Essay: Yumna Kassabon Parramatta

Three Ropes to Mars

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more.

— Macbeth


When the regulars spoke of it, they agreed that Three Ropes was like a set. A character struts in, speaks a few lines over coffee and then leaves at their appointed time, as summed up by Macbeth.

There is little that remains of that world now. There are a couple of lines she’s buried in stories – a wink to herself – but the rest is completely gone.

Change, they say, is what is guaranteed in life but she is a student of nostalgia, of keeping the set unchanged and in its place. She has enough nostalgia to devour the world or to museum the past, whichever is easier to come by first.

Yes, a museum for the past. That shall be the foundation of her words.


All are condemned to oblivion: Shakespeare, Cervantes, a million John Does.

That is Bolaño speaking, not her. What she would give to resurrect the past, to construct a tower of it, like the glass and steel structures being built over her Three Ropes world.


This student of nostalgia has a tendency to construct lists to catalogue the past.

The lists are soothing. They’re a remembrance, a commitment that despite the forces at work in her world, the past will not be completely erased.

Three Ropes was her cafe, Mars Hill another… She remembers those writing sessions that started in the morning, occasionally stretching into the night.

Mars Hill was an institution. The locals still lament its loss. Locals is a funny word to use now when the newcomers outnumber those who once called the area home.

Since this is her remembrance, her nod to what is gone, this shall be the resurrection story of what she misses so that it dances briefly again as if once again alive.


* Gold (2014) – Chet Faker

* Do I Wanna Know? (2013) Arctic Monkeys

* Got It (2015) – Marian Hill


This is Parramatta, circa 2015. The two cafés she’s referring to are Three Ropes and Mars Hill.

Three Ropes is in an alleyway behind the old library which is also gone. There is a mural on the outside wall and inside there are four tables that on occasion the regulars used to share. The café is so tiny that the barista can make the coffee and then turn around, and like that your coffee is served.

There is also music, of course. This is the year Three Ropes played the Arctic Monkeys, Chet Faker and Marian Hill. In particular, she singles out Do I Wanna Know? Today she hears that song and she is instantly transported back to that particular year.

This café is sentimental. The rose-tinted glasses are at work. In there, she started writing the stories of the first book. A story is fifteen minutes, the duration of a coffee, more or less. If that is not enough, she orders a chai and then writes out the rest.

Her system is handwritten. The words are more polished, the editing is reduced which frees up her time to write something else. This is a system she swears by and she has carried it out around the world.

This is her system. It is not for everyone, she knows.

It is worth mentioning how much she’s spent at cafés over the years. I am not lying when I say that excepting travel, coffee is her main expense.


Mars Hill is the other café. It is not a daily café but important enough to be committed here to the page. It has board games, a book exchange, artwork for sale on the walls and upstairs there’s a space that can be used for events.

There are a number of gatherings in that space that prove important later in her storyline.

This is a café that opens late in the evenings, a place a person can hang out.

Despite all the building, the activating of spaces, the decorative elements that have since replaced Mars Hill on the stage, the presence of the café in the neighbourhood has not yet been replaced.

She should give up hope. It has been years since Mars Hill shut. Its shopfront is vacant but any mention of this café still evokes an obligatory sense of loss.


Table 1: Woman With Chai

She sits with her chai, smiles at the regulars but if anyone tries to share her table, she shuts the world out with a frown. This chai is her ritual, hers alone, and if you think you’re coming between her and this oasis of peace in the day, it’s better for you to walk away and ask to share a table with someone else.

Table 2: Struggling Musician

He is trying to live a better life.

He carries his guitar, he tells stories about the record he’s working on, he’s seeking an alternative to the nine-to-five.

His endeavours feature more failures than successes but he remains determined in his search of the alternative path.

Cue the dreadlocks.

Cue the musician being broke.

Table 3: Government Employee

He has a comfortable job and always parks in the spot across from the café. How he scores such a convenience day after day is a joke between them all. It is the product of bewitchment, they pronounce, or else it speaks of a pact with the parking gods.

He orders an espresso. His job is flexible enough that he can start when he wants and later return for an extended lunch.

Table 4: Hopeful Writer

Guaranteed to be reading a book and every few days, her book will change. At some point, she shifts, realising that once she orders her coffee, she prefers this to be her writing time.

She writes Cigarettes and Smoke in there, Unit 101. These are the only stories named because they’re important with the subsequent storyline.

She orders a cappuccino and never leaves home without her notebook and pen.

Remember this is her story. Remember she is arranging what to include and what shall be left out.

An Elegant Young Man (Off-site)

He is not of the Three Ropes set. He belongs exclusively to Mars Hill.

He is a writer and also a judge. It is not known whether he drinks coffee.

If someone could look up this fact and report back, the story will be adjusted to incorporate the findings of the check.

Search terms: an + elegant + young + man

There should be a photo.

There should be his proper name.

Baristas & Staff

A head spin of baristas and staff: Nikki, Toufiq, Josh, Tony, Rachel, Louise and Tom. The rest have been forgotten, alas.

Q & A – Part I

Q: Why do you write as you do?

A: This question will be referred to the muse. A response is not guaranteed.

Q: Are these real people in Three Ropes to Mars?

A: They are real people. Even you, the questioner, may be real.

Q: Why do you keep quoting Bolaño?

A: I quote writers who best articulate my thoughts.

Q: What does the judge actually judge?

A: A prize called ZineWest. First prize is four hundred bucks.

Q: Can I enter ZineWest?

A: Yes, you may. You need to be from Western Sydney and an emerging writer toying with the idea of being emerged.

Q: What makes you structure your writing as you do?

 A: There is no decision involved but if there is an uncertainty about the piece, I know I am not settling into the comfort of an old form when I should be seeking something else.


The writer is writing her stories and hopes one day to have a story published. There are notebooks in an offstage archive but she perseveres with her new project daily. Regardless of her mood, she picks up her pen.

Lately she is not working much. Lately she can write over her coffee more and more. Lately she takes photos of everyday objects. She suspects these familiar places will disappear soon and yes, it will happen in the blink of an eye.

These everyday photos are one factor in her decision to write over coffee in the morning-time. For the other factors, ask the muse.

She begins writing about ordinary people living out their lives. The stories are reminiscent of a still life. In them she buries details of what struck her and also what she wishes could be kept forever and never lost.

She makes up many details but her stories have their basis in a real place. For example, each time she sets a story in a house, she imagines the floor plan as the houses she’s lived in and are therefore second nature known.

But to the stories. There are two to note.

Cigarettes and Smoke is the first story and then Unit 101 is written later on.

One evening, the writer goes to Mars Hill. There’s a flyer for a writing competition called ZineWest. It is run by a local writing group and at their next meeting, the guest will be the judge.

She attends this meeting, asking the judge (aka an elegant young man) about novellas and short stories and finding them a publication home. He makes an off-hand suggestion which later proves useful when she sends her stories out into the world.

She enters Cigarettes and Smoke in ZineWest in 2015. It wins second prize.

The following year, she submits Unit 101. It wins first prize. Hurray! Money for a story at last.

Finally, she collects her stories of these years and sends them to a publisher. Obviously there is nail-biting, weeping, uncertainty and despair but they will come to be assembled into a book form.

At last, the hopeful writer has a book to her name. Another is said to be on the way.

Cue the sunset, the birds singing, butterflies and music, tra-la-la.

Cue the writer with her coffee, briefly certain as she considers her words.


* The tortoise and the hare story could serve as a useful analogy. The hopeful writer is representative of the tortoise but the story lacks a hare.

* Success is 1 per cent inspiration, 99 per cent perspiration.

 The writer nods vigorously. Yes, that she can attest.

*Perseverance! Don’t give up. Write onwards on.

Q& A – Part II

Q: Is this fictional? Is any of this factual?

A: The truth has been fictionalised. Don’t let an obsession with facts get in the way of delivering the story.

Q: Any words of wisdom for those wanting to write?

A: There are always a million doubts. Pick up your pen no matter what. It always feels like heading into the darkness. It is your task to write anyway.


The ecology of the literary forest is maintained by activities at the forest floor. Therefore:

1) Sue Crawford and the New Writers’ Group Inc. for organising ZineWest every year. The hopeful writer required the encouragement of such a prize on the road to being emerged. ZineWest is where many writers in the community got started on their publishing path.

2) The judge who has a number of names including An Elegant Young Man. He gives a sweeping introduction to the pieces selected for ZineWest and I can report that the annual raffle is quite an event.

3) Cafés and writers have a long tradition. There wouldn’t be much writing if it weren’t for the cafés of the world and in particular, the writer wishes to remember Mars Hill and especially the set of Three Ropes.