Trigger warning: Pedophilia references.
I sit down at a blank screen, the cursor blinking like a tiny thing in a sea of white. I stare at it for some time, waiting – as I always do – for words to arrive, for a rhythm to set in, for a story to start writing itself. One-two, one-two the cursor blinks, and I stare out of the window in a different house, in a different life. The wind rustles the trees, the morning light pours into my favourite nook of the dining room and I wonder how to begin. All I see is the back of his slumped body walking out of our front door on the morning I ended our marriage. His shoulders are turned down in defeat. I didn’t have to see his face to know how mangled it was. He was wearing work clothes because that’s where he was going, and the sight of the pale blue shirt I had ironed hundreds of times before jars me — a strange token of normalcy on a day that was as far as any of us could get from anything typical. How could he be wearing something as normal as that shirt? My children called from the kitchen, above the banging of cupboards, the bickering of voices; What’s for breakfast? Can we have the juice in the fridge? Mum, where’s my blue plate? I watched him walk across our front verandah and begin to descend the front stairs – the shape of his body, the wisps of his long brown hair so fundamentally familiar to me. I should have cried, and months later, after the anger wore off, I did. But that hot morning in January I simply watched him go, then I turned around, walked into the kitchen and made my children breakfast.
She reminds me of a movie star as she sits in front of me, her long brown hair tumbling in waves over her shoulders. She’s a psychologist, my parents tell me, like I might know what that is. Apparently, this room and this chair and this picture frame of one lone palm tree are going to fix me. I assume they’ve told her the details because she doesn’t once ask about him, or it. Instead, she shows me a comic book about a monster called Fear – where he lives, what’s good about him, what’s bad. She talks to me as though I’m a child, which I admit I can’t begrudge her too much for, because that’s what I am. I begrudge her, still.
I read the comic, I fill in the worksheet, I nod along when she talks. I wonder why people hang lone palm trees from their walls. Do they look at it and wish they were there? What would be the point of that when they are here? She gives me her phone number and tells me I can call her at any time, especially at night when the fear monster visits me the most. I tell her I will but I know that I won’t. I think that the session might be over but there are more worksheets on fear monsters to hand me. One monster is green, peering out from behind the wardrobe door of a child’s bedroom. He has sharp teeth and I assume they were drawn that way to make him look scary but he doesn’t look scary to me. There are sentences with fill-in-the-blanks about the physical sensations of fear because the movie star lady tells me that naming fear is the first step to taming fear and I wonder if she feels clever that it rhymes. She probably does. I write the words “racy heartbeat” and “prickly skin” in the blank spaces and she murmurs “good” as I do. For a dark, split second I contemplate how amusing it would be to rip the lone palm tree off the wall and smash it into a million pieces by her black high heels. To ask if her if she knew what her uncle’s penis feels like as she rubs it. Tell her that she could shove her smug worksheets up her arse and talk to me when she had pictures of actual monsters to show me.
But I play the game as I’ve learned to do. I don’t let her in and I don’t let me out, confined within the bubble I live inside, one I put myself in long ago. There I lived, with the metallic smell and the secrets inside me and the poster of a Torana hanging from his wall every week when it happened and dirt that could never be scrubbed from the bottom of my skin. If I allowed myself the luxury, I’d sometimes look to the outside world where the other people lived, and I would fantatsize about how it would feel to be there. But I would shut it out quickly as the ache started to swell. I had an array of games I’d play inside my mind to stop the gaping feeling of aloneness from drowning me. My most regular game was imagining there was a camera following my every move, and someone who watched from behind the camera who was a nice person. God, perhaps. Just someone kind to witness me. But I would never step out of it, this bubble, because even though I was alone in there, always alone, at least I was safe.
Of course, the movie star lady would never know any of that because I would never tell her any of that. I would simply tell her what I had named my fear monster and that he lived in the ceiling above my bed. She seemed pleased with that answer.
We drive home in silence, my father and I, and I tell myself it’s because he doesn’t know what to do with me either. What was there to say? I clutch the worksheets in my hands and stare out the window. The sun is setting through the trees that whir past and, as if on cue, the rising dread starts forming in the pit of my stomach. Night time would be here soon. I look away and down at the worksheets. She has written her phone number at the top with her name next to it. Her handwriting is very childlike for a movie star and this strangely comforts me, as if she is a fraud too even though she pretends not to be with her high heeled shoes and her fancy office with the lone palm tree. I won’t call that number, not that night and not any night. The hours will unfold as they always unfold, with encroaching darkness, with me insisting my parents keep my bedroom door wide open and the television up loud and the lights in the hall on. That he’ll soon crawl out of the shadows, the fear monster, and start running his hands down my back, down my neck, down my thighs, that soon the house will be quiet and everyone will be asleep and no one will be there to save me, that I’ll clench my eyes shut but still his tongue will lap at me, that I’ll hurry down the hall into my brother’s room and creep into the spare bed of his bottom bunk, that in the dark I’d hear his faint snoring and I would cling to that noise to distract me from the high pitched scream between my ears, and the voice that would always come to me. You liked it, didn’t you? it said. You didn’t stop it and you didn’t want to. Clenched eyes. Darkness. Snoring. Where’s the snoring? Those magazines made you feel naughty, didn’t they? Stop. Stop it. And you like being naughty. No. Stop. Oh, now you want it to stop, you dirty piece of shit. Now you do? His yellow teeth snarl at me, spraying foul spit over my face. I lie under him in the darkness, silent and still, silent and still, silent and still, like I’ve always been right from the beginning. I try to cry as quietly as I can, so I don’t shake the bunk bed, so I don’t wake my brother, so he doesn’t tell me to leave.
Note: I have begun in earnest to write my first book. It is my hope that it will be published in April of next year but as my friend told me a couple of months ago, “It will take as long as it takes.” I’m sharing with you the first chapter here, which was the hardest to write, for many reasons. I will let you know when the pre-order of the book is available. As always, thanks for being here x