Jack’s car smelt like mouldy fruit and laundry powder. The felt on the center box was worn down to the thread. Mandarin peels crawled through the footwell up into the passenger seat. Rory had left the empty Budweiser bottle there himself, so didn’t feel the need to comment on it. A broken aux had been replaced with an array of CDs, stacked in the glove box, jammed in the slot in the door, underneath the lid of the box. He’d heard a theory recently. People reckoned thirty or forty years after production CDs would wipe themselves clean, the physical data would literally decay. You’d be left behind with nothing more than a collection of shiny plastic discs. For a moment he thought about bouncing the theory off Jack.
‘Daniel’s real worried he’s Connor’d,’ Jack said.
‘Remember Connor? From high school?’
‘Well like remember when we saw him when we were walking past Grey Lynn park one uni break. Or maybe you weren’t there. Anyway, we bumped into him and Robert on Williamson Ave. Robert came and said sup but Connor just like sat down on a fence by the edge of the park a few metres away. He didn’t even look me in the eye when we walked off past him.’
‘Is he real fried?’
‘Yeah. Smoked way too much weed, probably is depressed or something and then I heard he had a bad mushroom trip I think.’
‘And Daniel’s worried he’s fried now?’
‘Yeah he’s been coming down all day really hard and he’s not getting much better. He said to me something like ‘I’m not even frustrated at myself that I took all this stuff’, he knew he shouldn’t have where he is at the moment with all his mental stuff, but he was like ‘I just don’t have the energy to be anything but real despondent’.’
The hills cruised up and away in the distance, shockingly rural for being so close to the city. The shops leant into the narrow road that cut through the hilly terrain. The car felt out of place, like it was gliding along, one of those hovercrafts on a crocodile infested lagoon.
‘Fuck I hope he doesn’t kill himself or anything.’
‘Know where exactly we’re heading?’ Rory said.
‘Sort of, I got a rough address on the road, I think we’ll see them anyway.’
The car rounded a corner, down a one way road built impossibly narrow. It was probably quiet enough out here that cars would only ever meet coming both ways maybe once or twice a year anyway. It opened out to a wider street on the left. It was a cul-de-sac, the end of which was backed by a park, flat in front but thick with bush slipping down a hill at the back. The others were already there hard at work.
‘Shit we’re so late. I knew we shouldn’t have bothered coming,’ Rory said.
‘Nah that definitely would have been way worse.’
Most of the carparks were already taken so they got out a little ways down the street and walked to the park. About twenty of them were already there, some kneeling, cradling plants, some swinging spades and picks into the ground, others chatting and taking pictures of each other. Jack waved as he approached. No one noticed, he was too far away. He tried again a couple of seconds later. He managed to catch Laura’s eye this time. She placed her spade down gently by a half dug hole and sort of jogged over.
‘Oh my god, thanks for coming!’ she said, eyes wide, smiling broadly, and leaning back into herself a little.
‘Yeah, sorry we’re so late, we both slept through our alarms.’
‘That’s ok. We’ve planted most of the stuff already, but there’s probably a few plants about, go see if you can find one and just plant it where it’s laying down.’
They moved into the park and cast their eyes around. A few older fleece wearing types seemed to be directing the action.
Rory leaned in. ‘See any plants?’
‘Hmmm, oh yep, there’s one. Dibs it.’ Jack shot off.
Rory wandered aimlessly through the shallow foliage, picking up a spade and squinting ahead of himself purposefully in an attempt to look busy. Where the fuck were all the plants? His eyes locked onto a couple leafy saplings nobody had claimed yet, in a quiet spot at the back of the park where it began to slope down the hill. He walked over quickly, gently moved the plant out of the way and began to dig. Two scoops in, Adam closed in on the plant to his right.
‘Hey dude, how you been,’ Rory opened.
‘Good. How’s your morning?’ Adam asked, ‘Did you just get here?’
‘Yeah, we kinda forgot about it until just before. We drove in asap.’
‘Oh yep, how many plants you through?’
‘Ahh, done a few. You?’
‘About twenty. Pretty wholesome activity for a Sunday.’
‘Yeah, hard, should go smoke some cigs and kick some kittens or something to make up for it.’
They both laughed, Adam a little more uneasily. They dug in silence for a while. Adam finished his hole first and reached for his plant, grabbing it low down the stalk and easing it out of its pot.
‘This one’s a totara,” he explained. “In school the classic gag was you’d plant one of these in real random spots, like the middle of the quad or something, and then none of the teachers were allowed to move it. They’re protected trees so they’d have to call the council and fill out all this paperwork.’
Rory tried to look appropriately impressed in response. He wondered whether Adam actually ever did that. It seemed like a lot of setup for an average payoff. He felt kind of sorry for the totara too, so far away from the other saplings. Could trees survive being uprooted and shifted around more than a few times? That must be an outrageous sensation for a plant. Do they feel things like that though? He was midway through unpotting his plant when one of the fleece people called everyone over. Adam wandered towards the woman while Rory finished planting his tree. Something was being said about being finished for the day, and the woman thanked everyone for their help. He wedged the slabs of soil into the hole and wandered over to be reluctantly pulled into a group photo. He moved away a little eagerly, thinking the photos were over, but was pulled back in for a couple more. As the group dispersed he found Jack and motioned to leave. They turned to the road to head off, but were flagged down by Laura.
‘Some of us are going for a drink just down the road now if you guys want to come chill.’
‘Oh yeah, would love to but got a lot of work to finish this arvo I should probably get to.’ Jack said quickly.
‘Yeah same,’ Rory added.
‘No prob,’ Laura smiled. ‘See you round, thanks for coming!’ They were back in the car in seconds.
‘How many plants you do?’ Jack asked, closing the door.
‘Literally one. You?’
‘Like two… This was weird, let’s go quick.’
‘Do you actually have much work to do?’ Rory asked.
‘No not really. Just didn’t really want to stick around. I don’t know.’
‘Neither. Shit. We probably should make more effort, like Adam or something would have definitely gone and hung out.’
‘Yeah we probably should have.’
‘Too late now.’
They drove back through the township towards the city. The angle of the afternoon sun caused the light to bounce back off the hills making the houses in the distance look hazy and fake, like pencil sketches. They had a strange clarity to them, a sharpness. It was quiet out here too.
‘Have you heard any more from Daniel?’
‘No. We should probably go round tonight and make sure he’s ok. Right?’
‘Yeah, just don’t want to be invasive and stuff. But probably worth making sure he knows we’re not gonna just forget about him or whatever.’
They sat quietly for a while.
‘What CD do you want to listen to?’ Rory asked.
Jack looked at the box in the middle, then the slot in the front. He took his eyes off the road for a minute, running them over the titles slipped down the side of his seat, then the stacks in the back.
‘Just put on anything, they’re all a bit shit.’
Rory looked out behind him at the hills. They were riding them down, a big ramp towards the city.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Oliver Clifton is currently studying at Victoria completing a degree in English and Philosophy. In 2017 he was part of Pip Adam’s short fiction class at the International Institute of Modern Letters. He also writes music, on and off dabbles in student radio, and spent the year co-editing the music section of Salient Magazine. This is his first published piece of fiction.