Current Occupation: exchanging a life for money and medical insurance
Former Occupation: exchanging a life for money and medical insurance
Contact information: M. F. McAuliffe taught technical writing, media analysis and basic TV production to engineering and applied science students in South Australia and Victoria before working abroad as a political pollster, technical editor, hotel-cleaner, and librarian. In 2002 she co-founded the award-winning Gobshite Quarterly, based in Portland, Oregon, where she continues as contributing editor.
A couple of Keough’s friends vouched for her. Real estate agents smiled and she moved into a flat by the river. She stood and watched the surrounding hills ascend into brightness.
The lounge-room was rounded at one end, built into a slope. She laughed. The small round descending windows were level with the path outside; she’d be seeing her visitors feet-first.
The room was a cup of light.
She lent Keough five hundred dollars until he could get a job and somewhere permanent. He helped her buy bookshelves and left his number.
Beyond her big, long kitchen windows the hills rolled and dwindled to flat, black earth; the earth supported a group of fruit-trees and then dampened into river. From the footbridge at the end of the street a line of flaming ash-trees strode uphill like crowned priests. Off to the side, away from the asphalt, a tall, four-sided brick wall stood on the hill’s curve. The wall confined a line of cypresses. The cypresses confined a convent. With a shock and a sheepish grin she realized she’d landed in most Catholic Kew, that the air was both grey and shining with Pentecost, and that she was supposed to vote. Again.
She went to the nearest electoral office and found that she lived in Kooyong, that she couldn’t register there because it was too late, couldn’t get an absentee ballot from Grey because she didn’t know the address of the Electoral Office there, that Grey didn’t know her current address, and Adelaide couldn’t track her past Grey and she didn’t know the address of the Electoral Office in Adelaide, either. She was effectively off the rolls. “Bugger it then,” she muttered to herself. If she got a fine she’d pay it. Bloody politics. The Julian Langleys or their cousins still ran the place no matter what you did or thought, she said, owning their bloody companies, leaving bloody great holes in the ground where there used to be hills.
And Kooyong. She could’ve slagged on the footpath, right there, right outside the Electoral Office, if she’d ever learnt how. What was the use of voting in Kooyong?
“Shit,” she said, and went back home to the river, the light, her unfinished unpacking.
The ash-trees in their vestments hunched and strode.
She only saw the convent from the footbridge. The plain blank prison wall, the plain blank line of poplars inside, the plain blank inner square of air beyond the cypresses all murmured emptiness until she shook becaus she hadn’t married, couldn’t teach, couldn’t do anything, wasn’t anything; they murmured loss and emptiness until they opened a void in her and she was desperate and wanted to be sick, toothless, dead, done with it—
So she turned her head when she crossed the bridge, only turned back when she could see the ash-trees alone, burning, striding.
The election came and went. The Government stayed.
It was the end of May. She was cold. She bought a full-length leather coat, she bought a radiator. She bought a kettle and some dishes with wavering edges. She bought a couple of bean-bags. The flat already had a bed, she already had sheets and blankets. She bought a visit to the dentist, who said her teeth could be saved. She bought a haircut. The hairdresser said her hair could be saved. She brushed furiously at night, saving her hair and teeth.
She cooked, sh smoked, she watched the river.
The ash-trees lost their leaves and moved like calm, crossless Christs.
She bought a tiny fridge, and a clock. She bought a small telly to supplement the radio. Her phone arrived. She felt like an adult, knowing she’d be in the new phone-book. She felt like a fool, looking at the bill. Her account had to be saved, her bankbook said. Brushing at night wouldn’t help. She had to get a job.
She stopped watching telly. She bought the paper and applied for everything but sales and typing; she applied to the State and Commonwealth Public Services; she wrote to her parents to let them know where she was.
It was June. She rang Barry Keough a few times, but they said he was never there.
She finally shrugged and walked across the footbridge to catch the tram and see the sights. All through the pale winter sunlight trees arched leaflessly against the walls behind them, bone begging for flesh. She hunched in her coat and looked at buildings, streets, faces. The trees begged. She ignored the pulsing at the edge of her eye, shivered and walked, crossed the river, wandered to the National Gallery.
Bluestone masses reared up and back; walls floated, high and smoky and unscaleable a Kurosawa castles. As she stepped forward she tripped. At her elbows gold oak-leaves rustled and burned.
She got up. At the top and bottom of the dark blue water in the ornamental moat more red and gold leaves flickered, swam, glowed, flashed.
They were like rays, they were like fish.
They were almost plump, almost like hands, soft and brittle and melting.
The flesh the trees had wanted.
She took her coat off and plunged her own hands into the water because she, too, wanted them. She touched the shiny, slidey surfaces, touched the color of them until she remembered to breathe, held them cupped in water in her hands until she longed to become the water and the hand surrounding the secret amniotic sac glimmering with golden veins.
She looked at her hands and sighed and stood. Her sleeves were wet. Her fingers were swollen and mottled, cold and lumpish as raw sausages. She put her coat on, walked and shivered. She dozed in the tram. She got off at the righ stop, and began to climb the footbridge.
The cypresses murmured.
She turned to the ash-trees but they were leafless, skeletons nailed to their own ascensions.
She rattled in her coat like a nut in a shell.
At home she cooked herself in front of her two red bars until her legs were mottled with heat, but all evening she was fretful, clumsy, restless, irritable, furious, afraid.
In the morning she woke up grief-stricken, guilty, panicked. There were no golden hands.
In the whole dark flat there was no hint of gold or breath or life.
The light in the kitchen was grey.
When she opened the curtains the windows were rainsmattered; rain fell on the bare trees by the river. She opened the front door. Tight, round sacs of rain hung, then flattened, elongated, and trickled down the glass panel, inside and out, diminishing as they went. Raindrops dripped from the bottom of the door, drops elongating, touching, mounding on the cement at her feet, plump, momentary, gone.
Rain fell to the earth.
The earth flowed slowly to the river.
The river flowed slowly to the sea.
The world was liquid. Everything slowly flowed away.
She plunged into the rain but the drops smashed on her knuckles, puddled in her palms, seeped through the cracks between her fingers.
She felt ill.
She was ill with lack. She wanted whole drops. She wanted the golden wholeness of oak leaves and the rich, permanent, nourishing dark blue water.
She stayed outside till she was half-soaked and shivering, then snivelled and hunched back inside. She wanted to nail gold and living water to her walls, wanted to crucify the rain for telling her she was an empty sac falling to flatness, nothing.
She aimed her eyes at the wall, watched the hammer in her hand, listened to the nails go in.
She poked at her eyes with a Kleenex and blew her nose. She had a shower, spread her pajamas to dry, got dressed and went to the bank.
She bought the camera with the multiple manual controls, put it under her coat, protected it from the rain.
She smiled when she unwrapped it; it gleamed and smelt of precision-engineered cunning. Its back snapped shut with a ferocious and satisfying finality. Its cool, brushed metal edges warmed to her hands. But the lenses! Her heart leapt and melted for the lens and long-distance converters. The kitchen windows were nothing but tight, round raindrops.
She stalked and clicked. She had them, had them, the little sacs of them, had saved the outline and fullness of them from the distant, shapeless sea.
Back at the Gallery the Kurosawa heights floated like angels while she leant and stretched along the low walls of the moat. Her left hand dived under the lens-rings, softened and sharpened, caught the hands and leaves and fish made of furtive, flickering, underwater gold.
She could get the slides blown up, made into prints. She could have dark blue and gold in her room.
She walked home over the bridge, her camera in her hands. The cypresses were an oily, distant green. She poked her tongue out at them. The golden shapes were safe in the amniotic celluloid of her camera, her camera was safe on its strap, on her stomach, inside her coat, and she and it would both be safe in her flat, behind the lock on her door.
She smiled at the frozen ash-trees. She laughed on behalf of the fruit-trees by the river. Now they could all have hands, photos of leaves clothes-pegged to branches. She could make veins, leaves, life. She contained the hands to make them.