CW: Child sexual abuse
The pyjamas were pink satin, with a cherry blossom print.
The shirt was fastened with Chinese button knots; the pants were ¾ leg. They were Target brand, culturally appropriative as ever, but a crisp luxury compared to all my second-hand clothes.
I was eight. My parents had been separated for two years.
I felt like a princess wearing the pyjamas at my dad’s four-room unit, whose yard had a real blossom tree. In spring its white flowers coated the ground like snow.
My pyjamas were just as impressive to behold, even if its flowers were the crude workings of a machine, and its fabric sweated terribly.
I found the pyjamas recently, going through old clothes. Some of the blossoms had flaked off; the satin was faded from wear. They had been one of few things I owned and treasured.
I put the pyjamas in a garbage bag to be thrown away.
Julian was my dad’s son from his previous marriage. Julian lived with his birth mother but visited my parents’ rental in Melbourne until my parents moved South-East of the city. After my parents separated, Julian sometimes stayed on the foldout couch at our dad’s unit.
Julian was ten years older than I. Eighteen with acne and dark, greasy hair.
We were both introverted, reticent. We loved to read, write and draw.
Julian had less in common with my younger brother Louis. Louis rode skateboards and BMX bikes. He was unruly, impulsive, and tragically attached to Julian. He looked to Julian for the guidance our dad couldn’t provide. Julian was temperamentally unequipped. He threw Louis crumbs like a chef to a needy stray.
It was the summer of 2002.
Julian was sitting in the shade of the blossom tree in black clothing, reading. Our Jack Russell kept mounting my leg. Louis was crouched on the concrete burning ants with a magnifying glass, Julian having just shown him how to do it.
Louis pointed to an ant. ‘Watch this.’
Louis angled the magnifying glass towards the sky, casting a disc of light onto the concrete. He then lowered the magnifying glass over the ant. The disc of light swallowed the ant. The ant quivered, tumbled, and burned. I was horrified. I couldn’t look away. The ant stopped moving.
I tried it for myself. I hated it; it enthralled me — hurting an innocent, unsuspecting creature.
Julian’s gaze crept on my shoulder.
I was accustomed to his staring. It had started as just a minor nuisance. I would return a look, sometimes a smile, feeling obligated to be kind and responsive.
Louis and I took turns scorching one of Julian’s action figures—a muscular, scowling character. The face bubbled. Collapsed into itself, like a sinkhole. I embraced the freedom of destroying an object that belonged to Julian—of doing something bad, something only a boy would do. I had written numerous stories in which I possessed powers of flight, invisibility, and superhuman strength. Now, I held the sun—or at least a fraction of it—in my palm.
A hot ball of fire. An outlet for my contempt.
I imagined that it was Julian’s face I was burning. If he had no eyes, he could not look at me. If he had no face, he was as good as dead. I burnt the figure’s face until it smoked and turned brittle.
The violence of my thoughts and actions shocked me. I told myself that I didn’t wish Julian any harm and retreated into Dad’s tiny unit. Stood watching him watching me.
He smiled. A grin.
The blossoms fell around him in the wind.
All white, like dandruff.
It was morning.
I woke and walked out of my bedroom to the living area.
Julian’s fold-out took up most of the room. I could make out only the back of his head on the pillow. I tiptoed around the bed.
‘Romy,’ he said, twisting towards me. ‘Come join me.’
I stood there, half-turned towards Dad, who was boiling a kettle for his coffee in the connecting kitchenette.
‘Come on,’ said Julian. ‘It’s cold.’
Dad was preoccupied. He must be okay with it, I thought.
Stiffly, I climbed into the bed.
He was close. So close I could make out all the dandruff in his hair. Smell the grease of it. The doona was damp. Musty, unwashed.
Then I felt something.
I looked under the sheets.
Julian’s pyjama pant was pulled up at the bottom, exposing his lower leg, which was smothered in dark, wiry hair. Beside it was my shin — white and unblemished.
We were touching.
‘I like how your silky pyjamas feel against me,’ he said.
I froze. Listened to the kettle boiling.
Give him what he wants, a voice in my head said. Just a few more minutes.
Dad walked outside to smoke. My nostrils clung to the smell of that cigarette, wafting through the open door. When a few minutes had passed, I excused myself from the bed and walked outside.
On Julian’s next visit, I wet my bed. I had never done it before. I crept to the bathroom and placed my spoiled sheets in the washing machine. I wondered what Dad would think when he saw that stained yellow heap. Would he smell the fear in it? Would it smell like anything at all? Would he mention it, ask questions, like: You’re too old to be doing that. What’s on your mind?
I was relieved and disappointed when he said nothing.
I began to resent the blossom tree. I couldn’t look at it without seeing Julian sitting under it, glancing up at me from his fantasy novel. Turning those pages and my stomach with the way the sun glinted off his black hair like motor oil.
The tree lost its blossoms. Dad moved suburbs to a small cottage that never saw light. Julian introduced me and Louis to video games there. We would play them on a tiny TV, huddled by the heater. Maybe it was all that time spent playing video games that convinced me that Julian had installed cameras in my shoes so he could spy on me when I used the toilet.
My stony wall of silence grew thicker. It obstructed all conversation. When Julian stared and smiled at me and complimented my gaming technique, I shriveled.
One weekend, I heard Julian talking to Dad outside while they smoked a joint.
His voice was choked and low. I couldn’t make out what he was saying, but I knew that he was crying. I listened with pity and revulsion. He was eighteen; a man. Our father didn’t cry. My younger brother didn’t cry. Was suffering not a private indulgence?
When Dad came inside, he looked troubled.
‘Your brother is very upset,’ he said. ‘He feels like you don’t love him. Please, could you make more of an effort?’
‘Okay,’ I said. It was all I could muster.
The next and last time I saw Julian, I was fourteen.
Dad had arranged for us to meet him at the Royal Melbourne Show. Julian brought his then-girlfriend. All I could remember thinking as I looked at them, with their air of flirtatious exclusivity, was: Does she really know who he is?
For a moment, I felt unimportant. Forgotten, even.
I am no longer small beneath blossom trees. I can pluck flowers from high branches, hold their petals—thin and veiny—in my palm.
I wonder which rubbish tip those pyjamas went to.
I think about it then let it go.
Romy Durrant is a Naarm/Melbourne-based writer, and Co-founder and Editor of Lor Journal. She writes to honour experiences from childhood and early adulthood. She is Social Media Officer for Sex Work Law Reform Victoria, a non-partisan group lobbying for full decriminalisation of the Victorian sex industry. She participated in Arts Access Victoria’s 2018 Nexus Program — a mentoring initiative for artists with lived experience of mental health recovery. Her work has been published in VICE Australia, Cordite Poetry Review, Voiceworks Magazine, and The Lifted Brow, among others.