Chapter One: Last Time Here
I was over the bus the first moment I got on it. It had that stinky smell of air deodoriser, the seats were scratchy and, based on the pattern, obviously came from the early nineties. Which ironically was where I was heading to. Backwards in time away from civilisation.
I haven’t watched it but you know that reality TV show – I’m a Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here!? Well, help I’m a Sydneysider, get me the fuck out of here!
Wait no, cause that’s not going to happen anytime soon. I’m going to be stuck there till January. I suppose it could be worse. I was supposed to go yesterday, but I was too hung over from schoolies and I missed the bus.
I was hoping that I could get some sleep while on board. But then I remembered that I’ve never actually slept properly on a bus before. And since this one stops in Bryon Bay – which is the reason why you can hear all these backpackers around me, means it’s no miracle for me. Erg. At least I was able to get a row to myself. Thankfully, the guys in front of me were somewhat quieter than the others, even though I could hear their music through their headphones. They’re trying to block the Americans that are at the back. God, you never knew how loud a person could be until you heard a Yank speak.
I wiggled my body. It was hard trying to get comfy. My leather bag was a poor makeshift pillow and these two seats were not big enough for me. Argh. My hoodie isn’t large enough to block out this world. I re-adjusted my bag and closed my eyes. Only another hour till Bryon and another two more to Dad.
Sixteen years ago when I was two, Mum left Dad and moved to Sydney and she took me with her. But every second year I have to go back to Dad’s place for the Christmas holidays. I didn’t want to this year, not because of Dad, but because I don’t like the town. I’m eighteen so that means I’m an adult, but Mum was like, ‘you know how excited Dad gets when you go to him. He loves you a lot. You don’t speak to him enough on the phone,’ and yada yada yada.
So she guilted me into it. I thought when I was sixteen I’d never have to come back here. Said a few things that I shouldn’t have. Like told my cousins that they’re trash and their shitty life was a result of not being motivated enough to do shit.
Motivation was a big thing for John, my step-dad. He came from a shit town too. But he left and built himself a car business in Sydney, which is where he and Mum met seven years ago. He makes a ton of money.
Mum left her hometown of Kettle Burn because her life was going nowhere and Dad knew that too, but they made different choices. She was never going to stay whether she had a kid or not. Kettle Burn, despite its American sounding name, is just another uninteresting NSW outback town where nothing important ever happens and therefore no one important ever lives there.
The bus jolted. Errgh, my tummy. Yesterday I thought that maybe Mum might be more into taking caring of me. But no, she’s like, ‘you’re not getting out of this,’ and re-booked the bus trip the next day before even seeing if I could handle it.
I had just finished a four-day bender at Lissie’s house and when I arrived home I was a zombie. I crashed out on my bed and slept right through until the next night, only to be woken by Mum bitching me out about missing the bus.
‘Jo,’ she said, voice sounding distant like a dream. Then she jolted me awake. No, it was the bus, I was almost asleep too. People began moving about. We had arrived at Bryon Bay. All but four people got off. They took their time too. No one else got on. Finally, some quiet.
I passed the familiar scenery. Paddocks, turnoffs, isolated billboards that only ever become more faded, never to be replaced, and signs that showed how much closer we were getting to Killy. A larger town near Kettle Burn. Only sixty-eight kilometers to go now. Kettle Burn is on the other side and under an hour west.
Then my iPod died. Well shit. I looked at it. No, it was still working, it was my headphones. They’re broken. I should have replaced them when I saw them starting to break apart not too long ago. Now I have to listen to silence. The bus wasn’t playing a radio station because the upcoming mountains interfered with the signal. And the songs are outdated too. One time long ago I saw clouds tumbling over the mountains, it was like something out of the movie The Mist, but not today. Today the sky is clear the sunlight is pouring in through the windows. Summer’s in full swing and I can taste it in the air.
The bus stopped in Killy and two people get off. Aunt Bettie lives here. She is the only one of Dad’s two siblings that managed to actually move out of Kettle Burn. Can you imagine that? Never leaving the place you were born in? What’s wrong with them? I was shocked when Dad told me that there are some families who have lived in this town for several generations. Then as I got older I began to see it in them. There are a lot of ugly people here. Bettie’s four kids are some of them. And my God, I’ve never seen people so ugly. I don’t think I’ve told it to their faces or at least I don’t think I have; I mean it’s so obvious. Someone must have let it slip at least once. I tell my friends back home all about it. They got it from their dad William, but the ugly he had was not so pronounced. So maybe there was some recessive ugly gene on Bettie’s side. It wouldn’t be surprising, but I’m so sure they are probably inbreeding by now. Years ago William ditched them and has now got another girlfriend plus two more kids. I haven’t seen any pictures of them. So I can’t tell you if they are ugly like him. I should try to find pictures to show friends back home. Unsurprisingly they don’t post much on Facebook.
Killy passed by unchanged. It will be the same semi-depressed looking place for years to come. It reminded me of some outer suburbs back home. Scarily, Killy was the best town in the area. It even has a private school. But that place has less than two hundred students and their uniforms are a shit yellow colour.
Twenty-five minutes later the bus dropped me off at the service station where Dad was waiting to pick me up.
‘Hey chicken.’ He, like everything else around here, never changed. Still looking like the skinny man I always knew him to be. He had a bald spot now, but that had appeared so slowly I don’t remember when it began.
‘Hey Dad,’ I replied as I lumbered with my expensive leather bag. He took it and put into his truck.
Then we drove to and through Kettle Burn. The town has never seen more than two thousand people. That’s less than the suburb I live in! How they managed to survive financially is a mystery. I say survive because, by the looks of it, it ain’t thriving. None of the places look like my home back in Sydney. They didn’t have stone lawn ornaments, yeah they have bigger yards but a lot of them were just plain grass. Not even much of a garden when they did attempt one. Except for Dad’s. He always liked gardening. I don’t know many men, except the ones I see on TV, that like to garden. John just got a landscaper for our place and gets people to come in every fortnight to maintain it.
Rebuilding his house after it got burnt down last year must have been the only new thing to happen here. He’d sent Mum and I the pictures of it being built. His old house was some fibro looking piece of shit. He and Mum had bought it for thirty-two thousand when they got married just after high school.
The new house was now some corrugated metal thing on metal posts. From the pictures, the inside is actually better than I thought it would be, though my room is smaller than it was before.
Dad flipped down the sun visor in front of him. ‘Oh, and ah . . you know Megan?’ He sounded odd, like he didn’t know how to say it.
‘Cousin Megan? Yeah.’
‘Well, she’s pregnant.’
‘What? She just turned like sixteen the other month.’
‘Yeah. It was a shock to everyone, even her. She’s about five months along now too.’
That’s not good. I think Megan was the only one of Joy’s kids, Dad’s other sister, who wanted to get out of Kettle Burn. I guess it looks like that is never going to happen now.
‘And she hasn’t told anyone who the father is.’
‘I’m not sure. No one can get it out her.’