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Book extract: Plane Tree Drive

Books & Poetry

Adelaide writer Lynette Washington’s new book is a collection of interlaced short stories revealing the lives, loves and secrets of a group of people who share the same suburban streetscape.

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Plane Tree Drive, launched this month by MidnightSun Publishing, is the first short story collection by Washington, who is also an editor and teacher of creative and professional writing.

Illuminating a streetscape described by the publisher as “humorous, heartbreaking, real and surreal”, it paints a picture of both domestic isolation and “the joy of connection”.

The characters are introduced via a list in the opening pages, and include a womanising singer/songwriter dad who is also an addict, a “part-time community radio host, part-time porn-watcher”, a ponytail-sporting hippy, a grumpy middle-aged gambler, a young Afghani asylum seeker and a couple with an open marriage.

Everything’s Turning to White, republished below with permission of the author, is the third story in the book.

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Everything’s Turning to White

In my white dress, I am a ghost. Pale skin, blonde hair, white silk-covered shoulders. Invisible, without even putting on the veil. Imagine that.

Aria is white too, but hers is the kind of white that comes from living nocturnally. Her tatts poke angrily out of the emerald green satin dress that she would never choose to wear but accepted with a smile out of sheer friendship.

Across town the church is decorated with large ribbons of white, the same fabric as my dress. There are white roses in bouquets on the pews. I am holding a small posy of white daisies. I painted my nails nude, but there isn’t much pink there – it looks white to me.

‘Oh, Suzie you look divine,’ Aria says.

She is inspecting me, fussing. Dress gets smoothed, hair gets smoothed, cheeks get smoothed. Veil is puffed over my back like a billowing benevolent cloud.

I try to smile at Aria.

‘This is the happiest day of my life,’ I say, trying not to cry.

‘Suzie, you’re daft. You’re not letting yourself enjoy this. You don’t know how to be happy.’

She is wrong. I do. I did.

She reapplies my lipstick for the fifteenth time this hour and pronounces me ready.

‘But we can’t go yet. You have to be late.’

This is the final straw. These stupid traditions, absurd rules about how to be a bride. I am setting myself up for a life of unlivable rules, beginning now. For Aria life is lived late, so much so that it’s the norm. Late nights. Late mornings. Late texts. Late periods.

I pick up my train, my ridiculous train that my mother talked me into, and walk out the door.

‘Suze! What the hell are you doing?’

I climb the stairs to Joaquin’s apartment on the floor above. I knock loudly on his door.

I can hear Aria running after me, struggling to make it up the stairs in her stupid satin fishtail gown.

I knock again.

‘He’s at the church already, Suz,’ Aria says.

Of course he is. He’s never late for anything.

I want to sit down but the corridor floor is filthy and it will ruin my dress. I am enough of a bride to stop myself from doing that at least. I lean against Joaquin’s door. Footsteps come from the floor below and my heartbeat stops. Maybe he changed his mind and is coming back?

No, it’s only the boy who lives on and off in the flat above. I smile at him. His head is down, looking at his shoes, where the blinding whiteness of my ludicrous dress draws his eyes. They trace the white up up up to my face and he looks at me with his empty brown eyes and I can tell that he’s hardly seeing me.

‘Hi Faraj,’ I say.

He nods and keeps walking up to number 6.

For a mad moment I consider asking him what’s wrong – just to delay what I really have to do.

Aria takes my hands and draws me back into the moment.

‘Suze, shall we head off to the church now?’

‘I thought you said we had to be late?’

‘Better early than never.’

She’s panicking. Her job is to get the bride to the church and she knows I’m on the verge. She can see herself walking up the aisle – alone – delivering a message to the hapless groom. The scene plays out in my mind, complete with silent, dry weeping from Joaquin and wet, messy hysterics from my mum. I let my imagination continue to play out the scenario. I go home to Plane Tree Drive. Joaquin and I stop looking for a bigger place to share. I come home from work at night to sit in front of the telly with wine and microwaved food. I avoid Joaquin in the corridor.

Any way I look at my life, it’s a cliché.

Raised voices sink down from number 6 and Faraj comes back down the stairs. This time he stops and speaks. Slowly, thinking through each word.

‘Today you marry Joaquin?’

I hesitate before I answer, ‘Yes.’

‘He is your home now. You always have someone, Suzie.’ Faraj says.

Joaquin is my home. I suppose it’s true.

I want to hug Faraj, but he looks like he would break if I touched him.

‘Yes,’ I say.

Faraj nods and walks down the steps.

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Plane Tree Drive, by Lynette Washington, is published by MidnightSun Publishing, $26.99. Washington is a short story writer, editor and teacher of creative and professional writing. In 2014 she edited the story collection Breaking Beauty, and this year she co-edited the collection Crush.

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