On his first day of work, the Dead Man combed his hair in the mirror and brushed his teeth. Instead of showering, he sat on the rim of the bathtub; he had overslept and could not get the word “Alcatraz” out of his head. He wore his father’s shirt and trousers, ironed by his mother at midnight, and his father’s newly polished dress shoes – the shoes were too big but everything else was too small for his long limbs. He went into the kitchen and sat at the table for breakfast; his mother shouted at him and his hands stuck to the plastic table cover. His mother wanted him to eat well, so he had energy for the day, but also to hurry and not be late. She told him that her parents had almost died of starvation. She told him that his father’s parents had abandoned their farm because not a single thing would grow. She told him to wear some of his father’s cologne and that he should have shaved but it was useless now. The Dead Man ate and thought of the word “Alcatraz”.
In his parent’s room, he opened the top drawer of the dresser and took out his father’s gold perfume bottle – he sprayed on more than he should have then went back into the kitchen where his mother was waiting. She fixed his collar and ran her fingers through his hair with aggression and told him she wanted to say he reminded her of his father because this is what mothers are supposed to say – but his father never went to work dressed like this, or smelling like this. She pushed him to the door.
As he walked down the stairs, only his keys and his wallet in his pockets and his lunch wrapped in plastic in a bag, his mother called out to him, saying he needed to put some enthusiasm in his eyes, at least. The sound of dogs barking echoed in the stairwell.
The bus was waiting at the stop when he arrived. He sat at the back and, while he picked at the holes in the jeans worn threadbare from use, he daydreamed about the circus and the time his uncle was arrested for being drunk and brought to their home, where he snored on the couch while he and his sister sat on the floor watching cartoons before school. And he wonders where in the chronology of his life this bus ride fits, if it is before or after he drowns in the harbour, if he has escaped his fate and is free now, untethered, or if he is merely snaking his way towards that day bleached of colour.
Tristan Foster is a writer from Sydney, Australia. He is the author of Letter to the Author of the Letter to the Father and 926 Years, co-authored with Kyle Coma-Thompson.