It was the third Wednesday of February, a blue-sky day with light so bright it hurt to open my eyes too wide. I had band practice after school, so I walked home at 5pm, my guitar slung over my left shoulder. The day before I’d had the first math test of the year. The day after I was supposed to be working on a science fair project in my group of four. It should have been just another day, another droplet of water skimming off my palm, another mainstream pop song I’d forget the lyrics to once it was off the radio. But when I walked in, my parents were seated formally at our round kitchen table, waiting for me. I was all set to get myself some diet coke and crackers and go crash in my room. But there were peaches on the table, my mother’s best date scones, a pot of black tea, milk.
“What’s going on?”
“Isaac, sit down. We need to talk about something.”
My parents never call me by my name. I didn’t sit down.
“What is it?”
My father looked upset. “Isaac. Please.”
“What’s this about?”
My mother’s pale face creased a little. “It’s nothing bad, honey. Please, we just need to talk about something.”
I sat down, albeit reluctantly. “Spill.”
. . .
My two favourite cousins lived a 30-minute bike ride from my East Auckland house. Tara and Jake, sister and brother, 13 and 15. It was perfect because I was in-between them in age, so we’d all grown up together. My earliest memories were of the three of us, at my house or theirs, watching movies, making pillow forts, wrestling in the garden. Tara, the oldest, used to choose which games we’d all play, and we’d occupy ourselves for hours. Jake’s favourite was spotlight. Mine was hide and seek. I’d always been good at hiding, cramming myself behind cupboards, under bushes. Sometimes it would take Jake and Tara hours to find me. Sometimes they would get bored of the game and yell at me to give myself up. I never did though, and they always found me eventually. We’d play in the local park, a large, wild, space, and we’d get ice cream from the dairy on our way home.
We went to different schools, but I would hang out with them every weekend. As an only child I used to be jealous that they got to hang out in the week as well, but they would reassure me that they were too busy to play games after school.
“It’s not fun without you anyway,” they’d tell me, and I would make myself believe them.
There were hundreds of photos of the three of us in old family photo albums. I was almost always squeezed between them. They didn’t look anything like me. I had dark hair, dark eyes, they were both fair as day.
. . .
I’d been on the bus to Wellington for hours, and my legs, which had grown rapidly in the last six months, felt numb. I wanted to stand up. Luckily there was nobody sitting next to me, I didn’t exactly feel like talking. I was listening to Ok Computer and trying to feel calm, but my hands kept shaking. I’d loved Radiohead since I was little, my father was something of a superfan. He used to play Kid A and The Bends while he did the dishes. Sometimes, he turned it up so loud that my mother would yell at him to turn the volume down, which he usually only did for a few minutes, before turning it back up with a wink in my direction. I could sing the words to The Tourist and 15 Step before I knew how to divide numbers, had more Radiohead t-shirts than I did underwear. My neighbours used to call me Radiohead as a nickname, and eventually that shortened to Radio. Everyone who’d known me since I was little still called me that.
. . .
“Did you know?” I’d meant to scream it in their faces, but it came out as a whisper.
Jake had opened the door, his smile fading when he saw my face. “Radio, what’s up? Come in.” He stepped aside, and I all but shoved him into the wall on my way into the kitchen. Jake followed me, yelling for Tara. She burst into the kitchen, pausing when she saw me there. I didn’t sit down. I faced them, my favourite cousins, my best friends, and tried to work out if they knew why I was there.
“Did you know?”
“Know what?” said Tara, but a certain look was flickering across her features. I didn’t say anything. After a few seconds, Jake also began to look aghast, realisation spilling across his face like an oil spill.
“You knew, didn’t you.” It wasn’t a question. They both looked at me, slightly afraid, as if unsure what I would do. As if they didn’t know me, as if we hadn’t all grown up together.
I wanted to ask them why they hadn’t ever said anything. It was insane that they hadn’t told me, hadn’t so much as hinted that they’d been lying to me my whole life. They just stood there, dumbly, like mechanicals. I didn’t even want to look at them. I turned on my heel and left.
. . .
I’d brought a book, but I couldn’t focus enough to read it. My eyes would glaze over, the words mushing together into nothing. I didn’t have any snacks, but I didn’t feel like eating.
Outside, the countryside whipped past, the rolling hills specked with sheep.
Such peaceful lives sheep led, just chewing, just wondering around, purposeless. Up until the point where they were probably cruelly slaughtered, they had it pretty good. And I know that it’s kind of melodramatic, but I kind of felt like a sheep that had spent its whole life in the ideal pasture, only to learn that it was to die that day.
I wondered how my science project team was going without me. My group consisted of Amy, Harry, and Maia. We’d gotten to choose our groups, and it was a no-brainer, of course the four of us would go together. Without meaning to sound arrogant, we were the best at science in my class. I think we all wanted to be scientists or do something science related. Maia wanted to work for NASA, Harry wanted to be a doctor, and Amy wanted to be a surgeon. I always said I wanted to do cancer research, like my grandfather.
. . .
The bus was stopping in Taupo for a 30-minute break. I didn’t know what to do, so I got off the bus and wandered aimlessly for a bit. At this point, I was listening to Hail to the Thief. It wasn’t improving my mood.
When I was six, my parents and I had gone on holiday to Sydney – coincidentally at the same time that the In Rainbows tour was on. My mother – who tolerated Radiohead at best – went out with some old friends while my father and I went to the concert. I remember the crowd seemed immense, stretching on forever, and I remember the energy of the room was electric. It was like everybody was on high voltage, just for that one night. My father asked this man to take a picture of us, wearing matching tour t-shirts. He had me on his shoulders, and I had a wide smile, almost too big for my face. The photo was still framed on my dresser, at home.
. . .
The bus was 20 minutes away from Wellington, it was nearly 9pm and still light. I checked my phone. Seven missed calls from my parents, 10 texts from Tara and Jake, 15 messages from my science group. I swiped to ignore them all. I was on a mission. Amnesiac was my soundtrack at the point where I got off the bus, consulted google maps, and started walking. I was onto Hunting Bears by the time I arrived in Newtown. And then suddenly I was on Somerset Ave, standing outside a low black wire gate. The house loomed over a pebble walkway, patchy grass barely decorating the bare square space. With an inhale I opened the gate and started towards the grey door. The walk can’t have been more than a few meters, but it felt like forever, my heart pounded in my chest so loudly it felt like my entire body was shaking. Maybe it was.
And then I was in front of the door, one fist raised. I was going to knock. I didn’t move. Knock. No. Knock.
Life in a Glasshouse started. Last song on the album. I took another breath and knocked.
I could hear footsteps, and my heart felt like a stone in my mouth. Creaking. Baseline. A shadow could be made out through the rippled dark glass at the top of the door.
And then the door opened.
A man stood in front of me. “Can I help you?”
I opened my mouth.
It was like everything I’d ever had in my life flooded around me in memories so thick I couldn’t breathe.
Dad and I, singing along to Just as the guitar got higher and higher, until we were both screaming. Mum, shouting at us to keep it down. The three of us, at dinner, on holidays, going for day trips up north. Tara and Jake and I, hours spent in the park with the sun high above. Covering Radiohead songs with my band, trying to copy their style when we wrote originals. Science class, my friends and I, discussing our futures.
Could I still have all of that, and also believe what was about to happen? Did I want this to happen? Why did I get on a bus and come all the way here? Are these people anything to me at all? Did I want them to be?
The man had brown hair, tanned skin, brown eyes. His jaw was square like mine, his nose like mine in shape.
“Can I help you?” His voice was low, like mine, but the accent was slightly different – telling different stories of his life, where he’d been, who he loved. He resembled me, but he didn’t know me at all. And suddenly, I didn’t even want to talk to him.
He was looking at me curiously. A little too closely. Would he realise?
“Oh, sorry, I got the wrong house,” I said.
I started to walk away.
“Wait!” He called out after me. I paused. I didn’t know what I wanted. A reason? The truth? My foot hovered, not quite willing to take a step in any direction.
“Was this really the wrong house?” He sounded a bit breathless, his voice slightly higher, softer – like mine when I had to speak in front of people. Was I reading too much into him?
I put my foot down.
Emma is a poet, singer/songwriter, and student in Wellington. Originally from Auckland (born next to Cornwall Park), she has spent the last year using art to draw together the pieces of her identity. In her spare time, she drinks kombucha and gin and experiments with photography. Find her on Instagram: @acrylix56