After the rain, the clay went soft under our basketball shoes. We’d kept those things so clean from the moment they’d fallen into our hands, as if summoned into existence by the universe itself. We’d deserved those shoes. Ached for them. And when they materialised from our father’s suitcase after the very long business trip to Saigon we were surprised, and yet not surprised one bit.
This was in the age before winters were felt. We would sense the slowing down of time, of course. Blow big wet clouds of fog from our mouths, of course we would. We would arrange our young limbs by the fireplace and use our telepathy to conduct the flames through the burnt glass door. Of course, of course. But the winter did not bother us then like it does now.
Still, I remember the rain.
One: the driveway would turn to black. Two: that smell (old bag of mushrooms). Three: distended drains along the hilltop discharged water — down, down — carving deep fissures in the gravel. Our father watched (teeth clenched) as the gentle grade he’d smoothed with just a shovel and a handful of profanities washed over the sides and into the gulping mouth of the gully. Four: the lip of the old swimming pool threatened to split, its overflow thick with salt and chlorine and urine. Five: the new trees on the embankment (whose roots were expected to stick that crumbling clay back together) got hit by the black rushing spray. Part botanical matter, part rat shit. It exploded up out of the gutters and — down, down — into the tank supply, which I guess is how we all got so ill in the end.
But not just yet.
Because on the day of the rain, there were still thousand-piece puzzles and eight bit video games. There were still windows to break. Scars to etch. Tales to add to that great tome of first times: spewing up from beer and cigarettes, crapping pants on blue-tipped magic mushrooms, and the delicate negotiations that would finally — despicably — relieve a boy of his virginity. There were the brawls. The tender pimpled skins to shed. The hearts on fire. The howling tears. The basketball shoes.
Some rainy days we would not go outside at all and the shoes lay under our beds, laces loose. Converse. Colours borrowed from our favourite American basketball teams. Me: Orlando Magic. My brother: Phoenix Suns. When the school bell called, the basketball shoes carried my brother and I all the way to the front gate. The new shoes were seen, of course. But they were quickly outed as imposters. Kids just know when things come from Saigon and not America like you say.
We didn’t mind letting them sink down into the clay after that. We let the wet ground wrap our feet like bricks, bejewelled with glistening black driveway gravel. I remember standing outside (sometime later, in summer) at my mother’s insistence, clapping those shoes together to crack apart the rock hard red dirt. Just scrubbing and scrubbing in case the greys and the midnight blues and the phoney Converse logos might one day be seen again.
Jonathon Aidney is a writer and musician who once lived a life in Auckland and now lives a life in Melbourne. Some days he is quite busy, while others he stays in bed.
Col McElwaine is a Brisbane-based designer and illustrator who thinks a washing net would be a great idea.
Chloe Hume is a Brisbane-based producer who thinks making movies and pouring coffee is a neat way to get by.