Written by: Autumn Royal
Sound production by: Daniel Jenatsch
Spoken by: Autumn Royal, Daniel Jenatsch, and Harriet Gregory
[audio:http://cordite.org.au/audio/Highway99.mp3|titles=Along the Highway, 1999]
Along the Highway, 1999 (7:23)
Sun sparks against the cold curve of moon,
sand returns to the colour red, threatening
the fading asphalt with soft invasion.
A car speeds into this beginning.
I had a feeling I was going to run into you.
I saw you yesterday at the Port Augusta servo,
standing under that yellow shell.
I was trying to work out what you were holding,
and then the petrol nozzle clicked full.
You’re really lucky, you know?
You’re like a mosquito that’s escaped a zap,
and I’m the one who’s given you that extra sting.
My heart thuds louder than this rattling motor
which I thought would relieve my bloody blistering
ankles, my head aching from a three-hour stint
of playing the hitchhiker, roasting like lamb, and hanging
by the neck for the purr of a motor and a driver
with the decency of a pulse.
I used to be a scream, but now I’m a murmur
holding myself in for the fear
that no one will ever understand my impediment.
Everything I say is only a thought.
You looked at me for a reason, you know?
That stare of yours shocked my feet with electricity,
the static is everywhere, but nobody talks about it.
Maybe that’s why they call the eyes the window
to your soul? Our muted souls haunting our shitty bodies.
God, I hope you don’t think I’m schizo.
I’ll have you know I’ve got a knack for the wheel,
I’ve been up and down this highway
more times than the years I’ll bloody live.
The craving for an escape drives my foot
into a tapping on the car floor.
I hate being the passenger.
The windshield is splattered the way I expected,
with insects. Boredom pulls the black belt
tighter towards my chest. The insects are crawling closer.
The best way to keep myself amused
is to pick up company when I can.
Insomnia loves meetings1,
it sniffs them out like a hungry dog.
I used to travel with my dog. She was a bloody
princess. I called her Joy after my sister,
because Joy went and got herself bloody killed
when she was girl, didn’t she? Well,
they never actually found Joy, but we threw a funeral
for her anyway. They say it’s the only way to move on.
Hell, just like this highway, straight up and down.
It’s never like a Die Hard flick,
the logic to bolt doesn’t strike like lightning.
Nah, it’s a bloody low hum that only pricks
the neck at the last tick of the clock.
I’m just lucky I’ve good hearing,
moved through the door before it was kicked
into my face and locked over my jaw.
But I don’t ever want more
than one passenger at a time, you know?
That way you’re the only thing a person
has to focus on, the heart of attention.
It’s like walking into an empty house
and feeling free, but the freedom doesn’t last.
After a while all you want is for someone
to listen to you, even if it’s just putting away the knives
and forks. Each clink is a statement you’re alive.
Knives, forks, spoons, spoons, forks, knives.
I awake exhumed, my mouth
open and muddy. I cough up
my panic, watch it drip down
in a murky saliva rain.
I bet you’re wondering how I hang on like this?
We’ll, I’ve had to give a lot up,
but I can still make my own way.
See, when you drive, you’re actually travelling
through time. The sky and the road
eventually meet. I’m just a long way off yet.
I make my money by selling greeting cards.
I’ve got a whole boot full of Merry Christmas,
With Deepest Sympathy, Congratulations, and Blank,
ready to tackle the complexity of any occasion.
If you let me get a few things off my chest,
I’ll not only take you halfway to where you’re
hitching, I’ll throw in a pack of cards, all Blanks.
Along the Highway
The speeding car shocks
the flies from their struck kangaroo,
splayed warmly amongst itself.
There’s a space where the heat stretches,
down towards the back of the throat,
drying each swallow to a dead end.
The desert imagines nothing I imagine.2
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