‘Things that just keep passing by: A boat with its sail up. People’s age. 
Spring. Summer. Autumn. Winter.’ 

 – The Pillow Book by Sei Shōnagon 

Out in the city, perched on the church steps, I am waiting for a friend. Left knee bouncing and right hand cupping my chin. The morning is settling on my shoulders, and person after person goes sailing into the crowd towards Flinders Street Station. I’m trying to remember everything. 

There’s a long braid, in a white dress with a drop waist. Then a big dog, chasing after quickly marching high heels. 

Under the clocks, a clay face. Fingers flicker in and out of the pockets of a long cream coat. 

Green jumper, red trousers goes striding past. Black socks, brown shoes doesn’t smile when swerving around a pack of school uniforms—rolled skirts and unbuckled T-bars. 

Across the street! A teal jacket, dark hair. Shoulders that slope like hers. My hand jerks onto the handrail and my heart jumps suddenly. All the bodies at the traffic lights begin to blur and I pause, trying not to throw myself into the crowd. Sunlight is bouncing off the pavement. The clouds are like fleece. 

Cancer crept into our house in June two years ago. It left in December, taking Mum with it, and I forgot how to breathe the whole time it was there. It was seven months. Then it was Christmas Eve, all of a sudden, and poorly strung lights had begun to twinkle up the street, where they were scattered around garden gnomes and strung along windows. 

In June, I had written in my diary: 

This evening Mum told us she has lung C. Apparently things are looking optimistic! She kept saying we are lucky to be living in the time we’re in now. I didn’t cry, but I was very cold. 

I was in the middle of a lot of assignments when she told us. It was nearly the end of semester and I was being assaulted by emails. I sat in the backyard, on our little rickety wooden bench, trying to think of intelligent things to type when my brain began to shut down. I don’t remember the seven months after that at all. I’ve got half a year missing from my memory—there’s a hole in my head. 

In November: 

Dad tells us Mum doesn’t have long to live—months probably, weeks possibly. I’ve been feeling like a frog these last few weeks—the kind that sits in a pot full of water and has the heat turned up until it’s boiling. 

I don’t remember this either, but I remembered: 

Immediately after she died. Whenever someone asked me how I felt, I said: Good. 

I am lying on the grass out the front of the State Library. The day is long and slow, the kind where the sticky sun tricks you into thinking that every day after will be the same. You can settle in the grass and be absorbed by it, melting into it just like butter. Noon bleeds into afternoon and I think, I’ll be here forever. Right here, just like this. 

A person lying down to my right stretches and cracks their knuckles one by one. The outline of their body begins to blur, and then it’s 3pm. Two teenagers sit talking near me, their faces close to each other and their voices spiralling into the sky. The nearer one has graceful hands which rest on the concrete, all of us falling under the shadows of the triangular trees—the spring leaves sway to music in the air, and a soft breeze is passing by as I head home. 

Wandering through Melbourne Central like a ghost, bumping into people who are living in real time, I run into someone I haven’t seen for a long time and she says, I’m sorry to hear about your mum

I remember the funeral, the strangest thing I’ve ever done. My only black top was spotted with stains from months earlier—the result of an explosive bottle of kombucha. My hair was awkwardly long. I spoke briefly with my Year 12 History teacher, she told me it was alright to break down, so I tried to make a joke. I never thought I could feel so alone. 

For all of 2019, when I was alone in the car I wanted to cry. My hands would start shaking and the traffic lights turned blurry. Fuzzy lines of green and red. It hurt to remember the hours spent in her company in the car, when she taught me to drive, through the city, on the freeway. Me, in borrowed sunglasses, trying to pretend I was not nervous about having to pass trucks. Her, with her bag bulging with folders, eyes on the road, and on me. When the traffic piled up and the headlights of passing cars hit the side mirrors like laser beams, she had gentle words and reminders, never tense and clutching at the passenger door handle, always calm. We’d talk about everything. I’d forget to be nervous. Your heart remembers things you’d rather forget, and now mine’s leaking from my chest and through the floorboards. Can someone tell me where to put the questions I only asked her? Where are all our inside jokes? 

I get off three stops early to escape the conversation that had followed us onto the train, and I sit glumly on one of the old benches that line the platform of North Melbourne station—clicking my heels together, hands splayed by my side. There’s a kid plucking a ukulele next to me, breathing hard and playing along to headphones. The playing isn’t good, but it’s calm. The notes are like little splatters from a bubbling pan of hot oil, sporadic and bright against the night which is dark and syrupy. 

A boy and a girl stand face to face a few feet away, laughing. Her eyes are flickering around the station, landing on his occasionally, almost by accident, like she’s nervous to look into them for too long. He flicks her ponytail when she turns her head to look at the train. It glints in the yellow light that has begun to pool under the canopy. There are shadows everywhere, moving slowly, just like all the couples going into the city, who are leaning into each other in the tender way couples do. It’s all shuffling feet and sidelong glances; trains sliding into the stations on time, off time, late, not coming. 

When I think of her, I think of a specific shade of blue. Light scarves and long necklaces and kind eyes. I remember talking to her for hours after school, and the notes she would leave in my lunch. The way things sounded so simple when they came out of her mouth. I remember making her laugh and how effortless it was. I write my sevens the way she wrote hers, with a line through the middle. I know her favourite colour, and her favourite poems. But I can’t picture her face anymore. I can’t remember the pattern her feet made around the house, or the sound of her steps. I don’t remember her voice because I thought I’d hear it again. 

I’m missing one of my important people, and now I’m less tethered to the earth. There were strings keeping me here, they wove through the holes for my shoelaces, down through the floor and around tree roots, and they kept me on the ground. They’ve been cut, and at any second I could fall, and then float away. And while I’m drifting, exposed and hanging in space, all I’ll be able to think is, Why hasn’t everyone noticed? Can’t they see the world looks different? Can’t they see how much has changed? 

At Yarraville, there’s a soft mist hanging in the street. I cross the road and run my fingers along the fences as I go, quickening my step, my breath appearing in bursts and evaporating as I pass through it. The sun has slipped down the sky. I’m nearly at our house with the green fence where, along the verandah, jasmine is swallowing everything in its path and the smell that swamps you when you bounce up the steps is gently gliding down the driveway onto the street. 

Teal jacket, dark hair, shoulders that slope just like hers. I turn the corner and she’s gone.