Indira Naidoo’s A Space Between the Stars Extract

Now the word normal feels so inadequate and pathetic. I don’t want normal. I want a Supernatural force to bring her back from the dead.

I’m overwhelmed by the urge to flee – to throw open my apartment door and just run and run, not to anywhere in particular, just away from myself. To feel the breeze stinging my eyes with hot tears and filling my lungs with life again. If only the inertia wasn’t so crippling. My legs won’t move. Just put one foot in front of the other. You’ve done it a million times. But it’s hopeless. I’m a crumpled puppet waiting for a Puppeteer to reanimate me. Alone in the universe.

For the briefest of seconds, a fug of confusion plays Tricks on me and I forget last night’s phone call ever happened. My mind merrily begins check-listing the day I was planning to have: scan my emails, put on some fruit for breakfast, pay the gas bill, drop off the dry-cleaning, pick up some lamb for dinner… and then the unbearable Darkness of being Rushes back, punching me in the gut.

Doubled over, I limp to the bathroom and splash my face with water, careful not to look in the mirror. I’m not ready to see myself yet.

I buckle on my urban armor – leggings, T-shirt, buffer jacket, Runners, cap and sunnies – hoping, as I slip out onto the street that I won’t see anyone who knew me Yesterday.

That was the old me. As I stagger unsteadily along Macleay Street, a fierce wind is blowing up from the harbor, sending a shiver through the plane trees. I zip up my jacket and plunge my hands Deeper into my pockets. I turn the corner into the cafe on the Strip along Challis Avenue. An agitated queue of socially distanced locals is snaking across the footpath. Their morning-coffee defibrillation can’t come fast enough. I Spy some neighbors in the line but thankfully they’re too preoccupied with their phones to notice the Haunted figure scurrying past them. I will break if anyone asks me how I am.

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I head to the McElhone Stairs, which cut through the ridge down to Woolloomooloo Bay. Locals call these the “Stairs of Doom,” and with good reason. The three flights totalling 113 steps will reduce all but the fittest to a vacuum bag of gasping. Over the centuries, parched Sailors and the Bay’s working class have made their way up these stairs, enticed by the siren call of the Cross.

As I stumble down, steadying myself on the metal rail, I pass the stair runners doing their chastened morning sprints. I won if they know of the lustful footsteps they follow. Or maybe that’s the demon they’re trying to purge. Perhaps the “Stairway to Sin” would be more apt.

I cross Cowpers Wharf Road to the fence line of the Garden Island Naval base, where a fleet of gunmetal-gray battleships is moored near the Harry’s Cafe de Wheels pie cart. Pieces of stale bread roll have been scattered along the footpath, and a greedy cackle of cockatoos and deferential pigeons are pecking at the Unexpected smorgasbord.

I jog up the stairs to Mrs Macquaries Road, through a grove of golden wattle, and follow the dirt track up the slope. The sounds of the city begin to muffle as the trees huddle in closer. Two figbirds are cooing just overhead. Rolling ripples from a boat’s backwash lick against the bush rock. And there’s another sound… I still myself to heighten my senses. Yes… I can hear it now… just above the sound of my own heartbeat… an almost imperceptible whisper in the rustling leaves, willing me to come in Deeper. I’ve heard these murmurings before on my many walks through the Gardens, but this is the first time I’m listening, Deeply, letting the vibrations travel through me and merge with my Insides. I close my eyes as the hum builds into gentle rhythms as old as the earth.

The she-oaks and the eucalypts lean in closer still. My skin tingles from an unseen embrace. With no words passing between us, these trees seem to intuitively know what I need: openness and enclosure.

Here with this tree, secluded in this wedge of nature, I sense I can sit alone yet not feel isolated.

There’s a clearing just ahead, above the Andrew (Boy) Charlton swimming Baths, where I sit down on the grass, the smell of damp earth rising through the roots. The numbness in my body begins to melt away like a slow-moving Glacier traveling through a rocky fjord.

In this stillness there’s room to hear my turbulent thoughts. My head is all at sea, Shipwrecked on a wild, nightmarish coastline, listing dangerously, inches above the waterline. As I surrender to the quiet, torrents of emotion Coalesce into the unformed words that have been haunting me: You were her older sister. It was your job to keep her safe. How could you have failed her so utterly?

I look up and notice that all the branches above me Belong to a solitary tree – a towering Moreton Bay fig encircled by a wooden walkway. I wander over and gently stroke its bark, marveling at the gnarly texture of the deep ridges and grooves, and how grounded and permanent it feels in contrast to my ghostly presence.

Here with this tree, secluded in this wedge of nature, I sense I can sit alone yet not feel isolated. I can draw on this tree for a unique form of Solace. It will be here but ask nothing of me. Can this tree and the fragments of urban nature around me lead me out of my grief? Could nature be my Savior?

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Edited extract from The Space Between the Stars (Murdoch Books) by Indira Naidoo, on sale now.

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