Haha Lol.

 

They sent me to Moura, I think, because I’d been shoving MDMA in my school shoes and bombing it in the disabled toilets at lunch. Could have been anything, though. Just a guess. There’s a limit to the number of times you can get back to third period maths, all pupils, wired on the slow turn of a clock’s hour hand. ‘Can you come with me, Kieran?’ someone asked. Could not for the life of me tell you who it was, though. When it came time for a response – which I think whoever’d asked had been waiting on for a few minutes, or maybe just seconds – as to why this was all happening, I shrugged. ‘Laryngitis?’ I wondered out loud, because I was fucked if I knew what the symptoms were. Anyway, where was I again? Moura.

My cousin, who’d kindly taken me in under the provision of a generous stipend from my mum, chucked my bags on the floor and they threw up my possessions. ‘It’s ok,’ I said, though he hadn’t apologised. He put his thumbs through the belt loops by his tucked midsection and tapped one RM on the hardwood floor. He was exactly as uncomfortable with this situation as I was. ‘Today’s the first day of the rest of my life…’ he said, ‘…wait, your life.’ I think he was just quoting some movie, because it was clear to us both that he didn’t know what to do now, or next, with this big brother act he was being paid for. ‘…you piece of shit,’ he said, and I gave him a thumbs-up. He was doing great.

The weirdest part about Moura was the capital M on billboards. They proclaimed where you were – in case you’d made the easy mistake of forgetting – with a strange sense of authority the town had no right to claim. I hadn’t been rolling for at least a day now and the heaving old facades of dusty bakeries, sole proprietor real estate groups, and historic water fountains all imposed on me a rude sense of sense. This was a real place where people (for some reason or another) had decided was a good spot to spend their lives. There was a smell, too; a cow paddock mixed with petrol type smell that seemed to bubble over the town. It was thick and made me think I was on a different planet, or wading through a bowl of someone’s soup. It could’ve been the last of the drugs, though. I didn’t know. It was all getting a bit confusing.

I started working at the IGA because I got sick of Doctor Phil reruns. There’s only so many, ‘we’ll be right backs’ a guy can take. I walked into the manager’s office with a handwritten resume. He took one look at the scrawl, and his giant caterpillar eyebrows kissed. He tore the paper down its centre, which I assumed meant he wasn’t buying that I’d worked for the UN earlier this year. I got up to leave. ‘I know exactly who you are,’ he said, and I started for the doors because I didn’t want to know what came next. ‘You start tomorrow, Kieran,’ he said, and in hearing those words I realised that I’d actually forgotten to write my name on the resume.

It became a nice respite from the heat. I was sealed in that doomsday bunker, with only retirees going up and down the aisles like a lap pool, and badly drawn leprechauns on cereal boxes to keep me company. Everyone knew my name even though I’d lost my badge. ‘Are you feeling ok now, Kieran?’ a lady asked, and I looked at the psyllium husk, dried apricots, and flax seeds moving towards me. I wanted badly to tell her I felt about as good as her gut did, but I just pulled my lips back and smiled. The town dentist would often come in addressing me by name. He’d buy a box of condoms, a few carrots, and a bottle of lube, then, when he saw me looking, would throw in a Men’s Health magazine and say, ‘This looks like an interesting article.’ I got to know my cousin better too, working at the IGA. Two cans of cat food, a frozen dinner, and a copy of some early 2000’s DVD. ‘What time you home?’ he’d ask. I didn’t really know any of these people, but it was safe to assume certain things.

How is it man?

I texted back.

Wtf do you think?

I’d been in relatively little contact with my friends back home, mostly because I didn’t have any, but the people who did return my texts seemed to have lives gliding away from my own. I wondered if they still thought about me.

Everyone here thinks I’m scum.

I waited for a response. Three dots on screen danced around for longer than they should have. He replied.

Haha lol.

Things changed when a stranger arrived in town. Jenny moved to Moura on a “whim”, in her very adamant words, and I nodded in understanding because I honest to God couldn’t care less. The baby on her hip, snot nosed and red as a tomato, looked at me like he suspected something. I bagged up Jenny’s cold and flu tablets, some lemon juice, and can of baby formula. ‘Guess I’ll be seeing you around,’ she said, and I gave her a gummy smile I’d been practicing so customers would stop asking me what was wrong. I could hear her kid still screaming as the car pulled away.

For a while, life in Moura seemed ok. On nights I wasn’t selling Jenny Panadol and Sakatas for dinner, I’d go over to the hobbies & collectables store, buy model glue to sniff over the day, and try to forget about life outside of the bubble. The wiry old man working there got to know my hobbies pretty well. ‘Still working hard at your train set, Kieran?’ I smiled. ‘Like you wouldn’t believe.’ In the evenings my cousin would ask, ‘Can I come into your room?’ which was the lounge. We’d watch Nicolas Cage steal cars over some indeterminable amount of time. It wasn’t much, but it was something.

One of the days in the midst of many, I was heading to work and saw a crowd formed around a faded Camry. My cousin was there waving his arms around. The dentist was there, bag of carrots in hand. The whole town was magnetized. I saw that Jenny’s kid was locked inside, strapped to the booster like he was on his way to Mars. Some lady checked the BOM radar and nearly fainted. ’38* degrees. 38 degrees and she thinks this is ok.’ I walked through the mass of sweating bodies and tried the door which – afterwards – I realised might’ve already been tried. I lifted my trouser leg ready to kick the front window in, but my cousin put a hand across my chest. The crowd swivelled their heads in unison to Jenny exiting the IGA. My God, didn’t she know it? Didn’t she know that it was over for her? The kid in the hot car, not understanding anything, saw the crowd turn and she cried. Something had changed, and the knowing was worse than the knowing why.

 

* 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit

 

[Photography Credit: Jason Rice]

 

Liam Lowth is an Australian screenwriter. His short fiction has been previously published in Tincture Journal, Writer’s Edit, and Veronica Mag.