A is for ‘orses. And cows. But there aren’t any horses or cows around here, so people use it to mulch their flower beds instead.
B is for honey. Not that creamed crap, just the proper stuff that dribbles through your crumpet.
C is for understanding what’s going on around you, not just looking, you know? Like actually taking in the signs and making sense of them, not like Aunty Bern who thought that handsome young bloke really wanted to marry her and just needed money for the tickets over from Zambia. She couldn’t see the forest for the trees, old Bern. One of the first life lessons I learned – there’s always more than meets the eye. Gotta remember that, eh?
D is for a lack of effort applied to your studies. You only get out what you put in, eh? Just look at my cousin Mick — he’s sick of selling hotdogs to pissheads at 3am, but what else are you equipped to do when you dropped out of school at 15?
E is for trippers. Tried it once at a party, and got way too fascinated with a dead fish. But that’s a story for another time.
F is for swearing when your mum’s in town. She knows what you mean, but somehow it’s more polite than actually saying it.
G is for polite bewilderment, like when you drop hints for months before Christmas about tickets to see your favourite band but end up getting smelly soaps instead.
H is for addicts. You’ve really got to steer clear of the stuff – it’ll just mess you up. Chick I knew in high school? Gorgeous, popular, and smart too, but not anymore. Saw her hanging around at the bus-stop near the servo a few weeks back, and nearly didn’t recognise her. She walked across the concourse when she saw me and hit me up for a tenner, then abused me when I told her I didn’t have any cash on me.
I is for me. It gets really weird when people refer to themselves in the third person, you know? Like: ‘Stanley really likes a shandy after mowing the lawn’. WTF is that? Just say ‘I love a beer after doing the lawns’! We know who you’re bloody talking about.
J is for reefers. It’s another drug reference, I know, but it’s just for relaxing after a hard week.
K is for lazy agreement, ‘kay?
L is for modelling like Kylie is for singing.
M is for a feed after J. It’s all about the special sauce for me. Word of advice though: the staff don’t think you walking through drive-through to order is as funny as you do.
N is for O, the first word I learned how to spell. Mum used to say it real loud, and then ask me how many times she had to say it. Lots, apparently.
O is for surprise. And pleasure. Ohhh yeah.
P is for toilets and sometimes behind trees, never for footpaths or front doors, and definitely never for faces. Not cool at all.
Q is for tickets, or the dunny at a good gig (see? Use the toilets!). Not too sure about those people who sleep out the front of a shop the night before a new phone comes out though. I mean, it’s just a bit of technology that’s gonna be superseded by another one in a few months, yeah? My time is too valuable for that.
R is for pirates and their buccaneers. Speaking of pirates, you know that joke, right? The pirate asks ‘where’re my buccaneers?’ and the other bloke goes ‘they’re on your buccan head!’. Jeez that one cracks me up.
S is for bends. I’m not going to pretend to know anything about plumbing except that it’s one of the greatest inventions ever. That and penicillin. Oh, and electricity. Wait, this list could get really long if I keep going.
T is for pots, not bags.
U is for me. Aw, love ya babe.
V is for five, or peace, or up you, depending on which way you give it.
W is two sheep that look the same in a paddock.
X is for sneaky Facebook stalking.
Y is for curious minds. Seriously, you’ve gotta ask questions or you just become some robot, going about your day.
Z is for cartoons only. C’mon, no-one makes that noise when they snore. If you tried to make the sound of those little lines of z’s you’d make a smooth noise, and no-one snores nice, smooth sounds. Snoring is rough, jagged, and it’s loud. Those little z’s are bullshit. Just come over some night and listen to my other half snoring…or don’t, because that would be weird.
Kristen Roberts is a writer and kindergarten teacher from western Melbourne. Her poetry and short stories have been published in a range of journals and anthologies including page seventeen, Australian Love Poems, Award Winning Australian Writing 2012, and Quadrant. Her first collection, The Held and The Lost, was published by Emma Press in 2014.
Ella Meagher strode down the corridor of the Bon Marche building in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. Her long skirt billowed and threatened to trip her up. Her blouse was an aboriginal dot painting. She wore her steel-wool hair in a high bun and carried her head at a tilt, the way she always did when hurried.
Ella was the oldest member of the faculty. She taught everything. She knew very little. At heart she was a writer and even published a novel a long time ago. Today, she held a tattered document in her hands, which she’d received from one of her first-years. She thought maybe it was the stuff of genius but couldn’t be sure. Not until she’d shown John Darley, the head of writing.
He was at his desk in his dark office when she came in. Strips of daylight glowed between the gaps in the curtains. She stood with her back against the wall as John read under the meagre lamp on his battered old desk.
‘God’, he said, as he turned the first page.
He chuckled a couple of times, at the exact same places she had chuckled. Page 4, first paragraph, and again on page 6.
‘What did you say this kid’s name was?’ asked John, placing the story back on his desk.
‘And what’s he like?’
‘Quiet of course. I’m yet to hear him speak.’ Then, after a silence: ‘I think we should let Dalrymple and the others know. The publishing houses too.’
John cupped the back of his head in his hands. ‘Yes’, he said. ‘I suppose so.’
At the end of class the following day Ella pulled aside Gabriel and told him not get too excited and not to think for a moment he didn’t have a precariously steep and maddeningly long road ahead of him, but certain people in certain places wished to speak to him about his work.
‘Not the early stuff you wrote’, said Ella, frowning, ‘which frankly lacked… what’s the word? Oh, you know, it lacked. I’m referring to the more recent stories. The one set in Warriewood in particular.’
The one set in Warriewood, what? But Gabriel hated that story. He shuddered at his hatred. He shuddered at everyone and everything, always. To not shudder — to sit down and be, simply, still — was a faraway dream, a foreign country, the faint chime of a distant bell, rung by a distant hand.
‘What do you say?’ said Ella. ‘Can you do next Thursday at 1 pm?’
He muttered something that Ella took for confirmation and left the room. He left the Bon Marche building. He boarded an L88 bus and sat in the back corner with his hood pulled down over his forehead and his hands jammed into the pocket on the front of his jumper and there, in rhythmic motion, he slipped into reverie.
Gabriel lived in a boring room in a boring house on a boring street. He sometimes hoped his parents would find a way to quarrel — a smashed plate, a mad roar, anything to interrupt the ennui that wracked his little life. Warriewood was a boring place. There were McDonalds and Pizza Hut, the cinema, a shopping centre, a sewage treatment plant, and that was it. Gabriel could join the dots between these actants, could find cause and odorous effect, but, he asked, to what end? Why look for meaning in Warriewood when what he longed for, really, was freedom from it? He pined for something different. He knew nothing of what was out there — he’d only ever lived in Warriewood — and yet, whenever he walked the coastal paths atop the headlands along the beaches, he’d peer into the great unknown, across the roiling sea, and make out the vague shapes of a great world. He’d hear, in those moments, the great world’s distant music.
They wanted to speak to him about his work did they? He couldn’t for the life of him see why, so obviously reflexive were his stories. So weakly weaved. So thin.
But! By meeting them would he find the path…
The next Thursday at 1 pm, he waited in Warriewood Pizza Hut for Ella Meagher, John Darley, Clive Dalrymple and certain representatives from Allen & Unwin to arrive. He was resigned to hearing them out. He had before him an open book — Dubliners by Joyce — and a moist slice of Hawaiian.
‘Here he is’, came a voice from behind. ‘Reading away as ever.’
It was Ella. She slid into the booth and sat opposite him.
‘Gabriel’, she said, ‘allow me to introduce Charles Wilke and Christina Southern from A&U. You know John of course. And this is Clive from the university’s commercial affairs office.’
They all piled in.
‘Apologies we’re meeting here’, said Ella, addressing the group. ‘But Gabriel, young lad that he is, wasn’t able to get himself out of Warriewood.’
‘Not at all’, said Wilke — a gaunt fellow. ‘Christina and I love our pizza.’
Christina forged a smile and nodded. ‘We’ve had a chance to read Distant Music’, she said. ‘Remarkable, truly.’
‘What Christina means’, said Ella, ‘is, do you think you could write more stories like it? A novel even?’
‘We’re not here to pressure you into anything’, said Wilke. ‘You have a rare talent with colour and light. It needs time. Take as much as you want. All we’re saying is, if you happen to find an idea worth rendering in longer form, we’re happy to talk to you about it.’
‘With one proviso’, said Christina.
‘Oh, yes’, said Ella reaching over the table to pat Gabriel’s forearm. ‘Nothing major.’
‘Nothing major’, said Christina. ‘That’s right. All we ask is that your novel be set here in’ — she coughed — ‘Excuse me. In Warriewood’.
Distant Music took place at dusk. The sun off to light the world anew and leave Warriewood behind in darkness; a young boy standing on a headland, silhouetted against the sky, his head cocked as if straining to catch the words of a song and catch its aching melody. He wrote it in a single sitting. He wrote it from his heart.
‘We think you’ve hit on a place that, as far as we’re aware, has no representation in Australian literature.’
‘Christina’s right’, said Wilke. ‘Warriewood isn’t merely unrepresented, it’s energetically overlooked. A black hole, young man!’
‘Until, of course, Distant Music.’
‘Yes’, said Wilke. ‘Exactly.’
Gabriel sat there mute. Were they out of their effing minds? Who did they expect would buy such fiction? Even Joyce would struggle to sell Warriewood to the world, he’d likely not sell it to Warriewood! Worse, though, was that they’d not understood what he’d meant by the story. It’s not about here, he thought. It’s about over there.
‘We can tell’, said Wilke, ‘by the beauty in your writing, how much you must love Warriewood.’
‘That image’, said Ella, ‘of the blade of grass being borne down the gutter…’
She stopped. Her face changed. She was… yes, she was crying.
‘It’s a rare gift indeed’, said Wilke, ‘to see the kind of truth you’ve seen in Warriewood.’
‘Warriewood’, said Christina, and she raised her cup to Warriewood.
In his bedroom that afternoon, Gabriel lay and looked at the ceiling. He wanted out. He wanted to stow away on a ship bound for the Horn of Africa. Do ships go to the Horn of Africa? He wanted out. Normally he’d write himself free, but no more. For all he had was Warriewood. To imagine effing Warriewood. A novel (or novella) set in stinking Warriewood.
He left his house in Warriewood, past the treatment plant, along the road by Pizza Hut and high up to the edge of the continent. It was dusk again. Far below white foam heaved into the rock face, each wave shaping its jagged cheekbone. There was a glow above the horizon, a violet thread, the distant shape of a distant song. And here I am in Warriewood. That beach down there, oh Warriewood.
That night he dreamed of Warriewood. There were fires. A pizza oven caught alight and the flames touched each corner of the suburb. Before long McDonalds exploded spraying out showers of burger grease and the grease, it made the fires worse and the flames were tall as headlands and all they left behind was the charred, smoke-haze outline of a place once known as Warriewood. Only he survived the blaze and walking through the charcoal mess he saw that ash had buried the good citizens of Warriewood. Just their hands remained, poking through the silt as if reaching, ever reaching, and he wiped his tears with blackened fingers which left their marks in shocking streaks and… the wind blew.
He woke up, heart pounding, there in his little room, and wrote the first lines of a novel.
So here we are in Warriewood.
Yes (I know!) in Warriewood.
We lay our scene here. Can you effing believe it?
It was Dr Hope’s last day in the country. The girl selling necklaces was barely older than his twins. She wore a faded Adidas t-shirt, and when she turned away, the tag stuck out behind her neck, blotchy texta: Emily Goldsmith 2P.
She passed him the necklaces. The plastic bag was red and inconceivably thin, like a wilted bubble, more delicate even than the ones he used to freeze his girls’ sandwiches so they’d stay fresh until lunchtime. One anchor-shaped pendant was already poking through the plastic.
‘Thank, thank’, said the girl who wasn’t Emily Goldsmith.
David quashed the urge to ask her to double-bag it. He held it from underneath, the wood beads moving like bird bones in his palm. Behind him, the girl had taken up a bowl of rice, and he wondered who had made it for her, what they were doing at this moment so there’d be more for tomorrow.
David Hope had only two daughters but so far he’d bought thirteen necklaces.
This was part of the cultural program tacked onto the research trip. The hotel had a pool and a restaurant, but they were encouraged to interact with the locals for a day before the flight out. They were actually told, interact, which made Dr Hope think of his kids’ educational iPad apps. Interactive researchers, interactive natives. Learning is FunTM.
‘You may feel uncomfortable haggling, but accepting the first asking price is often seen as disrespectful’, the guide explained. Their cultural education took place on plastic lawn chairs in a little carpeted room off the restaurant.
Dr Hope could count to ten in the local language. He rehearsed haggling in his head. It unsettled him when numbers were negotiable.
The day before, there was nothing uncertain about the numbers. While the technician made measurements, the scientists stood in the river shallows in long rubber boots. They waved to the barefoot kids who watched them from upstream. They chatted about sport and another researcher’s son, whose guinea pig had had two pure white, dead babies. She’d spent last night on the phone, paying fifty cents a minute to tell him stories about animal heaven.
‘Dr Hope, could you please check this?’
Their technician – oh God, was it Michael or Mitchell? – was a PhD student, supervised by one of Dr Hope’s international colleagues. Today he wore yellow jeans tucked into his boots. Evidently the field trip was an opportunity for fashion statements unutterable in the lab.
‘I mean, is it set up okay?’ the student asked. ‘Because maybe —’
Dr Hope checked the instrument to placate him. ‘That is the highest reading we’ve had. But this is where the waste-water outlet was.’
‘Can’t we do another sample?’ the student asked.
He was too young, David thought, to get doctor before his name. The barefoot kids waved. David looked down. The current had wrapped a shred of flimsy plastic around his boot, red, funny colour for a shopping bag. ‘Remember, it’s a cumulative thing, over the time period we’re here it won’t — Mike.’
He’d met Mitch at the perfectly choreographed cultural welcome. Traditional, the guide explained. Though probably not lunch served with drinks brought out in sealed plastic bottles.
‘Mitchell’, said the guy next to him.
‘David Hope.’ They shook hands, mingling the sanitiser on their palms.
‘But do you think’, Mitchell asked, looking round the room at the women serving, ‘they’re getting decent pay?’
A man leant between them and took their empty water bottles, one in each hand, stepped back, and replaced them with new ones, like a magic trick. Something swept over David’s arm: the man’s tie, a generically traditional print repeated in the women’s skirts.
‘Sorry’, David said.
Mitchell waited until he was gone before resuming his attack, or reassurance, or whatever it was. ‘Well, it’s no different to buying cheap anything. I mean, everyone knows…’
David felt airsick.
An hour before, from the plane, the factory site was a gap amidst the tin, rusty corrugated roofs crammed around its rectangular negative space. The site photos he’d been emailed showed cinder-blocks and stringy shrubs keeling over into pools of mud. But later, in person, they looked less like weeds than sun-starved houseplants, the kind his wife would’ve diagnosed as ‘leggy’ and in need of a trim and fertilise.
David had copies of the initial site plans in his briefcase: nine thousand square feet of damp scrub-land, slope of four degrees toward the river. Descriptions of stubborn mud-wallowing trees that could have been mangroves, what David called in school talks a river’s kidneys. No photos, just blueprints signed off by the entrepreneur. He’d have waved back at the kids and bought their necklaces. Only bottled water for him, though, as if the place was already contaminated.
The next day he got back on the plane, and left. The factory site sat empty, weeping on the river’s shoulder.
Jemma Payne studies creative writing and Spanish, and is undertaking an internship with the Wollongong Writers Festival. Her short fiction and poetry has been published in Tincture Journal and Voiceworks, including in the Voiceworks #100 Special Edition, and she was shortlisted for the 2015 Visible Ink anthology. Find Jemma on Twitter @jemmalpayne
You shouldn’t be hitchhiking out here on your own, she says when she leans across and opens the door of her shiny four-wheel drive. The young woman she addresses hurries to throw her backpack onto the floor at the foot of the passenger seat. She quickly scans the driver for signs of her being an axe-murderer and, not finding any, settles into the passenger seat doing up her seatbelt.
You shouldn’t be picking up strangers, she smiles. Thanks. My name’s Kelly.
Maureen completes the introductions and asks the obligatory, Where are you heading? I can take you as far as Gummundah or the turn off from the highway if you want to keep heading north.
Nowhere, I’m going nowhere in particular. Gummundah sounds good.
Maureen had been startled when the shape of the young woman appeared in the headlights, an unexpected apparition at the side of the road, the little surge of adrenaline causing a tingle in her fingertips and making her hold in her breath. The girl had frightened her because she seemed to materialise out of nowhere, appearing fully formed in jeans, t-shirt and backpack.
They sit driving in the croon of the road noise for a while before Maureen says, Well, now that we know each other better, you can tell me where you’re really going.
Kelly laughs. She looks out the window at the trees and scrub that disappears at the perimeter of the headlights.
Yeah, what does it matter? I’m running away, she confesses.
Yep, like a little kid. Bad relationship, though, not because I got grounded. She laughs again, I’m actually heading to a cousin in Darwin but I figure it won’t matter how long I take to get there since he doesn’t know I’m coming.
You travel light, Maureen says looking at the small backpack like ones that kids use to carry schoolbooks.
Yeah, that was out of necessity too. I had to go quickly and quietly. She smiles tightly. He isn’t a nice person, my ex. Kelly breathes out heavily, He never hit me though, it didn’t ever get to that. I wouldn’t have let him hit me. The road signs flash past announcing town names and distances, warning that drowsy drivers die and that micro-sleeps can kill. The rumble strip glows at the edge of the road like a headless arrow pointing their way.
So, what about you? Why are you going to Gummundah, do you live there?
I used to. My dad runs the pub. I’m going to see him.
Mmm. How long since you’ve been back?
Well, that depends who you ask; either too long or not long enough.
Maureen grips the steering wheel and peers into the arc of the headlights. She imagines a messy tangled web that keeps expanding and becoming ever more tangled; knots swell and pulse at the junctions. The centre white line flicks past in time with the pulsing nodes.
They are quiet again. The trees on either side of the wide road nearly meet overhead in places, leave open spaces in others. Kelly looks forward to the openness and clarity of a desert night sky. Maureen dreads the malty smell of stale beer that creeps out of the carpet and sheds off the walls of the pub. It will make her feel like a child again. It will make her feel guilty.
Kelly rests her head back against the seat, breathing deeply. So, she says, why did you run away?
Maureen smiles, Who says I ran? Maybe I went to the city for work.
Doesn’t mean you weren’t running.
My mum got sick. Cancer. Dad and I looked after her until right near the end. We couldn’t do it on our own. Dad was trying to run the pub, he had help but it was still hard. I was seventeen. I quit school to be with mum. In the end I couldn’t watch her disintegrate in a hospital bed. I didn’t have my license but I loaded up the old ute and left. I wasn’t there when she died. Maureen can’t keep the catch of guilt out of her voice. She’s told the story many times, she tells it as a penance. She doesn’t want people to get the mistaken idea that she’d been a good daughter, doesn’t want them to pity her.
And your dad?
Maureen’s head snaps around to look at the girl, What do you mean?
What’s wrong with him, is it cancer too?
Maureen looks steadily at the hitchhiker, Yes.
The thud of the kangaroo makes them both scream. Maureen stomps on the brake pedal hard but too late. Kelly is still screaming when the car stops. A sharp intake of breath, scream, a breath.
Stop, says Maureen, loud, strong. The girl gulps in air like someone just pulled from beneath a weight of salt water.
Are you okay? Maureen asks. I have to check and make sure it’s dead. Okay? Kelly gulps and nods.
Maureen disappears into the darkness behind the car. She takes longer than Kelly expects but the girl doesn’t look around. She doesn’t want to see the shadowy shapes behind the vehicle, one maybe two still moving.
There is blood on Maureen’s hands when she returns to the car.
Can you get me the rag out of the glove box? It’s an old tea towel.
What happened? Are you bleeding?
It had a joey.
Where is it? Is it okay?
It was too small, Kelly.
Oh, was it dead? There are tears in the girl’s eyes, they shine in the interior light. Shadows dance in the headlights still looking down the road to their destination.
No, says Maureen, It wasn’t. Let’s go.
Deb Wain is a poet and short story writer who is passionate about the Australian environment. She has generally been employed in jobs where she talks for a living. When not writing or talking you can find Deb dancing in the garden, drinking coffee, or continuing her studies in creative writing. (Deb is a current PhD candidate at Deakin University.)
Dorian travelled lightly. He arrived at Narita airport as a tourist with only his laptop, Evian facial spray and a toothbrush. It was Dorian’s first visit to Tokyo, and curious of the Japanese, he jumped into a limousine-bus travelling to Shibuya with a grin from ear to ear. ‘I’m here to conquer’, he informed the driver.
Dorian and Yumi had never met before. Yumi had answered an online personals ad which Dorian posted and then forgot about for over a year. He was tired of being used by other women he met online, but longed for companionship. Dorian and Yumi kept up their exchange until Dorian casually mentioned he’d be in Tokyo; it then seemed natural to progress their friendship out of cyberspace. They arranged a blind date for 9pm at Shoto Café in Shibuya.
At six in the evening, Dorian returned to Shibuya after a day spent at Tsukiji Fish Market heckling at the tuna auction. He changed briskly and tried on the new jacket he’d purchased from Shinjuku. Then he headed out to Roppongi to an Izakaya, a sake bar, called Gonpachi, to take in the cozy Japanese interior which had inspired the sword fight scene from Kill Bill. At the Izakaya, Dorian ordered a katsudon and indulged in the warm cherry sake, guzzling it down in one gulp.
The night crawled; Dorian kept eyeing his watch till it read 8:30pm then set off to Shoto Cafe, a prison-themed establishment, for his date.
At 9pm, Yumi was in the lift alone when Dorian stepped inside. The doors shut but neither of them pressed the button. The pair made eye contact. Yumi was the first to speak. ‘Are you Dorian?’
‘Yes’ Dorian replied. ‘I’m meant to be at Shoto Café. Have I come to the right place?’
Yumi grinned. ‘I’m Yumi, your date. Are you on your own?’
‘Yes. Yes. I read that Shoto was on the fifth floor. You’re on your own too?’ Dorian asked, comforted by Yumi’s appearance.
‘Not anymore’ remarked Yumi. ‘Join me for a nightcap?’
Dorian sighed. ‘I was thinking the same thing.’ He laughed, then pressed five.
Dorian and Yumi sat in the corner of the café. The subtle light and ambient music created an intimate, soft yet electric mood. Yumi took off her blazer to reveal a slender neckline. They ordered the same thing – a ‘Mother’s Milk.’ The packaging on the carton depicted a baby sucking on the teat of his mother. In Japanese, the slogan read: ‘The breast-tasting drink, EVER!’
Dorian was nervous, and took his first sip. ‘Deliciously wholesome; so natural. Is there anything more life-giving than mother’s milk?’
‘I doubt it. Freud would have a field day in Japan. The inventor of Mother’s Milk obviously had an Oedipus complex’, said Yumi.
‘I shudder to think of the scene inside the manufacturer’s factories… poor farm-girls and milkmaids shackled up to cold, pitiless machines that squeeze their tits’, Dorian gasped.
Yumi covered her mouth with her hand, grinning. ‘Ai-yah!’ She took a gulp and got a milk moustache. Dorian nestled his hand on her face and wiped away the white trail above her lip. The pair giggled like schoolgirls.
Underneath the table, they shifted their legs closer until they were touching.
‘How much longer are you in Tokyo?’ Yumi asked.
‘Two days. But I’m not in any hurry to leave. I can stay longer.’
‘I’d like to invite you to my home for ramen night. My home is also my salon. I make kimonos. It’s just around the corner. Not tomorrow, but the day after.’
‘It’s a date’, Dorian beamed.
On his final night in Tokyo, Dorian doused himself with cologne in preparation for his visit to Yumi’s abode. His slicked back his hair and wore boat shoes purchased from a street vendor in Harajuku. The address Yumi gave him read ‘Nonbei Yokocho’, which translated to ‘Drunkard’s Alley,’ off Shibuya’s bustling centre.
From the outside, behind a glass window, two mannequins wearing kimono stared at him in a mid-bow pose. He knocked. Yumi appeared wearing a kimono, smiling. Dorian bowed, took his shoes off then entered.
Yumi was no shrinking violet. The moment Dorian set foot in the salon she took charge of the cooking, raiding the fridge for ingredients.
‘What are you doing?’ Dorian asked.
‘I’m cooking you dinner. Did you know that here in Tokyo, parents arrange for their sons and daughters to cook together with potential life-partners? It’s the surest way to determine suitability’, Yumi grinned.
‘I saw a vending machine today where I could get cupcakes in a can. Can the Japanese be any zanier?’ Dorian asked.
Yumi walked to the cupboard, stood on her tippy-toes and reached for a contraption resembling a fan. ‘I got this as a gift from my cousin.’
‘What is it?’
‘You attach it to your arm while you eat. Turn it on and the wind blows your food to cool it down quickly.’ Yumi handed the device to Dorian, who inspected it with a keen eye.
‘Genius! I’ll never burn my tongue again!’
‘Just press the button’ said Yumi.
The pair watched Yumi’s ramen, the steam drifting from the broth. Wary of the shaved pork and the consistency of the miso, Dorian took a bite. Then, he took another. The chili paste mingled with the chewy noodles, while the spring onions gave it texture and zest. No dish was left unfinished. The bowls appeared clean after the meal, as if they had just been washed.
After they ate, Yumi beckoned Dorian upstairs to her display room. She took his hand and guided him closely. Yumi flicked on the lights to reveal a row of mannequins, each wearing a different kimono.
‘Take your pick’ she said, ‘go on.’
Dorian’s jaw dropped. Light reflected off the silks and filled the room with scintillating colours. He gently brushed his hand over the pieces one by one, and then chose the kimono closest to Yumi.
In the changing room, Dorian was sweating. So the nagajuban goes under the kimono, the obi-belt goes over it. Or is it… Wait…
‘Are you OK in there?’ asked Yumi.
‘I’ll be out in just a minute’ Dorian replied, perplexed by the items of clothing.
‘Do you need a hand?’ Yumi was eager to see how he’d look.
‘I’m OK, still… trying… There!’
Dorian stepped out of the changing room. Yumi’s face lit up. She grabbed Dorian’s hand and placed him in front of the mirror.
‘Now you’re one of us’ Yumi exhaled, as she stared at the mirror into Dorian’s eyes.
Harold Legaspi was born in Manila in 1980 and migrated to Sydney in 1989, where he now resides. In 2015, he embarked on a writer’s residency in Beijing. He is writing his first novel. He tweets @haku_chen
When Griff first told me about Lil, I thought: where, for God’s sake where, am I going to get a kebab? I was hungover and frankly wasn’t listening. But he was persistent that day, yammering on (you know how much he likes to yammer), until finally, after I’d put away fifty bucks worth of Pad Thai in a wok cave in Man Town, I got the point.
At the time it wasn’t the biggest news I’d ever heard. Griff met a girl at Shore Club on Thursday night; Darryl Fisher his wingman. Nothing remarkable about that, I’d heard stories like that all the years of my young manhood. Stories more interesting, mind you. Stories about blokes hooking up with birds in places you wouldn’t imagine. Pub toilets, for instance. Station wagons.
I’d had nine schooners, a six pack of coopers and four vodka soda limes the night before – was still watching my figure back then – and was kind of seeing things in black and white (no colour). The wok cave was busy as usual but even so, this noise kept grating against my mind. Bang it went (and bang!), making me all jumpy, making my face twitch like Gibbo’s does (you know, Gibbo, our meth-head mate who functions brilliantly in the week but falls to the demons most Friday nights). Bang it went (and bang!) as though at any moment the roof was going to cave in. It took me some time to realise the noise was Griff, banging on about Lil. She’s epic, he kept saying. She’s actually really epic. At this point I started to take him seriously and when I take my mates seriously, I always give the best advice. So I said, Griff mate? And he said, Yeah? And I said, Sounds like you like this girl. And he said, Yeah.
To this day, that’s some of the best advice I’ve ever given.
The next weekend I had the pleasure of seeing Lil in the flesh down at Wharf Bar. She was alright, I guess. Pretty good looking bird, yeah, I guess she was. Kept herself healthy by the look of her pins, the way her calves – ever so slightly – made themselves known beneath her skin. Not a bad effort at all, I thought, and this may well have been the end of it and I may well have gotten on with the rest of my night had Griff not been so… what’s the word? Well, he was acting very strange wasn’t he? Yeah, real odd-like, looking at me over everyone’s head, watching me out the corner of his eye as though I were a threat or something. So I went up to him at the bar and I said, Griff mate? And he said, Yeah? And I said, Is it me or is it stinking hot in here? And he said, It’s stinking hot. That pretty much cleared the air. Nothing but smooth sailing from then on.
Sometimes I think though: what a rollercoaster, you know? What a delicate balance blokeship is. Blokeship and women, in particular. Choppy water if you’re not careful. Like blokeship and sport. Better not rub it in. Better not let him know that a year before he met her, one summer night at North Steyne, Lil came up to me on the street and offered me a quickie on the sand. Maybe one day, when he pissed me off. Maybe then I’d take him to the side and say, Griff mate? He’d probably say, Yeah? And I’d say, I want you to know something.
Now I’m not certain or nothin’, but I reckon the chances are he’d go, What? What do you want me to know? What is it? Tell me, mate. What have ya heard about me? Jobbo’s been talking shit again, hasn’t he? I hate that guy sometimes. I swear to God he’s the slyest mongrel in Man Town.
And that’s the thing about Griff. He’s always afraid people are talking behind his back. You just have to laugh. You just have to get him a beer and plough on with the night. As if any of us’d ever bitch about Griff. He’s our mate. Isn’t he Thommo? Oi Thommo? Griff’s our mate, yeah?
Dominic Carew is a lawyer and writer from Sydney.
(Edited by Omar J. Sakr)
Mother died today. I got an email. It said, mother passed away funeral tomorrow yours.
I thought: Mine?
Am I dead too?
So here I sit, in my office, reading emails, having thoughts like: Am I dead too? On the very day mother died.
Having forgotten to mention the frowny face.
mother passed away : (
Is what my sister wrote.
I try to call her at home. This, I think, is not for email. This, I think, is not for twitter. My mobile gives a loud beep (mother passed frowny face). I dial and a stranger answers the phone.
Who’s this? I ask.
You tell me, says a sad voice.
Then the dial tone. So I try again.
Who’s this? the answerer asks.
Your brother, I say.
Oh, she says, I just emailed you.
Who are you speaking to? a voice asks gruffly.
No one, she says.
When did she die? I ask.
This morning, she says, it was in the email.
Oh, I say, then how did she die?
The usual way, she says, I’ve gotta go.
And the dial tone again.
The usual way.
I draft an email, automatically: My mother just died, frowny face.
But who to send it to? Not her, surely, she already knows. Nor anyone in the office, since they would only come over. You should go home, they’d say, to be with your sister.
I type mother’s name then press ‘send’ and wait to see what happens.
It comes back.
Your message failed, it says. There is no such address. And underneath: My mother just died : (
My mother is no such address. My mother is oblivion, in the way of addresses. I press send again, and again, with the same result. I write: When a cuddly little critter awoke one morning from troubled dreams, it found itself transformed into a monstrous sentence, and cc it to everyone.
Suddenly, a reply:
This is your sister. Stop playing games. Respect the dead.
Is there something wrong? asks the woman in the next cubicle. She’s leaning back on her chair.
All okay, I say. Why do you ask?
The head disappears and her mouse starts clicking and grinding. I check the football news, look at Facebook, update my status. Orphan, I write, then switch off the computer and slip into my jacket.
When I get to the house I find my sister alone. She’s sitting on the couch watching television. She stands as I enter. Oh, it’s you, she says. She’s wearing grey tracksuit pants and a loose-fitting t-shirt.
Who’s You? I say, but she isn’t in the mood. Her eyes are swollen and the house stinks of garlic.
I made lunch, she says.
‘Is that garlic?’
I made pasta, she says, and I’ve spilt a jar.
She points to the corner of the kitchen, where shards of glass and a lump of pulped garlic remain on the floor.
‘I’ll clean it up.’
Okay, she replies, in a toneless voice.
Oprah’s on but the sound is low. I get the dustbin and broom from the laundry without looking in the bedroom. I walk right past, keeping my head straight.
I brush the garlic and broken glass into the dustbin then empty it into the larger bin outside. I steal a glance at my sister. She’s lying prone on the couch with her eyes closed. She’s not wearing any underwear.
Mother’s on the bed and looks asleep but her chest doesn’t rise. She seems
fine – some might say healthy. She’s in the middle of one of those power naps she takes every time she has something important to attend, someone to impress. She sports a full load of make-up and a sleek black dress, one she often wore to formal, classy dinners or to go dancing. She’s even wearing stockings.
The only thing missing is her hair.
Her head is a perfect, shining dome. It’s as though she’d been polishing it all these months. Her ears stick out like peacock feathers. Heavy, long earrings stretch the lobes of her ears down as far as the pillow.
I sit and watch her for a while. The light from the window shines on her forehead. I can’t stop staring. My eyes start to water. As her head becomes liquid, I give a loud, slow yawn. If my mother were alive, she’d yawn back.
‘I’m off now,’ says my sister.
I have things to do.
What about lunch?
You made lunch.
Yes, that’s right.
Shall we eat lunch then?
No, I’m off now.
But why make lunch and then leave?
I’m not hungry.
But it’s lunch time.
I don’t eat lunch.
Since two days ago?
Why on earth?
I’m on a diet.
You’re starving yourself.
I eat in the morning.
Only in the morning?
Just in the morning.
Did you eat this morning?
I wasn’t hungry.
So have some lunch.
I don’t eat lunch.
Since Wednesday, you say?
For two days.
How long will you starve yourself?
I don’t starve at all, I eat in the morning.
Except this morning.
This morning’s an exception.
One morning out of three?
Why didn’t you eat?
So you didn’t have time.
Were you hungry when she died?
But you never ate.
So why not eat now, to make up for it?
That would be cheating.
Is this a game then?
It’s a serious diet.
It isn’t cheating, surely, to eat lunch if you miss breakfast.
Yes it is.
Are there no exceptions?
Not even when your mother dies?
It doesn’t say.
By “it” you mean what?
I mean the instructions.
They don’t mention mother?
No they don’t.
That’s something of an oversight.
How do you mean?
How could they have missed her?
I don’t quite follow.
If mother was going to die, why didn’t they mention it?
I guess they hadn’t heard.
Yet you follow their instructions.
I see no reason not to.
You let them tell you what to do.
How else would it work?
But they don’t know the future.
Then how can they give instructions?
You’re not making sense.
They give instructions for the future.
In what way?
Don’t they tell you how to behave?
For tonight and tomorrow and the next day.
Knowing nothing about what will happen tonight and tomorrow and the next day.
They have a good idea.
Not about mother.
How could they?
But this is just the third day, don’t you see?
That on the third day mother died.
And it wasn’t accounted for.
They didn’t see it coming.
It was a mammoth oversight, wouldn’t you say?
I don’t think I would.
Is the death of our mother not a major event?
But they knew nothing about it, they didn’t even account for the prospect of her death, you say.
Not the slightest reference?
Not a footnote?
Nothing like that.
Is it perhaps in the small print?
There is no small print.
Nothing you’ve noticed?
Nothing at all.
So you’re saying, if I understand correctly, that you follow instructions composed by some entity that’s already failed, only three days in, to account for your mother’s death?
Isn’t that foolish?
I’d say you’re a fool.
You’re the hungry one.
Let’s have lunch.
I have things to do.
At least clean up those tissues first.
We can’t have tissues lying everywhere.
She’s only been dead a few hours.
Come here for a second. We’ll be okay. Stop crying.
I’m not crying.
Get changed at least.
I’ve really gotta go.
But I can see your nipples.
There’s a scrap of paper on the kitchen bench, with details written on it for a funeral home. I call the number and talk to someone called Susan. She says she’s very sorry for my loss and puts me on hold. The jingle greets me with a surge of pleasure: Believe it or not I’m walking on air, I never thought I could feel so free-ee-ee. I’m singing loudly as a man called Mark offers his condolences. He asks what sort of ceremony I’m after. I explain our financial situation. He tells me he can provide an intimate cremation.
How soon can we do it?
That depends on you.
Can we do it on the weekend?
You’re not expecting anyone from interstate or overseas?
Just wait a moment.
I hear clicks on a keyboard as he checks the schedule.
Our last session is free. Will five o’clock suit everyone? It’s a Saturday, in case you’ve forgotten.
Yes Saturday at five will be excellent. How long will the ceremony take?
Between forty and fifty minutes.
Perfect. When will you come to collect her?
We can collect the avatar this afternoon, if you like.
The cadaver. It means corpse.
Yes, I thought you said something else. This afternoon is excellent.
What sort of condition is the body in?
It’s excellent, I suppose, apart from the obvious.
Of course. Then there should be no problem. Give me your address and our men will come around with the van. Did your mother belong to a religion?
So you’d prefer a secular ceremony.
Yes, she would.
No problem. Will there be a eulogy?
I’ll say a few words.
No one else?
Perhaps my sister. We’ll keep it short.
Understood. That’s all I need for now. Is there anything else I can help you with?
Yes. Have you spoken to anyone about my mother recently?
I’m sorry? About your mother? I don’t know what you mean.
It’s just that I found the name and telephone number of your business on her kitchen bench and I don’t know how it got there.
Perhaps someone left it there.
It wasn’t me.
No, I wasn’t suggesting it was you. I thought you might have spoken to somebody already. Did my sister telephone earlier?
I don’t think so.
Perhaps even my mother?
You’re wondering whether your mother called to make arrangements for her funeral before she died?
Yes, perhaps a matter of minutes before she died.
She may have made enquiries. But it seems unlikely… We don’t have her details on file.
Okay, that’s fine. I was just curious.
Will that be all?
I’ll see you tomorrow evening.
I look forward to it.
As I hang up the telephone I recall my sister’s email: ‘funeral tomorrow’.
Why so soon? Had she already booked a funeral with another company? In a panic, I call her mobile but it rings out.
I’d rather not be at the apartment when they come to collect mother, so I leave a note on the door and go out for a walk. The note reads: An urgent matter came up, mother’s body is inside, please help yourselves to the pasta in the oven if you’re hungry. I couldn’t eat pasta now anyway. I have a nasty feeling that the scent of garlic will forever invoke my mother’s corpse.
I walk purposefully down the stairs. I can smell the beach from here, it’s a fine day, why not walk on the shore with my shoes off for a while? Mother can wait. After all, she’s not going anywhere. I order a coffee and a toasted sandwich at the café on the Esplanade and watch the pale waves foam onto the sand. There are at least fifty beachgoers in my line of vision, facing the beach and following the coastline at a rightward angle.
I close my eyes and imagine three funeral workers bustling around in my parent’s house, knocking over ornaments as they try to manoeuvre her body out of the front doorway. A sudden thought: What if two funerals have been booked, and both companies are at the house right now, fighting over the corpse? I envision a slapstick spaghetti food fight in my parents’ kitchen.
Is everything okay sir? asks one of the café employees. I realise I’ve been laughing loudly.
A woman on the beach chastises a small boy for urinating on the sand near her towel. A waitress hands me a tissue and smiles. I finish my coffee and decide to head back home. I don’t feel like walking on the beach any more. The spectacle of a man in a shirt and tie and black slacks trekking along the shoreline with shoes in his hands would scream BREAKDOWN. As I pay the bill the girl at the counter says, ‘I’m sorry for your loss.’
‘Excuse me?’ I say.
She pokes a long, red fingernail under my nose, to illustrate her point. ‘There are crumbs in your beard.’
The phone buzzes loudly as I leave the café. My sister’s calling from another universe.
Shannon Burns is an Adelaide-based writer, reviewer/critic and sometimes-academic. He has written for Australian Book Review, Sydney Review of Books and Music & Literature. He is a current ABR Patrons Fellow and a member of the JM Coetzee Centre for Creative Practice. He won the 2009 Adelaide Review Prize for Short Fiction and has published short fiction in various places, including Wet Ink, Etchings, Mascara Literary Review and Overland. His long profile of Gerald Murnane appears in the August 2015 edition of the Australian Book Review.
When I was about twelve, I went through a brief but intense love affair with particular words. I used to write them, over and over, in different ways, different colours. I covered everything I owned with them, graffitiing my own possessions with every new word that meant something to me: some black and monolithic, others sporting speed lines or poorly pencilled drop shadows in an attempt to make them jump off the page.
I wrote words like ROCK and METAL, after the music I liked. METAL in silver magic marker, ROCK drawn with cracks across its surface, supposed to represent granite.
Sometimes I wrote the names of people or places I was enamoured with. AFRICA I wrote with brown and black patterning, like a Zulu shield; ANTARCTICA in a chilly blue-white.
The words became totems for me at an age when everything was changing. Not just my body, but my mind, my way of looking at the world. The words were a way for me to hang on, to fix to things like anchors in a boiling sea.
I used to make up words too, combinations of things I’d read and didn’t understand with things overheard on TV. I loved words with vaguely mystical connotations like LINEAGE, QUEST or RITUAL. I’d pair them up together to make strange, rich sounding phrases that meant nothing but evoked everything—at least to me.
Some words seemed frivolous, light as air; others seemed to me to be very weighty. I would write them on books and the book would (I swear) become heavier. One of those words was FOREST.
I wrote it in dark green felt-tip on the back of an old postcard I found on the bus. The card showed a mass of fir trees on some foggy Canadian hillside. I was entranced by that image, the dark Douglas firs like the masts of ships locked in some seething ocean battle, rearing out of the mist. The back of the card was blank, so I wrote the word in thin strong lines echoing the trees, and pinned it to my wall.
That night I had a very strange dream in which I walked through that forest under the great Douglas firs, smelling the pine sap and the rich black soil, heavy with decay. Occasionally a small animal would sprint out from under cover and run off into the woods, but other than that the silence was complete; just the sound of my footsteps gritting over the fallen needles.
The next morning the postcard was gone from my wall. The small hole left by the thumb tack I’d used to pin it was still there, but no sign of the thing itself remained.
An older boy might have questioned that, or thought to ask his parents if they’d removed it for some cryptic reason, but I didn’t bother. It was just something that had happened.
Of course I wrote the names of pop stars and video game characters on things too, everybody did. But it was those simple, somehow heavy words that occupied my attention. Drawing band logos on your pencil case could help identify you as part of a tribe, or proclaim your adoration for a particular singer, but to understand the relationship between the word itself and what the word meant was special to me, almost a religious act.
I found a copy of New Scientist in my dad’s office. The cover showed the great deserts of Saudi Arabia, the dark skies lit faintly by hundreds of burning oil pipelines.
I wrote DESERT on the inside cover in orange chalk, and that night I lay on the sand feeling the dry, faintly perfumed wind come roaring out of Al Rub El Kali, the empty quarter. In the morning the magazine was missing, and my dad told me off for tracking sand into his office.
A few nights later I went to the Moon. It was cold and dark and I could have sworn that I wasn’t alone up there; the stars in particular stick in my mind, glaring like chips of ice. I woke up with no desire to go back.
Then after a while it stopped happening. I didn’t really notice too much; I had developed an achingly adolescent crush on a girl at school a couple of years older than me. I wrote her name over and over on my ruler, but nothing happened. She never even knew I existed.
Time passed. I grew up, I forged new crushes; some terribly misguided, some almost real. I went to college where I learned to use words to dissect texts and communicate ideas. I learned to annotate, to reference, to footnote.
Then the day before graduation I received a phone call. My mother’s voice, hoarse with tears, informed me down the crackling line that my father had passed away suddenly that night; a massive heart attack had felled him like a tree. An ambulance turned up promptly and whisked him away to casualty where he was pronounced dead at quarter to midnight. My mother commended the paramedics; she said they were extremely professional.
That night I sat in my room surrounded by my satirical college posters and CD collection and thought about how little I ever knew about my dad. The few conversations that we had, that had ever reached beyond hello and good-night I could count on the fingers of one hand. He was simply an entity in the background of my childhood. I realized I had forgotten his middle name.
That was last year. The funeral was quiet, only my mum’s close family and a couple of well wishers showed up. It all seemed very vague and pointless, the echo of a life I was barely involved in; for some reason the minister presiding over the whole thing seemed extremely angry. We drank coffee, ate cucumber sandwiches and then everyone went home.
There is a photo I was given by my mother (she lives with her sister now, still in the same house), it shows me holding hands with my dad, aged maybe four. We are in a park on some sort of picnic or nature ramble, and the trees are dense and tall, filling the upper section of the photograph. We look very small next to those trees, but there is a look of contentment on both our faces; small and subtle, but there.
I used to combine words to make new words, words that meant something tangible to me. I’d write them down on every available surface like talismans; take things that were familiar and make them strange, take things that were strange and make them powerful.
I dreamt a forest once: maybe I can again.
Joe Nuttall is a Tasmanian writer and musician. He is currently lurking somewhere in the shadows of Brunswick, Melbourne.
Among his many obsessions are the horror fiction of Clive Barker and Jack Ketchum, the graphic novels of Alan Moore, and more music than could be listed here. He sometimes taps away an evening writing his food blog, Ugly Dinner and has been published previously in Review of Australian Fiction.
His band, Enola Fall, has received critical success in Australia, Germany, and the US.
He spends his time writing stories that are mostly dreams, cooking dinner and resolutely NOT being a coffee snob. firstname.lastname@example.org
(Edited by Omar J. Sakr)
Bo Peep lit the end of the hand-made cigarette in her left hand. Her vermilion cupid-bow lips sucked heavily on the lumpy paper tube. Loose strands of tobacco ignited and the red glow raced crackling towards her tongue. She couldn’t get the tailor-mades since government taxes had driven the tobacco companies to the wall. No more Hope or Peace. Now it was all imported black market weed she rolled herself. Rice paper worked well. She drew in a lungful and pushed the smoke out of her mouth, inhaling it over her upper lip into her nostrils, time-lapse water over smooth stones. The nicotine was burning into her alveoli and being absorbed into her bloodstream within seconds.
Smoking, though socially unacceptable, was not yet totally banned. Like many of the older cosplay girls she was addicted but there was a tolerance for eccentric behaviour here in Yoyogi Park that didn’t exist in other parts of Japan. She was 25 now, but still quite slim. The cigarettes helped.
Her right hand held the white satin-wrapped shepherd’s crook, the symbol of her Character. Her hair was dyed blonde and permed so that curls cascaded from under her pink polka-dot bonnet, her small breasts flattened even more by the white silk bodice.
It was then that she saw the Fat Girl. Deviation was accepted here on the weekends. It was a relief-valve for the high-pressure conformity of the machine called Tokyo. Without it, the entire apparatus might explode into its component parts.
But this was going too far.
The Fat Girl was no more than seventeen. She wore a tiny black micro-mini skirt. Tiny in length but massive in width, her two adipose buttocks trembling as she ambled through the park. Her corpulent dimpled thighs wobbled in waves with each step, ripples reflected from a swimming pool’s edge. But above was worse. Her bikini top did little more than cover her protruding nipples, the pendulous breasts drooping down like soggy soap hanging in a net bag. Her midriff exposed, the expansive belly overflowed the straining belt, overhanging her skirt like some repulsive fleshy verandah.
Obesity had almost been wiped out in the 2020s. Occasionally unfortunate overweight individuals with glandular dysfunction could be seen on the fringes – sometimes the homeless from the nearby camps who were unable to afford liposuction. They skulked in shadows, ashamed but well-covered.
But here she was – young and brazen – flaunting her fat for all to see, head erect, clear eyes firmly ahead, well-padded jaw held high. And for the briefest of seconds Bo Peep felt herself attracted to her, fascinated by the sumptuous sensual flesh as The Fat Girl sashayed through Yoyogi Park, a supersized belly dancer.
Perhaps it was to assuage her own guilt at seeing beauty in this abomination. For whatever reason, it was Bo Peep who picked up the pebble from the edge of the gravel footpath at the hem of her blue ruffled bloomers and aimed it at the confident face. It bounced off harmlessly, but the shocked hurt in Fat Girl’s eyes burned into Bo Peep’s brain. For the rest of her life she would remember that it was she who had cast the first stone.
Bo Peep’s pebble was closely followed by other stones which became fist-sized and more frequent as the beautiful cosplay girls showed their distaste at the gross interloper who had polluted their public catwalk.
The Fat Girl fell to her knees, assumed the foetal position like some monster embryo pummeled unconscious by this hard rain. No one knows at what particular point she exhaled her final breath.
According to officials, there was no one person responsible for her death at the premature age of seventeen. After a brief investigation, no charges were laid.
The mob soon forgot the incident and the young girls returned to what they did best – looking young, fresh and innocent.
rob walker has always been fascinated by language and its multiplicity of forms. In between his time as an educator in Performing Arts around Adelaide and teaching English to Junior and Senior High students and adults in Japan, rob has also found time to write a children’s musical, essays, short stories, poetry reviews, co-edit a poetry anthology and produce three poetry books. With hundreds of poems being published online and in journals and anthologies in the UK, US (including The Cortland Review, Illya’s Honey and Red River Review) and Australia (including Best Australian Poems, Australian Poetry, foam:e, Quadrant, Rabbit Journal, Divan, Mascara, 21D and Unusual Work), rob also enjoys collaborating with other artists (eg Max-Mo, Zephyr Quartet and ccmixter.org). He currently divides his time between grandchildren, a small farm in the Adelaide Hills, travelling and writing. His next poetry collection Tropeland will be launched by Five Islands Press in June 2015.
Monday. Eleven PM. Time to sleep. Today has gone well. As close to perfect as any flawed day can go. And all the days are flawed. Even the amazing ones, even the ones that are off the charts incredible when I feel capable of all the things – flight, space travel, happiness, love. Today was not one of those days. I am taking my meds. I have been exercising. I ate three meals today: two pieces of fruit, five serves of vegetables, protein, carbohydrate, sugars (because enjoyment is part of a good life too and shouldn’t be ignored), enough fats, the right fats, not too many fats. Wrote a song I think might just have legs. One-and-a-half beers. The half was a mistake that is niggling at me. It took me forty-five minutes to decide to pour the second half down the sink. To weigh the way the messiness of the half measurement would hang around in my head against the risk of what drinking more than the one nightly beer might do to my life.
Tuesday. Eleven PM. Time to sleep. Both tired and wired. Today I passed the woman from the flat down the hall seven times. Seven is a good number in some ways. Whole. Prime. Significant. But it’s also an odd number, which leaves me a little uncomfortable. It’s a tricky number too, because it’s distracting. Its significance is what makes it distracting. Like the woman from the flat down the hall. Three of the seven times we passed on the stairs, we said hello. Twice we only nodded. The last time we passed I pretended to be talking on my phone. The time before that we talked about the broken washing machine in the laundry room downstairs and how it really needs to be fixed and how someone should take it up with the body corporate. Not either of us though, because we’re both only renters, and it should be someone who owns their place that takes responsibility for that kind of thing. That’s what she said. And now I’ve wasted two hours when I could have been working, thinking my way through this as an idea. What are the ethics here? Whose responsibility is it, really? Do I agree? What is the right thing to do? Do I even have a position on this? And is that position based in right-thinking, or in laziness?
Wednesday. Eleven fifteen. Not sleeping. Afraid will not sleep. Three beers. No songs written since Monday evening. No gym yesterday or today. So many hours wasted trying to write an emergency plan to make up for the missed hours of exercise, the missed vegetables, the five beers I drank last night without having eaten dinner. The three packets of two-minute noodles I ate at one am this morning. My flat is hot and muggy and starting to smell but I can’t leave the balcony windows open or people will see the messy lounge and I can’t leave the hallway door open or the woman from the other flat will smile at me through the doorway and want to talk to me and I’ll want to talk to her but I am too all over the place to talk to her I will just start talking about the same things I always do and they’ll just be meaningless and I’ll bore her and she’ll figure out how crazy I am and then it won’t matter how much I think about it all or how much I plan, even when I get things back on track it won’t matter, it won’t matter that I’ve managed to claw back some control and get things in order again because it will be too late she will have seen the ugly crazy and that will be that.
Thursday. Two AM. No sleep. No appetite. No work. No shower. Too much to drink. No woman down the hall. No woman. No one will ever want me, the way I am.
Friday. 8.47 PM. Ran. On treadmill. Mis-stepped and pulled the safety cord out so I couldn’t get an accurate measurement of my kilometres. Around 4K. Not good. Not good enough. Showered. Had run out of shampoo so had to use body wash. Left my hair feeling thick and gluey. All the strands caught up in one another. No food. Nothing seemed clean enough to eat. I passed her in the hall. I didn’t meet her eye. She’d ask where I was going. I’d have to say it out loud. I’m going out. I’m going to dance. I’m going to drink. I’m going to meet a woman I’ll never have to pass in the hall. One who doesn’t make me think. One I’ll never need to want me again.
Saturday. Nine-thirty PM. Slept most of day. Have come through the worst of it into a comfortable haze. Haven’t yet been brave enough to eat. Fluids and painkillers. Water. Berocca. Electrolytes. Nurofen. The memories rise and drop away like the nausea. Meaningless moments that would once have caused me shame. Now I just watch them. Nothing to be done about them anyway. Shame is not an efficient emotional state. It’s not productive. The images come and go. There was a girl. She went. The nausea builds and takes over and then I throw up and it is quiet for a while. There is no real thought beyond gauging how long it will be until I throw up again. Beyond wondering whether this time will be the last time. The girl asked if she could add me on Facebook. When I told her I didn’t have Facebook she looked incredulous. She was right to do so. I am a liar. I stopped myself from talking to her until my silence forced her to leave. At the door I said, Seeya, dude. Her eyes glistened. Her shoulders hunched, her chest hollowing out. The sleeves of her jumper had holes in them where her thumbs poked through. Her black nail polish was chipped. Too young. Too soft. She turned away. I shut the door. Lay down. An hour later there was a knock at my door. The woman from down the hall. She’s the only one who does that. From the cool kitchen floor tiles I listened to her knock three times. A pause. Three more knocks. A pause. The soft pad of her bare feet on the hallway carpet.
Sunday. Eleven PM. Time to sleep. Cleaned the house. Aired it out. Wrote a song that is not great, but not awful either. Ate. Two pieces of fruit. Three vegetables. Protein, carbohydrate, sugars, fats. Two beers. I drank the first sitting on the steps out the front watching the carport wall turn a deep warm yellow in the afternoon sun. She passed me on her way down the steps toward the road, a washing basket on her hip. My second beer was done before she passed me again.
Chelsea Avard is a writer from Adelaide. She is co-editor of the 2005 anthology The Body, and co-organiser of the Wordfire salon. She teaches English and Creative Writing at The University of Adelaide, where she completed her PhD. Her short fiction and poetry have been published in anthologies by Sleepers Publishing and Wakefield Press. You can find her creative non-fiction and other short works at https://chelseaavard.wordpress.com/ and find her on twitter @ChelseaAvard