When I saw the old woman, I guess I imagined her into existence. There I was, chugging along on the uneven bitumen. It was night. Go figure. The seeping darkness creeped over the blooming jacarandas, casting spindly shadows under thin branches and delicate flowers. I half expected a beheaded figure to come galloping through fog around the road. Or maybe a UFO landing with buzzing sirens.
But no, there she was. From the gnarled trunk of a tree she stepped out, and the beam of my headlights cast her in yellow. Her skin was a beautiful dark, darker than mine, and her hair a deep grey that fell to her waist. From the corner of my eye I saw her hand flail out and I slowed my car.
‘Take me home, bub,’ she said as she slid into the car. My vinyl car seat cover squeaked under her weight as she turned to clasp her belt.
‘Right,’ I said, after a moment, because who was I to say we didn’t know each other and that I had no clue where her home was.
We drove in silence and she tapped on my dashboard to the sound of the old Eagles song humming softly through my speakers.
I pulled up to my townhouse. The lights were on, beckoning me into the warm, settled atmosphere of my home. I knew Joey would be in there. I knew he’d be in bed, with his knees balancing our laptop while pasta over-cooked on the stove.
‘Um, this is my house,’ I said, looking at her, kind of ducking my head to avoid her eyes.
‘Yeah, right, thanks, Bub,’ she said. She opened the door and got out. And then I watched as she fizzled out into the night from the somewhere she came from.
Joey was actually on the couch when I got inside, the laptop warming his stomach while the rice decided whether to burn or not. When I came in, he pushed the laptop to the ground and opened his arms for me. It was a squishy welcoming, but it loosened the tightness in my heart.
‘It happened again,’ I said against his chest. ‘Got one actually in the car, all way to the drive way.’
‘Geez, Tam.’ He talked over my head while his hand worked the remote to turn the TV on.
‘You know,’ he began, ‘yesterday I drove by and a shit-ton of bunnies started bouncing near the car.’ His warm breath moved my hair, and it tickled my forehead.
‘Bunnies? Like rabbits?’
‘Like that pink battery rabbit. A whole bunch of them.’
‘I wish money would appear,’ I said.
‘Money?’ That voice didn’t belong to Joey.
I sat up and my limbs got caught in Joey’s and in the sunken parts of the couch. Over my shoulder stood Sissy, Joey’s little cousin who’d just moved in. She was a waif-like girl, with pink cheeks that sprung out below her eyes.
Joey and I looked at each other and we shared one of those moments where we almost read each other’s minds. Not many people knew about Jacaranda street – a back street that led to our small cul-de-sac where we were the only occupied house. A month or so back, the local council had laid new gravel, with new chemicals, over the old road. We hadn’t asked enough questions when the flyer had come around warning us of construction delays. Joey had raised his eyebrows at it, and I’d hit nothing but net throwing it in the bin. And then a few days after it had been laid, we’d driven past and seen the exact things we’d both been thinking: buckets of Macca’s fries, and five horses. But they’d all disappeared not long after. Weird, I know. As far as Joey and I knew, we were the only ones who’d experienced the street’s … issues.
Sissy scurried over and knelt down in front of the couch. Her eyes were lit up, seeing beyond us and beyond our house. She waited, with a patience I didn’t know that she possessed, until we told her.
Sissy came home with her father the following day. It was weird because he’d died two years ago in a car accident. She walked in with a swaying man who had a stranger’s smile and a familiar smell.
‘Do you guys remember the Old Spice cologne?’ Sissy said when she entered, gesturing to the imposter. She kept hovering her hands over him, like she was trying to feel his aura. Would he have an aura?
‘Sissy,’ I said, standing up and approaching her like she was a wild animal. ‘He won’t last.’
Joey gripped my upper arms as he looked at the apparition with his uncle’s face. His eyes slid down to the bag that bulged by Sissy’s feet. I felt his body stiffen beside me and I realised what it was.
‘Yes,’ she said, nodding and smiling a wicked smile of fortune.
Joey’s uncle went to sleep on our couch and when we woke in the morning, he’d left nothing but a faint smell of deodorant. Sissy cried, heaving sobs that shook our hearts and brought tears to my own eyes. That was, until she sprang up and rummaged around in the spare room. She ventured timidly back to us holding the bag full of green plastic with a smile.
‘At least I still have the money,’ she said.
My hand itched to slap her face when I noticed Joey’s stricken eyes.
It erupted into a full screaming match. They stood opposite one another while I burned on the couch. Fighting over money was a normal thing to be fighting over. It was what families disagreed about all the time. But Sissy, Joey, and I were fighting over what to do with money that shouldn’t even have existed, but because Sissy had thought it, it had become.
‘We need it!’ Sissy screamed.
‘It’s not fair!’ Joey returned. ‘We didn’t earn this. We’ll only get into trouble, Sis.’
‘Nobody has to know.’
‘But they will. They always find out this crap.’
‘So, let us, like, be ahead of the game, of everyone else.’
‘They’ll take it away.’
In stormy brushes they swept across the apartment, making big arguments with their voices and their arms. They ignored me, vibrating with anger. When Sissy suggested calling their grandfather, Joey’s face paled and he shut down. I moved up to his still body, and held his face in my hands, while Sissy stormed off to the spare room.
‘We have to take the apparition back, Joey,’ I whispered and hated myself for it. Futures disappeared before my eyes, days spent in luxury with the three of us. It was impossible not to be attached to the pretend, but I was the only one who could be sensible.
‘You’re not being fair!’ Sissy screamed in the other room.
The narrative of our adventure was going poorly. The three of us sat in the moving car. Sissy was in the back, spread over the three seats and refusing to put on her seatbelt. Air pumped through the vents, circulating the tension between her and Joey.
We’d come to Jacaranda street at the easing of sunset. Faded blues and purples, longing yellows that arched across the horizons and tickled the mountains as they disappeared. We didn’t listen to the radio; we drove in a buzzing silence of unsaid things.
I pulled over around about where I’d picked up the old woman a few nights ago. My breaks squealed like pigs through the cold. We sat for a few minutes in silence, breathing in the heated air awkwardly.
Without saying anything, Sissy and Joey got out of the car with the bag of cash. I sat in the driver’s seat and let my head rest against the cool steering wheel. I was cold even though winter had passed, fizzing with numb energy as I peered through the windows. They crouched together, backs to me so I couldn’t see their faces. In the growing dark they looked like unbroken eggshells.
Joey’s shoulders started to shake, and he stood up and turned, straight and fast. His eyes immediately found mine through the glare of my headlights. My own slid down to rest on the fizzy frame of Sissy.
Right in front of me, with Joey refusing to look down, she disappeared into the night. Particles of memory becoming the speckled dust in the lights. My chest pulsed with tight movements that made it hard to get air. Oh God.
Joey walked stiffly back to the car and got in.
‘Drive, and don’t think,’ he said.
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