There are no cafes in Keysborough. Even after twenty minutes by foot and another twenty by bus all I can find is a milk bar with bright lights barking COFFEE from the window. The sign is huddled with advertisements for art classes, Kumon, and a request for “young women who want to earn $$$$ as nude models for amateur photographer.” I am fairly certain they will have neither soy nor almond milk at this establishment. Living near the city has softened me. I walk differently now, expecting to reach places, see people, find art. I recoil from the clean ticky tacky boxes that surround the milk bar. New, shiny, and certainly not adequately soundproofed, these homes would once have read to me as signs of achievement, of certainty, of home and family. But walking past them now I see only isolation, a community that ends where Masterchef begins, towns no bigger than a kitchen, a lounge and three bedrooms. I am thankful for my sprawling, transient community that rolls across the inner north. Of course there was a time when I longed for the independence these little rooms would offer, for the freedom of solitude. There was a time when I lived in Suburbia.
The small moments are ouroboric; they circle back, consuming themselves until five minutes of staring into darkness becomes fifteen, becomes sixty, becomes one hundred and thirty five of the same minutes layered one over the other. The shape of shadows shift only with the moon sliding across the night sky, or the slash of headlights from some lone driver. The sounds are hushed, but they are persistent: a tap in the kitchen, a possum on a fence two houses over, grunt and click of claws, motors in the distance that could be the hum of waves but for the fact the water is too far away. These sounds are occasionally punctuated by a train’s horn, a noise usually masked by more immediate daytime interruptions, but that rings clear when there is only darkness to speak through.
Underneath it all is the ringing in my ears, a persistent note, a string, that ties one day to the next.
He steadied himself against the brick wall. A street lamp spilled the illusion of warmth over this feet. The morning air was crisp and cold against his throat. It stung a he swallowed it. The wall beneath his fingertips hummed rough like bees. He leant there longer than he needed to, letting his eyes misfocus on the sidewalk, letting his fingertips Braille the bricks. He imagined that if he pressed his whole hand against the wall, the stories kept within it would soak up his arm. They would replace his own stories. He could start afresh. He could be new.
The park was quiet in the early hours of the morning. Birds chattered, there was the buzz of distant traffic, but for the moment, in the park, it was still. There were no dog walkers or children or other people. The sun was just starting to hint at a new day, but it was struggling to get out of bed. The eastern sky was flushed and tired. She was starting to feel that way herself, but hadn’t quite made it there yet. She climbed the slide, and her mother was loud in her ears, scolding her, but the view from the cubby at the top was worth it.
The eucalyptus trees that surrounded the equipment creaked as they swayed back and forth. It was still dark enough that the occasional bat passed by, making its way back to the city to sleep. The floor of the cubby was covered in tan bark, chuppa chip sticks, and crisp packets, and there was a low bench that spined along the back. She tried squatting on it but she had to hunch over enough that it was uncomfortable. Instead she lay down, her feet elevated against it, her head at the lip of the slide. The world looked different like this. The world would always look different now.
The night couldn’t be more perfect. She looked down at her fingers laced between his and swung their hands in time with their steps. She felt him gently squeeze her hand and, looking up at him, she couldn’t believe her life. His smile uncurled over his teeth and he flicked his hair from his eyes. The moon peeked from behind Notre Dame’s spires and lit the cobbled roads before them as they walked toward Place de St Michel.
The tick gets into my ear, itching its way past whorls and drums and settling behind my eyes, steadying to a pulse. It makes the shadows in my bedroom flicker. The light from my neighbour’s front porch shouts out, startled by a neighbourhood cat or a possum on a fence. I try to place the noise that startled me awake, its rhythm tapping like an impatient shoe. There’s no clock in my room, no watches. There’s no need. Time means nothing when you are floating in and out of dreams, in and out of bed. All is sheets and pillows.
I can’t remember the last time I saw him take Eucharist. I don’t know that I ever have. I remember, during my childhood, that he would step reluctant to Mass, happy enough to hear me singing but otherwise disinterested.
“I’m not in the right frame of mind,” he would say when I asked him why he didn’t go up for Communion. I wondered what that frame of mind might be that would stop someone from whispering a secret word to the priest in exchange for whatever it was they ate. I was desperate to make that walk myself. Why wasn’t he?
Every story starts with a disruption of some sort. In this case, that disruption was that my friend, Daniel, got caught walking in the rain. He wrote a story about it and sent it to me. His words were beautiful. I wanted more of them. It turns out that I’m an ogress who eats stories rather than children. This is probably a good thing.