Big City, Big Heart

Before I left home, I had to have an x-ray. I have a crick in between my ribs, on my left side. Every time I breathe I feel it there. All I wanted was for it to crack, the same way my spine does when I anchor myself on a doorframe and twist. I had to wear a gown and hug myself. Stare at the wall. Listen for the click. My doctor looks younger than he is, and bulk bills me no matter how many times I turn up in his office with questions. He tells me all my bones are where they should be, just one of those things—sit up straight, do some jumping jacks, maybe it will go away—and in passing notes the size of my heart. Small, he says. That’s a good thing.

This is all in an afternoon. The next time I go to the doctors it’s the width of the country away on Hercules St, which I walk down most days. Every time I pass the bakery right before the traffic lights, I look to my left and spot the donut with pink icing that’s always there, wondering when I’ll finally buy it and why. I’m always walking at a pace by then. No time for donuts. A few steps more and I pass a shop with fresh seafood, another with what I assume is duck hanging in the window. Let’s pretend it’s a weekend. I think I like myself better on weekends, when I belong to myself and not the world. I get to leave my street and forget that I’m seen, stuck in my own loop of thoughts instead: choruses, grocery lists, arguments. Mornings are spent with Nat Geo or the radio, a healthy dose of pretention after sunrise. I don’t have to pay attention to the headlines or Twitter. I get to walk down Hercules St, and from there I can go anywhere I like.

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I Have a Pet Snake: A Guide

  1. What Not To Do

I have a pet snake. I got her in the height of my Harry Potter freak-out, when I thought evil was edgy and Voldemort had a point. Her name’s Nagini, in homage to The Dark Lord’s viper sidekick. She’s only small – her scales are a patchwork of burnt orange and normal orange, with stitches of cream in-between. She’s adorable, really. However, what I originally had in mind was something bigger, and scarier. Instead my parents pulled out a pintsized earthworm on my 15th birthday, their shiny faces all smiley and grossly expectant. I gotta say, she has the evil attitude down. To this day all she ever does is sleep, eat, and glare at me. If I knew parseltongue it would be lost on her. She is not a conversationalist.

This is supposed to be a helpful guide to owning a snake. It’s more of an autobiographical tale of what-not-to-do. Take it from me, I would know.

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Grey, Black, and Blue

GREY

As I got older, storms got quieter. When I was small the cracks of thunder pierced through my rose-coloured world in a whip of fantastical fear. Now the rain just gets in my socks.

In the middle of my teenage years a friend and I camped at Esperance, on top of a hill. Her dad – a man who shaved his head by choice – drove us in his polished four-wheeler.

The town was tiny. It stretched across the south coast of Western Australia by way of dirt trails, rock pools, and water that reflected the world – and your peering face – in tinges of blue.

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Clockwork Forest

“What does it mean?”

“It means it’s almost 12 o’clock?”

“But what is it doing here?”

The fob watch hung from a branch by its chain. The delicate hands of the watch were angled upwards, one hand slowly ticking away the seconds. They had been hiking through the woods since the sun rose, lazily trudging over bared roots and moss. The air was thick and the wind cold, so by afternoon they were both over the idea all together. Thea shivered and glared at the watch with curious uncertainty.

“Can we stop? My feet feel like they’re going to break off,” she said. She had already taken off her backpack. She sat on it to avoid the dew that still gripped the ground. Noah gave her a reassuring nod, but instead of resting he approached the watch where it hung. It too had dew clinging to it. It was slowly dripping off and falling to the forest floor in a puddle. He held it in his palms, weighing it from one to the other. It was like ice. He could feel every tick resounding through the metal, yet it didn’t make sense. The gears should have been frozen in place. He let it go and it swayed like a pendulum.

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The Monster Under Her Bed

It happened in the bathroom. The first time, at least. The water was running and she was on her tiptoes to reach the basin. As she let the water pour over her hands she could swear she saw something move in the corner of her eye. Darkness, like a shadow. She squinted and splashed water over her face, letting it drip down onto the basin and the bathroom tiles beneath her feet. It was cold. When she opened her eyes, expecting to see her reflection in the mirror, she found that she was standing, tiptoed with her face covered in water, in a huge cave. She couldn’t rebalance herself in time to avoid falling onto the slippery stone ground. She threw her hands just out in time to soften her fall. She could feel her heart beat thundering in the palms of her hands.

The blue hue of the cave shone of the wet stone. It glinted and glistened like crystal. There was water dripping like a tap in the distance. She twisted and tried to regain her footing, staying low to avoid another collision with the cold, hard stone. Rays of sunlight streamed into the cave from an invisible source, colliding with the lake of water that she had been lucky to miss when she fell. She wasn’t really sure how that had happened.

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See For Yourself

I sat with my back to them, keeping watch. Outside all I could see were outlines, darker shapes that somehow stood out from the pitch blackness of the night. Mostly I was just watching the trees swaying in the wind and trying not to freeze. All the air was rushing in through the massive doorway, and I sat in the centre of it huddled in a ball and tried to keep my teeth from chattering. The marble floor felt like ice.

“Well, this is the most glamorous place we’ve ever set up camp,” Emmi said, almost positive. I turned my head enough to give her a half-hearted nod and saw that she was lighting the gas lamps. Felix sat on his sleeping bag facing me, but not seeing me. He was staring off into his own world.

The space around her and Felix illuminated in a warm glow, revealing glimpses of the complicated tapestry and gold detailing that covered the enormous walls.

“This… is amazing,” Emmi whispered. She was on the verge of a complete geek-out. We wouldn’t be able to leave until she inspected every wall and every crevice. I resisted the urge to explore more, to see the massive house in its entirety. Instead I stayed put and focused my attention on our surroundings. Our dull and unchanging surroundings.

I heard a meek voice behind me say, “What does it look like?”

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Limbo

Step 1. Acknowledge your situation

It starts with choking. Something rough is scratching at my throat and no matter how many times I try to swallow or cough there’s no relief. I can’t open my eyes either; every time I try there’s instant pain and discomfort. I’m sputtering and crying, trying to bring air into my lungs, trying to regain my senses.

When I open my eyes tears blur my vision. My lungs are screaming for air and I’m breathing quickly to keep up with their demands. I must have been digging into the ground because they’re covered in sand. I’m covered in sand, completely, and I suspect there are probably grains of it lodged in my throat. I’m surrounded by it. As far as I can see, sand spans out until it meets the sky. There’s something else too.

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