What Choice (Susan McCreery)

Edited by Michelle McLaren

Sour owner brings me my cup. Perhaps it’s my demeanour that provokes his demeanour. Or that fact that I am not a bat-eyed dew-skin (there goes his tip). At another table clickety-clack Frenchie fingernails tapping at the laptop. What can be so urgent — another PhD applicant/supplicant and out of this a book, o lord. Who speaks of blemishes? Her hands have none. I could have been. I who was once the loin-longing of lecturers. I arrange my face. Thoughtful, preoccupied. Clock check. Left my phone behind. Can’t be tracked by position or number. The light from the window sheds little glints on her glossy locks. Why is there a bicycle in here? I can’t breathe in my own presence, in the tap-tapping. I arrange my face again to pay. Owner’s mouth is a line of tar. I head for air.

In the memorial park now. We have plinth, rifle, homage to hommes. Do I kneel and worship, or lift my skirt and piss on the petunias? A line of sunhatted hand-holders weaves centipede-like, heading for my refuge and me. Incursion on my excursion. What day is it? April. November. I know by the sun. Time to go. This park could serve as a place to sleep. I would be well protected.

Not far from the station. Not far from tracks. We track our progress, tap on tap off. A yellow line is the only barrier between you and a timely end. A ticket to freedom to ride. I will not be found. No foundling, I. Box me up and deposit me on a welcome mat. Well, come in. I sidestep, holding my breath, this man with well-kept beard and 20-year-old skin. He is scented. So clean but I bet he wanks filthily. So many hanging dicks. So many ugly bulges. I cannot look away. I have been face-painted and smeared in the past. Done things I would refuse today. Residue like flakes of coconut. They leave their mark — sheets, clothes, face, between the breasts, in the hair, dribbling from holes. Pores. Pawed over. Sprinkler on a faded summer lawn. Or wattle pollen. But not so fine. Emblem of our country that is for old men. I stand on the platform, then sit. There are sneakers on stockinged feet for comfort, stilettos for office approval and agony. I have the urge to shoulder that professor-type onto the tracks. His leather loafers sky-high. Last words not of Milton but of base profundity.

I descend the stairs and lo, two witnesses on their chairs beside their doomsday pamphlets. Parking themselves where people must pass. Public nuisances and always in twos — because of Noah, is’t? Let us march up the plank dutifully, two by two. We did, you and I, that fateful day in mid-July. Willingly I went. You held the noose, I placed my head, gave head. I do (consent to the flood, swabbing the decks, lying beside this animal). These two with their putty cheeks — hand me a pamphlet and I’ll kick over your coffees. Just a moment of your time to read to talk to suck you in. I am the unsuckable. They do not know, they do not know my inner fuck off disguised as diluted smile, a point to wrist not much time.

I make my way past the sorry batch of council flats discharging refuse onto the verge. Oil heater/fan/distended mattress/plastic pots of dried twigs. Man with straight arms marches past, the only person more frightening than me. His head sharp-turns. You are an imposter, he shouts, and I laugh at the truth of it and his nicotine beard splits with pleasure as he reaches into his pocket, pours seeds into my palm: pepita, sunflower, the odd pistachio nut. We co-conspire for a bit under the scraggy street tree — two of the lost, but connection is out of the Q. I raise my finger to the sky as if recalling an errand. We salute and part. Pin-straight he walks, head bowed between shoulders. By all means, look purposeful. You don’t fool me.

My mind is unclear as to what and where but on I go — is that his HiLux? Is that him? No, too early. Too soon to discover me gone.

Scrape and smack. Skating youth. Slap of tricks, a cap. He stops and tips the board, holds while watching me. Then a mate. Another. Never liked a group of youth — learnt to feign indifference, learnt to disregard, avoid the eyes. Tread carefully through life with blinkers on. A little view. A narrow world. Butt-cheeks tight. I could not be mistaken for executive, even employee. Not today. Vagrant. Vague and ranting. Panting with hunger. Nearly past them. One says Hi and it’s a challenge. Is that menace or are my ears as unreliable as my eyes? Another echoes, now a chorus, semi-circle. Excuse me, I say, polite as can be. They part as a sea and I am Moses. Bulrush baby. No, a cunt. The word dangles in the sunlight.

You see, we live in a nice place, nice park, oval, houses, church, but under all, wherever you be, nasties lurk.

To the beach. Shoes off, untended nails hard as salt. Hands the same. Surf’s up. A lanky seal runs past, leg-rope flap, flying like the ad through window free. A thought: what if I wander into sea (snot-green, cunt-tightening). Buck the waves and drift. So long since I’ve sat in sand. Lie back and rest, lids down.

I wake to rabble. School’s out. Squawks and roars. Foghorn-leghorn-hairy. Eyelined, brow-shaped, bleached and labiaplastied. Least in my day only plucking round the mound. None of this rip and tear rash red sore I want to look like that pre-pube porn doll. He wants to come on my face, good for the skin haha, He wants to do it up the arse, I should do it then he’ll like it. Me. Me, the rearranged, the clipped and nicked. Only to those closest admit not liking, gagging, retching, bleeding, hurting. Not so different then. Once, I disguised the gag, smiled with delight as I knelt but when I spat instead of swallowed hurt was he. In the bathroom, by the sink, a quickie in the drive-thru. 

Sun burns blue. What was three now two. I shade my eyes and tag behind the throng, drawn along. On the road, his HiLux. Crawling. He, through the glass, searching, darkly. Heart chill. Merge, shrink. Hold still or run — what choice. In the end I find me frozen.


Susan McCreery is a writer from Thirroul, NSW. Her poetry collection, Waiting for the Southerly (Ginninderra Press), was Commended in the Anne Elder Award 2012. Her microfiction collection, Loopholes (Spineless Wonders), was a finalist in the MUBA 2017. This Person Is Not That Person (short story collection) was published by Puncher & Wattmann in February 2020, and she has recently completed her first novel. You can find out more about Susan on her website and on Twitter