Right now I’m working on lots and lots of things including many essays and collaborative projects with Fling Physical Theatre and the Sydney Youth Orchestra and two new YA books! The first of those books, Girls in Boys’ Cars is being published next year by PanMacmillan. It’s the story of two girls who steal a car from one of their boyfriends and go on a road trip. The second YA is a book I’m cowriting with the amazing Sheila Pham and Faith Chaza called What Happened Last Summer. It’s a novel about a party gone wrong, told from three different perspectives.
Girls in Boys’ Cars
Sometimes the past catches up with you and slaps you in the face. And then you can see everything and nothing at all. It’s like looking through the rear-view mirror— you only get a partial picture of the places you’ve already left.
In my case that rear-view mirror was always full-up with Asheeka smacking cherry- flavoured gloss across her lips until I pushed her out of the way or we ran into a gutter or a tree or drove straight into an apocalyptic fire or into a pole at the local Maccas or sped away from the police or tried to run down her drop-kick ex-boyfriend with his own car or… you get the picture (And just for the record I was never really trying to kill Arnold—whatever anyone said in court).
We were always in each other’s way somehow. She made it hard to see all those things behind me and all those things in front. We were like that: Taking turns leaving each other at the side of the road as we drove that car away from our lives and back again. Now that she’s missing, it’s easier and harder to get a grip on things. I’ve got to concentrate on learning to grow my own skin and sit in it.
They tell me soon I’ll be transferred out to where the other girls are in the centre. But for now I’m where all the girls start out in isolation and I’m trying to distract myself from that light in my cell that keeps buzzing and blinking on the ceiling. I close my eyes and imagine those bright orange cans of Fanta Asheeka used to buy from the tobacconist for one dollar, the sweetness of them, the way it turned your tongue a funny burnt colour and made everything you ate afterwards taste like neon lights.
Asheeka was like that, something burning and bright that sucked you in and sometimes made you catch on fire.
What Happened Last Summer
This is the thing—I’ve been waiting so long I’m bored before we’ve even begun. I don’t know why it always happens this way. I’m nearly naked and then he’s off to the toilet and he doesn’t come back for ages. What does Matt do in there? Maybe psyching himself up. I can imagine him in front of the mirror right now whispering come on, you’re the man, you can do it.
If I’m being honest, I think it’s all so boring anyway, even when we do start doing it. I’m not sure why you’re meant to like it so much but it seems like maybe everyone does except me. It’s all the boys talk about, whose doing who next and the girls they have to act like they’re crazy for it but they’re not going to give it up all at the same time.
It gets confusing.
My friend Kristy says when you want to stop you’re meant to yell ‘Oh Yes!’, ‘Oh Yes!’ as loud as you can because then the boys’ll recon they’ve done their job right and they’ll be so excited it’ll all be over soon. Kristy‘s right. She knows a lot of things for a Catholic school girl.
So anyway, I’m all alone and I’m lying here on the bed getting distracted by that black imitation crystal IKEA chandelier hanging above the bed. I don’t know if Greg is encouraging my mother’s bad taste in interior decoration or if she always had it in her. Now we’ve got fake fur throw rugs and an entertainment room with blue lights in the ceiling. All her big dreams of owning super tacky shit must have been lying there unfulfilled while she waited to get married to someone like Greg who has enough spare cash to indulge her as long as everything she wants is made of plastic and rayon. He’s alright but. Whatever makes mum happy as long as I get to decorate my own room.
I can hear, already, that the party downstairs is really beginning to go off and I’d rather be there, in the silver sequined dress that’s currently lying on the floor, with my hands up in the air, shakin’ my hips, rubbing up against the girls, letting everyone watch. But I have to remind myself that this is going to go on for days, this is going to be epic as they say.
No more HSC. No more uptight Catholic schools where the girls have to wear their skirts way too long. Schools finished. Mum and Greg are on holidays and I’ve got my old crew back from Merrylands High School, my happier place before we moved out to Bella Vista two years ago where the houses all exist in the same peach-coloured blur of cul-de-sacs and circular streets that go around and around and around until they end up in the same place again in that park in the middle of it all where there are too many children on tricycles on too-safe streets.
The best thing about this house— the pool. I can hear someone jump in even from up here on the second floor and it makes me start to think about the pleasure of warm water on bodies and summer time early-evening swims when the sun is still high up in the sky and the day goes on forever and I think fuck it and I reach down to the floor for my dress and slip it back over my head.
‘I gotta go Matt. Let’s just do it later’ I yell towards the ensuite door as I head out of the bedroom and stand on top of the stairs on the second floor, looking down at the living room below. Real life is so much better than real sex, which only ever looks good in the movies and downstairs things are perfect. Kristy and Belle, the only couple of girls from Gilroy Catholic School who I actually like, are standing in the corner nodding their heads to the beat of something that Noor is playing on the ipod he’s got plugged into our surround sound. This is exactly what I wanted Kristy and Belle to see, the cool easiness of my old crew, how they all carry themselves like they know the too-blond girls of the Hills district have to pay their respects even if they look a little rougher, a little darker, you know?
Besides, blond girls eat that shit up because it’s scary and it’s sexy all at the same time. That’s what I know Kristy is thinking when she looks away from Noor and up at me and gives me her huge smile and that gangsta nod- a slight tilt done too fast- to say she’s lovin’ all of this everything around her, like she’s been chillin’ with the Merrylands kids all her life.
I’m making my way downstairs and Matt comes up and stands besides me. He’s looking down at everyone in the livingroom and smiling at Kristy while he makes a big show of putting his belt on, the metal echoing in long clicks as he fastens it like he’s a cowboy that’s just finished a big job.
‘What?’ he says looking at me. ‘Where’d you go?’
‘Got tired of waiting,’
‘Awe, serious. Way to tease a guy,’ he says looking over at Kristy like he’s run out of patience with me and is ready to move on already.
I ignore him and begin to walk down the stairs ahead of him. Matt’s like some kind of unconscious bad habit, like picking your nose, but I want him to want me anyway and I want to be rid of him all at the same time. Kristy and him and all those guys have known each other since primary school anyways. It makes me nervous sometimes, all that space I can’t catch up on. I’ve always been on the outside these last two years I’ve spent at school with them and now all my old friends have done stuff together too, things I’ll never get to know about or understand.
When I get to the bottom of the stairs I’m standing between Kristy and Belle and several guys from my old school who have taken over the couches: they’re lying on top and around each other looking at stuff on their phones, feeding each other Jello shots. The thing is, as I look at them I can see there are all these people I don’t recognize, a couple of African kids, some older looking guy with a beard. I’m not sure if I belong to that crew now anyways. Or, if I’m being honest with myself, maybe I never did— with my blond hair and blue eyes, I’ve always looked more like I belong out here in Lego land, lost in too many circles.
I sit on the arm of the couch but Aaron has spread his hand out across most of it and it’s completely awkward when I go to sit down because he doesn’t take his hand away, so I end up sitting on his fingers and he just goes ahead talking to some guy next to him, as if he doesn’t notice that his fingers are there wiggling underneath my bum. I scooch over to the very edge and sit there one butt cheek hanging in the air. I’ve known Aaron since primary but he seems all different now. Like he used to be all freckled and skinny and now he’s all big and darker like he’s spent the last couple of years lifting weights on the beach. ‘What’d you guys do for muck up day?’ He asks me in this tone that says he knows it’ll be lame before I even answer and because Kristy is sitting right there and I’ve had too many Breezers to be able to make up a lie I tell him what we really did. ‘We dressed up like bananas,’
‘Bananas?’ He cocks his head slightly to the right, like he’s thinking I can’t be serious.
But luckily Kristy busts in with her pink lip gloss smile, all excited because it was her idea and all.
‘Like Bananas in Pajamas? Too cute hey?’
‘Yeah,’ Aaron says looking at her like maybe he wants to laugh but Kristy’s too cute herself and adds, ‘We hotwired one of the teacher’s cars and drove it to the middle of the park across the road. Took him ages to find it. School called the cops. The principal has no sense of humour. Fuckin’ glad to be out of that place.’
He never used to know how to hotwire a car or use words like ‘fuckin’ either. In the old neighborhood all the boys turn into hard arses somewhere about year nine. I’m not sure if they grow out of it. I’m not that far in life yet.
I’m watching Aaron look at Kristy like he’s going to eat her and that’s when it all happens, when I’m stuck inside my head thinking about blond-haired versus black haired people. Someone in the backyard starts screaming and then someone upstairs starts screaming too and it’s so loud you can hear it everywhere and it’s not like the movies at all because it sounds so real, so completely overwhelming. Noor turns the music down and then up again a little and then down some more. Everyone on the couch sits up and the talk and the laughs get more quiet and then this African girl I’ve never seen before gets up off the couch and starts to walk to the back of the house and I follow her out to the backyard where there are three people dragging this body out of the pool and across the pavement. The sun in the sky is still so bright even this time of the evening. It’s hot. So hot and I’m squinting my eyes and I don’t know what I’m looking at. A girl, wet, leaking red from unidentifiable parts of her body, her yellow dress creeping further and further up her thigh like that sun in the sky has melted into some kind of liquid goo around her.
Those boys I’ve never seen before keep dragging her over to nowhere and I realise that it’s not so loud anymore. Everyone has stopped whatever they are doing and they’re all just staring.
Those boys stop at the small strip of grass that is next to the fence and let go of her body, more gently than I thought they would. I watch one of them look at the other like he wants to say something but doesn’t know what and as he steps back he puts his arm around the other guys shoulder like he’s trying to console him and the guy breaks down in tears. They’d both be tough-looking in some other situation, they’re those type of Leb boys with too saggy pants and Bonds shirts and muscles that bulge out slightly from underneath their shirt cuffs.
I walk on over there slowly. The girls skin is all waxy. I say hello, hello and push my hand against her arm.
‘She’s dead,’ one of the boys says before he starts to cry and I’m thinking she has to be because there’s not a part of her that looks like it’s moving and I’m not sure how it’s possible that someone like me can recognize death but I do at that moment. It looks exactly like this girl in her yellow dress.
I pull the skirt of her dress down so that it covers her knees. That’s when the sirens start up down the road and the two boys run towards the back fence and jump over it like all that grief’s gone and escaped them already. I look towards the house and everyone’s either running too fast or staying too still. There’s the sound of all the things that get in people’s way as they crash to the floor. I stay there crouching next to the girl. I move over towards her head and tilt it back by putting my fingers underneath her chin. I place my mouth over hers and breath and even though I can feel it there, her death all laid out in front of me I keep breathing into her until I can feel them running up behind me and a man in an ambulance uniform grabs me by the elbow and says, ‘Miss I need you to move back.’
When I turn and face the house again, Kristy is standing next to a police officer pointing at me.
He looks right at me like he knows exactly who I am and says, ‘You live here,’ like it’s a statement and not a question.