86

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: February 12, 2019

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Submitted: February 12, 2019

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The Line

 

“One of my better days,” you think, as you wait for the 86 tram.  “But the day’s not over yet.  Give it some time.”

 

You look at your watch.  Then you remember, embarrassed, that it’s gone.  You pretend to scratch your wrist, so that passersby won’t notice that you just looked at your blank wrist, a tan line where the timepiece used to be. 

 

“But did anyone really notice?” you ask yourself.  “Are you that self-absorbed?  Look around you, you sod.”

 

You feel a little worse, a little dejected.  You look around at the crowds amassing along every corner of Bourke and Swanston.  They coalesce for one brief moment, waiting for the light to change.  Then two masses collide with each other in the center of the street, brief confusion, then they disperse, finding their direction despite too much texting and talking and distractions from the street performers. 

 

There is so much chaos, so much dissonance it turns you a little on your ear.  Like when mum used to take you to the Anzac Day game.  The MCG was packed.  There was so much noise.  You would get restless to the point mum got annoyed.  But you couldn’t help yourself.  There seemed to be no way out.  It was a feeling of overcharged – sparks shot behind your eyelids.  Mum got all quiet.  You could tell that you were upsetting her.  You wanted to say, “Mum, understand, okay?  This isn’t me.”  But who says that at age seven?  Barely the age of reason.

 

She usually said nothing.  You knew she was upset at you, but she never took me to task.  Instead, she yelled at a Collingwood supporter or two.  Yes, there were always those kinds of things to distract her from your behavior.  Like one time when a Magpie fan kept swearing, and mum turned to him and said, “I got a kid, you know.”  And he called her a word you’d never heard before, or since.

 

That word made you feel worse.  Worse still was your thought that no one in the crowd really cared that a stranger had called your mum that.  That was one of the worst Anzac Day games.  You felt farther from mum than you ever felt. 

 

“What’s the matter, now?” she asked, pulling you up into the 86 tram.  “C’mon!”

 

But you knew she wasn’t really looking for you to answer, anymore.  Not because she didn’t care.  You didn’t know it then.  At the time you thought she couldn’t give a toss because that’s how you interpreted her tone.  But now you knew, for whatever it was worth, that she did care; it was a hopeless caring, a caring without feeling – apathetic empathy. 

 

Maybe if you’d known that twenty years ago, you might have gone to the funeral.  She died on Boxing Day.  She’d at least waited.  You had one more Christmas with her.  You never properly thanked her, but who talks about such things when their mum’s on her deathbed?  That’s when people look back and cry it out, whatever needs to come out – sorry or regret or whatever.  Mum thought she had a lot to be sorry for.  But you didn’t.  You just said she did the best she could after dad left.  In fact, you told her, things got so much better once he left. 

 

She smiled and called you by your name, which she only did when she was mad or about to cry.  She said your name again and then sighed, “I never told you how much you meant to me.  You’ve been my life since I was a little girl.  Those tram rides with you were my only peace, you know that?  They were my only peace.”

 

The tram pulls up.  The shriek of its brakes pulls you out of yourself.  You rise from the bench, floating on images that just now begin to undulate.  You turn to your right, looking down Bourke Street, past Swanston where the spruikers hocked their wares and a Japanese guitarist wearing a cowboy hat played “Noel”, and mum pulled you along the footpath from storefront to storefront, each one teeming with toys you couldn’t have and clothes you didn’t want.  There were bad times when you’d cry for no reason but that you couldn’t hold back.  Then mum would get really quiet, pulling you into and out of stores.  And the other kids would point at you and their mum’s would slap away their hands because that was rude.  And that only made you want to cry harder. 

 

But then there were also the good Christmases, when mum said she could get you a toy, and you cheered maybe a bit too loud, though she didn’t seem to mind.  And then it was as if you were pulling her up and down Bourke street, stopping at the displays, looking for just the right toy – whatever was the thing for a little kid like you to own. 

 

“A little kid like me,” you say out loud.  You notice a couple of kids staring at you now, as the crowd files into the tram.  Maybe you said it a bit rough, because they look more frightened of you than kids usually do.

 

You smile at them.  But that only makes their mum pull them harder onto the tram.  By the time you get to the tram, it’s packed to the doors.  You climb onto the stairs, but an abrupt voice clamors from the tram’s speakers:  “Please, clear the stairs!”Unable to move up from the stairs, you fall back onto Bourke Street.

 

You don’t mind, so much now.  Walking down Bourke Street now, crossing Swanston, you are approaching the center of a universe you had forgotten until today.  There had been so much fear, so many days when the heat or the cold, the light or the dark would just penetrate, would just inundate the whole of you.  It just seemed always to cancel you out for the day, for the week, for months at a time. 

 

Occasionally, people came to your door with notebook and clipboards.  They would ask questions, speaking very slowly and writing very quickly.  But they never stayed for tea.  They rarely came back and never for good.  You wondered why they came at all.  They were to you no different than all the other faces inside you and around you every day, carrying on inside the television and in the wallpaper.  They were just ghosts, really.  You felt like you could just punch through them all.

 

Not today, though.  This has been a good day.

 

“This has been a good day,” you reiterate, looking at the wooden toys and the mechanical elves building them in the storefront.  You see the faces among them.  You know that they are reflections of the people standing around you, talking, laughing, becoming part of your feeling now rising up in you.  You see your face, immersed in the crowd.  You’re smiling.  And for first time in a long time it feels like something.  It has come a long way to get there.  Now it was there to take you home in the sticky heat of the Holiday season. 

 

You throw a few five cent pieces into the guitar box of a dreadlocked street performer.  He looks up at you and smiles:  “Happy Holidays.”

 

You smile and nod.  You don’t know anything else, you only know that you’re on your way.


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