Honi Soit writing competiton. Entries close July 29

Good and Nowhere

1st place in the Fiction section of the Honi Soit Writing Competition 2021.

1. the microplastic years

It’s easier now than it used to be, sliding through the softly-calling cracks under doors. I remember– we remember– the old days, when you used to need keys and locks and handles and hands and hinges, when the brass doorknobs still reflected real faces and glowed like hazel pupils in the convex hallucinations of rooms. Now, we push ourselves gently under the door frames, oozing into the hollow spaces that we used to occupy. 

Dust rolls into the folds of our extending tendrils as we seep through the living room and softly expand throughout the bottom floor. We pick up trinkets and photos and an old N64 with Ocarina of Time still in the game slot. The power has long been out in this neighborhood but we can rock our sprawling amoeba-body back and forth on the old carpeted floors and carefully work up enough charge to power the console. Specks of upheaved dust freckle quietly in the purple light of the old TV but we are too gooey and amorphous to properly hold the controller. Slime oozes into the buttons and they get stuck down so that you can’t press them again. It brings back childhood nights in the basement of friend’s houses, playing Mario Sunshine and secretly sipping plastic cups of vodka, stolen from our parents’ cabinets. 

There are many of these memories, between all of us. Microplastic years. Potato chip packets by the pool, vanilla coke, thirty-cent kazoos and those basketball hoops you hang from your door. They make fun of us, now, for all that. They made fun of us then, too. A long generation of Millennials, long and gooey and falling apart forever. 

It’s funny, because they knew then, about this. They knew that the plastics slowly fragmented into miniature knives, tiny puncture wounds that collected in the membranes of your cells until they couldn’t stay together anymore. 

By the time they figured out a fix, it was fine for our kids but too late for us. All they could do was stop the progress. Fifty, sixty years– there wasn’t much left to hold us together by the end.

2. seep through us softly

In the kitchen, in the pantry, there are usually a couple dozen or so old cans. We ooze up the walls, leaving a thin layer of mucus on the peeling wallpaper as we search for the rusting tins. We absorb them into our body when we find them, sucking them down our outer tendrils to the thick mass of flesh in the middle of the house. The cans bend and crush and leak tomato juices and creamed corn and baked beans into our bodies and we spit out the used cans through the catflap in the back of the house.

This house feels familiar to me, so I ask if we can look upstairs. Of course, they say. One of us says, remember when we tried to hold my old blanket and we seeped right through it? Like a colander? And another says, you can’t put back the things you touch. Of course, we know.

Finding our old houses happens frequently these days, especially as we grow. Our sprawling bacterial body is big enough now that we can fill up all the spaces in the walls of the house, slowly seeping through the electrical ports and holes in the plaster. The house groans and sighs and shivers as we move through it, inside its inner parts and thinking its deepest thoughts. It has memories and dreams that in its slumber it has forgotten and as our slimy tendrils reach through the copper wiring, plumbing and insulation, we remember the house for it.

In the upstairs bedroom I find my old Asterix collection, a guitar I used to know chords for, and a pair of barely-worn blue gumboots that I bought for a camping trip where it was supposed to rain the whole time but ended up being sunny. The posters of rock albums on my wall droop in their old age, wet and folded over except where the hardened clumps of bluetack have merged the yellowed paint to the paper like a fungal symbiosis. I try to open my old diary but our tendrils just ooze slime all over it and the papers fall apart when we touch them. Our liquid body fills up the floor of my old room and we accidentally knock my old guitar over. The instrument, warped with age, is too heavy for us to hold now and it just sinks through our body, dull and out-of-tune as it vanishes into a foot of mucus.

Sometimes people cry when they find their old stuff and they remember that they no longer have a wrist to put their old Casio watch, on or shoulders with which to wear their grandmother’s hand-me-down knitted jacket. But now, in the tailend of agelessness, none of this really feels like mine anymore. It belongs to the house, to its decaying slumber and rotting floorboards and the unfinished dreams that it sings in the night when it is all alone. I don’t have any tears for my old things, or tear ducts to cry from.

The last time I was here, I walked around alone from room to room saying goodbye. Why do we always talk to empty houses? We ask for closure from the walls and ceilings and floorboards and they ask for closure back, wondering if they are allowed to remember us too. Neither of us can give permission to the other, like the bluetack which always pulls up the paint, despite its deepest promises. But the ritual closes our eyes at night when we silently send tears to the rich soil of our new homes, scared of change, scared to have grown old. Scared that you can never be put back the same way again. When I was a kid, I would cry every time my mom came home with a new haircut.

If it’s quiet enough, when you move into a new house, you can hold your ear close to the fresh white paint and listen for the small echoing melodies of the last words someone else spoke to it. Now, past our bodily years, we fill the walls with the slime of our unbecoming and no one would want to press their face against the wallpaper anymore.

3. whispering and singing

Out past the houses here is untended grass, old wheat and long stalks that bristle with the happenings of mice and snakes. We move slowly down the cracked roads until we find a different sign of life. Across the cul de sac there is another oozing blob, another Millennial orphanage left to wander a world which belongs more now to the old houses and young kids. We stop a few meters apart in the middle of the tarmac, at an intersection near the end of the neighborhood. Like us, they are a heaving mass of long-merged formless flesh, speaking with the raspy reverberations of many voices at once:

How many are you? 

I think we are maybe twenty or thirty now.

Most are now leaving the towns.

We’ve been on our own for a while.

You don’t need to be alone longer. There’s a lot out there. Thousands and thousands.

At once? All together?

Yes. 

Is that good?

Yes. We left to come find stragglers.

Why… out there?

The soil is rich and good. It’s a good way to be. It’s good to be nowhere.

I’m, we’re… scared– 

Come a little closer and remember for yourselves.

4. of grass and mice and snakes

Once, early on, a group of us filled in an old house that we used to love. This was soon after the membrane collapse, when merging was still fresh and our children were still disgusted. They seeped into the walls of the house and haunted it, were haunted by it, becoming the ghost stories that they told themselves in the forgotten evenings once their kids had stopped coming forever. They lived inside the wooden panelling and remembered and cried and hungered. 

Eventually they used up the plants and soil and the beloved bottlebrush and its rainbow lorikeets in their small backyard. So they pushed hard against the foundations and against the floor and they slowly lifted the house up off the ground, creaking and splintering as nails separated from their wooden boards. They dragged their termite-memories down the road like a great snail shell, over the bridge near the small creek and past the farms at the edge of the city, until they were in the rolling grassy fields where they could set the house down again. 

As they drank the rain and worms and grass, they filled with the stench of things they forgot to remember until they could not fit inside the walls and floors and ceilings anymore and they spilled out of the house, dripping softly onto the prairie beds. The house rotted and fell over and lizards lived under the crumbled wood panels that the grasses grew over until the house could not be found anymore.

5. in the old homes

Out in the whispering valleys past the ends of the neighborhood, we roll and slither and gurn like a boiling pot of water spilled through the tall waving grasses, moving between the thin trees. After some days of searching, we find the million others. When we meet them we carefully merge in, drifting through them, sharing stories and memories of gameboys and Calvin and Hobbes and airplane dinner trays and the time I got in trouble in year seven for selling poorly drawn nudes for fifty cents apiece. 

Over time, more and more join us, until the thin mucus bulk of our bodies thins out and stretches over all the horizons, just an inch or two thick across the continent. We part for trees and rocks and grasses and footsteps and lizards and birds and worms, a giant liquid skin over the world.

Sometimes our children walk over us, rippling through the tides of our unending Earthly body. One day, an army passes over us, fighting in the Great Freshwater War of ‘63. We find their bodies and speak to them in their slumber like the houses spoke to us, until our slime dissolves the pages of their diaries and they can not pick up anything as heavy as a guitar. We offer for those still around to join us but most refuse, so we eat them secretly after they pass away. 

Mostly though, kids splash around in their gumboots in our thin puddles, laying their head close to the ground to hear the faint sixty-four bit refrains from generations ago, ghostly lullabies in the waning nighttimes. The children take fallen sticks from the big gumtrees and cast wandlike patterns in us, reverberating and echoing, playing the deep and complex drumskin harmonics that all membranes vibrate with. We sink into the soil and through the aquifer and into the roots of plants,  whispering small blessings through the cement cracks in the basements of houses. It’s a good way to be. Good and nowhere.

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