There’d never come a newly-minted, indignant crimson-kissed day in this place which didn’t evoke some dark, frost-sorry memories to that time when we still had water. I can’t speak for the voiceless million, though I’ll wager in the heady grape-marinaded days of my youth when I was mobilising for political and societal allegiance as a thatch-faced environmentalist, I’d still have believed with penitent fury that it was possible, but now I possess no discord that for most survivors today water’s just some chimerical element of a bygone age. I mean, it’s a spine-decalcifying realisation as bitter as Parisian coffee grounds to yearn for something you know now doesn’t exist. And sometimes when I face the unnavigable lunar-blue badlands with their buffeting vitriolic spray of skin-scorching sand, pocked by the smelters, enrichment plants and innumerable rhinoceros-like vehicular abominations which drink up the land, all cogwheel and corrugated iron salvaged from foresworn farmstead housing, I can only glimpse at recalling what it was like to know the surcease of a parched tongue. But as with all quixotic and unforgivable reveries, I have to relegate such innermost musing to the dry dead carbuncled heart’s omnivorous furnace. Sadness breeds madness, of course.
In the synthetic, flesh-twined fibre of my Vernian hydrosuit I can feel the heat lambasting my haggard shoulders like dreamily punctual vultures, and I have to retreat back to my thirty-six floor InsulFlat to decompress the moisture-free carbon monopolising my lungs and follow it up with a fistful of mean reds. Then perhaps a windwash to rid the yellowcake trapped beneath fingernails and embedding the crow’s feet pinching my eyes, read some more Tennessee Williams, feed the echidna the termites I’d combed for and managed to successfully collect. Maybe masturbate over Cadence. Maybe not. The gloried pirouetting epiphany you’re privy to when you have no-one to count on and nothing to aspire towards is that it doesn’t particularly matter how you while away your remaining hours. Therein is something no system or agent or auspice can take or shake from you. Even after the Reef Bleach of 2024 and the final dead loggerhead turtle was discovered in a disused second-hand car lot seeking the mouth of the sea, you can still go unsung for your efforts. And that’s a freedom I’m glad we won.
I woke at 0300 hours and watched the somnambulist creatures dictating the flipbook of my dreams scuttle away into their sleep-sullied solipsist pages and dart off behind my blearied eyes once more. One of them had looked kind of like Cadence. But others had looked like mutations of carburettor engines, conveyor belts and bird-eating tarantula, so I couldn’t claim to be the swiftest exponent of Freudian analysis in the Brisbane Vertical County.
I knew this, at least, because I knew everyone by their name, face, phosphorescent visor and catalogued sorrow living in my building, and as it was the only building with organic occupants within the establishments of the recovered nation-state, I also had a reasonably comprehensive lore and understanding of each individual’s politics and affectations. Not a great many citizens still dreamed, to be frank, insofar that I was lead to learn, because, as turned out, dreams had an inextricable subconscious relationship with water. Something to do with the humour and temperature of cerebrospinal fluid, not that I can grasp the science of it. Anyway, I guess I hadn’t dreamed about Cadence. I guess it had merely been a signifying example of a strain of human ground-dwelling malaise. The French used to call it tristesse, I’ve heard. The cruelty of the human memory is its tenacious fondness for replaying, in ininhibitive minutiae of detail, all the time, the dagger of heartbreak, the treason of a lost lover, and the forbidden taste of loathsome lips. If the bitch wasn’t dead already, I’d have accursed and willed her to get that way, and fast.
Berate the starless, moonless, dusk-smogged sky above!
I missed her. I missed her like the full complement of my bones had become divisive, like a newborn calf expelled from its foetal sac misses the tonic of night, like a dehydrating turtle misses the roar and sugarwhite seethe of a cascading ocean swell.
Today I was going to embark out to the silica dunes beyond the newly-burgeoning fields of GM meat in their ripening, empurpled fury, picketing the cartographic demarcations of the Brisbane Vertical County. My vellum-bonded foot thongs inscribed their game-legged haikus in the unconquerable white paper trail of the dunes’ unending ranges, and terns turned and wuthered while I set about to digging up her grave.
Toiling away took most of the day — albeit I’m wary that, after the face of the last clock was publicly fractured, such a lineal word is now arbitrary — by which time my spade’s gavelled mean metal head was hitting the ironbark lid to her coffin, and sweat was beading off the septum of my angular Irish nose in a sticky string of malformed pearls.
I slunk to my haunches, permitting the blessed cool of the photovoltaic shade-panels’ deflected breezes near the ore-mining hutment to slake my unquenched, raspy thirst for unrecycled air. This reminded me, somehow, of when I was once corralled into sharing a 4WD hire-car with some fellow freak fundraisers stinking of patchouli and beeswax shampoo, back when I was still handsome and impressionable, and I’d been compelled to endure an air-conditioning unit which regurgitated monstrous vegan farts at me for three pitiless hours while landscape warped and wept outside electric glass windows. We ran down a big red roo later that day. I watched its eyes make vehement persecuting demands of all of us, before its crushed and shallow ribcage rattled its last exhaustive, torturous breath. Its body smelled just like stale vegan farts. I decided to never digest another vegetable again.
The lid of the coffin slid off, unyielding and vacuum-sealed, with little apparent ease. Inside, after the mandrake squeal of brass and wood had subsided, and beyond the miasma of released, pollen-frenzying dust motes lay her frayed, sickly corpse. I placed my swarthy palm against the prickle-steeled green hide of her flesh. She was still warm to touch, surprisingly. The air — what was present of it and not stagnating and pustulant — stunk rich with the pall of her recent vegetative, antediluvian demise.
I unsheathed my patented Swiss Army blade and cut deep and merciless into the mescaline pulp of her acrid cadaver. After ten minutes of industrious and sadistic surgery I’d divined my redemption, I’d found it. At the dark brackish hollow of her cacti centre had collected a diaphanous pool of secreted dew, as true and unadulterated as the cobalt pummel of my rotten salad days. I lowered myself to my knees and submerged my head into Cadence’s ruptured innards. I don’t remember what happened next. The most beneficial and virtuous thing about days of blazing, unfaltering sunlight is that there’s no longer any watch that exists to record moments in seconds. I held my breath for centuries, millennia, night.
Kirk Marshall is a Brisbane-born writer and teacher living in Melbourne, Australia. He was a sessional academic / adjunct teacher in Creative Writing, English, Literature and Media (Film & T.V. Studies) at RMIT University for two years, and has held various teaching positions in Queensland, Victoria and Tokyo, Japan.
He is the author of an illustrated miscellany A Solution to Economic Depression in Little Tokyo, 1953; a fiction chapbook A Brief Study of the Dissolute Properties of Comedy When You’re Propelled Off Your Speeding Motorcycle Into A Sharp Asphalt Road, And Your Name Is Takeshi Kitano published by Dynatox Ministries; a novella The Signatory published by Skylight Press; and two collections of fiction: Carnivalesque, And: Other Stories published by Black Rider Press, and Popcorn In the Barrel: Stories published by KUBOA Press.
He has written for more than eighty publications, both in Australia and overseas, including Award Winning Australian Writing, Island, Wet Ink, Going Down Swinging, Voiceworks, Verandah, Visible Ink, fourW, Cordite and Mascara Literary Review.