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05 February 2024  •  Creative Writing


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By Isabel James (she/her)
Content Warning: domestic violence, depression

Original photography by Anastasia James (@anastaj_ on Instagram)

Your bedroom was a cocoon

Where I could look forward to family dinners

And look at your records

Your little sisters had craft projects pinned to the wall

And there were magnets on the fridge

Inside, there were always big blue blueberries

That you and I would sit at the dining table and eat

Wooden and warm and long enough to fit us all

Comfortable enough to draw at

I was so jealous.

I was so jealous.

You climbed over the front garden wall

When your sisters were standing just inside the gate

I rinsed my feet with a hose

Stepped them dry with a towel that your mum left out for me

Your dad built you and your sisters a tree house

Just because he wanted to (I was so jealous)

It was only a few planks of wood 

But it was soft and dry and you could look out and see over the fence into other people’s yards 

It made me feel like I could be happy forever, if I stayed very still and quiet and just looked down

Into other people’s yards.

I tried to clean up our old treehouse at home a few times

When I was younger and wanted a place of my own

But really it belonged to the spiders

And memories of unfinished projects,


We sat up there in your treehouse the first time I came to visit

Until it got cold

And you sat far away from me

Embarrassed because your family was watching you, happy.

You didn’t kiss me for months

And when you finally did it, you held me there and said to me 

You felt like you were dead

I dared you to chase the waves as they pulled back from us like little tongues of sea gremlins 

Poking in and out of their shells

You stood still on the beach and watched me

Tall and sinking

I ran back and forth and I was a woman on a beach laughing while she ran

So that you could see something as beautiful as a woman on a beach laughing while she ran.

My little leather clogs that used to be my sister’s

Leaving little clog prints like kisses begging you to get out of bed

My shoes filled with sand and I screamed

My feet heavy with water, my stockings drenched

I giggled in the sweetest way on that beach which split me in half with memories of home (not mine anymore)

I mostly remember walking along pavement, and crossing roads, and walking over roundabouts on your quiet street

Talking about how detached and precious our lives felt here

How we never wanted to go back to school

I took off my shoes, polished by the salt, and walked barefoot on the warm concrete

You were so sad about my poor shoes

But you fell in love with me for laughing it off – I'll just rinse them out! 

Your mum smiled at the sight of my stupid, soaking shoes.

You love your mum

But I think I loved her more

We sat on the rocks at the bottom of the cliff 

And looked at the white flashes of starlight 

Bobbing in the waves until your mum called us home for dinner and we walked in silence

And we were at peace together but so, so deeply sad.

I accidentally fell asleep in your bed for hours

I accidentally cried in your bed and I was 10 years old again, begging you to call my mum to drive up and come and take me home

I began to hate you in that bedroom.

You said to me on the night I first came to visit, that your family had never sat down for such a long dinner. 

They stayed sitting there around your beautiful wooden dining room table that I loved so much 

To talk to me for hours because they adored me, and I loved them too.

Back then I lived in a little townhouse

That I cherished in the beginning (I met you in February)

With a big bedroom where we’d lie down forever 

And reach into each other’s stomachs

To inspect every inch of intestine

And wait until we died.

And let cups of tea go cold.

You started to peel off your skin in my bedroom

So I could take out your bones and make them clean

We were sick together

Until I couldn’t take it and I begged my mum to drive you home:

My bird with a shattered wing bone that I found by the side of Mona Vale Road

That I pretended I could heal

Knowing secretly it was going to die

I don’t live there anymore, but I’m always there, a little bit

Tiptoeing on the floorboards

And carefully opening all the doors

The way I did when I was little and still believed in monsters

We’d walk to the harbour and watch the way that the water moved 

You’d get so quiet that it scared me to speak

So I just sat and watched you, not really there

The wind blew against me so hard it made my eyes water, either from force or emotion.

I asked if we could walk down your beach because it reminded me of home 

(Not mine anymore)

The sand was darker and more yellow

And we never went in the water

But it was beautiful, and it made me sad

Looking at every version of myself splintered, like sea glass 

I dug myself out from under my feet

And held myself open on the beach

To show to you

We walked from Newport to Palm Beach

And on the trail, you pointed out dark little plaques that stood at knee height

Dedicated to locals who had died

And then your girlfriend was gone:

I was back in the passenger seat of my mum’s four-wheel drive,

Looking at the dried-out flowers and washed-out ink pictures

Tied to the highway fence

Thinking about the people who loved those people 

Whose bodies got found in the bitumen

By the brittle skin of a snake 

Shed before crossing the road on its belly

I told you (and you really listened)

Our old backyard had a fence that kept on growing taller

Because our dog kept jumping over it and escaping 

The path down to the gate had glow-in-the-dark pebbles

Scattered amongst the rocks

That my primary school friends would pocket

My parents had a big window that looked out to the ocean

I would wave to my dad from the front yard

And when I was left alone for most of the day

I would sit at the outside table

And rust my lungs with salt

And it felt good to be alone

With only myself and the ocean

A few steps away

I used to fall asleep in the car

Driving home after long dinners out in town

But I could still recognise our driveway 

By the way my drowsy little body bumped against the seats when the wheels went over.

When I was 15 I screamed my secrets into the sea (I asked you, what is your favourite memory? I told you this is mine)

My old best friend and I ran along the beach

In the dark

And something that was withered 

At the back of my teeth,

Came alive.

My skin is still indented with the string of the hammock

That I would lay in all day

To watch simple families on the beach in jealousy

Building sandcastles

Until the mosquitoes forced me back inside

To sleep in my bed and look up at the painted clouds on my ceiling

And listen to the footsteps of my parents walking up and down the stairs

I told you that I left the ghost of myself on the shore

and wish I could go and collect her,

I think that I would become alive

If I just tugged as hard as I could, pull a passionfruit off the vine that grew on the fence of our old house,

And want it so badly that I bite it open with my teeth

Like a wild thing

You left me to decompose

Alone in the bedroom that you ruined 

Watching the door and listening for angry footsteps

Too exhausted to feel betrayed

Thinking of when I was younger and home was a good word

A year after we broke up my sister drove her best friend and me up to Newport in our grandparents’ car

To pick up a second-hand dishwasher for the place she lives in now 

I pointed out your local shops and the intersection we would cross to get to your house

The three of us stopped to walk up through a park with a children’s playground in it

Like the one you and I would walk past when we would come back from the beach 

It was so windy, and I could feel my sister start to miss where we were from

And so I told her how I used to like to take the bus up to visit you here,

Because it reminded me of home.

I am almost nineteen and you are somewhere

But I will still wake up when the car drives up from the street onto the driveway (which now belongs to somebody else)

Because my body will know I am finally back home,

Ready to be carried, limp, up to bed (while I pretend I am asleep)

To try to kiss goodnight intruding memories of us together

Legs linked at the knee

Miserably touching the corners of each other’s faces,

Each remembering something we had lost.


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