Deb Wain was once advised to pursue a career as a tram driver. She chose instead to follow the muddle of teaching and writing rather than straight, parallel lines of tram tracks. Deb is a poet and short story writer whose work has been published in Verandah, Tincture, Verity La, Meniscus and Colloquy. She exhibits work in Co-lab as part of the Bendigo Writers Festival and her pieces have been performed at Quart Short Literary Salons. Deb lives, and writes, on Taungurung country being kept company by one excellent human, five chooks, two dogs, many kangaroos and the occasional echidna.

Slow Burn
On the morning my sister, Libby, left it was already hot before breakfast and the Stilson’s hayshed burnt down. It sometimes happens – hay bailed wet can spontaneously combust, burning slowly from the inside out.
        The night before, she and Daddy had been shouting again. I held my hands over my ears, wanting very badly not to hear it all again. Good bloke… Look what you’re wearing… What can you expect? After five days of the same words, I could almost mouth the next response along with them and I wished, in a way that I hadn’t wished for years, that Mama was still here.
        Libby didn’t cry in front of Daddy, not after that first night when he found her curled on the couch with a cushion clutched to her chest like an old teddy bear. He hugged her and called her ‘pet’ until she said it was Mr Stilson.
        ‘But he…’ I watched Daddy’s face change. ‘But he’s a good bloke. He never says nothin’ crass to the barmaids.’
        Libby pulled herself away. No words but she looked at Daddy hard.
        ‘He never ducks out on his shout… He paid me when I helped get his hay in.’
        When Libby found words, she flung them like fistfuls of nails – the big ones that Daddy used to build the chicken coop. She pulled her denim jacket tight across her chest and clomped upstairs still spitting nails down at Daddy who could only think to say, ‘I won’t have it, Liberty. You keep yourself nice, goddamnit.’
        When she saw me sitting on the landing, Libby stopped. She put her hand on the top of my head and her voice went from hardware to toasted marshmallow – a bit crunchy on the outside but gooey underneath. ‘Get back into bed, Beth. And never, never go to the Stilson farm, okay?’
        For five days Libby went out drinking and came home to fight Daddy. She was burning slowly. But her hand was cool on my head as she smoothed my hair when she slipped into my room that hot, hot morning. She kissed my forehead and whispered, ‘Never, never, okay?’
I nodded and she got up off the edge of my bed.
From the landing, I watched her hoist her backpack onto one shoulder and put something small into her pocket. She waved up to me then closed the door behind her.

Foetally curled around my own thoughts, I pull the blankets tighter over my shoulder and wish it wasn’t too warm to bury my head completely beneath the bedclothes. ‘Things go from bad to worse’ is what Gran used to say, a cigarette hanging limply at the side of her mouth, the lit end bobbing as she spoke. I had to resist the urge to follow her around with an ashtray. From bad to worse. What kind of grandmother inoculates a child with such negativity? Grandmas are supposed to be all heated-roller soft curls, talcum powder scent, and sponge cakes for afternoon tea.

I can feel my spine tighten and protest against the curve I have balled myself into – like an Olympic diver tucked and navigating buoyant air before a minimal splash, my brilliance only clear to the lay onlooker in the slow-motion replay. I resist the urge to stretch out, avoiding the cooler parts of the bed that aren’t body-warmed and sleep-heavy. I try to retreat further into the casing of linen, close out the day, keep my eyes shut, return to the peaceful oblivion of sleep where my protean subconscious will possibly make more of a mess of things and bring more nightmares.

But he has made the coffee and the smell of it creeps in, weighted with thoughtfulness. I push the covers back, stretch into the cool air of the room, and get up.

For the (fossil) record
My mind is full of the ancient, segmented bodies of trilobites in a way that it hasn’t been for years – their various forms, their parts and patterns. Not since my undergrad in environmental science and Palaeo101, not since the boyfriend who majored in studies of fossils and soils, pursuing Earth Science which I mocked by only ever referring to it as ‘dirt studies’ or ‘playing in the mud’. I pushed away, maintained a stridently independent identity, ensured survival. I walked away, towards a major in things-still-living and a minor in linguistics. I secretly found the long-dead things fascinating and now those hardy little world’s-first-arthropods have invaded my brain. Their many pairs of legs scurry around my head, exoskeletons clicking against any hard surfaces; their many pairs of lungs steal the oxygen of my thoughts. Tri-lobe-ite: three lobes, but not in the way you might think, not head to tail, not cephalon, thorax, pygidium. No, they’re named for their central axis, the two pleura either side, a lateral movement. My brain is supposed to have four lobes and it makes me wonder which one they’ve consumed being spawned at the advent of predation, well-adapted to withstand adversity, resilient.

They’re not actually extinct. They’re living, alive, a life in all their glorious diversity in the sea of my imaginings, swimming through cerebrospinal fluid as easily as the ocean, burrowing into grey matter like silken sediment.