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Authors: Margo Lanagan

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Touching Earth Lightly

BOOK: Touching Earth Lightly
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Touching earth Lightly

MARGO LANAGAN

Touching earth Lightly

 

 

The quotation on page 112 is from
The People’s Otherworld: Poems by Les. A. Murray
, Angus & Robertson, London and Sydney, and is used with permission.

 

 

© Margo Lanagan 1996

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher.

A Little Ark book
First published in 1996 by
Allen & Unwin
9 Atchison Street
St Leonards NSW 1590
Australia
Phone: (61 2) 8425 0100
Fax: (61 2) 9906 2218
E-mail: [email protected]
Web:
http://www.allen-unwin.com.au

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2

National Library of Australia
cataloguing-in-publication entry:

Lanagan, Margo.
Touching Earth Lightly.

ISBN 1 86448 823 9

I. Title.

A823.3

Cover design by Scooter Design
Cover photography by Garry Moore
Designed and typeset by Docupro, Sydney
Printed in Australia by McPherson’s Printing Group, Victoria

now

 

 

‘I’ve got to get out of that house.’ Janey looked almost small, walking past these angled girders. It was all freezing wind and iron up here, and rinsed blue sky. The water below was opaque, with ferries gliding on it, and a single brave white sail.

‘Grim, is it?’ said Chloe, digging in her backsack for a scrunchy.

‘Absolutely. Lock-the-door-at-night-type grim.’

‘Oh, Janey.’

‘I know. It’s kind of my own fault, I guess.’

Chloe made a face, tying her hair back. ‘It’s still
off
.’

Janey sighed. Her own black dreadlocks were pressed aside stiffly in the wind, exposing wandering lines of white scalp. ‘Yeah, the best thing’d be to get out.’ Chloe could see that this time she meant it—was right, was ready. ‘I’ll buy a paper when we get to the other side, and go through the ads while you do your thang. Will you come and help me look?’

‘Sure.’

Janey flung an arm around Chloe’s shoulders and squeezed. ‘Good. I can do it if you come.’

‘You can do it anyway. If things are that bad.’

‘Okay, how about: I can do it
without getting in a panic
, if you come. Okay?’

‘Okay. What’s funny?’

‘You’re so
faithful
, so
loyal
, like a little
dawg
. Your whole family is like … angels or something, I don’t know. Like, Nick—’ She tossed her hair back and laughed again. ‘
For example
.’

Chloe checked to see that they were remembering the same thing. ‘Yeah, like Nick, poor guy.’

‘I know!’ She sighed. ‘But I guess he must know he’s gorgeous.’ Through the wind Chloe heard the little yearning note, slipped into Janey’s voice like a love-note between harp-strings.

‘I guess,’ she said with a sisterly snort. ‘He’s just such an
egg
, that guy. Specially since Isaac’s been away.’

‘It’s all right, I know I haven’t got a chance. Sisters’ friends never do.’ Janey spoke in a flat, loud voice over the traffic noise. She looked down at the double cocked hat of the Opera House. ‘Maybe
you’ll
meet someone nice, in your new production.’

‘I’m not looking, remember?’

‘You never know, though. If there’s a princess, for example, there’s got to be at least a
prince
.’

‘Some paunchy tenor with sixteen children.’

‘Oh, Cole, don’t sound so disappointed!’

‘I’m not—you’re the one who’s hanging out for someone for me. I couldn’t give a stuff, myself.’

‘Whatever you say, Cole. Whatever you say.’

‘A
regal
walk, darling,’ said the director. ‘A regal walk is a
slow
walk. Just think of the weight of textiles you’ll be dragging around.’

The girl with the golden waterfall of hair clomped back to the wings. She caught Chloe’s eye, mouthed ‘Bastard!’ and turned and did a tight-blue-jeans swagger across the stage. Chloe watched her, trying to remember the feel of a bustle she’d worn in a production two years ago.

When the director called ‘Next, please!’ she lifted her chin and stalked slowly into the lights. The near-empty theatre opened out on the left; the dusty stage went back and back on the right, encrusted with tackle and gear and lights, and up and up where the backdrops hung. A cool draught across the stage made her long skirt ripple out behind her.

She heard the man’s murmur on her left, low but distinct:
Where have we seen her before?
A woman’s voice read out the shows and the highlighted phrase from the reference:
always on time
.

‘Oh
well
, then!’ And then, louder ‘Thank you—um, thank you, Chloe, we’ll be in touch. Next, please.’

When Chloe went to fetch her backsack the girl with the hair said gloomily, ‘You’ve got it for sure.’

‘Maybe. You’ve got the hair.’ The girl was plaiting it; she had got to chest-level and still had a way to go.

‘But you can do the walk,’ she said.

‘If they morphed us together they’d have the perfect princess, hey.’

The girl looked startled. ‘I guess,’ she said doubtfully.

‘Chloe Hunter, you look delicious tonight! Let tiresome old Aunty Jube give you a hug. Mmm, aren’t you toasty.’

‘Hi, Jube. Hi, Maurice. How are you?’ She stepped back to let them in, her hairbrush in one hand.

‘We’re well. We’re very well. Hullo, Janey. Hullo, Pete. Are you all coming to the Fiesta with the growed-ups? We’re picking up Carl, too.’

‘Nope, Janey and I are going to the Soho—first up, anyway.’

‘To see some dreadful teen flick,’ said Jube. ‘Don’t tell me. That big brother of yours, is he still in existence? I never see him these days. He’s not frightened of me, is he?’

‘Hallo, Jube! I’m studying,’ Nick called from his room at the top of the stairs.

‘Well, keep at it! Are the olds up there too?’

Dane’s voice came from the front bedroom. ‘Yeah, Joy’s just helping me with my truss before she clips her walking-frame together, you rude tart.’

‘Can we plunder some of your Black Douglas while we wait?’ Maurice called up the stairs.

‘You may as well,’ Joy called back. ‘We’ll be ages yet, we’re so
decrepit
.’

Maurice winked at Chloe and he and Jube went to the kitchen.

‘You can come with us if you like, Pete,’ Janey offered.

‘Yeah,’ said Chloe, continuing to brush her hair. ‘You might like this one.’

‘No thanks. I’ve got homework.’

‘So?’ Janey pretended total mystification.

‘I mean, I’ve got some hard-core porn I want to download from the Net.’

‘That’s more like it.’

‘We’d better get a move on, Janey,’ said Chloe.

Jube appeared in the kitchen doorway, ice clinking in her drink. ‘Toodle-oo, young things. Don’t do anything we wouldn’t do. Gives you plenty of leeway.’

‘See you, Jube. See you, Mum and Dad!’ Chloe called upstairs.

‘What is that woman
on
?’ she said when they got out into the street.

‘She’s just happy, like everyone who hangs out with your family,’ said Janey. Her words seemed very deliberate, coming from her freshly carmined lips. Her home-made earrings, intricate, shining double discs, swung dressily.

‘Dreadful
old
people, with their
age
jokes.’

‘Ee, you’ve got to laff, lass—ootherwise you’d cry!’

‘Well, I sometimes wish they
would
cry, you know? Instead of jollying themselves along all the time.’

‘You don’t really.’

‘Don’t what?’

‘Wish they’d cry.’

‘I mean, face it, accept it. I mean shut up about it.’

‘Anyway, maybe they have already.’

‘Have what?’

‘Cried.’

‘Oh … maybe.’

Stars. Cold. Gil’s rancid smoke. In the car-wreck above, Janey went on—
Yeah. Oh God, that’s it. Mm, mm, yes
. And the springs ground the rust off each other. And the boy gave a shout as if in pain.

Gil drew the last juice out of the smoke and flipped it away, a twirl of sparks dying in a curl of rusty duco. ‘How you can hang out with her.’ He crouched on the roof, rubbing the back of his neck.

BOOK: Touching Earth Lightly
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