Who made the story rules? — First pages of The Butterfly Prison
Who made the story rules? Once, stories had been an oral tradition, a way to teach. Then they were stolen, canned, and sold. But now and then people tried to reclaim stories. They told them in order to redefine corrupted ideas and to name injustice. They broke the rules, making a new awareness, dreamfires of non-acceptance and possibilities.
Every human was a living metaphor for the social and economic world they lived in, and people together were a patchwork quilt of stories. Stories touched; revealing as they did the complex connection between individuals and the bigger issues. Readers questioned, and became, with each reflection, a little more alive.
Nineteen-year-old Mella lived in a small fibro house in north west Sydney. The windows of the house squealed when opened, and the paint on their wooden frames peeled off and formed powder piles in the corners. Possums lived in the roof, and cockroaches lived behind the fridge. The bathroom/toilet/laundry floor and walls were covered with four different types of tile, and there were squares and triangles of bare concrete where tiles had come loose.
The little house was in a street with similar little fibro houses, in a suburb with one library, two bread shops, three pubs, four banks, and a main road eight lanes wide going through the middle of it. The street behind Mella’s street was the same as her street, and the street behind that was also the same, and all the parallel streets came off a secondary road called Adelaide Road, which was lined with red brick flats of one and two bedroom apartments. Immigrant families, single mothers and their children, supermarket and bank workers, and the sporadically unemployed lived in those apartments, with often large families in a single bedroom. In front of each building were brick fences with forty letterbox holes in each, the metal covers flapping shut after the postie left yet another unpayable electricity bill.
It was the height of summer and already there had been more days of 43 degree oven-air this year than any other year, and the blue sky cracked, electricity wires drooped, and gasping house sparrows sat in the middle of the droop before being chased off by a magpie. The wind whispered of a summer thunderstorm that night.
Mella was working in the front yard in the shade made by the two metre high timber fence. Her dad had erected it after her mother had died a few years ago. Since then, she had done all the housework; the washing, ironing and cooking. This morning he’d told her to “work in the garden, water it, and sweep up the leaves.” The leaves had blown in from late night wind journeys and settled there. “Clean it up, get rid of that mess,” he’d said. (Sweep up leaves, tidy up the forest; put the trees in perfect rows and columns, comb the branches so they point in the same direction, spray the air with deodorant, vacuum up the beetles, replace the flowers with perfect plastic petals, tell the breeze which way to blow, teach the toads to sing in tune…).
Mella gathered the leaves and threw them into the empty otto. They made pigeon feet patter sounds as they landed at the bottom. She filled a large old pasta pan with water, and with shoulders hunched, as they always were, got down on her knees to water the strawberries. She wondered why she bothered. What seedlings had managed to shoot up were already shrivelled into brown strings. Most of the yard was barren dustdirt or clumps of grass and weeds. The flowers she had planted had grown a little then turned down and buried themselves in the ground. The rhubarb was pink mush, and the garlic cloves she’d planted had rotted, the dirt above them then collapsing into the space they’d occupied, forming pockmarked groundskin.
Mella stroked some of the seedlings and held them up as if showing them which way to grow. And In the yard behind her, ants walked backwards, retreating into a pile of brick rubble in the far corner. Worms came to the surface and were cooked by the hot air. The pebbles she’d gathered and arranged as borders to mark the different sections of the garden sat like an audience waiting for a play that would never start.
A pair of lorikeets walked along the top of the timber fence then flew off, taking their colour with them.