Walking through the cosmetics aisle Annabelle said, “I need eyeliner.”
To her spectre I replied, ‘That sounds unlikely.’
She hovered before a range of bottled liquids in a jittering way, as though she was unsure to appear real or not. I wanted basmati rice and regretted this shortcut.
“Buy that one,” she said in a wispy voice with an infrequent tone. It was much like listening to a helicopter that is far off, and then suddenly near.
‘We don’t need eyeliner.’
“We don’t. I do. Don’t you want me to look my best?” She timed the statement so she appeared at her most solid at the end of the sentence.
Today’s Annabelle had dark hair that waved behind her shoulders. She wore a black dress which rippled with the coming and going of her image, and her skin was tanned and eyes brown possibly from an ethnic background or possibly from her inability to solidify. It is wrong to say I should remember what she looks like each day. All I knew was that she looked alright to me, and so the prospect of her looking better sounded appealing.
‘Okay, which one?’
“The black one.”
She pointed to the closest bottle. I dropped it into the basket and it rattled on the plastic before lodging between two struts.
My forehead scrunched with curiosity. Annabelle’s eyes now had a solid dark ring around them, while the rest of her body faded and returned.
“And pantihose,” she said as though a fact. I walked to the stockings and reached for a packet. “No, the tan,” she said, and added for help, “The skin coloured ones.”
I took a packet as requested and place it in the basket. Suitably her legs, or what was visible of her legs below the intermittent black dress, held their appearance as other parts came and went. I looked along the aisle for more items to build Annabelle’s character, so to speak.
To onlookers I might have appeared as a helpful boyfriend, buying ladies wares for a girlfriend who was perhaps in need of items before a fashion festival. This gave me a new feeling of social acceptance, and so I piled in a tube of lipstick, some nail polish, and a brand of hair removal cream, all under Annabelle’s guidance. I even put in some eye shadow and blush, but removed these after I saw how they looked on her.
‘Do you need these?’ I asked, and placed a box of tissues into the basket. Annabelle’s bra swelled. There was a great displeasure in her face. I put the box back.
‘How about these?’ I pointed to a packet of tampons. ‘Do you need these?’ At this second much of Annabelle disappeared and I made eye contact with a shopper who was selecting hair gel. The timing of Annabelle’s fade might have been intentional. The hair gel woman blinked and I withdrew my hands from the tampons to reach once more for the tissues, not as a threat to Annabelle but as a comfort product in the aisle.
With the box of soft papers in hand I realised that, to the hair gel women, I might not be a kind hearted boyfriend aiding a partner, a partner who might be detained at work or hospitalised with a mild illness, instead I might be a transvestite purchasing items for the weekend. This revelation provided a new issue. If the women buying hair gel was single, any hope of romance with her would be seriously hampered by the explanation of the bounty in my basket. Unless, of course, she was seeking a cross-dressing bearded male, in which case I would have to change my wardrobe, and way of life, but that would be a very niche market and unlikely. This idea of meeting someone did, however, remind me of one thing. This is the game of Supermarket Basket Dating.
I don’t know the rules, or even the correct name, all I know is that some single women go to supermarkets to see what groceries single men are carrying, and then they strike up conversation. Two single people meet through shopping, bond over food and loneliness, and begin dating. It sounded simple. Too simple not to try.
Annabelle stood in the middle of the aisle as I returned lipstick, eyeliner, stockings and other items to the shelf. She blipped with each return, and disappeared into a cloudy haze as I passed through her on my way to fruits and vegetables.
Supermarkets do not, in my local area, sell hardware tools, sand paper or groin protectors. In seeking an item that would identify me as a single male the items were limited. Once in the fruit section I placed a single banana in my basket and began looking for a women, someone who’s basket held a peach or watermelon or tub of ice cream. Something a single woman would put in their basket. I wasn’t sure what it would be, but I thought I’d know it was when I saw it.
Five minutes later Annabelle flickered into view at the end of a row. She said, “Maybe a banana is sending the wrong message.”
“That you’re looking for a single banana, not that you are one. Plus there’s a connotation with bananas that I don’t want to go into. You’re more of a cucumber.”
There was some logic behind this. Some murky logic that was unclear but still made sense. I went back to the fruit and vegetable section and put the banana back. There were no cucumbers so I put in an apple. It was green but I wasn’t sure what the apple was supposed to mean, so I took that out and put in a potato. That too I wasn’t confident about. Maybe it implied I was making a very small serve of gnocchi, or that I was distilling vodka as a coping method. I put the potato back. So far the practice of trying to portray a single man was proving more difficult than simply being a single man.
‘What do lonely single men eat?’
This answer was obvious. I went to the frozen food aisle and placed some microwave meals into my basket. Then I went and put in a can of spaghetti and tugged the hem of my shirt out of my trousers so that it hanged below my suit jacket. I then began looking for any woman carrying a basket of desserts and a lot of cream cheese. I watched for every woman that was unaccompanied hoping one of them would be mopping from the depression of isolation.
“How about that one?” said Annabelle.
A woman in tight fitting lycra paced down an aisle, a shopping basket before her. It held a bread stick and a packet of precooked pasta tubes. She had a confident stride that might have been a hangover from exercise, yet this was not the only fault with Annabelle’s suggestion. Behind the women two children picked up and put down items from the shelf. The basket in the lyrca lady’s hands was held high to keep these primary school aged children from depositing goods into the basket. I watched her speed past with the children in tow. She did not glance at my basket.
“How about that one?”
There was a woman pushing a shopping trolley. She could either have been purchasing supplies for a coming Armageddon or be buying enough goods to feed multitudes in a family. I guessed the second option. She squeezed past.
My hunt continued. I saw two young women buying noddle packets for their cupboard in a share house, eight old women buying goods their teeth could chew, and a number of women who would be within my age bracket talking on phones to their partner or buying enough food to feed two. There were some single men shopping. None holding a banana or cucumber. By my forth lap of the supermarket the basket of frozen food and canned mush began to feel heavy. Rather than returning it all to the shelves I decided to head to the cash registers and buy it.
“Giving up?” asked Annabelle. She had materialised near a discount display of toilet paper. It was like she was a sales woman, suddenly solid, standing next to the mound with a bright smile at a sign that read Buy One Get One Free.
‘I need to talk to someone,’ I said.
“You can talk to me.”
‘That doesn’t count. Not for long anyway.’
“What about my cosmetics?”
I looked over my shoulder and then back at her.
‘We don’t need them.’
Annabelle didn’t flicker or fade. Standing next to the rolls she rested a hand on the top packet. The arm of her dress slid to her shoulder. I took two packets of the paper and continued towards the cash registers.
There was a queue for the self-service terminals, yet I was seeking human interaction and so headed to a service counter with transaction dialogue ready: Just these thanks…Good thanks yourself?…I don’t need a bag…Yes…card…no thanks…have a good day.
Placing my goods on the conveyance belt the cashier said, ‘Murphal.’
‘Sorry?’ I replied.
He pointed to a sign that read: Hello, my name is George. I am deaf. Thank you for your understanding. Have a good day.
He said, ‘Marred all nashish?’
I looked at him. The foods had been placed in a bag, the two packets of toilet paper next to it. A red light displayed the figure 28.49. He looked at me expectantly.
‘Oh!’ I took out my wallet and handed him some money. He smiled, genuine satisfaction, and then swiftly tapped buttons. A draw opened and change was given.
‘Thank you,’ I said.
He nodded and smiled again, and then gestured for someone behind me to advance. I took my items and pottered away. The toilet paper under arm.
It was lunchtime so I got a burger and chips. I sat at a four seat table, a mid-thirties man wearing a suit jacket, a beard, greying hairs, a bag of frozen packaged meals and two packets of toilet paper. I didn’t really need the toilet paper.
Annabelle sat opposite. She was glowing. Perhaps from the oil that I was sure was in the frozen packaged meals, or maybe the toilet paper gave her some relief. I know little about women.
‘Thanks for coming,’ I said.
“Not a problem,” she said.
‘I can’t dance,’ I held my hands to the warm air of the car vent. My spectre of a partner looked at me. She held onto the steering wheel. Her eyes appeared to be solid. The only light came from a nearby street lamp. I could clearly see the bridge of her nose, the wave of her dark hair, the downward curve of her moth and her brown eyes.
‘Nobody can see you,’ said Annabelle. The irony existed but it went past unnoticed.
‘That’s not the point.’
‘It sort of is the point, you know.’ Her voice had a chopping finish to each word. It was also deeper than I recall.
‘No. No it is not,’ I rubbed my hands and put them close to the vent again.
‘There are no lights, hence, nobody can see you.’
‘That’s not the point.’
‘Yes it is,’ she swayed toward me and then back. ‘No lights means nobody can see you, means nobody knows if you can’t dance.’
I thought back to the room. Dark. Bodies moving. Strong beats. Speakers giving an hour of music to the shadows. Vibrant music. Unidentifiable people clapped and jumped at random. They moved with joy. For joy. Afterwards they shared words of enjoyment. Despite my want, I couldn’t join them.
‘I didn’t dance,’ I said.
‘That’s your problem.’
She looked ahead. Her hands rubbed on the steering wheel. I heard a juttering sound drawn from the strangulation of her twisting grip. Impossible to occur, but I heard it.
Annabelle seemed to concentrate on a space ahead. The air warmed and she hardened more. ‘What is your problem?’ she asked.
‘I don’t know what to do.’
She didn’t move. To me she had a profile. A pointed nose and a high brow. There should have been a shadow. There wasn’t.
‘You don’t have to do anything, Dean. You go into a dark room, jump around, listen to music, have fun. That’s all you need to do.’
‘I’d feel better building a table.’
‘What?’ She faced me. The speed might have snapped a real person’s neck. In Annabelle’s case her apparition shifted into a blur and then solidified with equal speed.
‘You know,’ I leant towards the vent, rubbed my legs, and put my head to the heat. ‘No Lights No Fingers carpentry, or something like that.’
‘You don’t know carpentry.’
‘I’d learn pretty quick if I could lose a finger.’
‘How about No Lights No Visual Clues pin the tail on the donkey.’
Annabelle continued to stare at me. Her mouth was partly open. If she was real, her conciousness would be considering a response. As it was, she blipped into and out of my imagination. The concept I suggested was being probed for errors. Perhaps it had too many errors. I reached for the steering wheel to shift into the driver’s seat. She solidified again.
‘That’s not the point,’ she said with choppy words.
‘You’ve said that.’
She blinked from view as I bounced across to into her seat. She reappeared next to me as I turned the key to start the engine.
‘It’s about nobody judging you on how you move to music,’ she said.
She shook with the vibration. I buckled my seatbelt and released the handbrake.
‘You’re the only man there. That counts for something.’
I looked to the road ahead, then to the rear view mirror to see the road behind, then to the side mirror for the road adjacent, I clicked on the indicator, and looked over my shoulder to see what I would have missed in the mirrors. I looked ahead again.
‘I’m systematic,’ I said. ‘I like rules to follow a method to success. Is that a bad thing?’
‘Yes,’ she said.
‘I don’t think so.’ I pressed a foot onto the accelerator. The car moved forward and Annabelle disintegrated. She faded away as if dust churned from a wheel.
(No Lights No Lyrca occures in Bendigo. For details see their Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/NoLightsNoLycraBendigo?fref=ts
There is currently no plans for No Lights No Fingers but you never know your luck.)
The following is taken from This is Not My Spacesuit: The Diary of Dean Holdsworth, by Luke Morris
October 31, Saturday
My mouth feels like the fur of a hurriedly decomposing cat, yet I can still taste strawberry.
I kissed someone, Diary. I can’t remember her name. I asked twice, forgot twice, stopped asking. I remember she had full cheeks, used a lot of eyeliner, had a gentle voice and wants to be a teacher. She was a friend of Matt’s girlfriend. These two girls meet the team at the pub, and as we walked from the pub to the Fringe bar I was next to her and felt a ‘Hello,’ ‘How do you know?’, and ‘Are you enjoying the night?’, sort of chat was required. I was nothing special, we simply had time to kill during the walk so be began to talk.
I didn’t say anything interesting, it was idle Point A to Point B chatter, but at the Fringe Cocktail Bar a lack of space meant the girls could not escape to dance. I was positioned next to, oh, let’s call her Emma, I was positioned next to Emma again, and again I asked her about her night. She answered, again, and with no other ideas I offered to buy her a drink. She accepted. With that job done I asked her about the drink. She liked it. It was a cocktail of coloured alcoholic liquids and ice, common in the bar. I asked her about the music playing and about things she enjoyed.
‘Mum wants me to go into being a dentist. That’s where the money is she says.’
‘What do you want to do?’ I asked.
‘Ah,’ a hesitation. She looked into my eyes for judgement, ‘Well, I want to do teaching.’
‘Well you should,’ I said.
‘What are you doing?’ she asked.
I said, ‘I don’t know.’
We broke apart when Pat came across. He leant between us, his arm against a wall, and started talking about the club and training.
At first this was a welcome change, then I thought it inconvenient, then he started telling me why it was good I joined the team. I think his observations were exaggerations from intoxication.
‘Farr a furst year playar, yo’ve kept everyone on the toes.’ I remember that his speech got clearer as each sentence went on. ‘Ta sar wiith, wee thought you’d give up. Naver did. Proud of ya mate. Proud of ya.’ He then focused on Emma to say, ‘Rassed the bar, he haz. The fittyness of the whole team.’
If offered to buy him a drink. He accepted. Emma came with me to buy a drink for me.
I had noticed my body was dry, and in the human jumble around the bar I held her hand. Not knowing what to do with it I sort of massaged it, rubbing the back of her palm with my thumb. She didn’t throw anything in my face or point at me and yell obscenities. She let me hold her hand. We went back to our area near the group and talked about the wallpaper pattens and what kind of drinks we had. I don’t recall any of them tasting like strawberry.
At night’s end we languished behind the others in the walk leaving the bar. Near the bus stop, away from clear sight, we stopped. I held her hand and then her waist, she looked at me and I felt desire, I guess it was an urge. My back was to a wall. I looked at her eyes. There was a sparkle from the glitter of makeup around them, reflected from a lamp post’s light from across the road. I bend forward. I wanted to kiss her and she moved closer to me. We kissed each other, and on my part it was done badly.
We tried again, and then again.
She said, ‘I’m probably makings heaps of mistakes.’ So we had that in common, though I couldn’t judge what her mistakes were. If someone was watching us from an alleyway I think it would have looked like some guy trying to suck the mouth off some woman, mostly by using his tongue.
It was an odd experience, the kissing. Some cultures in the world don’t kiss. They snuggle foreheads and press cheeks. They hold each other tight and refrain from saliva mixing all together. To be honest, that doesn’t sound too bad either.
She was younger than me, this Emma. Maybe by ten years. She could have been twenty-five or older. I’m not sure. It should be okay to date someone ten years younger. Mr Knightly was 16 years older that Miss Woodhouse, and apparently women enjoy Jane Austin novels.
After we kissed she asked me how old I was. I thought about lying, saying that I’m 26, to drop my physical age closer to an emotional age. Then I considered that she would find out eventually. One day she might comment, “Hey, you’re really experienced at accounting,” and I’d reply, “Oh yeah, that’s because I’m over 30.”
I said, ‘I’m thirty-five.’
At first she didn’t reply. She kept holding onto me. It felt comfortable. Then she said she’d never meet anyone like me before. I think she meant it in a good way.
Her friend was in a queue for a bus. We heard her call as a bus drove down the street. We walked to join her. I asked for her phone number. She said we’d meet again through Matt. Then she got on the bus and the bus left.
In a few seconds I’ll quit this writing and leave the house. While Alison has not replied I will go to Gambon’s for lunch anyway. My stomach feels like it is lined with steel beams as a cleaning crew smoke, tip ash into my gut, and stand on wooden braces to scrub the lining walls with wire brushes, yet I still need to eat if I am to go out tonight.
Jason’s mystery date is tonight. With Emma on my mind I actually don’t want to go on another date… no, correction, I do want to go. I want to see Emma again. Hold her and her warmth. Taste strawberry. Kiss her while she’s sober. I want Jason’s arranged date to become Emma. By some quark of time and space have the Speed Dating be last night and have the event bring Emma to me.
I wish she had left me her phone number. I wish I had Matt’s number to call him so I could call her. I wish I had a better reason for all this than lust. At least that could be something to build on. Plenty of people would start relationships with lust, and many of those would bust, never to see wedding rings rust, for success romance is surely a must, or the desire may turn to dust.
Oh dear, Diary, best to leave now. Rhythmic couplings probably mean I’m still drunk. I’ll go to lunch, see my friend Alison, comeback here, and then go to Jason’s dinner. The conversation will be good practice.
‘I imagined this today,’ I said. ‘Three boys dressed in school uniform, including their blazers, sitting cross-legged on a concrete floor, under a single light bulb, in a basement. Their calculators are before them. Each calculator’s case is held together by some combination of duct-tape, blue-tac, and elastic bands. All the screens have a missing or permanent light on the numeric panel, such as the middle bar that should show on the number eight. A circuit failure may be guessed at from the cracks in the corners of the screens. On one calculator the button for the number nine and the addition symbol do not work. On another the button for co-sin and root is missing. The third has two buttons for six, though one of these is actually a replacement for a missing seven.
‘The light pools around the boys, darkness everywhere else. One of them says, “Maybe we should tell some girls about Maths Club?” And they continue to sit in silence.’
Annabelle watched me from her side of the porch. She drew a thick of hair, perhaps it could also be called a lock of hair but writing lock of hair has a connotation to a baby’s hair cut, so she drew a thick of hair back from her temple to behind her ear and said, ‘Why are there only boys?’
‘Women like maths too.’
‘I know, that’s one problem.’
‘You have to show that women have every right to study mathematics as any boy does.’
‘But why are there only boys?’
‘It’s modelled on Fight Club.’
‘Guys who study mathematics are great.’
‘They would already have heaps of girls hanging off them.’
‘That sounds like a stretch.’
‘They wouldn’t be single is all I’m saying. It’s a negative stereotype.’
‘In my mind they’re thirteen. Maybe just thinking about girls for the first time.’
‘Kids who are thirteen already think about girls. They even have partners. That’s the way the world has grown.’
‘They call them partners.’
‘I know,’ I glanced to the floor.
‘It doesn’t make sense. Why are they meeting in a basement with broken calculators?’
‘It’s a Fight Club thing. You know Fight Club?’
‘No, not really.’
‘The film has people meeting in a basement of a bar, guys meeting, to fight each other. It’s like a male social group where they let their emotions out through fist fights.’
‘It’s male therapy.’
‘Better then crochet.’
‘Says you,’ the wisp… no, we’re calling it a thick aren’t we? … Annabelle took the thick of hair that had unspun itself from her ear and tucked it back into place. This cleared her brow from the irritating brush of its strands. ‘I like crochet.’
‘Me too,’ I don’t actually like crochet but I adopted the agreeable stance in the face of this argument. ‘The point is they are sitting alone, thinking they are in a Fight Club kind of Maths Challenge, and being nerds they had followed the rules too tightly.’
‘Geeks, whatever, you know what I’m saying.’
‘I know what you mean,’ she accepted.
‘I imagined that there was four of them to start with, but because one of the rules of Fight Club, in the movie, is that You don’t talk about Fight Club, one of the four kids forgot which night the meeting was and the other three couldn’t tell him because one of the rules of Maths Club is that You don’t talk about Maths Club.’
‘Oh, I see.’ She leant back so her face could feel the sun. I though it odd that a figment of my imagination would warm itself in such a way. As a lizard might to aid its movement. The shine gave her more reality, then it overdid it and she had a god like glow. ‘It’s really that they should tell people about Maths Club. Not just girls.’
‘That would be funnier.’
‘Thanks for you help.’
She grinned at me, knowing her role in the mockery of my joke. This was until I couldn’t accept the fiction of her comfort any longer. I blinked with purpose. Her smiled faded. It took four more blinks to wipe the hallucination of her away.
The following is part of This is Not My Spacesuit: A Diary of Dean Holdsworth.
November 2, Monday
Maybe I’ll be really good at sex. I imagine it will be difficult to learn at first. It will require plenty of pauses and probing – both for information and as part of the act itself. Then I’ll have some cumbersome moments. I will be eager to try a combination of things, any of which might bore the partner, but I’d be excited to experience all the sights on the pleasure-ground of the human body, unsure of the rules and breaking boundaries. I’ll be working off page, over the script, in no man’s land, adlibbing the show. I’ll be blundering about and crying out “I’m sure this is right,” with no heed for good sense or taste. “Does it go in here?” I’ll add with too much honesty for the humour to really work. I hope my partner would laugh in honest comfort, and acceptance as I treat their body like an amusement park, being dazzled and wide-eyed by the options I could spend all my money on the first ride before eating a packed sandwich and wandering around the grounds for a bit before going home.
This could be a fresh approach to sex. I could be a kamikaze pilot attempting various angles of attack. With no training or pedigree, I’d be absent of hang ups, expectations or common sense. I won’t even know what is common. Women might wear horns. They might have elbows that must be rubbed for anything to work. If someone told me to do something, like stick a foot somewhere or hold onto a ladder elsewhere, I’ll trust them and do it.
Sex is good for you too, so I’ve heard. It reduces stress. This, by some irony, seems to balance out the stressfulness required to find someone to have sex with. I’ve also heard that regular sex lowers the chance of cancer. Specifically bowel cancer. I’m not sure on how that was proven, or even if it was. It sounds like something a male doctor would lie about in order to have sex.
“Hey,” one male doctor may have said. “You should come home with me for some sex. It’ll decrease your risk of bowel cancer.”
“Where’s your quantitative data to prove this theory?” Might have replied a female doctor.
“I’ve only got anecdotal evidence,” he’d reply. “Would you like to be part of a focus study?”
“No,” she might have said, but after some better dialogue he might have had sex with her and she didn’t immediately get bowl cancer. Theory proved.
Unfortunately this requires that I have sex before I die to prevent the risk of dying. I wonder how that will happen. The sex, not my death. Drunk hopefully (in both cases). If I am drunk I can blame the alcohol for a forgetful memory on the process of sex, as well as an excuse for a possible bad performance. That’s what I worry about. That I will disappoint. That she will expect something, especially at our age, and that I will have to mask my inabilities and ineptitude, and if I am found out then the only person to accept me may well also reject me.
To counter this I have learned that there are different ways to have sex. There’s cerebral sex, passionate sex, comforting sex, angry sex, joyless sex, tantric sex, missionary, doggie style, sex with muscular people, sex with skinny people, sex on beaches, in the back seat of cars, in public, out of town, on tables, on chairs, on a table while another is on a chair, sex with costumes, sex with themes, in a fantasy, in a rush, in charge, in nature, in a ditch, on a plane, to make a baby. There are many various kinds. It is a lot to learn and none of it was covered in my school. We learned about diseases and pregnancy.
The whole problem the same as a rabbit in the headlights. It’ll have to much to see to know what to do. I’ll be a clumsy mad scientist, and while they are fun to read about the reality is nobody likes that guy. They cause too many problems and they touch and poke all the wrong things. They are an annoyance. A frustration. I wish for my misunderstanding to be seen as some sort of boyish charm. In fact women don’t want an imbecile, they say they want a man.
By thirty women are probably tired of the rigmarole of sex. Everyone has to be serious. Job focused. No need for cuddling in bed, kissing and holding, playing of feet. Everything that I would find as a novelty, they would see as a waste of time. I don’t want to waste anyone’s time.
I want to lie in bed with someone, my arms held around them. I want their head to rest under my chin. I want to hook one arm under theirs. I want their breast on my chest to feel their heart beat. I want their hair on my neck and their breath near my ear. I want hips adjacent. I want legs linking. I want to be a shield. I want to feel that we could lie in bed and never need to let go. This is my ignorance. This desire is the kind of thing nobody will want any more. I have a youth’s needy embrace yet am the owner of an old body.
“Do you want to talk about it, Dean?”
I appraised Annabel with a solid eye. It was a novelty. Of late she had been less than vapour. Nowhere. Right now she was across a table and clutching a bottle of beer. She was a formed as iron.
I said, “That’s why I brought you to start with.”
She didn’t smile, “All those months ago.”
She had dark hair, long, and it curved around her face and onto her shoulders. Her lips were full, with a light gloss. She wore a pale pink shirt and a black jacket. The night weather was mild. There was a Mediterranean sense to her. A tan in her skin and hazel in her eyes. I stared. Her figure in past had faded and changed. I wondered why this form took a solid hold.
“Well?” She took a drink from her bottle. Her lips wrapping around the mouth rather than tipping the contents into a gap. She held her eyes on me. I couldn’t think why she felt real.
“I liked it.”
“Why?” It wasn’t with an accusational tone. She wanted me to justify myself.
“I don’t know,” I looked around to pause. We were sitting outside an old shed on stools that had padded covers. The table was a cut back wooden wire cable reel. “Do I have to know why?”
She did smile. Lips together, cheeks raised, eyes creased around the sides. It was all slight but noticeable. She was having fun with restraint.
“You do. That’s the whole point remember.”
“Yeah, okay.” I began aloud. “I felt important in being there.”
“Because it was special.”
“Because it was unique.”
I knew what she meant. We, or more accurately I, had just seen dance performance Kekkai. It was held in a former wool shed. Four dances performed on a sparse central stage. They moved around and used objects such as a tube of water, a rock, stone fragments and lengths of string tied to struts. When they spoke they mostly spoke Korean, and the sound meeting the dance was comparable to radio static but with the harmony of drops of rain on a tin roof. The work was the production of Korean and Australian dance companies. It might have been a melding of traditional and modern dance exploring one idea from the view of different cultures, but I wasn’t sure what it was.
“I could do contemporary dance.” I rested my beer on the table. “Jarring movements, erratic actions, occasional falls to the ground. That’s far more obtainable that the nutbush as far as I’m concerned, and more entertaining. I think I’m naturally a contemporary dancer.”
“So you were entertained?”
“Yeah.” The bar was closing. It was past last round. “At least, as the blind man said after fellatio. ‘I didn’t know what was going on but I enjoyed it.’”
Thankfully Annabel laughed. I don’t know why it was important that my fiction of a companion should find humour in my joke. It even was unclear, ironically, why her laugh of two beats was so audible to me. She wasn’t real. I knew that.
“You didn’t know what was going on.” She didn’t hide her smile this time.
“It’s not like you could! Understanding modern dance is like trying to understand a cryptic sudoku. You have to know the mind of the producer and the rules of the game. I don’t know dance or sudoku, but it can look nice. I can appreciate the appearance. It’s like any painting but one that moves.”
The consideration returned to Annabel’s face. “So you didn’t make a link to the big question?”
“Yes, when they said in English at the start, ‘What is memory?’”
“Do I have too?”
“Yes.” Her nose wrinkled. He brow farrowed. She sipped her beer and put it down and wriggled on her seat, leaned in then back, “No actually. You don’t have to.”
“I thought of Flak.” I answered her question. “The stories told by Michael Veitch. That was really good.”
Her head gave a short wobble and she said, “If you like that sort of thing.”
“You’re not real so you wouldn’t care about history or the human spirit.”
Her appearance then locked. Her mouth open and eyes clear. Not breathing. Not because in fact she couldn’t, but because in fact she didn’t move. A still life of Annabel sat. With a shock like electricity she faded out and back, but was diminished.
“How dare you!” Her shirt, the pale pink one unbuttoned to the top of her breasts was lighter. The jacket missing entirely. Her arms didn’t again touch the beer before her. The bottle had become empty. A spent item that had been left on the table by unintrusive staff. Her jaw was not firm and her hair held lines of grey. Not grey from age but grey as a pale reproduction appears in a photograph.
“Sorry.” I consumed my beer to the angle’s share quota. I didn’t meet her eyes until a count of six. In the firming darkness they were harder to see. I looked to the appropriate space in the mid of her face and said, “What I mean. Well. What I was saying is that the stories in Flak were recounts from fighter pilots. People who did things in World War 2. Old people who had outlived all their co-pilots and comrades. I’m not saying they lied, but like anyone else how much of what they say can be accurate. Who’s memory is unquestionable?”
Annabel’s mouth had closed and her eyes obtained some focus. She didn’t speak. I continued, “I wrote an internet dating profile. I met someone. We talked about our profiles. She was worried hers wasn’t accurate. I said that our view of ourselves is never going to be accurate. Somebody else will always have a different view of us. You know?”
She didn’t answer. She had a frown.
“You know? Our memory comes from us and we’re always changing. Even you.” I looked to her and hoped for a reply. A glow came to her.
She crossed her arms on the able. The staff took the chairs from an adjacent table into the shed. I picked up the angle’s share and drank it.
“What do you want to do with me?” She said and wasn’t impassive.
“What do you mean?”
I reached for my bag and put my book, pages and pen inside. “We’ve been to the garden. That was great. Good music, free, families and all that. Went to some galleries. The dance. The play, or story telling. What else do you mean?”
Her faded body stayed seated at the table, her arms were crossed upon it, her face and eyes watched me as I stood and began to leave.
“You know what I mean.” There was flatness in her voice.
She wasn’t real. I didn’t have to answer. I left. As solid as is possible in imagination, she couldn’t be beyond imagination.
**Notice: This Castlemaine State Festival is on until March 22, 2015. Visit castlemainefestival.com.au for more information.**
‘I can’t believe you did that.’ Annabel appeared, much as apparitions do, without prior announcement.
‘Sure you can.’
‘No, I cannot.’ Her foot, the left one, pointed at me. It was a solid image against the floor. The second most solid part of her form. It was not so much a foot as a red shoe with a foot image hazy within. For some reason the shoe was high heeled. Perhaps this was to symbolise the pointedness, or perhaps it was to visually indicate Annabel’s theorized sense of style.
‘You didn’t consult me.’ She went on – in more ways than one, as the foot figment lead to a hazy, apparition-ilk leg and that faded under a pale, possibly hazy and apparition-esq dark blue and white dress, the white dashes making floral patterns.
‘This is out of order.’ Her fuzzy neck appeared from the low collar of the dress, she had brunette hair worked into a weave on the right side of her head and, like the shoes, of which there were now two, her lips were red. The lips were the other solid appearing form.
‘It’s not.’ I counted. Surprised to be both fronted with Annabel again, and by the heavy detail. ‘I’m writing a dating profile. You can’t be floored by that.’
‘I am.’ Her front foot twisted on the wooden floor. Impressive, as the remainder of the room was carpeted. Hallucinations really can pull off anything when somebody else puts their mind to it. ‘I expect to be consulted on these things.’
‘You didn’t get informed when I deleted the last profile.’
‘I don’t care when you stop something. I want to know when you start.’
‘Really? How interesting. Somehow I think that is symbolic. Most people disappear at the end.’
‘You’re getting off topic.’
‘Do you know why I’m here?’ She took a step forward. Suddenly her look reminded me of a person I saw on a train.
‘Explain it to me.’ The red of her lips damped. Her eyes were brown. Her hair became a wispy purple hinted white.
‘I was enjoying writing my dating profile.’
‘Because I was imagining someone else reading it, so I tried to entertain them.’
‘And now?’ She stood near me, almost impossible to see. A breeze would have spread her into the wind.
‘I’m imagining you reading this. I think that’s why I lost spirit. I stopped writing before because I couldn’t imagine anyone reading what I had written.’
‘You can’t write for yourself.’ I felt her hold my hand.
‘No, but with you…’ I suppose I am.
‘What was your favourite part?’
‘I’m not sure. You?’
I imagined Annabel and I were walking along Hobart dock. The morning sky was clear, which it was, and the chill in the air only encouraged us to make the most of our energy, which it would have. The reality is that I’m sitting at the airport waiting for the flight to Melbourne.
‘I liked the pubs,’ I said. ‘They reminded me of England.’
‘How so?’ I imaged she held into me as we past a corner. I would have stepped across her to walk on the side of the water. It would make me a human buffer from the edge, though mostly this would be figurative, but then again that would be apt too.
‘Wood, untended, unmodenised.’ I counted the reasons I felt comfortable in the Hobart drinking houses. ‘They weren’t sterile I guess. And the beers were fresh from local breweries.’
‘The one at mona was good.’
We thought about the beer and then the Museum of Old and New Art, code named mona (lower case lettering intentional). It was an astounding complex. The combination, or perhaps jamming and mashing, of new ideas with old ones. It was inspiring. It shifted the mind from the daily grind of walls and roads to see new achievements and constructions. The building itself, as well as the concept, was as much a revelation for the brain as the gallery contents. It was like the lair of a James Bond villain, and an opportunity to see how the other half live. It felt like creeping inside a private world, with the veil aloft enough to appreciate the showing. It also made me want more of that world.
‘You couldn’t get anything in there,’ said Annabel.
We approached a cafe, or so I imagined, at Salamanca to have a final breakfast in Tasmania.
‘No, I can’t draw.’ I thought about how to make some conceptual piece that would justify entry. Perhaps some ideas, written on pages, delightfully framed and hung on a wall for visitors to read and thus get the ideas stuck in their own head. However I suspect the layers of experience, talent, and social contacts into the world of mona are too great for someone of my age.
‘What else did you like?’ She sat at an outdoor table and I stood, knowing my roll would be to enter the cafe and order food for one.
‘Lot’s of things. The climate, not the weather but the conditions. The all encompassing mass of the area. The nature, the people, the buildings and the ideas. That total accumulation which wine dicks call terrior.’
Annabel smiled at me. She knew what I was thinking and said it.
‘This text is not funny.’
The writer scrolled the page. He could feel Dean and Annabel slipping away.
‘I know. It’s got no adversity. We should talk about some negatives and mock them.’
Annabel faded further and the cafe along with it. Outside a window an aeroplane taxied to the boarding gates.
‘What if I built a giant shoe made from other shoes as a sort of comment on shoes over time, as a way to blend the creation of footwear with the idea of human evolution and global expansion via the use of an object designed to protect our fragile sole. I could call it Big Shoe to Fill, and challenge visitors to add their shoes as a way to improve upon the world of creation. A means of making us, all of us, see that we can pull together to enhance big ideas. How about that? Do you think mona would buy that?’
Annabel didn’t reply. A thin blonde woman in a tight red jacket spoke into a microphone and called for sections of seat numbers to queue before her.
‘No,’ thought Dean. ‘I didn’t think so either.’