Welcome to our Young Writer in the City stories! The works in this series were written by young writers who sourced inspiration from Launceston’s prominent sites and buildings during their 2016 residency.
About YaYa Mackeddie, 2016 Young Writer in the City
I’m a typical teenager with way too many books to read and not enough time. Someday I want to travel the world volunteering as a doctor for women. Until then though, I’ve fully resigned myself to another grueling decade of school. Great lover of music, sport and cats. I’ve failed in a great deal of things but that’s the best way to learn. I also like to think I know just about every bit of Harry Potter trivia there is.
This short story was inspired by interviewing the people in City Park. So many of their fondest memories there are from their childhood so I felt compelled to try and condense all their stores about the swings, flying kites, and climbing trees with their parents into one “life lesson”.
Life Lessons from City Park
By YaYa Mackeddie
Lesson 1: Grandad is the weakest link.
Your father is a thin man. But he’s strong enough to lift your tiny five-year-old body above his shoulders as you laugh in delight. Lifting you high enough to hook your small, sticky hands on the flying fox. Your father is a thin man, who spends half his time behind the yellow light of his computer screen muttering to the telephone, but he looks best surrounded by the yellow of the flowers near the playground. Face lit up, not from a screen but from a smile, as you make a daisy chain for his head.
You like it when he takes you on the trains. Not only the one with the cheerful bell that spins around the park while the wind flips through your hair, but the big one that doesn’t move unless you close your eyes and wish really hard. You like it when he makes the noise of a train whistle, when he makes the noise of the chug chug chug of the wheels along the tracks, when he screams “ALL ABOARD” to the amusement of your mother.
The other children sometimes join in with you, or they chase you around the playground, your colourful trainers kicking up the mulch as you yell “You’re IT” from the top of your lungs. You scream with glee when an older kid teaches you how to do a flip on the monkey bars. They’re eight, and infinitely cooler than you because they can fly so high on the swings that you have to crane your neck to see them. Your dad says you’ll be as big as them soon and won’t need him to push you on the swings and you’re delighted.
But for now, you’re still content with telling him to push you
On the days when you get sick of the playground, he brings along a rainbow kite, bigger than your arm-span with a tail twice your height. He shows you how to run with it properly so that it soars. The ground is muddy after it rains and you fall over your own feet and skim your knees. But even though it hurts, you father picks you up like you weigh a feather and somehow manages to kiss it better.
Sometimes when you’re tired of running you try to climb instead. The trees in City Park are really big (at least to you) and your knees tremble as you dare yourself to go one step higher, hands clinging onto the scarred bark. Your father is always there with open arms to catch you in case you wobble. You tell him it would be so much easier to climb if you were like one of the monkeys, or could fly like one of the little sparrows that come and look for crumbs, or – even better – one of the ducks.
They swim up to you in early spring and quack in delight as they dip under the pond. Your father brings a bag of stale bread sometimes, so you can watch them gobble in up with happy quacks. But he never gives you too much, “otherwise the ducks get sick” he warns with a wise tone. Mostly though, you just like to watch the ducks waddle around, imitating their clumsy footwork in your clunky gumboots.
But as accommodating your father is, the sidekick on all of your adventures, no matter how much you scream and beg at the end of the day, he won’t buy you ice-cream from the little café beside City Park.
That’s why you like going with your Granddad best.
Lesson 2: Mediocre boys text you.
He’s all Cheshire-cat grin and smooth lines when he asks you to out. His shirt is un-ironed and his hair is arranged with purposeful carelessness and half a tub of wax. You look at this plain human being with nothing to offer but drunk texts at two in the morning, and boring canned small talk, and an obnoxiously shiny car with matching red P-plates and you think-
“Yeah, why not?”
Because your best friend hasn’t talked to you in two months, an apologetic “Sorry I’ve been busy” whispered every time you bring it up. She’s busy leaving cherry flavoured lip-gloss trails down a lanky boy’s face, she’s busy giggling as he wraps his arm around her, and she’s busy leaving cherry flavoured lip-gloss marks in, well, other places when her mum leaves the house to get groceries.
So you think “Well, to hell with it, I want to be busy too.”
You’re waiting for him beside the Macaque enclosure one chilly winter afternoon, the grass is sticking in muddy clumps to your brown-leather boots. It’s already getting dark since it’s the middle of winter, and the light wash of rain settles on your hair like dewdrops on a spider web. The monkeys are already gone, nothing left behind apart from a few clumps of fur and sticky finger marks smeared on the glass barrier from little children.
You check your watch, run a hand through your hair, sit on the park bench surrounded by white geraniums – fragile and a little wilted – and you wait.
Because you have lots of time you assure yourself, because you have patience, because you’re not busy. Definitely not because you’re desperately hoping he hasn’t stood you up.
The street lights start to turn on in the park, harsh white light against the smooth black pavement. The flowers in the grass close their petals and call it a night, and he’s still not there.
You inhale the bursts of pine, fertiliser, and take-away from across the road.
He’s still not here.
You exhale bursts of powdery white breath.
He’s still not here.
Your heart jumps when a boy on a skateboard rides towards you, and then quickly falls like leaves from the oak trees once you realise it’s a case of mistaken identity. He zooms past in a blur of unruly hair and cigarette smoke.
And when you’ve nearly given up hope he finally turns up. A skinny figure striding through the gates just as your hands are beginning to numb and the late stragglers are wandering aimlessly through in a pack looking for Pokémon. He’s half-heartedly apologetic and smelling of some sweet perfume, some feminine perfume.
“Sorry I’m late, was a bit busy” He offers as a transparent excuse, sitting next to you.
But because you’ve spent an hour getting ready and texted your older sister for tips and maybe, for once, you’ll have all of someone’s attention for the first time in months, well you-
You bite your tongue.
You’re achingly aware of the insects bumping against the lights on the side walk. The heat flooding your chest from indignation. The rustle of the tree branches. The sound from the splashing water fountain.
You have nothing to say.
A lady walks past, confident in her business attire as the city lights drain in from behind the park’s barred gate. She’s barking orders down the phone, filled with a sort of poise you envy.
He trails his gaze down the slope of your nose, the curve of your cheekbone, the bow of your lips. Backlit from the traffic lights he almost looks like he’s on fire, like some demon that arose from hell smelling of Marc Jacobs ‘Daisy’ perfume.
A teenager in the background yells “Not another bloody Zubat!” from somewhere in the distance.
The plain human being with nothing to offer but drunk texts at two in the morning, and boring canned small talk, and an obnoxiously shiny car with matching red P-plates clears his throat.
“Um…. How are you?” He tries.
You almost roll your eyes, the wind howls in the background. It blows up the leaves on the ground in a riot of orange, and red, and yellow.
He scuffs his shoe on the cracked cement. You decide to throw him a bone.
“I’m disappointed we haven’t seen a Macaque,” you supply as a conversation starter, cringing inwardly when your voice comes out higher and shriller than you intended.
You see him churn the sentence over in his mind. He takes a deep breath, smirk evident as he thinks that he’s just come up with a witty response
“Maybe we can get out of here so I can show you my caque”.
Your mother has always said that good boys will chase you. You suppose that mediocre boys look at you in shock as you stride away, boots tapping angrily against the black pavement.
He texts you the next day.
You respond with a curt “Sorry, I’m busy”.
Lesson 3: We’re all a little crazy here
Your phone, meticulously clean and protected by a case with a hummingbird emblazoned on the back (that’s from Gucci, thank you very much) had two-point six gigabytes of free storage. Had, being the operative word. Now it has zero gigabytes of free storage, filled to the brim with every shade of plant from the John Hart conservatory, ready to be cropped and filtered within an inch of its life to be ready for your colour-coordinated Instagram feed. After all, they don’t have orchids like this where you come from.
You plan to post a picture of the petunias on Monday, followed by a candid picture of you on the giant cannon two days later. You’re absolutely positive that awkwardly asking the nice stranger to take ten photos of you with the English you learnt from your phrasebook is worth it just for the witty caption that you’ve already planned.
But really, the strangers are super nice here. Even though they walk slower than the people back from the bustling city you call home, and seem to have no qualms about taking a stroll in their pyjamas. They give you pleasant smiles as you walk by. They ask curiously about your holiday. They’re in no rush to dismiss you as they happily direct you to the nearest coffee store when Google maps fail to load. They’re in no rush to push you out of the way as you stop to pose next to the water fountain, and the giant trees, and on the ridiculously green grass which requires no colour correction in post-editing whatsoever.
In fact, the park is so sleepy, slow, calm that sometimes when you’re lying spread out on your gingham picnic blanket it feels as if someone has pressed pause on the entire world. The wind occasionally rustles the leaves and there are plovers squawking in the background. But apart from that, time has stopped mid frame on a lazy summer afternoon, and deep inside you know that no Snapchat filter can do this memory justice.
Maybe that’s why you’re so alarmed when there’s a piercing scream just as you’re about to dig into your lunch time bagel (grilled with cream cheese and salmon from a bakery down the road). You bolt up in alarm, because once back in your home city there had been a scream exactly like this one and later that night there was a story of a murder all over the news.
You frantically search for the source, eyes glancing over the group of mothers pushing matching prams. A kid struggling along on a bright red tricycle. A couple that looks like they’re trying to devour each other’s faces under the shade of the rotunda.
A skinny teenage boy lying on ground, he’s friends frantically crowded around him as he twitches sporadically on the ground. His limbs are bent at an ungodly angle, muscles contracting making him look like a possessed puppet, and the slow easiness of the afternoon dissipates.
Suddenly you’re very aware on of the dryness in your mouth, the itch of the grass on your skin, the prone form lying a hundred metres in front of you.
The little blue train passes by undisturbed, and its bell echoes and
echoes in your skull.
And you’re sprinting, sandals digging into the soft earth, screaming ‘HELP!’ with every hysterical step.
A kind man glances up – Vegemite slightly smeared all over his agape mouth and half way through a chess game – turns his head towards you and then the boy. And then he’s running too.
You once did a month of cross-fit last summer, a passing and expensive fad, you’d stop afterwards and feel like your heart was about to beat out of your chest as you struggled for air.
That was nowhere near as bad as now.
Your lungs are bursting, feet slipping down the hill, but you’ve got tunnel vision. You’re almost, almost there.
The boy has stopped moving entirely, spread out and limp on the ground and his friends are-
You stop suddenly, digging your heels into the ground and behind you the man stops with an out of breath huff as well.
Then slowly, smiling, the boy pulls himself up and bows to his applauding friends.
“Nice moves, James!” one exclaims, almost crying from laughter.
“Yeah, the tourists seem to like it as well.” Another chimes in, pointing a finger towards your direction.
And you stare
And you would be angry if relief and shock wasn’t flooding your veins, muscles relaxing until you can take normal breathes again.
The man who took chase with you lets out a loud, disbelieving, chortle, and you turn to him with wide eyes.
“Is he crazy?” you manage to ask.
The man only laughs harder, and you swear even the plovers join in as well when he pats you on the shoulder.
“Mate, we’re all crazy here.”
You don’t mention this on your next Instagram post.