I wrote a first draft of a novel for my PhD in 2007. It was bloody awful. Truly, howlingly, knuckle-gnawingly dreadful. I knew it even as I wrote it, painfully aware that I was being forced to create the source of my own upcoming humiliation. I had clinical depression and any thought that wasn’t about suicide was about sleep. The barrage of psychometric tests I took at this time showed that I had lost 40 points (I kid you not) off my IQ. I still had enough wits to tie my shoelaces and stare blankly at the nearest radiant light source, but high level comic literary fiction proved beyond my abilities.
Somehow, though, in the midst of daily challenges such as staring at glowing things and trying to get dressed before it was time for the cat to round me up and put me to bed, I wrote this.
I quite liked it, even then. I just found it again and still quite like it. So I thought I’d post it.
It’s a bit rough. But then, at the time, so was I.
* * * * *
Paradise and Sundry
It seems we are waiting for Hell. Here we sit, in long rows of folding chairs, bare-arsed in hospital gowns. The room is an odd rhomboid shape, painted a sickening shade of corporate duck-egg blue. I recognise the Richmond Centrelink’s seminar room. The Designating Angel is reading out our crimes and appropriate punishments. Criminal 694, for violation 7.1, 6 years. (Tall, young blond bloke with a bum carved from basalt. Spitting on public transport.) Criminal 695, for violation 9 clause 1, 3.5 years. (Kind looking lady with one breast. Vanity. She weeps into her sunglasses.)
I sit amongst them, fretting. Not about the obvious. Who will look after my cat? There is a letter in my pocket addressed to my mother, saying among other things that I do, in fact, love her. Also, she must finish my book for me. How will I post it to her? There are some things I would like my nephews to have, but I bet people will just divide up the jewellery and take everything else to the op shop. Oh, God! The vibrator. My family will freak. Please don’t look in the bottom drawer under the socks.
I haven’t done what I wanted to do with my life. I was forced into writing by circumstance. I was meant to be a thin and beautiful showgirl, only it never worked out. My true purpose in life was to perch on top of a piano centre stage, draped in exotic fabrics, singing ‘Surabaya Johnny’ in a hoarse voice drenched with sex. I hate writing, hate it. Is that bad to say? Am I here for ingratitude? I never perfected my kissing technique. There may still be time, only I was meant to be a thin and beautiful showgirl and it never worked out. Maybe I should’ve gone out with that guy who liked me in college. I can’t remember his name. He backed me up against the industrial dishwasher while we were on kitchen duty, asked me to be his girlfriend and dove for my tits. I took it quite badly at the time, but maybe it would’ve worked out. He was probably quite nice once he got past the random groping stage. Never did do kitchen duty again. I would like to sing in the shower one more time. I wish I’d stuck to piano lessons.
Criminal 705, violation 3, 20 years. In front of me, a man in a pricey blue pinstriped suit twitches alive, begins to question loudly: ‘Violation 3? What is Violation 3? I’ve never heard of . . .’
The Designating Angel looks impatient, taps a pencil on the top of his clipboard. Remembering something I never knew, I lean forward. ‘I think it means being a cunt,’ I explain in a lowered voice.
‘Oh,’ says the man. Accepting his fate, he shrugs and slumps back into his chair.
Near the exit, a benevolent middle-aged gay angel marks people off his list as they shuffle into the waiting hellfire. Basalt-bum passes by; the angel gives him an appreciative once-over as he slumps past. ‘Wasted,’ he sighs, ticking dramatically.
Somehow, I can’t recall my sentencing. I am standing before this Validating Angel. Red pen poised, he peers at me over his glasses as if to say:
And I explain:
I am not as I seem. I didn’t mean to be bad. My heart has been hacked into again and again, and I became spiky. I have been betrayed repeatedly. People I cared for deeply did not love me. Instead, they turned on me for power. I am ill at ease in both the mainstream and the alternate, which is the smaller pond the mainstream swims in to gain status. I failed to acquire the ability to conform. Emotionally, I am an enclosed and fortified well of fire and oceans. Sexually, I have endless patience and assiduity. There is compassion and humour in sex. It is the only honest communication achievable between adults. Maybe I read that somewhere. I can be vicious in retaliation. I can castrate with a comment. I can present as being as impervious to harm as a concrete drag queen, but I am not. I am soft. I am a scared, scarred small boy—yes I know I am a woman, but we are all both sexes and the softer part of me has always been male—and I am afraid.
‘Aren’t we all?’ murmers the Angel. He checks me off with a flourish as the automated Centrelink doors to damnation slide open. High pitched and horrible, my mobile’s ring tone peals out through the Gates of Hell.
Waking up and rolling over takes effort. I drop the phone twice.
It’s work. Of course. I press ‘Ignore’.
I am still worrying about my pink rabbit vibrator, which waits in the bottom of the sock drawer for my family to find the day I cark it.