My battle with depression

Okay so I’ve suffered on and off from depression for most of my life. I’ve always had insight into why I feel bad, and why I have low self esteem. I believe my particular problem is not due to a chemical imbalance. It’s often situational; triggered by events in my life or the circumstances that I find myself in. I’ve only just found out it’s called reactive depression. For the past six years I’ve lived at my mother’s, paying board and for internet and Foxtel. I contribute to bills when I can, but that is very rarely, as I am an unemployed student, attempting to complete an arts degree.  I live in Australia, so anyone who knows our welfare system will know that I and others like me subsist on a payment that has been 40% below the poverty line and hasn’t seen an increase since the early ’90’s, despite inflation.

But enough about that. As I’ve mentioned, my depression is due to circumstances, often beyond my control. So I haven’t sought professional help until recently, because I didn’t think it would make a difference.  After a particularly traumatic past few months, when my mother threw my daughter out of the house, forcing her to live with her schizophrenic father and his mother, I’ve come to the realization that if I don’t get serious and talk to someone, I might end up doing something stupid and irreversible.

My therapist is a lovely lady named Kate who instantly took me seriously when I told her I had a plan for how I was going to do it; and that I didn’t want my family finding me (my body). She conducted a couple of questionnaires to see where I fit on the DAT scale for level of depression and my result was a high/extreme level. I’m not threatening to slit my wrists tomorrow, mind, but give me a reason … anyway, she asked if maybe hospital might be an option, and I said no, not at this stage.  She also helped me work out a safety plan, what I would do if I was on the verge of suicide.

My point in posting this blog is that if you are like me and you are on the brink, please go and get help. It’s a relief to hear that someone actually takes you seriously and will listen – even if they’re paid to do so – without judgement. One of my problems has been that while certain members of my family and circle of friends claim to be supportive, when I try to talk to them about how I’m feeling they ALWAYS make it about them. Every. Single. Time.  My mother’s attitude is that she has had such a shit life, and her husband was a bastard, and her brother was murdered, and her niece killed herself, so by rights she should be the one bound for the nuthouse, learning how to retie her shoelaces and speaking in tongues, but she’s not. Way to go, Mum, I feel like saying. Want a medal? Because I can organize one for you that says ‘World’s strongest woman’.  Depression isn’t about how much shit you’ve had to endure. No one’s applauding you for not going bat-shit crazy.  Weird thing is, she seems to think I should be happy. Um, I’m 43 years old, with no job, no money, no car, no prospects for getting said job or car, and I live with my mother.  Also, my brother has had anxiety, depression and a death phobia that he has been seeking help for and takes medication for, and for some reason, she doesn’t give him the same “oh why are you depressed, you’ve got everything to live for” crap.  She recognizes his problems as real whereas mine are … I don’t know, a symptom of me being a drama queen, perhaps?  The reason I don’t discuss my depression is because I know I’ll get shut down and told that I should just “do something about it”. Like, go and get a job.

Because it’s just THAT easy.  In an environment where there are 700,000 people unemployed in this country and 150,000 jobs, what are the odds?!

Rant over.

 

Advertisements

Playing God

Playing God was a piece I submitted for my Fiction writing: Short stories and starting out unit in second year. It was work-shopped in class and got a great response, as the subject of hypnotism was unusual as a plot device … for our class, at least. 

 

A notoriously light sleeper, Rose’s eyes would normally have flickered open at the slightest creak of the floorboards in the hallway. But this particular night she was so tired not even the incessant barking of the next door neighbor’s dog could keep her awake.

That is, until two powerful hands closed around her throat.

Rose’s eyes bulged with shock and pain. Her hands reached up to try and prise the thick fingers from her neck. When that didn’t work, she flung an arm out and connected with a smooth metal circle – her alarm clock.

Grabbing it, she hefted it at the vague dark shape above her.

He hissed in pain, muttered ‘Fuck’; but those hands held fast.  Rose felt her strength ebbing.

Then she remembered it – her “insurance policy”. The one she hoped she’d never have to call on.

Sliding her hand down beside the bed, she felt around between the mattress and base, silently praying to be able to use it before she ran out of oxygen. Luckily she’d done enough damage with the clock to make him loosen his chokehold a little. But he was still throttling her.  Light began to flash behind her eyelids and she heard small whimpering sounds, as though a small animal was trapped somewhere in the wall behind the bed-head.

That’s you, you dumb-bunny.

Finally her fingertips found cold steel. Grasping the handle, she threw her arm in an arc toward her attacker.

Hot wetness smacked her chin, throat and chest. The hands around her throat went slack and a horrible, guttural gurgling sound filled the room.

Rose pushed at the stranger straddling her, weakly at first but as her strength returned, harder. He fell beside her on the bed. Rose rolled in the opposite direction and fumbled for the lamp switch.

She blinked and squinted, shielding her eyes from the sudden light source. Her alarm clock lay on the floor by her foot. Must have bounced off the bed when I hit him, she thought.

Him …

His blood saturated the front of her pyjamas. The warm, coppery stench of it made Rose feel sick.  Fighting back the urge to vomit, she turned to face the man on her bed.

Her eyes widened in shock, but somehow, she didn’t scream.

Henry? What the hell?!

****

Her husband’s eyes were already glassy; his usually ruddy complexion grey.  His fingers were slipping from the gash in his neck, and the gurgling quickly became a death rattle. Not knowing very much about human anatomy, she was amazed – and repulsed – by how much blood there was.  It seemed to be everywhere. All over Henry, as well as herself, but still more on the bed and as she glanced around she noted splatter on the curtains and in the daggy shagpile carpet she’d always meant to pull up.

Must have hit an artery, she thought. Jesus Christ!

The full weight of what she’d done began to hit her. Her chest tightened. Suddenly, the air in the room seemed dreadfully thin (not to mention rank with the odour of blood). Gasping, Rose heard a voice in her head that was not her own.

Slow down. Take it easy. Long, slow breaths. Good girl.

She felt – or imagined she felt – the gentle pressure of a hand on her shoulder. Not her husband’s. No, Henry’s were very rarely gentle.

Paul’s.

It was as if he was right there, in the room with her. She felt comforted by that. She felt sure he’d know what to do in a situation like this.

Bloody hell, what are you thinking? You can’t call him!

But that seemed to be exactly what she was doing. Rising from the edge of the bed, she moved zombie-like around the tableau of death that had once been her queen-sized, pillow-top mattress, and headed for the cordless phone on Henry’s side of the bed.

‘Paul? I’ve done something … bad. Really, really bad.’

‘Rose? Is that you? Where are you?’ His voice sounded muffled. Probably because you just woke him up, you damn fool. This time the no-nonsense voice in her head was her own.

‘I’m at home,’ she told him. ‘I’m in my bedroom. With Henry.’

‘Uh Rose? A little too much information there, if you know what I mean.’

Rose felt her cheeks grow hot. ‘What? Uh … I just … well, he was …’

‘I’m kidding, Rose. It was a joke.’

A joke? Rose thought. He’s joking at a time like this?

‘Rose, are you still there?’

‘Yes.’  Rose sank to the blood-mottled carpet, clutching the phone like it was a flotation device.

‘You sound funny. You’re not going to faint, are you?’

‘I don’t think so.’

‘Are you sitting down?’

‘Yes.’

‘Good. Now, what happened?’

‘H-he … he tried to kill me. I woke up … and he had his hands around my neck. But I didn’t know it was him at the time. He’s supposed to be at work. I thought it was an intruder.’

‘What did you do, Rose?’ He didn’t sound shocked. Rather, it seemed as if he almost expected the news. But that’s crazy, Rose thought. Or is it? He never liked Henry. He always said that one day Henry might go too far … And look. He was right.

‘I stabbed him,’ Rose told him, her voice croaking, and coughed to clear it. ‘I killed him.’

‘Rose, why are you calling me? You have to call the police. If he was trying to strangle you, that’s self-defence. But if they check your phone records – and they will, because it’s routine – They’ll know you called me first. That’ll look suspicious. Hang up, and call the police, Rose.’

‘Okay, I will.’

‘Good girl. Oh … and Rose?’

‘Yeah?’

‘Are you okay?’

She could almost see him, just as he’d looked earlier that day, after a matinee performance that didn’t go quite the way he’d hoped. His dark hair had been slightly mussed – probably from running his hands through it – and his wire-rim glasses crooked. Not that he’d have them on in the middle of the night, but Rose liked to imagine him wearing them. It was oddly comforting.

‘Yeah… yeah, I’m okay.’

‘Great, that’s really good to hear. Now call the police.’

Rose did as she was told. Her voice sounded hollow as she explained to the dispatcher what had happened. They promised to send a car around ASAP. Hanging up, Rose headed for the bathroom, and leaning over the basin, brought up what was left of dinner.

Coughing and spluttering, she splashed her face with cold water. Blood and vomit mixed as they circled the drain. Her pyjama top stuck to her skin and she pulled it away, grimacing.  The thick, viscous blood was already drying and had a cloying smell that was causing her stomach to convulse again.  She’d have torn it off and burned the damn thing if it wasn’t considered destroying evidence. The tips of her auburn hair were streaked with gore.

That she could at least do something about, couldn’t she?

Rose leaned over the basin again and rinsed the ends of her hair until the water ran clear; then wrung them dry. That done, she reached up and tucked a strand behind her ear – and was automatically thrown back to earlier in the day, when Paul had done the same thing.

****

Not normally one to chastise someone for bad behaviour – especially not her boss – Rose nevertheless had to know why he’d played God with the contestants on his show. One poor guy, when instructed to kiss someone he fancied, had walked into the audience and locked lips – not with his girl, but with the girlfriend of his best friend. Fisticuffs ensued and security had to pull the former friends apart. A friendship was probably ruined, and all because Paul thought it would be fun to mess with his hypnotic subjects in a way he never had, previously.

‘I mean, it’s not as if the show was losing steam,’ she’d pointed out. ‘Just the opposite – we’re getting bigger crowds every time. So why play with people? I mean, obviously that’s what the show is about … but you crossed a line, Paul.  You were never mean, before.’

‘You’re right. It was wrong of me,’ Paul eventually admitted. ‘I don’t know what I was doing…’ He shrugged and bit his lip. ‘Maybe you can chalk it up to over-confidence. I got cocky, that’s all.’

She’d managed a weak smile. ‘You’re good at what you do. You don’t have to show off.’

Paul had noticed something then, and had taken a step closer. Reaching out, he pushed her hair behind her ear. ‘And you’re getting better at covering up for him… but I can still see it. When did he do this?’ Paul’s fingertips grazed the bruise on her cheekbone, carefully camouflaged with copious layers of foundation. Or so she’d thought. Rose flinched.

‘I don’t know… Yesterday?’

‘You can’t remember when? It’s getting that common?’

Rose felt a flash of irritation. ‘It’s none of your business.’

Paul frowned. ‘Probably not, but … I care about you, Rose.’

‘I know. I’m sorry.’

‘Don’t apologise. You have nothing to be sorry about. He’ll be sorry, when I catch up with him.’

‘Oh, please, Paul… Don’t do anything. You’ll just make matters worse,’ she pleaded. ‘I can handle him.’

He rolled his eyes. ‘Clearly.’

‘Please?’

He sighed. ‘All right. For now. But if he hits you again, I’m not making any promises.’

‘I can live with that.’

‘I hope so.’  He reached out again, this time lifting her chin so she’d have to meet his eyes. ‘You’re too good for him. You know that, don’t you?’

She opened her mouth to say something (she wasn’t sure exactly what; probably something self-deprecating, under the circumstances) but was interrupted by none other than the object of their mutual contempt.

‘Rosie! Oh, there you are. What the hell’s taking so long?’ Henry spotted Paul, and his top lip curled, baring his teeth like a dog when it’s threatened.

‘Oh… It’s you.’

Paul’s arm dropped.  He took a step back. ‘Yeah, I’m sorry to keep your wife late. We just had some stuff to discuss.’ Paul faced Henry down directly. ‘Strictly shop-talk, I assure you.’

Henry regarded Paul with suspicion, but said nothing. Instead he draped a possessive arm over his wife’s slim shoulders. ‘Let’s go, Rosie.’

The moment they were out in the carpark – and conveniently out of earshot – Henry stopped just short of his car and turned Rose toward him, gripping her upper arms so tightly Rose knew she’d have bruises the next day.

His eyes were narrowed, making them even smaller than usual, and his jaw clenched. ‘I don’t like you working for him, Rosie. I don’t trust him.’

Why? Rose had wondered silently. Is it possibly because he’s younger, fitter and better-looking? Or because he’s smarter than you could ever hope to be? He’s already got you figured out.

Rose shrugged. ‘Well, there’s the mortgage, so … I don’t have much choice. Anyway, he’s harmless.’

‘Harmless, my arse! Henry scoffed. ‘He’s a hypnotist. He manipulates people for a living. You could get a job as a stage manager anywhere you wanted. What about the theatre?’

Yeah, what about the theatre, Rose thought. Plenty of guys there who won’t try to hit on me!

But of course she never availed him of her private thoughts. To do that would be inviting more trouble than they were worth. Or maybe I’m just as much of a coward as he is, she conceded. Yeah, that’s probably it.

‘Well?’ His grip on her arms got tighter.

‘Well what?’

Henry sighed and rolled his eyes. ‘What about getting another job?’

Rose had stared at her husband with a mixture of disbelief … and something akin to hatred. It was on the tip of her tongue to ask, well, why don’t you get another job? But again, that would earn his wrath.

‘I’ll start looking,’ she said, to shut him up. Not that she had any intention of actually sticking to her word.

‘Good’ he’d said, and that had been the end of that.

Now, as it turned out, it really was the end of that. The end of coming home and wondering what mood Henry would be in; the end of those humiliating visits to the emergency department where she could practically read the minds of the triage staff who attended her broken body and spirit. Yes, there would be no more of that.

Rose found herself standing just a little bit taller at the thought.

Is that cold? She wondered.  To be relieved – no, glad that he’s dead? He’s my husband. I ought to at least be in shock.

Right?

****

The doorbell rang.  The homicide detectives standing on her front porch were in their late thirties or early forties, and looked about as world-weary as Rose felt right at that moment. They introduced themselves, but she knew she’d never remember their names.

Rose led the plain-clothed officers upstairs calmly; as if she were merely reporting a burglary instead of a homicide. As the female detective entered the bedroom, her eyes were drawn downward by a flashing screen.

‘Is this your phone?’ she asked, bending down to pick it up. She held it out so Rose could see it.

Rose shook her head. ‘No, it’s my husband’s. He must have dropped it on the way in…’

On the way in to kill me.

‘So, explain to me how this went down?’ the male detective asked, hands on hips as he surveyed the scene of the crime.

‘I woke up to his hands around my neck. It was dark, so I didn’t realise it was him. He was supposed to be at work. I thought it was an intruder. So I stabbed him.’

‘And do you usually keep a knife in your bedroom?’

Rose shrugged. How can I tell them I keep it there in case of Henry?

‘I guess.’ She watched as he pulled a small notebook out of his blazer pocket and started to scribble some notes.  ‘I mean, I’m home alone a lot, so…’ She let her voice trail off.

‘How would you categorize your marriage, Mrs Walker?’ This was from the female detective, still busy with Henry’s phone.

Rose felt a growing sense of unease.

‘Huh?’

‘Did you have a good marriage?’

‘No. Not really. I mean … Henry could be … difficult at times.’

‘Meaning he had a temper?’

‘Why do you say that?’ Rose asked, defensively.

‘The bruise on your cheek speaks volumes.’

Rose’s hand went to her face as an almost reflexive action. She opened her mouth to trot out one of the customary responses, but nothing came out. No more, said that voice in her head. No more making excuses for him.

The female detective keyed a command into the phone. ‘There’s a message on his voicemail from an unlisted number.  Let’s see who it is, shall we?’

‘Hi, this is Henry Walker. Leave a message.’

Paul’s voice filled the room. ‘Henry. Get to work.’

Get to work. It was one of Paul’s hypnotic trigger-phrases.

There you go, Paul, playing God again, Rose thought; her legs giving way under her.

You bastard! How could you do that to me?!

‘Mrs. Walker, are you okay?  Who’s Paul?’

THE END

Water Baby

This story was written as a creative piece of work to be added to a slush pile for my third year anthology class. It was chosen by a group from Deakin University to publish in their anthology entitled “Flow: Where the water flows, the story goes” as obviously, the overarching theme for the assessment was “Water”.   It received a 77.5% final mark as an individual piece (a distinction). 

Content warning: suicide

You were our only child. Mild and bright-eyed, you stared at us from your humidi-crib, six weeks premature but as alert as if you were full-term.  They warned us about learning disabilities, cognitive problems, and possible stunted growth. We never saw any of that in you. You shot up like a proverbial beanstalk, and no one could put food away like you. Your father and I used to wonder where it went – you were always so tall and skinny.

As a child you’d rescue birds that had fallen out of their nests, and if we’d let you, you’d have brought every stray animal home. Always dressed in baggy, shapeless clothing, no one could have guessed the truth – that you weren’t a tomboy at all.

I walk over to the wardrobe and stand in front of it, wracked with indecision. Finally, I pull out your favourite black, long-sleeved shirt.  The pants I choose are charcoal grey. I lay the clothes on the bed and turn towards the window. It’s stuffy in here, but then the window hasn’t been open for a while. I force myself to cross the room and change something about it for the first time in over a week. A slight breeze blows in, but not strong enough to disturb the papers on your desk or the dreamcatcher hanging from the bedpost. Still, I shiver.

The corkboard over the desk catches my eye. There you are, in a photo with friends at a school camp. Year 8, I think. You look distant; distracted. Your dark hair is much shorter in this photo than in some of the others, and of course you’re not smiling. We could never get you to smile for the cameras. If we’d known then what we know now… well, you can’t go back and change things, no matter how much you wish you could.

Another photo shows you in your element; swinging on a rope over the waterhole down the road from our house. You were always such a daredevil. We were forever warning you to be careful and to not just drop into the water – you never know what’s on the bottom. Growing up, you would launch yourself off the boulder and swing into the middle of the pond before letting go; creating an almighty splash that would spray your friends, who were sunbathing on the rocks. But you never joined them. Traditional girls’ bathers, along with getting a tan, were never really your thing.

***

You officially ‘came out’ to us when you were fourteen, in Year 9. You sat both of us down and laughed, nervously.

‘Now, don’t freak out,’ you said, ‘but I’ve got something to tell you.’

‘You’re gay?’ Your dad guessed.

‘Nope.’

‘You’re a Young Liberal?’

I sighed, and tried not to chuckle at your father’s irreverent, and often ill-timed sense of humour.

‘Ben, let her finish.’

You chewed your bottom lip, before deciding to just spit it out. ‘I … I think I was born in the wrong body.  I’m transgender. I should have been a boy.’

Your dad didn’t miss a beat.

‘Well, d’uh.’

I smiled, weakly. It wasn’t the huge bombshell you thought it would be, but it still hurt. It sounds ridiculous and irrational to me now, but back then it felt like a rejection of the shared genes we’d given you. I think I kept my pain fairly well-hidden, even after you told us that you intended to live as a male from that point on.

I hugged you, saying ‘you know that we support you one-hundred-percent in anything you decide to do.’

‘I know, Mum. Thank you,’ you’d said. I could hear the relief in your voice. ‘I love you, both of you.’

‘We love you, too, Ste …’ I stopped short. ‘Have you thought about what you want us to call you? It obviously can’t be Stella anymore.’

‘Steven,’ you decided. ‘That way, it’s not so different, is it?’

No, I thought. Not so different at all.

***

Back at the wardrobe, I run my hand across the row of jeans and shirts. Black, black, purple, red, black, grey and wow – a stray white shirt!  I remember this shirt. You wore it to your very first job interview, and you were so beset with nerves that you couldn’t do up the buttons. I had to help you. You didn’t get that job, but you did get the one at the local vintage music shop, For the Record, a couple of months later. They were a very progressive employer. They even allowed you to put your preferred name on your nametag. You loved that job.  I wish you could have stayed there, but life had other plans …

You came home from work one evening in a state, trembling, jaw-clenched and ashen-faced. When I asked you to help get ready for dinner, you dumped the cutlery in the middle of the table and made a show of slamming kitchen doors until I asked what was wrong.

‘It’s that douche Carl again,’ you replied. ‘He’s always so condescending. He never uses the proper pronouns, and refuses to call me Steve, or Steven!’

‘Stevie,’ I said, ‘talk to your bosses about it. That’s bullying, and it’s against the law. He needs to realise it’s not acceptable.’

‘I don’t want to dob…’ you started to say.

‘It’s not dobbing. If you want his behaviour to change, either tell him that what he’s doing is wrong, or go to your supervisor. You said they are really supportive, right?’

‘Yeah,’ you sighed. ‘I don’t know… I’m just so sick of the stares! I always feel like people are talking behind my back!  Not at work so much, except for Carl – but everywhere else. I wish I could get the hormone treatment without having to go to court!  It’s bullshit! I hate the laws in this country!’ You kicked the bottom of the kitchen cabinet in frustration. The scuff mark is still visible. I won’t paint over it.

The situation at work came to a head when Carl deliberately mis-gendered you in front of a customer. Bristling with anger, you followed him back to the storeroom and confronted him. When he made a remark about not wanting to hit a girl, you lost it, and gave him your best left hook, breaking his nose. You were fired on the spot.

You didn’t want to hang around the house that day. You grabbed your rash shirt and board shorts and headed for the waterhole. It was one of the only places you felt you could let off steam. On that day, it had been raining; bucketing down. Not really waterhole weather.  I started to call out for you to be careful, but you’d already disappeared down the sodden gravel driveway.

I remember making your favorite that night – lasagna. It always takes a long time to prepare and cook, but I didn’t mind.  It felt like the only thing I could do.  I can’t make the laws change faster.  Truthfully, I was still getting over the fact that I gave birth to a little girl, and wound up with a teenage son. Personality-wise, you were the same: quiet, kind-hearted and generous. That much never changed.  But trying to explain the situation to family members who didn’t understand why you were Steven instead of Stella was… an experience.

Your Great-Aunt Rachel was the worst. She just could not get it through her head that you were a boy born in a girl’s body. She had the nerve to refer to it as a ‘lifestyle choice’, like you’d woken up one day and decided to switch genders for shits and giggles.

The lasagne was done before you were finished at the waterhole. I checked the time – it was almost seven, and had started to get dark. I switched off the oven and slammed the metal tray on the counter, tossing the oven mitts aside as my irritation grew.

Where are you? I thought. You know it’s a rule in this house that you get home before dark!

 I called to your father and asked him to walk down the road to let you know dinner was ready. He rose, begrudgingly, from his armchair and tugged on his work boots at the front door.

I went back to serving up the lasagne, fully expecting both my boys back home for dinner. But when half an hour passed without word, I forgot dinner and began frantically texting your father.

No answer.

When I finally heard the front door squeal on its hinges, I raced for the foyer.

He was alone.

‘So, where is he?’

He brushed past me heading for the lounge room, trailing mud through the house.

‘Bron, I … I think you’d better sit down.’ His expression was unreadable.

‘What? Why? Ben, you’re scaring me.’

‘Just sit down.’

At that moment, I think I knew. Don’t ask me how. A mother knows.

I barely heard his next few words. There was something about a rope; and then ‘too late’ and ‘gone.’ All I remember was a pain so visceral that I’d rather go through childbirth than suffer that again. I think I screamed. I know I passed out.

***

My brain still refuses to accept it, a week later, as I fold your shirt and pants and put them into a bag for the undertaker.  Stopping at the supermarket on the way back from the funeral home, I run into a group of kids you hung out with at school. They spot me and say hello, but their voices are subdued and they can’t make eye-contact.  I know they feel awkward around me and I wish I knew how to tell them they don’t have to be. Instead, I wrack my brain for an ice-breaker.

‘The funeral’s tomorrow, you know,’ I remind them. ‘I really hope you can make it.’

They nod and assure me that they will, but I don’t know. I have been in a daze since, and get home from shopping to find that I’ve bought four tubs of margarine and a packet of peppercorns, even though our grinder is broken.

I’ve been doing that a lot, spacing out. Most of the time I feel like I’m on autopilot, and then other times I know I’m in denial. I keep setting the table for three; keep calling for you to get up in the morning… and then I stop myself. Last night your dad didn’t come to bed. I think he was up all night, in his study.  He’s not a public crier. That’s why he’s the perfect person to do the eulogy tomorrow. I know you probably wanted me to say something but I can’t.  I just can’t. I’m sure you’d understand.  Of course you’d understand. You were the one person who understood me. And I like to believe that I understood you, too.

On TV and in the movies, it’s always raining when you bury someone you love. It’s become such a cliché that it’s considered a trope. But the morning of your funeral dawns bright and sunny. The sun is practically beating down on our heads as we leave the funeral parlor for the cemetery.  The sad, plodding melody of one of your favorite songs plays as the pallbearers load your casket into the back of the hearse.  I know I’m never going to be able to listen to that song again, but the words are so poignant, and so you.  When I finally ventured into your room after you died, I found a verse from the song tacked to your cork-board. Two lines stood out to me:

And I find it kind of funny, I find it kind of sad

The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had

 Was it a suicide note? I guess we will never know.  You were always trying to make sense of a world that couldn’t accept you for who you were.

Rest in peace now, my darling; my Water Baby.

Behind Closed Doors

This piece has been chosen to be published in Deakin University’s Verandah journal v.32 due out later this year.  It will be available in either print and epub version or just the ebook depending on edits required.  Woo-hoo, can finally call myself a published author. Go me.  Not only that but it’s been chosen as the recipient of the Deakin Literary Award for best piece by a student in the issue this year! (2007). Go me. 

 

‘It was a balmy afternoon in mid-January. Just before the heat of summer really takes hold. We were invited to a pool party at the house of one of my cousins.  Richard was being his charming self. My family – well, most of my family – were impressed. I’d finally landed somebody ‘worthwhile,’ as if my previous boyfriends hadn’t cut the mustard because they didn’t make six figures. But that was my family and I’d grown resigned to it.

‘Anyway, we were having a dip in the pool before dinner when it happened. For no reason at all, my fiancé decided it would be funny to hold my head underwater. He was a strong man, too. Fit from years of cycling and going to the gym before work. I tried to swim out from under his hand but he pushed down on my shoulder as well. My lungs were starting to burn, because I hadn’t taken a very big breath before going under. I heard echo-y sounds of laughter – his laughter – and other voices, but I couldn’t make out what they were saying. I clawed at Richard’s chest and shoulders until he had to let me go.

‘It was such a relief to fill my lungs with oxygen. I backed away from him, hurt; unable to believe he’d do something like that. He didn’t think it was a big deal. Actually, he thought it was hilarious, even given the fact that I’d told him about the time I nearly drowned when I was five. It was why I tend to stay close to the side of the pool in deep water, and why I never go swimming at the beach.’

‘Tell me about that,’ the doctor said, looking up from his notes.

I shrugged. ‘I barely remember it, really.  I was standing on the wet sand, and I liked the way the water rushed forward around my ankles, sucking the sand from under my feet, so I kept walking forward. My father and brother were playing cricket further up the beach and my mother was in her deck chair, reading Peyton Place. I guess she thought my father would be keeping an eye on me, if she thought about me at all.  Next thing I knew I was in water up to my hips and the breaking waves were very strong. I was only little. I couldn’t keep my feet and wound up falling on my bum. The waves kept crashing over my head, and every time I tried to stand up one would knock me over again. I felt like I was in a washing machine.’

‘Sounds like you remember it just fine,’ Dr Burroughs observed. ‘Go on.’

I took a deep breath, as if I was worried that just by recalling the memory I’d run out of air. ‘Anyway, the pain was crushing, like somebody was standing on my chest. And then it wasn’t. Suddenly everything was calm. I opened my eyes and could see underwater.  Not that there was much to see. A bit of litter: a Coke can; a flattened cigarette packet. Shells, seaweed, pebbles … anyway, it was very peaceful. I often wonder whether it was some kind of self-defence mechanism on my brain’s part, or whether I was actually dead. Next thing I knew I was on the beach, laying on my side. My father was slapping my back to get the water out of my lungs. My mother was having a panic attack. Or putting one on. I never could tell with her. My father actually yelled at her to get herself together and pack up our stuff, they were taking me to the hospital. I’d never heard him raise his voice like that before.’

I stood up and walked toward the aquarium built into the wall across from where I’d been sitting. It was a beautiful room, as shrinks’ offices go. Not that I’d been in that many. But it had an old world charm, like a study or library in a grand old mansion, with bookcases set into one wall and the aforementioned tank in another.

It was not at all like the cold, clinical rooms of my previous doctor. I couldn’t venture toward the floor-to-ceiling windows there without feeling an acute sense of vertigo.

‘Go on,’ he repeated.

‘I know what you’re going to say,’ I said, finally.

‘Really?’ he asked, with a chuckle. ‘What am I going to say?’

‘That my childhood in an emotionally stunted household led me to choose the man I’d eventually marry. I’ve heard all the theories. “People who grow up around abuse or neglect never know any different. It’s a vicious cycle. Blah, blah, blah”.’  I stared into his aquarium, transfixed by the tiny electric-blue and neon-yellow fish darting around the plant fronds and various other decorations.

‘There’s more than an element of truth to that. Evidence backs it up.’

‘So I’m predisposed to choose abusive relationships over healthy ones. Is that what you’re saying?’

‘You can break out of that cycle, Sylvia. You just have to work on your self-esteem. It’s that – or the lack thereof – that stands in the way of meeting someone worthy of you.’

Worthy of me. Someone that was worthy of me; not the other way around. The concept was alien. I’d been brought up to believe that that my husband would choose me and I’d have to prove myself a good wife. Something I clearly hadn’t managed to get the hang of or I wouldn’t be here, in this beautiful, stately old room talking to a virtual stranger about things I would never bring up in polite company.

‘I can see you’re having trouble with that idea.’

How did he manage to get inside my head like that?!  I turned toward my newest headshrinker. He wasn’t like the rest. That should have been a clue that perhaps this time things might be different. He was younger than myself, possibly mid-forties, and had a quirky way of dressing that I picked up on – and liked – right away. His purple paisley tie matched his socks. Black suspenders held up his charcoal pants, and the sleeves of his white business shirt were rolled up to just below his elbows. When I’d entered the room, he had his feet up on his desk and was chewing the end of a pencil. Now he was swinging in his leather swivel chair like a teenager bored in class.

‘Let’s just say I wasn’t exactly praised and put on a pedestal when I was growing up. I always felt as if I had to earn my parents’ love.  Dad would have been happy if I’d gone to university but Mum wanted both my brother and me out of the house at eighteen. I was expected to get married and have babies. So at least I satisfied that requirement, even if it was almost a decade later than she would have liked.’

‘Tell me more about this Richard. When did the abuse start?’

I watched a large tropical goldfish chase a smaller version of itself around a clump of reeds in the huge tank. ‘My husband had a fish tank,’ I told Burroughs. ‘But he only had a couple of fish in it. And it wasn’t fixed into the wall.’ I knew I was procrastinating, avoiding answering the question, but I couldn’t help it.

Thankfully, he played along. ‘What kind of fish?’

‘Sharks. Small ones, obviously. Don’t even ask me what breed. They just looked like miniature versions of the Great White in Jaws. When he’d feed them their cubes of meat they’d rush to the top of the tank. I was waiting for the day they’d take his fingers off in the process, they were so grabby!’

‘All right, so, apart from the sharks – which tell me more about your husband than you’d think – what was he like?’

I sighed. I knew he’d get to that but I’d wanted to put it off as long as possible. ‘Charming on the surface, I suppose. He was good-looking – everybody said so – and I always felt like they wondered why he picked me. I mean, I’m no Angelina Jolie, let’s face it.’

Burroughs laughed. ‘Neither is roughly 99.99% of the population, but do continue.’

‘Anyway, he was tall – six two in bare feet – and strong. From good stock, my grandmother used to say. Physical stock, that is. The personality left a bit to be desired, as I soon found out. Almost before we were married he was belittling me in front of his friends. He didn’t try it in front of mine, though, which is probably why he accepted a transfer and we moved to Geelong after the wedding. It was his attempt to isolate me, and it worked.  I saw less and less of my friends and had almost no support network when I had my son. My mother wasn’t going to commute back and forth so she was useless. Dad hated Richard from the word go. So unless I called them to talk to them, I was all by myself.’

‘That’s a major red flag, right there. Abusers always try to isolate their victims, whether by distance or by controlling their movements, not allowing them to visit friends and family and so on.’

‘I know. Believe me, I’ve read all the books. I even read Fifty Shades of Grey. I guess I was curious, because one of my friends said Richard reminded her of Christian Grey. But it triggered me too much, so I stopped.’

‘What part of it triggered you, specifically?’ I could see his reflection in the glass of the tank. He’d stopped swinging in his swivel chair. I guess I’d won his attention.

‘How he tried to control everything she did, even before she signed any contract. Everything had to be his way. It was the same with Richard.  I had to look the way he wanted, dress the way he wanted … hell, I even had to like the same music! I remember thinking that if I was so woefully inadequate; that if I had to change so drastically to be the woman he wanted, why on earth did he pick me?’

‘Because guys like him almost have a kind of radar for people who they think they can manipulate. This is my theory, anyway. It’s in the body language. For instance, look at how you’re standing, now.’

Almost instantly I corrected my posture. Removed the slump in my shoulders; lifted my chin.  My reflection in the fish tank looked several kilos lighter, instantly. Burroughs chuckled. ‘See, that’s better. Your husband would never have zeroed in on a woman who looked like she was going places. He needed someone who needed him, in all ways you can need somebody.  So … I only got the Reader’s Digest version of how you came to be here. Care to fill me in?’

I swallowed but my mouth was bone dry. ‘Believe it or not, I didn’t get the right potatoes for a recipe he liked. The waxy ones don’t mash properly, he said. Called me a fucking idiot and said I was good for nothing. Well, I’d had enough. I’d already had a terrible day, although I won’t get into that. I just was in no mood to put up with his trivial, controlling shit. And it was always trivial. Anyway, he’d tired of me. He’d turned to his beloved fish, as he always did.’

I was shaking by now; literally trembling at the memory. I had to take a breath to try to calm myself down. ‘Normally I would have meekly turned and gone back to the shops to get the right potatoes, but on this day I stood firm. I don’t know why. My mood, maybe? Whatever it was, it took control.

Made me pick up the ridiculously heavy ornament on our coffee table, walk over to Richard, who was feeding the fish, and hit him in the back of the head, as hard as I could. I’m not that strong but I think my anger and adrenaline must have kicked in, because I damn near caved his head in. He slumped forward, his face in the tank. I don’t know if he was dead at that point, but I sort of hope so, because the water turned red real fast. The sharks literally tore his face off.’

I turned to my psychiatrist. ‘I think our hour is over. May I go back to my room, now?’

The Stowaway

This story was conceived as a creative work based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula, written during my second year of my writing degree. It received a high distinction (86%) for my Genres: Horror to Romance unit. 

Captain’s Log 16th July

The woman has to go. I told the crew thus; though they would not listen to me. The First Mate has taken a liking to her. He will not hear any disparaging remarks about her. This is strange, as he is one of the most superstitious men on board. When she was found amongst the cargo on the second day since setting out from Varna, I reminded my crew that women are traditionally bad luck for men and boats, citing instances where ships with women aboard have run aground, sank, or went missing. At this she said nothing, only glaring at me with her strange dark, almost beady eyes. The eyes of a basilisk, I imagined. I half expected her to hiss at me.

But despite my misgivings, the woman remained. Uneasy about this, I tried to keep her in sight as much as possible until we reached the next port, at which I would insist she disembark. This proved difficult, as she and the First Mate would disappear together for hours at a time, after which he would reappear looking like the cat that got the cream. When I reminded him of his duties, he merely brushed me off, as if my title of captain of this ship no longer meant anything to him.

Yes, the woman had to go.

18th July

A storm whipped the sails and threw the ship fore and aft, so we needed all hands on deck. I gave the woman, whose name was Abigail, the task of ship cook. She didn’t take too kindly to that, and it appears that she has never set foot in a kitchen before, as the fare she offered us was stodgy, half-cold, tasteless porridge. Slamming my bowl down on the table in front of me, she flipped a curtain of blonde curls over her thin shoulder and muttered something in her native language, which sounded vaguely Scandinavian to my well-travelled ears.

‘What was that?’ I asked, grabbing her by the wrist.

She in turn grasped my wrist in a vice-like manner, forcing my fingers open. Her strength astounded me. A couple of the crew who were in attendance rose, presumably to help me, but with a single glance from Abigail, sat back down, watching the scene with unease clear on their faces. I winced, and she let go.

‘You will eat,’ she demanded, pointing at the bowl before me. ‘Captain needs to keep his strength up.’

 

19th July

Petrofsky is missing. The crew searched the boat from bow to stern, and nothing. The wind was icy fierce, and words were whipped from our mouths and thrown out to sea so nods and frowns had to suffice. But I couldn’t ignore the feeling of foreboding hanging over the ship.

Abigail and the First Mate are by now inseparable. At supper last night she sat so close to him that a deckhand joked ‘Are you going to cut his meat for him, too?’ receiving a fearsome glare for his troubles. Everyone else laughed, but I was too distracted by the disappearance of Petrofsky to join in their mirth. Had he fallen overboard? In this weather, even if he’d called out for help we wouldn’t have heard him.

 

24th July

Morale desperately low. Petrofsky still missing. Another deck hand, Stan, is found in his bunk, deathly pale and delirious; rambling about bats and wolves. The ship’s doctor gave him a tonic to help him sleep and recover. As he turned his head and drifted off into a fretful sleep, I noticed twin holes in his throat. The doctor was dumbfounded, admitting to not having a clue what had befallen the young man. ‘He seems to have been bitten by something,’ was his only attempt at a diagnosis.

I take my turn to steer the ship later in the evening. The wind had died down and the lapping of the water against the sides of the boat was almost a lullaby. I began to feel weary – weary of mind as well as body. This trip was taking far longer than it needed to. Or was I so anxious to relieve the ship of Abigail and her paramour that arrival at Biscay Bay couldn’t come soon enough?

Sighing, I gazed out over the water, still for the first time and silver in the moonlight. I was so deep in thought that I didn’t react to the creak in the floorboards behind me until it was almost too late.

Spinning around, I spotted a shape bound toward me in the dark. All I saw for sure were its red eyes, which glowed in the dark like twin flames. I froze in terror, unable to find my voice to alert the others as it loped closer, on all fours. Suddenly Stan’s words came back to me. A wolf – how on earth did a wolf come to be on my ship?!

Just as suddenly as the wolf had appeared, Abigail was behind it, holding a sword aloft. She looked beautiful and regal even as the blade cut a swathe through the night air, separating the wolf’s head from its body and drenching her in its blood. The wolf’s head hit the deck with a hideous squelching noise, and rolled toward her feet.

She dropped the sword and hefted the wolf’s head by a single ear. Before I could utter a word of gratitude, she turned and flung the beastly object overboard. The splash seemed terribly loud considering how high above the water we were.

The wolf’s body lay at our feet. Blood stained the foredeck. I gagged, spun around and brought up my dinner. When I recovered, Abigail stood resolute.

‘We must get rid of the body,’ she said, in her strange accent. ‘I am strong, but not strong enough to heave it over the edge of the boat. You must help me.’

‘What ARE you?’ I asked. I had to know.                                                                                                              ‘I am a hunter,’ she told me. ‘My name is Abigail Van Helsing. I have been after Count Dracula for a long time. When I heard he was sending cargo to London I guessed what he was planning. I had to get to him before he reached the mainland. I tried to open the crates but it would have taken the strength of ten men. So I had to wait and see if he got hungry while still on the ship. Luckily for me, he did.’

Suffice to say, I no longer believe it is bad luck to have a woman on board any ship I helm.

13 Miller’s Court

One of my first pieces, written for Writing Craft in first year. Don’t ask me what I got for it, I don’t remember although I think it was a mark in early-to-mid ’70’s range. 

Content warning: murder, gore. 

It was a tiny room, even by the standards of the day.  Dark, dingy; with peeling gold embossed wallpaper and flaking beige paint on the door and window trims.  There was a pervading smell of rising damp beneath various other more obvious odors, the evidence of which you could see starting to seep through the pattern on the wallpaper, appearing as several darker gold patches here and there, around waist level.

The window treatment was a light, wispy scrap of patterned lace, fraying terribly at the hem. The single pane of glass had been broken recently during a loud argument between the tenants, and the landlord hadn’t gotten around to replacing it. Or more likely, the tenants hadn’t been able to afford to pay to have it fixed.  That was the way of things here, at the poorer end of town.

As was also the way of things, outside, the world went on as if nothing had happened – at this time of the morning, the milkman was making his rounds, the sound of glass bottles clinking together as he deposited them on each doorstep.  Wives bid goodbye to husbands as they set off for work. A dog barked in a yard somewhere close by.

Inside the tiny room, none of that mattered.

She lay on the bed facing the door. Her left arm lay by her side, the forearm resting across her torso. Or what was left of it. Her killer had hollowed her out, arranging the viscera around the room like a series of grotesque exhibits. Most notably, a breast appeared nailed to the wall.

What the killer was going for there was beyond the imagination of normal, sane people. Perhaps it was his idea of art? The inspector in charge of the scene didn’t want to guess.

The small black fireplace at the end of the room appeared to have been added as almost an afterthought, as the brick hearth didn’t match the gold wallpaper or the dark floorboards. Inside the mouth of the fireplace a black tin kettle hung from a hook. The fire had gone out sometime during the night, but the acrid sting of smoke was still perceptible provided you stood close enough. The lid of the kettle was missing. The Inspector leaned in; then took a step back, his face no longer an imperceptible mask of professionalism.

It contained a human heart.

Had the killer tried to cook it?

Had he intended to eat it?!

Whatever his motives, they were in vain, because the heart was at best, slightly singed. The Inspector remembered something he’d been told at the beginning of his career – the human heart is a muscle, very difficult to burn, as was discovered when Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. Reaching for his trusty notebook with a trembling hand, he quickly made a sketch of the scene in his own words.

When he was done, he tucked it back into his pocket and gulped down a mouthful of vomit. It wouldn’t do for his subordinates to see their fearless leader lose his breakfast.

It was obvious to him who’d done this.

‘Bloody Jack,’ he muttered. ‘I will discover you. I promise.’

 

All research on Jack the Ripper is from www.casebook.org , a site run by dedicated Ripperologists around the world, some of whom have published acclaimed books on the case.

 

Hello, out there!

Let me introduce myself. I’ve been writing for most of my life, and am completing my third year of a Bachelor of Arts in Professional and Creative Writing.  I’ve had a couple of things published: an article about Christmas in my local newspaper in my final year of high school and a story about my high school being demolished, which was published in an online journal, funnily enough, called Imagine.  I have created this blog as a means to publish stories and essays I’ve completed while at university as well as fan-fiction derived from TV shows, books and movies I enjoy. I will also strive to provide links for other emerging artists, including some authors who were involved in a group anthology project we recently completed. I may even, if I gain permission, post the anthology once it has passed the final marking stage.

My favorite topics to write about include murder, social justice issues such as criticisms of the Australian justice system and issues that effect the LGBT community, as I am the parent of a transgender teen, so I live this stuff every day.  Other subjects I intend to cover are: domestic violence, erotica, reviews of well-known books and movies and just general musings on the world and my place in it. So welcome to my writing space and feel free to comment or provide feedback on my posts.