While still living in Rockhampton, in Turner Road, my friend Aimée moved in with my mum, sister, brother and me. Her family had moved away from the area, and she wanted to stay in the area. For nearly a year, Aimée was part of our Rockhampton family; my proxy twin sister (who was actually a year older than me) and in-house BFF.
This made it extraordinarily awkward when mum transferred her university studies from Central Queensland University to the University of Southern Queensland (if there’s one thing Queensland is good at, it’s naming its universities imaginatively), meaning we were all moving to Toowoomba.
The awkwardness didn’t last, because Aimée decided to move with us. Why? I was never game to ask, lest she change her mind. I was too grateful she’d decided to come. As well as not questioning her reasons, did I also intentionally keep very tight-lipped about my previous (horrible) experiences in the Darling Downs area, for fear of scaring her off? Yes. Yes I did.
Cavell Street was a very quiet little street on Toowoomba’s east side. It should be noted: Toowoomba’s east side was very close to Toowoomba’s west side. To paraphrase Buffy‘s Cordelia Chase: We didn’t have a whole lot of town, there. But the school we attended, Harristown State High School, was on the “other” “side” of “town”, and we did have to catch a “bus” to get there (actually it was a real bus: scrap that last pair of sarcastic quotation marks). This meant a walk through the enormous Queen’s Park where, during our first few weeks of school, the Moscow Circus had set itself up for a series of shows. Every day for five days we walked past where the elephants were held, waving and saying hello. By the fourth day they’d started to recognise us and walked over to say hello back.
If only the students at Harristown High had been as friendly as the elephants. Harristown’s student body didn’t take kindly to our sort (I still don’t know which sort that was, particularly), and we were under constant scrutiny. The rumours of who and/or what we were flew thick and fast. We were twins, we were from a cult, we had been previously married, Lauren and Tommy were our children: our classmates were at least imaginative, if not completely fucking brainless.
Not long after we had moved in at Cavell Street, mum had to go away for a week, so Aimée and I were left in charge. While we had both often taken care of ourselves before, we had never actually taken care of ourselves, and younger siblings, for an extended period of time, so it was a pretty big deal for us. We were left with a small amount of money to cover food, and given free reign of the house.
We decided we wouldn’t be like other teenagers, who would probably immediately spend the bulk of the money on nonsense, leaving only a pittance to actually feed ourselves. We decided we’d spend the pittance first: two dozen packets of two-minute noodles. Financial responsibility! That way we’d have money left over in case of an emergency.
To ensure that we would be kept busy, thus removing temptation to spend the leftover money, we decided we would learn Spanish. This is an actual decision that we made. We went down to the local library, grabbed three books and some kind of language-learning audiocassette, and took them home, determined to be fluent in Spanish by week’s end.
We lasted twenty minutes. Bored, dejected by our failure, and a little dizzy after two days of nothing but two minute noodles, we belligerently spent every last cent we had on a giant pizza order.
By the Saturday of our week of independence, we realised we were rapidly running out of clothes. I am embarrassed to say that at this point, neither Aimée nor myself really knew how to use the washing machine. And kids, this was back in the old days before they had buttons. There was just one dial and you had to push it and twist it and pull it: it was all very complicated. You young people today don’t know how good you’ve got it, etc. Anyway, while we were vaguely aware of the push-turn-pull manoeuvre, the intricacies eluded us.
As did the idea of sorting our washing, but we’ll get to that later.
We threw in our clothes, threw in the powder and the fabric softener (yes, all in the one place), and push-turn-pulled. The machine flicked into life, so we assumed we were good to go.
About half an hour later, while we were distracted doing something else (I can’t remember what it is, but it definitely wasn’t learning Spanish or paying attention to the washing machine), we heard a weird, terrible sound. Like a cassette of Yello’s “Oh Yeah” being chewed up by the player (kids, a “cassette” is…oh never mind.) What was the quiet digga-digga-digga-digga-digga-digga of (what I now know to be) the spin cycle suddenly became
And then terrifying silence.
From opposite ends of the house, we ran to the laundry. As we saw each other running in the same direction, we both realised it would be better to not get to the machine first, because the first person to look at it would probably have to make the call on what to do next. The frantic run became a slow jog with the look of a frantic run, which became a brisk walk with the look of a slow jog, which became a genial amble with the look of a brisk walk. By the time we actually reached the laundry, we were so reluctant to be first we were both doing Bob Fosse’s “The Aloof” from Sweet Charity:
I was first to take decisive action.
“WHAT DID YOU DO TO IT!?” (My decision was to throw blame as hard as I could.)
“NOTHING! WHAT DID YOU DO TO IT!?” Aimée yelled back. I could see I had met my match in this fight.
Very carefully, we lifted the lid on the machine, shielding our eyes as if hornets were going to fly out of if. The machine was completely filled with soapy water. It refused to drain, no matter what we did with the button/wheel thing. No amount of turning it on and off again at the wall seemed to reset it. We even disconnected and reconnected the taps in the hope that whatever was causing this blockage (hornets?) would maybe just fall out. Short of tipping it onto its side and letting the water spill where it may (the laundry floor, the bathroom floor, and eventually our bedrooms), we were completely out of options.
We realised the only thing left to do was to siphon the water out of the machine into the sink, if only to get the level low enough to see if there was a blockage in the drum itself. Physics not being either of our chosen senior subjects, we could only siphon based on what we’d learnt in the earlier years of high school. We found a length of garden hose and absolutely nothing else, so we were going to have to use the old suction method. We knew what was supposed to happen: we’d suck the water up the hose, and then gravity and suction would take care of the rest, but it didn’t work. Gravity and suction failed to participate. Eventually Aimée and I were just sucking up and spitting out hose-lengthfuls of soapy washing machine water, from the machine into the laundry tub. It tasted pretty gross.
But not as gross as it tasted once the water levels finally dropped enough for us to see that the machine was filled with our underwear. Not just our white underwear, not just our black underwear: we had sorted by clothing type, not clothing colour, so the washing machine contained every. single. item. of dirty underwear Aimée, Lauren, Thomas and I owned.
For twenty minutes, we had sucked up each other’s filthy soapy jock water. We had become like blood brothers, but much much much much much much much much worse.