I will remember what it means

The day I die.

Where do you want to start? What would you like to look at first? I get up, I have sleep in my eye. I make a bad pot of coffee, the water hisses over onto the element, spits at me. I can’t get the water temperature right in the shower. Sometimes I think the faucets are switched from day to day, just to confuse me. I eat a banana, the texture struggling in my mouth. I step around dog toys, kick them into the corner of the living room, and open the window to the day. The street is its usual mix of bloated rubbish bags and scaffold frames. You could swing down them, if they didn’t always seem on the verge of collapse. The sky is blue, there is dog hair creeping across my big toe. The day is light, bright, ordinary.

I get up. I have sleep in my eye. Bad coffee, water hissing. Temperature wrong. Banana slick on my tongue, and the squeak of a rubber bone. Rubbish bags and metal and blue, blue sky. Dog hair itching my toe. The day is light, bright, extraordinary.

The morning passes. I make a cheese sandwich, leave the plate and knife in the sink next to my coffee mug. I should do more to help Carl, I think. Thinking too, I have forgotten how grateful I was. I am. I press down on another post-it note and write the word Help, before a large bang outside startles me. My ‘p’ wobbles, shoots off the yellow paper as I drop my pen. I had intended to write this: Help more around the apartment but the pen has rolled under the dining table now, and I don’t want to reach down to find it. Help will do, I think, sure I will remember what it means, as I place my last fluttering debt on Carl’s fridge door.

I do not realise, could not have realised, I have just left my first clue.

I have made a mistake, by the way. This isn’t the day I die. Not really. But it is the last light, bright morning of my life.

~  Alice, What We Have Left

NYC Morning

A quick bit of novel-ling before bed. It’s good to be back. If only in this way.

The hours that change us

The world has shifted in just a few hours. The way it always shifts in just a few hours. It’s not years or decades – that’s simply how we accommodate the axis-shifts, how we adjust and recover from them, before some other hour sets us spinning. We think in years – how was this year, what’s your new year’s resolution, I’m glad to see this year gone – but really it’s the hours that change us.

I was a different person when I got up just a few hours ago.

~ Elliott, Into The After

Melbourne City

Without my permission

Wednesday April 17th, 2013

Today is my last day. Of what? Of being alive? Of being in this world? Not exactly, because I’m here still, in a way. I can see everything and feel everything, although I’ve been trying to get that right, because it’s not exactly feeling, is it? It’s not the same as wrapping your fingers around a warm coffee mug, or flipping the pillow to the cold side, of finding the cool relief on your cheek, before you go back to sleep. It’s not that. It’s not immediate and ephemeral and lost to the next sensation just as you start to feel the first.

It’s something more complete. Something less connected to space and time. A kind of knowing, more than feeling. Sort of how you can swim under water and through it and across its surface all at the same time. Immersed. Perhaps that’s a better word for the way I experience the world now.

I’m here still, in a way. I am immersed.

At any rate, we’ve reached that date. We’ve come to today. I want to tell you about it, because they keep getting it wrong. The way people always get it wrong when they speak for you. When they tell your story.

My story, the one I lived.

Today is my last day. Today is the last day I lived my story. The last day I lived. There was an I, and it was me, and I was at the centre of my story, until someone else decided to take over. Until that man wrote my last pages. Without my permission.

You think you are the centre, that if you hold on tight enough, even when things try to pull you away, you’ll make it. But then someone enters the space you have created for yourself, they take up all the room, and suddenly you’re pushed right out of your skin.

It’s their story now.

There was an I, and now there is a he, a him, a his.

Today is my last day, Elliot. The last day of my story.

~ Alice, Into the After

On the Rocks

A place like this

Chewed up. Spit out. That’s what they say about girls like me. In a place like this.

As if the city has jaws. Great, chomping concrete jaws that bite down on new flesh, and then, disgusted at the freshness, spew it back out. As if the streets are littered with lacerated hearts, with open wounds and cardboard stories.

They say I’m bound for such corners. For coffee cups and copper coins, and no way of getting home. But I know it’s the small towns that kill you. I know who takes bite after bite.

Home is where they feast on girls like me. A place like this just might save me.

NYC Walk

~ Alice, Into the After

The needs of the dead

It’s Mimi’s job to prepare the dead for their wake. As she explains it to me over mouthfuls of cherry cheesecake, when a loved one identifies a victim, they are often exposed to a body that is broken, traumatised. So she tries to make that last viewing better for closing eyes, for what is seen in the dark. She tries to bring her dead back to who they were before.

She wants that to be the memory, the smallest consolation.

I had a talent for doing hair and makeup. And I found a way to use it. I mean, at first it was just curiousity. That lady at the salon told me some crazy shit about her job – and at the time, I was in the mood for crazy. But then, well, it sort of got important. The needs of the dead, and all that.

The needs of the dead. To Mimi, death is its own kind of living. Her bodies are present, aware. Her girls – she uses the term my girls – hover, observe what is happening to them. They tell her things, too, she says. Now that she has learnt how to listen to what they have to say. She pieces her damaged girls back together, and she listens to their stories. They are in turn grateful for her care, for her efforts at returning them to who they used to be.

Before.

Well, that’s how it seems to me, she says, licking cream from her fork.

There isn’t any sense that I’ll find this strange. Mimi assumes I know what she is talking about. And I do, I suppose, in my own way. Jane changed everything. Jane changes everything. She is not past tense, or rather, her past feels like the only thing that informs my present. I feel the constant pull back to that first moment, when I saw the billow of white, the hazy flutter of fabric that led me to her body. I’ve come to think of it as a kind of beckoning. A flag raised for me to stumble toward.

It’s what I wanted to explain tonight, when it was my turn in the circle. This idea that I was meant to find Jane, how it goes against all my reason, but it feels true, just the same. How Jane haunts me, and I can’t let it go, can’t let her go, because I still don’t understand why. Why she chose me. Why it happened. Why anything like this happens, and how I’m not even sure that’s the right question to ask.

I just know everything leads back to her.

I didn’t say any of this, of course. I don’t have Mimi’s ease when it comes to the needs of the dead. I spoke instead of the shock, the sense of safety dislocated.

And how, after finding Jane that afternoon, I can never unknown this: anything can be waiting around the next corner. You’re only ever one turn away from your whole world changing. And from there, you can never get back what you’ve lost.

Riverside Park NYC

Turning Into the After …

The familiar ugly

Maybe that’s this strange shame I’m feeling. An embarrassed disappointment that the shine has come off my new city, that it took so long. And how the real glare, the thing standing out, is me.

I had intended to go for a cocktail, I was ready to venture out to some busy, pretty rooftop on this summer night, but now I just want to get back to my neighbourhood, and I’m relieved when I get to the familiar ugly of my station. Here, no one stands on the sidewalk taking pictures, keeping the cardboard-signed stories of the homeless just out of their frame. Here, there’s no reason to look up, to miss what is right in front of you. Here, there’s not much to see at all.

I walk into the sports bar on the corner of my street. Ask for a scotch on the rocks, and settle at a table where I’m not blocking anyone’s view of the boxing match playing on the row of mounted TVs. The scotch sits on my tongue, it’s smoky and warm and familiar. Reflexively, I reach for my phone, bring up his name. I want to talk to him, I want to share this crappy night, and this foreign place, but it’s Saturday there now, an against the rules day. We don’t message on weekends; I agreed to this moratorium a long time ago. He didn’t even need to ask, or explain.

Fuck.

How did I agree to any of this? How did I end up here? Out of the corner of my eye, I see a punch land. A guy in purple shorts staggers against the ropes, then rights himself, comes back for more. I leave the two men on the TV to their weaving and ducking, and turn back to my scotch. They use such generous pours here; the golden liquid fills a good two thirds of my glass.

I take a solemn sip, and add this fact to my ever-shifting list of reasons to stay in this city.

Scotch on the Rocks

Fact and fiction in New York City …

Waltz

A memory that sits closer to the surface. A different conversation we dance around. We are discussing what would happen in the hours after Honey, I’m home! How it would be, if we were the ones on either side of the door. We spin an imagined history between us on this sunny, stolen afternoon.

That sure would be something, you say. If life were a dream.

You think my view of domesticity is naïve at best. You do not believe two people could sustain this every day. An intensity of skin to skin that does not leave room for God or neighbours, or tricycles turned over in the yard. Obsession may prevail in moments, yes – but it does not leave nearly enough time for real life, Maggie.

My parents still waltz in the kitchen, I defend. In the midst of chaos, they go into their dance. It makes the chaos beautiful. Or the dance. Even when there is work to be done.

Because not all love is scheduled, I say as you look at your watch.

But the moment is gone. I can see that I have lost you to the clock, once again.

Image by Joanne Piechota