It must be going on three days now. Researchers say the fourth day brings delirium and fever. So far it’s the only thing that gets me here. I tried drinking; it didn’t work. I snorted, swallowed, injected everything that people promised would get me there, but they didn’t work either. Certain stages of sleep are needed for the regeneration of neurons within the cerebral cortex while other stages of sleep are used for forming new memories and generating new synaptic connections. Once deprived of rest, your body and your brain basically breaks down. But if you’re past the third day without a wink of sleep, you don’t really feel much of it. Unlike getting high which gives you a fictitious euphoria, sleep deprivation does the opposite; it strips you, dries you up. It peels your skin off and sucks your breath out, pushing you into the earth under your feet until you hit the fiery core of the universe. Everything about my body feels glazed. I’m in no mans land, not here, nor there. I can sit on a train and feel like I’m sitting in a hidden layer amongst commuters. Every doorway, every crack in the pavement is a threshold to a new world. I yearn this kind of mute paradise – the kind that encloses you, the kind that numbs our overheated nerves.
I feel like a balmy joker who can feed of off a strangers smile all day, yet feel utterly murdered by silence from another the next.
Non Fiction: A month after my Father’s death.
Death was unlike anything I saw on television or in my favourite films. The hospice room was laden with a smell I can only describe as festering. It was as if his body had already begun decomposing. He looked grey and very small on the bed, not like a father should. When my mother introduced me to the nurses as his ‘daughter’ I cowered at the title. His paralysed legs had shrunk, having lost all muscle definition. His obnoxious hands that used to squeeze my shoulders when I did something right, were now stiff and curled up like two dead birds each side of him.
I sat next to Dad and fed him water with a little green sponge on a stick to prevent him from chocking. Every few minutes I pressed it between his lips but he couldn’t swallow as his tongue was swollen. Mum spoke to him, hoping he would somehow be able to hear her; determined to be the last thing he heard or saw. The nurses came before dawn and changed his diaper, flipping him face down onto his stomach, exposing his bed sores. He opened his eyes once though I don’t think he knew who I was. His eyes looked through my eyes like a mirror against a mirror. When I was sure my mum wasn’t in ears reach cursed at him for being an absent father. I lifted the blanket on his body to see the carcass of a former man. That’s when I saw where the smell was coming from: his leg was black and bloated, the skin surface splitting from septicaemia. Mum later told me he refused to get his leg amputated and that’s what caused the final heart attack.
When I was seven or eight, I spent an afternoon picking lemons in Dad’s backyard. I remember licking the skin of the biggest lemons, and pressing my nails into the waxy, yellow skin that so closely resembled the pitted skin of an old man’s nose. I had spent most of that afternoon under Dad’s musky bed flipping though his outdated porn collection. I can still remember the thick women with crooked lipstick being fucked by hairy little men. He had always made me share his bed with him when I visited-he never quite liked being alone. I hated sharing a bed with him because he snored so loudly. He also used to make me put his shoes on in the morning because by then his left arm, his painting arm, was paralysed from his first stroke.
Throughout that night his breathing became laboured. I would hold my breath every time he stopped breathing. The nurses said that his respiration would become noisy and irregular; sometimes it would seem as if he couldn’t breathe at all. When there’s fluid in the lungs, it can cause a sound known as the ‘death rattle’. To me it sounded like regular snoring, but I could see by the way his cheeks were sucked into his skull with each breath that it wasn’t. I squeezed his hand as hard as I could, hoping I would squeeze the life out of him. He survived that night and my mum rejoiced as the morning light filled the small room. Hovering over the bed, she clapped her hands wildly. Pulling a small round mirror from her hand bag she liberally applied red lipstick to her lips.
‘Do I look good?’ she asked me from across the bed pouting.
Clinical death occurs when the person’s heartbeat, breathing and circulation stop. Four to six minutes later, biological death occurs. That’s when brain cells begin to die from lack of oxygen. Twenty four hours later after visiting Dad I was sitting in a pub back in Melbourne when I saw my phone ringing. I turned it to silent mode and let the vibrations run down my leg. Eventually Mum stopped calling. I imagined him laying there dead, his mouth agape like a starving baby bird, blind, deaf and abandoned.
The caravan light bulb had broken weeks ago but Ben didn’t mind. His eyes only took a minute to adjust and he was able to see quite well in the dim moon light. Laying beside Ben was Dale, a red headed, slight boy who enjoyed reading. They were both shirtless, bearing only grubby football shorts from the days adventures in the town’s surrounding bush land. Dale sat up against the window holding his left knee as he inspected a thick peeling scab. The two boys spent many summer nights in the caravan which was an original Silver Bullet airstream, built in the sixties. Ben thought the dilapidated home looked like a spaceship of sorts, sitting in the middle of an empty paddock ready for lift off at his command. Often during the night they would climb out of the caravan window onto the roof and observe the burning stars like punctures in a blanket covering a blinding light. He talked for hours about the universe to his friend, expressing such devotion to the infinite world and how minuscule he thought their home town to be; their place of birth. Dale listened attentively as he always did, eager to understand him.
One night on the roof they were talking about the hunter boys. The hunter boys, as the locals called them, are a small pack of boys around the age 10 who carry their father’s guns and torture wildlife for fun. Fox slaughtering, cockatoo wing tearing, kangaroo gutting and joey kicking, are just some of their favourite activities. They also dabbled in domestic killing such as cat burning and dog de-tonguing. Ben and Dale loathed and feared them. But they didn’t dare tell anyone. The warm air was filled with electricity, bowing under the weight of clouds. Dale beckoned him back into the caravan where they sat on his mattress and listened to the rain hit the metal roof like ricocheting bullets. They were bored and he remembered his secret stash of alcohol and cigarettes. He had a bottle of half empty rum he stole from his grandma’s cupboard. It was her baking rum for cakes and biscuits. He could eat three slices of Ma’s cake, especially the plain vanilla one with her homemade jam and cream inside. Ben’s grandmother began baking when they found his father in a running car with a pipe connecting the exhaust to his window. She doesn’t talk all the much anymore.
Every father in town drank canned beer, and their kids stole the dregs. Neither of them had ever tasted something from a glass bottle. Sitting on the bed Dale went first, gripping the bottle with two hands he took a tentative sip. His lips twisted, slick with liquor as he passed the bottle to Ben. Unlike Dale, he took a deep swig, letting the liquor burn through his small body as the moon shone through the window, their white teeth gleaming. They kept sipping rum while Ben lit a cigarette, his soft thumb barely gripping the child lock. He lay down and tried to inhale without coughing. He felt dizzy and looking across at Dale leaning against the wall he knew he must feel the same. Dale watched him as he smoked the long white cigarette. The burning end created a glowing ring around his smooth face every time he inhaled.
By the end of the bottle they were drunk laughing hysterically. Dale leapt onto him, tickling his hairless armpits, scratching his skin raw. Ben retaliated and playfully punched him in the face, missing his cheek and hitting his freckled nose. Drops of crimson blood fell down his chest as he lifted his hands to his face. Ben apologised wide eyed, giggled then lit another cigarette. Just before he lit the cigarette Dale jumped on top of him again and knocked the cigarette out of his hand. His boney thin arms pushed the dark haired boy into the mattress. He squirmed under the strength of his friend. Dale kissed him hard, his small, wet lips parting. Ben tried to punch him again but he was too strong. He could taste the blood smeared in between their faces and his cold spit. Eventually he surrendered and let Dale kiss him. He closed his eyes tightly so that he did not have to watch, but instead he felt for the first time a kiss. The red haired boy tasted sweet as he gently licked his teeth. His tongue touched the fleshy gum where Ben had lost a tooth a week before.
The boys lay on the mattress withering with sensations caused by rum and tiny fingers. Both faces were red from blush and blood. They stopped kissing and Dale began taking off his football shorts as well as Bens. They lay naked together, sweaty from the storm’s humidity that had fogged the windows. Ben felt his swollen dick throb inside his friends hot mouth. His rust coloured hair bobbed up and down. Ben’s toes curled as he filled his mouth with sticky junk. Dale choked and spat all over the bed. They didn’t look at each other as the red head put his football shorts back on and ran out into the paddock toward home. Ben lay there letting his throbbing shame recede like a wounded animal.
After a while he climbed out of the window onto the roof of the caravan. It was still raining lightly as he lay there with his arms folded behind his head. His spaceship was glistening as the clouds cleared revealing all the stars, just as the dried blood slowly washed off of his face and bare chest, uncovering a child.
If I look closely at myself in the mirror I can see my pores, all the little pits and crevices where the city smog seeps into. I have my father’s strong German nose which is rounded at the end and moves slightly when I speak or smile. People tell me that my eyes and hair are the same colour which I am certain is the colour of shit, but I don’t mind. When I was young my English teacher told me to never trust a woman with thin eyebrows, or a woman who changes her hair often. I guess I’ve remembered this for some reason and haven’t touched either for a long time- I’d like to imagine that I have a trustworthy face but stranger’s always tell me I look like a liar. I had braces when I was young which gave me straight teeth that leave a perfect oval on my boyfriend’s ass cheek- if I bite hard enough. I’m not conventionally pretty, but that doesn’t bother me because I know beauty is in the way people move and talk; there’s nothing uglier than insecurity. Lately I’ve had these bags under my eyes, like sagging curtains that give me this expression of desperation that I loathe. To match, I have a jarring smile that has no use other than to charm misfits at dingy bars. To be honest I often feel like a walking imitation of myself, yet if I avoid my reflection I can fool myself for days on end.
I’m not looking for any big answers. I’m not searching for a fleeting mystery, or enlightenment. I don’t want to be content.
I just crave what feels real.
and I’m getting it at the strangest of times, with so much space in between. I keep sleeping, drinking, kissing, smoking, waiting for it.
Then, after long enough,
I forget I’m even waiting at all.