(edited by Tim Heffernan & Alise Blayney)
When she sees people working, she feels like an asshole. She thinks of the construction workers and how hard their job is, but she doesn’t like it when they make sexist remarks from high above, extra-terrestrial in their towers. She is worse than Gogol’s Akaky Akakievich. She doesn’t even copy things. She is a serf, an underclass. She finds it hard to move from place to place.
Even though she doesn’t have enough money for tram fare she still catches the tram. She has done this in the past when she stopped taking her medication. But then she had listened to an old-school Walkman with ‘Never Mind the Bollocks‘ by The Sex Pistols blaring out. She had sung, I am an anti-christ, I am an anarchist. Don’t know what I want but I know where to get it. I want to destroy the passer-by. She had bleach-blonde hair shaved to number one. And she wore a thick, black-studded dog collar bought at a sex shop.
But that was the past.
Now guards get on the tram to check Mykis. She panics and runs to get off. But the guards follow and ask to see her Myki.
‘Did you forget?’
‘Yes I forgot.’
‘Where are you going?’
‘I’m going to a job club at Disability Employment Services.’
‘OK. I don’t usually do this but I’ll let you off this time.’
She is so relieved. She walks the rest of the way to Disability Employment Services. It is an unremarkable office. Once she gets there, Glenda, one of the workers from the service, informs her that she has to come to the job club dressed in job interview clothes.
‘I don’t have the credit card to take you shopping.’
‘It’s ok, my advance payment comes in tomorrow. I can buy some clothes.’
‘We can reimburse you if you keep the receipt.’
The next day she follows a hot trail down Burke St to Myers. ‘Your clothes don’t hide your shape,’ her psychiatrist once said. She knows she has a double chin. When she puts on liquid eyeliner one eye is always smudged at the bottom lid. This gives her the appearance of Alex from A Clockwork Orange. She finds a black suit and wonders if she can still afford to pay the rent if she buys the suit. When she is getting changed, she looks into the dressing room mirror and sees a naked Donald Trump. She imagines being exposed on street corners in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Cleveland or New York.
The following night, Glenda rings her about an information session for call centre work at Serco. She goes dressed in her suit.
‘Don’t you look lovely,’ says Glenda. ‘You know you can’t apply for this job if you have a criminal record.’ She doesn’t have a criminal record but she feels like a criminal.
The job is in Box Hill — sounds like Pox Hell. She thinks of Garth Daniels, an involuntary mental patient at Box Hill Hospital. He had been given shock treatment ninety-seven times, sometimes without a general anaesthetic or muscle relaxant. She thinks that instead of going to the happy land of Serco she will be transported to the Box Hill Hospital and given shock treatment.
‘You cannot apply for this position if you are not available to do full time job training for six weeks.’
‘What if you are studying part time?’
‘Then you can’t apply for the job.’
University saves me from shock treatment, she thinks.
She walks the grounds of the University singing The Sex Pistols —
Cheap holiday in other people’s misery. I don’t wanna holiday in the sun. I wanna go to the new Belsen. I wanna see some of history. Cause now I got a reasonable economy. Now I got a reason. Now I got a reason. . .
She lights cigarettes outside. It is a non-smoking university. Security guards loiter around her.
When she gets home to her flat she finds an eviction notice under the door. The neighbours have complained about the singing and she has to move out on her birthday. With only two weeks to find somewhere to live, she throws all her belongings into a bin, including her dirty dishes, and emails student housing.
They have a flat she can shift into. It has white brick walls and is across the road from the University, so she can study in the library. One day she takes off her shoes, mutters to herself and laughs out loud. A librarian approaches.
‘This is serious. This is a noise free level of the library. You have to stop talking to yourself. You won’t like what they will do to you.’
But she loses her shoes and the next day panhandles shoeless outside the University café. A University mental health worker notes on his laptop, ‘Overweight woman in forties asking for money without shoes’. He approaches her and asks her to come with him.
When she gets back to her flat she realises all she has to eat is a can of pea and ham soup left over from the Salvo, so she decides to go to student services for a food voucher. The mental health worker is summoned. He leads her into a darkened room.
‘I can get a psychiatrist for you.’
‘This is very 1984.’
She knows he is going to take her to a mental hospital, so she runs to the shopping centre and tries to call her mum on a pay phone. A police officer approaches her. She runs again. The police officer chases her and she gives up. She gets into the police car and two officers sit on either side of her. On arrival she sits quietly outside the nurses’ station determined not to be any trouble. Patients crowd outside the window of the station like baby birds waiting for their mother.
‘I’m feeling stressed,’ she says to a mother nurse.
In the green relaxation room people watch her from behind computer screens. A toothless patient smiles at her.
‘Look what Risperidone has done to me.’
‘Will they put me on medication?’
‘Yes. They will definitely do that.’
While ripping the metal spine from her lecture pad and confiscating her bra, Mother Nurse asks, ‘Aren’t you ashamed to be here while you are doing your PhD?’
‘I don’t feel ashamed.’
Outside, a group of Aboriginal patients are singing and dancing to the radio. ‘Go!’ one woman says to her. And she starts to dance.
Finally discharged on Risperdal injections, she visits the mental health clinic. The community nurse says, ‘The other nurse told me that when you got your last injection you weren’t wearing any underwear’.
‘I ran out of clean underwear.’
‘We were worried about you, we thought it was a sign you were becoming unwell.’
‘No. I just ran out of clean underwear.’
She tells the nurse it is her last injection before moving on to oral medication.
‘Then I better give you something to remember me by.’ The clumsy needle prick hurts a lot.
At her next appointment with Disability Employment Services Glenda is wearing the same purple jumper she always wears. Her arm is in a sling.
‘So, how are you? Are you ok?’
‘How are you feeling inside yourself?’
‘Did you get reimbursed for your suit?’
‘Then I’ll have to inquire at a higher level. Have you seen any job vacancies?’
‘No, sorry. I haven’t.’
‘Then I’ll look on the internet for you. What about part-time admin work?’
‘Here’s one working in a primary school.’
She thinks of the cries of children playing and how much that would disturb her. ‘No. I don’t feel comfortable working at a primary school.’
‘That’s ok, of course. There is that other issue of how you need your free time to study.’
‘Yes, that’s right, we have to do reading and write lecture notes.’
‘In that case, you should exit the system.’
She leaves the system.
Gabrielle Everall completed her PhD in creative writing at The University of Western Australia. While doing the PhD she wrote her second book of poetry, Les Belles Lettres. Her first book of poetry is called Dona Juanita and the love of boys. She has been published in numerous anthologies including The Penguin Anthology of Australian Poetry, The Turnrow Anthology of Contemporary Poetry, Performance Poets and The Fremantle Press Anthology of Western Australian Poetry edited by John Kinsella and Tracy Ryan. She has performed her poetry at the BDO, Overload, NYWF, Emerging Writer’s Festival and Putting on an Act. She has also performed at The Bowery Poetry Club in New York and The Edinburgh Fringe Festival. She currently studies at Melbourne University.