First chapter and a bit from my new novel.
Some advice: It is helpful to remember that you are always in the center of the universe. Well at least, it is for me. Not that you ARE the center of the universe, mind -- there’s a difference. That no matter where you walk to, there is the same space beyond you stretching in every direction, you are always at the center wherever you move to. When bad things happen, you are not banished to some dirty corner, you can never be pushed to the edge. Always, you are in the same spot. I am included in this, I am the same as everyone else. If you ever get bored, if you ever want to visit me, I will be here, forever.
There were actually multiple blowflies, buzzing around. Mary told me, “You can slow down the sound in your mind, make it into anything, make it into music.” Buddhism. Meditation. Of course if you are really happy or you are in love or something ridiculous then everything sounds good. You won’t be irritated by it. I just couldn’t believe that there were blowflies, in the ship, of all places. Organic matter besides us humans. How did they get inside the sealed room? There was no gaps, no doors. What would happen when we landed? To their flesh, I mean. It wasn’t as strong as ours. I knew we would melt, even at six feet tall, when we finally escaped.
Yes make music. I could do that, in theory. Turn the irritating buzzing into a melody. Of course, with my brain, it came far more naturally to do it the other way around -- to turn beautiful music into a sound that would make you so nauseous you could vomit. Beauty into ugliness not the other way around. I didn’t know how long we would be trapped inside for though, how long the journey would drag. I decided I would rather deal with the ugliness than attempt an impossible task. Were we prisoners? No one had told us.
At least I was scared on that first night. Sometimes being scared is better than being sad. I fell asleep in that white room with my back against the wall and my heart beating so fast I was worried I might die. Yet it was still better than the nights I couldn’t sleep because I was so sad that it hurt.
Maybe Mary, standing besides me, could turn the buzzing into music. She was smiling, already half asleep. I could tell that she always smiled; that is what had aged her. We were the same in earth years, 32, but I looked ten years younger, because I never cracked an expression.
I couldn’t turn it into music. Still, I slept.
Many things came before the space ship, and the letter -- well note, really -- of course. A town, Sale. An army air base. Bombs. A death.
And things also came after, and left and right. But there was always a day I was in, there was always a moment that I could sink into and live forever. The time our eyes first met and lingered? That was one of them. When I couldn’t believe we were really kissing. I knew we would always kiss and never kiss again. Both, forever.
I know, it’s dramatic, to write someone a note telling them that you will love them forever when you had only known them for three weeks. Three weeks is long enough to know whether you love a person though, and when you love someone for one day, you love them forever. Some people don’t agree with me on that point. Some people fall out of love so easily. I fall into love far too easily, of course. I always love at least three men at once and sometimes up to eight. I just can’t get the hang of falling out of love. That is why my heart is so strained, so sagging in the middle. I always think it will run out of room. The first love took up the most room, but yet it always expands a little more, like how you can always cut an object in half over and over again -- at first it is a big difference but each subsequent time you cut it it gets smaller and smaller until the difference is miniscule and microscopic. I suppose my heart is the opposite but also the same, it gets cut into and yet it expands, there is always more love to sink into it and more ways to hurt. That was why I always had trouble falling asleep.
So three weeks. To love a man forever. At least, that is the way I had decided I felt on the day when I wrote the note, signed it with a C. He’d never seen my handwriting before. But he must have known who C was. Even if the feelings were not returned, even if the words seemed like a foreign language, he would have to know. How many other people could possibly have loved him like I did?
“Maybe his ex wife?” Tish said as we drove away from his house.
I shifted uncomfortably in the passenger seat as we crawled away. Not exactly a drive by, we were stuck in traffic. Quick, he might come outside and see us. “I’m not even entirely sure he is divorced.” I glanced nervously over my shoulder. In a way it was strange to see that he had something as regular as a letterbox, something as real as a house. He’d warned me on the first night that we met that he didn’t have a fridge or a bed. Why live anywhere if you don’t even have those things? Stay in the woods. Move to another planet.
“You didn’t even ask if this guy is married?” Tish finally managed to accelerate and speed through traffic.
“No. We didn’t talk about things like that. We talked about philosophy.”
Yes, I’d forgotten to check whether he was still married, or what his kids names were, or how old he was. Or even what his real name was, for that matter. None of that mattered. Tish was more practical, of course, she wouldn’t have put up with any of this nonsense. She’s a virgo. She has her head on her shoulders, in the center, where as mine is titled to the left, always seeing from the wrong perspective. She isn’t the kind of girl who could deal with a man who tells you he loves you one day and the next he’s changed his mind, and the next he changes it back again. I suppose I could put up with it, at least it was interesting. Too interesting.
Anyway his ex wife wouldn’t sign with a C, she would sign with a K. It sounded like my name but it was spelt differently. That’s how we could be called different things. Different people with different signifiers.
We left the town and returned to our own. I was satisfied, I’d put a stop to it, at least on my terms. He couldn’t break my heart now if I’d broken it pre-emptively for him. He couldn’t find me, couldn’t chase me, couldn’t drive me to the end of the earth. I would always be floating now, moving further away from him, but I would always be me. At least I could say that.
Mondays in a space ship reminded me of mondays on earth, in the way that I could never grasp how they would ever be over, how time could move forward, how the days could tick over. Only now I longed for that near certainty that a day could end, that it would almost always contain twenty four hours.
Mary opened her eyes and looked at peace, as though it was normal to wake standing up right, strapped to a wall. Well maybe not strapped. I couldn’t quite figure out how we were being held. It didn’t seem magnetic. There was no pull. There were no visible straps but there was a definite feeling of being tied down. My shoulders and wrists couldn't move. At least there were no straps around my throat.
“How can you be so calm?” I asked her. A half whisper, in case we weren’t supposed to talk. Or at least, weren’t supposed to be heard.
She shrugged as much as the invisible straps would allow. “There is no point in being any other way, is there?” She glanced around the grey room. Had it been grey when I’d gone to sleep. “Panicking isn’t going to solve anything, is it?”
I wasn’t entirely. Panicking was an appropriate human response and I wasn’t sure I wanted to let go of those all together. Being sure I was human was the one thing I still had?
“We may as well just accept it?”
“That this is happening.” Mary said it like it was the most natural thing in the world.
It took me a long time to respond to that, trying to discern if she actually knew more than I did. If that was the case, did I want to ask the following question or not?
“That what is happening?”
“That we have left earth and we are never going back.”
The human body can only take so much emotional pain before it becomes physical. It’s a theory anyway. So you can go to a doctor a hundred times and say the same thing. “My hands hurt. You have to help me. I can’t straighten them, I can’t type. I can’t write.”
“Well it looks like arthritis.” He will click a few things on the computer. “Young people can get it. You should try to eat less dairy.” And then when you return a hundred times more, this time having cut out dairy, this time having cut out meat, and then finally tomatoes and sea food and all things acidic, and you still have the same pain. Only by this stage it’s spread to your stomach and your heart and your blood.
Blood tests. They don’t pick anything up. “It’s all in your head.” Of course it is, where else would it be? But it’s because your heart can only take so much, can only expand or be cut into so many times before the rest of the body is affected, and some invisible organ has been poisoned so it can never ever be found.
I stopped going to doctors.
So long story short, I was fully back on the dairy, back to eating cheese three times a day and ice cream at least four times a day. “Do you need that much ice cream?” Tish asked me, ordering a short black with two artificial sweeteners on the side.
“It’s only three scoops.” Chocolate gelato that was more like a mouse in terms of solidity. “I just broke up with a guy who was probably the love of my life and the only soul mate I’ll ever have. Trust me, I need it.”
Tish ripped open one of her artificial sweeteners. “What you need is a vegetable. Maybe some sense of purpose. He isn’t the only man you can ever love.” She was right; I’d said it before, about other men, and I would say it again about others. Hypothetically. But for that to happen, it would require a future. A day after that one to exist.
What Tish she didn’t understand was, that this would be my final meal. This chocolate gelato If you are only going to spend one last day on earth, why would you eat a vegetable?
There would be no pain afterwards, I was certain of that. I couldn’t see the next day but I knew it would be white, and empty. My blood wouldn’t hurt, it would leak out, be gone.
I asked for another scoop.
You look up at the stars. Most people do. To think, I am so small, the universe goes on forever. It requires a sort of fearlessness, I suppose. To look up and accept that. It reassures you though, so is that really bravery? To be looking for comfort? I don’t matter, none of this matters.
I was jogging and I was out of breath. It was after 8.30, almost 9 and everyone in the country town was already asleep. I reached the park where there was nowhere to look but up, because there were trees either side and below me only earth. One direction to look. To feel trapped on all sides but up, as though this was the only way to escape. Gravity held me down.
I never wanted to look up. Not because I was scared to think, I am so small in the universe. I was scared to see what was up there. Forbidden things in the sky that I wasn’t supposed to see. We are all living within set lives. There are things you know and things that you don’t, amongst those are things that you are not allowed to know. When you study at school you stick to a set curriculum. The one you signed up for. The one your brain can handle. A prospective doctor doesn’t take poetry. A stupid person doesn’t take advanced science. In a way you are not allowed to. Surely you know what I mean.
I wanted to run right through, to hear and see nothing except my feet heavy on the pavement. But there was a stitch in my side. I wasn’t the fittest at that point in time; running for more than two minutes at a time caused agony. Shooting pain up both legs and a feeling in my chest that signalled I might need to call an ambulance if I didn’t stop. So I stopped and leaned over, the music from my earphones still pumping in my ears. Don’t look up, don’t look up.
But it was like a magnet, the way my head rose. I couldn’t stop it. Couldn’t stop myself. Like looking at a car wreck? I’m not sure about that. It was more like my head was pulled upwards against my will. Served me right for trying to take up running again during my most recent self improvement kick. Broccoli for dinner, some tofu on the start. Ten minutes on the meditation app. Journalling. Running afterwards, then shower and set the alarm for 5.30 in the morning so I could wake up and be positive and run through the entire day without remembering that I was so sad I wanted to die. There is only so long you can forget for.