. . .
Suburban Flotsam and Jetsam went under for a while, but now something rises and assembles at Verity La:
And more will float this way soon.
. . .
. . .
Suburban Flotsam and Jetsam went under for a while, but now something rises and assembles at Verity La:
And more will float this way soon.
. . .
There are stories in this van, in every seat, door to door, front to back, embedded in the crusty carpet, wafting out of the still-trusty air-conditioning, in every centimetre of space. You can look out the grimey rear window, like the children, wave goodbye to the ocean, see you next Christmas. You can lift up the boot door, fold down the seats, slide in the queen-size mattress over everything, climb on top together every night. Then slide it out again in anger, throw it into the gravel, leave her behind. You can see these back seats covered in blankets covering busted up trusty guitars, drums, cords, amps. You can smell it all. You can see every backseat passenger peering out at passing landscapes, or staring at the back of everyone’s heads: sleeping, dreaming, driving, looking out at where you pointed as it passes, then twisting around to look back at you, crack a smile and a joke. You can revisit every remembered highway, street, backlane and country road. You can squish up against bodies on either side or you can stretch out. Lie down. You have all four back seats to yourself, the road’s rhythm rocking you to sleep. This rusty white van was yours, is yours, will be yours. You can see it sitting empty, waiting for sale.
After I pop the boot from inside, I climb over the centre seats to slide the roaring side door open. Patrick’s there with a quadbox and a tangle of guitar leads, shouting for me to let him in. Opening the doors is a bit tricky from outside, even when you haven’t got your hands full with gear. Shitty handles, shitty locks, shitty van. At least the air-con’s good.
They start passing over the drums and amps and cases and all the rest, loading it in from both directions, and I get to work with my best Tetris manoeuvres. I don’t have much of my own gear to lug and set up, and my soundcheck is way simpler, so if I didn’t do stuff like this I might feel pretty bad about just being the singer, y’know? But yeah, still, I help where I can. And I have been writing a solid batch of songs lately. I dunno. I just feel like I have it easier. I can’t do anything but write and sing (if you can call it that), I don’t have a licence so I can’t help with the driving, and I’m the weediest out of all of us, so I just stay here minding the van while they haul all the gear in this heat. But in the end, I don’t think they mind too much. I hope they don’t. And I know it sounds lame, but, really, we just love playing together, even if all four of our sweaty arses have to cram into this shitbox and drive three hours up the coast for our next gig.
Sam says Evie’s its name. The van, I mean. He says it’s like EV, Econovan, but also like that Evie song that goes for like half an hour? I dunno. I’m not such a fan of much 70s stuff, and I always thought this van was an ’86 model anyway. Still, I guess it does kinda suit it: shitty name, shitty song, shitty van.
Before I know it, we’re loaded up. The other three climb in, and we’re off, heading out of town. “A well-oiled machine,” says James, and I’m not sure if he’s talking about us or the van. He flicks the headlights on as we cross a bridge from the peninsula back onto the highway. I can just make out the waves bursting white over the rockpools below.
We’ve been up and down the coast for a few weeks and Sam reckons we’re building a buzz, says there’s gonna be heaps of music industry types at our next gig in the big smoke. Says before we know it we’ll be trading in our shitty gear and this shitty van for hummers and limos and gold plated Stratocasters and diamond Samian cymbals, whatever the hell that means. I don’t even mind really. Again, I know it sounds lame, but whatever happens I’d just be happy touring up and down the coast forever with these guys, whether its singing to a crowd of thousands or just five indifferent derros at the pub. But what do I know? I’m just the singer.
Sam winds down his window and turns up the radio, shouts something about the guy who produced this song, how he wants to do our next EP, how he’s gonna help us make it big. I can’t quite hear him over the music and brackish wind. I pull my beanie over my eyes and lean my head against the window as we wind our way north, soaking it all in slowly: the sound, the salt air, the stories of tonight, past, present, potential. Waiting for whatever dreams will come.
My head starts brewing a new song. It’s a good one, I reckon. I’ll have to run it past the lads. See what they reckon. Next servo.
Front seat, passenger side
He’s going to leave me, I just know it. I can see it in the way he holds the wheel and the silence behind the blaring radio stations, in every spare space amongst the static and bumpy asphalt.
He’s taking the corners too sharp but I won’t say anything. The first word from me will be like flicking a switch. Blinding light or horrible dark, I don’t know, but there’s a rising grey tension between.
He used to sing along to the radio, when we started this trip. Or he’d talk about the things we saw, driving from place to place, one town to another. I realise now he hardly ever talked about himself. It was always the foreign country, other places, other people’s songs. Things outside himself. I thought he was letting me in. But even a one-way London to Sydney ticket wasn’t enough. Even with all extras included: the van, the petrol money, roadside pub food, groceries, camping cutlery, a mattress and a blanket in the back every night. None of it was a guarantee. I see that now.
He starts shouting. I don’t know what set him off. Me. Time. Maybe just his own lonely, broken head, his twisted heart. Words from deep within him are now pouring forth, but it’s like a dam has burst and I hear nothing but rushing water, overwhelming, so I wait it out, try to stay afloat as he screeches, stops, storms out, opens my door. I’m pulled out, and the mattress too and the bags and my things and even some of his and then the door slams. The engine roars. I wait for things to soften but I’m adrift, reeling, submerged.
Tyres spin and swerve, kicking up dust and gravel, spitting it in my face, and then the van drifts into the distance, leaving me amongst the calm aftermath, the wreckage.
But I don’t start sifting. And I surprise myself when I don’t start crying. I don’t stay standing there, waiting there at all. I don’t even hesitate.
I start walking.
Front seat, driver side
They won’t always be around, so I try to let it soak in, let the memories fill me. I can see them in the rear-view mirror, looking around dramatically for eye-spys. I think Tracey’s snoring. I glance over at her briefly. Head back, mouth open and she’s still as gorgeous as the day we met.
I always get nostalgic on the drive home. It’s that bittersweet feeling. The kids are happy, there’s a day of heading home, letting the drive ahead settle my thoughts, solidifying memories as the salty air fades. We’ll find the sand in our clothes and in the hidden corners of the van for weeks, for the rest of the year. There’s only a few more days before we’ve gotta get back to work, back to school, back to life as usual, then it’s one more year of looking forward, embracing the afternoons and weekends, until they’ll be too old to be seen with us. Then it’ll be just me and Trace, shuffling about in our big old house, hoping for phone calls. Sure, they’re good kids. Great kids. But they won’t always be able to visit. Guess we’ll have to sell this old girl eventually too. No sense with just us two. Maybe I’ll buy myself a nice shiny mid-life crisis by then. But it won’t be the same as this van. Everything it means, everything inside and out, everywhere it’s been. It’ll probably only go for a couple of thousand, but what this all means to me, well, I guess I’ll take the next best offer.
The kids are squealing. Tracey stirs. I keep my hands steady on the wheel, take in all their reflected faces, take it all in, and I tell them this is their last chance to see the big blue ocean before we all go up the mountain.
We look out the windows and we all wave goodbye.
Laspeyres price index
Index used for measuring current prices or quantities in relation to those of selected base period. Distinctive feature: uses group of commodities purchased in base period as basis for comparison.
Tends to overstate price increases
tends to overstate a lot
tends to send me off
face mashed into crook of elbow
and exercise book
drool slowly seeping
into my half-hearted notes
floating above the seated dozens
a light snore, a fluttering insect
over the drone of a voice
so distant now
and oceans and forests
and deserts, swamps and fields
rise up so slowly, surely
swallowing entire economies
this paper, this building, my mind
all nibbled away by the snail of time
gross domestic product replaced
with a new standard of living
Explains many things:
how a kingfisher spots and snatches a fish,
dives, barely breaks the surface before emerging,
quivering with quiet triumph and wriggly dinner;
how the symbol for ‘approximately equal to’
is approximately equal to a gentle wave
rolling ashore, or a creek’s curve;
how the designated names number in the millions
(hagfish, goblin shark, chiff chaff warbler et al.)
representing nominal value over real value;
how I wish I were outside
climbing a rainforest’s worth of trees
and not writing or drooling on dead ones.
Definition: what happens (undefinable, inscrutable)
when you meet a walrus: whiskers, tusks and all.
This arcane law states that you’ll know the mystery in the meeting
not in any textbooks, capital, cul-de-sac studies or sleeping.
I awoke, left the lecture hall and
went walking through the leaves
to the sea.
– Hi, yes, Corinne. Come on in.
– Hey, so, thanks for meeting with me today. And sorry about the time mix-ups and all.
– That’s fine, not to worry. You’re here now, so take a seat. Now, you wanted to discuss your assignment?
– Yeah, the one on depression – biological, psychological, socio-cultural—
– Yeah, oh, here it is. Yeah. Um, so, basically I had a read over your comments and all and…I just thought, I mean, I know I handed it in late and all, but I just, maybe you could have another look at it, ‘cos it was a little harsh, I mean, I got the late form in and…
– Yes, but that was special dispensation for a week’s extension and you handed it in ten days late, not including weekends. That’s still a good three days late, even with the dispensation.
– I know, but—
– And I understand you put work into it, but I have to mark everyone fairly, to the same standard – allowing for special dispensation, which I did – but, basically, from what I can remember, and what’s written here, your argument seemed to skirt around the question, approaching it quite indirectly. The structure was lacking, the referencing inconsistent, so…that’s essentially what I wrote in the comments here. You understand my reasoning, don’t you?
– Well, I do, but I’m not sure that—
– Look, I’ve still given you a pass mark. There’s five more weeks in the semester, you can make up for this—
– But I worked really hard, and I thought you’d understand, being a psych lecturer and ex-psychologist, and, well, you know I’ve got depression and I’ve been on these new meds and all and—
– Corinne, I understand, of course, but the mark is final.
– But Susanna, I tried really, really hard, even though this assignment was really, really close to home. I mean, I covered this in my dispensation form, but I thought you’d understand. I’ve been dizzy, I’ve been sick, I’ve been putting on weight like nothing else, I’ve been getting emotional over nothing. I can’t focus and my, well, anyway, look, it was just really hard to get into this, but between my shitty psychologist and study and trying to stare at the page and not sleep or throw the fucking thing across the room and…then I look at what you’ve put on my assignment paper and I just—
– Look, Corinne, I understand, but—
– No, you don’t seem to fucking understand!
– Corinne, I need you to calm down, and then we can discuss—
– Why the fuck did you—
– Corinne, that’s—
– I want to know why you scribbled all over my fucking assignment! Here, all this!
– I didn’t…I thought – no, that’s your…
– No, it’s the same pen you wrote your comments with at the end, but right there in the middle of my assignment, you start scribbling around, tracing around all my writing and putting all these little squiggles and shapes and, well, it doesn’t exactly give you confidence that your teacher’s considering your arguments when she doodles all over them!
– Corinne, I – I’m sorry, I –
– It really didn’t help to have that, Susanna. I didn’t even want to say anything, at first I thought it was some weird form of corrections. But, the more I looked, the more I thought I was going mad, like my new meds were, I dunno, or you were making fun of me or something.
– No! Oh god, no. I’m so sorry Corinne. I…I should have given your assignment better consideration. I was…distracted. I’m sorry.
– Right. Well. It’s okay. I mean, I’m not too worried about the mark actually. I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t going crazy or you weren’t making fun of me or—
– No, I would never. I’m…look, this is unacceptable, what I’ve done. I’m truly sorry.
– It’s fine. I know the assignment wasn’t that terrible, but it wasn’t my best, and it was a bit late, so I’ll just do better next time. It’s good to know these meds aren’t giving me hallucinations or something. I’m still getting used to it. New side-effects every other day, makes me think I’ll…I dunno.
– No, well…look, don’t be too hard on yourself. Medication is a big adjustment, maybe you should discuss your dosage with your doctor and your psych. Get the balance right. I mean, I’m not practising anymore, but I know from experience, from both sides of the couch, there is a way to get medication to work, to work past it, even. You are getting good counselling and all along with this, right?
– Yeah, well, I dunno, my psych is a bit…I dunno.
– Well, here, there’s one I know. She’s a bit of a drive away from the city, but she’s quite good. Her treatment…well, it worked for me. Here. Dr. Kirkpatrick. Give her a try. Hopefully she can help.
– Thanks Susanna. I didn’t realise you – I mean, I knew you worked in psych and all, but…
– What, you think because I was a psychologist and I teach psychology that I’ve got my shit together? Working here for nearly ten years, my husband only just getting back into work, raising a four year old, and all the rest. Didn’t I cover this in my first lecture? We’ve all got our own demons and problems and neuroses to work out. Sanity really is a bit of a myth and I think I’ve proved that with this sketchy response to your assignment here…god…
– It’s fine. Really, I understand. Thanks, Susanna.
– No, thank you for bringing this to my attention, it’s… Look, Corinne. I know it helps to have someone to talk with, when reality’s slipping.
– So, any time you want to discuss something, just, you know, my door’s always open. Please, pop in any time.
– Thanks Susanna.
– It’s fine. Well…I guess I’ll see you in class on Thursday. And don’t forget the reading.
– Don’t worry, I won’t. See you later.
– See you.
Now once you have removed and disposed of your dress, you will first eat the two large soft bread rolls, over the kitchen sink, naked. Nice, simple and neutral, no smell, lots of carbohydrate energy but you will need it. You will work it off. Any bread crumbs will be caught in the sink, or washed down into the sink catcher (empty that into the bin), or they will fall onto the bench or the floor (get to them later), or your body. Yes, you’re bound to get crumbs and crust flakes and dirt and germs on your face and teeth and fingers and your chest and skin, so then it will be time to work from the bathroom outwards.
Shower and wash your hair thrice, thoroughly. Scrub the plug hole and apply Quix Multi-Purpose Bathroom Cleaner to all stained areas and mould danger zones on the white walls and surfaces and porcelain and floor. But dry yourself in the shower so as to avoid any unwanted drips. Then brush teeth, floss, and gargle mouthwash thrice– use the Colgates, especially the Colgate Plax Alcohol-Free Mouthwash. Don’t forget that this time.
You will blow-dry and tie up your hair and put on two (dry) shower caps, so you do not spread loose hairs anywhere. Ensure that not one body hair or blemish or germ patch has sprung up anywhere else on your skin. If so: pluck, scrub, clean, apply makeup.
Do not dress yet or your clothes will crease and potentially be soiled in the ensuing. Leave them hanging. Now is time to clean throughout. Thoroughly, but not too fast. You don’t want to work up a sweat, otherwise you will have to shower again. But regardless, remember to apply Secret Flawless Invisible Antiperspirant Stix, Anais Obsession Infusion Luxe Perfume and thrice with Colgate Plax Alcohol-Free Mouthwash when you are done.
You will clean the bathroom top to bottom. Scrub the toilet extra hard with Multi-Clean 350 Bowl Attack Toilet Cleaner, but not too hard. Don’t forget to clean behind the toilet and the edges and underneath and the sliding drawers and the mirror. Admire your body in the mirror. Not your eyes, your body. Admire your invincibility. Do not look at your hands. Move on quickly to the bedroom.
You have not slept for 23 hours so the bedroom will be neat but dust everything and then vacuum and clean everything.
Go to the kitchen. Scrub the crumbs and the germs and the dirt and everything in the kitchen and empty everything excess into the bin and then move on.
Dining room: spotless. Make it spotless. Make it all spotless and move on.
Living room, dust the furniture and vacuum the floors but the stain cannot be removed. You scrubbed for an hour and it cannot be removed it has sunk into the carpet beneath the carpet dripping down and can’t be undone there is no way back now so just place the coffee table on top and out of sight out of mind move on to the laundry.
The laundry. Pour more bleach into the basin, scrub the rust-coloured watermark. Bleach. Wipe every surface clean and finish with the bleach. Finish the bleach.
Again. Repeat. In reverse. Laundry, living room, dining room, kitchen, bedroom, all of it again, back to the bathroom to the bathroom the bathroom, where your clothes are waiting after being steamed.
You did remember to leave them to steam during and after your shower didn’t you? If not, repeat the shower. Actually, in any case repeat the shower, there will be invisible sweat and dirt and germs and bacteria and biohazards biohazards biohazards all over you. Make it a hot shower. But mind your hair. Don’t wash your hair. Your hair is beautiful. But re-apply Secret Flawless Invisible Anti-Persperant Stix, Anais Obsession Infusion Luxe Perfume, and apply the full Sheseido Soma Kosmetix Kit and use thrice Colgate Plax Alcohol-Free Mouthwash Colgate Plax Alcohol-Free Mouthwash Colgate Plax Alcohol-Free Mouthwash done.
Then gently pull yourself into your new white strapless Prada sheathe dress and matching Prada stilettos and remove the shower caps carefully. Blow-dry again lightly and style your hair just so. Remove stray hairs. Bin. Tie and throw rubbish bag out of window into dumpster below. Head to front door. Wait by door, still, unmoving. Clench hands tight. Dig nails in. Don’t be afraid, break the skin. Wait. Do not move or look or think. Wait.
And he will come to the door and he will knock and everything will be ready and you will be ready and you will open the door and smile and like a one-woman wolf pack at a dripping bloody carcass you will sell sell sell sell sell.
Now then, remove and dispose of your dress.
I met the girl with hexadecimal hair about halfway through my last year of primary school. She was wandering around the bench at the corner of the playground where I normally had my recess and lunch. The first thing I noticed was her long hair: a bright, almost blinding yellow, constrasting sharply with her grey hoodie and pants. Nobody else was paying her much attention. Maybe that’s why I wanted to. I asked her what her name was and she said “I’m a girl”, or, I think that’s what she said. She had an adrift, strangled voice that sounded wrapped around a foreign tongue, rushing to be done with English words. I asked her if she wanted half of my muesli bar, but she just started poking around near the bin.
After the bell rang, she didn’t come back to the classrooms. I was almost late waiting for her, watching. She just kept searching that area: around the bench, then the bin, the dirt by the old demountables, under the trees, the gumnut-strewn corner of the concrete, and back to the bench again.
Mr Turnbull made us do maths until lunchtime. I couldn’t pay attention, but I hated maths anyway. Once the bell rang, I took my sandwich and my banana and headed across the edge of the playground. She was still scouring the same area, around the bench, by the bin, on the corner of the concrete. But her hair was a dark purple this time. I asked her about it.
“Changed code. New colour looking,” she said, or something like it.
Then she looked up, like she was trying to smile, or putting syllables together, before slowly speaking:
The next day I rode my bike to school. I normally caught the bus, but I went to the shed and got my bike and didn’t let mum see. I rode down the street on the footpath, taking the long way to school, past the shops down the road. There’s a baker, a hairdresser, a florist and a gift shop on the corner, or there was back then.
I went in to the gift shop and pulled the money out of my pocket. I had about twelve dollars and fifty cents, I remember. I looked around the shelves of bric-a-brac, knick-knacks, trinkets and cards, past the books and kitchenware and tea towels. Then I found it. It took nearly all my saved up pocket money, but I thought it was perfect.
I got my bike in to school just as the bell rang. I could see her on the far side of the playground. Fiery red hair.
Mr Turnbull got a bit mad at me because I didn’t do my homework, but I didn’t care. I could hardly wait for recess.
When the bell rang, I just grabbed my bag and headed straight to where she was wandering around. She looked a bit more frantic than before and her hair was a deep blue.
“Hey,” I said. For a moment she gazed to her left, towards the old bubblers, then continued scratching in the dirt behind the bench.
“I-I got you a present,” I said, as I pulled the box out from my bag and held it out to her. It was hair dye: Almond Blonde.
“I thought you might – ‘cos you said you wanted a new…I-I thought—”
“I want you go with me,” she interrupted, looking at the box of hair dye, then at me, properly, for the first time.
“Go with you? I…”
I wasn’t sure I’d heard correctly. But then she seemed all of a sudden in pain, face twisted, body clenched.
“No!” she shouted, and she ran off, staggering, struggling to pull the hoodie over her head, clawing at her scalp.
I just stood there, holding the box of hair dye, as she disappeared behind the demountables. When I went and looked, there was nothing there but dirt and asphalt, the high wire fence and the rush of traffic beyond.
I came out to look for her again at lunchtime, but she wasn’t there. I left the box of hair dye for her, just in case she came back.
She wasn’t there at recess the next day either, but the box was gone. Someone probably picked it up thinking it was litter, I figured.
At lunch I went back out to the bench, resigned to just eating my sandwich and banana by myself. But when I got near the corner of the concrete, I noticed a shallow hole in the ground next to the bench, and a small mound of dirt. And lying right there on the bench, as if it had never disappeared, was the box of hair dye. I looked closer. A scrap of paper was resting underneath it, gently waving at me in the breeze. I grabbed the scrap and read the words scrawled on one side:
don let them se
don get involvd
don stai to long
don let them no
and on the other side, typed in the centre:
I opened the box of hair dye and checked the bottle inside. Empty.
Then I looked up and I saw her through the trees, standing on the footpath just outside school grounds. She had a golden box under her arm and I think she was smiling.
And maybe my childhood memory has self-embellished since then, maybe it was just the sun sparkling off the blonde, but before she turned and disappeared into the streets beyond the school fence, I swear I saw her hair shimmer with every single colour of the rainbow.