Sarah Jane Justice

They’re digging up the train tracks by my house.

Living crushed under a constant level of noise that never lifts, I had long since stopped measuring where the months lurched into years. I had spent too long growing accustomed to the weighty drone of metal wheels that rattled my windows deep into the early hours. I never thought to fear the quiet that could take its place. The horn blaring of artificial dinosaurs kept me up at night, leaving me squirming and red-eyed as I counted the few remaining tiles on my walls. In their absence, I am kept awake by the blaring of words inside my head, looping through the echoes of silence that I have found myself unexpectedly living underneath.

The wrong side of the tracks was part of my identity. This was my home, my demographic, my excuse for my state of living. There could be no focus on self-improvement under the constant chug of vehicular noise pollution. The only steps that could lead me away were scattered in a kris-kross of bloody scratches, barely hidden under flea-bitten sleeves.

One by one, the metal bars that laid the path for the trains are being pulled away from the ground. Those bars built up the frame of my dirty one-bedroom prison cell, but as they vanish, I feel their cover being stripped from my skin. I feel suddenly exposed, naked to the eyes of the middle-income families who pull up at the cafés on the side that I have only ever known as ‘other’.

Squirming in new light, I feel as if those tracks were my excuse to be a train-wreck.

Ambition was easy to postpone when I could push it so far away onto the horizon that it disappeared over the edge. I could feel comfortable sitting on the floor, using the pungent dregs of old bottles to paint patterns in clumps of cigarette ash. I could blame my lack of sleep on the mechanical demons rolling over a mind that has forgotten how to dream. Now the trains are gone, and I still can’t sleep.

 I spent hours yelling into the hot smoke blown into my windows. I cursed the town planners that had abandoned me in a shallow, low-rent grave. I breathed anger through my thin-walled coffin, over my stained mattress and against the fistful of roaches I kept for company. I could hear my own words clearly enough to know that I agreed, but they had become too muffled for me to recognise the sound of my own voice.

Soon, there will be no wrong side of the tracks. There will be a gently painted path with lines designating spaces for cyclists and pedestrians, sunny afternoon wanderers who can afford the time for a quiet stroll. Mothers will walk their children towards the market stalls, and I will be able to feel their judgmental eyes shying away from the dirt on my face. I will probably start smoking inside. 

I don’t know what I’ll do when the last of those metal bars are removed. Planning is a luxury I have never been able to afford. The most likely outcome will be that I am shifted further down the train line to a home behind another station. The trains are gone from this suburb, but they are far from gone. Those lines will always mark my place in this world, the noise and movement that will cloud my existence from those who would rather not see it. 

Those of us lumped into this position will always move by the tectonic plates that lie beneath our suburbs. We want nothing more than to dig our bare heels deep into the dirt and find a way to stay still. Life does not agree with our desires and will never allow us to fulfill them. In place of realistic ambitions, we will hide behind the stations. We will bury our faces in industrial smoke, flick the ash of our cigarettes onto the floor, and wait for the days to roll past alongside the trains.

We will remain part of the world, as quietly as we can.

About the Author

Sarah Jane Justice is a writer with many credits to her name. She performs regularly as a spoken word artist, and among other titles, was named the South Australian State Champion in the 2018 Australian Poetry Slam. As a singer-songwriter, she has released two full length albums and an EP of original music, as well as writing and performing a one-woman cabaret show for the 2016 Adelaide Fringe Festival. In 2019, Sarah’s original poetry and short prose was commended and published in both print anthologies and online journals. In 2020, she is currently working on her debut full-length novel and the promotion of her mixed media exhibition, ‘Cracks In Our Shadows’.