Jonah Lloyd. A relatively new Novocastrian convert coming from just a hop, skip and a flying leap away over in Singleton. He brings more to the city than just a heart of gold and good intentions: a writing style that is both light and darkly brooding at its core, like a Top Deck chocolate block. He is a man who works with wine, bringing the same elegance, taste and style within his industry to his writing. The tale he has provided for this month’s creative writing segment is that of decayed love and the beauty and at times harshness of memory. You can find his story on the Mirage website. So Newcastle, let’s give it up for those of us who still feel the need to write and keep culture alive.
What are your thoughts on our lovely little city? How have you been enjoying Newcastle life?
I love the nightlife. Newcastle is packed with pubs and clubs that bring everyone together. The youth are very close; we all seem to know everyone, and for a large city I think that's incredible.
When and why did you start writing?
I started writing only in the last two years as a form of self-expression. University courses have given me the outlet to do so and therefore develop my writing even more.
Who or what inspires you as a writer?
No single person inspires me. I feel as if a lot of my writing stems from the environment and just how intricate some of the unnoticed aspects of the world are.
Your story seems to hold a mix of Australian and American literature. Was this an intentional effort to create the feeling behind the story?
It didn't start out that way, but as I got further into the story, I started to develop it in that direction. Not for any real purpose but more so because it felt right.
When do you feel you write the best? What is your creative process?
My writing is the best when I feel the need to do so. I won't usually write well if I'm content and relaxed; I use it more as an outlet, when I’m stressed or in a different state of mind. Writing detaches me from real life for a moment and I usually try to hold onto that for as long as I can.
Not a day goes by that Dakota doesn’t miss her father. She recalled the countless summer nights they spent sleeping amongst the flora and fauna – illuminated only by stars and campfire. He would construct her sleeping swag with the delicate precision of a surgeon, taking pride in his accomplishment.
The Kimberley was home to the largest tropical tides in the world, making it the perfect camping group for a father and daughter who were content with the forever-changing world around them.
The outdoors gave birth to a man incapable of stress, pressures of life slipped under the tyres as they drove to their perfect patch of grass, bordered in all directions by colossal tea trees that dyed the surrounding river a deep yellow. A long drive yet worth every minute, the typical Western Australia backroad littered with so many holes it could’ve been considered Catholic. It was a delight to leave their miserable house; it had a darkness to it that was saturated in depression. An inescapable fear that you were always being watched, usually the culprit being the dehydrated pot plants. They sulked in the corner of the hallway, warmth of the sun a long since forgotten memory.
Her father would inhale his whisky in moderation. His ability for self-discipline was something she always found inspiring. When inebriated he would giggle at the smallest of things, a contagious laughter that left her in stitches at her father’s innocence.
Dakota would strum away at her decade-old guitar until either her fingers or eyes grew too weary. After lifting Dakota into her swag, he would often intensely stare into the flowing river as if deciphering the enigma of life. Tipsy from the liquor, he polluted the forest air whilst he indulged in a nightly cigar. Manipulating the silky smoke into perfect rings, he would watch as it dissipated in the breeze.
Saddened by this memory of her father, Dakota departed from this train of thought. The campfire blaze projecting her giant shadow upon the tea trees, even her shady pursuer appeared depressed. Catching herself fidgeting with her wedding ring, she craned her neck toward her husband Marc, who was drunkenly singing as usual. Though she had found it charming at first, there was no longer anything elegant about Marc’s voice. It accompanied his hunter green eyes that were so full of joy she never wanted him to blink. Yet since the death of her father, those same eyes had glossed over. No longer did they swell with happiness, but a deep and painful green that reminded her of the sky being ripped open by a hail storm.
Ironically it wasn’t the smoking that killed Dakota’s father, but Marc drunk and behind the wheel of his 1965 Ford Falcon Ute. The authorities knocking at her door the following morning still rung through her head like a persistent bell. An accident of course, however Marcs headlights would’ve been the last thing Dakota’s father ever saw in this world, and that was a dangerous thought to hold onto.
Leaving the river brought back the quieter sounds of nightfall. The vibrations of Mother Nature that go unnoticed until purposely looked for. Hidden crickets hummed together creating a rhythmic chorus of nocturnal music. The crackling fire greeted her with its warmth, a burning teepee of wood built too close to the river’s edge, ignoring all rusted signposts conveying the danger of the rising Kimberley river tides.
‘The fire needs more wood, sooner rather than later,’ Dakota muttered.
Marc brought an unlabeled bottle to his lips in reply, simply raising his unkempt eyebrows in protest. It was a feeble attempt to ask him to contribute, like expecting a tsunami not to desolate a coastal town.
‘How about instead, you have a drink with me? We haven’t shared a bottle in years, Dakota.’
‘I’m not touching that stuff, Marc! Your friend definitely made it from bleach.’
Marc’s hands dyed with the aroma of alcohol, he stroked her cheek and stole a kiss. Dakota flinched. Not noticeably, but she had recoiled nevertheless. She let him playfully wrestle her down onto the dewy grass, permitting herself to forget the past for just a moment. She had not been this physical to her lesser half for many years. This moment was so distracting it almost made her forget the past. Almost.
Peeling herself from him, she rose and announced she would get the firewood instead. She tapped her ring around her finger and waited for Marc to object to her going alone into the forest. Silence. Whatever light she saw in him moments ago had been extinguished, leaving no remnants behind.
Unfortunately, she had already collected the majority of the good kindling. Dakota would have to widen her search and seek out those perfect fragments of trees that she could burn for her warmth. She imagined the opinions the trees would have about her. Would they be disgusted that she was collecting their fallen limbs? Or would they see it as recycling their no longer needed parts? One of the tea trees had a trunk with a knot in it like a mouth. Repulsed by the pile of branches in her hands, she envisioned it whispering insults to her.
‘You don’t see us trees picking up your cut hair in a salon, do you, Dakota?’
Dakota was returned to reality by the familiar sound of leaves rustling underfoot of something other than her.
Dropping all but the thickest branch, she faces the sound and awaits its next movement. The breeze picks up sharply. Some shifting branches scrape against the nape of her neck, resulting in a short scream escaping her throat. In realisation of the wind’s trickery, she turns her attention back to the pursuer, ready for conflict. A possum amongst the foliage appears from behind the mouthed tree. It scratches the ground in search of the finest cuisine the forest can offer, unaware of the frightened woman in front of him.
She decides her embarrassment from screaming will be revenge enough for the trees and she regathers the dropped firewood before swiftly heading back to the campsite.
Marc had taken it upon himself to assemble Dakota’s swag. He licked at the corners of his mouth just as he always did when concentrating. Undoubtedly tasting dried rum and annoyance in how difficult it seemed to do such a simple task. She placed down the firewood just as the wind picked up, causing her and the grass to shiver in unison.
‘Okay Dakota, that should just about do it, our swag is done.’
‘It’s not “our” anything. I packed you a sleeping bag, you can use that. No excuses this time.’
‘Forget it. Just use the damn sleeping bag, Marc.’
‘You honestly expect me to sleep on the ground in that tattered thing?’
‘That’s about the size of it. Don’t let the bed bugs bite.’
And with that she crawled inside her swag and got comfortable. Forgetting how to fall asleep, she lay awake until finally it stole her away.
Nature’s silence was pure and absolute, distinctively different to how she remembered it being before. The type of silence that made her question whether the sound of fast-flowing liquid was the river or her bloodstream. Dakota made the decision to leave the safety of her warm swag and went to the calling river. She ventured downstream to a pond, a small offset from the torrent of water beyond. It allowed Dakota to better appreciate its serenity. With solely the illumination of the crescent moon, she could make out her reflection on its vibrating surface. She considered her lifeless face, unable to meet her own gaze. Crouching down, she felt a rustle in her pocket and took out the last photograph she had of her father. The corners frayed and torn, though it was the most precious item she owned. His beaming eyes had never known anger or irritation, only the purest contentment with his life, and unconditional love for his only child. Clutching it firmly as if it might blow away in the still air, she savoured this happiness if only for a moment.
Something deep inside of her snapped in that instant. With a newfound strength, Dakota rose to her feet so fast her head became dizzy. Shaking this off, her vision became sharper and her focus narrowed. Photograph still in hand, she strode back toward the campsite, skin goose-bumped yet she didn’t feel a thing.
Marc awoke to blood pulsating against his temples – the liquor had evidently caught up with him. His wife loomed over him. His mind was a cocktail of partially remembered nightmares so he welcomed the sight of his wife. She looked questionably different in this instance. Whether it was the lack of pollution in the air or a poisonous plant she had eaten. He was not sure but there was something that had changed, for better or worse he did not know.
‘Marc, you look so uncomfortable lying on the ground.’
‘Yeah, it’s no walk in the park. In fact, it’s like I’m sleeping there.’
‘Why don’t you join me in the swag? There’s plenty of room and it’s gotten too lonely for me.’
Predictably, Marc found his feet faster than Dakota had ever seen before. She expected him to move slower if his feet were literally engulfed in fire. Flinging the semi-folded sleeping bag over his shoulder, he strode with pride toward the swag, chest out and head held high. Dakota followed her oblivious husband into bed, adjusting the insect screen behind her.
The hours crept by with all the speed of a caterpillar, impossible to tell precisely, but she estimated it was near morning due to the magpie conversations above. She had never been claustrophobic before, yet her desire to leave the enclosed space almost outweighed her need to breathe.
Stepping out of the swag she took a gulp of air that was just as magical as she had imagined. Looking skyward she guessed it to be five a.m. According to the signposts, the tidal river would be making itself known very soon. With the water already visibly rising, time was clearly in short supply. There were decisions to be made and consequences to be forgotten.
Reaching down, Dakota retrieved the padlock to the swag’s packing bag and hesitantly crept back to the open flap. Lying there in a heap was the man she had married, or more accurately, not the man she had married. With dry eyes, she attached the lock with an audible click and walked backwards.
A rising sun finally peeked over the tea tree tops. Its morning rays stretched out to touch a pageant of clouds that had floated in, like giant sheep engulfed by the daybreak warmth. Dakota believed she had witnessed the miracle of a new colour being created, comparable only to the soles of a newborn’s feet.
One final look back sent a tingle up her spine, her mind a battlefield of what was right and what was wrong. Justice. She couldn’t help but think of everything she was departing from. Her campground, symbolic of everything she associated her father, which was now being left behind.
Water lapped over her shoe, and it wouldn’t be long until the river’s width was doubled in size, and the campsite was under a hundred tonnes of water. She backtracked towards Marc’s car, promising herself she wouldn’t turn around. Opening the car door, she rotated her head to see the water tenderly caressing the bottom of the swag.
She imagined herself running back to him in search for the key and screaming at him to escape his inevitable death. This final thought of him dying alone in a space no larger than a car almost convinced her to rescue him.