When I was 11 I used to have this recurring dream where I was trying to buy a 1982 Datsun Sunny from a lady in Taroona. You know how these things go. One minute you’re curled under your doona halfway through the fourth Deltora Quest book, then your eyelids start developing a weird gravity of their own and then, gently –
I’d be standing there atop the driveway, looking out across the river, fugue-like, and then I’d look down and see it – this little angle-boxy car parked diagonally across the front of the garage. Mostly it was this blue-green kind of colour, but sometimes it’d be yellow, or burnt orange, or off-white, and one time pink. And because it was a dream I’d just walk down and get in it, but I couldn’t start it, because it wasn’t mine yet, and then the lady – Mrs Tilley, our pharmacist – would come out of the house and say, Oh good, you’ve found the car.
And I’d say, Yes I have. She’s a beauty. And she’d say, Sure is. And then I’d work at the gearbox and press the pedals and grab the worn plastic of the window-winder and wind that sucker down, then up, three times. And she’d say, How do you find it, sir? And I’d always have this lurching feeling as though I’d lost something and to cover it I’d just Hmmmm a little like I was really weighing this thing up, developing a full-table list of pros and cons, and eventually she’d lean down to the window, so close I could smell her dispensary-perfume, and she’d say something like, Look pal, I know you’re not old enough to buy this thing but if you want you can take it for a spin down to the beach and back.
At this point I would become aware all-sudden-like of my body, realising that up until now I’d just been a sort of floating consciousness that had somehow operated all the bits of the car without really touching them, but now I’d look down and there would be my somewhat enchubbed knees poking out of my school shorts and my scuffed New Balances hovering a few inches above the pedals and my fingers gripping the knurled surface of the wheel and she’d reach in and twist the key and there before me would be a tussock-lined path I’d not noticed before and I would ease it into gear with nary a crunch and move smoothly off towards the beach with the shock absorbers squeaking soft beneath me and the engine just idling but still pushing me along and I’d look in the rear-view mirror and the house would be gone and Taroona would be gone and behind me there’d just be dunes and ahead the waves would rise and crump until their rhythm slipped into some vague harmony with the purr and rattle of the engine and I slid off someplace deeper, to brightness –
Sometimes I wondered about it, what it meant, but eventually I figured everyone else must have their own recurring scenario, and at least mine wasn’t being chased by mosquitoes the size of caravans or anything.
I don’t remember exactly when it happened – I guess somewhere around my 13th birthday, because it was still summer – Mum took me to get some replacements for the New Balances, which were by this point so scuffed as to be disintegrating back to their elemental components, and we ran into Mrs Tilley and someone I took to be her younger sister or a foreign au pair from a distance but who when we got closer revealed herself to be Sonja Tilley, my classmate of six years, formerly a freckled pigtailed-and-beribboned presence with whom I had occasionally exchanged friendly thrown rocks in the playground but who now stood six inches taller than me and wore – in addition to a mirrored version of my own Seen Out With Parental Unit blush – a thin woven-leather bracelet cinched at her ankle, which I stared fixedly at for almost the entire duration of our mothers’ conversation, until they said their goodbyes and Mum cuffed me good-naturedly on the shoulder and told me to remember my manners and I managed a Hello to Mrs Tilley before my eyes found Sonja’s and she smiled and my left knee went a bit wonky and that night the Sunny was gone, in its place a mauve-and-white Nissan Prairie with a sliding door and I looked down at it from the top of the driveway and felt my heart thump like the waves.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on July 29, 2023 as "Sunny".
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