The first in our 2019 Viva la Novella shortlister excerpts comes from Listurbia by Carly Cappielli, an unsettling and highly engaging novella told exclusively in lists.
Ok, so it’s 3.45 pm on Friday 27 October, and before we get started there are a few things you’re going to need to know about me
I’ve always hated my name. That’s probably not a sign of overwhelming emotional stability, I know. I don’t think it’s the sort of name that everyone else hates, or if they do, they never show it. But it’s bad enough that I hate it. And now I can’t even tell you what it is. Obviously. But maybe I’ll give you a hint later.
I write lists. Not just like this—for my job, I mean. Part of my job, anyway. I’m a professional list maker. Try not to be too impressed.
I write other things too. Stories, songs, poems. Darker things sometimes. Things I wouldn’t want anyone else to read. Or maybe I would.
I’m female. I don’t know how else to say that. I don’t know any other word for it that doesn’t mean something else as well.
I’m female, but whenever I start to write a story, the voice I hear in my head is a guy’s. And I don’t mean it’s just a manly voice either. It’s as if there’s a man narrating my story but that narrator is still me. Weird, hey?
I’m a westie, if that means anything. I love telling people that, like it gives me some kind of tough-guy street cred or something. Especially when I meet people from the city, or the Inner West, or one of the beach suburbs. God, even people from the Hills look a little shaky when I tell them I grew up in the west, like I might suddenly light up a crack pipe or grab their bag. Sometimes they just give me that pitying, confused smile, the one that says, ‘I don’t understand—you seem like such a nice girl.’
Technically I’m an orphan, but I don’t know if it counts if your parents died when you were already in your twenties. Probably not.
Technically I’m in my thirties, but I’m pretty sure I don’t act my age.
Technically I guess I’m in a relationship. But I live with a guy who mostly doesn’t seem to know I exist. Not really. A while ago I was watching this documentary about herd animals and I asked him if he thought we were like a pair of horses or goats or something, just huddling together for protection against predators, but he didn’t get it and he asked me if I was high. I don’t know if he ever really gets it. But I don’t mind, most of the time I like it better this way.
I can recite the alphabet backwards. Honestly. My grandad learned that in the war and he taught my dad and my dad taught me. (You don’t need to know that, I just don’t get many chances to drop that little nugget into the conversation—it turns out it’s not the sort of subject that comes up organically very often.)
I don’t look like I should. Not that I’m deformed or disfigured or anything, I just mean my body doesn’t suit my mind. It’s like my mind is full of all these wild and crazy ideas and thoughts and desires, and my body is just so … average. Ordinary. Unremarkable.
Sometimes I hurt people. Not physically or anything, I just kind of mess with their feelings. I never set out to hurt anyone but that doesn’t stop me from hurting them anyway. Even if they’re really nice to me. Especially if they’re really nice to me. Sometimes I think there is nothing more repulsive than someone who cares too much about you.
Sometimes I feel I don’t make sense. Like there are all these different parts of me and they don’t fit together the way they should. Like it should be easy to tell someone who you are, to sum yourself up in three words or less, but if anyone was to ask me, I wouldn’t be able to do it. (Luckily for me, no-one ever asks.)
Sometimes I get so bored I think I’ll lose my mind. Sometimes I get so bored I want to.
Oh yeah, and I really tell more lies than I should. Sometimes I just make things up—I don’t even really know why. Or maybe I do.
The Top Ten Scariest and Spookiest Places in Western Sydney (as compiled by me for the Halloween edition of Western Sydney Council’s Bulletin this week)
10. Studley Park House, Narellan: Two children who died at the property in the 1900s now allegedly haunt it, appearing as strange silhouettes.
9. Redbank Range Railway Tunnel, Picton: The site where Emily Bollard lost her life in 1916 after being hit and killed by an oncoming locomotive. She now reportedly haunts the eerie tunnels.
8. James Busby High School, Green Valley: According to reports, a girl was killed in one of the classrooms over twenty years ago and can still be heard crying late at night.
7. The Oven Cleaner’s House, Minto: The owner of this house worked as a cleaner until he was found dead on the street in front of his property, run over by a heavy vehicle. He now often appears at night, staring out at the street from his kitchen.
6. Liverpool TAFE: Once the site of a state hospital, a morgue and a mental asylum, the ghost of a young girl is often spotted on K Block.
5. St Bartholomew’s Church, Prospect: This old church and cemetery opened in 1841 and were destroyed by fire in 1989, and are now the site of much paranormal activity, including sightings of the ghost of a three-year-old girl.
4. The Mafia House, Orchard Hills: According to urban legend, this creepy building is haunted by the ghosts of the people executed here by local crime syndicates.
3. Macquarie Fields Railway Station: Late at night, the faint crying of a teenage girl can reportedly be heard at the lonely station.
2. Magic Kingdom Park, Lansvale: Having inherited Luna Park’s ill-fated ghost train, the souls of those who died on the ride now haunt the abandoned park.
1. Female Orphan School, Parramatta: A tragic site, the spirits of children who died in the old orphanage now reportedly linger in the hallways and dark corners of the building, accompanied by strange black figures circling outside.
Things that actually scare me (I ain’t afraid of no ghost) that I think about while sitting on the grass in front of the old sandstone church in Parramatta Mall at midday on Friday, eating warm sushi from a plastic tub and sipping cold cider straight from the bottle
Darkness so dark that I can’t tell if my eyes are open or closed
How quiet the house is after I turn off the TV at night
Waking up in the middle of the night and for too many seconds not knowing where I am
Thinking too much about being happy
Thinking too much about being sad
People who don’t think about things enough
People who do
Being scared of being scared and wishing there was something better to be scared of
Angry black people
When I think about breathing and suddenly feel like I can’t
When I look at my hands sometimes and it feels like I’m seeing them from really far away
That some days I can’t shake the feeling that I only exist in my mind