Australian fiction, poetry, essays, book reviews
  • Time to read 7 minutes

Bea, where are you? Your mum rang me a few months ago, out of the blue. It was great to hear from her. She told you me you’ve found yourself a new lover (your boss?!) and you’re no longer at your old address. She said you call sometimes when you have the money and you can find a phone. I hope next time you call she remembers to tell you I said hello. She said you’ve been living in your van for a while now, driving around the hills outside Barcelona and working the markets. So all those letters I sent you are sitting on the floorboards in the hall of someone else’s newly rented flat. No matter, they were full of shit.

Things are totally fucked here. It’s 7.27 am and I’m writing this in the cafeteria because there’s no chair or desk in the rooms. I’m desperate for a coffee but it’s Sunday so the cafeteria doesn’t open until 8am. Already I can smell the revolting, watery mash they try to pass off as scrambled eggs. And I thought we were in here for the good of our health. 

I’ve just slept 13 hours. It’s the drugs. They’re hideous. I can’t decide what’s better; climbing the walls with insomnia and spending all day in a state of meerkat-like-anxiety or sleeping like the dead and spending your (sort of) waking hours in a zombie-like state. And I’m so fucking fat, it’s beyond ridiculous. I didn’t even get to pack my own suitcase this time. Mum had to put some things together and bring them to the hospital for me and she had no clue. She’s packed pre-baby jeans and T-shirts that I haven’t managed to squeeze into for 7 years (my fault, I guess, for being in complete denial and refusing to chuck them out because I WILL fit into them again one day) and in the fortnight I’ve been here I’ve beefed up a good dress size again. My gut is nothing short of offensive; a thick, white, truck tyre expanding out into its own postcode every time I sit down, bulging over my fanny and half way across my thighs. My arse is the back end of a bus. My face is so mangled with puffiness as to be unrecognisable. After a drug-induced sleep marathon, this morning my eyes are tiny slits lost in a loaf of baker’s dough.  I have back fat Bea. BACK FUCKING FAT!! Urgh! Thank Christ for leggings and pyjama pants.

You’ll probably never get this letter. I don’t know how I’ll ever find you again. But the nurses and doctors keep telling me I need to write. Write what? I ask them. Just write, they say. So for a couple of weeks between group sessions (yawn) and shrink sessions (agony) I’ve been jotting down scraps of sentences, ideas, words and phrases that come to mind, but I have no coherent train of thought, it’s all just a scribbly stir-fry and who the fuck am I writing to anyway? So I figured, seeing as how we’ve been writing letters to each other for about thirty years, I’d use this excuse to write another one to you. And this is the first thing I’ve written in two weeks that has punctuation and paragraphs so there’s some sign of improvement.

You’ll probably never get this letter. I don’t know how I’ll ever find you again.

I really don’t know where to start so I’m just going to sit here and let a thought float into my mind and then write something about it. Maybe. Or maybe not. That happens a lot. Images, words and sounds pop in and out of my head like a film in fast motion, swimming around like a bucket of guppies. I know I have a billion things I could write about but it means pausing the film when I don’t have a remote control, or pulling one guppy out of the bucket when I don’t have a net (or a steady hand to use it). Or maybe it’s like I’m trying to find the end of a ball of tangled up string. I catch a strand without ends and I pull and pull but a big mess of knots comes with it and before I know it I’ve made the mess even…see? There I go again.

OK, so I’m thinking about how badly I want a drink. I can’t stop thinking about how badly I want a fucking drink. I know it’s only 8 o’clock in the morning and I’m not saying I need a drink right this second but it’s Sunday and it’s winter and there’s footy on this afternoon and I’m already thinking how amazing it would be to get a case and settle on the couch and be completely annihilated before half time.  And if you’re getting really scratchy in here they’ll give you a Valium or a Seroquel but it doesn’t touch the sides and come mid-afternoon I can almost smell it and by 5 o’clock I’m sitting on my fucking hands and rocking back and forth and I can feel the curved base of a wine glass against my palm and I’m dreaming about that warm rush up my thighs at about a glass and a half. And the nurses keep saying to me You just need to not have a drink today. You just need to not have a drink right now and I keep thinking Well, if not right now then fucking when? Which leads me to thinking about why I’m back in here, again.

So we go to these group sessions where we’re encouraged to ‘share’ our stories. Last time I was here we had the same thing but I was in the post-natal ward then and the groups were full of Zyprexa-fattened mothers trying to come to terms with the fact that they’d fucked up their lives with a baby. I probably still belong there but Skyler is 6 years old so now instead of post-natal fucked up I’m just plain old-fashioned fucked up and I’m in a regular old-fashioned fucked up ward, but because of the drinking they send me off to the rehab group sessions every weekday morning. They tell us to be honest and listen for the similarities, not the differences. It’s not very encouraging. Most of them have been in and out of this place a stack of times. But this is my third time round, so…

When it’s my turn to talk I never know what I’m going to say until I start blabbing and then it seems I can’t shut up. I talk about dad a lot. Sometimes I remember the funny things. I tell them about the horses, the camping, the songs he taught me, his history lessons and lessons in philosophy. I tell them about the way he’d pick up hitch-hikers in his VW and pretend the car had broken down and ask them to pop the bonnet and think it was hilarious when they walked towards the front of the car. I remember the times he came to visit me when I was living in Newtown and Uncle Jim was in Erskineville and we’d meet at the Bowlo. He’d make me laugh with his conspiracy theories and I’d joke that it ‘took a dodgy man to spot a dodgy plan’ and he’d buy me a beer and maybe slip me a fifty if I was doing it tough. I tell them about his uncanny way with animals, the menagerie of wayward creatures that crossed his path, the dogs that idolised him; Wuppy and Blue, Gilbert, the pet goose he saved from a near certain Sunday roast to become the guard-goose no one could get close to except for him.

... he’d buy me a beer and maybe slip me a fifty if I was doing it tough.

But most of the time I’m feeling pretty low and then none of it seems that funny anymore. Mostly what I remember is sad and disappointing. Or makes me angry. I remember the hours we spent sitting in the back of the Kingswood, the windows wound down in a vain bid to relieve the sweltering heat while we stared longingly at the door of the Grey Gums Hotel, hoping against hope he’d return to the car before sunset, or at least bring us a lemon squash and a packet of chips. I remember his ever-changing address and various aliases, the way I was always answering the phone at his place as a kid and saying, ‘No, no John Crawford lives here, you must have the wrong…’ only to have dad yell out, ‘Hang on a minute!’ and the fact that every time his car ran out of rego he’d leave it on the side of the road and buy a new (second-hand) one.

I remember how, as a kid, he made me feel embarrassed most of the time, like the day he pulled up outside of Coles, plucked his grubby thongs off his feet and made me follow him inside where he confronted the manager. After wearing said thongs day in, day out for the past six months, the rubber plug had popped loose on one of them and he wasn’t leaving until he’d been given a replacement pair or had been refunded the $2.99. I know I looked down and there was cow shit, there on his thong. I remember the  morning I walked the hour out to the stables at the crack of dawn to wash and groom my horse and braid his tail and polish my saddle and wait and wait and wait for dad who promised me he would find a float and take me to a gymkhana only to not show up. And I remember how I finally walked up along the highway to the old man’s boarding house he was living in and walked into his bedroom to find him asleep in his shitty little single bed, his arm wrapped around a woman; younger than him with long, brown hair. And I remember how I hated him then.        

I think about the housing commission flat he died in. He’d walk back and forth from the Band Club across the dimly-lit park, riddled with whores and drug dealers and after he died and my brother and I cleaned out his flat I found a hammer under his pillow and a knife beneath the bed. He’d bolted a security door across the window. I think about the night I paid him a surprise visit and he was just home, paralytic, from the pub, standing at the kitchen sink eating a chicken drumstick. My heart split then, as it does now to think of it. And the way his face slowly registered my presence on the other side of the window, and slowly lit up.

Do you remember how we met up in Paris and you asked about him and I told you he had died a couple of years before and you were so shocked, you swore you didn’t know even though I know I wrote to you about it? But it must have been in one of the letters that have gone astray. All those words, unread. All those words I thought had landed, but are still in flight.

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