Tess Pearson (University of Technology Sydney, Australia)
buoyancy |ˈboi-ənsē, ˈbo͞oyənsē| A translucent fine-boned bird. Her wingspan, a perfect mathematical arc, outstretches any aircraft. Her body is warm but her edges are crisp, and invisible nerve-endings coat every cell of her body.
The car sews stitches through the patchwork of green and amber fields as it approaches the outskirts of the city’s network. She opens the car door and steps out onto the parking lot. It is raining lightly, and her toes gleam white against the black road: mussel shells on the sand in reverse. Tiny nails of rain scold her cheeks and make her ears burn. Her lips are almost blue, her teeth begin to chatter between them. She swings the door shut behind her and stands beside the car, wrapping and tying her dressing gown around her, and burying her hands deep into its pockets. She looks over at the train terminal.
There is a sleepy calmness in the rows of neatly parked cars, the steady steps of high heels and office shoes moving towards the station. Everyone else seems to be moving towards the platform. It’s as though the trains carry their own gravitational pull, sucking bodies into their stomachs to spit them out in the centre of the city. It is as though a weary sedation has just descended on the greater reaches of the city; sucked dry.
She stands and waits.
She can’t remember what woke her up so early. Was it the storm, or this pain so sharp it was bound to swallow her up? Still asleep, she’d run out into the heavy rain, water drumming down on her like arms of firemen stroking and fondling and grabbing at her limbs beneath her nightdress. Creeping in like prying fingertips, the rain tangled up with the heat of her pain, boiling and swelling until they overflowed in her throat. She had wanted to scream, but could only gurgle.
The 8:06 train pulls in.
She stands poised, upright, breathing slowly, carefully, deliberately. She remains calm. She maintains an expression she imagines as relaxed neutrality; she is an inanimate object. This is a game she often plays to make herself feel invisible. She is imagining she is a metronome and her blood and breath are regular beats, completely free from any investment in the speed at which time passes.
But he doesn’t get off the train.
Slowly the pains start up afresh, a pulsing that echoes in her ribcage. She gets back into the car, starts the engine, but finds she is stuck. She cannot go back the way she came.
A driftnet has been thrown around her insides. It tugs at her organs, spreading throughout the arteries and veins. There is something pulling at her and jerking in places. As she slowly circles the parking lot the pressure and force increase. She is testing the current, measuring its pull, until with one sudden spin of the wheel, she turns out onto the freeway and heads towards the coast. She switches the heater on until the windows fog up, and then changes it to cold to clear them. The rhythmic thuds of the windscreen wipers carry her into the day, and the pain softens into a grumbling squabble in her belly. A familiar hunger that puts her at ease.
She stops at a truckies’ pit stop and buys three meat pies, eating them one right after the other, drowned in tomato sauce. She doesn’t notice the sideways glances at her bare feet and shabby dressing gown. When she gets back in the car she looks at the clock. It’s past two in the afternoon. If she turns around right now she still won’t be home until well after dark, and the thought of turning back catches her up like a fish hook in her gut. She throws a look behind her and feels the net slide in deeper, getting caught like barbed wire and making cuts that spread like lightning; bluebottle tentacles of pain.
She starts the engine again and keeps driving. There is no control over the direction being taken. All she can do is decide whether or not to keep going. Each time she lingers, the pulling becomes stronger and sharper, until it begins to rip and tear at her.
She lives like this for weeks. Kept afloat by the strip of ocean she keeps in the corner of her eye, and fuelled by chocolate bars from servos and homemade rocky-road and coconut ice from country market stalls. When she gets too tired to drive she locks the doors and sleeps in the car.
Small and uncomfortable, like a slippery bowl one falls into as an infant and can’t ever climb out of, the tight-fitting grimy shell of her world recedes in the rear-view mirror.
mourning |ˈmôrniNG| A heavy lead coffin that sits on your head, it pushes and presses you down into the pavement as you walk. At times it melts into the space around your body and pushes in at you from all sides; a thick semiliquid mercury that is impossible to wade through.
When he arrives at her house, the first thing he sees is the eucalyptus tree. Over the years it has stretched and bent its long trunk, trying to reach the sun over the roof of the house. Its branches now touch the edge of the guttering, so that during a storm the leaves whip at the roof tiles, and on gentle days like this, they caress them.
Inside the house he finds everything just as she left it. Unwashed dishes in the kitchen sink, dried up orange peel on the table beside her bed. The ticking of the old wind-up clock (evidence she can’t have been gone long) burrows into his head, and the familiar fridge hum reminds him he is alone. He goes to where he knows she keeps her journal, in the top drawer of her dresser, and holds it in his hands for a moment, before opening it at the end, and flicking back through the empty pages until her words appear. He reads.
If there were days as dark as ink and as deep and wide as the sea, could you sink into them and never come out? Is there a place where you can stop the morning from ever arriving?
He hears a tap at the window and shuts the book. It was the wind perhaps, or the rattling of the trees. Maybe he invented it, forcing himself to stop reading. He puts the book away carefully. He always feels a guilt that makes him slightly sick when he reads her words. Not only for the trespassing, which shames him, but also for every whisper that tells him of her unhappiness. He doesn’t understand it, but feels responsible. Even after all this time. Responsible for what, he isn’t sure. He just feels the weight.
He lies down on her bed without peeling back the covers, and falls asleep there.
The twilight rolls in around his body, and darkness rises to meet the ceiling like bread dough.
He dreams that she is caressing his body, long, slow, gentle strokes. Then he realizes her hands are actually carpenter’s planes, shaving off thin layers of him like prosciutto. He opens his mouth to shout, but only wet slippery fishes come sliding out, so large they make him gag. They nearly choke him, and when he tries to grab hold of them they expand like pufferfish and cut his hands open with their spines.
When he wakes it is late at night and she is still not home. He feels drugged, as if he has been drinking all day long, warm and swollen and covered in sweat from his nightmare. He sits up slowly and feels dizzy. He tries to breathe in deeply and finds he cannot fill his lungs. He tries again, consciously feigning indifference to the process of breathing, as though his life did not depend on it.
He has no idea of where she is or what she is doing or who she is with or what she is thinking about. He opens her chest of drawers, looking through her things slowly and carefully. He finds photographs of people he’s never met. Books he’s never read. Underwear he’s never seen her in; expensive lace and silk. He can’t imagine her wearing such things. They can’t belong to her; too blatant. He finds a photograph, a close-up of her face, and is alarmed. Had he really forgotten what she looks like?
He had been so careful at holding her. He had cradled her so gently, careful not to knock or break. He had stretched himself around her, trying to find a place to hold onto, a way to contain and protect her. At the same time, it had stopped him being blown away or splayed apart.
He had silently envied the small saplings she tended to in the garden. Especially the eucalyptus, which had been savaged by the wind soon after she’d planted it. Its young trunk had been split apart. She’d rescued it carefully, wrapping its body back together, planting it closer to the house, and erecting little stakes to help it hold its own against the wind.
He watches the tree through her window in the moonlight now. It’s grown much taller than he is. He imagines her hands on the trunk and feels a stab of longing. Even without her the tree is anchored; outstretched arms and buried legs, both held by the air and holding onto the ground.
Tess Pearson lives in Sydney and is currently studying a Master of Arts in Creative Writing at the University of Technology. She will be published in Hide Your Fires, the 2012 UTS Anthology, and also in the upcoming edition of Short and Twisted. Having recently returned to her homeland from another life lived in London, Tess has traded swimming with the ducks of Hampstead Heath wooded ponds for the sea slugs and urchins of McIver’s ocean baths. She is still acclimatising to the saltiness.