Published in Overland Issue 224.5 Spring fiction Uncategorized If someone told me I was dying I would drink myself to death Judyth Emanuel Solitary figure rides escalator into bowels of shopping mall. I listen. Muzak flute solo. This mindless tune. Bland. Blank-faced shoppers. Poke through lingerie sale. Where? Kmart. Me. Dumpy pissed lesbian fingering panties for fat girls. Need pair of cottontails. What colour? Skin-tone. Full brief underpants. Size 18. My size. Fat short woman. My feet never reach the ground. Me. Dinks Lully. Cute name. Intelligent, mostly intoxicated. Bit delirious. Work as a cleaner. Terrible cleaner, but it gets it done. It does. Wears denim skirts, baggy sweaters. Black tights hide chunky legs. Walking home with new underpants. Home to her. Home. For now. A cottage. Belonged to my grandparents. Down the sweet corridor. Archway leads to sweet sitting room. Sweet sofa, mahogany sideboard, dining table flat against the wall. Sweet furniture rooted to the rug. Nothing ever moves. But us. Babette plus me. Sweet. Mostly rattling around. Two Sappho’s, think Gertrude and Alice. A crayon, a lump of brie, bumping into each other. Can’t see. The blinds drawn. Pull up window shades. People might look in. See those expensive lamps never switched on, what with the cost of electricity these days. Darkening the sparse bedroom. Hating clutter. Twin singles. Long ago Nana and Pa sleeping thirty inches apart. Baby boys they wanted. Now. Biddy girls ladylike in the bed. Women in love. We push both beds together. Leave. A little gap through which odd socks fall. Us. Odd. This passion urge. Wanting. To stay together forever. I want this. She is. Dark little girl could be a tiny crow. Gypsy acolyte. Flat boobs. Thin waist. My granola femme in overalls. Adores patchouli. Wears clodhopper lace-ups. Good for ankle support. Her pierced tongue. Hungers for vegetables, fruit, hats. Fruit sewn to hats. She owns a little red Volkswagen. Calls our car red rocket. Sometimes we get into our red Volkswagen. Babette in her hat, fruit sewn to hatband. We shoot out of the garage. We get seen. At the sight of us. We hear neighbouring teenagers shouting, ‘Fish kissers. Bumper-to-bumper.’ That night. I want her to come with me. Come with me Babette. Can’t. Babette the pillow queen. She cannot. Come with me. She can’t. Not to where I go. The future. It’s too hard. Still she gasps. Still she cries. ‘Harder.’ Fucking a little to the left. Keep doing that. Harder, harder. Go down on her. I do. Tongue teases her tender button peeping out of its hiding place. Babette moans. She groans. She says, ‘Hey Dinks, use your whole mouth.’ Oh. Oh. Oh. Juices coming from upside down tulip. Quivers purple. Purple cries. She cries, ‘You’re squashing me.’ ‘Sorry.’ Still she says. Still she bellows. ‘I’m coming!’ But not with me. Still she cries. Still she says. ‘I love you Dinks forever. As the you that is you.’ Loves me. Loves Dinks Lully. Loves forever. The me. That is me. Which is what? Afraid. Forever. Funny word. It worries. It terrifies. Body nobody everybody. Me. Overcome. This fear of dying. Everyone knows. Everybody dies. Just the once. For such a long time. But nobody mentions it. I say. She says. Babette says, ‘Because they are already dead.’ She says. ‘Let’s drink to that.’ We do. Drink. Dinks the drinker. Old girl under the influence. Multiple shots. I drink to big bottoms. Bottle of wine wrapped in brown paper. In the end hours bearable. Guzzling a decanter of red. Wine staining my lips. Kiss the stain. This bottle of brandy bangs my brain. Brings foolish joy. Drink gallons of vodka. I throw up. But stay fat. Bang bang, too bleary. Until she comes a little death. Death is coming. I will see her death. She never gets to see mine. It doesn’t happen to me. Dinks Lully ducking death, not dead yet. Hallucinating for centuries. But for now. Tomorrow comes. Wears new undies. Sips coffee laced with whiskey. Sits in old-fashioned kitchen. Enamelled sink looks out at picture-postcard garden. All weeds poisoned. Flowerbeds edged straight as horizons. There. Darling. Babette in her knitted cap, dungarees, flannel shirt. She bends. Busy planting bulbs. Nose dripping. Caught a damn cold last week. Wintry. I call to her, ‘Babette silly noodle. You’ll catch your death.’ Somehow it’s death again. Not knowing how. When. Why. My reason for a visit to the medical centre. Appointment at ten. Away I go. Don’t fear the reaper pounding in my soul. Cloudless day. Cold. Invigorating breezes. I stroll through the Botanical Gardens. Hedges clipped with precision. Roses pruned to naked stumps. Gnarled wisteria vines clutching at rotting trellis. Pleasant. Picturesque. Further along the path. Towering pine trees cast long shadows to nowhere. I see it all. I hear invisible threads of sound weaving through the air. Maybe a la la la. Then. Soft footfalls on grass. A scruffy kid appears. He sings, another one bites the dust. Twenty minutes later. Dr Fletcher’s germ-free office. I sit on the very edge of a leatherette chair. Feet dangling. Freaking surgery. Almost sobbing. Scary germs. Not quite howling. Another one bites the dust. Kill the nice leatherette. Howl the germs. Cries inside my mind. Anxious. Not screaming. This small room glaring white. Behind the doctor’s desk. A mirror reflects. What is that? My thirsty reflection. My face. The face of a sea slug trapped in the Ice Age. And before the doctor enters. I take a swig. Warm whiskey from my hip flask. Ooh woozy. Anything possible. Makes Dr Fletcher shadowy. Shadows under her light eyes. This classic physician. Narrow feet in classic loafers. Powdered nose. Papery expression. Brisk, antiseptic, topped with a halo of fair hair. Just so-so. Wears sheer stockings. A tweed skirt. Her pleated eyes observe me. She questions. She asks. She asks questions. First question. ‘What seems to be the trouble Ms Lully?’ And I think. Everything. Memory loss. Knee twinges. Brain twinges. Stiff metatarsals. Stiff brain. Itchy skin. Itchy brain. Irritated cardiac muscle. Monumental flesh. Plumpness. Insistent thoughts filling aching skull. Person dies. Just the once. For such a long time. I tell her, ‘I don’t feel well.’ Of course this doctor knows. Of course she recognises this hypochondriac chick trembling in this comfortable seat. This she says. This. ‘I recommend a laboratory analysis of a blood sample to be taken from your vein.’ I cringe. Almost puke. ‘Will it hurt?’ Of two thousand blood tests. I have four. Electrolytes, cholesterol, glucose, hypochondria. I want more. But doctor. I need the lot. Doctor wraps tourniquet around my arm. Make a fist. Needle stuck in. Jab. Syringe sucks. How dark is blood. ‘Ouch,’ I cry. It hurts. Press with cottonwool. This pressure. Stops hurting. Following Monday. Doctor’s receptionist telephones. I remember her mealy-mouth. Her tight voice. ‘Please come in today. Dr Fletcher wants to discuss the results of your blood test.’ I panic. ‘Is it bad news? Tell me now.’ Mealy-mouth replies, ‘No. Our policy. You must be here.’ Slam phone down. Tremble. ‘Something must be terribly wrong.’ Babette looks up from her knitting. ‘You’ll be fine,’ she says. Casting on. Knits a scarf. Unperturbed. This scarf goes on. Thunderous afflictions. Louder than the roar of an orbital spaceship. Cancer, AIDS, leprosy, leukaemia, Ebola, lupus. Whoosh through my terror. Shaking hands. Open a bottle of wine. I will drink myself. Shake, shake, shake panics. ‘If that doctor tells me I am dying I will drink myself to death.’ Babette grins. ‘That’s an expensive way to kick the bucket.’ Hey. Not funny. I will. Kick the bucket. To death. Drink myself to death. I frown. It won’t cost much. ‘It won’t take long.’ It won’t. I run. To Dr Fletcher. Get there. Doctor’s face slinks on. This distant expression. As if watching a helpless figure. Far away. One arm raised. In the middle of a choppy sea. Careful modulated voice informs me, ‘Ms Lully your tests reveal a case of very rare blood. This particular strain named Type LF, well its existence is dubious according to medical researchers having never detected Type LF in a woman before today. You are the first.’ I am what. In the middle of a choppy sea. Tip of Dr Fletcher’s tongue protrudes. Moves delicately. Over top lip. Wets her lips pink. Eroticism at a time like this. I know a doctor. A doctor must remain calm. Removed from the situation. No matter what the nature of the circumstances. But this, this. My ashen face. Dr Fletcher glances. Refers to her notes. Continues. Somewhat poetically. ‘One theory states Type LF develops slowly. Think for example of an oak sapling growing to maturity. Imagine moving a sand dune one grain at a time or emptying the ocean with an eyedropper.’ Oh God. Confusion in my typical woman mind. Grenade with pin pulled. Oaks symbol of strength. I believe elves live in acorns. Get hold of a pair of tweezers. Reorganise every grain of sand. Every speck. For Chrissakes. Then empty an ocean. Then not scream. ‘I don’t understand. Is my blood contaminated? Do I need a complete blood transfusion?’ Precious red blood. Mine. Replaced by stranger’s blood. Turns my face green. Doctor enunciates words as if speaking to a deaf person. ‘Please. Don’t. Worry. Ms. Lully. You are not ill. This condition is far from life threatening. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Your mortality is impossible. You are going to live forever.’ Green face slumps forward. Head in hands. I should be pleased. I should have paid attention to science fiction shows on television. More grenade thoughts. Doctor Who. Lost In Space. The Twilight Zone. Red Dwarf. Who is lost? Who doctor. Lost dwarf. Falls off space zone into red twilightness. She taps red pen on doctor desk. ‘As implausible as it sounds, Type LF acts as a renewal, sort of a preservative. If you are in an accident or become ill, your blood turns into an antidote, counteracting disease and injuries, it heals your body. Isn’t that lovely?’ Wonderful. Palms perspire. Hands flutter. Weak knees. Room turns blinding yellow. Voice lungs gag choking. ‘Christ. I feel. I am. Going to faint. Uhhuhuh.’ Doctor grabs both shoulders. ‘Head on knees. That’s it. Inhale. Exhale. In. Out. Breathe.’ I breathe. Few minutes later. Adjust to calmer. Spine straightens says, ‘This is fucking ridiculous. Everyone dies. I have a right to die. I am too exhausted to live forever. Besides, with the burial plot booked, paid for, I have planned my death. I am not looking forward to it.’ Dr Fletcher gets testy. Fatigued, overworked, past caring, too many idiot patients. If this woman lives forever. Well. Not the doctor’s problem. Sighs. More sighs. ‘You must understand. You cannot die. You are immortal.’ Shuffles. Sighs. Beyond sighs. Asks, ‘When did you last have a pap smear?’ This womb question for women only. I reply, ‘Isn’t that irrelevant now? Given the circumstances.’ Hands me a prescription. ‘I guess so. Anyway. Try to relax. Here’s a script for a strong sedative. A thousand repeats. Take as much you want.’ But it’s not enough. To prepare for. Forever. Supposed to be after death. Not before. I go home. Think about this. Cannot imagine it. Swallow three sedatives. Okay. I can do this. Simple. Get hammered. Every morning hangover, hello sunshine, honey on toast, hair of the dog, raw eggs with Worcestershire sauce, bacon sarnie, chips. We live on Plum Street. For God’s sake. We own a Volkswagen. We bought a camper van. We plan to go camping in Death Valley. Babette always, always dunks her Weet-Bix in hot milk. Fuck me. Shit a brick. Bloody hell. Oh snagglepuss. Forgot Babette. Can’t tell her. She will freak out. Think I gone mad. No-one must know. But what if the media discovers my secret immortality? Newspaper headlines. Front page. Drunk Lesbian Escapes Genetic Gallop To The End. Mayhem. Uproar. What if. Paparazzi stakes out the house. Stalks my every movement. I will have to fix the lock on the window in the ensuite toilet. Camera flashbulbs trigger migraines. Babette will go crazy. Thank you Lord for patient/doctor confidentiality laws. But if the medical profession uncovers the truth. Skin tears. I see it. Weary scientists dissecting my body. Blood spills. Criminals draining my blood. Gouging my guts. Sell for a billion bucks. Females contain approximately 4.7 litres of blood. Platelets start clotting. Don’t have enough plasma or haemoglobin for everybody. I pace the room in horror. Babette wakes from her usual afternoon nap. Notices me pacing. ‘Oh Dinks! You okay? Feels like I’ve been sleeping forever.’ She must know somehow and I yell, ‘How did you find out?’ Babette rubs her eyes. ‘What. I don’t know anything.’ But I do. I curl up. Beside her. Pillow queen says, ‘My cunt is swelling.’ I tell her, ‘I have forever.’ ‘That’s great,’ she says. ‘Great.’ ‘Not really,’ I say. This burden. Supposed to be after death. Not before. And her. No time. But some years. Fifty more. Then. Old age for her. Eighty years all up. Babette dies. The loss unbearable. This lonely infinity stretches out like an endless straight dirt road in the desert. Long years. Missing Babette. This boring paperwork. Yawning before me. Every seventy years. Fake an identity. Apply for new birth certificate, passport, driver’s licence. Cancel life insurance. No medical, dental bills. Save lots of money. So I put my feet up. What to do. Reading. Sixty-five years to read War and Peace. To skim Infinite Jest. Never finish My Struggle, An Alien Affair, In Search of Lost Time. Change my mind, this female trait. Short for traitor doesn’t mean. Ask myself. Why not try new experiences? Why not. For hundreds of years. I drop shrieking into canyons, fall out of planes, plunge into the unwelcoming sea, speed around race tracks, clamber up Mount Everest. Hang on for dear life. Dear me. Adrenaline such a blast. And the world gets a bit better. This happens. Every clever wives lovers girlfriends whisper do this in mans boyfriends husbands ear. Millenniums of beauty, history, meaning improves big triumph. Expunges tyranny of hyper-technical society. Out with it. Human anatomy not fused with machine parts. Nuclear bomb does not destroy the world. Doesn’t. I do not have to wear filthy rags, dodge cannibals or wander a radioactive road. Do not. Fashion reverses. I slip into starched ruffs, billowing petticoats and crinoline hoop skirts. Ages of innocence. A woman knocks up idea. Inflatable cars do fly. Oxygen fuel. All Volkswagens. But sleeker. Spacey. Fully equipped. Accelerator pedals massage bare feet. Attached to the steering wheel. Mechanical hands. Apply rouge, lipstick, style my hair. Sophisticated femme. And there. Driving under the influence. Car zooms me anywhere. Perfect anywhere no police. Then. Finally. Female scientist invents series of molecular fluxes. Erases fat cells, wrinkles, moles, freckles. Magical tints infuse the epidermis. Rainbow skin glows. I glow. Here’s a bonus. Process generates photographic memory. Upgrades IQ to over six hundred. Way over. More cleverness to womanhood. Brilliance. Every shine. Thin genius emerges. Me. With beautifully proportioned buttocks. Myself transformation. Change my name? Yes. Dinky Lull lives thousands of years. Woman can do anything. Goes down on millions of delicious women. Not very sober partner. Lose count of moans. Adopt ten thousand children. So many dribbles. Soft downy babies. Snotty noses. Little starry lovelies. Tantrums. Not competent mother. Keeps trying. Watch them grow, live, die. Tequila helps. The tears. Centuries crazy cool. Decades hurtle by. Whatever happened to Judgment Day? Well it never happens. Three girlygirlgods appear. Not father, son, holy spirit. But. Mother, daughter, holy shit. Hips wiggling in ripped tight jeans, platform shoes, false eyelashes. Not at all judgmental. Just a bit sick and tired of universal housework and shaping the future. I offer them Cherry Ripes, ham sandwiches, pickles, champagne. They gesture wildly. ‘We resign. We appoint Dinky Lull to sort out the universe.’ My petticoats rustle. Power goes straight to my head. Inflates my ego. Mixes a martini. Here’s to. I can do this. First. Demands chemists produce agglomerated powders crystallised into large blue tablets. Everyone swallows. Pills effective. Now. Human skulls transparent. Brainwaves exposed, translate thoughts into words. Nasty critical thoughts impossible. Helpfulness, generosity eradicates poverty, starvation. Gone prejudice, corruption, aching spite. Here purity. Four girl scientists formulate elixirs, taste resemble herbal tea steeped with courtesy, reasonableness. Manufacture huge quantities. Pour into dams, oceans, freshwater streams. Every human drinks. Gets inebriated on tranquillity. It does happy. And what else but get overcome with great woman need to redecorate. Let’s paint St Paul’s Cathedral grass green, the Sydney Opera House lilac, the White House with a pattern of clouds, each level of the leaning tower of Pisa in alternate reds and greens, the Empire State Building in a dazzling scarlet, the Space Needle a suggestive hot pink. Ecstatic homosexuals and housewives cheer hooray. But. A number of macho sports fanatics complain about the effeminate colours. I hush smug say, ‘Too late. It’s done. Brightens up the place. Don’t you think?’ Next. Link every continent. Everyone goes anywhere. But sh. Encourage quiet murmurs, affable conversations. Instruct industrial designers to design soundless machinery. If persons raise voices in any city. Then. Tape mouths with masking tape for a month. Raucous individuals become subdued, thoughtful, skinny. Thanks to me. This peace. People quietness. This new. Brave new nice world. Girlygirlgods get wonderful tans. Return from vacation. Thrilled with my efforts. ‘Hey dude. Well done. Splendid work. We’ll take it from here sweetheart.’ My reward. Here’s a special amazement. Morph into animal, famous landmark, lake, mountain, valley or volcano. My skeleton chooses. Eiffel Tower this shape of me. But gawky inelegant. So spread out as a vast pounding waterfall. Bump roar the rise of the Himalayas. My Uluru body rolls around the desert. For fun. Woman mutates. Woman can, does anything. Runs spirit dingo. Leaps hare-wallaby. Flits willy-wagtail woman. Out of breath. I think of Babette. Missing. Silky skin wry smile mouth on her. In her memory. Transform into small island. Plant gladioli. Dig deep personal soil. Knit a scarf. Different stitch. Rainbow stripes. Purl, eyelet, lace and cable. Last stripe same green my face turns. That time a million years ago. Doctor diagnosing immortality as if classifying a common virus. Remember. But. Girlygirlgods shout, ‘No regrets. Let’s wrap this up.’ Here goes. So it goes, so it goes. I see. Everything as a woman summed up. Civilisations appear disappear smooch where bright times. Kiss kiss. Peace enlightenment to here. Takes a billion women only get it. And live so long. Me. Am all babe butterface chicks. Am too. Am too. Rush back to some beginning. Hurries across Botanical Gardens. This hurry heaven. Rain puddles my muddle. My wonder. What if I. The same as before. Woman wondrous. Will I die. Maybe drink myself to death. Because. Could be end is beginning same. I am everywoman go more courageous journeys. Which is. Yes, the way of things. Full circle. But all too much. Pretty tired. Should go to Kmart. Need new underwear. Should go home. Where she is. Might be. Home at last. Tipsy. Open the front door. Stagger inside. Furniture comes alive. Surprise. Everything moves. Trots across the floor. Greets me. Hello. Transports me. Settles me. Here. Kitchen arms whip cream, stir custard, roast morsels of a lamb. Lamb has died humane death. Corkscrew opens a bottle of wine. All by itself. ‘I am woman hear me roar soar whatever,’ I say, ‘Go on bang my brain. Stain my lips. Give me joy. Just don’t hurt me.’ Let there be cheers to women everything anything. I am wow. Fresh out of forever. No burning desires. Truth much too difficult. Living a life without end. Happy. She is. I am. Mostly drunk. Ducking death. Not dead yet. But death is coming. All chick vamps slur a little death. Get different stronger anything everything. Though. It’s been. Too fucking hard. Harder, remembers the pillow queen up from the grave. A woman this love pastes her flesh to bone whole. I scrape the dirt from under. And I say, I say, I say emphatic, ‘Come with me Babette.’ Yes, she can. Come to where I go. Speaks voice raspy. ‘Right,’ she says. Too right. She comes. Women come many more than. I count the little deaths. Bless her. Sometimes number two hundred comes. Changes like me in the coming. I say this, ‘Babette. You’ll never believe what happens. What has happened.’ Tell her everything. Image: ‘Infinity’, by Dan Simpson / flickr used under CC BY-NC 2.0. Read the rest of ‘The idea of women’ fiction issue: ‘The world is fire’, by Ariane Both ‘Make my back burn’, by Fikret Pajalic ‘Raining price’, by Sally Breen ‘The crucible’, by Vivienne Cutbush Judyth Emanuel Judyth Emanuel has short stories published in literary magazines Electric Literature Recommended Reading, Intrinsick, STORGY and One Page. In 2016, she was awarded a Residential Fellowship at Varuna Writers’ House and, in 2013, she was accepted in the One Story Workshop at the Center for Fiction in New York. Judyth resides in Sydney, where she is currently working on a second collection of short stories and a travel memoir. More by Judyth Emanuel 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 First published in Overland Issue 228 27 March 2023 Culture Before ChatGPT, there was Rekognition: How Amazon’s algorithms control which books you see Claire Parnell almost fifteen years after approximately 57,000 books by and about LGBTQIA+ folks disappeared from Amazon’s search results, bestseller lists and sales ranks, the company’s algorithms are still unfairly targeting books by historically marginalised authors, including queer folks and people of colour, and controlling how readers can discover them. First published in Overland Issue 228 24 March 202324 March 2023 War Conga line to Armageddon: the rush to get us into a war with China Ben Brooker It shouldn’t need spelling out that Australia could not win a war with China in any sense that matters, even with the backing of the US and its allies. At best, such a victory would be a Pyrrhic one. At worst, we would be so utterly humiliated as to not even know what kind of defeat had been inflicted upon us.