6 November 2019
- by Aaron Dries
▶ BENEATH THE BAND AID
by Aaron Dries
Here. Here we buried chicken bones in the dirt only to dig them up the following day with toothbrushes, pretending they were bits and pieces of dinosaurs, that we were palaeontologists. You had to wear your wide-brimmed school hat, tie a handkerchief about your neck, speak in an accent. Otherwise none of this felt authentic, the magic would crumble. We assembled bones under the trampoline, which come dark, we’d stretch out on to star-watch. The Saucepan. The Milky Way. And then there were those we named ourselves. Happy until the mosquitos got us. You hear them before you see them.
Here. Here I found the dirty syringe on the way home from school. It caught my eye like a coin at the bottom of a fountain. Danger, it hissed. Don’t touch me. Yet I wanted to touch it. Had to. It was that same voice that taunted me to touch exposed wires in a wall, made me want to climb over a balcony railing. The curiosity you know you shouldn’t listen to, and later resent. Because the voice is your own, an elemental taunt programmed to challenge your mortality. Holding the syringe, I was surprised by how light it was, having imbued it with such weight. This was in someone. I dropped it and I ran, passing houses that were all eye-windows and mouth-doors, faces I didn’t recognise anymore. Scrubbing my hands with Gumption. The guilt over not disposing the syringe safely is a stain that has never lifted.
Here. Here the milk was dropped. Mum sent me to the Top Shop to buy two litres of Lite White. The chequered floor and the smell of bubble-gum. The woman behind the counter handing over the milk in a plastic bag. I hung it from the handle of my bike, only to watch, horrified, as the bag split. The carton busted on the concrete. They say you shouldn’t cry over spilled milk, but I didn’t cry because of that. I cried because I’d been given a responsibility, entrusted with money, a task I’d failed. The woman behind the counter came out and gave me a replacement, free of charge. Her kind face is lost to me now, as is her name. I remember the relief, though. And the milk, double-bagged, this time.
Here. Here is the sewer grate. I was walking with Nan. A hot day. I turned to her, pointing, and said, “The devil lives down there.” She took my wrist, leaned close and told me to not speak that way again. The quiet walk back to her house and the meal that followed, Fanta that dyed my tongue orange. Sliced devon with tomato sauce. Drain devils, unspoken.
Here. Here we dreaded the magpie. I strapped an old ice-cream container with eyes drawn on every side to my head, laced it under my chin with a shoelace from an old shoe. Walking, dreading the swoop. Walking past trees that hummed with bees, the sound an electric warning. The crunch of gravel under my shoes. A swoop that never came. Victory.
Here. Here we put the twenty-cent pieces on the railroad tracks we weren’t supposed to go near. Our hands against the hot iron, and the vibrations of an approaching train. We saw it coming through quicksilver heatwaves. It moved slow. Until it didn’t. My friend turned to me as the train barrelled down, saying, “I hope we don’t derail it.” A fist of anxiety flexing at the heart of me as we watched the train zoom by, envisioning an alternate reality where I’d killed everyone on board. The coins were bent out of place. Only I couldn’t show them to anyone. Doing so was a kind of admission. I didn’t sleep that night.
Here. Here we found the porno stash in the truck graveyard. We passed it around to one another, the pages bleached by the sun and crisp to the touch. The guys laughing at the photographs. The spiders in the truck hub we’d pulled the magazine from. I was sure we were watched.
Here. Here I crashed my bike, chased from school by a kid in the grade above me. He’d beaten me on the jungle-gym—I remember how my head bounced against the planks, as though wanting to meet his knuckles again and again. Pedalling my bike, glancing over my shoulder to see if he was still in pursuit. He was. And then colliding with the parked car on the side of the road. Bending my wheel and smashing the vehicle’s taillight. The way the kid who had chased me evaporated into the day. Dragging my bike home, telling my parents I’d taken a corner too fast. A secret beneath the Band-Aids. No scars, though. Unless remembering is a scar.
Here. Here we read the graffiti on the back of the toilet door. Needs and wants amid shit-smears and drawings of open mouths and phone numbers. The wasp’s nest in the corner, wind reeking of piss. A crucifix spray-painted on the urinal. Cracked tiles. And a caution from the adults outside that us boys shouldn’t play around there no more. Stick to the tennis courts. The thwock of racquets. Someone yelling, “Love!”
Here. Here we found the injured baby bird by the golf course, brought it home. Layered a shoebox with grass for it to sleep on, crumbled biscuits for it to eat. We would nurse it back to health, help it. Do the good thing. We gave the bird a name—a mistake. Because when we checked on it the next morning and found the bird dead, its name haunted us.
Here. Here we went to do grave rubbings with charcoal and wax paper, where we played hide-and- seek after dark. I remember wondering about the people on the headstones, watched over by concrete angels with their noses worn down to nubs. Looking for the mystery in their stories, universes to fill the dashes between the dates. How the graveyard didn’t seem real until someone I loved ended up in it. Plastic flowers with the colour bled free. Notes to the dead sealed in sandwich bags so the rain wouldn’t get to them. Learning that we shouldn’t play there anymore, that those who’d gone before us deserved better.
Here. Here I had the conversation with my friend on a street I’d been down a thousand times. Every word a paper-cut. My friend couldn’t look me in the eye. The street seemed so much longer after that.
Here. Here we swam during summer, watched by parents and teachers. The stink of chlorine, sunscreen, snot, a whiff of shit, grilled steak and onions. Holding your breath as you swam to touch the bottom, surprised by how slippery the surface was. Bursting into air to find the adults yelling, “Get out of the pool” A storm was coming. Lightning in the air.
Here. Here we waited for Santa on the fire engine. Mums and dads drinking white wine in the sun, wishing for a cool winter to come, one that would only have them wishing for summer again. We were sweaty, flies on flies on faces. Itchy with anticipation. All of us hollering when we heard the siren. The enormous truck rolling to a stop and the skinny Santa in the felt beard tossing bags of lollies. Catching some. Fishing the rest from gardens. Us kids comparing what we got, swapping the sweets we didn’t like. The chewy teeth were my favourite. I’d shove them under my gums so the whites pointed out, tried to kiss people.
Here. Here we all sat to watch the house at the bottom of the hill, some with beers. Police crowded around the property. A hostage negotiation. Someone said they thought the man had a gun and his children in there. Eventually, after dark, either the man turned himself in, or the police, who had shuffled us away from the scene, went for him. I remember the people, my neighbours, around me. How they picked up their empty beer cans and folded their plastic chairs in two, the show over and done with. I saw these same people at the outdoor Christmas carols. They brought those chairs with them.
Here. Here I come, year after year. I hungered to leave, once. Now I hunger to return. A lot of the old stores are closed or have changed hands. Top Video, where I had my first job, with its sticky acrylic carpet and the dusty VHS cases is long gone. There are less people around who talk of the ‘55 flood, how chickens hung from the powerlines once the water receded. The rodeo still happens, or at least I think it does. In all my years living there, I never went. Or maybe I did. There’s an image that’s just out of reach, of crowds cheering and dropped meat pies and puddles of frothy alcohol in the dirt—but maybe that was a football game. And to many of those people, the friends who didn’t move away, I know I’m as difficult to recall, to hold, as they are to me, just fading images from the past. And that’s okay. Maybe that’s how it’s meant to be. We’re content to be each other’s memory.
Here. Here we ripped ourselves apart trying to be other people. I come back to piece myself together again. Only double-bagged this time.
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