Erin michelle

Erin Michelle is an artist, comedian, writer, emo poet, incidental puppeteer, manic tweeter, and stop-motion animator. Their artwork has been published in literary journals Meanjin and Stilts and is regularly exhibited in Melbourne. Erin is a decent podcast guest (Don’t You Know Who I AmConfessions of the Idiots) and wrote for upcoming comedy web series Hug the Sun, which is supported by Screen Australia and Screenwest. They often tell jokes and stories on stage.

CONTENT NOTE

Niamh Schofield’s ‘Pulsar’ includes a relationship with elements of emotional abuse.

This illustration has a smooth crayon and watercolour texture. On the right is a close-up of a person’s feet standing on yellow sand. Their toes are burrowing into the sand. Water is rippling over the feet in thin swirls of turquoise blue. There are flecks and bubbles in the sand and water. The left side of the drawing is drawn in cool blue tones. It shows a silver space mission helmet half submerged in the water with its visor closed.
Illustration ‘Golden’ by Erin Michelle

Mollymook beach has turned savage. Melting butter in a pot, bubbles of salt rise to the surface and pop! flicking sea spray high into the air. Not even the babies are out here anymore. I am sore and dry. My skin is whipped red by angry specks of sand. But still, I wait there and watch, wait for her.

         She is my Julinda, Julinda Wocik. When I first met her, I thought her name sounded kind of scientific, the blinding crush of star spores. She was a Mission Specialist, an engineer, for the Harold Holt. The first one that ever launched from Dolphin Point. City girl, from Canberra. One of the hundreds that came down for Ulladulla’s ASIO Space Bus program. An avalanche of nerds. She wasn’t like them. No snot or judgement. The night she kissed me, on the saffron shore of Mollymook, she gave me a picture of her, her first one ever in space. Her eyes are watery pricks of brown-yellow light. She looks pensive and marvelous. My whole body clenches up when I look at her, tight and warm like a heart.

         Her fellow crew members were all bleach blonde and bright white teeth, their flesh taut over robotic bones. She’s different. I can feel Julinda’s foamy web of brown hair, whisked over the metal body of the cabin like spilled beer, like I am the air around her. 

         I heard from her work friend Em-Dee, that the day before the tin casket spiraled into the wretched pool of spit, she yelled out to him. I know it was a cocky bellow. Almost ear splitting, her roar. No other chicks in Ulladulla talked like that. No other chicks anywhere, actually. ‘See you in a week, green eyes!’ The last thing anybody really heard from her. She was in quarantine, the fourteen days before she went up. No emails, phone calls, or nothing. Top secret ASIO business.

         Pretty green eyes. I think Em-Dee blushed, and curled up inside himself. For just a minute, his brain got goosebumps, wondering, thinking, maybe, her lips would press against his nervous skin one day. I can’t blame him.

         He told the papers about this, too. I know, because I have read them all. They are my new wallpaper and rugs, that weird sweaty yellow.

         In the pictures, her crewmates are surrounded by their little ratbag kids, barbecue smoke billowing around their cheeks. The only photo they published of Julinda was a work one. Against a powder-blue wall, her mission helmet loose in one arm, and a tedious smirk all over her face. In the papers, there was no gushing, no photos of her family sprawled out in grief. Alone, like Athena, born from a cracked skull.

         I never did get to meet her parents. The press didn’t know how to take them, genteel Polish immigrants. Her dad put out a statement to the papers that sounded like they’d been expecting her death for years. Verbose but stilted, came out of his mouth like mayonnaise. No statement from her mum. She and her parents didn’t get on too well.

         I reckon she would have been a difficult kid to raise. Smart and rude, popular and pretty, and just bouncing across the walls in fame and glory. Infuriating, annoying, cold, harsh. Entitled, demanding. Maybe they were jealous of what she took for granted. I understand that. I was jealous of her too, sometimes. 

         Fuck she could be a pain in the arse. Fuck she could wrap me right around her finger without even saying anything, just looking up into me, whites of our eyes running together, little poached eggs. 

         Those lukewarm cicada nights, she would stumble home along the highway. She always took the bus which couldn’t get her quite far enough. She didn’t have her Ps. Then, she would eat and eat and eat all the food I made her. She would never ask me a thing and mostly I didn’t ask her anything either, I just watched her eat. White belly tight and round, like the under of a giant burrowing frog. Gorged. Then, she would describe all the funny-looking people in her slick white carriage. The little kid who pulled one of her curls straight and ran giggling when she turned around to wallop him. The gaunt, alien old man shaking with joy, eyes crazy from drugs. The chubby teenage girl who sat beside her, who blushed as Julinda’s bum grazed her broad shoulders.

         She stopped gobbling it up. She slept so hard. Her skin immediately started dripping streaks of sea, as soon as she closed her eyes. Ocean sounds, bursts of aerosol, blended in with truck brakes, sirens, oonts oonts oonts. Her cheeks turned hot, soft copper twisting with the warmth. I would lay beside her, feeling the clammy damp spread from her body. Early night sun cut through the window, burning yellow, slowly broiling us. I looked at the soft twitches of her fingers and the humble gasping of her lips. That weak love infected me. Feral hatred crept up behind it, sending rockets of pain through my arteries. Panic would crescendo inside my lungs as I imagined somebody peeking through the window and ruining us both, their shadow splayed across the plump body of our bed. I knew I should leave her. 

         She really is no good for me. That crashing wave of big joy, and then, the sudden intense anger which shook my bones out of place. That rage inside her, the rudeness, it would climb until I lost my shit and fucked off to my mum’s. She would always wrangle me back. All soft words and kind eyes.

         I made plans. Go to Canberra maybe, live with my big sister. Anywhere but Ulladulla, their crazy sneers and spit. I could become a real teacher. I’m more than smart enough. Smarter than all my teachers were, anyway. I hear they take people without Higher School Certificates, once they are old enough. I could meet a bloke. Maybe even one that isn’t too bad. I kept my plans close, my horrible secret dread.

         When she got home early enough, which wasn’t often, I would take her in my banged-up Pulsar to Mollymook beach. Only surfers were brave enough to go there, and that was during the day. Sharks took on surfies at Mollymook sometimes, tearing holes in boogie boards and toned limbs. My friend, the postie Lachie, had one shark take a bite out of his awful dreadlocks. He told anybody who would listen. After a kid died there from a Great White attack nobody went there for months but us. Poor Tony Tupou. 

         When she was in her good moods, she swam deep out into the brine, while I watched. Salt grew sticky on my face. I licked it off my lips anyway even though it made me so thirsty. The taste made my soul float. ASIO had trained her to swim for crazy distances in full mission gear. Pistons of muscle dragged her through the choppy thumper waves, her body scarcely rocked. Her shock of curly hair whipped spurts of water up, like she was a little wave herself. When she came back, she would crawl under my dress, or in between my woolly blazer and cardigan, all hands and lips. Cold against my body, a wet rock, kissing in the dunes while harsh puffs of wind and spray flew over us.

         Sometimes, while I was watching her rest, plotting and panicking, her eyes would suddenly burst open. Soaked with pain, she knew exactly what I had been thinking. My body would crawl all over, swells of self-disgust wiggling their limbs all over my back. Plans or not, she had me. Yeah, she has me for life. 

         So when I saw it, the Harold Holt 1997 Spacebus Mission, coming apart like strings of honey at Dolphin Point, I knew it couldn’t be all the way true. Alright. Maybe it did explode, maybe shards of fancy metal went everywhere from Narrawallee to Batemans Bay. Maybe they found her work mate Michael’s foot in a shallow rock pool, starfish clinging to it tight. But they were shit cunts. They weren’t the same smart as her. And they weren’t beautiful and they couldn’t finish eight plates of vegetarian spaghetti without gagging.

         I’m a teacher’s aide. I watched it, the fifth ever Spacebus launch, sitting at the ‘big desk’, the one where they put all the kids who couldn’t read yet, who itched, and wriggled, and screamed. But when the countdown started, their little cries and laughs drained out of the room. Tiny eyes so wide, I almost forgot to watch the orange-tinged face of the TV. Crackles of grey and black ran down the edges of the screen, molecules of colour bouncing off the surface. The local news reporter, Mick Pissale, whispered in swollen exuberance, voice shaky with fake pomp. ‘There she goes, the mighty Harold Holt. Again, ready to battle with the sky.’ 

         Oh, you bastard, I really wish you hadn’t said that. You jinxed them.

         Julinda’s shuttle splintered and hissed. Tinny blurs of blues and greys burst out from around it like DJ smoke. 

         Bits started plummeting into the creamy sea. Wet bumblebees, freefalling into grass. The kids’ excited chatter and screams banged against the walls of my ears. My soft damp tongue blocked the back of my throat, pounding with shock. I felt a calm come over me. Like a decision had been made.


I told work I wouldn’t be coming in for the next few weeks. Family issues. I would lose the flat without the money, now that Julinda was gone. But I didn’t care. I had to find her.

         I started the hunt. Every morning I went down to Dolphin Point, ducking under barricades and flirting with men dressed in hi-vis who I had seen at the Marlin Pub. Black tinted vans, full of scraps, sand, and flesh, flew past me on the makeshift beach tracks, already on their way to Canberra. My cheeks weary from grinning and pouting, I would meet the last check point. Em-Dee was one of the guards. His skin was glowing in the lemony early morning sun.

         We had met at a few barbecues that Julinda had made me go to. I thought it was still too risky, the sly touches, and the pressure of her feet against mine under the table.

         ‘You know I can’t let you through, mate.’ A sympathetic tight-lipped smile, green eyes flashing against mine. 

         ‘Em-Dee, you really don’t get it. I have to go look.’ 

         ‘I’m sorry. You know she was my friend, too. We just can’t have you in there, not yet. We gotta figure out what happened. It’s Fed stuff. I will literally go to gaol.’ 

How don’t they know what happened? I do. She agreed to be propelled through the atmosphere into eternal orbit in a machine no sturdier than a Toyota Corolla.

         After trying all the entry points at the beaches nearby, identical bodies of sand that went on for miles, I ended back down at Mollymook, every afternoon. Until the night fell, watching. Today toddlers, their mums windswept and covered in spew, tumbled before me, smiling fatly, turds in their water nappies. Brave teenagers sprinted by, guffawing at my tepid plumpness, holding wrecked yellowing boards with overwhelming tenderness. I buried my cold toes in half wet sand, crunching into the deep until the illusion of warmth spread up my legs. The sparse dots of people started eroding back, back beyond the shore. Sand became shrapnel, slicing my cheeks. The dark cut in, purple bursts of wind, blue-black light. My chest started bubbling, a pot of stock, droplets of brown something dripping down the sides. I could feel it, something was different, she was there. The sun, fading more every second, still shot greedy roots of light across the wild surges of plunging salt and flat rips, softly beckoning. I limped, a limp turned into a jog, a sprint. Into the shallow, then the waist-deep. Dumping waves threw my shoulders out and under, centipedes of water trying to climb up my nose. I pull myself up. I know she is here. 

         A couple of metres further out. I see it, her mission helmet bobbing in the surf. Reflecting the swathes of water around her. Bubbles of life, magnificent pops. I pull against the waves and stay where I am because I know she is strong enough to get to me.

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