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Verge 2017 – Chimera

5

Femina

Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor

JOINT WINNER OF THE MONASH UNDERGRADUATE PRIZE FOR CREATIVE WRITING

O

It is 1968 at Middlemore hospital. McCartney hums blackbird from antiseptic speakers and the woman pushes deep scarlet. There is no diamond in this shot. Only the cool clang of steel. Please hold your applause. The woman turns from white gloves and curls up woodlouse. Her mother holds the squirming babe. Exit doctor. Nurse. There is no spotlight for our protagonist. No curtain call. Yet here she is: Eve. Chalk and sheer slick, six pounds of nothing to see here.

BC

Eve hangs asunder in the hot sun. Ripped and torn and bleeding, his mouth is filled with blood and vinegar. His head is laced with rusted thorns and he looks to the sky and enquires:

‘Couldn’t you have slipped me something to take the edge off?’

An albatross circles overhead, opens its beak and lo! The voice of Morgan Freeman echoes:

‘I could have, but the people like to see their heroes suffer. The Book sales would have lagged. My good man, hang tight and think of the profit margin!’

VIII

I want you to imagine it all sepia and worn at the edges. I want you to imagine the give of paper under the blue swill of a date, seven-something. Let’s say six. Six has a nice sizzle. An orange leather armchair and brown pile carpet, brown like chocolate milk snorted good and thick. The kids congregate in a DEAD END and play cricket. Streets a-stick with tar, soles black and hard. Eve feels the saltwater bite of the bat. Stares blue and freckled at the mouthy boy with the backward baseball cap. He cracks his knuckles all impressive. Rubs the grapefruit against his camo leg and draws back. Eve flexes. Thwacks. The ball shatters citrus spray, lands guts first in the prickle grass. Eve runs piston while the others scramble for the pieces.

X

The girls sit in a circle on the field. Pick daisies and worship the sun. Press buttercups to each other’s faces and whisper secrets in the bathrooms. They practice kissing down by the creek, their lips pink and fourteen. These kisses are illicit. Subzero. Strawberry hushed. They will not tell their mothers. They will not tell their husbands.

-1

Eve’s belly is a pomegranate.

Its pips stir in the red dawn.

She has always known this is how it’s gotta be.

XII

The word virgin runs through the cathedral like a cold pulse. Sin began with the reaching hand, the soft tongue, wet lips. In the cathedral Eve learns to hold her body at arm’s length. In the cathedral she is taught to love on her knees.

1969, Dunedin

Eve steps out from the craft and her boots grip the steps. The ground glows yellow like a hot bulb. Ochre dust swirls around her boots and the cameras flicker grey. It smells like spent gunpowder. She looks at it all, pocked and muffled quiet. She plants the Southern Cross and it flutters in the fan draught. She craves a cigarette. Sighs. The director clicks his fingers. She steps down heavy, slow—like they practiced. One small step for—man, one giant leap for—mankind. They will edit her baritone for the broadcast.

XIV

In fourth form they are dragged into the school hall. 500 of them plaid and regulation, they shuffle in their plastic chairs. Some guest speaker from Auckland clears his throat and tells them that he is there to teach them self-defence. He has khaki shorts and calves like twisted straw. They watch his leg hair stop at the top of his socks.

They are told that one in four women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime.

They look around the room and try to figure out who it will be. Her, with her hair wisping around her cheeks. Her with the home-stitched skirt and scuffed cuffs. Her with the cherry lipbalm. She leans too far over the water fountain. Opens her mouth too wide. Seems to enjoy the drink. The girls place chewing gum bets in the lunch hour. They rank themselves on a scale of one to four.

XV

Bloody is a swear word in Eve’s house and the kids whisper it while upstairs her sister traces sharp across her thigh. The word thigh sounds like vomiting in the backyard after six kilometres of somewhere else, she calls it running. All edges and hollow, Eve calls this fit. Eve spreads the potato across her plate like wet paint and she does not call this anything.

XVI

Eve is packed into the back of the only Sunday bus. They lumber on the open road, past the toitoi and rabbit warrens. Past cream foam spray. The bus has no air-conditioning and the windows are welded shut with scratched globs of aluminium. Eve is wedged glass to knee with the woman beside her. She smells like cinnamon and orange kitchen cleaner. Clasps The Sunday Star like a life ring. Eve is listening to Madonna on her Walkman. Crunching Granny Smith between fuchsia lips. They round the corner, wide. Hit the rumble line, hard. Eve stops chewing and feels the sweat between her knees. The tug in her stomach. Eyes wide, cheeks red, Eve leans her forehead against the vibrating glass. Outside, the surf pulses salt and the seagulls cry and hoop.

XVII

Eve’s sister comes home with her neck sucked blood clot. Eve presses it. She giggles. He was from Italy. Eve gets a tablespoon from the freezer. A woman in Christchurch became partially paralysed after a clot from a hickey detached and travelled to her brain. She tells Eve about how his hair was thick and coarse as a pot scrubber. She drinks tequila dregs from abandoned shot glasses and asks Eve if she’s given it up yet. Eve drinks Earl Grey and holds her hair back until dawn.

Genesis 3:20

Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living. Eve said ‘Maybe we could consider my identity as something beyond my assumed reproductive potential?’ ‘Oh.’ said God ‘You’re one of those mouthy feminist types? Hot.’

XVIII

Eve is sober and sad and in the front seat. The driver grins and tells her that she is beautiful and it is a shame that a girl like her is going home all on her lonesome. The dash ticks red at five dollars a kilometre and Eve clenches her jaw. Works hard to look relaxed in her seat. She laughs too loud and tells the driver that she noticed he’s maybe taking her the long way home. He blinks sorta fast and his smile falls some.

— You’re not drunk are you? He says, and she says:

— No, I’m not. Why? And he says:

— Oh, no, that’s good thing, far too many girls in my taxi, too drunk. I wouldn’t say they deserve it but …

Eve notices his voice thin and faking. His enunciation so smooth, so silken, so liquid just moments ago.

— Not you though, you’re smart, I can tell. And pretty too, did I mention? Not like those brown girls I get in here. Eve shifts in her seat and faces him.

— What?

— I just meant—

Eve squints out the windscreen. She has a headache, but they’re nearly back at her apartment.

— Do you have a boyfriend?

Eve feels her ribcage tighten.

— No.

— Oh, then are you going to an empty house? Eve watches his fingers, thick on the wheel. Eve lies.

— A house full of flatmates. Stayed up late to ask about the party. A big one.

She looks at his ID swaying off the rear view mirror. She tries to lock his face in her mind. His name. She holds her phone, dead in her hand.

451

Eve is dragged through the streets naked still thrashing quivering skin torn off with clam shells as the sun passed o’er the earth’s mid-way line the equator vernal burnt carbon blood libel under the equinox boots of an angry mob she returns unto ash is the first woman tried as a witch that is:

Not tried at all.

XIX

Eve walks behind a girl on her way home from the gym. Street lights leach dim orange in the dark. Green recycling bins vomit glass onto the road. Couches spill their stuffing on the pavement. The girl glances behind her every ten metres and clenches her house keys between her fingers. Her shoulders are squared and Eve can see her breath in the air, white hot. She strides double time, her heels clack through powerline buzz. Eve crosses the street and hurries to pass her. Smiles at her, small and sorry. The girl grimaces and stares at the ground. Breathes out. Loosens her grip. Eve hugs his sister when he gets home.

1:35 AM

Eve dreams that her teeth fall out into her hand and she throws them like confetti. She pulls at them in the dark. Milk molars soft in her gums, canines made for tearing, she smiles through ulcerate curdle. Sucks them in with one great breath and spits them at the walls.

XX

Eve’s mother does yoga and smokes a pack a day. Holiday Menthol, 30, her throat purrs in the West Coast sun. Eve’s mother is lavender incense and the Rolling Stones. Tarot and maypole. Athena. Aphrodite. Diana. Eve’s mother is a nudist. She lives in a bell tent stacked with books and tobacco. Eve visits her twice a year. The club is littered with cherry blossom and tui. Gravel lines the drive. Caravans hum in a lazy O. Eve’s mother has renaissance thighs and hips made for dancing. Eve has too much skin. The neighbours are caramel, butterscotch, soft and warm. The man next door stomps about in a white Sydney Zoo T-Shirt and nothing else. Eve’s mother says that his back is scored grey with cancer, great chunks wormed out in the early stages. He kneels in the garden with a trowel and his penis hangs there. Flaccid, like some deflated Christmas yam. Eve hides in her pup tent. Slinks into the hot tub at midnight. She glows lunar. Caviar bubbles hook on her arm hair and she brushes them off with her fingertips. They float to the surface and burst.

Verge 2017 – Chimera

   by Bonnie Reid, Aisling Smith and Gavin Yates