Dick is in prison and Jane is trying to rebuild a life ruined by Dick's extreme paranoia and violence. Now living in the Caboolture area, Jane, with the assistance of Nanna Karla, struggles to deal with the parenting of their traumatised daughter Nell, in the aftermath of their violent relationship meltdown and Dick's subsequent imprisonment in the Brisbane Women's Correctional Facility. Jane knows Dick’s history and wishes he still had it in him to try, but Dick is a damaged woman. A brutalised little girl in an adult’s body, hell bent on payback for what she sees as the kidnapping of her only child by Jane, her unfortunately named ex-partner. Assisted by a poem to which she attributes divine influence, Dick follows the path to vengeance through her stars, which burn hot enough to kill.
It was halogen hospital stars that shone, sans twinkle
In the Gyprock sky above me,
On the Sunday I was born.
Spat out into a centrifugal cusp
Amidst the galaxies of modern industrial living,
My name tagged across constellations
Named for war, sex, endless pursuits
And a raw stripping down to,
Illuminated, naked and gasping
By starlight that has guided me to this day.
A million million suns,
While they shine for me by night.
Make day the darkest time of my life.
Without them, I have no bearings,
Receive no signal,
Lack essential vitamins,
That only they can give.
When everybody else is sleeping, hiding from the night,
I bathe in an electric zodiac.
I navigate by street lamp portents and hot incandescent omens,
A modern transcendental shamaness,
By their celestial suburban radiance, scrying,
Through fluorescent stellar gaga and googoo
A terrestrial mother divining,
Every bulb, every tube, a crystal ball.
In this vacuum of enclosed space,
Through which I travel solely,
In the direction I was jettisoned,
Those stars make shining an incantation,
Power rich talismans adorning every surface,
Humming with magical charge.
Tonight, they’re aligned and begging for destiny’s alms,
A schizophrenic supernova choir singing high-powered hymns,
In a cosmic stadium raging, with deafening, singular purpose.
As contained as a comet behind bars.
Tomorrow my stars will blind the gods,
Then scorch a path straight to you.
(Brisbane Women’s Correctional Centre, 2015)
I fucking love that poem. Me and Clarissa, Bad Moon Rising, the girl who showed it to me, have been fighting about who the “you” is at the end. She reckons it’s whoever it was that fucked her up enough to write a poem like that, and that that motherfucker is gonna get it bad on that tomorrow. I see that, but I reckon it’s the kid of whoever wrote it, on the outside. A baby born under a different Gyprock sky, but the same stars. It was getting pretty heated one time, mostly because we got nothing else to do, when Anna Body – we all get names like that in here – who’s the wisest woman, which by default makes her the wisest person, I have ever met in my life, told us it was both, and more. That it’s not up to us who it is for the other person or for anyone else. That it means what it means to whoever it means it to. And that therefore we should shut the fuck up, let it mean what it does to each of us in peace and start worrying about stuff that matters. So we did. For a while at least.
You were always the one who did the reading. You always had a book on the go. But now I’ve been converted, I’m transformed, a born-again reader, and that poem is why. It’s my bible. I got it taped up on the wall at the end of my bed. It’s there for me before lights out. It’s there when I wake up. Not that I need it there anymore when it’s always stuck in my head anyway. It’s more like beautiful scenery or a painting now. I just look and occasionally I see something new in it. Never thought I could remember a whole poem, let alone one with so many big fancy words. I was flat out remembering how to sing Happy Birthday before, but I feel like my memory has improved in here. I guess I should thank you for that.
Sisters Inside set me up with a counsellor, and when I told her about the poem, she told me I should try writing my feelings down. It’s supposed to help you release tension and remember how you feel so that later you can “reflect and effect” real changes in your life. Your brain is a muscle and carrying stuff around all the time just makes you tired. It’s better to put it down. It stops it all turning to mud in your brain. So here I am. Reflecting. She said it doesn’t have to be a poem, it could be a diary or a dialogue with my “sub-personalities” as she calls them. I got mad as, because I thought she was saying I was schizo. When she told me everyone has them, I calmed down a bit. That I could believe. The whole world is fucking schizo. She said writing letters to people from your life can be a good way of dealing with unresolved conflicts, even if you don’t send them because it’s just to express your feelings in a safe and private way. But because I liked poetry, she recommended I try it. It could be stream of consciousness, bush poetry, rap or a whole rhyming memoir from birth until now, anything at all so long as you’re honest to yourself. I could be a poet and I don’t even know it. Of course I had to ask her what the fuck half of it was, but she was cool and just explained it all to me. She told me all this stuff about her life, and said she got raped by her favourite uncle when she was a little girl and it fucked her up for years. She was actually in here for a while, years ago, for getting busted with an ounce of heroin on the train of all places, plus had a couple of other stints at government holiday units up north, so she just wants to help women inside now. I guess her heart’s in the right place, but the last place I’ll be coming back to is this fucking hole once I’m out.
Anyway, instead of writing poetry, especially when I know I’ll never write anything that compares to Star Signs, I thought I’d write to you. Who better? I had to look up how to spell half these words, and I even used a Theosaurus Rex. Least I figured since I was writing to you I better put it in words you understand and spell it all correct so you don’t think I can’t get my shit together. So Jane…Dear Jane, this is to you.
Ms. Counsellor – her name’s Sharon, but I call her Ms. Counsellor – also suggested I try this thing where I imagine my mind is a house, my own house, and to visualise it with such detail that I could walk through my mental home and just put everything in the place where it needs to go. Clothes on the rack. Socks in the drawer. Spoons with spoons. Rubbish in the bin. That kinda thing. But with all of my feelings and memories. I never liked the idea at first. To be honest, it sounded like utter bullshit. Like I’m gonna wander around an imaginary house, muttering to myself while I do the dishes, and put the washing on. I said if I was going to imagine a dirty house I might as well imagine some naked hot black dude to do it all for me. She had a laugh and said she was sure I had a big enough imagination to fit in all of his features too, but unfortunately she said, and I quote, ‘this exercise works best when it’s you doing the work. Save your dream man for the real world, darlin.’ She said it really helped her get through all her shit too. So, I tried it and, I hate to admit it, she was right.
I feel so much better getting it all sorted out in there too. I feel cleaner inside. I feel calmer. I could have those judges from The Block come and do a house inspection and I wouldn’t stress a bit. It’d be perfect tens all the way to the bank. These days, I got a mind like a shiny posh-looking kitchen. Polished white tiles. No grime in the cracks. Windows all spray and wipe. You’d put your hand straight through them if you didn’t know any better. The cupboards are all arranged. The chairs are all pushed in. The knives are all stainless and sharp enough you could give a fly a Brazilian. Yep, nowadays my inner sanctum is as immaculate as Mother Mary’s pussy. I guess God did fuck me in his own way too. Now I’m all sorted though. Everything is packed away in all the right places. There’s just so much space everywhere, and every surface has got a mirror finish. And tell you what Jane, man do those reflections keep on coming.
I guess memory works best when it’s remembering something worthwhile. Remembering how I got here. Remembering what I got to do to get where I need to go. Not much worth remembering in the present, except how to keep your head down and act like a cow in a stockyard. I’ll be glad to forget it. That poem but. In my sparkling imaginary kitchen, it’s stuck on the fridge with a photo of Nell in one of those pictures frames with a magnet on the back, right next to my list of things I’ve got to do. Every time I open that fridge full of thoughts, Nell and those words are there to remind me there is a reason and a way to “effect real change” in this bullshit world. Those stars are my stars. And those portents have shown me everything. I didn’t even know what a fucking portent was until I read it. Now they’re all I see. And nobody, not even you, especially not you, can hide from my million million suns.
I keep a room just for you, Jane. It’s almost like a shrine really, where I keep all the things from our time together. Little moments and memories, stuff you’ve said. Things left unsaid. When I go to that room, sometimes it’s like you’re right there with me. Together again. Finally. If I close my eyes and reach out and squeeze my fists tight enough, I swear I can even feel that poor, sore little neck of yours in the palms of my hands. You always were a little tense. You just need a break. Something to help you relax completely. Then, it cracks and all the tension just drains from you. Ahhh. That feels so much better. Sometimes my knuckles even crack and it’s just so uncanny. I guess we all need a release.
You’re not really there though. I know that. But it’s weird. Even outside my inner sanctum, in my real home, in my cell, I feel your presence every day and every night. When I sit down to eat. When I shower. Would you believe, I have an especially explicit awareness of your presence when I take a dump in the metal bowl in the corner. Just joking. I would never associate you with such a pleasant sensation as taking a shit. No, I’m just kidding Jane. Prison does funny things to people. But, it has given me the opportunity to learn all sorts of big words now. I can talk real fancy. But, and this is no joke, every time I look in that tarnished and warped metal mirror on the wall, it’s your warped reflection I see. But you’re not in there either, are you Jane? When it really comes down to it, you’re nowhere to be found.
I realised though, and I’m sure you will agree with me, that you were right all along. We did need some time apart, but…I really can’t wait to see you in the flesh again. Do you miss me too, Jane? Aww, I bet you do. I bet you miss me every time you’re poking that tiny little cock of yours in and out of that slut you’re fucking. Oops. Somebody call the police! That didn’t come out very nice. Hope I didn’t hurt your feelings. Oh well. Better out than in. That’s what this whole writing thing is about. This is about getting the truth out. About healing old wounds. And pain is a part of the healing process. I can play nice. I can act nice. I’m a girl, all sugar and spice. But this is about the truth. It’s got nothing to do with nice.
The truth is, “in and out” was about all you could ever manage. It wasn’t very often you got back to the “in” part again. I barely got to work up a sweat. You and your two-stroke motor wasted one minute of my life so many times I lost count. But it all adds up. And you had the audacity to call me selfish. Maybe it was just the wrong hole for a fella like you. I bet your new squeeze doesn’t mind. She probably lets you do whatever you want. Does she understand your needs better than I did? Has she got you running on four-stroke now? Well good for her. But, she doesn’t know you like I know you. I know exactly what you need. You just need a good squeeze. I’ve got plenty of squeeze for you Jane. Squeeze for you and her both if the mood is right.
And you always thought that I didn’t care. Well I beg to differ. I cared when you stole my daughter. I cared when they threw me in prison. I cared when the Criminal Justice System decided I could never see my baby again. I cared a whole fucking lot, actually. But the name says it all. The “justice” system is criminal. It might have worked in your favour this time, and if it came to it, it would work for you again I have no doubt. But there are other forces at work in this world. All those stars of mine have a gravity of their own. You don’t really notice gravity most of the time, but it’s there. It’s always there. With all that gravity just floating around going to waste, I figure who better to share it with than you. Share and share alike, that’s what they say isn’t it? Right darling?
But yeah, apart from staring at the walls, I’ve also had heaps of time for reading since I’ve been in here. You know what I read the other day? It probably sounds a little old-fashioned, not very politically correct and all that, but I read this old book about dog training, and in it they reckon that when you punish a dog, you’re supposed to punish it straight away or else it doesn’t know why it’s getting smacked. It won’t see the correlation. I know it’s pretty much common knowledge, and I knew about it before, but reading it just made me think about you. But you’re not a dog, are you Jane. Are you? No. No, you know what you’ve done. Even after all this time. We both do. So no, you can’t be a dog, so that’s fine. Right?
I also read, that they reckon dogs suffer from separation anxiety more than any other animal when their companions – they called their owners “companions”, you’d fucking love it – are always at work, because they are such devoted loving animals. There we have it. Conclusive evidence. You’re definitely not a dog. Phew! I guess though, that means I can’t tell you to sit. What about lie down? No. Roll over? Hmm. I know, let’s try something simple. How about when I point my finger at you and pretend to pull the trigger, you play dead.
But hang on a minute, if you’re not a dog, and up until I read that article I was 100% convinced you were, what the fuck are you then? Certainly don’t fit the description of a man, do you Jane.
So I’ve been thinking and thinking and thinking and I just can’t work it out myself. I’m sure if some scientists cut you up and did a whole bunch of experiments on you, they could work out what you are. But there’s no time for that kind of rigorous probing. All I know is I tried every fucking thing I could for you and look what it earned me. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you. Isn’t that what they say? There I was though, all that time, feeding the mouth the bites. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sore, and I’ve certainly learned my lesson. I’m never gonna make the same mistake again.
I’d bet your life that you still blame me though. You’d never admit it, but that’s half the problem. You couldn’t be honest if you tried. You think you’re honest, but you just say what you think you’re supposed to say. You’d just say shit like, “I don’t blame you Dick. I know how hard it was for you growing up.” I sincerely doubt it Mr. Brisbane Grammar. Mr. My-Parents-Have-Always-Been-So-Supportive-Of-Me…
a horrible joke. Even prison doesn’t prepare you for that sort of humour. But
my all-time, eleven-out-of-ten personal favourite was when you used to say, “I
just need some space Dick. I can’t live like this anymore.” Oh dear. That’s
terrible. But believe me darling, I understand. I know. Sometimes you just feel
like you need to escape. Me too. Well funnily enough, that’s another thing that
I’ve been thinking about and thinking about and thinking about. But on this
matter, I think I’ve found a…a mutually beneficial solution. Mr. Man.
It’s funny how things happen though. One day, I was minding my own business, just chilling, enjoying my state-funded holiday, staring through the TV, just thinking about you and your needs when I heard “Yellow” by Coldplay come on, with the bit about the stars shining for you, and then, Poof! There you were. In the crystal ball.
It was just some feel-good story at the end of the local news about a little place called Wesbrey Downs Community Daycare. Maybe you’ve heard of it. Not my thing really. Some shitty little hippy brainwashing scam by the look of it. The kind of thing you and your mum would be right into. Steiner or some shit. And apparently, they were celebrating Yellow Ribbon Day, whatever that is. I didn’t catch the start of it but you know, every day is international something-or-other day these days. Just another one of these charities trying to guilt you into giving money to save gay muslim whale-trees from climate change or something. It doesn’t matter. What matters, is what I saw. I couldn’t believe it at first, but hey, the crystal ball doesn’t lie. I mean, it was on TV. And by the light of a million million suns, like a comet blazing right at me, from the darkness you were revealed.
I could see it’s just what you always wanted. Steal my daughter away, my little Snail, my darling baby Nell, and drop her in amongst those wide-eyed cult-following fucks singing songs about fucking sunshine and rainbows. Last time I saw her she was only just starting to string a few words together and vomiting up milk. Next time I see her she’ll just be regurgitating all the shit they’re feeding her there. What about telling her the truth, cunt? Do all those non-gender specific multicultural fairies they’re teaching her about get flogged by their parents when they’re drunk? Are they getting touched by their faggot paedophile teachers? Or raped by their best friends? The real world is shit for girls. It’s fucking brutal. You can’t trust no-one but yourself. How is she gonna survive getting taught by Constable Care to think its all hugs and fucking kisses?
And as if having to listen to Yellow wasn’t bad enough, the whole place was this horrible, pastel yellow. I’ve had more appealing diahrea. Diarrhea. Diarrhoea. However the fuck it’s spelt. But, there she was, my little Nell, not so little anymore, in the middle of that shit, pale yellow ribbon pinned to her yellow shirt, in that horrible brainfucked yellow room with all those doe-eyed kids, holding hands in a circle with all the “multicultural” staff. Coldplay fouling up the air while it cut to slow-motion smiling and laughing and playing on eco-swings.
And there you were, in the circle, holding hands with your new slag. I could tell right away there was something going on. And talk about colour coordination, even she was yellow. Obviously decided to get yourself a mail order bride eh, Jane. Aussie girls not good enough for you? Or maybe none of them would touch you with a ten foot cattle prod. No wonder she puts up with your shit. Yellow fever certainly got you by the…well, whatever it is you have down their in place of balls. You ought to get that checked out. Then some greenie politician came on trying to save the world before the next election. I wonder how many different colour ribbons she’s worn this year. I bet she’s got cupboard full of them just in case. Then it was back to you two standing there smiling away. Clapping your hands in slow-motion. I nearly gagged. I bet you both have matching yellow bumbags. I guess it suits you. It is the colour of gutlessness. I tell you one thing though. You better not have my baby calling what-ever-the-fuck that slutface’s name is, Mum now too. Her real mum, her only mum, has got a line out of this pit you dug for me. Ooh yeah baby, it’s a long way up, but make no mistake, I’m climbing.
I was fucking livid after that and in no mood to argue about who the “you” in that poem is supposed to be. Bad Moon Rising is my best friend in here, but I swear I would have put a plastic spoon through her heart if she had’ve so much as said a word, poor bitch. But later, when I cooled down a bit, what spun me out the most about seeing Nell, was not that my baby had grown so much, the world has a way of moving on without you in here, especially after three extra long years away from my two year old girl…No. It was that she didn’t look like you or me or a combination of the two. She didn’t look my dad thank fuck, and I couldn’t even tell you if she looked like my mum. She looked like Paulo. He always had pretty eyes; blue-grey eyes, almost a bit chinky; with big fat lashes, all set against that thick black hair and his girly little chin. Even his skin was beautiful and tan. Like a young Elvis. Paulo was always the pretty one, and I was the tough one. Least that’s what I told him. I used to tease him about being a girl. He fucking hated it. Can’t blame him, could you? After having actually been one, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. But he loved me. He was the only one.
Looking back, I was just so clouded by this indescribable rage about it all before, you know, about everything. I couldn’t hear myself think. But now, now I’m clear skies. Now, my rage has definition. When I first started this mental home game, it was like a disaster zone in an acid lab, I could barely get through it without tripping. But now, it’s totally spick and span. There’s nothing left to trip on. I’m free. I’m in prison, but I’m free. I can look around and know exactly what I have, and where it is and why it’s there. Not that I’ve got much anymore. Between you and your mates in blue and the judge, it’s a wonder I have anything at all. You took my daughter. The judge took years off my life. Then when I got here they took my clothes. The only thing of theirs that I saw get taken was their sweet fucking time while they checked every hole I got, chatting away like they were stuffing a fucking Christmas chook while they were at it, looking to see what else they could take. My dignity perhaps. Oh well. What’s one more rape by your friendly neighbourhood police. At least these bitches used rubber when they inserted themselves. Fucking pigs. They truly are filthy animals. And as if his life wasn’t enough, then they took my brother’s watch off me. They even took my Vitalis, because apparently some dumb bitch in here got the idea a few years back to try and burn herself alive with hair tonic and now they won’t even allow me my own fucking bottle of Vitalis. I’m using fucking canola oil. Oil is for cooking, not for good looking. But this is my fate. Written in the electric zodiac. It’s inescapable. Those years they’ve taken, I know for a fact I’ll never get them back. As far as the rest goes though. The stars only know.
It’s all been slow motion in here too, except without all the clapping and smiling. But the pace is picking up. Things are fairly moving along now, and in a certain little dobber’s direction. Not mentioning any names. And you thought you were away. Footloose and free with Dick out of the picture. Well I guess it’s true. You did get away. But not far away. Less and less further with every moment the sky turns. It’s almost dawn now and in these twilight between-times, I can see an exit sign glowing above my door like the morning star. Glowing so hot it’s almost scorching. And when morning finally does come, even though last night the chick on the news predicted blue skies for Brisbane and the greater metropolitan area, I suspect things are going to get very dark.
What I’ve found, is that prison is like a rear-view mirror in a locked parked car with tinted windows, and the more I look back on things, the more I realise just how snobby and ungrateful you really were. I always tried to include you, but you always looked down on me and my friends. We’d be having a drink, having a smoke, having a laugh, sometimes we’d get a bit rowdy, but so what? All you’d ever do was just sit there being ignorant at your laptop, tap-tap-tapping away. Who were you chatting to that was so much better than me and my mates? Wouldn’t have hurt you to get involved. In fact, as it turns out, the opposite is true. And always with the screen facing the other way. Just your mum was it? Who talks to their mum that much? I mean really. Anyone would think you have a complex. No doubt you were just bitching about me anyway. Bitching and plotting a kidnapping. And when it wasn’t your mum, it was nobody. Good old nobody. Responsible for 90% of the world’s problems, that cunt. I mean, what bullshit. You’d have to be stupid to think I was that stupid. And anyway, I know you fucked that girl from work. You should have seen the sweat pouring out of you whenever I asked about her. You’d st-st-start to st-st-stutter and act like you had no idea what I was talking about. And after that time I brought her up in front of Jessie and Cyn, even they said to me later on that you looked guilty as fuck. They wanted me to ditch you, but like a fool, I was like, what about Nell? You probably think they’re liars too? You think they’ve never seen a man lying to their face? Half a woman’s world is lies, Jane and half the population of the world is men. Even a dog could make a correlation like that. Which is probably why you can’t. And anyway, every time we went to the supermarket you were nervous as shit. So, where’d you do it? In the coldroom? In the toilet? In the bum? Or did you root it out the back, where me and you first hooked up. They always say men can’t resist a girl in uniform. But, it seems like even Tina the check-out chick got the flick too though in the end. Just couldn’t compete with a bit of hot young Asian pussy could she? Is her pussy the space you needed so bad? From the amount of space you claimed you needed she must have one big fucking hole. It’s just such bullshit. You complain about being isolated, then go on and on about needing space.
Even in here, surrounded by proper isolated chicks that are gonna be locked up for a large part of their lives if not their entire life, and who could certainly do with a bit of extra space, I still don’t have to listen to so much whinging. There’s women in here who have put up with things you couldn’t even imagine, and now half of them will never see their kids again, because they wouldn’t put up with it anymore. Only women bleed, my friend. Only women bleed. And who does the Criminal Justice System punish? Who do all the religions punish? Women might bleed but they’re not the ones with blood on their hands.
So here’s a little piece of advice Jane, maybe if you stopped whinging about how hard your life is, and smiled every once in a while, or God forbid talk to people, it would be easier to find a friend. Maybe if you didn’t just think you were better than everybody, you wouldn’t be so isolated Jane. But no, nothing was your fault. Everything was always somebody else’s fault. Or my fault. Well it wasn’t my fault your dumb fucking parents named you Jane was it Jane. Or should I write, Yáh-neh.
Another prime example of you thinking you’re better than everybody else. You always had to force it on people. Just to prove yourself right and make people feel stupid. Try and make them fit in to what you want. ‘It’s not Jane, it’s pronounced Yáh-neh, if you write it phonetically it looks like this, it’s Sveedesh.” Well you’re in fucking
Australia now! Your name is Jane.
When you write it, it looks like Jane. J-A-N-E. Jane! I went and looked it up
on Google one day, and surprise, surprise, even in Sveeden, Jane is a girl’s
name. Stick that up your arse dry, Yáaaaahneh, you fucking faggot. I’m in a
women’s prison and everyone in here has bigger balls than you. You may not
wanna sound like the bitch that you are but God saw fit to name you
appropriately. God knows what he’s on about. He gave the three wise men a
single star. He’s given me a million million of them. And that old bearded
bastard up there knows what I’m gonna do to you.
You think a piece of paper from the cops is gonna stop me? You think moving up to the
can hide you from
the stars? Uh-uh, no way baby, my stars will shine in every hole you crawl
into, Jane. They’re shining so bright I can see right through you, straight out
the other side, to where you’re nothing, to where you’re less than nothing, to
where Nell has forgotten you ever existed and not a trace of you can be found. Praise
the Lord! Sunny
It’s like James Brown. You know James Brown? Another star right there. Humming with magical charge. You know that song of his, “A Man’s Man’s World”? He told it like it is. There was a real man. A man who speak-a-da-truth. A man who could get the cosmic stadium raging. And I bet he could’ve fucked for hours in his day. Not that you’d understand anything about that hey, Janie boy. Yaaahneh. Well lucky for old Dick here, I know a thing or two about it. I know what makes a man’s world spin. You all just think you know it all. You just make it too easy. You’d all give the right ball just to get a load of the left. Those of you with balls that is. Well here’s a little secret. A little survival tip. Hard earned and well learned. If a man thinks he can get his cock sucked, he’ll tell you whatever you want to hear. Let him think you like it though, and he’ll tell you whatever you want to know. Well, dear, sweet little Jane. You wanna know what I know? Well suck my cock Jane, because I know an awful, awful lot about you.
It’s all coming together, pardon the pun. I’ve been working on a surprise, a present for you, because I really feel like I owe you one. It’s been little dream of mine, to try and…well, you know…set things right. Ms. Counsellor said I got to have dreams. Something to work towards. “Reach for the stars.” Her pamphlet said. “Reach for the stars. Nothing is impossible if you just believe in yourself.” I just can’t wait to see the look on your face when I touch those stars and all my dreams come true. And even though I know, everybody loves getting presents, I’ve always felt, and it’s especially true in this case, that is far more rewarding to give than to receive.
So, I’ve spent all my spare time in here plotting. I guess you inspired there. Plotting and spinning a man’s world like an atlas globe. And when I stopped that globe spinning with a swift thrust of my finger, where in the world do you think my finger landed? 176A
Rogers Cres, Wesbrey Downs, Qld, 4513. Amazing.
What are the odds? It’s like a million million to one. I’ve always wanted to go
to 176A Rogers Cres,
Wesbrey Downs, Qld, 4513.
Ms. Counsellor will be so proud, though I don’t think I’ll get a chance to tell her. It’s been a long time coming, but after all my hard work and perseverance, finally my dreams are coming true. And it’s only been about nine hundred and twenty six days, twelve hours and forty-three minutes. I mean, you’ll have to allow for the fact that by the time I finish writing this sentence, that would have changed but it’s more or less right. Also, there’s the blurry ten minutes or so that it took for the pigs to peel me off you, drag me across the road and pin my face to the bitumen before they tossed me in the back of the divvy van. But…more or less…that’s approximately about right. But hey, who’s counting right? Not that I could have even if I wanted to. They broke my brother’s watch while they were at it. I don’t know when, but somewhere inside of that ten minutes the glass got cracked and the hands stopped on seventeen past three in the AM. Then when that door slammed, that was the first tick of a new time for me. Like BC changing to AD. But it wasn’t just the birth of a new era. And it was kinda the opposite of a saviour being born. It was more of a countdown had begun. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Can you hear it? Stop for a second. Listen really hard. It’s only faint now, but, can you hear it? Can you hear that alarm? Shh…Stop breathing Jane. Can you hear it?
Jane rushed out of the bus, bumping his way through the opening doors with the ungainly collection of backpacks and shopping bags he had gathered through the day. He was already twenty minutes late. God only knows what time we’re gonna get to the party. He had no doubt Nell would be the only girl left, probably sitting down drawing her remarkably detailed “maps of the world” as she called them, as per usual. By the time they got to the party, he surmised, the kids would already be sorted into packs and she’ll be hard-pressed to find a friend without causing envy and suspicion among the parochial and insecure little people. In thirty years, she’ll be telling her counsellor about this day as one of her original wounds, he was certain of it. Writing unsent letters to Daddy for therapeutic relief. Amongst other things, the mental image of thirty-five year old Nell distressed him more than slightly.
He rushed in the door trying not to look as hurried and jittery as he obviously was. As predicted, his daughter was alone on a little chair, at a little desk covered in big bits of paper and crayons scattered about like a shattered rainbow. “Hi darlin’, sorry Daddy’s late again. I had so much to do today. You ready for Jacinta’s birthday party?” The words all came out pre-packaged, wrapped in a single breath.
Nell nodded, without showing approval. She shuffled her drawings – maps again it was – all together with the casual efficiency of an office worker, tapped them on the table to straighten them out and put them in her Hello Kitty backpack; the movements eerily reminiscent of his own paper shuffling ways, since he’d upgraded from night-fill at Coles to his part-time customer service role at the Caboolture Transport and Main Roads Customer Service Centre. The single parent pension helped too, but he still didn’t seem to have enough time in the day. Though he often thought the problem wasn’t a lack of time, just how he spent his chronological coin. When Jane saw his daughter begin putting the vast palette of gaudy crayons back in their tub, he put the shopping bags down, slightly flustered, to help her. He could tell it made her feel like she was in trouble. Fail.
“Ok,” he said when it was done, “Nellie baby, we gotta go. I know it’s Daddy’s fault about being late, and making us rush, but if we don’t leave now, we’ll miss the bus. Say goodbye to Ms. Safina. You’ll see her again in the morning.”
“Bye Ms. Safina.” The only remaining staff member, Jane could see she was clearly just pottering around looking for things to do while she waited for Jane’s clumsy rushed parenting to get Nell out the door. Her handbag, and some take-home paperwork were sitting on one of the kids tables closest to the door. It was like lights on in a nightclub. She was always gracious and understanding towards the parents and assorted custodians of her charges, and loved each and every child to bits. And they all loved her back, children and adults alike. But spending her days caring for kids and dealing with the equally demanding grown-ups was emotionally draining. Caring for one kid, just in the morning and evening, before and after work was draining enough. He shuddered at the thought of switching places for even a day. And a day was not over for Ms. Safina until the last child was picked up, the alarm set, and the front door locked behind her. He felt terrible about making her wait.
“See you tomorrow sweetie. You enjoy your party, and have an extra big piece of the birthday cake for me. Bye Yáhneh.” He grimaced a genuine smile over his shoulder as he ushered Nell out the door.
Ms. Safina always pronounced his name correctly. With the J like a pinched Y, a short ‘uh’ with emphasis for the A, and a clipped ‘eh’ at the end. It was always a relief to be around people who could look at letters on a page, and not be dumbfounded or even mortified when they were spoken in a way that didn’t match their preconception. No matter how many times he’d explained his name, far too many people would just look at him with disbelief and more than a smidgeon of scorn and go right ahead and call him Jane. It was one of the many things in his life he was expected to accept, but never could. He could have changed his name, or went by a nickname, but why should he. It was the world with the problem, not him.
Other people, people he’d known for years, would pronounce it more-or-less correctly, but always with hesitation, balking at the foreign-ness of it all. And then there was always the inevitable reference to “A Boy Named Sue.” There were rare exceptions, and had always been exceptions. Some of them came in the form of people he never would have expected to get it right or try. He’d even once fallen in love with a girl in large part due to her initial acceptance of, and casual – and at the time he felt sexy as fuck – delivery of his name.
With Ms. Safina – Feiza out of hours, and her non-toxic poster-paint coated apron – it was effortless. She was one of the rarities, though at sixty-two, despite holding her own, Jane didn’t find her sexy as such. She was more like an almond all over; almond eyes; almond chocolate skin; and the kind of nutty that everybody loves. As an immigrant herself, with a complicated heritage, she clearly understood the difference it made though to respect his name, and the comfort it afforded him. When she said it, it sounded natural and free to mingle with all the other names as an equal.
As Jane, with Nell in tow, turned onto the foothpath from behind the bougainvillea-coated cyclone fencing that hid the centre from the street, he saw the thirty-two pulling up to the bus shelter. He bolted off the mark, calling out to his daughter over his shoulder, bags and backpacks flailing as he legged it for the bus, hoping frantically that the driver would pity them. The door stayed open and when he got to it, he stood in the doorway sweating, instinctively holding it open as he waited for his five year old daughter to catch up. The bus driver, endured it all impatiently, but had nothing to say in reprimand. Nell got on, touched on with her little go-card, pocketed it, then sat in the disabled section. Her feet, a foot off the ground. Jane fumbled his way through the ordeal of paying for his own ticket with the loose shrapnel hidden in amongst the house key, phone and other assorted pocket flotsam and jetsam that seemed to breed in his shorts. Out-organised again by his daughter. The doors were still closing as the bus rolled away.
The Google maps directions actually kept their promise, with the help of Jane clinging to the yellow poles and anxiously watching street signs go by – as he himself was watched with condescension by the old lady sitting next to Nell, obviously disturbed at his incompatibility with fatherhood. At Jane’s signal, Nell reached up to press the red button, though without her usual enthusiasm, and the bus dropped them off directly across the road from Jacinta’s house – a standard eighties built brick home, with a standard lawn and assortment of standard shrubs and Bunnings bought pot plants in Bunnings bought pots – at the exact time it was supposed to. Thirty-five minutes late for the start of the party.
It was all happening in an open double carport at the back of the house. Nothing had been spared. Every possible children’s party product that could be purchased from Coles was out of its thin plastic packaging and polluting the suburban environment. He recognised them all. Balloons, pastel paper streamers, a table full of paper plates and cups with cost-efficient party designs on them, with a budget selection of lollies, chips and – to Alana, Jacinta’s mother’s credit – juices instead of soft drinks on which to gorge. Party blowers were blasting, and party hats adorned the heads of the friends and siblings of the birthday girl. Various parents, some donning hats themselves, were mustering them together for a round of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey. The pressure of getting here was now replaced with the awkwardness of seeing to it that Nell was accepted into the herd. Alana spotted them coming up the driveway, and came halfway down to greet them.
“Hi Alana. I’m really sorry we’re late, it’s just been one of those days”
“Oh hi…Yar-nee. Hi Nell.” Alana was one of the hesitant balkers, though not one he’d known for long, and even then it was only through the brief windows before and after daycare. “Yeah, look, tell me about it. It’s been pretty hectic here. But, it’s no worries. You haven’t missed much. There’s still plenty of food left and the kids are just about to start playing pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey. And we still have to do the cake, so...yeah, it’s all good. They’ve all just been running around off their heads on sugar, but I guess they’ll sleep well tonight. I know Jacinta will probably wanna stay up, thinking she’s a big girl now, but I’d be surprised if she makes it past eight thirty tonight. I won’t be too far behind her after all this. Tell you what. It’s hard work getting this many kids to have fun together. I’m knackered already, and it’s only, what…” she shakes her wrist and glances at her watch, “shit…it’s that late already. No wondered I’m buggered. I’ve been up since five.”
“Well it’s for a good cause, right?” He got a shrug, a sigh, a smile, an eye roll and a single upturned raised hand all at once in response; and understood all too well the sentiment it expressed.
Alana then looked down over the plate of watermelon and rockmelon slices she was carrying to address Nell directly. “You go join in with all the other kids Nellie darl. Jacinta’s just in the house grabbing a scarf for a blindfold, but she’ll be out soon. Would you like a piece of fruit sweetie?”
“Yes please.” The fact she responded with actual words stabbed subtly at his heart.
She reached up and took a slice of rockmelon, said thank you and made to walk over to the gathering mass of eager children.
“Wait, Nell, babe,” Jane said, fumbling to get his backpack off his shoulder and open it without hindering his daughter’s smooth transition into the party, “Don’t forget your present for Jacinta. Put it over there on the table with all the others.”
At least, he thought, he might have got one thing right. The present looked bigger than any of the others on the table, and the plastic Bake-a-Go-Go kitchenette inside, hand-picked by his daughter herself, complete with flashing light flames in the oven and a timer, was sure to be a winner. He’d even bought some batteries so they could play with it immediately. His daughter would look like saint and so would he when she saw him next. Win-win. He didn’t feel comfortable reinforcing gender stereotypes in little children, but he wasn’t about to have his daughter hand over a Tonka truck or one of those plastic guns that go tat-tat-tat-tat-tat to her little princess playmate. And the last thing he needed was “those” looks from the other parents, and a daughter that hated him more. If that was even possible. It occurred to him suddenly that SpongeBob might have been an option as he squatted down to hand wrapped and ribboned gift it to her.
“Now, Nanna Klara is going to come pick you up this afternoon after the party so you can stay with her tonight, remember. She said she’s getting fish and chips tonight. That sounds awesome, ey?” Nell looked over her shoulder, distracted by a flurry of squeals that erupted briefly from the mini-cyclone of children she was about to walk into, but didn’t respond.
“Look, Daddy’s really sorry about being late again darlin’. But we made it in the end, didn’t we? We always make it in the end.” He smiled at her hoping it would be contagious. It wasn’t. “Hey, look, there’s Jacinta. You better go say happy birthday.” The birthday girl had just come running out of the house in a Dora the Explorer outfit that was obviously one of her presents, one of her mother’s scarves dangling from one hand.
“You go play and Daddy will see you tomorrow morning at Nanna’s house, ok.”
“Ok.” Was all she said. Jane could see he was still unforgiven, but at least the party was starting to draw her attention away from his failings as a father.
“Ok, have fun. Give us kiss.”
She did so dutifully, said goodbye, then wandered over to place her offering on the table of presents and join the waiting tail-pinners who were gathered in a line of sorts. He began to doubt that even the party might cheer her up. If that failed, there was still his mother. Nanna Karla seemed to be the only constant in his daughter’s world that never alienated or failed her. Alana had gone over to officiate for the game, and was in the middle of spinning the first contestant in quick circles to make them dizzy. Jane felt it would probably be best if he just slipped out without fuss. He’d already explained to Alana on “Jacinta’s Party” Facebook event page that her grandmother would be picking her up this evening and given her his new phone number, just in case she needed to call. He could have kept his old number, but he just felt like a change. It felt strangely cleansing. If anything did happen Alana would probably handle it much better than him anyway. She might not be able to pronounce his name without straining, but she was a good parent, and he knew from the nano-particles of pity he could detect in her practised pleasantries, that she worried about Nell, and felt a need to care for her, like a three-legged puppy made more worthy of concern through the cuteness of its disadvantage.
Feeling like a terrible parent wasn’t new, but it was never comfortable. He might laugh it off with his mum, or with Sonia, but deep in his heart he couldn’t even muster a corrupted chuckle. As Jane walked up the street to the other bus stop, he was plagued by guilt. It had started to become debilitating. ‘Ok’ and ‘Bye Daddy’ were the only actual words Nell had spoken to him this afternoon. The rest of the time she was sullen and to Jane’s lingering shame, sad. He knew it wasn’t just sadness about today’s foibles. It was a sadness too large to squeeze into a five year old body, and so it found ways of distorting his daughters features in order to escape. Luckily, Nell loved Nanna Klara and never added abandonment to her list of grievances while she stayed there. The list was growing nonetheless.
Jane had been planning this afternoon for weeks now. An afternoon without Nell. A shameful luxury that felt as hollow in practice as in planning. She would never be far from his thoughts, especially after what had just happened, but she would not be there. She would thankfully, be in capable hands for a change. He’d been telling himself that he needed the break; that it would give him much a needed respite; that he would actually stretch out a fresh canvas and do some painting. But he knew it was just as likely that he’d end up watching some reality chef program, where the contestants are brutally humiliated by cocky patronising professionals who consider themselves realists in a horrible process of belittlement that viewers were somehow supposed to approve of and be entertained by. How could they expect to rid schools of bullying with how-to programs like that crowding the free-to-air channels, encouraging people to sink their boot in via Twitter. Either way, first things first, a cup of tea and a large dose of prescription Tim Tams on the reclining sofa was in order.
Sonia was working late, then picking up her older sister Leilani from the airport after having just spent six weeks back home in
visiting their family, so that evening the two bedroom flat was his. Laos had never been home for Sonia, but Leilani
was ten years older, and spent those first ten years living in Luang Prabang
before returning in her late teens to live for many years, before moving back
to the . Sonia knew her Laotian family,
but only through a couple of brief visits, and didn’t feel the urge to visit
them as strongly as the rest of her family. For Sonia, Noosa was home. Even
though she had been conceived in Sunshine Coast Laos,
she was born in Australia
after her family was sponsored by her grandfather Kaili who for many years they
had assumed dead at the hands of police from one government or another, but
turned out to be very much alive. Apparently, Sonia’s mum’s dad hadn’t been all
that impressed with, or particularly quiet about, the Communist
collectivisation programs in the seventies and fled to Thailand, swimming the
Mekong to be extorted by Thai border guards and taken to one of the many refugee
camps along the border, to eke out an existence with tens of thousands of
others. As a former translator, he found uses for his skills, assisting people
with claims and other daily tasks that had to be done in Thai. He took
English lessons while he was their from an ex-RAAF guy who’d stayed on after
the war and decided to help out in the camps, and through this he gained a
familiarity with Australia which helped him greatly when he applied for asylum.
Eventually he was resettled in Fairfield in Sydney.
The story Sonia had told Jane, was that one day, Granddaddy K as she calls him – though she said when he pronounced it, it sounded like gun-daddy – saw photos of the
Mountains in a library book and they
reminded him of so much of Laos,
that he just up and left within a week. Apart from the occasional Aussie who
took issue with a gook, his journey by bus, train and foot was much simpler
than his previous travels through conflict-ridden Laos. He made his way to the to find it lived up to it’s
glorious name and spent the rest of his long New Australian life in the Noosa
area. His English had improved considerably and quite quickly. Sonia said he had
been fluent in White Hmong, Lao, Thai and French before he even got to Sunshine Coast Thailand, so
picking up another language wasn’t going to be that difficult, though ne never
lost his accent – quite possibly deliberately. He was just that kind of man. He
managed to find himself work teaching private French lessons as well as
endearing himself to the locals by introducing Laotian patisserie skills into a
local bakery. He even had a stall at the Maleny folk festival back in the day,
where apparently, he tried his first ever tab of acid at the age of
Eventually he regained contact with his family who had stayed behind in Luang Prabang and who he dared not contact for many years for fear of bringing down the wrath of the government upon them. He gained citizenship and was able to bring his pregnant daughter, son-in-law and four – soon to be five – grandchildren to
Australia. Her family lived with Granddaddy
K until he passed away, which was only a few years before Jane and Sonia met. He
was, and still is her favourite person in the entire world. While her parents
worked long hours to support her and her new younger brother and at the same
time sending money back home; struggling also with the transition between two
almost opposite cultures and languages, Gun-daddy K stayed home and raised his
grandchildren, educating them in language, the labour movement, comparative
religion and baking. In the meantime, training them up to be as meat-pie Aussie
as a Hmong Laotian kids could get. He was like a one-man documentary. Jane
wished he could have met him.
A miserable “Yay!” was softly muttered in his brain at the thought that he had finally managed to get some time alone to wallow in his self-pity. He suddenly got the urge to spend the night at his mum’s. But no, he would let his daughter have her happy-time with Nanna. Maybe he could hang out with Sonia and Leilani. It was a promising thought, but, in his current state, he would just be draining the joy out of their reunion and forcing them into English by being the lowest common denominator. Besides, half the reason he was late for the party was because he had taken a detour via Spotlight in Morayfield to buy some new oils as motivation. The guilt was palpable. It would be worse if he then betrayed the memory of Nell’s sadness by just giving up on the idea of painting altogether. They were expensive too, but he got a kick out of browsing the hues. In the end he settled on a pthalo blue, a burnt sienna and a burnt umber, a deep cadmium red and a much needed titanium white. He even bought himself a nice fat, fine-tipped pig hair brush. Not that he had a clue what he was going to paint. It had been so long since he’d actually painted anything, but there were days like this where he would make comfort buys from art supply stores and then go home and watch TV. He promised himself black and blue that today he would actually paint. And he would. After the tea and Tim Tams, with the telly on to dilute his guilt. Directly after that, he would definitely paint.
His connecting bus was late, or had come early and he missed it, he couldn’t tell, but either way he had to wait and didn’t get home until right on sunset. By all other measures, the day had been beautiful. Skies of pleasant late-August air in that infinite Gondwanan blue. A few stoner clouds, way up high and not doing anything drifted around with no better thing to do than wait for the sun to go down and put on a show for them with peach and mauve and all the colours of a candle flame. It could have all been a bland beige for all Jane noticed. On the ride home he almost convinced himself to just get off and go to his mum’s by arguing with himself that he could paint something there with Nell. Another win-win. His phone was in his hand, ready to call, but the thought of his new solution failing and Nell going to bed unhappy prevailed, so instead he checked his emails, paid a bill on-line, re-pocketed the phone and resigned himself to the original plan.
The mailbox had bills and junk mail literally stuffed into it and he scolded himself for still not having added a “No Junk Mail” sign, also scolding the postie for being so rough with his belongings. He’d bought a sign, close to two months ago now, and left it on the kitchen bench to ensure it would be done. He hadn’t seen it now for at least a month and it was most probably buried beneath the accumulating pile of junk mail that had arrived in its absence from the mailbox. He cut across the lawn, noticing just in time that the neighbour’s dog Gordy, a friendly, and obviously well-trained Rottweiler had left another present for him. He counted his blessings. The mail. The shit. They could all stay where they were until tomorrow. Or next week for all he cared right now. He was exhausted, and the idea of picking up dog shit or ascertaining his level of debt was only going to make matters worse. He would have to convert those bills to email only. Put that on the list. The idea of painting exhausted him even more now, in the way that only long promised commitments to revive old pleasures can.
Through the vertical blinds, Jane could see the light had been left on in his side of the small duplex where he lived. He’d obviously left it on that morning. It just added another layer to his feelings of personal inadequacy for the job of parenting. Can’t even manage the simplest of tasks. No, he assured himself he was being too harsh on himself. It’s just been one of those days and much deserved R and R awaited him inside.
Next door, in the other-half of the duplex where Shaun and Prish – the owners of Gordy – lived, the lights were off. They had gone down to Murwillumbah to visit family for a few days and to climb Mt Warning. Prish mentioned it two days ago as they crossed paths on their respective morning pilgrimages to work. The idea sounded amazing. Even just to go up to the
for a day trip would be great, but Mt Warning, the view was supposed to be
spectacular. Sonia would love it. So would Nell. Win-win-win. Although he had
heard that the local Bundjalung people didn’t actually like people climbing it.
He really did think that those peoples wishes ought to be respected after
everything they had endured, yet the idea of his daughter, standing up there
staring at the world and feeling like her daddy was the best daddy in the world
made him doubt his allegiance to own morals. Maybe he could call. Ask for
special permission. But what if they said no. Nothing was ever easy. Glass Mountains
Gordy the Rottweiler must have felt the need to leave his going-away present before spending three hours in the car. Jane cast a glance over his neighbour’s lawn. Spotless. He had to hand it to Gordy. Even he could see that compared to Jane’s clover-filled dry-patchy lawn, shitting on the emerald green majesty of his humans’ lawn-bowls standard front yard would be a crime. Maybe they didn’t even train him. Maybe he was just aesthetically repulsed by the idea himself.
Without putting down his cargo of shopping bags and backpacks, including now his daughter’s Hello Kitty day-care bag, only to pick them up again, Jane searched through his pockets with the skill of a desperate single parent for his key. Single. He had been with Sonia for six months already, and they had known each other for about eight, having met her at a yellow ribbon day event at Nell’s daycare that she had volunteered for. The day all the cameras turned up and scared the hell out of him. Apparently he missed the permission-slip they sent home, and was left to either sign it there and then or deny his daughter her fifteen minutes of fame. Easy choice for a Daughter’s Choice, Most Terrible Father Ever Award candidate like himself. He had even held hands with her on the day though it was not his idea, and was just an awkward parent involvement gig. But it did feel like fate when her number was up and she fronted up to his desk at work to reapply for her suspended driver’s license. So it went from, oh this is embarrassing to she was having a party. More of a gathering. Would he like to come. Well, it sounded nice, and thank you and well, and um, and but I’ve got my daughter so. But you’re welcome to bring her so. Um, shit, sure, why not.
Sonia really was all he could ask for and more. He was in no rush to get involved, and she was fine with that. She was cheeky and charming and being with her had been sweet and slow and lovely. It took them nearly four months before they even had sex and he didn’t feel like any time was wasted. But as far as parenting went, he felt undeniably single still. She was great with Nell and she had a nephew the exact same age, same month even, that Nell loved to play with. He had no doubt that in time Sonia could easily take on a greater role in both of their lives, with Nell’s blessing. Nell would probably end up loving her more than him. Even that would be fine, so long as she was happy. But not yet. It was all still too soon. Too raw. It was still too hard to cope with everything himself without burdening another person with his troubles. His poor mum had to deal with it already. He didn’t know what he would do without his mum co-parenting Nell while she still parented him.
Jane didn’t own a car or a large collection of keys to guess at in the dark. He only ever carried a front door key on a weird purple fish keyring with boggle-eyes that Nell had chosen. There was always a backdoor key stashed up on one of the struts of the awning that hung over it, but he’d never once needed it. It was there for his mum and nowadays for Sonia. Keeping track of his house key was one skill that Jane could honestly say he never seemed to have lost. He may have lost his mind for a while there. More than once, truth be told. But his wallet, his phone and his key were always present and accounted for. Maybe it was the feeling of being able to get at least one thing right. Maybe it was focusing on Sonia for a while and not himself. Maybe it was the relief of knowing he’d soon be in the door and this horror of a day would soon melt into tea and chocolate and yes, even painting. Either way, when that key came out of his pocket, and those little black beads in the fish’s plastic bubble eyes were rolling around as it dangled there, his troubles seemed to just dissolve.
He unlocked the white wooden door and walked straight across the open plan living room to the kitchen to drop off his stuff before returning to close it behind him. As he swung it shut, he felt its breeze on his sweaty face, immediately followed by an intense, horrible sensation that couldn’t have lasted any longer than the bare minimum needed for it to be sensed at all. It sent a murky undercurrent of disquiet through the calm he had found literally only seconds ago.
After what happened, Jane wasn’t unfamiliar with such feelings, but he hadn’t felt them for quite some time. And not so strong. But they, he had been told, would take years to disappear completely, if they ever disappeared completely at all. It was like the smell of vomit on a couch. You clean it as best you can, use all the recommended products, but every once in a while you sit down, and at the very edge of perception, like a vomit ghost, you smell it. He glanced at the mirror on the wall beside him; the one he used to check himself on the way out the door every morning before work, and was caught off guard by what he saw. A tired, tired looking man was looking back at him; and he knew exactly how that man felt.
He went back to the kitchen, and by the time he got there, the feeling had vanished, so acquainted was he to burying them. He picked up the remote, pressed a button, and a cheesy rock song parading as an anthem started blaring, mid-way through an ad for the upcoming NRL Finals Series. He quickly muted it, glancing up at the clock on the wall, ten to six, then down at the TV guide, open on the bench. As he’d predicted, ‘If You Can’t Stand The Heat’ was going to be on in an hour or so. The latest in young chef psychological torture entertainment. He left it on mute and put some water in the kettle, then put it on the stove. He lit it with the old, child-friendly lighter that only had spark left in it and browsed the tea selection jammed into the lower shelf. Chamomile sounded nice, with a bit of soy milk and honey. In fact, it sounded very nice. Not the kind of drink to perk you up for a hard night’s painting, but his body had spoken. He took his Daddy mug from the dish-rack – not letting the sink full of unwashed dishes augment his melancholy. He put the teabag to his nose for a medicinal whiff, then dropped it in the mug, squirted some honey on top and waited for the water. The milk would go in last, after the teabag squeeze. Otherwise it’s a waste of milk. He could hear Sonia laughing; pointing out to him recently that it was also a waste of honey, but for some reason it just didn’t seemed so great a crime as the milk. He pulled a pack of Tim Tams from one of the shopping bags, he’d bought two just in case, tore it open and started his dinner early, browsing aimlessly through the TV guide for an excuse not to paint. There was local news on Nine. The news would be as good a program as any to numb the mind. He glanced back up at the clock. Six o’clock on the dot. He flicked channels and turned the volume up again half way through the dramatic fanfare that anyone would recognise as news music.
“Good evening. Tamara Spencer with you.
The Federal Government is coming under fire again today for it’s policy of offshore detention from a coalition of doctors and health workers, protesting proposed new amendments to the Australian Border Force Act, which they claim could see health professionals jailed for up to two years for disclosing information about the conditions inside the offshore processing centres…”
Being Swedish by birth, Jane always mocked Aussies for their cruel incompetence when it came to social policy. He had not returned to his Scandinavian homeland since he was a child, but still he brimmed with pride at his northern social-democrat paradise with its free education and sensible social policies every time he grimaced at the news. Being one step removed from the victims of Nazis and Soviets, he couldn’t help but draw comparisons.
Australia was a
good place, a great place, it got a lot of things right, but it seemed to be
priding itself on becoming more and more wrong.
“…the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection shrugged off the attacks, but refused to comment further, saying he wasn’t going to offer a running commentary on operational matters.”
You’d laugh if it wasn’t so serious, he thought. How they could get away with it was beyond him. Not that he was out on the street protesting every time he heard about some inhuman new policy announcement. He didn’t write letters or call his local member or even really talk about it all that much except with Sonia, his mum and the TV. He just disapproved. Strongly. That’s how, he thought. Because there are twenty two million people all disapproving in unison, though probably for different reasons and most were probably just like him. Too tired, too lazy, too selfish, too self-righteous, too scared to actually get out there and be a part of the process. He didn’t even watch the news half the time. They could be rounding up the latest hated ethnic groups, tattooing them with numbers and shipping them off to death camps already for all he knew, and if he found out about it at all, the most he would probably do is mutter some curse at the political class via the idiot box, feel self righteous and then watch the next episode of Big Bang Theory and not even find it funny. As he came out of his ruminations and back to the news, he realised he’d just missed a whole bunch of information probably related to exactly what he was just talking about. I should get more involved. Join some group or something.
“Coming up, more breaking news on today’s daring prison escape from a Wacol prison in
New findings come to light that suggest the
Barrier Reef could be suffering from coral bleaching at a much
faster rate than previously thought.
And the saltwater crocodile, that gave a Kununurra family a scare, when they came home to find it sleeping inside their pet ducks’ bathtub. Stay with us for these stories and more, coming up after the break.
“Fucking hell.” He said exasperated. Exhausted by everything all at once. This wasn’t numbing his brain at all. He muted it for the break and scanned the TV guide for more suitable alternatives. Nothing jumped out at him. Maybe he could get the paint ready. No, he wasn’t ready yet. Slouched over, elbows resting on the bench, head in his hands, his focus went to the window to his left that looked out from the kitchen. He lazily tilted his head while leaving it cupped by his supporting palms. He could see all the way down the street. It was now almost completely dark outside, except for the orange electric glow of night time in suburbia. He drifted into the grey area between thoughts and nothingness that was as close to the opposite of lucid dreaming as one could get. Awake but unaware. All senses fully functioning but no signals getting through. A filter, perhaps an evolutionary reflex for preservation of sanity had been inserted between his sensory organs and his brain in an involuntary action much like what a liver or gall might do to toxins. Yet some part of him was receiving those signals, and deciding which were worth transmitting because suddenly, he snapped back to full awareness, disoriented, unsure of how long he’d been away. His eyes had registered the end of the ad break and the return of the news. He couldn’t remember what he’d been thinking about even if he tried. He wasn’t sure there was thinking involved. His brain had made an executive decision to zone out and then to zone back in. He picked up the remote, not even needing to look to press the button and un-muted the TV.
“Now, to more on this morning’s dramatic prison break. Three inmates from the Brisbane Women’s Correctional Centre, in the south-western suburb of Wacol escaped from the maximum security prison this morning, in a violent breakout in which one guard was killed and another staff member seriously injured. The three fugitives have so far evaded police attempts to capture them. Police have…”
Dick. Suddenly he was experiencing the complete opposite of his previous lapse into cerebral absentia. Suddenly all of his senses were crisp and attentive. Again involuntary responses had made the call, but this time they seized control of him in order to ensure his unadulterated attention. Unlike before, where thinking about nothing seemed to have taken so long, he was now squeezing in multiple thoughts and tangents all into the space of milliseconds and following them all. He tried to think that it couldn’t be; that he couldn’t possibly know what was going to come next; that it could be about anyone.
“…now released the identities of the three women, who are still at large and are asking for community assistance in their search. They have warned that all three women have histories of violent crime and might be armed. ”
Three photos flashed up on the screen. Names beneath them. Three hardened faces side by side. Typical photos of criminals that so obviously separate them from normal people who smile and feel remorse and don’t have malice in their tightened lips and lethal malignant eyes. The newsreader’s voice continued speaking in the grave tone reserved for serious situations that are unfolding as it is enunciating each cautionary and newsworthy syllable, but all sound seemed to disintegrate. It went wherever he had gone all those very many long moments ago. Behind an involuntary screen; some reflex censor that decides for you what you need to hear and what you don’t.
On the left, Clarissa Mooney. She looked like she was only just old enough to be permitted entry to a nightclub. She was light-brown with features that could have made her a super-model, or the next Angelina, if she didn’t look like she wanted to murder your kitten in front of you for Christmas. From somewhere distant, like a radio signal from another world, a grave voice told him she had been in jail for armed robbery and occasioning grievous bodily harm.
In the middle, Annabel Bodstrum, with the hardened face of a middle-aged woman who’d spent as many days breathing prison air as Jane had breathing at all. If not more. Her haggard complexion made it seem like that prison air had been filtered mostly through white-ox cigarettes and her expression was one of volatile resentment for a world that had no doubt shattered her innocence like a bottle across the head at a very young age. The inter-galactic voice told him she had been serving a life sentence for the murder of her husband and his pregnant lover by repeatedly stabbing them both while they slept in her bed.
The third was a pale-skinned woman, with high cheekbones and dark gelled-back hair. A woman thirty-one, no, thirty-two years old now, that could pass for twenty when she smiled, with a black tattoo of a snake on the inside of her left thigh, whose forked tongue get’s lost in her naturally minimalist pubes. Whose father somehow convinced the courts to give him full custody over her and her older brother Paulo after their mother OD’d on heroin while cooking dinner and subsequently burned down half the kitchen of their home in Werribee when they were two and six years old respectively. Whose father then raped and beat them both repeatedly for years. Whose brother later turned to speed and heroin and alcohol himself, and was shot and killed by police at age fourteen when he pulled a knife during a raid on their family home. Whose father was arrested in a police sting on paedophiles later that year but committed suicide in the lock-up before he ever faced trial. Who was raised a ward of the state from the age of ten, and was raped several times again, this time by a police officer. Who, though attempting suicide at age twelve with the razor she used to shave her armpits, managed somehow to get through it all alive, but not unscarred, to find work as a teenage prostitute and stripper. Who followed that career up the coast to Bris Vegas, and away from the shadows of outer suburban
Who by some miracle never once contracted an STD and found it within herself
after a stripper friend was beaten to death by her boyfriend after he
contracted gonorrhoea, to quit sex work and find a job at a Coles in Inala. Who
met there a young co-worker from a more calm and privileged background than
herself, that accepted her, and left a comfortable open relationship to be with
her and eventually gave her a baby that left tiger-stripe stretch-marks from
child-birth on her hips that never bothered him one bit. A five-foot six
Scorpio, who never seemed to put on weight, no matter how much she ate, but
occasionally got a little rounder around the jaw. A skilled manipulator with an
extremely seductive smile, eyes that could hypnotise or damn near murder a
blind man depending on her mood. With a body that, while she carries it like a
tomboy, could easily suck the blood from a man’s brain and let it all go to his
head, should she choose to wield it or reveal it. Whose breasts have sagged
more than she’d like, or care to admit that she cares about, but that she still
won’t put in a bra for no cunt. Whose victimised soul contained so much
super-condensed loathing and despair that when Jane fell in love with her at
his own peril, it was at a time that he now sees was just the passing eye of
the storm in her poor wretched category five cyclone of a life. Rica
Hansen-Romero, whose eyes were staring out from the screen like adrenalin-filled
syringes stabbing into Jane’s heart.
“Police have urged anyone with information to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.”
Jane’s stomach felt like it had been attached to a brick and dropped out of a plane as he stood there in dizzy shock. The news presenter’s voice moved on, past the dying Great Barrier Reef and somewhere into the
Northern Territory or Western Australia or wherever Kununurra is,
where the wily young croc had made a meal out of some family’s duck and passed
out in its bathtub. The gravity had left the voice and was replaced with a
goofy half-chuckling, who’d a thunk it, zaniness that reassured us that,
despite global catastrophes and the obvious corruption of all we hold dear,
that you can still be entertained by the news. And now for sport. And now the weather.
But Jane didn’t follow her to the
Barrier Reef or the Kununurra. He stayed exactly where was.
Someplace else. He was living out his entire time with Rica Hansen-Romero in a
jumbled slurry of raw emotional imagery. Out of his body. Out of his home. Out
of mind. Out of time. He was still staring at Rica Hansen-Romero. His whole body
was riddled with Rica Hansen-Romero. Still transfixed by her television stare.
Her black hair glossy as fresh ink, slicked back just like it always was. Just like
at the trial. Just like it was at their home in Inala. It was Dick’s home.
Jane’s Prison. He’d escaped, and now so had she.
The hair. A rush of uninhibited fear surged through him, like anti-anaesthetic, and he spun around checking the room for his ex. His hand was rubbing away just below his left collarbone, unconsciously fiddling with the scar. He knew what it was that hit him when he was closing the door now. He knew why he had felt the faint yet overpowering trickle of fear rush through him. Vitalis. He had smelt Vitalis. The only person he had ever known in his entire life to use Vitalis hair tonic for men, who even knew what it was, was his ex-girlfriend and Nell’s mum, Rica Hansen-Romero.
No. She couldn’t be here. How could she find me? I moved. We moved before the trial. I’ve moved twice since then. I have a restraining order. Still I think? I moved away. I should’ve gone to
Fuck! I should’ve gone to fucking Sweden . How did she find me? Why
Dick? Why? How could she get insi…the back-door key. Sweden
The thought nearly dropped him to the floor, as though it had instantly disintegrated the calcium in his legs and spine, but with adrenalin for a crutch, he ran down the short hallway, past the toilet and through the tiny laundry area practically slamming into the back door, checking the button on the handle. Locked. He opened the door and reached up to feel around for the key on the awning above him. It was still there. But it wasn’t there alone. On the face of metal beam where it sat, were the trails left in the dust by fingers as they had taken the key from its hiding place. Are they mine from just now? Mum’s? Sonia’s? He checked his fingers for dust. A little, but it didn’t prove or disprove anything. He went back inside, taking the key with him, locking the door behind.
He headed back to the kitchen, and started searching manically through his backpack for his phone when the kettle started whistling. And the toilet flushed.
After what seemed like thousands of litres gurgling, carrying god knows what as it was swallowed painfully by the plumbing system, the handle twisted, the door opened and out walked Dick. But she turned left, walked a casual couple of steps down the hallway then turned right, into the laundry, where Jane heard a tap turn on, water begin flowing, the sound of it flowing interrupted by rubbing hands before it joined the toilet water on its way to wherever water goes. The tap turned off.
He expected her to walk out, but instead he heard the ratcheting turn of the washing machine dial. Click. It was pulled out to start. The hum of the pump. Three beeps. More water flowing, this time filling the tub inside the machine. Does she even know I’m here?
He still hadn’t found his phone and the need grew more and more urgent with every slow-motion galloping second. The front door was on the other side of the apartment, with sofas, chairs, and a table in the way. Dick had always been always quick. Jane had thought on numerous occasions, that if, if she hadn’t gone through what she did, if she’d been supported, she could’ve have been an Olympic athlete. She was a natural. As it was though, if she came out of that laundry, and saw Jane running, he was sure she would have him by the table. The front door may as well have been on a separate continent to him, with a lounge room ocean filled with deadly furniture reefs on which to crash in between. His head swelled with horrific anticipation and an endless stream of paranoia masquerading as prophecy. The smell of Dick’s shit wafted over from the toilet; the recognition of its stench, an acrid, sulphuric reminder of just how close he had been to this woman. Of just how long they had been together. Of how completely he had loved her once. And just how little that all mattered now. He physically felt the sickening sensation of the space between where he was right now and the last time he’d had to deal with Dick alone and face to face, disappearing, as the two eras slammed together like high speed passenger trains.
Then she stepped out of the doorway, looking straight down the hall at Jane. She had a white towel in her hands, rubbing them slowly and thoroughly. Her hair slicked back. All thoughts ceased holding Jane’s attention. Now, raw responses lined up, waiting to be deployed the instant this predator made its move.
It was so obvious now. Of course she knew he was there. She had been waiting for him. She had wanted him to be more confused. More threatened. More menaced by her casual behaviour. She wanted him to be waiting for the moment she stuck her head out of that laundry door to stare down the hallway at him as if it was he that was intruding on her. She wanted to have him ready for the next move. He was cornered. Check-mate.
While they had had a honeymoon period in the beginning, It hadn’t taken long for Jane to learn of Dick’s past, or for her instability to become more overt and at times outright dangerous. But, even at the end, or what he thought had been the end, Jane was always shocked by Dick’s ferociously calculating mind. It’s conversion of inference and suspicion into suitable pseudo-facts; its impermeable, even front and addiction to control; almost reptilian in her indifference to suffering. He could remind himself that it is all just a consequence of the brutality that she has suffered. But he couldn’t remind her of that. Pain and suffering had become her comfort zone. Just like every time before, in hindsight he’d be kicking himself for not seeing that for what it was before trying to take her out of that zone. That task, it took years to admit, was beyond him, saddest of all, he had resigned himself to a horrible conclusion: that it was beyond anybody. He still didn’t believe it, but he had to make do with it as an explanation for the world like a Christian accepts virgin births and the resurrection. He spent years trying to persuade himself to leave, to get out from harms way, while convincing himself it was cowardly and heartless to do so. Then after yet another one of their episodes, he chastised himself not avoiding what was so clearly crocodile infested waters. When it came to the crunch though, each time that she flipped, it was too late and he was stunned prey. He was a sitting duck. He wasn’t even good prey. Prey runs. Prey will even fight back. Jane was more like low hanging fruit, just waiting to be plucked only to have one bite taken out of him and left on the ground to rot, and feed the tree that would produce more of the same. Boy would the newsreader get an excuse to use her half-chuckle voice out of him.
“Why did you come here, Dick?” he couldn’t believe he said it. Quacking at a crocodile. Yet he also couldn’t believe his voice sounded so together. It almost sounded confident. He just had to initiate, to take his share of the control. But he felt weak all over, as though what he’d done was just Plan B for Dick. Or maybe there was no plan at all. Maybe she just wan…Where’s Nell? The question exploded into his mind like an atomic firecracker. BOOOM! Where’s Nell? It tortured him as though the question itself was the interrogator, peeling his fingernails back demanding an answer he had no way of giving. Where’s Nell? His mind was being drawn and quartered.
“Where’s Nell?” Dick asked, ripping the question from his head, causing Jane to attribute even more power to her. Perhaps she’d put the question in there in the first place. When she took it and said it out loud though, it was more demanding than asking, though she maintained her you-know-something-terrifying-is-going-to-come-after-this-false-smiling-bullshit mask.
“Sh-sh-she…she’s not here D-Dick.”
“I-I-I c-c-can s-s-see that, Y-Yáh-neh. You got two eyes, I got two eyes. We can all fucking see that. Where is she?”
The mask was gone. As far gone as the water from the toilet.
“Sh- She’s with Mum, Dick. Sh-She’s not coming home tonight.” Jane regretted every syllable the moment it passed his lips.
Dick pondered the response for a long uncomfortable second, threw the towel back through the laundry door then pulled a scrap of paper out of her back pocket, unfolded it and read it, but not aloud. A new mask, one of feigned surprise and sardonic curiosity, was constructed, recycling all of her facial features in the process, with only the faintest trace of her previous visage of honest unrefined rage.
“Oh! At Nanna Klara’s tonight is she? At your mums, eh? And where is dear, sweet old Nanna Klara living these days?” She looked at the paper again, like a palm card assisting her in this whole melodrama, “Wouldn’t be
46 Cooperman Drive,
Mileambah, by any chance, would it?”
Jane just about collapsed. The futility of wondering how she knew didn’t stop him from doing so. It was as futile as wondering how she found him, and how she escaped and how this was going to pan out. And yet he did. The essence of that futility flowed through him and sucked the oxygen from his blood. As his knees buckled and his mind caved in and his stomach churned, he wondered. He was terrified. And he had no doubt whatsoever, that Dick knew just how terrified he was. He had known her long enough to know a genuine smile when saw it. It disappeared as quickly and as smoothly as it had come.
“What the fuck’s she doing at your mum’s when her real mum is right fucking here? You think it was easy coming all the way up here to fucking Wesbrey Downs, just to see my baby girl, ey, Yáh-neh?”
She took a few steps down the hallway until she was standing in the light of the kitchen. The light she must have turned on when she first arrived. A Current Affair had started on TV. This’ll be on there in a week he thought. Shaun and Prish, his mum, Ms. Safina, Nell. Nell? The kettle was still whistling, screaming now. Jane tensed. His eyes trying to absorb the entire room. Escape routes. Potential weapons he could use. Potential weapons she could use.
“You’re not supposed to be here Dick. Just go, please. I’ve got my phone. Please Dick. I’ll call the…”
“The police! Go on. Call ‘em cunt. Don’t bother with an ambulance though. Won’t be a need to go to hospital once I’m done with you, Janie boy. And if you really think I give a fuck about the police, you must be dumber than I give you credit for. No one’s gonna get me back into that shithole. Uh-uh, tonight, we’re gonna sort out this custody battle without any of your fucking lawyers or judges or cops or nosy fucking neighbours. Just me and you. And anyway…you touch your phone, and I’ll break your phone-swiping fingers. Who knows, maybe I’ll do it anyway.”
Everything flooded back. A deluge, saturated with the debris of his time with Dick. The dry bloody shades of their relationship and the soul-distorting soup of claustrophobia and agoraphobia through which he had waded seemed to spill out of him and fill up the entire room like a noxious gas. Fear rode him like a doped up horse. And the kettle raged on.
“If I had of known my baby was gonna be over at, what was it,
46 Cooperman Drive, Mileambah, I would’ve
just gone straight over there. But this is good. Kill two birds with one stone,
as they say.”
Jane desperately wanted the butcher’s knife that lived in the little wooden stand on the bench. To feel its black handle in his palm. Like in the movies. It was too big for his chopping tastes and so he never used it. He preferred the little paring knife. Either would do right now. But that big blade always just sat right there on the bench, maybe two steps from where he was standing and seemed much more appropriate to his needs now than it ever had before. It might get him killed too, just like in the movies, but he was sure it wouldn’t hurt his chances of surviving either. He shot as quick a glance as he dared towards the block, but was forced to do a double take when he saw it wasn’t there.
“You want this?” Dick asked, lifting up her shirt, high enough that Jane could see the round bottoms of her bare breasts. Just below and between them, the usually peaceful knife looked murderous, holstered in the waistline of her black jeans. The blade must have reached down to her crotch, and as she slipped it out, she let it drag deliberately up along the mound of her pelvis.
Surely those aren’t prison pants.
Jane realised that somehow, between escaping and getting here, Dick had managed to find some new clothes. Yellow t-shirt, black jeans. She’d even managed to find some Vitalis. Where could you even buy that? Jane had memory from just before Dick’s arrest of her saying that it had been discontinued or something? Did she steal it? Was there some dead body in a vintage barber shop somewhere between his house and Wacol? Or did she have someone on the inside, like Red from Shawshank Redemption, who could “acquire” things. A creepy feeling shifted through Jane’s skin when he realised what he was seeing before him – Dick was wearing Sonia’s clothes. She must have left them here. He couldn’t remember. It wouldn’t be out of the question. But…Has she done something to Sonia? The shirt was so generic that it wouldn’t normally stand out, but on closer inspection, he could see that it was the yellow t-shirt she’d been wearing when he met her. He didn’t own one and she wore it often enough that she could have just left it here. Maybe in the wash. And the jeans. They were definitely her black jeans. Her favourite jeans. With the brown stitching and faded knees. So what’s in the washing machine? Fuck I hope she’s not involved in this.
He pushed the thought aside. The clothes had to have been here. The ad on the TV was explaining the classifications systems for programs so parents could decide what was suitable for their children and the kettle was gurgling, feverishly burning up the last drops of water it had left, its whistle, breathy in its death throes.
Dick held out the point of the knife in Jane’s direction and Jane could see very clearly a future where that point punctured his body several times at least. If he ran, it would ram down on him and bite its way through his ribs to pierce his heart and/or lungs. If he tried to punch her, something he never once did, even at the end, he had this gruesome vision of his hand being chopped completely off, though he doubted it was possible without a samurai sword or a chainsaw. No, if he tried it she’d be smart about it – Dick had been in far more fights than him and he knew it – and would probably just go low and drive it into his belly. Into his liver. Or fend off his pathetic attempt at self defence and put it through his throat. Or his eye. There were a thousand possibilities surrounding him, each as likely as the next. One thing was for certain, it wouldn’t be going in somewhere so trivial, as just below the collar-bone this time. If it missed the vital organ it was aiming for, it would be going in again for seconds.
There was still a bench between them, but Dick had moved to one end. Jane was halfway along, and consciously put the barstool that Nell had sat at to eat cereal from that very morning, between them. He had a window behind him, but it was covered in security screen. He could jump the sofa and head for the door, but Dick’s path was less obstructed and if he tripped and fell, he would never get up. He was going to have to fight either way. And after that, he thought, he was probably going to die.
Dick picked up the remote and turned off the television. The silence was overwhelming. The kettle had unobtrusively ceased its squalling and had been quietly absorbing the flames that still raged on full, as Dick and Jane faced each other, surrounded by the vacuum of suburbia. The stink of overheating out-gassing metal had begun to fill the air. It was the kind of smell that rings all sorts of alarm bells in one’s head. A house-fire in the making. But it didn’t smell half as threatening as the blatant aroma of Dick’s mysteriously acquired Vitalis.
“I suppose you want these clothes back too. Is yellow not my colour? I guess you prefer me in prison blue. Want me to do a strip-tease for you, Jane. It’s been a while for me. But for you, I’m capable of doing just about anything. Maybe after that, you wanna probe me, see if I’ve got anything else of yours tucked away.” She slid her hand down into Sonia’s jeans, and rubbed, swivelling her hips and making exaggerated porn-star faces, while lifting her shirt with her knife hand, Sonia’s shirt, and again the bottoms of her breasts were exposed, her nipples coyly remaining as hidden as her next move. The bizarre connection between her psychotic sexual display and the distant memory of their earliest times together; times where Jane found Dick not only sexy, but irresistible; where they had fucked madly in parks, in public pools and for their first time, out the back in the shadows near the dumpster at work; made him feel ill all over. She continued to grind against her finger and taunt him. He couldn’t help but wonder if she was actually wet from this. She was gone. For an instant, her face looked like a child. Like Nell. A new wave of disgust came up, as though his soul dry-reached and mingled with the horror and fear and sick bewilderment that had been assaulting his senses since he first realised Dick was not only on the loose, but in the house. This poor, poor girl. Jane swore right then and there as he had so many times before, that if he ever caught someone fucking with Nell, he’d kill them. No ifs. He’d kill them. He’d never killed a thing in his life. But would. He could. If Dick’s father hadn’t killed himself, Jane would kill that fucker too. In a heartbeat. Search him out and… Distracted by his oaths of vengeance at the men who cause this sweet children to become as toxic as Rica Hansen-Romero , he had ignored the bizarre menace that was seemingly arousing herself before him. She was saying something to him.
“You just gonna watch? It’s ok. Wouldn’t be the first time for me. I’ve seen it all. You name it, I’ve had it all to me and nearly everything I’ve had it done to me, I have been seen having it done. Or maybe you just wanna fuck me? I don’t see why not, it’ll only take a minute. One last quickie, for old time’s sake. Is that what you want?” She snapped, suddenly penetrating the air with the knife, a razor sharp whish sound, announcing its swift movement. “You wanna put it in me, Jane. Oh, hang on, wait, have you got any protection? You know what it’s like these days, and who knows what you’ve caught from your little
Horror once again became the dominant sensation, and somehow managed to
penetrate even deeper into to Jane’s deeply terrified mind. Deeper than his mind. This shit was tickling
at something primordial in him. Some form of fear that even single cell
bacteria must feel as Sonia died a thousand horrifying ways in his mind.
“So, if it’s not on, it’s not on.” Her hand was out of her pants, her pants, and she was waggling a finger in the air, in a gentle tut-tut, right next to the blade that she was menacing him with. How the fuck could she possibly know so much? He was freaking, wondering if Sonia was ok, if she’d made it to the airport while assuming the worst. If Dick knew his address and his mum’s address and he knew about Sonia, could she have hurt her already. Or killed her? He stretched his head in unnatural contortions trying to remember the last time they had sex; the time before; the last time she showered in his house; the last time he saw her throw clothes on the floor; the time before; the time before that. Nothing. Dick’s hold on him grew ten-fold, like tentacles coursing through his body. What was in that washing machine, he wanted to know. Why had she been washing her hands so long? And where was Nell?
“But that suits you just fine, doesn’t it?” She went on. “We both know where you’d like to stick it, you fucking faggot. But those kind of proclivities come at a very high price. And I’ll cut that thing off and stick it up your own arse before I let it touch me again.” She didn’t move it much, but he felt the blade home in on him slightly, as though it had a laser sight putting a red dot over his heart.
“Dick, please, I never …” He didn’t even know what he was going to say but apparently his brain had decided something ought to be said, and denial seemed the natural option. But she cut him off to finish it for him.
“Never what? Never lied! Well that’s a lie right there.”
She stepped closer. He took one step back. Her voice lowered, but the knife rose. The red dot was between his eyes. “Never cheated? You think I couldn’t read the signs, Yáh-neh. I know, you think I’m just some fucked up bevan chick with no fucking brain of her own. Street smart maybe, but not clever. Not intelligent. Well, I may not have your edu-ma-cayshun. I may not have read as many books as you, but I can read men. I can read you. It was just so obvious. I bet Tina wasn’t so stoked when you dumped her for your new matching yellow slut.”
“What?” Now Jane was honestly just perplexed, it took him a moment to catch on to who she was talking about, but the matching yellow thing was still completely out of left field. Of all the things Dick was, racist wasn’t normally one of them, but when she was in a rage, he knew for a fact, nothing was off limits, but… She’s absolutely gone. Dick is gone. “Tina? From work? Why are you so obsessed about her. She worked in the check-outs, Dick. I did night-fill. I hardly ever saw her. Apart from buying stuff off her, I think I only ever spoke to her once coz we did stock-take in the same aisle and I needed her pen or something. And even then I was freaking out. I couldn’t talk to anyone anymore let alone girls, without feeling like you would explode. Especially at work. I was nervous as shit and embarrassed coz we fought so many times right in front of all of them. But whenever you asked me something like that, you always had your mind made up. Anything I said just made me look guilty to you. Honestly, Dick please, I’m not blaming you, I know why you don’t trust me, but please. I didn’t do anything with Tina. It seriously took me a moment just now to even know who you wer…”
“Fuuuuuck!” She screamed it so hard the air in the room seemed to change colour. Her face contorted. Her entire body tensed, her fists clenched, the cords of her neck strained so hard they might have snapped. She didn’t even scream at him. It was at the world. At everything. That terrible everything that gets to us all sometimes, but gets to some much harder than others. Dick harder than most. Jane couldn’t help but feel for her in that moment. He saw all the years of abuse she had suffered. Her own father for God’s sake, that sick motherfucker. She was a tortured puppy, bitten by rabid paedophiles and left to survive in the wilderness of government institutions. Tears welled in her exhausted and enraged eyes; eyes looking in on a soul he was still to that moment fighting to believe was not beyond repair. She might as well have been eternal for her to fit in all that abuse and yet she couldn’t hide the original child that lived in her still; that reminded him again and again now, unmistakably of their five year old daughter. He had an urge, nothing more than a feeling, boldly optimistic considering the circumstances, that if he reached out and just touched her hand, gently, with all the love he had, she might just come down from this dark rumbling storm-cloud. A sub-atomic feeling of hope, that dared him to stick out his hand and bond with her. It would be risky, her reaction unpredictable, potentially explosive, in all probability fatal, but it would be honest. It would be true to the chemistry they once shared. He would be completely exposing his heart, both emotional and physical, to attack, but that felt right, because from here, no matter what may come Jane was certain, there could be no more masks. His hands were shaking in morbid anticipation, on the very edge of lifting, his feet one neural pulse away from stepping towards her, when she exploded, and all hope was vaporised.
“I’m so sick of that bullshit. ‘Honestly darling. I hardly ever saw her. I only spoke to her once. Nothing happened’. Hardly ever ain’t exactly never, Jane. And I certainly can’t say I’ve never heard that one before. You were always so clever with words weren’t you, Jane. With your Brisbane Grammar education. But you couldn’t hide your body language. That’s where the truth is. Any motherfucker over two years old can talk shit with their mouth. But it takes real pro to talk shit with their body. You were sweating bullets every time we went shopping. You practically got a hard-on when we went through her check-out. Pretty little Tina. Fuckable, big-tittied Tina. That’s probably why they call it a check-out. So cunts like you can perve on little girls like her. I bet she was better than fucked up Rica could ever be. I bet Tina never started crying when you fucked her. I bet
doesn’t either. Why wouldn’t you go for that? Even my friends said you looked
guilty when I mentioned her to
you in front of them that time. And those girls know their shit. And I can tell
you right now, women can spot guilt on a man like an eagle can spot a rabbit in
the desert. We’re designed for it. And then our skills are honed by cheating,
lying bastards our whole lives. You act like you’re so different. I bet you any
money if I didn’t have these titties here, you wouldn’t have touched me with a
ten foot pole. If my dad had’ve managed to fuck
up my face as much as he fucked up my head, you’d have left me to the dogs. You’re
just like the rest of them. You managed to fuck me out the back of the
supermarket on a smoko break when you already had another girl on the go. Why
not Tina? You expect me to believe you were innocent when I saw the way she
avoided my eyes when we went shopping together? Do you have any idea of how
much bullshit I have heard come out of the mouths of men like you? No, because
you are just like the rest. You couldn’t even begin to comprehend it. And you all
think you can get away with it and then blame us for it. You tell yourselves we
just go around making shit up. And beat us until we agree with you. But oh! Typical
fucking women eh! It’s always the woman’s fault. Men can do whatever the fuck
they want. Fuck whoever the fuck they want. And what are they called. Legends.
Studs. And me? What was I called? A slut. A skank. A whore. But that didn’t
stop them coming back for seconds if they thought for an instant they could get
away with it. Didn’t stop them when all they wanted was to get their dick wet
for a minute. But the moment you need help, those times where you just can’t
take it anymore. They’re nowhere to be found. Just like that. Then they could
go back to their wives and drink wine and talk about how fucked up society is
and how women shouldn’t dress this way or that way. Or find some new young bit of
pussy to fuck and fuck over. And then look down on me. And what do they say
when I’m left fucking destitute and abandoned? I had it fucking coming didn’t
I? It was a different story when they thought they could get a root. Weren’t so
uppity about how little I was wearing then. But what did I expect? Women are always
in the wrong. We’re just fucking hysterical. We just making shit up coz we’re
so emotional. Coz we’re on the rag. I suppose I was just making shit up when
you snuck out in the middle of the night with my baby. That little girl I
carried around for nine months. That I gave birth to. My whole fucking world. I
fed that girl with those titties you and every other dumbfuck man can’t keep
your eyes off. I gave her life, and all you get is a stiff cock. Even before,
with a knife in my hand, all you could do was look at my fucking tits. That was
all my fault too wasn’t it? Or was that just a figment of my fucking
imagination too. Even when I’m just imagining things I’m wrong. When you
kidnapped her, and took her to your mum’s house. Nanna fuckin' Klara. Now at,”
she shook the note with the address on it, “ 46 Cooperman Drive, Mile-fucking-ambah, I
was wrong. I had to be. The lawyer said you were right. The judge said you were
right. Well motherfucker! You right now, Jane?
You right now?”
With that last word still leaving her lips, Dick flicked the address at him and launched forward, faster than Jane thought possible, even for her, putting her full weight behind a lunging, stabbing motion which, if the blade had’ve made its mark would have surely come out the other side. But Jane fell backwards, more from shock than strategy. When he looked up, he saw Dick rushing in for another attack, but he launched his feet up at the bar stool that stood between them and it lifted up to meet her tumbling braless breasts, hitting the blade too, making a sound as though the collision actually made the edge that much sharper.
He scrambled backwards, a reverse crawl on all fours until the back of his shoulders came hard up against the wall with the security screen window. The bench was above him. He pulled himself up and hauled himself over into the kitchen side, as Dick crashed into the corner with another swiping movement. A chunk of plaster was gouged from the wall where the knife had struck. Dick was growling and yelling. Not words, but intelligible nonetheless. It was pure rage speaking with perfect diction.
Jane stood up and started grabbing whatever he could from around him and hurling it at his former partner of four and half years. The wooden pepper grinder, sailed past Dick’s head and hit the TV with such force a crack shot out in all directions on the screen. The chopping board, flew like a Frisbee, skidding off the junk mail on the bench before collecting a glass and a magazine on the dining table, no where near where Dick was standing. Jane picked up a wok from in the sink, still half-filled with water from soaking, and with both hands tossed it at Dick, soaking himself in greasy, soy sauce flavoured water in the process. It stung his eyes, but he could see it didn’t connect. As he went to grab an empty wine bottle, left there from the dinner he’d had with Sonia and Nell the night before, Dick vaulted over the bench, but mistimed her landing and crashed into the cupboard right next to Jane. This was his chance. He bolted towards the hallway, but Dick swung her knife wielding hand out and the blade caught his ankle. The bottle left his hand and kept going forward until it met the wall with a hollow clunk, but Jane went down, and the hot sensation of blood escaping and unfathomable pain, shot from his Achilles up his spine to his brain.
Dick sprang up, coming in for the kill. Though this time the prey had been more resilient, she knew she was still top of the food chain. Jane looked down at his foot, his sock slashed open to reveal a bubbling bloody wound. He could see the layer of fat beneath his skin, pale yellow and white. Was that bone? Dick was coming at him full speed. He shot his bleeding ankle up, his foot dangling limply, and Dick ran straight into it, her stomach bending around it, as a burst of forced breath shot from her lips. The horrendous pain of the impact, caused Jane to momentarily slip into another plane of existence, before resurfacing back to the present with the horrible realisation that Dick had fallen right beside him, the knife opening up his upper right arm as she fell. More blood. More pain. But nothing near as much as his ankle. He bounced up to his feet and fell just as quickly, landing a good metre away from her. Everything went sparkly white as he spent another long protracted moment blanking out to deal with the excruciating sensation of having put his full weight on his half severed ankle.
Dick, who must have smacked her head hard on the edge of the sink or something, sat up slightly dazed, with a trickle of blood slowly seeping from her temple down her high cheekbones; cheekbones Jane once found utterly irresistible when she smiled. Drops of blood speckled the yellow shirt
Jane tried once more to stand, and managed to get himself up on his good foot, with his other leg cocked to keep it up. His back was to the stove and the heat of flames that had now turned the bottom half of the kettle a luminescent red, felt like they were burning him too. They probably were. Pain was everywhere. But without the stove he couldn’t have remained standing. He couldn’t run anymore and Dick was now getting to her feet in the only exit from the kitchen that didn’t involve getting across the bench once again. Something Jane knew without doubt he could not manage. The knife, somehow, was still in Dick’s hand as she stood before him, with the already coagulating blood from his ankle and arm that Dick had fallen into, now covering large sections of Sonia’s clothes; the bloody yellow shirt clinging wet to her left breast; a little stream of red still flowing gently down Dick’s face, to fall and mingle soaking with his own more liberal offering.
“If you kill me Dick, you’re gonna go back to jail. Just stop it. Please Dick. Please! You’ll never see Nell again. She’ll never want to see you again. Is that what you want? She could still forgive you Dick. I will explain it all to her. You could explain it to her. Please. Just stop.” He was sobbing, screaming hoarsely, pleading and breathing like an exhausted dog.
“They were never gonna let me see her again anyway. And neither were you. You were glad I was out of the picture. And if I was you right now, I’d be making promises I couldn’t keep too. At least this way, I got a chance. I could take her up north, or over to WA, where no cunt will bother us. And if they do find me, and they get to me before I pull a dad, and prevent myself from going back to prison.” She didn’t have to explain for Jane to know what she meant, “Well, at least this time it’d be for something I actually did, and not just attempted.”
It was the blade Jane saw, not Dick. The light above caught it as it came slashing at his face. He ducked, but he felt something hard connect with the top of his head. The feeling was so raw he had no thoughts that seemed to fit the description. He slid down the oven to the floor. Above him, in his periphery, he saw a sudden explosion of orange light. Then Dick, Rica Hansen-Romero, from the TV, flew back from the stovetop with a ball of flame where her hair should have been. She crashed backwards into the bench with such force, it looked like her spine bent a full ninety degrees, before hitting the ground in a screaming fit of fire. She was clawing at her head and lashing out with her legs. The pungent stink of burning hair and flesh forced its way into Jane’s fading consciousness, rousing him briefly to witness the flaming writhing agony before him, only to let him fade again.
Jane had no idea how long he was out, but the flames were gone. Though her scalp was still smouldering, Dick had stopped moving. The odour of her Vitalis fuelled incineration thick in the air. Jane’s head felt as though someone had hit it with an axe, and little pieces, like woodchips, had flown off, leaving a wedge in his skull. “Nell?” He didn’t know whether he’d thunk it or said it. He had to get up. He had to get to the phone. Had to call Nanna Klara. Had to call triple-O. Had to…
A beeping sound.
The washing machine. Dick put something in the washing machine.
Jane managed to open his eyes from a lost dream. His vision coalesced upon a twisted, blood-stained lump, laying across from him…
He snapped awake again though his eyes barely opened. Blood had begun to glue his eye-lashes together. There were pools of dark red, with skid marks through them all over the tile floor, left by the chaos he had, he was guessing, just lived through…
He came to, slumped against the stove, to the memory of Dick’s fiery head flying over him and across the kitchen. Dick hadn’t got up to attack him again. He was hurt though. Hurt very bad. And where was Nell? She’s at mum’s. She’ll still be mad at me. I should just stay home and paint…
Gasping he woke suddenly, with a clarity that felt unnatural. Concussion and shock saved him from the ordeal of being too aware of his pain. The light above, was as bright as any sun. He had to move. He had to find Nell. The thought of getting his phone, calling triple-O, calling his mum, seeing Nell, picking her up and hugging her to his chest, feeling the proof that she was safe, gave him new found strength. The thought of standing up to do it though, made him realise just how weak he was. But he had to. He’d drag himself there even if it took him an hour. Even if it killed him. He had too.
That’s not the washing machine. The fire alarm. Dick’s head set off the fire alarm.
Jane let himself slide sideways down the oven to the ground in order to begin the longest journey across a kitchen floor he would ever embark on. He inched his way over the tiles, past Dick, careful not to touch her, rounded the bench, and dragged himself like a shark-bitten seal over to where his backpack still lay. Occasionally his ankle would catch on the tiles, or debris from the fight, and he would blank out in agony, only to rouse again, and drag himself on towards everything and everyone that could make this better. Past the barstool that saved his life, to the corner by the window that almost killed him. His bag lay there waiting for him. He put everything he had into getting himself upright enough to lean on the wall, then, with the hand on the arm that hadn’t been slashed open, started going through the compartments of the backpack.
Another beeping sound. Different to the shrill fire alarm. The load is finished, he thought, until he felt a familiar buzz in his cargo shorts. The phone had been in his pocket the whole time. It was ringing.
By the time he’d managed to get it out, the call had ended. He was beyond sighing. It was just another tragic and potentially fatal irony to accept. It made a beeping sound, quiet compared to the wailing of the fire alarm. ‘You have 18 missed calls: Mum’ the screen said. Eighteen! How long have I been out? Then the phone started to vibrate, and in less than a second came a beeping sound to notify him he was being called. ‘Mum’ the screen said. His bloody fingers tried in slow desperate clumsiness to answer. The touch screen didn’t seem to register the swiping through the film of blood. He squeezed with all his remaining might and slid his thumb from the little incoming-call green phone to the outside of the circle. It was answering. He put the phone to his ear, and when he did, he felt the blood that coated it completely and pooled up inside its hollows. He tilted his head to the side and coagulating blood drained from his ear hole. He had to force himself to stay conscious.
“Mum.” It came out a shattered whisper.
“Yáhneh. It’s Mum. Are you there?”
“Are you ok? Yáhneh. What’s that noise? Yáhneh, have you seen the news? It’s Dick. Dick’s escaped from prison. The police called me not long ago, said they couldn’t get in touch with you. Did you not give them your new number darling? Yáhneh I’ve been worried sick about you. They said they went to your house but you weren’t home. Are you ok? Yáhneh. I’ve been trying to call you too but you weren’t picking up. Are you at home? I put Nell to bed but, should I come get you? Yáhneh, where are you? I spoke to Sonia, she said she hadn’t heard from you either, but she’s all the way down in town still with her sister. Yáhneh, are you ok? Please darling. The police said they were s….”
The phone fell to the floor. Another alarm. Beep. Beep. Beep. Not the phone. The washing machine. Dick’s load must be done.
A FEW WORDS OF ACKOWLEDGMENT AND EXPLANATION
If you’re reading this, then you’ve just read my take on Dick and Jane. The “Dick and Jane” concept, was a creative writing exercise set out by Stephen King in On Writing; his attempt at explaining the art and work of creative writing; and how he “came to the craft”.
The concept was designed to put a spin on the usual bad guy vs. good girl trope all too often played out in thriller fiction—and unfortunately, all too often in real life—by reversing the genders of the victim/attacker. It wasn’t intended to be a quasi-feminist statement, “Hey! Women have the right to be psycho killers too!”, nor a misogynist apologist narrative saying, “See! Men suffer too!” It was much more of an attempt to get people, new to the craft, to think outside of the little hollow cube like thing we hear so much about.
He set up a scenario involving two people, Dick and Jane, ex-lovers with a terrible history that led to their separation via means that, while unspecified, were clearly less than a peaceful agreement. He inserted certain props into the narrative mix, like Vitalis Hair Tonic and a boiling kettle, but other than that, he pretty much left it up to each individual writer who took the plunge to turn these elements into a story. This is my attempt to bring Dick and Jane to life, and perhaps…death.
After writing this story, I contacted the Stephen King Website to see if they were still making good on the offer in On Writing, for sending in our versions of the tale. The reply was swift and polite.
Jordan. M. Hahn, said that Stephen
had not thought through his generous offer, and the possibility that people
would still be sending in Dick and Jane stories even still, decades after the
original publishing had not occurred to him at the time. Thank you, but, sorry, no. We are planning on
removing that offer from future editions of the book.
Bah! Rejection is nothing…sob. I love my Dick. And my Jane. Surely somebody else would be interested in seeing my Dick and Jane if Stephen is too busy writing his next best-selling novel. I will try to get it published elsewhere I thought. But I should ask permission. The last thing I want is a literary hero suing me for using his Dick and Jane without permission. So I wrote back. Excuse me sir, another moment of your time. Can I..? Would you mind if..? Of course I’ll acknowledge you. Really! That’s fucking awesome news!!! Regards, yours truly.
That’s my version of events and I’m sticking too it. What my version of Dick and Jane turned into was more than just a writing exercise. It was an exploration of some of the most deplorable of human tendencies, and how they affect those that can’t escape them. I give you Dick and Jane.
I would say enjoy…but it seems like the wrong word.
Dau Branchazel 2015
Dau Branchazel 2015