Content Warning: Drug use
I’m lying in my bedroom after school, wearing my school blouse and cotton pyjama shorts. Mum is cutting a client’s hair and her polite laughter drifts below the linen curtains. My big brother’s in the room next to mine. He hums along to a song; it’s the same one he’s been singing all week. I hear him get up and move around, swear as he knocks his hip on something—probably the desk he never sits at—causing a grunt of wood on the tiles. But he forgets his frustration almost instantly, and goes back to singing, getting the words all wrong.
Him and Mum just had a fight and it’s not even midday yet. It had started with a hard knock on his door. ‘Noah,’ Mum said, no reply. ‘Open the door.’ I think he’d pretended to be asleep, then she opened it. ‘What’s this?’ I could hear the crinkle of a package.
‘Nothing.’ I’d heard him standing up, probably reaching for the package from her hands.
‘You don’t care at all anymore, do you?’ I’d heard her throw the package, the tick-tock of pills rattling around in their little bottles.
Mum came into my room, her chest mottled pink, and dropped a roll of foil on the bed. She was unable to make out her words, but I understood and began to tear the foil up into squares, folding their heads in perfect centimetres so she would have time to wash her face before her client arrived.
My shorts have little clusters of flowers on them and lace trimming, like the fabric of caravan curtains. I tie my blouse in a rough bow, and trace my fingers along the moles around my belly button, over the hard lump of my hipbone, the skin bruised, slowly turning yellow.
I send him a photo where I’m sucking in my stomach. We’ve been texting nearly every day for two months now. I always wait for him to break the silence before my life can start again. He texts mostly in abbreviations and uses capital letters irregularly. It takes me a long time to reply. I feel sick when I see he’s typing… I tell myself it’s butterflies. I don’t know what his face looks like; he hides it in his photos behind strands of hair, box-dye black and greasy. He says he’s twenty-four. He says he lives with his mum. He says he’s really tall in real life. He says he can’t tell if he is more emo or more goth. He uses my name all the time. I like the way it looks in his texts,
alice If You ever see me in public just ignore me tbh
I don’t know his real name, only his username: iwanttodie69. I know what Taylah would say if we were still friends, that he could be old, or a woman, or even a little boy. But that doesn’t phase me. I trust him. I send him photos of all of my body, but he asks for more of my hands, my elbows, my knees. These are the parts of a girl’s body he says really matter.
It’s Tuesday night and Mum and Dad just left cause someone has found my brothers bag on the side of the road, and the only things in it were his empty wallet and smashed phone. I pour some more wine into one of their abandoned glasses and run a bath, waiting for the balmy rush of alcohol to soothe my nerves. I text iwanttodie69. I tell him I’m falling in love with him. He says only crazy people love people they haven’t met. I realise he must be right because he has been in love before and I never have. trust me, he says, you’ll know. I send him a video of me washing all the soap off my body. He says he wants to snap me like a twig. I’m not really sure what he means, but I think I like it.
Mum and Dad are out of town for the night. Noah has all his friends over. I spy on them through the back window: a cigarette put out on Mum’s coffee table, boys sprawled across the loungeroom floor, their pale, skinny frames webbed and barbed with tattoos. I wait in my room until they leave. Noah must have found Mum’s car keys and they all clutter outside with their heavy tick-tocking pockets, and I listen as the Toyota Corolla throbs down the street. The living room smells like boy-mould and deodorant. The pillows have been pulled from the couch and there are Gatorade bongs beneath a pot plant. There’s a black backpack in the corner, tightly zipped. I go through it and take some pills that look like mini Pez candies from a little white bottle stuffed in a t-shirt.
He told me to meet him in the park at ten. Mum says you should never walk through the park at night as a girl, but my heart is racing and I’m so light-headed and certain I could run so fast away from anyone if they tried to chase me. I can feel the cold air polish my lungs and nostrils, travelling right to my head. I’m wearing a short skirt with one of Noah’s old sports hoodies and my new boots. Possums cut across the grass in the distance.
I text him, asking if he can see me. He says he sees me, the possums too. He’s wearing a backpack, a black hoody, skinny jeans. His face is so ugly and feminine in a movie villain way. If Taylah saw someone like him on the street she would cross to the other side. He sounds British.
‘It’s my autism,’ he says, when I ask why. ‘My therapist says it’s because when I was little I watched too much British television.’
I don’t know if he’s being serious or not so I just smile stupidly, aimlessly at his shoes.
‘It’s a real thing,’ he says, and he hands me a flask of vodka, laughing when I pinch my face at the taste. He tells me his name is Adam. He tells me he wants to go to the clubs, so we walk to his car parked up the road. In real life, we are almost exactly the same height.
I tell the bouncer I forgot my I.D., but he doesn’t buy it, so Adam buys us drinks from the Bottle-o instead. I promise I’ll send him money even though I have none, but he says it doesn’t matter; he’s on disability payments and he likes to spend money on girls. He has heaps of stripper friends. He would take me to see them if I had a fake I.D.. He might know someone who can get me one, for next time.
We sit in his Mitsubishi Mirage parked on the side of Brunswick Street and smoke Marlboro Reds he bought from the sketchy convenience store. He asks me what I want to do with my life. I tell him I want to be a writer. ‘I just couldn’t imagine doing anything else,’ I say coolly, my hand hanging out the car window.
‘I used to want to be a writer,’ he says, ‘I got lessons and everything for a long time, but I can’t express myself through words.’
‘How do you express yourself?’ I ask, the cigarette suddenly feeling uncomfortable between my fingers, the smoke stinging my eyes.
‘It only exists as chaos,’ he says, and I just nod along, feeling stupid for having ever wanted to be anything, ‘I grew up to be the fictional characters I couldn’t write about.’ He flips the lid on a can of a grapefruit White Claw. There’s a long silence. I am wearing big winged eyeliner and my hair is dead straight and I am starting to think he might want me, but then he says, ‘don’t worry, I’m not going to hit on you. I’m way more gay than straight right now.’
He drives us to the Casino, speeding, nearly swerving into the other lane. He laughs when I tell him to slow down, and I blush, feeling stupid for being afraid. We arrive at three in the morning. and Adam talks to the bouncer who doesn’t even look at me once, as if I am not even here, but this is the most real my life has ever felt. The bouncer sells Adam LSD. He says he won’t sleep for another twelve hours, but it doesn’t matter because he has nothing to do tomorrow anyway, or the next day, or the one after that. I wish I could be like Adam, unbound by school or parents, living on my own time. But Mum and Dad will be home tomorrow afternoon, and school goes back on Tuesday, and I know that if Mum ever looked at me the way she looks at Noah I would hate myself forever.
Adam says he’s seeing fractals from the acid; he says they’re like colours and patterns over everything. He says there are naked women twisting and moving around each other in the sky and so he probably shouldn’t drive. He asks me to drive us back to his, but I don’t even have my Learners permit yet. Still, I sit in the driver’s seat. I don’t know which foot is the accelerator and which is the break, but I’ll find out in a minute. I guess my way out of the city and get us onto the M3.
He says he doesn’t live too far out and I can crash on his couch. But I already know I’m not going to crash on his couch and I’m counting the hours and the suburbs and trying to remember the time of the earliest train. He’s playing loud, irregular music. I try to force myself to get used to it, tapping my thumb along falsely on the steering wheel. I can’t believe I’m in a boys car, and I’m driving it down the M3. I feel like a character in a movie. I only wish me and Taylah were still friends so I could tell her about it at school, but she wouldn’t believe me anyway. Instead this night will simmer in me forever, or until something more exciting or more dreadful happens. Adam tells me to go faster.
‘Floor it Alice.’ He laughs, but the speed limit already feels too fast, and I’m distracted because he just said my name for the first time in real life, and I’m imagining the lowercase ‘a’ flittering across the dashboard.
I park on his street. Birds are chirping. He tells me I probably shouldn’t stay because his mum would be weird about it, but I can sleep in his car if I really need to. I tell him it’s fine, I can get someone to pick me up, but that I have to pee. He lets me use his toilet. His house is old and small. The kitchen is dirty and there are three different kinds of open cereal boxes on the bench. His mum’s things are everywhere. Mugs, ceramic birds, different textured bags and scarves litter the room. I pet his cat on the head.
He lays down on the grass in the backyard, and I lay down beside him. He gets up on his elbow and looks across my face, a glazed attention that focusses into a stare. He tells me I have eyes like a cats’. He pushes the hair off my face and kisses me. He smells like cigarettes and sweat and deodorant. I move gingerly beneath him, my mouth numb like toilet paper or clean laundry, only defined against his grit. He moves away.
‘I’m way too fucked up for this,’ he says, laying back and pinching the bridge of his nose with his fingers. I get up, wiping my mouth with the inner-wrist of my sleeve. ‘I really need a downer,’ he says, and I reach into my little crochet bag, remembering the pills I stole yesterday. ‘Thanks,’ he says, handing me two back, ‘take these,’ he says, ‘you’ll be able to sleep wherever.’
The hesitation comes after the second one is already lumped in the dryness of my throat. I keep swallowing but my mouth won’t produce any more saliva. We hug goodbye and he says ‘you do realise we will probably never see each other again?’ and I don’t believe him, but he’s right.
On my way to the train station I feel the drowsiness kneading into me, subtly: a wobble in my legs, the crawl of dread in my stomach. I study the shifts anxiously, trying to keep control of my movements and thoughts, but soon enough my arms swing and my footsteps slack against the pavement. On the train, windows of empty parking lots and squares of frosted grass slip by like loose photographs. A couple who look as though they haven’t slept in days sits across from me. The girl stares at me and I don’t look away, instead I look straight at her. I could get used to this feeling. Like everything is so far away. She yells something at me, something I can’t comprehend, but I don’t feel scared or sorry. I don’t feel anything.
I get home at 7 a.m. Noah is in the kitchen eating ice cream from the tub. His phone is on the kitchen bench, the smashed screen flicking around glints of morning sunlight, a new song playing. He looks scared when he hears someone walk in, but his face softens when he notices it’s only me. He doesn’t even ask where I’ve been. Maybe it doesn’t even register to him that it might be weird for me to be coming home at this time.
The boys are asleep on the living room floor. I don’t go to my room to hide like I usually do, but I stay out and sit on a bar stool. His phone dies and the music stops. He tells me he crashed Mum’s car, but one of his friend’s brothers can fix it. He spoons the ice-cream into his mouth, a sticky vanilla coating around his lips. My thoughts are slow and dull but I stay outside with him because I don’t want this moment to be over—this feeling of trust between us, as if I exist to him as something separate from our parents for the first time.
Author: Ava Wilschke is a third-year creative writing student from Brisbane. She writes autobiographical fiction based on real places, people, and events in her life. She mostly writes to better understand herself and her relationships and to be understood by others.
Artist: Yongzheng Wang is a visual arts student from China, currently studying at QUT and living in Brisbane, specialising in traditional painting such as classical oil painting and academic sketching. While studying art in China, he won a first prize in landscape drawing in institute. He is fluent in Chinese, French, English and Italian and has a good knowledge of Western art theory.
Editors: David Farr and Sara Reeves