'The music makes the sadness fit together': finding solace in Roxy Music

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An extract from Justin Heazlewood's new book Get Up Mum.

Mum reverses onto the road. I crane my neck to see Nan and Pop. They are a small waving blur. The car heaves forward. The scene ends. They are gone.

The car shakes and swerves left, down the main road I walked along with Nan and Merle on Saturday. Now I’m stuck inside the car, watching it rush by. A spud rolls from a bag in the back and clomps onto the floor.

Same old Wynyard whizzing past. The main street is empty. The shops are shut. We pass the wharf and jetty and YT’s fish and chip shop and the little pool where I learned to swim. It has a fence around it and is always closed.

I fix my gaze and let the lump swell and pain fly away. Words and noises and memories swirl. This is it. Mum and me again, in between, quiet. 

I make the most of my thinking. I let all my thoughts float at once. I don’t need them to make sense. I speed and skim and soar my eyeline across the blur of the waves in the distance as I spring off the horizon and scatter my attention. There are apricot-orange clouds stretched out like space ships. It’s like an artist has painted a battle scene out of smoke.

Fuzzy, hazy, fairy floss solar flares morph into slipstreaming stealth bomber turbo cruisers. It’s a busy scene with opposing fleets of starships mid-warp, firing photons and fanning flames and fumes and jet trails and blurred ships. I see a long main cruiser with jagged wings and tailfins swerving and smoking to avoid the plumes of silver fire. Tiny fighter ships gather on the edges as shields deflect shrapnel and damaged ships dive-bomb.

There are fluffy white clouds along the horizon. They have a dark outline on top and are lit from underneath by the low sun. It resembles a glowing wall of white water. A broken tidal wave, ready to wash us all away. I imagine what we’d do if it were real. How it would feel once it hit? If I held my breath would I stand any chance? Our car would get thrown and bobbed like a cork …

Mum flicks her lights on. She stares ahead, her hands gripping the black wheel. I relax my eyes for a while. As the sun sets the neon lights come to life.

Traffic lights look like electric lollies.

Alien suns!

What if there was a blue one?

On the hill to the right is a red blinking light. I love it because I don’t know what it is. It could be a satellite or a cyclops or a distress signal. It could be something friendly and magical. I imagine sitting on the hill by myself. I’m next to the tower, nestled in the long grass. The only sound is the soft blink of the signal. A clock radio hum. I look out over the ocean road, waiting for the moonlight.

It’s the loneliest thought but it’s an exciting one. I’m in the last place on earth, separate to everyone and surrounded by trees. What happens in the hilltops in the middle of the night? Do I get any sleep? Can I dream? The red light on the hill. Mother Nature watching over me. 

I twist the dial for 7BU. The radio bar glows green.

Mum flicks on her high beam. A blue light appears on the speedo.

A sad and mysterious song comes on. It has floating guitars and a thick drum pattern. The singing is high and mournful. Something about the sea on the tide. It has no way of turning. The music shifts the mood. The music is spacey and matches the twinkle and sparkle of the shopfronts and traffic lights.

‘… there is nothing …’

The atmosphere matches how I feel. I sit back and wonder how it might all fit together. Mum the way she is. Me trying my best. Never knowing what’s going to happen.

‘… more than this.’

I expand inside, enjoying the ache. The music makes the sadness fit together. The blinking lights and the thinking inside. I know my feelings are special.

All of this is important.

I really love Mum.

‘Who was that song by?’

Mum’s face is faint.

‘Bryan Ferry with Roxy Music. I’ve always liked that one.’

Mum knows about music.

‘Hey Mum, tomorrow can we …’

‘Don’t distract me while I’m driving dear, I might have an accident.’

The Volks lurches up steep View Road. I feel the shudder of the engine, the tyres drag hard on the bitumen. The final corner is the steepest of all. Mum has to stop accelerating to change gears and just for a second the car feels like it might roll backwards. The car steers left and glides over a rise. The road flattens out. Right onto Bird Street. Our house.

 

Mum pulls into the carport and switches off the key. We sit for a while, staring ahead. I don’t mind. I’m not in a hurry. The cooling engine ticks out of time. Mum bursts into laughter beside me. A high-pitched giggle, out of nowhere. It’s all over her face. Her shoulders shake as she cackles.

I stay still and calm.

It’s Sunday night. Mum is laughing at nothing. I’m waiting.

I stare hard at Mum. I record her giddy, leering face. Her flushed cheeks. Her faraway gaze.

I’m going to remember this for the rest of my life.

This is an extract from Get Up Mum by Justin Heazlewood, out now through Affirm Press.

Hear Justin's interview on Arvos with Tim Shiel right here. 

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