“Suburbia is totally fucked up,” Maia announces, as she rips open a croissant. She slept out on the front lawn last night.
Dad looks like he wishes he’d stayed in bed. Toni sneezes and blows her nose. The cat on their bed worked. She looks awful.
“What’s ‘suburbia’?” Ellie singsongs. They must have practised this.
“And clean their cars,” says Ellie, “when they aren’t even dirty.” Dad washed her car yesterday while she sunbathed and I jacked off. That white bikini.
“Exactly. Who the fuck mows their lawn at 7.30 in the morning – on a Sunday?”
“Maia…” Dad’s warning lacks teeth, but his eyes plead. Toni’s eyebrows go up. Maia’s swearing has been tolerated since Mum left. “Do you mind?”
“It’s totally decadent.”
“What’s ‘decadent’?” As if, Ellie – it’s been Maia’s favourite word since the divorce – it replaced ‘miasma.’
“Sounds like a kind of toothpaste.” Nice try, Dad. Toni smiles, but she’s way out of her depth.
“Bimbo/ bimbo/ legs akimbo!” That’s the poem Maia wrote in soap on the bathroom mirror last night. Dad hasn’t said anything, even though it has been wiped off.
“More croissants?” Toni’s doing breakfast. There’s a puff of smoke as the oven door opens. She burns herself on the oven tray, screams, and runs over to the sink to run cold water on it, her shoulders shaking.
Category Archives: Damian Pullen
Cycling home we saw a farmer standing by his sheep, with his shotgun on his shoulder. On the radio Paul Locke said respect the rule of law.
It got really cold and they closed the school. We went down to the river and caught a couple of small trout. Not really enough for five of us and Solo, but Dad made a big thing about it, so we went again. It rained and Dane lost his hook, so we collected firewood instead and came home, freezing and hungry.
When Dad went hunting with a neighbour someone stole our firewood, and Solo disappeared. Dad came back all dirty the next day, saying it wasn’t really safe out there, too many desperate people looking for food. We’d never eaten goat before, and it tasted and smelled weird. You had to chew it for ages. Mum said eat up, a billion Indians can’t be wrong. Susie started crying in bed that night. She asked if people eat cats.
Dad is busy digging the lawn up and planting seed trays. He brings them in at night. He reckons there’s another month of frosts to go. A man came to the door selling possums for $10 each, but we didn’t buy one.
Tonight for supper we had potatoes, with salt on. Just like the Irish in the bad old days, Mum said. The butter is all gone.
We all sleep in the same room, and Dad won’t let us listen to the radio any more.
He is smiling. It stinks of burned hair. He stares, grinning, while Krystelle tries not to cry. Mrs. Harley moves him to the front. He whines when she takes his bunsen. He tells her he likes experiments.
She’s new so maybe she still feels sorry for him. He’s got eczema and is small for his age. We call him “scab,” and hiss if he comes too close. Even the teachers hate him. At the end of class she reminds us about tomorrow’s field trip.
Next morning, he’s cupping something in his hands. It’s a mouse, a cute brown baby one. We crowd round to see, and then he squeezes hard, crushes it. Krystelle grabs my arm, and goes white. He shakes the floppy little body at us, smiling. By the time the teacher arrives, he’s thrown it into the bushes.
She’s put him in our group. He finds a fishhook and some line on the beach. He ties one end around a rock, and baits the hook with a piece of his sandwich. Almost immediately a gull lands, swallows it, and tries to take off, screaming. He throws the rock into the water and we watch the as the struggling bird is dragged under.
Mrs. Harley seems to run in slow motion.
Krystelle’s a lot bigger than him. She sits on his chest, her knees on his arms, and sort of scratches and rips his face with her long fingernails, shouting “How do you like it, you freak?”
“What have they done with it?”
“Looks better, don’t you think?”
She smiles. She is serious. The whole front yard has been cleared out. The grass is short and the bushes have been cut right back. It looks bare.
“He was never going to do anything with it. They gave Mum $50 for scrap.”
I stare at the empty driveway as the engine cools, ticking softly. There is the darker outline of the car on the concrete in front of us, and four marks where the tyres had slowly disintegrated over the years.
“No, come on – what’s up?”
“It’s just a bit of a shock, to see it gone. It was… part of us. Right?”
She looks at me, then laughs. That annoying cackle, like her mother’s.
Staring at her suddenly unfamiliar face I wonder: was it us in that musty, magical car? Was thatour childhood of high-speed police chases, grisly auto wrecks, emergency childbirths on the back seat, endless space missions, doomed road trips across the Sahara? Then stolen cigarettes, shared bottles of beer, our first French kiss and… that night. All of it so vivid and exquisite. The cold leather seats, the smell of old carpet, the sagging roof lining…
“Didn’t it mean anything to you?”
“No! I was actually ashamed of the rusty old heap. This place was always so untidy compared to yours. Come on, let’s go in. Mum will be waiting.”
“You go ahead. I just want one more cigarette.”
Everything has gone: my clothes, phone, wallet, wristwatch, passport. I stare at my bare feet, soft and white. They took my shoes, even my socks. Probably just kids. You crash out, dead drunk, and in the night they strip you. No mercy. Not that I deserve it. I remember nothing, not even the name of the town, but here I am, on a park bench in my underwear, the morning sun already burning.
People walking past glance at me, the empty bottle, then away. Some come back the other way, laughing. I stagger blindly across the grass and vomit in the flowerbed. This time yesterday we were together, on the first day of our make-or-break holiday, in a luxury campervan. Now I’m alone, nearly naked, puking in a public place, in a foreign country, and I stink of piss. Yes, I pissed myself. I was that drunk. I needed to be. She drove off and left me, like you abandon a dog.
I see what she’s doing. I know I’m going to have to beg. I gasp, spit, retch again. Nothing’s left now except white pain throbbing behind the eyes. I need a drink of water and a shower, clean clothes, a coffee, food, money, a bed. Most of all, water. I want to crawl into the bushes and hide for a while, but the bark chips dig into my hands and knees, so I stumble back into the merciless sunlight, collapse and curl up on the spiky grass, crying.
Didn’t even know she had a son, says Mum. Dad goes upstairs and looks through the binoculars. Says he looks a bit of a hobo, and not surprising really, given the mother.
He doesn’t do much, mostly just sits under a tree, and sleeps outside, in a tent with a little porch. His mother’s dying of cancer. Everyone knows. We hear her moaning and crying sometimes. He keeps a fire going day and night, and sometimes the smoke blows across the street and stinks us out.
Our dog Milly runs over to their place and Dad sends me to get her. She’s lying on her back while he rubs her tummy. He’s made some damper dough and we cook it on sticks, then dip it in honey, delicious. Milly sniffs around their place.
He’s never been to school or anything. He says he’s an explorer. He lives in a tent ‘cos he doesn’t like houses, they can’t come with you. Dad calls me back after a while. Place is a bloody mess, he says.
Mum thinks the old lady ought to go back to the hospice but the community nurse reckons they can’t force her. Some days she lies in the sun, wrapped in an old blanket. One night we saw them doing a dance round the fire. It can’t be much longer, Mum says.
He’s started building a raft out of bamboo. He’s going to take it down the river, all the way to the sea, when she’s gone.
The plane drops through the thin layer of smog and shudders on the rubber-scarred runway. After hours over the infinite dreamy blue Pacific, LAX is another world. Science fiction. Beside me, Tomasi grips the armrests and stares. He’s never left the atoll before. Now 18, he’s on his way to Germany, to join a merchant ship.
LA burns. A river, a torrent of oil, feeding this furnace, driving the frenzied, incessant movement. Heat haze and exhaust fumes blanket the acres of concrete, glass, steel and seared brown grass, dulling the bright early morning sun.
We taxi, kilometre after kilometre, though the flat, disorienting landscape of lines, numbers and signs. The hostesses, with fresh makeup and stale smiles, thank us half-heartedly as we shuffle out, and down the steps into the kerosene-flavoured air. Tomasi, tense and bewildered, stays close.
Hostile airport cops with guns and batons shout instructions against the roar of the machines and marshal us into the transfer buses, great low-slung things with black concertina middles. “Back of the bus! Move down inside! Let’s go, let’s GO!” A tired-looking woman mutters “Welcome to America” to no-one in particular, as we are packed in.
The doors hiss shut and the bus accelerates. Another long ride, speeding past rows of parked planes, warehouses and hangars. No-one talks.
One day, the river will be dry. I see grass growing through cracks in the concrete and people living in the smoke-blackened stairwells of our fantastic monuments. Tomasi turns cautiously, and smiles.