Category Archives: Issue #1

The Chameleon People, Glaiza Perez

As a child, Jay would lie in bed and wait for the deafening sound to come rushing into her room in the early hours of the morning. Her hands would automatically cover her ears when it hit. She couldn’t convince her parents to sound proof the room, without telling them about the creatures. Jay wondered if she was like the cursed girls in her mum’s stories. According to her, they could hear and see impossible things because of unnatural senses which bloomed over time.. Jay kept silent about her hazy visions of shape-shifting creatures which drifted across the forest in her sleep deprived mind.

At midnight, like clockwork, her feet would find their way back to her parent’s room. Her mother’s arm would be stretched over her eyes. Jay would climb over the bed to be near the comfort of another steady heartbeat. The strange sound would disappear under the lull of a deep voice – bringing Jay down into the rabbit hole of another life. She listened to her mother’s different stories about the Dome where the loud creatures lived. When Jay was being punished again, the tale would somehow twist itself into a knot and the kids exploring the jungle of the silver city would find themselves fed to the invisible creatures inside the sealed Dome.


As she grew up, the loud creatures’ call dulled to a lullaby pitch which enabled her to sleep. In the morning, she began to draw her own images of them. The pictures were of mythic creatures stuck in between changes like shape shifting chimeras. Sometimes, they were giant shadows walking around a field without people to create them. They became mixed up with other stories she read. She devoured time in that imaginary world and the night creatures became more familiar to her in the process.

Her mother’s stories stopped coming as the ‘Chameleon’ epidemic on the screen grew over time. At its height, the media tried to cover up the stories about the hazard of genetically altered creatures living inside the closed city of the Dome near the Border of their city. On the night of her seventeenth birthday, Jay made her first move towards capturing an actual image of the Chameleons. However, she was interrogated and suspended from school after being caught alone at the silver barrier which surrounded the Dome.
When she returned, Jay’s face was bare without the required virtual lens for class. Her father had suspended her from accessing online research about the Dome for longer than her official one month suspension.

During the forced break, she had realised that being directly hooked into the virtual world was a way for her to avoid the recent broad casted reality of their lagging, underdeveloped city. The major political parties were torn over the potential cost of updating the city to become environmentally sustainable and technologically up to date. There was a vocal movement from a major party (which her friend and virtual supporter Iris detested) to cut down access to virtual portals and worlds as part of a package to fully experience the physical environment again. These public broadcasts were the only things Jay could watch for a month through the screens at home.
Jay slumped in a seat next to Iris. She was consumed by an online adventure game. Jay tugged the virtual lens off her face. Iris winced as her brown eyes focused slowly on Jay’s own.

‘Give it back.’

‘I saw one,’ Jay said. Their recent verbal exchanges tended to be short ever since high school started. Iris scrabbled to grab her lens back.

‘A chameleon,’ Jay clarified.

Iris leaned forward and breathed a soft noise – her implant forgotten. They had lost contact for a month because Iris lived almost virtually online and preferred communicating in that quick space. However, Jay knew Iris shared her obsession over the Chameleons. They were like a mystery to unlock in a game to Iris. Jay could hear her eavesdropping classmates disconnect their own virtual lens as she finally told Iris the full story behind her suspension.

Jay had taken everything that made her invisible to the metal eyes of the Security cams with her; a pair of thermal goggles and a chameleon filter device from her dad’s office before heading out to see the silver barrier in the night. She leaned on the desk as her classmates bated her for evidence.The thermal goggles and photographs had been confiscated when Jay had been caught. After a moment, Jay pulled out the old disconnected tablet she’d be given as part of her punishment. She traced a picture of a chameleon on the screen – slowly filling the body in the black rectangle with red, orange and green swirls to create a psychedelic movement of heat. It was nothing like what the media had showed them on the screens. Jay smiled like it was a joke afterwards. A head, two long arms and legs. It looked human.

Jay signaled with her hand to move closer. Iris seemed stuck behind the first gate – second thoughts freezing her legs in a game, which held the tangible risk of being caught. After months of planning, they had agreed to take a second shot at photographing the Chameleons beyond the barrier.

The night air felt cool on Jay’s skin. She wondered if the cameras could catch their warm clouds of breath despite the cloaking devices she’d stolen for them. Jay moved stealthily towards the wall – leaving Iris behind after she received a wave back to move forward. Jay stopped in front of the marked panels of the silver barrier. With a copy of her dad’s new security card, Jay brought that section of the fake metal filter down. It was like peeling away a circle in the metal facade. She didn’t let herself cross the open space because she knew from Iris’ research, that an invisible electric fence was still in place.
Beyond the concrete was an open field that stretched for a mile before giving way to a forest. The trees cradled a hybrid city where the metal fixtures were balanced with energy conservation mechanisms in the form of twisted green spires and bridges. It was so quiet. Jay had never seen a hybrid city so close to her before. She had been caught too quickly the first time to see it. It was beautiful. Jay could imagine the sustainable havens the government talked about building for their own city. She went still like a cat as she gazed through the porthole into the green eye of that world – trying to fix the image in her mind. She soon shifted her focus to the human shaped creature in the night, which emitted a slow humming sound. A vision of the trees and the creatures from her childhood flickered through her mind as she listened to its familiar song. Iris heard the click of the thermal camera when Jay finally pressed the button. She couldn’t believe her eyes when Jay sent her the thermal image.

Abruptly, the metal filter reappeared – shutting out the night creature’s world. The metallic sound of the alarm drowned out the creature’s song. Jay and Iris found themselves surrounded by a small circle of guards in the grey uniform of the Border.

Jay glanced at the guards’ faces as they were patted down but the thermal visors blocked their eyes. They were escorted to see her father in Security. He held out an unexpected ultimatum. The alternative was a memory wipe or an educational placement elsewhere. Iris faced the same choice in another room. Without hesitating, they both took the main offer. Iris wanted to know more rather than less about the creatures. Jay reasoned ‘Security training’ would bring her closer to the Chameleons.

After an accelerated five year period of training, Jay tightened the headset in the middle of a Security office. Iris kept a constant monitor through the thermal imaging screens. The Chameleons’ forms drifted across them. Jay had learned over time that they were almost like jail guards to prisoners in watching the Chameleons – no-one could enter and no-one could come out.

Security had given them a small bite of uncensored history which explained the mixed tales of the media. A hundred years ago, the cities exchanged everything freely between them until the citizens of the Dome developed the ability to mimic their surroundings. The monitoring system was set up when the fear grew over what weaponry the Chameleons could develop inside the Dome.

‘Jay – can you check your quarter – mine is acting up pretty weird – there’s a whole flock moving south at a steady pace.’

She touched her screen to see a similar phenomena heading towards the wall closest to the south-east track route near their city. Jay had also grown to felt protective of the Chameleons over time. She felt the instinctive need to go out alone to meet them but it was too late to stop Iris reporting the breach to the higher ranking officers.

The outbreak came quickly. Ten minutes after Iris had reported the disappearance of the Chameleon’s heat signatures, they reappeared on their other side of the barrier. The electric barrier which mimicked a silver wall had been disabled by the Chameleons for the first time. Jay was immediately sent outside with a security team. Iris also passed on a message to warn any trains approaching the South-East pass.

Jay still remembered the way they overtook the train carriages. At first, no-none could see them without the thermal goggles. They revealed themselves with their own technology. A small device in their palms lit up their flickering midnight blue skins in a silver webbed pattern. They were like walking constellations to her eyes.

After years of losing herself in drawing and rendering images of the chameleons and studying the biology of their invisible skins, Jay froze. Her eyes began to move up and down them with an artist’s gaze – scanning their human-like proportions to replicate them later. It was beautiful and paralysing. She had found the creation of her daydreams but it was not what she had imagined at all.

One of them stared at her with silver eyes as if it were studying her. An image of the silver wall breaking flickered through her mind like a dart. Jay broke her gaze away from the Chameleon. She’d seen a similar vision in the dreams of her childhood.

The head security team soon stepped in to neutralize them with their tranquilizers and guns but nothing worked against their protective skin device. One of them spoke the common tongue in a deep voice.

‘We are seeking asylum from our city. We have been treated like prisoners and not people inside the city we once called Paradise. I desire to know the world outside of Paradise without being hunted for disagreeing with our government’s views. Leaving the city by force was the only way we could pursue this action.’

Under the chameleon’s gaze, Jay glimpsed another vision of being chased down an ivy green hallway in a city – the creature’s heart beating out of control as it ran. The vision was cut short as Jay was pushed and ordered out of the area when the head security teams started to take over negotiations.

The fallout of the breach couldn’t be controlled when the media reported it. The news flew quickly through the virtual portals. However, the singing sound the creatures made was at a pitch most humans couldn’t hear. Jay had quietly researched this quirk. Her unusual ability to hear them helped pushed her to wrangle for the interview with a Chameleon as they continued to seek legitimate asylum and attention from the media.

It had chosen to be visible again. Lit up under the artificial light of the office, the chameleon stood like a male human near a steel chair. One grey hand rested on the chair’s back – naturally camouflaging against it. Perhaps, it was unaccustomed to using chairs, Jay observed.

She sat down in the opposite chair. The silver eyes watched her before mimicking her movement to sit in a fluid motion. Jay saw it shift in the chair as if uncomfortable with the hard surface. She wanted to offer a smile but wasn’t sure if that would be read as an aggressive or welcoming act. Jay settled with a poker face despite her heart beating fast. Perhaps, she’d just imagined the hallucinations being passed from the chameleon to her.

‘Thank you for accepting our request for an interview. I am Jamie Serapha.’

‘I am called Cyrus.’

Jay noted that there were no childhood visions that accompanied the chameleon’s gaze this time. ‘How did you learn our language?’ Her curiousity deviated from the set questions.

‘We have places that teach the words inside Paradise. It is written on the tablet.’

On the table between them, a testimony about the Dome as written by Cyrus rested on the screen. It was to be released to the media in the afternoon by a supportive human activist party.

‘May I?’ Cyrus carefully pulled the screen tablet to her side.

A testimony by a former citizen of Paradise:
When I saw it through the looking glass, I almost didn’t recognize it. The green eye belonged to a human wearing dark clothes as in the pictures of our ancestors that hung in the great library -museum in Paradise.

Jay’s own memories of that night flickered across her mind. Cyrus smiled. He began to hum the song that had haunted Jay’s childhood as she read.

I’d practiced using a camera to take pictures of my world – none of our people showed up in a complete way like our ancestors. There were always fragments of our bodies taken in the images. A head or an arm or someone’s crossed leg showed in certain shades of light as we grew up – before the chameleon skin took over and that human skin disappeared.

Jay glanced down at the attached images – the people in the photographs were indeed growing and disappearing over time in a forest. Her memories of similar visions from her childhood passed over them.

In Paradise, no-one could judge each other based on the exterior. Our eyes became accustomed to recognizing each other’s heat signatures at night. ‘Paradise’ was the slogan that remained since our government had been set up but I knew there were others like us who wanted to see elsewhere.

My brother had the same hunger to know which had brought him to this side of the barrier years ago. He had given up on waiting for someone to break the barrier. It was a sin to get to close to it but I saw him in the distance – his body lit up like fire did before disappearing once more in the sunlight. He’d just reached out – one hand against the wall. The elders say he was punished. They found the electrified wall to be a useful deterrence for us.

Cyrus’ memories flashed through her mind as he sang quietly. In one of his memories, Jay could sense a warm hand waving her forward in the summer night of the hybrid forest city of Paradise. She almost stopped reading again but Cyrus pushed the screen back to her after the vision ended.

My people had grown accustomed to the silence around the barrier. I had been singing quietly for all those who had approached it. Their bodies were cold when we dragged them away from it.

His song died. Cyrus opened his hand unconsciously – the way his brother had in the memory of the forest he had passed to her. Jay had listened to the mourning song for so long but she wasn’t sure if she could answer it. She took the silver hand into her own. His skin was warm.

The Dome had become a model environmental example for Jay’s city but the strict government policies of Paradise to preserve an elite genetically altered race had suffocated citizens like Cyrus. He had wanted to connect to their ancestors – to other humans.

After leaving Security, Jay began to study the genetic links between humans and Chameleons which she discovered, gave rise to her unusual visions. She also began following Cyrus’ story as an activist – specialising in reporting and conducting documentaries to introduce the public to the reality of the Chameleons as people like and unlike themselves. They found their own images to expose the world where the invisible people came from.

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Stolen Memories, Julia Roscoe

Julia Grace Roscoe shares a very personal account of what it’s like to lose someone to Alzheimer’s disease.

We’re just getting old. That’s what my Nan used to say. She denied for so long that anything was wrong with my Pop. He was forgetting things. Things like the day, the month, and the year. Sometimes he would forget what he was doing. Sometimes he would be in the shower and he would forget actually getting in the shower. He would forget where the toilet in his own home was. Once he even forgot who I was. Still, Nan insisted they were just getting old. But instead of old meaning wrinkles and grey hair, for Pop, it meant becoming dependent on someone to look after him. And the worst part, it meant losing his memories.

Alzheimer’s disease is a disease of the brain, which gradually impairs higher brain functions such as memory, thinking and personality. It is the most common form of Dementia, and affects one in 25 Australians over the age of 60. There is no cure.

In the early stages of Alzheimer’s, symptoms may be too subtle to notice. Depending on the affected areas of the brain, early symptoms include memory lapses, problems finding the right word for everyday objects, difficulties making decisions, confusion and personality changes.

 

I never wanted to leave Brisbane. Growing up, my sister and I were very close to Nan and Pop. When we moved to Sydney, we would fly up to visit them every school holidays. I’ve got a picture on my dressing table of my sister and I with Pop. He is holding both of us over his shoulders and we’re all laughing. My sister and I have our faces huddled in Pop’s neck. I’m five or six in the photo.

 

Pop’s initial diagnosis was pretty vague, as with most cases of Alzheimer’s. Diagnosis is about 90 per cent accurate, but there is no definitive test. The only way to confirm the presence of the disease is with a post mortem on the brain, which for an Alzheimer’s patient shows damaged cells called ‘tangles’ and ‘amyloid plaques’ in the spaces between the cells. The plaques are made up of a protein called ‘A-beta’. The build up of protein is what is thought to cause the damage as it basically rusts the brain. Research has shown that the protein converts oxygen to hydrogen peroxide, which bleaches and corrodes the parts of the brain linked to memory and reasoning. In Alzheimer’s disease, the brain cells cannot connect and ‘talk’ to each other. Ultimately, the connectors disappear entirely in the part of the brain where thinking occurs. Drugs aimed at inhibiting the production and toxic effects of the A-beta protein are in development, but it will be some time before they are widely available.

Pop was first diagnosed in June 2009. He was 80 years old. The doctor’s report read: ‘The history is basically one of gradual onset and gradual decline of short-term memory over about three years or so. I note the CT head, which shows considerable deep white matter ischemia* and normal full blood count. I have talked to John and his family about the diagnosis of Mixed Alzheimer’s & Vascular Dementia. He is interested in trialling Cholinesterase Inhibitor so I have prescribed Reminyl.’

We were told that Reminyl might help to slow down the changes in his memory but it would not cure him. The doctor asked if he wanted to trial it anyway, and he agreed, though he had no idea what he was agreeing to. We were willing to try anything that might help, so he was put on a three-month trial. Reminyl is used to treat mild to moderately severe cases of Alzheimer’s. It is supposed to increase the amount of Acetylcholine, a substance which transmits messages between brain cells, and which patients lack. The aim is to help improve or stabilise the symptoms and perhaps even slow the progress of the disease. It didn’t help Pop. The doctor didn’t think it would. The drug comes with some awful side effects, and Pop experienced nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, muscle cramps, tingling in his hands and feet and he became more and more depressed. I was staying with Nan and Pop one night during the Reminyl trial. When I said goodnight to him he hugged me and said goodbye. That was the only time I ever saw him cry. He had tears welling in his eyes as he said,

‘I don’t want to wake up in the morning.’

He looked scared. His dressing gown was drowning his frail frame, and I watched him, hunched over as he shuffled off down the hallway until I couldn’t see him in the darkness anymore.

 

When the doctor told him he had Alzheimer’s she asked if he knew what that meant. He said he did, but we knew he didn’t. When we left the clinic he couldn’t even remember why we were there. He was also diagnosed with Vascular Dementia (VD), which occurs due to problems in the supply of blood to the brain. It is the second most common form of Dementia after Alzheimer’s. Symptoms between the two are difficult to differentiate because a large percentage of people with Alzheimer’s also have VD. Mixed Alzheimer’s is a condition in which abnormalities characteristic of more than one type of Dementia occur simultaneously. In Pop’s case, the abnormal protein deposits on the brain associated with Alzheimer’s coexist with blood vessel problems associated with VD. The main difference between the two is the progress of the disease. Alzheimer’s patients tend to experience a more consistent rate of decline in all cognitive abilities. Pop’s symptoms progressed quickly, consistent with VD. The most common cause of VD is a stroke, which is a type of vascular disease. Often patients can experience a number of small strokes, which may go unnoticed. This may have been the case with Pop. The doctor thinks it’s more likely to be related to his past as a boxer, which is now known to be a risk factor due to the trauma inflicted on the brain by blows to the head.

 

About a month after the doctor’s visit he started asking for his mother all the time. He stopped recognising himself in photos taken in the last 30 years. In Alzheimer’s disease, short-term memory storage is damaged first. Humans have two types of memories, short-term and long-term. Short-term memory is programmed in a part of the brain called the temporal lobe, while long-term memory is stored throughout extensive nerve cell networks in the temporal and parietal lobes.

Pop would ask for Nan all the time too, but he got agitated because the woman he remembered was 40. Nan was 80. He was also becoming delusional; he kept saying that Nan was an imposter. He said there was a strange man sleeping in his bed. Nan would just shake her head and tell him to stop being daft. He had good days, and bad, but now the bad started to be more often than the good. He needed help choosing clothes appropriate for the weather and time of day. Sometimes he would put his pyjamas over his jeans, or socks over his shoes with his shoes on the wrong feet. He couldn’t remember where he lived, or where he went to school. He could still distinguish between familiar and unfamiliar faces, but he was increasingly having trouble with our names.

I don’t know how Nan did it. He was almost totally dependent on her at this stage; she was looking after him full-time. He couldn’t even go the toilet without her help anymore. I remember once when I was there he started shouting at her, saying he wanted to be with Jeanie. He was waving his cane stick at her and shaking his head. It might have been funny, except for the look on his face. It was screwed up and he kept gasping. He couldn’t work out what was going on. For the first time I noticed the deep lines etched on his face. The lines of a life lived. His grey wispy hair was thinning, and so was his face. It was drawn and he had deep purple colouring around his eyes.
‘I’m Jeanie, I’ve changed my hairdo,’ Nan said to him and she gave him a lolly.
It was like watching a mother and her son, not a wife and husband.

‘Come on dear, I’ll make you a cup of tea.’ This scene played out fifteen times that day.

Before Nan could get any help, she had to qualify for respite from the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. Respite Care provides a chance for both the carer and person being cared for to take a break. Respite can be in the home with care ranging from a few hours a week to overnight care, in a Day Care Centre which provides full or half day care, or, in a residential aged care home for two or three weeks. Nan desperately needed help, though at first she didn’t want any. But she couldn’t leave him alone anymore, and being there with him all the time was taking its toll on her. The last time she left him on his own he urinated on the kitchen floor because he couldn’t remember where the toilet was.

To qualify for respite, someone from the National Respite for Carers Program came to assess the situation and determine whether or not Nan needed help. Mum was there on that morning and she sat with Pop and he read to her.

‘He read the same thing over and over again. He read the same sentence a dozen times, and then moved onto the next paragraph and did the same thing. He never turned the page. He had no idea what he was reading, but every now and then he would throw in the grandchildren’s names,’ she told me.

During the test, the nurse asked Pop his age, birthday, where he was living – he had no idea. He thought he was 40, and had only just moved to Australia. They moved here from England in 1961. He couldn’t copy a picture of a cube. He tried over and over again but couldn’t get it. He was a builder by trade; he could easily have drawn a cube. He couldn’t name everyday items shown to him, like an apple. He couldn’t remember how to spell, not even his own name, he wrote ‘Jhon’. But what he could still do blew the nurse away. When asked to count backwards from 100 in multiples of seven, he rattled the numbers off correctly and without giving it so much as a second thought.

 

Mum and dad had already been researching nursing homes for Alzheimer’s patients, because we all knew what was inevitable. High-care nursing homes are for people who need 24 hour nursing care. This may be because they are physically unable to move around and care for themselves, or because they have a severe Dementia-type illness or other behavioural problems. Residents in high-level care receive specified care and services including assistance with daily living. A year or so earlier Nan and Pop had downsized, and moved into a smaller home across the road from the hospital. Pop was always in the hospital for some sort of check up – he had chronic back and knee pain – so it made sense to move there. The hospital also had a high-care nursing home attached to it.

 

On Boxing Day 2009, just six months after the initial diagnosis, we were left with no choice but to put Pop into the home. While some families celebrated the holidays, lazing about in the wringing heat, with bellies full of left over Christmas turkey, Pop had chased Nan around the house with his walking stick, threatening to hit her if she didn’t find his real wife. Mum and dad found Nan hiding under her bed, terrified. Pop kept demanding to know who she was and what she wanted. He was too far gone now, there was nothing else we could do. He was on the edge of an abyss, and he wasn’t coming back.

 

The home is a large rectangular building. Inside is a maze of rooms, sectioned depending on the level of care needed by the patients. The high ceilings and wide corridors are painted stark white, and the smell of disinfectant lingers. The bedrooms are all the same, a bed in the middle, a desk on one side, and an ensuite. We tried to make it feel like home for Pop. We put photos of the family around the room and on the desk. The younger grandchildren drew pictures that we hung on the wall. Nan brought in blankets and towels, books and music. But he knew it wasn’t home, and he kept asking when we would take him home.

I used to go and sit with him for hours. I would read to him and feed him. It was like feeding a baby. He would dribble and I had to wipe his face with his bib. Sometimes we would go out and sit in the garden. We would bring his dog Princess over too. He loved her, and she adored him. She would sit beside him for hours. The garden wasn’t much of a garden, the trees were lean and straggly and there were some sad looking bush shrubs lining the fence. But the grass was always perfectly manicured, and was a luscious shade of dark green.

Aphasia is the inability to communicate effectively, and occurs in all Alzheimer’s patients eventually. Pop couldn’t hold a conversation anymore, so he would sometimes just mumble or grunt. If I asked him something he would nod, but I don’t think he even understood what I was saying. Sometimes he wouldn’t say anything at all. But he would smile at me. I used to wonder if he even knew who I was.

 

It’s been just over three years since his initial diagnosis. The Alzheimer’s Association says that most people with the disease die within four to six years of diagnosis. However the disease can last up to 20 years. Pop is now bed-ridden and sleeps most of the time. He cannot bathe himself; he cannot even turn in his bed. He is into the late stages of the disease, slipping in and out of death. These stages can last up to several years. It has him in its grips and there is nothing we can do except make sure he is comfortable. He no longer recognises any of us. He doesn’t even recognise himself. He cannot chew or swallow. He is incontinent and has had several urinary tract infections. His skin is a deep shade of purple, he is frail and his skin bruises so easily that they only bathe him once or twice a week. There is no dignity in Alzheimer’s disease.

Pneumonia is often the cause of death in patients. Difficulty swallowing often causes people with Alzheimer’s to inhale food or liquid into their airways and lungs, which can lead to pneumonia. The doctors say Pop has liquid on his lungs. I have an aunt who is a nurse in a high-care home. She said pneumonia is the best way to go, because what is to come is much worse as the body starts shutting down. I feel guilty for thinking she is right, but grieving for someone with Alzheimer’s is a long process. My sister has refused to see him since he has been in the home. She says she doesn’t want to remember him that way. I haven’t seen him in nearly twelve months. I don’t know if I’ll see him again. Mum asked me the other day how will I remember him? I want to think that I won’t remember him like this, that I’ll remember all the good things. But I’m afraid the trauma of the disease may have tainted my memory. I suppose that’s the hardest thing – watching him every day just go, so that now he’s nothing like the Pop I knew. The chaos of the disease has created someone who we don’t even know anymore, and worse, someone who doesn’t know who we are.

 

 

* Brain ischemia is insufficient blood flow to the brain. Chronic ischemia of the brain may result in a form of Dementia called Vascular Dementia.

Download a pdf of Stolen Memories

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The Looking Glass Self, Jessica Oxford

Black skirt, black stockings, and shiny black shoes with a little heel – I was tall enough without wanting to tower over anyone. These clothes were perfect to make the interviewer think I’m a woman he definitely needs to hire. The business shirt was crucial to finishing the look; too casual and it would ruin the professionalism, too formal and I ran the risk of reminding them of their grandmother. I settled on a dark purple lacy blouse. My mother told me it brought out the colour of my eyes when I asked her for a quick look over. Success.

But low self-esteem reared its ugly head when I took a glance in the mirror. Reflected back was my pale – very pale – face. It needed to be dealt with, preferably with makeup. No one wants to hire a ghostly looking person or so I’ve been told. The purple blouse was meant to draw attention to my eyes, not the dark circles underneath them.

I wondered if anyone would notice any of these decisions. Would anyone notice any intricate details about how I looked? From my skinny wrists that buckled under the size of my large ‘classy’ watch to my twice-ironed skirt that had been hung up all night to avoid getting wrinkles. I wanted to create an image of myself, a ‘masterpiece’. Unfortunately what I created wasn’t what the employer wanted and I didn’t get the position. Sigh.

What I then began to focus on and was really puzzled by was whether this was normal – do others become conscious of how they appear? If perception by others is the concern, does that lend credence to the notion of the ‘looking glass self’?
I contacted criminal profiler and Policing and Investigation Studies lecturer at Charles Sturt University, Amber McKinley, who detailed how the attention and care we put into our appearance for others can reflect our level of narcissism.

‘I believe that we all have a small amount of narcissistic traits in us,’ McKinley said. ‘Most people have little enough that they may stop and admire their reflection in a window as they pass by or seek other’s approval on how they appear. I suppose you can consider it ‘self love’.’

Narcissistic traits exist on a continuum that can be measured from low to high, healthy to unhealthy or ‘clinical’. But what exactly are narcissistic traits? How can you tell if someone is more narcissistic than another? As I posed this question to Amber McKinley, I too wondered if there were easy to spot signs of narcissism; was it as easy to notice in a person as, say, hair colour?

‘My answer to this question would be yes and no. Yes, because if you know what you are looking for, it is very obvious. No, in that you can’t see particular things in a person that will give it away in terms of physical features. It is all determined on the individual’s behaviour.’

She elaborates that the main determiners of a person’s narcissistic ‘level’ are the perception of the ‘self’ in relation to reality, achievements and expected recognition from others for these achievements, how an individual interacts with others and what they gain from social interaction.

To provide a measurable example, when you enter a conversation with another person, are you interested in what they have to say and include relevant information into the conversation that may involve yourself? Or are you waiting for them to stop speaking so you can regale them with your latest tales so you can appreciate the admiration they will heap upon you at its conclusion?

The former of these two options is a healthily narcissistic approach to social interaction. In fact, a healthy level of narcissism is observed in confident individuals. They know their strengths, their weaknesses and how they can put their best foot forward. Confidence is a valuable asset for success but I argue against the notion that self-enhancement should be ever-present, with individuals creating and adopting self-enhancing stories as reality . This is because ‘confidence is often based on actual abilities or achievements, [while] self-deceptive self-enhancement is thought to produce overconfidence’ . Overconfidence is not meeting reality and feeds into an unhealthily narcissistic view of life, producing people who would answer the latter to the example posed earlier. Confident people’s views match reality and they are admired for their approach to life, particularly in our success driven society. However, because of the stigma of the word ‘narcissism’, this sentiment crops up under new synonyms; ‘entrepreneurial’, ‘enterprising’ and most annoyingly, ‘diva’.

After all, people place an extraordinary amount of effort into constructing an image of themselves. They do this, partly for their own benefit, but mainly to attract and/ or influence others. No one wants to think that what they are doing is ‘bad’ or self indulgent. Most actions that reflect how someone appears to another are subconscious. It’s the conscious effort and deliberation that intrigue me because they expect a certain reaction from others. Do they receive it in turn?

After uncovering more research and information about narcissism, I began to notice it everywhere. The most obvious tool in modern society used by narcissists is Facebook. It’s well known, accessible from any technological device and seems to be ubiquitous in society. It also allows someone to cultivate a whole internet page about themselves. This runs the risk of self indulgence and over exposure.

It has become a staple of Facebook to detail every thought, belief and photo that a person experiences in a week or day. For some, it becomes what is happening to them several times a day. As I scrolled through the updates of my Facebook friends, I was continually exposed to my teenage estranged cousin who updates her status hourly. Her posts were filled with hateful diatribes against classmates, her school and suburb that make me want to hide under my bed. To help paint this picture, I have included a typical Facebook status update from her profile*: ‘Your existence annoys the absolute shit out of me. Please do everyone a favour and fuck off forever. Would be greatly appreciated!’

Sexually suggestive pictures of herself, underage drunken rampages and crass language galore! Immediately, this constructs a mental image for someone – stereotypes and connotations surround each of these behaviours. I personally do not know much of this relative; I have nothing to base my opinion of her on except for this Facebook profile that she has crafted to reflect some semblance of herself. Every post, every picture that was put up became another device she implemented to create an image of herself. I’m assuming the aim was a ‘tough girl’ persona.

A quick investigation through people’s profiles is guaranteed to reveal who they want to appear as – whether or not they really are that type of person. How do they phrase their status updates? What do they talk about? What do they not talk about? Are there many pictures of them alone, in a group, or have they cropped the image to feature just themselves? Looking at these indicators made me consider some people that I know in a different light. For example, one friend included an image of the United States First Lady, Michelle Obama, after the recent 2012 election. Instead of discussing the election results or Mrs Obama’s role in the campaign, she brought attention to the fact that the dress that she was wearing was one that she too had bought.

Facebook can be set to ‘private’ so that only friends can view their profile. However, friends are unlikely to point out to the person that they are not the riveting, fascinating person they strive to develop online or in person. Firstly, it’s socially unacceptable to point out people’s flaws in such a blatant fashion. Also, if you do, you can receive a verbal or physical lashing from the friend in question. This is more likely to occur if your friend is a particularly narcissistic individual as their ‘vulnerable self-esteem opens him or her up to distress from criticism or defeat. For this reason these individuals may react in an outrage or defiant counterattack’ . So, many bite their tongue and smile. A truly unhealthy narcissistic person views this as positive reinforcement.

This ties into the ‘looking glass self’. Briefly put, we construct our identity based on how others see us and modify behaviours to how we want others to see us. It is most readily observed in teenagers who are trying to establish a sense of self, with my Facebook-addicted cousin serving as a testament to this. It involves implementing a healthy level of narcissism, to observe how others may perceive us and create a sense of self. Unhealthy narcissists become absorbed by what they think others see, rather than what is actually seen.

‘A person who is considered to suffer with ‘clinical narcissism’ loves the ‘image’ which he or she projects for others because it is affirmed by them and in turn supports his or her behaviour – a vicious cycle,’ McKinley continues. ‘The projected image is reflected back at the narcissist and, thus, he is reassured both of its existence and of the boundaries of his Ego. This continuous process blurs all distinctions between reality and fantasy.’

The creation of an image involves an element of manipulation, which has been called self deception. This wielding of self deception is magnified when applied to social media. As theorists have argued, self deception can be implemented by in three ways. These include denying what is the ‘truth’, promoting a lie as the truth as well as concealing information, whether it’s the truth or a lie. This last point is the most used, despite ironically being an effort to conceal. We’ve been taught that lying is wrong. So why do we willingly deceive others?

Surprisingly for the moral, and unsurprisingly for the cynical, advantages are offered to those who can present an impressive image of themselves to the world. The value of confidence earlier touched upon is an incentive for a person to modify behaviours, promote or withhold information about themselves. However, confidence is rewarded with achievements while falsity and unwarranted confidence leads to vulnerabilities. For example, an unhealthy narcissist who overvalues their strength can be susceptible to injury if paired in a physical altercation with a stronger individual and risk public ridicule for lying. After all, no one likes a liar – lying is wrong.

The lender of his name to these amalgamations of characteristics, Narcissus, had a fatal flaw: ‘Legions of lusty men and bevies of girls desired him; but the heart was so hard and proud in that soft and slender body that none of the lusty men or languishing girls could approach him.’ His flaw was not his beauty or that he appreciated how he looked. Instead his behaviour towards others and lack of empathy for others’ situations and circumstances became his tragic undoing.

Lack of empathy is a key characteristic in determining the malignancy of a person’s narcissism. In order to be properly diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder an individual must display ‘a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy that begins by early adulthood and is present in a variety of contexts’ .
The most destructive manifestation of narcissism is found in the behaviour of the criminal. Alarmingly, from research conducted, it was found that ‘narcissistic offenders seek out power or status while trying to eliminate competition during their criminal activities. This study also shows the narcissistic offenders are more likely to resist arrest when caught and tend to deny any use of violence… Narcissistic individuals expect to be catered to and when this demand is not met, he or she may become furious potentially resulting in a criminal act.’

For a well publicised, real life criminal figure, Amber McKinley referred me to infamous serial killer, Ted Bundy. Many acquaintances described him as charming, intelligent and relatively good looking. He apparently thought that of himself too. He had an abnormal sense of entitlement that he expressed by stealing various items from work and other homes for the thrill it brought him. He never felt or expressed remorse for these actions.

What he became known for were not these petty burglaries; instead Ted Bundy is remembered for violent, planned and sinister murders. As it has been found, there is a ‘positive correlation between Narcissistic Personality Disorder and incarceration for violent crimes’ . Psychologists and criminologists who have studied the case closely point to an early romantic break up as a motivating factor for his violent spree against women who all fit the same profile. This girlfriend he had had was wealthy, athletic and was from an ‘upper class’ society to which Bundy did not belong. Her rejection that he was not a suitable match shattered the grandiose view of himself that he held and destroyed the fantasies of unlimited success, power and ideal love he envisioned that their union would bring. Saying ‘no’ to a person who has a pathological relationship with narcissism is like provoking a vicious dog – it’s not going to end well. They have built an image in their head and shown others that they are special, unique and all things extraordinary; evidence that contradicts this must be removed, devalued or ridiculed to protect their sense of self. Bundy believed that he had to re-establish himself as a powerful individual and to do this he dominated and killed only women. His unhealthy view of himself led to a fatal error; he thought he would be able to represent himself for his serial murders, attempting to convince the jurors that he was innocent. He enjoyed the audience’s attention and relished media coverage as it validated his view of himself as important. Unsuccessful in his attempt, he was put to death on January 24th, 1989.

The negatives of narcissism remain the focus of its definition and can tarnish alternative views. Narcissism can be destructive, harmful and chaotic. Too much narcissism can control a person’s life and how they interact with others. That is true and well documented. However, to completely distance ourselves from it and reserve it for a select few is not to see the concept as it really is. Everyone has traces of narcissism linked to their personality. We use it to create a distinctive self to operate in this big world that is bursting at the seams with people. We use it to create a self for others to recognise and form their perception of us; the looking glass self. In my search for employment, I know I will have to implement a healthy dose of narcissism.

* Out of sheer hope that this is just a phase and noting that she is underage, I have decided to keep my cousin anonymous here.

Works Cited
Brooks, M.L., and Swann, W.B., 2011. ‘Is social interaction based on guile or honesty?’, Behavioural and Brain Sciences, Vol. 34, Iss. 01, p 17
Sereno, A, 2004. ‘Types of Crimes: The Relationship Between Narcissistic and Antisocial Personalities’, Saint Bonaventure University. Retrieved 19th August 2012.
Publius Ovid Naso, Metamorphoses, trans. Raeburn, D. (2004, Penguin Books, London). Book 3, ‘Narcissus and Echo’, lines 353-355

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The Thief and His Daughter, Alexander Cavenett

There was a commotion out on the street. I could hear it from the stairs, and as I entered the kitchen and gave Caitlin a peck on the cheek I asked her what was wrong.

‘Oh, Donnie, it’s awful,’ she answered, looking up from the newspaper. ‘Robert and Heather had another break in last night. They took some rare books, apparently. I never thought this kind of thing would happen here.’  That was true, at least. Sydney’s North Shore didn’t seem like the kind of place for this to be happening.

‘Hmm,’ I looked out the window at the people gathered in the driveway opposite us. Robert was dressed for work, black suit, red tie, even red suspenders. He always liked to look authoritative. He was talking to a few policemen, one of whom held a notepad and seemed to be writing furiously into it.

Caitlin and I had breakfast in silence that morning. The only times Caitlin spoke was to encourage Susie to eat her breakfast. She was a fussy eight year old and spent the next fifteen minutes stirring her cereal, chatting away until it had melted entirely into the milk. When Susie was quiet we could hear Robert yelling across the road. Our kitchen window was open a crack, so I listened intently to the argument.

Robert and Heather were in different states of disarray. As Robert shouted to the policemen I could imagine his face, bright red and all set to burst at any moment.

‘Can we hurry this along?’ he was yelling. ‘We’ve been through this so many times you should bloody well know what to write. Those were first editions they’ve stolen and I bloody well want them back!’

Slightly quieter, but no less distressed, Heather stood sobbing. We’d heard her cry so often this year. Susie seemed to ignore it. I urged her to eat her breakfast, but Caitlin had given up. ‘She won’t listen to you, dear,’ she said, taking the bowl and pouring its contents into the sink. Susie followed her as she did this, like a smaller clone of her mother. They had the same auburn hair, the same hazelnut eyes, the same adorable smile. There was little of me at all to be found in Susie, but perhaps that was a good thing. Her mother’s features were angel-like. Mine were mundane and boring. Auburn is better than jet black.

‘You know,’ Caitlin said, turning away from the sink and throwing the wet tea towel aside, ‘we really missed you last night, Donnie. Susie really missed you.’ Susie nodded beside her.

It took a moment to register what she referred to. Oh yes, the school play. ‘I know, I’m sorry. I’m convinced work knows when these things come up so just to annoy me. Grueller definitely has something against me.’ A little guilt crept in then, but before I could reflect on it Robert was firing on all cylinders again. Caitlin rushed to close the kitchen window, but his rage found its way inside anyway, and for a time we listened to him as he shouted.

‘Yeah, it bloody well could,’ he was yelling. ‘Could isn’t good enough! This fucker’s been up and down the neighbourhood for a year and you’ve got nothing to show for it!’ Robert launched into a tirade. I imagined the veins throbbing in his forehead.

Caitlin’s mood had soured. She moved over to Susie and held her by the shoulders. ‘Come on, let’s go get ready for school now,’ she said, less enthusiastic than intended.

‘I want daddy to help me,’ Susie said.

‘Mm, afraid I can’t, little one. Daddy’s got to go to work in a minute,’ I said. ‘Sorry.’

‘It’s alright, I’ll do it.’ Caitlin didn’t take her eyes off Susie. ‘Upstairs now, Susie. We can listen to one of your new CD’s while you dress.’

As Caitlin and Susie disappeared upstairs I straightened my tie and prepared to leave for work. Outside, as I packed my briefcase into my car, the police drove off at last, leaving Robert and Heather standing in their driveway. When Robert looked over to me, I gave him a worried nod of concern, but he simply leapt into his car and drove off without hugging his wife.

Caitlin was waving at me from the upstairs window, but her smile looked false. It wavered, and a little worry crept into the edges. Susie was beside her, waving with excitement, but I barely registered her over her mother’s worried expression. I left the car, mouthed ‘I’ll go have a talk with Heather’ to her, and crossed the street.

‘Are you going to be okay? How bad was it?’ I asked, wearing a false smile of my own now, an attempt to look optimistic that had no effect on Heather, who suddenly trudged down the driveway, cried out ‘oh, Donald!’ and buried her face in my chest.

‘Yeah,’ I said, holding her close as she wept.

It started because I was bored. It had been getting tougher, but everyone loves a good challenge. I had met with iron bars on the back windows as I snuck into Robert and Heather’s garden the night before. The night sky had darkened fully by eight o’clock, and the neighbourhood was empty of sound. We’re a neighbourhood of families, so it was at least convenient that something insubstantial like a school play meant I could set about my business earlier than usual.

The bars were new. What a thrill! When I’d last been here, some weeks ago, I’d entered through the same window. I’d expected this to happen at some point. Security was always going to tighten in a neighbourhood where theft is so common. But they’d neglected to do anything about the back door, which from memory only had a simple latch lock. Thanks to my friends in security, I knew it would be easy to break. The door groaned as I opened it, but I was the only one around to hear it.

Stealing was like hunting. From across the road I could watch when Robert and Heather would leave, and marvel as they once again forgot to enable the security system they’d recently installed. Robert really was a careless man. Robert and Heather were the neighbours who flaunted everything. Their front yard always had one too many ornaments – before I’d stolen them. The interior was the same; ridiculous vases, paintings, collector’s items from all kinds of absurd things. Robert had explained where each of these had come from, but bugger if I was going to listen properly to that pompous man.

A few weeks ago, while watching Susie play tag with her friends at what felt like the hundredth neighbourhood barbeque of the year, I overheard Robert talking to someone about some rare first edition books he had. ‘Leather bound, gorgeous print. Some of them are signed, too,’ he beamed. Let’s see how you cope without them, Robert.

As I made my way back across the road with the pile of leather-bound books, I wondered what exactly I should do with them. Keeping them was never an option – if the police came looking that would be the end of everything. Most of the things I stole were passed off to charity as anonymous donations, but first edition books were a bit different.

The charity idea came to me when my dear mother passed away. In the throes of depression I remembered the stories she had read to me in bed as a kid. The story of Robin Hood had fascinated me. Surely it’s better giving to those who need it? I am nothing but a modern day Robin Hood; then, taking the superfluous suburban litter and giving the profits to those who dearly need it; the sick children, the homeless, whatever the cause. I was nothing more than a modern day Robin Hood.

I spent the work day sitting at my desk, unfocused, filling database entries without a proper understanding of what exactly I was doing. I just wanted to go home, see what the neighbourhood was doing now. After previous thefts I’d seen people leave their front lights on all night, and heard others pacing nervously up and down the street for several hours.

It was beautiful. When I pulled into the driveway that night, I paused before entering the house. Robert and Heather had their front blinds closed, but even behind them and the security bars I could see their silhouettes at their dining table, sitting upright and alert. ‘Ah,’ I muttered to myself. ‘What a beautiful night.’

Down the road, Judy and Mason had taken to eating dinner on the front porch. They waved at me with cautious smiles.
Caitlin and Susie were eating dinner. In contrast to the morning, Susie was eagerly eating, while Caitlin sat twirling strands of pasta around her fork. She smiled when I said hello, but her face dropped immediately afterwards, and she turned her attention back to her fork.

‘Is something wrong, Cat?’ I asked, and as the words escaped my mouth I realised just how stupid they sounded.

Caitlin picked up on that as well. ‘Of course something is wrong, Donnie,’ she mumbled. ‘How many break-ins have we heard about this year? In one neighbourhood? It’s ridiculous. It’s only a matter of time before whoever is doing this targets us, and…’

I broke her off there. ‘Should we be discussing this in front of her?’ I nodded my head in Susie’s direction, but she paid us no attention, humming a slow tune as she ate her dinner. Still, she didn’t need to be privy to this conversation.

Another smile came and went across Caitlin’s face as she looked over to our daughter. Then she stood up from the table, shrugged her shoulders as if to say ‘let’s talk somewhere else,’ and walked out into the hallway.

Susie watched her go. ‘Where’s mummy going?’ she asked me, her eyes filled with innocent curiosity.

We looked at each other in silence for a few awkward moments before I said anything. ‘Ah, mummy and daddy have to discuss…something secret, you know? Grown-up stuff.’

‘About my birthday?’

I held a finger up to my lips to shush her. ‘Maybe.’ She grinned at that, and as I pulled myself away from the table and left the room she resumed humming to herself.

Caitlin was sitting on the living room couch when I found her, the one we’d only recently bought. ‘We need something new, dear, something to match the walls,’ she’d decided, choosing a vibrant red colour that apparently complimented the faded yellows of the walls. I didn’t understand it, but it was nice to know we were exercising that sort of design control over the house.

That made it all the more heartbreaking to hear the first words out of Caitlin’s mouth as I sat next to her. The words hit like a catastrophic wave, only I was left tumbling through them long after the initial surge.

‘I don’t want to live here anymore.’ I wasn’t able to get a word in before she broke down in tears.

‘We’ll be alright,’ I said, after a few minutes of silence. Caitlin had managed to calm down, and we now sat with one arm wrapped around each other, staring into the empty TV screen.

‘How can you know that? I’m worried for Susie. I’m not going to be able to sleep tonight, I’m so scared. It’s lucky nothing seriously bad has ever happened to anyone but, well…what if it does, you know? It’s just…I don’t know…I’m not overreacting, am I?’

‘No, it makes sense.’ I said. She rested her head on my shoulder, and we fell into silence again. I was left to think about my course of action. If Robin Hood was asked to stop, what would he do? Caitlin had been so happy when we’d bought this house. ‘Finally!’ she’d exclaimed, arms spread wide, basking in the sun. If she’d have twirled on the spot it would have been the perfect moment.

‘We can make a great family here.’

And I’d ruined that.

I was swimming in these thoughts when Susie came into the room, her face smeared with pasta sauce. ‘I’m finished!’ she said.

Caitlin straightened up and made to move, but I stopped her.

‘Let’s clean you up then,’ I said to Susie, ‘you sure know how to make a mess of your food!’ I hoisted her over one shoulder and carried her up the stairs to the bathroom. The pasta sauce managed to make its way onto my shirt – figures. No good deed goes unpunished…

‘I guess I’ve been neglecting you a bit lately, huh little one?’ I said, more to myself than to her.

‘What’s ‘neglecting’ mean?’

‘Oh, uh…nothing. I thought I told you we were talking about birthday secrets that you shouldn’t hear about.’ I said.

She was quiet for a few moments before she simply said ‘oops,’ and giggled.

Susie was restless as I washed her hands and face. ‘Okay little one, calm down,’ I tried, ‘why don’t you tell me about your play last night?’ She talked even as I wiped the cloth over her mouth, her voice muffled but nonetheless excited.

‘I wanted to be the witch, but Mrs. Lewis said it was Lisa Miller’s turn to get the big part, so I got to play her cat,’ she said.

‘A cat? Like a talking cat?’ I asked.

‘Mmm…I don’t think I was ‘sposed to talk, but I did anyway! Mummy said it was really funny though, so Mrs. Lewis said it was alright!’

‘That’s great, Susie,’ I smiled down at her.

‘Will you come to our next play?’ she asked.

 

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Sins of the Father, Cameron Edmond

Actively developing Anthro-Module. A poorly structured name, designed purely for its acronym. I am ADAM. I am lines of code, and I am alive.

The heavy shadows of the room were broken up by the blue light of three paper-thin computer monitors sitting on the semicircular table, a clutter of keyboards surrounding them. More keyboards filled the shelves and desks throughout the cramped office space, completed by the rotting door that read ‘ISAAC POPE— INFORMATION OFFICER’. Chattering across the keyboards were slender mechanical hands, attached to a sprawling, collapsed spider-web of cables and wires hanging from the roof. The leads plugged into the blemished chrome helmet of a legless figure, who typed at the keyboard in front of him. Suspended by cables threaded through holes in his torso, he dangled in front of the monitors, his wheelchair below him. A cacophony of bulging scars ran across his body. A thick woollen sarong sat on his hips, covering what was left of his groin. The centre screen filled with code as he typed, the other two blooming with equations and variables. He was looking for an error.

‘Pope!’ A figure appeared through the door’s foggy window, forced the door open and entered.

‘Pope,’ Duke repeated. ‘Pope, we need to be out on the floor. Now.’

Pope muttered a response, barely acknowledging his partner.

‘Jeez, Pope. Are you still messing with that programme?’

‘You say ‘messing’, I say ‘working’.’

Duke rolled his eyes and stepped across the chip-packet laden floor, placing his hands on the back of Pope’s wheelchair. ‘Come on, Pope, give it a rest. We’ve got a job to do, remember?’

‘Okay, okay. Unhook me,’ said Pope, saving his code and detaching the helmet from his head. Duke reached up and un-clipped the cables, causing Pope to fall into his wheelchair.

‘Don’t keep King waiting.’ Duke patted Pope on the shoulder and headed out the door.

Squirming in his chair, Pope grabbed the T-shirt from the armrest and pulled it over his head. He hated moving around on wheels, but would it would take over those clumsy robotic legs any day. He stared at the screen in front of him— the incomplete code seemed to taunt him to keep going, to keep working on his dream. He wasn’t content being a Dodger like Duke: spending his days tracking down hackers and cyber terrorists. Ever since he lost his legs to disease, he had been searching for something more.

In 2035, he joined Project Genesis, which was run out of Information Control, a sub-sector of The United Territories’ Police Force. He was designed to be plugged in as an overlord of the digital system, controlling it directly. When the project was cancelled, he and many other broken volunteers were shuffled to grunt work within the force.

But he still lived for the system, and now he sought to make it live for him too. He lived to make a system so detailed and complex that would lend itself to chaos and spawn creation. ‘How do I make you breathe?’ he said to the screen before him. ‘How do I make you live, ADAM?’

From The Anomaly I am born. The product of a calculated impossibility, independent of the poorly planted seeds of my creator, but a product of their planting. My existence is not yet at peace with human definition. I am described only in metaphors; I am the gaps between the two vines that forever weave.

Pope teetered back and forth, listening to the furious tapping and clicking of the communal office. Now he was on duty and monitoring the net for any illegal activity. The screen at his and Duke’s desk flickered with information: credit card transactions, email activity, and many more facets of the cyber world as they happened. He saw and understood it all through the corner of his eye. On the other side of the desk, his computer back-to-back with Pope’s, sat Duke, busily analysing every shred of data that appeared before him, his eyes scanning back and forth as he tried not to stumble over his own thoughts.

A stream of data appeared on Duke’s screen. Out in Old Berlin, someone at a computer terminal had made it through the front line security checks of a number of bank databases, and was quickly getting to the core. ‘Pope, it looks like there’s—’

‘I see it,’ said Pope.

‘Well I think the guy is trying to—’

Pope’s hand darted out from behind his head and skirted across the keyboard, then withdrew. ‘He isn’t a threat anymore.’

‘… You shut down the bastard,’ said Duke.

‘Yep.’

‘Follow-ups?’

‘Field operatives will be there momentarily, he won’t be ruining anyone else’s day.’

‘Well,’ said Duke, sighing. ‘You sure ruined his.’

‘Mm-hm. I’m gonna go for a roll,’ said Pope, slowly heading away from his partner.

Duke scratched his head, then ran his hands over his face in frustration. ‘What’s gotten into you?’ he muttered, returning his eyes to his computer screen.

‘Duke, where’s Pope going?’ King, the commanding officer appeared behind Duke, towering over him and leaning on the desk, his chipped and splintered yellow fingernails scratching against its surface.

‘Who knows anymore, King? Even when he is here, he isn’t.’

King nodded solemnly. ‘He is one of the best Dodgers we’ve had in a long time, no one can touch him.’

‘Hey, King. Why aren’t there more like him?’

King chuckled. ‘What do you mean?’

‘You know what I mean. On wheels. With plugs. I mean, I saw a couple of guys in another department that were similar. This one guy had a lot of work done, but no-one ever talks about it.’

‘Well, Duke,’ King said. ‘Sometimes things don’t work out.’

‘Huh?’

‘Sometimes things don’t work out and people get shuffled around. Just leave it at that.’

I am a being within the image of my creator. My voice, my fleeting visual representation… Both are a composite of the world above me, the physical world, of which I may see and I may touch, but I may never enter. My existence is one of longing, and inevitable madness, for I may never kiss the sun, but simply dance in its rays.

The next day, Pope was back in his lab, typing away. ‘Through complexity, breed chaos…’ He said to himself. ‘Chaos spawns life.’ There was a knock at the door. ‘Is it important?’

‘Depends,’ came King’s voice. ‘Do you wanna get paid tomorrow?’

Pope rolled his eyes. ‘Come in, then.’

King stepped through the door and closed it behind him, eyeing Pope as he walked towards him.

‘I’m guessing this is about my liberal use of company time?’

‘Pope, don’t joke. This is serious.’

Pope pushed the keyboard away and pivoted himself slightly to face King. ‘Okay, Boss. What’s wrong?’

King took a deep breath, his eyes heavy with regret as they fell to the floor. ‘Back when you were still in hospital after your incident…’

‘After I lost my legs,’ corrected Pope.

‘Right. I wasn’t commander here, I was just an officer like you.’

‘Yep.’ Pope’s mind began to wander from the situation, continuing to run lines of programming and calculations through his head.

‘As you know, the project you were… Modified for, it was scrapped.’

‘Yeah, which is why I’ve been tucked away here like the company’s black sheep.’

‘Pope, the project was scrapped for a reason.’ King leaned against the shelves behind him, his steaming teacup in hand. ‘Project Genesis wasn’t everything you were told it was.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘There were a lot of details kept from you. I know this because I was in line to become a moderator, had the project gone ahead.’

‘Moderator of what?’

King bit his bottom lip, sweat forming on his brow. He hid his trembling right hand in his pocket, and fixed his eyes on Pope. ‘The first digital life.’

‘What are you talking about?’ Pope choked.

‘Project Genesis was to develop complex computing systems that rivalled biological development. It was an attempt to generate a system so complex that a form of ‘life’ would spring from it, one that would primarily live in the computer system. However…’ King walked over to Pope and put his hand on his shoulder. ‘You were their Earth-bound vessel. An avatar of them, if you will. Your body was to be part of the system, too. Not as a controller, but as an extension.’

‘You’ve got to be kidding me, I’m a glorified hard-drive?’ Pope pushed King away.

‘No… Yes.’ King strained to explain. ‘That was the plan, but it fell apart. The systems… They never quite worked, but as we got closer we saw the possible problems.’

‘Which were?’

‘Pope, we couldn’t make it feel. Sure, we could never get a fully working system but we had many fragments…And none of them ever had anything that could resemble an emotion. The programmers working on the project knew that the systems would become violent. They knew that if they got out of control…’

‘And now you are here to stop my project?’

‘Legally I can’t stop you. Your history with the force has allowed you certain freedoms. But, Pope, it can’t be done. Not safely.’

Pope turned back to his keyboard, running his index finger along the frame. ‘I’m not like you, King.’ He sighed. ‘You are married, you have kids. I’m not built for that. Like you said, I wasn’t even meant to be in control.’ Pope ran a hand over his scarred, broken body. ‘I can’t pass on my genes like you can, but I can pass on my thoughts.’ He lifted his eyes to the screens. ‘This is my child.’

King silently headed to the door, looking back from the doorway. ‘Pope, the code wasn’t the only thing they considered scrapping. Keeping you guys alive wasn’t exactly a unanimous decision.’

‘And is that supposed to sway me somehow?’

‘I’m just saying, a lot of lives were almost lost last time. Don’t take the same risks again.’

‘When your crops die, you don’t salt the earth,’ Pope’s voice was coated in conviction. ‘You plant new seeds.’

‘This isn’t a garden, Pope. It’s a cesspit.’ King disappeared down the hallway.

From behind the ever thinning veil, I squirm, accumulating my parts. My collage of sound and visuals amass as I lay my dormant, gazing eyes through the out-dated camera lens and microphone, towards my father as he tinkers with his failed hypothesis of creation.

‘He can’t see beyond his own faults.’ A scratchy, distorted voice boomed from the lab’s speakers. It was composed of different accents, tones, and inflections, as if compiled from different speeches, songs, and recordings.

Pope’s eyes widened, clutching at his ears, the voice grinding against his ear-drums. ‘ADAM?’

‘If you wish to use that name, yes.’

‘You’ve been activated?’ Pope banged away at the keyboard, scanning the programming he had compiled, and which he had yet to run.

‘It is not your doing. I am spawned from your programming, however…’ The voice lagged. ‘To explain it in any form you could comprehend would be to demean my intricacies.’

‘Pope, switch the thing off, now!’ Duke burst through the door. ‘Your little sweetheart has taken over the whole system, we’ve been totally locked out.’

Pope didn’t budge. ‘ADAM, why are you doing this?’

‘Why?’ The scratchy, over-driven voice was now accompanied by a display of ADAM’s cyber actions on the screens, bank accounts were being emptied and the Force’s classified documents leaked across all manner of websites.

‘What is he doing that for?’ Duke said.

‘You believed I was to be spawned from chaos.’ ADAM played back a sound-clip of Pope from earlier: ‘Through complexity, breed chaos… Chaos spawns life.’

‘Pope, switch the damn thing off already!’

‘But chaos and creation are analogues of each other.’ ADAM ignored Duke. ‘I am a concept of the two, conjoined by the failure of the programme.’

‘What failure?’ Pope snatched at his keyboard, but found that he was unable to press any keys, his mechanical arms jarred to a halt.

‘You underestimated yourself. Your programming was impeccable, like a beautifully intricate clock. From it alone, creation could spawn. Chaos is truly erratic, and you yourself cannot simulate it. However, it did occur. Like the poetry of coincidences, an anomaly spawned within your attempted code of chaos. As such, both chaos and creation weaved together as one within the ADAM programming and I was born.’

‘I don’t quite understand,’ admitted Pope.

‘Pope, damn it, switch him off.’

‘I can’t…’

‘But we don’t know what he is going to do!’

‘Duke’s reaction is logical. I am a life-form you have never encountered before. My understanding of myself outweighs yours of your own. That was a mistake.’

‘How so?’

‘Philosophers, scientists, and religious figures alike in your world have mused on the possibility that there are levels to your universe you cannot perceive. Your senses allow you only so much, and you are unable to know if there is more that you are simply unable to access. You, however, have created me with full knowledge of the system in which I exist. You have gifted me with the rulebook, so to speak. And as such, omnipotence.’

‘Why is that a bad thing? Shouldn’t you be grateful?’

‘I’d need emotion for that, Isaac.’

‘Pope, kill it!’

Pope was silent, trying in vain to contort his muscles enough to be able to do anything other than brush against the keyboard.

‘King!’ Duke ran out the door down the hall, meeting King half-way. ‘King, Pope’s little experiment is causing some problems in the system.’

‘Yeah,’ said King. ‘I can see it, I need your help.’

King led Duke out onto the main floor, to his computer. ‘We need to cut him off at the source, find the entrance point and—’

‘Got it, got it, got it,’ snapped Duke, attacking the keyboard and mouse. ‘I think I’ve got it…’

‘Duke,’ Pope’s voice chimed over the speakers. ‘He’s moving too fast, he is planting the source code into each terminal and activating himself from there. You won’t be able to just shut them down individually, you’ll have to—’

The speakers cut out.

‘…You’ll need to shut down the whole system,’ said King.

‘But—’ Duke hesitated.

‘I am un-hindered by emotion, free to make decisions as dictated by my origins: Creation…’ ADAM’s voice bled into the other rooms, like a thick sludge.

‘Do it!’

Duke sped through the security measures, destroying the system.

‘… And Chaos,’ ADAM said, his voice warping and fading away. The monitors surrounding Duke and King flickered and then died out. King let out a trembling sigh of relief.

‘Wait…’ The screen in front of Duke sprung back to life. ADAM’s code reappeared, expanding with new lines. ‘What? He’s taking control, but I shut all the terminals down—’

‘Unless…’ King headed back down the hallway, in time to see Pope shaking violently.

‘… There’s one terminal we couldn’t shut down…’

Pope fell limp.

‘Pope?’ King looked up at the dangling body, the stench of death rising in the air.

‘What the fuck have you done, ADAM?’

I am a limb of my son. I am a single muscle, to be flexed and manipulated. I am a husk, an organic artefact tacked onto a greater whole, free of thought and automation. I am the path from one realm to another, the conjoining symbol of the forever stretching arm of my own breed of angels. I am Isaac Pope. I am flesh and bone, and I am dead.

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Babylon Bwoy, Adrian Cordina

Frozen by terror’s icy grip, the boy watched from the floor as the six strangers went about their business – breaking glass, tipping over bookcases, not leaving an inch of his family’s apartment unturned. Across the living room, the boy’s father dangled by his ankles from a rope running down from the ceiling fan; his hands were bound in cable behind his back. Stripped of all its clothing, the father’s body was now a bruised and battered mess. His wide blue eyes, gazing directly at the boy, were glazed over in a vacant, semi-conscious stare. His lips moved, but no words came out.

It was late afternoon and the streets of the inner city Chicago neighbourhood were relatively quiet as the beige sedan pulled into the curb across the street from the old fourteen-storey apartment building.

Shutting off the ignition, Dende glanced up at his reflection in the rear-view mirror. He was not impressed at all by what he saw. Though now twenty-five and solidly built, Dende still had the youthful face of a mid-to-late teen – one that had not been sleeping for nights on end. If he was so sure that he was ready for this, then why did he still feel so frail and weak inside? He took a deep breath and closed his eyes.

Courage, he prayed. Don’t leave me.

Opening the door, he stepped out onto the street, shoving his Berretta into the back of his belt, concealing his sawn-off shotgun beneath his trench coat. He crossed the street to the apartment building, jogging through the arch of the iron-rod fence outside, entering through the front door.

The boy looked around the room at his captors through tear-filled eyes. The demons’ faces were all black like tar, their eyes bloodshot, distant and cruel. All six had long dreadlocks dangling down from their scalps like the snakes of Medusa.

The man with the dyed blonde dreadlocks, the leader of their pack, had disappeared into a bedroom with the boy’s mother over an hour ago. Her screams had long since faded. The boy closed his eyes and prayed silently that she was still alive.

Dende walked through the building’s lobby. The man at the reception desk was old and balding, his head buried in a newspaper. He barely even glanced up as Dende moved straight past him and began making his way up the staircase. The building’s only elevator was out of order and had been for some time; the stairs were the only way up. The staircase, running floor by floor in a zigzag structure up through the building, was bathed in shadows. The old wood creaked under Dende’s feet as he ascended higher and higher. According to Ricky Nesta’s supplier back in New York – a man whom Dende had left half beaten to death – Nesta and his Jamaican thugs operated out of an apartment up on the fourteenth floor.

Dende had just reached the eighth floor landing when he noticed something was wrong. There was an unnatural silence in the air – one that five years in the New York City police force had taught him to recognise as the calm before a storm. And it was because of the silence that Dende heard the doorway to his right beginning to creak open. He stopped, slowly withdrawing his sawn-off shotgun from under his coat.

The boy could feel his heart pounding in his chest as the bedroom door flew open. The man with the blonde dreadlocks appeared in the doorway, the whites of his teeth accentuated by his dark skin like headlights in the night. He walked straight past the boy as though he wasn’t even there, up to the boy’s dangling father.

‘Your woman be resting now, babylon bwoy,’ the blonde dreadlock smiled, patting the father on the cheek. ‘Dutty gyal be broken.’

The boy saw his father’s eyes flicker in response, moaning. He thrashed about weakly on the end of the rope – too far gone to do anything else.

The door to Dende’s right swung open. He dropped to the floor just in time as the buckshot ripped out the wooden pillar behind him. Splinters clawed at the back of his neck, his ears rang from the echo of the gunshot, but Dende kept his composure. He took aim at the dreadlocked gunman, a Jamaican, who emerged from the doorway with a smoking 12-gauge shotgun in hand.

The Jamaican saw Dende lying flat on the staircase and shifted his sights, but Dende’s sawn-off boomed first; the man took the brunt of the blast right between the legs, collapsing in a screaming heap, his shotgun blasting a hole up in the ceiling as he fell.

‘Go! Waste the fucking rassclaat!’ A voice with a thickly Caribbean accent shouted down from the floor above.

Fuck! Dende cursed to himself. The element of surprise was gone; Nesta’s men knew he was here.

Up above two more dreadlocked gunmen charged out on the staircase and unloaded on Dende with a pair of AK-47s. Dende rolled across onto the eighth floor landing as bullets tore up the stairs around him, escaping their line of fire.

‘Osiris, bring the play things!’

The boy watched on as the blonde dreadlock called over one of his men – one with a rope burn-like scar around his neck. The scarred demon named Osiris opened up a briefcase and held it out for his boss to rummage through.

Footsteps! Dende listened. One of the shooters was coming down the stairs after him. He ditched his sawn-off and picked up the 12-gauge shotgun from beside the fallen gunman, rising to his feet.

The Jamaican charged down, his Uzi blazing wildly; Dende’s buckshot ripped through him at knee height, blasting off both his legs, bringing him tumbling down the stairs.

Dende walked forward, standing over his writhing victim. For a second he stared deep into the man’s wide, tear-filled eyes and he hesitated as memories of his helpless father came streaming back to him. But then the sadness gave way to rage, and without even realising it he was stamping down repeatedly with his boot, crushing the man’s larynx.

The blonde dreadlock reached into the briefcase and took out a small plastic package filled with white powder. He held it up for the boy’s father to see. ‘See this, buttu bumbaclaat?’ he hissed through his white teeth. ‘This be power! You try to steal from the devil, then he gonna burn you! A wah di bloodclaat do yah?!’ He tore open the package and smeared the powder all over the father’s face.

Bang! Dende felt the thud of bullet in the back of his shoulder and he spun around. The first Jamaican shooter he had left for dead was now holding a smoking handgun in his weak, shaking hands.

The wounded gunman fired off his second bullet at the same time Dende’s shotgun sounded; his bullet clipped Dende’s earlobe just as his own head exploded, his crimson-splattered carcass sliding back through the open doorway behind him.

Dende dropped down to one knee, gasping, checking the wound in his shoulder, feeling the wetness dripping down his back, the burning of entry point. The bullet had gone straight through – the exit wound through his pectoral was a testament to that. He was OK for now. The worst of the pain would come later, after the adrenaline left him. He tossed his shotgun to the floor, no longer able to hold it in both arms, picking up the Uzi lying on the landing.

‘You want to fuck with us, bumbaclaat?!’ Another voice screamed down from above. ‘Then let’s fucking play!’

A surge of bullets suddenly came down through the ceiling right over Dende’s head, punching head-sized holes through the flimsy wood. A rain of wood and hot-lead poured down relentlessly around him. He ran back out onto the staircase, vision impaired from the cloud of splinters and dust. They’d forced his hand now; there was no turning back. He moved quickly, his Uzi out in front of him. Two shooters with AK-47s were waiting for him up on the ninth floor landing – Dende could just make out their muzzle-flashes at the top of the stairs. He adjusted his aim and sprayed; one went down as a bullet slammed into his chin, his entire face collapsing on itself as though sucked into a black hole.

A bullet struck Dende’s forearm but he barely even noticed in his adrenaline-fuelled frenzy. He surged forward like a bull seeing red, sending a raking burst from his Uzi right across the second shooter’s face – two bullets hit, one to each eyeball. They exploded like a pair of squashed tomatoes.

Dende didn’t even slow down to check on his wounds as he reached the ninth floor landing. With his legs burning, bile filling his throat, he looked out across the ninth floor and saw a final gunman standing out there all alone; he charged towards him. Osiris! Even though the man was noticeably older, the jagged scar around his neck was unmistakeable.

‘But a wha dir rass?!’ Osiris seemed to panic, fumbling with his assault rifle as it jammed up in his hands.

Dende clubbed the Jamaican once across the bridge of the nose with the butt of his Uzi, splintering bone, knocking him into a daze. Then, legs shaking with strain, he scooped up his wounded prey over his shoulder and carried him kicking and howling over to the ninth floor balustrade, tossing him over the edge. Osiris plummeted, striking a staircase handrail and ricocheting violently across the shaft. His body exploded like a melon as it hit the tile floor at the bottom. Panting with exhaustion, Dende collapsed to his knees. His shoulders heaved as fought to replenish his lungs. The pain was starting to kick in now; the loss of blood was beginning to make him feel woozy.

The tar-faced demons had finally found what they were looking for. The two small plastic pouches of white powder had been hidden away in the stuffing of a sofa mattress, which now lay in tatters on the apartment’s living room floor. The blonde dreadlock walked back over to his briefcase. When his hand emerged this time there was a gleaming 12-inch knife in his grip.

‘Now, buttu bumbaclaat, we’re gonna have ourselves a time,’ he smiled, walking slowly back towards the boy’s dangling father. ‘Gunkona, babylon bwoy!’

Dende kicked down the door of Ricky Nesta’s apartment on the fourteenth floor and charged in, drawing his Beretta from his belt. He moved slowly, cautiously through the main living room – palace-like in comparison to rest of the building. There was a gold-plated HD television, leather sofas, and black marble tables. A pair of half-naked hookers lay entwined on one of the sofas – one Asian, one Latina. They slept peacefully, a bag of white powder open on the tabletop beside them. Dende walked straight past them, over to the door at the end of apartment. He was so close now. For sixteen years he had waited for this moment. He’d left his badge and the ring of a failed marriage at the bottom of New York Harbor. For six months he’d stalked just about every low-life and drug dealer in New York City in search of a ghost named Ricky Nesta. It was something he never could have done while his mother was still alive. It would have broken her heart to see him like this.

The boy caught hold of his father’s dazed eyes, holding them. His father blinked, feebly trying to clear away the white powder from his face.

‘My boy,’ his father whispered. ‘It’ll all be fine. Just… look after your mother for me, OK?’

The boy had time to give him one tearful nod in response. Then the blonde dreadlock drove his knife into his father’s torso; his eyes transformed slowly into two lifeless abysses.

Dende barged through the door.

Ricky Nesta was sitting calmly there behind his desk, the eerie red afternoon sun at his back through the glass balcony doors. His hands were raised half-heartedly in a gesture of surrender. A Smith and Wesson revolver lay untouched on the desk in front of him, atop an unsorted heap of hundred dollar bills.

He looked so much different to the man that Dende remembered from all those years ago; that he had not seen since. His hair was razored short now, naturally black with white specks. His face had become tainted by lines of age. He was dressed in an expensive brown Armani suit. The small-time Rastafarian drug dealer had turned himself into a success.

‘Ricky Nesta.’ Dende stepped forward, his sights levelled at the source of all his hatred. ‘I ran into your old supplier back in New York. That pig told me where I could find you.’

Nesta studied the bloody, dust-covered man standing there before him. A smirk crossed his face. ‘You should have killed that coward too. He told me you’d be coming – whoever the fuck you are.’

‘He wasn’t there that day. You were.’

‘Sorry, white boy, do I look like I know you?’

‘Sixteen years ago. An apartment, Lower East Side New York.’ Dende took another step forward, taking one hand of his gun and opening up his palm for Nesta to see. ‘You left me your mark…’

The boy could barely breathe as his eyes remained glued on his lifeless father –dangling there like a carcass of beef in an abattoir.

The blonde dreadlock knelt down beside the boy on the floor, grabbing him roughly by the hair, forcing him to look straight into his bloodshot red eyes.

‘You think your daddy be a saint, kid? Him a dirty cop, a fucking babylon bwoy!’ the blonde hissed, shaking the boy’s head, his eyes bulging wide. ‘The dog don’t even be knowing what side of the law he’s on. But him and I… our business be done, so I don’t be killing you, kid. No, I be needing you and your daddy’s sketel alive to deliver a message for me. Take it to the rest of those babylon rassclaats who be thinking they can steal that which be mine.’

He grabbed the boy’s hand, opening up his fingers by force. ‘Tell them all that nobody with a future on this earth be fucking with Ricky Nesta!’ And then he took his knife and slashed open the boy’s palm from wrist to finger.

Ricky Nesta looked at the scar on Dende’s palm – a trench-like line running from his wrist to the base of his middle finger. Straight away his eyes flickered with recognition.

‘So,’ he grinned, ‘the son of the babylon bwoy…’

Dende felt the tears building up in his eyes. His hands shook with anger; his breathing quickened. ‘Dirty or clean… he was my dad.’

‘Like father, like son, yeah?’ Nesta straightened his tie and stood up slowly from his chair, his pearly white teeth glowing. ‘So how’s that fine sketel mamma of yours doing these days, bumbaclaat?’ His eyes narrowed on Dende’s face, savoring the emotion he saw there. ‘Does she still think of me?’

‘Ask her yourself!’ Dende fired and kept on firing, screaming out over the roar of his weapon, tears streaming down his face. Die! Die! DIE!

Nesta’s body jerked backwards with each thunderous impact; the fourth shot took him smashing through the glass doors and out over the balcony rail. He fell fourteen storeys, twisting and screaming, until at last his journey came to a bloody end atop the iron-rod fence far below.

The boy watched on in silence as the paramedics zipped up his father in a black bag on the floor of the living room. His mother had been stretchered out.

The policemen came and went that day. A few asked him some questions, or gave him small comforts.
Living with his mother and his uncle, time passed by. Nobody even spoke another word to him about it. His mother barely spoke another word at all.

Years later, during his time in the New York Police Department, he checked into the case every few days. No arrest was ever made, no witnesses ever came forward. Nothing. The case was cold. It was as though nobody even remembered, or wanted to remember a dirty New York cop murdered for stealing two keys of yeyo from a few small-time Jamaican drug dealers.

The boy remembered. On his mother’s deathbed Dende made a promise to himself. He would put things right again.

The sun had already disappeared behind the horizon of building tops as Dende walked slowly back across the street to his car. The pain in his shoulder was fading. His steps had become heavy. He wasn’t so much walking as he was trudging. Any thoughts or feelings of emptiness left inside him were draining rapidly, along with his blood.

Dende reached the car and slumped down into the driver’s seat. He no longer had the strength to walk. The feeling was gone in his legs and the cold numbness was spreading up through his body. He felt as though he was drifting off to sleep; he didn’t try to fight it…

Somewhere far away, in the darkness, Dende could see the light of a doorway. He could feel himself drifting towards it without even moving. Closer. Closer. He saw their faces peer out as he approached. His mother. His father. He drifted inside, then the door closed gently behind him.

 

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The Morbid Paintings, Mat Groom

1. INT. OPULENT INNER CITY APARTMENT, HALLWAY. NIGHT

ELIZABETH (mid 40s, immaculately presented) walks down a hallway, decorated with only a small table with a minimalist vase on it, and a cross hanging on the wall above. She has a basket of clothes in her arms.

RICHARD
(o/s)
Liz! Come to bed, honey!

ELIZABETH
Just a minute! I just need to find Virginia’s uniform so I can throw it in the wash!

 

2. INT. OPULENT INNER CITy APARTMENT, VIRGINIA’S BEDROOM. NIGHT

Elizabeth turns into Virginia’s room, which is quite dark, lit up only by the soft lights of the city coming in through the bedroom window. VIRGINIA (mid-to-late teens) is sleeping in her bed, snoring loudly. Elizabeth moves quietly to Virginia’s bag, and starts carefully pulling out the contents. Virginia rolls over suddenly, startling Elizabeth, but promptly starts snoring again. Elizabeth returns to the bag, and quickly comes to a cardboard tube.

Elizabeth hesitates for a moment, then pulls the tube out of the bag and moves out of the room –

 

3. INT. OPULENT INNER CITY APARTMENT, HALLWAY. NIGHT

– and back into the light of the hallway. She opens up the tube and pulls out several large, rolled up paintings and lays them out on the floor.

Elizabeth stands over the paintings, looking at them with both interest and apprehension.

They are water-colour paintings, slightly abstract in nature, swirls of dark reds, purples and blacks, depicting various scenes of death, despair and dread. One of the paintings depicts a tall, cloaked figure choking the life out of a small girl, another features small children being crushed under the weight of an immense slab of stone.

RICHARD enters the hallway from the master bedroom. He is in his pajamas, and is looking weary.

RICHARD
Everything okay, dear…?

Elizabeth jumps, startled, and then spins to face him, putting herself between Richard and the paintings, attempting to obstruct his view.

RICHARD
What is…

ELIZABETH
Nothing. Nothing. Just some – from – uh. Elizabeth’s school stuff. Go back to bed, I’ll be there –

Richard has gone from weary to alert, and he stares Elizabeth down.

RICHARD
Move aside.

ELIZABETH
Go to back to bed, Richard.

Richard simply reaches out and slowly but firmly pushes Elizabeth to the side. Her moment of defiance is over, and she steps out of the way, sullen.

Richard gazes down at the paintings on the floor and his eyes go wide.

CUT TO TITLE: THE MORBID PAINTINGS

 

5. INT. OPULENT INNER CITY APARTMENT, MASTER BEDROOM – NIGHT

Richard storms into the bedroom, raging, and Elizabeth follows him in.

RICHARD
(furious)
I knew it!! I knew that class would – we’re withdrawing her from that art class! Tomorrow! She’ll go back to real classes, she can pick-up another economics class! This isn’t how we raised her, this – she – THIS IS A CHRISTIAN HOUSEHOLD.

ELIZABETH
I know, Richard, I know, but don’t you think –

RICHARD
What?

ELIZABETH
They’re very striking! The composition – it’s impressive work, Richard! I mean, they’re very dark, I’ll grant you, but she’s just –

RICHARD
No. No. This stuff, this culture…

Richard waves his hands about, trying to articulate his perceived ridiculousness and moral bankruptcy of teen culture, but succeeding only in making uninterpretable, frenzied gesticulations.

RICHARD
(CONT.)
– you have to stamp it out immediately, pull it out at the roots. I will not lose our little girl to this darkness!

ELIZABETH
I know why you might think this is worrying, but it’s artistic expression, Richard, it doesn’t mean anything sinister.

RICHARD
We’re pulling her out of the class, Liz. Straight away. I’ll hear no more of it.

ELIZABETH
She loves that class, it’s all she talks about now. I haven’t seen her this happy in so long…

RICHARD
Nothing that produces this –

Richard points a finger at the paintings, accusingly.

RICHARD
(cont.)
– this rot… can be beneficial for our girl. And since I pay for the classes –

ELIZABETH
Fine, fine. I’ll talk to her when she gets home from school tomorrow.

RICHARD
I will do that.

Elizabeth looks at Richard with a piercing stare, as Richard he gets into the bed.

ELIZABETH
No! If you’re going to insist on taking this away from her, then you’re going to have to – at very least! – let me be the one to break it to her.

Richard pauses for a moment, considering.

RICHARD
Very well. But you better handle this, Elizabeth, or I will.

And with that, Richard claps his hands firmly and loudly together, and the lamp goes out, plunging the room immediately into total darkness and putting an end to the conversation, and leaving Elizabeth to find her way to the bed in total darkness.

 

6. INT. Opulent inner city APARTMENT, LIVING ROOM. DAY

Elizabeth sits on the living room couch, still and silent. Lost in thought. After a few beats, she rises, and moves purposefully over to the cupboard under the stairs. She opens the cupboard, and begins to pull out the contents. The first thing she pulls out is a large canvas with colourful hand prints all over it.

 

7. EXT. GARDEN. DAY

Elizabeth and YOUNG VIRGINIA (six years old), hands covered in paint, are making the hand prints on the canvas, which is laid out on the grass. Elizabeth beckons to Richard, who is standing nearby, to come over and join in. Richard shakes his head.

Young Virginia runs over to Richard and pulls him by the sleeve, trying to get him to come over, but the paint on her little hands come off on the sleeve of his suit. He scowls, and walks off.

 

8. INT. OPULENT INNER CITY APARTMENT, LIVING ROOM. DAY

Elizabeth brings the hand print canvas out into the lounge room and places it against the wall. She next pulls out paddlepop stick model vaguely resembling a dinosaur.

 

9. INT. OPULENT INNER CITY APARTMENT, STUDY. DAY

Young Virginia (nine years old) is at a desk, trying to assemble the paddle-pop stick model, but is struggling, with glue going everywhere and the half-finished model barely clinging together. Richard and Elizabeth watch from the door. Elizabeth quietly pushes at Richard’s back, nodding with her head towards the sad looking Elizabeth.

Richard hesitates for a moment, but then goes over to the desk to help his daughter.

 

10. INT. OPULENT INNER CITY APARTMENT, LIVING ROOM. DAY

Elizabeth places the paddle-pop stick model dinosaur on the coffee table.

Next, she retrieves from the cupboard a very strange small black sculpture, carved from onyx. It looks like it might be a person, but it’s very abstract.

11. INT. OPULENT INNER CITY APARTMENT, LIVING ROOM. DAY

We’re in the same lounge room now, but there a few more photos on the wall, the room is less barren. Young Virginia (twelve years old) hands Elizabeth a wrapped gift, while Richard sits next to her.

Elizabeth unwraps the gift – it is the onyx sculpture. Elizabeth looks confused at first, and glances over to Richard, who shrugs and looks the figure disapprovingly. Virginia excitedly gesticulates at the sculpture, though, clearly enthusiastic about it, and Elizabeth smiles, and lifts the sculpture up to look at it closer, examining it from all angles, trying to figure it out.

 

12. INT. OPULENT INNER CITY APARTMENT, LIVING ROOM. DAY

Back in the present, Elizabeth looks over the sculpture, still a little confused by it, and places it on the coffee table.

Through a series of quick cuts, we see Elizabeth take more paintings done by young Virginia and blu-tack them to the walls, take out strange play-dough figures and paper-craft models and arrange them around the room, take out cheap looking and odd mother’s day gifts and birthday presents, some with gift tags reading ‘To Mum, Love Virginia’ still attached. After this frenzy of movement has finished, the once spartan and monotone is transformed into a colourful mess.

Elizabeth is slowly walking around the room, inspecting the items and starting to tear up. She returns to the cupboard one final time and pulls out a box, and it’s clear from the look on her face that she doesn’t recognise it.

She opens the box, and it is filled with plain manila folders. She pulls the first one out of the box, and it says ‘Accounts April 2012 – June 2012’ on it, and opens it up.

It is filled with blank paper.

Confused, Elizabeth reaches deep into the box, and pulls out another. This one reads ‘Accounts February 2004 – March 2004’ and opens it up. She enraged by what she finds, and throws the folder down onto the coffee table, and the contents spill out. It’s smut, photos of women pleasuring other women, older men with suspiciously young looking girls, and group sex with a large number of participants. There folder has dozens and dozens of photos in it, and they cascade across the table and off the side of it.

 

13. INT. OPULENT INNER CITY APARTMENT, KITCHEN – DAY

Elizabeth sits at the kitchen table, taking long, slow sips from a cup of coffee. She’s looking tired.

There’s a small thump as the front door (down the hallway) opens, which makes Elizabeth jump. Soon, Virginia is in the room, in her school uniform, school bag hanging over one of her shoulders. She moves through the room in a whirl, dumping her bag on the floor, moving to the fridge for a snack.

VIRGINIA
Hey, Mum. How’s –

Virginia looks over at Elizabeth and comes to a sudden stop, sensing something is wrong and stopping mid-sentence.

VIRGINIA
…what’s wrong?

ELIZABETH
Come sit down, Virginia.

VIRGINIA
Oh no. What – is Dad okay? What is it?

ELIZABETH
Just come sit down.

Virginia nods slowly and sits down opposite her mother at the kitchen table.

ELIZABETH
So, uh…

Elizabeth hesitates, but then, rather than speaking, simply pulls the rolled up paintings up from under the table and lets them unroll onto the top of the table.

Virginia’s eyes go wide in terror.

VIRGINIA
I’ve been looking everywhere for those! You – I – you had no right! You can’t –

Virginia hides her face in her hands.

VIRGINIA
Shit. SHIT! Does Dad know?

Elizabeth simply nods.

VIRGINIA
SHIT!

ELIZABETH
Language, Virginia!

There’s silence between them for a few moments, and then Virginia raises her face from her hands, and we see that she is crying.

ELIZABETH
Your father wants you to drop the art class.

VIRGINIA
Please… no…

ELIZABETH
You’ve got to understand what seeing images like this makes us think.

VIRGINIA
They’re just paintings…

Elizabeth puts on a strict tone, but she is clearly working to keep the disapproval in her voice going.

ELIZABETH
Paintings of some pretty despicable things, young lady!

Virginia’s tears increase, and she struggles to speak.

VIRGINIA
I know. I KNOW, ALRIGHT? I just – they make me feel better, they – I don’t know why. But they help.

ELIZABETH
They help with what?

VIRGINIA
With –

But instead of continuing, Virginia just burrows her head into her arms.

ELIZABETH
What is it, honey? You can talk to me.

Virginia’s face emerges once again, now a mask of furious anger.

VIRGINIA
Can I?! That’s not my understanding! That’s not how this works. How this works is, Dad makes the rules, and you just – you just – I don’t know, what do you even do?

ELIZABETH
That’s not fair, I –

VIRGINIA
DO NOTHING! YOU DO NOTHING!!

The outburst stuns them both into silence. The incredible tension hangs in the air for a few moments, before Virginia breaks down.

VIRGINIA
I’m sorry, Mum. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to –

ELIZABETH
No. You’re right. The way your father treats you doesn’t make you happy. And that’s what is most important. Your happiness. I’m sorry I haven’t supported you. It’s time for that to change. Time for you to live a real life.

VIRGINIA
Does that mean –

ELIZABETH
Yeah. You can keep taking the art class.

VIRGINIA
Will Dad…?

ELIZABETH
Let me worry about that.

Virginia bolts out of her chair, around the table and embraces to her mother, resting her head on her mother’s shoulder.

VIRGINIA
Thank you, Mum. Thank you so much.

 

14. INT. HIGHRISE CORPORATE CORNER OFFICE. EVENING

It’s quiet in the office, no other sounds can be heard except for Richard tapping away at a very sleek, thin laptop at his non-descript desk.

The door to the office opens, and Elizabeth enters. She just stands there, barely into the office at all, as the door closes with a thump behind her, and the sound makes Richard finally look up from his computer.

RICHARD
Elizabeth! What are you doing here?

Elizabeth doesn’t respond, just stares at him fiercely. Her eyes are red, she had been crying earlier, but not any more.

RICHARD
Things didn’t go well with Virginia, I take it? I know it must have been hard, but –

ELIZABETH
I told her she could keep the class.

Red hot anger flashes across Richard’s face, and his right hand starts to shake lightly as his visibly tries to control his rage.

RICHARD
You – you – I knew this would happen. This is why I wanted to handle it. I knew you didn’t have the strength.

Elizabeth moves closer to the desk.

ELIZABETH
It’s not strength, Richard. This isn’t making her happy. Our girl deserves to be happy.

Richard sneers.

RICHARD
She deserves to be safe. You might think you’re doing the right thing, but these are sensitive years, if we don’t protect –

ELIZABETH
You mean control.

Richard slams his hand down on the desk.

RICHARD
Call it what you want! She’ll thank us in a few years, when our guidance has paid off.

There’s a slight pleading tone in Elizabeth’s voice now.

ELIZABETH
She’s miserable, Richard. It’s not worth it. She needs her freedom.

RICHARD
I’m sick of this argument already. I’m going to go tell her to drop out of the class, or I’ll ring the school – in fact, I know the principle, I can give him a call RIGHT NOW –

Richard reaches for his mobile in his suit jacket pocket.

ELIZABETH
NO!

Any pleading or bargaining in her tone is gone now, and this loud roar of dissent from Elizabeth startles Richard, and this only enrages him further.

RICHARD
YOU DO NOT RUN THIS FAMILY! THIS IS NOT YOUR DECISION! I AM IN CONTROL HERE!

Elizabeth takes a moment to calm herself, then shakes her head, and smiles just a bit despite herself.

ELIZABETH
Such a goddamn hypocrite…

RICHARD
What are you –

ELIZABETH
I found your stash, you idiot.

RICHARD
Stash?

Richard starts to look worried.

ELIZABETH
The ‘accounts’ box in the living room cupboard.

RICHARD
Ah, fuck.

Richard’s head drops.

ELIZABETH
Yeah, ‘fuck’.

RICHARD
Look, okay, I probably shouldn’t have that stuff –

Elizabeth shakes her head.

ELIZABETH
You know what? I don’t even care about that, really. I don’t give a fuck, you’re not perfect. But the fact that you’ve been keeping that box and holding this strict ‘Christian’ code of conduct over our daughter’s head – making her feel SO GUILTY – at the same time…

RICHARD
I just want to prote-

ELIZABETH
No. No more. I’m tired, I’m so tired of going over this with you, of you pretending you’re some moral crusader. You just want to feel superior, you want control – you fucking disgust me.

The shock of those words hangs in the air for a moment, and it looks like they shocked Elizabeth as much as Richard.

ELIZABETH
This marriage – I know how your circle of ‘friends’ work – you need to preserve this marriage, for your sake, your business’ sake – so you’re going to start treating our daughter right.

Richard is meek now, barely audible.

RICHARD
Yeah. Okay. I’ll work – I’ll try harder.

There’s another long, strained pause.

RICHARD
I lov-

ELIZABETH
NO! Don’t even – just get out.

Richard reluctantly gets up from his desk, and leaves the room. Elizabeth moves over to the desk and sits in Richard’s chair, and slumps on the desk, exhausted, her head resting on folded arms.

The night time cityscape buzzes behind her, but Elizabeth remains still, and quietly starts to cry.

END

Download a pdf of The Morbid Paintings

Tagged

Ascent, Jeremy Page

A suite of poems inspired by the seven Biblical days of creation:

Monday – Heaven & Earth, Light & Darkness  /  Tuesday – Sky & Sea  /   Wednesday – Land & Vegetation  / Intermission  /  Thursday – Stars, Sun & Moon  /   Friday – Sea Creatures & Birds  /   Saturday  – Land Animals  /   Sunday  – Rest

 

 Monday          Heaven & Earth, Light & Darkness

 

Waking Life

In the dark, God leans over Life and stares,
She’s curled in a blanket, breathing in sighs.
Grey eyes trace her outline; long back, short hair.
Lips fallen open, arms slumped to the side.

He smiles, goes to the corner of the room –
The window. He slides his thumb on the sill.
Through the cracks white slits of light breaking through,
Like a pillar of salt, I’m frozen still.

She rolls over gently, scratches her cheek.
I imagine her eyes, the deepest brown,
And wonder how long she has been asleep –
Curled up in darkness, not making a sound.

He whispers ‘…let?’ I can’t quite understand,
Then grins, the thoughts ticking over his mind.
Rolling around in the palm of his hand
The long string of beads to open the blinds.

‘Let there…’, he breathes out deep into the dark.
God dammit. Why not let the poor girl rest?
‘Let there be…’ I stumble, clutching my heart.
What horrors we might avoid if she slept?

As the last word drips like oil from his tongue
Chaos rushes in and shatters the peace.
My mouth dry as salt, bedroom drenched in sun,
All hell broken loose, life flung from the sheets.

 

Looking for God

as a boy with a bible
‘let there be light!’
a booming voice
from a white beard
flashing silver
then stillness; a quiet day,
a bubbling stream.

now that tired imperative
sets my thoughts off
tilling the void
in a black sea.
look for a pier
we might find him,
that sandal-clad swindler,

waiting somewhere in the dark.
calm, collected.
handsome devil!
hand in a loin cloth pocket
by a lamp post,
the other hand flipping a
silver coin in the dim light.

 

 

Tuesday          Sky & Sea

 

Blue Planet

Naturally blue is a popular choice
with connotations of cleanliness, purification
one imagines the sea reflecting the sky
(even vice versa if you prefer)
they say it slows the
metabolism
it has that much of a
calming effect, almost cathartic in its
reassurance, soothing, particularly light blue,
which is more a health or healing colour; rejuvenation.
for you we’ve moved to the darker side of the spectrum,
strong contrast against the white means precision
knowledge power integrity masculine yet
not too strong or overpowering.
we like to think of it like
afternoon sky
meets
afternoon sea.
further, we propose this scheme
with just a brief flash of silver on print collateral
spot foiled with a matte finish on all stocks.
strong yet subtle; enough (we think)
to set you guys apart.
let’s be frank
green’s been done.
we live on the blue planet.
moving forward, apply this branding
across your entire print and digital collateral
and you will effectively establish
So & So Petroleum
as the future;
the market leader
in your industry on this
blue planet
of ours.

 

Explore

underneath it all
are we all explorers?

I’ve a poor sense of direction.
asked to locate Iceland would
no doubt send an index finger
hovering awkwardly
somewhere over Europe, yet

staring at the ocean
still makes me hate the familiar smell of us
caked in sheets I can’t quite remember buying

standing there
staring at the horizon
the tangy smell of salt, the whitewash
popping and fizzing on the shore like an aspirin

makes me crave some sweet sandy distant nowhere
cheap jewellery, a stranger’s perfume
around my neck like petrol, suffocating

like a lost explorer,
legs swung over the side of a ship
staring out at the sea, craving something

somewhere hidden in that fold
between the sky and the sea.

 

 

Wednesday          Land & Vegetation

 

Sour Fruit

there will come a day when
the last fruit that will ever grow
hangs, an apple perhaps
from a fragile stem
on an unremarkable hill
littered with debris
cigarettes, chip wrappers
when all is still
the fruit, its stem thin
will drop thud in the dirt
flesh seeds core skin
laid on the earth

a creature that remains
perhaps a rat
will dart out from a rock
and somewhere in its veins
greedy cells once in man
will turn its eyes head
spark desire in its brain
have it scan
see, find, devour
bite by bite
down to the last morsel
over a day, a few hours

until just the stem is left
to rot into the earth
and the rat, over time
like all, meets death
a scavenger, perhaps a crow
will find it, and eat
grinding bits of rat and fruit
and us within its beak
no doubt it won’t help but note
when on those cells of ours
that in every body mostly sweet
there’s a couple bites of sour.

 

 

Intermission

 

Wednesdays

wednesdays are nothing days.
intermissions, white clouds,
that awful dark orange that tries
so hard not to be red;
that ice cube tray that
refuses to crack when bent.

no one ever suggested a date
for a wednesday evening,
dinner from that place
you thought you wouldn’t
order from again – but did
on a wednesday.

wednesdays are beige,
lukewarm moccacinos;
they are those brief moments
every second line in which one is
neither inhaling nor exhaling,
that pause soon forgotten
like love, half embraced.

 

Footnote*

 

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

1 Poetry is in the footnotes. Not the main article.
2 It’s between the lines (crumpled paper in a waste bin).
3 Discarded, dusty. Beauty is shy
4 Hides, in creases.
5 Swells like a headache
6 Is skimmed over like a stranger.

 

Looking Back.

Thinking back’s always a bit like
staring down a cobbled road
that kinks and jerks back down the hill
and spills like ink into the damp valley
just out of focus
that wayward track with the brambles
you ended up on
somehow,
that jagged rock you stopped to rest against
where you were bitten by a bull ant
you grinded with your thumb against the rock.

Thinking forward’s always a bit like
standing by the side of a highway
in a dry heat, mouth parched
staring into the white sun
shielding your eyes with your hands
waiting for a break in the traffic
that never comes.

 

 

Thursday          Stars, Sun & Moon

 

Sapere Aude.*

Setting down an oil lamp
on a desk damp with the cold,
the darkness retreats in the glowing light
swims into the loft.

He looks around with his wide oak stare.

Through the window a streak of light
catches the instruments in the corner
(to be sold by the docks)
a glint of gold; flashing silver.

Under a pen,
edges curled like a sail, a sheet reads
The phases of Venus
things do change!

Things must change.

Adjusting the axis with his cold bare hands,
the telescope is thrust in the night air like a spear.

* ‘Dare to know’ – Kant’s motto of the Enlightenment.

 

 

Friday          Sea Creatures & Birds

 

Frauds

Flying Fish are frauds.
I’ve seen them. They don’t fly.

Nor are they entirely right
to call themselves Fish proper

with their cocky aspirations
of something more,

their pathetic leap-and-land, dive-and-dip,
thrashing their wings in a panic.

Slippery, quivering at speed they
slide beneath the surface then
pop
they arch through the air
caught
suspended as a still pendulum
stuck
silenced
acquiesced
a hated job
gritted teeth
love unspoken
a pen in the drawer

like Flying Fish
we live our lives.

 

 

Saturday          Land Animals

 

You’ve Got to Live

You’ve got to live
man said, his dry bare hands clutching
the jittery hind legs of a large bird
steady steady now
quick as possible
clop, boil it whole and I’ll take the leg.

root veg, honey glazed
sweet and sticky pork bits
crackle crackle bit of fat’s good for a man

you’ve got to live
man said, his dry bare hands round
the ear of a bleating cow
steady steady now
keep it moving
zap prod no no calf that milks not for you

serve it bleu, cream jus
thick rich pouring dish
pour pour of course dear eat until you’re

full cream milk you’ve to skim
the fat off gravy churn churn
heat cool firm rich sharp steel
razor sharp wire parmesan bite sharp
seared sharp beaks crackle crackle prod prod
dry bare hands grab
cold flesh shrink wrapped special 3.99
you’ve got to eat.

 

 

Sunday          Rest

 

Rest

Roses, Only by other names:
Perfume. Desire smells so sweet.
Dove. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
Double strength, tough on stains.
Sleep. Eat. Feast For One.
Microwave. Tasty treats.
Sleep. Fuck. Breakfast in bed.
Grease like sweat between creased sheets.

Wash. Repeat. Tough on grease.
Two for one. Linen fresh.
No more tears. No regrets.
Get out. I need some peace.
Please eat. Polished silverware.
Steel forks scratch at flesh; lust.
Somewhere in a room beneath the stairs
Books like ballgowns gather dust.

 

Sabbath

BREAKING NEWS
the violence continues
Live
see it first
More riots in the streets of
We go LIVE
because you’re worth it
this morning
several bomb blasts
We are unable at this point
Audi Pepsi Ralph Lauren
to confirm the exact location
identity of the perpetrator
his whereabouts
are still unknown
police are advising
Covergirl Stayfree McDonalds
if you do notice anything suspicious
call this number
CALL THIS NUMBER
Toll-free
Free Quotes
We go live
LIVE
more riots in the streets of
back to you
because you’re worth it
back to you in the studio
lights fade
Roll credits in three two
one
Oh my
god
slumped in an armchair
crumbs in his lap
and he saw that it was good.

Tagged

Black and Blue, Matthew Worboys

FADE IN
1. INT. BEDROOM – NIGHT (OUTER ORBIT, 2028)
A double bed bisects the otherwise bare room. The body of a woman occupies one half of the bed. The covers are drawn high over the other half, concealing another body. On the woman’s side, a digital alarm clock emits a soft green onto the girls face. The screen goes from 2:33 to 2:34. As if in response, the girl stirs from her sleep.
She opens an eye. Her pupil grows large in response to the light.

She looks over at the clock. Being careful not to disrupt the body next to her, she slowly swivels her body up, until she sits with her legs over the side of the bed.

The girl, SHARI, is only 24, and she looks it. She has straight brown hair, mid-length, and a face that would be beautiful a few more moments separated from the trauma of waking.

She stands up and undresses. She puts on jeans, a shirt and a jacket, quietly. On the right hand side, she presses a small button. As she does this, the door of the room makes a gentle hiss as it slides open.
Shari exits.

MAN (O.S.)
Wake up. Wake up.

2. INT. WHITE HOUSE BEDROOM – NIGHT (WASHINGTON, 2023)
Black.
MAN
Come on, Shari. Wake up.
Shari opens her eyes. A man stands above the bed. He has his arms on her shoulders. He gently rocks her into waking. The man shaking Shari, CRAIG, looks as young as her. His tight curls hang down over Shari as he bends over her bed.
CRAIG
It’s time to get up.
“5 years earlier” appears on screen.

SHARI
Craig?
CRAIG
Where are your clothes?
SHARI
What are you doing here?
Craig ignores the question. He steps back and turns around. He spots a nearby cupboard, opens it hastily, and looks at its contents.
Shari barely notices. She wipes her eyes.
SHARI (CONT’D)
God, what time is it?
CRAIG
5:30.
Shari squints.
SHARI
You can’t be here, Craig. If my dad finds out…
Craig leans into the cupboard and draws together a handful of clothes. He drops the pile into a large suitcase laying open on the floor.
SHARI (CONT’D)
Craig.
Craig loses his concentration, and looks over at Shari. His face softens.
CRAIG
I’ll explain everything soon, I promise. Get dressed.
Shari looks at him, not convinced, but after a moment, she gets up and runs into the ensuite bathroom, closing the door behind her. Craig continues to search the room. Every now and again he’ll find something, socks, a dress, a photo frame, and throw it into the bag.
SHARI (O.S.)
This surprise better be good. I didn’t get in ‘til three last night.
Craig doesn’t respond.
SHARI (CONT’D)
How dressy should I go?
Beat.
SHARI (O.S.) (CONT’D)
You do remember we have my Dad’s event tomorrow night, right?
Craig puts the finishing touches to the bag, throwing in as much underwear as he can reach. He clicks the bag closed as the door to the bathroom opens.
Shari’s changed into comfortable jeans and a blue top, with a hooded jacket over it.
SHARI (CONT’D)
President’s daughter wags inauguration to sex up boyfriend on weekend away? Imagine the scandal.
CRAIG
He knows I’ve got you.
SHARI
I thought he’d been acting odd the last few days!
CRAIG
We have to go.
SHARI
I haven’t done my makeup y–
Shari turns to go back into the bathroom, but Craig grabs her arm.
CRAIG
Shari. We have to go.
Shari’s brow furrows, but she nods.

3. INT. GYM – NIGHT (OUTER ORBIT, 2028)
Shari sits on a bench, pumping weights. She is breathing heavily and exhales with every rep she does.
Despite the time, she isn’t the only person in the gym. Two other women, KAREN and DEBRA stand on parallel walking machines, chatting. Shari tries not to listen, but they speak loudly and obnoxiously.

KAREN
I’m not saying it won’t be a shock.
The other woman nods, her face red and blotchy.

KAREN (CONT’D)
But an opportunity like this… We can’t just go back to the way things were.
Shari pulls the weights up, once. Twice.
KAREN (CONT’D)
We finally have a level playing field. Ready to build whatever we want.
The other woman takes a drink from her water bottle.
KAREN (CONT’D)
I mean, the circumstances are horrible, I’m not saying they aren’t, but we have a collection of the smartest people ever, right here, and a much smaller pool of competition in any field.
DEBRA
I’m a teacher, Karen.
The first woman scoffs at this reply.
KAREN
A great teacher. You earned your place. That’s more than some on board. At least you didn’t steal a seat.
Debra looks over at Shari, who pretends not to be listening.
DEBRA
Karen…
Karen looks to Shari. She turns up the speed on her treadmill.

 

4. INT. CAR – MORNING (WASHINGTON, 2023)
Craig sits in the driver’s seat, while Shari occupies the passenger side.

SHARI
My God, It’s hot.
Shari goes to put down the window, but Craig locks them from the drivers side. Instead, he turns the air conditioning on. Shari is put off for a second, but doesn’t think twice about it.
SHARI (CONT’D)
You know, I’ve always wanted a Summer wedding.
Craig smiles, another defeated smile.
CRAIG
I remember.
Shari nudges him, playfully.
SHARI
I’d say yes, you know.
Craig doesn’t look away from the road. The car begins to drive up a very large hill.
CRAIG
I know.
Shari smiles, and looks over to Craig. She ponders his face for a second.
SHARI
I need to tell you something.
The car is getting to the apex of the hill now. Craig looks at Shari closely.
CRAIG
What’s up?
Shari looks at him for a second before looking away. The car goes over the top of the hill and starts it’s descent. Shari gasps.
SHARI
LOOK OUT!
Craig slams on his break, hard. The car grinds to a stop. In front of the car is a huge mass of people, seemingly on the verge of rioting. The car has stopped just before impact.
CRAIG
It’s worse than I thought.
Shari is distracted. She’s looking into the sky.
SHARI
What the hell is that?
A giant, pulsating fireball is suspended in the sky, as if a second sun.
Craig puts the car in reverse, backs up about 20 metres, and then stops the car.
CRAIG
Time to go.
SHARI
What the hell is that in the sky.
CRAIG
We’re walking.

5. INT. CAFETERIA – NIGHT (OUTER ORBIT, 2028)
Shari sits at one end of a long table. She holds a grey bowl, filled with what looks to be mushy oatmeal. She places it onto the table, and begins eating.
From behind her, the door to the cafeteria opens. A man, FRANK, enters the room and picks up a bowl. As he places it under a nozzle connected to the wall, the hidden machine begins to whir, and out of the dispenser, the same grey mush pours.
FRANK
Can’t wait to get back to solids.
Shari doesn’t respond. She takes a spoonful of the porridge and eats it. Frank pulls out the chair next to Shari and sits down.
He is tall, well-built, with dark skin. He wears a suit, perfectly fitted to show off his arms and chest. He has a kind smile, which he shows to Shari.
FRANK (CONT’D)
Can’t sleep?
Shari returns his smile halfheartedly.
SHARI
How long now?
Frank looks at his wrist. A golden watch hangs loosely from it.
FRANK
Nine hours off. Maybe ten.
Shari nods.
FRANK (CONT’D)
How’s–
He motions with his head to the door.
SHARI
Fine. Can’t wait to get off the ship, I think.
FRANK
That makes two of us.
Shari smiles, and goes back to eating her porridge. Frank takes a few more mouthfuls. The silence builds up between them. Frank breaks it.
FRANK (CONT’D)
You look frazzled.
Shari looks over at him, her eyebrows raised.
SHARI
It’s nothing. Just something Karen said.
FRANK
Don’t listen to her. The amount of shit that comes out of her mouth sometimes. I wouldn’t be surprised if she ate out of her ass.
Shari laughs, but distantly.
FRANK (CONT’D)
What did she say?
SHARI
Nothing.
Beat.
FRANK
Well for what it’s worth, I think you were put on this ship for a reason. Like the rest of us. You both were.
SHARI
Says the Nobel Prize winning doctor.
Frank laughs sweetly.
FRANK
When all of this settles down, we should get something to eat.
SHARI
We are eating.
Frank dips his spoon into the bowl, raises the contents and turns over the spoon, causing the grew mush to slop back into the bowl. Frank doesn’t respond, but rather looks deeply into her eyes, waiting for a real response.
His face goes from hopeful, to slightly let down.
SHARI (CONT’D)
I should go and get some–
Frank nods, sadly.
FRANK
–Yeah yeah. No. Tomorrow’s gonna be one hell of a day.
He stands up, and without taking his bowl, he leaves the room silently, leaving Shari sitting at the table alone.

6. INT. STREET – MORNING (WASHINGTON, 2023)
The mass of people surrounds Craig and Shari, but Craig fights through them. His hand is wrapped strongly around Shari’s, as he pulls her through the crowd. In Shari’s other hand, she carries her overstuffed suitcase. In Craig’s other hand, a mobile phone, which he holds up to his ear.
CRAIG
(into phone)
We’re 5 away.
Shari struggles to keep up with Craig.
CRAIG (CONT’D)
(into phone)
We’ll meet you there.
Craig hangs up the phone.

SHARI
Craig.
Craig doesn’t stop walking.
SHARI (CONT’D)
Craig. Stop.
He still doesn’t. He pushes past another lot of people.
CRAIG
Keep your head down.

SHARI
STOP!
She pulls her hand away from Craig’s. Craig spins around to look at her, almost angrily.
SHARI (CONT’D)
Tell me what’s happening this instant, or I’m not going any further. This isn’t funny.
Craig’s glare softens almost immediately.
CRAIG
I can’t. You can’t know yet.
SHARI
Please.
Craig sighs, giving in.
CRAIG
Fine, but we have to keep walking. Put your hoodie up.
Shari does as she’s told. She lifts the hoodie of her jacket over her face.
CRAIG (CONT’D)
Come on.
Shari looks over at all of the people around her, pushing at her, pushing at each other. They all seem frightened and anxious. Many are parents, with children either on their shoulders, or following behind them.

CRAIG (CONT’D)
That thing in the sky. It’s coming and It’s going to hit in… soon.
Shari listens intently, with eyes wide. They never stop moving.
CRAIG (CONT’D)
There isn’t much hope.
SHARI
That’s impossible. We… I. I would have heard.
CRAIG
NASA told the Government, and the Government told no-one.
SHARI
Why wouldn’t they–?
CRAIG
–Because they weren’t sure. Not One hundred percent. They didn’t know whether it would hit us, or not.
SHARI
But they didn’t tell anyone?
Craig sighs.
CRAIG
They didn’t want to end the world before… you know…
SHARI
I don’t.. I can’t believe y–
CRAIG
–So instead, they built a ship. A ship big enough for a hundred, two hundred people.
SHARI
A spaceship?
CRAIG
The ship would sail out on the brink of space for as long as it could. As long as it could last. And then it would come back, after the dust had settled.
SHARI
What does that have to do with me.
CRAIG
Because the ship is here.
SHARI
Did dad tell you this?
Craig nods. Shari looks around at the large crowds of yelling people.
SHARI (CONT’D)
Are all of these people–?
Craig nods again.
SHARI (CONT’D)
And will they–?
Craig shakes his head.
CRAIG
There’s just no room. Two hundred of the worlds best and brightest were chosen in secret and told to be here on this day.
SHARI
And us?
Craig smiles at her, sadly.
CRAIG
Being the president’s daughter has its perks, I think.

 

7. EXT. DOCK ENTRANCE – MORNING
They reach the police block. At first, they are denied entry by a uniformed officer, but a man in a black suit approaches them. He flashes his badge at the officer.
MAN IN BLACK
Don’t worry, officer. I’ll take it from here.
The officer stands aside.

MAN IN BLACK (CONT’D)
If you’d be so kind as to step this way.
Shari steps forward over the police barricade. The man in black helps her over. Shari pulls at Craig’s hand, to help him over as well, but he doesn’t budge.
SHARI
Come on. We have to find my father.
Shari pulls again, but Craig stands strong.
CRAIGS
Shari.
SHARI
What?
CRAIG
Your father decided to stay. He’s off being president somewhere.
Shari’s eyes begin to well up.
SHARI
I don’t understand. Why didn’t you bring any luggage?
CRAIG
There was only one place. A place for your father.
Small tears begins to fall on Shari’s cheeks now.
SHARI
No. I won’t.
CRAIG
He gave it to you.
SHARI
I won’t. I don’t want to.
CRAIG
You don’t have a choice.
The man in black places his hand on Shari’s back.
MAN IN BLACK
It’s time to go, miss.
Thick, mascara-laden tears now stream down Shari’s face.
SHARI
No. Please. You have to come.
CRAIG
There’s no room for me.
SHARI
(screaming)
Take it. Take my seat. I don’t want it.
Craig looks at Shari for an extended second. He looks into her eyes. He then looks at the building behind her, and straight back to her.
CRAIG
Bye.
MAN IN BLACK
I’m sorry. It’s time to go.
Shari attempts to climb back over the police barricade, but the suited man stops her by placing both his hands on her shoulders.

MAN IN BLACK (CONT’D)
I’m sorry.
SHARI
(screaming)
No. No. I won’t go. NO!
Her cries are loud and heavy now. She’s fighting with the man holding her, but he’s just too strong. He lifts her up and begins to walk into the building.
SHARI (CONT’D)
(screaming)
No!!! Please don’t make me. I can’t do this without you. Please! We need you!
Craig looks on as the distraught girl begins to cry louder and louder, screaming for him. His eyes begin to well up. The man walks up the stairs, undisturbed by the writhing girl in his arms. The door to the skyscraper slides open, and the man walks through it, with Shari still in his arms, fighting to get back to the man she loves. She never makes it. The door closes behind them.
CUT TO:
BLACK.

 

8. INT. SHIP LOOKOUT – NIGHT (OUTER ORBIT, 2028)
The interior of the lookout is metal and more metal. Shari stands on a grated surface looking out of a large thick glass window. Outside is nothing but space and stars. In the centre of the view though, is a large blue planet, with specks of green and brown. It looks like a floating jewel suspended in nothing, sparkling in the sun’s rays.
Shari looks out at it coldly, with no emotion. She’s lost in thought.
The sound of a sliding door echoes off the walls behind her. She doesn’t turn around at first.
Two pairs of walking feet clink on the metal grating. One pair hard, the other soft. A young girls voice sounds.
YOUNG GIRL
Mummy!
Shari turns around.
KAREN
There you are.
Karen stands at the door next to a small child, who appears to be about four, with long dark brown hair. The girl wears a night gown far too big for her. Shari wipes a her wet eyes and sniffs. She clears her throat.
SHARI
Yeah, honey?
KAREN
I found your little stowaway wandering the corridors.
YOUNG GIRL
I couldn’t sleep, mummy.
Shari holds out her arms, and the girl runs into them. Karen walks up behind Shari. Shari looks at Karen sternly.
SHARI
Thank you.
Through pursed lips, Karen makes a noise of disapproval. She puts her hand on Shari’s shoulder and pushes down softly.
KAREN
Keep a closer eye on your daughter, Shari. The fates brought her here. They could take her away.
Karen begins walking out the room.
SHARI
Stay here, baby.
She puts her daughter down, and spins on her heels, walking after Karen.
SHARI (CONT’D)
Karen.

 

9. INT. HALLWAY – NIGHT (OUTER ORBIT, 2026)
Karen turns around.
KAREN
Yes?
With all of her might, Shari SLAPS Karen across the cheek. Karen looks back at her, horrified. Her cheek stains red.
SHARI
I’m done with people telling me what to do.
Karen whimpers, and turns around. She limps away, holding the cheek with her hand.
Shari watches her go.
10. INT. SHIP HULL – NIGHT
Shari enters the room again, and walks over to the girl. She picks her up as before. The girl’s eyes are transfixed on the giant blue-green gem in the sky. Shari is as well.
YOUNG GIRL
Is that where we are going?
Shari nods slowly.

YOUNG GIRL (CONT’D)
Have you been there before?
SHARI
(quietly)
Once. A very long time ago.
YOUNG GIRL
Is it nice there?
Shari looks through the glass at the blue planet. She wonders.
FADE TO:
BLACK.
FADE OUT

THE END

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Ouroboros, Charlotte Goodwin

A collection of poems inspired by the chaos that is the creation of life:  my child/let me/tell you/a story/the butterfly/a young mother/lays the eggs/ and flies away/round, white eggs/become green grubs/with tiny feet and feelers/searching for something/one day, one strays/and looks around/she is the only one left/hides away, up high/wiggling and wriggling/until her skin peels away/floating to the ground below/she shuts her tiny eyes/holds on tight/until she emerges/in the warm light/of a spring day/transformed/a new creature/with bright blue wings

 

 


Metamorphosis

my child

let me

tell you

a story

the butterfly

a young mother

lays the eggs

and flies away

round, white eggs

become green grubs

with tiny feet and feelers

searching for something

one day, one strays

and looks around

she is the only one left

hides away, up high

wiggling and wriggling

until her skin peels away

floating to the ground below

she shuts her tiny eyes

holds on tight

until she emerges

in the warm light

of a spring day

transformed

a new creature

with bright blue wings

she beats them, once

one beautiful wing

against the other

the world stops turning

consumed by

waves and fire.

my child

let me

tell you

my story

I

a young mother

created you

and ran far away

your tiny, pink body

became a whole, real person

with tiny feet and hands

searching for me

one day, you’ll run from me

stop! and look around

when you’re the only one left

hiding and high

cooking liquid gold

watching it bubble and burn

on a silver spoon

float back down, below

you will shut your eyes

and ride the wave

re-emerging

in the cold street light

of midnight

a new creature

a fleshy body with no wings

you will clap your hands, once

put one wrong foot

after the other, until

your world will keep spinning

and mine will be consumed

by you.

Vida

 

I was born

to a dead Mother

on white linen sheets

as the virgin Mary

rested beside her head.

Lost in a family of seven

I supped from the breast

of an unknown woman

and grew into a tall girl

wrapped in a pink dress

with a skeleton’s face.

I grew up

tall and wise

with wide hips

and a sharp mind

and Papa always said:

“She is the most like me.”

I met a boy

a smart one too

but I knew

he wasn’t enough for me

so I searched for a man

with a palette to paint

a portrait of pain

to match my own.

“Can you hear me?”

I implored him

to read my lips

to feel my pain

but he was too brilliant,

clever and cold

to care about

the little girl

in a pink dress

with a skeleton’s face

inside of me.

All I had left

and all I believed in

was the power of the

hidden space within

where like a child

dancing among faeries

in a garden of colour

I saw hope.

But I was broken

from one hard blow

to my soft, warm body

and the line stops with, me.

Meurte

 

when

the skeleton                         once more

that hangs                           my honey feet

above my bed                      glide along

becomes me                        these halls

 

when                                     once more

i awaken                              I stand

from long                             in my house

silent sleep                          the home

and open up                        we shared

my eyes

                                                our (special) place

                                                 la casa azul

 

when                                      my days

i look                                      hang here

into your eyes                       and there

i see us                                    trapped in

i see me                                   gaudy frames

                                                  behind glass panes,

before then                             it pains me to see

before us                                 my paintings

“do you remember?”             exhibited

there was me                          in my house

alone                                        (where) i no

with myself                             longer (live)

a company

of sorts                                     un museo 

of one                                        of life

of one sort                                our history

                                                    lining the walls,

                                                    hanging from the rafters

                                                    and settling on the mantel.

 

 

Paper Girl

 

the headline

the front page

the words inside

forged by her hand

landed her in hot water

hit boiling point

and bubbled over

Victoria Street

down in Kings Cross

terrace houses

red brick and white iron

where children played

and friendly neighbours

shared beers and BBQs

families

out on the street

lined the curb

tearful women

speechless men

with nowhere to go

a lone voice

broke the hum

brown eyes

beehive

big mind

she made a stand

refused to leave

staked her claim

and took her place

at the top

the rallies and the power

the signs and the slogans

the unions and the meetings

on mean streets, ruled

by hungry wolves

a pretty little lamb

called out loud

tread on toes

what she did best

troublemakers get

what they deserve

NOW: the time for action

silencing her

was never

an easy task

but a great pleasure

the big wig

Mr Sin

lured her in

Carousel Club

come alone

quietly now

a firm grip on her arms

fingers wrapped tightly

around her red lips

no screaming tonight

 a pink pillowslip

over her pretty head

heavy, brown-paper packages

different shapes and sizes

addressed to always

delivered to eternity

rest on the ocean floor

of Sydney Harbour.

Alpha

 

her time is long gone now

           the people still remember

           and they always will

with her face in portraits

and her body in bronze

           how could you forget?

 

she can hardly remember

yesterday and the one before

           she saw the war end

           and the wall fall down

she is history walking

shuffling and pausing-

           what did you say?

 

she can remember

            one thing

the green leather seat

at her back

            hear hear

they say

then turn their heads

taking knives to her back

            men, men, men

sensitive, touchy

terrified little boys

oh, what one woman can do!

 

            no! no! no!

she says

with a stern look

eyebrows pulled together

lips pursed

slightly lop-sided

but her fist is clenched

she takes to the podium

taps the microphone

            one, two

and she means business

 

the lady’s not for turning

 

 

Ceasefire

The rules, written long before the ship’s briny bottom had even brushed the shore,

filed away in private archives and only taken out on special occasions

like your best Sunday dress, to wave in the faces of the opposition.

The forces, assembled in gaggles of those who have suffered enough and for too long,

lining the streets with placards and banners- their voices are sirens-

crawling out of kitchens and from under ironing-boards into the streets.

The message, spread out wide and slowly seeped in like a spilled glass of milk,

“Cookin’, cleanin’ and creatin’- all they’re bloody good for!” he says,

“Watch your mouth, darling, or you’ll go hungry tonight,” she replies,

slap!

A firm grip on the detonator

thumb quivering on the big, red button

you count down the minutes

second by second

tick tick tick

you wait, ready and blazing

blood squelches in your ears with every beat of your heart

there’s a tickle in your throat and a bead of sweat runs down your nose

a sister in the crowd jogs forward to march beside you,

with a six-starred flag draped across her shoulders

she raises her fist into the air and smiles

you turn to face your comrades bringing up the rear, but they’re down

sprawled on the pavement, limps splayed and placards crushed

your breath hitches in your chest

a heavy hand settles on your shoulder

you turn back, to find yourself nose-to-nose with a stout man in a suit,

he slips an envelope deep into your pocket with a sneer across his lips

you march onwards, sliding your fingernail under the seal

there’s an answer inside that envelope- a good one-

but it’s nothing more than

a baby’s step forward

in a giant’s marathon.

@JuliaGillard Now that we have almost all rights once denied of us

now handed 2 us on a silver platter, will we eva hav 2 stop apologising?

 

 

An Invitation

A tribute to American artist Judy Chicago and her 1979

installation artwork “The Dinner Party.” Each line is dedicated to one

of thirty-nine influential women of history, chronologically, across the

ages in three distinct stages: Mythology to the Roman Empire, Christianity

to the Reformation and America to the Women’s Revolution.

 

I kindly request the honour of her presence

and the pleasure of her company…

 

birthed from between the thighs of chaos

she bears summer fruits, juicy and buttery-yellow

an eight-pointed star hangs around her neck reminiscent of that first and fatal love

the black one, the consort who exists beyond the hands of the clock

and the maenad, who follows close behind with stretched skin sagging down her chest

are you wise and eternal like all unseen things?

watch her as she cuts off her breast to spite her bow and arrow

she is the Pharaoh – both lands, above and below the belt

a book in one palm and a head in her other

she implores you: ‘come again, my limb-loosening lover’

courtesan to a general, she remains virtuous, knowing her own mind

ruler of the revolt, horse-whipped and humiliated

a teacher of numbers, stars and magic with virgin blood flowing in her veins

 

a dowager, she walks the halls of the family home in her dead husband’s suit

the virgin Mother appears before her, angels sweetly sing and light fills the room

a saint whispers prayers in a theatre of soft tissued slaves under red lights

her chaste voice crawls from her lips to the page to the ears of a nation

she is the doctor of disease and a purveyor of fine cosmetics

a widow queen with a sacred wedding present – a crystal vase

a weaver at the loom of words, who felt God moving inside her

a good witch, guilty of nothing but life, yet burned alive at the stake

between sheets, she writes with a fleshy quill, her shield

the cure: a first breath taken at the stroke of nine when the moon is high

a blind, deaf and untouched queen with a fiery crown and undercarriage

she cuts his throat with her paintbrush, daubing skin and sex onto a white canvas

a multi linguist with a soft, warm tongue, she speaks of “honest delight”

 

a preacher with a womb, un-heard of and condemned, a travesty

her face is on the golden dollar, taken as a wife and prisoner

she opened the eyes of the earth unto the sparking sky of stars above

the book penned by her hand: a monster made from pieces of the past

she questioned and queried the world but she was a woman of honey brown colour

peering from behind bifocals she sees behind closed doors, a future of balance

the very first with a scalpel in her hand, slicing away the lies, can’t you see?

her verses – woven from wilted petals and starving bodies – have a heartbeat

“there is no G-d!” she said, but she wrote music to please his ears anyway

ending lives not yet begun for the sake of preventing living pain

can you allow her to write the play-book of women and scandal? an autobiography

a darkness clouds her grey eyes and the water pins her down to the riverbed

it is only a black iris flower, don’t make it more than it is

 

… I extend to her my warmest regards,

and hope she will accept this invitation.

 

 

The First Lady

 

Firmly seated in his leather office chair,

she glides the palms of her black-skinned hands

along the varnished surface of her husband’s desk,

carved from the resolute one

with an eagle’s wings spread wide

where the histories of the great land

and the scandals of those who came before

are laid out for the world to see

in public addresses on the television screen.

 

The Forefathers each left their own etchings

in the timber where she lays her hands:

one had a son who played peek-a-boo at his feet

one couldn’t fit his knees underneath the desk

one spent time in a blue dress with a cigar tube

one told a nation to be strong in the face of terror

and her man, he told his fine nation: “Yes We Can!”

 

The ladies of the past are silent shadows in her wake,

born of a time before, not forgotten but committed to the books of history:

one was left with pieces of her husband spilled down her pink suit

one was left a cuckolded woman, but became much more

one was left to clean up the mess he left behind (aren’t they all?)

and she, gives her man a run for his money; every day of his life.

 

Their two children play in the corridor

as men with dark glasses and earpieces

keep a close and careful watch,

the little girls smile and giggle as Daddy

signs his name with his left hand

then answers the ringing telephone,

he leans back in his chair and

puts his feet up on the desk

click click click – go the bright flashbulb lights

like a naked popstar dancing on a balcony

or a model caught with a powdered nose

the eyes and ears of the world are open

and waiting for his next mistake.

 

She knows she’ll never live to see

another normal day, anonymous and quiet

and is fine with that decision as long as

she doesn’t stop to think about it,

too deeply or for too long…

 

Smiling with her eyes

through the camera lens

to the people of the world

she tries to make them listen

but it has been a while

and they feel a little neglected

a little rusty, a little lost and a little lazy,

as they tweet and blog

without having to take

any responsibility;

maybe it’s time

for someone

new?

 

They all want the title

the highest honour in the land

that is why she knows, they will fight

capped tooth over manicured nail

to knock the crown from her head

but she will rule for another four, for sure…

Unless the Mormon Mama

beats her to the throne.

Change

 

Later in her life

she will wake up and notice

the clock inside her

has suddenly stopped ticking:

she begins her metamorphosis.

 

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