There was the feverishness of trying to piece together her actions. She could remember some things, like cornering the cashier at that little grocery store near her house and talking at her about aubergine pesto. She remembered the woman’s readiness to laugh at the word ‘aubergine’, at what she probably thought, initially, was a little comedy routine. She remembered, too, the way the cashier’s face had slowly fallen as she stood there shifting from foot-to-foot, hearing all about the pesto. And she could see herself standing over the cashier going on and on, the line behind her growing. And this cashier will have gone home and said, Today this crazy woman wouldn’t stop telling me about aubergine pesto – if (that is) she had anyone to say it to. And there hadn’t been any more to it than that, but the shame of remembering it was colossal. And what if the woman had gone on to say, You should have seen her face.
The first thing had been filling the house after he’d left so many spaces. She put all of her teas on the bench and bought no nourishing food (just crackers, Pepsi, aubergine pesto and beer). She arranged all of her furniture as if it had started off huddled in the middle of the room and then been blown apart: the chairs and cupboards and benches and shelves in concentric squares around her dining table, except they were uselessly far apart from each other and from the walls. She bought a mirror and not such a cheap one because he had derided vanity and scorned her for looking at herself. All of these tiny revenges. She hung it in her sour little bedroom and looked in it and saw the sunken-in bruise where he had held her arm to keep her at bay. Her face was worse. The mole on her left cheekbone (the one she had always worried about) was emphasised by the general expansion of her bruised jaw. The mole seemed jaunty now, like a little hat sitting on her face.
She knew how everything could get worse from here. Once she had dated a guy (not for long) who had their sexual routine figured out, so she had to examine him like a patient – slowly undressing him and umming – pressing here and there on his skin and eventually finding the problem (his erection) and saying to him, Oh dear, oh well, this is going to have to come out, and wrapping her hand around it as it started spurting and then wiping it down with a tissue and washing her hands busily saying, That’s better isn’t it. It got worse, not better. His body became uncanny to both of them and he became even less sexually practical. He used to watch those surgery shows, those shows about extreme bodies, and let out little sounds. It’s exhilaratingly disgusting, he said. That’s what I want from sex. Maybe now that she looked exhilaratingly disgusting she should call him. After the mirror the next thing was to stop taking her meds.
What else could she remember? Walking along the beach crying but sort of singing-crying. Well, that was weird but perhaps she wouldn’t worry. Who could have seen her? Today there was a wretched, asymmetrical woman crying on the beach. There were lots of gaps. She did worry about those. There was lots of beer drinking, but that was okay. Even when she was happy she drank beer. They had met drinking beer, met everyone she knew that way.
She had started trawling for sex like a teenager. That reckless way, knowing someone is going to want to fuck her if only she could find them, so maybe she’ll just ask everyone. Calling random numbers, making dating profiles, picking up men at the grocery store, probably telling them about the pesto. Her phone was full of numbers. It was the way she had tried to piece things together, but the numbers and the men were all meaningless. Some were still calling her. Before he left he had said to her, You’re allowed to want to, like she was holding back on sex, but what she wanted to know was if she was allowed not to want to – only to find, when he was gone, she wanted nothing else. Tiny revenges. She remembered looking in her new mirror a lot and every time the unevenness seemed more pronounced.
Before he left her she told her mother. They were walking around Myer at the time, in that part with the $3000 dresses, because her mother liked to want things she couldn’t afford and didn’t know how to want anything she could. There was a sparrow trapped in there and it shat on some Aurelio Costarellas. She didn’t tell her mother everything just that she didn’t love him anymore. Her mother said, Tell him the truth, people love that! and laughed bitterly. She wanted to tell her more. Wanted to say, I am so desperate, I am so scared of him but there were some things she and her mother had never talked about. When they walked out of Myer she saw a child having a tantrum, going limp and red-faced, screaming and screaming. The embarrassed mother tried to wrestle the kid into a pram, tried to reason with him, and she thought, Lucky child and lucky fucken sparrow to get to shit and scream.
e.e. cummings said Love is a place but men don’t understand these things. Love was before they found a place. Love was moving around, drinking endlessly. Ask anyone about falling in love and they will describe placelessness. They will say, We used to fuck absolutely anywhere. They will say, I wanted us to travel the world together. They will say, I just didn’t go home for weeks at a time and nobody knew where I was. Anger was a place and so was fear, together they were a house with a man and a woman in it. Every woman knew this. Love was running. This was what she couldn’t tell her mother even though her mother already knew, even though they had learnt it together. As a girl she had hidden under the furniture away from her father. Sometimes from her spot she could see her mother crouching down, covering herself. But the smaller her mother tried to make herself the more visible she seemed to become. Now the same thing had happened to her. She had grown a target just like her mother’s. If there is a place called love, good luck finding it.
They were always chasing drugs and parties and by the time they tried to be a proper couple they were all each other had. They found a flat and moved their stuff in. They had double or nothing of everything: two colanders and no frying pan, two cutting boards and no good knife. It didn’t seem ominous, just funny. The night they moved in they fought – well, he fought, she apologised. She lay next to his lumpen body, her face pressed into the mattress, muffling her breath, her expression, her blinking. Then he went soft with sleep and she crept out into the kitchen. She ate in her systematic but disordered way, things sometimes going together and sometimes not (olives with grapes, bread with ice cream, crackers with peanut butter until the spread or the crackers ran out) until her stomach hurt and her shame caught up with her and she crawled back into bed. She’d lain on her stomach trying to absorb the pain in her ribs, belly, back. When he stroked her she felt relieved but she worried that, through her skin, he could feel the exact outlines of all that food. C’mere, he said, tugging on her hip trying to flip her. She pretended to be asleep, ashamed to face him and too full to fuck anyway. I’m sorry, he said, tugging again. She was thinking about the following morning when he would see all their food was gone. After a while he got sick of tugging and just rolled over, breathing long breaths. The next morning he threw a glass.
The flat? What about it? She had liked it when they moved in. It reminded her of her first place – straight out of high school and living with a female friend; paying bills a novelty, bringing boys home and living on nothing. (Her father had looked so small when she’d packed up and left him, so that she felt like an adult astonished by perspective – a whole person, who, in that little crack between her thumb and forefinger, could squash him like an ant.) On the first night she told her friend, My father wouldn’t eat anything but meat and potatoes, let’s cook something weird. The heater smelled like burning dust and there was black grease on the extractor fan but they’d put up fairy lights in the living room and had a party. There was no party when she moved in with her boyfriend, but she’d made some hopeful little purchases and cleaned everything. He said, What a fucking dump, before going to bed. She began to eat the food she had bought for them and then she just didn’t stop. She hadn’t done that since she’d lived in her father’s house. She knew better now – just crackers, just pesto, just Pepsi. Not enough to binge on, but still she ate it all wrong – all at once or in secret or in 15 snacks and no meals. And sometimes she threw it up.
What was in people? she wondered. Her old fetish boyfriend had been onto this, he knew you had to get it out somehow. But not this guy. All that his body seemed to contain was rage. When he ate or got dressed, when he drank or combed his hair, all she saw was rage. After a while he made her Deal with this fucking paranoia of yours. She got medicated by lying to the doctor. It took everything down a notch. She could eat meals and clean the house and look for work. She still lived there after he left. His side of the bed was all clothes, no more room for him.
They got stoned for the first two weeks in their new flat, woke up stoned. Now that they had somewhere nice to fuck they didn’t much. When she drove he sniped at her. It was his car (he wouldn’t get in hers, too girly) but he was never sober so she had to. When she washed up he always found crap on the plates, somehow, even when she had rewashed them under his eyes. She looked at herself too much and she looked at him the wrong way. He always wanted to know what was in her handbag. She’d find him looking inside it constantly as if something of his was in there. He wants to climb inside, she thought once, as if my handbag is a womb, a pouch, the shell of an egg. What else could she remember? Her face stretching crooked, but what else? She remembered her mother holding up her chin to look at her wound. Inspecting it with clinical care, she’d said nothing. She had hoped her mother would cry. But of course this never happened.
Love is a place. Love is a fight in a car. It is him screaming at her for indicating too early, closing her door too hard, changing lanes, missing a turn-off. Love is trying to drive and fend off his criticisms, trying to pre-empt his anger but always getting it wrong because anger has its own logic. Pulling over, him screaming, What are you doing, fucking drive. And driving him home. Parking. Walking up. That terrible silence afterwards, never knowing how you should act. Would you like a beer? Are you okay? Him walking around, sniffing through huge nostrils like a horse. They had enough beers, enough cones so they could sit watching TV. She unpegged her shoulders yet again.
She could remember him sitting on her bed naked cross-legged with a beer in his hand, eyes big and vulnerable, philosophising. He said, We go months without feeling real pain these days. He said, Sometimes I get drunk and I just don’t know what I’m capable of. He said, I smashed this cunt outside a club on William Street and my boss had to come and get me. I was like an animal, he reckoned. When he talked that day, he was shaking. She thought it was kind of romantic. She wanted to save him, wanted to wrap herself like a ribbon around his hard quivers. You’re allowed to want to.
Her face in the mirror was asymmetrical. This was not a delusion, she was all dented out of shape. She chose to believe this would change and pushed her furniture into sensible positions, making herself cups of tea and sipping them slowly. She would not take that medication, but she did let herself run out of the aubergine pesto and promised herself she would never buy it again. One morning, the morning after that fight in the car, she had woken up angry and rolled over onto him and punched and tried to strangle him. She was screaming. He lifted her off, What the fuck, like a child and placed her on the floor. He held her at bay.
When he left he took his shit and hadn’t come back.
What else could she remember?