Welcome to GR Online, a new series of short-form articles that take aim at the moving target of contemporary culture as it’s whisked along the guide rails of innovations in digital media, globalisation and late-stage capitalism.
In 2023, we’re delighted to be publishing three regular online contributors: Jumaana Abdu, Sam Elkin and Amber Gwynne. In addition to work by these three stellar writers, we’ll also be publishing occasional pieces by other contributors throughout the year. Stay tuned!
He hasn’t caught one in twelve years or more, not since just before Ritchie – Hayley’s oldest – was born. The deboning alone can take half a morning and you have to strip that tail to its cartilage very carefully because there’s a layer of green resin, bitter. In small doses it ruins the meat; poisonous if you eat too much.
But we are more animal now than we’ve ever been. We read the water that leaps into our pools; we filter all kingdoms of life through our gills. We understand that the tendrils connecting one life form to another run much longer and deeper than you might expect. And we can entertain the notion that our strange tasks were like the fateful beats of a butterfly’s wings, and maybe the witch was a rare genius, able to perceive how the purloined dog, the pawned bird or the swapped cats would, in the mysterious rippling of the universe, lead to our deepest desires coming to pass.
Together we were drawn mechanically across the road, boredom/fate reeling us in. The lawn sprawled over the grey-brick kerb. The house was painted green. Sellotaped to the windows were rows of pressed aster. The feeling of something too large to explain was heavy in the air. The door squeaked, swinging open, the main door ajar behind it, and through the gap we glimpsed a white hallway, a pile of discarded shoes on one side.
The day they discover the meaning of life, Prue wakes with a headache. Across the kitchen table, Sam says I can’t believe it over and over again.
Prue sips her coffee and only half listens. ‘They what?’
‘See here, it says they’ve finally discovered the meaning of life.’ Sam thrusts the screen in her face.
Prue glances, seeing only bold text and underlined paragraphs. ‘Who is they?’
‘That group of geniuses. Genius Inc. The ones who got together and cured cancer.’
‘Ah. Genius Inc.,’ Prue says. ‘The ones claiming to solve all the big unanswered questions.’ How could she forget? It was all anyone could talk about for months.
‘Yeah. And I mean, they are. They cured cancer. They’re clearly capable.’ Sam buttons his shirt with shaking hands.
‘Curing cancer is one thing. Discovering the meaning of life is quite another.’
Jamie wishes he could be more like Todd. Not because Todd’s excellent, but because he figures out what he wants and does it. As they pull out bits and pieces from the skip to build their drum sets, Jamie thinks about how he wants to be free, but doesn’t know if that’s something a person can ‘do’. After a while they’ve constructed two sets side by side at the front of the driveway. They’re not buckets, tins or lids: they’re tom drums, snare drums and cymbals.
We are absorbed in our work until we are not. Mostly we take breaks together, sitting outside in the sunshine waiting for our thoughts to settle, waiting for our lives to begin. Gus and I have both applied for the same scholarship. We’ll find out at the end of the month. Eve is organising a group show and wanted my latest painting as the centrepiece, but I won’t finish it in time, so I drop out. ‘I’ve got something ready,’ says Gus. Easy enough to find someone to fill my place.
Lacey complained that she wanted to show him the new books we’d gone and bought together the day before, to which I said he could wait by the door while she went in and got those books, and then she could show them to him no problem in the living room, or the hallway even, if that was what she wanted to do, and so she said – in a tone I knew would only become more prevalent three months down the line when she turned thirteen – Fine.
Brenda clasped her whistle as she waited. She had a special let camp begin call that only got used once a year. The newbies would learn quickly what Coach’s unique calls meant. Brenda contemplated if she would join in this year’s campfire singalong. With her whistle, she had been practising a rendition of ‘Eternal Flame’ by the Bangles. She knew the girls went wild for their coach’s dorky antics.
Perhaps it is instructive to consider how archaeologists of the future may conceive malls. How might they seem, these empty labyrinths – like rituals that had to be endured in order to receive goods and services? As great monoliths, colosseums constructed for our entertainment? As places of worship? Or perhaps malls will seem more like pyramids do to us: mysteries to be unravelled when the tracks of global trade and communication have faded...
At the end of the play, I remain in my seat, as to stand would risk such a huge amount of pain and blood loss I am not sure I would survive. Having been allocated this ‘best available seat’ I don’t know how to leave. The actors smile in a strained way as they take their curtain call and each of them casts an eye at me. I make them uncomfortable, perched as I am on these horns. Stuck as I am while the rest of the audience applauds and exits.
I’d graduated to skimming transcripts on the Supreme Court website when Susy found the eyeball. There was a feral screech and a minute later she was standing in the doorway to my bedroom. What is that thing in the fridge? When I played dumb, she said in the blue Tupperware. What the actual fuck?
Before she opens her eyes, she knows with the very same certainty that she is of this land that Juanjo, her lover and the father of her five guris, isn’t going to be asleep by her side. But she could for once be wrong. So, she stretches out her arm and feels around. Instead, her fingertips touch his perfectly tucked-in bedsheet. His side of the bed is vacant like the rows of this year’s failed crop.