Daniel, you’re a star
Daniel is travelling tonight on a plane.
Headphones slipped on, bums shuffling past.
It’s time to leave, and it all begins. Eyes closed and we’re back there.
We do it all together. You can’t stop us. We have it all covered.
‘It’s Daniel the Lion-Tamer. And his pet lion. She’s always by his side.’
That is what our parents say. Older brother, younger sister. Tall brave boy, young girl with frizzy mane. Because when crimped, this hair turns wild. But everything is wild any way, and Daniel isn’t a Lion-Tamer at all.
We are six, we are ten. Nine, thirteen. Tough, more tough. We have NBL sports bags, a fluoro green hold-all and a red backpack. We match on our first days of school.
We communicate by thought, you can’t tell who is who. We watch each other grow. We look up, we look down. We feel so many things that pull us together, we feel so many things that drag us apart.
There is always that chord between us, taut, slack, extended the length of rocket ships. Because nobody can ever lose a pet lion, not really.
We are in the photo everyone loves. Sitting together, a flat rock in Granny’s yard. Our smiles are the same, our eyes are the same. The blue jumper, the green jumper.
We take off jumpers and shirts and run under the sprinklers. Our sisters bounce in dresses on the trampoline, blonde hair flopping up and down.
We sing ‘she’ll be wearing pink pyjamas when she comes’.
We scratch, scratch our skin, because we’re not wearing pyjamas at all.
We make rules to games, we break rules to games. We have our hearts broken in the process.
On a Sunday morning we crush up chalk and eat that chalk. We believe it is sherbet, and don’t wonder where that sherbet came from at 6am.
We laugh, we spit it out. We remember the taste of chalk forever.
We hold the School’s first BMX competition. We create a track with our friends, outlined with rocks, woven between oaks. Boys skid by, doing burn-outs and broggies. One is Stuart, who smashed our Cats-Eye with his Pearl after we lost a game of marbles.
We wear a helmet and elbow-pads because we like that style. We want to cry with worry and excitement.
We walk out in-front, guiding the way slowly through the bends. We pedal behind with great caution and trainer wheels.
We allow ourselves to win - the youngest, and only BMX girl in school. We award a special badge in front of the class.
‘He taught her well,’ we hear late at night.
All household teeth are brushed, bedroom doors left ajar.
Dental floss, wine, late night police shows form some golden background. The other world, the dream world is here. We are awake, and it seems we broke an important rule, though we never meant to.
We hear a chuckle.
‘Well, lions are usually good with bikes.’
We say we like the boy from school, Mark Madew. He once broke his collar-bone.
We say, ‘Mark Madew likes you too. He told me at cricket training.’
We are laying in the bath, we are standing in the bathroom, the place for secrets.
At school when we ask Mark says, ‘No. I don’t like you.’
We wonder why we thought he did. We ruffle hair, we sigh, we get on our bikes and ride home.
When our Dad brings home a puppy and we say, ‘Let’s call her Trainer Dog’, we laugh.
‘Trainer Dog doesn’t make sense,’ We say.
‘It’s cool. Trainer wheels are cool. This dog is cool.’
We shake heads and don’t explain.
Dad says, ‘We’ll call her Roxy.’
That’s the same day when we say, ‘Dad, what are you doing?’
He has a special tool clamped, the gold ring on his finger is starting to squish and tear.
‘It doesn’t fit anymore.’
But there is still a ring under this one, a ring of white skin.
We run under the grape-vine. Cool shade, the smell of dead ants and sultanas. Metal clangs and shrieks announce dinner-time. The cat jumps from above, a scratchy beam adorned with grapes. She’s hungry for Kite-Kat.
Our sister calls out, ‘There was an earthquake in Newcastle today.’
Our Mum says, ‘The cat-food isn’t called Kite-Kat. It’s Kit-e-Kat.’
It is a family holiday when things begin to tear. We have no idea what is happening, we can see it all happening. The trip to Queensland is the best thing ever. The trip to Queensland is the end of our lives.
Our sister sits in the window seat. She doesn’t open the blind. Instead she draws on the blind – a horsehead, circled, with Amy written next to it. This is her special tag.
We dob on her, we say nothing. We deal the disdain of the eldest sibling. Mum flips open the blind. She says not to close it again, even when they tell us to.
We look at Mum in despair, and wonder why we aren’t now awarded the window seat.
In Queensland our family friend picks us up. We give him a small tub of orange juice we didn’t drink on the plane. We wish we were given that orange juice. But we didn’t ask, and say nothing.
In Queensland we show the family friends medals, all the gold medals from the swimming carnival. In Queensland, we sit by the pool and watch for cane toads.
We listen carefully as Mum says, ‘Steve, Lion is being a bit of a B-I-T-C-H.’
We can spell the word, we can spell the word.
In Queensland, it is the best when we make up dances with the other kids. In Queensland, it is the best when we sit outside and wait for dingoes.
Mel Hall is a writer and musician based in Fremantle, Western Australia. Her novella The Choir of Gravediggers was published by Ginninderra Press in 2016. Her short stories have been published by Sleepers, Tincture and Swamp Writing. She is currently working on her first novel.