... is what I realise the day I spend six hours travelling via public transport from Sydney to Wollongong and back. It could've been five, but I misheard the marshal and accidentally boarded an all-stops replacement rail bus instead of an express to Waterfall on the way back. At first I don't mind – I have the latest copy of Voiceworks to read and nothing urgent to do once I get home – but that's before the combination of a two-day diet consisting only of bacon and egg rolls and iced coffee, the electromagnetic energy radiating out the bottom of my awkwardly tilted laptop, and the rollicking of the anfractuous, mountain-hugging coastal road slackens the drawstring of my stomach and drives my eyes up and out the window, to Austinmer.
Or, not Austinmer, but that whole stretch of coast and bush between Thirroul in the south and Otford in the noth. It's the kind of place where all the real estate signs proclaim the houses are 'well-appointed'. The kind of place with a lot of houses painted blue, and a lot of (post) modernist architectural statements straight out of Grand Designs. But the mansions are counter-balanced by the shambolic abodes of hippies who bought the land before it was cool, and didn't sell it once it was. The hippies pull the average political persuasion of the area decisively left (and we all know left-wing people are just generally better) so the dead trunks of telegraph poles are hugged by a constant supply of environmental campaign posters.
It's the kind of place populated enough to have a healthy community, but not populated enough to make its denizens callous to one another. It's the kind of place you can't grow up in without being a surfer. Where you're sensibly non-religious, but still civically active. You did the right amount of extracurricular sports and activities as a kid. You went to scouts but you don't seem like the kind of person who went to scouts.
I think I'm going to spew. It reminds me of occasionally feeling queasy on the Sydney–Wollongong journeys of my childhood between Mum's and Dad's, when one of them would arrive to pick me and my little sisters up earlier than expected and we would rush dinner before scrambling out into the car with packed bags and bare feet. I'm not sure whether you're supposed to look straight ahead through the windscreen when you feel car sick, to try and trick your body into thinking you're not moving, or out the side windows, so your body feels in sync with how fast it's actually going. I can't remember because, apart from those few times, I never needed to know as a kid. 'Doesn't that make you feel sick?' my friends and their parents would ask me as I read or played my Gameboy in the car on the way to their South Coast caravans or grandparents' houses, where I was joining them for their family holidays.
'Nope, I don't get car sick,' I'd reply proudly.
I seem to remember one of those friends I went away with sitting in the front seat, overriding the 'bags-ings' and 'shotguns' of his siblings with claims that he needed to sit there because he got car sick, so I decide on looking forward. I should Facebook that friend when I get home, I think.
You have Facebook, Austinmerian, but you don't use it often, although you still have between five and seven hundred friends. In part this will be because of your parents' avuncular and materteral attitudes to the children of other people, because of their welcoming of other kids into your home when you were young. Visitors to your house felt comfortable standing around your kitchen island eating from your cornucopic pantries, dripping water from your pool onto the tiles and talking with your parents about the HSC.
Your parents will be twice as old as mine, but they'll pull off their grey hair and thin-rimmed glasses. They accumulated enough money and life experience before you were born to devote themselves to you and your one sibling once you were here, so you got your learner and provisional licenses on your sixteenth and seventeenth birthdays respectively. They're tall and slim and easy and welcoming, your parents. They're doctors, or lawyers, but not business executives. More, psychologists. They'll have an interest in organic living and the arts, with entire walls of their houses devoted to books and season passes to the Sydney Theatre Company in their wallets. You will follow suit and study science, but live art – environmental or veterinary science (the moral ones) during the week and indie folk music festivals and poetry readings on the weekends.
The coach pulls in to Coledale and I consider getting up to ask the driver to unlock the toilet at the back. He looks up into the rear-vision mirror at the smattering of passengers on the bus, but no one gets up. In fact, no one has gotten off since before Thirroul. I wonder if they all made the same mistake I did; none of them look like you, my idealised Austinmer resident. But then, you have a car and a license; you wouldn't need to catch the rail bus.
I get up to ask about the toilet, but the bus driver sees me and opens the door, watching me, waiting for me to get off. I'd thank him as I alighted and wait graciously for him to ease the bus off the gravel onto the road before crossing and making my way home in the afternoon cold. My parents would be together in the kitchen, chopping vegetables and sipping red wine and listening to jazz and laughing at the border collie watching them hungrily for a strip of meat. But it's obvious. I know when I came in, they wouldn't recognise me.
I stand there in the aisle of the bus for a moment under the driver's gaze before deciding I can make it to Waterfall without being sick, waving him an apology and making as if I was just getting up to take another seat.
(Image from Google Maps)
This is the product of the end-of-semester creative high I was talking about in my last post, but I'm not entirely sure what it is. It was just a series of transcribed semi-coherent thoughts initially, then I stripped half of it away and inserted linebreaks to make it a poem, but linebreaks alone do not good poetry make, so I rewrote it as prose and inserted more until I got what you see here. I suppose it's a short story, although I hesitate to call it that. Whatever. It is what it is. And while it's clearly working with a lot of truth, it isn't meant to be taken as an expression of my real thoughts; it's definitely fiction.