Lost In Track Changes is an ongoing literary remix experiment featuring Cate Kennedy, Fiona Capp, Krissy Kneen, Ryan O’Neill and Robert Hoge. Starting from a short work of memoir, the authors remix each other’s work in series, with changes tracked between.
Our third series of remixes kicks off this week with a short memoir from Krissy Kneen, titled Cyclone Dragitsa. Check back next week for the first remix of this story and its tracked changes.
The tap will not stop dripping. The enamel is discoloured, light green, a deeper blue at the centre of the stain. A scab of salt on the scrubbed white of the bowl. I frown at the wound briefly. It is the result of hard water pumped up from an underground bore.
I remember bathing myself in a bucket of rainwater drawn down from the tank. The rest of them could use the shower. There were six of us then, two from each generation. There was a kind of balance to it but I was not to know it way back then. In winter I would shiver between handfuls of warmth. The water was heated on the stove but it would cool too quickly. I was always sticky with a fine layer of soap still clinging to my skin after the sponge bath. My hair was lank. I was jealous of my sister, my mother, my grandmother, all of them stepping lightly from a shower, pinked with the heat of it, clean and sweet with suds. There was nothing to be done. My skin would rebel against the ground-water. My arms flushed red, my chest flared in patches. Naked and weeping in my bedroom I would dab at the spots with calamine lotion, replacing the red patches with splotches of white.
There was never a mirror in our house, which was lucky because I might have been turned to stone, transfixed by the sight of my own skin rebelling against this poisonous landscape.
My grandmother never allowed mirrors. She would never approve of all these mirrors crammed into one tiny motel room. There is a full-length mirror in the bedroom, a mirror on the inside of the cupboard door, another above the sink throwing my own face back at me. I look pale and overblown. My skin is damp with a sheen of sweat. My nightmares have punched me in both eyes and there is a shadow of a fist mark above each cheek. I may have put on weight. She would have noticed. She would have told me I needed to diet.
I put her on the ceramic of the sink. She is heavy, silent. They have clothed her in a red velveteen bag with a gold pull cord as if this is a theatre. I can imagine her climbing out of the plastic container, pulling the cord. Ta Da! She is a magician and she reassembles herself in a puff of smoke.
I fear and long for this in equal measure.
I am glad she is gone. I am sad she is gone. I am certain that now, at the death-end of things she will come back to take us all out with her.
There is a cyclone approaching the coast up north, a battlefield of the dead rotting in its wake. This is not of her doing, and yet it is also her hand at work. She used to crack walnuts in one trembling fist. She was mighty and she will cross the coast at Cairns tomorrow morning or perhaps by lunchtime.
I must put her in the ground before she wreaks havoc, warms the globe, raises tide-lines and steals whole continents.
There is a raised red patch of skin on my neck. I showered when I arrived here. I put her ashes down on the bed and stepped under the crusted shower rose and bathed my body in the harsh water knowing what would happen if I did.
‘Did we bring the allergy stuff?’ I say.
‘What allergy stuff?’ He says.
‘You know the tablets?’
I can hear my husband searching in the overnight bag, the crinkle of a blister pack.
‘What‘s it called?’
‘Fexo-something? It will say anti-histamine on it somewhere.’
The soft wamp of clothes falling to the carpet.
‘No. We could go to the chemist.’
‘There isn’t one. Or there is, but an hour away.’
I scratch at my neck and my nails leave fine red lines.
‘Will you be ok?’
I nod. He couldn’t see, but I hear some music, voices. He is watching something on his phone.
The lid of the plastic vessel has a circle in the top. The woman who handed it to me at the funeral place told me to pop it off with a knife. There is no knife. I push at it with the rounded end of a teaspoon. It’s tight. It seems like it might be sealed shut.
I can hear two people talking in the next room along. A voice raised, a woman’s voice. Then softer, a man. They are having an argument. I stop and listen but it is just the drone of voices like two bees trapped in a bottle.
I lift my grandmother and shake her. She sounds like a tub of sand.
Outside the rain starts up. On the long ride up here we were racing into it. Dark clouds, distant, then closer. Driving back down to Miriam Vale from the funeral place in Gladstone the clouds began to chase us.
‘That’s that cyclone.’ my husband said, ‘or the beginning of it.’
‘Cyclone Dragitsa’ I said, invoking her name, and he laughed, nodding in agreement.
The rain is sudden and hard. It drowns out the argument next door despite its escalation. I wish they would stop. Don’t they know that nothing matters? I know it now. Really know it. Nothing matters, not their yelling, or the coming cyclone or whatever petty little detail caused the neighbour’s fury. Nothing matters because I am holding her in my hands and she is both too heavy and too light.
I turn the spoon around, worry the circle with the thinner bent end of it. The seal pops. I prise and it comes off entirely. I look inside and it isn’t sand, it is courser, and, strangely, a pinking grey in colour. It looks exactly like the kitty litter we used to buy from Coles before our cat was killed on the road. It looks synthetic, a chemical reek. There is nothing of my grandmother in here. Still, I pour a small measure into a small plastic vial. I dip my finger in, touch it, pick a pinch of stones (bones) up between my thumb and forefinger. I place it on my tongue. I swallow.
The wind picks up, howls. The corrugated awning outside the motel room rattles violently. The people arguing next door are silenced by the sound of it. We are all a hush.
‘Are you ok in there?’ The sound of my husband’s voice.
I nod, again.
‘That storm’s going to be a beauty,’ he says.
I have to get her in the ground.