The Salon Series: Larissa Behrendt After Story extract

Larissa Behrendt’s latest book After Story sees a mother and daughter take the overseas trip of a lifetime. On their journey, they discover that their past isn’t quite behind them. Larissa will be in conversation with Yorta Yorta writer and broadcaster Daniel James at The Salon Series: Country and Culture event. Together they'll appear alongside writer and poet Susie Anderson and Kuku Yalanji, Jirrbal, and Badu Island songbird Kee’ahn in a night of poetry and performance celebrating the 2021 NAIDOC week theme of 'Heal Country'.

Published by UQP

Della

I should’ve known that Kiki couldn’t be happy for me when I told her I was going on a trip overseas. That woman has resented everything ever since we were kids. It’s water off a duck’s back to me now; that hard turn in her mouth, the lift of her eyebrow when she’s none too impressed. 

‘I’m not looking after your pets,’ she said. 

‘That’s okay, I’ve made other arrangements,’ I told her, even though we both knew I hadn’t. 

She couldn’t dampen my mood this time. It’s not every day you get to go on a holiday. Fact is, I’ve never been outside Australia before. I’ve been to Sydney and Brisbane on the train but mostly I’ve stayed here, in the town where I was born, where my parents and grandparents all lived, too. I’m just not one of those people who’s always dreamed of going places. I’d rather stay at home with my memories and what I know. Pat at the salon goes somewhere every year, adding postcards to the wall of her shop when she returns. But I’ve never seen the need. I wouldn’t know how to do all the organising, wouldn’t know where to start. 

I’m just not one of those people who’s always dreamed of going places. I’d rather stay at home with my memories and what I know.

To be honest, when Jazzie – or Jasmine as I’m supposed to call her now – rang and said she wanted to take me on a holiday to England, I said I’d think about it but I was really leaning towards ‘no’. 

It was Kiki who decided it for me when she said, ‘Do you really think it’s a good idea?’ She used that same tone she always uses when she’s criticising me. She’s been using it on me since we were small and uses it mostly now when she has advice about my girls – and she always, always has an opinion about them. 

Right then, when I heard her tone, I made up my mind to go. ‘Jasmine picked it. It’s a tour about books and writers. She thought it would be interesting.’

‘What do you know about books and writers?’ Kiki’s always been one of those people who sees the world as half empty rather than half full, so when she asks a question I don’t think she means it to sound as rude as it sometimes comes out. 

‘Jasmine says it doesn’t matter. There’ll be a guide to explain everything and it’ll be all things I’ve never seen anyway. She just wants to spend some time with me.’ 

‘Can’t she do that by just coming back here?’ 

‘Well, she wants to do it this way, away from everything.’

‘Jimmy’s passing’s been very hard on the girls. Six months is nothing. It’s all still very raw,’ Kiki told me in her know-it-all voice, as if I didn’t understand. 

And here’s what I wanted to say to her: I loved him too. Loved him right through to the soft parts of me deep in my bones. Even though Jimmy and I never got back together after what happened with Brittany, we’d been close to it. But in the gloomy fog that followed, so many things were broken. And Jimmy and me, we were just one more thing. So, I’d lost him all those years ago but in my dreams he was always there and it was like I’d lived another life with him, even though it was one I’d only imagined. When you harbour a longing for all those years, well, it becomes a very big part of you. So losing him for real, losing the very being of him, was just as hard. There’d never be anything more between us. 

When you harbour a longing for all those years, well, it becomes a very big part of you.

These past past six months I’ve asked my own questions of him. 

His dying didn’t stop my need to ask him things, it just stopped the chance of an answer. There’s no consolation, no solace in his passing, but I know what he suffered in life so I feel a certainty in my guts that he’s found his own peace now. 

In the days after Brittany went missing I couldn’t sleep. The world went on around me but time didn’t count for anything. I could sit for hours, my eyes fixed as a raindrop on the rusty guttering would grow fat like a pregnant belly, weighed down by its own being, and then drop with a splat on the floor below, mixing with a pool of water and becoming part of something bigger, but lost to itself. Then I would stare as another made its way through the same cycle. How long did I keep doing that? Well, it could have been all the days I’ve ever known. 

One night, during that half-life time, I went outside for a smoke. It was in the early hours where you can feel the promise of dawn. It was biting cold and I had a jumper on over my nightdress, but my feet were bare and I was suffering the numbing pain of the cold concrete porch. I remember savouring the hard hurt of it. 

I shivered, drawing in warm, calming gulps of nicotine, and looked to the end of the street into the darkened bushland. Creeping down the road in a slow march was a thick mist. The whole world was still except for this swirling cloud and I can’t tell you why but I felt a deep calm. I felt that whatever or whoever was caught in the mist, they were telling me that Brittany had found peace. 

It was only after that night that I started to hear her voice, or would catch a glimpse of her in the corner of my eye. Aunty Elaine believed in spirits and I don’t doubt her. Not one bit. Sometimes I can feel Brittany with me. Sometimes I hear her call out ‘Mum’. 

And that’s what I wanted to say to Kiki but of course I didn’t. She could twitch her mouth all she liked but I was going on that trip. I just needed to find someone to look after my pets.

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