As an exercise in collaboration, groups of us were given five different pieces of prominent Australian photographic art to reimagine into linking short stories. My group agreed on an early 70’s stereotypical Australiana vibe and created a character named Keith to feature in all our stories, sort of fulfiling the archetypical bushranger legend story. Keith is the type of man whose life is so steeped in rumours that these wild imaginings stirred by question and suspicion have become attached to the truer events. But what is true of this fictitious character’s life and what is the sensationalised fantasy of the other character’s in it? I’m thinking of writing more stories of Keith but here’s the first. I was given Petrina Hicks’ work, Shenae and Jade (2005) as stimulus. We got inventive with names before viewing the title, so that became unapparent to the story. I wasn’t really prepared for how dark and druggy this story got but there you go.
Petrina Hicks, Shenae and Jade, 2005
This poor love, Nancy; she won’t age well. Sure, she looks a picture of youth now, with her long lashes, speckle of freckles, wrinkleless skin… but by the time she’s fifty, she’ll be sure to look sixty, if she’s lucky, that is. If she’s lucky to get that far at all.
See, things haven’t worked out so well for Nance. She’s a bit bipolar? Like, actually though, it’s a real situation, not just meaning, a bit insensitively, to call her bat-shit… but it has kind of led her to be fairly bat-shit, I s’pose.
It’s mostly the drugs. She was just into the dope for a bit – a good bit, I will say. It was just a nice way of letting go, you know? But then it started making her a bit agro after a while, after the come-down. She just wasn’t fun old Nance anymore. Then she got onto the acid and God, then it was all downhill. Off her bloody nut all the time, trying to escape.
See, she married pretty young? And they really didn’t think it through. Keith made things worse –that’s the hubby. It was a bit of a Bonnie and Clyde story, except another version where Bonnie’s this timid, submissive little mouse with the tendency to get real worked up in high-stress situations. Safe to say, Old Mate Keith started keeping the less-than-by-the-books side of his work to himself. And well, that happened to be all his work. So, Nance would just stay home, isolated in their modest little miner’s cottage just out of Strathbogie and, well, what else was there to do?
The other messy part is there’s a kid too. A few years back, and thanks to all Keith’s crap, Nance got a bit caught up in some slight gang mess. Well, it’s a dull existence being a housewife stuck in the bush while your husband’s nicked off with the car to do God knows and well, one of the bikies, Trev, started showing her a bit of sympathy. They hadn’t been at it for long before she was preggers. Of course, Trev had to assume it was his and dropped her on the spot. A remarkably and thankfully discrete conclusion considering the usual behaviours of a one-percenter but then, they’re still on her for the money she owes.
Keith doesn’t know. It’s his daughter for all he could guess. But she’s out of the picture now anyway. No big surprises there, we’re not looking at mother and father –ahem, ‘father’– of the year. Still not too sure what happened to that darlin’. Makes you wonder…
But, since she hasn’t had the responsibility, Nance has let go of the world completely.
Of course, there are days where she still has to pretend to function, like today. Had to get all dressed up and go to her nephew’s baptism. No idea why they’d want her there but you know, “family’s family”. She’s tried her best to stay off everything for a while but acting like she’s not having major withdrawals all day is exhausting. She ruined it anyway. Made a scene. So now she figures what’s the point? It was just hard looking at a baby because she’s been waiting to go on her rags for two months now. She knows what’s up but she’s quietly hoping with all the abuse to her body that it’ll… sort itself out.
She’s sitting alone now on the living room floor with four used tabs scattered on the coffee table. She’s been thinking of that new money stash of Keith’s she just uncovered. There had to be five grand there. Bastard’s always hiding his loot. She thinks of taking some and buying some good shit. Fuck it, make it heroin, take enough at once and go out with a bang.
For now, though, the effect has kicked in. She lets go and watches the room swirl ‘round her. She begins to melt. The big release is coming –if not for that fucking bird!
Nancy’s other problem is that with all this twisting of her worldview, she’s gotten a bit paranoid schizophrenic. Her bigger problem now though, is this bastard budgie, hanging off its cage, shrieking and mocking her from the corner of the room. Who knows how the thing’s still alive but it seems to dedicate all its energy into taunting her and getting in her head. A bit like that Poe, “quoth the raven” shit or something?
She’s getting worked up now. Gee whiz. Sometimes it takes her to a hellish place. But “nevermore”, you could say because Nance has had enough. With a sudden burst of energy and manic thought, she advances towards the cage, reaches in, grabs the bird, shakes it. With the stress, the bird goes stiff –stunned– and she stuffs its head in her mouth and bites down until the neck snaps.
A wave of confusion comes next. She flails down onto the floor beside the golden brown, velveteen couch. It feels like softest animal fur to her heightened senses. The corpse of the half-decapitated parrot lies forgotten, centimetres from her limp hand on the balding carpet. Tears stream down her cheeks but she’s relieved now. The squawking’s finally stopped.
Just at this moment, here’s old Keithy-boy walking through the door. He assesses the scene, speechless. Stunned as the parrot. As you would be, I mean, what would you do? This is a new low for Nance and it’s pretty apparent that his girl isn’t in the same world as the rest of us anymore. He walks around the house, with her oblivious to his presence, and collects his most important belongings for the road. He leaves one grand out of the five for his wife, takes his Akubra off the hook and closes the door behind him. He’s never coming back. Nancy stares vacantly at the images that only she can see before her. It’s the vision of a doting husband and two young kiddies competing for her affection. A dazed grin appears on her blood-drenched lips. She’s good here; it’s safe. And it’s the closest thing to home she’ll ever know.