The first thing you can remember is the cicadas. Their sound rings through the air, picking at your toenails and at the corners of your eyes. You can’t sleep. They herald the rising and setting sun and sometimes when you step on the nature-strip just right they stop. But then the cicadas chirp again. Your cat has one in her mouth in the morning. Her whole head is buzzing with it and so is yours. Your mother reaches out to take it from her but she runs. It belongs to her, now. There are plenty more. Never mind.
You can’t remember the first time you saw the ocean. All the beaches you have ever seen now blur together. Let’s call this one Bronte. You swim in the rock pools with your father at age four. You cut your toes on the shells and rocks and squash the jellyfish with your friends after school at eight. You know that summer is when the bluebottles return each year. Emerging from the water you see them spread across the sand, laid out like exhibits in the museum in the city. You climb onto your father’s back and scream the whole way back to the grass as he dances between them. Your mother is laughing in the distance.
Your mother, father and sister linger behind you, up the path and around the corner. Why are they slow? They are looking at the sculptures. The breeze is strong; you would be up in the clouds if there were any. You have been here all day, the sun is in the middle of the sky and it is hot. You wander along looking at each sculpture in turn. There are so many of them. You run under and around and get dizzy with your running. You notice an ice-cream truck. Please. No, it’s a sculpture, your father says. It is a melted ice cream truck on the concrete path along the beach. You go back to running.
There is a spring where thousands of ladybeetles decide to live in the playground of your school. They are in the shaded corner down by the fence. The grass is painted red, orange and yellow. The girls leap and squeal and hush. Everyone has a lunch box. One girl has a drink bottle. You look inside and see ladybeetles among some limp leaves and a chosen twig. You grab your own and start to collect. The usual places of interest – the bird feeder, the swings, the slide – are empty for a few weeks.
Your little sister hates sand. You are walking with your best friend on a Saturday with ice-cream running down your arms. The beach is busy. You start walking from the northern end, the one with all the boats and the path with the arch that crosses over it along the water. Your friend sees a small child running with the waves. Up and down the beach. Up and down. She laughs and you recognise your sister. There, wearing socks caked with sand, on the beach. Running away from the water, running away from the water.
You dream: You arrive at a town and go to buy juice from the corner store. The man in the corner store turns into a boy before you and runs around until you can’t see him anymore. Where did the juice go? You step outside and a great big truck rolls by with the logs of a thousand forests on its back. They whistle and whimper under the weight of each other. The truck is going too fast and you look down past the truck and there’s something written on the road. On the road before the truck you can read it says ‘SLOW’ and you take a breath out. But when you breathe in and look again it says ‘OWLS’.
It is the weekend. You are at home. Your bike rests just outside in the shade by your window. Your window is open and you can see out onto the street, the neat houses lined in a neat row. You hear the church bells on the breeze. Someone is getting married. The tolling echoes through the waves. The bells end. The waves do not. There is a man standing at the fence and he is telling you how he was watching you on your bike just five minutes ago. Now is he is watching as you run down the hall to your parents.
It is late. The clock reads 7pm. Your father is not home and your mother is lying asleep on the couch. You sit quietly on the floor and wait. 7:05pm and he is still not home. A dog barks in the distance and your mother stirs. 7:10pm and he comes through the door. Your mouth opens but you say nothing as he hammers up the stairs. You hear the door slam. Your mother’s eyes open and look straight into you.
The stunted lemon tree in the backyard is blooming. Your mother says it never grew tall enough. The lemons that come from the tree are sickly green. The tree is covered in stinkbugs. They are colours of the ground: black, brown, red, orange, rust. They squirm and writhe and rustle through the trees day and night. Sometimes you can hear them rustling when you play in the yard. One day your mother goes out to the yard with a plastic box and collects them, one by one, plucking them off the tree as if she is picking apples. You walk with her down the street and around the corner. You count the houses and try to remember all the faces and names that belong to them. She walks down to the house that has been empty for years, opens the box and lays it on the lawn of the house. The bugs start to spread across the lawn, rustling through the grass and leaves and sticks. She turns to walk back up the street, up the hill to your house. You watch the bugs and then turn to follow her. You hear the bugs rustling until you don’t.
You are lying in a bed that does not belong to you. The room is dark and you can feel the springs jutting into your back. You can hear your sister breathing across from you in her bed with its springs. You hear her breathe and then you hear something else. You hear the bed in the other room creak and a noise that sounds like a woman crying. Your grandparents turn off the television in their room. It makes a whooshing noise as the picture fades to black. The sliver of light under their door disappears. You can hear a noise like your mother crying but you are not sure. In the morning your mother’s voice wakes you from the other room.
You are driving with your father in the old green car and it’s a Wednesday. You go past towns with names that belong nowhere. The sky begins to turn purple as the clock reaches 7:10pm and the stars unfold slowly. They appear from the right side of the sky until all you can see is stars. You can hear the train moving alongside you a kilometre away and the bright windows slide by with faceless people inside. Can you see the stars? You can, and you wonder whether a kangaroo might jump in front of that train and kill all those people. There are so many stars.
You dream: you have only ever had two relationships and both lasted for exactly 864 days. You are reading but there are so many pages and there are 864. There are 864 tiles on the floor and you lift them up with your fingernails one by one until your fingernails don’t exist but there are boats. And those 864 boats promise to sail you away but every time you climb up onto one you look out expecting the sea and all you see is the four walls of your bedroom. You’re awake.
Your mother and father are sitting on the couch together. Your mother is wearing her new green shirt and your father is wearing his old blue shirt. They sit close together and they can’t hear you standing behind them. They are talking softly and you wonder why your father’s back shakes the way it does. Your mother takes your father’s hand and you start to smile before you remember. The phone rings in the other room and your father wipes his eyes and gets up from the sighing couch. You walk back down the hall away from your parents. What funny colours to wear to a funeral.
Your mother collects things like old flower petals and the shells of insects and once the whole body of a dead dragonfly. She likes to stick them on her paintings and you like to peel them off. In the gallery you see her work and your fingers itch to peel away. The people are staring. The lady with the microphone directs their attention to the painting and you can see their fingers itching. They are looking at you and their fingers want to peel. You let go of the old petals covered in fixative that turns them underwater green. You drop them in the ocean and your fifth grade teacher tells you not to because the fish will die. You let them go and they go. You still have the whole body of a dragonfly in the drawer.
You are lying on your bed and the light is coming in through the window that you have only known for a year. The light is making its way onto the ceiling and the branches of the neighbour’s tree are framed in this light. The cracked leaves wave in the hot breeze. The cicadas are chirping and it is the middle of summer. No one is stepping on the nature strip just right.
(Image by Magenta Sheridan)