Also available in Voiceworks #129 Static
Step One: Cook a Lamb Roast.
I am nine. I watch my dad glide the knife under the skin, bits of wool pulling away. The joints pop out of place as Dad twists the bone and the legs are now broken. He will hang the sheep from here, better to get under its skin and cut away flesh. I will help, fresh warm blood resting in the crevices of my nails. I grab the liver that we will eat for breakfast in the morning. It is hot. I’m not sure if a liver beats, but in my hand, it feels as though it could.
The next morning, Dad cuts up the meat on the bandsaw. I bag and write on the plastic what it is. Stew meat, neck chops, shoulder, leg, forequarter chops.
Mum puts the roast in at four o’clock. It holds so much potential.
I watch Dad sharpen the knives, knowing tomorrow I will practice that same motion on a set of sticks.
Step Two: Chop Up Your Left-over Roast Meat and Veggies.
I am thirteen. I see myself in the mirror one morning, and suddenly my whole world is on a tilt. I have a v-neck tan from spending hours in the sheep yards. My fingers are not pretty but look like twisted sticks, the callouses thick and hard. My tummy hangs over my pelvis, jiggles when I move. I chew my fingernails down until they bleed. It is a habit, I realise, that physically breaks me smaller, like that could compensate for the fat that ripples across my body when I walk. I want to imagine this girl in the mirror is separate from me. It’s easier that way. She’s speckled with moles, has chocolate cake thighs. I ignore the toned muscle, how able bodied she is, the curves under her skin that flex when she moves. They are not the curves she’s after.
Dinner that night is a stew. Mum tells me to eat it all up, not let it go to waste. I try my very best without feeling like I’m betraying the girl in the mirror.
I spend the next day sucking in my stomach while I lift lambs in the race. We put a ring around their tails and around their testicles. Eventually they will fall off from the lack of circulation. I think about what it would take to put a ring around my stomach.
Step three: Add Flour, an Egg, and Some Milk.
I am fifteen. Boarding school is lonely, and I sob my eyes out for the first two weeks that I’m there. It’s overwhelming. My grade size grew from ten to one hundred and fifty. I’m average here. Girls straighten their hair every morning and coat their eyelashes with mascara, like crow feathers slicked with oil. They fake tan every Sunday night after mandatory church like it is ritual, and I help them sneak out of the dorm so they can make out with boys on the cricket pitch at night. I don’t even know how to straighten my hair.
There are some nights I try to learn from these girls. I watch their craft, the way they move and walk and speak. Corrie hems her school dress even shorter, Abbie rolls her eyes at the boys who send her annoying snapchats, and Taylor and Bec stand in their bras and undies in each other’s room while the other fake tans their back. There is a language there, that ebbs between them all.
There are four girls in a room, like a crowded quad bike, the back jammed with dogs. The lights go out, but none of us sleep. A boy plays on my mind. He and I have no idea about anything. Barely kissed, but there’s a pressure there, to do more. Boarding school pitched sisterhood, so I swallow my breath in the dark, and let my voice shiver out into the silent room.
‘Does sex hurt?’ I ask no one in particular. There is a chorus of phones locking, like the click of crickets.
Taylor chokes out a laugh, ‘Jesus, you don’t know?’
No one else speaks, so neither do I. I throw the duvet over my head, cheeks red, and hold my breath to make the feeling of swallowing stones ease away.
One weekend, a girl hitches a ride with me out to a campdraft. Dad and I are nominated, and she wants to go to test out her fake ID. When we arrive at the horse truck, Dad is reshaping his Akubra over the steam of a boiling pot of water on the fire. I roll out my swag next to the flames, and the girl looks at me, really takes me in since we first met at the beginning of the year.
She says, ‘I didn’t expect you to be a country girl.’
Her words hurtle me into an unknown grey. I don’t look like my roots, and I don’t look like these pretty girls. I feel like a lost lamb, looking around and seeing nothing but the skeleton of scrub, my trying bleats echoing in my own ears as no one calls back in reply.
Step Four: Mix Wet and Dry Ingredients Together.
I am eighteen. My parents often joke that whenever I come home to visit, I bring the rain with me. Mum will tell me how dry it is, the property now bare bones, with empty dam craters callousing the ground, and skinny horses dotting the fence line like ants marching. She will tell me how dry it is, and that I must pack my suitcase with rain, and come home at once.
This is the winter my dad teaches me how to drive the tractor. Old Bluey, the tractor, has known me for my entire life. I have only known it for its slow end, like a long breath slowly leaking through the nostrils. It can only turn to the left (in a few years, the reverse will eventually go too). I am taught how to use the lift, and like a fork I stab huge bales of hay. I putt along through gates, along fence lines. Horses swarm like flies. I will drop the hay, take off the bailing twine tying the bale, and watch the horses eat.
I see their hip bones pushing against their coat, like hands reaching for food. My hand pinches my tubby stomach, and I want to punch myself when I think I wish I was thin like that. I do not cry. There is no room for salty water in this country. It is not what is needed now. I go grab another bale.
At the end of my visit home, the sky looks like a burnt blister, begging to crack open. I hope it does. By late afternoon, the sun turns into an oyster shell on the horizon. The paddock is dirt, the roads are dirt, the backyard is dirt.
Finally, the sky opens up. Rain pelts the ground. Dust billows and bursts from where the rain strikes the dirt. It looks like bullets, followed by blood spray.
Step Five: Pour into the Pan, and Fry.
I am nineteen. A pair of roller skates live in the back of my car. In my house, there are half-hearted hobbies strewn across the dining table, and the loungeroom floor is covered in pieces of paper which detail carefully curated, themed movie marathon lists. This is the first year where I feel I have all the time in the world. I’m watching the seconds roll off my fingertips like sand. My housemates and I go to the beach most weekends; we muck around at netball courts trying to remember how to roller skate and skateboard. In the glare of the sun, I can see the ghostly remnants of our netball games before lockdown. We lie down on the court and soak in the rays like we’re immune to the day ending.
The border is closed, and while I prodded and poked the line, I couldn’t get through to home, to my parents. Dad has cancer and the livestock are frail and hungry. Apparently, even the rain is prohibited from moving too. Mum cries over the phone, she tells me how I’m needed, how I can just swim across the river, the border line. She is not joking. It is a solution I already considered, but then the moral compass points north, and I realise jumping the border during a pandemic would be the wrong thing to do. I don’t cry on the phone to her when I tell her the idea is silly. I cry after I hang up, until my pillow is soaked, and my eyes are throbbing. My body is itching to be there, to smell wattle and cattle shit drifting across the paddocks, to feel kelpie ears between my fingers and the cold leather of my saddle, to hear willy-wagtails shouting at me at the sheep yards as I draft lambs.
But instead, I’m here, stuck living in a city to go to university, while dreaming of a life with dirt painting the crevices of my fingers. I feel reduced again, back down to a lost lamb caught in the wires of a fence, wriggling to burst forward but crying out for everything that is behind me, for everything that I know. Maybe there are others out there that feel this way, maybe this feeling is normal, a response to these isolating times, or maybe this is what growing up feels like. If that is the case, then I don’t want to grow up.
It is only when I’m staring in the mirror that night, my chest cherry red, the skin lightly blistering, that I remember the world is in fact moving faster than I feel. Now I am burnt, and I must wear the day over my heart.
Step Six: Serve.
I am twenty-one. I try and visit Mum and Dad once a month. I cry from homesickness, even though I have been living away from home going on four years now (boarding school years excluded). I buy ten ewes from Mum and Dad and talk about saving up to buy a block of land.
Every time I go home to visit, I try to muster the sheep so I can see the lambs my ewes have birthed. I also take wattle clippings and pat all the horses. Dad will butcher another sheep while I’m home so I can take the meat back with me. We wake before the sun and we bag the meat in ‘me’ portions — forequarter, shoulder, leg, stew.
I am given a tiny slow cooker to cook the stew meat, and I feel one step closer to being an adult. Mum will come with me to feed the kelpies. Then when I leave, Dad will make sure my car has oil, and Mum will follow along behind me to make sure I have everything.
There are days I crave the dust. You don’t see that here, in the city. I want to taste the dusty rain and see mobs of sheep on the horizon like white petals scattered in the wind. I dream of horse noses, where the coat is the softest.
On the days where my body burns to find a home, I cook a roast. I sharpen the carving knives, not as fast as Dad, but well enough. I slice the meat and know roast meat holds so much potential. Tomorrow, I will use the leftover meat to make fritters, and taste where I have come from, again.
Author: Jaime Colley is a Creative Writing and Law student at QUT. She has been published in Voiceworks Magazine, ScratchThat, QUT Glass, The Luna Collective, and others. Her writing often swings wildly between the dark potential of thrillers, the subtle delicacy of relationships, and if she’s feeling especially game, both.
Artist: Lilian Martin is a writer, poet, and now artist based in Meanjin/Brisbane, who wants to publish their own zines one day! They used to be keen on the art thing in high-school and have slowly been trying to ignite their visual spark once again. They have begun incorporating visual elements into their writing career by designing magazines, doing illustrations, and making graphics for the QUT Literary Salon. You can find both their writing and visual work at https://linktr.ee/lilianjmartin.
Editors: Suzy Darlington