Wombat

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Giant Wombat and Banjo Boy, by Flossy P. This poster is available from Lalaland.

The night was quiet, like there was nothing else stirring in the whole world. Eli wriggled his bare toes in the grass. He had his banjo over his shoulder, and he was wearing his favourite striped t-shirt and jeans, with his dad’s vest over the top. He’d been wearing his dad’s vest a lot lately.

He waited, leaning against a tree with only one green leaf clinging to a low branch. The moon was the shape of a banana. Eli searched for constellations. His dad had been so good at finding them, but Eli hadn’t inherited that skill.

Suddenly, he heard the gentle padding of large footsteps coming his way. Eli turned around to see the wombat, which seemed even larger than it was yesterday, looking at him as it stopped and bowed its head. Eli reached forward to pat it hello, and as his hand brushed its coarse, chocolate-brown coat, he could swear he saw it smile. A moment later, they were both sitting on the grass. Eli was playing his newest song, humming a tune that didn’t have words yet, while the wombat closed its eyes and went to sleep.

Eli curled into the warm folds between the wombat’s belly and its right front leg, the music still playing in his mind. He had met the wombat every night this week, since the first day he saw it walk past his bedroom window. He followed it all the way to the park. When it noticed him, it seemed frightened at first, trying to dig a hole to get away. But Eli approached slowly, sat down not-too-close, and started playing. Eventually, the wombat lay down, and in that moment, Eli felt they became friends.

The downside of having this friend was that he worried about the wombat all the time. Where did the wombat go during the day? Where could it have a hole big enough to live and sleep in, but not be suspicious to people – people who feared difference, who chose to see it as out of the ordinary, instead of extra-ordinary, because that was safer?

Eli woke as the world around him began to brighten with the sun. The stars were gone, but the banana-shaped moon was still visible in the clear blue sky. His shirt was damp from the dewy grass. The wombat was gone, but he could see the giant, flattened patches of grass where it had walked gently, softly, away.

[a 20-minute writing exercise inspired by the image above. We have this poster framed at the Creative Write-it studio.]

Truck Driver

Two days ago, I walked around the corner from my studio to go to Foodworks. I saw the truck parked outside, and I saw the fat, middle-aged man sitting alone in it with the window down. Instinctively, I kept my eyes forward and hoped not to hear anything.

“Hey!” I heard him shout. My eyes flickered just enough to know he was talking to me. “Hey, honey! How are you? I’d like to take you home and – ”

I kept walking. It was a sunny mid-afternoon, but there was no one else around to see me duck into Foodworks as planned. On my way out, I chose the opposite entrance.

Yesterday, I was at the studio again. I didn’t realise I was playing the scenario again in my head until it was already happening. In the replay, I turned back around. My head stopped thinking and my legs carried me straight towards the truck driver, his expression already altered to one of surprise.

“Do you have a mother?” The words shot out of my mouth like bullets.

“Of course I f-ing have a mother,” he scoffed.

“How would you feel if you knew men were speaking to her that way?”

To this, he put his hands up. “Hey, I have a wife and daughter, ok? I was only messing around.”

“That’s even worse,” I added. “You should be ashamed of yourself.”

I turned back around and continued on my way. Later, I thought, I’d write a blog post about this. I’d share it on Facebook and Twitter, show how I had been one of those girls who didn’t take this sh*t.

If anyone asked how I got the courage, I’d say I was thinking about the little girls I teach who would one day grow up to be spoken to like they don’t deserve to be respected as a whole, emotion-fueled human being. I was thinking about the boys I teach who may or may not one day grow up to be one of those men doing the disrespectful speaking.

I’d say I remember being beeped and whistled at, and called out to from the open windows of passing cars while I walked my dog when I was fifteen. I’ve been slapped on the arse by cyclists who sped away faster than I could turn around and open my mouth, even if I had had that instinctive reaction. I know how common it is and that much worse happens than what has happened to me, but what hurts is feeling uncomfortable walking back to my car alone at night. What hurts is not wanting to train parkour alone because apparently just being female and walking normally draws too much attention. What hurts is seeing a truck driver with his window down and before he says anything, I’m already bracing myself and putting the invisible blinkers on.

Then the replay fizzled out, and there was nothing to be proud of. The truth is, I wasn’t ‘courageous’ because I’d rather feign ignorance than risk further – worse – harassment.

I hate feeling like I need to walk with blinkers on, and play deaf while a stranger thinks it’s ok to speak to me like I’m a walking image.

I hate that it makes me want to fold into a shell like a hermit crab, only to emerge when it’s ‘safe’.

I hate how much this can effect me, when I know so many kind, loving, respectful guys.

I hate hating so much.

Most of all, I hate being put in a position – because I’ve heard enough stories to know worst-case scenarios can and do happen, all the time – where I feel helpless.

Two months ago, I wrote a fictional piece about a woman who loves to run alone at night. I wrote it on a night I wished I could (there is no such night, it seems).

Here it is.

***

She runs at night. When her husband and children are sleeping and the off-lead dogs are in their kennels, and ribbons of clouds streak the navy blue sky; when the moon is a pale, dusty coin, she changes in the dark and tip-toes to the front door. Slips permanently-tied shoes on. There is the softest click of the door; a slight tinkering of metal as she pushes the house key off the ring and into the zip pocket of her running top. As the door clicks shut behind her, she holds her breath, listening for the pat-pat-pat of small, bare feet on tiles (“Mummy!”) – but there is nothing. She breathes out. Turns towards the end of the driveway, the street, the main road she must cross to get to the track.

It’s so quiet she can’t resist the smile that curls up the edges of her lips. The open space, the shiver of night air, the taste of all you need to do now is run.

Quietly. One foot after the other, focussing on her forefoot strike, breathing in through her nose and out through her mouth. It feels good to move with no one watching; no girls in short-shorts and fluoro crop tops zipping past; no men pretending not to notice the way her breasts bounce; no truck drivers beeping their horns (“Hey, baby!”); no children on tricycles with long handles for their parents to hold, something in the grown-ups’ eyes saying, Shouldn’t you be somewhere else?

She runs at night, when possums scamper across power lines and disappear into the trees. When foxes dart across the track so quickly she questions whether she really saw one at all. On the other side of fences, she looks out for the yellow glow behind windows, the late-night flicker-flash of TV screens – signs of people still awake. Because you never know. Because just in case. Because you shouldn’t be out here, running alone at night. What were you thinking?

She runs faster.

April

Every night before she went to sleep, April told herself stories in which her mother returned to find her. She would send an email or a postcard, or April would pick up the phone to hear an unfamiliar yet familiar voice. Sometimes, she would open the door after the bell rang to see her standing there: older than she remembered, and smaller, but always wearing that mustard yellow coat. Her lips were red and her eyes were wrinkled, even when she wasn’t smiling. Her mother was much smaller than her (because everyone told April she got her height from her dad), as she fought back happy tears and opened her arms out for a hug.

Sometimes, the story ended with April falling into her mother’s embrace and smelling the perfume on her neck, the shampoo and hairspray in her hair. They would head inside for tea, elbows linked. April would pull the Florentines down from the high shelf and they would chat, catching up on years of stories, long after the tea had been drained from their cups and the afternoon sun had faded into night.

Other times, April would step back. More than once, she simply shut the door in her mother’s face and waited so long on the other side that by the time she opened it, her mother was gone. Sometimes, she yelled. The most satisfying endings were when she told her mother, right there on the doorstep, with her own feet inside and her mother’s clearly outside, every word that she had spoken bitterly into the dark through hot-watered eyes over the last ten years.

How could you, she spat. How dare you.

In those stories, April never wanted to see her mother again. She missed her dad like crazy, every minute since she lost him just a few months ago. But she didn’t need a mother – or anyone – who was willing to walk out on her with no goodbye. Who could just disappear from her life with no sign of returning.

How could you.

But as her own belly started to balloon, and the life inside her took shape in the ultrasound pictures – a head, arms, legs, a heartbeat – the more April toyed with the happier ending to the story.

Maybe she wanted the baby to have a grandma. Maybe she was so scared she just wanted someone, anyone, around. Maybe she wanted to understand her mother, so she could pinpoint the ways she could be different, better, and not just because she would be there.

Or maybe. Maybe. Maybe she just wanted to understand so she could let the baby go and not feel like a criminal.

[Character exploration for one of multiple current WIPs]

Moving

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The view from the front door of our first home.

the view is different

where once it was all driveway

and wall and fence

and sky

it is now the corrugated iron fence

of a shed

the neighbours’ houses

taller than ours

an awning

and a little sky

*

surrounded by boxes

i feel, perhaps, we have

too many things

my bones still ache

from moving

my heart is heavy

too

i’ve been sleeping so deeply

meanwhile, the idea lingers:

how nice it would be

to live

out of a suitcase

again

*

it’s not just stuff, you know

it’s not just the view

and it’s not that i don’t see

the superficiality

of material goods

but when we moved

a part of us

was left there

*

no matter how much you gain

in the future

you can never get that back.

Back then

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Photo taken at the Creative Write-it studio.

Back then, the days seemed to stretch on forever. It was like the sun was always shining, and even when it was dark you could still feel its heat emanating from the concrete and wood and sand under your bare feet. Back then, it didn’t matter if you were late or early or on time; time was a melty thing, and everyone was always around anyway. Remember all those days we spent at the pier, running towards the end of it leaving pieces of ourselves behind along the way (thongs, shorts, singlets), (or perhaps we were becoming more ourselves by shedding them), and leaping off the edge into the cool, grey-blue lake that stretched out to the forest we could never quite swim to? Remember how we’d climb up again and sit, dripping, the shape of our bums and hands soaking into the wood beneath us, our toes skimming the surface of the water? Remember how we’d talk about the kids at school, and our brothers and sisters, and our parents, and how when we grew up we wanted nothing else but to just keep on being here? Together?

The sun was soft in the evenings, soothing our pink skin. All the colours blended into shades of grey and yellow.

Back then. ‘Back then’ is what I dream of when I miss you, and I miss summer, and I long for the chance to run and jump, knowing there is no other place to be but right here, and that the cool, grey-blue water will always catch me.

[a little writing exercise inspired by the cover of Cloudstreet by Tim Winton]