In the late afternoon, Alice would open the shutters wide and leave them askew until the last light had faded from her room. Not so much to let light in but the breeze. Two regular guests who entered and filled the mostly empty space. She preferred the breeze.
When she first arrived here, it would enter like a loving memory. Slowly dancing around her face and bare arms. A warming embrace. A rare comfort.
Now it enters abruptly – slicing her cheeks and cutting through her clothes. Bringing only a chill. Though she doesn’t mind. Unlike memories, no breeze can be felt twice.
Occasionally, Alice would stand at the ledge and look out at the steady flow of the Arno. The smooth, shimmering centre flowed serenely – allowing her mind to quieten. Inhale.
Before long, her eyes would inevitably be drawn to the rough water where shards of white were thrown abruptly about in sprays, churned by unseen forces. The memory of the stream will carry the memory of the obstacles below – whether or not they are seen from above. Exhale.
Alice turned away from the window. The breeze passed through her long dark hair and out. Free to grow and soar. Not everyone is afforded that luxury. Alice tried to attach her memories to the breeze, hoping a thought would weigh less than the wind.
Six months previously Alice pinned the same hope on a plane ticket. Purchased uncertainly. On credit. She fought against the plan. The ticket sat in a drawer in the second bedroom amongst tiny, unused socks. To rest with the dreams of another life.
When the day came to fly, Alice felt moved to float. To soar.
She retrieved the ticket and allowed loose fingers to brush tenderly against the cotton. Their impression remained on her hand as she closed the drawer and left her life behind.
This was the place where Alice could begin again. Where the river flowed and the breeze would cradle her like a mournful lover.
The warmth of the sun. The bite of the breeze. Each comforting thought was betrayed by a pang of guilt. Each wind sweep would leave her and drift on through the shutters. Leaving her to clutch the pain of loss at her breast.
Her only constant.
My postbox has been home to many things.
I check the miniature home on a pole at indiscriminate times. Not one for a routine, the lid can go for days untouched while at other times endure multiple violations of its position within a two hour period.
Occasionally there will be a letter or piece of plastic with my name and address adorned. This is no surprise, really. In fact it’s a pretty important function of the box and were it to no longer serve this purpose I’d be forced to uproot the bloody thing and place it in my backyard as an attempt at ironic, pastiche art.
What does surprise, however, is when one of these seemingly identical pieces of correspondence are labelled with the precisely identical location but completely different name. A window into the past that interferes with my self-righteous desire to be the important name of the house.
At some point in the indeterminate past the person who belonged to that name would have disturbed the lid – probably at much more regular intervals – to withdraw the delivery and open it with excitement (or dread).
Unsettled as I am to receive a message at my address directed at someone else, I continue to check infrequently in case I am to receive something myself. Occasionally my existence is validated by viewing a bill or wedding invitation labelled “YOUR NAME…EXACT ADDRESS YOU RESIDE” and the relief is palpable.
More frequently, I am roused to greet whatever lifeform occupies the box itself. Whilst yesterday the sight of a ladybird couple featured on the western wall of the mailbox, today a wolf spider resided in the greater portion of the north/eastern side. Whether it was a forcible removal of the previous owners or not cannot be disclosed but I can comfortably postulate that the spider would have felt incredibly uncomfortable if confronted with the thought that another living being had rested in its house once upon a time.
What then, to spider and ladybird alike, would they say to two weeks previous? Upon removing three versions of advertising addressing “HOUSEHOLDER” I was lucky to escape with my hygiene and piece of mind by narrowly avoiding the cockroach nestling happily between adverts. Disturbing indeed.
Perhaps they walked with the same intrepid steps I take upon re-entering my house – each time after receiving a jolt of mortality from reading the names of strangers who slept in my room, cooked at my kitchen and stood naked as I do in the same shower.
To these things I cannot predict logically. All I know is this. When I move, I will not be updating any of my details.
At some point of the afternoon in suburban Melbourne, a 5 year-old primary school girl decided action must be taken. Not content to draw, build, play make believe or watch television, this young girl decided that her time should be better spent. It needed to be spent, apparently, on a gift for her teacher. A man who, she knew, loved the Melbourne Football Club. The gift had to be relevant. It had to be school-ish. It needed to showcase her intelligence. So the girl drew and cut out the letters O E M B L U E R N. Using her craft skills to create an envelope, she slipped the letters inside. I imagine a beaming smile and sense of anticipation swept across her as she slipped (more likely scrunched) the envelope into her school bag. Ready to impress her teacher the next day. Ready to spread a smile.
BE PREPARED –
Time bears no sympathy for your life. It will pass by with merry ignorance of your comings and goings.
It will journey past you as you enjoy the happiest moments of your life and, equally, continue on its path while you endure your deepest heartaches.
Sure, you won’t always feel it pass as such. For the refugee crossing yet another horrid terrain, time will pass as treacle through a sieve. For the blushing bride, it will roar past like a freight train.
Time will see us through all of our ups and downs. It is one of the few constants in our being. Throughout; time has been our sentinel. Humans have understood and marked time for as long as they’ve been conscious.
Yet it is more of a cold, distant, indifferent guardian than a loving parent. It will bring you joys and take you away from them at equal pace.
When viewed holistically from beginning to end, time is aware of everything that has and ever will be.
But it will give you no warnings.
You have no idea when the shitstorm will ensue.
In any form, under any guise, be sure to take care when adopting the prejudice of another.
Even the most simple object may appear vastly different when viewed from its adjacent side.
Protect yourself from ignorance and a bitter spirit by seeking objectivity, clarity and knowledge.
Encourage those around you to live in this broad light and to steer away from the narrow course so often imposed and accepted.
Veering to the left I see the toil of human achievement – eroded fields and abandoned machinery adorn a captivatingly miserable landscape
Easing to the right, each unlit house engenders feelings of pity at those poor people contained within the delapidated walls. At the loveless marriages and joyless dinners.
Even as I eventually come to witness the crowded streets we pass, people as rats fighting for their existence. Willingly injuring their neighbours for a step up the rungs of an invisible social ladder – emblemized frequently by the advertising of yet another carcinogenic brand.
In the faces of those I pass, I see loss, sadness, distance and disconnect.
I’ve had laryn…larry…lari…I’ve had trouble talking.
For a teacher this is the single worst thing that can happen – besides running out of red pens or sticky tape.
As a Grade 1 student, there was a period of time when I would count how many times my elderly teacher would request me to “shut up” – so hopefully that paints the image that talking is, for me, akin to breathing.
Being forced to remain mute has been an interesting, frustrating, intriguing experience and I’d like to share a few (possibly over-reaching) thoughts I’ve had.
1. We’ll do anything for children.
I once saw a humorous meam…meem… meme that stated something along the lines of it not mattering how “bad-ass” one’s nature tended to be, if a toddler’s play phone rings, you answer it.
Even without a voice, the thought of not teaching barely crossed my mind until the ridiculousness was pointed out by others. What struck me was how the children in our care become so dear to us, so much like family that we begin to do things for them instinctively. We don’t think of leaving them because we want to care for them and be there to help them grow and learn.
Sometimes we need to remember that it takes a village to raise a child. You are not the centre of the universe and they will grow and develop perfectly fine without you being there for every step of the journey – that goes for parents, too.
2. Context is everything…
The smartest thing I did during the ordeal was to use a notepad to write my thoughts. As the wife and I would discuss the day, I could use the written word to convey events. Watching telly, I was able to discuss characters/events without the need to speak. Mucking around, I could express ridiculous sentiment or response to humorous taunts.
However, to read back over previous notes after the moment had past, the words meant nothing. Nonsensical, illogical, unreachable. Without context for the majority of our conversations, our words may as well be drawn blankly from a dictionary.
3. and not a lot of what we say matters.
Looking back over the notes, they read as undeniably rancid, substance-free, trash.
It’d be an interesting exercise to reflect on what percentage of our utterances are worthwhile, interesting, heartfelt.
We’re funny beings. We can fixate for months on the scorned words of an ex-lover, or agonise for hours over a harsh word from an employment superior, yet probably cannot recall over 99% of our conversations.
This is not to say that everything we say should be important, or heartfelt, but it is worth considering the nature of the words that come out of your mouth, for I believe they subtly help to shape your character, thoughts and being.
4. To lose a voice is frightening.
Trapped inside a mind, unable to connect with others how you desire, not standing a chance of regarding and comprehending the context for previous conversations – to lose a voice is a daunting, frustrating thing.
To not have a voice – frightening. I speak figuratively, of course, but it really made me consider those people (children and adults alike) who feel as though their opinion is lesser than their peer, that they do not belong and have no one to wish they did.
These people must face this dilemma on a daily-basis, and probably more specific than that. We must be mindful that, whilst we always seek to empower the all-important Number One, we are mindful of those who cannot begin to see themselves as even a number.
5. A Minute’s Silence to last forever
I was sent home from work on the morning of the 11th. I returned home at approximately 10:30. Half an hour later marked the 95th Anniversary (give or take for time zone) of the cessation of the Great War – remember, the one that would end them all?
I’m as anti-war as they come. The whole idea that boys were sent to fight other boys in lands they could barely pronounce to die in towns they previously didn’t know existed makes me shiver and curse to this day. Being mute on this day allowed me further reflection time to consider the children, women and men that have had their voices literally taken away forever.
I returned to school today with a whisper.
My children greeted me with the same.
In my younger, more volatile days, there were many things I hate and could oft be heard referencing as my “most hated thing.” War. Oppression. Collingwood. Corporate injustice. Social and economic inequality. Nelly’s Band-Aid. Keep in mind, that’s a thoroughly in-exhaustive list.
Shamefully, I recall wearing them as something akin to a badge of honour. I would proudly stand opposed to things I hated. By extension, I was not something I hated and my teenage brain was spared (more or less) the indignity of hating itself.
Ostensibly, this appears standard practice for the self-indulgent juvenile.
The hatred attached to aforementioned issues began to rescind as the years went by, falling lightly off of me like leaves off a tree.
Inertia and the need to adjust (read: conform) to adult life allowed me the opportunity to regard them as mild annoyances. Problems for other people, if you will. Things to thumb a nose at whilst seated at the stool of one of any number of gentrified locations over a boutique beer and moderately overpriced counter meal.
Unbeknownst to this author, said meals and beverages accumulated unquanitifiable amounts of toxins within my body. This year, to date, these toxins have contributed to my contracting of gastro (twice), the flu, numerous colds and, wait for it, shingles!
Each additional toxin seemed to pair with it a brick to add to my wall of apathy. Previous passions, interests and beliefs were hid behind a routine of over-indulgence of alcohol, terrible food and yuppy life.
As far as hypotheticals go, my recently-engaged detox (which I have previously written about in this post) surreptitiously disguised itself as a wrecking ball and hurried posthaste to this wall in my psyche.
Consequently, precious embers have been relit.
For one, I have been involved in several rallies of late against the government’s terrible recent (ha) policies (though nothing will likely remove my aversion to mindless, repetitive, unimaginative chanting).
You’ll be glad to know, also, that my hatred has returned. Unimpeded by the spreading of the hate, it has returned with sole focus upon one object. One target only in its sights.
This hatred, ironically, rests solely in the direction of a crucial element of my detox – a green powder which, once dissolved into water, must be twice-daily ingested into my body. The taste. The texture. The smell. The rage! To taste it is to feel the icy cold fingers of your worst nightmare ripping out your insides.
It is a necessary part of my detox.
It is the single worst thing in the world…
The vibrancy of life reveals itself in Autumn Rain,
Dancing and skipping through rich colours, tones
Life sings its merry tune – forgetting sadness and pain
To bring attention to the joy of small things.
Each moment illuminating itself
Through sound, smell and sight.
The following story has been brewing for 4 years. From the day we moved into this apartment until today. Today. Oh god!
Let me explain.
At approximately 11 a.m. my wife left the house for the day.
Me, deciding to be husband of the year, embarked on a quest to clean the house.
Dishes were cleaned, areas were tidied, piles of clothes were moved to form new, out of sight piles. And clothes were washed.
I’d like to say that in our home, clothes put up a good fight against the Winter cold. But our home is no fairy-tale world. The last wash took over 5 days to dry. 5 days, man, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
So this time, it’d be different. I would relocate the portable heater to our back room to engage it in a heating process that would, undoubtedly, speed up the drying-of-the-clothes process. The first lot went as planned. Clothes went in, washed and were placed on the line. Dishes were done, the bedroom tidied and I was ready to pull out the last lot before settling down to a beer, some eggs and the footy.
That’s what I thought, anyway.
As I prepared the room for the latest addition of washing, I remembered that the heater was on and that it was my duty not to leat heat escape. I pushed the door shut behind me and carried on my business.
I pushed the door shut behind me… The dead-locked door…That can only be opened from the other side. I was stuck. Trapped. Imprisoned.
The next few moments were like lifetimes sitting in the air – laughing at me.
I could do nought but laugh. Of course. Why didn’t I expect this to happen? For a couple of minutes I considered my options. I couldn’t call anyone as I didn’t have my phone (for a change). I can climb the back fence, run down the laneway and come back through the front door. Great idea! If I had keys…
So – I relaxed. Not too bad, I thought. The wife would be home in a few hours and I could have some bloke time. Salvation lies within and I don’t spend a lot of time alone.
I’d write. 5 minutes it took to find paper. No pen. No pencil. Unreal.I scoured in draws, golf bags, baskets for nothing until, at last, I found a large novelty pencil that is a gift-in-waiting for a friend’s child. I also found a card that I meant to send a friend some time ago.
It was a happy birthday card. I didn’t know his birthday. Never mind, I could wish him happy birthday any time of year and simply state it’s either for his next birthday or his most recent (whichever were closest). By the end of the letter, the gigantic pencil had left its mark on more than just the paper. My hand hurt like hell – further writing was not an option.
So I decided to do what anyone in a life-threatening situation would do – attempt to make connection with the outside world.
I found a radio I used in my school days. 16 years old and, remarkably, still working. Obviously this radio wasn’t made by Apple.
Eventually I got the aerial in an adequate position to establish radio connection and discovered a saving grace – Triple J’s hottest 100 of the last 20 years. It’s not all bad, I thought to myself. For a few songs, I sung along and danced. But in a cramped, washing-filled room, music wasn’t going to get me through.
I had to go for more.
In a basket I located the wife’s old iPhone – old being 3 years of age. On the table sat an old (2 and a half years) set of iPhone speakers. I plugged the speakers in and rested the phone neatly on top. Of course, it wasn’t charged, so I had to wait for it to charge sufficiently to turn on.
Waiting, waiting, waiting. I had to get busy living or get busy dying. Great time for push ups, I noted.10 of those were done along with about 25 sit ups. “Enough of that”, I panted.
The phone eventually turned on, but the speakers were doing my head in. For some reason, the phone had to be in the absolutely perfect position to charge. It was a delicate balancing act – typing and holding the phone in said position.
After some time, sweating by the still radiating heater, I managed to negotiate my way to Facebook. I always knew this social media outlet would save my life. I never thought it’d save it from my own back-room.
RAGE! I noticed that the time showed 10:21. I realised that I had no idea what the time was. Could it be 10:21? I’spose. Closer inspection of the device revealed to me the date: January 1st. Christ – how long had I been in here?!
Even my saving grace had started turning against me. Callers in kept on using the same inane phrase “you can’t not.” To put it into context – revellers would state matter-of-factly that “you can’t not love this song” or you “can’t not dance to this.”
I had to move fast. I was losing touch with modern language and would soon be left behind. Or, worse still, stuck listening to it.
Facebook, however, was different. It was some strange text version that I had to use all my Bear Grylls survival nous to decipher.
Eventually, I found my way to the wife’s Facebook and here is what I wrote:
It has finally happened.
Whilst being Husband of the Year and attempting to dry recently washed clothes, I inadvertently closed the dead-locked door!
I am, henceforth, trapped in the back-room – left to wallow in my own pity and clean linen.
Being in my comfy Saturday clothes I, of course, don’t have a phone to call you and I’m communicating to you via your old phone being charged by our old speakers. Old being largely relative.
I also have no keys, so can’t even escape over the back fence because I’d have nowhere to go.
If you could return at some stage to release me that’d be ace.
Don’t rush – I have adequate heating (due to my cleaning duties), a radio and an oversized pencil to keep me occupied.
Now I know how Shawshank Guy felt.
I must go as the phone tells me it’s not supported by the speakers and is, again, running low.
Hope to see you reasonably soon (I don’t know what the time is as your phone tells me it’s 10:31 on January 1st – how long have I been in here?!?)
Please save me.
Love, your husband
Relief. Contact had been made and I would be saved. 25 minutes went by of cabin-fever, blaring radio-induced, cramped area-related headaches and I was beginning to go stir crazy.
The bubbly radio presented chimed in.
“If you want to pop off to the toilet, don’t worry. You can check the countdown positions online.” It was the sort of banal statement that I would usually get my grumps up. Of course I can go to the bloody toilet if I want. I’m not going to sit in agony as my intestines shiver and sphincter quiver so I can find out what Australians voted as being their 84th most favourite song of the last 20 years. When suddenly, it hit me.
Panic. And realisation.
I couldn’t pop off to the toilet. The toilet was out there. On the other side of the door. Inaccessible, out of reach. Realisation that I may have had to contemplate the point of which I break the door or pooh in the corner. The realisation that many people in the world face this situations like this as a matter of life. That for people like Bradley Manning, it has been his reality without fault. That’s for another post.
I stood up and screamed wildly, gesticulating with wild uncoordinated legs and arms – directed my rage at approximately 3cm if metal.
I finally realised how Gollum felt. To be so trapped, so captivated and controlled by a piece of mental not wide enough to… do something that you’d need it to be longer to do. A few centimetres of metal separated me from freedom. Connection, communication, tv, the toilet.
Finally, the wife wrote back. Something along the lines of “hahaha that’s so funny.” 2 hours previously, I’d have agreed. By this point, I was apoplectic. Possibly, she thought I was being obtuse. That I’d made it up. God, if only that were true! She informed me that she was waiting for her train and would be 40 minutes. I instructed her that I required minute-by-minute updates of her journey to ease my mind.
Cabin fever had set in. Too exhausted to exercise, too frustrated to relax, too weak to write. All I could do was peruse a phone that would vibrate and procure the message “this accessory is not optimised for this iPhone messages” minutely. Following the footy on an app, I saw that the worst team in the competition was thrashing the best team in the competition. What The Hell was going on?
Confused by the security message and unable to download an app that would give commentary because of a security warning telling me to check date and time I noticed that the phone wasn’t just telling me it was January 1st. It was January 1st 1970.
It was all making sense. Wait, no it wasn’t, it was ridiculous. Every single event of the previous 3 hours had been outrageous. None more so than this. Had a been transplanted back in time? Was “you can’t not” a common phrase of the late 60s/early 70s…is that why Facebook was presented in text form?
Suddenly, the front door rattled.
A roar of pleasure rose from me like a lion turning on the tv at 11:30 on a Saturday night finding out that Rocky was just about to begin.
Chuckles emanated from Outside. The door rattled and slowly opened. I was free. I lunged at the leg of my hero, clinging on like a rock-climber slipping from a mountain ledge. I held that ankle for a good amount of time and promised to never enter that room – at least for a while.
I trudged to the couch. Life seemed to return to normal. I updated the calendar on the phone and Facebook worked again. Turned on the footy and the good team were winning. Normality.
Normality, at least, for others. Outsiders. Those who didn’t experience life on the inside. I was changed. My brother texted me to arrange a meeting that evening. I couldn’t say yes. I could only cackle slightly and ignore it. I considered engraving in the coffee table in front of me “I was here.”
I looked back towards the dead-locked door wondering…longingly…
The Phone and Speakers