Undullah Street

By Ellen van Neerven

Everyone has places they would like to be, you think. You’ve looked at about sixty listings this morning on Floor. All of them you’ve seen before. This is your life now. They are not putting up anything new. You have a notification: YV has replied. You almost open it but you promised to wait until your loved one is up. 

You should probably avoid the news, it doesn’t help with the pursuit of not being depressed. Your disaster wires tell you that there are no new incidents in your 5km radius and no predictions for the next 24 hours. Air quality, good. A lorikeet needs help, but he’s been helped already. 

You should probably avoid the news, it doesn’t help with the pursuit of not being depressed.

You play your favourite nostalgia-trip song right now, the song by CHAII you moved your body to ten years ago, a night you could pinpoint as the night you gave yourself over to love. You still wonder what made you follow your heart after so many years of being stiff and hard to impress. But you hadn’t known a love like this before. The person you have chosen to love knows your experience, as it is theirs too. After the CHAII song finishes, the algorithm moves to a song by Christine and the Queens and you make a smooth noise of approval, or perhaps a grunt. You spend a lot of time filtering the music you listen to because songs are like pressure points. Speaking of which, you let your phone do a full body scan. It says your abdomen is tight and your last bowel movement was thirty hours ago, and applies vibration on the point between your sternum and your belly button. You have your shorts on backwards, which is not like you. 

Your loved one comes out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around their hair, confirming water. Your water has been off since yesterday. Your water is hurt, temperate, squeezed by hand.

Your love recognises the new Christine and the Queens and reaches their hand out to brush yours. 

You think you know what the opposite of pain is when you hold your loved one’s hand in the dark. Sometimes. There is faith that restoration will come while your fingers are together, not gripping, but resting. You’ve been thinking a lot about restoration lately. You’ve been so tired. You get tired when you’re getting up. Your loved one has to help you out of your chair sometimes as you feel dizzy. Don’t stress, they say, we’ll find something, I know we will, have faith. 

You have money, money to buy a place of your own and leave this temporary accommodation behind, as your parents passed last year and left an inheritance. You feel your father is proud, and your mother is grateful, that you can afford to buy an apartment in a time where renting markets have shut down and you haven’t heard from many of your friends in months. Any sort of privilege doesn’t sit well with you, it never has. But you know you have to take this opportunity, at least for your love and your future together. All your possessions are piled up on the wall in boxes and bags in anticipation of the move.

The apartment you have set your sights on is in the north-west. It’s on the hill end of Undullah Street. A good street, in a good suburb. You have been looking for a long time, long enough to feel as if most one-bedroom apartments on Undullah Street fit your criteria. The north-west has a mix of four and three stars for liveability, transport, utilities and food. Most of the east is being swept, it’s already started. The north coast forest has not yet burnt, so it will burn in a few years. The north mountains have no hospitals. The south has stopped immigration for the next decade and south of there… there are no options. Where you are from is underwater, your school, your work, your ancestors’ bodies, your parents’ bodies. You walk every day in the mud the water has left. 

“YV replied, finally,” you say. 

“Have you opened it?”

“I’ll do it now.”

Floor has a new feature where previous occupants of the property you are interested in are contactable if they are also Floor subscribers. The best apartment in your price range has had three previous owners. 

AI, the most recent tenant, who sold coffee for a living, told you about the physicality of the place and spoke as if the building was a body: All of the injuries that you could be expected to be subjected to, where the hooks were. The insects that lived their lifespans in the building of 60 apartments, the chemicals of various kinds that had travelled through the central air-conditioning system. First floor, east-facing. 

TH had taken out the carpets and put down new floorboards after the building had flooded six years ago. TH spoke less of chemicals but energies. Many arguments indented the front room. Love had been made in the bedroom, the kind where people lie with each other afterwards in a stunned whisper. Outside the window, newsagents and bakeries made way for fruit stores and dollar shops, which made way for gyms and juice bars, which then made way for fruit stores and dollar shops. 

Floor’s interface is a pale blue colour that reminds you of the translucency of jellyfish concealed in the sand. You open YV’s message. YV is the last previous owner to respond. 

YV says she can confirm she was the first owner of the apartment, which she bought off plan in 2003. Before the apartment, the lot contained four Queenslanders, all built in 1934. 

“Does she know who lived in those houses?” your loved one asks. 

“Data doesn’t go back far enough, but she said she believes all the occupants are no longer in the waking world. So we can’t talk to them on Floor, but we can speak to them. Before then, a Lutheran church destroyed by fire. Before then… before Undullah Street… before 1825… it was iron bark, silver leaves country, it was everything.”

You tell yourself this is the place. The place that will take you back from the mud. You thank YV and contact the bank. 

“Hang on,” your loved one insists. “We were going to ask YV if there is a reason why the place is so cheap, so much cheaper than the other apartments in the block.”

“I no longer care, to be honest,” you say. “I just want us there.”

“We may never get another opportunity to move. To choose where we want to live. I thought we were being careful.”

“We are.”

You and your love were displaced… In searching for a place, do the details matter?

Your loved one takes your phone away from you, types in Undullah Street, all the clippings, all the snatchings and reviews that you have already seen, until there is a photo, a photo of YV. They try to show it to you.

“I don’t know what you want me to do with this photo,” you say. You can faintly hear your heart beating. 

Emily Wurramara’s voice is playing when the bank calls back and says the loan has been pre-approved, your parents’ money is enough, you will have a chance for a silver leaf under your chest when you sleep. 

You want to dance. You want to get drunk. You want to drink enough to swear you’ll wake up in a place that feels like home. 

You’re scared to look closely at the photo of YV. To be you is to be a person who finds modes of retreat.

You’re suddenly scared of your loved one and their questions ‘What will the place smell like?’ because that question evokes the overwhelming scent of smoke and burning rubber, not boiling coffee with sugar, not pineapple ripening in the fruit bowl.

“I’m sorry I jumped the gun. Let’s think about it,” you say to your loved one but they have left the room. 

You sit and check the rainfall for the next two weeks, the hospital bed numbers in the state, and the closest fires north. Your phone regulates your breathing. Your beliefs have kept you awake all your life. YV’s swastika tattoo could be seen as a minor detail in a decision about 3/110 Undullah Street. You and your love were displaced. Your homes are underwater. In searching for a place, do the details matter? It is true you remember every detail about the first time you kissed your love square on the mouth. ‘Lightswitch’ by CHAII, the flecks of silver glitter, the salty sweat on both their arms and shoulders, Jazz Money’s how to make a basket peeking out of a backpack, the taste of sunscreen, the softness of a bottom lip, everything expected and unexpected.   

You breathe slowly, fix your shorts the right way this time, go into the bedroom and lie down next to the person you love. You are both staring at the fragile ceiling but that feels fine. “No rush,” you say. “There’s no rush.”

Ellen van Neerven (they/them) is an award-winning author, editor and educator of First Nations Australian and Dutch heritage. They belong to the Yugambeh Nation and live in Meanjin (Brisbane) on the unceded land of the Turrbal and Yugera peoples. Ellen writes fiction, poetry and non-fiction. Their books include Throat (2020), Heat and Light (2014) and Comfort Food (2016). They edited Flock: First Nations Stories Then and Now (2021).

Dorota Liwacz is an illustrator from Poland. She can be found on Instagram and Behance.