JOSHUA SANTOSPIRITO

Joshua Santospirito is a graphic novelist, an artist, a musician and a writer who lives in Hobart, Tasmania. He enjoys sitting on his couch and avoiding making art, music and writing. His work is concerned with place, identity and other interesting things like that

ILLUSTRATION by Joshua Santospirito. A large brown wombat with purple details in its line work bursts from a dark blue single-storey house. It has long brown whiskers and stares out at the viewer. Behind it a line of aqua houses has been drawn in coloured pencil, seemingly a suburban street with trees in each garden and cars dotted along driveways. A violet screen-tone pattern flows behind the wombat and house, reminiscent of water or patterns made in sand. The background is a warm peach/salmon colour, and the top third of the image has a sky scribbled in with purple and aqua-coloured pencils. A burgundy off-centre square frames the image with Josh’s signature in the bottom right.
‘Hardlyany’ by Joshua Santospirito

I mean it this time. But before I do, I slot on some jorts due to the zeitgeist and the sun rises like a fuckwit. Flinging skyward. Bright and sinister and at large. It’s time to go to work.

The Chondrilla juncea seed (commonly known as rush skeletonweed) is contained in a tiny fruit called an achene. Off-white to brown. Striped by a series of longitudinal ribs. Conical and coarse. Upper achene defined by fused scales culminating in a crown of pyramidal teeth encircling the base of a tapered beak. Parachute-like seed within. At the end of the beak, hairs extend from a pappus, facilitating seed dispersal during wind events.

On the walk to the bus that takes me to the train that takes me to a barely acceptable walking distance from my workplace, I decide to have some thoughts. Voluntary thoughts. Assessments made from the offcut meat of neighbourhood rumours and hardboiled grumblings. Tensions written in the air. Skywriting in Comic Sans that reads ‘REMEMBER’ and ‘I WALKED ON YOUR GRASS’. Somebody has spray-painted ‘weed killer’ on the houseboat Andy Moffat rents. I live there too. We live in a share house. A share house that is also a house boat? A share house boat? It floats, gently bumping the other houseboat rentals anchored in The Corso.

Flower heads are numerous and bisexual. Bright yellow. Attached to a branch, flower heads can be solitary or occur in groups of two or more. Leaves. Green with a purple tincture. Forms spear-shaped rosettes. Tends to die before summer. Deeply toothed margins point backward, facing the base. Difficult detectability. Similarity to other plants causes confusion. Often mistaken for a wild lettuce.

It was not a houseboat of truth but a subdivided houseboat of lies that came fully furnished. Microwave. Cutlery. Crockery. Television. A double waterbed in every bedroom. Despite the subdivision, we shared multiple walls, a roof, a basement, a chimney stack, and a weathervane with our neighbours. Please know the weathervane did not point to any truths. Weather truths, wordless truths, even truth’s components and spare parts were all evaded by the houseboat’s weathervane. It only pointed to one thing and that one thing is kept deliberately vague and obtuse.

Perennial and noxious, Chondrilla thrives on roadsides and in other wrecked, damaged or half-hearted habitats. The plant lives longest in so-called ‘Australian conditions’. Infestations are most common in street-facing nature strips in urban areas, particularly on the Central Coast. Charmhaven, San Remo, Wyee, Doyalson, Lake Haven, Blue Haven, Buff Point and Budgewoi formed part of the sample spread for this study.

Like any rental property, mine was owned by a nondescript white person from Sydney whose identity matched not only the one they were assigned at birth but would go on to embody the trust fund they were also assigned at that time. Back when the baby landlord wasn’t even in the world 24 hours, she had already hoarded more money than I could make in my lifetime—even if I live to be an age that is five times the length of all human history.
           

Faceless yet faceful, my landlord, like many landlords, sported unusually small eyes. Small because they were always far away, much further away than the rest of the face. Eye sockets like tunnels, my landlord could be kissing another landlord and yet their eyes would be years away. You know how it is with landlords. They eat sandwiches made out of the same stuff as a black hole. Mine had a name common among the landlord community, something to the effect of ‘Jeredith Lincolnshire’ or ‘Jane Smith’ or ‘Jesley McFishcutter’.

         Fiscally speaking, I’ve always been very flatulent with money. Very, very. For example, I used to live in a place that could only be accessed via elevator and, before that, a place made entirely of other places.

         My private arrangement with landlord Jesley McFishcutter was atypical in the sense that the rent was significantly lower than the going market price. Jesley McFishcutter explained the caveat for the reduced rent as such: you must care for my estranged cat, a moggy named Hardlyany. Mine and Hardlyany’s relationship has been strained for many years now but I still care for the old tart. She will never leave the houseboat and she’ll love you in a way she could no longer extend to me. My only request is that she is loved and pampered and you send me a regular photo update every second Thursday. That’s all. That is all.

Vegatative propagules? Thought you’d never ask. Chondrilla’s resilience is tapped into a subterranean system of horizontal rootstock that catalyse reproduction. Subject to the right conditions (such as a well-drained, loamy soil), a fully formed skeletonweed can spring to life from a mere root fragment. In agricultural environments, rush skeletonweed causes livestock forage to starve as the weed beats food pastures to life-giving nutrients, nitrogen, and water. Chondrilla also causes critical malfunctions to harvest machinery and infrastructure, resulting in significant losses for landowning pastoralists. It is not uncommon for heavily infested lands where herbicide has proven futile to be sold back to the Crown or, failing to sell, abandoned to ruin.

It was during this tide of thoughts that I first noticed my undone shoelace. Assessing the risk, I walked on, disappearing into thoughts of Andy Moffat. I’d known Andy since we were kids. There was a period of fifteen years where we didn’t know each other at all since we lived on the outskirts of competing regional centres. Now we both found ourselves living on the waterlogged Corso. I have fond memories of Andy but none fonder than the time we decided to do a three-way kiss with Michelle Hartley. Michelle had the chickenpox and we wanted to also get the chickenpox to avoid contracting death-causing shingles later in adult life. Andy got the disease. I did not. I continue to live in fear of the shingles but it is a fear not entirely separate from the memory of my first smooch. Later in life, I would recast this episode as my bisexual awakening.

Chondrilla looks like skeletons. A mass of wiry stems covered in narrow almost imperceptible leaves gives a ghostly appearance. Buttressed by rosette leaves, the rush skeletonweed is technically a herb. But so is a banana. The celestial entity known as Pluto? Not a planet. Technically Pluto, too, is a herb. Note snapping a Chondrilla stem will cause a milk-like fluid to ooze. Please note.

I notice my undone shoelace has been saturated while dragged through the dewy grass of the nature strip. A clonally propagated hybrid crab grass characterised by its unusually upright leaf orientation and blade-like sheaths and membranous ligules. Typical of the Southbridge turf style (patent 1152/885) invented by Justin Mosley, Chuck Hemferro, Sarah Patel, Dennis Montague, and Kevin Bilge in the autumn of 2011 and filed in the summer of 2012. I kneel to tie my laces but not before digging into my pockets and scattering some skeleton seeds, of course.

         While tending to my laces, I decide to think about what I might look like if I was famous for raising a horse from a foal in the most unlikely of circumstances: a houseboat on The Corso. A horseboat of truth, where lies go to lie down on a waterbed? My own private horseboat, except for I actually rent it off Jesley McFishcutter, an idle rich person with no discernible job who can only be defined by their false sense of altruism and even worse sense of an ending? Oh and eye sockets like sawn-off pipes. I complete a double knot and keep walking.

Unlike the introduced species of agricultural grasses it deprives of nutrition, Chondrilla and its many micro-variations have never been patented. Please note the plant’s unchanging pest status has locked in a lack of interest from inventors and investors.

We live on The Corso. A former terrestrial street running the shoreline of Budgewoi Lake between Lake Haven and Charmhaven. White pastoralists stabbed street signs into the land denoting the festive ‘corso’ name but the festivity is yet to materialise 299 years later. Not even Santa stops here anymore. There used to be an Elvis impersonator who lived at the Lake Haven end of The Corso but he went back to studying.

         ‘How was work?’ I ask Andy, passing them the bowl of cut-up apples.

         ‘Usual. Same bullshit, different day. We were at that place in Elanora Heights again,’ they reply, passing me the bowl of macaroni and cheese.

         I scoop a wad of the macaroni and cheese and plop it down on my plate (technically my landlord’s plate) beside my apple slices.

         ‘It’s not the worst job, though.’ Andy continues. ‘Spent the day digging a few big holes and ripping out lantana and bamboo and shit. Didn’t even have to bag it up. The property faces into a national park so we just took it to the cliff at the property’s boundary and chucked it off. So much easier. The drive and getting up at four in the morning sucks though.’

         Work, at best, is a distraction from the talk. You see, there had been all kinds of talk. Long talk, short talk, dense, stringy, and fibrous talk. Tap root talk and ingrown talk, so to speak. There had even been talk of talk occurring at far out places. Places said to be so distant they are right under our noses. Places so distant the only thing traveling to and from is hearsay and rumours and the skeleton of a seed. You know what they say: nothing can be done with the skeleton of a seed save for nestling it between the earth and the curve of an empty egg during a full moon at midnight. 

         Kept conscious by the sounds of The Corso and unshakable work-related dread, I lay awake all night. Despite my stillness, the waterbed gargles. The bed’s high sensitivity responds with belches to the movement of my internal organs as they rearrange themselves on the bed (although technically ‘inside’ my body as I command it to be as still as any earthling can be). For digestion and processing reasons, my organs always perform their most necessary functions at midnight. They’ve always been shift workers, like me. The moon’s absence has brought a battery of moths to the outdoor sensor light. The blinds are down, as far down as they can be downed, yet the lumens from the sensor light ooze in around the edges of the window frame, finding their way to my eyelids where they rest in big dollops. The blind is slightly too small, contracting due to age. The sensor light times out. The moths swirl into a brief, maddening darkness. They have of course mistaken the sensor light for the moon, as they always do, never learning, and with the moon blinking out of existence they scream their tiny moth screams. The silence amplifies these moth moments; the frenzied snipsnipsnip of their antennae breaking as the moths whirligig themselves into each other and my window. The waterbed burps again.

         This goes on all night and in my head I draft and redraft an email to my landlord requesting that she, Jesley McFishcutter, once again reconsider removing the sensor light.

         Eventually the moths dissipate, their screams dulling as morning peels back night like a urologist peels back a foreskin stricken with phimosis. Pained and possible, but mostly pained. The dawn smells, dragging its usual foulness into the shape of a day. Unable to heal, what looks like precious rain clouds in the offing is actually blisters. It’s time to go to work.

Declared pest. Up there with gorse, broom, and cheatgrass. Biocontrol? Release rust fungus (Puccinia chondrillina) into the landscape. Rust fungus failing? Unleash the gall mites (Aceria chondrillae). Gall mites failed you? Release the gall midges (Cystiphora schmidti). The gall midges barely making a dent? The narrow leaf Chondrilla returning in a more vigorous, broad-leafed form? Try releasing a little skeletonweed root moth (Bradyrrhoa gilveolella). Note the moth will only be effective insofar as slowing the initial infestation. Moths do not equal eradication. Note the moth. Insolent moths and more skeletonweed than ever? The research must continue. And it does. But for how long?

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