I think of wisdom as intelligence that survives suffering.

              ‘Do it.’

              ‘It’s gross.’

              ‘Luce, I can’t stop the car. Spit in the bowl.’

              ‘DAD!’

              We shudder across Tom Ugly’s Bridge. Accelerate, brake, clutch, sciatica, whip neck left, crunch gears, swear, lane change, accelerate. My left hip feels like roadkill; a raw, tingling mess. Lucy spits, and a string of foamy toothpaste connects her mouth to the blue plastic Ikea bowl. Toothbrush in hand, seatbelt on, she starts to cry. The bridge magnifies tantrums. No stopping. No choice but to hear, absorb; endure. I need… an exit. An automatic car. Ibuprofen. Sometimes, you’re just stuck with things.

              I don’t feel wise today.

              ‘Come on, Luce, please? I’m sorry. Here’s the flannel.’ It seems I’m always saying sorry for something. These days, for driving. No choice today, though. Have to get back for the morning shift.

              Trains are better. Sometimes it’s a packed, seatless, hour and half ‘express’ from Redfern to Thirroul, with phones droning through the quiet carriage, but on good days, you can read, zone out, snooze. And there’s the exhalation of a quiet, coastal homecoming. I rent a 1950s off‐white weatherboard bungalow with jasmine creepers, a front deck painted in flaking cyan, and a view of the distant, flat ocean dotted with tiny oil tankers. The house creaks and freezes in the winter, but I save money, and there’s rainforests, beaches, and the hush of the sea. Occasional clamors drift up the hill—a rowdy pub cover of Khe San, or a four am coal dump—but it’s mostly quiet and peaceful. Despite my youth, I can’t stop daydreaming that this is the place where I will retire. Where the sounds of nature outweigh the noise of people. I even like it in winter.

              I don’t mind getting ignored by wind.

              I try to do at least one fun thing every night Lucy stays over. Yesterday, I taught her how to make soup. Squash garlic with a wooden spoon to squeeze out cloves; spoon of miso paste; fresh rosemary; chuck steak, chuck in the rest. She calls it ‘Blrr, blrr’ soup, and I call it ‘throw in everything from the fridge that will go off’. With decent bread and lots of salt, it’s pretty nice. It reduces, and Lucy spreads a blanket on the dining room floor and builds a pillow castle for her two toy dogs, Charlie and Odin. We watch the ‘Secret Life of Cats’ during dinner (she’s partial to all animals), and I have a beer and nod off.

              I dream about her birth…

              …and wake up, panicked, beneath a judgmental clock. Well into tomorrow’s prep time! Swearing, I race Lucy, complaining, through bath, pajamas, and the shortest picture book I can find, then collapse in my bed and…

              …toss, turn, and clock­‐watch, knowing I have to get up early, and think about how…

              …there’s nothing more exhausting for insomniacs than watching the sun rise, and…

              …am broken from a REM cycle by the 6.30 alarm. My body clock screams at me to shield my face, but I groan and creak to my feet, and tick off necessities:

  1. Lucy’s lunch: sandwich, fruit, muesli bar, what else? Kids have new stuff now—squeezable yogurt, hummus, etc—but all I can think of is what I ate as a kid: another sandwich. I settle for crackers and cheddar. Tick.
  2. Lunch and water bottle in her bag, bag in car. Find yesterday’s school notes, put aside to read later; hope no excursions today. Tick.
  3. Get Lucy’s toothbrush, paste and a bowl; all in the car. Tick.
  4. Cereal in a bowl, milk in a jar, lid on jar, grab a spoon; all in the car. Tick.
  5. Find and shove Lucy’s discarded school uniform in the car. Tick.
  6. Go and lift Lucy out of her bed. Carry her, yawning and blanketed, out to the car and put her in; somehow fasten her seatbelt. Tick.
  7. Start driving to Sydney.

               The traffic reddens at the bottom of the hill; taillights, dawn‐light, Google Maps. Someone eventually lets me into the arterial crawl along Lawrence Hargreaves Drive, and we slither past Thirroul’s bakeries, cafes, and denuded flame trees. We climb the Bulli Pass up the escarpment, past highway houses layered like roof tiles and I slew behind a semi‐trailer crawling through five kilometers of rainforest. The beeping of car horns echoes off the cliff as Lucy wakes up properly. She rubs her eyes, yawns, and goes through her clothes.

               ‘Dad! Undies!’

               Trouble. I didn’t have time to wash anything, so I’ve left her wearing yesterday’s uniform. I swear at myself, to myself. She manages to squeeze and drag her pajamas and school uniform in and around the seatbelt without taking it off, in practiced, jerky, angry movements. I try and distract her.

               ‘Nice dreams Luce? Anything cool, like dogs, or unicorns or something?’ I take my eye off the road for a second to engage her, and almost run into the semi. We jerk back and forth in our seats as we stop‐start up the hill, gears crunching, and the seat belt whiplashes erratically against her disheveled uniform. The sciatica begins.

               ‘I hate this, dad.’

               We can’t reach the summit soon enough, and then everybody accelerates out onto the F6 with a huge, collective sigh of relief. The cars merge smoothly in space, thickening, absorbed into a fast moving, northbound metal river. We relax, and I hand Lucy the bowl of cereal from where I have had it perched on my lap. We pass a menagerie of crow­‐infested road‐kill—kangaroo, wombat; an occasional deer—but Lucy is too hungry today to notice. She pours the cereal, unscrews the jar and tips out a little milk—she’s learnt not to overfill and spill—and carefully spoons cornflakes into her mouth. She is calmer with food.

               The landscape reminds me of the days before Lucy’s birth. I remember Meg and I picking our way through spindly, blackened redgums tilting in poor, rocky soil, our legs brushing through the grey‐green coastal banksia. Meg in a floral dress, planning everything. Kid­‐friendly blues festivals; pre‐natal classes; baby names. We spread a blanket in the bracken, and I read Auden to ‘the bump.’

             The grasses now are a salad of warm colours in the morning sun; low growth yellow‐green expanses peppered with blotches of scrubby brown, russet­‐orange, and fire‐controlled burnt‐out black. I feel sad at the regrowth, and I want to squeeze my eyes and glimpse the time before the damage, but obviously I’m driving, so I do my open‐eyed best.

             ‘What are you thinking, Luce?’ I ask, as she works through her breakfast.

              She pauses and looks out the window.

              ‘I wish my brain had wings, so it could fly around and go see how other people live, and also go into your own life earlier.’

              Me too, I think.

              A few days after the walk, Meg started bleeding from preeclampsia, and Lucy was born in a controlled rush. I remember the theatre: doctors floating and clustering like masked bees, a hasty C‐section, a spinal block, a cocktail of morphine, phentanil and bivo‐puracaine, and being given one job: hold Meg’s hand and don’t pass out. I was ‘the dad’, a third person reference to a fifth wheel, but I took the job seriously, and Meg seemed fine, if shocked and weakened. Lucy was born safely, mewling like a kitten, and I just kept mumbling ‘beautiful, beautiful’, and then she opened her eyes for the first time and looked up at me.

              Dark eyes. Almost completely black. Astonishing.

              Everything changes. We crest the hill before Waterfall, decelerate into this favourite police speed trap, and the billboards begin, distracting me from pastoral things. Dog­‐minding homes, coffee academies, university placements. A huge Daily Telegraph poster yawns beside the highway, proclaiming ‘We’re for Sydney!’

              I feel tired.

              We crawl through Heathcote and Engadine, dip past the long wall of the concrete, noise­‐reducing dolphins at Loftus, narrowly avoid the backed­‐up traffic struggling at President Avenue, and turn right onto the Grand Parade, into Sydney proper. We pass the canvass‐wrapped chrysalis of new suburbia emerging at Sutherland and Kirawee; six lanes of solid traffic overshadowed by a jagged march of tarpaulined apartments, a concrete smile with braces, grinning at the edge of the national park, digesting a Westfields. Then we cut a swathe through the Shire, through the low‐rise 70s modernist‐style brick houses squatting under huge eucalyptus. Old suburbia. Beneath a judgemental clock.

              We reach the Georges River and swerve onto Tom Ugly’s Bridge, where the spitting and crying begins. We pass between two dirty sandstone sentry towers and under the riveted hoops of the steel truss spans lining the antiquated bridge, the ribs of the disappearing modern age. I try to cheer her up.

              ‘Hey, we’re crossing the Spitting Bridge!’

              ‘The what?’

               ‘You know. Like the one in Mosman. Only messier.’

              ‘Oh,’ she replies, dull to my dad joke. ‘I thought you said Splitting Bridge.’

              ‘What?’

              ‘Like what mums and dads do.’

              My guts lurch, but I hold my course.

              ‘Hey Luce, bridges connect things. You know? Sometimes…’ I struggle. ‘They help different people stay connected. Even mums and dads who want different things… or who want the same things, but in different places, you know?’

              I glance at the uniform jumble of McMansions elevated and crowding the rocky rises around Oyster Bay. The boxes of Sylvania and Blakehurst, in a robot‐eyed stare‐off for water castle supremacy.

              We’re for Sydney.

              Lucy doesn’t reply; she just holds the bowl of spit in her lap and waits for the car to stop.

              We’re in the thick of it now. We duck and weave through Kogarah and Rockdale, where shop‐fronts crowd the highway; urban street gyms, lighting stores, kitchen showrooms, Christmas Warehouses, auto mechanics, bargain electronics, cash converters, VIP Lounge Pubs, car dealerships, and the omnipresent smell of barbecue chicken. We crest the hill at Forest Road, and I see the Sydney CBD skyline loom for the first time. Stop, start, clutch, sciatica.

              Breathe.

              We pass the towering high‐density boxes at Wolli Creek, the global march of white­‐washed render, faux sandstone, balconies clad in alternating lime green panels, brown bars, and orange/yellow tiles, reflecting back the discord of the highway. The new suburbia. I groggily drive onto the Cooks River Bridge and open some distance from the car ahead, forgetting that in Sydney ‘my safe space’ means ‘someone else’s opportunity’. A black Hilux with lopsided P­‐plates cuts in front of me and slams on the brakes. Tyres screeching, I avoid ramming his tow bar by centimeters. This happens to me because I drive a Yaris, I’m sure. I’m so angry that I don’t have a great big fuck off four­‐wheel drive.

              Seething, I cut across and pull in. Beeping the horn, I wave my hand angrily and scowl. The driver responds by powering down his window, and leaning a tattooed arm on the sill.

              Then he spits on my car.

              I just want to yell at him. But Lucy sits next to me, with big, solemn eyes.

            And then she powers down her window, lifts up the bowl of white, foamy, toothpaste spit, and throws its contents at the Hilux. Flecks of spit pattern the door and window like bird shit. The driver, about to roar off, judders to a surprised halt, the spit congealing on his doorframe, and leaving a white smear as his window auto‐closes. I think he’s yelling; I leave him stranded, driving quickly, crazily.

            Lucy is giggling, but I can’t join in. My heart pounds, and I check my rear view mirror every few seconds, scared of escalation, of the yelling.

            The yelling. I don’t know why Meg changed. Depression; mortality; control; my insufficiency; water and oil. Things tilted, slid, readjusted: I found her on Domain, looking up apartments. I protest; this was not the plan. We were meant to leave the city. The boxes, the traffic, the noise. No: her work comes first now. For Lucy’s sake. The anger leapt between us, an airbourne pathogen, magnifying suffering, eroding intelligence. I remember Lucy’s eyes following us from the lounge, solemn and silent, and I knew I had to leave. But the agony of separation is the illusion that the worst is over because you walk through a door, when the repercussions just go on and on.

            Meg had enrolled Lucy in a Sydney school. I had five options:         

  1. Stay and yell. Untick.
  2. Fight for full custody; split Lucy from her mother. Untick.
  3. Give full custody; disappear from Lucy’s life. Untick.
  4. Live elsewhere in Sydney… Boxes. Traffic. Noise. Spit. Untick.
  5. Commute. Build a bridge. Get over it. Every day.

             Sometimes, you’re just stuck with things

            We crawl through Tempe and St Peters, and Lucy taps my shoulder. ‘Dad, can I tell you something?’

            ‘Sure,’ I say, exhausted.

             She tells me about a new invention she made last night when I thought she was asleep. She attached EIGHT toilet rolls together with elastic bands, and created the world’s first ever MEGANOCULARS!!!!!! They are awesome and huge, and perfect for a spider to look through.

            I stare blankly ahead for a second, and then I laugh. She’s left them on her bed. I can use them any time I like. ‘You’re a wise old girl, you know that?’

            ‘I’m not old, dad. You’re old!’

            I think of wisdom as intelligence that survives suffering. Whatever the age.

            I pull in beside her Redfern primary school at 9.02, and she gives me a hug and a kiss, and hops out of the car with a shower of cornflake crumbs. She starts off, turns back, smiles, and waves energetically to me with her whole body, her oversized pink schoolbag slipping and sliding across her shoulders. Then her face grows both serious and hopeful.

            ‘I wish I could spend more time with you, dad. Like, not so much in a rush? Maybe soon?’ Then she turns and runs for the school gate.

            I blow her a kiss, swing the car, and start back for Wollongong and my working day. Part of me curls up inside, leaf‐like. But I just look at the road, and keep on driving. What I want to say is: you can stay with me forever.

            That night, I stand on my deck and look through the Meganoculars, past the red‐orange mess of fallen flame tree blossoms, beyond the lantana and the wire fence of the state rail tracks, across the peaked Colorbond roofs of distant houses and the lush green of the coast, and out to the flat steel­‐blue liminality where the horizon meets the darkening sky. Ships glide that line, unrushed. Sea and tanker. Water and oil. They slip off the earth and vanish.

            I think about the future, with hope. Solitude. For two. I look out at the sea.

            Dark blue. Almost completely black. Astonishing.

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