Enemy

This unseen enemy is wearing me down,

Eating away at the corners of my colourful dreams little by little like silverfish at paper.

At first I didn’t even notice and I felt like it was no match for me. I danced around it confidently thinking I was to win but here’s the thing, the whole time it laughed at me and I simply could not see.

Now my dreams are fast fading and my world is looking grey. I’m cold and alone while others dance and play.

I’m shut in and it feels like so many things have been taken away.

Split

It’s been nagging me for years since I came back. That feeling I left something of myself behind.

Because when I go back I feel so alive and I feel myself. Why is that? I could never figure it out.

But today during my session with the psychologist, it came out that perhaps I left a part of myself there, the part of myself I actually like.

So when I’m back there I’m whole again, when I leave I’m not.

If I’m not whole and the part of myself that I like and truly want to be is not here then what is it that came back?

Could it be that my shadow came back and forgot it was a shadow and just took my place? Meanwhile my true self is over there infinitely walking home from the station on a still autumn night in awe of everything around him not realising what has happened.

How do I make myself whole again?

Beep Beep Beep

It’s late afternoon and the faint smell of the foccacia I baked lingers in the air. Sesame is on the bed out of my sight probably sleeping or looking out the window and through the open balcony door in my living room I can hear the symphony of construction machines beeping as they move around.

My eyes sting with a lack of sleep coating my lids like some residue I can’t lift. My dreams were violent last night and the guided meditation before bed made it worse. Rika popped up in my dream at some stage; she didn’t look well and had scabs around her mouth. I wasn’t happy to see this but I wasn’t sad either. We didn’t interact but she was always around, mouthlessly wording things at no one in particular.

I don’t know if it’s a headache or just the drain of dumping my mental state on my new psychologist just now but I pop two painkillers. It’s a packet I picked up in transit at Hong Kong Airport on my way home from Bangkok last year.
I travelled nearly 7 times last year but today international travel has been banned and my predictions of societal collapse seem to be happening a lot more sooner than even I thought they would.

Can I fit in a nap before heading to family dinner?
Honestly, I’ll need to so I can function and not breakdown crying in front of everyone.

The beeping of the vehicles is less frequent now but there is some other power tool, the bang of a hammer periodically. Another lot of instruments have taken over but the symphony continues.

Big Boy

Debbie remembered when she first noticed the crappy, homemade, inkjet printed paper signs clumsily sticky taped to the wooden light poles around Moonee Ponds.

HAVE YOU SEEN OUR CAT?

There was a photo of a black cat perched on what could have been the arm of an outdoor chair. There was grass in the background. Possibly even a hills hoist. 

He’s a big black cat, very friendly and responds to “Big Boy”

Please contact us on XXXX XXX XXX if you find him.

She probably made a joke about it to Audrey a few times because they both lived in the area and they were a bit more on the cynical side. They loved animals and everything but there was something sublimely suburban about the whole lost pet and the home made sign situation that made her chuckle whenever she saw it. She stopped herself whenever she started to think it was pathetic. Too far Debbie, too far. 

It must have been at least two years since she first started seeing the signs and there were still some around.

The particular one she walked past that prompted this whole recall had a chunk missing from the bottom left corner. The paper was warped from rain, sun and then some more rain.  Debbie was surprised that the ink hadn’t run off the paper and completely disappeared in this time.

She pulled out her phone, took a photo and sent it to Audrey.

Do you think they ever found Big Boy?

Debbie kept walking and wondered if the cute guy would be at the cafe today. He wasn’t her normal type but he had these piercing blue eyes and maintained strong eye contact whenever she ordered from him. Debbie unimaginatively called him Coffee Boy because she didn’t know his real name nor did she have the confidence to ask.

Just past the entrance to the station she could see the cafe come into view so she went by the window and peaked in – it was confirmed, Coffee Boy was squirting out his brew today. 

Debbie definitely needed a coffee now. Glimpsing him at work from the window, she felt something rise up within her that made her whole body tremble for an instant.  

As Debbie walked in he was already looking her way and grinned, “Weren’t sure if you wanted a coffee or not?” 

Debbie felt a pang in her chest. If he’d seen her today then he probably saw her every other time she has been looking in like a creep. She went right through his greeting and got down to business, “Hey, have you ever seen that missing cat sign around the area?” 

He tilted his head, “You mean big boy?” 

“Yeah!” Debbie had successfully steered him away from her creeping indiscretions to this more pressing matter. 

“What about him though? Your cat?” He didn’t seem terribly interested but it was probably the kind of conversation he would be used to while he passed the time with takeaway customers. 

“Nah, but I always see the sign around and wondered if they ever found him.” Debbie fiddled with some local business cards on the shelf near the counter and added, “Oh I’ll get a flat white by the way.”

Just as she finished her sentence, his eyes thinned slightly as they remained locked on hers and he placed the takeaway coffee on the counter, “Here you go, it’s already done. That’ll be 4.70.” 

Debbie raised and eyebrow, “Oh, how did you know?” she tried to add a hint of flirtation into her question/. 

Coffee Guy raised an eyebrow, “It’s what you always get. You’re hardly going to change to a mocha all of a sudden. Am I right?”

Was he mocking her? Was he trying to tell her that he remembered her and disguised it in the same kind of way a little boy throws sand at the girl he likes to profess his feelings for her? 

“Gee…yeah okay. Take my money then.” Her card made contact with the little white square. 

Beep.

“Look, you might change milk types? How’s that? Maybe you’re not that predictable.” Coffee Guy added in with a wink before starting on another coffee order. 

Debbie turned around towards the door and gave him a little wave holding the coffee cup in her hand. 

She looked left and then right, which way was she going to go? 

She pulled out her phone and noticed that there was a message from Audrey.

Yeah I hope so…kind of sad right?

Debbie turned left, walked straight and then took a few more turns before she found herself away from the station and in the midst of suburbia. Big houses, little houses, large developments and signs outside quaint houses opposing development. Oh yes, this was middle-ring Melbourne all right. 

The sky was relatively cloudless apart from a few thin pieces scattered throughout the vast blue expanse. Debbie’s eyes went from the sky to the tree tops and then the rooftops with wooden electricity poles here and there. Further down and oh – another sign for Big Boy. 

She walked over to the sign and looked again. Unlike the one earlier, this one looked newer and the whole thing was intact.

Was it new? The text seemed to be jumping out at Debbie. 

The numbers were almost vibrating with energy on the page. A lawnmower in the distance, birds chirping somewhere in a tree, the constant sound of the windless air started fading as she stood transfixed. With little thought, Debbie pulled out her phone and dialled the numbers she saw before her.

Dial tone.
Dial tone.
Dial tone.
Click.

Silence.

Debbie stammered, heart beating in her chest, “Hello?” 

There was only a grainy silence but there was definitely someone on the other end of the line. Then a voice, “Have you seen Big Boy?” 

Debbie was frozen where she stood, transfixed on the image of Big Boy in front of her. 

“Uhh…no. I just wanted to know if you found him.” She realised how pathetic she sounded but the words had already left her mouth. 

“Where’s Big Boy?” The voice sounded ancient and scratchy. Debbie wasn’t sure if the voice was male or female. 

“Uh…I-I’m looking for him.” She lied. 

“Then why are you just standing there?” The voice replied.

Debbie’s neck prickled and she looked around her frantically. The street was deserted yet it sounded so busy. Birds chirped unseen, a child was laughing behind a tall fence somewhere and the dog repeatedly barked. Debbie felt completely alone.

She quickly hung up the phone and went to get back home. Debbie was getting the sense that someone was coming for her.
Her heart started jumping around and her hands became clammy.  The coffee dropped to the ground and she nearly screamed from the shock of it. 

What street was she on? She couldn’t make it out. She felt frantic as she became aware of everything around her.

Get out, just get home. 

Debbie broke into a run and turned into another street hoping to find some other people. If only someone else could see her then she would be safe. But this street was deserted too. Sounds of safety and comfort were all around but there was no one in sight. 

As she continued to run, looking in every direction she could she increasingly felt like a trapped mouse running through a maze.

Just the unseen eyes watching her inaction.  

Debbie was sweating now, she couldn’t seem to find her way back to the station or the cafe. Every street she ran into looked like the one before it. 

The houses all looked the same.
No one was around.
“Help me! Someone, please!” She was screaming out now. 

The lawnmower was whirring in the distance.
A child was crying in a backyard somewhere.
Birds chirping in a tree.
A girl running hysterically down a street not noticing them waiting for the moment she passed so they could pull her behind the fence and through a door which would close tight.  

The street was quiet now, only silent eyes peering from behind flyscreen doors curious about a scream they thought they heard but not concerned enough to leave their houses and check. 

The posters remained on the poles here and there throughout the streets. 

Big Boy was yet to be found. 

 

Haunted City

I live in a beautiful city.

Some even say it’s one of the most beautiful in the world but I think that depends on who is looking and where they are looking from.

There was a time when I would fly, wide-eyed around my city filled with buildings both old and new, streets lined with plane trees and cute little laneways, each turn filled with me wonder and excitement.

But recently something has changed. When I walk the streets, I’m alone and I can’t help but notice them.

They are scattered amongst the new people that pass me by.

The ghosts stare at me with their hollow eyes and shapeless mouths.

I try my best to ignore them but there seem to be more and more.

I enter an arcade that I would spend countless afternoons in all those years ago. One of the cafes in the arcade has this upstairs area where I would sit by the arched window watching the crowds filter trickle through for whole afternoons.

It was a sacred place.

But now, as part of the trickling crowd I look up to the arched window and see a ghost sitting at my table, mouth gaping open and staring at me.

I decide to walk another way.

Food tastes bland and powdery, the buildings look weathered. The world around me is becoming a tired amusement park, the rides haven’t changed and things are starting to break down.

I’m not making new memories like I used to.

No – surely not.

I look through my phone to convince myself otherwise but most of my photos are of food, buildings or myself. The smiles that occupy my older photos before this all started are filled with warmth and feeling. Something has changed, I have changed.

What have I done?

Where did I go wrong?

Whatever I did, wherever I went wrong, there are only ghosts following me around and standing in my way.

This is no longer the city I grew up in, the city that shaped me into who I am.

And when I look under the thin veil it is very much apparent that at some point I stopped living.

How long have I just barely been existing?

7:13 am

I get to the platform with 2-3 minutes spare and take my usual place between the right side of the ticket barrier and the toilet block.

The mother who wears adidas originals as her comfy commuting shoes is standing and chatting with her three daughters who are already exceeding her in height.

They laugh and always seem to look my way as I take my place.

The two guys a little closer to the ticket barrier stand right near the edge of platform and seem to be talking business as usual. The look like they really know what they’re talking about and will likely tell you that you’ve got it wrong.

The train pulls up and today it’s one of the old Comeng trains that might be retrofitted.

I hop on and everyone is there doing their usual thing.

The two guys have gotten onto the carriage next to me but the mother and girls get on my carriage and stand slightly over from the door which is going to be opening every stop until North Melbourne.

The young, shorter guy who always wears shorts and no socks with his shoes but a down jacket is on his phone, probably looking through Facebook leaning against the door on the side of the train where the doors won’t open.

I pull out my kindle and start reading my book and usually I’m on the side of the train where the doors don’t open, preferably against a wall but that’s prime real estate which is usually all but gone by the time the train pulls in to Moonee Ponds.

At Ascot Vale about three friends of the school girls get on and they all greet the mother who slowly steps back as the circle opens, the new arrivals join and she takes a step back. The mother is now going to spend the rest of the time I’m on the train looking in as an outsider while her daughters start talking about a world far from her own. Every now and then the mother will try to make eye contact with someone in the circle before pulling her phone out to play candy crush or some Harry Potter mobile game.

One day, one day.

At Newmarket the girl with olive skin gets and assumes her usual power stance in the middle of the carriage. This girl gets on the same connecting train with me at North Melbourne. She generally doesn’t take her backpack off even when the train is crowded and for that I’m kind of not a fan.

At Kensington the young boy gets on with either his mother or father. They both carry his bag for him while he looks out the window of the train door and rattles out observations about the pattern of train departures from North Melbourne. The school bag his parents carry is nearly as big as him.

At North Melbourne a bunch of us get off and proceed up the stairs. It’s always the guy with the shorts, no socks with shoes and the olive skin girl who end up on the same platform with me, the others continue on the loop.

Just as I get to the top of the escalators, like clock work the young guy with some kind of physical disability is making his way along the rail of the concourse before heading down.

There’s never enough room on the middle escalators so you can’t really stand to the left or people get annoyed as they rush for their trains bound for Southern Cross or Flinders.

The Metro lady is standing with her microphone pleading with people not to congregate around the base of the escalators and move down the platform.

My side of the platform is quiet and I wait for the 7:28 train because I usually just miss the 7:22 train unless it’s one or two minutes late.

Fat

We’re sitting there after dinner and he puts his arm around me as we talk. “Dinner was absolutely great.” He leans in closer to kiss me.

I feel the familiar wet, warmth of lips touching mine and I block out my surroundings. His hands slowly move lower as they inspect me. They stop on my hips – left hand pinches my hip fat. With a discovery made, both hands crawl and pinch and work towards my stomach where I feel another pinch.

Through our kiss I feel his mouth open and hear a little laugh, “You’re actually a bit on the chubby side – I didn’t expect that.” He says.

There’s that sick feeling again. The twang in my heart.

My eyes are open and fixed on something in the distance that I can’t make out. I softly push the guy away and try to not let my emotions betray me, “Well if you don’t like it then you can go find someone else.”

He looks guilty and perhaps realises what he’s just said, “Oh no, that’s not what I meant, you’re really sexy but it’s just cute that you have fat. I don’t mind, it’s totally fine.”

I don’t know how to respond.

He’s trying to hug me again and apologise but it feels worse. Now it’s pity. Anything beyond this point is just pity for the guy who wasn’t as perfect and someone imagined him to be.

My chest is tight and my eyes have glazed over.

I find myself on the No.59 tram heading home alone, looking at my fading reflect in the glass being swallowed by night.

At home and I’m in front of my mirror in my underwear looking at my deformed body. Nipples too big, hips too much fat, bulge not big enough, not enough definition in my chest which accentuates my nipples.

In the bathroom in front of another mirror and I’m still the same crying into my toothbrush because now everything is all starting to make sense.

In bed, floating in the darkness waiting to disappear. There’s a flash to my left as my phone lights up and my eyes focus in to see there is a message from the guy and the first line looks like an apology of sorts.

I stare at those words until the light disappears and I’m back to floating towards the abyss once more.

My body shudders with the sound of the passing train.