Interim

Literature

16.10.2017

Interim

Distracting you from our nation's political discomfort.

You’re waiting for the government to be decided by a minor third party. The election was weeks ago and now you’re all in anticipation for Winston Peters to make up his mind. So much for democracy. The reality is you don’t really care what happens; the disappointment is already tangible. But there’s a discomfort you want to distract from, an itch you can’t quite reach, a disquiet you can’t explain.

*

You date someone new, thinking about them, not the politics that has gripped the media for the last eight weeks. It’s a secret, but not one either of you are very committed to, or at least, you don’t think so; although you deliberately obscure it when you talk to mutual friends. But the someone-new holds your hand in public, and you let him. He takes you to restaurants. He makes jokes about pulling you onto his lap like the elderly couple beside you. They are posing for a photograph and you see how the old man’s hands clasp together around the woman’s waist, the coarsened fingers of one hand, the slightly too long fingernails, gripping the wrist of the other hand to hold the pose together. You wonder what this new thing is heading towards. You’re maybe hoping you won’t have to make any decisions, that another third party in your own life will sort it out.

You’re maybe hoping you won’t have to make any decisions, that another third party in your own life will sort it out.

Some things don’t seem significant until later. Later you’ll look back and see things that happened as omens, as signs laid out as if they are huge neon arrows or those signs made up of flashing orange bulbs from the back of a road works truck. But at the time, they’re just things that happen.

*

There was that night you spent in his bed when the thunder came. At four AM, the clock chimes and then there is a flash of light that you see even with your eyes closed. It wakes you into the darkness of his room, but there is long enough between the flash and the mad, rolling, frighteningly loud thunder that you settle and put your head back down on his shoulder. When the noise starts, your body tenses up, and his arm clenches around your waist, drawing you closer to the prickly hair of his barrel-y chest. Slowly, each successive roll of the storm is a little less loud, a little more expected, but the terror and adrenalin is still pulsing through your body, and you roll in his arms, both of your mouths open and meeting in the middle.

In the morning, he stretches and gets out of bed. On his back, downy hair runs in two broad stripes on either side of his spine, like the shadows of furled angel wings. He makes coffee, strong and black; bagels spread with cream cheese. The creaminess of the food smooths out the bitterness of the drink. When he kisses you, it’s softer than you thought it would be, the lips gentle, the tongue present but aloof. When you open your mouth further, your front teeth bang together, and you giggle but he just kisses down your neck and you think that maybe this is how it will go; he’ll carry you through the awkward bits.

*

Winston Peters’ smug face lights up the tv screen, and Eminem raps about Donald Trump, wearing trackpants in a carpark, the cars’ headlights absurdly turned on, even though it’s clearly day time in the video.

Your days are spent on necessary things, the things you need to get through. Like Facebook and watching YouTube. When you aren’t, you buy baby presents. You talk to students desperate to prep portfolios. You edit and answer emails and visit printers. You do a version of life that pretends you aren’t just marking time. Winston Peters’ smug face lights up the tv screen, and Eminem raps about Donald Trump, wearing trackpants in a carpark, the cars’ headlights absurdly turned on, even though it’s clearly day time in the video.

*

When you see the someone-new, there is an intimacy there that is easy, like you’ve been here before. Like you’re back in the same coalition talks you were in ten years ago. You talk and chat, and you put away the dishes, make the bed, try to find a bag to line the bin with.

You go to the theatre, and he stretches out in his seat, his legs splayed. The stage lights splash back at his face, blue and green, and he grins at a joke. You watch the audience as much as you watch the play; you watch him as much as you watch everyone else. Behind you, the middle aged men lean forward, their mouths pulled back in laughter. Women giggle, and shrink against their partners, and the fast-paced patter from the actors keeps the jokes moving. They’re hamming it up as two gay cooks, their hips cocked, the lisps thick, and you are fascinated by the way the audience laps it up, every piece of innuendo a hilarity, not a horror. The whipped cream is dribbled suggestively over the cake, a jagged white line on the side, and the audience roars. The someone-new raises his eyebrows, “A pack of cunts,” he whispers and you shake in silent, hysterical laughter.

Afterwards you’re hungry and you and the someone-new end up under the harsh lights of Countdown near closing. You watch him pick up a capsicum, hold it firmly, replace it, pick up another and of course, you’re not seeing a capsicum, but yourself between his fingers, the grip solid, the tension palpable.

Behind you drifts a child. He’s got no shoes on. His track pants hang down, trailing over his feet and he skids along the ground, sliding on the grubby fleece. He edges up to the pick and mix bins of Alison Holst’s confectionary in the midst of the fresh vegetables.

This other trolley has three packets of crisps, their bright green and red packets glistening under the fluorescent overheads.

You’re casting around, wondering where an adult is. He clearly is too. He looks around, twisting a big head on a sticky neck. There’s no one but you and holding your eyes, he flips up the lip of the sour coke bottle sweets. He reaches in and grabs a handful.

The next aisle over, there’s a little girl, barely out of toddler-dom, the saggy bum of a nappy visible through her leggings. The someone-new beside you puts a hand in the small of your back and steers you towards the free-range chicken.

It isn’t til you reach the end of the supermarket that you see the kids catch up with an adult. She’s moving listlessly down the aisles, pulling her trolley from the wire basket at the front. She stops frequently, picking up products and putting them down. Her kids drag along behind her, the boy occasionally transferring a sweet from one hand to his mouth, his little sister snotty and wiping her eyes.

You peek in the trolley as you wonder past. The someone-new has collected an array of fruit and vegetables, fresh meat. This other trolley has three packets of crisps, their bright green and red packets glistening under the fluorescent overheads. Two bottles of Pepsi rock side to side underneath, and the family wander up the personal hygiene aisle, the mother stopping to look at shampoos. But none are added to the trolley and they trail off towards the counters. The little boy looks back at you and puts another sour coke bottle in his mouth. He reminds you of Winston Peters. You wonder if he is enjoying the pick and mix too, and whether this is another of those things that will seem significant later. So much for democracy.

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