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Dee Why Pools, Hannah Macauley-Gierhart

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We were standing on the rocks by the pools one late spring afternoon when I turned to him after a long silence and asked him if he had once loved me. He didn’t see it coming. He drew his breath sharply in and looked out at the ocean.

And it was turbulent. The large bulbous waves sucked right up to the flat rock six feet away from us and crashed in on themselves. Teenage surfers gripped oyster shells with bare feet as they worked up the courage to jump off the edge and, once they did, disappeared under the surface for a moment before entering the world again, shocked with cold and breathless, trying to fight the current that would throw them back again.

He told me that he thought he did.

I looked at him then, remembering the familiarity we’d once shared. With an arch in his eyebrows he gestured to the headland that rose above us, recalling with one small movement the warm evenings we had spent years before, holed up in his old car, hearing the waves surge beneath us, kissing with the fervency of secretive young lovers. I blushed, embarrassed.

 

We had passed the old pools to get to these rocks. It was a comfortable walk, our hands warmed by coffee and memory. I recalled days where we’d sat on the big concrete steps, watching the wide arc of Dee Why Beach stretch beyond the pool walls all the way to Long Reef. It had been summer, winter, autumn, spring, and we’d sat by the pools, watching the old men carve lines through the water with lean arms, up and down, following the sea-green stripes that laced the bottom.

That afternoon was an eruption of memory. I felt it all. He asked me if I had loved him too. I said I didn’t know.

It has gone back beyond us, this place. When I think of that stretch of land I remember that young romance, as if those rock pools are shaped around our twenty-something love, but we are just a small sidenote to a vivid history. Endless seasons have flashed through the sky as the pools have had their walls reshaped by progress. In 1912 the rock had been split at the southern end of Dee Why beach in order to hold the heavy waves in twenty feet of hollowed out, freshly concreted pool-shell.[i] Between then and 1930, the walls were pushed out twice more[ii]; prophetically perhaps, as if the perimeters of the pool were increased to hold the volume of lives it would indelibly change.

Where my estranged love and I had stood on that frozen afternoon four years ago – the memory a mash of blue sea and heartache – so many had stood before us, watching their loved ones shriek in the whitewash of the turbulent waves that crashed over the eastern end of the pools, hanging off the sides to watch the ocean churn beneath them. The days were peppered with the heady aroma of seaweed and the women boldly tucked their skirts into their bloomers[iii] in the rough heat, sacrificing their bare skin to the sun.

The pools seemed tame to me in those meanderings with my lover. They felt languid, sitting silently through passing time, the old Norfolk Pines throwing shadows over the darkening water as countless evenings drew close. But the old photos show a life that new walls have closed out. There they were captured, those ‘20s bathers, swimming-capped and jubilant as they battled the waves that surged over the low walls. There were countless others that sat on the natural rock that meandered down to the edge of the pools. The scene was slightly wild, the people so small in that large scope of rock and ocean.[iv]

I come out of the library with that lingering old-book smell – my head full of old photographs and words that have become so familiar they feel my own. The air holds the salt of the beach just the stretch of Howard Avenue away. I have just spent the last couple of hours visiting the past of this place – I want to know the history of an area that’s become so important to my own story. I’ve become lost in the memory of those who have shaped the life of Dee Why, those that had founded shops along the beach or remembered the opening of the Dee Why Ladies’ Amateur Swimming Club. It’s a suburb full of voices. They tell of its transformation from a pastoral landscape to a thriving beach haven.[v]

But it’s the voice of Alma Elizabeth Murphy that is the most haunting. One warm spring day she had ventured to the pools from Strathfield. It must have been quite a way to travel back then. It was September 29, 1936.[vi] She might have been quiet on her journey – I wonder why she chose this pool? Alma took off her stockings, her shoes, her socks and her hat and placed them on a rock near the water.[vii] Did she watch the surf like we had seventy-something years later? Did she also notice the full-shape of the tubular waves as they crashed ashore?

But into the water she ventured. She held an attaché case that was bound to her wrist. She’d filled it with stones that she had found along the way. I wonder if her heart was as heavy as those rocks were? Alma’s last breath left her at the bottom of the pool; it was a small bubble that broke the surface of the salt water. It burst into headlines like ‘Shocking Discovery At Dee Why’[viii] and ‘Missing Woman Found Dead In Baths.’[ix] She held the collective imagination of a nation for a short moment. They were horrified at her suicide. Mrs Murphy’s funeral was held on the 29th of September, 1936. Her family requested that no flowers be sent.[x]

And these pools have a scary underside that seemed to want to suck the life out of its dwellers for a season of history – perhaps to show the uncontrollable power of a semi-contained sea. The teen Alan Carson sunk to the bottom of the pool in 1940.[xi] His friends didn’t notice he was missing until his body was found floating lifeless on the concrete floor. A six-year-old girl was resuscitated after nearly drowning in 1946.[xii] In 1952, John Lawrie Sampson dived in, hit his head and never resurfaced.[xiii]

 

But there was a dark humour that also seemed to be personified by the deep water. Two old women were swimming one afternoon when they noticed the fin of a five-foot grey nurse shark slicing the water in a large arc. It had been left for dead by the edge of the pool by fishermen and some curious children had come by a while later, shocked at the sight of the monstrous fish. It was a warm spring afternoon, their bare feet danced on the sun-warmed rock and their freckles darkened by the second. The children decided to poke it with sticks and they watched the way the rubber skin tautened and relaxed, marvelled at the strange salt smell of it, the small eyelids that covered hidden, beady eyes. But its gills must have expanded and contracted upon this aggravation, perhaps its eyes opened just a fraction. They screamed. And timidly, they rolled it into the pools, back to the water it craved and where, hours later, it almost scared the life out of the elderly.[xiv] I picture the disbelieving horror on the old women’s faces when an innocent float in the buoyant water turned into a near-death experience. They made it out alive, of course, but never forgot that agonising swim back to the safety of land. Perhaps they laughed about it later.

In other dark-comedic turns, Mary Flood was surprised when she was sucked out of the sluice gate and dragged over 30 feet of sharp rock.[xv] She survived, dazed and cut. Norma Newman got stuck in an outlet pipe and was saved by being pulled out by the legs.[xvi] Frances Hancock and her toddler son, visiting from the country, were washed off the edge of the pool into the hungry sea. She was near exhaustion and cut by rocks, but they both survived.[xvii]

It shocks me, this history. The voices of those that inhabited here have been quietened over time. These days the pools are silent and sedentary. This sleepy tranquillity of the pools belies a violent history that is floating sneakily at the bottom of a community’s memory. If you listen closely enough you could possibly hear their slight echoes in the slow churn of the ocean. Theirs are stories of joy, adventure or tragic, traumatic loss. We don’t listen properly now.

I’ve only dipped my toes into the pools. I prefer the buoyant adventure of the open sea to the left of the old walls. But I will bathe in them in the coming summer. It’s the submersion in history that calls me to the quiet salt. I’ll lean over the edges and let my eyes skip over the waves to the horizon. I’ll feel the sun tighten the skin on my sun-screened back. Perhaps I’ll tilt my head so my ear is flat on the rock-edge and feel the vibrations of an old, enigmatic sea surging up through the walls and into my own memory. I know I will marvel at the endlessness of the ocean before me. It will make me awe-filled and slightly terrified. I will then do some laps up the long lanes, feeling the cool silence of the water when my face is submerged, then hearing the loud white-noise of the waves and tourists when I turn my mouth for air. I will let my hair float like seaweed. Perhaps I will even lie, face-down, pretending I am lifeless like I did when I was a child, not moving, seeing how long I can hold my breath, hearing the blood thump in my ears like a slow drum.

A year and a half after I’d asked if he loved me on those rocks, we were standing in the hot light of my Dee Why apartment. He’d come with flowers after a heated argument that lasted for days. We’d slowly eased back into dating again and it had been a retry as turbulent as the waves that hit the rocks by the pools. He was kind, I was stubborn. I was terrified of losing myself to love; I was afraid I wouldn’t stay afloat if I gave my heart again. And there was an awkward silence as he stood by the open windows; I was planted in the kitchen, leaning against the safe barrier of the bench.

He asked me why I was so incredibly angry? It was true – I could feel the involuntary grit to my teeth.  He put the flowers down and asked me again why I was so upset. I told him it was because I loved him, despite my best resistance. But after that the tide of relationship eased into a steady rhythm. He loved me too. We couldn’t deny that the currents had taken us far apart and pulled us back again on salty, buoyant waves.

Now we walk by the pools often in endless sweet twilights. I stand with him in comfortable silence and we watch the distorted waves curl onto the rock platform. I see the surfers trace the edge of the pool and plunge off the end into the ever-changing sea. The pools form clean blue lines that are sometimes indistinguishable from the adjoining sea when the light is just right. The old swimmers come back season after season. The Norfolk Pines still cast long shadows over the still water. We walk away hand-in-hand, pulling the stories of those past along with our own forming one.


Works Cited:

 

[i] Mayne-Wilson & Associates report prepared for Warringah Council, Heritage Conservation Management Plans for Warringah’s Six Rock Pools, adopted by Council 28 September, 1999. Part B, p. 1.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Jack, G. and Buckeridge, M., ‘We Remember’ from Wye, I., “80 Years On” Dee Why Ladies’ Amateur Swimming Club 1922 – 2002, IntoPrint, 2002, p. 69.

[iv] Mayne-Wilson, op. cit., Fig DY 14, Source: Mrs Gwen Jack.

[v] Manly Warringah Journal of Local History, Vol 5, No 1, November 1992.

[vi] ‘Missing Woman Found Dead In Baths,’ The Courier-Mail (Brisbane), Tuesday 29 September 1936, p. 14.

[vii] ‘Shocking Discovery At Dee Why,’ Singleton Argus, Monday 28 September 1936, p. 2.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] The Courier Mail, op. cit.

[x] Funeral Notices, The Sydney Morning Herald, Tuesday 29 September 1936, pp. 9-10.

[xi] ‘Youth Drowned – Fatality at Dee Why Pool,’ The Canberra Times, Monday 8 January, p. 4.

[xii] ‘Recovered After Artificial Respiration,’ Singleton Argus, Wednesday 2 January, p. 2.

[xiii] ‘Death in pool,’ The Courier-Mail (Brisbane), Saturday 5 January 1952, p. 3.

[xiv] ‘Women Chased From Baths By ‘Dead’ Shark,’ The West Australian, Thursday 13 October 1949, p. 11.

[xv] ‘Sucked Through Sluice Gate of Dee Why Swimming Pool,’ Barrier Miner (Broken Hill), Tuesday 30 December 1930, p. 1.

[xvi] ‘Rescue Of Woman From Pipe,’ The Sydney Morning Herald, Thursday 30 December 1954, p. 5.

[xvii] ‘Mother And Son Washed Off Rocks, But Saved,’ The Argus (Melbourne), Friday 18 June 1948, p. 1

NOTE- 2 newspapers missing the year of publication

 

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From When the Dust Settles, Ellen A. Williams

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When the dust settles, Elsie is running; running into the quiet suburban night, retro kitchen scales clutched to the ridges of her side. The dish was lost a block back, the clang onto the concrete barely registering above the rhythm of pounding feet in her head, pounding blood in her ears. The dial jerks between the grams, an unhealthy clunking in time with her beat. Her feet burn. Tiny footpath rocks imprint into her raw skin, make her faster. Elsie runs, leaving those conclusions behind.

 

The frosted doors slide open and there they all are— the faces, so many expectant faces. Elsie’s gut steps up a gear. The crowd’s shoulders drop. She pushes the trolley down the ramp and scans across the disappointment for a flash of the familiar. A toddler runs loops around a bollard, foil balloons hover impatiently. A squeal somewhere, then hands waving as if trying to shake them off at the wrist.

Elsie lingers in the collecting pool of fatigued travellers and feels the back of her neck. It feels strange still, three (four?) days after the cut, or ‘hack’, as probably better describes the moment of madness with the Danish girl’s fold-up scissors.

‘Keep movin’ thanks,’ an ocker voice instructs from Elsie’s right. She doesn’t know why it sounds so strange— it’s only been a month, and there was never a lack of Aussie accents broadcast across hostel common rooms. Will Ryan sound funny? It was hard to tell in her last jittery Skype conversation.

The plastic clip of her mum’s old hiking pack scrapes along under the trolley. Disappointment swells to her eyes. She’d had twenty-six hours to contemplate the greeting— the hug, the kiss, the ‘I missed you so much’ whispered urgently into her ear.

Elsie finds a seat at Krispy Kreme, scrapes at the gravy stain on her t-shirt and tries to forget the memory of her reflection in the baggage claim toilets.

Will everything be the same?

She closes her eyes against the surrounding clamour. The patterned darkness behind her eyelids is inviting. She forces them open to keep a look out.

A thatch of hair catches her eye; not quite blonde, nothing close to a strawberry. Her heart knocks in her chest. She can see the line where his hat has been. ‘Ryan.’

He turns, recognition, then confusion settling on his brow. ‘Elsie.’ He doesn’t hurry towards her.

Elsie’s hiking boot catches in the bag strap as she gets up. She grabs for the trolley handle. Ryan’s arms shoot out to steady her. Her face burns. ‘Thanks,’ she manages. It feels like their first date all over again, dorky and clumsy.

Ryan looks at her shoulders, where hair used to rest in a limp nothingness. Elsie waits for him to say something. Do something.

‘Sorry I’m late,’ he recovers, ‘didn’t know there were so many arrival gates.’

‘Do I get a hug?’ Elsie feels stupid.

‘Der!’ Ryan pulls her in under his arms. She breathes in his hoody. The deodorant and faint engine smell makes her want to cry. ‘You’ve had a haircut,’ he says carefully.

Elsie pulls away. ‘You haven’t!’ She reaches up and ruffles his hair.

‘Careful. Haven’t washed that for awhile.’

‘Meh, me neither.’

‘Gross!’ He laughs. His usual, unforced smile, dimples beneath his stubble. Elsie grins. She’s home.

 

The tiles are cool and the water hot. Elsie props herself up with her forehead and closes her eyes against the blackness growing in the grout. The water surges onto the back of her neck, and she retrospectively misses the shower. She’s glad her parents haven’t fitted a water-saving showerhead, and notices for the first time this contradiction given their eco-warrior stance on everything else. Right now, she doesn’t particularly care about those unnecessary litres.

Elsie thinks about her last shower; the mass of blonde hair in the drain, the pubic hair taunting her from the sticky shower curtain, the lukewarm needles she forced herself under. She doesn’t want to know how long ago that was, or how long she wore those undies for.

She pads along the hallway to her bedroom. Her eyes flick around the wall­— band posters, the photo collage; it’s all so familiar, but distant like a memory or déjà vu. She stares longingly at her bed.

‘Want a coffee, Hon?’ her mum calls from the kitchen.

‘No thanks. I’d love a tea, though.’

‘Oooh, how very proper.’

Elsie laughs and scrounges in her wardrobe for her favourite trackies.

Coffee and baking hang in the warmth of the kitchen. The lightshade splays its woven pattern onto the roof.

‘Better?’ Elsie’s mum shimmies Anzac biscuits from the oven tray.

‘Much.’ She pulls up a stool next to Ryan, already wearing his Man U jersey. He tears an Anzac biscuit in half and drops it onto the plate. He blows on his fingers.

‘Soft ones, my favourite.’ Elsie smiles at her mum, and looks around the kitchen. The pantry door hangs from the one hinge still. Her postcard of The Giant’s Causeway is pinned on the noticeboard over the electricity bill. ‘When did the kitchen shrink?’

Ryan looks at her like she’s gone mad.

‘Now, now, world traveller,’ her dad scolds from across the room. He lowers the form guide. ‘Don’t go outgrowing your own home.’

‘She’s been out in the big, wide, world.’ Her mum leans her chin into her hands like a child, and gazes at Elsie. ‘Now let’s have a proper look at that new ‘do.’

‘I just washed it. It’ll be all fluffy…’

‘It’s a boy’s haircut. We’ll have to call you Elsie-Ray instead of Elsie-May.’

‘Oh shut it Greg.’ Elsie’s mum tosses the oven mitt at the paper. His eyes stay on the print, but his smirk stretches into a smile. ‘It looks fabulous,’ her mum gushes. ‘So mature, don’t you think?’ She looks over at Ryan.

‘Yeah, it’s nice I guess. Different.’

Elsie knew he didn’t like it. She had a feeling at the time he wouldn’t like it. But she adored Marta’s pixie cut, admitting how much she wished she had a face that suited short hair. Marta reckoned everyone’s face suited short hair. ‘It is only hair. I will buy you a hat if it looks terrible. Or you could follow Islam…’

‘I was feeling adventurous,’ Elsie says into her tea. She doesn’t feel adventurous anymore; she is beyond tired.

 

At the edge of her subconscious, Elsie is aware of another presence. At the other end, black fatigue paralyses each muscle and fibre of her body. In the fleeting semi-awakeness, Elsie panics that she is dead, that her soul is disengaging from her body.

A mug is set down next to her head. She recognises the big old speaker that Ryan uses for a bedside table. Her vision sharpens and settles on the grey scuffmarks on the white ceramic. Elsie hates drinking tea from mugs.

‘Hey, sleepy monster.’ Ryan drops down, too sudden, too heavy.

Elsie practises movement in her mouth, and wipes at the sourness on her chin.

‘It’s six.’ He curls around her banana body, pressing himself into her tailbone. The doona is a safety blanket against his gentle poking.

‘I can’t wake up.’ Her eyelids lock back into place.

‘Did you come to see me or to sleep?’ An acerbic edge betrays his joke.

‘You.’ She wills her brain to kick into gear. ‘Jet lag.’

‘Jet lag? You got back four days ago!’ Ryan sits up against the salmon wall. ‘I did twelve hour days while you were gone.’

‘I know.’

‘And you’ve been at uni for what, three hours today?’

Elsie levers herself up. She presses her fingers into her scrunched eyes. She wants to tell him that jet lag is like being on the train home from the Big Day Out, times a hundred. She wants to explain how hard it is to concentrate in a three hour tutorial, how the fluorescents hum louder each passing hour. She can’t be bothered. It’s easier not to fight. ‘Thanks for my cuppa.’

‘Did I get the milk right?’

‘Yep.’ She decides to wait until next time to ask him to take the teabag out.

Ryan half rolls off the bed and finds a printout on the floor. He puts it on Elsie’s swaddled lap. She looks at the black and white thumbnail of a weatherboard house and next to it, Thur 5:15pm in Ryan’s left-handed scrawl. ‘Ryan… you know­—’

‘Know what? That you want to wait ‘til you travel? Hello, got your passport stamps, don’t you?’

‘I can’t afford this.’ She stares at the price in bold. It clinks in her vision like cash registers in cartoon eyes. ‘I’m broke. I don’t even know if I can get my job back.’

‘I can afford it.’

‘It has three bedrooms!’

‘It’s perfect!’

‘It’s Mayfield.’

‘It’s affordable.’

‘But it’s Mayfield!’

‘When did you become such a snob?’ Ryan snatches the paper from her.

Elsie feels the tell-tale heat behind her eyes. His shoulders relax back down. He folds the paper in half carefully.

‘I’m going to go look at it still. You don’t understand how tight the market is. It’ll take us ages to get one.’

She hears the apartment door open, Dan’s work boot holding it ajar, then grocery bags being passed in from the lobby. At the bottom of her mug, the teabag is a soggy clump of brown.

‘Is it really her? Globetrotter extraordinaire!’

‘That’s a bit of an overstatement.’ Elsie blinks her eyes into focus under the kitchen light. Everything looks green.

Dan straightens up from packing his food into the veggie crisper. ‘Holy shitballs! Check out the hair.’ A broad smile splits his browned face. Only Dan would have a tan in winter. ‘Seriously, you were made for that haircut.’

‘Oh stop it,’ Elsie swishes at an imaginary fly. She glances at Ryan, propped against the wall on a backless chair. His head tips to the side slightly, like he’s considering a painting. Maybe he’s getting used to her hair. Or her lack of it.

Ryan jumps up and jiggles some pizzas free from the freezer. The vodka bottle scrapes against the frost. Elsie squeezes her shoulders to her ears at the sound. Dan settles into Ryan’s chair with a mandarin. ‘What a welcome home feast!’ he winks at Elsie. ‘Ah McCain, you’ve done it a-gain!’

Ryan and Elsie look from each other to Dan.

‘Right, right. I keep forgetting I’m an old man! It used to be an ad for microwave pizzas.’

‘Gee Dan, how old are you?’ Elsie clears the seat at the other end of the tiny wooden table. Since Ryan moved in with Dan a year ago, she’s only known him to be vaguely older than them.

‘Twenty-nine.’ He sighs.

‘Wow, you’re totally old! You should be married and all that,’ Elsie jokes. She pulls her arms back through the sleeves of Ryan’s jumper, and hugs herself against the cool air.

‘Yeah, well, tried that.’ Dan peels off a mandarin segment. ‘Wasn’t for me,’ he laughs.

‘Shit, sorry, I didn’t know.’ She looks at Ryan with his head in the oven to check it’s on. He glances back and shrugs.

‘Water under a bridge,’ Dan waves away her pity. ‘Boring story. Tell me all about your trip. I want details, I want drunkenness, I want debauchery!’ He pounds the table with his fist.

Elsie snorts. ‘Wait, I’ve got something for you.’ She comes back and tosses a chocolate bar at him.

Dan studies the label and hoots. ‘Yorkie. It’s not for girls.’ He holds it up to Ryan. ‘Check it out, even has a cross through the picture of a chick.’

‘Actually I forgot to declare it…’

‘Contraband, my favourite.’

‘How come I didn’t get a Yorkie?’

Dan holds it out to Ryan. ‘Swap you for your jersey.’

‘Get stuffed.’

‘See? This is what I’ve had to put up with since you’ve been gone!’

Elsie laughs.

‘A whole month of Mr Mope Face.’

Ryan turns his back on them. ‘Piss off.’

Dan shoots Elsie an uh-oh, we’re-in-trouble look.

 

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Peroxide and the Doppelganger, Rebecca Fraser

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Johnny ‘Peroxide’ Steele placed his sweating palms on the cool ceramic of the basin. He closed his eyes briefly to offset the bile that clawed at his throat. Christ, it had been a big night. Again. He took the weight of his body on protesting arms and leaned forward to inspect himself in the mirror.

A pair of bloodshot eyes looked wearily back at him. Peroxide took stock of the apparition in the mirror. His cheeks, boyishly fleshy less than a year ago, now looked as if they’d been carved into his face by a maniacal sculptor. A congealed streak of yellow – mustard? – ran from his pierced lip to his chin. It matched the overall pallor of his face with unsettling accuracy. Peroxide ran an unsteady hand through his shock-white hair, and he poked his tongue out as far as he could. He instantly wished he hadn’t. The surface was furry with a creamy substance.

He turned on the tap and cupped water to his mouth. It tasted metallic. He swished it around his cheeks a number of times before spitting it back into the sink. He turned the tap back on and watched as the water swirled the noxious glob away.

When he looked back up, his reflection was smiling at him. It was not a cheerful top-of-the-morning smile, rather it was a sly, knowing grin that didn’t reach his eyes. Peroxide gaped. His reflection didn’t gape back. It just kept up its malevolent leer.

He took a step back in alarm. He careened into the shower cubicle and clutched at the plastic daisy-embossed shower curtain to steady himself. The curtain rings splintered under his weight, and he fell to the floor. The curtain descended on his shoulders like a floral cape, and he wrenched it free.

‘Johnny, what the hell’s going on in there?’ Kaylene’s voice was muzzy with shattered sleep.

Peroxide kicked brutally at the curtain and got to his feet. ‘Nothin’, babe. ‘S’all good.’ He looked back at the mirror. It was just him again.

Kaylene appeared in the bathroom doorway. Even with her long honey curls dishevelled from sleep, and the oversized Ramones t-shirt she wore to bed slipping from her thin shoulders, she looked unbelievably wholesome. The sight of her freshness made Peroxide feel even more soiled.

‘The curtain’s broken,’ Kaylene said evenly, surveying the crumpled heap.

‘Sorry, babe. I’ll fix it.’ He moved to pick it up, but a wave of dizziness overcame him.

Kaylene steered him back to the bedroom and made him sit on the bed. ‘It can wait,’ she said. ‘Why don’t you just sleep it off here today? You’ve got a gig again tonight, don’t you?’

‘Yeah, over at The Bluebird. Don’t kick off ‘til half ten. It’s okay, Kaylene, I’ll head home, get myself cleaned up.’ He looked at her apologetically. ‘Sorry, I’m such a mess, babe. I’m trying.’

Kaylene didn’t say anything; she just regarded him with her usual sad serenity. It was a look that cut Peroxide deeper than if she had expressed her disappointment.

 

The midday sun smarted, and Peroxide groped in his jeans pocket for his sunglasses. They weren’t there of course. Another casualty of the night. They were probably abandoned; left on a sticky table at some seedy nightspot.

Peroxide berated himself. Kaylene had bought him the glasses as a gift. He recalled with a pang of guilt how excited she had been to find them. Black Buddy Holly frames with a set of faux rubies ostentatiously encrusting the arms.

‘Perfect for a rock star.’ She had laughed as she pushed them up the bridge of his nose, and stood back to admire him.

How in God’s name he had found such a girl, and why she stuck with him, was a mystery to Peroxide. She was nothing like the others. The endless bevy of groupie trash with their predictable tattoos, shrill voices and cut-rate perfume. Kaylene was on another plane entirely. Calm and intelligent, caring and funny. She seemed to dig him in a way no one else ever had, or had ever wanted to.  It had only been two months, but he knew that he loved her.

If he could only stop fucking up.

Lost in introspection, and with his head still throbbing like a demon, Peroxide turned left into Chirn Street. He could see his apartment block at the far end through a Jacaranda haze. It was November and the trees that lined the street, hueless for the better part of the year, were ablaze with magnificent blue-purple blooms.

Up ahead, someone with hair as blonde as his was walking towards him. Peroxide squinted. There was something about the walker’s gait; a familiarity of stride. He made his way beneath the footpath’s mauve canopy. The distance closed between them, and Peroxide felt an ice trickle of fear run down his spine in spite of the heat of the day.

At twenty metres distance, he saw a glint of red beside the other man’s head, like a crystal’s prisms throwing light in the sun.

At ten metres, he saw the source of the red. It was reflecting from bejewelled sunglasses: The Buddy Holly kind with faux ruby detail.

At five metres, Peroxide stopped dead in his tracks. It was him. The other him. The one from the mirror; he was wearing the same unpleasant grin.

He – it – didn’t slow down. It brushed past Peroxide so closely that he could smell its cologne. Globe – the kind he wore. Peroxide spun on his feet and watched as his other self continued along the footpath. He could see the outline of the crucifix that dangled from its right ear, and he whipped a hand up to his own ear to make sure his earring was still there. It was.

‘Hey,’ Peroxide tried to shout, but his throat felt as if it was stuffed with wool, and nothing more than a feeble croak punctuated the afternoon heat.

His other self heard though. Its shoulders tensed and it stopped. Slowly, very slowly, it turned on its – his – heels and stared back at Peroxide. It was too far away for Peroxide to read the expression on its face, but it cocked its head to one side in a whaddaya-want fashion.

The wool in Peroxide’s throat knitted itself thicker, and he found he couldn’t speak at all. Up ahead, his other self seemed amused. Its shoulders rose and fell in mirth, in the exact fashion that Peroxide’s did when he was trying not to laugh out loud. After what seemed like an eternity, it raised one hand and fashioned a finger gun. It then extended it until it was pointing in Peroxide’s direction. Its index finger pulled the trigger. Bang. And then it turned heel and was striding off back down Chirn Street in the direction Peroxide had just come.

Peroxide’s knees buckled. What the fuck had he taken last night? He remembered drinking first beer, then bourbon, and then they had moved on to shots. But he had stayed off the drugs, he was sure. It was part of his resolution to keep Kaylene. Unless the boys had been messing with him and tripped his drink?

It had been an awesome gig; that was for sure. Since he and The Regrowths had first taken to a wooden box stage at one of the grimy local clubs only a year ago, they hadn’t looked back, and last night’s crowd had to have been somewhere near five thousand strong. They played bigger venues now of course, and the after parties were bigger too. Since Kaylene had come into his life, Peroxide had been struggling to keep a balance between the two. It wasn’t easy, but like he had said to her that morning, he was trying.

Whatever had gone down last night, he must be still under the effects of some powerful hallucinogen. First the unnerving mirror incident, and now this. If he found out one of the crew had spiked his drink, he was going to tear them a new arsehole. With this thought on his mind, he walked on down Chirn Street.

 

His apartment resembled the state of his life over the past twelve months: hectic, uncontrolled, and messy. He prised open the windows to let the afternoon breeze have its way with the pungent smell of negligence that hit him like a physical force, when he opened the door. He was going to have to get his shit together on the home front if he was going to have Kaylene over on a regular basis. So far he’d been dodging that one by sleeping at her home.

He lit a cigarette and searched about for something to use as an ashtray, settling on an aluminium takeaway container, that judging by the coagulated remains, might once have contained cuisine of the Asian variety.

The green light pulsed urgently on his answer machine, and he depressed the playback button. It gave an agreeable little blip, followed by the machine’s androgynous voice: “You.have.one.new.message.”

It was Troy, The Regrowth’s bass player. ‘Yo Johnny, you home, bro? Pick up, dude. What a fucking night, aye? D’ya see that chick up front? She flashed her tits at me, man. Dave reckons it was for him, but …’ An almighty crash interrupted Troy’s flow. ‘… Ah, fuck-it, that was me guitar, gotta go, Johnny. Catch you tonight at The Bluebird for set up. Bring those Midas vocal chords.’

Peroxide couldn’t help but smile. He was starting to feel a little better. It had been a huge night, and he probably had been spiked, but so what? He was okay now. Wasn’t he?

That grin. That awful cunning grin.

He stubbed his cigarette out and peeled off his evil smelling clothes. A long shower and sleep was what he needed. He reckoned he could get a good six hours in before it was show time again.

The shower felt good. He let the hot water drum on his head and shoulders for a long time, cleansing away the craziness of the day, and the detritus of the night. He towelled himself dry, cinched it around his waist, and searched the vanity for toothpaste among the various bottles, disposable razors, and half used tubes of bleach that helped him create his on stage persona.

His fingers paused on the box that contained his Globe cologne. It was empty.

Doesn’t mean anything, his mind yammered at him. Probably in the bedroom. Or the kitchen. Hell, you know what you’re like, it could be anywhere. But his heart was pounding like a backbeat from Davo’s snare drum, and he was already racing to the bedroom. Suddenly it seemed very important that he knew where his bottle of Globe was.

It wasn’t in the bedroom. Nor was it in the kitchen, or the lounge room, or under the bed. He went shakily back to the bathroom. He had just missed it; that was all.

His twin was in the mirror.

It wasn’t grinning anymore.

Oh, it was smiling alright, but it was a deadly, elongated smile. Too wide for its – Peroxide’s – face, so that every tooth, right down to the back molars, were impossibly visible. Peroxide focused on the crown that he’d had fitted four years ago, and distantly felt the warm-wet sensation of urine on his legs as his bladder gave way.

The reflection threw back its head and laughed. It was an obscene sound that prickled at Peroxide’s scrotum.

‘What do you want?’ Peroxide’s words were barely more than a whisper through numb lips.

His likeness stopped laughing. It fastened its eyes on his, and leaned forward. Peroxide watched in horror as the face first flattened against the glass, then pushed hard against it. The surface of the mirror rippled and stretched with the shape of its face, until finally it broke free, and swam at Peroxide in three-dimensional horror. A pair of leather clad shoulders followed, and it kept coming until it levelled with Peroxide’s ear.

He felt the chafe of stubble against his own as it leaned close.

‘You,’ it rasped.

Something in Peroxide snapped. He launched himself at the thing with pure adrenalin. His fingers, hooked into claws, found purchase on nothing but the smooth surface of the mirror. The last thing he remembered before his head connected with the glass, and a blessed red curtain of unconsciousness dropped on his mind, was that terrible word.

You.

 

It was dark. For the second time in a day, Peroxide found himself prostrate on a bathroom floor. But this wasn’t Kaylene’s house. He was in his apartment and …

The mirror. The mirror. The thing in the mirror.

Peroxide lurched to his feet and jabbed frantically at the light switch. The mirror was broken. Shards of glass clung precariously to each other in the frame; the rest glinted here and there from the linoleum, tiny fragments that threatened his bare feet, and reminded him of his frenzied head-butt. He felt the egg on his forehead, but when he inspected his hand, it was clean. No blood. Small mercy.

Good Christ, the gig! It was nighttime. How long had he been out? He blundered back to the bedroom and snatched his cell phone from the bedside table. The screen threw up 10:17pm in its electronic font. Thirteen minutes until he was due on stage. The Regrowths would be cursing him six ways from Sunday by now. He could imagine how Davo, Troy, and AJ, would have cussed him darkly as they struggled with the last of the amps and lighting. Set up was always a bitch.

Peroxide checked his phone, resigned to the barrage of missed calls. The ‘where are you?’ The ‘you’d better not be stoned again?’ and the ‘get the fuck here, right now, we’re on in halfer’. Peculiar. There were none.

There was a voicemail from Kaylene, however, but no time for that now. No time to worry about the bump on his head either. And definitely no time to worry about his malevolent twin.

It was show time, and he was late. And so, Peroxide came alive.

Without a mirror, he applied his trademark makeup freestyle. He hastily dabbed on rouge and glitter shadow, and applied thick kohl outlines to his upper and lower lashes. A handful of gel set his namesake white hair into edgy spikes, and he pulled on his usual costume of leather and mesh in record time.

He was out the door and sprinting for the train station in less than seven minutes. It was only when he sank into the torn vinyl seat of a carriage that he relaxed enough to pull out his phone again. He tried Davo first. His phone was switched off. So was Troy’s. AJ’s rang out until it switched to message bank, so he left a garbled message. ‘AJ, it’s me, man. Listen, it’s been a crazy night, I got knocked out, but I’m on my way, okay? Hold the crowd. I’ll be there. Ten, fifteen minutes tops.’

The train rattled through the urban night. It was only a blessed few stops to The Bluebird. Peroxide punched at his keypad to play Kaylene’s message.

Oh Johnny, yellow roses. How did you know they were my favourite?’ Kaylene’s mellifluous voice floated through the phone. ‘Thank you, this makes up for … well, so many things. I’ll see you at the show tonight, okay? Love you.’ She laughed. The sound hurt his heart. He had never given Kaylene flowers. But someone had. And it had made her happy in a way he never did.

Peroxide reeled in his seat. No, he hadn’t give Kaylene flowers, but all of a sudden, he had a terrible notion of who had. A panic rat gnawed at his stomach as the train pulled into the station. He sprang onto the platform and pounded up the stairs into the street above.

He could hear music pulsing from The Bluebird from where he was. Surely, they hadn’t started without him? But there it was – the unmistakable electro backbeat of ‘My Society’, one of their firm crowd pleasers; and the crowd was pleased. He could hear them roaring every word to the chorus, drowning out the vocals.

The vocals?

Peroxide felt as if he was moving through water as he crossed the street and entered The Bluebird. Time took on a dreamlike quality. The crowd heaved and surged around him. There was Davo, thumping away at his drum kit with abandon. AJ and Troy were working the stage, bass, and lead guitars in perfect harmony.

But the real hero of the stage was him. Leather and mesh, makeup and hair. Bent over the microphone in classic rock stance as he belted out the last lines of ‘My Society’. As Davo pedalled his hi-hat to deliver the crisp culmination of the song, the Doppelganger flung his arms wide as if to embrace the audience. The crowd went wild.

A slim figure with honeyed curls pushed her way up and onto the stage. She threw her arms around the singer.

‘Kaylene!’ Peroxide elbowed his way through the crowd. He was dimly aware that he was screaming, but his terrified chant of ‘No, No, No, no, no nononono,’ was drowned out amid the cheering.

Someone to his left said, ‘Cool Peroxide, get up, dude. You must be, like, a total fan.’

He shoved and pushed at bodies blindly, oblivious to everything except his need to get to the stage and Kaylene. He was almost there – he could see the pale-soft down on her cheek, illuminated by the stage lights – when he felt heavy hands fall on his shoulders.

The security guards were unceremonious in their ejection of Peroxide from The Bluebird.

He bucked and kicked and fought, but they were irrefutably strong. As they muscled him back through the crowd, Peroxide strained against the headlock to catch a final glimpse of the stage. He moaned as Kaylene planted a kiss on the Doppelganger’s cheek. As the crowd roared their approval, it raised the finger gun in the same fashion it had on Chirn Street. It pointed it squarely at Peroxide and pulled the trigger.

Bang.

 

Peroxide roamed, his mind askew with shock and anguish. He let himself become one with the city night and the pedestrians that coursed through its streets like a tidal current. At one stage, he passed by a shop window. He stopped and looked into the glass for a very long time.

He had no reflection. None at all.

 

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Backyard Ink, Ramona Hester

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Your naval medals commemorate

 

twenty years of undetected crime

that’s the salty term

your sun wrecked mates throw ‘round

inked like youngsters.

 

Caught on the web between your thumb and forefinger

a butterfly

in Hong Kong backyard ink

a coloured Emperor

a sailor’s papillon

seafaring homage to the wing.

In the 70’s it flew for your children

with a father’s magic

barely resting and so hard to catch.

 

The rest –

the full seascape – began with Keith

as his health sank

you began to court the blue needle

in an effort to feel your own pain

and perhaps

through the barrel

to suck some away from him

 

You taught your willing flesh Greek

four lines across the heart:

greater love

has no man but this

that one should lay down his life

for his friends

the truth sits warmly beneath your gulf medals

 

There will be no mistaking you at the morgue

 

how blue those pictures will be

against porcelain skin

when quiet flesh rests on a bed

of stainless steel, you take a breath

Jesus rises on the cross, chest expanding

nightmare ending

 

just about where I would place an ECG lead

ancient serpent disappears beneath Greek

burrows into your ribcage

slips between pericardium and chest wall

comes up for air at the fifth rib then,

snaking hipwards

is crudely arrested

by a sword through the head

unnatural iconographic end! – the promise was to crush

swords not preferred ‘til mediaeval rush

of tangled crusade push

and tempered steel

subvert the real

the naked heel of God deemed

insufficient.

surely man’s own implement

could not bring about this promised Word

and yet

every pirate needs a sword.

you told me

gold ring wobbling

on mature cartilage your

earring was commemorative

every sailor who rounds the Cape

has his ear pierced I believed you

then called you a bastard call me

anything you like you said after

twenty full years in the navy I’ve

heard every swearword going

so I asked you to elaborate

and it was true

you  h

a

v

e

 

you have below your navel

an ellipsis of un-inked flesh

from flank to flank

carrying a different

skillful mark where

,

tattoo postponed —-

a doctor reworked your insides

hid art’s Dacron mesh secret

 

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Trophies, Scars and Confusion, Angelica Wright

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 Trophies, Scars and Confusion: a four part retrospective of events and effects some decades on

 

Zipped

Moving down floating

Towards the drift

Of oblivion

Sleepless

Honing

Creating infinite parallels between this world and next

Continuing to be battered

By pressures plundered by a thousand souls

Hopeful of perfection

Ever striving for absolution in a place where

Absolution is obsolete

Defeated by minds that hum and drum and strum their static forever

Winding up and down, down and up forever the staircase to the void

Avoid mess caress, be less by being more

Hopeful of feeling less tired of it all,

I’m not really this small.

I am forever exponential, and Zipped

 

 

The Teacup

I wish I had not taken that drink

I remember only some things,

In the middle of the night I felt invincible and worldly

But I was a teacup and you drank me in slow sips

 

I wish I had not followed you

I remember their faces

And my friend’s desperation like a sheepdog herding wolves

In the middle of the night I can still hear him crying outside my window

 

I wish I could forget but

I remember

In the middle of the night that strange pulling, as if I a canvas bag were unstitched by strange hands

 

I wish I had not carried the shame

I remember feeling guilty, like a whore paid in ashes

In the middle of the night

I remember the unforgiving morning and your precious cushions stripped red upon the lawn

 

I wish I could forget but

I remember

In the middle of my night, the surgery of my ego.

 

 

Tattoo Ink

I wrote HIM on my heart in tattoo ink.

Now unrequited love glues my lips and eyelids shut,

taught barbs to squeeze within sinews of dreams.

 

How did you stay close in a deliberate mediation of thoughts and warmth,

dreamed away and forever unyearning?

 

Oh I wish I could smite that hysterical ravenous gloat,

for the path stolen by ignorance disappears in golden milk.

 

I am hopeful you will fade away but you linger on,

screaming in that red satin dress.

 

My undying love,

My broken heart,

My therapy conversation,

My recurring dream.

 

Finally now, a heart impairment stained in tattoo ink.

 

 

Little Boxes

Memories of childhood

More vivid now

I’ve binned the little boxes

Of youthful collections

Even those seashells gathered

From the shore

Have seen better days

Their light lost the moment

You took them away.

 

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Nicki, Vivienne Psaila

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I have a black and white photo of Nicki. Not some digital wish wash but the actual thing, one that I can hold in my hands and rip up if I want to. He’s hunched over the kitchen table scribbling into his notepad smoking a cigarette. He didn’t know I was taking the picture. He was lost in whatever he was doing. He’s bare chested so you can see the bits around his collar bone that look hollow because he’s so skinny. He never ate anything because he was constantly smoking. Still, he had a boyish masculinity about him that girls seemed to like. But they all babied him in a way, like they were trying to fix him up or be that special girl that could change him. But I don’t think anybody can change anybody else. I remember this one girl Elyza, bought him skin stuff with mud masks and everything. She got all clinical on him and told him he had to use it three times a day. Nicki’s skin was pretty bad, but whatever. He just used the products as a type of paint and drew portraits of Elyza wearing trannie makeup. We stuck them around our place and called it art. I think I still have one of them somewhere. Whenever Nicki drew self portraits, he drew a little stick figure with a huge head. He could laugh at himself. That’s important. I remember after I took the photo I made him bacon and eggs. I always cooked the cheap home brand bacon because it tasted the saltiest. Once Nicki made me watch a YouTube clip of pigs chewing on their cage bars as these fat farmers ripped piglets off their teats. He told me I had to stop buying it. But I still buy it.

I think the last proper meal I ate with Nicki was at Star City over in Pyrmont. He licked the plate clean. He picked the thing right off the table and held it up to his face so that his nose squashed against the plate. He said, ‘that’s some good tucker.’ We went to see his mum at the pokies after that. That never took long. Especially this last time.

‘Hey Ma,’ he said. I’ve never seen him look at someone’s face the way he did at hers. She didn’t even look at him.

‘Hey Ma.’

‘I’ll give ya twenty bucks to piss off.’ That’s all she said, so we left.

We met about three years ago at a house party in the western suburbs. He was wearing a gold cowboy hat and his hair was long like Kurt Cobain’s. It was cold because people started tearing pages from books to make a fire in the backyard. They were tearing up all kinds of books. They even tore up 1984. It was the penguin cover with Big Brother’s face all patched up in a collage of different coloured paints. I was leaning against the fence getting all hot and not doing anything about it when Nicki turned around to me and said, ‘that’s the kind of thing that could get me to go to war’.

He moved into Glebe with me soon after that. Amidst the chain stores and the plastic glow of the world’s 7/11s. The bloated and gluttonous franchise that is Westfield. The Lansdowne pub with half of its signage broken so it read ‘DOWNE’ in pink neon. We drank coffee and tallied the number of girls flaunting wrist tats, slobbering over tally hoes, rolling their own cigarettes. We flicked through Brag and Drum Media, looking for the boldest band names we could find. ‘Milk Titty’ still takes the cake. We laughed at hipsters that carried ripsticks about like handbags and girls that had obviously spent hours perfecting the ‘homeless-chic’ look. We were there, amidst our instagramming, tweeting, hashtagging i-generation, slopping through all the caffeine and bullshit trying to figure out what it all meant.

Glebe became a real home to Nicki and he worked three jobs to keep it that way. He did his best to cover rent, but I usually paid it. He wasted most of his money on alcohol and cigarettes. I get money off my parents. They own a big house in Edgecliff and go travelling all the time so I never feel guilty about it. I don’t see them much and I guess that probably bothers them. My brother James still lives with them. He doesn’t get out much. He’d fuck his computer if he could.

We used to spend heaps of our nights at the Kings Cross Hotel. It’s right opposite the big red Coca Cola sign on William Street. Every weekend the street was teaming with girls stomping about in their cheap plastic heels. I was always so curious about those girls because I never felt anything like them. Usually we’d drink at our place before we went out. Then Nicki started drinking alone before I was home to join him. For his nineteenth birthday last year, we were supposed to have friends over for drinks at our place. I came home from work around six and there were beer cans and bottles and scratched records all over the floor. Nicki had written ‘Meet you fuckers down on Jubilee Street’ on the wall. He’d blue-tacked my Push the Sky Away vinyl there too, so that it made up one eye of his self-portrait. The face looked demented, like something Francis Bacon would get off on. I wiped the walls with a wet chux and collected all the empty cans before everyone came over. Lucky he’d drawn the whole lot in chalk.

When I met up with him at Kings Cross Hotel, he was sitting alone on the first floor balcony wearing a stupid red party hat. The ones that look like upside down ice cream cones. I stuck my finger up at him as I was crossing the street. He just stared and sort of flicked his wrist at me. I bought a round and sat with him outside.

‘Hey, Happy Birthday fella.’

He raised his party hat to me and took a swig of beer. Three girls with noticeably orange skin came and sat down at the table next to us.

‘Oh my gawd Laura, how much was your skirt?’

‘Like, twenty dollars from Mink Pink.’

‘Actually? Looks literally, so amazing.’

Nicki turned to me blankly. ‘I unenrolled from uni today as a birthday present to myself,’ he said.

‘But you only had one semester to go.’
He shrugged. He was watching a homeless man walking along the street asking people for money. He never wanted to talk about why he dropped out so we never did. I remember the next day there were stacks of old papers by the front door. They were Nicki’s poems and essays. He had been doing an arts degree or something at Sydney uni. I read through some of his stuff. Almost everything he wrote had something to do with a girl. ‘She’ this and ‘she’ that. Some of the poems were pretty nasty and I guess those were directed at his mum. The others I’m not so sure about. He mostly got marked distinctions, if not better.

After he dropped out of university, he went to work with his dad as a mechanic. His dad’s name was Bruce, so we called him Springsteen. Springsteen punched Nicki in the eye when he found out he quit uni with only six months to finish. He had a black eye for a week. All he said about it was, ‘Springsteen’s just in a big old wax right now, that’s all.’ When I asked him what his mum thought he said ‘yeah yeah, enough chit chat,’ and walked off. He suited the look of a mechanic in an innocent kind of way. He would come home all black and greasy and I used to imagine he jumped in a vat of black milk and swam around like a baby all day. He seemed pretty happy around that time. Maybe it was just being around his dad that made him that way, but I liked to think it was because he floated in that tub of black milk and felt weightless for a bit. It probably would have been good for him if he could feel like that some of the time. Maybe that’s why he drank so much. After work with his dad, he taught English as a second language to people in Pitt Street. One time he brought a student called Ashvindar back to our place because we were having a party. We called him Ash. He was quiet. Probably uncomfortable with the wayward air we had about us. Some guy named Stuart was there. He had the Southern Cross tattooed on his forearm. What a knob. No one had ever met him before, he was just someone we knew through a friend. He offered Ash a VB but Ash didn’t want one.

‘What? Australian beer not good enough?’ he said. Ash looked at Nicki because he didn’t know what to say.

‘It’s VB, that’s Victoria Bitter,’ Stuart continued, ‘and I reckon you better love-it or leave-it.’ Then Nicki did something pretty weird and smashed his beer bottle against the table and shoved it at Stuart’s face and told him to get the fuck out. Stuart scrunched up his face at Nicki like he was crazy, but he got out of there pretty quick. I always thought Nicki had an okay temper, but not after that. I made a joke and said, ‘that’s how we do it here in ‘straya.’ Everyone laughed except Nicki. Even Ash laughed. Nicki disappeared into his room and stayed there for the rest of the night. I didn’t want to make a scene so I left him alone. Now I think of it, nobody ever went to see if he was okay. I saw Ash out at the end of the night. After that, Nicki didn’t bring any more of his students home, or anyone at all really.

The next day I had to put baking soda on the carpet stains Nicki made when he smashed the bottle. The carpet was green and always laced with cat fur. ‘We don’t even have any pussies!’ Nicki used to yell and that always got us in a chorus screaming ‘I got the no pussy blues, I got the no pussy blues!’ We’d bang on the walls and roll around thrusting at each other like depraved sex addicts. He never did treat me like much of a girl. Our neighbour owned some cats. He never let them outdoors so whenever I passed by in the hallway, I heard them scratching at the door. Nicki used to coax them into our place with a little butter on the nib of his finger. He liked animals. He told me when his parents were still together they owned a black cat named Roger Waters. He showed me a photo of the day they found it shoved in a pillow case on the road near their house in the western suburbs. They were all crouched over it and kissing it. The photo was probably ten years old and they all had huge smiles on their faces. Nicki had the biggest.

At our place in Glebe, the bathroom door was broken. Lucky my parents never visited me or they would have lost their shit about it. I had to use a case of Tooheys as a doorstop. It worked well enough. Nicki walked in on me once. I was standing side on to the mirror looking at my boobs. I’d put a pencil underneath each of them because a guy told me that was how you tested if they were a good size. Anyway, he walked in and I jumped and the pencils hit the floor. We looked at each other awkwardly for a couple of seconds then Nicki goes ‘people are funny things.’ He lingered at the door like he wanted to say something else, but I told him to get out.

Yesterday I saw Nicki at Coles in the aisle where they sell birthday cards and soft porn magazines. I almost didn’t recognise him. He’d cut his hair off and it was super short at the sides. He had filled out and his pale arms were all bloated and spotty. I followed him for a while, watching from a distance. I haven’t seen him since we had to move out of Glebe. His dad made him move back in with him because he got done for drink driving. When my parents found out, they got all serious on my arse. Like I had something to do with it. I wasn’t even in the car. I tried to visit him but he lived so far away in the suburbs. He stopped coming into the city so I stopped inviting him to come out with us. People just sort of forgot about him I guess. I said hello to him.

‘What’s that for?’ I asked, pointing to the card in his hand. It was a tacky photograph of a blue rose overlaid with the word Mother.

‘Mum.’

‘How is she?’

‘She’s alright.’
But today my friend Carl told me she was in rehab. I told him I was surprised because Nicki didn’t say anything to me when I spoke to him. I wonder if Springsteen is taking care of her. After we spoke for a bit Nicki said he had to go but he didn’t say why. I don’t even know why he was in the city. I said goodbye and watched him wander off ahead of me. He paled against the clean white light of the grocery aisle like a dying flame, only more delicate. Then he turned down another aisle and was gone. I don’t think I’ll see Nicki again. I just have a feeling about it.

Nicki wrote me something once. I found it in my desk today. It’s mostly rubbish but I kept it anyway. He wrote it while we were having breakfast one morning. Right after I took the black and white photo actually. I was throwing cornflakes and bits of dried eggshell at his head trying to lodge them in his hair.

‘You should wash your hair Nicki,’ I said, ‘you’ve got food in it.’

‘One sec.’

‘Nicki Nicki Nicki! I’ve put some cornflakes in your hair to take for lunch.’

‘Hold up, one sec Frankie.’

‘I packed some for old mate Springsteen too.’

‘A-huh, ‘preciate it.’ He was still trying to write.

‘Hey, do we have to see your mum again tonight after dinner?’

‘Yeah, we do.’

‘Gay.’

I think that really annoyed him because he stopped and scrunched up whatever he was writing and threw it at my face.

‘I’ve got uni now, I’ll see ya.’

I read it that morning and I read it again after I saw him yesterday. And again today. It reads:

beneath this skin
rests a nightmare
two hundred sleeping hands
all lifeless, bloodless
but one

supine golden
warm as the sun
she

Then it just stops because he never finished it. I like it. But I still wonder what Nicki meant by all that stuff.

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