With the support of the Copyright Agency‘s Cultural Fund, and in partnership with the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre, Westerly is proud to present our sixth Writers’ Development Program in 2022.
Three talented emerging writers were offered professional guidance and support in developing their work for publication in Westerly, both in print and online. ‘Graveyard Account’ by Clare Testoni is also available to read in our latest print issue, Westerly 67.1.
Your face fills a box surrounded by other dark squares, most of them empty. You wait on mute and sip your coffee. Your face is not yet awake. The peace lily behind you needs watering. The white flower at its centre is desiccating. Its leaves droop over the bookshelf, carefully edited to hide your collection of The Baby-Sitter’s Club books.
Normally it’s on mute but since you’ve not been in the office most of the year, you’ve started leaving it on in case your mum calls with bad news. Hold your phone next to the monitor so it looks like you’re looking at the meeting. Phone unlocks; it recognises your face.
Notification: ‘On this day 10 years ago…’
It’s a photo of you and Jake. Taken on your first smartphone before you knew about filters or angles. Both squished into frame, cheeks red from cleanskin rosé. Seeing Jake happy and alive, through a lens Vaselined with sunscreen from ten years ago, fogs your brain to a point where you don’t even notice the team meeting has started. You flick your thumb across the screen looking at the other poorly lit photos from that night.
» Jake cocks an eyebrow, a martini glass in hand, the red wallpaper and low lighting of that bar on Prince Street that closed down.
» A photo of you in a vintage outfit you loved. You wore it to rags and had to throw it away. Your eyebrows are still thin from overplucking in high school.
» The next photo is Jake eating a kebab and you can’t believe how many people are behind him on the street, how busy the city looks.
Right after he died you stared at these photos again and again and didn’t submit them to his memorial page, because they were private and messy and you wanted a part of him just to yourself.
Someone asks you a direct question in the meeting. You briefly unmute your microphone, pushing your face into a smile. It’s on track, it’s progressing, you’ll pass on what you have so far to marketing. You don’t mention the hour-long shower yesterday instead of lunch, or that you’ve started having sex dreams about the Woolworths delivery guy.
Once the spotlight is off your square and your manager has moved on to Zaynab in marketing, you pick up the phone again. You nod every now and then to make it appear you’re listening. You flick your thumb over one more photo on your phone.
» An image you don’t remember, in the same time-catalogued folder. It’s dark and unfamiliar, not part of your official memory gouged out with a repeating scrolling for photos of him. It must have been you who took it because it’s Jake asleep in your bed. Your arm is just in shot, next to his terrible tattoo of Donald Duck that he always planned to remove but never got around to.
You remember that night so clearly, despite the rosé. The cold bite in the air, the squeak of Jake’s volleys, but not this photograph. The meeting is over and everyone is waving while they search for their close button.
Rate your call quality *smiley face*
You’re back to the silence of your apartment and your coffee is cold. Open a tab: YouTube—type ‘lofi jazz for wor-’ [Recently viewed] Lofi Jazz Rainy Cafe Sounds for Study 4hours, click. Plan to work until the four hours of rain and saxophone ends. After fifteen minutes you’re hungry and need to pee. You decide to take an hour-long break.
You scroll Instagram on ‘discover’. Dogs, makeup and memes roll past. You keep meaning to close the app and make dinner but now it’s dark and you’re hungry. Microwave some frozen vegetables, add an egg and some hot sauce. It won’t kill you. Leave the dishes in the sink.
You call a friend but they don’t pick up. Start scrolling again, this time in bed. Your thumb passes a grey square, grey square, grey square. Check your internet is working, it is. Another grey square, another, but now they seem to contain a texture. A pixelated something that won’t load. You assume it’s another mass social justice movement. You lock the phone and put it on the bedside table.
Do not disturb is activated until 6 am *cloud emoji*
You make a bad morning coffee. You’re saving a daily walk to get good coffee at lunchtime. You sip the coffee at your desk. Open a tab: Outlook. Wonder if there is a way you can froth milk at home. Google: ‘how to froth milk at home’. People also ask: How do you froth milk without a frother? How do you make frothy milk at home? How do you froth milk for beginners? [Suggested Video] How to Froth & Foam Milk Without an Espresso Machine or Steam | 4 Ways. Watch a video where a disembodied hand shakes hot milk in a Tupperware container. Click on the next video. A man in Korea, whose face is never in shot, makes a perfect cappuccino at home. The sounds of coffee dripping and milk frothing are quiet and satisfying. Google: ‘Korean coffee making equipment’ [Shopping results] AD. DONGGU ELECTRONICS CO. LTD.—동구전자
Spend the next ten minutes wondering if you should invest in an Airpress. You should be working. Click on the Outlook tab. There’s nothing there. There should be a link for the team meeting. Check your calendar to see if you’ve missed anything. It’s Saturday.
*present emoji* It’s Jacob Hayden’s birthday! Wish him all the best!
Jake’s face, close and shiny, forever framed by the rainbow mask that reads ‘Yes! 2017’ and fossilised in the middle of the marriage equality plebiscite. You click on his profile and it’s framed with bright birthday explosions of digital confetti. People have commented:
» Miss you man
» A photo from a school formal. People’s faces too softly formed to recognise, captioned with a single *red heart*
» Still can’t believe you’re not here Happy Birthday! Xxxxx
» A photo of him as a child, a skinny blonde boy in a Batman suit. Uploaded by his mother.
Facebook suggests you wish him a happy birthday with a randomly generated slideshow. The upbeat music and graphics bounce around photos of you next to Jake. A tour of past haircuts and old drinking holes. An ode to flash photography. Close Facebook.
It’s Saturday so you should probably do something healthy. You put on your running shoes and wireless headphones and go for a run.
Playlist ‘workout’ > play
You self-consciously shuffle around Subiaco—You better work Bitch. The streets are empty. Each time a car goes by you notice its—work Bitch— colour and mentally list how you would describe it to the Police if ever asked. You do the same thing—work—to another jogger you pass, holding your breath as soon as you’re in proximity, just in case. Male, mid-forties, average height, white—keep moving higher—Under Armour black shorts and top. You often play this game. You blame all the spy books you read as a kid.
You look at your watch, Jake’s face in that rainbow round frame is there, around your wrist like a lover’s token. His face slides away revealing a *present emoji*. You try to swipe it away but your hands are sweaty and it keeps bouncing back. You walk home, shower, scroll.
You scheduled Carla to come hang out in your singles’ bubble but she bailed because ‘she doesn’t feel safe right now’. You’re still sore from the run but the red wine you had planned to share has softened the pain of shin-splints. Netflix plays in the background, just colours and sounds to fill up the apartment and make sure burglars know someone is home.
Are you still watching?
You hit yes and turn back to your phone. Scroll Instagram looking at friends and their dogs, at famous people and their houses, at clothes you’d like to buy. Tap on your profile. You’re not very good with composition and the photos are much grainier than other people’s since your phone is so old. Scroll back to the various holidays, look at yourself standing on Ponte Vecchio. The Tuscan sun gives your skin a glow that isn’t on your face in your zoom meetings. You don’t recognise this person, sun-kissed in another city, happy. Scroll back further, and further, wonder if you should cut your hair again, keep scrolling. Jake is in one of your earliest posts.
» You’re having lunch, it was just after his break up and even the Perpetua filter can’t hide the bags under his eyes. He looks up resentfully at the lens, mouth full of avocado smash.
It has four likes, which in 2015 was possibly a record for you. You tap to see who liked it: @margret_ann_2248 (your mum), @em.loves. moviez (your step-mum), @gnarlycarly (Carla), and someone called @youvebeenherebefore. Click on the last profile since it’s a name you don’t recognise. The profile image is of the back of a man’s head, just a swirl of dark brown hair in the circle. He has three photos posted.
» A stairway that looks familiar to you. It’s grey and bland like it belongs to a modern apartment building, a nicer one than yours. Each door in the hallway has a little light above it, illuminating the brass numbers on the doors. A blurry pair of female legs are walking away from the camera. No caption, posted November 17, 2018.
» A coffee with crema art of a swan. You know the cafe in Subiaco that does that, the women who work there are so polite. December 10, 2018.
The third photo makes you tuck your legs beneath you and pause the K-drama on the television.
» A black and white photo of a man smiling. He looks just like Jake. It is him, you’re sure. He’s backlit by a marquee that reads ‘Florence + The Machine’. His face is shadowed and happy. January 12, 2019.
You’re trying to think through a wine-soaked brain. There is no information in the profile of the account. There is nothing but ‘You’ve Been Here Before’ on @youvebeenherebefore’s profile. No highlights or reels.
You open a tab in Chrome. Search: ‘When did florence and the machine perform in perth date’. The reviews tell you it was January 12, 2019 and that her performance was ‘a captivating and transcendent experience for those who could actually see the stage’. Your hands shake, you flick back to Insta and direct message @youvebeenherebefore.
If you weren’t drunk you might have written something less dramatic and more polite. Something that would end with ‘kind regards’. But you drank a bottle of wine alone and it’s dark and the apartment is suddenly so quiet you can hear the fridge moaning. You open the chat to delete the message, but instead there’s an open speech bubble just below your own.
ieatcake: How is thi—backspace—Jake Hayden?
ieatcake: I can’t beli—backspace, I mis—backspace, backspace.
There are so many questions you want to ask him. You take a deep breath and ask the biggest question you have.
ieatcake: How could you leave me behind?
ieatcake: I think about you every day—backspaaaaaace—Come back.
youvebeenherebefore: ain’t never left baby.
ieatcake: Is this you Jake?
Nothing for a while, just that deep electronic drone of the fridge letting you know time is moving.
Three dots bubble and disappear.
You put your phone far from reach, pour another glass of wine and hit play on the television.
You wake up. It’s morning and your head hurts. In the mirror your lips are stained purple, it makes you look like a goth. It’s Sunday so you lie in bed, avoiding your phone, alone with your thoughts. No one is expecting you anywhere. Outside, the streets are empty, no one is going to a family Sunday lunch or to yoga. You open the balcony and step out into the air. The dirty concrete drags on your pyjamas. There are no sounds, no cars.
You pick up the phone, open Instagram. The chat from last night is empty, just a grey square and a flickering cursor. The profile image is gone, a white outline of a body in a circle all that’s left.
Clare Testoni is a playwright, fiction writer, and puppeteer. Recent performed works include Tale of Tales, The Double, The Beast and The Bride, as well as the children’s radio play SunRunners. Clare won the AAWP/ASSF Emerging Writers’ Short Story Prize in 2021 and her adaptation of The Secret Garden will premiere at Spare Parts Puppet Theatre in 2022.