Once upon a time, there lived a brother and a sister. They were partners in the same business, but they had different ideas about how to do things. The sister seemed more cheerful and welcoming, but if customers actually asked for anything, she'd direct them 200m up the road, to her brother. He also liked fairy lights and pot plants, but didn't believe in over doing the decoration. He concentrated on plants in two big white urns and tended them carefully. They began to look like bears, which was interesting, but a little bit frightening.
There is no journey without jolts. Moments when little details rise up, loom large and threaten.
On embarking, we are handed a card, and on the back of the card is a question:
Have you ever been deported, deported under a departure order or denied entry?
There are boxes to tick. Yes and No.
Eight hours later I join the queues at immigration. At the end of the queue, a young woman checks my papers and directs me forward. I step onto a piece of floor marked STOP, behind a thick yellow line, and a man gestures right. All the other foreigners have been channelled left. I stand in front of a desk marked out for nationals. The immigration official looks at my card and gestures to another officer. Wordlessly, he walks me out across the lino towards an office door. Just before the office door, he gestures left and I find myself at a desk marked CREW. I put each finger on a fingerprint scanners and look at my own face on a screen as the digital camera takes a picture.
"Harder please," says the man, holding up his index fingers.
I press harder.
"Thank you," he says, and hands back my passport.
I am through.
Outside the airport hotel there is a massive cigarette vending machine.
Next to it, a machine offering portable de-fibrillation.
The pub is low and dark and carpeted with a scatter of screen eyed boozers. It's my friend's birthday and she should be here, but she isn't. I make a phone call and a ladder appears before me and takes me up to a room I never knew existed. It's gracious and high ceilinged, cheese is out on the tables and drinks are for sale. "You're too young to be here," says a man I've never met. "Come here and talk art," says a woman. "Weren't you in another state?" asks a man I once knew. "I am in another state, " I answer. This is the end of our exchange.
My friend, magnificent in sequins and raspberry plush, laughs loud as her son brings out a cake. A rich, dark number seventy studded with handmade chocolates. I slip back down the ladder.
"Terrible rain," says the cab driver. "Beautiful rain," I say. "We all need to drink." "Good girl," he smiles. "You are the first to say this today." Rabbits on wheels, we swing out of the traffic, into a narrow tiled tunnel. We curve away under the heart of the metropolis, merge, and emerge into a green place. The roadside is laced with many-trunked trees, there are moored yachts in the bay.
I buy a small dark cake, and after dinner I share it with my brother and his friends.
Today, all edges are off. The sky is a gentle grey, the air is mild and the rain is soft. Red lit orange light traffic goes by in wet whispers, and I'm meeting memories at every corner, bend and roundabout. A girl in impossible shoes hails a cab. A chocolate cake is peeled out of its little box. Pasta boils. Children are put to bed. The kerbside couches soak up whatever's going. Young men stagger on root buckled concrete and dance behind windows in over lit and under furnished lounge rooms. A black plastic hut with a palm tree roof has been erected in a front yard, for religious purposes. Calm, traipsably laced up, at peace, beside my brother, I walk my aches around these blocks.
The spare bedroom is not just a spare bedroom. It houses fishing rods and line and tackle. I push open the sash window, lower down a length of nylon line, and call out to the grinderman. He lends me a drill bit. I clamp a pair of rusted pliers around the bit and make my own door handle.
Before going out, I carefully make up my make up to look like no make up. There are marle mummies everywhere this morning, me included. At the stop, an old man lets the others get on the bus first. I let him go ahead of me. "See, gentlemen everywhere," he says.
Hours of browsing later every item of apparel in the centre seems about to rise up and smother me in blended arms. I buy myself a bag. Then I buy three singlets, three pairs of socks and a loaf of irish soda. The man who sells the bread has blue eyes. Like mine. I'm not Irish, he's not smiling, but anyway, the bread is good.
I picked up the currency I'd ordered from the bank in Wodonga yesterday. As the teller counted out the notes I was stuck by how beautiful they were - delicately, intricately designed and subtly coloured and printed on such fine paper. It took me back fifteen years to a little spare bedroom, where I'd worked, and to evenings after work when I would stack those brownish notes into a small box. I'd never earnt money like that before. Not as beautiful. Not as much.
I went to bed early last night, in a spare bedroom in a city. I pushed the door firmly closed and crawled under the quilt, knowing that when I woke up I would not have to get up. There were dreams: an endless search for a bamix in cupboards full of baby clothes and chocolate; massive bowls of parsely getting chopped with a milk frother; a parade of lovers, televisions and angle grinders. When I came too, the angle grinder was still at work, three floors below. There was no knob on the bedroom door.
For weeks now, I have had this unhealthy craving for isolation, stillness and containment. Planning a trip seemed like the only way to beat it. I'm seeking people, action and expansion. It's the first morning of my quest and I'm locked in.