On Writing, Tech, and Other Loquacities

The collected works of Lana Brindley: writer, speaker, blogger


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Ebb and Flow

I am sitting on the beach, looking out over the water. The sand I am sitting on is just a blanket of darkness, still slightly warm to the touch from the heat it absorbed through the day. I am not sure of the time, but I am aware somehow that it is late – well after midnight. I have been here for hours now, but I do not feel lonely, or bored. Tonight is different, I don’t feel quite here somehow. I feel empty, yet awash in emotion. My gaze has been fixed on the waves rolling into the beach. I can see the vague glow of white caps on the black waves as they roll onto the sand, and can see the darker impression they leave on the sand as the ocean sucks them back to its inky depths. I can see the body floating in the shallows almost directly in front of me. Strangely, I’m not shocked. Perhaps that is the reason I am here – to see the corpse rolling in the shallow waves, being pushed and pulled in the tidal flow. I know without moving closer that it is a woman and I can see ragged clothing swirling in the dark water. She is nothing more than a darker shadow in the dark water from where I sit, but I see all this in living colour in my mind’s eye. She is wearing black loose fitting pants, a blouse made of some silky fabric – also black but with an intricate pattern of leaves and flowers picked out in red thread. Her feet are bare, the skin wrinkled and pale. Her face is turned away from me, but her hair is a dark swirl in the water and I know her features as I know my own.
This place holds significance for me, although I have yet to discover what that significance is. Every time I drive out of this town, I see the coastline dropping away behind me and I heave a sigh of relief – I’m free again. Sometimes I will leave for months or years at a time. I start to forget about the water, the sand, the hamlet town. And I feel as though I’m picking up the pieces again and settling into a routine, a lovely new life. And then the phone will ring, a letter will arrive, something will happen and before I know it I am hauled back here and I find myself on this beach again, trying to work out what happened, and why I’m back.
I left last time because I wanted to travel north. The real reason I left was to get away from this part of the coastline and the hold it exerts on me. I left behind a good job, a handful of friends, a rented  flat on the beach, and a boyfriend. He had grand plans of us setting up house together when I got back, and it was the night before I left that I finally told him I had no intention of returning. He was dumbfounded, but he seemed to take it well. He had left my flat after a big, chaste hug and I congratulated myself on how well I had handled it.
The next day I had gotten in my car. It was packed with a suitcase and not a whole lot more, the furniture had stayed with the flat and the rest had been sold or given away. As I drove out of the town I felt that all too familiar wave of freedom and relief roll over me – I was out again. The sea started to release its clutches as I headed further inland and, once out of sight of the coastline, I turned right and headed north. I had no destination in mind, safe in the knowledge that the place I needed to be was up here somewhere, and that it would let me know when I found it.
I had spent the drive reflecting on the relationship. Once the sound of the waves crashing into the shore had ceased roaring in my head it became so much easier to think. It hadn’t been all bad, in fact most of the time it had been quite good. We got along well, laughed a lot and had rarely argued. His calm at the break up suddenly seemed odd. Like the piece of a jigsaw that fits perfectly, but the picture doesn’t quite match up. I once heard that in every relationship one will always love more than the other. I had been on both sides of the argument – both the giver and receiver of the lion’s share of love. This time I had well and truly been the receiver. If I had to pin down the balance, it would be somewhere around 80/20. He never seemed to notice, seemed grateful for every throwaway “I love you” I offered. At times I felt guilty, because the imbalance seemed so obvious to me. Other times I felt angry, because he must have been either stupid or blind not to recognise it himself. I could not understand his motivation for wanting to be in relationship that was so lopsided, but who was I to stop him – after all, he never complained.
Eventually I arrived in a city. Not a big one, but big enough for me to hide. Life started to settle again. I felt my breath start to come easier now that it wasn’t hampered by the coastal humidity in the air. I started to relax. I even let myself believe for a little while that I had made it away from the beach for good this time.
That was six months ago, and now I am back. I came back because in the middle of the night, I got a phone call. A friend here had been pulled into a rip while night surfing and they didn’t find her body for three days. Like all things it washed up eventually though. I promised myself I was coming back for the funeral, and would return to the new life I had begun two thousand kilometres away. As I drove I reflected ruefully on the way that the sea had called me back yet again. Not only had it called me back, but it had taken a friend’s life to do it. The ocean is a tough mistress.
At the funeral I was reasonably dry eyed. There had been a few curious looks from those who wondered where I had been recently, but I was asked no questions, for which I was grateful. Someone said something about a wake at her parent’s house, but I slipped away into the late afternoon, unseen as far as I was aware. I moved the car a few blocks and stopped in the shade of the huge gums in the back of the park, where I knew it was unlikely anyone would drive past and recognise me. I propped the driver’s door open with my foot, and clicked the seat back a bit, trying to work out if I had the energy to just start driving back.
I sat there for maybe half an hour, and as the interior of the car grew hotter in the late afternoon sun, I made the decision I knew I would eventually come to. I closed the door, turned the key in the ignition, and pulled out from under the trees and onto the street. There was a CD in the stereo, and I was happily crooning away with the band when I slowed the car to a halt. I looked up, suddenly confused and anxious, and realised that I had come to the beach. I had intended to drive past and head back without paying homage to this beach. But I could no more stop myself making this visit than I could hold back the tide. Why does this small deserted beach call me so?
I took my shoes off and made my way down the catwalk that led over the dunes. The familiar scratch of the dune grasses attacked my unprotected soles, as though trying to stop me. I paid it no mind, I was fixated on getting down to the water, like an addict waiting for the next hit. And it was an addiction, for me. The beach – this beach – had a story it needed to tell me, and I could never be sure when it was finally going to spill it out. Maybe tonight it would tell me why it holds this attraction over me. Maybe tonight it would tell me why I can’t seem to leave.
By this time, the sun was sinking low in the sky behind me, and my shadow stretched long and dark over the trail in front. As I stepped onto the dry sand at the top of the beach, my shadow wavered and doubled. So it came as no surprise when I heard my name being called softly from behind me. I turned, not afraid but annoyed at having my fix interupted. My old boyfriend came up to me, looped his arm casually around my neck and leaned in close. His scent was woody and warm, with a tangy back bite to it – familiar, yet somehow different from what I remembered.
When he put his head against mine, we stopped walking, and I turned towards him, allowed myself to fold into his body. It was a familiar sensation, and comforting for that, but I felt no longing. I realised at that moment that I hadn’t missed him at all. He whispered how he loved me, how he longed to have me back. He pleaded with me to return and I shook my head. No, I would not return.
I backed away from him, putting my hands up between us, and he started to get angry. It was fully dark now and he raised his fist as though to hit me. I had never seen him raise a hand before and I looked at him in disbelief and surprise before lifting my eyes to his upraised fist. It was then that I saw the knife, and suddenly I identified the tangy scent I had noticed as anger, fear and determination.
I ran. I don’t know where I was running to, only what I was running from. I don’t think I yelled out, and I don’t know why, but for some reason I ran, quickly and silently, towards the water. I threw myself into the waves, felt myself being pulled under, and then the push as I was lifted into the crest. I lifted my head, took a breath, and prepared to be pulled under again. The waves were breathing with me, and the ocean and I danced together for a while, before I felt his body slam into mine. His hands – knifeless now – came around my throat, my face, my chest, my hair, my eyes. They were everywhere and they served to break the delicate balance between myself and the ocean.
Why did I run towards the ocean? I don’t know. The waves have always called to me. In the moment that I started to run, rational thought was suspended, and they exerted their will without my argument for perhaps the first time. And now I sit here on the beach, watching the dead body in the waves. The light is starting to creep into the air. The beach is deserted for now, but soon the early morning surfers will find the body, call the appropriate authorities.
The beach has finally told me why it exerted its pull on me all these years. The ocean has finally told me its story. The beach will be closed for a while while they try and work out what happened. Eventually someone will tow my car away.

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Unrequited Love

He sat in the car. Waiting. Just waiting. His gazed rested on the vista outside of the car, but he didn’t see it. His mind was a blank page. He was just waiting. Shallow little breaths, barely enough to fog in the cold air. Waiting.
Inside, a war. One woman sat in a kitchen chair in the middle of the room. The other, circling slowly as she spoke. The tone was low, but emotions were high as daggers were thrown, parried, sent back, and thrown yet again. The questions, always more questions. The seated woman was tired, but her accuser showed no signs of weariness. Eventually, she stood and with some well chosen words, left the room.
She left the building, stepped onto the street. Watching her feet as she walked along the icy footpath. She didn’t notice the waiting man as she crossed the street. Had she seen him waiting there, perhaps she would have stopped to discuss the argument. But perhaps she wouldn’t have.
Alone now, the other woman sat in the chair so recently occupied. She put her head in her hands and began to weep.
The waiting was over. Now the time to think had begun. He turned the car stereo up so he could hear it. Cool jazz washed over him, completely failing to ease his mind.
Crying without an audience was difficult to maintain. Before long she started to feel foolish. She got up to wash her face. Fixed a drink. Returned to the chair. She sat staring out of the window. The snow had started, flakes sticking prettily to the window. She wondered how long before he would arrive. Come and tell her his lies about love, and trust, and betrayal.
Following her own puffs of breath home through the icy streets, her footsteps lost in the noise spilling from the restaurants she passed, she considered her position. She came to a conclusion that would surprise those who knew her. It didn’t surprise her perhaps as much as it should have.
He had made his decision. He stepped out of the car. Reached back in for his coat, the weight of it uncomfortably noticeable as he shrugged it on. He hesitated only slightly at the entrance to the building. Then pushed the door open and went upstairs.
A noise behind her. She didn’t turn. She watched the snow beat against the window. A key in the lock, the snicker of the door against the jamb. Sludge now, the pretty flakes melted. Footsteps, and a gust of cold air from the hallway. The ice slithered down the glass, obscuring the world outside. She turned to see what prettily packaged falsehoods he had for her.
She didn’t go straight home. Instead, she stopped in a cafe next door. Nearly deserted at this late hour, but pleasantly warm. The waiter asked her in a quiet voice if she wanted her regular order, and she nodded assent. She found a table in the back, and smiled to herself. She was going to be alright. It was a good plan.
It was quick. And almost silent. She gasped. Not just an exhalation, but surprise, confusion and, eventually, realisation. She fell gracefully, her skirt billowing around her knees as she dropped. A rose spread dramatically in the carpet beneath her body. He didn’t stay.
Sipping her coffee in the trendy cafe. The snow beat against the plate glass window. She wasn’t surprised to see his car drive past, pulling up just out of her sight. It would take him a little time, but she knew he would turn up at the cafe. She waited.
He knocked at the door. He was nervous. His jacket hung better without the gun. It made him more aware of the little box. And the little box made him more nervous than the gun had. He waited for her to answer the door. He had no key to this building.
The coffee was gritty dregs in the bottom of the cup. Cold now. She waited for him to arrive. Practising her words.
She wasn’t home. Knowing her habits, he turned to the left, walked the few steps to the coffee shop. He stepped into the warm space, and the waiter looked up, expectant. He shook his head, pointed to the only occupied table at the back, indicated that he was just meeting someone. The waiter went back to cleaning the coffee machine.
She looked up, gave a tiny smile, but didn’t speak.
He pulled the little box from his pocket. Held it uncomfortably, then, like a child offering a bunch of dandelions, proffered it. He knelt awkwardly, and asked her to be his bride.
Her smile twisted into a frown. Now it was her turn to ask questions. He answered them, but left the gun out of the story. She frowned some more. The little box lay unopened on the table. They both ignored it.
Before too long he left the cafe. Alone. Like a leaf, loosed from the bounds of the tree, at the whim of the wind and the snow.

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This is for all the luvvers in tha house

The thumping bass of the last song drifts away, and the sexy notes of a saxophone glissando ease across the dance floor. The deejay, bloated with his own importance, growls through the mic, “This is for all the luvvers in tha house…”. Most of the dancers, still high on the heavy drums of the previous song, sigh in disappointment and drift over to stake a place in the queues at the bar.
Out of the milling crowd, I see Cassandra drift towards me. Her legs, long and white as the spotlight passes over them, take my breath away. I meet her eyes, and she gives me a little crooked smile. She is beautiful. She is holding a short glass, filled with a lot of ice and a clear liquid – top-shelf vodka, almost certainly – but she places it gently on a table as she walks past, never breaking her stride. Her face is clear, her eyes bright, and I find myself lost in her gaze. The nigthclub surrounding me, the music, the dancers, and the crowded bar all fade into the background. Nothing matters but her, nothing ever again will matter except her. We are locked in this moment, a connection sizzling between us that is as fine as filament, but as strong as copper wire.
She drifts closer, and the spell breaks as she puts her arms around my neck, whispering in my ear words that are not in any earthly language, but are drops of love. I can feel her body pressed up against mine, and even though we are both wearing light clothes in the stifling nightclub, even the thin cotton between us is too much. I want to tell her how stunning she is, how she makes my heart feel like it will burst, how she makes my body react to hers, but before I can find the words the music swells, and the moment to tell her these things is lost. Instead, I hold her close. As close as that is, it is not close enough. It will never be close enough. Even the act of lovemaking would not bring us as close together as I want to be right now. I want to be within her, I want to crawl into her mouth, travel through her veins, nestle inside her stomach. I want to become one with her. Instead, we dance.
I become aware that people will start yelling soon, and when the first cry goes up, I push my face deeper into Cassandra’s hair. The smell of her shampoo, and the cloying scent of the perfume on her neck, fill me with desire and I nearly forget how to make my throat make words. I swallow, and in the instant before others take up the cry and drown them out, I say the words, “I love you”. Simple words that convey only a small fraction of what I feel. All the same, I feel the muscles in the side of her face move against mine, and I know she is smiling. Her warm lips find my own ear, and I almost melt on to the floor with desire, begging her silently to nibble, bite, kiss, but instead she breathes, “I love you, too”. And the yells have started to turn into screams, panic flows over us like a wave, and I imagine I can still hear the saxophone underneath the hysteria.
The people around us start to flow into the outer corners of the night club, and I relish the empty space in the moment before the flames start sucking the oxygen away from us. I hold Cassandra close, still trying to think of the words that will tell her how I feel. She tightens her arms around me, and ducks her head slightly, so she is protected from the heat by my shoulder. I lift my chin, as though tucking her into the protective shield of my body.
The heat on my back gets warmer, until I can feel the skin searing, blisters rising almost instantly. Suddenly, my hair is alight, and I feel Cassandra judder against me as her hands, locked behind my back, start to burn. I wonder if saying “You are beautiful” is too cliched for her to be able to take seriously.
The fire has engulfed us, the hiss and pop of the flames drowning out the terrified screams of the people still in the building. We cling to each other like a life raft, still in our spot on the dance floor, still slightly swaying to the faded saxophone. And then it is over.
The thumping bass of the last song drifts away, and the sexy notes of a saxophone glissando ease across the dance floor. The deejay, bloated with his own importance, growls through the mic, “This is for all the luvvers in tha house…”.

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Apocalypse

The depression started the same year I started school. By the time I finished, only the elderly and the insane held out any hope of it ending. I can’t remember exactly, but it was some time during my teens that the fresh food started to become sparse. I remember my mother squabbling with a young man over the last over-ripe peach in a fruit store. The weather was ridiculously hot, and perhaps she had been having a bad day, because it was out of character. Eventually, the owner of the store, desperate to sell the stock and get the fighting pair out of his shop, probably, cut the peach in half and Mum and the man both handed over a bunch of coins for the precious fruit. She offered me a bite, and the too sweet juice running down my chin is the clearest part of this memory for me. Mum took a bite herself, ecstasy on her face as she savoured it. When we got outside a grubby girl with running sores on her arms, no more than four, came up and begged for food, money, whatever we could give. Perhaps the sight of the child brought about guilt over her behaviour in the fruit shop. Whatever it was that made her do it, my mother reached down to the girl, and gave her the remaining bite of the peach. The girl made the fruit disappear so quickly I thought she had dropped it at first, but then we saw tears cutting pink lines through the grime on her cheeks, and realised that she was crying with pleasure at the fruit. My mother smiled at the child, but wept to herself on the way home, when she thought I wasn’t looking. To give up not just food, but fresh food, was almost too hard to bear.
Children like this were common since the fires. As the country had progressively burnt to a cinder – first the southeast corner, then gradually north and west, sparing only those in the very inner-city suburbs – more and more children were left without families, without support, and without hope. It was really the fires that started to make people realise that we were in a lot more trouble than anyone had realised. At first, when the first state went up in flames, it was hailed as a disaster. Grief for the ever-increasing list of victims grew, support flooded in from all corners of the country – even some from overseas. As a nation we mourned the dead, supported the survivors, congratulated the heroes and urged the government to provide financial support. By the time the last square kilometre of farmland had gone to ash, we had grown immune to the horror. Small enclaves survived in the very hearts of the biggest cities, the people who had run from their burning homes in the outskirts found themselves homeless, hungry and desperate in a city that no longer had enough to spare for themselves. The natural urge to reach out and help those less fortunate died, as our own fortunes died.
We were considered lucky, to start with. We had a small yard, with an established vegetable garden, and a couple of fruit trees. Even once the fires got hold of them, we managed to hang on to one lone apple tree, but eventually the ash in the air, the toxic rain and the lack of water put paid to it, and by the time I was twelve fresh fruit and vegetables had become a treat. From someone who wouldn’t have touched a sultana with a long pole, I became someone who would have committed the most indecent acts for a single grape.
While we fought fire in the southern half of the country, the north battled flood. While the fire fighters prayed for rain, the residents in the north prayed for it to stop. Where the two met, somewhere just north of the middle, the flood waters put out the fires, began to dry up in the hot air, and then got overtaken by the next wave of fire. In the days when the fire appeared to have nowhere else to burn, even the silted streets provided fuel. By the time that our northern-most cities had burned, the surviving population were so consumed with just staying alive that we could no longer grieve.
I finished school, one of the last years to do so. Most schools had closed by 2021, although a very small number – mine included – struggled along until about 2024, when finally too few resources and poor attendance finally drove them to close their doors. After that, I stayed with my mother. After all, where else was I to go? The idea of starting a family was laughable, and Mum was getting older, she needed all the help I could offer her.
Mum died last year. She was old, nearly fifty. The people around me are all ill, or dying. Few people I knew even five years ago are still alive. There is no food except what we grow ourselves in scrubby little plots. Plants are hoarded for their seed and their fruit, and the owners of the plants stand guard around the clock, fighting off attackers. Now that I am alone, I am unable to stand guard. I survive from the jealously hoarded tins dating back, in some cases, over ten years. I open a tin every fortnight, and make it last. Water is almost impossible to get, and clean water a thing of fiction. I’m ill, and have been for years now. Now that I don’t have to look after Mum anymore, who is going to look after me?

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It was a year ago

In the kitchen, it’s all action. People everywhere. I’ve been planning the menu for weeks, and had done most of it by the time the first guests – my parents – arrived. I saw Dad briefly, he gave me a kiss on the cheek and I could smell alcohol on his breath. I said nothing. He looked around with haunted eyes, then opened the fridge just enough to slide a beer out from the bottom shelf, and then slunk outside to consume it. In the few minutes it took him to do it, Mum had sifted through the pile of recipes on the kitchen table, eyed up the pre-prepared dishes, and had started running the water to wash up. I knew that, whatever menu I had decided on, Mum was now firmly in control. A year ago, I would have fought with her over it. Now, it just didn’t seem to matter that much. I stayed in the kitchen long enough to refill my wine glass, and then went outside to find Dad. He was sitting out in the garden, under a spreading tree. I sat beside him and we drank. Together, giving and receiving comfort, yet lost in our own thoughts. Thoughts that were, possibly, along similar paths, although we did not share them.
It was a year ago that my Dad stopped cracking jokes. It was a year ago that my mother’s quirks became full-blown neuroses. It was a year ago that Jamie didn’t come from home from work. It was a year ago that I turned 21. It was a year ago that everything changed.
My mother came bustling out from the kitchen, and my Dad gave me a look that made me think of wildlife, stunned in the headlights on the side of a country road. She started talking before she was completely in earshot, and all I caught was “… tablecloth, you do have a clean one don’t you? A nice one?” I nodded, gave her directions to the laundry cupboard, and glanced at Dad as I stood up. I drained the last of my wine, although it felt as though I had only sipped it, and meandered back inside. Aimless. Suddenly, despite having been excited about the party, and about seeing everyone, I didn’t want to do it anymore.
I went to the kitchen door, intending to refill my glass. Through the glass panel in the door, with my hand on the doorknob, I saw Mum tut-tutting over two different tablecloths, things bubbling on the stove, and my sponge cake in pieces on the benchtop, ready to be turned into trifle. I can’t stand trifle. My hand dropped from the knob, and I found myself heading down the hall instead, to my room.
I closed and locked the door behind me, and wondered idly if I still had my stash in the wardrobe. I hunted around, shifting jumpers and scarves, dusty from where they had been stashed last winter, waiting to be taken down again in a month or two. I sneezed, and my hand touched cool glass. I retrieved the bottle, took a long swig, and grimaced. Then I put it back behind the ski pants and woollen gloves, to be forgotten about.
I lay down on the bed, and tried not to think about anything. It’s impossible to think about nothing. Even if you imagine nothing to be a vast blank emptiness, you’re still thinking about that emptiness. You can never completely clear your mind. I must have started to drift off to sleep, aided by the vodka, because I imagined a knock on the door, and it crept open a little, even though I knew it was locked. I wasn’t surprised to see Jamie through the sliver showing at the doorjamb, although of course I should have been. He pushed the door open a little wider, and I caught his grin. That grin that said, I’m doing something I shouldn’t be, but you’ll forgive me, right? I grinned back, but didn’t speak. I didn’t want to shatter this daydream of mine, didn’t yet want to let myself back into the reality that Jamie was dead.
He came in and sat on the bed, his weight shifting the mattress. He was wearing a shirt I didn’t recognise, although they were the same old work boots on his feet. He smiled at me, reached out and touched my hair, brushed it back out of my face. He leant down and kissed me on the forehead, and I closed my eyes, breathed in his smell – aftershave and sweat, grease and leather. I smiled, and opened my eyes again when the warmth of his lips faded, and the bedsprings gave a squeak. He was standing and, without a word, he walked back to the door. He looked over his shoulder, dropped me a languid wink, and then he was gone. The door gave a soft click as it closed. I listened for footsteps, and then laughed at myself for this foolishness.
I stayed in bed a little longer, still trying deperately to stay with the fantasy, and to allow the fantasy to stay with me, but it was already fading. Eventually, voices from downstairs stirred me awake, and I realised I had been asleep for about an hour. They would be wondering where the birthday girl was, no doubt. I stood up, and noted absently that the bedsprings didn’t squeak. This realisation was enough for the last gossamer threads of my dream to dissipate into the air like steam.
I went to the ensuite to wash my face, brush my hair. In the mirror, in lipstick, the now-empty case lying open in the sink, were the words, “Sis, Love you 4 ever. J”.

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