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Clue Five (Duncan Felton)

16 May

I’m hunchbacked over keys, typing faster than electricity, and I’m melting into the couch and the clackettyclackettyclack is the erratic rhythm of everything and everything is about to come together when a subtle sound (‘fftt’) jabs my reverie. I swivel my neck, possessed, looking for the sound. My eyes laser to the sliver of blue hall-light under the door. A sudden white rectangle slid there also. I clamber over the back of the couch, scamper over electronic, organic and uncategorised waste. An envelope. No address, just two words: CLUE ONE. Grasped. No contents. From that, my first and last case begins.

My apartment: an office. I make a sign bearing ‘P.I.’ and affix it to the desk/couch, then venture out into the aqueous corridor, to the garbage disposal. The two-doors-down lady across the hall, she doorway glares, all curlers and stareful judgement circuits, bags of fluid. I size her up with detective instinct to instantaneously decide she knows nothing and so hiss at her. Slam. Well, good. I investigate the chute, peering down darkness. Nothing. Process of elimination rocketing to victory. Scuttling return to office, shifting eyes, swipe my card and enter, almost slipping on another rectangle, deposited while my back wasn’t watching.

Horizontal, I later lay in wait, forehead to doorjamb, eyeballs moist and freshly peeled, scanning up and down the glowing hall sliver.  But: fruitless.  I reluctantly hobble off to excrete stench into my cubicle. Awaiting my return, secreted into my cleared sentryway is yet another accursed postal infiltration. Clearly a well-matched adversary, pending nemesis. Roll the dice, make a move, hide, seek, repeat.  I hold my poor poker player hand triptych and consider the portents of their contents. CLUE ONE: empty. CLUE TWO: ‘get out’. CLUE THREE: ‘or else’. Certain of warning and meaning in the envelopes, I deduce espionage.

Constant beyond shutters, dark hours hurtle into light relentless, like the insect vehicles below far.  My cybersearch yielded little, my calculation literature: inconclusive, but I hesitate to look further than askance. Through the dim, I  sustenance slurp from tins of oiled cabbagefruit, keep attuned with high-vol rumblewave. Perseverance. But the peeking mystery morning prickles my retina, vicegrips my mindmince. A vendetta to sleuthtaunt, sinister epistles, communiques of gumshoe confoundment, slow beckon, stupor greyout. I awaken in sixth-sense seizure. CLUE FOUR arrived as I snored. ‘Final Warning’: the fine-fonted memo within. My clockwork jigsaw conundrum clicks and whirrs, self-constructs revelatory panorama.

It’s that trickly hepcat downhall: Klaus Dagmar! With his cursive whiskers, typographical spectacles and poisonous flares – Nemesis! Incipient checkmate, elaborate takedown. Finally: hallbound. I go to grapple with his doorbell, with bundled documents, holstered eviction drafts. But affixed beneath his door numerals: CLUE FIVE. Prodigal evidence. Victory grin. Momentary clutched, then taloned apart. I blindburst inhale a choke of white. Spore scrabble, hollering revulsion, jarring bellowing enemy mirth behind doors. Headpipes sizzling, tumbling elevator evac, whooshing earthbound, spluttering apocalyptic.  My initial mission: de-mystery. Now: pending detective infection hospitalisation bracket incognito vagabond eviction peripatetic itinerant endbracket. End investigation. Ever-closed case.

Calculations (Elizabeth Bryer)

9 May

The alarm goes off early morning, and in her dream she is thrust into a hospital as the monitor of a ghostly someone makes the piercing sound of a heart stopped. It’s been ten years since she found her father cold on the kitchen floor and yet still her sleeping mind throws up such things.

After fumbling with the clock she reaches for the warm body beside her and, when she finds him, burrows her face into his chest until he slips an arm across her back. It’s only after they have breakfasted and showered and he has left for work that she is struck by something: for some time now she has been sleeping on the left-hand side of the bed. No longer the tangle of limbs, no longer the rolling apart while dreaming to a different side each night.

She checks beside the bed and it’s as she suspects: her books are piled there, a few pairs of earrings lie there, her hair ties are scattered there. And, on the right-hand side, on the floor, are his things: three DVDs, a scarf, some socks. She stands there a moment—freshly showered, freshly kissed goodbye—and wonders at her alarm.

The coffee she brews finishes what the shower began; after downing it, she sits at her desk to start today’s accounting job, alert. But she is also restless, oddly, so after an unproductive hour she scrounges around for a scarf and, not finding one, grabs his (from the floor beside his side of the bed) before hurrying outside.

She finds herself heading to the supermarket but once there she can’t think of anything they need and so doesn’t go through the glass doors when they part for her. She encounters some women spilling out of a cafe, loose limbed and giggly, the bubbling of their conversation punctured with laughter. She finds herself smiling in their wake. And then comes, just as abruptly, the dread of the dream made fierce by memories of her father (his careful explanations to her queries; his drawing her attention to the beautiful orderliness of numbers; his sudden, brutal abandonment). She’ll have to change the tone on her alarm clock.

When she returns home she brews another coffee and gets back to work. She relaxes into the comfort of the figures behaving as she expects them to, the symmetry and rhythm of her calculations and, finally, a perfectly exact balance sheet.

But she finishes early and the solace fades. She distracts herself by googling around until she remembers something she vaguely considered reading once. She decides she must search for that book right away. She finds it; it’s cheap; she means to buy it. She clicks through the payment-details pages, hoping that the knowledge of a purchase in the mail will help ease this creeping discomfort.

‘Ship to same address? Yes / No’

She stares at the question a moment and then hesitates before making a move to click ‘Yes’. She checks the clock. One hour until he’s home. He is perfect in every way—she can’t remember a time when someone made her happier—and now they have their own sides of the bed.

‘Ship to same address? Yes / No’

She stills her breathing and makes a final calculation: x + y = z, where x = love, y = loss and z = grief. The chance of y, she knows, is much greater than most people imagine. And the only way to avoid z in the case of y occurring is to stifle x before it grows too deep.

She closes the laptop and goes into the bedroom, where she pulls her clothes from the wardrobe and starts shoving them into a suitcase. If she finishes quickly, she can make the break before the sight of him melts her resolve.

Scenes from Orbital Brides: The Lady’s Request (Daniel East)

25 Apr

A cream-coloured door with two deadbolts ajar; through it walks a young woman in blue trackpants, her strawberry-blonde hair pulled into a ponytail, three shoeboxes in her hands, nails unpainted. She enters a room to the left of shot. A man in jeans climbs three front steps, boxes obscuring his face. Bumps into the doorframe, swears, then walks toward camera down the hall and exits to the right.

PAN LEFT. Scuffed floorboards, high wooden ceilings, lopsided venetians, a citrus tree and a fence.

‘You okay?’

‘Ran into the door.’

‘Be careful, honey.’

‘Yeah yeah.’

More boxes, a purple futon, another doorway leading to a linoleum kitchen.

CUT TO: the woman is standing at the sink, kettle boiling, stacking plates into the cupboard, hanging spoons on a cutlery tree. She wipes beads of sweat from her neck. Turns around, opens the uncurtained window, stops. Her face hardens, softens, her top lip twitches.

‘Tom?’ With urgency. ‘Tom!’

BACKYARD: two eucalypts, a steel Hills hoist and a clearing beneath it in which can be seen a tribe of tiny aborigines. They hunt through the lawn, pushing through overgrown buffalo grass with twig spears. Thumbnail-sized babies suckle at freckle-sized breasts, mothers crosslegged under the wavering shadow of the clothes line.

The couple on the back verandah. Tom scratches at the wristband of his watch.

‘Come on in, Jen. I’ll call the real estate in the morning.’

Jennifer’s hair is pulled over one shoulder like a question mark.

LOUNGE ROOM. TIME LAPSE: Tom moving through the room, boxes appear and disappear, Jen huddled on the couch, on the phone, then with a cup of tea, an argument, a cuddle – behind the futon, the lemon tree glows green, yellow, purple, now the window mirrors the room. Time lapse over, they eat a pizza from the box.

‘What do they want?’

‘Babe, don’t worry. Eat my artichoke.’

‘I don’t want it.’

They are lying in bed. She is staring at the ceiling. He mumbles in his sleep. A windy night, trees whistle, sirens wail, midnight to predawn to sunrise.

FLASHCARD:THE NEXT MORNING

A cluster of chest-high skyscrapers, paddocks of clover extending from the suburbs to the soil quarries by the back door. A red helicopter swoops past the space needle. She speaks with choked pauses.

‘It all looks so small from up here.’

‘They’ll send someone out this afternoon.’ He goes inside.

FLASHCARD: THAT AFTERNOON

The suburbs deserted, shattered glass and overturned cars. Burnt homes like teeth with the crowns rotted through. Fields empty and torched. Cables reach up to the arms of the Hills hoist, red and green lights affixed to the four cross beams. He stands alongside, rubbing her shoulders. She puts her ringless left hand on his to cease his idle movement and says:

‘Tom. I want a baby.’

The Waiting (Elizabeth Bryer)

6 Apr

She sits quietly, ankles and knees pressed together, hands settled neatly into her lap on the faded flower print of her tired dress. She is not going anywhere but would much prefer to be and indeed imagines she is, even though in her imagination it is not to somewhere but to someone. That would be preferable to this waiting that gnaws at her as it has for long years past.

She unfolds and refolds her hands.

There is a glossiness to her eyes that could be hope, but could just as well be the pain of memory and its fixedness, its fact, threatening to overwhelm. She hears children before they come into view, their glee tumbling ahead of them. She notices without contempt that they quieten their chatter as they hurry past her house, and she wonders if they think she is a witch. If her frailty, unkempt appearance, crinkly skin and lonesome existence reveal that her broom has aspirations far above sweeping the floor and that her kitchen cradles a cauldron.

She wonders this as she sits on the veranda, bones creaking gently, waiting with glossy eyes as she has for many years. But above all what she wonders, as she has wondered countless times, is this: Can what I am doing be called waiting when I was the one who left?

Ghosts I and II (Sarah St Vincent Welch)

3 Mar

I

Ghosts shift by the road in the moonlight, standing in line, alert.

A collision with a kangaroo is not only unpalatable to the kangaroo but is expensive to the motorist with the average panel-beating cost estimated at approximately $3000.

It was as if I dreamed his dying while half asleep in the front room, listening to him roll over in the gutter, lifting and dropping his tail. My ghosts called to him and let him in; I tried to wake. I heard the ranger come with her winch, her gun, her soft voice, and I continued to dream, listening to him still, even though she’d taken him away.

Foot length was used to estimate age in preference to head length because of the difficulty of obtaining consistent measurements of head length from multiple field staff. Leg length was not used because of the high incidence of broken legs in macropod road-kills.

Dogs lick blood off metal.

There were large and statistically significant differences in kill rates between different moon phases, seasons, and between males and females for immature animals.

I just collected him. Saw him in my lights. A little one. He hit the bonnet, then the roof, and I kept driving, while holding my boy’s hand.

II

In the 1960s in country New South Wales churches were open every day, any time you visited them. We’d pull up, grind up the dirt roads and swerve round potholes, our dust rising over the gentle church—open for us— light behind it, an overexposed photo in my mind.

I touched the font. I touched the holy water, the pews. I touched the organ, pulled the stops. I wasn’t allowed to touch the cross. Flowers on the altar wilted mid-week. We signed the Visitors’ Book. My father kneeled, bobbed and crossed himself. My mother’s aching knees would not let her worship. And out the back—the graveyard—our destination.

I loved the babies’ gravestones. In the arms of Jesus, a month, or only a year old, I calculated. Jesus said, Suffer the little children to come unto me. ‘Gentle Jesus meek and mild, look upon a little child, pity my simplicity.’

White moulded flowers in wire mesh. Broken headstones. My father rubbed the words with chalk to reveal the names, the dates, the dedications, the shallow grooves in the worn out stone.

My mother says I’d lean over from the back seat and whisper, ‘Drive on, there’s another graveyard, don’t let him see it,’ as my father slept. I don’t remember it that way. I remember graveyards, their dirt in my mouth and under my nails, and the child ghosts I met, and wish now we’d stopped at every one.

Dad parked the car on an empty road and kissed Mum under the mistletoe (or what they called the mistletoe) a heavy parasite hanging from the Stringy Barks. I pretended to sleep in the back.

In the 2000s, New South Wales’ country churches are locked against vandals, their Visitors’ Books closed.

In Bendigo, Victoria, my little boy and I visited a Chinese temple. Shadows touched the red and gold walls. The year before we came the ancestor scrolls were smeared with shit and burned. He counted the remaining scrolls, practising his numbers.

We believe in ancestors, believe in ghosts.

***

Report text from LIVING WITH EASTERN GREY KANGAROOS IN THE A.C.T. – PUBLIC LAND THIRD REPORT TO THE MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT, LAND AND PLANNING A.C.T. KANGAROO ADVISORY COMMITTEE October 1997

Eight Rules for Making Fire (Shane Strange)

29 Feb

  1. I watch him through the kitchen window as he cuts the wood, outside, in the cold morning.  He has his back to me. I watch as he braces his legs and raises the axe over his head and, with two arms, brings the axe down.  In my mind’s eye I can see the muscles flex and contract in his back, the tendons in his legs strain, the muscles on the side of his neck widen beneath his scarf.  Mists roll in the valley. The mountain is covered in a grey veil. When the sun rises higher it will burn off the mists. And through the day, the shadow of the mountain will meander across the valley before darkness again.
  2. He is the bear man – a big, slow man. I am the tiny bird: the sparrow; the wren.  My life burns away faster than others. I flutter.  My heart beats fast against my chest. When he opens his arms, I fall into his paunch, and he wraps his arms around me and folds his claws together at the nape of my neck.
  3. I imagine that he has become an adept, a scholar, a high priest of being with me:  versed in my moods and emotions. I should be grateful, but his levelness, his steadfastness, his reliability have all been used at times in judgement of me. We have had mighty battles. No quarter has been given. More than once, we have verged on dissolution. In this way we have mapped our tendernesses.
  4. Some days we walk long into the property, him and me, tracing cattle tracks, noting rusted barbed wire fences and tiny gullies of eroded soil. There is a forest of eucalypt trees and low scrub down the mountain and into the valley.  The trees are silent and shambolic, with gnarled branches tapering into the sky as if seeking fissures in the air.
  5. Once, we discovered an old house down beyond the forest. A solid, brick chimney stood alongside foundation stones: the outline of a home. Inside the area that the foundation stones described, he found an old tin can and a solid piece of rust-coated metal that he said was a tool of some kind. Near the chimney I found the rim of an old pot, a china cup handle, a bone. I stuck my head inside the chimney. The back was stained dark – charred bricks crumbling. In a shadow in the back corner something shone for a moment, and without thinking I reached my hand in to grasp the shiny thing. It was a tiny spoon, stained green and black, such as might be used to feed a child or a baby. ‘Be careful,’ I felt his hand between my shoulders. I stepped out and he pointed up to the top of the chimney where a brick teetered out over the edge, ready to fall. We walked back through the trees and along the cattle tracks in silence. He carried the metal tool with him, and I held the spoon in my pocket, tightly and secretly, rubbing its bowl with my thumb.
  6. As I make lunch, I watch him working on the wood shed from the kitchen window.  I watch him saw wood with a handsaw on an old wood horse, and drill nails with a hand drill, and sand down boards with sandpaper wrapped around an off cut block of wood. I know at the end of the day he will have exhausted himself, and I worry that he overdoes it. But he is strong. He is always strong.  At the table in the kitchen, we eat in silence.
  7. In the evenings, he and I eat on a small table in the lounge room.  After we finish he clears the table and washes the dishes while I sit in an armchair with a glass of wine, staring into the fire.  I always let him deal with the needs of the fire. I like to pretend it is a mystery that only he is privy to. I hear the chink and splash of dishes as he washes them in the water. He hums to himself while he cleans: croaky and low.
  8. The fire is like a hand that holds me, and a hand that crushes the wood into bright embers. The wine is having an effect. I can feel it drawing down my throat, like a long cold wire. White smoke is being drawn upwards into the chimney and away across the mountain. It is the smoke that chokes us, never the fire. What is this place we are in? This place of quiet trees, waiting for fire.

Do You Remember? (Laurie Steed)

17 Feb

It’s fifteen years since the accident and the guy who fell off the ute is back on track. He’s got a job at DPC and has coffee-drinking competitions with a blond-haired, blue-eyed guy called Adam Eisenberg from Ontario, Canada.

I agree to meet the guy and Adam at an Irish pub in Northbridge because it’s Friday night and I’ve got nothing better to do. The guy says he needs to go to the toilet and leaves me with Adam Eisenberg, who asks where all the girls are:

“They’re all around you,” I say.

“Not these girls. The girls.”

“You mean women?”

“The girls out west,” he says, like I know what he’s talking about.

Further discussion reveals that Girls out West is a porn site where bored girls take their pants off in storerooms, parks, and outside abandoned houses. I say it sounds creepy and Adam says it should be but it’s not.

“Who’s your favourite?”

“I like Chloe,” he says.

“Who’s she?”

“Chloe,” he says, “is dynamite.”

He tells me about a particular photo shoot; she’s wearing a green coat but then she takes off the coat and she’s wearing nothing underneath. She lays down in the grass and starts playing with herself. “You can see the houses over the fence,” says Adam. “They’re just in some park somewhere and she’s playing with herself, with like dildos and shit. It’s wild.”

“So what makes her so special?” I say.

“You ever seen a girl, wanted to be with her, in her?”

“Mm.”

“Well that’s it,” says Adam. “Come on, let’s blow this joint.”

I know I came with the guy who fell off the ute but he’s nowhere to be seen. I remember a bouncer hauling someone out and we both said “Taxi,” and then I laughed so hard that beer came out of my nose.

It’s fifteen years to the day since the accident. I know this is not where I’m supposed to be but my brain doesn’t work so well anymore. The guy, his brain doesn’t work so well either. He padlocks his water bottle, he can’t drive a car and he takes his PlayStation 3 plug with him when he leaves the house because he’s sick of his sister using his things.

“The guy,” says Adam, “is my best friend. Well, when he shows up. Word is that he used to be a hell of a guy.”

“He is a hell of a guy,” I say. “You talk like that again, we’re going to have a problem.”

“Whoa, psycho. You got issues? You want to talk?”

“No,” I say, and take a swig of my beer.

“Better just to forget,” says Adam.

“What do you mean?”

“Sometimes we forget such important things,” says Adam. He takes a swig of his Corona. “Where’s the guy?”

“I don’t know. Shit, I honestly can’t remember what happened.”

“He said you forget things all the time.”

“It’s him; he forgets,” I say. “But he made me promise, I remember that. He made me promise to–“

“I need Chloe.”

“Shut up, you’ll make me forget.”

“She’s my girl.”

“Man, just put a…shit! I forgot.”

“It was Chloe. We were talking about Chloe.”

We weren’t talking about Chloe, I think to myself. We were talking about a day, and I was driving, and the guy was so happy. So happy to be free for the day, and I put my foot down on the accelerator and said hold tight, man. For God’s sake, hold on tight.

“Where are you going to live, anyway? You can’t stay at the hostel.”

“The guy who fell off the ute has me covered.”

I stare at him. “You call him that too? Why?”

“He doesn’t remember a thing before the accident,” says Adam. “Far as I can see, it was his Ahab.”

“His Ahab?”

“You know what I mean,” says Adam. “Big Fish. Drama. Crash bang chaos.”

We start walking home because that’s what you do with a guy who’s hopped up on Red Bull and Vodka and looking for a specific pair of tits.

“So why Chloe?” I ask again.

“She wants me,” he says. “It’s the way she looks at me.”

“She’s not real,” I say.

“Who’s real?” he says. “You got a forgetful friend with a fucking etch-a-sketch for a brain. Where is he, anyway?”

“He got kicked out of the club,” I say. “Quit yelling.”

“God, I love Chloe,” he says. “She reminds me of Angela.”

“Who’s Angela?”

“She used to be my girl.”

“She dumped you, right?” I say.

“And who are you, Mister know-it-all?” says Adam. “I asked the guy who fell off the ute. He says he doesn’t even know you.”

“I knew him before the accident,” I say. “His name’s Andrew. I picked him up to go off-road on his eighteenth birthday. And on the way to the hospital, I held the cloth to his head saying, “Please, please don’t die.’”

“You’re out of your mind. Fucking Australians,” says Adam and then sits down on the kerb, his head in his hands.

I leave him there thinking, man, there’s something I should be doing and it’s not this. My phone rings. It’s the guy who fell off the ute and he asks where we are. I say, “We’re here, where are you?” I hear a dull hum in the background; another man shouts; the guy cuts in and then out of reception. I ask again where he is. He says “It’s amazing, Simon; it feels like I’m flying,” and then the phone goes dead.