Friday, September 21, 2012
Freeze Frame Reality, excerpt #FridayFlash
This is an excerpt from a work in progress entitled Freeze Frame Reality. It's not done yet, and it's [shock, gasp, horror] contemporary fiction with not one whiff of supernatural elements. I thought I'd share this today, as it's still a project I'll finish at some point.
* * * *
I don’t want to be here. I’ve parked beneath the willows outside the house where I grew up and the attrition is glaring—the way the once-cheerful blue paint on the shutters now sloughs off in uneven strips; how the banksia threatens to completely engulf the veranda; and the choking Paterson’s curse with its purple blooms and prickly grey-green foliage has swarmed what should have been my aunt’s rose bed. The place looks as if no one has lived here for ages, the inhabitants fled. In a sense they have. First my brother—off to college and now building houses he can’t afford to live in himself. And me, the prodigal niece, the failed photo-journalist, who’s spent the past ten years of her life photographing bereaved parents, old people evicted from homes and angry residents dissatisfied with substandard government housing. Always wading thigh deep through others’ grief. This is not how I imagined to come full circle.
If I tabulate what my life has amounted to up until this point, I have not achieved the things I set out to do and, like a kicked dog, I’ve whimpered back to the kennel. Only now I must be the strong one. And I don’t want this. The truth remains that there is no one for me, to enfold me in a motherly embrace and whisper that it’s all going to be okay. It’s not going to be okay. What’s worse is the knowledge that if I stop kicking, I’ll sink beneath the surface and the waves will cover me. I’ll be forgotten. No one will speak my name.
I don’t have anyone else to blame but myself.
The bleakness of my situation makes my eyes prickle and I suck in a deep breath. I can do this thing. Tim and I knew it was coming; knew one of us would end up returning. I just didn’t think it would be me. Aunt Emma’s old. There’s nothing for it. For almost six years I haven’t visited the woman who raised us. That particular brand of guilt bites hard but my limbs are leaden. Instead of getting out of the car to knock on the door, I breathe in and out. Deep, steadying breaths. I should have a cigarette but my mouth tastes grungy and my lungs have a disturbing gurgle when I cough. I smoke too much.
It’s only ten in the morning but it’s hot, and the cicadas scream in the stand of gum trees at end of the street. The sound is a shimmering curtain reminding me of long summer afternoons wanting to go play outside. It’s not the wisest of ideas to be out of doors here mid-summer but it’s early October now and already the morning sun has a nasty sting once I summon the courage to get out of the car.
The aluminium gate slams shut behind me—yet another memory, of the times I came home from school, happy to be here. Only now the clash of metal on metal has a ring of finality to it. There’s no turning back.
The black wrought-iron knocker is heavy in my grasp and the hollow thuds ring deep into the house. I try to imagine the place as it once was: cool dark passages with quarry tiles worn smooth after the passage of many feet; sepia portraits of long-deceased relatives keeping watch beneath hooded eyes. The old people in those photos used to fascinate and scare me to death by equal measure. Aunt Emma used to pick me up so I could see them better. She knew all their names and who was related to whom; what they did, where they lived and when they died. Their stories are mostly forgotten now, as faded as their prints. Their names are reduced to carved granite markers in cemeteries.
I’m ready to knock again when the door opens and I look down into the face of a middle-aged coloured woman almost two heads shorter than me, but at least four times as broad. Her powder blue tunic is embroidered with the Williams Trust logo.
“Hi, you must be Sara Veldman.” I hold out my hand.
She squints up at me then smiles, revealing teeth that are far too white or even to be anything but falsies. “Miss Owens! You look nothing like in the photos. Come in! Come in!” The photos...that no doubt depict me in various awkward adolescent poses. The only ones of me as an adult are scattered around assorted social networking sites. Thank God I look nothing like in those childhood photos. I used to have a penchant for cut-off denim shorts cut off a little too high. The horror.
Sara ushers me into the sitting room where I sink into the couch. The floral print upholstery looks far more frayed than the last time I was here. The scent of mothballs makes me wrinkle my nose.
The woman remains standing. “Can I get you anything, some lemonade, perhaps? We’ve got ice.”
“That would be lovely, thanks.”
I shouldn’t delay the inevitable but now that I’m down, I have no desire to go through to the master bedroom to greet Aunt Emma. I want to remember her as she was the last time I saw her—a somewhat dotty yet bubbly old lady. My dear brother hasn’t failed to rub my absence in my face.
“She’s deteriorating fast,” he likes to tell me. “You’d better go see her before she dies. She’s not going to be around forever, you know.”
We don’t talk about our mother, Aunt Emma’s sister, who left us on her doorstep when we were very small. We don’t discuss the father we can barely remember. Aunt Emma, as far as we know, is our only blood relative. The rest are either dead or live overseas—cousins we’ve never met and, in all likelihood never will.