French Films And Granata Biscuits
‘I have taken the day off, Jess.’
It always surprises me when he does that. It always surprises me. This is a reflection of myself not him, though.
The waiting room at the renal clinic of The Royal Melbourne Hospital is busy. Emma, a transplant coordinator, recognizes me as she rushes past with some folders in her hand. ‘Hi Jess, you’ve changed your hair.’
‘No, just washed it.’ I say.
I hand the receptionist my referral letter and she asks me to go with Shara and get weighed.
The weighing system is past the reception desk and against a wall. Not a simple small set of scales but a large white platform. One side has a white bar for holding. I suppose that is for people who have trouble standing. I wonder if it is a large white platform to account for people who are obese.
I feel like I am stepping onto a stage and about to perform an avant-garde hospital themed song and dance routine. Instead I simply slip out of my ballet flats and stand on the white platform that is on wheels. I stare at the people around me and wait for Shara to read out my weight. She doesn’t.
‘Ok, you can go sit now.’
‘How much do I weigh?’
I nod in approval. It seems like a scarily low weight, but back when I was 15, everyone was dreaming and praying that my weight would reach the big three-o.
Also skinny does not equate with body confidence. I look at photographs of myself and feel disgust at how skinny I look. Much like other people do when they think they look fat. It is the same futile and powerless feeling. Just at opposite ends of the spectrum of weight.
When my name is called I gather up my book and throw it in my bag. Leong puts his magazine in his and looks up at me. ‘Do you want me to come in with you?’ For a moment I stand and consider.
Room 6 is cramped and windowless. There are only two chairs, one for Jeanie, and one for me that is closest to her small desk. Leong simply stands there for a moment, as Jeanie fails to remember his name.
‘I am sorry I cannot remember your boyfriend’s name. ‘
‘Leong.’ I remind her.
‘Leong.’ She says. ‘You can sit on the bed.’
He does. His skinny leg jeans and brand new boots on display. Jeanie types at her computer and then turns to talk to me.
‘It is all looking good. How did things turn out with your mum?’
‘Good. The lump in her breast was removed and found to be benign,’ I say.
‘That is excellent. All being well. In about two to three months we should be able to book you in for the transplant.’
I see light. I see possibility. I see me newly found sex drive just up ahead ready for the grabbing. And the pashing.
‘You will need to get the three hepatitis inoculation injections.’ Jeanie tells me.
‘All at once?’ I say.
Jeanie starts laughing. ‘Oh, Jess. I am sorry but you make me laugh. The expression on your face.’
I laugh at her laughing. Leong does not laugh out loud but he has his head down into his chest so I cannot see his face.
‘No, not all at once. You will have one today, one four weeks after that and one two months after that. Where did you usually get your growth hormone injections as a child?’
‘In my bottom and upper leg.’ I say. ‘They were the most meaty parts on me. They tried injecting into my upper arm. But, there was just muscle there and the needle went in, hurt, and then the stuff just bled straight out.’
The memory of that night is quite crystal clear.
‘Ok, well it looks like bottom would be the best bet in the here and now.’ Jeanie says.
I have not had a needle in some years. Blood tests seem as simple as brushing my teeth now. The idea of a needle filled me with anxiety.
It does not help that the hospital pharmacy resembles a prison call room. The pharmacists are behind glass and the room is windowless and grey. There is a television up in the corner that shows 24-hour news. A slight improvement on the afternoon television spam you get in the renal clinic waiting area.
I line up behind an older woman in a peach-coloured jumper. The lady behind the glass calls me sweetie and asks for my healthcare card. My hands are a bit clammy and I drop my wallet. I am told to sit and wait while my medication is prepared.
The chairs are in rows of 12 and are grey, hard plastic and titanium. I sit with the boyfriend and stare up at the television. As the afternoon faded to evening, I remember how scared I used to get as a child. I knew the process was drawing nearer and I hated it. I would sneak off to bed hoping that they would forget in the flurry of getting Adam and Romy and Libby ready for bed. But my father was good at remembering. He was also very good at giving me my growth hormone injections. Quick and no-nonsense.
He reaches out and takes my hand in his and squeezes. ‘Are you alright?’ He asks. I nod, but say nothing. The news is very interesting. A grey haired white man is discussing education in Australia.
I am given all three inoculation serums at once in a tough silver paper bag that is much thicker than the usual paper bags you get medication in. On the silver bag is a bright orange sticker with large black writing that proclaims: PLEASE REFRIGERATE AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.
A smaller whiter sticker informs me that the contents are for injection use only. Hepatitis B (dialysis formulation) 40mcg/ml (recombinant) vaccine. (H-B-VAX 11 DIALYSIS FORULATION. Inject intramuscularly as directed.
We go back up to the first floor in an elevator with a very skinny woman who’s a foot taller than me with long limp hair and a lost look in her grey eyes. A younger woman with a much healthier demeanor evident by her curves and shiny hair tells her that they need to get to radiology.
Back at renal clinic, I am led by Shara into a room even smaller than the one before. This one is cramped with an empty brown desk and swivel chair. Grey metal lockers stacked behind the door. No window.
We stand at the door and I let him hug me tight. ‘Do you want me to stay?’ There is hardly any room for him to stand if he comes in to the room fully. Do I really want him to see me standing there with my knickers around my ankles? With the skirt of my dress bunched up around my waist, clumps of cloth in my hands.
‘Jess, make a decision.’ He prompts me.
‘No, it’s fine.’ I close the door on him and turn to Shara. She is an Indian woman in her late 30s. She has the injection in one hand and I notice the prick is not too long and scary.
‘You can sit on the chair and just pull you underwear down a little bit,’ she tells me.
‘Oh, but how are you going to… I don’t understand.’
‘It’s ok. You just do that and it will be fine.’
I sit on the chair that has no armrests. I lift up my black and white striped smock. My Beetlejuice dress, I call it. I pull my knickers down a little and sit. I cannot see what she is doing. I have my eyes closed and am breathing slowly. I smell alcohol swabs as she swabs my side bottom.
‘I used to stand when I got my needle in my bottom.’ I say with my eyes still closed.
‘For children it is common,’ Shara says, ‘but for adults we prefer this way. It’s more dignified.’
‘I agree,’ I say.
I feel next to nothing. A slight puncture. Could also be felt as a bit of a brush with a sharp pencil.
‘That’s it?’ I say, staying still.
‘That’s it. Kept you talking.’ Shara says.
I feel light and laugh in disbelief at my melodrama. This is what an overactive imagination and highly-strung intellect can do to you.
It is so exciting to be able to see an end to all this. I get drunk on possibility. I start making a mental list of things I want to take with me for my hospital stay. If I am to get a transplant, I want to be the most chic and sleek transplant patient ever. This will require a haircut. My previous hospital stays have shown me that long hair is a total nuisance when you are staying in bed all the time and do not have access to your preferred shampoo. That is why if you want to look hip and tousled while in hospital, a pixie cut is recommended. Very Winona Ryder in Girl Interrupted.
I start considering pajama possibilities and possible presents such as that Mark Rhyden print that I see in Outre Gallery all the time; entitled Jessica’s Hope. T2’s French Earl Grey is added to the list. You never get good tea in hospital. I love the idea of sitting in hospital, making my own fancy tea. I may as well bring a teacup and saucer as well. It occurs to me how much better I am at preparing for a hospital stay, now, than I was when I was 11.
When I was 11 and waiting for the day of my admission into the Royal Children’s Hospital, to under go spinal reconstructive surgery. My way of preparing was by suffering from such bad insomnia I would stay up all night. I would stay up all night and quietly stack the dishwasher. Set it on to do a cycle. While that was happening I would fold clean washing. Enough clean washing for five children and two adults. We used to call them ‘washing sculptures.’ These piles of clean laundry that would sit on one end of the couch. I would fold washing while watching VHS tapes of movies taped from the television. I would have the sound down so that I would not wake up my parents or my brother and sisters.
I would also read. I would pray. I was so very scared.
Everyone said how grateful they were to the heavenly father that I was born in this time of great medicine. I was supposed to be grateful as well. I was taught to place my faith in something invisible but powerful. I was so brave! They all said so. Nobody saw me in the middle of the night, folding washing. Unable to go to sleep.Today I do not pray. I do not thank god for letting me be born in this time of great medicine. My parents do. My mother does. Her faith makes me uncomfortable at times.
In my joy I get careless. I text the boy who has not texted me since a few days after Christmas. He was no doubt lonely and wanting some of my to be relied upon affection. Also his girlfriend was probably out of town. Since then all I get the occasional tag on a thing on facebook. My name in brackets. It strikes me as insulting that that is what I get now. I am an after thought in an article tag. This fills me with complete and utter raging despair. But I text him at 9:20am
Hey kid. You OK? There is hepatitis inoculation in my fridge. All being well I should have a hospital admittance date in about 3 months. HELLO KIDNEY.
You may start thinking of gifts… Mmmmmm now.
It takes him 4 days to reply to this. By that time I am so sad I barely register his response. He replies at midnight. Fourteen minutes after to be precise. Asking about westspacing, which makes no sense because there is nothing on at west space that evening.
It occurs to me I am a pity friend. Someone he fucked around and feels like he needs to pretend to be friends with so he looks like a great guy who is so lovely and awesome that he is great friends with ALL the girls he sleeps with and emotionally manipulates.
The morning I wake up to his nocturnally sent message, I am on my way to my shrink. I tell her that I texted him and read it out to her. My face goes red with shame at how it sounds on reading it aloud.
‘That is called fishing,’ she reminds me. ‘You are not meant to do that.’
‘I know!’ I say covering my face with my hands in embarrassment.
‘He would have seen that message and thought great she is thinking of me. That is great. He would have felt empowered by your attention.’
‘I cannot help it,’ I say softly.’I want him to be my friend.’
‘I know but you have to try. He is not going to change his mind. He simply needs you to feel important and valued. We should drown him’
I felt some tears start to form in the corner of my eye.
‘If you stop contacting him you will see how little he cares. So, I am asking you to please, not text him back at all.’
I nod. ‘I did not text him back after he texted me at midnight.’ I tell her. She smiles at me. ‘Good. What type of selfish cad flings you a text at midnight? He could have been on the toilet.’
‘Or in the bathroom after sex.’ I say, blowing my nose.
At night, while sleeping next to my boyfriend, I dream. I am walking my little sister home from school. Down a street lined with trees and beautiful houses. There is a handsome young man sitting on a front step. He smiles at me. I walk my sister home and come back to the young man. The step is big enough for two people to sit. I sit next to him and he leans in so our shoulders are touching. We say nothing and stare out at the street. The sky is blue and bright. A fresh breeze swells around us but does not ruffle our hair. I am so happy my heart is practically bursting. I am in love and it is the stuff of memory and film.
Something I do not feel when awake. In the dream I have what I only ever had with the midnight texter, the my name in brackets tagger of posts. Who did not fall in love with me. It is that very thing that makes me love him. He has shown such intellectual fortitude by not choosing me. He has validated my insecurity and made it something tangible that I can hold on to and allow to slowly kill me.
On waking from the dream. My boyfriend is holding me. He is silly so so silly. So happy to wake up next to me.
It is not until he is chopping up tomatoes for our dinner that he confesses to me about the dream he had that night. I am standing in the kitchen chatting to him but not really helping in any way. He likes to have me keep him company while making dinner sometimes. I am leaning against the fridge and he has his back to me as he chops. He is still in his work clothes, baggy shorts and a black t-shirt, his big boots still on his feet.
‘I had an awful dream last night.’ He says. ‘It really upset me.’
‘What about’ I said.
He stopped chopping and turned to look at me. ‘I dreamt that you were sleeping with somebody else.’
‘Oh,’ I say.
‘And you were not even sorry. You said how that was our understanding. We were allowed to be this way.’
I said nothing and allowed my insides to jump around in dismay.
‘He was a really cool guy and muscular. I met him and could not even be mad at him or punch him because he was just so nice.’
He then turned around and finished chopping. I walked over to him and hugged him from behind. I rested my face in his back.
…A month later it was the French film festival. On a sunny Friday afternoon, my friend Ying comes over to discuss art proposals. Ying is a screen print artist. Her exhibition at Off The Kerb Gallery in Collingwood was extraordinary. She had screen-printed images of herself pissing into the open neck of the decapitated head of the famous Chinese dictator, Chairman Mao. She is doing this in simple white short shorts and a simple white bra. The background is like a desert vista.
I connected the ballerina paste ups with the communist dictator Chairman Mao and the political dances he choreographed in order to gain such a following and justify the slaughter of millions of Chinese people. These images were poster size, and in addition to these, she also had a line of tiny postage-stamp sized images encased in clear glass boxes that were connected to the wall.
It was such a shocking, relevant and irreverent set of images that I stared and walked around the room so many times I lost count of how many times I had circled and then re-circled the room, looking at every image. There were also three images that looked like they had been painted straight onto the walls of the space. These were ballet dancers in blue leotards and long, long legs doing classic ballet moves such as the plié and du pointe.
Ying’s exhibition was in the upstairs space. In one of the down stairs spaces was an exhibition that was incredibly… pink. There were unicorns and a great deal of glitter and rainbows. It was an art exhibition that had none of the intellectual backbone and edgy satire of Ying’s show. It was the kind of stuff you would put on the bedroom wall of a seven year old.
In the other space downstairs was a bunch of images on canvas that looked like bad street art. Repetitive patterns and washed out colours with stacks of visual diaries in each corner. Of course the bottom two galleries had lots of works with little red stickers near them. Ying was unperturbed. ‘I know that my work is interesting and people enjoy it. But it is not what people want on their walls at home.’
I would love one of Ying’s screen prints involving her pissing into the neck of the severed head of a dictator. It was while we were at her opening that we made a time for her to come over and talk art proposals. She found out I was a writer and asked for my help in writing gallery space proposals. I have never done it before but I figured if she just needed a proofreader, I would be good.
So on the Monday afternoon she arrived. I made her tea and we sat out in my back yard, talking for a good two hours.
‘I need to start writing things down more.’ Ying told me as we sipped from our mugs of tea. ‘I can create all these things but when it comes to writing it all down and explaining it all. I can’t.’
‘I have the same problem. I will let something jump around in my brain for days before I start writing anything. I have about 6 notebooks and they are all empty.’
Ying wanted to see my notebook collection. So I led her into my room. ‘Oh it is so colourful.’ She said as she looked around my walls, covered in pictures and framed art postcards.
‘I know, and look at the vagina shaped tears in the linoleum that is my bedroom floor.’ I said.
Across the hall from my room is Tammy’s room. Her sliding door was open and she stepped out wearing a black singlet and black leggings. Her tanned and slim physique always kind of startled me. She seems so unaware of how pretty she is. You also forget when talking to her as she is just so very intelligent.
‘Do you want to see a film from the French film festival?’ Tammy asked.
‘Yes! Can Ying come?’
It was all decided and Tammy purchased the tickets. Money was exchanged and plans made to meet at the movie theatre.
Tammy and I walked to Lygon Street in order to catch the number 1 or 8 tram that would take us to the city. It was dark but the air was very temperate. We sat on the tram and a few seconds later, Ying was walking towards us from the back of the back of the tram.
‘I saw you two get on the tram and ran to catch it.’ Ying told us. She lives on Lygon Street. There was no seat for Ying so when some people got off at the next stop, we nabbed a set of four seats. I sat directly opposite Ying and Tammy.
‘What is the movie called again?’ I asked, as the tram creaked and cranked its way up Lygon Street.
‘Venus In Fur.’ Tammy answered, ‘It’s a Roman Polanski Film.’
‘I have heard of him but can’t think of any movies he has done.’ Ying said.
My mobile starts to ring. I pluck it from my bag and see that it is from mum and dad’s house. I consider not answering, but I have not spoken to them in three weeks and feel I really should. Ying and Tammy are still talking as I answer. It is my father.
‘Hi Dad, what’s going on?’
‘I’m depressed.’ He says.
‘Oh, would you like to come to Melbourne and see a French film?’
‘Yes, actually… I am not really depressed. I have to tell you something.’
‘Is mum alright?’
‘Are Romy and Steve alright?’
‘Are Caleb and Juliet alright?’
‘Yes, they are fine.’
‘Libby and Hannah?’
‘Yes everyone is fine, Jess. It’s about you.’
The tram is still moving but we are in the city now. Building tower overhead and streetlights illuminate pedestrians.
‘Are you alone?’ My father asks me.
‘No, I am seeing the film with two friends. They are sitting across from me.’
‘Did you see Leong last night?’ Dad asks me.
‘We were meant to call you last night. We called Leong a few days ago and told him.’
The chattering on the tram fades away and seems a distant whisper. I am alone. In my head fortress. My favourite place to be, it would seem. I think back to last night and search for signs of weirdness in Leong. We ate Moroccan and watched One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest. I had seen it but Leong had not.
‘Told him what? What’s going on?’ I ask.
There is a silence.
‘Your mum is not a kidney match.’ His voice is like a hug. Like the smell of his jumper when he hugged me as a child.
‘That’s Ok. It is fine, really. As long as everyone is alright.’ I say.
‘They said your mother had some extra veins that would make a match impossible, and the risk for you would be too high.’
‘It’s not Mum’s fault. Tell her.’
‘Oh, I have already told her it is all her fault.’ My Dad says with a laugh.
‘But it is ok. They are going to start testing me next. You can carry my big kidney around in a sack tied to your waist.’
‘I do not want to carry a kidney in a sack.’ I say. I try to laugh a little but it comes out strangled to a simple burst of air and a cough.
‘I get 6 weeks off work to recover.’ Dad says.
‘We could go to Europe together.’ I say.
‘Do you want to talk to your mother?’
‘I’ll put her on.’
‘Hi, mum. It’s OK, you know. I am not angry or upset with you. It’s just one of those things.’
‘I was so upset.’ My mother tells me and I believe her. I could just see her sitting in the doctors office, crying with disappointment that she could not do anything to help me.
The tram stopped and my friends stood up to get off the tram.
‘Oh mum, I have to go now but it is all fine and I will speak to you soon. Love you.’
‘I adore you.’ My mother says.
It is one of those nights in the city that is just tinged with wonder. It is not too warm or cold. ‘Hey, look’ Tammy says. ‘There is a girl in an amazing polka dot dress. It’s red’
I cannot see it as across the street is too far for my eyes to stretch. I am wearing a brown dress with white polka dots and a little red cardigan that Tammy gave me. I have never had a friend who could simply give me an unwanted item of clothing that fit me with no need for any alterations. ‘I wore it when I was going through my emo and Emily the strange faze.’ She had told me.
‘My mum is not a kidney match.’ I said as we crossed the street. Ying put her arm around my shoulder and squeezed.
I walked between my friends and let their sympathy wash over me. We walked up Spring Street and made our way to Kino cinema.
‘I will buy you a glass of wine.’ Tammy said. Wine and French film will save the day. Tammy purchased two glasses of red wine and we took them into the cinema and sat down.
In a few sips of red wine and giggling, the film started.
Venus In Fur, or the French title, La Vénus à la fourrure is brillant and intoxicating.
Thomas is a writer-director of a new play, an adaptation of the 1870 novel
Vanda is one of my new favourite characters to gain inspiration from. You are prompted to think many times as the film progresses, who is in control here? Who is in control in any relationship? Is wanting to be controlled as passive as some would like to believe? Or is there a control issue with wanting to absolve oneself of all control?
It was a welcome intellectual distraction from the sudden increase of possibility in needing dialysis. It did not strike me as a possibility that my father could be a match if mum was not.
Days and weeks pass. I spend weekends at Leong’s house working on my art project for the Paper Dolls exhibition. It opens on the 12th of April. It is a welcome distraction.
I draw and stare at the x-rays taken from my childhood and teenage years. As I draw I remember. The charcoal gets onto my fingers and the fine dust settles on the carpet around the small coffee table I kneel at in order to work. It is not overly comfortable. I get a pillow from Leong’s bed and this cushions my knees as I draw. I try grey lead and watercolour pencils but the effect is too washy. I enjoy the act of creating bold black lines with the sticks of charcoal.
I would like to listen to music as I work but Leong’s housemates watch films and tv shows. I need to have the x-ray taped to a window so that the daylight shows up the bones clearly. The x rays are old and have faded over time.
I am unclear as to what I hope to display to peoples’ consciousness’. When they finally see these images. That beauty can be found in amongst the bones of physical abstraction. That the end result is not as important as the process that formulated and transpired before? That I cannot be broken?
At night I am toss and turn. I groan and grunt and whimper. Leong tries to hold me but his body is too hot and this frustrates and repels me. I feel his belly against my legs and I do not enjoy the softness. It angers me. And this in turn angers me that I can be so shallow.
This is the danger in getting close to me. In everyday life I am happily half blind to peoples’ physicality. It is only when you get to the intimate level of closeness with me that the noticing begins. The picking at and scratching of intricate observations of flaws. I am kept awake at the thought tat my love may not be of the sexual desire kind but simply affectionate friend.
Is that enough to build a life on?
I move away from him in the bed. He seems to always be so so close. I just want to sleep on a cool piece of mattress. I look for problems. He does not talk. We do not have sex. I cannot think of anything I would rather do less than have sex. I do not cope well sans sex drive. I must not love him. Why can’t we have deep intense intellectual conversations?
When he stumbles over his words. I want to scream. It all just simmers underneath but the simmering is pungent. He can smell it and holds me tighter.
I imagine ways of ending it. I imagine it better alone. How much longer can he handle this? Having a girlfriend who does not want to touch him?
It is Sunday evening. I have been drawing all afternoon and he has been in his bedroom. On the bed is a complicated collection of blinking gadgets with knobs and they are all connected in a way I cannot understand. He sits in his desk chair but leans over the bed playing with knobs and wires. I consider asking him what it all means. But I do not care.
Depression makes me selfish and mean.
I sing the theme of inspector gadget as he hovers over his bed, fiddling with knobs. I get it wrong and sing Doctor Gadget instead. I then walk out and continue to draw. When the day fades to darkness, I stop drawing and watch House Of Cards with Leong’s housemates. I have been listening to it all day so have a fair idea of what’s going on. I love it.
I get tired and walk into the bedroom. The bed is still covered with the blinking knobs and pedals. I think it has something to do with electric guitars and the different effects you can manipulate with the right equipment. He is at his desk, staring at his large computer screen.
I stand on the carpet a step away from the bed. I stare at the bed. He looks up from the computer.
‘I would like to go to bed, now.’ I say.
He uses his legs to push his seat away from the computer. He does this suddenly and with great force. He spins around and starts taking the complicated map of electronics apart. Each gesture is deliberate and abrupt. ‘You don’t have to wear that fucking look on your face.’ He says.
‘I don’t mean right now.’ I walk out of the room. I was not aware I even had a look on my face.
Or was I? I have always had an expressive face. Much to my benefit and bemusement. Now it was revealing aspects of my inner workings that would have best been hidden from him.
We sleep. He holds me and I dream of water. It is throughout an old family home. I stand at the kitchen door, looking at the water settled so evenly across the room. I am too scared to take a step into it because I am unsure how deep it is. I cannot swim and do not want to drown. I stand there and look out the large kitchen windows. The sun is golden and splashes over the entire view of the kitchen. I just have to step out. It is not so difficult. I am alone and this makes me happy. So much possibility in solitude. I take a step and in my high top volley sneakers, I find the water not as deep as I feared. It is possible, all of it, and I need nobody.
When he leaves for work in the dawn of the day, he does not kiss me goodbye. I acknowledge the absence of the act but it does not worry or disquiet me. So he should negate to kiss me. I think before falling asleep again. The plan for the day is clear. Go to my shift at West Space Art Gallery. Go home and get some writing done.
I enjoy the walk to the tram stop. It is 10am and the sun is out and warming my back. There are birds singing and the air is sweet with flowers until I pass a house that has the unpleasant and overpowering smell of gas leaking from somewhere.
There are a bunch of TAFE students at the bus stop as I pass. They are all squinting in the sunshine and talking. They stop and stare as I walk past. I am not under any illusion that this is because I am beautiful. It is simply a collective and shared expression of interest that crosses their faces as I cross their path.
I enjoy the walk to the tram stop. It is 10am and the sun is out and warming my back. There are birds singing and the air is sweet with flowers until I pass a house that has the unpleasant and overpowing smell of gas leaking from somewhere. There are a bunch of TAFE students at the bus stop as I pass. They are all squinting in the sunshine and talking. They stop and stare as I walk past. I am not under any illusion this is because I am beautiful. It is simply a collective and shared expression of interest that crosses their faces as I cross their path.
I have not eaten breakfast and by the time I am in the city it is nearly midday. I consider getting something to eat but my lack of hunger and disinterest in everything except the satisfaction of a Veitnamise iced coffee, make my mind up for me. On rooting around in my back pack, it becomes apparent that I have left my wallet and sunglasses on the large black amp that sits in the hall way of Leong’s house. I would have to tram back there after my shift ended.
I sit at the desk that is to your left as you enter through the open glass doors. The mac monitor is so large that visitors do not see me sitting behind it until they are standing in front of the desk. Recently a large and cushy spinning chair was given to the gallery sitters. It is a large and imposing chair with a great big back and arm rests. I like to sit with my skinny arms resting on the soft arm rests. I look out at the front gallery exhibit and marvel at the logistics of the current exhibit. It is a collection of musical instruments and electrical wires that produce automatic movement of certainapparatus and sounds of variouse instruments. At first it seems sporadic. But, once you have sat at its mercy for three hours, you pick out audio patterns in the symbols clashing and soft bursts of triangles and bells. You become able to find method and a calming certainty in the constant flow and ebb of sound.
I hear them before I see them. The loud and excited chattering of a large group of young people. I hear a teacher inform the class about the gallery and what they hope to achieve from the excursion. The teacher enters first and as she spies me sitting at the desk in the imposing chair. I look up at her and she starts with shock. She is visibley shocked by my appearance. It is great. Time slows down as I wonder what her next move will be.
‘Hello, my aren’t you very small and cute. I like your glasses.’
I continue to look at her, unmoved by her compliments which seem incredibley patronizing. Regardless of her intentions.
‘Yes.’ I say.
‘Could my class come in and look around?’ She asked. The students were talking softly and laughing. They were all so tall and filled with health. ‘Would it be possible to have a exhibit talk or something?’
‘have you made a booking?’ I asked, sitting up straighter. I decide to stand in order to gain some semblance of equal footing with the art teacher.
‘No.’ She says.
‘’Hang on a minute. I will have to check with the gallery managers.’ I leave her standing at my desk and walk to the office. I stand in the door and inform Christina and Danny of the situation.
‘Can you handle it, Jess? We cannot be bothered.’ Christina says. I do not understand it but there is a correlation between gallery managers and incredible attractiveness. I nod and laugh and close the sliding door behind me.
‘Thanks, Jess.’ Danny and Christina call out.
I let the class enter the gallery and take them around each of the four gallery rooms. ‘She has cool clothes.’ I hear a girl whisper to her friends.
By the time it was 3 o’clock, the class had left the gallery and I was sitting at the desk reading a book on curating that I had picked up from the cart of art books that were displayed for sale. I usually tried to read the same book every week. The gallery was quiet and there was only the muffled sound of the city one floor down. Cars drove, trams trundled, pedestrians shouted and silently trudged to meetings. I sat and read silently, becoming slowly aware that I was beginning to feel hungry.
The girl who is meant to replace me at 3pm for the next shift was an hour late. She showed up with sushi and an apology. She was short with a pixy cut and large grey eyes. Her pants were high-waisted cotton and bright Aztec patterned.
I walk to the entry of the office and stand in the doorway to say my good byes. Both Danny and Christina sit at large screen macs at desks on either end of the office. Danny to my left and Christina to my right.
I walk out of the building into a sunny afternoon. I figure I can try and get back frombox hill as soon as possible so I can get home and get some writing done. I ignore the rumbling in my stomache. I have a mission. The 109 tram is not so crowded at this time of day and I get a seat easily. I sit and think about getting out some reading material but feel unmotivated. I stare out the window instead and watch people get on the tram. I watch people get off the tram.
I get off at the wrong tram stop I am unfamiliar with this area and need to walk a bit before I find the tram stop to go back the other way. I am only one stop away from the end of the line which is Box Hill Plaza and train station. The train would have been a better idea but it is easier to fare evade on a tram. I am not paying good enough attention. The tram trip is pretty straight forward. How did it get the better of me? My back pack is not too heavy but the weight is starting to weigh on me. My steps are not light and quick. I feel each foot step as if it is an up hill climb. The people around me do not seem friendly. I feel miles away and separate. It makes me sad. I think of him as I always do and this just makes me sadder. I always think of him when I am like this and think it would be better with him around. With him making me laugh at the absurdity of it all. He would have a book or a theory to help make me see things deeper and more amazing. He reads and I want to be with someone who has that literary bank to fall back on with me. No, not my boyfriend. The one who looks good in a cheap white t shirt. I had felt his chest press against mine when he hugged me at the west space opening a few months ago. The sensation has stayed with me. I still feel it if I think hard enough. No, I do not need to think hard at all. The ghost of his chest is still pressed against mine. He fely hard and lean and it was enough to make my face go hot and I had to go back to serving art lovers their beer and wine as he stood of to the side with friends. He had left without saying good bye and this had devastated me.
I stay on the tram and watch everyone spill out and then watch the people get on. They are carrying bags of food and medicines and what have you. Things they need and things they do not. I sit with my back pack hugged to me chest. I imagine it is his chest and this makes me squeeze my back pack as tight as I can.
I get of at the petrol station slash seven eleven that is across from the big car park and building of Box Hill Tafe. I cross the intersection and start walking up elgar road. The sun is out still and the walking is getting harder to do. I am getting hungry and thirsty now and it is getting harder to ignore. It is now nearly 5 o’clock and Elgar road is getting busy with homeward bound commuters. I forget at which street I am to turn left. I cannot remember if it was the seventh street or the third street. I am walking up hill now and im getting light headed. It is getting difficult to think clearly. I am lost I think. I turn left at a street at sseems right but really I do not know. The incline gets worse and I find myself stopping to go back and then turning to keep going up. I text my boyfriends housemate and ask her for help. She calls me as I stand outside a large house where an old man is bringing his garbage bins in off the street.
‘Where are you?’ she asks.
‘I do not know.’ I answer.
Sweat drips down my spine.
Across the road there is a high school. The old man tells me it is the senior secondary college. He goes back inside his yard, pulling the huge green bin behind him. My boyfriend’s housemate says she will tell my boyfriend who has just walked in the door. She hangs up and I start to loose my mind. The tears come hard and fast and now I am dizzy. My legs are giving way and I can barely contemplate the pain of walking another step. I see a larg tree with a comfortingly large trunk and a canapy of branches with leaves. I throw my back pack on the nature strip, fall to the ground and with my back against the tree trunk, I give in to the tears and the sobbing. The crickets are purring around me and there is a house in the throes of being revovated. Cars drive past me and one slows down a little as the driver takes in the image of a tiny girl sobbing with abandon under a tree.
The boyfriend calls me and asks me to calm down. I tell him I am across from the senior secondary college. He says he is on his way, I hang up and continue to cry.
There was an obviouse reason why my mother was not a kidney match. I had made it happen because I did not want to become like her. I was scared of getting her kidney because I did not want to be like her. I did not want to be like my mother. So, this whole thing is my fault due to my horrible thoughts and paranoia. But, did I really want to be like my Dad any more? Was this kidney thing making me face more fully than I was ever willing too, the fact that I have spent a great deal of time and effort separating myself from them? I really really resented needing them for this. I mean it actually made me angry to think that this stuff is not over for me. I have to fight again another medical battle. I did not want it. I wanted to be able to study and get good marks so that I could get a masters but my focus is shot to hell by skivving kidneys. And do I really have no sex drive or is it that I just do not want to have sex with my boyfriend because I am not intellectually stimulated by him. Do I need to be amused in order to want to fuck someone? Is this normal? Why cant I just want to fuck the lovely person who wants to fuck me?
My head was aching but the tears did not stop. And the thoughts kept coming. Do I confuse sex and love? Or do I confuse sex with power? My boyfriend is not more intellectually powerful than I am there fore I do not feel sexually towards him. I do not feel sexually towards anyone. My vagina seems broken and that is an all together different sort of panic that i feel when i think if that. Do I just want to talk to people. Am I more intellectually evolved than many many people due to the fact I am not ruled by a deep sexual desire? What was it that guy told me once as we sat in his van.
‘You are ruled by your vagina.’
HA HA good one.
I look up and see a balding middle age man approaching with an 11 year old girl all big eyed and pony tailed. I guess he brought his daughter along so as not to creep me out. He looks down at me with concern and genuine worry. ‘Hi, my wife drove past you a minute ago and wanted to make sure you were alright. She was worried you might be hurt.’
Your wife is right but not in the way she thinks. I think as I wipe at my eyes and sniff up some snot. ‘Oh, no. I am not. I was just lost.
At that point my boyfriend’s car pulls up. I look at the 11 year old girl she is regarding me with some confusion and wariness. I wonder what she makes of me sitting under a tree crying for no salient reason. Is this something she will look back on when older and understand? Something that will make her think to herself, so that’s why women cry under trees sometimes. Because being an adult is really fucking hard, and having someone love you does not solve all your problems.
The Dad and his daughter go home to tell the concerned women I am fine but probably a bit mad.
I climb into the passenger seat of the car. He is there and he hands me a paper towel wrapped around two granat biscuits. ‘ Because you said you were hungry.’ He said. I had completely forgotton the contents of our phone conversation. I shoved a biscuit into my mouth and started chewing.
‘Do you need to be anywhere tonight?’ He asked me as I swallowed my mouthful. I ate the second half of the first biscuit and shook my head as I chewed. I was tired so so tired. I was sick of lying and felt good that for once I could tell him the truth. The question was simple and so was the answer.
‘Do you want to stay the night?’ He asked.
I nodded with a mouth full of biscuit. He reached out and squeezed my knee with his hand before returning both hands to the wheel. He got the car in gear.
He drove us home.