‘I don’t think I want to any more. Or even if I ever did.’
’What! That’s an awful thing to say. Not ever?’
‘I meant it when I said it that time.
’I think you’re beautiful.’
‘I don’t agree with you.’
‘You’re going to die alone because of this.’
‘There are worse things than that.’
You’re an evil bitch.’
‘You should just go.’
‘Where are you going to go?’
When they came in, the night was so cold and clear. The stars shone and sparkled like fairy lights. Their blue- black wings, flapping silently and with the motion of a rippling river. She slept alone. Skinny and pale limbs spread diagonally across her queen -sized bed. They placed it on her front stoop. A sweet smelling creature, fast asleep.
It had become apparent to everyone, including the woman in question, that she was not going to be a member of the Happy Families club any time soon. Not even a member of the unhinged and Ill -Willed Families club. She had broken up with a perfectly good man a few months after her thirtieth birthday. He was good and patient. This had slowly dulled her down to a silently screaming shell of herself.
It wasn’t that she was not somebody’s wife or girlfriend that got in the way of her procreating. Her uterus was absent from the point of conception. This internal quirk was beyond her control. Amused her greatly throughout her sexually experimental years. She could be a bitch all the time, not have her perchant to cattiness confined to a menstral cycle like other girls. Narrow- hipped and bony- elbowed. She did not resemble a person equipped with great physical strength. That was okay because emotional terrorism was not governed by brute strength.
It was dawn and the sun was slowly peeking up and taking its place in the sky when she was awakened by the need to go to the toilet. After pushing the covers off with her feet she sat up and slipped out of bed in one fluid motion. Her parents were already awake. They were talking in their bedroom. It had been a couple of months since the relocation from the city to her parents farm. The days had passed uneventfully, peacefully. The contact from the old life in the city had all but dissolved. Each friendship an aspirin dropped in water, sinking and disappearing completely before reaching the bottom of the glass.
So she read and read and then she read some more. Watched the ABC with her parents and disagreed with them on every political point that was possible. After she had urinated and washed her hands and face in cold water. The cold water, she believed, helped close up pores and tightened the elasticity of her facial features.
The kitchen is at the front of the house with the front door opening out to the messy veranda filled with dirty gum boots in an array of sizes, nast nails that poked up from the wood slats, that could tear at socks and tender heels. She walked out into the kitchen and saw that the icecream container filled with food scraps was dangerously close to overflowing. It needed to be taken out to the chicken coop and fed to the brown hens. She scratched her head and walked to the front door pulling open and looking out onto the front yard. She looked at the dusky pink sky and did not look down at all while she stood there on the thresh hold of the house. The fly screen door was unlatched so a gentle kick would be enough to get it open when her hands would be preoccupied by the full and heavy ice cream container.
The ice cream container was picked up carefully. The smell of rotten vegies and sour milk hit her nostrils making her hold her breath as she walked from the kitchen sink to the front door. She kicked the fly screen and walked out onto the veranda now completely bathed in morning sun light. After one step she tripped over something and the smelly food scraps including potato peels, cereal, milk and peas scattered and she fell painfully hands out and most of the pressure falling on her shins and bony knees. The black dog arrived and started to eat the spilled food with contented little grunts.
She stood up while swearing in annoyance. She stood and turned to look at what she had tripped over. Expecting to see one of her fathers big heavy steel tipped work boots. Instead what she found on the veranda sleeping soundly even with the sun washing over its little face, was a baby in a heavy dark tinted wooden cradle. A beautiful pale skinned little thing with jet black hair. It was all swaddled tight in a cream coloured blanket.
Carefully kneeling down she takes a closer look at the sleeping infant. It does not look older than 6 to 8 months old. Skin so white it is almost pearly bright. The child seems to glow from somewhere deep and hidden. In those few short moments she decides that this belongs to her. This is her baby. Her heart fills and she smiles down and leans in to kiss the sleeping child in the centre of it’s forehead.
‘Hello there, Raven.’ She says softly. The food scraps forgotten, the young woman gently drags the wooden cradle into the house and places it in the centre of the kitchen floor. It had been the name she and the boyfriend had discussed as a possible name for their imaginary daughter. It would have her last name creating a rather distinctive personae for the small human; Raven Knight. This child was exactly as she had imagined the pretend make believe daughter would look like. She began to get worried that perhaps there was no actual baby and she was simply going mad. There was no baby the country air and close to complete solitude had made her under-stimulated brain waves formulate an alternate reality for her to engage with. Gently she untucked the blanket around the child and freed the thin little arms from the blanket. She picked up the child and cuddled it. The baby was not heavy and smelled faintly of cold nights and rain.
The baby stirred awake and two bright green eyes stared up at her. At that moment the parents entered the kitchen and exclaimed in surprise. The noise startled the baby who had been staring at its holder with calm interest. The face scrunched up and the petal pink mouth opened in alarm to cry.
The tears fell from her eyes in dark red. They were not clear salty tears but thick and red like blood. The tears fell and stained the white blanket. The blood poured out and covered the young woman’s arms. The cries were worse than anything from a child heard before. It was the rhythmic beating cry of a hundred lost children. The dog outside stopped rummaging amongst the food scraps to howl in sympathy.
‘She must be hungry, Jenna.’ Jenna’s mother said as she opened a kitchen cupboard and started shoving a heap of plastic tupperware around until she found what she was looking for. A bottle with a teat . She went to the fridge and opened it to bring out the jug of cows milk. She removed the teat and poured milk into the bottle until it was half full. The bottle was placed in the microwave and warmed for 90 seconds. The baby continued to cry and the bloody tears of misery kept slipping out and falling down her cheeks. Jenna had grabbed tissues from the kitchen table and mopped up the blood as best she could, so the blood did not fall into the child’s mouth and choke her.
Once the bottle had been tested for heat. Jenna took the bottle and poked the teat tentatively into the child’s mouth. The crying stopped and a contented sucking sound occurred. Jenna stood with bloody arms and a baby in a blood soaked blanket. Her parents watched in silence and the dog stopped howling.
Her haircut was exactly two days old. Dark, bobbed and fringed to perfection, she could not help shaking it as she walked up Carraway Street towards Victoria Street. Her straight hair swished around her ears and neck. The strong takeaway coffee she sipped from was held in one hand, a croissant in the other. She keeps slowing down to shake her head and feel, on her small and bony shoulder the feathery sensation of a new haircut. She is carrying, a brown leather bag containing three dresses and a 1000 page novel by David Forster Wallace.
The sky is blue and the sun is out, warming her. The lilac jacket she is wearing with the faux fur lining is too warm. Deciding to take it off when at the tram stop, she stands waiting for the red man to turn green. She stood swishing her head and smiling. The dresses in her carry bag are all ill- fitting. Two had straps that are too long and another needs to be taken in and given new straps. This is a girl who often needs clothes altered. It makes her feel important and rather decadent like she was a character in a Jane Austen novel.
She hears him before she sees him. At first she doesn’t know who he is talking to. As he stops at the lights and stands beside her, the realisation sinks in. She no longer feels the desire to shake her dark hair.
‘I am not trying to shit- stir you.’ Says the voice from behind her, she thinks he is speaking into a mobile phone. The generic banter between friends. He is laughing as he speaks. ‘Hey, hello.’
She turns her head to the right and sees a full grown man with grey hair . He is wearing an ugly leather jacket and faded jeans. She notices with distaste that he is wearing running sneakers her most hated of men’s footwear. He is leaning over at the waist so as to better look her in the face as he speaks. She is silent. She narrows her eyes. She curls her lips into a scowl. He continues speaking, unperturbed by her look of contempt.
‘I am not trying to shit- stir you. I’m not laughing at you.’ He says this with a laugh in his voice. Nuttella croissant is stuck in her dry throat, and it sticks to the sides of her throat as though the chewed food also wishes to hear what happens next.
‘I am not laughing at you but you look like a child.’ He declares this with a smug smile. I –am-so-astute-and-deserve-a-fan-fair, he seems to be thinking. She stares at him with eyes ready to cut skin. She envisions her eyes being able to pierce his body. First she would use her knife vision to pop his eyes like grapes. Her smile has fizzed and now it is flat as she thinks of how pretty she felt earlier with her new haircut. This stranger shows up and reminds her of her difference, reminds her that she is odd. That not even her haircut can save her.
The childhood Sunday schoolessons of turning the other cheek and forgiving someone seventy times seven times are remembered but not considered. The vitirol spews from her. Screw being a good person, she shouts silently, screw taking it on the chin. I don’t feel like it today. Her bags are becoming too heavy, her left arm is starting to ache. She continues to give this idiot knife eyes.
‘You really do look like a child,’ he repeats.
Now she studies his face, he is not young he is probably married with kids. She wonders if he has any idea how fucking insignificant he is. With a voice controlled and eons from sounding like a child, she responds.
‘I don’t know you, why the fuck would I care what you think.’ She immediately berates herself for sounding like such a insecure little twit. If she truly didn’t care nothing would have escaped her lips.
The man stands up to his full height and stares ahead. The light across the street turns green.
‘Nobody cares about nobody don’t you know.’’ The man retorts as he dashes across the road. That’s right, she thinks, run! Run away from the weird child with the grown up voice. What did he expect to come from such a statement? As she crosses the road, lost in her thoughts she is clenching and unclenching her fists.
She hates that she has been laughed at without having said anything funny. I am good at funny, she assures herself. She stands in the shelter of the tram stop her bags on the cold metal seat. The jacket is off now and on top of the bags. Underneath she is wearing a white singlet that has the words, I SURVIVED THE BAD BIG WOLF. On the back is written SORT OF. The inner wrist of her left arm is red and skin is flaking. She wonders if she should see a doctor as the rash has been there for months now. She scratches it and feels the skin flake and catch under her fingernails.
When she looks at her reflection in the front window of a store, she will not see something worthwhile. Her face will not be hers. She will see instead every rejection she has ever received from, every person she has ever gotten truly excited about.
There had been three people in her life that had made her stop and look more than once. Who had made her interested, enthralled instantly attracted. But, without even trying, she was a magnet for strangers to do the double take, to stare or blurt out the first stupid thing that came to their head when presented with her petite physique and youthful features. There was power in this skin. Out of the three only one remained who held her attention. The one who was interesting, he remained so because of his inability to be anything less then infuriating. The kind of blood boiling aggravation that occurs when someone makes you want to do two things at opposite ends of a vast and wide spectrum of emotions and desires. Who makes you want to both kick and fuck them senseless. She often daydreams of the scenario that would have to play out before she would allow herself to once again, after two years, agree to fuck him senseless.
He would arrive at her door step on his hands and knees. He would not be concerned about the dirt and dust dirtying his black pants. She would open the door and stare out at the front porch and the empty driveway. She would only look down to find him on his hands and knees because he would say her name.
That is not all he would say.
‘What do you want?’ she would ask. ‘Stand up.’
He would stand and use his hands to swipe any dirt from his black pants. He would ensure his white shirt was still tucked in. He would look into her eyes and say, ’I am so sorry for being so slow and stupid. You are the favorite.’ At this he would move his gaze downward in a sheepish show of humility. He would lift his head. The head she had so often envisioned on a stick or bleeding from his ears and eye sockets. The head she had allowed to rest pressed into the back of her neck, both naked as the day they were born. This head would lift and he would look her in the face and say. ‘All the other girls are boring and insipid compared to you. I am in love with you and only you.’ As he speaks these words, tears of shock and jubilation pool at the corners of her eyes and drip hotly down her full cheeks. With her right foot, she would kick him hard and fast in the shin. She would give him a firm and deliberate slap across his precious cheek. Before he has time to retaliate she would pull him to her by his black bow tie and kiss him before pulling the front door shut with a bang behind him.
But for now she simply stands in the sun staring up at the blue sky so big and so high above her as she waits for a tram.
It is a bright and sunny Sunday afternoon as she walks up Brunswick road towards the Sydney road tram stop. The cars and trucks creating a constant ebb and flow of orgymedodic sound, that at the loudest points, makes her feel like her brain is rattling inside her skull. I am doing the right thing. This simple sounding sentence is a constant inner voice mantra. I will have this awkward conversation and then go spend the night at Phil and Serina’s place in Fern Tree Gully. They had met at university and been friends 12 years before falling in love. Perhaps, she thought, that is what will happen to Ahio and I. Perhaps his love for me was simply hibernating in a secret part, unknown to him. This love was simply biding its time and saving its strength. In 12 years time it would burst from its hidden crevice and spill out into every corner of his being.
She quickens her step excited by her own train of day-dreaming. I have known Ahio for 5 years. She thinks, I only have 7 years left to wait. Surely the time will fly by. I should not be tied down to just one person simply to fill the days and nights. It would be unfair. No, no. This is the right form of action. She feel her heart sit uncomfortably in her chest. It is as though the blood pumping organ is not sitting in its correct position. As she sits in the sheltered seat area of the tram stop, it occurs to her that it is her mother’s birthday.
She sits on the ledge outside the JB HiFi in Box Hill Plaza, staring at her faded purple converse high tops. He sits beside her in a patch of afternoon sunlight. Shesat in shade. He waits for her to speak quietly with his pale short -fingered hands, hands that did not look like the tapered hands of a great guitar player. She thought it is just one of the many reasons he is so much more than the sum of his parts. He is wearing suade grey ankle boots. Her hands are tucked under her thighs so she won’t not reach out to touch his face, thus loosing all the nerve, that she had built up whilst on the train. She lifts her head with effort and looked at him, taking in his black hair the soft stubble along his jawline.
‘I have not been very nice to you lately.’ At this point her head dripped back down to her lap and the tears started hot and fat, they dripped onto her black leather look pinafore that she wore over a tight long sleeved black and white striped top.
‘I know that you may need to hate me for a while and that ‘s fine, I deserve that but I just do not see a romantic future with you.’ She wipes at her eyes with the back of a hand and replaces it safe and warm beneath her thigh. ‘I know that all my friends and yours will yell at me for doing this. I do not want anybody else. There is not anybody else. Not even the anybody you might think it may be, it’s not, I promise.’
He sighs and reaches out a hand to wipe at the tears that have fallen in the lap of her dress. ‘At least this is wiper away cleanable.’ He says wrapping his arms around her and pulling her to him. He presses his face into the top of her head as she presses her face in to the soft flannel fabric of his shirt. So safe and warm, she breathes in the familiar clean smell of his laundry detergent.
‘I could never hate you.’ He says softly. ‘You shouldn’t worry about what everyone is going to say.’ She does not want him to let her go, he squeezes her to him and she allows it without a struggle.
A little girl in a puffy purple parka and spakly leggings, totters by on newly mastered legs. The girl looks about three years old and does not notice the two grown ups locked in an embrace they do not want to break from. The toddler’s parents are one metre behind, watching every step with baited breath.
Finally she breaks the hug and fiddles with the collar of his shirt.
‘Is this new?’ She asks with a sniff of her nose in an attempt to pull her self together.
‘Yes, I was thinking of you when I bought it…on the internet.’
‘I like it.’ She says taking her hands away from his collar and using them to wipe away at the salty drips dotting her dress.
‘Would you like to eat dumplings with me? He asks her.
‘You still want to buy me dumplings?’
He smiles at her dry eyed. ‘Of course.’
He leads her back inside the hyperactive light filled bustle of the shopping centre. She wonders why he is so bloody lovely about everything, even getting his heart broken. Shouldn’t he be angry? Not wanting to buy the little bitch delicious dumplings. It made breaking up with him seem like an act of willful self destruction. But dumplings they did eat. In the food court. They sat at a sticky table. He wiped it down with clean paper napkins. As they waited they talked. He took her hand and with their elbows resting on the less sticky table, he held her fingers and knuckles gently. ‘You changed my life, you know.’ He says. ‘You shook it all up and made me excited to be alive.’
As they were eating, a blonde woman walked to the counter to collect some take away. On her way out she saw the two, holding hands and talking softly.
‘Hey you two!’ She says rushing to their table with a plastic bag full of take away dumplings hanging in one hand. It was Amy the girlfriend of Lee’s work collegue at Maton guitars. The two at the table glance at each other and sqeeze each others hand in unspoken agreement. ‘How’s house ownership going?’
‘Yes, congratulations.’ Jess says.
‘Thanks so much, when we are all settled, you two love birds will have to come for a sleep over.’
Amy grins at them both before rushing off to get the food home before going cold. The two at the table press knuckles with each other in triumph.
‘Well played.’ She says. He smiles at her. They stop touching and continue to eat.
When she walks him to his car, the sun has no more golden light left to share. The sky is darkening and the air is cold, a light wind blows her fringe into her eyes and a strand gets caught in the hinge of her glasses. He opens his car door and straightens up to look at her standing, looking so small and pretty and sad, he thinks. ‘Do you remember how to get to the train station from the car park?’ He asks her.
‘Yes.’ She is lying but does not want to worry him.
When he hugs her she presses her face into his soft flannel shirt, it makes her glasses half fall from her face but she continues to hug him. He says her name softly and gently into the top of her head. He kisses her head. They stand there as the daylight continues to ebb around them. She eventually broke free from his embrace. He stood at his car and watched her walk away, towards the bright artificial light of the shopping centre.