I live with Mum and the twins in Wollongong, in a blue-clad house on a street wallpapered with trees.
We moved here a couple of years ago, after moving to a lot of other places. We're one and a half hours south of Sydney. The city is not too big, not too small; it's just right for now, says Mum. The city sits beside the sea, under an escarpment. The sea pushes at the shore, shoving under rocks and dunes and lovers. Craggy cliffs lean over us, trying to read what we've written. The city is long like a finger. It was a steel town once.
There, that's the tour.
When I was seven, Mum, Dad and I lived up north, near Queensland—in the Australian jungle, Mum likes to say. She says the mosquitoes were full on, but I don't remember them.
I remember frogs click-clacking at night in the creek at the bottom of the hill. The house was wooden; it had stilts. The backyard was a steep tangle of eucalypts and ferns and figs and shrubs.
You could see hills like women's boobs all around. I'd wake up and hear kookaburras. Light would come in through my curtainless windows and lift me out of bed. I'd run in to Mum and Dad's room and jump on them to wake them up.
I had a puppy. I called him Bumpy.
Our street is flat now. It goes past a park where I walk the dog and he sniffs the shit left by other dogs. I can walk to school in fifteen minutes or I can walk straight past it and go to the sea. Or, if I want to be a total rebel, I can go the opposite direction and in fifteen minutes end up in a rainforest, under a mountain, gathering leeches for my leech army.
On the walk to school, the cicadas keep me company. They scream from one huge gum tree to another. I pass the community centre. I pass the park. I get to the end of the cul-de-sac and wait under the bleaching sun to cross the freeway.
Traffic bawls past. I can feel my skin frying. I can feel cancer pooling in my freckles. I can feel the road tar melting under my feet as I scurry across the road.
Past the freeway there's a vet, a pub, and a train station. Every day I have to cross the train tracks to get to school. Every time I think, What if the signals are wrong, and a train comes out of the blue and hits me as I cross?
A woman walked against the signal once. Not here, but close enough it might as well be here. She was in a rush, they said; she ignored the ringing bells, the dropping barrier. She got halfway and thought better of it. She turned back. The train came.
Every time I cross the tracks, I think of her and try not to think of her.
I've traced and retraced her last moments in my head. I have googled her and I know the names of her family, the job she had, the music she listened to, and the last concert she saw before she died. I can feel the tightness of her skin when she saw the train, and how sweat sprang up a moment before the train hit—
and how our pupils widened
and turned my eyes to black
and in that infinite, molecular moment, I can't remember if I meant to cross, or have paused on the tracks and am waiting here—
I turn my head. Dad's walking beside me, barefoot, in his running shorts and KISS T-shirt.
'Do you remember your first train ride?'
No. I don't remember that, Dad.
'It was a steam train. You were four. We went through a rainforest! We went really high up a mountain, and visited a butterfly sanctuary. And you flapped around like a Monarch. You were beautiful.'
Is that right, Dad?
'You should flap around. Try it, Biz; it'll shake off the frets.'
I look down. I'm over the train tracks and past the station. I'm on the path; it opens in front of me, green grass on both sides, the sun beaming.
I think of butterflies. I think of flying.
He's gone by the time I reach the school gate.