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Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

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Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

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Life of Mary MacLane

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Entries in nathan jolly (9)


In Which We Curse Ourselves For A Number Of Reasons

You Were My First Baby


There he is! At last. She knew he would look like that and stand like that and be just like that. It was a relief when she saw him there because she knew she could stop looking now.

He was talking to a guy who never made it past the friendship preliminaries: the boyfriend of a girl at his work, she’d later learn and recite, as their origin story became refined, edges sanded and bad jokes landed and fate understanding that this was their moment.

Of course, his shirt was wrong and her mascara was five drinks gone, and her skirt was an inch too long which crippled how she moved in a way where it haunted her head and dictated her movement to an infuriating degree, and he felt like he was getting hips that winter: proper hips, swinging lard sacks that he flattened and squashed into his side all evening, but they fell in love all the same or – if you believe such pronouncements belong only in soap operas – at the very least they collided suddenly and agreed to collide again at a later date – more softly and sweetly the next time, and the next time, until it was a dance they knew by heart. And so it was.


It wasn’t the last street, nor the street before, and all the streets look the same in this stupid Lego town, and this is her fault and she knows it, but he is being so fucking calm about it, because this whole visit – this whole trip, this whole experience – doesn’t mean a thing to him. He never tried. For once she would like him to just yell and blame her for not remembering to write down the address, or the phone number, or anything. Why won't he yell? He is happy to just drive. He already knows he is going to leave her. These are wet matches. He needs a big fire before he can do anything. He needs scorched earth. He needs her to have an affair. He fantasizes about her quivering bottom lip as she confesses everything, he dreams about his game-changing kiss off, about his complete radio silence, his lawyer’s letters, his short, sporty, summer fling, his reply to her dick of a father who has no idea. He wants to hurt her.


No salt, just seasoning. She knows she eats too much fried shit these days, but they are going to start a diet after all the weddings and baby showers and buck’s nights and capital H-Holidays stop shooting at them so constantly, but summer is coming soon, too, and drinks are cheap here — let’s live now and sweep the soot in our old winters. Bobby is beautiful but she can’t think like that. Not when they are saving $900 a month while cooking in bulk and drawing up budgets while he promises, "Because this is important to you, I’m gonna make it happen."

painting by Alice Neel

She can’t flirt with beautiful Bobby with those words rattling around in her head, not when they are saving so she can move to the city she cursed her parents for not bringing her up in. Not when he divided his home-made casserole into five marked Tupperware containers, and seemed excited and proud to do so. She wants everything, but can only whisper it for now; his plan is to get a suit and visit a bank in three months, and he is so steadily focused on this part of the plan that any further steps were sure to fall into place – he was sure of it. Her mid-afternoon daydream of catching a train to the airport, picking whichever flight is around $1,500 and leaving before she has time to shift and shuffle and talk herself sensible seems like mere sound now.


"This is not the park my children will play in," she decided firmly when they moved into that scorched red brick apartment with the needles and the screaming and all the other awful things happening across and above her. Bikini bottoms and tea towels hung over every three or four balcony ledges; while lizards withering on plastic furniture, burning cigarettes, drinking from boxes, yelling “fuckin’ this" and "fuckin’ that” at their kids – white, middle nothing. This was not the apartment her babies would grow up in.

They wanted the babies to come in quick succession, in twos if possible, in threes if they traded up to an eight-seater with adjustable headrests and a sliding door that got stuck if you didn’t slam it hard enough, but after Julian months became years and GPs became specialists and quietly they blamed each other and even more quietly they cursed themselves for doing so then, when they learned the truth, she blamed herself. He said it didn’t matter to him, and for a while it didn’t. One baby was plenty. There were carriages to push and car seats to fit, and first words to extrapolate and shifts spent anxiously watching him breathe, mini panic-attacks when he stopped crying long enough to possibly to be dead.

Each day Julian didn’t die was a victory, and when there was such a clear-cut goal, the rest of life hummed by until he learned to toss and crawl and not die — and the proper problems could no longer be a background blur. Now she views those early days as the best of her life, but at the time she often felt a snapped second away from drowning Julian in the shallow plastic baby bath, and driving to the airport with $1,500 folded neatly in her inside skirt pocket.

Nathan Jolly is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in Sydney. He tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.

Paintings by Alice Neel.

painting by Alice Neel

"A Line in the Sand" - P.J. Harvey (mp3)


In Which It Calls For A Different Type Of Drink

A House I Would Like To Live In


Past the long, dipped driveway, proud hedges block the neighbours out, while a bent basketball hoop guards those big, barn-style doors you pressed me against the night I knew I loved you in a different, more permanent way than I had loved before. The inside of that garage is still as messy as it was that night, but at least now it's an ordered mess - we know which box the CDs are in, and that the remote control boat we've only used once is in the clear blue plastic box under the piles of blankets we push against the inside of the barn doors when the rain begins sprinting down our driveway.

We know exactly how sharply that driveway slopes because we adjust for this with our bounce passes, and you sprained your ankle that night after the drunken RSL raffle where we won the meat-tray and hosted a second raffle to offload, buying twelve dollars worth of chocolate with the proceedings. Our daughters know how the driveway goes too, because they sit on skateboards with their laces tucked into the sides of their shoes, and slide down those same slopes until they crash into the barn doors.

You're on a computer near the front of the house, annoyed and late for some deadline your boss secretly set two days early to allow for your hopeless internal clock, and the girls pretend they can't hear you yelling at them to go out into the cul-de-sac and stop hurting the poor barn door. The girls laughed the first time you ever said that to them, because you showed them how it looks like a sad face with droopy eyes and a mopey handle-mouth and now every basketball dint is either a cute dimple or a gross pimple depending on which daughter describes it first - Barney is now a character that the girls wave goodbye to when we drive 90 minutes up the coast to stay at your uncle's beach house, which is in a nice enough area to deal with the handful of self-congratulatory references he makes to his own generosity each Christmas when we see him: "It's a good life down there, isn't it mate?"

It is making him money just by standing there, he tells us. It is his reminder of where he'd rather be. He bought it with the life that won't allow him to visit. You started sending him postcards each time we were down there, because you realised he just wanted reassurance that it was a good idea to buy a fibro-cement house on the beach a little too late for a little too much, and that it is waiting for him to return, yet keeping busy entertaining visitors. “Anyway”, you asked him one afternoon with the straightest of faces, “why exactly is a 58-year-old guy holding onto money anyway?” You were right, and that was when I realised that maybe you and I were just getting started instead of settling in somewhere. Life is long.

This afternoon I am arguing that the dents in the barn door add to the charm of our entire house, our entire life. You made our grumbling babies stand against the doorway, skimmed a school ruler through their hair and tracked their growth with permanent markers every few minutes. The barn door is another permanent marker: of our giddy girls smashing trikes, of our doctor hitting a cricket ball from the cul-de-sac into our door - in surf-shorts. We don't need the girls breathing in paint fumes either, and neither of our next-door neighbours know us well enough for us to breathe easy dropping them off there for a few hours - it's too cold this time of year to bundle them into the car and drive aimlessly, too.

You laugh at my flimsy excuses not to paint the door and then push me up against up it, softly this time.

When we moved up the coast to breathe salt instead of smoke, to wake early by choice, and curse bindis again, we couldn't believe we could afford this house; we were fresh from the trap of city prices and sizes and stoops sold as verandahs. We couldn't believe the takeaway store down the road with its ancient arcade machines, and fish plucked that same morning from an ocean you could see. We couldn't believe there was one local policeman, and that we knew his first name, that he lived in a four-room plywood extension carelessly nailed and glued to a store-front federation-era cop-shop, and that we bought stamps and parcel packs from his wife, and didn't inherently tense up when walking past him - unlike those policemen in the city that could own you just to own you. We've seen him eat coleslaw at a backyard barbecue in faded surf-brand shorts, and now we know a policeman by name, and a fireman and a shopkeeper, and a doctor - and we've seen them all in surf-brand shorts.

We stopped talking to our old friends, then we stopped talking about our old friends; pubs and doorways and bus-routes faded like the Darling parents and the idea of inhaling breakfast while buttoning a shirt and rushing around looking for ear-rings and squashy heels started to seem faint and comical. One Sunday newspaper came with free carrot seeds as part of some misguided promotion; now have a veggie patch, which gives us a new, more natural gauge on how time passes.

There are secret, future plans for that veggie patch but for now it sits sagging over the path as a grown-over reminder of two months last summer where days stretched into each other and we drank coconut rum because a new season in a new town called for a new more postcard-friendly drink.Tomorrow I have to go back to the city. I know that it will try to coax me back, and I know that I will let it. Tonight, I watch my daughters sleep, and watch you watch TV, and eat potatoes grown just down the road.

Nathan Jolly is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in Sydney. He last wrote in these pages about communal living. He tumbls here and twitters here.

Paintings by Alex Colville.

"The Prettiest" - Adna (mp3)

"Rain" - Adna (mp3)


In Which Communal Anything Is A Nice Idea

The Host


We are at a house party, walking from room to room, while Charlotte points out the tiny signs that the host is a functional junkie. Things that only someone who had been a drug addict before would ever notice: slightly bent paperclips, odd items in rooms they should have no occasion to visit, snowflakes of ash on bookcases, slight burn marks on pillowcases, the 'Lost In Translation' soundtrack perched on the stereo.

Charlotte was once a drug addict and is now a drug user because even bread has habit-forming qualities and is probably killing us just as quickly. She was right about soy snacks, about plastic and fake sugar and Susan's old boss, and she swears she is right about this, too - so I believe everything she says. Charlotte fell asleep on her arm two nights in a row, and it scared her enough to slide slightly straighter. We split up weeks after that, and neither of us argued hard that this wasn't the real reason. This kitchen is immaculate, which Charlotte notices and now I notice, and she assures me this also means something, and I nod, and she smiles, and we wonder how firmly we need to ingratiate ourselves with the host before we can change the CD. I like when house parties have CDs rather than iPods, and I like when they have punch, too, because we all learned early from the same ten TV shows that punch equals party and therefore this is a common bond we share with every single host who serves punch - even if she is a closet junkie who spends hours manically cleaning and organising her fridge by food group. Charlotte tells me you can instantly tell a house party will be filled with terrible people if there isn't a bookcase and a stereo in a common room. We argue for a bit about how books are often kept in bedrooms, especially in share houses, before Charlotte points out there should be more books than bedroom storage, especially in a share house. This presents another wrinkle: does the overflow mean the books in the common room are an accurate representation of tastes - three people's least precious reads - or a greatest hits collection, a boast which vastly overstates each individual's true tastes, making the more-interesting seem less, and the less more? We can't decide. I helpfully point to a cracked tile, but it doesn't mean anything apparently - sometimes tiles crack.

The living room is filled with people I will never know. The stereo is loud and muffled, like it has been ordered to shout but is embarrassed by what it has to say. I take this music as a personal attack on me, but Charlotte sees it as a shortcut, the way she has seen most human behaviour ever since she changed majors from economics to sociology then back again. Charlotte never finished her degree and her mother still doesn't know. She has never needed it, and come to think of it, neither have I. "I need a T-shirt with a photo of Yoko on" she says lazily, before collapsing into a cane chair. Charlotte once told me the best time to interact with society while being on drugs was before 9am, because everyone looks like a shaken mess that early in the morning anyway. It made me skip back over every morning spent with Charlotte to try to remember signs: to remember her eyes, her reaction time, her pale, speckled face. But Charlotte was always quicker and much smarter than me (than I?) and now her eyes are dancing because she caught me looking at them for too long; I realised I didn't know what color they were - or thought I didn't - until I knew of course I did. She kisses me on the lips sharply, then slowly for a few seconds longer. I realise I'm now sitting in her lap, on a cane chair in a lounge room swimming with strangers, so I get up and walk with purpose towards the stereo, but am too scared to stop the music.

There are piles of blankets near the door leading out to the back porch; the evening is stupidly cool for an October and our host is kind in that pure-hearted way where she steps out future scenarios and makes sure she is prepared. I want to tell her that I'd noticed this but since she doesn't know me, it can't have anything resembling a positive effect, so I don't. The punch looks a different, more troubling color than it was when we first arrived, so I decide not to risk another dip in the bowl; communal anything is a nice idea but it runs a short race. Charlotte's friend Lucy is already asleep, her neck craned uncomfortably, and because the three of us had walked to the party together, we'd signed on to bring each other's bodies home - especially because this house is across from the dark corner of the dog park where the floodlights die and no taxi dare roam. I grab a bunch of blankets and cover her, and try to find a cup clean enough to fill with water and sit near her. She flinches and grabs my face and whispers to "Charlotte" to "try to bang [me] tonight", because "he is being so obvious" - I stay and stroke her hair until she either falls asleep or stops moving. I slide under her limp, coathanger arm, and head out into the yard to find Charlotte. Past the fire and the five-stringed acoustic guitar, she is scrunched against the fence, her phone shining a light on her face. "I was trying to find you" she smiles, and puts her arms out, as if she needs me to drag her to her feet. 

Nathan Jolly is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in Sydney. He last wrote in these pages about cataloging. He tumbls here and twitters here.

Paintings by Julian Opie.