All this happened quite some time ago, I think, not now, all this.
I’d had a good life, I think, and now I was here. The day started well enough, as usual, perhaps even better than usual. I woke up, and there I was. I’d like to say I’d dreamed, but I have never dreamt, not while I wasn’t awake.
My bare thighs felt cold in the bathroom. I pissed, heavily, while a bird sang from the cemetery trees overhanging the last dying metres of Pennant Hills Road. I heard Damien babbling away to himself in the apartment. Rose was calling my name. I considered, phlegmatic, not for the first time, whether or not I was going mad, and if that was a worthwhile thing or a thing to be feared, or something that was impossible to define, which to me at least was hilariously shocking in a nonchalant way, either due to the seriousness or casualness of the idea that the very nature of your own sanity could be known and evident to everyone around you but was unknowable to you, the only person to whom it mattered. It was a snort of toothpaste-frothed laughter that convinced me that I was sane in a sane world.
We were preparing for a walk in the Blue Mountains. As I ate oats and granola, I listened to my wife tell my little boy why he needed to sit still while she was feeding him mashed oats and fruit, and I remembered how we had argued, her and I, about this walk. Rather, I thought about how curious it felt to have argued, painfully and coarsely, only to now sit here and go about the day as if the argument had never happened, even though the entirety of the shape of this day, and all my feelings and thoughts around it, were framed by that very argument. It felt normal, banal, and that sunk me. It sunk me that we could fight about whether we should make the most of the first stirrings of energy Rose had felt since returning to work post-pregnancy by driving up to one of my favourite walking tracks, or instead stay home and let me, permit me, endure me to watch the game, or perhaps even stroll down the road to the stadium in person, since the Eels were on a run that was both suspicious and incredulous enough to infect the mood around Parramatta.
It shouldn’t become normal, not after six years of marriage, to snap and yell and want to hurt the person you loved, and to do so not despite the undeniable fact that you loved them, but rather because you loved them, since, sadly, this meant you needed them. This need turned into a weakness, a demanding insistence, an expectation, which when unmet led to a flare up of fury and a sullen desire to flee our small townhouse in panic, forsaking in dramatic terms the Telstra van parked in the garage, the balancing act of young parenthood, the nights at the Albion with mates-who-could-be-strangers, the snuggled comfort on the couch in front of Letterman and Big Brother Up Late with greasy Hungry Jacks wrappers and empty plastic milkshake containers on the floor, moments when we could pretend not to care about any semblance of adulthood’s order because all we cared about was each other’s warmth, and the thought of Damien fast asleep in the other room but bound unutterably to us, binding us. This thought of Damien always made my desire to run away falter into a terror touched with guilt, so much so that I shied away from it in fury, and so I had kept on arguing, until I had lost, and now I was here.
The Saturday morning drive was peaceful. The sun was out in force on a mild and zephyrous autumn day. The traffic began to recede the further west we drove and the slow rise up the first set of hills at the base of the mountains perturbed the car and challenged the engine, provoking a loud hum which only added to the calm. Damien was asleep in his child’s seat and Rose was trying to sleep next to him. Looking back at them in the mirror, twinkling amid dust motes in light, my tiredness began to seep into a comfortable place. Here, I knew who I was and where I belonged. I saw patches of town, Glenbrook, Faulconbridge, Linden, each with its own small train station shrouded and ruled over by the trees that began by side of the highway and then swam in demure waves all the way up to the horizon, ending in blue and green swathes of rolling valleys and elephant-back shaped peaks lacquered over by an almost edible sunlight. I turned left and swung toward Leura and asked Rose if we needed anything from the shops and she said no, for we had all we needed. Our Civic hatchback then swung right at the flat roundabout and found its way through the winding backstreets to Mt Hay road. The little car battled the dips and rises of the dirt fire-trail and settled on the caramel earth at the start of the Lockley’s Pylon track.
“They’ll need to fix up that road,” Rose said. “We barely made it in the Civic.”
“Give it a few years,” I said. “Even four-wheel drives get stuck here when it rains. Is Damien alright after all those bumps?”
We began the walk. I loved the trees but I couldn’t name them, not a single one. They parted in front of the sparse dusty walking track, and the sun beat on my neck as the rocks on the naked auburn clay gave way to larger stones and the remnants of broken, white-sand boulders. The walk wound upwards through bush and shrub. Rose insisted on carrying Damien on her back in the bushwalking carrier we had bought six months ago but had not yet used. When I reached the first crest, where the track drew up in a straight line against a huddle of pale boulders, immense on our right, I stopped to wait for them. And I looked to my left. The soft aquamarine wash of leaves and trees dipped down into a wide swathe of valley, the start of the gorge. Beyond this, on the far side, neat against the horizon and blinding sunshine, cliffs faced me, a line of sturdy tan and black-green, bursting forth here and there with the red tangerine stripped rawness of immense and proudly uninhibited rock. I took a deep breath, and the air whiplashed my lungs, and the tiredness behind my eyes fled for a moment. I closed my eyelids. One or two birds sang; one breath of wind. No more, and now I was here, and nowhere else, and there was nowhere else I could be, for once.
Then Rose was next to me, sweating. I held her by the hand, and asked if she wanted me to carry Damien, who was asleep with his mouth open and a contentious frown on his browning forehead, and she said she was doing fine for now, and we tried to walk down the white sand on the thin path next to the white boulders hand in hand, but the path was too thin. A refusal given by clawing needle branches. Our hands separated softly. Rose said she did not want to lose her balance, so she walked on ahead, while, for an instant, I hung back, unable to move but also happily unwilling, until the wind picked up in a sudden gust. Looking up and to my right, I saw the many eyes of a monolith, many tiny stone caves in a bone-grey beast of many round stone would-be limbs, high and separate, with a crown of dry trees littered around a stern and shadow-wreathed brow, facing an ever-out-of-reach azure horizon, the haze sitting over that city Sydney, lost to human eyes. I followed her.
We went up and down, but the track was mostly smooth walking. We went through thicket and grove, dry and emerald, sparse and ferny, tall and smooth-limbed, afterthoughts of adjectives for plants unknown to me yet more real for their namelessness. I was surprised to learn that less than an hour had passed, then felt absurdly guilty for having thought to check my watch in the first place.
When we emerged from a knot of gnarled old trees and angled through a field of low dry grasses, waving in the wind, the sunlit world opened up on either side, and Damien woke with it. He as was quiet and patient as the blue-green expanse around us. The gorge fell away into headier depths on the left while the higher peaks of taller hills shone against a sky that was too bedsheet-laid pure to be enjoyed for long by our timid eyes. Curving away from us on our left was my favourite little lookout. It was partially hidden from the track but it was no great diversion from the path for us to reach it. A small outcrop of stone hanging over a sheer drop into the green gorge below. Its stone surface was sparse, allowing only the most knotted and meagre acacia and hakea brush to sprout, and around a crumbling buttress a polished, curving crescent was cut, gently shaped from aeons of wind and perhaps centuries of mislaid oceans, forming a gentle and sandpapery place upon which I used to lie when I was not much younger, alone and shirtless, the hard stone turning to soft glassy fragments of sand under my burning pinkening reddening skin.
This is a good place to finally tell Rose, came the thought, so clear, so unlike my own inner chatter, and I was startled into acceptance.
But as I walked closer, ready yet undecided to stop there, wondering if Rose would want to stop here, if Damien would enjoy it, if it was time for me to insist I carry him, if we needed a break for water and mandarins, if the cliffs would worry Rose by enticing Damien, if the wind was more insistent and cold here against the disrobed fierce freedom of the blue above and sharp drop below, as all these gnats flocked under the gauze of my consciousness, a group of hikers emerged from the brush-hidden track.
They were resplendent in bright gear and walking sticks. They smiled, we smiled. They walked past us, we walked past them. I told Rose that if we kept walking down to the next clear open field of soft grass we would find a nice spot to rest and let Damien run about if he wanted. Afterwards I’d carry him the rest of the way.
The lookout had become abruptly closed to me. The walkers, or more accurately the sight of the walkers, a coming-into-being which marked their existence, had troubled something in me, and took some of the gloss off the sunlit day. It barred me from entry to the lookout’s eagle-open perch. I wondered, microscopically, who they were. They looked middle-aged, or perhaps they were older, in their fifties or sixties, only looking middle-aged because they walked youthfully, with vigour. They had been talking with the casual complacency of friends or friendly-family. I could imagine them all staying in a B&B down past the main street of Leura, or up in Blackheath. They would light a fire in a pot-bellied fireplace that night, even though the chill of winter had suddenly left the watchful night air with no warning, before waking the next morning for a fried egg, sausage, and hash brown breakfast in one of the more antique-fashioned cafes in Katoomba, perhaps even the Paragon, before returning home in time for work on Monday, nested in offices on Kent Street or in plumbers’ utes in Merrylands or in home businesses in the Hills. Perhaps one would even become a customer I had to service, a name on a Monday list.
The wind picked up, honestly cold for the first time today, and was I acutely aware that it had passed, the moment, that I was not alone, no longer in an aloneness with just Rose and Damien, rather I was alone, in myself again, in this head of mine, spinning, hidden in the blue with the waiting moon, but churning, turning, heavy and lit and magnetised to something that was not me but was only in me, and though I was there, free, for a moment, just like that I was also gone, and now I was here.
We arrived at the Pylon, climbed to the top, and watched Damien plant a small stone on the pile of stones built by people just like us and unknowable to us so perhaps-completely-unlike us who had gone before us on days just like this. I sat on an uncomfortable knob of stony wood or woody stone to watch Rose swing Damien around, laughing, while the great yellow and gold cliffs of the gorge, suddenly insistent in sun’s-glow, wound around us and below us and around us. Up and around and down, a hollow winding great serpent eel, past the pylon and piercing the green-blue world out to a broad horizon where something unrecognisable and silver shivered. A speck. A crystal glint I had seen time and time again from afar and had never understood, never fathomed, never been able to pierce together, what was it, what could it be, a mine, a lake, a pot of silver, my wish, an optical illusion, this thing I can’t see. It was hard, but I breathed in deep gusts, again and again, the gusts of wind rushing past me, a fire, my wife, and my little boy, a flurry of immense wings. I knew now was not the time to tell her, because none of us need care about anything anymore, way up here where the wind takes all and up and out and gives it away to the silver unknown things.
I left them and went down to the caves under the Pylon. Most passers-by were unaware of them. There were three or four shallow caves, some rounded out like the inside of an egg, they lay off the path behind an offshoot track that was shrouded, overgrown, and uninviting. I dropped our gear onto the hard burnt-bisque floor and sat on the amber sand of the first and largest cave, knowing that Rose and Damien had left the little peak to continue down the main path to the opposite side of the Pylon as it dropped down into a line of steep steps down into an austere and dense grove of black-barked witches’ trees sitting in the gloom of a gully below, down, unseen to me.
I could see it all; I could see nothing at all. I was on an edge, neither here or there, but I was floating, and all was well, except I had too much to lose. Here I was, achieving all I’d ever wanted, a well-to-do life with a safe and kind family, normal and kind, or at least, I was at the gates, knocking at the door of this, my lifelong expectation of the rightness of things, a perch, a nest, a home from which I could then enjoy and explore myself, or life at least. Yet as I sat in the cave I saw the great vastness of the verdant earth subsuming the abyssal fastness of the mighty gold gorge under the greater unplumbable richness of the blue sky, and could not see it, nor could I stare it down, and hardly could I hold it firm in my memory, much less name it or describe it, and I knew I would lose it the moment I closed my eyes or turned my head. Now that I was here I wondered what else I had lost from all the many turnings of my head and closings of my eyes, in this, my young life that suddenly, madly, was feeling very old and due-to-expire since it had run its course of desire, usefulness, and answers, even though that was the very point (was it not?), to find a plateau where the answers were clear and the fences kept out the unknown, and to find it sooner rather than later.
Then, somehow, an intrusive speck, somehow, (there it was), an insidious worm, a fine chrysalis-thread, perhaps in the calmness of the wind, a music unto itself, there it was keeping me from floating away. The earth was anchoring me. This day was keeping me full, and for the first time in some time, maybe even in a few years, I felt like relaxing, not merely sleeping, resting, but honestly melting into the sand beneath my bare feet and becoming as sure as the stone that had parented it.
I thought about the Eels, their sudden run, impossible yet real, but surely impossible, surely they must lose. I did not feel so sad that I had missed the game now that I was here in this cave.
“Hello,” the stranger said.
He was a nondescript man. Next to him was a nondescript boy. If they had approached from my left, from the path, from the way I had come, it would have been different. But he emerged from my right, out from the small cocoon of caves that ended no more than ten metres away from where I was sat. He and the boy wore unremarkable clothes and unremarkable smiles. They walked past me, utterly calm and at ease, as if they were unaware that I had been discovered bare and unmasked, my guard down and my mind writ large on the saffron sand walls. Or maybe they were fully aware, of me and all my thoughts, even the boy, who could not have been more than ten or eleven, yet it did not matter to them as it seemed that my private world, exposed in my hunched figure and purged face, was as natural and expected to them as the stone and grass and sun-drenched cerulean heavens. The moon was faintly traced in the blue sky and the man had not said ‘excuse me,’ or ‘sorry.’ He had not mumbled anything inarticulate with quickly averted eyes. He had said ‘hello’ with his eyes firmly on mine and then they were walking past me, inches from me, and then they were gone. I did not have a chance to move out of their way, which would have been the right thing to do even though I wasn’t in their way. I did not have time not because time passed by too quickly, but because I was in a state of immobile shock. Not at their appearing, sudden though it was, but rather at their ease, their beautiful natural state of grace, the beautiful effortless uncaring. It was as if the empty space of the round small caves had turned into personage-presences who had detached themselves from their ensconced hollows to stroll past me in Apollonian bliss.
What did they think of me? I did not want to think, to follow a fresh and awkward rabbit trail of thoughts, and thankfully before I could, Damien called out and Rose found me and we began our walk back. It was afternoon, and the moon firmed in the cobalt sky, and the winds were now insistently cold even while the sky remained virginal. Time, or consciousness, skipped. In a matter of minutes, we were walking past the lookout again.
“Rose,” I said.
“Yes, Dave?” she replied.
“Let’s try the lookout.”
“Here, I’ll show you. Damien, I’ll put you down. You can walk with me.”
“Be careful, David. Don’t swing him around like that so close to the edge.”
“David, I said stop it!”
“Oh God, what happened, are you okay? David? Damien, stop crying.”
“I told you, I told you. That was dangerous. Is it your ankle? Is it broken?”
“No, no, David, you best wait here with him. It’ll be quicker if I go and get help alone.”
“I know, I know. Fucking phone. I can’t believe there’s no reception. And yours, David, really, no charge?”
“Dave, honey, I’ll just go. It’ll be dark soon.”
“No, should I leave Damien? Are you sure he’ll be okay?”
“Does it hurt much, Dave?”
“Stop crying, honey.”
“Just sit over here and I’ll go. As soon as I get reception or get help I’ll be back. Hold him close to you, Dave, keep him warm.”
And there it was….
Lying on my back, holding my son, seeing only the perse-blue seep out of a careful sky clouding up, up, and up, mighty white round shoulders bubbling and shrugging, my vision blurred by the sun’s brightness trapped between my eyelashes. Layer overlaying layer of thread, white mist fingers interlacing, a slow, measured, yet swift undulation of alabaster upon wolf-pelt smoke. The lifting up and away of all my thinking. Holding Damien tight. True freedom, from myself.
…this is bliss, freedom, fear transcending itself.
There, there it was, not just cloud. The whiff and curl of smoke.
It was fire, I knew it, but it was too late, fire, all too late. I was past thinking, reacting-feeling, lost in the lifting of all my fear-cares to the deathly calm of the bliss-sky. I just held Damien tighter and stared at the thin trail of steadily slowly increasing wisps rising up from the ledge below. And I waited for my mind to return even though I knew my mind would be of no help. It will sink, I thought. Get under the earth, where it is safe, cold, and unburnable. Again, back down.
If I can’t save myself, why do I feel caught by a wind driving me to do something grand in this world? If I can’t find freedom in this family, how can I be part of freeing our common human consciousness from the great weight of its wrongness, a sure sense of heading in the wrong direction, that corrosively burdens us all? I had a chance to make a mark and now my life looks to end weighing nothing on any worthwhile scale. Great things, greater things happening-to-be in the underearth, but I am tripped up and made small by the small.
At least him, came the harridan thought, at least my son. My son, my son, surely, he can be saved, from it all, from this, from me. He can do great things one day, mean something, transcend my tedium, my sacrifice at the altar of security. But try as I might, I could not fulfil my panic, push out, and emerge into this moment, not even to try save him from the fire, because I was wreathed, caught around my crown, undulating in loneliness. I was alone, in myself again, barren, blank, in this head of mine, spinning, hidden in the velvet steel gloss with the waiting moon. Churning, turning, heavy and lit and magnetised to something that was not me but was only in me, and though I was there, free, for a moment, just like that I was also gone, and now I was here. I could not save us; I could not move.
So, I stood up with Damien in the crook of my arm. The flames came. With little effort, I was gone, and down the path, and the serpentine mess of the wilding boughs passed behind me. I strode past Rose, her cheeks flushed, and she saw me not. The wind was still as I parted twig and leaf to place Damien, a gentle-at-doze Koala bundle, in the crook of a waiting tree. An offering. As I sat in my car I was both aware of the flames swallowing them both from over the blistered hills, and unaware of it all.
Now, in my car, I drove up the tan and polished Dionysian earth, fast, unlooked-back-upon, and sped into the clang of straight-lined suburbia, the highway, and faster, down the winding sun-dried road to Sydney, and faster still, in the coming shadow of nightfall, into the carefully planted streets of Parramatta, with the stadium before me, wherein the Eels were on a run, perhaps.
I parked the car before the stadium and did not pay the metre. Hair shaken in warm wind, I pushed toward the front gate, and I rapidly unburdened an elderly couple of their tickets with a shove and nary-a-shout, and tussled through the turnstile entry. Up the stairs, into the balconies. The green neon-buzzed hubbub of the unquiet grass and furious-play of Parramatta Stadium. I sat in a plastic seat. I lit a cigarette.
The Panthers were doing well, controlling the ruck. But the Eels were coming up nicely, a few deft touches on the edges.
There was a woman sat next to me, but for some reason I could not turn my neck to look her direct in the face. When I tried, my neck would stiffen and my sight would darken as if a great ponderous cloud misted over my sight with a fly-blown veil of nights growing dark.
A try, a try! Yes, they were building nicely, they were on a run. She had long, hungry legs, but no face I could see, and in her arms she held tight a something. Soft.
Her voice was good, earthy. It had no room for niceties, so we skipped past the usual, and discussed the right and the fit of it.
What is the idea of fire, she said, to you men? Makes you want to run and learn?
It’s hard these days, replied I, to make courage-connections.
Pity from your mothers. So, no openness, revelation swamped.
No, just a common right to Wants, Desire. Is that not a way? My God, go you good thing, another try in the offing down the wing.
You bloody beauty, the desire to escape and the desire to succeed and the desire to be saved, all of which do not match, what a pass, what a try.
She then, still unfaced, crossed her legs and cradled her something closer. Soft. We both groaned, because why can’t they tackle, they were throwing this game away.
I felt the sudden guilt at that crossing of her ferociously leonine legs. Rose, my Rose, what could I do without you, what am I doing with you? But this stranger was as natural to speak to as is the end of the day and the cradling womb of the night.
Whatever did you two fight about, said she, worthless anyways? Run, run.
On the surface, I replied, we talked walking. But it’s always the same fight. Not sure, but a great need, to be honest, to get something from her. From her side, I don’t know, I can’t know her. I hid stuff; I confess it not. Only to myself, that barely. Get up, hold him.
He’s on fire, that one. And what is it you can’t confess to her?
Can’t tell you. Can’t tell anyone. I failed her. Run, run, my son.
Don’t trust her, do you? Need her to give you something, you need her to be someone, someone better, before you can let go of it all, lose yourself. Ours to lose, this, nearly there.
No, nay, a common right, halfway meeting, wants and needs. Here he goes, hitting the holes.
Nonsense. What a pass. No such thing, that great lie, the halfway mark. It’s give up all to her or get nothing at all. Are you a man, truly? Why so afraid? We’re running away with this.
Not afraid. Alone. It’s ours to lose.
Same difference. Yes, yes, there’s no coming back for them now. We can relax-enjoy the rest of the game. Want to stop sulking angry insistence keeping at arms-length neediness meeting fear? Here’s a true story for you, the only one here. One day there were two brothers. They grew up in the bush playing footy. Their mother cared for them because she needed them because she herself grew up under a neediness disguised as care. Close, close she kept them, until one day the stolid-silence father came back from his work on the plains and hugged them both. Then he took one brother away. This brother he took into the deep bush and buried underearth. Then he told him to dig himself out and go back to life, but if he did, he would be a man, and mother would be dead, and no home would he have except the one he made himself. So the brother did so and made his own home. He hugged himself and gave himself away to his family. As for the other brother, well, he stayed at home and played and won. He played and won and played, always successful in his asking and taking, and never found the hug that confirms, the assurance that he has a right to exist, that he has won before he plays, that he is good before he tries, for it comes before the game, from deep in him, deep under it all, deep underearth. Grace, pure grace. We did it. We’re on a run, for sure.
I did not understand the nonsense. So I said, looking at her legs, her shadows, let’s go somewhere, far away. Just you and me. Hug me. Let’s get out of here and underearth.
The Eels won and were truly on a good-old run, but throughout this talking my neck began to unkink. I looked at the stranger for the first time, direct with a slobbering, shameful, pitiable hungry-man’s greed. Let’s escape and be away, said I.
I noticed a blob, a shadow, a form hidden in the bundle she was carrying, perched above her divine legs. This form unfolded itself and laughed with a boy’s welcome. Hello, it said. Hello, Damien, I replied. I looked her in the eye. Hello, Rose. She did not notice or even recognise me. She upped and left with her son. I lunged and reached out for her and the final whistle blew and the game ended and I was back in my car and I drove back to the mountains and sat back down with my crook leg and lay among the coming smoke and I comforted Damien, my son. As the smoke surrounded us, I began to escape my stupor, and felt a strong new healthy feeling of panic, even as my dull thoughts drowned all under the warbling cry of my boy’s echoing wails…
I began to understand. Now, when it was too late. I’d had a good life, and now I was here, notwithstanding the fear, fearfulness, and the longing. It was persisting into adulthood; this fear was dragging on like a persistent cold, and transforming into something new, a new virus. Fear of not making it, fear of success, fear of running out of money, fear of renting-always-never-buying-then-mortgaging-death-money, fear of missing out on life, fear of my marriage failing, fear of being too married, fear of being a poor father, fear of not investing well enough, fear of growing old, fear of not getting on top of my fears, fear of denying fear. Dead money, full bellies, spent souls. But maybe there was a way, deep under it all.
“Hello,” the stranger said.
My daily routine smothered this fear like mould feeding on damp. The gloom only hit me at the end of each day when I tried to put myself into a tense, exhausted sleep, a sleep I had gotten used to, a sleep that was normal and manageable because, like life, it was survivable. But when things slipped up then the thinness of my coping was shown up and the depths, the layers, the moist magnitude of the restless what-ifs beneath my clean-collared-high-viz.-Ikea-furniture-pot-plants-on-the-balcony-trickle-by-trickle-savings life was so clear, so undeniable. I sometimes found myself clenching my fists until my nails drew blood; I’d lose time in the shower; I’d sit on the couch in the dark late at night, unable to sob, dreading sleep, yet still so tired still. I was not on top; I was under myself. I had tried to emerge above the surface, maybe there was something to be had beneath it all, underearth.
“Are you all right? Is your boy okay?”
Time flew by faster and I just could not get all the things I needed to get done, done. So why not sink into nothing-at-all? I hadn’t moved a muscle in years. I am being moved. Cups of coffee, naps on Sundays, walks with the pram at gym time, a snooze alarm, cancelled dinner dates, staying in my PJs on Saturdays, an extra pie and sausage roll in the van while tailgating on the highway back from work, more time glued to the screen, splashing out rather than repairing, finding new distractions when I had so much, but life and the big broad sky was not coming to me at a speed or angle that allowed me to grasp at it without fumbling it all between my two calloused, spider-web-cotton hands.
“It’s okay, don’t worry. Here, take my hand.”
I felt like giving up, but that still seemed the easy option, even after the crisis, the debt, my reaction, my little breakdown (best never mentioned by anybody), which had put in more and more droplets, drop by drop, of secret, lying moneyed-pressure on my strong, stooping shoulders. Besides, I loved my wife and son, surely, and they loved me, surely. Fuck what loves might matter though, in a world in fear of all death, without any good death. Yes, clinging to happiness kept me from going under, and perhaps from going under to the very bottom and out and through again onto something better, onto being someone stronger, truer, an interconnected biped able to orient upon a fixed core rather than a sham surface that lay an enamel cover of coping-on-the-path-up-to-somewhere-successful over no less than honest fear, fear, fear, murky in the dank below.
The stranger and the boy from the caves. Their hands were warm and strong. They hugged us, and it was strong. They took us out and away from danger.
Later, Rose, Damien and I went to our hotel, full of that spirit of hope that comes from believing that we had escaped some tragedy that was close to death, the verve after the titillation of false fear. The fire had been small, small enough. It was a fear springing merely from panic and adrenaline, not the true thing the creeps around your back and peeps constantly at you from the corners of your mind with a lecherous grin, day in, day out.
That night, in the hotel, Rose and I argued, and we went to places we had been hiding from one another, and we found a release there, but never all the way, never a confession of the empty trap that is our needful bullshit love, the love of all like us. We fell into a rough-and-tumble-quiet-solid lovemaking without me ever needing to be honest with Rose or demand that she prove her honesty to me. There, we reached fleshly toward a new trust in one another that revealed months, if not years, of bitterness stewing in the background of our apartment-by-the-numbers battler marriage, a fresh trust that hinged on the fact that no one else really cared about our little scheming-dreaming life of progress as much as we did, so our failures and hopes were all we had allowed ourselves to truly possess, a story where the author blames the characters.
But even after all this outpouring and the inevitable settling that comes after such tearful-gasping-orgasmic-household drama I could not sleep, not for the babbling desperation in me. I was on the verge of some realisation. I needed to act on something, I must do, feel that something mattered, was done, while I still had some steel in me, ringing true, even if the echo already rang false.
The Eels game was over, so there was no point in turning on the TV. Besides, I didn’t want to wake her, or truly know if their run was over. So, the next best thing. The drawer opened. A Bible was inside. And a cigarette lighter. I opened the Bible and flicked the cigarette lighter, on off, on off, on off. Inside, covering the page that showed 2 Samuel 18, I found a mongrel remnant of paper with this scrawl: “Anhedonia is the inability to feel pleasure. It’s a common symptom of depression as well as other mental health disorders. Most people understand what pleasure feels like. They expect certain things in life to make them happy. From WebMD. Research if this is bullshit.” I’d had a good life, I thought, and now I was on the verge.
The hug that he has a right to exist, that he has won before he plays, that he is good before he tries, for it comes before the game, from deep in him, deep under it all, deep underearth.
Before I knew it, I fell into a sleep like a stone. I’d like to say I dreamed, but I have never dreamt, not while I wasn’t awake. I woke up, and there I was. The day started well enough, as usual, perhaps even better than usual.
We drove home. As we went toward the trees by the cemetery near our apartment and I saw the stadium rising in the distance, there came the idea, a flash. I got to thinking that the world could be changed, it could be better, that we, all of us, could be saved from our own pity, even if we were not worth saving, simply because our foolish hope can somehow redeem us simply by us renouncing this hope altogether. Perhaps by merely hoping like fools we make ourselves deserving somehow, in the ether, here or there, under the vast indecipherable wave of invisible blue that is sweeping over us all in a drowning perpetual night, a sentence on all sentient civilisation, where we are now. But hope isn’t enough, isn’t the way out for fools. Our world was changing and slipping away from us. First, I realised, we would have to lose ourselves in something completely. Light up, burn, perhaps go even deeper underearth, gasp, lose our last breath, and then come out again all clean, washed pure, a tribute to our sons and daughters. It was just an idea. After it came and went, another day ended, and again I slept. Or the closest thing I could manage until it was the next today again.
All this happened quite some time ago, I think, not now, all this.
Maheesha is an avid supporter of the Parramatta Eels and fire. Please comment below, message him here, or throw him a few bucks for this effort.
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“. . . the fact that no one else really cared about our scheming dreaming life as much as we did . . .”
Some day you may grow old and reduce the piece to this.