By Tahlia Chloe
With artwork by Alan Weedon
Beyond the window the land rolls into itself.
I watch Peter survey the fields. The horses are in the paddock and the sun has nestled into the sky. Peter won’t be back until eight, so these early hours are mine.
I sit back in the chair, bringing my knees to my chest. I try to remember that morning is the time when the country is beautiful and golden, pushing a smile even though no one is around to witness it. I am hoping that when Peter gets back, the house will feel less empty.
Beyond the window, Peter marches along the fences, inspecting the wires for any damage. The land stretches on to no end. The only thing to remind me of its finiteness is the small, winding road above the Barrington Tops Mountains in the distance. Peter kneels down at the tractor. I don’t know anything about agricultural labour but I imagine he is furrowing his brow and checking the tyres for mud or something.
Peter is seven years older than me and my parents aren’t aware of his existence. Peter likes that I am passionate about writing and philosophy, but not that I’m still a teenager. It was always more complicated than it should have been; our lovemaking dysfunctional at best. Despite our respective sexual maturity, we didn’t fit together in the right way. We were shameful and awkward.
These days, we still spend time together. I know that when Peter walks in he will ask me how I am and kiss me in the way that tired married couples do – more an acknowledgement that two bodies are sharing the same space than a gesture of affection. In our bed he holds me in an unfamiliar yet intimate way. I think this is the most we will get from one another. One time when we spoke about ‘us,’ Peter admitted he was at a place in his life where he was looking for someone to settle down with. But my life was only just beginning. That’s what Peter explained to me. ‘I was looking for something that didn’t exist.’
The land belongs to his grandparents, on his father’s side. His father died when Peter was young, and his mother remarried and moved to the city. Peter spent a lot of his youth here, running around the farm. These days it’s almost deserted, and the question of what will happen to it once his grandparents pass is ever-present.
When Peter’s grandmother went to hospital this week, Peter saw an opportunity to take some time off work, and encouraged me to do the same. Technically I’m unemployed. The only work I do is look after my mother; her life has been one long, drawn-out panic attack. Peter told me that I should join him. I’d be able to write, he said. I’ve been exhausted recently, and he wants me to be present again. It would be good for me. I tell him that I’ve been fulfilling all my responsibilities: passing my classes; cooking dinners; checking in with my friends. He is right though. Doing is tiring. As is being present; alive.
I try to imagine what it’s like to be Peter – a single man, devout Catholic and public figure. What it’s like to return home. I transpose myself into this place: the tile floor, sun-bleached furniture. The house, rooted and rotting for the past 70 years. I imagine its history as though I had been born 40 years ago and brought my children to visit for the first time.
‘This is the room your mum was born in!’ my parents would tell them. ‘We put her cot in the centre of the room because she was the centre of our world.’
My children wouldn’t be interested, but I would show them the living room and act out the time I cut my way through the fly frame, pretending to be a spy. I would tell them how I preferred to sleep in a cardboard box than in a bed; that, once I grew too big for the box, I slept on the dining room table. At night we would cook dinner and, secretly, I’d wish I was back in the city with a better oven. Once everyone had gone to bed – and been given extra blankets for the cold – Peter would take me in his arms and say, ‘I love how interesting your childhood was,’ and I would respond, ‘Well, I love you and everything that makes up this man before me.’
The door opens and Peter walks in. He is flustered.
‘Good morning’, he says, kissing me. ‘Can you believe that I used to ride for eight hours a day? Twelve if we were doing a trail.’
I can’t. Either Peter has never told me about his life before Sydney or I’ve never asked. If Peter is anything like me, this visit is final. But it’s not: he will be back here again, and again. This is a home he can come and go from.
I observe his morning ritual: a small prayer as the eggs cook. His cross falls from his chest as he lowers his head. He mentions how domestic he is and I believe him, mostly because I don’t know how to judge whether or not someone is domestic. I just know that I’m not.
I yawn as my knees uncurl from my chest. I tell Peter that he would be a good father because I think this is something he would like to hear. He laughs and says maybe, one day. Maybe it was the wrong thing to say. Or maybe I’m the wrong person to say it.
If I could leave before Peter serves breakfast and never see him again, I would. But I cannot tell him this.
Peter puts his hands on my shoulders and asks what I’m thinking. I say nothing. He says that must be peaceful for me. I say yeah. I tell him I am planning on going for a walk later. Alone, I clarify. Peter silently unbraids my hair and returns to the stove.
‘Hey Peter,’ I say, cocking my head to the side. ‘Thanks for inviting me here’.
I walk and keep walking. I imagine if this were a scene from a film: long dry grass, low-hanging clouds, unfathomable space; and a single marching figure. The land seems indifferent to my incursions. Its black soil does not notice my stepping all over it. I see a sign shoved into the wire fence. On it is written ROAD SUBJECT TO FLOODING and in smaller writing INDICATORS SHOW DEPTH.
I think about everyone back in Sydney. Peter told me that we wouldn’t be too far from the city, just a few hours away if something went wrong, but I am far enough away to feel unrelentingly shit. There is no cacophony of crickets, no untamed wilderness to conquer – just decaying houses, collapsing fences and cows.
I want so badly to be good. To go back to Peter with all this guilt and ask for forgiveness.
Say: ‘It really touches me that you invited me here.’
Laugh : ‘It means a lot that you kept seeing me after the time I vomited on your crotch.’
Exhale : ‘Remember when you said you wanted to fuck me like you were in love with me? I think I’m ready to have that with you.’
At the bottom of the fence is the body of a rabbit, bloodied by a feral dog. The shadows of the earth are crawling all over it. My shadow is crawling all over it. I gawk at it a little while, before crouching down to view it up-close. I touch its neck and give it my brother’s name. It is too soft to resist. Its fur is matted with blood and its eyes are wide open.
When I get home Peter asks me how my walk was. I do not mention the rabbit. I do not mention that when I was 16 I miscarried. I do not mention that I am not ready to be a mother anymore. I’ve been carrying around this bullet in my chest with someone else’s name on it.
I want to yell, ‘Fuck you. You have no idea.’ I want to yell, ‘Do you have any idea what the fuck you took away from me?’
But I’m not addressing Peter, and none of this is his fault. There are whole histories beneath these floorboards and I wish they were my own.
Tahlia Chloe (20) was baptised by an ex-lover who didn’t want to sleep with a heathen. She is a writer and editor from Sydney.
Alan Weedon is a Melbourne-based photographer and writer. He’s keen on urbanism, architecture and other things explored across VICE, Aevoe, and The Quietus, among others. Alan does a few other things, which you can find at alnwdn.com.