Tag Archives: Fault Lines

The Artist, Ashley Ward

 

1. INT. CLASSROOM – AFTERNOON

An American HIGH SCHOOL CLASSROOM occupies rows of small, vacant desks. A groomed TEACHER with a striped tie enters with two teenagers and a magazine under his arm. SIMON, a teenage lanky thing with large round glasses, heads to a desk at the back of the room. He sits, submissively. A high schooler with a ‘Go Bulls’ hat, JEREMY, attempts to follow, but is stopped by the teacher.

TEACHER

I don’t think so! I want you up the front.

Jeremy looks at Simon. Smirks.

TEACHER

I won’t condone interruptions during my lessons. Is that clear?

BEAT.

TEACHER

That goes for the both of you. I’ll be right back… If I hear anything coming from this room, you’ll both be back here tomorrow, same time after school.

The teacher leaves. Jeremy takes off his NIKE sneakers one by one. He throws them over his shoulder. One almost hits Simon. Flinches. He stands up and sits on top of a desk next to Simon. Jeremy begins to taunt him.

JEREMY

Pick it up.

Simon hesitates.

JEREMY

I said pick it up, faggot!

Simon doesn’t move.

JEREMY

Don’t make me hit you, aye!

Simon bends down and slowly picks up the shoe. Hands it to Jeremy.

JEREMY

That’s what I thought.

 CUT TO:

2. EXT. SUBURBAN STREET – NIGHT

Stars hide in the evening fog. Lampposts illuminate an EMPTY STREET beside a high school. We see Simon leaving the school. He drifts down the street, breaking stride to adjust his backpack every now and then. Jeremy lurks close behind. Simon, oblivious to him, cuts around a corner street and arrives at home.

3. INT. SIMON’S HOUSE – Moments later

A large front door cracks open, catching on a folded towel. An excited PUPPY bounds towards Simon as he pushes the door open.

SIMON

Helloo?

VOICE (O.S)

Simon? Careful of the towel! Maxi’s peed again!

Simon shuffles into the living room where SIMON’S MOTHER, a forty-something brunette woman, slurps noodles in front of a T.V screen. The house is comfortably messy.

SIMON

Sorry I’m late. I had swim club practice.

MOTHER

…On a Tuesday?

BEAT.

SIMON

Is there a plate for me?

MOTHER (jokingly)

In the dungeon, where you belong!

The two share a smile.

4. INT. CLASSROOM – DAY

The sun shines through a cracked classroom window. Inside, the room is stuffy with teenage angst. Tapping feet, shifting eyes, and creaking desks. At the front of the room, a middle-aged high school ITALIAN TEACHER stands slouched near a chalkboard. Her skin is cinnamon coloured, toughened by the sun. Written on the chalkboard is the word “I BREAK” underlined. The teacher addresses the class.

ITALIAN TEACHER

Can anyone give me the Italian translation for this?

Jeremy chimes in to answer. He gives the wrong answer accompanied with a ridiculous Italian accent. A symphony of laughter from the class follows. Lucy sits at a desk in the back of the class, drawing. Definitely not laughing. Simon cuts in.

SIMON

It’s Rompere

BEAT.

SIMON

… You then have to conjugate it from the infinitive ‘to break’ to the first person… So, ‘I break’ would be io rompo.

Jeremy slouches back in his chair. Shamed and angered. His knees bounce anxiously together. He places a textbook on his lap. Simon glances to the back of the room at Lucy. Their eyes meet – his more eager than hers – and she adjusts her skirt. You can see his heart beat through his neck. School bell rings.

5. INT. BATHROOM – LATER

Simon washes his hands, and pauses. The tap continues to flow. He gazes at his reflection with somewhat needy eyes.

SIMON

Hey Lucy… That notebook new? …. What’s up Lucy? You have nice breasts… Wanna go out with me?

 

The bathroom door flings open. In an instant, we see Jeremy’s fist forcefully swoop in to punch Simon.  Clutches his stomach.

JEREMY

Not so smart now aye, faggot!

 He grabs Simon by the shoulder of his jacket and hauls him out of the bathroom.

 6. EXT. SCHOOLYARD – CONTINUOUS

Jeremy steers Simon to a seedy schoolyard behind the classrooms. He pushes Simon against a wall covered in graffiti. A small gang of TEENAGE BOYS skulk around the corner. Some of them have matching white beanies. Others have more style. On a NEIGHBORING STREET, Lucy meanders towards home. She stops and watches for a moment. Jeremy and the bullies torment Simon. One of the bullies snatches Simon’s backpack. He unzips it and shakes it upside down.

BULLY

Aw sorry bro, was that yours?

SIMON

Common, man… Cut it out.

JEREMY (to Simon)

What are you gonna do?

Lucy continues home at a slight quicker pace. One of the bullies shoves Simon into a nearby dumpster. He falls to his side. Cheek to cement. Some scattered rubbish and a blue SPRAY PAINT CAN lay close to his face. Especially the spray can.

 

7. INT. SCHOOL LOCKERS – DAY

Students are herding through a box-sized hallway. School bells RINGS. Lucy idles at her locker shuffling her books. Background conversations fill the hallway. Two girls talk behind her amongst the herd of students.

GIRL 1

Did you see what they painted behind the school? ..A sky mural or something?

Lucy pauses to listen.

GIRL 2

I heard that geek from Italian did it!

GIRL 1

Oh my god what a loser. Cry for attention much?

Girl 2′s giant handbag scuffs Lucy’s shoulder. She looks at Lucy in disgust.

GIRL 2

Excuse me!

Lucy’s gaze falls down and she apologizes.  She grinds her teeth, dressing her anger with a half smile.

 

8. EXT. BUS STOP- NIGHT

Simon waits at a bus stop near the side of the school. In the distant foreground, we see the same wall he was pushed against. A painting of a BLUE SKY with MELTING DIAMONDS covers the wall.  Simon looks at a sign with a bus timetable. He glances at his watch. Sighs.

9. EXT. STREET PAY PHONE – MOMENTS LATER

Simon feeds the machine some coins and dials. Ringing. A soft voice answers.

V.O

Hello?

SIMON

Mom! The buses have stopped running. Can you pick… -

A hand reaches behind Simon and ends the call. Simon turns around, where Jeremy stands with his unfashionable gang. His eyes widen.

JEREMY

Did you do that painting?

BEAT.

SIMON

Why?… Did you… like it?

Jeremy nods in thought.

JEREMY (CONT.)

You ever tag anything before?

Simon’s fingers brush his bluish purple chin.

SIMON

Here and there…

Simon breaks eye contact in anxious spurts. Jeremy holds out a spray paint can to Simon.

 

10. INT. CAR – NIGHT (DAYS LATER)

A white van occupies an empty street by the high school. Inside, Jeremy, the thugs, and Simon all cluster in a circle. A heavy bass blares through speakers in the background. Jeremy exhales perfect circular smoke rings. His eyes tango between his burning joint and Simon. He holds out the joint to Simon.

SIMON

Oh, I don’t smoke…

The group laughs.

SIMON

I mean… I don’t like it spun…

There’s a BEAT before Simon takes the joint. He takes a deep draw.

VOICE (O.S)

So we ready for tonight?

Jeremy looks at Simon, who’s coughing smoke.

SIMON

Y…yeah!

11. INT. LIBRARY – NIGHT

Books line the shelves of an empty library. At a large white study table, sketchbooks are sprawled messily. Lucy’s hand moves fast, scribbling and erasing in a frantic rhythm.

 

12. EXT. SCHOOLYARD – NIGHT

Outside a familiar schoolyard, a wire fence rattles. Simon climbs up and over the fence. He peers back through the diamond-shaped wire gaps. Jeremy and his gang merge into the darkness behind the fence. Tosses a can of spray paint over to Simon. Simon drops the can, and fumbles nervously. He arrives at a familiar blue wall with painted stars and melting diamonds.

 

13. INT. LIBRARY – CONTINUOUS – NIGHT

Lucy continues to scribble. A round-bellied LIBRARIAN at the help desk assists an ELDERLY WOMAN with a large book. They talk about this and that. And probably Dancing With the Stars. Lucy’s pencil punctures through her drawing paper. ZOOM IN on a perfect replica of the diamond painting on the school wall. Except Jeremy is in it, holding Lucy’s hand under the melting sky. She tears the paper in half.

14. EXT. SCHOOLYARD – CONTINUOUS – NIGHT

Simon smiles at the sky painting on the wall. Sirens sound, WHOOPING closer and closer to the schoolyard. Jeremy and his gang disperse. Flashlights shine on Simon and his spray can. An OFFICER holding a flashlight approaches him.

OFFICER

Hi there.

Simon squints, frozen in panic.

SIMON

Hi…

 

OFFICER

Do you realize this is school property?

C.U. on Simon nodding and smiling simultaneously.

 

15. INT. SCHOOL OFFICE – NEXT MORNING

A neatly arranged office with the occasional potted plant detains a row of students. Simon fidgets amongst them on the end chair. Biting his nails to the skin. Jeremy sits at the end of the row, glancing over at Simon periodically. Lucy enters, rushed. It’s apparent she’s late. Her handful of books and loose sketches fall scattered along the floor. A sketch falls near Simon’s shoe. He fumbles nervously.

SIMON

Uhh… Here let me!

Simon picks up the drawing of Lucy and Jeremy. Stares at it. Shocked. Hands Lucy the sketch.

LUCY

A…actually… this is for him.

Lucy motions to Jeremy. Biting her lip seductively. Simon glares at Jeremy through the corner of one eye. Stands up to confront him. Tight clenching fist. And then…WHAP! The boys fight.

CUT TO:

16. INT. CLASSROOM – AFTERNOON

C.U on Jeremy’s bruised cheek. ZOOM OUT to see rows of small empty desks. Except two. And a teacher reading a magazine at the front of the room. Jeremy sits at the back. Head down. Simon’s at a desk in the front row. He takes a blood stained tissue out of one nostril. Examining his busted knuckle with pride. There’s a crack in the glass that splits the penetrating afternoon sun on separate parts of his face. Simon continues to look forward despite the sun in his eyes. He doesn’t flinch. Not even once.

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SCARS, Jacob Harrison

There is a documentary series called History Cold Case; a team of forensic anthropologists adapt techniques used for identifying murder victims to examine the bones of the long dead – Celtic bog sacrifices, Elizabethan pikemen, that sort of thing. They determine the cause of death and offer a glimpse into how these ordinary people lived but the most interesting and affecting part of the program comes when they reveal a lifelike mould of the person’s face. I can’t help thinking about what my bones might look like to a TV archaeologist, digging me up in a thousand years time. I definitely wouldn’t be a textbook specimen of a 21st Century human; I’ve had many more cracks and dents than most individuals of our era. A dent above the right eye and an untreated broken jaw makes for an atypical skull; these injuries, combined with several cracked ribs and a fractured wrist, might suggest the skeleton of a warrior, or perhaps a stuntman.

Whatever the conclusion of this future cold case, they are unlikely to pick up on the soft tissue injuries that have shaped the landscape of my body. Like the geographical landscape, these fleshly ridges, ranges and valleys are constantly changing as a result of both exterior trauma and the internal movement of forces only partially understood and eroded by time. There is no need for carbon dating; my parade of various bandages, flints, slings and stitches in my photo record would prove to be a more accurate way to measure the passing of time.

Being an Elizabethan pikemen was clearly an unsafe working environment, Celtic bog sacrifice even more so, but being a media student comes with its own unique set of occupational challenges, especially for someone with a few body issues. Take this scene from an average day:

1 INT. STUDIO. DAY.

Light floods JACOB’s eyes as shadowy figures lurk behind tripods. The figures discuss where Jacob should place his left hand in relation to his right, which is holding a small box of toothpicks at chest height. A bead of sweat runs down the bridge of Jacob’s nose, hesitates, then DRIP.

DIRECTOR

Sound! Left… lef- sorry right, your right…chin up… open your mouth. Ok that’s good. Just wipe your for- yeah that’s better.

CAMERA OPERATOR

Rolling!

DIRECTOR

Why is there so much light on his neck? No, Jack lower that red and bring it around so we can highlight his hands.

Jacob wipes more sweat off his forehead, making sure that the scars on his inner fore-arms remain angled away from the camera. The intense beams of the studio lights are not kind to those with things to hide.

It’s tiring, but this scene plays out most days – maybe not a textbook example like this one, but I’m generally conscious of the scars on my right hand and forearms and waste too much energy on trying to hide them. Truth be told, clumsiness and drunkenness have taken a higher toll than any self-inflicted scar. Still they look scary, and now and then I notice an eye briefly trace the jagged landscape of my arms before we both quickly look away. I understand the interest; in the sanitised and safety conscious first world, scars are an exotic, archaic curiosity. Scars – nasty, visible, gnarly scars – are an obsolete malady, like smallpox or polio. Other forms of body modification like tattoos and piercings are increasingly more visible and acceptable but scars remain taboo.

It’s easy to make up stories about my scars that people want to believe, that I want to believe. My biggest issue is that no matter which narrative I choose, these damn scars will be a part of it. Future partners will hound me about them; if or when I have children they will no doubt ask about the marks on Daddy’s arms, and they won’t believe he got them fighting jungle cats forever. I’m of the opinion that identity is fluid and multifaceted. I like being aloof, impermanent and conflicting, a living embodiment of cognitive dissonance. But I’m no flake, I’m no emo, and I’m not the person that made those marks anymore. This is why I like the idea of body modification. I could take charge of my body’s narrative and do something about it. Somehow, could all my scars be put together to tell a cohesive story?

If I held up my right forearm for you, you would see the first part of the story in big ugly type – my largest scar. About twenty centimetres long and almost a centimetre wide in places, its colour fluctuates from white to pink to purple. How brave are you? If you take your finger and trace along the knobbly fire-bolt, you would feel how smooth it is to the touch, how it changes from a wide valley in places to a narrow ridge in others. Because the nerve damage runs deep in some places and shallow in others, I can’t feel parts of the surface tissue but I can feel the muscle contract and release around the bone – it feels like there’s a metal implant in my arm. Scars are rich with abstract sensory information but lack the detail to communicate their origin story.

It was after my flatmate’s birthday and we were pretty drunk. A few weeks beforehand, my flatmate slipped over in the bathroom, falling onto the soap dish and leaving a jagged piece of porcelain jutting from the wall. I was in the bathroom, the floor was slippery – I fell into the bathtub cutting my arm open on the way down and knocking myself out. The next thing I remember I was in hospital, attached to an oxygen mask and various tubes. I had lost a lot of blood and I needed a transfusion. The police told my flatmate they hadn’t seen so much blood outside of a murder scene – he had been questioned after the event, to rule out foul play. The scars on my wrists were much less life threatening or painful; however faded, they cause me the most concern. On both my forearms, there are probably a dozen or so tiny horizontal lines. These little slices were not done on one occasion but represent a long and drawn out war of attrition; my large scar acts as a neon sign directing visiting eyes towards the battlefield.

I spoke to Psychologist Flora Vashinsky, who works in Community Mental Health, helping people with a variety of conditions and histories to find useful strategies to navigate life – myself included. Flora explained to me that people self-harm for lots of reasons. Some harm in attempted suicide. Others harm as a coping behaviour, as a release of the painful emotions they experience. Some harm to feel emotion; unable to feel in the here and now, they can only feel emotion by cutting or hurting themselves. For some it’s a one-time extreme behaviour; for others it could be a routine, a learnt way of coping with stress and emotions they can’t deal with.

‘There’s an emotion behind the behaviour, then there’s the thinking about how you do it, and for some it’ll be extremely, extremely subconscious. The thing is with the cut, that’s kind of the final result. Behind the cut we have emotions, we have thinking, and we have other events that have led up to the actual cut.’

For me, it was probably a combination of factors. Being unable to deal with unpleasant emotions and being unable to demonstrate those emotions was a big part of it – to save others worry and because I’m a big manly-man. Why I kept on coming back to cutting as a release valve was because it took so long to ask for help. I did talk to a professional to find out where those emotions are coming from and I’m learning better ways to deal with those emotions rather than harming myself. Which brings me back to why I want to do something about them.

‘So what do you think about body modification? Tattoos, or deliberate scarification for example?’

‘It depends on where it starts and stops. Is it just an addiction in the end, to the process of having the pain and endorphins and the rest of it fly? Is it something significant and there’s reason behind it? Is it cultural? I’m sure if you asked someone in their late 80’s who’s a holocaust survivor about what their tattoo means to them, it’s going to be different to somebody who has a butterfly on their ass.’

Humans have been using various techniques to mark their own skin and others’ skin for as long as we have been humans. In ancient times people used branding to mark criminals; in more recent times criminals tattooed serial numbers to mark people. In some cultures marks are used to show the caste identity or set of skills possessed; for some it is to mark an initiation into adulthood. In the last half century, counter-cultural movements in the west have adopted many forms of body modification from traditional societies, including scarification. With the advent of the Internet, disperse ‘bod-mod’ communities can now interact with each other, learning new techniques and methods, garnering inspiration from images posted by others. In the miscellaneous alternative scene of today, scarification is a mode of artistic self-expression, a collaboration between the scarification artist and body canvas. Likewise, the ritual of scarification might be deeply personal, the physical pain representing a personal threshold broken, or proof that they can endure.

The Internet can only teach so much about something so physical. To learn more I visited Polymorph Body Piercing Studio in Enmore. I spoke to co-owner Rob Valenti, himself a proud owner of many a tattoo, piercing and scar, Rob’s been a scarification artist for twelve years. I found that scarification is meaningful to both the body modification artist and the person having their body modified.

Over the past five years scarification has become more popular, through mainstream media and communities on the Internet. ‘Five years ago I would say I had one or two, maybe three customers a year; this year I’ve already done about fifteen people.’

‘Some people think it’s quite barbaric, when it’s not really as full-on as it seems. I think scarification is quite similar to tattooing in regard to sensation – it’s not overly painful. When people hear the words ‘scalpel’, ‘cutting’ and ‘scaring’, their head instantly goes to this place of ‘Holy fuck, that’s really got to hurt.’

The interior of Polymorph is quite attractive, with nice hard wood floor and high ceilings. The walls are covered with contemporary art – Polymorph is also a gallery – and behind Rob’s shoulder was the studio itself, where the magic happens, so to speak. ‘What’s it like performing scarification?’ I asked.

‘How do you verbalise it? Because you’re doing something for someone that they really want to do, there’s always that satisfaction when you’re finished the work. People come in here shit scared ninety per cent of the time; by the time that they leave they’re laughing, they’re smiling and they’re happy, and it makes me feel good because they’re taking a piece of me away with them.’

I showed Rob my own scar, told him the story of how I got it. ‘Do you reckon much could be done about that?’

Rob leaned in and had a good look at my forearm, with the analytical eye of a sculptor viewing a newly cut stone. ‘I’m sure we could work something out. It would take a bit of drawing but yeah definitely. I’ve done it for people with facial scars from being in a fights or being glassed, I’ve added little bits and pieces to make it look a little more like a design than just a kind of messy scar. I’m sure if you wanted to, I could take a photo and draw something up?’ Rob took a photo and I’m looking forward to seeing what he comes up with and what new stories my scars may yet tell.

I wondered what others lived experience of scarification was like. You’re probably curious too. Then type, if you will, ‘scarification’ into Google and one of the first links that appears is to a video on YouTube by Gina and Keveen Gabet, documenting Keveen’s scarification. It’s quite a poignant video, perhaps not for the squeamish. Keveen and Gina live their philosophy of ‘Korakor’, a tribal/rural life in the hills of Oaxaca, Mexico, so I was very lucky to catch him via email.

Keveen replied, ‘Using my own flesh as a canvas is a beautiful act in itself. I do not believe I’m harming it or denaturing it. Quite the opposite; I’m writing my autobiography on it. I seem to collect scars the same way some collect clothes or cars. I love to remember scars, they each have a story… It has always been a great ice breaker and that is also how I fell in love with Gina. We compared scars when we met in India.’

I asked if he had any regret, Keveen answered, ‘When people ask me if I regret it, I can happily answer that it’s part of who I was back then…and fully respect and honour that! I don’t think I will do more extreme scarification though… Now, being an isolated farmer in the hills of Mexico, I collect new scars daily. From hammers, nails, bites…

Scaringly yours,
Keveen.

Maybe I am too concerned with how people see me and the stories they build from what they can see. Although, with the increased convergence of identities thanks to Facebook and other technologies, identity formation or ‘personal brand management’ is increasingly important and is played out in the public square. In this neoliberal context, being an active agent in the creation of one’s identity through the choices an individual makes is the greatest good; the inability to construct one’s own identity due to self-inflicted limitations is the ultimate failure, aside from death. Why should I not take charge of the story my body portrays? I may have unwittingly become the ultimate Randian hero.

But I doubt it, thankfully. We really have a limited capacity to shape how we are perceived by others; people make sense of the world based on their past experiences and pop culture mostly. It’s more important what stories my scars tell me. On bad days, they tell stories of fear – fear of hospitals, of being locked up, my version of reality being discounted, being discriminated against, of being thought of as a flake, a risk, undateable, a broken thing. Other days I wear my scars as medals of honour, symbols of battles won. But it all happened so long ago. I look at them now and think, ‘Well, I could have handled that better’. So, am I going to go through with the Scarification? Truthfully, I am leaning towards yes. If I do, it won’t be to tell a story to other people. It will be just for me.

 

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Fault Lines & Other Poetry, Charlie Bridger

Fault Lines
Among the clouds lie
A collection of Titans
Waiting watching… us
-
Shifting and Changing
Dictating the creation
Separating all
-
Imperfection mars
Such is a beautiful face
Mother Nature’s work
-
Cracks on a rock face
Revealing the ages past
Take note for present
-
Innocence stands still
Disaster lies from beneath
We pray for mercy

 

Dissent
Clacton street is where she lives,
Green trees, white two-storey houses,
Clean footpaths meet freshly cut grass,
The yellow bus stop that glows under the street lamp at night,
She slams the door, she will be home soon,
The keys reach the ignition, the fourth attempt,
Don’t be startled, she’s well experienced,
Speeding away from the dull voices by lively friends,
The colours that rule the road bare no meaning,
The signs that rule the road no longer exist,
The dashboard all but glows, Limitless is her speed,
Blurry is her vision, but it is not raining,
She escapes the urban jungle,
Frees herself on the highway,
Bisecting the white lines as she sways,
Rushing into the silence of her neighbourhood,
Clacton street is where she lives,
Green trees, white two-storey houses,
Clean footpaths meet freshly cut grass,
The yellow bus stop that glows under the street lamp at night,
There, she is eternally waiting.

 

Maul
To stop, to stare, ones gaze defines everything,
They stand glittering, flesh exposed, do you see,
Flowing hair, their heels tall, their dresses tight,
To watch the onlookers is quite entertaining,
But upon reflection a thought crosses my mind,
One that is neither positive or fair but sad,
Perhaps jealousy takes reign, or is it lust?

Behaviour defines a character, does it not?
The frown of displeasure speaks a thousand words,
Shocking to them as they are shocking to me,
You need not say much, behaviour can be quiet,
For silence echoes the loudest words
A treatment by the irrational, the blind, the weak,
You will learn your lesson when you recognise,
That the eye burns the deepest hole.

 

Chinamons
Sheltered by the hills and the wealthy houses that dwell on them,
It begins with a field of grass,
Soft on your feet, you walk across it

A collection of trees, offering protection on a hot day,
A hut – housing bathrooms for the futuristic,
And a playground where the kids frenzy,
When the grass gives way to the sand, your feet must be bare,
A trail in which your sight is limited,
The weeds snaking their way through the dunes,
Emerging into the openness, A beach,
Quiet, enclosed within the harbour,
Its breeze passing you in a rush
The water, perfect for standing.

 

Milo
Young we both were, old we grew together,

You aged faster than I did, it’s easy to forget,

As your face depicts timelessness,

I thought we would never end,

The banging of the food bowl,

Against the wall,

When you ate your meal,

                              In less than 30 seconds

The temper you had when we played FIFA,

     Howling at us to be quiet as you sat in front of the TV,

          The swift exit to the garden you would make,

When one of us pushed the button to start the console

 

To walk with you – there was no greater company:

         A park sheltered at the bottom of the bay,

             Where the land sloped down to greet the still water

                           Around we would go, side by side at evenings end,

I thought I heard you this morning when I returned home,

             And for a moment I was expecting you to be waiting for me,

         Your empty bed lying in the corner,

 

A joke in which I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

 

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Fault Lines Behind Fashion, Laura Somerville

Like many women in the Western world obsession with body image is part of my life. It began with puberty and will probably follow me, in some way, for the rest of my life. I am young, healthy and exercise regularly. I am an Australian size 8-10 and understand on a rational level that I have nothing to be concerned about. I am far from overweight and lucky enough to have genetics that means I probably won’t ever be. Yet I am not satisfied with my body, I feel guilty about my love of baked goods, I dislike the size of my thighs, bum and upper arms and wish my stomach was flatter. I am happiest with my body when I wake up in the morning – an empty digestive system means a stomach flat as a board. This will sadly disappear after the morning’s coffee and toast.

I am not alone. This is a constant topic of conversation between my friends and I, who are all as slim as me if not more so. It should be mystifying that beautiful young women feel this way, but unfortunately the obsession with thin is now part of Western culture. While it is part of our broader culture, it is impossible not to recognize the fashion industry’s instrumental role in the fetishism of the ultra-skinny. The body image and beauty standard set by the fashion industry is based in fiction, not reality. Fashion magazines create elaborate editorials where all the model’s flaws are airbrushed away and healthy, glowing skin is photo-shopped in. We are left with a picture perfect image that young women the world over will measure themselves against.

The industry has set an impossible standard that the majority of real women, with their curves and their blemishes, will never be able to achieve, at least not through healthy methods. The fashion industry’s don’t-ask, don’t-tell policy means a blind eye has been turned to the condition and health of models used in photo shoots and on the runway. While there has been a recent shift against promoting models that are known to be suffering from eating disorders, how can this really be policed? And how can you ensure that everyone in the industry is onboard? Whether it is continuing or not, the reality is fashion magazines were promoting models who were suffering from an emotional and physical illness. These models lose weight to fit into the impossibly small sample sizes and are then praised for how good they look. They are booked for shoots in high profile magazines such as Vogue and their behavior is rewarded. In light of this it is no surprise that eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia, have trickled through the pages of the glossy magazines and into the real world.

Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia stem from the desire to look different and fix something about oneself. This may be physical or emotional – while eating disorders manifest in a physical form this doesn’t mean the cause is also purely physical. For most sufferers, the root of the problem is deeper than food and weight related issues. Things like depression, insecurity and the pressure to be perfect or feeling out of control are masked by their ability to control what food goes in and out of their body. Once a sufferer is deep into their eating disorder it becomes hard for them to distinguish between reality and fiction – their own body image is highly distorted.

Someone with a healthy body image will be saddened or even repulsed when they see an image of someone who is severely underweight, while someone suffering from anorexia will only feel worse about their own body and set their weight loss goal even higher. The illusive supermodel becomes a muse as opposed to an unrealistic image of what the female form should look like.

Growing up I felt these pressures, as did most women I know. In year eight I dabbled in bulimia, knowing I could never commit to the drastic measures needed to become anorexic as I loved food too much. This sentiment pinpoints how harmless my ‘eating disorder’ really was. After recess and lunch I would go to the staff toilet and stick my fingers down my throat. This went on for a few weeks until my concerned friends took me to the school counselor and she phoned my mum. I am now ashamed to say this was more attention seeking, a desperate bid to fit in rather than a desire to be ridiculously thin or disgust in my body. If it appears that I’m making light of eating disorders I assure you this is not my intention. However, I can see now how trivial my experience was compared to real victims of this disease. It consumes their lives in a way it never did mine.

Over the years there have been numerous cases of young models dying due to the prolonged effects caused by anorexia. Particularly notorious is the death of French model Isabelle Caro, who spoke openly about her battle with anorexia in a hope to educate young women and men. Caro struggled with anorexia from the tender age of 13, caused by what she referred to as a ‘troubled childhood’. She then went on to work as a model rocketing to fame in 2007 after teaming up with Italian fashion brand Nolita to shoot an anti-anorexia advertisement in which she posed nude. This was the first time the public saw Caro as she really was – a skeletal body with protruding vertebrae and facial bones. The image shocked viewers worldwide. For Caro the campaign seemed to have the opposite effect, the images made her famous, the face of anorexia and a media darling. Caro’s condition didn’t improve and sadly she died 3 years later from the effects of being so weakened by anorexia. Caro appeared to be trapped in a vicious cycle – the very images that were meant to send a strong anti-anorexia message kick started her career. While her anorexia was not brought on by the pressures of modeling it isn’t a huge stretch to suggest that her prolonged battle with the disease correlated with her modeling career.

In some cases Caro’s advertisement with Nolita had the opposite of the desired effect. Images of Caro can often be found on ‘pro-ana’ blogs highlighted as a source of ‘thinspiration’ rather than a cautionary tale. The back alleys of the internet are littered with pro-ana blogs which have been created, for the most part, by young women suffering from anorexia and/or bulimia. The blogs walk a fine line between support groups for sufferers and a celebration of the disease.

There are numerous photos of painfully thin celebrities and models all captioned by aspirations such as ‘so thin, love it, love her’. Meal plans and nutrition guides are posted followed by exercise plans. There are diary style entries ranging from an outline of the days ‘meals’, tips on skipping meals without drawing unwanted attention and confessions on relapse. When I discovered the pro-ana sites it felt as though I had stumbled into a secret society, one where I certainly didn’t belong. Reading the personal struggles these women were having with anorexia was horrifying. It was painstakingly clear I could never relate to the depth of their insecurities. I wanted to write an angry letter demanding they be removed, but who would I write to and who am I to decide I have the right? These are all personal blogs, forms of self-expression. How could I be so judgmental and presume I knew what was best for them?

Kirstie Clements worked at Vogue for 27 years, 13 of those spent in the editor’s chair. Clements is now an international name thanks to her recent tell-all book about her Vogue years. A candid Clements reveals the seedier side of the fashion industry, describing models as ‘one of the most controversial aspects of fashion magazines and the fashion industry’. The conundrum of who should be blamed for the portrayal of overly thin models is complex. Magazine editors are generally in the direct line of fire but as Clements explains the problem begins long before reaching the glossies. Designers use skeletal fit models (an in-house body the clothes are designed around). The collections are then sent to the runway and worn by equally tall, pin-thin models, as that’s how the designer wants to see the clothes fall. Runway samples are sent to magazine stylists who must cast a model who will fit these tiny sizes.

Clements relays various horrifying accounts of models she had worked with over the years whose bodies were depleted as they openly starved themselves. While Clements admits she was complicit this appears to be an admission she is only comfortable making now. During her time as editor she was in a position where she could have pushed for real change. There were minor attempts such as instigating a policy that Vogue would not employ models under the age of 16. While a good start this wasn’t exactly the platform for ground breaking change. From her account it appears Clements was caught in a constant tension between what the fashion office wanted, what the readers wanted, and her own morals.

In 2011 Clements caused a ripple in the fashion world featuring a ‘plus’ size model in the pages of Vogue. The issue was a resounding success with readers yet a plus size model has not been featured since. Clements sums up the heart of the problem – ‘the high fashion world has a deep vein of callousness. For every woman who related to the lovely photographs of a curvaceous Robyn, there is a stylist in Paris eating iceberg lettuce hearts sprayed with Evian for lunch and telling the hopeful young models they are too fat to get into the jacket’. What Clements doesn’t say is that she sat somewhere in between the editor who featured a plus size model and this stylist, meaning she remained part of the problem. This is the dilemma of the fashion industry, one I will no doubt face myself one day.

Based on Clements book it would appear thin culture in the fashion industry isn’t changing anytime soon. However, Clements account shouldn’t be taken as gospel. There are many in the fashion industry who believe there has been a definite shift, particularly here in Australia. Fashion designer Krystel Davis asserts the industry’s attitude towards the use of ‘sickly thin’ models has changed dramatically in the last five years. As a designer and creative director of her own label IXIAH, Krystel works across all areas of the industry. She isn’t just sitting in a studio sketching out new trends – Krystel hand picks the models that will showcase her designs, accompanies them on shoots and puts look books together. There’s a certain aesthetic Krystel’s clients are after and according to her it isn’t models who are unnaturally thin. ‘I think you find these days everyone is more health conscious and has more of an understanding. The consumer at the end of the day doesn’t like that look, they feel intimidated and that it’s not real and it’s unhealthy’.

The shift in model culture has largely been driven by the consumer. The days of the 90’s supermodel who maintained her figure on a cocktail of alcohol, cigarettes and cocaine is definitely behind us. Krystel believes this shift is due to a general increase in education about diet, health and wellbeing. Consumers want to see toned healthy bodies something they can aspire too rather than something completely unobtainable. However, you can’t escape the fact that clothes fall better on a tall, thin body and while the models are staying thin the healthy way, they are still often a size 6 – something the average Australian woman is not. This poses a dilemma for the designer. They need slight figures to showcase their product while also meeting the desires of the consumer. I ask Krystel if she has received backlash from consumers in regards to models she has used for campaigns.

‘I have previously. About five years ago we used a girl who was just naturally skinny but did look quite thin in the clothes. We had a few comments from people, things like “that girl’s too thin”, “she needs to eat”, “you shouldn’t use girls like that, you shouldn’t encourage this”. It can backfire and consumers don’t feel like that’s a real person wearing those clothes. If the model doesn’t fill them out the skirt won’t look as good, because it’s made for a real person not someone so thin. But in recent times I haven’t used girls who are too thin. I use girls that look the part of the collection’.

When it comes to eating disorders within the industry it’s hard to know for certain if the culture still exists and if models continue to use extreme methods to stay current in such a cut throat world. Krystel says she isn’t trying to deny their existence or claim the culture is no longer there but in her experience it is certainly on the decline. ‘All of the models I’ve ever worked with have eaten so much. I think they watch their weight and they’re careful with what they eat but I think a lot of the ones that do have the eating disorder or do take it that bit too seriously, their performance lacks. A lot of the time you really need someone who can move and pose and you need that personality to represent your clothing and I couldn’t imagine they’d be able to work properly. For our recent spring collection we used Caroline and she was so skinny but so toned. So she looks healthy enough because she’s got so much shape. She ate really well but she was a naturally skinny girl and when she was in our pieces you can tell she was really toned. You could see that she would just exercise rather than not eat’.

So is this the new breed of model or are they simply better at hiding their eating disorders? When it comes to the glamorous sylphs lounging across the glossy pages of fashion magazines, it’s hard to know. All of anorexia’s tell-tale signs can be photo shopped away. However, when you send a model down the runway these signs are harder to disguise, and I would agree with Krystel, the sickly thin trend appears over. Natural or not, our society continues to celebrate the culture of thin and women are presented with an unachievable standard of beauty. The industry is giving itself a pat on the back for refusing to use models known to be suffering from an eating disorder and promoting models that stay svelte the ‘healthy’ way. But more often than not these models are not an accurate reflection of the shape and size of most ‘real’ women and this is the biggest fault line of all.

 

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Please Leave a Message, Eva Lo

 Hey, this is Oliver. I’m not here right now but leave a message and I’ll get back to you.

BEEP

Guess what? The product launch went really well last night. Vivian was really happy with it. Isn’t that great? Love you.  

Jazz gripped her earpiece, making sure that those connected could hear her voice. ‘Five, four, three, two, one, go.’

She bit her lip as the lights dimmed. This second always seemed to drag. There were so many things that could go wrong at this crucial point; the performers weren’t in place, the lights wouldn’t work. She’s dealt with these issues before but it’s better if she doesn’t have to.

She’s rewarded as a hush fell over the crowd. Soft lighting slowly lit up the stage and the silhouettes of the six dancers on stage entranced the audience. Their movements were smooth, flowing from pointed toes to stretched arms, the dance choreographed to fit the ‘graceful’ requirement of the brief. She counted the seconds until they pulled off the cloth covering the pedestal in the middle of the stage, smiling when their timing was precise. There sat a new line of perfume.

She relaxed. She’d helped start the product launch. Now it was up to the company to sell it.  As an event manager, her part of the job was done.

‘They liked that.’ Kelly, her best friend and co-worker, came sauntering in. ‘I didn’t think, with Oliver gone, you’d be able to do it. Glad I didn’t bet on it. Maybe the rumour was true.’

‘What rumour?’

‘That Vivian likes your work. And that she might be getting promoted soon.’

Jazz blinked. Their boss only made backhanded compliments, not direct ones. ‘You think she would?’

‘Only if you keep up this standard.’ Vivian said as she passed behind them, making them jump.

There was a pause as the friends glanced at each other. Kelly buried her face into her shoulder to muffle her laughter as Jazz bit her fist to stop herself from squealing in excitement.

You’ve just tried calling Jazz. I can’t get to my phone right now so leave a message and I’ll get back to you!

BEEP

Sorry if I sound funny. I’m not feeling well. I guess…I wanted to say I miss you. I wish you were here.

As Oliver reached for another tissue, he cursed his love for the medieval period that had brought him to Wales. He sneezed violently before huddling further into the blanket wrapped around him. He glared at his window where rain spattered against the glass. His ears were filled with the soft hum from his heater, the dullness sending him into a stupor.

Back home, whenever he or Jazz got sick, they’d huddle together in front of the telly and watch trashy movie sequels. He’d tried one earlier but turned it off ten minutes in, reminding him that his girlfriend was halfway across the world. It simply made his heart ache, as well as his head.

Oliver could hear her response. She’d tease him about being a secret poet. She would say he was suffering from man flu, and she’d argue back when he pointed out that she was just as bad when she was sick.

The doorbell rang and he stumbled to the door, wondering who it could be. He’d only been here a week and hadn’t really made any friends yet.

Natalie, his fellow intern, stood there. ‘You sounded terrible yesterday so I brought you this.’ She held up a small pot. ‘It’s chicken soup, my mum’s old recipe.’

Oliver stared at the pot. She shook it lightly. ‘Can I come in?’

Chicken soup wasn’t trashy movie sequels but perhaps it would do. He stepped aside to let her in.

 

Hey, this is Oliver. I’m not here right now but leave a message and I’ll get back to you.

BEEP

Why do people think roses are such a great gift idea?  

Jazz looked at some daisies as she waited for the florist, Peter, to finish with his current customer. She tried not to breathe in too deeply. While a bouquet of flowers could smell nice, she found that a whole shop was overwhelming.

‘And what event are you planning today, Jasmine?’

‘It’s a dinner-trivia night between several publishing houses.’

‘And you need table pieces, of course.’ He nodded. ‘What’s the theme?’

‘I’m thinking sunrise. Something light. I was thinking some daises as part of the pieces. What do you think?’ She valued his opinion; she had been coming to him for flowers for years.

They debated for a while until they had agreed on a setting. As she filled in the paper work he looked at her curiously. ‘How are things between you and Oliver?’

She smiled. ‘Fine. He’s still struggling to settle in but work’s keeping him busy.’

‘But how are you?’

‘I’m good. I miss him sometimes, but that’s natural.’ Jazz paused in her writing. ‘What’s with the questions?’

‘I’m just worried. I’ve been in a long distance relationship before Jasmine. I thought I could handle it.’ Peter ran a hand through his hair. ‘It ended three months in.’

She crossed her arms. ‘Well, Oliver and I are different.’

‘Of course, of course.’

She frowned at him and the rest of the order form was filled out in thick silence. As she turned to leave, Peter called for her to wait. ‘If you ever need to talk, well, just call.’ He handed her a white rose.

Jazz walked out of the store, slowly twirling the flower in her hands. She’d never liked roses; people tended to like their smell but she always found it too pungent. She tried to think of what was next on the agenda but the scent seemed to be infecting her nose. It was why her eyes were watering, not because of Peter’s words. She took a deep breath, swiped at her eyes and at the next bin, threw out the flower, hopefully throwing out any doubt with it.

 

You’ve just tried calling Jazz. I can’t get to my phone right now so leave a message and I’ll get back to you!

BEEP

This site is amazing! Not just the ruins but surrounding countryside. You would love it. Wish you were here. Missing you.

Oliver admired the view as he waited for the site’s head archaeologist to give him instructions, fiddling with his watch as he stood there. The flowing hillsides and green fields were dotted with old sandstone buildings. It was the sort of picturesque scene that Jazz loved.

‘Could you hold the watch still?’ Nat’s voice broke his reverie. Her head was tilted as she tried to read the time.

He covered the face for a moment, suddenly reluctant to let her see it. It had been a gift from Jazz, before he had left. He gritted his teeth and made himself hold out his wrist.

‘Oliver? Are you alright?’

He forced a smile at Nat. She squeezed his hand in comfort, eyes filled with concern.

‘I’m fine. Really.’ He looked up and saw the archaeologist coming back. ‘Time to get to work.’ He stepped away, determined not to focus on Jazz anymore.

 

Hey, this is Oliver. I’m not here right now but leave a message and I’ll get back to you.

BEEP

Horrible day at work. Call me when you get this. Love you. 

She was not hiding.

The fact that she was sitting in a toilet cubicle without actually using the toilet did not mean she was hiding. Sure, it was embarrassing that she’d forgotten the meeting with the client but everyone made mistakes. The fact that it had never happened before meant it was bound to happen sooner or later.

She was angry at herself for forgetting. She’d been brooding over what Oliver was doing and had lost track of time. She slapped herself on the cheeks. Right, she just needed to focus again.

Jazz went back to her desk, determined to make up for her earlier mistake. As she sat down, she glanced at the photo sitting to the side. It was of her and Oliver on their first anniversary. Their third anniversary was coming up in a month, meaning Oliver had been in Britain for five months.

‘Jazz!’

She jumped and glared at Kelly. ‘What?’

Kelly was frowning. ‘Is everything ok between you and Oliver?’

‘What? Yes. Everything’s fine. Why wouldn’t it be?’ Jazz snapped.

‘You’ve been jittery and spacey all day. And you were zoning out while staring at the photo.’ She hesitated. ‘You do know you can tell me anything, right?’

‘Well, there’s nothing to tell. Now, what did you need me for?’

Kelly sighed, handing her a slip of paper. ‘Well, here are the options for venues…’

 

You’ve just tried calling Jazz. I can’t get to my phone right now so leave a message and I’ll get back to you!

BEEP

Sorry I missed your call before. It was Nat’s birthday so I took her out. I’ll call you again later. Love you.

Oliver waited for the computer to turn off, watching as it slowly turned black. He and Nat had been cataloguing pottery all day and he couldn’t wait to get away from the screen. The soft whirring hum of the computer finally went silent.

Nat stretched. ‘Well that’s everything.’

As she turned to leave her wallet fell on the floor. Oliver picked it up, raising his eyebrows when he saw her I.D. ‘Nat?’

‘Yes?’

‘Is it your birthday today?’

She turned in confusion. Seeing him holding her wallet, she took it back. ‘It’s not important.’

He rolled his eyes. ‘Of course it is. Did you have any plans?’ When she didn’t answer he clapped his hands together. ‘Right, well, I’m taking you out for dinner then. My treat.’

After much protesting, she finally relented. It wasn’t until the next day that Oliver realised it had been the first day that he hadn’t thought about Jazz. He wasn’t sure how he felt about that.

 

Hey, this is Oliver. I’m not here right now but leave a message and I’ll get back to you.

BEEP

I miss you

Jazz stared at the ceiling. She lay in bed, unable to sleep. She was stressed out from her job; her mistakes had increased in the last few months.

She didn’t realise how hard this would be, how much she was would miss him. She hoped it would get easier in the future; as Oliver was studying to be an archaeologist, his work would take him away for months at a time. It was why, when the internship came up, she had pushed him to take it. He had always been a little dependent on her and they had to learn to be apart. And from the phone calls, she could tell the trip had been good for him.

For her, it was a slap in the face. She had always thought of herself as the more independent one in the relationship but here she was, unravelling as the year passed.

And who was Nat? The way Oliver told it, she was just his friend but she couldn’t be entirely sure. Which was stupid. Oliver was the last person in the world she could think of who would cheat. But then again, she thought she would be the last person to be breaking down over a long distance relationship. She hated this suspicious, clingy person she’d become but she couldn’t push it out of her mind.

Jazz sighed, turning over, hoping to get some sleep in the knowledge he’d be back in three months.

 

You’ve just tried calling Jazz. I can’t get to my phone right now so leave a message and I’ll get back to you!

BEEP

Just calling to say I love you. I’m going to miss Britain when I leave but I can’t wait to see you again. We should come together next time.

They were on the floor of Nat’s apartment, playing the board game Pandemic and laughing their heads off. In fact, they were laughing so hard he hadn’t heard the doorbell, though she had. She was chortling as she went to answer it. He stretched out, lying on his back, grinning to himself until he heard Nat shriek then cut off. Leaping up, he turned to the door expecting to see thieves or murderers. Instead, he saw her wrapped around a guy, kissing him as if her life depended on it.

Nat pulled back. ‘I can’t believe you’re here!’

The man laughed. ‘Well, I did want to surprise you.’ He looked at Oliver. ‘I see you’ve got company.’

Nat pulled him in. ‘James, this is Oliver. Oliver, James.’

Oliver shook his hand. ‘The backpacking boyfriend, yes? Nat’s told me about you.’ Nat had mentioned that since she’d taken this internship, her boyfriend had taken the opportunity to travel through Europe.

James laughed. ‘That’s right. And you’re the fellow intern.’

He dumped the rucksack on the ground and stretched. Nat tugged at his wrinkled clothes as James wrapped an arm around her. She made a face at the stench of his sweat but didn’t pull away, even as he laughed at her.

Oliver headed towards the door. ‘I’ll give you two some privacy.’

‘Don’t be silly.’ Nat waved her hand. ‘You don’t have to leave.’

‘No, really…’

James clapped him on the back. ‘You should stay. You can tell me the stories Nat won’t.’

‘Are you sure?’

‘Of course!’ Nat said.

Oliver had a great time talking with James and Nat, though he made a note to leave earlier than normal. Seeing the two reunited made him think of Jazz. He sneaked off to leave her a quick voicemail before coming back to share stories with his friends.

 

Hey, this is Oliver. I’m not here right now but leave a message and I’ll get back to you.

BEEP

Oliver, please pick up.

The loud throbbing music vibrated inside her bones. The club was dark and Jazz watched Kelly get picked up. She wasn’t in the partying mood, glaring at the drink sitting on the table in front of her. She had been given an official warning today; if she didn’t pick up her game she would be fired. Kelly had dragged her out, saying that it would help her relax. Instead, she stared blankly at the mass of gyrating bodies.

‘Hi there.’ She was startled out of her stewing as a man sat down next to her. She couldn’t help noticing he looked a little like Oliver and for a moment, it was her boyfriend smiling down at her. ‘I was wondering what a beautiful girl was doing sitting by herself.’

She should tell him she was taken. She should tell him to go away. She should turn this man down. She really should.

 

BEEP

You have one voicemail.

Oliver frowned as he listened to Jazz’s last message. He immediately called her, sighing in relief when she picked up. ‘Hey Jazz. What’s-are you crying?’

 

Download a pdf of Please Leave a Message, E.Lo

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Bipolar Disorder: One Woman’s Story, Francesca Tichon

I’ve grown up around mental illness. My mum worked as a teacher’s aide in a class of severely mentally disabled children when I was a kid, and my sister and I would often spend Take-Your-Daughter-To-Work days there. To us, the kids were funny and harmless, often pretending to be tigers or elephants and playing silly games with each other. But then Mum would come home with stories of colleagues having to go to hospital when the games got out of control and the ‘tiger’ got angry and scratched the teacher hard enough to draw blood.

American feminist and writer Rita Mae Brown once said, ‘The statistics on sanity are that one out of every four people are suffering from some form of mental illness. Think of your three best friends. If they’re okay, then it’s you’ . That’s pretty accurate. According to Sane Australia, an award-winning national charity that focuses on campaigning, education, and research relating to mental health, ‘around 20% of adults are affected by some form of mental disorder every year’ and ‘nearly half (45%) of the population will experience a mental disorder at some stage in their lives’ . Only 3% of adults are actually disabled with mental illness though, some like the kids I grew up with. Most of the time though, you wouldn’t even know if your neighbour, colleague, or sometimes even friend had a mental illness.

Earlier this year, I found out one of my close friend’s mother has bipolar disorder, which really shocked me. My previous experience with mental illness had all been so obvious, but Anne Naylor was a whole different story.

Anne Naylor @ http://becauseofbipolar.com.au/photos-of-my-paintings/sometimes-there-are-fireworks-2/

Landscapes of the Mind. Artist: Anne Naylor @ http://becauseofbipolar.com.au/photos-of-my-paintings/sometimes-there-are-fireworks-2/

I had always admired her strength and ability to juggle work and raising a family including a son with serious mental disabilities (including Down syndrome, mild autism, a severe speech and communication disorder, a mild hearing loss, obstructive sleep apnea and depression), and yet I had no idea that she had been in that 3%. Most people had no idea.

Anne Naylor is a teacher, a mother, an artist, and an author. But about ten years ago she was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. It wasn’t out of the blue; bipolar is a slippery slope, and it took four different psychiatrists and multiple diagnosis before reaching bipolar. You’d think a correct diagnosis would be a good thing, that she could be treated and get on with her life, that’s what I thought at least, but you’d be wrong. It’s much more complicated than that.

Sane Australia defines bipolar disorder as ‘an illness, a medical condition’ that ‘affects the normal functioning of the brain, so that the person experiences extreme moods – very high and over-excited or very low and depressed’. These mood swings can vary in severity, but generally however high one becomes, the individual will experience an equal low. Usually, it’s the lows that lead people to seek help, presenting with severe depression, unable to go to work, look after their family, do the grocery shopping, or even get out of bed. According to Anne, you’re so depressed you’d commit suicide ‘if you could be bothered’. It’s the highs that are the truly destructive part of bipolar though.

Anne got off pretty lucky with her behaviour when she was spiralling out of control pre-diagnosis. ‘For me, it didn’t start with photocopying, but looking back that was one of the indicators. I was planning a party for my son’s eighteenth birthday and decided it would be very creative to display large photographs of him in a continuous border at eye height around the room. I chose the photos I wanted and took them to work. Every day after my colleagues had left the office, I enlarged, copied and laminated photos, 200 of them in total, in what I recognised later as a ‘frenzy of photocopying’’. She would stay up until 3am every night, doing the washing, ironing and folding, cleaning the house, working on the computer, never tiring. She asked her husband for a lime green Holden Monaro for her birthday, and if she couldn’t have that then she wanted a tattoo (‘a big one with beautiful flames of red, orange and yellow, flaring up my right arm from my elbow to my shoulder’). She decided, in her 40’s, that she wanted to be an ice-skating champion, taking classes and confident that she ‘would be great’. She even began writing erotica, leading to a very inappropriate flirtation with a male colleague.

Others suffer much greater consequences from their mania though. In the book Mastering Bipolar, one woman tells of the financial consequences of her mania:

‘It becomes a devilishly expensive dance. I lose control over the purse strings. I need a new outfit; it must be black and sultry. I love it so much I don’t take it off for days. And always, the music. I have been known to buy twenty CDs at a time whilst high. All bought randomly, for their cover or some weird connection to something else that I can’t remember in the end. I love books too. And don’t the booksellers love me. I choose books on colour or because they contain quotes I like or maybe they just smell good. I am unable to stop at just one or two. The only thing that distracts me in the bookshop are all the men. All these gorgeous men seem to be shopping with me. I am admiring eyes, necks, beautiful hands, and even their glasses or the way their hair is parted. I have truly become part-woman and part-werewolf.’

Another woman tells of her husband losing control: ‘Receiving a phone call from him on his mobile at 30,000 feet in first class informing me that he is Neo from the Matrix and that I am to arrange a Porsche to collect him from Heathrow Airport is not a call I wanted to receive, nor could have ever anticipated’. After being released from hospital, he then went shopping and ‘clocked up an extra $3000 (on top of the $15,000 he had already shelled out pre-hospital when he was en route to his £400-a-night suite in London’s Park Lane)’. Whilst in hospital, the husband was also unwittingly allowed unsupervised access to email ‘which sent him straight back into attempting to develop a network for his reality TV idea, and enabled him to denigrate many colleagues for their lack of support, via a global email in which he also lovingly included many a personal detail about our relationship, and espoused our love story as the ultimate in blockbuster epics’.

The things people do when manic can ruin lives. You lose sight of what’s important, think you’re indestructible, and many become sexually promiscuous. According to Anne, the philosophy of a person under the influence of mania is ‘always surrender to temptation for it may never pass your way again’. ‘Some [people] have spent so much money that they have lost their homes. Some have slept with people they shouldn’t have and become pregnant and/or lost their families because of it. Some have driven way over the speed limit and crashed their cars, or been caught driving under the influence, once, twice or three times. Some have found God, or thought they themselves were God,’ she explains sombrely.

Getting a correct diagnosis of bipolar can take years. For many people, bipolar does not develop until later in life, and there’s usually a trigger. For Anne, it was the onset of menopause. For others it’s puberty, pregnancy, or any other shift in hormone levels, and for others it’s not known what the trigger is. Anne was diagnosed with ADHD at first and put on Dexamphetamines, a central nervous system stimulant whose actions resemble those of adrenaline. It’s supposed to calm those with ADHD, but for Anne it was ‘as if someone had plugged me into an electricity socket and switched me on,’ she laughs. She could concentrate, lost her appetite and consequently lost weight, and had plenty of energy. There was a sparkle in her eye and she became quick and witty (or so she believed), and her sex life became mind-blowing. But all this was just kindling for the fire that is hypomania, making her ascent even faster and more exhilarating, and her descent into depression even more crushing.

There are countless stories in books and online of people’s manic episodes. Anne suggests that this is because ‘in hindsight, the ups can provide some hilarious stories, and a great way of coping with the mood swings is to laugh about them,’ as she does when recounting the stories of her sudden passions for cars, erotica, ice-skating, and tattoos. No one wants to talk about the lows though. Sane Australia describes the lows as ‘feeling helpless and depressed, with difficulty making decisions or concentrating’. That’s an understatement. This is how Anne describes it in her book Art From Adversity, A Life With Bipolar:

‘I couldn’t do much. The only thing I could do was sleep. Every morning I would wake up and think, ‘not another day, another long, awful, agonising day that I have to somehow endure until it is time to close my eyes again’. The only respite I had was when I was asleep and yet, during the day, I kept going, forcing myself to do the things I had to do.

I was tired, desperately, achingly tired, with absolutely no energy at all. My limbs were strangely heavy. I saw everything through a fog. Literally. I couldn’t see properly. I was sure there was something wrong with my eyes, even though two optometrists told me otherwise.’

Anne was unable to make decisions on what to wear, what to eat. She couldn’t even read or watch TV. ‘Every single thing I had to do was impossibly difficult,’ she says. ‘I felt like I was climbing Mt. Everest without oxygen.’ She couldn’t even remember what it was like to feel happy.

Though her family were generally supportive and caring without being overbearing, her friends’ reactions, though well-meaning, were not helpful. They would say things like ‘what can we do to help?’ and ‘I’m surprised you have no resilience. Can’t you control it?’, but there was nothing they could do to help, and she was trying to control it.

It ultimately ended in her bipolar diagnosis and a stint in a mental institution.

A correct diagnosis and treatment does not fix everything, however. For some people, the diagnosis offers relief and an explanation for their behaviour, but then there’s always the question of who to inform of your diagnosis. Many people only disclose their bipolar to close friends and family, and only those who must know in their place of work or study. There is still a stigma surrounding mental illness, and disclosing your bipolar diagnosis to people who do not need to know can often lead to uncomfortable situations. In Mastering Bipolar Disorder, one person explains that, ‘sometimes the knowledge burdens others or, worse, is titillation. Sometimes no matter how much you explain, people will never understand.’

When Anne was first diagnosed she took an extended period of leave from work and then resigned due to her illness and side effects from the medication she had commenced. She told only a few close colleagues of her diagnosis and received mixed responses. One refused to believe her and Anne had to try to convince her that she really was mentally ill, another became very embarrassed and suggested this was ‘personal information’ that she should have kept to herself, and another, whilst initially supportive, gradually distanced herself from Anne, and their relationship became uncomfortable and strained. Ashamed and embarrassed due to these reactions from people she had considered friends, Anne never told her boss of her illness. Though her rights should have been protected by legislation, she didn’t want her professional reputation to be compromised due to confidentiality not being respected and people finding out about her being mentally ill.

Once she had stopped working, Anne, who has always been a passionate and motivated woman, was determined to get a handle on her bipolar. She found out as much information as she possibly could, found a psychiatrist that she trusted and saw him (now her) every week (now every few months). She followed his/her advice (such as eating well, exercising, not over-exerting herself in any way), and took her medication religiously.

‘Having to take medication is the pits,’ she says with a resigned laugh. In her book, Anne says that ‘approximately forty percent of people who have bipolar disorder take three or more psychotropic medications and eighteen percent take four or more.’ Everyone is different in what medication works for them, and what works is always changing.

The side effects of medication can be horrendous, and they can’t be predicted. ‘Except in my case,’ says Anne dryly. ‘I seem to get almost all of those so helpfully listed on the information sheets from the drug companies.’ Here is just a sample of some of the side effects listed for Anne’s various medications:

Fatal skin rash, vomiting and nausea, dizziness/unsteadiness, headache, drowsiness, double vision, blurred vision, tremors, trouble sleeping, memory loss, irritability/aggression, joint/back pain, constipation, dry mouth, runny/stuffy nose, fainting, uncontrolled movements of the tongue/mouth/cheeks/jaw, sudden increase in body temperature with sweating or fast heartbeat, restless leg syndrome, seizures, allergic reactions, diarrhoea, excessive and rapid weight gain, inability to control the bladder or bowels, slow or irregular heartbeat, slurred speech.

To many people, these side effects would be too much to bear. But, as one woman puts the choice between sanity and side effects, ‘it scares me, taking a drug to control my mind. But the thought of another episode scares me more.’

Personally, I think the hardest thing to lose would be the creativity so often associated with bipolar highs. Some people, mostly with less severe degrees of the illness, suggest that the creative highs can be harnessed to advantage. Most, however, refuse to allow their mood swings any leeway, knowing how quickly they can get out of control.

When Anne was very ill, she took up painting. Before the onset of her bipolar, Anne had no interest, experience, talent or training in arts. ‘The idea came upon me suddenly, out of no-where. I knew in my mind exactly what I wanted to do, and that was to paint large works and hang them all through my house,’ she explains. She started taking private art lessons, and then enrolled in a TAFE art course specifically for people with mental illness. She went on to study at an art school, and would lock herself away in her studio for hours to paint, often ignoring all of her other responsibilities, finding it soothing and addictive.

Bipolar has affected so many artists, musicians, writers, and other creative’s throughout history, so much so that John McManamy, a renowned mental health journalist and author, has pointed out that this list reads like an ‘honour roll’ . He also says, however, that this runs the risk of glamorising the severity and seriousness of bipolar disorder.

So what is it that connects bipolar with creativity? Apart from the fact that a bipolar high makes the world a brighter place (you can see colours more vividly, feel the music, taste the sunshine. One woman even suggests that you can understand what the frogs are saying), Kay Jamison says that ‘individuals with bipolar disorder … possess the rare ability to think along unrelated tangents, then put the pieces together (‘making connections between opposites’) into a grand visionary whole’ , and that ‘unbridled self-assurance and manic energy fuel the creative fire’ . What I wonder, though, is whether the tunnel-vision and manic energy of a mental illness unburden a person of their other responsibilities enough to allow them the time and inspiration to give an outlet to the creativity they have always had within but never had a chance to express, or whether mental illness creates something within a person that was never there before. Medication makes the world grey though; music is just music, sunshine is just sunshine, and the frogs go back to just making noise, but what if it didn’t?

As hard as living with a mental illness can be at times, those with any mental illness should not be pitied. As Anne will tell you, pity only makes you feel worse. And a woman like Anne Naylor should not be pitied. She is an incredibly accomplished woman with a beautiful family and (now back at work) a job she loves. ‘I take every opportunity to educate people who don’t know anything about bipolar disorder or mental illness and I do my best to empower those who do,’ she says with such passion it gets everyone around her excited by her cause. ‘I am lucky. I have a supportive, loving family and a few very close friends who understand and don’t care about my mental illness. … I am courageous and strong and I am continually surprised by the hidden talents and strengths I find within myself. I celebrate every day, because however long I live, my life will be over in a flash.’

 

Sources
Eyers, K., and Parker, G., (ed.) (2008) Mastering Bipolar Disorder, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, N.S.W.
Interview with Anne Naylor, 16th August, 2013, Anne’s residence, West Pennant Hills .
McManamy, J. (2012) Madly Creative, McMan’s Depression and Bipolar Web, http://mcmanweb.com/creativity.html (last viewed 8th October, 2013)
Naylor, A. T. (2013) Art From Adversity: A Life With Bipolar, Glass House Books, Cairndale, Queensland
Sane Australia (2010) Bipolar Disorder, http://www.sane.org/information/factsheets-podcasts/199-bipolar-disorder (last viewed, 9th October, 2013)
Download a pdf of Bipolar Disorder: One Woman’s Story

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When Adam Found God Under the Kitchen Sink, Toby Wools-Cobb

From certain books in the cathedral, came the idea of the boy. The old man walked to and from each of the bookcases that circled the room and withdrew books, flicked through the pages, thought through the words, and then returned them to their place. He then sat at his table, took his pen and began to write.

He placed his character, the boy, somewhere quiet and alone, a place unto himself for the duration of his use – his own bedroom in an apartment complex. The old man then bestowed the bedroom with a bed, a closet, a door and a window arranged into a pleasing manner.

The boy found himself on his knees, beside a pale wall, running a blue crayon along a rippled crack in its surface. Tears ran down his hot cheeks and he hiccupped between sobs. He did not remember why he was crying, or what had happened before entering his bedroom, or what had happened the day before or the day before that, or his name. He suddenly knew he had a mother. And a father. A sister too but only for a moment and then she was gone, as though caught in a riptide and swept away. He cried.

The crayon slid into a hole in the wall and the tip broke. Shavings crumbled to the floor. The hole glowed at his elbow, no bigger than his thumb. Light sunk into it like a puddle in a notch. The boy lay down on his stomach and peeked through. On the other side, he saw a thicket of twigs and thorns like a tiny, fierce forest. A deer stepped into the clearing and began to nibble a berry from an overhanging branch. He watched her soft, elegant legs pace around as she broke off more berries and ate them. His tears dried and he let out a shuddering breath. It startled the deer and she looked up at the hole, watched for a minute, and slowly stepped closer until the boy could only see her hooves and the tawny fur of her legs. She lowered her head down to lap the stream trickling from the hole.

That evening, he drew the scene with crayons – the sky a crumbled blue – and showed his mother, who hugged him to her breast and told him what a wonderful son he was. ‘Thomas,’ she called him. She was a lean woman, her cheek-bones cradling her eyes, the smell of lavender in her skin. His father walked into the kitchen, a letter crunched in his diesel-streaked hands. His mother showed his father the drawing and his father showed her the three day pay notice.

 

Days passed and the boy watched the little deer eat and rest under an overhanging thorn. To his delight, he had found another world; a crack in the hall that, when peered through, he saw a balcony overlooking a garden of violets, gillyflowers and lavenders circling myrtles. The garden glowed like coral in the moonlight, and a dark-skinned man would appear from behind a reed trellis, dressed as a prince in a turban and silk shirts, leading a sabino horse by the reins. He called out in beautiful Arabic, and a princess came to the balcony, a green satin gown cascading from beneath her floral brocade, flowing between the balusters and down the balcony like mandevilla vines to touch her lover’s fingertips.

The boy’s sister, written into the family at some time, mistook him – clutching his hands around the sides of his eyes and staring into the wall – as though counting for a game of hide-and-seek. She would hide, and later cry because he didn’t play with her anymore, but he could not remember ever having played with her before.

The boy found more and more openings in the walls. A hole in his parent’s bedroom revealed a maiden galleon capsizing into the Baltic Sea, its harbour visible on the horizon. Through a splintering in the kitchen floor the boy watched an eagle soar amidst clouds over a city of white marble far below them. Through a hole under the sink stretched the nave of a cathedral with the pews removed. Bookcases mounted the walls and culminated in the dome of the apse so that the occasional book slipped from the ceiling and fell like a nesting dove that had been struck down. At the far end, in the middle of the sanctuary, an old bedraggled man in a grey gown paced around a desk. He coaxed dust-covered books from shelves at either end of the room, leafed through them for a minute only to return them a moment later, muttering louder each time.

The boy tried speaking to the deer, but scared her away. And his shouts alerted the palace guards who arrested the Arab prince. So when he came to the old man in the cathedral he only whispered, ‘Hello?’

The old man looked up from behind his desk. He frowned and, easing from his chair, walked down the aisle and knelt to the floor so his face was level with the hole.

‘Thomas?’ The old man did not speak to the boy but seemed to look past him. ‘Why do you disturb me?’

‘Why are you under the sink?’

Impatiently the old man said, ‘“Why” is the prelude to “what is” and does not need explaining – why trouble a man who writes with questions of why he writes? Is it not satisfactory enough that which is, is written?’ With a sudden smile the old man claimed, ‘You may as well be Adam and ask why he was created?’

‘I’m under the sink in the kitchen, in my apartment. Apartment number twenty-two. Where are you?’

The old man’s eyes flicked to the boy’s. ‘Apartment you say?’

‘Yes, number twenty-two.’

‘And there’s a hole under the sink?’

‘Yes. But this isn’t the only one, there’s lots. There’s a deer and a bird, and a boat on the water!’

‘Ah!’ The old man’s face wrinkled with a smile. ‘Yes, they would be mine as well.’ He chuckled and with a sly grin he asked, ‘Did you enjoy the deer?’

‘Yes, very much.’

The old man bellowed with laughter. ‘What nonsense! Like an ape commenting on the refinery of the Sistine Chapel! Or a child admiring the remarkable spark in a mother’s womb! Thank you, Thomas, most amusing.’  He returned to his feet with a huff and walked back to his desk.

‘Hello?’ The boy said. ‘Hello? Hello? Hello?’

The old man took a deep breath and exclaimed, ‘Be silent! Be silent!’ He murmured to himself and crumpled a piece of paper in his hands as he approached the hole. ‘Like a rat in the wall with its squeaking – it will squeak! And squeak! And squeak until it is gone for good! Conversation with you is as productive as remembering a dream!’ With that, he plunged the paper into the hole like a plug.

 

The next day, huddled in front of the heater in the lounge room, the boy sat between his mother’s legs while she combed his hair. It was raining outside, pouring musical notes onto the bitumen. His mother said his name, ‘Adam’. ‘It’s always been your name silly,’ she cooed.

The front door opened and a cold breeze unfurled inside and rippled over the boy’s shoulder before being sucked into the wall’s cracks. He heard his father’s rustic coughing and the curses he threw down the hallway. His mother joined his father in the kitchen and the boy listened as his father talked about the rent, coughing hoarsely between each sentence. He heard a sudden thud as his father collapsed to the floor.

His father kept to his bed with a sickness. His chest sunk into itself and his skin draped over his ribs. His blood-shot eyes rolled in their sockets, abandoned, and his speech became the murmuring of dreams. When the boy asked his mother where his sister was, she gave him a faint smile and said, ‘Maybe someday, when your father gets better.’ During the nights the boy listened to his mother crying in the next room, or the delirium of his father, and crept from his bed. He would fall asleep on the floor, curled beside the hole, to the sound of the deer pawing the earth.

When it seemed the boy’s father would die, he crawled under the sink and pulled the grubby paper from the hole and said, ‘Hello? Help! Please, you must help me!’

‘Hello? Help! Please, you must help me!’

The old man looked up from his chair. He sat to the right side of the nave, in front of a make-shift hearth of plywood. An orange glow was brewing, consuming paperbacks piled together. He tossed in the book was holding and came to the hole.

‘My father is sick! My mother is tired! I don’t know where my sister has gone, and the landlord sent us a letter -’

‘And yet you remain!’ The old man paused. A look of resignation came to his eyes. He turned his face to sanctuary and wailed, ‘What must be done to destroy an idea from the mind? I could destroy the world with a flood – but this Noah, this Manu, this Gilgamesh would survive! Were he bound to a book I could burn him to ash but the smell would forever stain the walls!’

‘Please, I just want my family to be better. I’ll never bother you again!’

The old man caught his breath and he grabbed the wall as though to grab the boy.

‘Yes! A bargain. Adam? I promise you your family will be complete once more. You may do what you like; choose your own path, but I need you do one thing for me in return.’

‘I promise.’

‘I want to never hear you, see you, or dream of you again. I want you expunged from my mind?’

‘Okay, I won’t -’

‘What is the landlord’s name? In charge of your apartment. Does he have a name?’

‘I – I don’t know. He lives in the room downstairs.’

‘Adam,’ the old man eyes darted in worry, ‘you must never open the door to the landlord’s apartment, I never got around to creating him. Do you understand? It’s a hole I never filled.’

‘Yes.’

‘What mustn’t you do?’

‘Open the apartment downstairs. Apartment number twenty-one.’

The old man’s eyes searched the boy’s. ‘Good.’

 

The next morning the boy found his father in the kitchen, his chest filling out his work clothes, his eyes bright, and his jaw cleanly shaven. His father kissed his mother on the cheek and left for work. When the boy tried to ask his mother what had happened, and tried to describe his father shackled to his own corroded body, his sister skipped into the room and giggled, ‘Adam’s having dreams again! I heard him talk in his sleep!’ At the sight of his sister, the boy broke down in tears and grabbed hold of her by the shoulders and shook her, screaming into her face that she was not here, she was not here. His mother scolded him and then held him to her breast and hushed him. ‘You’ll grow out of such nightmares sweetie. Don’t you worry.’

Later that day his sister wanted to play hide-and-seek and so the boy ran to the cracked wall with the sinking galleon and stared into the fissure between the flaps of the white wallpaper and saw only the minute grains and splinters ending in a dark, closed line. He ran from room to room, checking every crack and hole in the walls. He took a torch from the kitchen and drove the light through the floorboards. His sister toddled from her room and cried that he wasn’t playing. His mother scolded him but he ran to his room, collapsed to his knees and pressed his eyes to the hole with the deer. She too was gone, along with her forest of thorns.

Days passed, and then weeks, or months, it all seemed the same day to the boy. He would wake up in the morning and find his father in the kitchen, kissing his mother goodbye and leaving for work. His sister would skip into the kitchen and demand a game of hide-and-seek. He played the first few times but then stopped trying. Each day he would wake up in the morning and find his father in the kitchen, kissing his mother goodbye and leaving for work. His sister would skip into the kitchen and demand a game of hide-and-seek. He eventually came to rest his head against the wall but rather than count, he wept.

He tried piercing holes in the walls with pencils, or a nail loosened from a floorboard, or kitchen knives or forks, but when his mother found out she hid anything sharp and had his father repair every hole or crack in the apartment. ‘Lest the landlord make an inspection.’

 

On the passing of the month, the boy found himself standing on the landing outside apartment twenty-one. He was not sure why he felt he needed to open the door. He only knew he needed to see something unknown to him, something different, and apartment twenty-one had grown the magical allure of any latched chest or arcane door that is forbidden.

Inside the landlord’s apartment was the cathedral, the nave broadening out from the doorway. On the other end of the room, in the sanctuary, steam rose from a white mug beside a stack of crisp blank papers. A breeze brushed past the boy’s legs and sailed across the nave, carried by the ripples in the marble floor. It broke into itself against the leg of the desk and unfurled upwards, plucking the papers one by one into the air like feathers.

The old man appeared through an archway on the left side, wrapped in his gown, his jaw unshaven, towelling his wet hair. When he reached his desk he looked at the papers rising into the apse, then towards the door, resting on Adam’s face for quite some time and then finally watching, in sudden horror, Adam’s feet as he stepped into the room and walked towards him.

The old man was frozen; his eyes wide, unblinking; his mouth agape; his breath trembling; his hand pressed against his thudding heart as the boy stood before him and stretched out his fingers. He touched the old man’s hand.

‘Are you okay?’

In a deathly whisper, the old man announced, ‘It would be no more of a shock to me to learn that I did not father the child that I have loved so dearly,’ and fell to his chair. On seeing his tired eyes, the boy fell to the old man’s lap and began to cry into his gown.

 

The old man watched as the books trembled from their shelves and the shelves collapsed into a bed of bricks and dissolved mortar. He watched them drift away. He watched the door and nave fade as though he was becoming blind, and watched his desk sink into the brick floor. He watched the last remaining books, suspended amongst the apse, as though spun together, go their separate ways one by one, and then he watched the apse be withdrawn as though by an invisible hand.

He placed his hand on the boy’s head, smiled meekly down at him and said, ‘I am sorry, Thomas, I have been such a fool.’

 

Download a pdf of When Adam Found God Under the Kitchen Sink, T. Wools-Cobb

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Pieces Apart, Shannon Baker

The photograph sat in a wooden frame on the foyer table. It showed my family, standing in a park by the beach. Even then Alice appeared fragile, like she could blow away in the wind. Mum smiles, content and relaxed in loose white linen pants and a kaftan. I’m wearing a short white dress, squinting at the camera, wrapped under dad’s arm. Dad’s white shirt is pressed against his chest by the wind. His smile is friendly and his eyes reflect the sea. His other arm is wrapped around Mum; he towers over her small figure. My sister Alice is standing separate from us, hunching her shoulders away from the camera. She gives the camera a small smile. We look like sisters; we’re both tall and blue eyed. We almost look like twins in that photo, except her hair is strawberry blonde while mine is stubbornly mouse brown. It was taken a few months before she was admitted to hospital. Mum’s free arm is reaching out as if to pull Alice closer to her, but there is a clear gap between the three of us and her.

I turned from the photo and I took a deep breath, looking at my reflection in the foyer mirror. I walked down the hallway and into our kitchen, where my Mum was bobbing a tea bag in a mug. I quickly said goodbye to her and grabbed my school bag.

‘Ellie, why don’t you invite a friend around on the weekend?’

I shrugged in a non-committal way. I didn’t want to explain to my friends why my sister wasn’t at home, or why I didn’t feel like going to parties or outings.

‘Remember tomorrow we have to be up early to get Alice from the airport.’

‘Yep I know,’ I said over my shoulder as I headed for the door.

At school, the courtyard was packed with my old friends. I smiled at a girl in my Maths class. She raised an eyebrow at me and turned back to her group of friends. They burst into giggles. I retreated into the shade of the gym and sat down, leaning back onto the cold brick wall. I closed my eyes against the glare of the sun and tried to pretend I was somewhere else. My old friends were giggling again; I kept my eyes firmly closed, in case they were looking my way. Suddenly, I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder. Will sat down next to me.

‘Hey. How are things?’ He smiled his casual smile. Will was tall, slim and strong. He had brown hair flecked with blonde. I caught his eye and he winked. His eyes were a startling green. After four years of friendship, I was still struck by those eyes. His shoulder brushed mine and I felt a warm shiver down my back.

‘Fine. Yeah okay. Alice is coming back from Melbourne soon.’ I replied.

‘I hope she’s doing well.’ He said, looking down at the concrete.

Two years ago when Alice spent weeks in hospital, attached to metal poles by drips and feeding tubes, Will was the only one I would talk to. I remember the late nights; Mum and Dad taking shifts trudging to and from the hospital, carrying overnight bags with clean clothes and memories from home. I would stay awake watching the television flicker in the dark. When it was turned up all the way, so that the noise echoed throughout our big house, I could relax. When I was alone the house seemed eerie and I would toss and turn, unable to sleep. I would call Will, and we would talk for hours and watch the same shows. The rumble of his deep voice over the phone was always comforting.

The shrill ring of the bell interrupted my thoughts. Will jumped up and grabbed my hand, helping me up. The rest of the school day was a blur. Will was the only person who spoke to me. I was almost grateful to be left alone with my thoughts.

The next day I set my alarm for six; I was anxious to see my sister after months apart.  Mum chatted all the way to the airport, more nervous and excited than I was. The airport was crowded with families, couples and friends. Air hostesses’ heels clicked on the tiled floor. A few people dashed past us towards a gate, their suitcases rolling behind them. A pleasant voice made an announcement over the PA system. We walked towards the gate where Alice would be arriving. Mum kept looking at her watch.

A few minutes later I saw Alice’s strawberry blonde hair amongst the arrivals. As she got closer a coldness washed over me. She was wearing a long dark trench coat that flapped around her knees. The collar was pulled up against her neck as though to ward off the wind, though it was a warm October day. Her clothes swamped her; under the mass of fabric her tiny frame was still painfully apparent. Her fringe was swept low over her eyebrows. Her skin was the colour of skimmed milk. Shadows gathered under her eyes. Her cheeks sunk steeply into thin lips. She looked like she did the last time. She stood awkwardly a few feet away from us, fumbling with the sleeves of her coat.

I could almost feel my mother’s heart break. Her whole face seemed to fall, sagging into itself. She slumped under the crook of my dad’s arm.

Dad’s smile was faltering. ‘Let’s get your bags then.’

These were the only words spoken between us while we left the airport. During the car ride home, I sat in the back seat gripping the door handle. Alice stared resolutely out the window, as cool and still as china. Mum hummed a little too loudly, trying to fill the awkward silence. Dad busied himself with the GPS system, though there was only one road home.

That night I watched Alice stare at her lap while her dinner turned cold and congealed. I looked at my mother closely and noticed for the first time the tiny creases etched into the corners of her mouth. Her eyes were glassy, threatening to spill over with tears at any moment. Dad’s cheeks turned red with the effort of remaining calm. Alice tossed a few peas around her plate.

When Dad spoke his voice was low. ‘We know you haven’t been eating. You’ve probably eaten the bare minimum all the time you were in Melbourne. We’re not stupid Alice. That was our one condition. You go to Melbourne only if you maintain your weight.’

Mum put her hand on Dad’s arm.

‘I’m fine,’ Alice’s said adamantly.

‘You are not fine,’ he said, clattering his knife and fork down on the table. I studied the wall tiles on the other side of the kitchen. Mum gave a small choking sound, almost like a sob. She shot Dad a desperate look, imploring him to stay quiet.

‘She is fine. Just very stressed. With the internship, staying somewhere unfamiliar and having to make new friends,’ Mum said.

‘Yes that’s right. I really had no time to prepare meals when I was over there,’ Alice replied carefully. ‘But now I’m back home it will be much easier. I’ll be back in my own place with my old routine. Don’t worry Dad, it’s not like before.’

That night, hours after I heard Alice’s car drive away, I could still hear the murmurs of my parent’s conversation downstairs. Mum was speaking in a hushed, earnest tone, overcoming Dad’s intermitted injections. I heard him say, ‘I know, I know,’ and ‘yes’, before going quiet. I didn’t understand how either of them could have believed her. I felt like she was slipping away again.

Two weeks later, I caught the bus to Alice’s apartment. She had been avoiding our calls, leaving short text messages saying she was really busy at work. I wanted to surprise her, and to see that she was doing well like she said she was. It was a small block, four apartments all with narrow balconies bordered with glass walls.  Alice’s door was closed but unlocked. I walked in and called her name. I walked down the hallway, passing her bedroom, and a pokey laundry room. I remember hearing a strange humming noise that grew louder as I continued down the hall. It was a soft mechanical whirr. A withering pot plant sat scrunched in the corner. It was then that I found the source of the noise. Squeezed in between the couch and the television was a treadmill. The treadmill belt was racing and rolling, and whirring to itself. Alice was crumpled between the treadmill and the wall, her legs squashed awkwardly beneath her. One white limb was caught on the treadmill belt, flopping uselessly. Her arm was blazing red and grazed. I couldn’t see her face; her cheekbone was pressed into the carpet. I quickly turned the machine off. I bent over her and moved her arm away from the belt.

‘Alice?’

A towel had fallen from the treadmill, and was slightly tangled around her.

‘Alice wake up,’ I shook her a little.

Her eyelids fluttered for a moment and she shifted her weight. It was then that the towel came off her.

Her bones were stretching and straining against her skin. I could see every ridge in her body, every dip and rivet. She tried to move again and I could see bone scrape against bone. Her skin was like paper, red raw in places from the treadmill belt and so pale. Her fingers were tinted blue. Through her sports bra, her shoulder blades protruded from her back, as though straining against the confines of her skin.

I don’t remember leaving the apartment, but I remember crying to a woman on the street, ‘please help my sister’, wondering how anyone could help someone so intent on hurting themselves.

She was taken straight to hospital; the nurses told my mother she would have to stay there for some time. I took four days off school, ignoring Will’s calls. I spent the days wrapped up in a blanket, watching mindless television shows. On Friday I decided I couldn’t avoid school any longer. I had walked half-way through the car park before I saw him; he was leaning casually against the wall of the gym. He rushed towards me looking relieved.

‘Alice is back in hospital.’ I said.

We started walking slowly towards our first class.

‘I’m sorry.’ His voice was low and his eyes stayed locked on mine.

‘I feel a bit guilty…that she has to be there while I’m-’ I searched for the word ‘healthy.’

He nodded.

‘I’m visiting her this afternoon,’ I continued.

He grabbed my hand and I felt safe, like I was anchored to something steady.

That afternoon I drove to the hospital with my parents. Mum gave me a reassuring smile as I left them in the waiting room and walked down the linoleum hall to Alice’s room.  I hesitated by the door before knocking lightly, as though I was visiting a stranger.

‘Alice?’

I walked slowly into the room. Alice had a private room. The walls were painted a relentless oatmeal colour. A small window looked out onto a park that bordered the hospital. Alice was curled up under a white cotton blanket. I tried to not look at the tubes that connected her to the IV pole that sat like a permanent resident in the corner.

She was facing away from me, looking out the window. Her hair was limp and lank. I reached out and tentatively brushed a strand from her face. She recoiled from my touch like she had been burned. She looked up at me with fierce hollow eyes, before turning and facing the window again. I backed out of the room, dashed down the hallway. There were people congregated around the elevator so I headed for the stairs, racing down two at a time. A few minutes later I walked quickly from the stairs to the main exit, dodging wheelchairs and visitors. Outside the automatic doors I took a deep breath of fresh air. I pushed down a familiar sense of rising panic. I wasn’t going to let myself fall to pieces.  A few minutes had passed before I saw him. Will was leaning against a tree near the entrance to the car park. People weaved in and out around him.  I walked to him and he wrapped me in his arms.

‘You don’t have to stay here,’ he said. I felt his voice vibrate against his chest. His hand stroked my head, and my tears started flowing. I pulled back and looked up at him.

‘Yeah. We can go now.’ I gave him a wobbly smile.

He laced his fingers through mine and we walked up through the car park.

Later I opened the front door and stepped through the threshold, with him following close behind. I walked into the kitchen and saw Mum standing in the kitchen. She turned when she heard our footsteps. Her smile reached her eyes.

‘Alice told me you’d left. I’ve been talking with your father. I’m going to be home more for you this time’. She said.

I walked towards her and engulfed her in a hug.

‘We’ll be fine,’ she whispered into my hair.

I pulled back and nodded. I walked over and sank into the couch. Will wrapped his arm around me.

‘You can come and stay with me for a while, if you want.’ His voice was soft. I looked into his eyes and was tempted.

‘I think I’ll stay. I want to go back to the hospital again, maybe not tomorrow but soon. I’ll just sit with her. Even if she hates me, I’ll just sit for a while.’

I knew I would still visit her, even if she flinched when I touched her. Alice was caught up in the circle of her own hateful thoughts about herself. My thoughts were clear. I couldn’t stop her from hurting herself, but I could be there if she needed. I knew that I would be fine, that despite the damage done, I would be strong enough to piece together the gaps.

 

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Joshua & 1000 Words, two works, Aidan Wondracz

Joshua

static

- The difference between a man with religion and a man without is that the man with religion spends his life fulfilling a purpose   whilst the other spends his life searching for one.

follow this road: rugged and rude/ joshua and adem rattle along. dawn brightening to azure day/ falling ochre/ settling to dark waters— spheres glimmering/ in that sky/ that flinches from touch—draining to day/ and back again. sleep/ puffed/ under eyes that want for rest/ on that familiar sight/ home.

static

-And who has the harder path? You may say it belongs to the one without purpose. But how can this be? He can do nothing wrong, for there is nothing right to mark him by. He can make no immoral statements, for there are no moral judges. Such concepts do not exist in a world without purpose.

sun is settling/ ochre chalks the sky/ silhouette landscape/ nigerian border is the horizon/ three-kilometres of sleeping trucks: waiting for inspection/ waiting to cross/ joshua parks in line.  adem turns the radio up.

static

-When he kills a man he does not say, I have killed one of God’s children, for he does not believe in God. When he sleeps with another man’s wife he does not think, I have tempted Eve, for he does not know who she is. He lives free, but lacking life.

joshua lurches out/ onto the ramshackle road/ bordered by rusted huts/ with broken frames/ jutting the sky. charisma of/ safari of red sun/ over red land/ lost to image of/ safari of slums/ poverty’s tread.

static

- He may experience the warmth, the flowering and never the fall, but he will always feel the wintery cold— the same freezing that stems from emptiness. Without purpose, what is anything for?

taxis cycle past/ joshua saddles on one. adem/ obsequious/ stays locked behind/ guarding the wheels from those/ desperate/ to save their hands/ guarding the cargo from those/ desperate/ to sell/ guarding the truck from those/ desperate.

static

- No, the harder path belongs to the man with religion, for every religion brings purpose. He who wishes to fulfil it must walk a path that is hurdled with bumps and hollowed by potholes. And following not too far behind, is Temptation.

nigerian border/ road settles to dust/ dusk settles to dark. no streetlights/ passing cars are the light of the night. old gum-smacked lady sitting on folding chair/ drinking the moon away/ coaxing a smile.

static

- It whispers for us to strike the one who cast the first stone. So we do, and we trip, not seeing the bump. It tells us to steal a glance from another man’s wife. So we do, and we fall, not seeing the pothole

joshua pays taxi/ that curls away/ under blanket of night. he heads along veins/ away from beating heart/ horns echoing/ fading. huddles between shacks and passers/ the way gets narrower/ the way becomes darker.

static

-And sometimes it is easier to lie face down on that ground, or hide in that hole, rather than to show your face. But, for those who grow tired of being numb—for lying too long on the cold—and sallow—for hiding too long in the darkness—the path does not end. Rather, the struggle to rise begins. And you realise that you are not walking on the path of virtue, for virtue is our purpose, and virtuosity is our end. No. The path is hurdled with bumps and hollowed by potholes. It is the path of Error, and the hardest of all. For though the fall is definite, the rise remains uncertain. The ones who leap, knowing this, are the bravest of all. It is in faith and for faith that we do this. And that is all.

a shack/ no bigger than the others/ but smaller than some/ a broken wall/ serving drinks/ tables perched out front/ he pushes to the counter/ counts his counters/ pays/ sits and drinks. warm neon glow of mosquito light/ melts with moonlighting/ over that hunched frame/ brooding/ a sip for thought from a glass filled with drink/ shy of one- and- two- naughts. zephyr of night/ turns to gale of noise/ voices rise/ glasses clink/ urine flows/ shacks rattle/ all passing/ the hunched and brooding frame. into the dark pool of thought/ he looks/ his eyes have greyed/ his stretched lips/ lamed by weariness/ all that shows/ is a hopeless frown. ladies of the night/ splash their feet/ clean to step in. heels flicked on tables/ rags raised above thighs/ dogs go howling/ market’s opened. rensia: pulled- back black hair/ flower dress with ripped petals/ runs her red licked nails/ across joshua’s neck/ whose eyes always set/ on that drink/ shy of one-and-two-naughts. she floats away/ to another man/ happy to rub his face in the flowers. revelry recedes/ silence comes again/ joshua in his bubble/ of blue and moonlight/ sinking deeper/ into that drink that’s turned/ shallow. visions fall behind drooping eyes/ of past time/ sailing the horizon in truck/ sitting where adem sits/ obeying driver as adem obeys/ staying behind as adem stays/ not knowing where driver goes/ now/ joshua knows/ and he shall go. he slips through puddles/ trips over bottles/ staggers to a shack/ heaving inside/ it is busy/ stumbles to another/ whimpering inside/ it is busy. travelling deeper along/ darker it becomes. plastic lawns/ cracking under heel/ he passes through narrower/ darker/ spaces/ shacks almost touch/ clouding moonlight/ hands against walls/ guiding blind feet/ through hanging rags/ painting the laundry/ with sweaty face/ clammy palms. a murmur a rustle/ both at once/ woman appears/ in doorway/ she nods/ she walks inside/ temptation whispers/ he walks inside: one room/ four corners/ bed lies in one/ hatched quilt over stained sheets/ woman sitting/ arms stiff/ leaning over/ he sits beside/ spring pokes through/ deflated condom by his foot/ silence. she shivers/ thought of night carrying/ longer she must sell. he rattles/ thought of night losing/ less he’ll enjoy. he strips her threadbare/ of her threadbare clothes/ she paws for pillow for protection/ lying underneath/ neatly wrapped/ she tosses the plastic/ he flinches/ shakes his head/ she shakes hers at his/ and he shakes again. she pushes the plastic/ into his hands/ his palms are too clammy. condom hits ground/ His face up/ Je n’ai pas dit[1] reads across/ he presses against her/ she pushes away/ deal is off. he rises/ distraught/ disconcerted/ He spoke/ Je n’ai pas dit/ He spoke Je n’ai pas dit. he pulls out fists of money/ she spreads/ deal is back on. onto the streets/ shirtless/ missing a shoe/ joshua staggers/ leaning over/ fist anchored in red/ scrunching money/ whining grows distant. through and through/ he travels/ slipping/ sliding. from behind a shadow/ which one he does not know—perhaps from same one he is standing in—appears four/ three grown/ tall- like/ gleaming teeth/ the other/ small- like/ not yet man/ soon to be. surrounding him/ three umbrella thorns and one bushwillow/ joshua trips. trees bend down/ helping him by the hands/ bushwillow brushes his face/ branches rattle/ tempest subsides/ forest clears/ joshua lies/ blood wrapped/ hands/ emptied.


[1] ‘I said no.’

 

intermission

dawn swallows the dark/ smoke chokes the air/ distant horns/ joshua’s eyes recede/ consciousness catches up/ head goes spinning/ tastes blood/ he fumbles and tumbles/ checks his empty pockets. the night is what he remembers it to be/ dark/ gloomy/ obscure/ a woman sitting on hatched quilt/ he touches groin/ Je n’ai pas dit/ he said no. he crawls his way back to the heart/ with crowds of cars/ and people/ marching through/ market- stands standing in the way/ of every passer-by/ merchants run/ accessories assorted on wooden plates/ marked with prices negotiable/ Je n’ai pas dit/ why did she say no? he touches groin/ car noise exacerbates/ sight blurs/ three kilometres back he travels/ he reaches that familiar sight/ that’s not home/ finds adem curled in seat. joshua and adem move forward/ along that rugged and rude road/ adem pushes back the sleep/ he sits up/ dashboard is too high for him/ to

see

 

an

 

end.

 

 

1000 words

 

Artwork

‘I don’t like the painting. It’s too postmodernist.’

‘It is quite minimalist.’ Francesca tilted her head. ‘But you gain a sense of urgency from The Artisan— a cry for recognition.’

Marion crossed her brows. ‘How?’

‘Well, the red is obviously overwhelmed by the white,’ Francesca continued, ‘it’s as if the artist believes he’s insignificant—like a dot— and feels he is floating in the white. Yet, he manages to triumph because we’re always drawn to the red instead.’

‘I don’t know,’ Marion said. ‘It just doesn’t speak to me as suddenly as his others.’

‘What’s wrong with a bit of a tease?’ Francesca sipped from her glass, sticking a scarlet kiss on the rim, ‘I like my men with a bit of mystery. Though, they can’t be too enigmatic—I still like to have some sort of a hold on them.’

‘Paintings and men are completely different.’

‘The only difference between the two is one is stroked by the brush and the other can’t stop stroking their own, and both have the equal capability of amazing or disappointing.’

‘They always disappoint past first inspection.’ Marion sighed and lifted herself to laughter with Francesca.

The empty floor catered to the high heels and polished shoes that sauntered across the room; women, choked in tight dresses, and men pressed in suits had gathered to pamper and praise The Artisan’s paintings along the walls. However, The Artisan himself was nowhere to be found.

‘Speaking of which,’ Marion searched for a signature on the painting, ‘where is he, and why does he never sign?’

‘You know how artists are; always wanting to avoid the spotlight because they think it will fade the colour of the paint.’ Francesca fidgeted with her cleavage bursting from her dress. ‘I’d be surprised if he actually showed up to this demonstration.’

‘He never does show up to any of them, does he?’ Marion gazed obstinately across the room. ‘I’m never going to understand this male.’

A man, wearing frames without glass, overheard and squeezed himself between the pair.

‘From what I’ve heard,’ he muttered in his glass, ‘he’s homosexual.’

‘And what makes you say that?’ Marion drew tight eyes at the unwelcome company.

‘Well, why else would The Artisan be so shy of public eyes? He’s scared of being berated for his sexuality.’ He turned to Marion, clumsily twirling his wine. ‘There’s nothing wrong with being homosexual, dear. But they have to make a big deal out of it and, judging from the rumours, there’s not even much to make a deal about.’

‘I don’t care if he’s homosexual,’ Marion snapped.

‘Oh, my.’ The man beat his palm to his chest. ‘It seems that we have a bit of an obsession. There’s nothing to blush about, dear. Everyone is bound to fall in love with The Artisan sooner or later. And who wouldn’t! Just look at the paintings. This one is my favourite. I think it captures the true essence of his sexuality and frustration of being unable to speak out.’

Impressing herself upon people was an unshakeable desire of Francesca’s— sometimes she even managed to impress herself— and she replied in a tone that was not too far sounding from ostentatious,

‘The dot represents his loneliness in the world and its centring would show that he holds his sexuality as a core value, but he’s afraid to speak out, because once he does, his value might not remain at his core; he’s afraid of losing his sexuality.’

The man clapped his hands, smashing the glass and splashing the wine,

‘An artist too afraid to lose his homosexuality, why, he’s a proud Tchaikovsky! And you, my dear,’ he lost his footing and held onto Francesca, ‘are magnificent. If only you could peer into my soul, the things you could tell me that I don’t even know.’ And the drunken socialite tearfully tore himself away in search for another glass.

‘They should keep a tab on how many drinks people can have.’ Marion watched the drunken man cradle a stranger in his arm before beginning to sing.

‘No one would turn up to these, then.’ Francesca laughed wiping wine from her arms. ‘And it’s nice to have some character in this room, especially when the artworks lack it. They’re all just colours, shapeless characters; different hues of boredom.’ Francesca took Marion’s sniffing as an obvious expression of the question she wanted to ask, and answered, ‘Just because a painting has meaning, doesn’t make it interesting. It might be interesting to find out what it is implying, but the actual work itself mightn’t be anything fantastic. I could hang this painting on the white wall at home, and the only difference you’d notice was a perfectly rounded, tiny, red stain. No matter what cleaner you used it would never wipe off, and it’d annoy you for being so pretentiously rounded; an irksome red against the white.’

And it suddenly occurred to Marion that the artist did not paint the work for recognition, or to express his sexuality, but rather to become unrecognised. Even though he had layered himself in mysticism, avoiding the public lights, he could not remove his name—The Artisan—the core sentiment of identity. No matter how small a being he made himself, his name had marked him a noticeable red.

Marion relaxed to a look of content. ‘Whether there is anything to look at or not, this painting is still interesting. I like it.’

‘Like what you will, but that doesn’t affect my opinion— I’d prefer a much more interesting stain on my wall,’ Francesca replied.

The front doors opened. A combed man, smelling of lavender, walked in wearing a dress of leather shoes, white collared shirt, black blazer and pants. All eyes were agape; all mouths closed. His hands were timidly crossed in front, but he smiled warmly. After clearing his throat of some uncomfortable phlegm, he opened it to speak.

Francesca leaned over to Marion and whispered, ‘That suit doesn’t match his character at all.’

 

1000 words.

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From Above, Lydia Tasker

Lorne shifted into fourth and below him the gears gnashed angrily. He stamped on the unresponsive clutch again, shoving the gearstick down. With a crunch the cogs found each other in the greasy darkness of the gearbox, and the whine of the engine moved down a key.

‘Piece of shit,’ he muttered, and Sally grinned at him from the passenger seat. She laid her pale hand on his and squeezed. A hot gust from the east danced through her window, tousling greasy hanks of her hair across her face. Swaying gently, her whisky breath floated on the wind. Lorne wondered how many more she’d slammed back while he’d been in the toilet. Mick at the Brass Monkey started pouring her Jack Daniels, no ice, as soon as she walked through the door, greeting them with a nod. The wrinkles around Lorne’s mouth puckered as his lips twitched with affection and he accelerated.

Sally cackled, and her lips spread tight across her stained teeth. As the quivering shell gathered speed she hung her head out the window, and the steady flash of neon streetlights caught her in freeze-frames. The light snagged in the deep grooves around her mouth, and fractured hieroglyphs traced paths across her face. Lorne reached down to spin the radio dial and Pearl Jam filtered through bursts of static.

Sally squealed and turned up the volume, filling the car with the grating guitar intro of ‘Smile’. ‘I miss you already, I miss you always,’ she sang tunelessly and leant back out the window. In the glow of the next streetlight she blew Lorne a kiss. He shook his head and kept his eyes on the road, but his mouth twitched with affection again.

 

Morning light spilled through the bedroom window and moved across their naked bodies sprawled on the mattress. As he opened his crusty eyes, Lorne’s world reeled. The sheet clung to his sweaty legs and he writhed to free himself, his breathing laboured. The air swam with the stench of stale alcohol and urine. Lorne glanced down at Sally asleep next to him and studied the angular shape of her body beneath the sheet. He imagined her as an unearthly arachnid suckling from him. Sweeping a strand of hair off her cheek, he reached across the peaks of her shoulders for a cigarette.

Lorne gazed through the dirty window, past the pitching treetops and into the open sky. His tongue rasped as he licked his cracked lips and he wondered if the air was fresher way up there. From far above they would make the tiniest of scabs on the land. He blinked as the mattress squeaked with Sally moving beside him. The greying fabric of her face split into a smile and the scar tissue on her upper lip stretched tight. With a grunt she rolled to the side of the bed, going through the familiar motions of cooking up. Ash toppled onto the sheets from Lorne’s cigarette and the TV opposite squawked with tinned laughter as Seinfeld played.

‘Baby,’ he murmured when she had finished, drawing her close to him, ‘We don’t need no one else.’ The leather strap creaked as he slipped it from her arm and pried the empty needle from her fingers. Her eyelids flickered as her flat grey pupils rolled back into her head, revealing bloodshot whites. Outside, the clouds skittered past and Lorne imagined being so light, far above. Her breath crackled through her burnt-out lungs and Lorne pulled her closer, the emptiness of the sky suddenly making him uneasy.

‘You’re my girl,’ he whispered into her hair. ‘You’re my girl,’ and he hummed as she relaxed into his arms. He pictured her floating high above him, and the red gums flailed against the hollow sky as he listened to her breathing.

 

The darkness of the bedroom swam with noise, and Lorne smacked the snooze button, falling back into the empty ether just above sleep. His mind drifted with dream currents and scenes swam behind his eyelids. As the braying sliced through the air again he switched on the lamp. 3:45am. Beside him Sally lay face down on the bed, her sharp elbows jutting from beneath her like wings. With an index finger he traced the crests of her vertebrae and imagined her as a prehistoric beast while she snuffled in her sleep.

The slow rhythm of pain began to pulse through Lorne’s joints as he dressed. Already he ached to return to the mattress, to Sally and a fix. But there would be no gear without the pay from his shift, and so he forced a cocktail of painkillers down his dry throat. As he kissed her cheek he felt the roughness of a scab against his lips. The bedroom was cold in the silent darkness and he pulled the sheet up to cover her shoulders.

 

A biting wind stung his face as he rode on the back of the truck and hung his head out the side. The air was sweet with the change of season, yet an iciness still whistled hollow nothings in Lorne’s ears. Above in the dusky morning sky, stars shifted and morphed into each other and a Smashing Pumpkins song played on the radio.

He sprang from the moving vehicle as they pulled into the curb, grasped the handle of the wheelie bin with gloved hands and swung it into position. The huge mechanical claw groaned and reached down from the sky. The bin discharged its contents onto the heap with a squelch. Bill, in the driver’s seat, caught Lorne’s eye in the wing mirror and gave him a thumbs-up. A sudden discharge of cramps shot through Lorne’s legs and he grimaced. The stench of the rubbish drove into his eyes and mouth, making him gag. Mixed with the rotting bin juice odours hung the scent of artificial frangipani. The sweet scent swam up his nose, and Lorne was drawn into a fog of memory.

Rain beat heavily on the battered roof of the hatchback as it sat overlooking the stormy ocean. Sally grinned at him from the passenger seat and handed him a plastic bag.

‘To christen your new ride,’ she told him, and he pulled out a tacky air freshener in the shape of a frangipani flower. ‘Now you’ve got no excuse for a stinky car!’ She giggled and kissed him quickly with glossy lips.

Lorne gazed at her as she strung the air freshener from the rear-view mirror and started rolling a joint. Her silvery eyes danced as she chattered about a new job and strands of sun-bleached hair fell across her face as she chopped. A shell necklace that clung to her neck moved as she spoke, and the white shells made her tan look darker. Sally glanced up to find Lorne watching her and laughed.

‘It’s rude to stare, you dickhead! Are you ready to get baked?’

They hot-boxed the car, watching the waves boil against the wet sand and the ocean swallow the torrential downpour. The earthy smell of the weed mixed with the sweetness of the air freshener. Sally opened her window a crack, sticking out her tongue to catch the raindrops. Lorne caught sight of himself in the mirror. His sandy hair curled wildly about eyes the colour of the turgid ocean before them. One side of his mouth sagged a little, and his voice still wavered despite being well past puberty. Sally called these his broken bits, and she told him she loved them the most.

‘Lorne! For fuck’s sake mate!’

Lorne flinched and found himself hovering uselessly beside an emptied bin. Bill hung out the truck’s window waving hairy arms and shouting. As Lorne grasped the bin, a hefty weight once more settled onto his shoulders. He wondered how it would feel to be the sandy-haired boy in the beat up hatchback again. Raising a hand to scratch his head, he felt the close-cropped hair beneath his beanie, and he shivered as a cold layer of sweat swaddled him. The rhythm of his pain beat louder through his thoughts as the truck made its route through the streets, and he wished he had more pills to drown it out.

 

Tiny flakes of paint drifted like confetti scabs onto the bed as Lorne sank back against the peeling wall. Need pumped a bass line through his body and the spiking pain in his head kept the beat. The leather bit against his skin as Sally’s thin fingers pulled the strap tight, and the chink of her cooking up relaxed him a little. The lighter smouldered the bottom of the Pepsi can, and the smell of the hot metal made muscles in his leg quiver in anticipation.

As the cold metal pierced his skin and entered a vein he exhaled. Relief flooded his bloodstream and curled through his mind. Pain dissolved, soluble in this ecstasy and Lorne’s breathing slowed. He slumped into the mattress and Sally wrapped cold legs around his body, rocking him. Drifting upwards and outwards from between drooping eyelids, Lorne traced the track marks down her arms.

‘Get free, baby,’ she whispered with stale breath, ‘get higher.’

 

Dusk was already swaddling the house when the ute pulled up in the driveway. The last of the sunset still bled through the gum trees and Lorne squinted in the red light. His hair was slick with a cold sweat and he heaved himself from the driver’s seat. In the silence of the evening the slam of the screen door was deafening, and his legs were unsteady beneath him. As he took the small plastic bag from his wallet he sat at the table in the dusky kitchen.

‘The fuck are you Sal?’ he groaned, and shrank into himself. His hands caught his head and blackened fingernails scratched rhythmically through damp hair. The bag was small, only enough for the two of them until tomorrow and then he would have to find more. But Sally wasn’t here, the bed was cold and he wouldn’t cook without her.

Wood rasped against his cheek as he slumped forward onto the table and fell into fitful dreams of cramped rooms with no windows. His hand hung from the table, twitching, and a pool of saliva gathered beside his open mouth. His eyes roved restlessly in their sockets: searching, pursuing.

 

The crunch of tyres on gravel wrenched Lorne awake and for a moment his mind spun madly. Then agony settled over him again as he stood and lurched to the door.

‘Sal?’ he called into the dark, his voice broken. ‘Baby, that you?’ A door slammed and headlights blinded Lorne as the car swung from the drive. Sally came striding from the shadows, her hair loose, coat flying behind her.

‘Babe,’ she murmured, wrapping herself around him. Lorne shoved his face into her hair and inhaled the stench of booze and cigarettes. She pulled back and held out an open palm. In the dim light from the kitchen Lorne saw she held a large bag of yellow powder. Her eyes flashed darkly, and she grinned.

‘Where’d you get that?’

‘It’s for us! There’s at least 400 here. Call in sick to work tomorrow and we’ll go on a trip.’ She chewed the dry skin on her lip.

‘No.’ Lorne took a step back into the light from the kitchen. ‘Where’d you get the money for it? You didn’t have five bucks for cigarettes yesterday.’

Sally rolled her eyes and elbowed past Lorne into the kitchen.

‘Chill out. I called in a favour. Can we cook? I’m aching.’ She spotted Lorne’s small bag on the table and grinned at him. ‘You don’t wanna cook that, do you? C’mon babe, let’s do this.’

‘I’m not cooking that fucking gear until you tell me why you were out there so late,’ Lorne said quietly.

Sally’s eyes hardened, and she pulled her coat tight around her, crossing her arms.

‘Don’t you get on your fucking high horse with me when I have to sit here all day just waiting for you to bring me back some gear.’ Her words were clipped and her breathing shallow. ‘That’s bullshit, Lorne.’

Lorne wrapped his arms around his shoulders and pulled at his hair. His body throbbed, and he squeezed himself tighter. He shut his eyes and wished the squirming doubt in his stomach would dissolve. When he opened them she was walking towards him, her eyes soft again.

‘We’re both hurting,’ she told him quietly. ‘Let’s just cook, please. I need it baby.’

Lorne looked into her and saw the same pounding rhythm as he felt in himself and his mind surged with a yearning tenderness. Bending to kiss her pocked cheek, he froze mid-air. With a finger he stroked a fresh bruise on her neck, picking out the four dark points where teeth had marked skin. Wrenching the coat off her shoulders, he exposed her back and found the familiar fingernail scrapes covering her pale skin.

‘Are you serious?’ He croaked, his voice thick with anger. ‘Did you think I’d forgotten what this looks like? Did you think I’d forgotten about Jonny and what he makes you fucking do?’

‘Wait, wait,’ she pleaded, her voice shrill. ‘You don’t understand babe, I need it! Jonny gives me good gear for cheap, not that scummy shit Davo’s pushing. I can’t deal with that smacky gear anymore! It doesn’t mean anything. It’s gross, but then we’re all alone and we’ve got enough for days. It’s for us baby, it’s all for us!’

‘That’s not the fucking way I want it!’ Lorne spat and swept his bag of brown powder from the table into his pocket. Blood screamed in his ears and tears sprang hot in his eyes. She grasped at him as he tore past her, but he threw her back against the fridge. He tripped as he reached the ute, and found himself on hands and knees, the sharp ground biting at his flesh.

‘You’re a fucking failure,’ he hissed to himself, and pulled himself into the car. In his anger, Lorne forgot his pain and gunned the ute up the drive in a whirl of flying gravel and crunching gears. Darkness swallowed the silent house behind him, and the screen door wailed on rusty hinges.

 

In a shriek of ancient brakes the ute juddered to a standstill and Lorne threw the door open, falling onto his knees on the asphalt. He retched and neon bile came driving from his gut. Wave after burning wave spilled from him until his body felt it would cave in. The smell of the acid made his eyes water and as he pulled himself back into the ute a fit of shivering gripped him, sweat trickling into his eyes mixing with tears. He caught sight of himself in the mirror, eyes sunken in purple sockets, shoulders hunched, weighed down with shadows. Lorne punched the steering wheel, cracking a knuckle. Should have taken on more shifts, he told himself, should have never let it get back to this shit. He watched the blood from his knuckle slowly trickle down to pool in his palm and his shoulders shuddered with silent sobs. It’s your fault, he thought, you’re a bloody failure.

Reaching into the glove box Lorne took out the sharp and a lighter.  As he stepped from the car again he splashed through the puddle of his vomit to rifle through the bin and find a can. A tear fell to mix with the smack as he cooked. As it purred through his blood, his jaw fell slack and the belt loosened around his arm.

Resting his head on the wheel, Lorne’s pain dissolved and he gazed vacantly through the bug-spattered windshield. His tears had made tracks down his face, and they dried into sticky trails as the smack covered his guilt in a blurry forgetfulness. City lights blazed to the west, the sky hung with their orange glow. A dry wind blew in from the east and he turned his gaze up. The glittering mass of stars swam against the sky like manic fireflies, and it swelled above him as he gazed upward and outward.

‘Get free,’ he murmured to himself, drifting on a warm breeze into the obliterated cosmos of his mind, ‘get higher.’

 

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