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Hot Desk Extract: International

As part of The Wheeler Centre’s Hot Desk Fellowship program, Anneliz Marie Erese worked on her literary fiction manuscript with the working title International. It centres on the story of an unnamed international student living in Melbourne in the aftermath of a significant relationship that brought her to Australia.

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One Saturday, the household took a half-hour drive to the river. Veena rode shotgun in Noah’s hatchback and Les and I followed in his ute. The vehicle was powdered with dust and sand. There was a pair of broken sunglasses on the seat, which I put in the glove box. In it were brochures, registration papers, an old pencil and red pen, receipts, an ID photo of an unknown woman, a hat. On the freeway, Veena called on FaceTime as she and Noah belted out the words to a song. I wanna do whatever common people do / Wanna sleep with common people / I wanna sleep with common people like you. The line got cut after a while and Les just shook his head, his eyes on the road. Goofballs, he said.

The radio and air-conditioner were broken. We drove with the windows half-down, and the silence was filled with the white noise of the ute, the bumps and bends of the road, and other trucks and cars. I tried to busy myself with Google Maps, certain that Les’s insistence against using GPS would make the trip longer and, I assumed, unbearable. His eyes were fixed forward, smile creases visible behind his dark sunnies as he squinted. He was in his mid-thirties, I guessed, but I could be wrong. Around the house and here in his car, he seemed to me capable of anything. I felt like a child beside him.

The previous night when the four of us had been messing around and having drinks in the backyard, before we’d all randomly decided to go for a swim today, we’d been yelling out obscene words to the screaming neighbours who were in the middle of a heated argument. Fuckwit! Pussyfucker! Puta! Wanker! Cunt! Trying to get the words out in between fits of giggle, I’d said, ‘Cock.’ Les had recovered and said to me in a serious tone: ‘No, no, say it properly. Cock.’ I’d looked at him, and yelled: ‘COCK! Les’s cock!’ Veena and Noah had hollered. Les had taken a swig.

‘Have you swum in the Yarra before?’ Les interrupted my thoughts.

I took a second to come back. ‘I thought it wasn’t safe to swim in.’

‘In some parts.’ He was turning at a roundabout.

‘I don’t know how to swim.’

‘How could you not know how to swim?’

‘I don’t know a lot of things.’

He changed lanes in one smooth move. ‘Don’t we all?’

He told me about Lisbon, where he was born, and then Bowen up the east coast, where he’d grown up and learned how to be in the water. He’d spent his childhood making bets with the waves. Then his family had moved down to Melbourne when he was fourteen. A good plot of land had been bought. He and his mother had mixed cement. His father had lain the bricks.

‘Where are they now?’


I’d wondered that when I’d inspected the place. Veena had told me Les refused to change anything – not the yellow-stained splashback in the kitchen nor the light switches nor some of the wooden panelling.


‘Mum’s in Manila,’ I said, shifting on my seat.

‘Your dad?’


‘How come?’ He glanced at me.

‘Car accident,’ I said. ‘Yours?’

‘Car accident,’ he said. ‘Both of them.’

We kept quiet for a bit, let that fact linger in the air between us.

‘How long ago was that?’

‘A few years,’ I said.

He nodded, considering this. ‘You’re okay now?’

I shrugged. Sometimes, I told him, when I was in a car with my family – my mother and my two siblings – I would have visions of the car suddenly swerving. I would imagine something terrible. That we were traversing switchbacks or else the one on the wheel had fallen asleep. It was always night-time in these scenarios and I was always awake so I knew the moment the tyres screeched, how the nose turned towards an invisible cliff, the force of the hit against something metal. The glasses shattered, the airbags opened, shrill voices mixed in the air. We all flew, along with the car, trapped to the seats. And then the inevitable impact to earth. The deafening silence that would ensue.

‘And then what?’ Les asked.

‘Then I would struggle to open my eyes, hazed, and look around. Everyone would be bloody. They are dead, I know. I would call out their names one by one. In death, you always call out their names, don’t you. Hey, hey, you say. But they never answer back.’

‘You always think of this in a car?’

‘Not always,’ I said, ‘but often enough.’

It was strange, I continued, because I knew I had agency over what happened in these visions. I could pick a different route, drive a different car or not think of it altogether. But, every time, it felt like it was already memory. And every time, I was the one who got left behind. I couldn’t kill myself, I told him. I always had to survive the killing.

I glanced at Les, gauging how he was digesting this. He turned to me and gave me a small smile. Then the solemn look was back on his face.

‘How about you?’

‘What about me?’

‘Are you okay now?’

His brows furrowed. ‘In a way, I did survive the killing. And I have to live with that.’

I looked at him, waiting. ‘And how is that going?’

His arm turned the wheel to the left, towards a dirt track. ‘Oh, you know,’ he said.



Image Credit:

Philip Guston

Car , 1980

1-color lithograph

50.8 x 76.2 cm (20 x 30 in.)

© Gemini G.E.L. and the Artist

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