Featured Short -
Coming home, I’m reminded of cowboys. The wind rides through the valley behind the town ship, laid out before sharply rising mountains which end in jagged ice pick tops dressed in white. That wind carries the atmosphere of an old western, its’ a cowboy riding into town with guns drawn. It picks up handfuls of sand speckled with schist rock dust, which looks like flakes of gold glittering in the sunlight and flings it into the moonlight. That wind, its dust, and the smell of burnt grass and horse hides all remind me of cowboys – although I’ve never really seen any around here. Cept when I was a kid, just starting high school and one day Mum let me have the day off and my mate somehow got off too and we dressed up in cowgirl gear, with beaten old hats and grimy scarf’s around our necks. We took some chips and drink and a couple of apples and went riding for the day, up into the hills.
Tonight, a fire burns. The local firefighter volunteer brigade demolished a house and set it alight for practice. It had to go anyhow. That house has history. On the eve of Halloween and with a heavy full moon rising, the house turned in on itself and with its skeleton exposed and broken it is set alight. The fire engines block sections of the nearby road and leak water which soaks into the grass. Trees and shrubs are dowsed in life preserving water. The volunteers stand around smoking cigarettes and drinking beer. They’re in for a long night. They have to stand guard as that house burns down and its embers sink into the Earth.
During my first year of high school, our township suffered a tragedy. Coming home, I’m not reminded of such things, things which have injured this little town. Like a nasty cut made by some sharp weapon, these events have gouged pain into the memories of the locals. I go away and I come back. When I return, I always walk around the lagoon. I throw the stick for the dog. I eat too much food and sit on the wharf. I always try to do as many odd jobs around the house as I can, like cleaning the windows or the oven. I avoid the pub and sleep too much. I stare at those plains and feel the wind rubbing my cheeks and I feel more grounded there than anywhere else except in my Mothers presence.
But tonight, I am reminded of tragedy. That house burning, releases painful vapors into the air. No one standing around watching is ready to say it, but it is shared later between myself and my Father . Just the obvious, stated.
He shot himself in that house you know.
I knew. I remembered when it happened. Things like that, gives you photo flash memory. Or something. We learned about it in Psychology at Uni. Things like the towers coming down or that rocket blowing up, people will always remember exactly what they were doing when it happened. But with all the little details. Like the song that was playing on the radio, or the color of the dishwashing liquid they were pouring.
I was sitting on the toilet. I heard a shot. It reverberated through the air and the echoing sound chilled me. It was such a solid sound, so definite that it had to mean something. I knew it wasn’t good. I finished hurriedly, came out of the bathroom and went outside. People were yelling somewhere. I knew it was bad but I couldn’t fathom what had happened. I didn’t think that it could be a young man ending his life.
I heard the gory details later. As it happens in small towns, it wasn’t hard to find out. What fascinated me the most was how an old local guy had been there, trying to stop it. It had happened right in front of him, while he pleaded with the guy. On the deck.
The deck is now heaped within that pile which is burning before my eyes. People all nod and agree amongst one another that it a good thing, to see that place gone. For years it had been neglected, although many others had occupied it since….it just seemed to get shabbier and shabbier, grew like an old man with festering wounds and skin leafing off in sheets and then it came down.
The smell of smoke in the air lends a certain homely feeling that floats between the houses. I scuff my shoes through the gravel on the walk home, anticipating dinner and the news at six. The sun doesn’t slide under the horizon until ten o’clock around here. As the stars begin to show under bruised purple clouds later in the evening, I glance over to the site of that old house and see it still burning away. An outline of beer bottles and fireman hats is silhouetted from behind. The moon lights everything else in a soft pearlescent shroud. I leave the curtains open and fall asleep bathed in cosmic beams.
Home. It is connected to the bigger town, a mountain resort, by a twisting snake of a road with views world renowned. I drive that road at almost thirty years of age and remember traveling it as a child, on holiday to visit Dad. I’ve always had two homes, neither one less poignant or more striking than the other – both having burned their mark into me and shaped my truths. One memory more vivid then others is of travelling the road between those two towns. Coming through the bigger town and heading out to the lakeside village where my Dad and other extended family lived was what signaled to me that I was here, in this place, which was an important place. I can taste the flavor that peppered the air as it whipped through the wound down window, I can smell the pine trees with their resin warming in the sun and the sharp scent of broom layered over top, seeping into my sinuses and bringing bouts of hay fever. But what really marked that journey was the sighting of the steamship, gliding across that vast lake as we rounded the cliff top edges and caught one of the most spectacular views of the this great country. Like a fairy tale winding itself around the moment that steamship colored my childhood a resonant red and black on white, on silken slate stone lake. There was a dragon that lived on that ship, he breathed fire and ate sooty black coal for breakfast, lunch and dinner. His name was Puff. Naturally I associated him with the Puff of the famous poem, Puff the Magic Dragon. This poem was read to me in the lemon colored light of the lounge where I grew up, on the sun soaked beaches of the coast. It was always a burning arrow through my heart, this poem about a sad dragon who lost his friend Little Jackie and had to live on forever. It wasn’t the little boy I grieved, it was for Puff who had to be alone in his wet cave in the land of Honah Lee forever and ever. Death was easy compared to that. The associations that flashed like quicksand in my small mind back then led to me experiencing a mixed nostalgia of joy tainted with a drop of grief so deep it could only be loss whenever I sighted that steam ship around a bend in the road. I was here, but I would also be leaving.
I go into the bigger town and walk around the streets of nightclubs and bars, glittering and shining, with music flavoring the air inviting punters in with steamy base and creamy vocals. Girls dance on table tops. I see ghosts everywhere. I had lived in this town when I was a young wild thing, out of control and loving every moment of it. Now, years on where I haven’t had a drink in over two years, I float between alleys, boutique bars popping up everywhere. New ones, old ones remade and dressed up to flash and shout at the party goers that the good old times weren’t dead, they were alive and kicking baby and the voice that shrieked was now a robot voice, metallic and cold. Except for one place. I find solace in my old haunt, step lightly across the threshold of one part of town into the next. The tunnel connects a cobbled lane with an even older, back street lane which use to be a cow’s run. Back when there was grass all over the town. The tunnel is paved with blue slated rock, cold as a heathen’s heart. My shoes tap out a hopeful beat as I make my way to the other side where already the throb of the music veins its way towards me.
I had been walking around all night, trying to find some comfort. Tonight I felt lonely. I was all alone. My friends who were still living here were at home in bed with loved ones, tending to the meows of soft newborns with candy floss hair. I was out walking and burning. My irritation leaped at me from beneath my skin. It was one of those nights. Yet I had found the place, how it had taken me all night I didn’t know. The familiar scent of incense snakes through the air, layered in smooth velvet lines.
Facing my demons that sat at the bar and dripped from people’s shoulders was a necessary evil. I had let myself be taken for a ride during those young wild days of being eighteen forever.
As I move through the throngs of dancing bodies, loosened by drink, I see flashes of my past in their eyes. It does not disquiet me. I sway with the beat, standing strong. My mind is calm, the burning anxiety which has gripped me by the throat and held on tight for 10 years has melted away in a pool of clean living serenity. I had gone from the girl lying across the threshold of the bathroom door, eyes rolled back, mouth gaping open for anything to come on in - to the girl standing by the speakers, not an ounce of alcohol tainting my mind or my heart. I felt it all and relished in the haunting of my past. The music transported me to where I needed to go. I shrugged my coat off, threw it on an ancient leather couch, readjusted my handbag across my shoulders and let myself be carried away. It is 4am – my favorite time of day.
As the sun awakens and climbs through the washed up sky, I leave the dark caves of the good times, rolling out through the door and into the light. I grab a coffee at a café which is covered in mosaics – the sun reflects off bits of broken mirror. It’s been raining and I step through puddles in my trusty boots. Some people jog by or walk their dogs. I use to be repulsed by them. I never understood the whole going- -for- a- run- in- the-morning thing. I never understood jobs that started at nine in the morning, and responsibilities like little tiny dogs who need to be walked. I didn’t get those convenience items like those things that froth your milk in the morning, just right for a cappuccino, no sugar. The world certainly was different out there when I came out from under a substance dulled stupor. I guess I kinda grew up a little. As I walk through the town with a settled peace washing over me, I felt a little surer in my bones. I had come home, but the ghosts weren’t yapping at my heels. As the wind brushed some willow tree branches and they lifted slightly, sweeping the pebbled ground, I even thought – I could live here. I remembered smoking pot in that tree with mates who I went to high school with. They were still around. Now we had BBQs and then they put the kids to bed. I actually enjoyed reading the bedtime stories. It was time to go home. I hitch back up the road, towards the head of the lake. Clouds scud over the bare boned mountains before me. They appear naked without their cloak of snow. The clouds leave pretty patterns on the canvass of the land, latticed shadows chased by the wind. The wind is coming up the lake, unsettling the lake surface, wrinkling it and tearing it up at the edges, sending whitecaps to the shore. I anticipate a roaring fire in the face of the autumnal weather, a hot dinner of fish pie crusted around the edges followed by a Milo as the late news came on. Getting into bed later, the sheets warmed up by an electric blanket, the warmth especially snug around my toes, wrapping around my legs, my back and lowering me softly into sleep as the wind sings at the windows and scatters that magic schist rock dust over the sleeping village. And I think of cowboys riding through the hills behind the houses, heading out for paradise and not looking back.
I develop my mind and stay alert for what destiny might have in store for me. It begins to rain again, drumming on the roof like fingers, impatient to pick up something and shape it. It belies a quickening, a cleansing rush of water, thrumming to its own naked beat. And then fading.....stalling, stopping, to be greeted by the newly washed sounds of the night. Excerpt from 'Another Night'....