No 27. Chimera

I want to tell you of my love.

I want you to see what I see, to feel what I feel and to understand what I understand, when she is near. I want this more than anything in the world, but I cannot.

There are not words enough to describe her. She cannot be encompassed by mere expressions. She cannot be circumscribed, defined or contained in any way. She is beyond classification, she cannot be constrained or limited by a mere label. To attempt to classify her in any way would be a sin.

She cannot be known, that’s the problem really. She can never be understood. She is ceaselessly new. With each passing instant she is renewed, remade and original. There is no predicting her, each evolution from one moment to the next is utterly unforeseen and unexpected.

But perhaps I gush.

We can never be whole, together. We are doomed, from the outset, to misunderstanding and loss. There are times when I fear that she is not real at all, that she is a figment of my febrile imagination. I am afraid then that I have lost my mind completely and that I am in fact secured in a strait jacket, cocooned in a nice snug padded cell, quietly bashing my brains out against the softly upholstered walls.

She is more than a passing fancy though, of that I am certain. She is a universe in and of herself. Perhaps I exist inside her. Perhaps I am the passing fancy, a solipsistic figment of her imagination.

I see other men with their women sometimes. Pale, emaciated shades, their blood tepid, the flow turgid and without vigour. I feel sorry for them of course, but I keep my own counsel.

There is no doubt that she is to some extent a fantasy. My friends tell me so, subtly, obliquely, not wishing to offend. She is a construct, my construct. My imagined perfection realised in a woman. But I cannot see it. I cannot distinguish the fantasy from the reality. I cannot say where reality leaves off and fiction begins. I can see what they mean though, my friends, I can recall past loves from whom a veil suddenly fell, revealing them as ordinary, unremarkable people. I can remember the exact moment when the glamour was cast off and cold, hard truth revealed. But what has this to do with my love? It is a false comparison.

My friends put my feelings down to some kind of eccentricity, some caprice or whimsy on my part. Nothing deliberate, and certainly nothing depraved, but perhaps a little wilful. Perhaps a little lacking in rigour.

They say I manufacture illusion, that it suggests perhaps a neurotic need on my part. A need to have found the perfect woman. To have found perfection somewhere, something or someone. Some have suggested that it is nothing what so ever to do with the woman herself, that her apparent perfection is entirely my projection. Further, some have suggested that I am placing too great a burden upon my woman. That I am placing her on a pedestal and thereby setting her up to fail.

Some of my friends, the kinder ones, suggest that my loves are a kind of daydream. That they progress under their own logic irrespective of the woman involved.

I can, for the sake of argument, accept that in the past the women I have fallen in love with have indeed turned out to have feet of clay. None has lived up to their early promise. But this is certainly not my fault. You can’t blame me for that.

No. 26 MSG

Sacrifice is good. Self-sacrifice is better. Self-punishment is best.

That is my mantra. Those are my beliefs. I don’t care what you think.

Having said that, I suppose I should clarify; it’s not sacrifice in and of itself that is good. It is not sacrifice for its own sake that matters, it is sacrifice for the sake of another. I make my sacrifice for love. I make my sacrifice to love.

I live alone, in an empty apartment. I like to describe it as my ‘cell’. I enjoy being thought of as ascetic in my austerity. My frugality is semiotic. I have a table and a chair, a bed, a malfunctioning cooker and a neurotic fridge. I have a copy of an old Russian Orthodox tryptic on the wall. It’s not very attractive, that might be part of its charm, if it had any.

There is a certain smell to it, you would expect that, a sacrificial smell as of meat left out too long. Not yet charnel, but gamey certainly, toothsome to some.

One cannot sacrifice the unimportant. A trivial sacrifice is no sacrifice at all. I live and die by that. If you’re going to make a sacrifice, make it a self-sacrifice. Sacrifice of self, of something deeply personal, is what counts, and after that, always, inevitably, there comes self-punishment.

That’s where the rubber hits the road. With the kiss of the lash comes submission, and pain of course, and ecstasy. Payback.

I eat sparely. I am parsimonious in my use of ingredients. For a long time I survived on tinned sardines or pilchards and a large sack of Bulgarian cracked wheat. I do not invite people to dinner. I do invite people to meet at my place just as I am finishing dinner, before we go out to some hedonistic hell hole. I have become something of an expert in one-pot cooking. Self-denial and abstinence add zest to my epicurean experiments.

The taste is good, no matter how subtle the castigation or chastisement may be. The flavour rolls around on the tongue, redolent with penance and the penalty to come. It is a flavour enhancer, Monosodium Glutamate for the soul, the promise of a reward.

There is a certain flamboyance to sacrifice, done right. My beloved must know of my sacrifice. Whether the object is to trigger guilt, to witness even for an instant the downward curve of her lip or a sudden widening of the eyes in recognition of the gift, or even if, instead, the intention is to impress the beloved with the sincerity of the offering, either way, my beloved must know, and I must know that she knows.

She knows. I know she knows. I revel in it, her knowing, in the invasion of her mind with the certainty of my pain, the corruption, if you like, of her self with my pain and disgrace.

Sacrifice has a certain look though. You would be aware of that. Whether as an heroic attempt to maintain self-respect, to keep up appearances when all is lost, like a Salaryman long since terminated, or as an oh-so-subtle demonstration of rights waived or advantages foregone. Sacrifice is down-at-heel, definitely. Reproach veiled.

I dress plainly, in a manner evocative of some early protestant sect. I do not overdo it. One does not want to look like a caricature.  Sometimes people think I’m a medic of some kind, perhaps a palliative care nurse. Well she is my ‘charge’ in a sense, and I am her ‘carer’. I presume I must give out signals. Maybe it’s the mark of Cain. Whatever.

Sometimes she bites her lip. The gesture is ambiguous. I am uncertain as to its meaning. How should I interpret it? Sometimes she will stand, pale and fragile, sweet scented, a camellia blossom, browning visibly, threatening to swoon for want of sap.

Perhaps she is impressed. Perhaps she realises the depth of my commitment, the totality of my vow. She should do. It is plain enough to see – if she would just look. If she would just for one moment open her eyes and take a really good look. There it is. Laid out upon a fresh clean damask tablecloth for all to see. There is my love. There is my sacrifice, and there, and there.

Does she look? Does she see? I am in an agony of self-doubt.

Perhaps she is ashamed. That could be it. Perhaps she knows what she is putting me through and is wracked with shame. Or guilt – better still. Perhaps remorse fills her. Perhaps she is mortified by my pain and suffering.

I do not know. I can’t tell which.

Perhaps she is disgusted. She is sickened by the growing realisation of her part in my misery.

Well I hope it is guilt. I hope she is drowning in a lake of repentance and regret. My torment, a throbbing stigmata in her mind.  Occasionally I glimpse the shade that lives forever behind her eyes.

No. I cannot say that. I must not. I cannot be the author of her suffering, although that would not be the worst thing.

Even more hateful than the stigmata is the cicatrice, the sign of healing, the scar tissue forming over a closing wound.  Sacrifice entails injury of course – injury to both. It is not enough that the priest should suffer, the deity must suffer too. That knowledge is evidently secret, no one must ever know.

She must not recover. There can be no recuperation. I do not want to see her ‘on the mend’, ‘recuperating’, ‘getting better’. I want her impaled like some stupid English tourist in Pamplona, gored, naturally, but alive.

She has good days, when she wants to, when it suits her. She has days when one might suspect there is nothing wrong with her at all. On these days she will make some comment or other, some explanation will be forthcoming to explain her unexpected perkiness.

‘People have been so kind’ she says, ‘on days like these I feel I really may be on the mend.’

‘Mend-schmend’ I think to myself, ‘by evening the bitch will have had drifted back into a decline.’

I do not mean that. I am overwrought, that’s all. I would never hurt her. I could never hurt her.  She is everything to me.

My apartment is silent, other than the hourly chiming of a plastic East German cuckoo clock someone once gave me. It may have been a joke. I’m not a good judge. It keeps good time.

There is a grittiness to my reality, like fine sand on concrete under bare feet or the high contrast black and white of some old found-footage from before the war. She is complicit, you knew that. Whether consciously or not, she aids, even if she does not directly abet. She has seeped into the fine grain of my life. Every sensation burns when I am with her, corroding the nerve endings, there is fire in the softness of her breath on my cheek – when she sleeps.

She is my cilice, and I hers – though she is unaware of that.

No. 25 Consecration – An Ode to Truth

For a gift to be properly accepted it must first be properly given.

The Japanese understand this instinctively. Even the most minor offering must be beautifully wrapped and presented. There is a formal perfection that accompanies, and even supersedes, the mere content of the gift itself.

This is how it must be with a gift of love. The form, the moment, the ritual of the presentation itself must be planned, thought through and designed in detail to achieve the maximum effect, the deepest truth.

It should not be fake or, false in any way. The rite of giving must be real, the ceremony must be genuine. Ultimately what one is seeking is a natural sacrament. I know all this theoretically.

One must avoid some predictable, customary, habitual or routine formal procedure devoid of meaning.

There is natural flow to the dedication of a gift wherein the outer expresses the inner. There is a harmony of form and content, essence and appearance, where language and movement merge into one single stream of being and consciousness and love is expressed completely.

It is like a Hindu dance, performed to perfection where all the movements are known and understood, steeped in tradition and a common symbolic language, yet the specific performance is always fresh and new and exquisite.

These things I know full well, but they are beyond me. I cannot pull it off. Or rather, to be strictly accurate, I very much doubt I can pull it off. I am not the creative sort. I am analytical, and reductionist and logical, lacking in flair.

She is the opposite of course. She is wild and Celtic and auburn haired. She is the embodiment of the music of Pan, played to the syncopation of a cloven hoof, in a hidden dell, deep in the Wicklow Hills, one star-bright summer’s night.

I am not for her. I know that now. I am not of her ilk. She is out of my league. I do not understand why or how we became lovers. I have no idea what she sees in me. These things, you will appreciate, are an impediment to a really good gift-giving. I am shipwrecked upon the shores of emotion. There is no logical way out.

And yet, I may have found a way for all that. A reasonable, common-sense, rational solution to an irrational problem. If, as the man said, the heart has reasons reason knows not of, then surely reason must be afforded the same privilege – whatever that may be.

The truth is the key, finding a truth that unlocks both doors, to the heart and to the rational mind – that is the solution. And in truth, I know the truth already, all too well.

She is an idealist of course, full of causes, opposing everything and anything that deviates one scintilla from the one true path. I am a realist I suppose, I see many paths. I am not a joiner by nature, I am an observer, not a man of action, a yogi rather than a commissar.

Yet even the most died-in-the-wool theoretician, can, at need, take up the sword. Even if I am not worthy of her, who is to say that I cannot become so. Even if not by my own lights, then at least by hers? Who is to say that I cannot become a better person for her? At least by her criteria, if not by my own.

I will take up a cause, something muscular, something that invites an inference of machismo, even if it does not necessarily impart it in fact. I will invest in khaki clothing and stout boots. I will buy one of those large-faced watches with lots of dials, waterproof to fifty fathoms, or whatever the apposite measure might be. I will strike poses.

Or maybe not. Perhaps I shall take up the pen in preference to the sword and write swingeing polemics. I shall vanquish her opponents with crushing argument. I will deny them even the very possibility of rebuttal. I shall overcome with cogent argument and fact-based analyses. I shall marshal the proof, the facts shall be my friends and I shall master the science. There’s always some science or other to master nowadays.

Environmental issues are always great when it comes to the science. There are always alternative interpretations of facts, the failure of computer models to predict, or indeed in any way to match objective observations taken in the field, and the wonderfully besmirching effect of funding on professional integrity.

On the down side, environmental issues can be a bit lacking in the human element. They are by nature somewhat objective, left wanting when it comes to true human interest and the inevitable, insoluble human condition.  They are more about crisis than cruelty, cockup rather than conspiracy.

Perhaps something more visceral, accompanied by sound bites and TV news packages. The masses, starving or in flight, famine and war are good, refugees, tent cities and the harried looking representatives of non-governmental relief agencies.

Whatever, I’ll think of something. She’s bound to jump on some new cause soon.

I will write a letter to the editor, or a blistering article, something that will get quoted a lot, responded to angrily by politicians, or positively by those self-same harried NGO workers, and syndicated across the news rooms of the world.

I’ll need to find a new angle of course. Something original and creative. Some line of reasoning that will appeal to her simple take on things. Nothing too convoluted, and certainly nothing too dependent upon a single, or potentially easily refuted argument. Something that hinges on human frailty, pride and the denial of truth.

I will dedicate the work to her inspiration and vision. I shall position her as my muse. Never underestimate the aphrodisiac power of a well-constructed compliment.  Our love making will be consecrated by the justice of our cause, blessed by the virtue of our actions and hallowed and made holy by the goodness and love that will inevitably flow from it.

This will be my dedication and devotion to love.

The down-trodden shall be lifted up and the meek shall inherit the earth. Yup.

No. 24 Perfect Curve

My fingers yet remember, now that I have long forgot.

My fingers trace still the lines of her lovely face. My hand yet cups her overflowing breast. Even now, down all the folded years, my skin recalls the softness of her thigh and my dry tongue, all but lifeless now, still tastes her sweetness.

My eyes have grown dim. My eyes no longer bring to me her smile when I am sad. My eyes no longer replay those crazy, happy moments, before things changed.

I cannot say, now, when hope is lost, why I did not tell her how I felt. Immediately, then, there, at that exact moment when we were, however briefly, complete.

I do not recall, what miscalculation, or flash of silly pride, or simple act of stupidity, sealed my lips. I cannot piece together the minutiae of that awful moment, that chasm, into which I allowed my silence to fall.

I am old now, and full of regret, the very regret we said we would never feel. That same regret we told each other we would not permit. I wallow in it now.

I know I should have told her I would return. It’s obvious, you do not need to spell it out for me. I know I should have said to her all the things that lovers say. I should have sworn to her that I would return, no matter the distance, no matter what trials and tribulations befell me, I would return for her. To be with her. To be complete again, with her, for a little while.

My ears, occasionally, when least expected, will hear her laugh in the laugh of some other girl, and bring it all tumbling back into mind, into the cruel light of day.

But memory, that overlay of hopes and dreams, associations and betrayals, memory itself, fails.

I cannot tell you why I left, in the pre-dawn, when all was at its darkest. Before daybreak could bring new hope. I cannot say why I left no note. I can only rage, and when rage fails, as rage inevitably does, I can only sigh.

Sometimes, in the spring, when the snow melts even up here, high in the mountains on the very top of the world, I sometimes catch the tiniest scent, or hint of scent, of her perfume.

Then I see her once again, touching the merest dab onto each wrist and behind each ear. Throwing back her hair, casting one last fleeting look into the mirror before taking my arm and sweeping out of our tiny apartment into the rich, black tropical night.

Then I see her dance, and laugh. I see the love in her eyes and the promise of her lips, and I remember! I remember, fleetingly but full, and visceral and raw. I remember my love, and loss, and shame, and guilt.

And through it all, for a moment, in my mind’s eye, I trace once again, her perfect curve.

No. 23 Annihilation

There are times, there have been times, when I have been suddenly swept up by a powerful wave of joy, doubt or fear.

Like someone fishing peacefully from rocks I have been swamped by a wave so powerful and so unexpected that there can be no preparation, no defence.

At such a time I feel myself pounded and compressed into nothing – annihilated by sudden devotion I succumb. I am engulfed and extinguished.

There is a kind of thrill to it to though, if I am honest. There is something exquisitely pleasurable at the capitulation, something sensual, even sexual that taps a deeper root. Such surrender flays dead meat from the bone revealing a superbly sensitive spot. A zone delicate and erogenous, and fully open to the whip.

This is so even if the proximate cause, the genesis of the wave itself, lies in fear or self-doubt, rather than joy or devotion. Accepting ones utter defeat, unreserved and unqualified. Wallowing in it, revelling in it, and at last accepting that absolute, orgasmic, failure, can trigger a raging ecstasy. Ones every nerve quivers expectantly before the lash.

This is a guilty pleasure, selfish and solitary, never to be revealed, never to be explained and never, ever to be shared.

Annihilation is the ultimate, personal act, not only preceding the adoration of the beloved, but primary to it. Succumbing therefore, if understood correctly, is, must be, a betrayal of the beloved – a rejection of the beloved, cleansed in private bliss.

Shall I admit this then to my beloved, shall I confess? No! Never! In guilt there is satisfaction, but in shame, nothing.

No. 22 Agony


I am not subject to sudden, unwarranted fits of emotion. I am the logical sort. I am analytical and phlegmatic. I like to think of myself as stoic and taciturn.  I have been called aloof. It has been suggested that I am pompous.

It is therefore something of a surprise to find myself pondering a range of possibilities that have never previously entered my mind.


I have recently begun a relationship. With a woman. She is fifteen years my junior, but she is not the usual sort of silly flibbertigibbet that one meets. She is serious, well-educated and well read.

We met upstairs, in the pre-loved section of Berkelouw Books in Leichhardt. She was perusing a copy of Miller and Mundy’s ‘Painting a Map of Sixteenth-Century Mexico City’. I told her straight out that a hundred dollars, even for such a rare manuscript, was far too much! I said I would gladly loan her my copy.

I also suggested the collection, ‘Their Way of Writing: Scripts, Signs, and Pictographies in Pre-Columbian America’ edited by E.H. Boone and G. Urton.

Her name was Consuelo Rosa Gálvez, which I thought a little florid. However I asked her if she was any relation to Maria, the playwright of the same surname. She explained that she was not, though she was impressed that I knew the lady’s work and invited me to call her ‘Chelo’.

I mentioned that the strawberry and balsamic vinegar gelato was very good at the gelataria across the way.


  • Why did I offer to loan her my copy of ‘Sixteenth-Century Mexico City’ which I had obtained at no small cost and which I had not yet finished annotating in the margins. Why on earth did I say I would do it gladly? I hate lending books, one never gets them back. Of course I do not question my interjection regarding the exorbitant asking price – that was mere courtesy to a fellow bibliophile.
  • Why go on to recommend ‘Their Way of Writing’, was that not intrusive, presumptuous?
  • Why mention strawberry and balsamic vinegar gelato? What possible relevance was there?
  • Why form a relationship? At forty five years of age I am scarcely in need of a housekeeper.


I find myself unable to answer the above questions in anything like a convincing manner. Further, I am at a complete loss to explain my current preoccupations.

Whenever she goes out, which she must do and which I completely understand and accept, tiny fingers of fear and doubt begin to caress the out edges of my mind.

I begin to worry that some danger may befall her, she may be waylaid by the sort of oaf that hangs around street corners smoking cheroots.

An injury could befall her, perhaps a fall or a car accident. One never knows.

Perhaps she will come to her senses and realise that an intelligent, personable and fine looking young woman such as herself could do better than me. I begin to fear abandonment, I begin to realise its inevitability. I suspect that she will tire of me, that in time she will feel revulsion.

I am not used to this sort of disturbance, I cannot accurately describe it and I am lost for the right word to encapsulate it.

I cannot work. I cannot concentrate. I find myself watching the clock. Ticking off the hours, the minutes, even the seconds until I hear her key in the lock.

I jump up and switch on the Concordia espresso machine. I set out two tiny coffee cups and saucers. I place four biscotti on a little plate.

She sweeps into the room in a flurry of bags and jacket and scarf, all cast onto the floor in her hurry to stroke the index finger of her right hand through my graying temple, caress the spiky short clipped hair at the back of my neck, and kiss me softly, and slowly, without any other thought, or intention, or place she wants to be.

‘How was your day my love?’ she asks

‘Flat out!’ I reply, ‘Haven’t had a chance to scratch my own behind.’

We have coffee together, in silence, except for the crunch of the biscotti.

A moment of revelation.

‘Agony’ I mutter under my breath. ‘That’s what it’s called’.

She looks up.

I smile.

No. 21 Abandonment

I awake with a start. She is gone. The bed is cold. I am alone.

Did we have a row? I can’t remember. Did she threaten and I shout? Was I given one last chance or none? Was I too far gone to notice or to care? The sheet is stiff and cold in my fingers, soiled and grimy to the touch.

I scrabble for the clock. Five a.m. Still dark. Early autumn.

I lurch to my feet. Last night’s Shiraz swilling around my gut. My tongue purple and furry, my lips stained. The room smells of dirty clothes and unwashed sheets. The cold congealed remains of a pizza lie unwanted on the bedside table.

I find my trousers crumpled in the corner. Flung there last night, t-shirt nearby. I pull them on and then my boots, no socks – fuck knows where they are.

On automatic pilot now I do up my watch, slip my wallet into my pocket and grab my keys.

I pull the curtain and turn on the light. Some of her clothes are scattered around the room. There is a dark stain on the carpet.

Where the fuck is she? Where has she gone? What did I do? Did I do anything, or nothing?

Fear of abandonment saturates me, her absence fills the room – panic threatens.

I throw open the French windows onto the balcony and stare down into the communal courtyard. Her car is still there. Doesn’t mean anything, she was too drunk to drive.

I turn and run across the bedroom, boots thumping loudly on the polished floorboards. I throw open the door and charge towards the stairs.

I hear the toilet flush in the bathroom behind me down the hall. I turn as she comes out, tousled, hair all over the place, gorgeous.

She is still half asleep. She looks at me confused.

‘You’re up early, where are you going?’

Relief and shame vie for supremacy. For a moment I cannot speak.

‘Don’t leave me.’ I hear myself saying, ‘Please don’t ever leave me.’

She looks down at my boots, for the first time really taking things in.

Her warm smell envelopes me, her arms enfold.

‘Oh you goose’ she says, ‘come back to bed.’

Outside, the first glimmer of dawn begins to show.

No. 20 Memory

We are happy I think. I can’t know for sure.

I am not entirely confident that I have the emotional intelligence to make the call. I watch other families and compare. We seem to be OK, as far as I can tell. The house smells of toast in the mornings, which I always associate with contentment. We are easy with each other now. The silence that sits between us in the evenings is restful and calm, rather than taut and uncomfortable.

The light fades over the hillside as the last late stragglers make their way back to the rookery, disconsolate cries pierce the still of the evening, offhand flapping of clumsy black wings suggesting some kind of avian existentialism – a statement, about something, possibly.

My memory is shot. I’m missing large sections of my life. I don’t sleep well at night and I often suffer from bad dreams and tantalising partial memories. People say they will come back, but I’m not so sure. It’s been a while.

I don’t know who I am without my memories. For a long time the feeling that I was actually someone else was acute. When I googled it, all I could find was ‘Capgrass delusion’. I looked ok on the outside. I looked just like myself. But on the inside I was different. I was inhabited by someone else, someone hidden from view but ever-present, concealed in hidden memories, secreted in muscle memory or body-knowledge. There was someone else in here, unseen, buried in blood and breath, and flesh and bone.

That began to fade over time. I’m not sure if it was because the new memories I was adding every day were more relevant to my life, more vibrant and immediate than the supposed past memories I could no longer recall, or if it was merely that my new memories were instantly accessible – if I wanted or needed to recall something I would unconsciously always dive into the new memories – so reliable and quick.

I used to be deeply bothered by the origin of any of my habits or quirky preferences. For instance, on week days I love to start the day with an espresso coffee. Why is that? Or more importantly, who is that? Is that my preference, a new preference, or is it a preference grown in someone who now no longer exists, scoured from my brain by the ravages of anaphylaxis?

Whatever it was, whenever I noticed it, I would become obsessed with the question. Whose habit is that, what life events engendered that perspective, that attitude?

Amputees often experience ghost feelings, ghost pains in cremated limbs, vagrant sensations in flesh long since gone to the furnace. I felt a similar thing, ghost associations, phantom recollections – the shadow of redolence in the taste of Shiraz. The sensations of foreign objects triggering strange familiarity, the heft of a nine-iron suggesting past intimacy.

These things drove me crazy. I was hard to live with, I know it. We made enquiries, tried to find out who I was, or whose I was, but nothing came up.

With time the obsession faded. I was who I was, just like everyone else. I was me, whoever that is.

Those first heady days of craziness and fear have passed and with them the extremes of high and low. We are at peace, finally.

She works part time, mornings only, to leave time for everything else she packs into each and every twenty four hours.

She likes to entertain. We often have parties, perhaps not as often as when we were younger, but often still. We cook lamb on a spit and she makes huge quantities of potato salad, tzatziki and an incredible white garlic dip, which should really come with some kind of government health warning, hotter than you would imagine, or expect. The fridge is always filled with homemade garlic sauce and hummus vying for space with the loan ampule of adrenalin she keeps on hand, just in case.

The backyard fills with smoke and the whole place smells of barbequed lamb for a week.

She is of Irish-Greek heritage, born in Melbourne of course, in St Kilda when it was a slum. She is exactly as tall as me, which is tall enough for a woman, but not very tall for a man, and she has a smile that lights up a room.

Lately she has taken to painting and drawing. Never one to constrict her options, she works in oils, acrylic and watercolour, gouache, pastels and charcoal. She produces large quantities of work in rapid succession, each time shaking her head in frustration, standing back, pursing her lips, saying ‘what do you think?’ and then knocking out another one almost before you can reply.

She has talent but no patience, which is unfortunate – but she is improving. She pulls her long hair angrily into a thick bundle and places it savagely between her teeth. She looks quite piratical at these times and I find it is often best to withdraw and put the kettle on.

Her studio is filled with apparent chaos and smells of turpentine. It has fantastic views across western Sydney to the Blue Mountains. It’s too hot to work in in summer and too cold in winter. That’s why she mostly works on the kitchen table and why there is an ancient dried up tube of Windsor and Newton Chrome Yellow oil paint in the cutlery drawer. It stays there now, that is its place. It has gained some kind of totemic power. It cannot be moved or thrown away.

All is not well however, not perfect. I get incredible migraines while I’m awake and vivid dreams when I sleep. At these times I sometimes see a kind of double. I see another now or time or place superimposed over this time and this place. It’s as though I am looking out from the inside of a giant soap bubble, through the swirling, scintillating colours, at another world, perhaps as real as this one, just a micron away, the other side of the shimmering veil.

Occasionally I reach out, trying to break through, hoping to rip apart the veil between the worlds. I have this tantalising feeling that if I just tried a little harder, just stretched a little further, I would tear a hole in the gossamer curtain and it would all flood in, two separate and very different worlds, rushing together.

I see a woman sometimes, dark and slim, younger than me, and a little boy with my eyes and curly hair. There is fear in the image, or foreboding. Is she my mother? Is he myself? There is no way of telling.

I am left nauseous and wrung out. Powerful waves of vertigo overcome me if I shift my head too quickly. Sometimes I am convinced that the visions are real, or represent something real. Lost memories perhaps, or visions of the future or of an alternative reality – I don’t know. I just wish they would go away.

Our first meeting was less than auspicious. I was homeless, unemployed, and penniless. Distinctly the worse for wear having just been treated for anaphylactic shock. I’m sensitive to everything and anything. It will be the death of me I’m sure.

We bumped into each other quite literally, or I bumbled into her, in Canterbury Hospital Accident and Emergency Department. I am profoundly allergic to mould spores and had suffered a massive allergic reaction to something on the skin off an elderly Ugli fruit. I was leaving the emergency room as she was being brought in with an asthma attack. I walked smack bang into her.

She wasted no time in expressing her displeasure at my carelessness, but, as she later acknowledged, I appeared dazed and confused, and she felt sorry for me.

Even today the smell of a fruit market and/or the sight of an Ugli fruit make me sick.

That was ten years ago. Now we have a daughter, and an exuberant chocolate brown ‘Australian Surf Dog’ sporting dashing blonde streaks and devoid entirely of common sense. He is part Labrador and part Schnauzer which means he is energetic, playful, food oriented and insanely territorial. He protects us enthusiastically from anyone and everyone who comes to the house. His name is Schtumpig and he reeks always and unremittingly of dog.

Our daughter is seven years old and reads. She reads all the time. She has twice been asked to leave the local bookshop, where she hides in the corner and works her way through the stock, and she has once been locked in at the local library.

She is named Natasha after her maternal grandmother whom thankfully she resembles not in the slightest. Natasha has thick curly auburn hair, very distinctive.

‘Must be from your side of the family.’ Her mother insists, ‘no one on my side has hair like that!’

We live in a small weatherboard house with a tin roof in a nondescript suburb of Sydney and we have, as has everyone in Sydney, an enormous mortgage.

I work as a building manager in Pyrmont. She got me the job – no previous experience required, which was just as well.

I have a considerable, but essentially useless, knowledge of capital markets, bonds and derivatives and I am an avid reader of the financial pages.  Where did that come from? No point dwelling.

As we don’t have so much as a cent saved I think it is safe to say my interest would not even constitute a hobby.

We love going to the beach with our daughter and the dog, but we never go to Bondi or Manly which are too crowded and commercial. She jokes that I have developed something of a complex about it. We tend to go to Brighton-le-sands as its only takes about twenty minutes in the car.

We are, I suppose, settled in our ways, or becoming so.

Lately, much to my surprise, I have found odd memories popping out unexpectedly. I remember Flemington Fruit and Vegetable Market. I have a sort of a half-memory of being in the market, people swirling around, hundreds of stalls, every kind of exotic fruit, huge piles of Asian vegetables and dried things from all over the world. Somewhere someone is playing Islander music, loudly, on a tinny PA. Very optimistic, heavy reggae beat.

I needed some exotic fruit. It was for a Caribbean Pork Casserole. It suddenly came to me the other day. We were watching one of the endless cooking programs and it just popped into my head, ‘Caribbean Pork Casserole’. Funny, I don’t recall ever eating it.

Curious thing, memory.

Tomorrow, Sunday, we are going to Watson’s Bay for lunch at Doyle’s, Sydney’s premier fish and seafood restaurant. It’s a bit outside our price bracket but thankfully some old friends visiting from Melbourne, are treating us.

‘I don’t know how long it is since I’ve been to Watson’s Bay’ she says, not really inviting an answer. I say nothing. I don’t remember ever having been to Watson’s bay, which, for a Sydney-sider, seems impossible.

I am not a great believer in using GPS. I suppose it’s a guy thing. I pride myself on my knowledge of Sydney, on being able to navigate from anywhere to anywhere without electronic aids.  In order to bolster this pretension I review the route to Watson’s Bay in the Sydney UBD. I find it relaxing to trace the route with my finger across pages, flipping back and forth to find where one suburb joins the other. It seems somehow more real than being told ‘turn left’, ‘turn right’ by a disembodied voice.

I am wiggling along Old South Head Road, my fingernail tracing out the twisting route.

I suddenly find myself talking, thinking out loud really.

‘To be honest, I’m not really happy about it. The trip I mean.’

‘What trip?’

‘To Watson’s Bay. I don’t really like the idea.’

‘Why not?

‘I don’t know.’

‘You don’t want to turn down lunch at Doyle’s surely?’ she is incredulous, Doyle’s is her idea of luxury, we don’t have spare cash for posh restaurants.

I’m not sure what I think, or what to say. I have this sense of foreboding, or something deeper, dread perhaps.

‘I feel uncomfortable about it.’ I venture.

‘In what way?’ She is not yet angry, still more curious than anything else.

‘I can’t explain it. It’s probably nothing.’  The conversation trails off. Neither of us is happy. A sense of malcontent lies across the room, rank as teenager’s socks.

Our friends are arriving tonight, we will meet them tomorrow. We have plenty of cleaning and tidying to do. I am allocated the back and front yards. We have to pretend we live without clutter or mess of any kind. It’s a ritual I think.

I begin to round up the various toys that have been left lying around, a bike, Anastasia’s reading hammock, some kind of sculpture, or possibly an invention, that Anastasia says she is working on. All go into the shed, with a bit of effort. At last I get the bolt closed and the padlock snapped shut. I don’t know why I bother locking it, there’s nothing of any value inside, for that matter there’s nothing worth stealing in the bloody house either. Ah well, another habit I guess. Vaguely, somewhere at the back of my mind the old, unanswered questions rears its ugly head – whose habit? Yours or someone else’s?

Next I go round to the back yard where we grow vegetables in raised beds and put all the gardening tools away.

Are they supposed to think we do it all with our bare hands? Whatever. No point arguing, she’ll just stomp out here and do it all herself, along with everything else. There’s no negotiating with her when her mind is set. Once the bulldozer is engaged you either get out of the way or get run over.

It doesn’t look too bad actually. I collect up a few hand tools and line them all up neatly in the lean-to.

There is an enormous swarm of fruit flies buzzing around the composter. The door is wide open. It’s Anastasia’s job to chuck the scraps into the barrel which, to be fair, she does without too much complaint. She’s not a finisher though, she will always open the fridge but not close it. Same with drawers. You can follow her path around the house by following the trail of items left open.

The sliding door on the composter is stuck. I can’t shift it at all. Well I can’t blame the poor girl for that I suppose. I put one foot against the frame and pull hard. Harder. The damn thing won’t budge, there’s no movement at all.

‘It is a bit stiff.’ I hear my beloved call, helpfully, from the kitchen window.

I try again, pulling with all my mite and main. At last, suddenly, the slider gives. It slams shut with a loud bang and I fall over backwards. A billowing cloud of fruit flies swarms around me, followed by a puff of dust – millions upon millions of tiny particles, spreading in glorious slow motion from the ventilation holes in the large old drum.

I land hard on my back. I am unprepared. The breath is knocked out of me. I hear a gentle giggle coming from the kitchen window, more rueful than mocking.

For a moment I struggle for breath and then suddenly take in a giant lungful – of fruit flies and those infinitesimal slow motion motes.

I struggle to my feet with such dignity as I can muster.

She is watching from the kitchen window, only the shadow of a smile now plays across her generous mouth.

And then it hits me. I am dizzy, struggling once again to breathe. I take two steps towards the windows, choking, gasping. I hear the fridge door bang loudly as I hit the ground. I hear her feet on the steps. The last thing I remember before consciousness fails is the ice cold prick of the needle and the peculiar, unlovely sensation of chilled adrenalin entering my blood stream.

I wake in the emergency room of Canterbury Hospital. My head aches and I feel wrung out, but other than that, not too bad.  My hands are shaking of course and I feel jittery, but that will pass.

‘You need to look into desensitisation therapy.’ I look round. A young Indian doctor is studying my chart.

‘You’re the most allergic patient I’ve ever treated.’ He says, ‘It could quite easily kill you if you’re caught away from medical attention.’ I nod, there’s nothing else I can say really. I’m on the waiting list.

‘It was only your wife’s swift thinking that saved you this time.’ I catch her eye across the room, somber, tender and full of concern.

‘You are right’ I say, ‘I will look into going private.’

The doctor gives us the usual advice and tells us to return immediately if I have any trouble breathing. We say our good byes and thank-yous.

We make our way out of the emergency room into the early evening air. It is one of those glorious Sydney evenings when the clouds spread in equally spaced rows across an azure blue sky lit purple and red and orange by the first rays of sunset.

We are silent on the drive home. She drives, I sit in the back with Anastasia who clings to me like a limpet.

I can feel the start of another migraine. My lips are going numb, my fingertips tingle and bizarre patterns of brightly coloured light flicker before my eyes. It’s going to be massive.

‘Migraine’ I say, a warning. She knows what to do.

‘Home in five minutes.’

By the time we are home I am all but incapacitated. She leads me into the house and puts me to bed. She closes the door silently, returning a few seconds later with some tiny blue pills and a glass of water. I choke them down and lie back in the dark.

‘I’ll be fine in the morning.’ I say, ‘Don’t worry.’

I fall quickly into a deep sleep. I don’t hear her getting into bed.

About three a.m. I wake up and feel my way to the bathroom. I turn the light on, tentatively, not sure if I can take the brightness. I run the cold water for a few moments and then take a glass.

My breathing is fine, my heart rate is normal, I don’t feel sick. I am not blinded by the light. So far so good.

I stare at my reflection in the mirror. I look like shit.

I take another look. I have a sort of double reflection. I see me, as I am now, middle aged and greying, and a younger me, fresher faced, confused, staring back. For an instant, for the briefest flash, there is mutual recognition. I know him and he, me.  And then he is gone from sight, but his presence lingers, somewhere.

I stand and stare at my reflection, examining every feature, every pore. He’s in there somewhere, I known that for certain now. He has revealed himself, in plain sight, for the first time. He’s not getting away now. I must know who he is. I will track him down, no matter what.

It comes as some surprise when, at last, staring into the reflection of my own eyes, asking myself the usual existential questions that the early hours and a close shave with death will drag out, I see him, staring back at me, through the same eyes. I know who he is. It’s clear at last. He is me. But who is that?

We turn off the light and creep back to bed. Dawn is a few short hours away. At last sleep engulfs us.

Morning arrives with merciful gentleness in the form of a big mug of strong Irish breakfast tea and a tender kiss.

I really don’t feel too bad. We have a couple of hours before heading over to Watson’s Bay. I have the time to take one glorious sip of tea before Natasha comes racing in and throws herself on the bed.

‘I’m going swimming at Watson’s Bay’, she says, ‘There’s a saltwater pool.’

‘Sounds great.’ I reply, stretching out for my mug. She shifts on the bed, threatening to spill the tea.

‘Can we go to see the Gap’ she asks with a sunny smile, ‘where broken people throw themselves to their inevitable doom?’

An ancient memory stirs, jarring my subconscious into momentary life.

‘I’ve been to the Gap’ I say, to no one in particular.

I remember the waves crashing maniacally against the rocks. The wind raging in from the endless Pacific. The spume over topping the cliffs with ease, soaking me to the skin, chilling me to the bone. I remember the constant roaring sound, drowning out thought.

I wrap my arms around myself, protection against remembered elements.

‘Did you curse the mother who bore you and consign yourself to hell and perdition?’

‘Where do you get that stuff?’ I laugh, despite myself.

‘A book. When did you go there daddy?’

‘I don’t remember.’

‘Well, why did you go then?’

‘I don’t remember that either.’ A justifiable lie.

My younger self stirs. He remembers all too well, but he is keeping his own counsel.

I jump up from the bed, Irish breakfast tea forgotten, and head for the shower.

Torrents of near scalding water strip away my sins, scouring mind and body, reducing me to whimpering innocence.

At last the sound of someone banging on the door penetrates my stupor.

‘We have to leave in an hour!’

‘Ok’ I shout back, ‘I’ll be right out.’

‘Wear something nice! Your stripy shirt with the button down collar.’

I have my orders.

I make my way back to bedroom, steaming prodigiously, a towel wrapped around my waist,. I don my R.M. Williams – dark brown ankle boots, light brown jeans, a heavy leather belt with an ornate buckle and the stripy shirt with the button down collar – Aussie Chic.

‘You look nice.’ She sweeps into the room, Natasha in tow, ‘You didn’t drink your tea?’ She gives me a sharp look – I always drink my tea.

‘I’m just about to have it’ I say, ‘I thought we were in a hurry.’

‘It’s cold’

‘Nonsense, I’ve timed it to perfection. It’s finally reached the exact right temperature.’

I take a sip. Stone cold.

‘Ummm!’ I manage, as a swig it down,’ Lovely.’

‘Daddy says we can go to the Gap and watch the people throwing themselves off!’

The look she shoots me somehow manages to be both penetrating and inscrutable in equal measures.

‘I did not!’ I almost shout.

‘Oh! You big fat liar, you did so!’

‘I said I had been to the Gap. I did not say we could watch people throwing themselves off!’

She is quiet, for a moment trying to remember what exactly I did say. She gives up at last, memory proving unreliable.

‘Well what’s the point of going to the Gap if you can’t watch the people throwing themselves off?’

‘It’s not like they do it all the time.’ The conversation is getting out of hand, ‘There isn’t a queue. You don’t have to take a ticket and join the line, like at Medicare.’

‘We can go then?’ she has somehow managed a fait accompli, ‘We can go and see where their poor frail bodies are crushed against the rocks?’ A consolation prize at least.

I cast a beseeching look at my supposedly supportive partner, the mother of my child. She steadfastly refuses to be drawn.

‘I don’t know what you’ve been teaching this girl.’ She says, grabbing her smart handbag and wafting out of the bedroom.

‘I haven’t been teaching her anything. If anything, she’s been teaching me.’ I shout after her. It’s pointless. I’ve lost.

We bundle ourselves into the tiny second hand Toyota and I start the engine. I grab the map book for one last check while she, rather ostentatiously in my opinion, turns on the GPS and programs it for Doyle’s Restaurant. It’s about forty five minutes’ drive according to the machine.

We drive in silence until we reach the ANZAC bridge.

‘That where they shot The Matrix’ I say, pointing out an iconic grain store, relic of a different century and another way of life.

‘I know’ Natasha moans, ‘you say that every time we drive into the city.’

‘Load jump program!’

‘You say that too.’

‘Great film, based on the Gnostic heresies you know?’

‘And that’ Natasha and her mother, speaking and laughing in unison.

I navigate the lanes of the Anzac bridge with aplomb and manage to find my way into the cross-city tunnel with relative ease. Next thing we are whooshing out into Rushcutters’ Bay and the eastern suburbs.

The sense of unease that has been stalking me since yesterday is back, grumbling – it hasn’t had its dinner. The watcher inside me is awake too, and alert. As we begin the wiggle through Double Bay and up towards Vaucluse I begin to see older, somehow familiar, images of landmarks, buildings, parks and vistas. ‘There used to be a little clothes shop there’ a tiny voice inside me notes as we exit Double Bay and begin the decent into Rose Bay. Fleeting flashes of what might be memories attend the internal narration – I am picking out a child’s T-shirt, I am slickly changing gears in some flashy car – too brief to grasp, to crisp to deny.

‘I have been here before.’ I find myself saying as we begin the winding ascent to Vaucluse.

‘I thought you said you’d never been over this way?’

‘Well I have’ I am almost whispering, ‘a long, long time ago.’

She is sitting upright now, staring across at me.

‘Are you ok? Do you want me to drive?’

I shake my head, barely able to speak. Images and memories are coming thick and fast now, a snow storm of icy, razor-sharp recollection.

I feel sick. I am afraid I may actually vomit.

‘I used to live here I think’

‘You think?’ she is fully alert now, reflexes tuned and quivering, her instincts are strong.

‘I know.’ I say, my voice cracking, ‘Just near here, on the right somewhere.’

I glance at the GPS. There is small, winding road coming up on the right.

‘Captain Piper’s Road’ I say, more to myself than anyone.

She hears me.

‘Is that where you lived?’ her voice is taught, controlled.

‘Yes!’ I manage, as I wrench the car across the on-coming traffic and up into the narrow street.

Memory and actuality are merging now, catching up with each other, synchronising. I recognise the street, the houses and gardens.

‘Around the next corner’ I am gasping, retching, struggling to breath.

‘What’s wrong with Daddy?’ Natasha has finally put down her book having the noticed the wild swerve across the main road.

We round the bend a little too fast. I stamp on the breaks and the car squeals to a halt partially on the pavement outside a smart little California bungalow. A woman and a boy are just coming out.

Memory is flooding back, what had been a storm of individual recollection has become a flood, the narrative of my life, swamping and filling my consciousness.

I remember sitting alone late at night in my office at the bank. I remember the endless scrolling red on the screen, uncovered positions, loss-making trades, pitiless margin calls – a virulent cancer eating away at my life. I recall the sense of utter devastation and loss. I remember driving away at speed. I remember the Gap. I feel again the heat and sweat of the ascent to the cliff top. My heart is pounding. I pull off my jacket. It is instantly snatched away by the wind and hurled into the gulf. I realise that my wallet and keys are in the pockets. No matter. I see a light across the way. An elderly man is looking at me from his doorway. He begins to walk towards me. I climb over the feeble little barrier and approach the cliff edge. I climb a little way down and peer into the raging waters, all but invisible apart from the heaving white spray. I mean to jump. I tense for the leap.

Courage fails. I half run, half crawl along the side of the cliff into the bushes. I slink away into the night leaving my life behind.

I feel a touch on my arm.

‘Are you ok?’ She is calm, concerned.

I am staring through the dirty windscreen at the woman and boy. They have seen me. They are staring back. The woman is in early middle age, slim, pensive. The boy is about fifteen, he has thick auburn hair, very distinctive.

I open the door and step out into the street. I hear the car doors open and close behind me. For a moment my legs give way. I grab the bonnet of the car. The boy has my face, my eyes.

He looks back at his mother, uncertain. Then back to me.

‘Dad?’ he says.

No. 19 Affirmation

She has gone back to her mother’s place and taken the kids.

It’s about a five hour drive and there is no railway station nearby.She has served me with divorce papers. I’m on my own.

Our house is up for sale and I am living in one room of a shared house in Saint Paul, a down-at-heel suburb of Corinth on the railway line half an hour from the city centre. The pervasive smells of unfamiliar eastern spices find their way into every nook and cranny accentuating my sense of separation. The apartment seems always to be full of steam from cooking. Condensation runs in rivulets down windows and walls. I can no longer afford to run a car.

I bought a frying pan, a plate, a mug and a knife and fork from the nearby charity shop. I share the kitchen and TV room with the other residents. They are mainly Muslim migrant workers from neighbouring countries. They are polite and friendly and do not intrude.

I can send and receive emails on my tablet computer paid for by my employer. I am not supposed to use my work computer for personal matters but this is my lifeline, my connection to the woman I love – the woman I left my wife for – my reason for being – the counter-balance for all my woes.

She has not yet left her husband. She will do, when the time is right.

Although I have lost much, almost everything, the bargain was a good one if I have her.

I am looking for a word, a single word that will justify all this.

Although I speak several languages, even if I could communicate with aliens or spirits, nothing I say would have any more meaning than clashing metal, or a wind chime, without her.

Even if I could see the future and understood quantum mechanics and had a belief strong enough to change the world, without her I would have nothing.

If I were to make some extravagant gesture and give everything away to the sick and the poor, douse myself in petrol and set a match to it for world peace, it would mean nothing without her regard.

She is patient and kind. She is not jealous or envious. She is not vain or proud and boastful.

She is never rude or selfish. She is slow to anger and quick to forgive. She does not keep a tally.

She takes no pleasure in others’ misfortune but delights in their achievements.

She is trusting and protective, always optimistic and never gives up hope.

She has never failed me.

Still I know, what has been will eventually pass away. All plans will end.  All voices will ultimately fall silent. Everything we think we know will finally prove false.

Despite it all I will cling on to these three things: faith in my beloved, hope that we shall one day be together and the validation of our shared, perfect love.

Of all of these it is love I value most.

There, I have found my word…

No. 18 Farming Aphids – An Ant’s guide

(Written by a Person)

Ants and Aphids

The difference between an Ant and an Aphid is tiny, but in that tiny difference lies a world of pain.

Ants farm Aphids. Chemicals secreted onto the Ants’ tiny little feet mark their territory and sedate and pacify entire colonies of aphids. In this way Ants keep their Aphids close, as a ready source of nourishment. Ants feed on Aphids.

In addition to the use of chemical tranquilisers, Ants have developed an arsenal of tools and techniques with which to subdue their Aphids, including physical and chemical mutilation and even food deprivation.

The complex relationship between Ants and their Aphids makes a fascinating study.


Selecting the Aphid

Ants select their Aphids very carefully. There are typically six to eight interviews, not including the third-party recruiter’s filtering interview, before an Aphid is invited to join the Colony. This is part of the indoctrination process. An Aphid applies to join a Colony of their own free will. There is no force involved. The Aphid submits themselves to a protracted interview process from which they could be ejected at any moment. This serves to develop both a degree of impostor syndrome in the applicant, plus an equal and opposite sense of entitlement. Once the interview process is over, the successful candidate dumps the impostor syndrome and grabs hold of the sense of entitlement with both hands. From this moment they have become willing participants in their own indentured servitude. The Aphid is therefore complicit in their own imprisonment. Simple.

The social superiority of Ants

Ants, of course, are little if any better off.  Ants are subject to the constant pressure of unachievable goals which they will all ultimately fail to realise. Upon failure a number of times to achieve the essential goals of an Ant, the Ant will disappear, only to reappear, magically, as an Aphid. This substitution is never mentioned, never discussed.

Until the moment of the transformation however, the Ant occupies a position apparently at the pinnacle of the social hierarchy of the Colony. I say ‘apparently’, because the Ant, all Ants as a matter of fact, are unaware of the existence of the true rulers of the Colony, those few Executives sequestered away in the centre of the complex, invisible to all except the very few senior Ants who serve them directly.

Ants are destined to farm the aphids for their entire lives, sustaining themselves by sucking the honeydew that Aphids secrete from the sphincters of their alimentary canals.

Ants encourage Aphids to secrete the life-sustaining goo by stroking them sensuously with their feelers.

The Colony

The Colony, Executives, Ants and Aphids, is a single, self-sustaining, self-organised, living being, competing savagely with other similar Colonies distinguishable only by their logos and marketing. There is really nothing to choose between Colonies, especially from the point of view of Ant or Aphid (insofar as Ant of Aphid can be said to have a point of view).

So when next you encounter an Ant, busily serving its Colony, have a thought for the mutilated honeydew excreting Aphid it will inevitably, one day become.