Our father bought us the jungle pool during a heatwave, after Josie and I tried to dig an in-ground in the garden and Josie got bitten by a bat. We had cleared a space by the compost bin and spent an afternoon clawing into the rocky earth with plastic shovels, while our father sat inside drinking homebrew and watching the races. When we’d dug two feet deep and our bone-white scalps were starting to burn, a bat as small as a mango swooped down and latched onto Josie’s hand. Josie didn’t cry or scream, she just watched the crumpled black thing hold onto her palm desperately, like a suckling baby. When it finally unlatched itself and vanished back into the trees, the fleshy skin between Josie’s thumb and index finger swelled up to the size of a peach pit. A coal train sliced through the Southside. The hole remained like a wound in the earth.
Later, me and Josie would spend whole days riding back and forth on the Cleveland line, stopping at Central for a soft serve for me and a toilet break for her. One Saturday, as we sat in the carriage in a four-seater, Josie took jars of horseradish and jalapeños and packets of pickled ginger out of a plastic lunchbox and lined them up on the seat opposite her. She tore open a packet of ginger and passed it to me. I held the pale slices — as thin and pink as mice ears — between my fingers before stuffing them through the cracks in the seats.
When we were near the end of the line, I asked her if she remembered the bat. Josie unpeeled her fist from her jumper and showed me the puncture scars on her skin, her little vampire bites. She said she remembered getting her needles at the hospital and stopping in at Kmart on the way home, where our father bought us the paddling pool and a bag of powdery Turkish Delight. The pool had a jungle pattern painted onto the plastic — tigers and toucans and giant banana leaves — and lurked under the bark trees like some vague, exotic animal. We spent that whole night in the water, stewing in our salty sweat and swigging creaming soda straight from the bottle. Josie kept her bandaged hand levitated in a plastic bag while our father slept on a beach towel on the ground beside us. In the morning we took turns sneaking sips of his Bloody Mary. By midday we were both spewing Turkish Delight and tomato juice into the pool.
But when the plastic started to mould and the water began to reek of eucalyptus and cat piss, our father chopped the pool into pieces and scattered it around the yard like compost. For months we’d find patchy wild animals in the garden–a leopard near the back fence, a piranha under the lemon tree.
The grass beneath the jungle pool never grew back; a bleach-yellow crop circle of butchered earth.
Emily O’Grady is a writer from Brisbane.
Erin Michelle draws pictures and writes words. Follow at facebook.com/erinmichelleart.