JOANNA DU

Joanna Du is a Melbourne-based artist specialising in the dark, dreamy, and delectable. She explores inner urges and desires, manifest in a dream-like state. Growing up in a humble upbringing of an immigrant family in the Western suburbs of Melbourne fostered in her an everlasting sense of dreaming and desire, one only creative pursuits could purge.

CONTENT NOTE

‘Road Movie Sequel’ features depictions of psychological and emotional effects of hallucinogen use.

A drawing of a person crouching in front of a suitcase, picking out some clothes. They have a towel wrapped around their chest, and another one for their hair. Their body is covered with small droplets, creating a small puddle of water under their feet. The drawing is simple with red outlines and some blue colouring of the towels and suitcase, against a murky baby pink background.
Illustration by Joanna Du

She feels good about it. The cast is larger this time and there are more locations, bigger and further away, the sky opening up easily ahead of her, the way it always does when you go in knowing what to expect. It feels like the narrative has expanded naturally. They have been travelling for three days. They have seen many things together in quick succession. This is the final act before it ends, where everything comes to a head, and in the morning they are going to the airport in one car and then getting on different flights and not seeing each other again for maybe many years because none of them really make any money.

            There is H, who she loved in high school but not as much as she does now, and there is K, who H is in love with and she has only ever met on facetime. Three of them in a serviced apartment in a brand-new town each day. She is always on the fold-out couch. In the mornings she gets up and drinks instant coffee on a different iteration of a balcony while she waits for the other two to shower. They rotate seats in the car so she doesn’t only feel like a third wheel. H either sings loud or asks for phrases to translate into the Italian she has learned from Duolingo. She can’t say we are eating in the sun, but she can say we are eating on a clear day. All the scenery here is overwhelming, passing the window so fast it seems motionless. The awe slowed and blurring into a new kind of bodily constant. At the end of every day she is tired, or if she’s not, there is weed and she sleeps easily. This does not happen at home.

            New Year’s Eve eve. The whole town on a cusp, still trying to have a fun time before the real fun time, the stutter before the drop in the kind of song she doesn’t like but everyone else here does apparently because it is pouring out of every fucking doorway. There is a real fratty vibe in the air that is incongruous with the landscape. H has gotten shroom bonbons from somewhere because she wants them to take psychedelics together and go to look at the gardens. They have melted in the car and reformed in the last two freezers, so that they are now a single flat sheet that H breaks into equal chunks by eyeballing and feeling the relative weights in her hand. It tastes too much like earth and edible gold leaf to be enjoyable as a chocolate experience, but it is not the worst kind of drug she has ever taken.

            They take it at the apartment and then leave, heading for the lake at the bottom of the town, keeping the mountain with the gondola on it to their right, past the library and the police station and a drive-thru bottle shop. By the time they get there they are surrounded by far too many spectators, everybody loose and in the street to watch the sun go down. She starts recording before they round the corner because she knows what they see is going to be beautiful. She does this a lot, tries to anticipate good moments before they happen so that she can keep them forever. She keeps thinking that maybe she needs to experience things instead of trying to trap them like this, but maybe what she wants is both: to watch through the camera and beside it, both subject and object. She hasn’t figured out a way yet. The other two walk around and in front of her stationary body, more eager to see than worried about it slipping away. Were doing a walking shot, one of them says. She can’t tell which it is.

            The last of the sun is spilling over the black V where the edges of two mountains meet and down onto the lake, and for a while she gets stuck on how the V is just the chalice from The Da Vinci Code that symbolises a cup or a vessel or the shape of a womb. She thinks about how she is more attached to The Da Vinci Code than any person really should be, and then she thinks maybe she is feeling something, but also that maybe it is psychosomatic and she’ll be embarrassed later when she knows what being high on mushrooms actually feels like. She can’t stop thinking about how insane the world is able to look, the air thick with an unreal yellow light and the water reflecting everything back on itself. Out loud she says, This is fucking crazy, and takes more photos, and K says, Imagine if we look at these tomorrow and they all just look totally normal, but right now K is the same green as the tree and H as the water and everything seems right where it should be through the viewfinder. She has to get them from behind because they really are terrible on film. As soon as she turns the camera on them their bodies sway together, always ready to grin, matching, at the lens. They don’t know how to just be, so they end up looking sort of the same in every photograph.

            A lake fed by a glacier. The beach is made of stones. She can see the stones through the water perfectly like there is no water there. How can water be so clear. She reaches down to feel it and the cold is so shocking it is almost sexual. Drinking water after chewing gum so it aches. There are shadows in her footprints in the stones on the beach. Her footprints are behind the others. She is always trying to catch up. The garden has a bed of flowers in a star shape. It looks like a hat from the 2000s that she would have seen in Total Girl. They are all lying down next to each other, and the trees keep getting taller or wider. She thought the grass would feel good but actually, it is spiky. Is she going to throw up? I cant believe you ate a whole bowl of mussels earlier, and then H has to go puke in the public toilet for 45 minutes.

            Time goes a bit flat looking out at the lake. Everything is two dimensional and calm, like a scene from a postcard or a painting done by someone who lives in a small town. There is a boat silhouette, and a duck silhouette that keeps swimming the same circle like it is attached to a mechanism under the surface. She stays away from looking at the mountain because there is something fucked up happening to the pines there, and she really doesn’t like the part that has already been harvested. It reminds her of a buzzed scalp, strangely vulnerable. K isn’t really her type, but giggling next to her on the shore while they wait for H to stop throwing up, she is starting to see what H sees in her. The way her mouth stays open when she laughs. H plonks back down in between them and stays there for more than two seconds this time, then shrugs her hands. I need to be contained by walls. The trek back to the apartment seems impossible from where they sit.

            She can’t stop oscillating between hysterical and nauseous, and can’t control which way she is going to go. They take the back streets to avoid most of the people and stay away from children. Everything passes in reverse. The sky is so saturated over the library it looks like a cocktail full of fruit juice. She has to tell H not to look at her because her pupils are so big in her already-huge eyes that she looks like a tree frog or some kind of mischievous trickster god, shiny in the light. She feels very fond. H races a group of teenagers across the road, gets invited to their pre-drinks and has to be dragged away from attending. When K mentions her stomach ulcer for the third time it starts to sound like a bit, that they are maybe in an episode of Seinfeld and a punchline is about to happen.

            The first thing that H says back at the apartment is, I am covered in vomit. The shower runs for a time that could be 5 minutes or could be an hour. K opens the doors and they sit on two separate chairs watching the world beyond the balcony like it is a television screen, saying little. H comes out of the bathroom with her hair wet down her bare back, wearing a long knit dress that makes her look like Anita Ekberg in the Trevi Fountain, says Oh, this old thing? Then, I was thinking about what would feel good on the skin. Later on when they’ve quietened down: You guys were being so nice but really it was the only thing in my suitcase that was clean. She walks out onto the balcony and the length of her body catches the very last of the sun, where it is most concentrated and closest to the horizon. There is deep orange light all up her. She turns her head and closes her eyes against it. Both her and K take pictures. Two perspectives on the same thing.

            She can’t figure out whether to have the water on hot or cold so she does something in the middle, no real temperature, just the sensation of it parting over her head and running down her body. She closes her eyes and rubs her fingers into them and the pressure feels almost as good as masturbating. She slides down the wall until she’s sitting and then tilts her face up so the water comes over her lips, into her mouth when she opens it. She spends a long time under the spray, patterns manifesting themselves. Feeling her own face and neck, the way the flesh gives under her hands. She considers touching herself but it feels weird with the other two only a door away, so instead she thinks about someone specific coming in and pressing her against the shower door, how she would spread and be flattened by the glass. She gets out, combs her hair back and moisturises her face. The moisturising goes on for a while because she can’t stop sliding her palms against her skin, lotion slicking the way. In the mirror she looks bad and then she bites her own lip and looks so good that she is turned on by it, as if her eyes are someone else’s.

            They are lying next to each other across the sofa bed when she gets out. As she looks down at them she sees H nuzzling K’s neck, pressing small kisses up its surface. It seems like a private moment, but with how good everything feels right now it seems insane that she hasn’t walked in on something worse and more intimate. She kind of wishes she had. When she thinks about them together a strange heat happens. She has thought about what she would do if they invited her into it, but instead of that there is this separation. She has felt the whole time they’ve been together that there is a kind of film that exists between them now, which is how it could be when someone you know so well suddenly has someone else that knows them in a way you can’t touch. She had wanted it to be the same kind of easy that she’d left, but then she has to admit to herself that maybe she is trying to make everything static again.

            She thinks about H saying what would feel good on the skin, changes slowly into the softest things she has thought to pack in her little suitcase. In her head she is unnoticed, obscured, but then she looks up and H’s gaze is on her. She takes off her shirt and puts it back on again. Sorry, it was inside out. H smiles. Its nice. I’ve been looking. The sofa bed runs parallel to the balcony doors so there is a good view of everything outside of it. She puts her body next to H’s, touching only in small and inconsequential places. When she looks over she sees K watching her. It has a certain quality to it. She tries to kiss H on the cheek and gets her eyebrow. All of these moments are still. She flips over onto her back and it is much better, her field of vision abstracted into shapes only. The night sadness comes as they watch the moon disappear behind the mountain, the perfect half of it slipping between a divot in its outline. A birth in reverse. She has always thought of the moon as a non-moving entity, hung there in the sky like a picture on a wall, but of course it had to start somewhere and go somewhere else. The street outside is quiet now. The room is in disarray but the way it is lit makes it impossible to tell. The light is so, so low. Everything is very desaturated and romantic.

            And she begins to realise, upside down and listening to the fridge work, that all three of them are going to lie next to each other, watching the space where the moon had been earlier only until the other two are tired, and then they will go off to their bed. She will be left with the open balcony doors and the small and pleasant breeze that makes it inside. The lights off so the big and scary moths won’t come in. Maybe she could take off her clothes and actually feel it against all of her skin at once, like being submerged, and as she lies there being blinded by the security light from the neighbouring property that won’t wane or change, the scene the same until she is done and closes the curtains and builds a nest of bedding around herself, she will think that instead of this being like something where something actually happens, maybe it is one of those things where it could and then it just doesn’t in the end. No punchline.

            It’s like there are two versions: the one that is, and the one that could be over the top, faint and transparent but there still, an extra layer. It reminds her of an old-school overhead projector, working through mirrors or lenses or something else that she can’t make work in her brain right now. The teacher would draw the curtains and everyone in the room would hush, and then a picture would appear on the wall like a cave painting. An afterimage. A perfect moment and then the fork of possibility is gone. It isn’t one of those action-driven narratives that culminates, but many small beats that will devastate someone who knows how to read them, or what they feel like to be in. There isn’t going to be some big, sexy epiphany. It isn’t that kind of movie.

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