The Fifes Go On Holiday

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Florida, U.S.A. 2017.

“Kids, your mother and I have something we need to tell you.”
Peter paused. He relished the tension reflected in the eyes of his three children and forced himself not to grin as he took a deliberate sip of tea. Susan, his wife, sighed and squeezed his shoulder.
“Come on Peter, you’re being cruel.”
“Yeah papa!”
“Yeah, what’s going on?”
Peter giggled as his youngest child Frank frowned up at him. He patted his son’s head and Frank responded by kicking him in the shins. Peter’s smile didn’t shift as he knelt down and grabbed the back of  Frank’s head, pressing their noses together.
Without breaking eye contact with Frank he said “Kids. We’re going on holiday.”
Frank gasped. Susan grinned. Martha, the eldest, spoke quietly, “Wh-where are we going pa?”
Peter looked up at his daughter.
“Oh. I think you know.”
A penny dropped and the kitchen exploded. Martha screamed and shoved her fist in her mouth. Sally, the middle child, squealed then slammed her head into the dining table. She immediately fell to the floor. Frank gently placed his hands on either side of his father’s face and kissed his forehead.
“Thank you father.”
Peter nodded solemnly then stood back up. His wife, leaning against the sink, wiped a tear from her eye. Peter smiled at her, she smiled back and they embraced. Their lips locked and tongues slipped happily into each other’s mouths. They stayed this way until the room fell silent once again.
Sally stood back up, wobbling slightly. There was a slip of blood down the side of her forehead and she was smiling.
Peter sat down at the head of the table and gestured for his children to do the same. Susan turned to the sink and on her tip toes pulled a small velvet pouch from the cupboard above it. She opened the bag and placed three thin black objects into her husband’s waiting hand. If there was any excitement left in the room it immediately dissipated. Tension returned and Martha whined.
“Ma this is no fair, I was up last time.”
“It is fair young lady, you know this is how we do it. We are all equal.”
Martha crossed her arms and frowned. Peter slammed his fist on the table and threw her an accusatory finger.
“None of that attitude miss. I mean it.”
Martha uncrossed her arms and shoved them in her pockets. Peter did not put down his finger. He pointed to each of his children in turn.
“We are a family. One unit. One body.”
The children in unison repeated, “One unit. One body.”
“Exactly.”
Peter put down his hand. Carefully, so the children couldn’t see what he was doing, he covered the three objects with his fist, leaving only their top halves exposed.
“Alright children. Everyone choose a straw.”

The Fife’s basement was as large as it was clean. Which is not to suggest either. Most of the area was shut off due to a flooding earlier that year, except for a raised tiled island in its centre. Above that dangled a lightbulb and below it a flat metal bed. There Frank lay with his father standing beside him. Peter was in front of a wooden bench, rearranging objects unseen to Frank.
“Can’t I just do this next time, I’ll be bigger then.”
“I’m sorry Frank, you drew the short straw.”
“Are you sure?”
Peter chuckled. “Of course I’m sure.”
The basement echoed with the sound of metal scratching against wood. Frank wriggled restlessly.
“Can I have the oxy Dad?”
“No son.”
“But please.”
Peter sighed and turned to his son, “I’m sorry Frankie but we’re almost out. We have to save at least a little for the trip.”
“Aw come on, just a bit.”
Peter placed a hand on his little boy’s cheek. Frank pouted and Peter chuckled.
“God forgive me I can’t say no to a face like that. Here you go son.”
Peter pulled a small glass vial filled with white powder from his shirt pocket. Frank grabbed it greedily, twisted off the top and carefully tapped a pile onto the wooden bench. As he bent over to rail the line his father laughed and tousled his hair.
“That’s enough now son. Let’s get this sorted or we’re going to be late.”
Frank turned back to his dad. His eyes were half closed, his mouth smiling and his nose powdered. He laid his head back down on the headrest behind him.
“We’re going to have fun aren’t we Dad?”
“We sure are son, we sure are.”
Little Frankie closed his eyes and his father lifted his right leg. He placed a two-by-four underneath his son’s shin and from the bench behind him he pulled a claw hammer.
“I love you son.”
“I love you too Dad.”
Peter pushed a stray hair behind Frank’s ear, leant down and kissed his forehead. He looked so much like his mother, he thought to himself before reaching over and flicking on a nearby radio. ‘Despacito’ by Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee filled the room.
Peter sighed and rolled his shoulder’s back. He smiled.
Upstairs Susan, Martha and Sally sat around the kitchen table. Sally was six spaces away from the end of Chutes & Ladders and things were tense. The three tapped their feet along to the beat coming from downstairs.

When little Frankie woke up, it was to paradise. ‘Despacito’ thumped loudly but there was no basement anymore, only sunshine. His head felt heavy and though it was an effort he tried to lift himself. A large soft palm pushed him back down and Frank welcomed his father’s smiling face into his vision.
“Morning Pa.”
“We’re here Frankie.”
Frank blinked and his eyes focused. Bright colours and blurry shapes became roller coasters, became people, became music, fun and happiness. A disembodied mouse’s head leered down at him from every available surface.
They had made it.
Frank laughed without meaning to. He could see his sisters running ahead, his mother chasing gleefully after them. He was moving forward. No. He was rolling forward.
Peter pushed along his wheelchair bound son with care. He slowed down as a group of children ran in front of them and took time to avoid any cracks in the pavement. When they reached the first line for the first ride the pair looked at each other and scoffed. Peter’s wife put an arm in the crook of her husband’s and one of Frank’s sisters sat on his lap. Together the Fife family laughed and laughed and moved straight to the express lane for the disabled.
Little Frankie smiled and fell back into unconsciousness.

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You know I’m awful at this on the spot bullshit.

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Kerið, Iceland. 2016.

Waves kiss cliffs. There’s no stars in the sky so we’ve left the car headlights on. We switched the radio off because we only get static out here.
“Do you want to hear a lie?”
“It’s fucking cold out here.”
“Do you want to hear a lie?”
“Why not.”
We’re alone, a few metres away from the cliff’s edge where the world falls into ocean so dark its inseparable from the black sky above it. We are surrounded by nothing. I hear a dog barking a few blocks behind us and water breaking below. She takes a deep breath.
“Okay, so Saturn has hundred of moons, hundreds. Each with their own unique make up.”
“Is that the lie?”
“No that’s true.”
“Right.”
“One of these moons when you look at it from faraway is both magenta and turquoise.”
“As in it has two colours?”
“Yes and it’s all liquid, pools of magenta and pools of turquoise. They cover the whole surface and spin next to each other as the moon turns. Always touching but never mixing.”
“Okay.”
“Now during it’s orbit it has a period of about a week where it’s gets closer to Saturn than it ever has before over its cycle. The pull of gravity from the planet is so strong that the pools finally come together.”
“What happens?”
“It doesn’t make much sense, at least with how we perceive light and colour theory, but the magenta and turquoise combine. The colours come together and in some sort of chemical reaction form a mirrored layer. Not a colour that we can see but a completely reflective surface. The universe around it gets reflected back to the point that at the right angle you can’t see the moon at all. For one week the moon becomes invisible.”
The warmth from the car engine underneath us is fading. I roll my head back against the windshield and stare at the empty sky.
“And then the colours separate and it all goes back to normal.”
“Is that true?”
“No it’s a lie.”
She lays down next to me. I lean my head against hers.
“It is really fucking cold.”
“Do you want to go back?”
“Nah.”
That dog behind us barks again. Waves kiss cliffs. If I shut my eyes I can imagine the ground swaying with the crash of water against limestone. She shifts, laying her ear against my ribcage.
“Your turn.”
“Huh?”
“Tell me something.”
“I’ve got nothing.”
“Doesn’t have to be interesting.”
“Does it have to be a lie?”
“If you want.”
With her index finger she traces circles in my chest.
“I knew a girl once, in high school. She was really into fish.”
“What like seafood?”
“Nah just fish, as in not dead ones. And the ocean. Anything sea-related, she loved it all. Used to have fish contact over all her exercise books. I remember the teacher used to tell her off because she wouldn’t stop drawing mermaids during class.”
“That seems excessive.”
“She literally wouldn’t stop unless you physically got in her way. We used to call her Fish Face.”
“Dicks.”
“I actually think she liked it. ”
She shuffles, folding her arms around her ribs. I watch her breath come out in small clouds, float past my face and disappear.
“Anyway one weekend Fish Face went missing. I remember her parents coming around to our house asking if we had seen her but I hadn’t since class on Friday, no one had. Which was not unusual, like I said she didn’t have many friends.”
“What happened?”
“We found her Monday morning. It was winter so the local pool was closed but in the middle of the night Fish Face broke in, jumping one of the chain link fences. She was carrying some flippers, duct tape and a Swiss army knife.  Being the middle of the night it was dark so when she jumped into the pool head first, she hadn’t seen that the pool had been drained. It was winter after all.”
“Fuck.”
“Broke her neck.”
“Jesus.”
“Yep. Spent the weekend on the bottom of the empty pool paralysed from the neck down. She didn’t really do much after that.”
“What about now?”
“I’m not really sure. Haven’t paid much attention since school. Her wheelchair was covered in fish stickers though.”
“Wow.”
“Yep.”
“True?”
“Mostly.”
Gravel crunches as another car cruises behind us. Their headlights spin as they enter the car park then U-turn back the way they came. They’re playing something loud and familiar and as they move further away I struggle to remember where I know it from. Eventually it fades completely.
I wrap an arm around her shoulder and she lays one across my stomach.
“I always want to feel like this.”
Millions of miles away something invisible and immense spins silently. A girl dreams of the ocean. That dog has stopped barking.

Rock//Window

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Adelaide, Australia. 2017.

No one knew who’s fault it was when the rock fell in love with the window.
No one knew what to say as we watched them pace in the square. They’re staring.
Crowds watch the rock watch the window. He sees clarity in her chest. He sees himself.
The window stands transparent. Streaks run down her panes. Her eyes trace scratches in his cheeks.
Someone asks if we should stop them. No one replies.
There’s anger and tears and violence here. And behind it all a happiness that we can’t turn away from. A hope that it will be okay. A hope that it won’t.
They step forward.
Shattered glass is tasted on parted stone lips.
On red lined hips and bones against skin.
Lungs heave and breaths are kept short.
There’s violence and tears and anger here. And behind it all a selfishness that can’t be turned away from. How can it be okay. It won’t be okay.
The crowd is silent. No one dares to move. We watch the rock watch the window. He sees himself in her chest.
The rock runs forward and the window shuts her eyes.
She’s scratches traced against his cheek.
She’s broken glass in plastic bags.
No one knew who’s fault it was.

Leeches

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Adelaide, Australia. 2017.

“You know when you’ve got nothing and they take that too, what’s that called?”
“You’re so boring.”
“Fuck you.”
“Whatever Nietzsche.”
I punch him in the shoulder and he laughs so I punch him again. He ignores me and pushes between my knees, leaning his chest against mine. His weight presses me against the shower wall and I gasp because the tiles are cold. We made the water extra hot so it stayed warm by the time it reached us on the ground, but I can’t feel it with him in the way. He has to lift his feet up so he can fit laying down on the shower floor and now he looks like a seal.
“You look like a seal.” I say.
“I won’t clap for you.”
I try to push him off me, “A fat seal.”
He frowns but I’m grinning and I refuse to apologise. After some awkward slipping and sliding he moves himself off my body and stands, his back to me. I roll my eyes and he turns the tap off.
“Hey!”
“There’s a drought on.”
He opens the shower screen and doesn’t close it, letting all the cold air in. I groan. The water’s still warm on the floor and I let it spin around me as it drains away. My skin has goosebumps.
Without towelling myself off I run naked out of our ensuite and tackle him onto the bed. He’s clothed and manages a quick shout before I wrap my wet arms and legs around his belly and torso. He’s my branch and I’m a bedraggled sloth. He slaps my thigh hard enough to leave a mark.
“Get off.”
“No.”
“You suck so bad.”
I kiss the back of his neck.
“You love me.”
“No I don’t.”
He loosens in my grip. I kiss him again.
“Yeah you do.”
“Void.”
He links his fingers in mine and I bury my nose in his shoulder. It’s soft.
“Yeah. That’s it.”

It’s garbage night. Fuck, did we put the bins out? Mark’s wearing my new sweatshirt and I’m annoyed that it looks better on him than me. I take my frustration out on an innocent wheelie bin with a spinning ninja kick.
Mark doesn’t laugh, “Dick.”
“Did you put the bins out?”
“No, that’s your job.”
“Shit.”
I jog to catch up to his side. I loop my arm through his and lean my head against his shoulder. I can feel him stiffen and I pull away.
“Come on.”
“What?”
“It’s 2017, we’re fine.”
“Sorry, it’s just…I don’t know.”
“Whatever.”
“Don’t be like that. You’re drunk.”
“So are you.”
Mark stops walking and sighs. I force myself to keep moving. A voice says.
Don’t give in.
Now it’s his turn to catch up and he grabs my hand. I don’t look at him.
“I don’t want you to do anything you don’t want to.”
“But I do want to.”
He grips my hand a little tighter. It’s sweaty and I slip my hand away.
“No you don’t.”
We walk the rest of the way in silence. I’m not sure why I’m angry anymore. I wish I remembered the bins.

I refresh the page again. Blue and white stares back at me. No red. Everything sucks. Mark’s asleep at the other end of the couch and his legs are on my lap. I throw a pillow at him but he doesn’t move.
I refresh the page again. I change my cover photo. I delete it. I put it up again then log myself out and shut my laptop. Three minutes later I open my phone and delete it. I grab my coat from the armrest and stand quickly enough to push Mark’s feet to the floor. He snorts then mumbles.
“Where are you going?”
“For a walk.”
“Can I come?”
“No.”
I tell myself not to slam the door. I do it anyway. There’s broken glass on the pavement and it crunches satisfyingly underneath my shoes. The train tracks are close by and I head towards them. A car drives past and for a moment I see myself step in front of it. In my mind it clips my shoulder and hip, throwing me to the kerb. It’s not a hard enough collision to be fatal but I can still swing some sympathy votes online and a few days off work which is tempting. I just don’t want it to hurt. I faint at the sight of blood but I bruise well.
The car goes past and I walk forward unscathed.
No trains at this hour so I take a seat on one of the slats. It’s uncomfortable and my back hurts but I know I look brooding and mysterious so I sit here anyway. With this in mind I light a cigarette then immediately start coughing. Hope no one saw that. I hold the smoke far enough away from me that I can’t smell it. Gross.
I put my phone on the track next to me and play ‘Leeches’ by Velociraptor. It’s good. I get the lyrics wrong but pretend I don’t. Something crunches through the glass behind me and I twist around. I sigh. There’s palm sized rocks between each of the slats and I pick one up, gripping it hard enough to hurt.
“You’re looking particularly gloomy.”
“I want to be alone.”
“You slammed the door.”
“I want to be alone.”
“Are you mad at me?”
I sigh again.
“No.”
“What’s going on?”
I don’t answer. I hear Mark walk closer but I don’t look at him. A voice says.
Don’t give in.
I look at the ground.
Don’t give in.
Sitting like this folds my belly in half. I think about my fat rolls and feel the urge to vomit. I throw the cigarette away. That car is sounding more appealing.
“Come back.”
“No.”
“You’re a child.”
“Fuck you.”
I’m acutely aware that there’s only enough room on this slat for one person and I don’t move over. Mark mutters something under his breath.
“I’m sorry?”
“I said fuck this.”
“Whatever.”
Mark groans violently and pulls at his hair before exhaling. I don’t show it but he scares me when he gets angry like this. I keep looking down and scratch the rock in my hand against another on the ground. The noise it makes reminds me of the curb-stomp scene in American History X.
“Holy shit.”
He stumbles back from me and falls over. I look up at him, eyes already rolling.
“You’re such a dickhead.”
But he’s not looking at me. He’s looking at the sky. He’s looking behind me. There’s a glow in his eyes, a growing glow that spreads across his face down his body and then everywhere. It reflects off the rocks, the tracks and the glass behind us. I’m confused and scared and don’t want to turn around so I focus on Mark, who’s face is splitting open as his mouth yawns wider and wider in horror. The glow spreads viciously and from behind me there’s a crackling noise mixed with a whining, like someone screaming has been thrown into a fire. It keeps getting louder and louder and louder and I try to yell something to Mark but even I can’t hear what I’m saying. The light becomes so bright it hurts and I shut my eyes and twist to the tracks in a ball, throwing my head to the ground. Even with my arms over my face and my eyelids screwed shut I can still feel the immense glow burn into my eyeballs. I scream and get thrown into the fire.
There’s impact. Then silence.
When I open my eyes, I can only see white light. It’s burnt into my skull. For a full minute I weep and yell, thinking I’ve lost my sight. Slowly darkness creeps back in. I blink and try to push myself up but I’m only stable on all fours. The ground feels hot and I feel weak. The metal tracks are the first things that come into focus. I breathe out, then in and attempt to stand. I’m shaking.
“Mark?”
I can’t hear anything.
“Mark?”
I can’t. Hear. Anything.
“Mark?”
Something brushes my shoulder and I twist around in panic.
“Mark.”
I grab his shoulders and hold him to me, pressing his body hard against mine because if I let go I’d fall back down again. He feels warm and is shaking too. We stay like this for what could have been an hour before he carefully pushes me away. I loop my hand in his and he holds it tight. With the other he points to the other side of the tracks.
Where there was once a crop of bushes and gum trees there was now a hole. And while the darkness of the night had returned, from the hole beamed a floodlight of yellows. At its core a brilliant white.
“What is it?”
“I don’t know.”
My shins feel like splinters but hand in hand, we stepped forward.
“Should we be doing this?”
“I don’t know.”
We shouldn’t have been. I knew we shouldn’t. Logic raged inside me, told me to run. It bashed its head against my brain and screamed danger, screamed escape. But the light was so alluring, so wonderfully spectacular and we are moths, and we are deers. We are frightened animals wandering towards something we don’t understand. It was overwhelming and it drew us in.
We teeter on the edge. The heat from below dries my mouth so I have to roll my tongue around my teeth before repeating.
“What is it?”
“It came from the sky.”
“What is it?”
“I think. I think it’s a star.”
He grips my hand tighter and I grip his back. We are hurting each other because we need to. It’s the only way to stay present without losing our minds. To be able to comprehend the pureness of what we were staring at. There was no discernible shape, just blinding beautiful pain and the most glorious light. My eyes ache and I gasp. I do not look away. I cannot. I will not.
Mark shifts next to me and I feel him wobble, I feel it as he falls to his knees, my hand still fused to his.
“What are you doing?”
He is crying and so am I. The tears barely make it out of my eyes before they evaporate straight off my cheeks. Everything is drying out. I can feel the dead layers of skin on my body cracking. The only sweat is between our palms and we are slipping.
Mark’s grip loosens and when he falls forward he slips from my grasp. I don’t leap to catch him. I don’t move at all. Only watch as his body falls to the light.
I watch as he floats down. Floating. Like the light is carrying him gently downwards. Supporting his body and cradling his spine and neck. He twists so he’s facing up to me, and he’s smiling. And I’m smiling. His mouth opens and he says something I can neither hear or interpret. I sit down on the edge of the hole and watch his body drift ever so softly into the light.
I close my eyes but I can still see. A voice says.
Give in.

And I fall.

I don’t want to be fooled by you.
I just want to be turned to stone with you.

‘Leeches’ – Velociraptor