catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

There's a fraction too much fiction

with 3 comments

Come from jaded lands to us, come from the sullen gloom,
To sunny soils and cities sweet, to Love and Liberty!

Bernard O’Dowd, The Southern Call, 1913


‘I have to stop again, Irene,’ Donna says, tapping her on the shoulder. Irene Neils is driving, with her friend Donna Spiteri beside her. Donna is suddenly pale and she clutches at her stomach. Irene takes the off-ramp into the Shell and watches her.

‘I think I’m going to be sick’.

Irene pulls up beside one of the petrol pumps, skidding a little, tyres squealing. Donna gasps, grabbing the seatbelt. It locks and she rocks forward. Irene opens the door and leaves it open.

‘I’ll find the toilet’.

She walks through the line of cars queuing for petrol and disappears through the automatic sliding doors. Donna watches her back, so confident and upright, with even steps, that’s Irene. Irene knows what to do. Irene says she has to do this. She even made the appointment.

‘He’s gone and you won’t tell him. There’s nothing else to do’.
‘It’d be a nice baby’.
‘Ring him in Zagreb, then’.

The phone number and address stare at her accusingly. In Irene’s fat, schoolgirlish handwriting. CROATIA in rounded letters. She leans back into the sticky plastic seat. Even with the door open and all the windows wound down the heat is blinding. A hot breeze stirs and a sweet, fatty smell wafts through the service station. She can see the revolving bucket marking a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet between two office blocks. The sunlight bounds off it, making her squint. She wishes the smell would go away. The sick feeling is getting stronger.

Irene strides towards the car. Donna can see they key on a ring with a clumsy plastic SHELL logo on it dangling fron her fingers. Irene opens the car door and leans over her.

‘Come on. Toilet’s this way. You still need it?’

Donna nods. Anyway, the baby is making her sick.

Donna leans on Irene’s arms and thinks how strong she is. Irene unlocks the toilet door and holds it open for her. The restroom walls are pink and filthy and the floor is sticky. Their Reeboks make little ticking noises as they walk. Donna stops to look at herself in the mirror, and winces. She turns slowly round, leans over the bowl and retches. Irene waits until the noise stops, then runs the tap. She splashes Donna’s face, cups water in her hands and holds it to Donna’s lips. She holds the beautiful red hair other girls would kill for away from Donna’s face, bunching it on the back of her neck.

‘We can’t stop anymore. You’ll be late at the clinic’.
‘It’s the motion. It brings back the morning sickness’.
‘Morning noon and night sickness, you mean’.

Irene buckles Donna’s seatbelt as well as her own, then strokes her friend’s hair, tucking it gently behind her ears. Donna lets out a little whimper and Irene catches a tear on the ball of her thumb.

‘Cry if you need to’.
‘It’s not the baby. It’s him. I want him back’.
‘We can still ring him’.

The slip of paper with the address and phone number waves gently in the breeze, flapping around the rear-vision mirror on its sticky-tape hinges.

‘When he last wrote to me he told me he had twenty-four notches on the butt of his Kalashnikov. He’s killed twenty-four Serbs already, he said’. She cried harder. ‘It wasn’t Zoran talking, it wasn’t him. It was this other person, this other, other person’.


It was the summer of the Nirvana Nevermind tour and the Red Hot Chili Peppers Under the Bridge tour, neither of which Irene got to go to. At her school speech night, the guest orator, a fundamentalist minister, talked about the war in Bosnia, stressing sacrifice. He made her nervous.

The next morning, Irene went down to Surfers’ for Schoolies’ Week with Donna and Zoran. Zoran came to pick her up in his panel van. She knew the sound of it from his regular visits: it had a faulty post-ignition shut-off jet, so the engine bucked along for a few moments after Zoran turned it off. He leaned out of the window.

‘Transport’s here,’ he yelled, and ran his fingers through his taffy hair. Like a taffy brumby, Irene thought. Donna’s a lucky girl. He rushed around opening doors and loading backpacks, his movements quick and exuberant. Irene noticed him put one hand on Donna’s backside and let it linger. It looked natural and flowing. Donna stroked his hair.

They were driving past Dreamworld. A news item about mass rape in Bosnia was broadcast. ‘Serbian pricks,’ Zoran grunted. ‘Someone needs to blow the crap out of those bastards’. He hit the steering wheel savagely with the base of his palsm, accidentally sounding the horn. A white Camry in the outside lane tooted in response, then speeded ahead. Irene remembered the bumber sticker that read CROATIA in chequered colours on the back window of the van. It reminded her of the minister on speech night.

Donna and Zoran weren’t that close, then, but they got close over schoolies’ week. Irene could see it was more than a schoolies’ week thing. She caught up with her surfer friends and left the love-birds to it. She’s leave early with her mates, board tucked under her arm, the salted wind whipping her short fair hair.

She thought of Donna and Zoran, lusting after each other in the cool of the unit. Donna deserves a good time, she thought, and so does Zoran. When Donna was 15 they found out that half of Kingston had been built on a toxic waste dump, and Donna’s house was right in the middle of it. Irene remembered men in white protective suits and face masks poking all around the Spiteri’s driveway. Donna was embarrassed. ‘All our stuff is junk,’ she told Irene. ‘And now all those news reporters can see it too’.

There was a vacant lot next door, with a poisoned creek running through it. In the middle of the lot was an old car body, rusyed and filthy. Long grass sprouted through the headlight fittings. It had been there for as long as Irene could remember. Children played in the front seats until one girl was bitten by a snake. Zoran’s house was on the other side of the lot. Black toxic ooze started leaking up tyhrough his yard as well. Irene saw Mrs Izbegevic interviewed about it on the telly. She was crying and hysterical, and kept clutching her head scarf. Words were coming out of her mouth in a muddle of English and Croatian. Eventually the interviewer found Zoran and used him as interpreter for his mother. Zoran was so embarrassed he didn’t come to school for a week afterwards. ‘That would be too weird for words,’ he told Irene.

Because of the toxic waste, Donna’s dad lost his job. He got some sort of cancer and had to go on sickness benefits. Mrs Spiteri started working again. Irene remembered the anxious phone calls.

‘Irene, it’s Donna. Can yu come over for a bit? Papa’s gone out’.
‘I can’t. I’m studying’.
‘I’ve got to talk to you!’
‘Quick, then, tell me now’.
‘Papa says I can’t go to Zoran’s party’.
‘I’m sixteen. I’m not a kid. The whole class is going. He won’t let me go anywhere’.
‘Have you told your mum?’
‘She can’t do anything. He hates living off her as it is’.
‘I’m ringing social security. He has no right’.

To be continued…

Chapter two is here


Written by Admin

November 17, 2006 at 10:43 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses

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  1. I have personal politics, but I’m not good at inserting them into my writing. Ultimately, only people exist.


    November 17, 2006 at 10:46 pm

  2. So… not an ex-novelist after all.

    Don Arthur

    November 18, 2006 at 8:53 am

  3. You’ll just have to wait and see, Don 😉


    November 18, 2006 at 1:06 pm

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