She sleeps with the light on
, like John Lennon
, because she hates the dark. When she was married, though, it was different, the two times she was married—the long marriage and the short—in those times Sandra would sleep in the dark.
This was her own private trivia, things that nobody else knew. There were other things too, like how there have been times when, on the street or in a supermarket, a stranger’s child has mistaken her for its mother. Secretly, this would flatter Sandra; the ease in which the child would tug her skirt, or hold her hand, the comfort of affirmed tactility
. Then she started to feel out of place, slightly askew to the small hand’s grip. And this began not that long ago, when she retired
Since then, her health has become very important. She appreciates the significance of ergonomic furniture
. She is aware of her posture when standing, or collecting the mail, or reading the newspaper
at the kitchen table. It is as though in an ideal world, in Plato
’s World of Forms
, this is the way Sandra’s bones would hang. In perfect design. And it is important to her, that certain things should be just so.
She goes to the Laundromat. She buys movie tickets
Sometimes an old friend comes to visit. Sandra makes the coffee and together they watch their mugs empty between the lullabies
of conversation, into the night. And when it grows later still, one of them will suggest how strange their memories feel when brought to surface, there, in her one-room flat. But neither of them will say, ‘we should get out the old tapes,’ the ones that the people
remember. The ones she keeps conveniently misplaced.
She buys her groceries from the store. She stopped dying her hair at the roots, so the red is fading, and the grey begins to show.
And then her old high school friend, Annie, the psychic
, pays her a visit. They have been years and lives apart since their youth, so much memory awash in an umbra of lost time
. Delightful Annie, old Annie. How her hair is like an exquisite dessert
. Sandra makes the coffee and they lean their elbows into the kitchen table.
The room takes the form of current affairs; the heartache of burying a family pet
, happenstance relationships, and oh, how we miss things. Between the loose buttons of Annie’s shirt, Sandra gently studies the wrinkles in her flesh
she has never seen before on Annie’s chest.
‘But it is funny though, that I’m here. I want to tell you some news I have.’
Sandra does not say anything to this. It’s been too many years to show impatience. This is the leisure of listening, to harmonise their time and space.
‘It’s a friend of mine. She tells me about this man she met. He’s writing a book.’
The clock ticks to the hour. Sandra places her mug on the table and it leaves a mark so she lifts it and takes a rag and wipes the stain with the rag.
‘He claims to have out-of-body sexual experiences with celebrities. I know it sounds zany, but he knows things. Things you only know from being intimate with someone.’
Sandra feels she has misplaced something. Her fingertips tap the table. ‘I need another coffee,’ she says, ‘we need another coffee.’
Sandra fills the kettle with water and Annie watches, reading her gestures. She is rough and mechanical with the tap. Two movements: on and off.
‘Sandra, it’s been so long.’
‘Like what?’ she says, sorting utensils. Sorting jars and tins with labels on them.
‘Like that Marilyn Monroe’s favourite drink was Don Perignon, 1953.’
She places the mugs next to the kettle in preparation. Two sugars, two coffees. Milk.
‘People know that. I know that. I don’t know why I know that. Why do I know that?’
‘Did you know that she had a skin tag on her cunt?’
That night Sandra has trouble sleeping. She tries several different pillows. She swaps them in cryptic rotations, then slaps each one to the bed like misbehaved children. The television is on, the lights are on. She knows that, out in the street, the lights are also on.
She wants to call Annie. When they were younger, in high school, and then into their twenties, Sandra used to call Annie for all kinds of things, whenever she wanted. She was good like that, cheerful Annie, always willing to help out. It became her thing. Then the calls decreased, in length and frequency, when Sandra started to work, to really work. If she called at all she was erratic and sparse. Then there was the time when Sandra phoned from Switzerland, after her first divorce, and it had broken Annie’s heart to hear her friend, the stranger, sobbing through the flimsy receiver, oceans away.
And Annie remembers this.
‘You can’t prove it though. And I don’t care if she did.’ Sandra says down the phone, ‘a skin tag. I mean, that’s weak.’
‘Perhaps. Anyway, I asked my friend, to find out if he’d written about you. It’s late, Sandra, I don’t want to get into it. Okay, she knows that I’m your friend. I suppose that’s why she asked him about you. He nodded… knowingly. But that’s all. She said, that’s all he did.’ Annie pauses, envisioning for a moment. She sees Sandra in her mind, the old Sandra, uncertain, though, whether it is memory or prophecy. ‘But if it does get published, people will buy it. That’s my main concern. And they’ll demand seminars. Telephone poles will be nailed with posters of him standing on Hollywood Boulevard before palls of smoke. I don’t want to get ahead of myself here but the things that will go on in those halls—the speeches, the breathing patterns,’ Annie sighs, ‘the erections. I’m sorry. But then, of course, you could be quite safe.’
‘You would know, Annie. This is bad news for Madonna, I suppose, not me. I’m a recovering celebrity. If anything.’
Two months later, Sandra is out jogging. It’s new to her routine to jog twice around the park each morning before breakfast. Her body becomes the vehicle, and she likes this. She doesn’t feel her age. She would feel her age if she understood what it meant. She likes to imagine what goes on inside her body as she runs. Blood cells pump, cells divide, what else do they do?
On her way home she decides to rest at the local school ground. She hasn’t done this before. She laps from the water fountain like an animal then slumps herself underneath the weight of an old tree.
The children are slowly arriving to the lollipop man’s whistle, dragging their bags, scuffing their shoes. At first she’s oblivious to them, concentrating on her sweat and breathing, until she hears a child’s voice, from somewhere, call her name.
It’s a girl, blonde, standing with another girl a few metres from the tree. Harmless and curious. She says it again. Sandra, this time, not Mum, and then they disappear behind a building.
‘I haven’t slept for a week.’
‘Did you change the globe?’
‘How did you know about that? Annie, it’s more than that. Two and a half weeks it’s been out. And it’s selling. Like you said.’
‘And it’s selling, yes, but not selling well. I read your bit and it’s brief—half a page brief. And there aren’t any book signings yet. And I read a bad review this morning.’
‘But you believe it though, don’t you?’
‘Sandra, it’s late. I don’t know if I believe it, but I don’t agree with it. I can’t trust this one. It’s an abuse of identity, and I’m afraid of the powers in control. I don’t know what his plan is, that’s the thing. I don’t know his game.’
‘Because I think I’m starting to feel things.’
As a child, Sandra’s mother would take her to auditions, sometimes modeling agencies, anything to show off that face. These sojourns rarely amounted to much, and it crushed her mother more than it ever would Sandra. At six she had her first paid job; modeling for a clothing catalogue, but only once. Her hair was tied in tightly wound rags. She wore blue overalls. The photographer bent her knees onto the haystack, he rotated her feet, he placed her hand on the ball, he cocked her chin, he pressed her tummy, he folded her spine, and he photographed her like this.
Sandra awakes to the phone ringing. It’s her first husband. Sandra’s ex husbands had resumed the phone calls since the book’s release. They each feel uncomfortable about its presence; its simply being there on shelves, in briefcases, in hands. Their voices sound foreign to her on the telephone, slanted, differently shaped. Distance will do this, though, she thinks. She imagines them both in similar positions when she talks to them. Both leaning over the bathroom sink, shaving, or looking out the kitchen window. She misses that. She tells them about Annie, and her jogging, and the book, but she doesn’t say much more than that, she doesn’t talk about her life.
Annie suggests that she should go, to speak to Jacob, the author, creator of the sophisticated wet dream, the prophet. He is broad and stiff and gregarious in his greetings. Funny, she thinks, that he is now a celebrity.
At the book signing, Sandra is distant and aware. The director called cut several years ago but it still lingers there with her like a belly button. The bookstore feels familiar with its buzz of life and noise and swarming bodies.
She is unsure where she stands, in the line. The patrons are mostly male, but the demographics are wide. Nobody has recognised her yet, but her shape has changed, she has lost some weight, her hair is grey. Jacob claims that she is a natural red, and that she’s a brittle lover, revived only by a definite touch, a long and tenacious stroke into existence. Only half a page.
It takes her three attempts to get onto Annie that night. Unusual, but she knows that Annie has her own life, things to do.
‘And then he just thanked me,’ says Sandra, ‘he thanked me and said, I hope you enjoyed it. Then I moved aside. And as I was leaving, I could hear him say it to the next person, the same thing, and the next. Thank-you. Hope you enjoyed it.’ Sandra unfolds and smoothes out the dog-eared pages of the book. ‘I even waited outside the store for a while. It was exciting and disgusting at the same time. I was hesitant at first, but after a while I was looking into their eyes, looking people up and down. Waiting for it to happen. Waiting for it not to happen.’ Sandra feels the corners of the pages. They are smooth like new. She absently flicks through the book to the front where Jacob left his mark, his small and shallow signature. ‘And I was there, Annie,’ she says, lying naked on her bed, ‘really there.’
There is a calm in the conversation, a hush between their phone lines that neither can quite translate nor understand, but they hold it together in their separate houses, feeling the textures of their silence, holding this moment together like a treasured memory. And as the time passes around and through them, a crackling sound like distant fireworks can be heard through the phone.
Sandra opens her eyes again to speak.
‘I wasn’t that Sandra–their Sandra. Or Juliet, or the murderess, or that rotten victim in that last one.’
‘So you were just…?’
The phone cuts out and roars in Sandra’s ear like a storm. Suddenly everything is black. Outside a tree has fallen and taken with it the power lines and the electricity of Sandra’s street.
Sandra feels her surroundings; the phone, the bed, softly at first, and then generously; the smooth surface of the walls, the stiff, unresponsive light switch, the smoothness of her breasts and her belly and the coarse hairs down to her thighs where the muscles move, and comply, down below to the lush carpet on her feet that seems to carry her to the open front door of her one-room flat, down to the wet steps and across the wet lawn to the wide open footpath of her dark street, over the fallen tree, the branches, lightly, the orange confetti sparks, and she stands there and she looks at all of these things.