Speak: Still, always still

Words by Harlan Ambrose

Pictures by Caitlin Fraser

Published on October 1, 2014


When I enter the house my father and uncle are sitting in front of the television. They sip from green beer cans in perfect unison and together they turn, wave to me, and look back to the screen. They sip again and the man on the television sips a green can too.
‘Hey,’ I say.
‘Hey,’ they say.
‘Good game?’
‘Great game,’ they say. My uncle and father reach over and tap their cans together. ‘Great game.’
‘There’s a show on tonight,’ I tell them. ‘We could go.’
‘Nah,’ they say. ‘Game’s on. The big one.’
‘The final?’
‘No. The Sunday game. They play it every Sunday. I haven’t missed one. I can’t miss one.’ When they finish speaking they sip again. ‘Cheers.’

I take my bags upstairs and leave them in my old room. I expect it to feel musty, vacated, but there’s nothing in the air. The light streams in from the open window. Outside, our lawn is boxed and pure green, like the lawns beside it. There are two white terriers in the grass but I don’t know them. They sit two metres apart, facing away from each other so they’re looking at the fences on the edge of our property. The dogs in the next yard sit in this pose too. I lean out and see that all along the street, in each yard, the dogs sit this way. White specks on flat green dominoes.

My mother and older sister are in the basement. When they see me they smile the same way. Of course, they can’t touch me, but they put their hands on their hips and look proud.
‘It’s lovely to see you,’ they say.
‘You too. You look well.’
‘Oh,’ they say, and they gently touch their stomachs. ‘I’m trying a new diet. Nothing but ThinFLaxSeeds™, except when there’s dappled morning light, then I can eat toast and honey.’
‘Well, it’s working.’
‘Thank you.’ They turn back towards the table and resume picking up jigsaw pieces, holding each one to the light. ‘I have a corner,’ they say, and place the piece down.

My bike is in the garage. I lift the back tyre and cycle through the gears to see if the chain needs lube. It switches without issue. From the living room my uncle and father say, ‘Have fun. Ride safe.’
The air outside is still. His house is on the edge of our suburb, right before the creek. When I was a boy I rode there every day. When I was a boy the police didn’t stand on corners and wave when you went by. When I was a boy the trees were taller, branches hung lower. When the wind blew the world was messy for a moment. Now the air is still, always still.
His house is gone.

I knew it was always going to be the last to be Up-Located and I thought maybe I’d be home before they came. I knock on the house that’s there, the one he won’t be in. The door opens and two boys look up, smile together, both missing the same front tooth.
‘Hello,’ they say.
I turn and get on my bike. The boys are standing in the doorway, uncertain how to act. They were told a stranger at the door would always say hello back. I ride towards the bridge.

The water is so clear it’s almost white. You’re not meant to be able to spot the projectors along the banks but I could always tell which of the rocks weren’t real. This month, salmon flash up the creek. At times I swear I can see the glint from the projector, but I know I can’t. They spent money making sure I can’t. Two joggers approach. They wave, and when they’re close they slow and stop. Together they bow over a little, pantomime exhaustion.
‘Oh boy,’ they say.
‘What are you running from?’ I ask.
They laugh.
‘Do you think that if I wanted to, I could thrash my head against this railing hard enough to crack my own skull? Do you think I could do that?’
They laugh. ‘Better get to it,’ they say, smiling. ‘Enjoy your day, mate.’
‘You too,’ I say.

At home the game is on. It takes a while, but I begin to recognise the movement of the players, the choreography. I remember this exact game from when I was a boy. I remember the blood freezing in my throat when the score was tied. I remember the kick that won it. New players are acting everything out the way it happened ten years ago.
I say, ‘We’ve seen this.’
‘Quiet,’ my uncle and father say. ‘Just quiet for a while and then we can talk.’

Harlan Ambrose lives in Brisbane and is completing his honours at QUT.

Caitlin Fraser  is a 26-year-old student from Brisbane. She likes taking photos of her cat and the 5pm sunlight. See more of Caitlin’s work here.