The Last Hour of the Last Day of Work

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I wish you'd been there for the last hour of the last day of work. Bradfield and the management guys, the office staff and Seemrun from the cafeteria all trudged across the steel mezzanine down to the manufacturing floor. You remember Linda from accounts? Yeah, fat Linda, she cried. Tao, Fisher, all the night shift guys came back in, even though we haven't run nights for weeks. They looked spent, tried to tell me they were doing fine through cracked lips and whisky breath.

There were others I didn't recognise. Maybe you knew them. It's weird; you work at a place for years and see people for the first time the day it closes. Like when you look at an old school photo and spot some kid's pudgy little face and think, who the fuck was that guy?

Bradfield delivered the plant's eulogy standing on the edge of the loading bay. The royal-blue roller doors were open wide, the sunset behind him. That melodramatic son of a bitch.

I'm sleeping with Michelle. I want to tell you that straight up.

Bradfield said the usual stuff, I guess. Said we'd all worked our arses off, there was nothing we could do. We should all be proud. Said we were family, that he'd let us down. It was fucking awkward. I just stared over his shoulder. An empty McDonalds paper bag tumbled across the parking lot and snagged in the wire fence.

After his speech, Bradfield  hit the red stop button on Line-One. It was bullshit. We'd done a full shut-down and clean the day before. We only started the line again so he could stop it. Most of the tooling had already been packed by the engineers. Wiser and his team scored an extra two weeks’ work, at triple time, dismantling and packing.

Some of the robots are being shipped to the overseas plants, everything else is for sale. I heard a rumour the Chinese came down on a shopping trip a few weeks back. Heard that from Nichols though. You know he's a racist.

HR took your memorial plaque off the entrance wall and sent it to Michelle. I don't think she knows what to do with it. It's lying on the work bench in your shed.

The rest of the plant is headed for scrap. They'll probably use the money to pay our last pay-cheques. They say we won't be out of pocket. I guess that's something. You remember when they closed Stanhope? My brother-in-law worked there. Those poor bastards got nothing. The liquidators just came in one day with security guards, told everyone to get out, and chained the gates closed.

Jarrod's playing footy this year. He's so excited. We've been going to the park every afternoon. He asks about you sometimes.

Line-One stopped. The pneumatic reservoirs emptied with a rush of air. The robots came to rest; the conveyors slid to still. Everyone just stood there, staring at the walls, fingering their hard hats. The scratch of slowing bearings skittered across the shop floor. The yellow shut-down lights spun one last time.

I'm looking after them. We're making a new life. They'll always love you, you know that.

I looked around at the faces, the grease stained high-vis vests, the old yellow ear muffs slung around tanned necks. It was fucking depressing. The same look on every face. All shit scared. All thinking the same thing; what the fuck am I going to do tomorrow?

Transition

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The first sign, as always, was the music. Old melodies were distant at first, as if the notes themselves had aged a lifetime making their way to your ears. Next came the siren; you knew then that the time had come. The ship had docked, and it was time to leave – but who could resist slinking back for one more dance in the gilded ballroom, dark and soothing and replete?

Again the siren, rude and insistent, and still the same old music, piping softly by, and it really was time to go.

The motions that followed are distant now; unclear memories resonant with hints of song. Walking slowly down the street, a dusting of morning drizzle flicks across your face, an unlikely echo of a winter long since past, and you know your ship has sailed, leaving you terrestrial.

It is strange that, for all we might resist the transition – for all we want to stay – it is soon forgotten, as our limbs warm and stretch under the bright, spring sun. Minds coalesce toward full control and we tackle the day.

But that land waits, and unsuspecting heads will always fall, exhausted, caught at last by scented pillows. Candles flicker to their deaths, and before you know it – if you ever really do – figures softly shimmer and beckon. Their arms in yours, you turn and face the ballroom, and are gently swept away.

Microfauna

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All tensed up as one muscle that explodes when a body hits the seabed. Flock from sand and any flesh that is left yields to subatomic teeth. Slip inside bones and suck out marrow like cane sugar. Separate skull from neck, set it upright, and move on. I’ve been learning about crypt fish. They process each body in this way; it is not worshipped, but abandoned clean and perfect. In the rich, alluvial soil at the bottom of the ocean they give themselves over to this work, leaving behind china-white lines of heads and necks in a still parade.

I went down there to see them myself. In the city where I live we are reduced to units in an industrial process – one with unpleasant by-products, like stress and boredom, which have to be softly and efficiently ducted away. But I entered the sea as a whole human being.

Dad was up top operating the oxygen.

‘Please, Dad,’ I said, when I surfaced. ‘Shrink me down and make me one of them. I want to be discovered.’


Lost Boys

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Creeping at the back door, I can hear them planning in the yard. Glowing silhouettes from tent and torch, they’re brothers and sons. Soon they’ll be kids on the run. They draw their maps, pointing tap tap at entrance points and escape roots. Recite cover stories, practice warning calls, all clears aaahhhhwwi. ‘What if they catch you?’ I ask him one morning over steaming porridge. His eyes dart to mum, who is fixing her dressing gown.

‘Keep it down. We know what we’re doing.’

That night I watch from my window, hear the aaahhhhwwi, and see them scurry across the road to the abandoned house. I follow the flitting silhouettes of boys with wild manes; trace the outline of their velvet jackets, feathered caps and rucksacks of stolen gain.

In the morning when I wake up he hands me a porcelain-faced doll. At the table, as we eat steaming porridge, he wears an ivory compass around his neck. I look down at the doll, in her little blue dress.

‘They must have had children.’ I can only guess.

By Accident

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Her husband’s accident came first: they found his car bent like a fortune cookie around a tree. Emergency workers transported him to hospital, and the hospital transferred him to a physical rehabilitation clinic, and one month later the clinic sent him home to spend long narcotic days in bed. He could still walk, but walking caused him a great deal of pain. By this stage Sarah bought a replacement car, and at the doctor’s suggestion she found a more suitable bed for her husband. Their new bed could be tilted to an upright position. Sometimes Sarah entered the room and he’d be standing with his back against the mattress, his eyes closed, like a man frozen and awaiting revival in the future.

Sarah said her own accident was nothing by comparison. She buckled the boot of her car, that’s all, reversing out of her driveway and crashing into a parked truck. The night before had been one of their worst: Sarah called the hospital, and she rang the community nurse. Her husband’s pain scale moved between pretty bad and it’s pointless as he tried to lie in bed utterly without moving. Neither of them had slept. By the morning he was out of painkillers, and Sarah went out for more. She hit the neighbour’s truck and kept driving because right then she didn’t want to be the person who stopped and attended to every little mistake, trying to make things right again. She didn’t want to be the person always ready with a Band-Aid.

Once properly dosed, her husband said thank you and fell asleep looking pale and pure, almost a picture of calm, except for his deranged hair. It was a mistake to bring him home from the clinic. It was a mistake that started all of this. And so much else, she thought, now felt like the consequence of some error or accident.

The truck driver must have seen her dented car in the driveway. He came to the house and pressed the buzzer before banging on the door: his way of knocking sounded like, why, why, why? As if to say, why did you damage my property? Sarah sat in the unlit front room, listening, her ankles locked together on a rug.

Lockdown

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Jonesy and three new ones came ’round just after lunch and told them all to finish their smokes and get inside their cells. Something had happened in the men’s section, so it was lockdown; lockdown for each and every woman. Once they were in, Camilla got out the cards and started dealing them so fast she cut herself. The TV sparked. ‘Fuck that.’

‘Fuck you, Denny. Those dolls will get disembowelled.’ Denise had shredded any magazine she could find to make stuffing for her dolls a couple of days ago.

It was cold so some of them huddled together or put a second pair of socks on. The window was jammed shut. They smoked on the floor in the middle of the room without worrying about the alarm. Outside, the wind picked up.

‘You want to know what I think about whenever this happens? How good it will be to run my own home again.’

‘I want soft pyjamas. Actually first thing – I want to be around men again, like, I’m serious.’ Goody lost it at that, kicked her feet in the air and held her tummy til she calmed down.

‘No, I’m sick of it, I’m sick of everything about women. And I want my rags to myself for fuck’s sake, I’m sick of sharing them with everyone else.’

‘I want a house with a garden. I want a bidet. I don’t even care if I don’t use it, I want that bloody bidet installed even if I just use it to clean my shoes instead of my arse.’

‘You know what I want?’ said Hen, but nobody was listening because Cammy was picking a fight, burning strands of Janine’s hair with the end of her cigarette.

‘Oi, you know what I want? I’ve thought about this heaps. I want a place that’s totally my own, more private than any place you can imagine. Like, really far underground. Warm, soft, quiet, comfortable. Thickest walls you can imagine.’

‘Like a dirty room for your orgies, Hen, you fatty?’

‘I’m serious. I think about this all the time. There’s nothing you have to do and no one you have to see when you get to this place. No one can reach you if they tried; and it doesn’t matter at all. Because everything you need is there and you’re so full and warm and caught up in the pleasure of being there. You don’t need anybody and nobody needs you.’

Cammy wriggled her way under Goody’s blanket with her feet. Slowly and gently they wrapped their hands together. Outside the wind turned wet and blew sharp, spitting rain across the tin roofs of the cottages. Denise thought about how far it was to the city from here. At least twenty, thirty kilometres on that stretch of road, punctuated by the bodies of kangaroos. Over the hills and between the mountains. Hush, hush. Everyone was quiet until the sound of doors being unlocked.

The Out-of-Towners

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Tyrone asked Jennifer if he was an out-of-towner, having been born in another town. ‘The out-of-towners are very different,’ she said. ‘You are from out of town but everyone knows where you came from. When someone asks where you’re from, you can tell them. But the out-of-towners don’t know where they came from. They just appear. One day they are just there.’

The out-of-towners are all big men. They’re uniformly well-built, with broad shoulders, strong noses and flat, rippled guts. Tyrone by contrast is small, weak and has a button nose. This is evidence enough that he isn’t an official out-of-towner, Jennifer said.

‘Not only that, but the out-of-towners wouldn’t even pretend to be from somewhere. That’s why no one knows where they’re from, because they don’t tell you and nor do they even lie about it. The out-of-towners just are. They appeared one day and then persisted.’

He and Jennifer first discussed the out-of-towners during a camping trip, very late at night. Parents forbade talking about the out-of-towners. Not because it was dangerous but because it was annoying for them, the adults, to never know.

‘You know they’re out-of-towners because you don’t know anyone they’re related to,’ Jennifer said. ‘Nor do you know anyone that speaks to them. Out-of-towners speak to one another but never to anyone else. Plus they are big, you’re small,’ she said.

Jennifer thought it possible that the out-of-towners were refugees from the cities. Another theory said that they just wandered in from the far Western Plains. Maybe these men materialised from the dirt, or maybe they were once the rocks on the brown earth in the near desert. You could easily imagine these rocks slowly splintering and then blooming into limbed men, because the way the out-of-towners stood, and the little that they said.

You stop thinking about the out-of-towners as the years pass. Instead you drink with friends and discuss each other and the football. Still the out-of-towners are there, but you might only question the phenomenon as frequently as you do the meaning of life, rarely and usually in despair. If you stay up late with a friend and drink slowly until dawn it’s likely the subject of the out of towners will arise, but only because the mind is relaxed and sleepy enough to tease facts from the unknown, to let the imagination take over. The fact is that nobody knew much about the out-of-towners because few people cared. There were other things to worry about, like the feral dogs.

Between Tribes

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In the park a few blocks behind our house there is a family of magpies that I am sure have lived there for generations. When we decided to downsize and move further out into the suburbs, I started visiting them all the time. Well, not them specifically. Their nest is on my walking route, the same one I have taken for five years. From time to time I find the bodies of their elders littered across the lawn, and their newborns hatched and writhing in their nests. Whenever I go by, a black-and-white bird the size of a quail squats down and stomps about my feet, closely followed by her offspring. Holding a cup of coffee I say things like who’s a pretty birdy into my collar, not wanting the clusters of families around the place to think I’m a lonely weirdo. In the warmer months the bougainvillea flares into a brilliant purple along the back fence, and the wet grass is filled with the throng of crying insects.

When it was getting on to September a few years back, I realised I hadn’t taken my walking route in months, which for me was a record, even for winter. I set an alarm for the next morning, and rose unusually early. From the bed my wife asked drowsily if I could bring back some milk, she still caught somewhere between our world and a dream.

As I entered the park, walking under a blazing pink sky, I felt something slashing at my head. For a moment I thought it may have been a flurry of sharp hailstones. I jerked up and saw a black blur swoop across my vision. Not hail, I thought, and twisted around. A magpie was circling me, now pecking and scratching furiously at my skull. My breath was caught in my chest. Did they not recognise me? Had another family moved in during the winter? Panicked, I hobbled towards the street, the skin on my head flayed and torn away in sheets.

I don’t remember stopping at the 7/11 on the way home, but I must have done, because when I walked in my wife called for tea from upstairs, and I made it with milk, the way she likes it. I stood there in the vast kitchen watching it cloud the dark brew. The cats came and arched their backs against my leg.

‘Honey,’ she said as I climbed back into bed, ‘What’s this?’

Slicked across the top of the tea was a dark red pall that spread to the edges of the mug. ‘And it’s in yours too,’ she said. ‘And it’s on your shirt! My god, are you bleeding?’ I looked down at my shirt and the bed sheets. It was running down my face and onto my clothes. ‘You are! My god, what happened? Honey? My god.’

I looked up into her eyes and just about fell to pieces.

Poll

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He gripped the podium and stared into the sea of beaming, sweaty faces high on a mix of victory, tenacity and bottom-shelf sparkling wine that his Chief of Staff kept referring to as champagne. Bobbing heads grinned back at him like fish waiting for a feed, buoyed by a flurry of euphorically waving flags. His eyes moistened in a way they tended not to these days, then flitted down to the teleprompter. He’d sacrificed a lot to get here – busting balls, coddling egos and shaking so many hands it was a wonder he hadn’t caught scabies.

He scanned the room thinking back to all the proverbial casting couches he’d lain upon in days past. Big business? He’d acquiesced. The resource sector? He’d taken it. The unions? The unions could go fuck themselves, there was no way he was getting into bed with the unions with their fucking outrageous demands, and putting the goddamn southern cross on any adhesive-bearing surface.

He thought about the stuff he’d believed in – and said he’d believed in – to get the punters interested. The pokies stuff: he’d let that one go even if it was the platform that won him popularity last election when he was just an unknown candidate with dreams of the backbench. Sure it hurt his sister who said he was turning out just like their father, except at least their father kept his lies in the family. But she was an East Coast inner-city teacher so what do you expect? She’d have half the homeless living in her spare room if it wasn't cluttered up with Pilates equipment and other esoteric bullshit.

His wife: that one had hurt. The way he’d come home one day to find all the mirrors in the house covered up with sheets. She said he never bothered to look in them anyway and if he did he probably wouldn’t have recognised what he saw. This was about the refugees. Or the healthcare stuff. It could have been either because sometimes she was such a woman about these things. But to her credit she knew how to keep it in and had a press smile like a million of those photovoltaic cells the other mob kept talking about.

The drama with the deputy: that could have been avoided. It made them look divided and had cost him a couple of points. Thank god the punters appeared to only read the headlines and had seemingly basked in the comforting warmth of the ad hoc rhetoric he’d taken to spouting whenever someone shoved a recording device in his face. It was solid gold, even the bullshit. Especially the bullshit. But he’d refined it enough so that now even he believed himself capable of alchemy.

And now it was his time. It was his time, you fuckers. And everyone had better listen to him because he’d done his homework, put in the hard yards and taken the hits required to get here. He gripped the podium and cleared the viscous phlegm from his throat.

 

Deceleration

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Amplified sound made the air seem heavy. Unattended speakers sat on the uneven paving of the street corner, sending waves of throbbing vibrations through the ground. The soft, painted golden edges of the speakers had chipped away with exposure to the atmosphere. Beneath the golden framing, the metal had twisted upwards, sharp to the touch and revealing a soft, silver underside. He ran his palm over the outside and his fingers tingled. Sound waves diffused through the black pores and became tangible. He held the sound in the air for as long as it would let him. Stephen stretched his leg out to loosen his tight-fitting jeans, just enough to fit a hand into his pocket. Counting the money in there, he hoped that $8.55 would do for a taxi ride home. A car slowly approached. In a moment that was longer than most, he became fixated on the wheels in the seconds before they stopped turning.

He thought about his brother with sobriety and familiar unease. A once platonic connection to these memories resurfaced as something more meaningful. It had been sudden, the overdose. But the clues weren’t in his daily routines as the burial preparations now were.

Without time to decide what direction the wheels had been spinning, he heard a squeaking window roll down and a sonorous voice echo across the walls of the alleyway: ‘You getting in?’ He blinked, looked up, and without a thought, picked up the speakers and carried them under his arm and into the taxi.

The reverberations followed him around for years.

Croc

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Sheppard arrives at the oval before sundown with a bag on his shoulder and his dog Rondo. Sheppard’s late, even when you give him a sure-fire tip where to find a baby crocodile. ‘You point. I’ll steal,’ Sheppard said, after Saltie decided he needed a new torture tool and generously gave us one day to find it.

In Footscray, you can’t fart without Saltie knowing, let alone run a dog napping operation. Even a two-man outfit needed Saltie’s approval. But baby crocs aren’t pets. Once, we stole a grinning capuchin monkey. Just like Rondo who always carries a grin. I don’t know if he likes me or wants to bite me.

Apparently Saltie wrestled a saltwater crocodile somewhere in Cape York. There’s a croc tattoo on his chest. The spiky tail loops around one nipple, open jaws enclose the other. He carries a pair of crocodile clips and some wires; he connects them to power points and to humans.

Once, Saltie tied his crocodile clips to a short rope and clipped them onto the testicles of some bastard. To the other end he tied a barbell and shoved it into this fellow’s mouth. He made him stand until gravity did its job.

Sheppard and Rondo trudge across the burnt grass raising puffs of dust. The sun is behind them and they look like sharp shadows that escaped a nightmare. Rondo’s studded collar reflects the last traces of sun and it’s like fairies are dancing around his grinning head. He’s a pitbull cross. Sheppard kept him after he stopped with dog fighting.

‘No more of this crocodile hunter bullshit.’ Sheppard chucks the bag in front of my feet. Sheppard nicked the croc from a mobile reptile farm visiting my cousin’s school.

There’s movement inside.

Rondo barks, jumps on the bag and tries to bite it. Sheppard sticks his foot into his ribs and the mongrel quietens.

‘Jaws taped?’

Sheppard nods. I unzip the bag and peer inside.

‘Careful, he’s springy.’

I let the baby crocodile out. Immediately, he assumes a fighting stance. Rondo stops grinning. Sheppard prods the croc with his foot. A throated hiss comes out of him. I grab the croc and look into his eyes. He’s got two pairs of eyelids but he doesn’t blink. The croc’s a statue.

Then, I see the masking tape.

‘You put the wrong fucking tape on his jaws.’ I lift my hand to smack Sheppard but he ducks. The croc slips through my hand and falls on the ground. The tape comes off, the jaws snap free.

‘Couldn’t find gaffer tape. Not picking him up again,’ Sheppard says.

‘Yes you fucking are or it’s clips on our balls.’

The croc takes off across the paddock. Double-quick Rondo catches up and locks his jaws on its neck. He shakes the body wildly until it goes limp. He drops it in front of us and grins.

The croc raises a cloud of dust that travels upward, reaching my balls, and they shrink like someone stuck them on ice.

Croc
Croc

Baby Change Table

For sale. Will save your back. Solid wood, two shelves underneath, locking casters – all in good condition. Slightly scuffed, tooth marks halfway along top right-hand rail, faint stain on middle shelf. Bought from a baby shop on Parramatta Road on a warm August day, our first baby-shopping expedition. We quashed our diffidence about buying baby things (counting your chickens before they’re hatched, we felt) and spending money on all that stuff we had no idea whether we would need. For my bad back we splashed out on this magnificent change table – floor-stock, on sale – and a packet of three muslin wraps, pastel-coloured yellow, green and blue. Not sure how we fitted the change table in the Toyota Corolla, or the crowded little terrace house in Glebe where we were living. We drove up and down Parramatta Road that day and it felt like we visited dozens of baby shops. Maybe just three. Exhausted. Already. Parramatta Road was hot and gritty. Spring was in the air, the sweet, heady scent of jasmine. The jasmine bloomed and burnt before spring and our firstborn arrived in October; all of a sudden there was a heatwave and it was already summer.

It was still warm when we got back to Glebe with our change table and our three muslin wraps, then the phone rang. It was my sister and she said something unusual like, ‘Are you sitting down?’ before she told me that our brother had collapsed and died, at home, while he was celebrating his 47th birthday.

I was neither joyous nor innocent on the day we bought the change table but I cry while I am cleaning it because we bought it on the day my brother died and we bought it before we knew my husband had a tumour in his neck. I cry because things have changed and I want to be the person I imagine I was on that day: a 32-week pregnant woman looking forward to having a baby, my husband and I seeing our future as fairly straightforward. I was never that woman and only now, after things have changed, do I see that I might have had the potential to be that woman.

The change table has sat in our bedroom for the last few years, covered in used plastic bags, and dust and clothes we don’t wear very much and miscellaneous things we don’t know what to do with, like my guitar and the old orange-crystal doorknob from the house we moved out of five years ago. It is clean and inert and inanimate and will not bring trepidation, loss or expectation into its new owners’ lives. It shows no evidence – apart from the tooth marks – of the babies who gazed and smiled and played and played-up while they were being changed (was our firstborn ever that small?). Or the unparalleled, unexpected, tremendous joy and arduousness of caring for them, the complete innocence of us all, mother, father and once-babies, about where this love would take us.

The Fall

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Later, Amy told her mother how it had been like watching a car crash in a television show. All the signs were there; a steep escalator, the early bus, the woman with too many bags on her arms running to catch it. As she stood on the escalator coming up and out of the hot bus station, Amy kept her eyes on the woman on the escalator going down. The woman was middle-aged, short, and dressed in a purple coat. She carried two plastic bags of groceries and a bunch of flowers. Amy turned her head to watch as they passed one another and the woman was carried away. The flowers were strange green things, a collection of conical shapes made of tiny buds. They were wrapped in shiny pink cellophane and the stems were held together with ribbon. Yes, it had been like a car crash; the bus arrived, the woman broke into a run and then fell as the ground beneath her turned from moving stairs into solid ground at the bottom of the escalator. Earlier, Amy had been on her way to see a friend in the city. She knew her trajectory: up the escalator, across the station floor and out into the street that smelled of cigarette smoke and sweat. It should have taken three minutes but today it took her five because she stopped to watch the woman, to watch other people help her up and wonder if she should do something. In the city she ate sushi and told her friend what had happened. They walked to a bookstore and Amy stroked book spines with pale fingers, wondering how long the lady had had to wait for the next bus, standing in a station full of people who saw her fall, who saw so many colours and shapes moving from one arrangement to another so quickly and violently.

At the sight of her bus pulling in, the woman moved fast and the white mass of grocery bags swung back and forth and then, in a second, her small body was prostrate, the bags on the floor and the flowers at the bottom of the elevator being pushed again, again, again by the moving stairs as they folded under the ground.

At the top of the escalators Amy stepped onto steady ground and threw her arms out just a little from her body, as if to catch the stranger far below. She watched as a boy in jeans rushed forward and asked if she was okay. Amy watched her brush down her purple coat and insist ‘I’m fine, I’m fine’. The woman quickly collected her groceries and then walked to the bottom of the elevator, where people with their dirty boots and polished heels were stepping over the flowers. The green cones were a little bent and the pink cellophane crumpled. She picked them up, glanced around her, and walked quietly away.

Bliss

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I named my daughter Bliss in an opiate haze and I had prayers left in me for my mother’s God that begged him to stop her shaking.  I whispered ‘Bliss, Bliss, Bliss’ as my veins shrank away, and she screamed the scream that only these babies scream.  Desperate for that unknown necessity: shrieks. I thought ‘I’ll keep this one, and she’ll bring me peace. Bliss. They won’t take this one away.’

She had bright blue eyes and hair the colour of apricot jam, wispy and soft beneath my fingers.  Sometimes she ate, sometimes she didn’t.  When the social worker came, I gave her painkillers so she’d sleep, and gave myself caffeine pills and saline drops so I could smile and nod and look like I understood. Please God, please.  Keep her quiet, keep her still. 

She lay limp in my arms like a dead child, little Bliss Anne Taylor.

‘Good girl.’

 –

On Tuesday my mother took her for a walk in the afternoon, and I lay exhausted on the bed, my nightshirt damp with milk and sweat, the ceiling above me squirming with nightmares.

She put the baby on the bed next to me and lit a cigarette from my pack.

‘She’s getting her first tooth, Annie. Right at the front.’

Bliss pawed at me with her little hands, big blue eyes searching for my face.  I watched the colours on the ceiling twist.

‘Don’t smoke all my cigarettes.’

The mattress dipped as my mother sat on the bed, rolling Bliss away from me.

If she falls off the bed, I can take her to the emergency room, steal something from an elderly patient’s bedside table.  If she falls off the bed, I can take her to the emergency room and act too manic, end up reported for neglect.  If she falls off the bed, I could go to the clinic at the end of the street where they keep the drugs packed up like national secrets and a bouncer at the door to keep the methadone creeps at bay.  I could go to a little green house in Marrickville and buy something to rub on my gums.  I could fail my next piss test.  I could lose my fucking mind and scratch the skin off my ears again.

I put my hands over my eyes. My mother reaches for another cigarette.

‘Right at the front, Annie.’  I hear her cheap acrylic nails tap on her front teeth.  ‘To bite you on the arse.’

If she falls off the bed, she’ll be hurt.

Bliss, Bliss, Bliss.’  I whisper.

I put my arm around her, run my fingers over her candy-floss hair.  She won’t fall of the bed.  Not today.