dumbass, that’s what’s big.’ I deflected feebly.
‘Nah my dad was a big drinker, sort of became another person after a few. He wasn’t bad, just annoying and like, loose and everything.’ I changed tact, came down to his level.
‘Oh right, well yeah the issue goes back to that I guess. You know our cultural love affair with the bottle. And guys are getting hurt, and dying as well. I mean how can people protest against a decline in violence? Everyone just kinda gleans over that here.’
I did remember seeing a sign advocating to keep Sydney closed.
‘Well yeah they sorta do, but ‘Keep Sydney Open’ want better than blanket solutions. Like Oxford Arts Factory was a graveyard last week.’ He pointed behind me to the Factory, we passed it a few minutes ago.
‘Yeah there were less people.’ I said half to myself. ‘I reckon two thirty or three might be the sweet spot, so places don’t lose so much money, I never knew it would have such a tangible effect in some places.’
‘It’s a bloodbath in some joints.’
I sighed, ‘If Baird can back flip on the greyhound issue everybody suddenly cares about then maybe he will for this. I still love this city, it’s ridiculously beautiful and I’ve been able to satisfy myself and lockout laws haven’t changed that. We’re invincible, matey.’
Ben laughed knowingly, kind of like he knew it wasn’t completely true, that we were unbeatable at times. Ben was Gatsby, Jordan Belfort and Chopper Read all in one but still managed to actually be a proper friend (and also didn’t assault people or commit crimes if you’re worried about the latter moniker). That’s what was just in that knowing laugh. He had all the excitement and almost rabid thirst for experience but also the same fears and insecurities as Joe Blow from down the street. I wasn’t Joe Blow but I certainly wasn’t Gatsby.
But I loved Ben and what we’d done, him as pilot and me as co. Two pub grubs screaming through the sky in a jet made of taxi parts, running on beer, cigarettes and other disparaging substances. There was no destination, just spending time together. I suppose that’s all I ever wanted. Not to miss out on things like that. For us, lockout laws were a non-issue. I said goodbye to Ben and left the crowd.

I rang work to say I was running late, they were okay with it. I cut back down south toward Central through Pelican Alley and then Goulburn Street. My stomach rumbled and I realized that I hadn’t eaten that day.
I slumped into the chair in the newsroom, sizing up the eight-hour shift in my head. The rally would end in Taylor Square where they’d probably have some big bands and more speeches. I had a responsibility to be there but also to work. A reporter I’d seen down at Belmore Park brought in camera cards; the story would feature on the bulletin that night. I perused through the footage on the computer, none of my fantastic face in there but I suppose the crowd made up for it. More attractive women wearing John Lennon shades and daisy chains. I smiled to myself and closed the window.

I’d probably end up going out with Ben that night, maybe to Mali Bar, or Side Bar, Midnight Special, The Bank, The Different Drummer, World Bar, The Palisade, Bungalow 8, Sweeney’s, White Horse, Beresford. Onwards I would go in an endless search for love and human connection, of silence after the noise of voices and music, of the quiet humming of a nourished soul at the end of a good night out.

Sydney is not dead, but perhaps it’s just transitioning between stages of life in certain areas. There are still buckets of the hopes of youths running through our streets – you just have to leave the house to find it.
To re-appropriate a platitude: If you can’t handle the heat, learn to love it and get cooking in the kitchen, because Sydney can still whip up a raging feast. And we can all peacefully sit down and dine. Are you hungry? Because I sure as hell am!

 

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As We Go On, Mary Lou Raposa

‘… at ten-thirty.’

Her hands tighten around the phone. ‘I know.’

‘Don’t be late.’

Her vision melts into a multi-coloured blur as she considers how to best answer the command. ‘I’ll try.’ The sound of laughter forces her vision to refocus. Two teenage girls walk past her and she watches them as they cross to the next carriage. ‘I’m gonna go.’

‘Okay. Take care, Gwen, okay?’

‘Mmm.’

‘Remember: ten-thirty.’

Yes.’

‘I’ll see you tomorrow—love you.’

‘Love you too, mum.’ Sighing, Gwen disconnects the call and drops the phone on the tray. She doesn’t rise; instead, she glances at the folded piece of paper beside the phone—she was in the middle of unfolding it when her mother called. She continues to stare, breathing deep, heart lurching as she exhales. Fingertips shaking, she takes the paper and resumes unfolding. The page opens within seconds, but she barely reads the first word when her heart jumps up her throat. She scrambles to refold the paper and stuffs it in her trouser pocket. Pain and guilt radiate in her chest as her heart continues to race.

Later she promises. Sleep—that’s all she needs; she hasn’t been sleeping well for the past few nights. She curls into herself, rests her head against the window, and closes her eyes.

*

‘I got lucky with my kids.’

‘Yeah?’

The words floated from the kitchen to the living room. Thirteen year old Gwen ate blue M&M’s and turned from the TV to look at the kitchen where her mother and Melanie’s nanny, Ella, stood.

‘Mhm. Seven years apart, but no big problems. It was hard at first, though, let me tell you. Hallie was a rascal and she had all the attention. She threw some massive tantrums when she found out about Gwen—even chucked toys at me when I began to show.’

‘Oh no!’

‘Yeah… she stopped when Gwen arrived, though—good thing too. Gwen’s shy—easily bullied… Hallie was all she had. Now they’re close and everything; I don’t worry about them.’

‘Aw. Siblings are good, aren’t they? Melanie’s an only child, you know—’

‘Mmm.’

‘And Mr Kingston’s always busy so she had to do things alone. Meeting Gwen was the best thing for her.’

‘Oh, Absolutely. Thick as thieves, those two!’

Laughter exploded out of the kitchen as Gwen heard footsteps behind her. She turned and saw Hallie approaching, expression expectant. ‘You’ve twenty bucks for a cab, Gwen?’

Gwen hesitated. ‘Uhm…’

‘Please? If I’m late again they’ll fire me.’

Hallie’s words stabbed guilt into Gwen and she couldn’t resist. She retrieved her wallet. ‘Maybe… you should stop being late?’

‘Shut up. I was up all night for an assignment.’

‘Sorry.’ Gwen held out the bill and Hallie snatched it. ‘I really need this back.’

‘I’ll try—but you know I’m saving up for a car, right?’ Hallie kissed Gwen on the head before striding towards the door. ‘Love you!’

Gwen felt Melanie’s eyes on her, but she ignored it as she resumed her seat after Hallie left.

‘Has she paid you back for last week?’

‘Not yet.’

‘You should tell your mum.’

‘Why? Hallie needed help, that’s all.’ Gwen grabbed a handful of her M&M’s and nicked a few of Melanie’s red ones. Gwen laughed and tried to escape when Melanie attempted to flick her ear. Soon Melanie relented, leaning back just as an M&M commercial came on.

‘Wouldn’t it be cool to have purple M&M’s?’ Gwen blurted.

‘That’d be awesome, actually.’

*

At fourteen, Gwen entered the airport for the first time. Melanie’s father was going to Singapore for a five months business trip and Melanie, with Ella, had to see him off. Gwen accompanied Melanie at her request.

Father and daughter exchanged farewells while Gwen observed from a short distance. She expected tears, but it was all perfunctory. The hug didn’t last five seconds and when they parted the words that came out of Mr Kingston were: ‘Stop causing trouble in school, okay? Every call I get from the principal is a waste of our time.’

‘I’m sorry.’

‘Concentrate on your studies.’

‘I will.’

Mr Kingston nodded and turned to Gwen. ‘Take care.’

‘Have a safe flight, sir.’

The girls and Ella watched Mr Kingston depart for the gates, only facing each other when he finally disappeared into the crowd. Gwen noticed Melanie’s eyes glistening and draped an arm around her shoulders. ‘Let’s eat?’ she said.

‘Okay.’

*

‘So pumped for this movie.’

‘Same—mum! We’re going!’

‘Take care!’

Gwen, fifteen, opened the door. Melanie nearly stepped out when footsteps echoed in the living room.

‘Gwen! Help me out with my assign—oh. Going out?’

Gwen tensed and faced Hallie. ‘Yeah, the movies… I told you yesterday.’

‘Really? I forgot. Was hoping you’d help me.’

Gwen winced, but before she could say anything Melanie took her shoulder. ‘You’re a big girl, Hal; you’ll be fine,’ she quipped.

‘No shit.’ Hallie snorted. ‘Back to work for just me then—you girls enjoy.’

Gwen couldn’t say goodbye as Melanie pushed her out of the flat. Inadequacy and guilt plagued her as she walked down the hallway. If she only knew earlier then she could’ve spared more time—

‘Stop.’

‘What?’ Gwen glanced at Melanie.

‘Stop feeling guilty.’ Melanie raised her brows. ‘You’re not Hallie; you’re not responsible for her uni work or her life.’

‘She just needed help—’

‘You always say that. She’s an adult; she needs to stop relying on you—it should be the other way around, actually.’

‘I don’t need help. Besides, she’s my sister.’

‘So?’

Their eyes met, each gaze challenging, but neither said another word as stifling silence fell between them.

*

Gwen, sixteen, waited at the back gate for Melanie—the teacher held her back to discuss detention. Gwen wanted to wait outside the classroom, but Melanie told her to go on first. Now, she glanced at the gates every few minutes and wondered every time if Melanie was okay.

Minutes trickled on and the crowd of students diminished as they boarded their respective buses. Often, Gwen glanced up the school. Finally, as the worry threatened to overwhelm her, Melanie emerged from one of the buildings. Her expression was impassive and flanking her were three girls. Gwen’s stomach dropped at the sight of them. Those girls belonged in their grade and she knew them… though, not for the right things.

She watched them approach; soon, they were near enough that she could hear their conversation:

‘You having a party?’

‘No… just dinner and stuff.’

‘Really? It’s your sweet sixteenth, but.’

‘Yeah, we was thinking you’d have a party.’

‘Uhm… that’s not really my thing.’

Melanie smiled at Gwen and she smiled back, though she wanted recoil when the other girls noticed her. They only gave her saccharine smiles as they said farewell to Melanie.

‘You seem close.’ Gwen said after they left.

‘Sort of.’

‘Since when do you guys talk?’

‘Oh… we had a group assignment in English.’

‘I see.’ Gwen widened her smile and decided not to push the matter for now. ‘Dinner? You did that last year.’

‘I lied.’ Melanie sighed. ‘It’s just me. Dad decided to stay longer in London.’

Gwen’s smile vanished. ‘What? Wait… didn’t he come home last night?’

‘He called yesterday and said something came up. I don’t know.’

Gwen remained silent. Soon, Melanie’s car arrived, driving off after the girls slid into the backseat. The journey was thick with silence, the tension so dense that it was suffocating. Gwen stole glances at Melanie and made her decision.

‘You’re sleeping over.’ Gwen said as the car stopped in front of her house.

‘What?’

‘Come on.’ Gwen grabbed her backpack and stepped out of the car.

‘Seriously?’

Yes! Let’s go!’ Gwen grinned when Melanie jumped out of the car. She pulled her backpack forward as the car drove away, fishing keys out of the front pocket. ‘This’ll be great,’ she said. ‘We can buy cake—if not, we’ll make one. It’s gonna be crap, but better than nothing, yeah?’

‘Gwen?’

‘Hmm?’

‘Thank you.’

Gwen looked at Melanie, saw the red cheeks and glistening eyes, and embraced her. ‘Don’t mention it. Come, we’ll order pizza—I think we still have M&M’s somewhere.’

*

‘Cigs’re gone. What’d he say?’

‘He grounded me… from everything.’

‘Well, you deserve that.’

‘It’s just a bit of fun.’

Gwen, seventeen, rolled her eyes and closed the bedroom door behind her with more force than necessary. ‘Defacing public property is not fun.’

Melanie sighed. ‘All right. Thanks for helping, by the way.’

Gwen sat on the edge of the bed. ‘You should stop.’

‘Stop what?’

‘Whatever you’re doing. Stop hanging out with those people. Stop ruining your life.’

‘They’re not bad—’

‘They’re not good for you!’ Gwen snapped. ‘This is beyond skipping school, Mel. This is far from—from shitty test scores and back-talking teachers. This is illegal—do you want to be a criminal?’

‘… No.’

‘I don’t either—wait.’ Gwen glanced at her phone when it buzzed and saw a text from Hallie: gwen im short on rent money cover for me pls i’ll pay u back love u! Dejection settled heavily in her stomach. ‘Seriously?’

‘Seriously what?’

Gwen brought the phone back to her ear. ‘Nothing.’

‘Hallie?’

‘No?’

Melanie scoffed. ‘Okay. You need to stop.’

‘Wait, don’t change the subj—’

‘Listen: giving Hallie everything you have is ruining your life. You have to stop enabling her.’

Gwen rubbed her face in irritation. ‘But she needs m—’

‘Stop saying that! She’s using you, Gwen! If you let her she’ll keep using you until you die! Is that what you want?’

Gwen’s lips trembled, but remained silent.

‘Stop enabling her… or I’ll tell your mum.’

Tears dampened the corners of Gwen’s eyes. She bit her lip. Neither girls said another word, but the line remained open and the silence between them stretched for a long time.

*

Gwen, eighteen, laid flat on the couch. The TV showed the news, but she wasn’t listening. On the floor a poster covered with signatures, sketches, and messaged leaned against the coffee table. The urge to cry hung at the back of her throat and she had to swallow hard repeatedly to keep the tears from escaping. Resentment danced in her mind—right now, she didn’t want to see Hallie’s face.

Somewhere in the city her classmates celebrated graduation. She mean to go—saved for it the week before, but two days ago Hallie was short on rent money again. What could Gwen do?

Minutes melted into hours. A game show replaced the news, but Gwen remained on the couch. Thoughts of the celebrations filled her mind—she could’ve been with them.

The sound of a lock releasing shattered the silence. Gwen didn’t move when her mother called her name until—

‘Melanie’s here.’

Gwen sat up and saw her mother approaching. Melanie stood by the door. Gwen’s shock at the sight of Melanie diminished under growing confusion when she caught the way Melanie avoided her eyes and the sombre expression on her mother’s face. ‘What’s… happening?’

‘Gwen…’ her mother hesitated. ‘We need to talk about Hallie.’

A cold feeling spread across Gwen’s back. She stared at her mother in horror before turning to Melanie. ‘You told her.’

‘I did.’ Melanie finally looked at Gwen.

Gwen stood and approached Melanie. ‘But… it’s none of your business! Why would you do that?’

‘I’m sorry—I can’t stand by anymore. You’re meant to be celebrating with us, Gwen… but look what Hallie did. I’m so sorry, but I’ve had enough. I had to do something.’

Gwen shook her head as her hands balled into fists. ‘Get out.’

‘Gwen—’

‘Get out!’ Gwen shoved Melanie out of the flat and slammed the door in her face.

*

Gwen stared at her phone. No messages in the past three months; not one phone call. This was the longest they went without talking. The fact that she didn’t notice until now…

Gwen’s anger at Melanie lasted for a while. Hallie avoided Gwen after their mum found out—it was expected, but it didn’t lessen the hurt. To distract herself from the absence of the two most constant people in her life, Gwen applied for jobs and volunteer work. Then university started, the new experience overwhelming her. Often she’d stare at her mobile lonely, dejected, and tempted to call Melanie, but her mind persistently returned to that night—after what she’d done, why would Melanie want to talk to her? That call never happened. Work, stress, and anxiety piled high above Gwen’s head and she struggled to resurface.

Then one night she received a call from the local hospital about Melanie Kingston.

Gwen’s head snapped up from the phone when she heard a groan. Her throat constricted at the sight of Melanie moving and scooted forward to take her hand. ‘Hi.’

‘Gwen?’ Melanie struggled to open her eyes, voice rough.

‘Yeah.’

‘W-what’re you—’

‘Apparently, I’m your emergency contact.’

‘Oh… yeah.’

Gwen stroked Melanie’s hand. ‘I had to call your dad, though. I hope that’s okay.’

‘Might as well.’

Gwen didn’t say anything and continued to stroke Melanie’s hand. She eyed Melanie’s arm, examined the scars and bruises marring the inside of it. Her stomach felt hollow. Melanie didn’t have these the last time they saw each other… they’ve only been apart three months. How was this possible?

‘Gwen?’

Gwen swallowed hard. ‘Yeah?’

‘You forgive me yet?’

The words were casual, rough. Tears sprang to Gwen’s eyes unbidden. She bowed her head, gripped Melanie’s hand, and rested her forehead on it. ‘I do. I forgive you.’

*

Eleven-fifteen.

Fists deep in her coat pockets, Gwen appraises the church from the bottom of the steps. A faint male voice echoes through the open doors and glues Gwen’s feet to the concrete. She swallows hard and inhales sharply before dragging one foot in front of the other. Like a machine, she repeats the action until she reaches the top of the stairs.

‘When I almost—almost lost her a year ago… it opened my eyes. Right then I promised her that we’ll be a proper—proper family.’

Gwen enters, presence muted, not making a sound. Half of the church is filled with guests, but she doesn’t know most of them. She sits on an empty pew, unable to join the sea of black. On the podium is Melanie’s father; he spots her and smiles gratefully. She returns the gesture reluctantly.

‘For the past year we were… uhm… happy. I learned… so much about her—’ he sobs and bows his head. ‘When s-she overdosed again and I-I finally lost her… it’s c-cruelty I never expected.’

Regret is pointless, Gwen thinks. It doesn’t revive the dead… it doesn’t forgive the living either. She tunes him out and stares at the casket separating him from the guests. The lid is closed, the lower half covered with white lilies. Knowing what’s inside sucks all the air out of Gwen’s lungs. Disbelief suspends her out of the bubble of grief. She doesn’t believe it, but the next second she wants to scream. Tears dampen the corners of her eyes as the desire to keel and pull her hair claws her body. She steels herself by gripping the folded paper in her trouser pocket.

‘We now invite Gwen Morgan, Melanie’s best friend, to speak.’

She shuts down the moment all the guests turn to stare at her. She doesn’t remember rising from the pew or the walk to the dais. The next time she becomes aware is when she stands behind the podium, her hand still gripping the paper. She stares at the casket and freezes—she’s glad the lid is closed. She doesn’t want to see what Melanie looked like in there. Instead, she thinks about the times when Melanie smiled, joked, and was alive. She steals courage from that and pulls the paper out. Her fingers remain steady as she unfolds it, but when she leans towards the mic and tries to speak, no words come out. Her tongue feels like glue in her mouth. She clears her throat and tries again. ‘Thick as thieves… that’s what my mum said about us. But… we’re more than that.’

 

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Contrary Crescent, Sonia Fedyczkowski

The street was never quiet around this time of the afternoon, nor in fact this time of year with the summer holidays already well in progress. The old Russian lady with her thousands of grandchildren saw to that, yet none of the neighbours ever seemed to mind. It struck him as odd, as he went round the crescent with the mail, that none of the old fogies on the street ever seemed to complain about the noise coming from Number Seventeen. But then, he thought to himself as he passed the local boys cricket team trekking to the field, it was none of his business. He was not a resident, merely a passerby who came bearing packages, parcels and letters. Not that this would continue for long. The envelope in his front shirt pocket weighed heavily against his chest. Retrenched. The last thing he expected this morning when he showed up, as per usual, at seven on the dot, was to be called into the office and handed that cursed bit of paper.

‘We are sorry to inform you, Mr Barton, that the Western Sydney Branch of the Australian Postal Service is undergoing major reconstruction to their mailing system. As such, expenditures need to be cut and we simply cannot afford to retain such numbers of staff. Enclosed is all relevant information regarding your severance pay and contact information of those who can assist with future possibilities. We regret that we are parting on such circumstances. We thank you for all you have done for us over these past eleven years and wish you the best with the future.’

It was unfitting, he thought, that such terrible news should come on such a lovely day. The morning had breezed over him as he made his deliveries in a daze. Thoughts of the future and its lack of certainty ran through his head in a never-ending cycle of confusion. It was only now, with the inescapable racket that only belonged to Contrary Crescent, that he seemed to be awakened to his surroundings. The thought of never again needing to come to this hodge-podge piece of society didn’t sit right with him. He liked this neighbourhood. He liked the way the junior cricketers scuffled their way down to the field at the end of the crescent under the hot summer sun. He liked hearing the noisy play from Number Seventeen and he liked being a small witness to the lives of the people living in this street.

The old Asian lady at Twenty Two was out again watering her plants. She took such pride in maintaining them to a degree of such perfection that he wondered if she stayed out at night making sure the wind didn’t move a single leaf or petal out of place. He could tell, from the neatly arranged shoes in the cupboard – which strangely stood outside the house – that Mrs Duong was a rather particular sort of person. However, the noise never seemed to bother her in her daily routines. He supposed she was more of the ‘keep to yourself’ sort. Her mail usually included the general; water, electricity, gas bills with the occasional letter addressed in horribly mutilated English. Every now and again though, a weighty parcel would arrive for her from either Japan or China marked ‘perishable’. He often wondered what those packages contained, some sort of food no doubt but as to what kind, he couldn’t say. Not that it was any of his concern.

Mr Granger at Number Ten was again out on his porch, as he was most afternoons, catching the afternoon sun while reading the paper. The old recliner with the faded plaid fabric still stood strong and had probably moulded into the perfect fit for the Englishman. The squeals of the unruly kids at Seventeen and the shouts from the cricket team didn’t seem to bother him, in fact, whenever a particularly loud yelp came about, the smallest hint of a smirk could be seen on his aged lips as he smoked his Kent cigarettes. Mr and Mrs Granger were a peculiar pair. Some days Mr Granger would stand by the post box leaning on his fence watching the young boys and their cricket antics. His gruff shouts of second hand coaching were barely noticed by the group but often Mr Granger would share a few cricketing thoughts with him as he handed over the day’s mail. Aside from the mundane bills, a copy of the London Gazette was received weekly along with Mrs Granger’s Quilter’s Newsletter Magazine. In addition to these, a flood of letters from The East Indian Tea Society or The Sangara Rubber Company only served to confuse him on the couples’ interests and activities. Though he supposed, as he was just the deliverer, it was presumptuous of him to even know that much. A chorus of cheers from the boys turned his gaze to their game and memories of his own time on the team flooded back. He had been rather a natural in cricket, or so his coach had said. Still, not enough to earn a living and certainly not enough to be known for it. The boys down the street had no idea he could play. No one on the street would. He wondered if his absence in the coming weeks would even be noted by this strange collection of people.

The Russian grandmother too sat on her verandah. The squabble of children bustled and writhed on the lawn below as she sat with a bowl of beans on her lap stringing them no doubt for dinner that night. Now and then a bark of Russian could be heard as she scolded them for some misdeed or another. As per usual, upon realizing he had mail for her, she shot of a quick string of Russian – which he supposed were actual words but to his ears sounded like the sharp yips of a wolf – and one of the grandkids ran down to meet him over the letterbox. Her long braids swung as she raced to the fence and she beamed up at him as she held her hands out for the mail he had crossed the street to bring.

‘Baba asked me to get the mail,’ she explained.

‘You kids always help your grandma, don’t you?’ he said, and with a quick grin of his own he handed her the small bundle of letters and turned to leave.

Behind him another shout of Slavic gibberish resounded and he turned just enough to see the young girl let out a gasp.

‘Ah! Sorry. I forgot to say thank you for bringing the mail!’ For a moment he stood shocked, before he dipped his head in acknowledgement and was once again treated to her rosy smile. With that, she ran off to deliver the letters to her grandmother before once again joining the game that her cousins had started.

Endless games of tips and hide and seek around the old fir tree that stood proudly at the centre of the front lawn drew peals of laughter from the rowdy children. At Christmas, that old fir tree was lit up and decorated so thickly one could barely see the pine needles. It was the time when not only the grandkids, but the old biddy’s entire mob of a family came to decorate it. Aunts and mothers brought plates of steaming food and set it out on the long table outside. Number Seventeen always smelled so good around Christmas and he was always grateful that after this street he was on break and could go and find food to appease his growling stomach. Uncles and fathers brought ladders and helped the young ones up to decorate even the very top of the tree to the point where he worried it may just bend over from the weight of all those ornaments. It was by far the gaudiest thing on the street, yet seemed to inspire the rest to put some effort into decorating their homes for the holidays.

Mrs Duong too, took pleasure in decorating her already perfect garden for the Christmas holidays. Though, he suspected that the decorations were more for the coming New Year with how late she started to put them out, this past year in particularly. Lights had been cautiously woven through slender branches, the bulbs painstakingly arranged to give the maximum amount of shine through the leafy green. Above the door, a wooden plaque had been be hung, the inscription some Chinese characters that he would never really know the meaning of, but had always assumed meant ‘Happy New Year’ or something of the like.

It was Number Ten that really let the street down with the one simple, yet abysmally abused Christmas wreath that was hung on the fly screen every year. As far as he could recall, in the eleven years he had been a postman in this neighbourhood, that same wreath had been displayed – first of November till the end of December. This last year had been no different. He suspected that it had something to do with Mrs Granger’s insistence rather than Mr Granger’s proactiveness for the Christmas holidays. Nevertheless, it was there year after year, constantly abused by the hot summer winds and flash storms, not to mention the incessant Christmas beetles that liked to call the plastic bristles home for a few weeks. He was glad to know that it was safely tucked away awaiting next year’s chance to shine once more.

The celebrations would begin at Christmas. Number Seventeen would assure that the whole street would be packed with cars as the whole family came over to celebrate. Strangely, none of the neighbours seemed to mind having their parking spots stolen. It was a bizarre kind of silent understanding between the residents of the street that this was a yearly occurrence that would be tolerated.

Likewise a week later for the New Year, Mrs Duong’s many visitors stirred no anger within the crescent. The flock of relatives that came to visit with their ridiculously loud conversations in rushed Chinese were left peacefully alone. Delivering the mail during this time ensured he smelled a variety of spices and herbs he had never even heard of before. This year’s mix of the spicy scent of chilli combined with the sweet aroma of honey had sent his stomach juices into overdrive and heading to the nearest Chinese take-out for his lunch.

So it was, on this fairly usual February afternoon that he found himself with a flyer in hand and a group of giggling Russian girls running back into their grandmother’s house. The printed paper was nothing special itself. A simple design printed in black on fading green paper. The words ‘Street Fête!’ surrounded by a jagged cloud lay proudly at the top of the page. Below was listed a variety of stalls, games and events that were to take place. Beneath that was the general when-where inventory as well as a contact number listed as Mrs Granger’s. His hands crinkled the paper slightly as the wind sought to steal his invite from him.

He was surprised then to be on the receiving end of such a present. After all, he was the man who came simply to deliver the mail. The note was folded carefully and seemed to further weigh down his pocket as he went about the rest of his day.

*

The evening felt twice as cold with those little bits of paper radiating their essence from his pocket. Still, he tried to weather it, absorbing himself in making dinner, doing the laundry and vacuuming. When he had finally exhausted all the household chores he could do in his menial apartment, he sat down with a drink to face reality. The envelope was taken out and gently laid down. The neatly doubled note was carefully unfolded and placed on the small kitchen table beside it and its contents read three times over.
With a sigh and a sip of his whiskey he wondered if it would be reasonable to attend. After all, he would soon no longer be the friendly postman of the neighbourhood. And yet, the thrum of excitement in his veins everyday as he realised his next stop would be that small little crescent was unmistakably something he would miss. Downing his drink he grabbed the flyer, his coat, keys and his worn leather wallet and set out.

*

From his vantage point across the grassy green he could see the lights illuminating the stalls and people – lots of people – families, couples, friends milling about in the semi dark. He could already smell the sticky sweet scent of Mrs Duong’s cooking as well as the smoky aroma of the Russian lady’s barbeque. There was some sort of a stage set up outside Number Thirty One and although it was quite a ways round the bend, he swore he could see Mrs Granger with her ridiculous red hair, a microphone in hand.

He made his way down to the beginning of the crescent. Moving with the flow of the crowd he took in the magic of it all. As he expected, Mrs Duong did indeed have a booth. It was constantly swarmed by a mass of people as the sweet promise of delicious homemade food wafted through the throng. Every spot on the large tables was taken up by large pots, which probably would be more aptly called vats. From these steaming vats poured the heavenly aroma of genuine Asian cuisine. As he followed his nose over, he was surprised by a sudden yell.

‘Ah! Mailman-san!’

He turned to see the face of the shouting voice only to see quiet, keep-to-yourself¬ Mrs Duong waving madly at him from behind her booth.

He raised his hand in acknowledgement and she waved him over. With no choice but utter rudeness left, he made his way to the extremely busy stall. Reaching the front by some miracle or other he found Mrs Duong’s round face wearing an ear to ear smile.

‘Mailman-san, here, here!’ She said in a mish-mash of English. Her hands held a plate piled high with every sort of delicacy she had on offer tonight. His thoughts became panicked as he was forced to begin balancing the piled plate between his own hands as she laid a pair of cheap wooden chopsticks overtop. ‘Ok. You eat well, ne?’ She grinned while nodding so persistently as if prompting him to also follow with the action.

‘Ah, but I— the money?’ He managed to stutter as the crowd pushed him in from behind.

‘No, no, no,’ she tittered, in a pleasant sort of way. ‘This is thank you for Mailman-san’s service.’ And with a final nod, she turned to take the orders of the mass standing before her.

Shuffling further down the street and resting on Number Nineteen’s brick fence he smiled to himself. Taking a bite of the sticky sweet pork he settled down to watch Mrs Granger’s show.

Half way through his meal his vision was obscured by the gaudiest shade of pink. Focusing his eyes he realised it was a flyer and traced the chubby little hand holding it to the grinning face of one of the cricketing boys.

‘So mister, do you play?’ the boy asked.

Warily his eyes shifted once more to the leaflet before him. Reading the blazing words a small smile of his own unfurled on his face.

Wanted! Local Cricket Coach.

 

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