Fiction | Pieface

The last Pieface in the state had closed its doors; not even a concession at a servo remained open. This is it, I thought, the golden age is at an end, it’s all drying up now, no one will ever prosper again. An echo rang out—a small pop as if someone had taken a pin to the thin membrane covering a void—the bubble had burst.

I had thought Pieface would be there forever but now the vines crawled up the damp walls to curl in the cracks and tangle around the kitchen extractor fans and the refrigerated drinks display. Big thick cockroaches basked in glass display cases where once there’d been only sausage rolls.

My favourite branch, the one in the city—the one I thought was sure to survive given all the time-poor yet ravenous commuters desperate for a drop of gravy—had split right down the middle. Something from the sky or under the earth had caused the rupture, something in the air or emanating from the trees, some natural streak of violence that couldn’t be contained by all the things we’d built, all the things we’d produced and heaped into piles, all our modern little protections.

Nature had turned against us. All things considered, it was an obvious revolt. Still, it surprised me because, like a lot of other people, I was an arrogant sort. The sort who hoped it was enough to display an ornamental crystal on a windowsill, or flip over an illustrated set of cards, enough to hold my own body in a stretched pose or call home to find out the exact time of my birth, as if these things could tether me to something ancient, while in every other aspect I remained aggressively contemporary, aggressively disconnected from anything sacred, anything divine.

So, time for me take my cards and crystals and schlep off to another state then. Time to try another pastry-based franchise—burnt tongue, tomato-sauced, smell of petrol up the nose, tables sticky for no known reason. It’s where I belonged at lunch time, belly distended and belching frightful toward the never-ending fluorescent lights. But the borders had been closed by fire, floods and hail, things growing over the roads that couldn’t be removed, all flights cancelled. And when I listened out for announcements over the loudspeakers all I heard were farts like tortured birds screaming from my very own arsehole.

I asked Tony, the fella from downstairs, ‘what’s to be done, Tony?’

‘Fucked if I know,’ said Tony.

‘Too hungry for words, Tony,’ I said.

‘I’ll drive you to Charmhaven if you like, get a honey chicken fried rice combo from Tuck Seng? It still goes and there’s a deflated Santa in the carpark, we can take that in too.’

‘Tony, you beauty.’

The deflated Santa wasn’t much, red hat and coat sun-bleached to a dirty milk shade. His face, boots and beard were the same colour too so that he looked like a giant pair of old underwear rippling on the brown concrete. What a disappointment.

And the honey chicken hadn’t been right either. Lightning had struck Wyong’s main chicken processing factory. The assembly line and state of the art chlorination station had been completely destroyed and so—for the first time since 1986—Tuck Seng’s hadn’t received its poultry delivery. Instead they were using imitation chicken pieces made from an alchemy of edible glue and powdered micro-plastics. And you can’t have honey when there are no bees so that was a synthetic substitution too, grown in a lab from the tufted thorax of the Southern Hemisphere’s last bee and reproduced on an industrial scale in the hidden depths of an offshore detention facility.

You almost couldn’t tell the difference, not until the aftertaste hit like the smell of burnt hair at the back of the throat.

‘Yum,’ I said, hoping to convince Tony the journey hadn’t been wasted.

Tony wasn’t listening though; he wanted to head back south but not to Sydney. He’d gotten sick of big city life, sick of the stinking share houses sinking back into a primordial soup, sick of bricks turning liquid in the thick humidity.

‘Yeahnah going straight past it. Not stopping till I get to Albury-Wodonga. I need the romance of a border town.’

‘Ah, okay. Thanks for getting me those imitation chicken pieces in honey flavour product.’

‘No wukkas,’ said Tony, as his Holden Barina disappeared toward an ever-reddening horizon.

But, unfortunately for me, there were indeed many wukkas. Bonfires, extinguished recently, smouldered at the edges of gardens and pedestrian walkways and the wind whipped their smoke into acrid clouds that stung your eyes to horrid little tears. Abandoned cars were home to bright-eyed possums, ibis shitting liquid KFC on to their roofs.  News came over a wind-up radio that a thylacine had been spotted sharpening its claws on the personalised licence plate barely attached to a Tesla.

Charmhaven was nice enough but I had to make it back to my mouldering little room before tomorrow. With Tony gone and public transport privatised beyond affordability, I had no choice but to put one foot in front of the other until I got home. After all, I had to make sure my teeth were clean and my alarm was set; there was work in the morning. I had to earn a crust; I was hungry beyond belief despite the ‘honey’ and the ‘chicken’. Foods these days never filled you up. They left a hole inside that ached like a yawn.

All I wanted was a sausage roll to stick to the roof of my mouth, a beef and mushroom pie that dribbled thick and gelatinous down my chin. I wanted to catch crumbs of flaky pastry on the fleshy shelf of my bosom, collecting them with the wet tips of my fingers when the pie was all gone. I wanted someone in a red polo shirt—whose face bore the complex worry of studying for the HSC—to ask if I’d enjoyed my meal and not listen to my answer.

But the honey chicken slid straight through my body, hardly touching the sides of my oesophagus, intestine and etcetera. I had to bury my diarrhoea pile in a patch of grass, only to watch it erupt—volcano-like—from a heaped mound further down the road, spraying the scant vehicles that failed to stop for me in a malodorous aerosol.

Silhouetted against a  disco of hazard  lights was Ploddy, the Reptile Park’s longest—in neck length and time served—mascot. As always, he stood sentinel on the hill at Somersby, watching the highway deteriorating in real time. Unlike, always he’d recently been painted to appease Channel 7, the park’s latest sponsor, and his back bore the legend TEACH YOUR GRANDMA TO SUCK EGGS, the name of a new reality show in which ordinary members of the public taught celebrity grandmas how to suck on various types of egg, with hilarious and thought-provoking consequences. But the painted faces of hosts Jackie O and Osher Gunsberg sliding up Ploddy’s neck were looking the worse for wear, the paint bubbling, cracking and finally melting into the bush below.

My own skin was not looking too great either, blistering with melanoma from the short walk out of Charmhaven and to the highway. There were skin cancer clinics on every corner but not one of them was open, not one of them was willing to give me a check-up.

Still, I hoped if I ignored my sore thighs and the ever-increasing damp between my legs, I could follow the line of the highway and get back to Sydney, maybe even get twenty-five minutes of sleep before work started. But I had only been walking for an hour or two when I came to a hole in the highway around the size of a share house.  Cavernous black and pulsing out waves of heat like fevered children, it presented something of a problem. I couldn’t see a way round but there was no going back to Charmhaven. Had Tony made it to Albury-Wodonga or was he trapped in this hole, or one like it further down the road?

A thick black cloud that could’ve been a swarm of bees, finally back from the dead, swept across the horizon. I gave it a little smile and an avalanche of mud burped forth from the hole to cover me in heavy waves. As the land swallowed me whole, I saw the last lone bag of Twisties wisping across the floor of Tuggerah Westfield, a shell now, and no known Pieface in sight.



Victoria Manifold

Victoria Manifold works at a trade union and writes short stories. She was shortlisted for The White Review Short Story Prize in 2016 and 2018, was a runner up in the 2019 Berlin Writing Prize, was shortlisted for the 2021 Desperate Literature Prize and was a runner up in the 2022 Mslexia Short Story Prize.

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