When strangers, Will and Wainwright, meet face-to-face in a gas station at dawn, they realise their shared nightmare is something more insidious than a bad trip.
Wainwright is trying to find his missing friend. Will is in hiding from his dead girlfriend and their angry lover. Meeting in reality might be their first step at making peace with the past. Or their last.
Here is my first installment, uncut and unedited (as of today). It was written on the winter solstice here in Brisbane, June 2017, as a kind ‘oh shit, I am writing today’, throw ink at the page, kind of literary scramble. For anyone who has read
24, my collaboration with Claire Jansen, you will notice familiar characters popping up. In the same or different universe, some times it is hard to tell.
To grok more about the project, please check out the
official website. We plan to publish The Glass Marionette late in 2020, possibly as a web serial.
36 Hours Earlier…
The light refracted through the dirty bedroom window above my bed, creating gently shifting patterns on the wall across from where I lay. They reminded me of Rorschach blotches but I didn’t want to divine my psychological state from them. I knew well enough what was going on in my head. That’s why I’d come home.
I thought being in a different State would make it easier. If distance made the heart fonder, then in this case, distance gave the heart a chance to heal. To end the looping anxiety that fuelled the incessant monologue in my head about what I could have done better. To sit in hope that the necrotic parts of my heart might once again live. Or to find myself brave enough to cut them the fuck out.
My phone buzzed.
It was serious if Mae-Lyn was using just a single question mark. I put the phone back down. Put it on Do Not Disturb. She couldn’t help me because she couldn’t help herself.
Outside someone started a lawn mower. Or a mulcher. Or some other fucking garden tool. A dog barked. Then for a moment everything was silent.
Everything, except the shit-fight in my head.
The sun passed through a cloud and came back strong with the pattern on the far wall.
There were how many steps in the grieving process?
Three? Twelve? I didn’t really know.
We hadn’t studied that yet.
Maybe it wasn’t part of the curriculum.
Did it really matter?
I wasn’t going back.
I didn’t know where I was going.
“Will?” Her voice was old. Like time had worn it out in a way life hadn’t quite managed. Or the two packets of Winnie Blues had finally caught up with her.
Pushing against the inertia to stay hidden in my room, I rolled off the bed and pulled on a hoodie. The carpet in the hallway was as threadbare as Mum’s vocal chords. She sat shrouded in a cloud of cigarette smoke, the afternoon sun creating a suburban halo of misery around her head.
“Seeings your here, you don’t mind being a dahl and poppin’ down to the shops for another packet of ciggies.” She shook the near empty packet at me. The black lungs on the packaging reminded me of my own diseased heart.
I remembered the nicotine patches I’d worn to get me through exam periods and that too easily lead me back into the grips of Helena. Just as addictive as fucking durries. Just as bad. Just as fucking hard to give up.
“Will?” Mum snapped her fingers and I was back in the cramped lounge room, sucking in the second-hand smoke.
“The car’s empty,” she said, trying to look apologetic, but I knew she wasn’t. There might not be enough of her pension left for fuel but there was always some for her durries. “You don’t mind walkin’.”
The servo was a half-hour walk. Up hill more than down.
“You don’t mind, dahl?”
I shrugged and said, “Sure, Mum,” and she missed the conflict between word and action; a grateful smile spreading across the puckered skin of her lower face. I couldn’t remember it ever reaching her eyes.
“You’re a good boy,” she added, grinding out the durrie that had burned down as we talked. They were clever like that. Dying before your eyes.
Just like Helena, self-immolating in her own smoke and heat.
“Maybe invite some of your mates over,” Mum called, as I took the front door keys from the misshapened ceramic bowl on table in the hallway. I’d been so stoked with my effort when I was eight. And here it was. Still. Like me; a throw back to some era that didn’t exist any more. No more relevant there than here.
“Sure, Mum.” I said, opening the front door. Kicked at the bottom of the screen door that was stuck and went out onto the broken concrete veranda, pulled the front door closed but left the screen askew.
I’d learned the hard way there was no point in trying to make functional the inherently broken.
But that was hardly going to give me peace now.
Kev sat awkwardly across from Mum, half sunk in the couch, his faded hoodie pushed back. Some free-to-air bullshit show played away to itself. Marlin was next to Kev, knees through his jeans and a hole in the toe of his expensive runners. How Mum’d even got hold of them I didn’t know. She didn’t own a mobile. She might if she’d had the money, or I had it, but neither of us did. But somehow she’d tracked them and got them here.
“Hey,” I said, the plastic bag with the durries and a litre of milk rustling against my leg.
Mum’s smile folded in on itself. She was pleased with her effort.
I handed her the two packets and gestured for Kev and Marlin to follow me through into the kitchen.
“You never said nuthin’ on Facebook about comin’ home,” Kev said, leaning against the door.
Marlin pulled out a seat and sat at the scarred Formica table that would be home in some wanky café. Here, like everything else, it was just sad and neglected.
I shrugged. “Last minute decision.”
I hadn’t actually know where I was going when I washed up at Southern Cross Station with everything I could fit jammed into my backpack. My laptop and a few other things in a smaller day pack. Guitar in its hard case rounding it all out. It would have been just as easy to have gone East, down to the Bay, in search of a bed with Mae-Lyn’s friends. But that felt too easy. And I didn’t deserve easy. I thought about a ticket West, into the country to some random tiny town off the train line and to some menial fucking job that would deaden my body and hopefully my head. But instead, I’d blown what little was left to go North, all the way to here.
Like a homing pigeon.
“You got somewhere to jam?” I asked, gently closing the fridge door so the milk wouldn’t fall out of the broken shelf.
“Maybe…” Marlin said and whatever he might have come next was left hanging. There was no more Brad’s garage.
The three of us stood there in silence and for a moment the ghost of Helena was flirting with that of my best friend by the sink.
I was only good at running out on the people I cared about the most.
“Why don’t you come over here, tomorrow night,” I said, thinking cleaning out the garage would give me something to do, rather than stare at the wall in my bedroom, trying to hide from the memories of Helena.
“Your old girl gonna be okay with that?” Marlin raised an eyebrow, the one with the fat scar running through it where his old man put his head through the plasterboard wall of lounge room in our first year at high school.
“She wont be a problem,” I said. Her acquiescence was easily bought with a cheap bottle of vodka. A bit like Helena.
“Tomorrow then,” Kev said, slapping his hand against mine, and Marlin following suit.
I nodded. They let themselves out the back door. The screen door stuck and I left it.
Mae-Lyn’s messages had piled up while I’d been gone. Along with the unanswered calls.
— when ru coming home was the final one, when she’d had no luck in me telling her where I was.
— I am home. I tapped and then deleted. Retapped and deleted again.
Then wiped all her messages. Deleted her from my contacts. Deleted everyone from my phone. In a grieving dervish, I deleted everything from my phone. Plugged it in and rebooted with a factory reset.
A new start.
If only there was somewhere I could plug myself in. Wipe clear my memory. Wipe clean my conscience.
Mum tells me there was a time BDW—Before Dad Went—when we were all happy. When she is drunk, she will tell me stories, like the ones about coming downstairs and finding him labouring over a laptop; writing.
Poetry sometimes. Stories others. And the novel that deserved better than it got.
Always sounded like their marriage.
She says they called me Neo in the womb.
There was a time when I was almost there that she re-arranged the fragments of his torn poetry and she fancied she was just as talented as him.
Neo. But all I can think is Nero.
And how I played my guitar and their marriage burnt.
Sometimes you can’t escape the past.
Why are you studying psych, Mae-Lyn asked the first time we slept together.
I didn’t need a degree to understand how two people make each other’s life a misery.
There is a limit to the amount of caffeine one can consume to stay awake. And the amount of out-of-date caterer’s instant blend one can ingest before the body rebels. How far your single bed from your misbegotten youth, with the loose springs, can act as a sleep preventative.
And so I slept. And so she came.
Helena… I called trying to stop her. I went to cut her off from the abyss she drew for herself, but something stopped me and I watched her approach it from a distance. I didn’t need to get closer because I trusted she was safe. I was there.
She was in the same god-awful dressing gown she’d come home in, naked underneath, on that night she’d melted down about Ben and went AWOL. The night we got together. Properly. I’d taken her inside, showered the vodka-vomit from her hair, got her into an old pair of PJs of mine and wrapped her tight in my arms, in my bed, promising I’d keep her safe. Always.
And I watched her walk, believing my presence was enough to keep her on this side.
I bolted awake, but it was never quick enough to avoid seeing her devoured by the abyss.