This is the first panel in my comic strip: There is a girl; seventeen years old. She does not care about fashion or any of that peripheral rubbish, but she is quite pretty anyway. She is walking along some featureless street through the housing estate where she lives. She is alone in the dark. But of course we can see her in the darkness because she is the hero.
She is just restless, I guess. That is why she has gone for a walk. She should be studying for exams or reading or doing something actually useful with her time. I mean, it’s her last year of school. This is the most important year of her life and there are only ten months of it left. I can’t imagine a walk will make her feel any better. It was hot as all hell her bedroom, sitting by her window watching her reflection and the dark spread across the estate. She left her mother upending the pepper shaker onto her Weight Watches. She didn’t tell her where she was going, probably because she doesn’t know. Her mother will worry but the girl does not care.
Houses flicker through panels like TV stations in static. In the darkness, every house looks the same and that house looks ugly; with a double chin and rolls of fat sprawling out against the feeble wooden fence lines, like dioramas. The nature strips are mowed to a buzz-cut and studded with ornate trees hanging over the footpaths, swept clean beneath her new Nikes. She can feel the shame of slave labour rubbing bloodied holes in her heels. The night beats an unnatural rhythm under her heels and her breath. The cicadas ebb in the summer heat and the last of the cockatoos hail the passing day. In the distance she can hear a lone dog calling out to the night. It is not until she gets further down the page that she can hear the pain in the little dog’s cries.
The next panel: The girl stands in the street out the front of a double breasted Mc Mansion sweating fresh paint drips. The house is lit up under the streetlamp like a spotlight. It has two flabby alcoves sticking out from its chest and a long appendage of white stones leading onto the driveway. An old commodore is slanted across the driveway and in the windscreen the girl can see a little
with its bauble face pushed up against the glass. Chihuahua
The girl is in shock. The stars are clouded out by thought bubbles and sweat is clear across her face. It must be nearly twenty-five degrees outside and God knows how hot it must be in the car. She can see the sweat balling in the little dog’s eyes. Thought bubbles:
“What kind of inhuman monster would do this to a helpless little dog?
“What kind of justification is there?
“The dog was yappy?
“The backyard fence was broken?
“There is no justification.
“I just hope this household does not have children.”
She runs to the car and the night flies back in waves of light and dark behind her as her feet Crunch! Crunch! on the pebbles and she rips at the driver’s door but it is locked so she circles around the car but all the doors are locked, but the passenger’s window is wound down a few inches and she can smell the new leather seat covers and the pine air freshener swinging from the mirror and she wants to throw up all over it and she digs her fingers into the gap but she can’t reach the lock. The little dog licks her fingers and in that moment she has never felt more connected to the private suffering of another creature. Our hero knows that she must rescue the dog. If she doesn’t do something then she will regret it later.
Then, an idea! Across the road is an empty block that opens out into the fields behind the estate where roads have been sealed but the houses are yet to be built. She runs across the road and drops into the dirt behind the scrub which parallels the footpath. Through the scrub we can look back at the house. It is dark except for a single slit of light which slices through an upstairs curtain. She fumbles about in the dirt until she finds a rock. Then she stands up.
The darkness hangs over her in sheets of black paper. The sheets are large but she can see where they overlap at thin creases. At each crease she can make out the thumb-tacks that hold the whole illusion in place. The tacks come away easily under her fingernails and underneath there is nothing but darkness. She is alone in the darkness. Night is nothing but a trick of the light. The light hangs from the wall in a slit and spurts from the streetlight. She is cloaked in the night.
But her bleached white thoughts fill the air. Already she is thinking of the thrill she will feel when the little dog is free. This is only Edition 1. There are so many heroic deeds left for her to do to bring peace to the suburbs, slipping through the darkness caped in a pseudonym, the ‘Nightwatchman’ or the ‘Blacklight’ or something that the nightly news will catch onto, and the people will cheer and children will paint her shadow onto their walls. She will get some thrill from her middle class life, sitting in class all day smiling to herself, and sneaking away at night from her mother camped in front of the TV collecting wedding rings. Her night will be worth something.
It is with these thoughts hanging over her head that she throws the rock. When it hits the bonnet there is a panel of silence where her breath floats at the top of its arc, ready to fall. Then suddenly the car is screaming bloody murder. She drops into the warm dust. She can hear the suburb’s pulse with her ear against the black lines that divide the panels. She watches the slit of light until in the next panel something moves. Lights go on down the stairs and across the landing and out onto the porch.
The next panel is of her face, eyes alight, staring transfixed at the house, at us. She wears a wide grin that fills her chin.
“It worked!” She thinks.
Next panel: Front door closed.
Next panel: Front door open. A silhouette of a fat man stands in the light, wrapped in a bath towel. The towel sprouts shoots of pubic hairs that creep up his gut and bloom across his nipples. His horn is pointing up at the cloudy sky.
He winces down the path, dick first. From somewhere below his waist, the man whips out his car keys and presses one into the door. The alarm goes quiet and everything is as it should be.
Then the man turns around and returns to the house. The little dog screams but nothing happens. The lights go off.
She stands up and runs across the road, feeling the backs of her runners scratch! scratch! deeper into her heels. She skittles across the pebbles. The little dog yaps when it sees her at the window.
“Don’t worry,” she whispers, “I will get you out of this.”
Her mind lingers on an image of the fat man squishing his bum cheeks into his faux-leather couch in front of the infomercials with the little dog positioned on his boner, crushed to death by the crashing waves of his gut. She wants to throw rocks through their windows. She wants him to know what it feels like to be a dog trapped in a hot car. She scoops a handful of pebbles into her pocket and jumps the low fence into his backyard. Her breath is short and the little dog’s cries echo in her head.
“I am the hero,” she thinks.
“I am doing the right thing.”
Away from the window, her night vision is getting stronger. It is a small backyard but it is filled with trinkets of wealth. A brand-new barbecue stands on the porch for the fat men to congregate around. The lawn has recently been rolled out like carpet. In the middle of the lawn is a fountain where a naked cherub stands as a silent sentry over the yard. There is no kennel or dog bowl to be seen. Floor-to-ceiling windows watch out over the garden. The night is loud now. She can hear the cicadas and the cockatoos and the distant rumble of cars in another suburb and the little dog barking. She has been here too long. The dark windows now look like strangers. She can see people in them. She can see people all around her in the dark. She needs to be quick.
The pond is swirling black ink and cherub is as white as her thoughts. His podgy body arcs out from a stone pedestal with his cock out in front.
Next panel: Its cock is cool and rigid in her palm.
Next panel: Crack! And she snaps it right off.
She puts the cock in her pocket.
Next she runs to the end of the lawn and rolls a strip up into a bundle. She has been here too long. The dark presses in on her. With the lawn under her arm she jumps the fence and runs back across the road and falls panting behind the scrub.
“I am the hero,” she says.
“I am the hero.
“Nothing will go wrong.”
The reader looks at the girl and she looks back. Her eyes are closed. She is covered in pond water and dirt and mud hardens against her shirt in the heat. I don’t know how to feel. I guess I feel pity.
Things don’t feel right anymore.
“I am doing the right thing,” she says. The rocks are heavy in her pocket and she pulls one out. It is perfectly white and does not fit well in her palm.
“I am doing the right thing,” she says.
She stands up and pulls her arm back and points a finger at the car, like a sissy, like a –ing schoolgirl. She closes her eyes and exhales.
There is a crunching sound like the air is screaming.
Then the car alarm blares.
The reader can see shards of moonlight splinter across the windscreen. It is cracked through.
She drops to the dust and waits.
But nothing happens.
“I am the hero.
“I am doing the right thing.”
Her speech bubbles are bright above her head. She can see the grain in the paper she is printed on. She can feel the walls of the panel she sits in. She can’t escape. The air is as hot as blood.
She wonders if superheroes ever feel doubt. She wonders how anyone can ever live happily ever after.
She waits for something to happen that is not the same moment repeating over and over again.
Next panel: There is no movement in the house but there is a sound coming closer.
Then the distance flashes red and blue.
The penny drops.
She is up and running. The panel stretches out ahead of her as she runs through the fields behind the estate. Branches bash against her shins and she watches the ground for potholes but instead she trips over a log and tumbles down an embankment in the dust and gets up and runs. She needs to get home, to her mother, her alibi. They will find the roll of lawn. They will find her tracks through the field. They will find the stone penis warm in her pocket.
“I was stupid,” she says.
“God damn stupid.”
But I don’t think she was stupid. She was well intentioned, but naïve, certainly. One day she will look back and see the situation for what it was. She will wonder, truthfully, how much freer is a dog trapped in a backyard?