Chlorine for Breakfast
Romana Dalgleish (RMIT University, Australia)
Forty Degree Summer
I was away the summer we finished high school. I was in Paris with my family crying in the bath about a boy. My friends grew up without me on those forty-degree days. What happened that night, while I was on the other side of the world, isn’t my story to tell, but what came after; that belongs to all of us. It was our introduction to living in the world without parents and teachers.
We had everything. The shine on us would have made you sick. But then the thing happened, and the shock and the anger and the hurt swept over us without our noticing. We splintered off into these bits of ugliness we hadn’t known were a part of us.
What happened on the grassless dry dirt amongst the crushed cans that decorated the New Year isn’t my story but it should have been. If I had been there it would have been different. It wouldn’t have happened. Or if it had, I’d have gone with her, to the police, to hospital: home. I wasn’t though. Taxi was, but she got it wrong. If it had been any other night it wouldn’t have mattered.
Eating the language of the things she says, the words that she gives grow in my throat making spaces that are hers inside me. The taste of those sounds every time I swallow says that her unpicked stitches are a map of where we haven’t let it hurt.
You say I’ve never been with a girl with smaller boobs than me; it’s great because I can feel your heartbeat with my heartbeat and I realise that I am holding on as tight as I can, that you’d need a wrench to teach my hands to give you up.
I look at her mouth and imagine the shapes that make the sounds that move the meaning out of her and into the space between us.
You’re not sure if we can live together. You’ll be annoyed, you think, because I’ll want to stay up late and make piles of things around our room. It’s always been the thing, the mess I might make. It was dark summer and we tasted like chlorine.
Maybe I want sugar in my tea at bedtime because someone asked why I have it only sometimes and I wasn’t sure but then you said that I don’t have it in the morning but always want it at night. If it wasn’t true when you said it, it is now; the sense of it stuck. Maybe I just like the way you see me. Maybe I like being solved.
The fire in you was always threatening to burn me out before I could make a dent in you. Out of nowhere the things I did when you weren’t around became a prelude or a postscript to hearing the sounds that escape you, for touching you touching you touching you.
Expand and Engulf
He was my teacher in Year 8. I didn’t blame him anymore but seeing him always made me think of what he’d said when we were in Grade 3. He came down to the primary school to teach us about the solar system. He told us that one day the sun would expand and engulf the planets and our solar system wouldn’t exist. He said we shouldn’t worry because we’d have been dead for ages by then. I hated him. I remember knowing I was going to remember this forever.
I wished I was a dog so I wouldn’t know that I was going to die. I wouldn’t live as long but at least I wouldn’t know what was going to happen. I’d think about death and my whole body would tense, sort of like with amyl. I used to think that if I could just find something to hold onto I wouldn’t fade away; that the holding on would keep me here.
We’re parked in front of my house and Taxi is rolling her eyes at her tears. I keep thinking of the nights when I’d sit up imagining the black forever. How when it worried me too much to sleep I’d climb out of bed and find mum. She’d put the kettle on and then she’d listen. She let it be scary. Don’t be afraid of the not knowing, she’d say. Taxi would have been still and small in her bed, looking around the room for something to hold on to.
Romana Dalgleish is currently undertaking a PhD in creative writing at RMIT where she is theorising the practice of writing sudden memoir. Her research explores the circular relationship between the writing of short-form sudden memoirs and the theorising of these works.