The Elephant In The Room

The tiny man that lives in my chest is breathing louder.
Longer.
His lungs swell and ribcage expands and with each breath instead of retreating his body continues to grow. He sits curled, his spine arched and face unseen and with every inhale I feel my bones creak. You stand above me, watching me from the ceiling. Glaring and spinning as the room spins with you, one eye is fire, the other a ticking clock.

The clock strikes one.

You scream at me with a mouth invisible. From screens taped to my hands, pasted on every desk and available wall space you scream at me. Miles away, you remain in my view and in my head. Frightened by your screams the man in my chest breathes heavier and heavier.
I watch my skin stretch and distort. Like bubble gum on the pavement, like cling film torn on a serrated edge, my skin is changing. The colour becomes pale in the spots that are thinnest and scars once thick and healed become pink and splitting. I am breaking.

The clock strikes two.

You are everybody that isn’t me. Everybody that hates me. You are the news in my feed, the looks on the train, the scorned lover that believes me dirt. You are strong and I am weak. The man in my chest cannot withstand your war and my flesh and blood cannot contain him.
In my body the second room that is the housing that holds my heart and lungs aches. Walls are cracking and foundations below are receding. I want to open the door. I need space so the man can expand without hindrance but the key I have been given does not fit the lock. The man does not heed the cries of my insides as they are crushed.

The clock strikes three.

My stomach bursts as the man breathes in once more. I want to stop him. I need to stop him. With every message and hint of you the man breathes in and I am terrified he will not stop. Please stop screaming at me. I can be better. I can be good. But I need you to stop. I want this to stop and you want this and maybe you want him.
When he emerges maybe I will be replaced. As he stands in my stomach, my body twisted and broken underneath him like the shell of an egg, maybe he will step forward and become me. Be the me you always wanted and maybe finally I will be better.

I want it to be over.

The clock strikes four.

Peter/Susan

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Adelaide, Australia. 2018.

Into the mirror of his mother’s downstairs bathroom Peter stared. Susan stared right back. Peter on one side of aluminium, glass and paint, and Susan reflected perfectly back on the other. They stared,
at the pimple pulsing in the centre of Peter’s forehead.

Peter raised two hands, shaking as he placed a finger on either side of the thudding skin spot. Susan watched, her arms pressed tight on either side of her body. Her hands are fists and her fingers are cramping.

Peter shuts his eyes,
and squeezes.

Pressure builds from the base of the spot, forcing pus and blood to the surface of the skin. For a moment the thin tissue holding Peter’s face together remains strong. Peter’s grip tightens and his skin relents.
Blood, pus, and oil tears through his forehead, bursting outwards into the air. In one solid line the grotesque rainbow arcs from Peter’s face and towards the mirror. When hitting surface, instead of splattering as physics would allow, the mess continues through the mirror. Through wall, through reality, until coming to rest.

On Susan’s top lip.

Susan’s lips part and she breathes out. Her lungs flutter and she shuts her eyes. Her tongue snakes from her mouth, pushing upwards and meeting the blood, pus and oil. She runs her tongue up from one side of her mouth, to the other, then back again. Her tongue returns to her mouth and her eyes open.

The ragged hole left in Peter’s head is expanding. Red raw edges and black centre are growing. Soon the wound goes from being just the centre of Peter’s forehead to his entire forehead. The wound becomes eyes, becomes cheeks, becomes mouth. Soon Peter’s face is all but gone, replaced with a hole, still dripping from the edge with yellow and red and in the centre black. Impossibly deep.

Red lines spin from the outside of Peter’s head inwards to the black, becoming a spinning sinking spiral that disappears into nothing. Susan’s eyes roll back in her head and her feet leave the ground. Behind the mirror Susan begins to float forward.
Susan’s body moves through the air as if weightless and when she too meets glass she does not stop. Instead she continues on as if there was nothing there at all. With no resistance or signs of fear Susan flies head first into the hole that was once Peter’s head.

Susan is consumed.

After she disappears into darkness the hole seals itself shut. Peter’s face does not return, replaced now with a solid blank wall of flesh. The mirror reflects nothing and for a moment

there is silence.

Peter’s body twists. An arm jerks and there is a snap as ribs break. Peter’s shoulders convulse, his spin arcs backwards and the sound of fists against meat thumps from inside his stomach. Peter’s body falls.

A hand grips basin
and pulls itself up.

Into the mirror of Peter’s mother’s downstairs bathroom Susan stared. Peter stared right back.

Mint Cornetto

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Adelaide, Australia. 2017.

Music plays out of the car speakers, crackly and sweet. I like this song. Dad ripped this to a CD for me when I asked him to. Mum opens the driver’s door and sits back down in the car, switching off the radio. She hands me a Cornetto and I curl my lip.
“This is mint.”
“It’s all they had.”
“I hate mint.”
She sighs then leans back in her chair, placing her own ice-cream against her cheek. There’s a bruise there the same colour as my favourite jacket. I’m bored.
“I want to go outside.”
“Not now.”
“I want to go for a swim.”
“I said no.”
I sigh as loud as I can then lean forward, resting my elbows on the dash. I can see in front of us where the car park ends and the sand continues before giving way to sea. It’s so dark out there. The sea and the sky are the same colour and all I can see is black. I yawn.
“Can we go home?”
“Not right now.”
“When?”
“Not for a while. We’re going to stay at Aunty Grace’s.”
“That’s ages away.”
“I need you to be good for me okay?”
“I want to go home.”
Mum turns the radio back on.
“Try to get some sleep.”
She shuts her eyes and pulls her jacket around her shoulders. The radio is quiet and behind it I can hear waves crashing. A wind blows and makes the car shake. Suddenly I want to turn the radio up a little louder.
A woman is singing a song I recognise. One of the old songs my parents would listen to before they stopped listening to songs. I sing to it under my breath and unwrap my ice-cream.
Mint is sticky on my fingers and mum is snoring when her phone rings. It’s dad so I answer it.
“Hey dad.”
“Where’s your mum?”
“She’s asleep.”
Mum stirs. I watch her eyes open.
“Tell me where you are sweetheart.”
“We’re at the bea-”
“No!”
I’m pushed back as mum leaps across the car. Her shoulder knocks my head against the side window and I yelp as she rips the phone from my grip. She throws it to the backseat then turns to me with eyes red.
“What did you do? What did you say?”
I’m holding the back of my head. It hurts and the pain is pushing against the front of my face. I’m not listening. I’m crying. Quiet at first and now louder. I screw my eyes shut and hope for everything to stop.
I recoil as arms curl around my middle but relax when they pull me in tight. Hands go up my neck and cradle the back of my head. I let my face fall into mum’s chest.
“I’m sorry baby.”
“I want to go home.”
Hands stroke my hair. The radio is playing a song I don’t know and behind it I can hear waves rising and falling.

Goodbyes Are Hard

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Washignton D.C., U.S.A. 2017.

It was time. Finally.
Shaking hands grip my bicep and without looking up from my phone I pull my arm away. My gum has lost its flavour which sucks.
“This sucks.” I say.
His hands move from my arm to my waist, pulling tight. The feather tucked in his hair tickles my nose and I try not to sneeze. My chest feels damp and it’s now I realise he’s crying. I put my phone back in my pocket and pat his head.
“I’ll miss you.”
“It’s only a month.”
“Forty days.”
“Whatever.”
He pulls his head from my chest but leaves his arm around my waist. I sneak my phone back out of my pocket and pretend I can’t hear his sniffling. A mechanical voice plays from speakers above us.
“Unattended baggage will be incinerated.”
Sweaty fingers slip through mine and stick there like butter on toast. I distract myself with the news. Some politician has been filmed rubbing his wang against Uluru and he looks furious when a reporter asks if it’s because he’s a bigot. He bemoans that there’s no decency left in the world and I’m poked with the pointy end of the feather.
“Stop.”
“I want you to take this. For good fortune.”
“It looks diseased.”
“Just take it.”
I sigh and shove it in my shirt pocket. Two pilots walk by in jackets with gold trim and matching flamboyant chains. Their company logo is emblazoned on each of their foreheads.
When they’re across the gangway and inside the plane a voice calls passengers forward for boarding. He’s crying again and before I can stop him he kisses me. I keep perfectly still until he pulls away.
He hesitates before leaving to join the queue. I smile thinly and wave hoping he can take a hint. Instead he reaches up to his left ear, shuts his eyes and grips his earlobe. He pulls and without resistance his ear comes off in his fist.
Blood spurts from the side of his head, splashing a lady in the face as she runs past. She doesn’t stop.
With red stained hands he offers me his ear.
“Take it.”
I roll my eyes. He’s always doing stuff like this. I snatch the ear from his hand and mumble thanks.
“So we can talk.”
“Yep.”
“Because it’s my ear.”
“I get it.”
He smiles and I wave. This time he understands because at last he walks away. I watch him stumble down the ramp to the gangway, looking over his shoulder back at me. Blood pours from his skull.
I wait until he is inside the plane and out of sight before spitting out my gum, wrapping it in his bloody ear and throwing both straight into the trash. I take the feather out of my shirt pocket. Instead of doing the same I roll it between my fingers, watching it twist in the air. I put it back.
With headphones in and no music playing, I make my exit.
Finally.

Hard Rubbish

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Adelaide, Australia. 2018.

Next to a broken set of drawers is a couch with the seat pillows missing and on top of the couch is a mattress and between the mattress and the couch is a dead body. I’m pretty sure it’s dead. The arm dangling down the side of the couch is bloodied and one of the feet are missing from the legs sticking out the other end. I squint and take another bite of my Crunchy Nut. Yep. It’s dead alright.

I think about calling the cops. I’ve never called the cops before. I Google to see if I can just book them online or something but they said in a case like this I should call. They need an app for these sort of things, like an Uber for the police. I decide one of the neighbours would probably call instead.

That night my alarm goes off reminding me to put the bins out. My roommates are away so I can’t ignore it. The dead body is still there but the mattress is gone which means now I can see his face. He’s lying face up, his head tilted to one side so he’s looking straight at me. The blood from his arm stops at his elbow and his mouth and eyes are open. Mosquitoes fly lazily between what’s left of his teeth.

The next morning I rush out the front, half asleep and already late for work. My car starts on the second try and I look over my shoulder to check for oncoming traffic. One of the ladies from down at the retirement village is out walking her dog and I watch her stroll by the dead body. She lets her dog leap up onto the guy’s lap and lick his crotch. I get a funny feeling in my stomach that I pretend doesn’t happen then take off with a squeal.

When I get home the couch is gone but the body is still there. He has been rolled off the couch so now he has his face in the dirt and arse in the air. I feel a sense of loss and sadness come over me. I liked that couch. I ignore the bins so I don’t have to take them back inside.

I get woken up in the middle of the night by my roommates who are home and without keys. I glare when I open the door but manage a bleary hello. Reluctantly I follow them to the kitchen and ask them about their trip. After they’re done I ask,
“Did you see the body?”
We all wander outside. The gravel of the driveway hurts my feet and they walk ahead of me. When I catch up I point across the street but the body is gone.
“That’s a set of drawers.”
I shrug, “Someone must have taken it.”
“Should we grab the drawers?”
“Nah they’re broken.”
A wind whips down the street and I shudder. We argue over who should take the bins inside.

Anything You Want, You Can Have.

I check the cable ties again and frown. He’s sweating and keeps moving about so much I’m worried he’ll get loose. I’ve always trusted rope more than these stupid bits of plastic but the company won’t fork out for anything these days. ‘Superfluous and unreliable’. Idiots. I use a second tie around both his wrists and ankles. How’s that for superfluous.
He woke up about twenty minutes ago and he hasn’t stopped screaming. I can tell because spit and blood keeps dripping out from underneath the duct tape across his mouth. I’m listening to an old ‘Pavement’ record and can’t hear anything he’s trying to say.
I double check the chair he’s strapped to, kneeling down and running my fingers over the bolts connecting it to the floor. No bends or movement. Good. He’s thrashing pretty badly but the second lot of cable ties are doing the trick despite my misgivings. His head is flopping around something chronic so I loop a final length of plastic around his neck and pull it tight against the back of the chair. His chest is heaving but he’s not moving any more.
I pull a checklist up on my phone and make sure I haven’t missed anything. In my head I tick things off. Towels in the corner are fresh. Three separate drains are clear. I walk around the small five by five metre space we are in and run my fingers along the padded foam walls. No cracks. No gaps. Perfect.
I take a pack of cigarettes from my pocket and place one unlit in my mouth. I stand in front of the chair and for a moment, take him in. His eyes are wild and red-stained and snot is hanging out both nostrils. He hasn’t stopped crying since he woke up. Pathetic. I’ve left him in only his underwear and he’s shiny with sweat.
I think about letting him have a cigarette and think of the irony of giving him a final gift. Instead I step forward and punch him across the jaw. What a piece of shit.
I open the roller door and step outside. It shuts again behind me.
I light the cigarette in my mouth and take a long drag before closing my eyes, letting my body lean against the wall of the storage container. It’s cool out here. It’s hitting the low twenties now that the sun is down and the wind against my face is a dream.
The screaming behind me is dull which means the soundproofing is working. I make another tick.
It’s a beautiful night.
Headlights enter the storage yard and I watch them cut in and out of gaps in containers before turning down the lane where I’m standing. I wave them in and put out my cigarette as the van pulls up in front of me. I can see pink cursive lettering written across the side but can’t make out what it says in the dark.
I replace the cigarette with gum as a woman in a red jumpsuit steps out of the driver’s side. We nod to each other and I open the side of the van. Already out of her seat, Clara steps towards me. She puts a hand on each of my shoulders and I grab her waist, helping her down onto the bitumen.
Tall for her age, but thinner than she should be, Clara takes a moment to breathe in before looking to me. Her head has been shaved since I last saw her and there’s a clear tube running from her nose and across her cheeks, underlining her eyes. Sunken into her skull they are two pits of fire, a contradiction to the fragile frame around them.
I smile at her when I see she’s wearing the yellow dress that she got for her thirteenth birthday. Clara doesn’t smile back.
“You’ve been smoking.” Her voice is faint and she’s breathing rapidly.
“Sorry.”
“Is he here?”
My heart thumps uncharacteristically and I nod before stepping aside. Clara walks towards the storage container and stops. Her thin fingers are fists and they’re shaking.
Gently I take one of her fists in my hand. It melts and loosens in my grip. I pull out a hammer from my back pocket and place it in her now open hand. There’s hesitation before the fist closes shut again.
I hold my hand under hers for a moment.
“Are you ready?”
I can see trepidation run across her face, closely followed by steely determination. She adjusts her grip around the hammer and nods. I nod back and let her go.
I hit a button besides the door and watch light grow up from the bottom of the roller door. It travels up Clara’s legs, chest and finally her face. There’s a moment of quiet. A muffled recognition. And then screaming that fades as I drop the shutter back down with Clara on the other side.
I sit on the ground, back against the corrugated steel of the container and the woman in red sits down beside me. I light another cigarette and pass it to her. The orange glow as she inhales lights the embroidered pink logo on her breast.
‘The Make-A-Wish Foundation: Dreams come true.’

Star(tled)

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Adelaide, Australia. 2017.

I suppose it wasn’t that long ago when the star fell from the sky. He was surprised at how small it was. Some may describe it as tiny. Though tiny, he reminded himself, is a relative term. I mean compared to an average sized elephant he was tiny. But compared to his old skinny jeans he was not.
He frowned.
Anyway. The star, relative to him, was smaller than how big he imagined a star might be.
How curious.
Although small the star was indeed beautiful. Beautiful in the way that all bright lights are. Like when you step out of the shower and stare at a fluorescent until you feel it in the back of your skull. Beautiful like that one second you’re blinded by a passing car that accidentally left their high beams on.
He decided he was going to touch it.
Now he wasn’t a physicist, he didn’t study astrology and he barely went to school. But he had Google and an imagination and he believed that this gave him at least some claim to the nature of stars. At least enough that warranted a further exploration of the matter.
So yeah, he was going to touch it.
It was cold in the woods and his breath warped in front of him, blurring the fallen star light steaming in the snow. He could feel a comfortable warmth coming from the star, even through his gloves. It felt safe.
He smiled and with face lit up by the soft glow he reached out.
Nervous. Excited.
There was a soft push in his belly, like a gulp moving backwards. Like when someone meets the person they’ll marry. Like when parents hold their child for the first time. Like when a child meets Santa and asks for a wish. He touched the star.
And was instantly incinerated.
Turns out stars are relatively hot. Maybe not so much compared to even hotter stars, but definitely when compared to an average sized human being.
Ash fell in a pile. The star continued to glow.