On the 13th of July, 1987, the main street of Alice Springs flooded. The water flowed high, up to the steps of the local pub.
She had good days and bad days, and from the moment she opened her eyes that morning she knew it was going to be a struggle. She was tired, as always, but there was something deeper, a heavy feeling in her stomach, a whisper of some indescribable sense that she recognised as the cloud returning. Her vision was narrow, and no matter how slow and deep she inhaled, she couldn’t seem to get enough air.
You show up in Parnawarratji and try to arrange the single loop of sealed road, the vacant red dirt lots and the dotted housing with massive metal cages on the front, into a ‘community’ in your mind. It isn’t what you were expecting, but then, you didn’t know what to expect. Certainly not so much sky, arcing over the horizon, the line blurred by a hazy fringe of spinifex grass.
His face was trapped in the ceiling tiles above my computer. I stared at the roof, feeling the bile rise up in my throat. I hadn’t noticed it at first. The line on the bottom could have been anyone’s smile, and the two black dots among the white plaster could have been anyone’s eyes. But after he had leaned over my desk the first time, shouting at me, I stared at the ceiling tile straight afterwards and ever since pictured the outline of his face every time I looked at it.
The maps lied. Distances between towns had to be longer. I drove the minivan dangling an elbow out a window. A bone in my neck grated as I changed gears. Wind cut bluntly over an arm. After long trips skin mottled red. Land lay flat, stretching into haze smeared by dust storms two days ago. My shoulders ached slightly from that full nelson Eric had me in yesterday.
There are scratch marks on his arms that don’t belong to me. Bite marks and bruises, old and new, on his chest and shoulders that don’t match my dental records. There’s mud between his toes from another adventure and I can see the pressure marks from his heavy backpack on his chest. There’s a festival wristband around his arm, but it’s not the same as the one around mine.
Out here in Blacktown, four dollars sixty and sixteen stops from Kings Cross, naked and sore I take an OxyContin out of a box on my bedside table and I hold it between my fingers.
I say ten milligrams.
My great-grandmother was born in a large puddle in Osaka. I’m not really sure what happened in the middle. It’s irrelevant to my story. But I was born in that pet store. The one with the photo of the smiling girl surrounded by puppies and kittens hanging out the front.
I didn’t hate my time there - it was by no means extraordinary - but I didn’t mind. I was fed daily at 2pm and every Thursday my tank was cleaned out. I lived alone with my thoughts, which was relaxing.
An ever-increasing lack of dexterity had Patricia still tying her dressing gown as she shuffled into the kitchen, a task she used to be able to complete before the end of the hallway, and before then the bedroom door.
His guts churn something shocking, so he reaches for the pills and washes down a couple with a good clump of spit. The knot loosens, relief flushes. The kitchen sink is clean. Did the dishes last night. Do the dishes and wake up to a clean caravan. New man, new decisions. Sign of things to come.
The sun chases him over the mattress until one more roll will see him face plant the floor. Been a while since it’s had a mop. Plus, imagine yelling out to the other long termers and asking to help lift him up: all six-four inches and a hundred odd kilos.