by Rose Barnsley
with artwork by Manou Staedel-Arnould
I met the American Dream when I was in Bali. It was on a field waist deep in very fast children. The children were playing soccer.
It seemed dazzled by their speed. It kept making little forays, but the ball never went anywhere near it.
I stopped, and I watched this, because I wanted to know if the children had a parallel universe understanding of soccer, if their understanding of it was exactly the same as mine except for the fact that they assumed one of the structures of soccer was a swerve you had to make in the middle of the pitch to avoid the American Dream.
After a while though, it saw me and it wandered over. It was holding a green glass bottle and a dirty pillow case. It had a lovely tan and pale, bright eyes.
It was smoking Marlboro Greens.
I thought, the American Dream doesn’t seem very well. It wasn’t wearing any shoes, but it was wearing socks, and the more I looked at the socks the more I thought, man those socks don’t look like they have feet in them, they look like the have rice or rocks in them or something. I think the American Dream’s toes are all fucked up.
So I guess I wasn’t really listening properly when it started talking. At this point too, my friend, who I was travelling with, saw me from across the field. She did this like, eye finger thing which I’ve never quite mastered, all like, I see you and I also see the future of what is happening right now I do not want our trip to become some kind of frontier mentality fuckaround. I am all too familiar with your saviour complex in all its instances and the American Dream is not what I want to spend my holiday saving. It is the opposite of what I want to spend my holiday saving. You need to shut this down.
I don’t know. She’s good with hand gestures. She started walking towards us, and I turned back to the American Dream.
It was talking pretty fast and getting kind of pushy. I think maybe nobody had listened to it in a while. There was a hysterical lilt at the end of its sentences.
It was saying, ‘I had the most beautiful driftwood shack and the Bali beach patrol wrecked it, man. They took it apart every night for a month and I spent every day putting it back together. Last night when there wasn’t a moon they covered it in gasoline and burnt it all up. I only just escaped.’
I was a bit distracted. My friend was standing in the centre of the field now, speaking with the children, pointing over their heads, at the American Dream and me. I was nervous about what she was saying to them. I hoped she was explaining how soccer normally worked.
‘Look at me,’ it said. ‘The locals love me. I never cry from pain. When I go to the forest where the monkeys are I carry a big stick.’
I opened my mouth, and it said, ‘I’ve lived on 14 tropical islands in the last 8 years.’ Then, it offered me a Marlboro Green. I said, ‘Okay’. It started to cough.
Bachelorette parties were moving in the mist now. On the other side of the field, a middle-aged Irish man was haggling with a cab driver.
‘When the beach patrol burnt my shack down I cut their brake lines,’ the American Dream said, whimsically, and it touched me, softly, briefly, with the tips of its fingers.
I looked away. I don’t know quite how to say this, but sometimes, you want to take it, without them giving it to you. I liked the way it would have cried, if we were alone together, its stringy brown arms, the coins I knew it had, folded in paper, in its shirt pocket. In my throat, there was a nausea of small memories.
My friend had reached us.
The American Dream introduced itself. My friend didn’t make eye contact, and she told me that we had to go.
There was a sense of disappointment and I felt the windows of the town darken like so many eyes. As we walked away, it walked in the opposite direction, but you could still hear it, if you wanted to, until it was long out of sight, talking to itself about paradise.
‘Do you think it’ll go home?’ I asked my friend. ‘Its feet were all fucked up.’
She shrugged and told me she honestly couldn’t care less.
Rose is currently finishing her Honours at the University of Melbourne, where she writes on political philosophy. Previously, her work has appeared in Cluster Zine, Berfrois, and Queen Mobs Teahouse. In July, she is going to Chile, to work as part of the UN initiative English Opens Doors.
Manou Staedel-Arnould is a photographer and filmmaker from Melbourne. She captures moments she deems beautiful and tells stories because she can. You can find more of her work online in about 8 months.