1. The House of Colours
This isn’t a story. This is an apology; an explanation – for you.
You see, when I was thirteen, my life was a palette. Bottle blues and velvet greens and sticky reds built my world like melting Lego blocks. The roads in front of me were smeared chalk portraits of the faces I wanted to forget. I could never go forwards, only backwards. Then one day, when I found myself in a ditch beside a crumpled car, I realised that the colours were gone.
It was violent purge of reason and the ground was shifting underneath my feet.
Now, at twenty-two, barely an adult and too uncertain as a woman, I found myself standing in front of a dilapidated building that promised to bring the colour back. The beautiful girl with the crooked teeth told me that the man inside the building would save me. But as the clouds drained the blue from the sky and as the wails of the city settled into a steady, limb shaking thrum, I felt the first shivers of doubt.
‘Trust me,’ she said.
‘Why?’ I said.
‘I’m standing naked in front of you,’ she said.
And she was. In all her imperfect glory, oh sweet Jesus, she was.
Always backwards. Never forwards.
So, listening to her phantom voice, I knocked on the door buried under phone numbers and fuck-yous and finished my cigarette.
When the door opened, for a brief hysterical moment I saw you standing in front of me.
‘Jesus,’ you said, ‘Jesus fucking Christ.’
But of course it wasn’t you. How could it be? It was someone older than you, but with the same dark eyes and surly mouth. The you-girl and I stood still for a long time, suddenly thrust from the concrete like dizzy drunks.
‘It’s incredible,’ she said. ‘Isn’t the resemblance uncanny?’
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘It must be fate.’
‘Fate?’ She laughed and I realised she couldn’t possibly be you. You never laughed.
She cast her eyes over my face one more time before stepping aside and sweeping her hand in. I muttered my thanks and stepped inside.
It was a typical safe house for bohemian punks and erudite junkies. I followed the you-girl through the vacuum of incense, beads, dreaded hair, beautiful ugly stoners, and scarred skin. They danced past me with strange feverish grace and as I buried myself deeper into the house, I found the air being sucked from my lungs. I was breathing colour again.
The you-girl led me to a beaten door at the back of the house. ‘He’s in here.’
‘My name is Susie.’ She winked and flew back into the belly of the house.
Before I could knock, a sweaty long haired man opened the door and pulled me inside. He slammed the door shut and pressed his ear against it, listening with the same concentration a guard dog might. He furrowed his brow, nodded to himself, made a few odd murmuring sounds, then pushed himself off the door and faced me.
He raised his eyebrows and his metal laden ears waggled. ‘Oh, of course not. You two could be twins though.’
The room was dark and cold. There was no colour here.
‘What’s your name then?’ the man said, skipping around the room and pulling out scarves and little bags.
He paused and laughed. ‘I’m a rabbit,’ he said, throwing a manic grin at a poster of Paul McCartney.
‘That’s my name, Susie-who’s-not-Susie.’
The man whooped and leaped onto his bed, grabbing a stained, dog-eared manila envelope. He thrust it at me and I caught it with my chest. The envelope was surprisingly heavy.
‘I’m assuming that’s what you’re after?’ Rabbit said, hopping off the bed.
I glanced inside.
Colours. Thousands of perfect round colours.
‘How much?’ I said.
‘Five bucks a pop.’
I pulled out a fifty from my pocket.
‘Unbelievable, isn’t it?’ Rabbit said, grabbing the bill and running it under his nose. ‘It’s a crazy time to be alive when you can go to space for only five bucks.’
‘Sure,’ I said, picking out ten colours from the envelope.
I left that house as quickly as I entered it. I never did tell Rabbit my name.
I took one on the way home, where the beautiful girl with the crooked teeth was waiting for me. The train ride was saturated white and as the chain of carriages rocked through the city, drops of liquid grey painted the world outside. But the colour melting on my tongue took away the shades and the train disappeared.
You know what it’s like. Those colours coming back in each teeth grinding wave. I know it’s something you will never forget.
2. The Beautiful Girl With The Crooked Teeth
She wasn’t a man and she wasn’t a woman but for her own, special reason, she was a woman to the hundreds of alcoholics with the same face she brought home every night. She called herself a slut (a slut with a heart) and she crawled into bed with me every night after what she referred to as A Good Hearty Fuck.
‘Why is fucking hearty?’ I asked her one night, after she curled up beside me, sweaty and sour.
‘Because it’s got a lot of heart in it,’ she said.
‘I don’t understand.’
‘I know you don’t. Think of it like soup.’
‘Sex is soup?’
‘Sex is definitely soup.’
She wasn’t a man and she wasn’t a woman but for me, she wore summer dresses she bought for two dollars from Salvos and wore a shade of lipstick that made her eyes look dewy. She was who I wanted her to be, the beautiful girl with the crooked teeth, and to the hundreds of alcoholics she brought home she was the beautiful woman who loved Good Hearty Fucks.
Sometimes, when she stood in front of the window nude, drinking in the afternoon sun as was her daily habit, I would stare at her silhouette and the light illuminating her lines like a drunken signature. In those dark quiet moments, I thought perhaps she wasn’t real and that perhaps, just perhaps, she was a fantastical creature I pulled from the dying pool of colour in my mind.
We were first years at university when we met. I wore glasses that were too big for me and kept sliding down my nose and I had a habit of pushing them back up with my knuckles. She sat across from me in Intro to Post-Modern Philosophy and mirrored my actions whenever my glasses slid down my face. She found it funny. I didn’t.
With time though, she found out I had no sense of humour and I found out she had no sense of self and we both fell in love.
It didn’t work. It never did. Every emotion has a lifespan. A birth, a life, a death. The love, if it was that at all, was a brief spark of emotion that barely touched the air before rotting away in the dirt. She began having a lot of Good Hearty Fucks with alcoholics and I began to have delusions.
We still loved each other but it was no longer an emotion. It was a state of mind.
Red’s dead now by the way. I buried her this morning. But, like everything else, you know that.
3. Can We Celebrate?
‘No Good Hearty Fucks tonight,’ Red said.
I watched the circle of colour disappear into her mouth and nodded. Her face blurred and bled. I nodded again.
‘Paul said that your dad jumped off the Westgate Bridge,’ she said.
I stared at her. ‘That’s not funny.’
A black film of skin crawled over her eyes from eyelash to waterline then disappeared.
‘I’m not joking.’
She wasn’t smiling. She wasn’t joking.
I pulled out my phone and called Paul.
Dad took off his shoes and his tie before he climbed the two meter barb wired fence. Cars sped by because it wasn’t such a strange sight on the Westgate Bridge. Each step towards the concrete blockade that separated him from his mortality was slow and deliberate. Then at the blockade he swung one leg over, then the other, and stood tall and still as if he was a tourist savouring the sight of a foreign cityscape.
And then he jumped.
The security footage was grainy. It was black and white.
Paul didn’t seem too upset on the phone and I wasn’t either. Red drew me with a charcoal pencil on faded yellow newspaper. None of us were upset. It was an emotion dad never felt in his life so we didn’t feel the obligation to feel it now.
Again, there I go. Always backwards, never forwards.
‘Can we celebrate?’ Red said, making dark angry lines on the paper.
‘I’ll get the champagne,’ I said, watching her.
4. Coffee And The Graves
The trees were unkempt and grew twisted; jagged tendrils of charred branches jut out dangerously across the cracked pathways like irate spears. The graves were cakes of rot and earth, lined up crooked and forgotten along the pathways. A celebration of the dash. A party for the finished.
The procession was large. A tide of black sitting and standing in waves of muttered grief and piano wails. I hung back with Paul, sitting on a couple of pathetic looking headstones.
The sky was the ground (there was no differentiating the two) and a light haze of rain swept through the cemetery.
‘Who are you sitting on?’ Paul said, lighting a cigarette.
‘Baby John Richardson the Second,’ I said. ‘What about you?’
‘I got Old Derby Matthews.’
‘No, definitely cannibal.’
We gave each other grim smiles and turned our attention back to the burial. The black sea of bobbing heads and insincere consolidations were dispersing, like a clump of violet petals in a lake, floating away from the friction of touch.
‘Fuck dad,’ Paul said. His hands trembled and for a moment my older brother was a kid again.
I pressed my lips together and took his cigarette.
‘What a way to go though, eh?’ I said. ‘Like going to space.’
When the last of the stragglers disappeared behind the gothic gates, Paul and I stood up and wandered over to dad’s grave. The dirt was clumpy and sick looking and the marble headstone was a slippery black, polished and cut by machine. A lonely bouquet of white lilies lay before it, blooming contemptible shades of white and I wanted to kick the dirt over the velvet petals. Paul crouched down and stared at the headstone for a long time, flicking ash on the lilies as he slowly puffed away on his cigarette. I stood behind him, watching silently.
We didn’t have to say anything. We left the cemetery for the first and last time.
‘Coffee?’ Paul said as we got into his car.
‘Fuck yes,’ I said.
Degraves Street was just a dank and filthy alleyway in the city, but it was always moving and brewing. The scent of foreign and local coffee beans shot up my nose and into my head like a morning line.
‘Cappuccino, wasn’t it?’ Paul said.
‘Double shot espresso.’
He pulled a face. ‘Since when?’
‘Ah, okay,’ he said and he ordered me my cup of liquid cocaine.
He himself got a latte, soy please with no sugar, and we sat at one of the rickety metal tables that herded in front of the cafes on Degraves like misshapen cattle. The tables were full, like always, housing the homeless looking art students and sour faced writers and unwashed musicians for, at least, a few hours.
‘I hope to God they don’t think I’m one of them,’ I said.
Paul raised an eyebrow.
‘Did Aunt Gracie tell you about the legal shit?’ he said, tapping the side of his cup.
‘No. Not interested.’
‘He left us some money you know.’
‘I knew he was crazy.’
‘He left us a lot of money.’
I glanced at my brother and saw that he was serious. ‘What for?’
‘He said he was sorry.’
I downed the espresso and slammed the cup down on the table. The metal let out a shrill scream and Degraves murmured for a few seconds before resuming the cacophony of coffee cups clanging and heated political debates.
‘I know,’ Paul said. ‘How’s Red?’
‘Red’s Red, what do you expect?’
‘Slutting around like usual then.’
‘He wanted to piss on dad’s grave.’
‘I always loved Kai.’
Paul let out a hitched breath (as close to laughing that either of us got) and downed his latte.
‘When does your next semester start?’ he said.
‘On Monday.’ I buried my face in my hands, sliding them over my forehead.
‘I thought you liked your course?’
‘I do. It’s just that I feel like I’m committing a very slow suicide.’
‘Art isn’t that bad.’
‘It’s soul sucking and it gives you pneumonia.’
‘Keep it up, Kid,’ Paul said, using my nickname. ‘You got something.’
‘Yeah,’ I said, remembering the ten colours. ‘I just need to go to space.’
Paul never looked more worried.
5. The Writing On The Wall
Do you remember the writing on the wall?
Every night since Red and I realised that it wasn’t working, the words began appearing on the wall in front of my bed. They were incandescent stories of limbless heroes and suicidal mothers. The glowing letters would hover unsteadily in the black and explode into small raining fragments as soon as my eyes swept over them.
They were messages from the next dimension.
Do you remember that very first night, after Red left the apartment?
The writing on the wall told me about the future. About how Red was going to fall with the arms of a drunken shooter wrapped around her shoulders.
The sun found me with a scarred face and a new brain. But I caught her. I caught Red.
And she came back home with me.