THE SUMMERS IN NAN’S YARD.
THE LIGHT IS HOT and gold, spilling across our faces.
daytime sunshine burnt our cheeks and our foreheads, but now the sun is dying, cooling, seeping like a wound across the skyline. the air stays thick and humid, unmoving. our little bodies sweat. i am eight, my brother and sister are six.
then the sprinklers erupt with a sizzling, tired hiss.
crumbs of cold water scatter in sharp rivulets against the red of the sky. they pelt our skin, suddenly, shockingly. droplets are like metal coins against our chests, dripping down our arms, from our fingertips.
squeals of delight shoot through the drowsy neighbourhood. they dip between the eucalypts. through nan’s parched flower bushes. across the road. our naked skin slides against each other as we dance, slimy, soft. my grandparents keep an eye on us from their red brick porch.
the grass is orange and scorched and sharp and stinging the skin of our bare feet. but it softens as the sprinklers turn the ground to mud. my brother yelps, and retrieves a prickle that has burrowed into the cranny between his two littlest toes. the world smells like steaming asphalt roads and wilting buildings. it tastes like arid australian summer in suburbia, before the country went officially into drought: of the sweet, faintly grass-flavoured, water as we tilt our head backs and wiggle our tongues. it sounds like magpies croaking with dry throats, the moan of sluggish flies, our giddy screams. it feels like a forever; long yellow days stretching into infinite orange nights that slip into the length of a heartbeat.
they are our childhood years of summer in nan’s yard, lasting a lifetime or an hour.
FILM STUDENT EXERCISES
minisaga: excluding title, a story told in exactly fifty words.
THE STEPS OF RAIN.
FIRST: CLOUDS COAT the blueness of the sky, moodily, with grey.
next: slowly at first, steadily dripping, rain comes.
then: faster, like lengths of saliva, tangling into sheets of mist and droplets that fall to the pavement.
after: a day, a minute, a breath, the rain dries into the concrete.
AND SHE DANCES.
FAMILIAR, FLUSHED FACES course into the marquee, into her bloodstream.
breathless hellos. sticky, sweating hugs.
she shares ice fragments in a plastic cup with a boy she kisses briefly later.
but does not eat, not even birthday cake. does not drink.
intoxicated only on music and people.
and she dances.
HER BROTHER DRINKS FROM THE MILK CARTON.
SHE SQUINTS AS he lumbers to the milk.
as lips press to it, she growls, “glass?”
triumphant, condescending, he explains, “it means i’m drinking the rest.”
next day, after packing away the groceries, she apprehends him –
she smirks. his eyes widen.
hours later, he is pale, still drinking.
ORCHESTRATED BY A MATE.
STARS GLINT NERVOUSLY down from the sky.
hearts hammer. the wooden seat creaks as they sit down. eager, he gives no warning; she has to desperately swipe a tendril of hair out of her mouth in between breaths.
she duly notes the ordeal as: warm; wet; completely and utterly gross.
and stinging fragments of glass.
husks of broken nuts;
breath of the wind.
and the water that trickles over
sharp, uneven rocks.
THE NAMELESS MAN.
HE SITS IN HIS ragged shirt.
it is unbuttoned, and the wind is slinking across his chest and into the sleeves. yellow shoots of scorched grass press into the backs of his legs. a surfboard lies beside him. he runs a brown hand through brown hair, pushing it off his forehead and behind an ear. he is callused and dry and sunburnt and windswept; eyes red from the salt water. his lips are chapped. there is skin peeling above his collarbones.
teetering on the outskirts of his thirties, he left his home at nineteen, and never went back, drawn to the sea. he epitomised the traveller: unruly and brashly confident, warm with charisma but isolated. he blazed across the world, sometimes quietly, adrift to people and unanchored to time. he smiled and thumbs-upped his way into backpackers and three star motels and out again, into cheap meals and free rides –
there are seagulls croaking at him.
he throws a handful of sand at them, then looks guilty. the breeze runs hot, unkind fingers through his shaggy hair. the fabric of his shirt winces away from it. he has to pick up his son in an hour. but he only stares at the ocean.
the boy was like moonshine
the girl like a sunbeam, bright
they glimpsed each other at dawn
and in pondering dusk
the frosty stars were his company
for both, the clouds were messengers
yet they knew nothing
EVERY SUMMER, THEY come.
when the air is heavy with the scent of dying flowers, and the breeze tastes of the sun and burnt trees.
they arrive noiselessly; undulating through the sky; rising into it; dropping so low their wings breathe against dry grass.
silent as the stars slide into nighttime, the butterflies mean summer.
they mean bleeding six am sunshine. they mean bird calls and wind chimes and ice-cream trucks through the gum trees. mild nights under a sky still light, barbecued meat eaten by the pool, dripping chlorinated hair down bare backs, roughened feet. they mean the oppression of australian summer. and they mean its sweet summer rain.
and every year, when the butterflies arrived, dripping in pairs across the sky, georgie chased them.
the boxer was a baby. long-limbed and athletic at only months old, she would launch herself off the pavement after them. as soon as her oversized paws hit the ground, she would be bending and springing back into the air. muscle rippling across her scrawny body, fur burning red in the sunlight, georgie would jump, again and again and again, after those summer butterflies.
and they played with her, taunted her.
swooping higher into the sky as the dog catapulted up, out of her reach; then dipping down again, flying right by past her nose when she landed back on the ground. for hours.
watching them, year after year, each summer was a pause: a fleeting eternity of existence.
because every summer, as the butterflies come, they go.
in memory of georgie.
with granules of sugar
the roughness of honey:
it falls into itself
in layers of music that
FROM: 'TARSPEN AND YOU'.
YOU SEE TARSPEN ELIA'S eyes first. they are bright and afraid.
the wind whips red dust into your face. you brush it away restlessly. your cheeks are hot; the air is sticky. you can feel your heart pumping through your skin.
only her forehead and the tip of her nose is above the lip of the cliff at first. and her hands: bloodless knuckles, and fingers gripping deep and desperate into the warm dirt like claws. you peer over her and down, at her body suspended above a drop a few metres less than a hundred. she looks up and her gaze meet yours.
“no.” her eyes are wide and clear and violently green. her body is still. “stay there.”
you rock back slowly on your haunches, and give a little whistle of fear. though buried deep inside you, there is still a faint instinct to help. you watch her. she gives a tight smile and looks down again. you start to edge forward, nervous. but then you stop. you have been told to stay. you will.
you keep watching.
tarspen takes a breath and does not take any more breaths for a while as she tiptoes her right hand forward. the skin of her fingers brush loose stones as she edges them closer. her right shoulder cracks as her arm extends fully. her left hand is whitening under the weight of her body. then the fingers of her right hand fondle a scraggly bush. she tugs at it experimentally. closes her eyes and tugs at it again. in the split second later, she is groping for its roots and, tensing herself and her other hand, she gives it a swift and violent yank. the bush is archaic, deeply-rooted and dry. the dirt around it is hard as cement. her cliff face is hard as cement and baking under the sun. the bush will not give.
you nibble at one of your nails. the edges are shredded and you are almost nibbling skin now.
tarspen buries her hand in the bush and coils her fingers around and throughout the spikes until they begin to bleed. then she determinedly raises her left hand and reaches forward until it can be clasped in the roots, too. the bush holds. she breathes. with a slow, snakelike movement, you watch as she wriggles her shoulders over the edge, moving them from side to side until finally most of her chest is on flat ground. the muscles in her forearms strain.
you are not moving but she looks up at you again, and says, “stay.”
then gritting her teeth, she is pulling herself forward. the bush is cutting into her hands and trickles of blood are pooling on the ground. kicking her feet in snapping motions, like scissors, she propels forward until her stomach is pressing into the shards of rock and then her hips are on the knife-sharp cliff face and she is squirming sideways to let her knees kick up and over. the first time she tries, her kneecap smashes into the edge, but she bends and tucks and squirms more the next time and her knee is caught up beside her. she rolls onto it, still gripping the bush, and pushes up, pulling her other leg over at the same time. with one last tug, she is leaping up—legs immediately buckling like a foal—and she is falling forward, spurred forward by the bush, falling over it and away from the drop of death.
she rolls onto her back and she is panting.
then she laughs suddenly, taking you by surprise, and the laugh turns into a whoop at the sky. “thought you had me,” she mocks the clouds.
after her breath stops catching in her chest, and her smile fades somewhat, she reaches up to pat you on the cheek.
“ready?” she asks.
you nod. you like tarspen. there is no other way but forward.