A Loving, Faithful Animal

By JOSEPHINE ROWE

That was the summer a sperm whale drifted sick into the bay, washed up dead at Mount Martha, and there were many terrible jokes about fertility. It was the summer that all the best cartoons went off the air, swapped for Gulf War broadcasts in infrared snippets, and your mother started saying things like I used to be pretty, you know? Christ, I used to be brave. But you thought brave was not crying when the neighbor girl dug her sharp red fingernails into your arm, until the skin broke and bled, and she cried out herself in disgust. You were still dumb enough to think that was winning.

It was around the same time that your Uncle Tetch started turning up in the garage. You pulled up the roller door on the morning of New Year’s Eve to get your bike, and there he was, standing barefoot next to the oil stain that your father’s car had left behind. Everything in the garage had been made very neat, so it looked like the sort of garage they’d show in a hardware catalog.

Careful, you warned Tetch. There’s redbacks galore in here.

I know, he said, and held up one of his shoes to show the mess of spider on the sole.

Just here for my bike.

Tetch went over to the wall and wheeled it out.

I fixed the bell, he said, and he rang the bell to prove it.

There was something a bit wrong with Uncle Tetch, this was the general opinion. But there was something a bit wrong with everyone: your sister, Lani, couldn’t keep her legs together, and you had this knot in your chest that nothing could untie. People assured you that it was only growing pains, that it would loosen soon enough, but it just got tighter and tighter. And then there was Belle, poor pup. What happened to Belle wasn’t fair.

When your father left—the first week of December, freckles resurfacing across cheeks, the stink of insect repellent suffocating the kitchen—Aunt Stell sent a card that said It Is Better to Have Loved and Lost Than to Live with a Psycho Forever. Your mother liked it so much she put it up on top of the fridge, and it stayed there all through Christmas, the smallest of her small revenges, roosting amidst the cards with snow and camels and reindeer.

 

The card is still up there, standing lonely and a bit proud after the frantic de-Christmasing of the house. You and your sister have spent the morning winding tinsel and fairy lights around your fists, scraping fake snow off the windows, with Lani asking, Why. The fuck. Do we always have to do this?

Mum doesn’t even look at her. Because you know why, she says. Because it’s bad luck to leave them up. Ru isn’t complaining, are you, Ru? (You aren’t.)

Lani lets the paint scraper fall to her side. Ha, she says. Luck. And Ru’s not complaining, because she’s got nothing better to do. Shouldn’t a kid her age have hobbies?

It sounds parroted, the way she says it, has obviously come from someone higher up. Grandma Mim maybe. You have hobbies. They just aren’t for show.

Ru has a vivid interior world, don’t you, love? Mum quoting your art teacher, wholesale.

Your sister shakes her head and goes back to attacking the canned frost.

Keep pushing me, girl. See just how far it gets you. Ru, honey, can you give me a hand with these Santas?

I don’t know why we even bothered, Lani says, only for you to hear, as you climb down from a chair to take charge of the ornaments.

She’s right—aside from the bike, Christmas Day was the same tired cracker jokes and picking at a cold Safeway chook while the TV murmured to itself disconsolately in the living room. Lengths of red and gold tinsel wound around the antenna only made things worse.

But you keep your mouth shut. Let them scrap it out. Let them go at each other like cats, if that’s what they want. As soon as you finish tucking the old mercury-glass Father Christmases into their crumbling Styrofoam coffins, the day will be your own.

 

Now Uncle Tetch stands in the garage and watches you push the bike over the blond stubble of summer lawn. It’s obvious he’s never cared much for the name Tetch, though he never whinges about it. You try to remember to call him Les, but it isn’t easy.

Okay, your mother said once. So Tetch doesn’t have your father’s brains. But he doesn’t have his meanness either.

He’s a little younger than your father, and he only has eight fingers—he got rid of both the index ones so he wouldn’t have to go to Vietnam. Can’t pull a trigger without a trigger finger. Most people think that the finger thing must mean he’s a coward, but your mother said she didn’t know what kind of coward would whip his own fingers off with a band saw or what have you. But his birthday hadn’t even come up in the ballot, so who knows what he was thinking.

He’s harmless, though. Wouldn’t kill a thing but to put it out of its misery, the way he’d done with a fox once, a little one crazy with mange. These days he probably just wants to be useful, hovering around the garage, repairing bicycle bells and such. You didn’t ask him for anything at Christmas, but he’d sprung for a secondhand Malvern Star, licked with a fresh coat of bottle green, no childish junk cluttering the spokes. It is the best nonliving thing you’ve ever owned, and you guide it one-handed, resting your palm between its handlebar horns as though it were a loving, faithful animal, as Dad would say of Belle. Still too sick-making to think of the shreds of fur scattered through the backyard, right down to the fence line, the way you might see from a mauled rabbit or a possum, but never a dog. That was the last family activity, the four of you searching through the grass like an awful treasure hunt. It was Dad who found the ear, all on its own beneath the magnolia. The silky fur so perfect you almost wanted to speak into it, as if she might be able to hear how badly she was missed. Dad picked the ear up, very gentle. He held it in his palm and looked down at it, and you saw his shoulders shake, which was something his shoulders had never done. Then he turned around quick and stalked back to the house. He’d found Belle under the Pyalong Bridge when she was only tiny.

 

Maybe a fox got her. So said Karlee Howard, of the sharp red fingernails.

Nup, she would’ve walloped a fox.

You know what it was. Sure you’ve seen it, crouched black amidst the sea of high yellow grass, keeping its belly to the earth. It slips easily from the rifle sights of farmers, of roo-shooting boys. Is only ever caught in the outer millimeters of grainy film—a lanky shadow and a flick of tail. Scientists and game hunters have come in pursuit of it, set up with tents and traps. The creature is too crafty, outsmarting their snares, walking so lightly it seldom leaves prints. The researchers carry back nothing but samples of grass and hair, tissue from the torn bellies of savaged pets. Evidence inconclusive.

Panther is what the locals call it.

You know that it is not your father’s panther, the one that came during the war, packed up in a crate from Sumatra after its mother had been shot out of fear or fun. A panther lives twenty years if it’s lucky, and that Sumatran cub was not lucky—obviously—getting itself orphaned and then caught, smuggled back to Australia and a lonely life of mascotting at the Puckapunyal barracks. It must’ve got weak, got bored there on the base, caged up. Wondered where its own kind were, when they were going to come for it. It must’ve been afraid of the night criers, strange shrieking birds and booming owls, the roaring of bull koalas, languages it didn’t understand. Meanwhile, its silhouette was stenciled onto everything that didn’t move, and some things that did: your father’s arm, for instance. When you were little, the tattoo panther was sleek and wonderful, clawing its way up his bicep. Dad could make it writhe, make it roar. But as the war grew further and further away, the ink faded, softening and spreading at the edges, so that the cat was bigger than it had been but less ferocious, the muscles that moved beneath it growing tired and ropy.

What happened to him?

Our mascot? Got too big, love. Friendly and dopey as a Labrador, but he had to go. Sent to live in a zoo up north.

As for whatever got Belle—that other something, sneaking into backyards for a taste of cat or chicken, fed up with marsupials and disease-ridden wild rabbits—Mum said she’d have it for a throw rug before she let it have her angoras. She protected the rabbits from meeting the same grisly end as Belle, hauling the hutch up to where she could keep an eye on it at all times. Sometimes patrolling the fence at the back of the property of an evening, beyond which all was paddocks and dense banks of blackberries and whatever they might shelter.

 

Your bike muscles aren’t up to much yet, so you stand for the dusty rises in the road and march on the pedals, the sun slung across your bare shoulders, as warm as Reef oil. And although your lungs are on fire and the corners of your eyes are filling with grit, that tight place in your chest is cracking open, the bright afternoon spilling in. The new year will be better. It will be. It will. There’s a song on a tape someone made for your sister, and it’s playing over and over behind your eyes. Even when it gets so steep that you have to jump off and push, the song is still there—about a wide-open road and how you can go anyplace you want to.

The road levels out where the new estate is going up. It’s good, some days, to walk around there, to climb onto the skeletons of roofs or to wander around all those rooms where nothing has happened yet. The Howards are building up there, a bigger place. A poolroom and two bathrooms and bedrooms forever. That’s where Karlee tested your nerve.

She’s off-limits now. Mum had spotted the little sequence of scabby crescent moons near the inside of your elbow, as though a strange creature with strange teeth had bit there.

Who did that to you? she demanded. Why on earth did you let her? Disfigure you like that.

You hadn’t cried out or anything, had stood perfectly still in the room that Karlee said would soon be her bedroom. Felt her breath puff on your cheek as she watched your face for a hint of flinch. Nothing. She dug harder and then too far. It had felt like winning, watching her jerk her arm back and scrape under her fingernails. But then she said, Now try me, holding her arm out, and you quit. You had nerve, but only one kind of nerve.

You push on farther, past the ruined hayshed where Matthew Collins got his fingers into Renee Tillman and where the old dredge and dragline is crumbling into the ground like a dead mastodon. On to where the bitumen turns to gravel, shifting loose under the tires, and then the gravel gives way to corrugated dirt, juddering your teeth. Then there’s only the three long strips of road, paddock, sky, waving like a tricolor flag, and it’s as though no time passes, like sleeping without dreams or dreaming awake, until the road runs out in crooked star pickets and snarls of wire. You heave the bike over and push it through the thirsty grass to where a huddle of cypress rises out of the grasshoppers and dust, a quiet green island. Cicada husks cling to the cypress bark, and you try not to crush them, propping the bike against a trunk and crouching down among the needles, untucking a leather pouch from the waistband of your shorts. When your father left, he forgot to take his cigarette things—papers and filters and matches, tobacco that smells sweet like port wine. You got to them before your mother did, before Lani, because you know this much: cigarettes are a kind of power. A kind of toxic magic that can be both the spark of an argument and the end of one. They are more important than milk, than bread, than uniforms or tuition fees. You learned these things early, going to school each morning in clothes that were almost right, clothes that were clean at least, the right colors. But the missing school emblem was a marker in itself: poor. Nothing you could do about that except to get mean or stay quiet. Lani had already taken the first option.

You know how much tobacco to pinch from the packet, have watched Dad rolling them up at the kitchen table, somewhere else in his mind. Somewhere far away from Sunday morning, far away from instant coffee and toast crusts. Fat cigarette times and thin cigarette times—three days from pension day, Dad rolled them as skinny as twigs. These might as well be fat cigarette times, you reckon, the tobacco already cut as it is with dried curls of orange peel to give it back some life. You roll one thick as a pencil and lick the gummed edge to seal it. A bit lumpy. Not perfect, but it will do.

From the dark, secret shade of the pines you’ll see someone coming long before they see you. Unless that someone gets down on their stomach and slithers through the grass, which they just might. But it’s snake season, and that would be, in Dad’s words, about as clever as a box of hammers. Right before he left, he’d promised a trip to the ocean to see the whale, before they figured out how to get rid of it. Neither you nor Lani had ever been close to one, living or dead. Living would be better, but the dead one would do for the meantime. There it was on the news, this wonderful thing the sea had coughed up. They were deciding whether to blow it up, or bury it, or tow it back out through the heads. There was still time. Tomorrow or the next day, Dad said. We’ll go. But then came the trouble with Belle, and the morning after that, the car was gone, along with his duffel bag—a sure sign that this stint was going to be another long one—and from the couch you watched as they tied orange ropes around the whale, using cranes to nudge it back toward the water.

The cigarettes are your own revenge, or maybe they are something else: a come-here-you, like a fox whistle. Something that will call your father back in spite of himself. Touch the lit match to the paper, draw deep, don’t cough. Don’t cough. And he’ll come striding up the yellow hill to slap your face. That would be the least worst thing. And still, it doesn’t happen.

What have you been given to miss? More than you’ll likely remember. More than the smell of pine resin and diesel. More than tooled-leather gimcracks with your name stamped in, and creatures fashioned from wine corks and Easter-egg foil—projects to keep his hands and mind placid. More than being hoisted up for a better view of the moon rabbit; more than the names for constellations and seven slang words for horse. More than this is how to eat a prickly pear and this is how you hypnotize a budgie and this is how to stave off thirst—breaking a button from his shirt and sucking on it like a lozenge. More than knife tricks and old wives’ tales and nonsense riddles—why is a mouse when he spins? He’s never read aloud from any book you can recall, has all his poems and songs and jokes stashed away by heart, to trot out whenever the occasion might call for one.

Your father. His head is a ghost trap. It’s all he can do to open his mouth without letting them all howl out. Even so, you can still see them, sliding around the dark behind his eyes like a Balinese puppet show. At night he’ll let his guard down. Too bad for everyone. Now he’s out there somewhere. Wasting his New Year’s Eve in a shabby, forgetful room that has bedsheets for curtains, a mattress soaked in other men’s fevers. You’ve seen those rooms. How is that better than being at home? Those sad, seedy places that Mum has dragged him out of before, you and Lani waiting in the car. Bored brainless in the backseat, sucking barley sugar, reading stolen doctors’-waiting-room magazines—“20 Ways I Beat The Change!!”—not understanding how she always hunted him down eventually. Not understanding why she hunted him down at all. Weeks of nothing; then the phone would ring one morning with a tip-off and she’d be thrown into action. Saying, Forget about school, I need you both today. Needed for what, exactly, neither of you could say—to hold on to a fistful of change for the parking meter, keeping watch for the inspector? She’d do her lipstick in the rearview mirror and fluff up her hair—Okay, girls, cross your fingers—before clipping up the stairs of a mean-looking building.

Silly bitch, Lani would say after Mum had been swallowed up by the rooming house. It’s so embarrassing; he’s just going to belt her around again.

 

Watching your mother in those moments, with her clotted mascara and worn-down heels, it was impossible to imagine her ever being young, impossible to imagine swimming trophies and a modeling portfolio with Vivien’s. Most of the proof of that life was elsewhere—pawned or held ransom up north, which meant the house I grew up in, which meant grandparents. These people who were only feathery handwriting on birthday and Christmas cards, padded envelopes containing presents of glittery stationery and books you’d read years ago. The word Merewether crouched in the return address like a dangerous spider. That Merewether mansion, Dad called it—though it wasn’t, Mum insisted, really wasn’t a mansion—that’s where everything was.

All she had to show now were an arctic fox coat and a photograph of her in the driver’s seat of the famous green Corvette a few years before she sold it to pay off a loan. The Corvette is gleaming, cicada-colored, its cream panels like wings and the soft top folded down. You’re there, a slight swell under her orange caftan, baby Lani sitting up in her lap like a doll. In the photograph, you cannot tell what is coming. And neither can she. She is laughing behind her Audrey Hepburn sunglasses, oblivious to the time when she will use them to hide bruises and nights without sleep.

This is Exhibit A in the Museum of Possible Futures, the life that might have rolled out smooth as a bolt of satin if she had just swung her slender legs up into that beautiful car and driven as fast as she could in the opposite direction, leaving the man with the camera far behind. Your father, he could keep the photograph.

But she did not drive away. Instead she sold the car and spent every night of her life trying to lead your father out of the jungle, out of the mud, away from the cracks of invisible rifles, strange lights through the trees.

When Lani was five or six, old enough to understand what the shouting meant when you did not, she would climb into your cot to curl around you like a shell—Big C little c—and tell you it would be over soon. She’d hum whatever songs she could think of—advertising jingles, songs she’d learned in school—to drown out the shattering of plates, the thud that might be your mother’s head hitting the wall. Then it was you climbing into your sister’s bed, welcome for a year or two. Top to tail, sardines on toast, till she got tougher and her comforting was something you had to trade for, something to buy with money or favors, her share of the dishes. Then there was nothing you had that she wanted (I don’t even read those stupid vampire books anymore, dumb-arse), and she said she was tired of waking up with your frickin’ feet in her frickin’ face. Eventually you became too old for that kind of comfort anyway and, at twelve, too proud. That’s how it went.

 

There is a picture you have in your mind, though you’re not certain how it got there. Another photograph from the green Corvette years, maybe, but this one is in black and white: a semicircle of scraggly men standing around a large pit. Looking at the photograph, you cannot see the men’s faces. Only their backs, their arms loose around each other’s shoulders. You cannot see what is in the pit. But somehow you know what is in there and wish you did not. In the foreground, a pair of rifles are crossed, jabbed barrel-down into the dirt, making an X. One of these rifles is your father’s. This is all you know about the war, this and the panther and your mother’s face.

 

After three fat cigarettes, your brain feels padded with smoke, the afternoon humming with a loud, high-pitched heat. You scuff the fallen pine needles into little heaps with the heel of your shoe. Sometimes there are things left up here—beer bottles, bones, burned pieces of hose, once a pair of grubby cotton knickers tangled in a checkered blanket—so you know it isn’t only yours, this place. But today there are just the shells from the cicadas, who have six weeks to fly around, make noise, and have sex before they die—a rotten deal after spending seven years underground, doing nothing.

Mum has a collection of them lined up along the kitchen windowsill, which Lani thinks is creepy as hell. Aunt Stell agrees, says she can’t stand to look at them, marching along with their slit-open backs. They make her feel itchy. But Mum thinks they’re lucky. For her, the entire world is split into lucky and unlucky, you and your sister included. Lani’s birthday is the fourth (unlucky), and yours is the twenty-first (lucky). It’s a certain amount of responsibility, this luckiness, looking after it as though it might wear away or stretch thin with your growing.

There are more cicada husks up in the higher branches, an easy climb even with the headful of smoke. Seven is a good number. They don’t give up their hold of the tree bark without a fight, and some of them lose a leg or two. But their remaining hook-feet catch in your T-shirt’s soft cotton, and they cling there as if they know and trust you anyway.

Riding in the bent green arms of the pine, you want to find a way to keep it all, to press it flat like a gum blossom between the pages of a heavy book, the paddocks and huge sky with the final hours of December dissolving into it. When you close your eyes, it’s there for a moment, perfect, but then the edges go fuzzy and it drifts away. After a while it all hurts to look at, too glaring and too empty, and no way to stop the afternoon from running out.

You light another smoke and let the match burn down to make a midget charcoal pencil. Inside of the matchbook for a canvas.

In art class you draw habitats. Not landscapes; habitats. Places that are waiting. Places people or animals might eventually wander into if you can make them seem inviting enough.

Very elegant, those trees, those hills, says Miss Dawes. But don’t you think it would all look nicer with some sheep or something?

They’ll come later, you tell her. Something, but not sheep. Sheep always look like parasites from far away.

Parasites?

Yeah, like ticks. Or fleecy lice.

I’ve never noticed that. But you’re allowed to use the whole page, you know? There’s stacks of paper back there, you don’t have to crush it all into a corner.

Okay, you tell her, though you like to keep things small enough to scribble out, small enough to take back, if you need.

She leans in close to study the fine cross-hatching on a copse of ghost gums, whorls of night air like the feathery dark hair at her nape, pasted down now with sweat. What do you know about yourself in these moments? Breathing her smell of forest, of cool earth, her hands stained from slapping out hunks of damp clay on a stone slab. Meant for coil pots, the clay. But the boys will roll theirs out into stumpy cocks, slimy from the work of their sweaty palms, to chase girls around the room. Barely older than Lani, Miss Dawes, but she never yells. Just wonders aloud how come the anatomy is so well observed. Makes the blood roar up to their idiot faces.

How about horses? she whispers conspiratorially. Galloping her hand across your page. Like you’re a child.

Maybe horses, you say, looking at her hand. Eventually.

A vivid interior world, she writes. But maybe she writes that for everyone she doesn’t understand.

You rip the last match across the striker strip, turn it back on the matchbook, and let the flame eat the sketch. Nothing ever turns out looking true.

A hot wind shakes your tree, the last northerly of the year. It came from inland, from the desert, and it will keep blowing on down the Hume Highway, on into Melbourne, collecting firework smoke and radio countdowns and half-cooked resolutions on its way to the ocean, emptying it all out over the Bass Strait. Everything feels like the last, the very last, as though it’s the end of the century and not just the end of the year. The end of the world. That’s why everything alive down there in the grass is singing its insect heart out.

Then there’s dust rising from over near the road, visible before the motorbike engine is heard, thin and waspish above the silvery cricket whir. The bike rips along the channel of chewed-down grass that runs alongside the fence. William Somebody. Healy, the mechanic’s son. His bike isn’t made for the country, and the girl hugging his back isn’t dressed for riding. She’s wearing his helmet, but her arms and legs are bare, and the dress she has on is made of something wet-looking and slinky, a spangled black that’s scrunched up high on her thighs.

It’s easy to tell, even this far away, that it’s Lani. The dress isn’t her dress, she must’ve borrowed it, and with the cherry-red helmet she looks like a doll that’s had its head swapped with an action figure’s. Inside there, it will smell like sweat and unwashed hair, cigarette breath and cheap aftershave.

If she turns her bobblehead toward the pines, she’ll see your bike leaning helpless against the foot of the tree. She’ll know you’re up there, Sneaky little shit. She won’t be able to climb up and whack you, not in those shoes. But she can be as mean as cat spit, has a sixth sense for knowing what will hurt most. Looking down at your bike, the sleek almost-newness of it, you wonder how fast could you ride. Not fast enough. Nothing to do but hold your breath, scratchy pine bark biting into your skin while you wait for your sister to see or not see.

There is so much you could tell on her. Before Christmas, she came and cut an L-shaped slit into the flyscreen of your bedroom window so she could sneak in and out at night. Mum won’t check your room, fuckface. And there are the pills she sneaks from Dad, the ones that are meant to keep him calm, which she sells to people at parties for two dollars a pop. And now this.

You tell, she’s said, I’ll tell.

Tell what?

You know, she answers, bluffing—what could she know?—but it’s better safe than sorry.

Lani and the boy pass right by, like a dream made of petrol fumes and churned-up grass.

You’re not the only one in the world. You say it in your mind, and then you say it again right out loud because she won’t be able to hear: You’re not the only one in the world. But your sister sails out to where the night is reaching its pink claws into the sky, and you know that soon enough she’s going to leave this place without you.

After the sound of the engine dies away, you climb down, putting a hand on your bike as though to reassure it. A couple of the cicadas have been crushed, and you brush away what’s left of them. Flakes of translucent carapace, still-clinging legs. Sorry sorry sorry, though they wouldn’t have felt a thing, wherever their new bright bodies are. And five’s okay. Five’s still lucky. They hang on the front of your T-shirt like ornaments, riding along that way as you coast home through the last of the light.

 

Years from now, you will try to explain it. Lying on your back in someone’s bed, attempting to shape it with your hands so that they might be able to see you better. How sometimes—in these liminal hours, in the near dark that falls between dog and wolf—you could see past your father’s shoulders. Past the crossed rifles and the men who stood in miserable exhaustion around the edge of the pit. You could see right into the silver and the light that moment was made of, to bodies piled on bodies. Limbs in the bulldozed dirt showing like the pale roots of monstrous trees.

You will throw shadows on the bedroom wall, reaching up toward the high pressed-tin ceiling, trying to make yourself understood. And when it’s obvious that this will not be possible, that you do not have the words or even the shapes of the words, you will let your hands fall back to the mattress. Birds shot from the sky. You will allow them to be held.

I don’t, you will say, want to talk about it anymore. Because you still will not know how. How in such moments you could see past your father’s shoulders yet could not see his face.

 

When you pull up the roller door, Tetch is for once not standing there offering to fix anything. The house is dark and airless, no sound but the refrigerator and the fish tank filter murmuring to each other in their secret electrical language. The sifting of posters as they shed from the walls, from their sweating adhesive. At the table you carefully detach your cicada passengers, raiding Lani’s nail polish to give them glossy coats of armor, shellacking them in gold, pale pink, electric blue before lining them up along the kitchen windowsill with the others so that Mum can be surprised the next time she does the dishes. Out there in the yard, she’s pulling up handfuls of thistles and having words with the rabbits. Giving them a frozen drink bottle wrapped in an old tea towel so the hutch will stay cool. From inside the kitchen you can’t hear the exact words she’s saying, but you can tell she’s using her phone voice, her best voice, the one she uses when she wants people to respect her. People or animals, whoever’s listening. The rabbits, who have both been given various names—Raffles, Shuffles, Wombat, Houdini—now spend every night up on the back porch, hidden under a green tarpaulin weighted with paint cans.

Try asking her what it is she talks to them about—how much can a person have to say to a rabbit?—and she’ll just make a joke out of it:

I tell them to mind their own peas and kumquats.

Tonight you’ll sit and watch the fireworks on TV—silver birches, Catherine wheels, skyrockets lighting up the banks of the Yarra River, and the golden faces of people oohing about it. The distant bubble-wrap pop of explosions that’ll make you want to run to the windows and look.

Too far away, Possum, Mum will say. A name she hasn’t used since you were little, and you won’t be sure whether this means things are worse or better than they seem.

During the crowd shots you’ll search the upturned faces for your father, though you know he won’t be there, how he hates crowds. Mum will fall asleep in the armchair, her hand around the phone, and hours later Lani will climb in through your window, her red mouth all blurry and her eye makeup gone panda.

Your father’s nightmares will be out of the house—finally, finally—but for a few weeks yet the three of you will wake up and wait for them anyway. Drifting around the house like lost ships: Go to bed. You go to bed. Don’t get smart.

Some nights, in place of proper dreaming, you’ll open the curtains and look out across the darkness. Imagine yellow eyes staring back, a dusky shape slinking through the paddocks, along the windbreaks. Snuffling out the scent of your father and following it to wherever he is, straight down the highway, all the way to the city. Padding between the tramlines while everyone else is asleep.

 

JOSEPHINE ROWE is an Australian writer of fiction, poetry, and essays. In the United States, her writing has appeared in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, The Iowa Review, The Paris Review Daily, and other publications. She holds fellowships from the Wallace Stegner program in fiction at Stanford University, and The International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. Her debut novel, A Loving, Faithful Animal, will be published by Catapult this fall. She currently lives in Tasmania.

 

[Purchase Issue 14 here]

Madeline RuoffA Loving, Faithful Animal

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Author Postcard Auction 2017

Don’t miss The Common’s annual author postcard auction! Bid for a chance to win a postcard from your favorite writer, handwritten for yourself or a person of your choice. A wonderful keepsake, just in time for the holidays! The auction will run from 8 a.m. EST on November 20 to 6 p.m. EST on December 10, 2017. This year’s participants include

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This Morning I Miss Such Devotion

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There is a sister whose voice is gentle as a lullaby. A lulling. Even when angered she won’t yell. A particular upbringing that eschews the loud, though such a woman can be found embracing those whose voices swell in the streets.