Off the Rails | Teen Ink

Off the Rails

November 8, 2021
By nadia_possum, Ashgrove, Brisbane, Other
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nadia_possum, Ashgrove, Brisbane, Other
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The dry bristles scratch my gums. My stomach twists and bubbles, I want to vomit right here and now; I deserve it. I could still smell the smoke on my lace tank top and the sticky feeling of smudged eyeliner down my cheeks. My chest feels like it is about to burst, thoughts rush through my head, but they are fleeting as usual. I hate being stuck in this liminal space. I am always waiting, always waiting for the day it will get better. One day all the waiting will be worth it, all I have to do is hold out and I will reach my destination. I hate this city. 

‘Hey,’ I grumbled, my mum ducked her head into the bathroom. She said, ‘I told you not to wear those shorts out,’ grabbed her toothbrush and left. I hated that woman too. Against my own will, my eyebrows knitted together and my mouth stitched itself into a harsh scowl. My eyes flicked up to the mirror, the towel rack that had fallen off the wall months ago, the black mould between the wall tiles slowly growing, the toilet where the right button doesn't flush the lights; a bright fluorescent white, and then myself. The stringy blonde hair lay flat against my skull, messy and greasy at the top, it wasn’t straight or curly, with little bits that flew out everywhere. Then my chin, the gross round slope of my face, my slightly wonky nose. I looked at everything, even the freckles hidden behind my streaked eyeliner, the redness around the edge of my nostrils, the tiny hairs on my upper lip, but not my eyes. Because truly, I hate myself more than anything. 

Resentment roared in my stomach and rose into my throat creating a persistent and scratchy lump. I wanted to throw up so badly, but I couldn’t especially not while my mum was home. I splashed my face, smearing the eyeliner all over my cheeks and wiped it off on the barely hanging towel behind me. I picked up the stubby black pencil and did another ring of black around my eyes. The broken light bulb flickered above me, I raised my eyes to the mirror again. My new eyeliner was uneven and the shadows under my eyes were a deep purple shade. I glared into the sad grey and blue of my eyes, loathing what stared back at me.

The door knocker slammed against the wood behind me. I twirled down the driveway and plummeted to the concrete to slip my shoes on. I looked over my shoulder sticking my tongue out at the bleak modern house then continued with my shoes. I raised my eyes up to the moon, she was surrounded by a gorgeous carpet of stars, like cousins at a family gathering. She smiled, finally being able to escape the pestering clouds that had been blocking her all week. My shoulders finally drooped with relief. Humid night air rushed around me, my hair swooped behind me and my legs pumped down my street towards the main road. I flung my arms out spinning and skipping, the moon and I laughed as our voices danced through the rich night sky. I felt like a flame, I was finally alive. I gripped my street’s sign pole and twirled around it, pulling him in for a hug and kissing his cold metal cheek and swung around the corner. My feet were so light I was a fairy, barely grazing the footpath. I pointed my toes like I was back in ballet class and delicately stepped onto my stage, the slab of bus stop concrete. I swept my arm from the middle of my collarbones outwards, the bus pulled over. 

My thighs stuck to the scratchy carpeted seats, the street lights swirled and glinted. The cold glass of the window smothered my face, my eyelashes grazing its embrace. My breath fogged up the glass and I brought my finger up to meet it, she drew a little smiley face in the warmth. The glass shook with laughter from the wind’s tickle, the bus hurled around the corner stretching out again to the main road leading into the city centre, like a stumbling drunk. All of us, the glass, the wind, the bus, we laughed. Then the bus stuttered to a stop, the blinking central station sign glared at me, she whispered ‘you should start moving you fat bitch’. I got up, leaving the scratchy seats behind and hopped one at a time down the stairs and out the door. 

I looked up at the sky again searching for my gorgeous moon, once I found her in the brightness of the city she smiled a warm loving smile at me. The street lights made a yellow tint on the crumbling sandstone buildings and reflected off the massive glass ones too. My eyes danced around the streets; there were pretty neon lights everywhere. Men in suits charged their way back to the mean train station, clocking out to surely go yell at their families. I marched matching arm to leg all the way to the city square, passing by closed luxury stores with their size 0 models. I wonder how many times they had to throw up to get that gorgeous. Past the shining rainbow convenience stores, past the lawyers and the real estate agents. Past the homeless settling in for the night until I reached the only good place in this city. I stared upwards waiting for the modern roof tiling to end and then I saw him, the clock tower. My heart swelled, he sat patiently and blissfully next to him was my moon. Both of them swelled with happiness, I loved seeing them together. I gave them a courtesy and smiled as widely as my mouth would allow. I whispered ‘I love you’ to them, did a pirouette and moved on. My feet happily skipped towards the river, as they did, I continued to observe all the buildings - such happy neighbours - until I came to my favourite corner of the entire city. It was time, I gave a wave to my favourite rock by the side of the water and slid my flip phone out of my back pocket. I punched the newly memorised number and dialled; it was time to head over to the wrong side of the tracks. 

It's always weird getting a new customer. Especially an anonymous one who had scouted me out herself. My burner phone was about to die and this girl insisted on pick up that night. She sounded like an absolute crazy b*tch, all giggly and ditzy. While talking to her I could hear cars whirring past, almost drowning her voice out. Wherever she was I’d be surprised if she even got through the city to my place, especially across the train line. 

The faint sound of tapping brought me to attention. It was so quiet at first I thought it was my lizard trying to escape his tank again. It sounded like metal hitting wood ever so faintly. I dragged my feet to the front door, tripping over the loose sheets of paper and the ancient carpet on the floor. I pulled the sheet pegged to the window frame aside, just enough to see through. And there she was, my mysterious mistress; she glanced around our front porch completely dazed. Her large blue eyes were rimmed with black smudges and she looked almost lost, her hair was tangled and her outfit seemed raggedy. Like I could speak though. Her hands were absolutely decked, rings on every finger of all colours and sizes. She delicately raised her knuckles to the wood again and tapped gently, there it was the metal against wood. 

I sucked a breath in, basically a mouthful of dust, and stretched my hand to the doorknob. “Hi!” A bubbly sound rang paired with a smile that split her face, but I could tell it was fake. She stared into my chest, her eyes distant. Her demeanour didn’t match at all; it was chilling to see. The hairs on my arms stood on end and my hands began twitching, I was taking too much time to respond. My mouth went dry. I wracked my brain trying to make any noise that meant I understood. I felt my lips form shapes but my tongue was paralysed. My eyes stayed content with the rotting beams of the porch floor. 

She bent her leg at the knee and started swaying. In a panicky voice, she asked, “this is the right place, yeah?” My entire body shook, I was being so stupid, all I had to do was give a yes or no answer. My tight throat choked out a whispery “yes” and as soon as she’d gotten that confirmation, she glided past me, skipping into our unintentional open plan kitchen, living-dining room combination. She stood loosely, shoulders back and everything, completely content in our dump of a house. Not even looking, I wrapped my arm around to the front door jiggling the handle to get the door to somewhat close properly. I didn’t want to lose sight of her; she was unnerving. She swerved to her left, flying her arms out in the air like a child pretending to be an airplane. She bent over the dusty, wooden bookshelf filled with mismatched picture frames, sheets of yellowing paper, rubbish and ugly little knickknacks. She immediately locked on a photo of me and my mum and cautiously held it in her hands, my heart squeezed. She stuck her arm out, putting the photo next to my head, she stared blankly with wide eyes darting over every feature analysing me. My skin crawled, I skitted my eyes around trying not to look at her, I knew it was coming. 

“You look like her,” she said softly. 

I pursed my lips and my heart ached. I could never find a response to that, not once in my life. My temples strained, I sucked in a breath: ‘Okay,’ my voice quavered. She turned, putting the frame back down and looked over towards the kitchen, I bowed my neck and ran a hand over my face trying to compose any shred of humility I had left. She continued her journey into the kitchen with its scuffed and peeled black and white linoleum. We both glanced over the imposing stack of mould-clad dishes sitting in the sink that had slowly been spilling further onto the bench. She led me around the dining table propped up on books towards the lounge room. We didn’t have a TV so the coffee table that stood in the centre of the space was occupied by my lizard’s tank. His name was Lizzo and he had a foul mood but I had to keep him around. He was the only thing left from my mum. 

“Careful, that’s my dad,” I said as she went to sit down on our tattered leather couch. “Wouldn’t even matter if you sat on him, this d*ckhead has blacked out anyway,” a scowl twisted onto my face. The man I called my father was spread across the couch on his stomach, one arm limp on the floor with a finger wrapped loosely around a beer bottle. She stood next to him, her arms raised sort of like a toddler and she paused, staring blankly at him; then crossed her legs and sat on the stained Persian carpet. I tried to ask if she wanted to go somewhere else to talk but the words were stuck in my throat. Just as soon as the thought came it was all over as she patted a spot in front of her. I complied, crossing my legs and taking my seat. I glared up at my father snoring and then retracted to fidgeting with the cuffs of my faded hoodie. 

“So!” She cheerfully said while clapping, “what’s your name?” It was a weird question after we had just roamed around the front room of my house in an odd silence. This girl was just - there weren’t any words to describe her. She was plain weird.

“Al… istair,” The awkward f*ck up of my own name hung still in the air. My stomach lurched; this is why I hated getting new customers. Not to mention, this girl was completely unreadable. I couldn't tell anything from her body language, it was eerie. I glanced up from my hands to see her dazed eyes peering over my shoulder, she was utterly entranced by Lizzo just sitting there in the tank. I stuttered a breath, I always did this, making myself feel terrible for little mistakes and yet another example to prove my overthinking wrong. This girl couldn’t have cared less. I sat up straighter regaining her attention, “what’s your name?” I asked.

“Teagan.” She stated blandly, and once again any form of confidence I had shattered. She blinked a few times, rolled her neck and out of nowhere said in the most innocent tone, “I’m reallyyy bored of cigarettes, do you have anything stronger?” I was taken back by the contrast between her voice and her words, I mean I knew she’d come here for drugs but it was weird after her whole little kid act. I was baffled yet mesmerised, she was eccentric beyond belief. I sighed but it was good she was finally getting to the point, I got to my feet and she followed. 

“You want like - dope or something?” I asked a little shaky but the anxiety had rumbled to a mere buzzing in the pit of my stomach. It was time for some professionalism. 

“Yes! That would be perfect, you’re so sweet.” She bounced from toe to heel, her hands held behind her back. As soon as those words of confirmation left her mouth I started towards my bedroom, she skipped behind me. We walked down the hallway and slammed my arm out in front of my bedroom door. 

“Do you have money on you.” It was more of a statement than a question. Teagan took a moment to observe the furniture and ungodly amount of clutter. Glancing over my unmade bed on the left and the dusty sheet thumb tacked over the window.

“Yep!” She said with an ear-splitting smile. I felt my eyebrows begin to crease but I stopped myself, she was starting to piss me off. 

“I’m being serious.” I growled.

“Okay Mr meanie pants,” she huffed childishly and reached down her singlet top, pulling out a 50 dollar note. “How much can I get for this?” She asked back to her oddly cheery self.

“That’s 5 grams,” her shoulders dropped a little and she pulled another 50 out of her top. “Ten,” I said.


“Stay here.” I said, she nodded and bounced over to the opposite waIl, observing more family photos. I dropped my arm from the door frame, ducked under the doorway and kicked a trail through the clothes and rubbish on my bedroom floor. I eased the door shut, making a note of where she was standing. I bent down to a red shirt in the middle of the floor, pushed it aside and ripped up the floorboard. I dug around in the space my nails scraping different plastic bags and the unsanded beams. After a few seconds, I emerged with a grocery bag. I undid the ties and reached inside, feeling the different tabs on the ziplock bags. Instinctually I pulled out the one, stood up and slid the board back. 

I opened the door again to see her a few more frames down the hallway, staring intently at another photo of me and my mother. I sighed, leaning against the doorframe, I cleared my throat and she looked over. “Hi again!” She said walking back to my door.

I couldn’t help but smile as I brought the bag up to her eye height and dangled it in her face, clearly labeled ‘10g’ with the ingredients listed below. She leaned forward and tilted her head to the side trying to read my messy handwriting, she eased her arm out to hold the bag but I yanked it away. “Hundred now or you’re not allowed to touch it.” I asserted. She puffed her cheeks out and then sighed defeatedly.

“Fine.” she grumbled with a pout. I stood up off the door frame and bowed, pointing her into my room. That was weird, I don’t know why I decided a bow was best fit. She let out a breath of a laugh and pranced into the cramped space. She looked to my desk which was backed against the foot of the bed and the dresser on the right with its drawers bursting with clothes. She reached her arm out trying to push the corner of a falling poster back onto the wall and it curled over right after. She glanced around and sat on the edge of my bed observing the spot where I punched a hole in the wall a few weeks ago. I continued after her and fell into my desk chair. I spun around and made eye contact with her.  

“So, do you want this or not?” I said as I sat the bag in my lap and curled over, locking my fingers and resting my chin on them. 

“Well duh,” she rolled her eyes and stretched her arms out behind her on my bed sheets.

I couldn’t help the glare that overcame me. “Then hand the money over.” I snarled, I always scared myself when I did stuff like that, but it was handy when it came to situations like this.

“Woah jeez.” She said, straightening up and rolling her neck to look at me. I leaned back in my chair, raising one eyebrow.

“Fine,” she breathed, held the money out and I plucked it from her fingers, passing the bag to her. I brought the bills close to my face observing their surface. I glanced up to see what Teagan was doing, she had taken a very similar task of squinting at my writing on the bag. Once I was sure the bills were real I got to my feet, and as soon as she saw me moving she slid off the edge of my bed. 

I took in a breath, breaking character. “You’re all good?” I asked and she nodded, “Okay, then we’re done here.” I quickly flashed a smile and left for the front door hearing her footsteps patter behind me. I looked over my shoulder to watch her stare as we walked past my dad and the lizard tank, but by then we had already made it to the front door. I opened the door for her and watched as she walked past, I moved myself to be standing in the doorway and she stared up at me.

“Thanks,” She mumbled but continued to stand still, I could tell she wanted to say something. She bounced between my eyes and I twisted the doorknob back and forwards, waiting. 

“You know…” she started, “I didn’t eat for three days so I’d become lovely.” God, this girl was actually crazy. I felt myself gawk at her, I mean what the hell was I supposed to say to that. I found myself once again standing at the front door making shapes with my mouth and once again, I couldn’t find anything to say. I felt a hot rush flow through my body and my lungs were compressing, shrinking from the bottom upwards. I could feel my breath escaping, I was going to die, I couldn’t breathe, but I couldn’t just leave Teagan like this. I refocused my eyes, she was standing there tranquil, her hands clutched in front of her holding the bag of weed I’d just sold her, and we were both standing there outside on the porch of my house in the middle of the night. My ribs were filled with my lungs again and my shoulders relaxed to their normal position. 

I opened my mouth and as soon as it was out, I instantly regretted it. “Okay,” I said, and that had got to have been the most socially inept moment of my entire life, I didn’t even try to suppress the overbearing cringe that tore through my face. But then I heard a noise I’d never expect in this situation, a laugh. Teagan was laughing, she locked eyes with me and said:

“I like you Alistair,” turned on her heel and left. 

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