Today, we are sharing a #EWF21 Festival Reading by Jannali Jones, first performed as part of our Late Night Literature event: The Bogong: System Breakdown. This event was presented in partnership with Blak & Bright and featured Jannali Jones, Carissa Lee, Gary Lonesborough, Maddi Miller, Kalarni Murray and Nardi Simpson.
My world was a vast, white plain, overpowering me every day with its emptiness. When I began to draw over the walls, covering small sections bit by bit, some of the noise in my head went away. They didn’t like it when I did that. They took my pencils away. I found other things to cover the brightness – left over food, soap. The heel of my slipper made a mark if I pressed hard enough. All these things They took away. They opened my fists before bedtime to check they were empty. I had no choice but to use the smelly stuff. Nobody could take that away – unless they stopped feeding me.
I had to see Dr. ‘Stache after that. That’s not his real name. His real name was something Italian-sounding and tasted like chalk. I could never remember how to pronounce it anyway, even though I liked to trace the cold lettering on his nameplate whenever I had to sit in his office. He had a big, thick moustache, like that detective on TV Mummy used to watch over and over again. His moustache hairs move up and down in short jiggles when he talked. I liked listening to him. Some people just have a music when they speak.
Dr. ‘Stache was the first person I met when I arrived. He told me They would look after me, and that he was sorry for my loss. He reached into my chest and pushed hard on my lungs. It made my eyes sting. I didn’t lose anything. I knew exactly where Mummy was: back at home, lying on the bedroom floor. But I wasn’t allowed to go back there. I wasn’t allowed to see her any more. What he should have said was, I’m sorry we’ve taken you away from her.
Back in his office, Dr. ‘Stache asked why I’d played with the smelly stuff. I tried to explain about the noises again. It was hard because he always wanted to talk over me and became impatient if I didn’t respond to his questions straight away. He didn’t understand that he needed to wait for me to speak in the right second, when the right moment has come after the last sound has been made.
Mummy knew the rhythm. She could speak like everyone else, but underneath she was just like me. Her pencil-thin eyebrows drew together in concern whenever I told her about the new noises I heard. She told me to ignore them. That it was the only way. And I tried. I really tried. Yet when I’d gone days with a pounding head, and the noises spilled out around me, both Mummy and I could both hear the things being said. That’s when she broke down in tears and told me I could let them back in. It was the first time she’d heard them since she was a little girl, she said, but hers had never been as loud as mine.
Dr. ‘Stache listened this time and scratched marks on his planner. He nodded as his eyes probed mine. He made me promise not to write on the walls again and then I was moved to another room. A blue room.
I slept well the first night; the sounds were gone, covered in blue paint. Then gradually I noticed some bad things about the room. There was a skirting board that was too high for one, and the window faced west over the city. On the second night I dreamt about a big bang. In the dream, I rushed to the window to see an expanding whiteness so loud it crushed every part of me until I was nothing but pieces scattered amongst the remains of the blue room. When I awoke I was sweating all over. The white had found a way to follow me. The dream kept coming back, so I knew that something was wrong, and this time it wasn’t just the room.
I hadn’t thought much about getting out before. They thought I couldn’t deal with the outside, and I always believed them. So instead of asking to leave, I began talking about Mount Lofty.
Mount Lofty, Mount Lofty. How I loved Mount Lofty. It was all I talked about. I told everyone about a trip I’d had there on my tenth birthday, sitting in the sun and eating scones. I started acting how They wanted me to act. Instead of sitting by myself, I’d sit with the other patients, speak the way they did and smile at them when they spoke. I made an effort to eat more and never complained about how the pills scratched my throat on the way down, even though they still did.
On the day of my birth, They had a surprise for me – Dr. ‘Stache had agreed to take me out to Mount Lofty. I acted surprised and excited, even though I’d known this day would come. On the way, I recited a normal conversation to Dr. ‘Stache, so he almost forgot who I was. We ate scones in the sunlight and put coins in the binoculars to see the city closer, even though we’d gone there to see it from far away.
‘I have to pee,’ were the last words I said to him.
He waited outside the girls’ room. I felt a little sad for him as I climbed onto the sink and out through the bathroom window. As I passed the cafe I felt sad that he would be blown to shreds of flesh. I felt sad that his moustache would no longer jig, that the hairs would singe and curl. I slipped into the ancient caves at the back of the mountain, where the people from before, the spirit people, used to come to draw. Maybe they heard the white noises too. When I found a warm, dark spot in the earth, I wrapped myself tight in my cardigan and wept. I felt sad for many people, but I was glad that I wouldn’t have to hear the white noise any more.
Revisit Late Night Literature: The Bogong: System Breakdown below, and view more highlights from #EWF21 over on our YouTube Channel.