By Kyla St Jaye
PROMPT — If only ...
I imagined the skin of it would shed easily.
And just by being here, I’d understand the answer.
Ringing through the emptiness.
My body feels like an episode of hoarders. I’m always hungry. Stacked with debris and loading. Each scrap, bottle top and hidden bone is swollen with stories. I hide in the static of just-in-case and the terrible consequence of insurance.
In. Sure. I’m sure.
I’m walled in and scratching at stacks of certainty.
I eat to disappear. Doubled in size, I’m Untouchable. I misinterpret this as safe.
I can hear it unwinding.
I remember the bitterly cold mornings winding along the riverside highway, driving my daughter to school. She wore a tie. She wore stockings that itched and sagged. I could see her in the rear vision mirror, her hand held against the breath heavy window. The mist hung slowly on the river like Avalon, animating a half sunk boat where the sea birds would roost. Old Iron, starboard side. Like that old sword story, rusting quietly in the half-salt of the river and stone. But there on the river, was no Arthurian code. No longing forged into honour.
Just the taste of iron like a bitten lip. And a man.
We’d see him every morning on his property opposite the river. In a fold out deck chair. He sat very still, deep in the unmowed paddock unmoved at being watched. Just him, admiring his grand piles of junk.
The buckled car bodies and bags of want.
Stacked high into the arches of the wraparound veranda of his farm house. Paladian Stables, it used to be called. A jewel. Back in the day. He was there every morning since I could remember.
The man was notorious around town. The plain sight of him. That and his inability to play at obligation beyond his own longing, or to play in a palatable way.
My ex-partner, a very-local, sat in the passenger side. He smelt vaguely of beer and the underbelly of a car. He pointed to the man in his canvas throne, his back sometimes to the traffic, or sometimes blankly looking back at us.
‘Old Mates been blacklisted at the Salvos. Even Vinnies won’t let him buy anymore.’
My ex wasn’t that interested in the man, and didn’t see the orchestrated stacks of remembering and chaos, he looked to the curved lines of the wraparound veranda, longing. He sighed.
“Look at those arches. Man, I’d love a place like that.”
The plain sight. The solidity of it. Stacked high, he could swing from them and want.
We haven’t spoken for a while, my ex and I. There’s not much left to say. Nothing but the ashes of how and when; a scripted kind of bitterness that leaves me too hungry and more exhausted than I remember. The why is lost. And there's nothing to learn worth learning again.
Last night, unexpectedly, he sent me a message.
‘Did you see the hoarder's house on North Head went up last night?’
I see the roar. The release.
In my hand I hold the screen that burns on batteries and fluorescence, lit brighter than a memory and burns away the nuance and bitter mist of the early drives on riverside highway, erasing the 3000km I’ve put between me and the loose symbols of that place, what is held and what was imagined. I watch it burn. Flooded with blue. And wild orange. The fire winding into the night.
My arms ache and my shoulders hurt.
I don’t remember a time without the man admiring his junk in the mornings.
I don’t know how it burned.
Maybe it was a mouse carcass caught in a toaster that burst into flames.
Maybe he sunk into an overcrowded armchair holding a cigarette. Long-long with ash, he listened to the stories of the hoard singing him to sleep. He fell easily as the cigarette falling from his hand, easy because it was time, and just as easily, catching the stacks of yellowed newspapers.
And for that brief blue moment, roaring them back to life.
I could imagine. Maybe.
He sat in his deck chair, deep in the unmowed paddock that night. In the sweet spot. In the quiet. When the highway emptied and it was too cold for anyone to watch. The best time to hear the lull of the river and the stories whispered to him from the house, the hoard. He leaned back. He was tired. Full and satisfied in the unimaginable patience needed to curate all that memory without making any choices.
He tipped his head and considered the topography of it. Where to climb. Where to rest. Lulled on the river and pulled in on the tides of stories, bearing through the archways of 124, Paladian Stables. A jewel. Back in the day. They spoke to him. The flotsam of that rusted town. And he understood: it was finished. He folded his chair and dragged it to the archway, stacked high and buckled with stuff.
He lit a match and let it burn.
I am easy and clear.
Ringing in the emptiness.
I am sung with fire.
Kyla St Jaye is Mparntwe-based (Alice Springs Northern Territory Australia), writing from Arrernte country. She studied creative writing on Ngunnawal country at University of Canberra, where she won an ACT writers centre award and was featured in several publications. Kyla took this practice into the women’s refuges on Yuin country (Far South Coast, NSW) where she facilitated many writing programs and group publications under a narrative therapy framework. Her programs recognized stories as transformative power sites for women who had experienced trauma, homelessness and domestic violence and used creative practice to position women as the authors of their own lives. She currently works these programs online, looks after her children and writes in the red dirt. Her favourite place is on the back of a camel under the Yeperenye cliffs.