To Matthew Adams Return to Sender

Edited by Ryan O’Neill & Glenys Osborne

Etchings11-coverEXTRACT

The roof was leaking again so I helped you empty the kitchen cupboards of their battered pots and place them across the lounge-room floor. The drops were coming down like a beaded string curtain; with each pan we set in place, the tinkling intensified until I said to you, Are you hiding a glockenspiel under the couch or what?

Your mother was passed out so we knew there would be no dinner that night other than what you could scrounge together, but at least it meant she wouldn’t stomp to your room and push open the door whenever you had softly shut it. No monkey business in my house, she’d said the time before. When your eyes went narrow and blood rushed to your face I told you, Don’t worry, it’s nice she cares. It would be better if she cared about Robbie, you said quietly, and it was the kind of quiet that made me realise why our classmates were scared of you.

A wail escaped Robbie’s room. You sighed and loped down the hall, adjusting your low-slung jeans as you went. Beneath the tat-tat of the drips was the sound of your murmurs, the sound of his hiccups. You returned and removed one of the pans from the floor, told me a drip had started up over his cot and disappeared again.

It was almost eight and a school night so I had to go home. You kissed me goodbye and I went out, schoolbag held over my head to shield myself from the worst of the weather, hurrying the five blocks through the wet.

*

You didn’t show at homeroom the next day—The roof, you told me when I called at recess. You had borrowed a silicone gun from an old guy two houses down, climbed up and patched it, but you said there were so many holes that you weren’t sure you’d got them all. I imagined the corrugated iron to be like lace, imagined lying in the cavity beneath it, how the sun shining through would look like stars. In my daydream, you were beside me, and there were sequins of light all over you.

So I’ll see you tomorrow?

Yeah, you said. Tomorrow. See you then.

I slipped my mobile into my pocket and held your words close.

A few days later I got an invitation to the end-of-year awards ceremony, and you got suspended for two weeks. You asked me what my award meant among all those A-worded honours (Application to Studies, Academic Achievement, Academic Excellence). I broke them down like this: You try hard, you do pretty well, you’re top of the class.

You nodded. So—pretty well. After a pause, you pushed me on the arm, grinning, and said, Well if you tried, you’d get the top-of-the-class one.

Smoking was what got you suspended that day, along with the spray of graffiti across the woodwork shed. I told you they were a bunch of authoritarian arseholes, but you shrugged it off. They had adopted a zero-tolerance policy and used words like lost cause when shaking their heads and sighing over you. The new rules are in force, they boomed out at assembly, the lot of them with their shoulders abutted like a small, earnest army.

Our classmates flitted around you. They looked at me sidelong and wondered how I had done it, how I had got under your skin, and why I’d let you get under mine. They whispered about us as if I was all set for a fall and you were all set to show me the way.

*

I never told you, but when we first hooked up at Jonno’s party the winter before the one just gone, my stomach was churning because I’d arrived before my friends. That’s what made me notice you: alone, you looked comfortable. When your eyes locked onto mine, I didn’t look away. Come on, you said, and without a second thought I followed you into the night.

You hotwired a car—I didn’t stop you. We thrummed through the deserted streets with the windows and vents open wide so that the dark, cool air hit us hard in the face. We sucked that air right in and watched the night and the lights rush at us.

But it wasn’t until a few weeks later that I knew how much I liked you. It was the first time you came to watch me play. You sat right in the middle, between the flautist’s mother and the trombonist’s grandfather, and fixed your gaze on me. I missed notes and tripped out of time: the xylophone, timpani and glockenspiel became lumps of wood, steel and skin; my mallets, sticks. The keyboard player kept frowning at me, and the conductor soldiered on. Later, you told me it was beautiful, said my percussion was the detail that really made the songs. When you said those words—well, that was when I knew.

If you would like to read more, here is a pdf, with the generous permission of Ilura Press.

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