Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Around Me

I float effortlessly atop a sea that earlier threatened to drown me. Before, it was churning, burning and now it is calm, soothing. I drift with the tide of happiness, buoyed by a mood that came over me just recently. I have found the trail and it lies within me. This trail runs deep through my veins, linking my clearings, always sheltered by the tightly woven canopy. The clay cools my bare feet; they in turn sculpt it into beautiful shapes and scrunches. Then gravel crunches. Sharp stones press at my heel but I do not feel them in pain. I recognise the joy they bring, because they are solid, the earth beneath my feet. The hills tower before me and the breeze pushes me back, but it is gentle, like a lover, like the tide in which I float effortlessly.

We run for joy, to solidify our friendship. My companion is struggling; his legs are shorter than mine, though he has twice as many as I do. He strides valiantly along, determined not merely to keep up but to lead the way, even though he doesn't know where we are going. He puffs and pants but continues to drag me forward. We run in response to some deep instinct that lies at the core of all running beings. He is a dog, and I am human; together we run for joy.

I simply run. Before this moment, the world could have swallowed me up—I may not have noticed. I was too busy running. It wasn't joyous; it wasn't real. I was running away from something, being chased down by the expectations of others, fearing capture and containment. Now I simply run.

The world around me bursts into glorious song. The colours speak to me in hushed voices; flowers reach out with long tendrils of esters to enrapture my senses. The sun shines brightly somewhere above, but I can not see it, here beneath the canopy. The trail winds endlessly on between the trees, littered by the gold and red leaves they have dropped here. Something scurries beneath and my companion darts off into the low scrub, snuffling at the ground, desperate to catch a scent. My feet dance swift and fleet over rocks and mud as I leave him behind. I am at one with the world around me.

A tiny rock juts up and catches my toe. I squeal, as I do each time I trip. My companion lets out a panicked bark in response. I take two more steps in an attempt to recover, but this only serves to drive me towards the ground even faster. My shoulder slams painfully into the dirt, and my head hits a tiny rock.

I open my eyes and tentatively touch my forehead. Shifting my hand disturbs my companion, who has been worriedly licking it in an attempt to wake me up. At my temple, find a trickle of sticky blood, but not so much that I should worry. I laugh, and stand up. Twilight has come, filling my dreams with new colours and images that I can't quite fix upon. It is always hard to focus externally at this time of not-day, not-night. The only thing left to do is seek within. I open my eyes.

This mystical world has suddenly opened to me in all its glory. I see lights dancing across the forest, flitter-fluttering to and fro in the gentle breeze. A small worm inches slowly out of the mud, wiggling its way over to me. A mosquito alights gently on my arm; I slap it away and a small splotch of blood paints my arm. I hear the distant hoot of an owl and feel the silent beat of bats’ wings through the inky emptiness above my head. Something scurries, stirring up the leaves; it has given away its position and a hungry night creature pounces. A weak, longing howl echoes in the night, raising my hackles, but my companion sits calmly by my side. Everything is moist and fresh; everything smells like life in this mystical world.

The darkness is now complete. I swing my backpack down to the ground and fish around in it for a torch that I know I threw in there weeks ago. My fingers skim across the emergency blanket, the first aid kit, the packet of chips and my jacket. They sink into something softer, tearing a foil wrapper, and the rich smell of chocolate makes me salivate. It seems to have the same effect on my companion, who looks at me intently, willing me to share. I wonder if I was mistaken, but then my fingers brush the cool metal surface and I grab my torch. I switch it on; it lights my way and cuts through the darkness.

We have played all night, it seems. I stop, disoriented by the twilight, until I realise it is dawn. I know this trail well, yet I have wandered all night. Only now can I see that I have circled back on myself. We have a way to go, but it is not a long way. My companion is tired; he slumps to the ground and licks at his paws, whimpering. I kneel down to pat him, which seems to be all the encouragement he needs. He sits and drinks the water I offer him in his collapsible bowl. I have very little left, but he has always stayed by my side and I am happy to share. We move again; this time he is content to follow my lead down the trail. Soon we reach the clearing at the end of the road, where my car is parked. The red paint has been decorated by golden brown leaves and the gritty defecation of night creatures, but that is to be expected when we have played all night.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Kids Do That

'Shit.'

Cam nodded in agreement. 'Shit, indeed. Wasn't expecting that.'

'What the fuck do we do now?' Ange's voice was rising to that almost-hysterical tone that inevitably caused Cam to lose it. Jess thought it best to intervene before things got out of hand. But, of course, things were already out of hand.

'I guess we have to tell someone.'

'Are you fucking insane!' Cam exploded. 

Much as the house had done, Jess reflected. She figured her intervention had failed, but persisted anyway. 'Look, we screwed up. We're in trouble. But it won't go away if we pretend it's not there. It'll still be there, getting worse. We should tell someone now.'

'Like who?'

'I don't know, Ange. Maybe the cops. Maybe your folks--they're pretty cool, laid-back.'

'No way. Not my parents.'

'And not the fucking cops,' said Cam, as if drawing a conclusion from a reasonable argument that had never taken place. His face was bright red, punctured by thin slits where his eyes and mouth had been minutes before. A bright purple vein pulsed at his temple and the cords stood out on his neck as he clenched and unclenched his fists.

Jess looked at the smoke rising from the forest beyond the clearing. It was thick and dark, like the thoughts in her head; both the smoke and her thoughts seemed to be blown away by the gentle breeze. It was one of those surreal moments where she was sure she would wake up soon, but felt it necessary to take action anyway--just in case. The only problem was that she couldn't think of what to do.

Ange looked apologetic. 'Maybe we should just get out of here. You know, before someone finds us.'

'We never should've come here. Fuck!'

'Calm down, Cameron.' Jess continued thinking. 

'We should've listened to Jo. Fuck!'

'Calm down, Cameron.' Jess found it very hard to think with Cam's continual nattering.

'Fuck it! It's all over! We're screwed! Let's get the fuck out of here!'

'Cameron, just shut the fuck up and let me think a minute!' 

That seemed to work: a silence settled over the clearing. But it was an uncomfortable silence, awkward and uncertain, not like the peaceful silences they usually shared. Jess didn't find it much easier to think, and wished that Ange and Cam would talk again. Then it clicked.

'I have an idea.'

Ange's face lit up with delight at the prospect of yet another perfect solution by Jess. Cam was less enthusiastic, but Jess figured that was probably a simple case of grudge-bearing. He never liked being told to shut the fuck up.

'So, no one saw us coming out here, right?'

Cam and Ange nodded in unison.

'And our bikes are back at the main gate, but we always leave them there when we head bush, right?'

'Yeah, but--'

Ange cut Cam's sentence short with her elbow and a stern look. She knew what Cam was thinking: it was obvious that they were covered in soot. Jess must have noticed. 'Let her finish.'

'So, as far as anyone knows, we were just coming out here to... do what we do. And we were just doing that, when all of a sudden there was a godawful explosion and we saw smoke coming from the old Kitchener house. But we figured that a fire wouldn't start on its own, and we were worried someone was in there, so we smashed the lounge window in, just in case someone needed help to get out. And that's why we're sooty, and why there's a broken window and why our fingerprints are in the house. So now all we need to do is call the police and tell them our story. So that's all good.'

Jess sounded calm, but she was freaking out. It seemed like a plan, but she was sure she was missing something.

'But there's one more problem,' Cam added, sighing. 'Jo knows.'

Jess wondered briefly if Cam was psychic, but decided it was a pretty obvious point to bring up. So, what to do about Jo?

'Jo won't say anything,' Ange said confidently.

'You're right, she won't. We won't give her the chance.' Jess sounded cold, distant. Cam and Ange looked up sharply, one eager, one apprehensive.

'What do you mean?' Ange sounded rather less confident, now.

'I mean, we'll make sure she won't. Or can't.'

Cam leaned closer. 'What are you proposing?'

'I'm not sure yet. But, first things first--let's call the cops.' She pulled out her phone and was dismayed to find she was out of range. 'Damn, no signal. How's yours?'

Cam had three bars, so he made the call. He didn't give much detail, but Jess figured that was for the best. That's what criminals did on TV show... not that they were criminals. Nor were they on TV.

They sat down to wait. All of a sudden, Cam started laughing. The others soon joined in, not quite sure what had prompted their laughter, but unable to contain it. Jess was mildly worried that she might wet her pants, but she was grubby anyway. She lay down to chuckle it all out, and the others lay down too: Cam with his head on her abdomen and Ange with her head on Cam's legs.

And that was how Jo found them five minutes later.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Build 'Em Up

'So, why'd you put her up there?' Mark nodded his head towards the girl. She was sitting cross-legged and hunched over. Her messy hair blocked her face from view, except for those wild eyes that flickered back and forth across the room, seeking an escape route.

Steve raised one eyebrow quizzically. 'But... it's made for her. She belongs up there. My queen, upon her throne.'

'I don't think she likes it. In fact, I think she's fucking terrified.'

Steve shook his head. 'You don't know what you're talking about, mate.'

'I think I do.' Mark was worried. He could understand why Steve had put her up there--Abigail was certainly beautiful and he'd heard that she was quite the poet as well. But it was clearly not working out for them. For a start, she'd let herself go. Messy hair may have been in fashion, but Mark didn't like it. There was also a foul smell in the air, which he suspected was the result of her shitting her pants.

And then there was the whole out-of-reach problem. Steve had placed her so high up on that fucking pedestal that there was no way she could get down--and no way he could touch her.

'Steve, how's it working out for you?'

'It's good. I'm good. We're happy.'

Mark nodded at the girl again. 'She doesn't seem so happy. Do you let her down often?'

That eyebrow, again. 'Why would I do that? She belongs up there, man. Aren't you listening?'

'I'm listening. I'm hearing you. I'm just not getting it. Why does she belong up there?'

'Because she's my queen. She's perfect. Her skin, her eyes, her voice... her words...' Steve trailed off into a memory or a daydream or perhaps insanity.

'Okay. But she's not looking her best now, is she? And... when did she last speak?'

'She is always speaking in my heart.'

'You've fucking lost it. I'm calling the cops.' Mark took his phone from his pocket and unlocked it.

'Don't!' Steve lunged to knock the phone away, but Mark sidestepped. Off-balance, Steve crashed to the floor, cracking his shoulder on the pedestal as he fell. The pedestal shook, and Abigail stood up in wide-eyed shock.

Mark leaned closer and investigated the damage. He had thought it was made of cement, but he saw now that it was papier-mâché over a skeleton of coat hanger wire--hardly fit for a queen, which, he reminded himself, she was not. She was just a sweet, innocent girl that this poor fool had placed on a pedestal. 

Steve seemed to be unconscious.

Mark's eyes were drawn upward by some invisible but nevertheless tangible force, which turned out to be Abigail's gaze. She had knelt down near the edge and was now peering down at him. As she gripped the edge of the platform, a barely perceptible smile twisted the corner of her mouth up.

Her voice was like coffee. 'I don't suppose you could help me down.'

'Ummm...' Mark looked around for a ladder, a stool, something, anything to reach the young woman who suddenly seemed so warm, so alive.

'It's okay,' she said. 'You won't' find anything. Just help me knock this thing down so I can touch the floor again.'

Mark was uncertain, but the girl started to tug on the edge of the platform, gently rocking it back and forward. He joined her dance from the bottom of the pedestal, gently swaying away from it and then striking it with the full weight of his brawn. Each strike caused Steve's body to shudder. Mark wondered if he would wake up soon, but wasn't overly concerned.

Mark had a sneaking suspicion this was a dream.

The pillar swayed, tracing a growing arc, closer and closer to its tipping point. With some alarm, Mark realised it wasn't going to fall away from Steve. It was going to fall on him. He stopped pushing.

'Wait!' he called out. 'Why don't you just jump down?'

'Oh no,' she replied, still tugging at the platform. 'That wouldn't work at all.'

And with one more heave, the pedestal fell, crushing Steve. His brains spattered across the space and splattered onto Mark's crisp, white shirt. 

After the initial shock, Mark felt relieved--it must be a dream, after all. He wasn't waking up, though, so he figured he might as well play along, and he went to check on Abigail.

She was gone.

Mark heard sirens in the distance, and willed himself to wake up.

Mark heard sirens nearby, and willed himself to wake up.

Mark heard yelling at the door, and willed himself to wake up.

Mark was a little confused and unsure of what to do next, so he approached the door. It was made of beautifully carved mahogany, and Mark realised uneasily that he had no recollection of entering this way. His suede jacket was hanging on one of its two brass coat hooks, though, so he must have. He reached for the shiny door handle, deciding it would be better to open the door than to have it kicked in by a burly police officer.

He decided too late.

The door was kicked in by a burly police officer. The handle slapped Mark's hand away, and his suede jacket swung wildly from the coat hook before coming to rest against the wall. Mark hung limply from the other coat hook, which was neatly inserted into his left temple.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Myth

You're everywhere. Everywhere I look and everywhere I go, it's you. You're all there is. Everything is you. You've pervaded my every sense like Coelho's Zahir. Like the finest sand, you filter through the gaps and fill me up until I can't breathe. My every waking moment is you, and you are in my dreams. You are the twinkle in my eye, the crinkled corner of my mouth when I smile and the shaking, quaking belly laughter that rocks my whole body in the wake of your joke. You are the heart that beats in my stillness and the voice that roars in my head. You are the heady heat of summer, all blood-rushed and dizzying; you are the soft comfort of a favourite blanket, a red wine slowly savoured in a warm bath. You seep into my skin like an essential oil, rich, aromatic and sweet, soothing but never cloying. I write you into my stories because that's the safest place for you. There I can meet you, yet you remain untouched. There I can touch you, yet you remain unmoved. There I can move you, yet you remain. A shiver down my spine in the chill of dawn…your touch is sacred. My lamb, I slaughtered you in a faraway land, and still you haunt me. You go on, always. Always inside me, always outside. From the moment you first heard my words, I saw you would follow until the end of days. You have not left me; you never left me. Fluttering, obsessed with the fire that burns you, you seek ice floes to cool your fleshly desire and fear not to drown. In this absence I feel your presence, more keenly than before, more tangibly, more insistently, like a child that tugs at my sleeve, willing me to provide that sweet, sweet candy that is mine alone to give. Dare you taste it? Dare I let you? I never did, claiming that I feared for you; I see my blindness now. I feared for me, for love, for that everlasting road that I deigned not to tread. My legs are strong after climbing to mountainous heights and tripping into canyons beyond; do you remember walking with me? Many were drawn to my flame; only you could see its extent and not fear it. Now you fan that flame, a gentle evening breeze that feeds me. Now you are that flame, wild and untamed; you consume me.


Friday, February 17, 2012

The Charm (in 15 minutes)

His forehead is creased with wrinkles, so deeply imprinted that they seem to trace out a map in his flesh. His brows furrow above deeply hooded eyes that crinkle as he squints to focus on me. His skin is slick with oil and sweat. He leans closer and I can see the grit in his pores and smell the honest, unclean smell of a man who works in the dust.

He tweaks his unkempt moustache once before pursing his lips around the mouthpiece of his instrument. He plays.

It is a sound like nothing I've heard before, and I don't know its name. It is nasal, whiny, discordant and yet strangely and hauntingly beautiful. It is this sound that lured me here, that prompted me to throw down some coins into the brightly coloured, hand-woven rug that marked the border between his space and mine.

I take my place in the circle, joining the thirty or so others, mostly tourists with clean faces and pale skin. I hover at the edge, neither here nor there, somewhere in between. I watch.

A cobra rises from the intricately carved vase, swaying gently as the man plays that magical instrument, the one I can't name. The crowd's accompaniment is divided between those who sway with the snake and those whose vocal ejaculations meld with the music. I do neither; I just watch, mesmerised, sinking into those deep eyes that must be a gateway to hidden knowledge.

He is not playing for the snake, nor for the crowd. This is all part of the performance: he plays only for me. He knows who I am and why I have answered his call. And so I wait for the performance to end. I listen.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Coffee (in 15 minutes)

As I open the front door, a wave of heat washes over me, escaping the confines inside. I'm not sure what I was thinking, moving into a house with no air conditioning in the middle of a Brisbane summer. A bead of sweat threatens to trickle into my eye and I wipe it away in a hurry. I step over the threshold.

Something new washes over me. It's not the heat. It's not the heady smell of the flowers wilting painfully in the vase on my dining table. It's not the faint but persistent odour of sweat in a running t-shirt draped over the chair.

It's coffee.

I ground it this morning, expecting to have a relaxing mug of warm happiness before starting my day. But the phone rang and I was interrupted; then chores got in the way. I had to buy groceries and figured I'd grab a latte while I was out—and I did. It had been delicious, fresh, milky and tasty. But it had lacked love.

My house smells like love.

I realise that I've just made quite a startling discovery. It's not the taste of coffee that I'm addicted to, nor is it the caffeine content—it's the smell. That rich, earthy aroma, almost like chocolate, but somehow warmer. One whiff and I'm hooked.

I search my memories for more evidence of this new theory. I find what I'm looking for—years of waking up to the smell of brewing coffee, along with the acrid burn of cigarette smoke. The latter was a masking agent for unpleasant bathroom odours. The former was the reason I gave my mum a kiss after she'd had her morning coffee. I tried coffee myself many times, always disappointed by the bitter taste until something changed in my late teens.

Coffee is the smell of growing up and the taste of becoming an adult. I'm an adult now, so I cross the dining room, which is also the entry room and the shoe room and the library, in this tiny house. I fill the kettle and wait by the gas stove for three minutes and twenty-six seconds while it boils. I tip a few spoons of those fresh grinds into my Aeropress, add the water, stir, plunge. Delicious dark liquid spurts and swirls into the mug below.

It's too hot to drink. The coffee, the day, me—it's all just too hot to enjoy. But that smell…

No, it's too hot. Maybe I can put ice in it and top it with a little cold milk. Or maybe I'll just leave it a bit, let it cool. Or maybe I won't even drink the coffee. Maybe I'll just drink in that smell of childhood, love and home.