Week Sixteen Prompt: Reinventing the Wheel

An Alternate History of the Universe

It doesn’t end well, the story of you and your friend, so you rewrite it. This way, you get the ending where your heart doesn’t break; this way, you never have to write your friend’s eulogy, and the world is as it should be.

In your story, Switzerland isn't a place, and she never tries white water rafting. In your story, freak waves and capsized boats don’t exist.

You never receive a gasping-and-shaking call on a Monday morning; you never have the feeling you’ve been ripped up from the inside out. At no point do you yell at a florist for screwing up an arrangement, nor cradle her mum in your arms. There is no need for others to tell you to stay strong.

In your story, she was never dragged under the heartless river. You don’t lie awake and wondering at night, thinking about the water, or how scared she must have felt, or punish yourself for not seeing her off at the airport because you were sick. In your story, you are not numb, you don’t forget your mother’s birthday and there is no need for antidepressants. You never call her phone to hear her voicemail and you never, ever, stand at her grave and whisper ‘I miss you’, into the autumn wind.

The story you write has a different ending.

In your story, you take a trip to the coast together. The air is warm and salty; the sun drenches you both as the sand squirms between your toes. You daydream about Ryan Gosling and you fight over which flavor of Boost juice is the best. There is a sunset, and there is the drive home, and there is the promise of tomorrow.

In your story, tomorrow comes. 

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Week Six Prompt: Food Memory

She owned a sauce company – Mama Rosa’s sauce company, to be exact. Well, her dad owned it, but her dad was kind of a dropkick, so it was up to her to run the family business. I met her out one night – there was a bar, there was alcohol, and that meant the night could last forever. She had an accent. She was beautiful. I was horny. I liked the way she said my name (Siiiiimon) making me sound like someone you’d heard of before.  She liked the way I asked for her number.
I didn’t even wait three days to call. Her voice was even, unsurprised – as though this sort of thing happened to her all the time. I asked her to a movie – she had a different idea.
She taught me how to make pasta – the real kind, from scratch. The closest I’d come to this before was a packet of maggi noodles – I’m more a meat and three veg kind of guy. She showed me how to fold the dough, using a speck of water and a tiny bit of salt, mixing my hands in with hers, lightly touching me on the shoulder to show me what to do next. I learnt how to thread the pasta machine, big hands clumsy in their motions, more used to tossing a footy around then spinning dough, turning and turning like the gramophone my granddad used to have. The pasta didn’t play a tune, but she put the radio on and we danced to our own music anyway. We got flour in places people shouldn’t ever get flour. Weren’t we the cutest things you’d ever seen?
My first bite – the flavours knocked me for six; there were olives and mushrooms and basil and tomato, so much tomato I nearly couldn’t breathe, but it was the best kind of not being able to breathe in the world. Suffocatingly hot; it was delicious. With that bite, fork held up to my mouth, grinning at me wearing nothing but an apron, she ruined my mum’s cooking for me forever. 
She took me to restaurants – Italian, always Italian – she showed me how you knew the food was good before you’d even tasted it. She taught me about colour, she taught me about smell. She had this weird idea that everything you saw or smelled or touched or tasted was yours, your very own to keep, bottled up inside of you, locked up tight so that no one could get at it but you. I told her it wasn’t healthy to keep things bottled up inside of you, but she laughed at me. She laughed at me a lot, and I used to smile because I liked hearing her laugh.
“She’s passionate,” I said to Jason when he asked me why I liked her. He had this look on his face I couldn’t work out, but I didn’t have time. I was too busy confusing feeling scared with feeling invigorated. She was a volcano about to erupt, she was an avalanche the second before it begins, pulsating with a tensile energy I couldn’t get enough of. Sometimes, I used to just watch her, watch the way she did things. I saw the quiet tension that bubbled beneath her skin, the tiny expressions that crossed her face when something annoyed her. I used to imagine that all those bottles locked away inside of her were quietly simmering away; boiling over into everything she said and did. She didn’t like it when I watched her.
Sometimes she was exhausting – she’d had another fight with her dad, she’d gotten drunk or high or both and called me up. “Why can’t you come pick me up?” she’d say. “My dad’s kicked me out.” Never mind the fact it was 6 in the morning and I was already at work, picking up extra hours because she’d been sick the week before and had needed me. “You’re never there for me. And now you’re going away and I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
She moved in with me the week before I went on my trip. I had booked it months ago, before her, before the Italian and the best sex of my life. I was going with Jason, we’d been planning to get out of town for ages, go somewhere no one knew us and just chill out. “I don’t get it,” she’d say, and move to sit next to my roommates Dave and his girlfriend on my couch, trying to punish me for being neglectful.  Suddenly she was everywhere, in my kitchen, in my bathroom, in my bedroom, trying to make me stay. She cooked me a meal the night I left – lasagne – and there were candles and wine and she was wearing her apron. “I’m sorry for the way I’ve been acting. It’s just. You’re good for me, you know?” She looked up at me from her plate, tears in her eyes. “Sometimes I just get scared about what might happen if you’re not around.” I held her and told her not to worry, told her she was beautiful, told her everything was going to be okay. That night, sitting on the plane, I truly believed that.
Three weeks later I returned home, and she met me at the door with a plate of handcooked ravioli, little mouthwatering pockets I’d never tasted before. We sat at the table together, her watching me eat. There was a long silence and then, she told me with a look I’d never seen her use before.

“I slept with Dave."

When I was fourteen, I’d been hit in the balls by a footy kicked by someone with terrible aim. I had gone down then, body wracked with the slow pain that throbs its way from the inside out, making you feel sick somewhere deep in your stomach, winding you from the shock of it all. This? This was worse than that.
Later, I realized that look on her face was sorrow; she was sorry she’d hurt me, sorry because she’d warned me and I hadn’t listened, sorry she cared enough about me to feel bad about what she’d done.
I don’t eat Italian food anymore.

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Have you ever wanted those five seconds back? Just those five seconds? Like the moment when you reverse into a pole because you weren’t looking, or when you stub your toe on the bath, or when you’re talking about someone and they walk up behind you?
Lyn knows how that feels. If she had been more careful, she wouldn’t have tripped. If she hadn’t tripped, she wouldn’t have fallen. If she hadn’t fallen, she wouldn’t have lain on the floor at the bottom of her stairs for two hours, calling out to a neighbor with a voice that grew weaker with each passing minute, waiting for her husband to come home.
In Australia in the 1980’s, there was a huge push towards awareness of domestic violence. This was a good thing, because it meant that healthcare workers (who are often the first people outside the family to see the results of such violence) felt more comfortable in asking the tough questions.  It also meant, unfortunately, that sometimes they looked for something that just wasn’t there.
Lyn’s husband came home and he could barely see the digits on their phone through his tears. Lyn comforted him from where she lay on the floor, knowing that right now he needed her.  “Come on baby, just focus. Just do this for me, and then I want you to go pick the kids up from soccer, they’ve been waiting.”
Lyn’s husband wanted to wait with her ‘til the ambulance arrived, but Lyn wouldn’t hear of it. She kept picturing her boys sitting on the curb in the darkening night; soccer ball under one arm, their tiny faces hopeful as each car drove by. She couldn’t bare it (it turned out that a kind mother had taken them home with her own boy; she knew Lyn wouldn’t be late to pick them up without a good reason). The husband nodded and kissed his wife. He made her more comfortable with a pillow and a blanket, and sped off to find his boys.

The ambulance arrived. Lyn was lying there, alone, bloodied and bruised. They couldn't believe that a husband would leave his wife for any reason when she looked like that. They decided that Lyn was the next poster girl of domestic violence. They refused to take her in until she admitted that her husband had done this to her. Lyn begged them, and it was only when her husband arrived home with her boys that one ambulance driver said to the other, “Come on mate. She needs help. Let’s just take her in.”
At the hospital, they inspected Lyn, searching her all over. Bruising covered her back, dried blood pooled on her forehead where she had smacked her head on the stairs. They looked at her; so tiny, so young; so obviously, in their eyes, a victim. “You need to tell us the truth. This is a safe place. Did he hurt you?”
They refused to scan her when Lyn didn’t give them the answer they were looking for. The husband took Lyn home, and the fresh-faced idealistic resident folded his arms across his chest, watching them. “I’ve just changed her life,” he thought, and he felt good about it.
Slowly, Lyn’s body healed, but not in the way it should have. Bones fused where they should never fuse, torn muscles never worked the same way again. She learned to live with the pain. She began to gain weight. She saw doctor after doctor, each looking at the initial report from that night in hospital, each seeing that the resident had written that there was no obvious injury, and therefore no need to scan the patient.
She was diagnosed with depression and subscribed painkillers and anti-anxiety medication. Sometimes, if Lyn took enough, the agony stopped for a little while. She saved the really good painkillers for special occasions, like when her sons graduated from high school, or when they got married. On those days, she was able to sit without pain and just be a mother. On those days, she cried because she was proud.
One day, her therapist moved away and referred Lyn to a friend for her continued treatment. Lyn was excited to meet him; he was a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist looked at her, looked at her records and decided to send her for some scans, just to see if this patient who had been labeled over the years as a hysterical liar who likely suffered from Munchhausen’s could possibly be telling the truth. Maybe, he thought, she hadn’t ever been given the benefit of the doubt.
Twenty-six years after Lyn fell down the stairs, Lyn got her scans. She was immediately referred to surgeon after surgeon, all of whom said she weighed too much for the surgery to be a success, until one surgeon said yes. He’d give it a go. He said she had one of the worst backs he’d ever seen, and after this he’d need to look at her neck, her hips, her knees and her ankles.
I met Lyn when she was recovering from her fifth surgery.  I went in to take her blood pressure. She was happy. She was grateful. She told me her story. I had to leave the room to stop myself from crying in front of her. There was no place for how I felt about what she’d been through in her life. When a person is that vulnerable, bearing scars from surgery in places no-one should ever look, looking up at you with tearful eyes and matted hair and no make-up and hooked up to machines with tubes coming out of them every which way, telling you they’re grateful, you cannot fall into pieces. You suck it up. You hold back their hair, you wash them, you feed them, you take away their pain and you listen to them. 
Later that night, I called my dad up and told him her story as best I could without bursting into tears. He’s a doctor, and he nearly vomited when he heard how she had been treated. I asked him how this could have happened, how it could be possible that here in a first world country with excellent healthcare and fantastic standards could this be possible.
“Oh love I don’t know. That’s…Some people just…slip through the system, I suppose. She was just one of them.”
Sometimes I think about Lyn, and wonder how she is now. I think about everything she’s gone through, and I hope her and her husband can do all the things they wanted to do together but couldn’t because Lyn was too damaged. Sometimes I think about her grandkids, and I hope she can lift them up without pain.

Sometimes I think about those five seconds, and how different everything could have been. Just those five seconds.

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Week Two Prompt: Three Little Words.

Second Time Around

It’s different to the first time you fall in love.

The first time you fall in love, you don’t recognise the warning signals. I mean, why would you? – You’ve never been in love before. So you just dive right in and let it overrun you; you let yourself get swept up in the incredible high of feeling like your heart is going to hammer its way through your body ‘til it hits the ground and scampers off with you running after it. You wear it almost as a badge of honour: I (pause for effect) am in love. I have done this thing that so many adults are so afraid to do. 

It’s not until later that you realise why they are afraid. It’s not until you yourself are an adult (even though you don’t feel like one), and you have had your heart broken (the sort of broken where it feels like if people aren’t careful with you, you might tear apart completely) that you realise all those people out there might have a point. It’s not until then that you realise you might not ever want to feel this way again, because of how it feels when it ends.

The second time is so much scarier, because you know what’s coming. You’re standing right on the edge of something and you want (so badly; with your whole being) to let go and dive in but you can’t because you know what it’s going to be like and you’re so scared for yourself (because this is forever –maybe-) and you’re thrilled at the same time but you don’t want to take the chance unless you’re sure

But then you think about that person, the one person who makes your stomach dip and swoop as though your body can’t keep up with itself (the way it does when you drive down a big hill really fast) and your eyes crinkle at the corners like you’re looking into the sun (and, in a way, you are). A secret smile sleeps behind your lips when you think about the way they looked at you, and what about when they touched you, just once, in the square of your back for no particular reason?
You smile because you realise that it’s all for you, just for you, made from scratch out of what’s left in their heart and even though it seems like the most impossible thing (the most impossible thing), you bend down, legs stiff from disuse, and start to sift through the rubble. Slowly, gingerly, with grazed hands and knees, you start to put together something new. You get to play show-and-tell all over again (here, this is a thing about me that no-one else knows, and I am trusting you with it) and there is too much eye contact and your heart starts to hammer and you have to remind yourself that this new beat is just a rhythm you have to get used to. 

Sometimes, at night mostly, you remember the things your mother said to you. She said that if you weren’t careful you’d keep giving bits of yourself away until there’s nothing left of you for you, (and there was never much of you to begin with) and something inside you is revolting at the thought of letting someone else in and there’s a voice somewhere saying, not yet, don’t give it all yet.

But then? Then you notice a hesitancy before they speak, and you see the way their mouth closes over half formed words, tongue clicking behind shut teeth falling just shy of saying what it wants to. There is reluctance in the way they let their arms fall to their side after holding you and there might be a touch of sadness in their voice when they say goodnight. You catch a glimpse of the slight tremble in their hands when they reach out to tuck your hair behind your ear, eyes not quite meeting yours and then there is that moment, the moment when everything clicks, and you see that they look exactly how you feel. Like a deer in the headlights. 

You finally get it. 

They’re scared too.


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