The corner of Wellington Street and Dandenong Road at 4am is bathed in a sea of flashing blue lights. He thinks they might be stars exploding, a final farewell to the night sky that has been their home for billions of years. Or, they might be from a police car. He can’t be sure.
He’s cold, desperate despite the warm autumn air. People walk past and glance at him sideways, as if they are afraid and he is the manifestation of their fears.
‘They have nothing to be scared of,’ he thinks as he walks down the middle lane of the four-lane highway while cars slow around him, taking care to drive around his stumbling figure.
Horns blare as someone yells, ‘get off the road, yah fuckhead!’.
A strong hand takes his arm gently and he allows himself to be led away, to the side of the road where the flashing blue lights flash brighter and stronger. Bluer.
The static of a radio, broken voices filled with white noise, fills the air around him. He knows white noise is the sound of stars crying and dying, a sound trapped by frequencies and played out on radios and TV screens the world over. He wonders why the stars are crying. The thought brings his own tears.
Later, sitting alone in a room filled with a table and four chairs, no windows, no decorations on walls that stare at him with a sullen greyness, a closed door at one end, he wonders where his tears came from.
He tries the door, locked, and then the fear begins its snaking slither from his throat, through his ribcage and into his bowels. He knocks on the door, loudly. No one comes, the sound of his knocking deadened inside the grey room, the walls are hungry for his fear.
He’s startled an hour later – or maybe two – when the door opens and his mum comes into the room. He’d fallen asleep, head on the table cradled by arms that no longer cared. His arms feel heavy, like they don’t belong to him. He wonders what, if anything, belongs to him anymore.
His mother tries to talk to him but he doesn’t have anything to say, the only stories worth telling locked deep inside him where they will stay now, and for the decades that follow.
She places a jacket over his shoulders and leads him out of the room, out of the station and into the back of her car. The flashing blue lights have stopped flashing while the sky is filled with new beginnings, a softening of light from ink to indigo.
As his mum drives him home, he sees everything outside as a blur, unable to discern shapes and objects. Even when the car is stationary, everything remains unfocussed. He tries to hold his head perfectly still to see if that makes a difference. It doesn’t and the vertiginous well inside him bubbles inside him like the opening scene from MacBeth.
At home, his mum tries talking to him again, but he gives up nothing. All he wants to do is sleep a dreamless sleep where the ghosts of the past don’t haunt and taunt him. All he wants to do is hide under the bed where the monsters of his childhood once lurked. Those monsters were kinder, less monstrous, than the beasts that live inside him now.
He can feel them now, gnawing at the tendrils of fear that live inside him, a strangely calming sensation that sends him to sleep with the thought, ‘what are you going to do to help yourself?’