Days pinch and lately I’ve noticed every time I look in the mirror

I’m squinting—maybe it’s a grimace. Without trying

I’ve mastered the façade of a Besser block threatened by a mallet,

by which I mean maybe the world won’t kill me but it’ll definitely hurt

and I’ve got to be ready. I’m afraid of routine. Give me something easy

like a boardgame and I’ll show you anxiety. When I was a kid I played

boardgames all the time because I’m competitive but not sporty.

I like showing off, but only if it’s part of the rules.

I consider aiming to win the number one rule in a boardgame.

Not in raising a child, though. Or in writing a poem. I liked the game

Sorry because of its name. It’s almost the opposite of Thank You

so it felt sort of rebellious. I also liked it because of the smooth

bright plastic pawns that fitted just-so in my small fingers.

My dad once threw his pawns across the room during family game night

and maybe that’s why: his fingers were too grown-up thick and clumsy.

Chance was fun when I was eight but I feel like the mere thought of it

could kill me now. Honestly, what out there is safe? The other day

I saw a woman trip and fall hard on the footpath because the root of a tree

had pushed skyward to meet her. This is what it’s come to. Like the game

Snakes and Ladders, we’re only ever wanting to move forward

but maybe we should tip-toe so the slides won’t hear us and the roots

won’t feel us coming. I think I need a better plan. It’s so hard making art

with these worldly distractions. I wish I could mould each and every one of them

to work with me and for me. I wish I could hustle my environment—

the insatiable clouds, the humping waves, the treacherous weeds

at our back door. Oh, and every abandoned warehouse, which my youngest

son would definitely buy because he loves Monopoly. He is always the banker

and owns the most property and has all the wealth, no matter who his opponent is.

I think he cheats constantly. It’s the same with cards. I want to give him

the benefit of the doubt because he has excellent spatial reasoning

so he literally sees possibility, but let’s be honest, he’s a spiv, which is fortunate

for him and sometimes makes me proud. It seems as though he doesn’t feel

the pinch but in saying that, I am definitely a bad mother. My mood

could be me in my middle-age, my hormone levels fluctuating like a windsock

filling and falling as it picks up 40-knot gusts. Weather has a lot to do with it.

I think my brother cheated at Monopoly too. He’s a banker now, I do not lie.

I never liked playing with him because of course he always won but also

I didn’t much care about money. I want more money, obviously, but it’s not

something I see or touch very often, and how would I get it if cheating

isn’t in my blood? Unless we’re counting my brother and my son,

in which case it is. But even in a card game I’ve never cheated.

I respect the actual cards too much, like photographs and books.

I love holding visuals close to my chest and I love keeping secrets.

My favourite card game is gin. My favourite drink is wine.

I think I would presently play more cards if I could only drink less wine.

It started at such a young age, though most would say 16 is ripe.

Hello, beer pong? Is that you? It was hard to tell because I usually

passed out directly after meeting it. Like cheating, I cannot skull,

but isn’t that what we’re either seeking or dreading these days:

obliteration? When I think about what obliteration might look like

it makes me want to come up with a new game that involves only the stars

and our thoughts. In the instructions it would say to hold the stars

close to your chest and keep your thoughts a secret. I’d call it You’re Welcome.




Heather Taylor-Johnson

Heather Taylor-Johnson lives and writes on Kaurna land near Port Adelaide. Her sixth book of poetry is Alternative Hollywood Ending, and she is the editor of Shaping the Fractured Self: Poetry of Chronic Illness and Pain. Recent shortlistings include the Red Room Poetry Fellowship and ABR’s Calibre Prize. Her novel Jean Harley was Here was shortlisted for the Readings Prize for New Fiction, and she’s the 2022 winner of Island’s Nonfiction Prize. She’s an honorary title holder at the J.M. Coetzee Centre for Creative Practice.

More by Heather Taylor-Johnson ›

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate.

Related articles & Essays

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *