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.

Two

A quiet weekend in our own little world,
an alternate reality glimpsed.

Morning breath and furtive glances,
Comfortable silence and our own plans.

Truths spoken and secrets shared,
with my palms outward and my heart open.

The wind changes direction, I blink and it’s over.

We’re huddled around a pole in the train during the morning rush,
whispering and laughing in a language you don’t understand.

It’s my stop, I turn back and wave casually as I hop off to change lines.
The doors clothes and off he goes.