Elijah was staying at a halfway house beside the racecourse. It was arranged by a charity called Changing Lanes. You fill out an A4 sheet with hobbies and rental history and recent mental illnesses. A few weeks later they e-mail you a shopping list of houses and housemates and all their dumb thumbnails of suffering.
The rent was seventy dollars a week. It was a sweet deal if you could tolerate the fragrances. Spring was mayhem. The street was lined with huge jacarandas that dropped purple blossoms onto the blacktop. The flowers fermented in the heat with clods of shit deposited by horses in the unlit AM.
‘You’ll get used to it,’ said Daisy, the woman Elijah was living and sleeping with. This was coming from someone who made a crusade of getting used to things. Barbed wire tattooed around her biceps was fading lime green with age. Stretch marks lined her stomach like hundreds of tiny animals were trying to climb out.
So many nights Elijah ran his fingers over those ancient threads of dead skin – the blistered pinkness, the way they glistened in the humidity – wishing he could untie them and find out the secret to being alive.
‘You’re young enough to be one of my sons,’ said Daisy.
‘I am! I am!’ cried Elijah.
Elijah was nineteen-years-old. His olive complexion was pockmarked from hot streaks of detox and relapse. His muscles were mangled and tense like he’d been put back together with different people’s body pieces.
It was his first stint out of hospital, and the freedom went to his head. Most days he drank beer and sun-baked in the front yard, listening to the races on the radio and winning huge sums of money in his imagination.
His sobriety moved anti-clockwise. When he got really spent, which was frequently, he reached out to all the people from his past, speaking to them telepathically. He met the mum who kicked a bucket of shit giving birth to him. He forgave the foster dad who kicked the literal shit out of him once a week for fifteen years. He apologised to the kids he didn’t save from the beatings he’d already survived. They did most of the talking. Elijah was a bystander in his own life.
One night Elijah begged Daisy to have his baby. He wanted to be reborn!
‘I’m a mess,’ he confessed, ‘I can’t stop thinking about it. I see it everywhere. In the sink. On the backs of my eyelids. I’ve never wanted anything so much in my life!’
Daisy spoke slow and under her breath, like she was trying to eat her words before they betrayed her. ‘You’re drunk. And you were already a mess.’
‘Don’t throw stones at glass toasters! A drunk person sees what a sober person needs. Give me one good reason not to. Just one.’
‘I’m forty-six-years-old. Empty. Dried up. Past my used by date.’
Tears streamed down Elijah’s cheeks. He choked with tenderness both for Daisy and the baby she refused to breed with him.
‘You care about age? Age is just a state of mind. You’re beautiful. I wouldn’t just say something like that.’
Daisy wriggled on underwear like she was sticking her feet into a sleeping bag. The negotiating window was closed.
‘I’ve got kids. Three of them.’
She said this like it was only just occurring to her.
‘None of them thanked me for it.’
‘This will be different,’ Elijah pleaded, ‘This will be a happy family!’
Daisy fell asleep. Elijah stepped gently down the empty hallway and crawled into the foetal position on the mattress below his window. Daisy prohibited him from being next to her when she woke up in the morning. They were at opposite ends of the same cycle. She was in the prime of his life. He was never in the prime of hers.