Safe House

Currawongs carry frost under their wings and their song-loops elbow me. No safety, no man, no safety. I sight Fear, who loiters behind cross hairs. My body from the inside sends little eddies flurrying. I am trying to hide by not looking. Husbands, brothers and boyfriends mistake the giant as my chaperone. My alarm wakes no one. Fear begins intimating things to me in a language I never want to wake. No one else listens. Doors close. The crowd dissipates like autumn leaves, as if they were fifty-dollar notes. Fear and I stand in an empty centre. His voice scours my courage and panic fights logic. Invisibly I become the passenger of his will. His bulk shepherds my body toward the train station.
,,Versteck dich nicht‘‘, flüster er.
‘Don’t hide,’ he whispers.

I had an uncle whose memory presence interferes with my sanity. After decades of fearing my own driveway, my front door, the end of a passage, I have had enough of this ghost. Alone one night in twenty-o-eight, my body bristling, eyelids swollen, I scream, ‘Come get me!’ But Fear and I know, solidly know how much focus is needed to break the violence that cements status quo. It would take more than a lifetime of interpersonal turmoil to correct the passivity in my body’s posture.

A sleepwalker, I feel as stranded as a concrete mixer with a flat tyre. My lips possess no will, vowels melt into submissive vapours. Leaning forward, Fear casts a halo of diesel. His right-eye holds two yellowed reptilian irises that vie in salt agitation. His face chisels into mine. He is channeling me, he, in his upturned collar and coarse woolen coat impregnated with bitter odours. Station lamps hide our steps as we cross into a world of oily fumes belonging to midnight films and ambiguous shadows. We sit in an empty train, in the dining-carriage at a window table, the stale curtains tied open. I hear moths clatter, the flutter of wings on metal surfaces. He forces me to face his frown directly. Gravity tunnels my flesh. Holding myself, I wait for the end. My world has turned from black and white to the reality of an unsympathetic grey. His smile snails as gears awake and the night-train centipedes, affording darkness. I haven’t said a word; I want to live. Fear is not a man to be asleep with.
,,Ich bin das‘‘, runzelt er die Stirn. ,,Du hast mir das gemacht.‘‘
‘I am this,’ he frowns. ‘You made me this.’

His accent prickles my naked neck. We sway in a roiling current.
,,Versuchen Sie, Sie zu wecken. Aber du – du rennst.‘‘
‘Try wake you. But, you – you run.’

His cheeks flatten, lifting a charred upper lip. Holding my breath, I want to wake up. In the end there is always Fear. Because I have no man, I am not safe. A woman who needs no man is not safe.

Before this, before we had left the centre, I was judging life’s timetable, filling gaps with activities, being a consistent mother, lusting for new sheets and other people’s decent houses. Parasitic activities that pave a life. But I lie. I hold a knife, a pen, a secret that can mutilate trust.

As an unreliable narrator, I lie to you. I do have a man. The balance of power is modest and fluctuates. The age difference is vast. I can go where I wish, do what I want, mostly. We both have caveats, more than I care to consider, though I have stopped considering. But unlike my uncle, it’s as if I have fallen asleep and woken with Fear, shuffling over a cemetery of sleepers. Yelling come get me will not cut it.
Without opening his mouth: ,,Wünschst du etwas zu trinken?‘‘
‘You wish drink?’

Here, at this empty table, my vision spins. The executioner-judge glares. Time holds its breath. Bile, spit and memories heat my skin, making decisions fast like a rash. I float, inhaling spiced wooded-rose. Red Sultan’s tea, from Yogyakarta’s bird market in the winter of twenty-o-seven, whispers into my in-breath. Scolding my hands through scratched glass, its ruby liquid steams. I hear an enormous stream of bird-speak; slipper songs slide into far off, echoing alleys. We sit deceptively together in memory, in a tiny cafe, in the centre of the throng. Ancient fabrics flap amongst a network of patched plastic awnings and we are swamped in the nasal, noisy blood of the avian market. As I sip a little breeze unfurls, countless cages sway, clanging doors clap open. Pedestrians and birds look into each other. Fear’s snaking eyes shine. My shock: it’s the actual tea.
No trick, he nods: ,,Du isst!‘‘, sagte er.
‘You eat!’

The train thunders forward, counting as it runs. His inquiry skins me. In the prey-grey, grainy carriage, I want to brain-vomit, catch bile in my mouth. His shallow-swallow-breath somersaults me: mid-winter’s feast; nineteen-eighty-four; Oma’s Rouladen. The carriage turns and fills with hints of mustard, dill and garlic. Before me, a skewered roll of thin beaten beef on a pale plate with a languid drizzle of brown sauce, served in her long-ago house. Not on this train but, once again, in the centre of her kindness.
,,Du wünschts leben?‘‘
‘You wish live?’

I catch a brick in my stomach. Losing myself like a mirror. I haven’t even taken a mouthful. I don’t want this. Instinct calls my face to lie, heave away fear. Here in the heat of my skin, I am cut by the shards of memory.

I am a survivor. I want to be free of monsters. Monsters are reality. My flesh has been involved in weak decisions. I don’t want to understand the unspeakable: I have little will to live in my own house… I have spent my life pasting myself between the layers of society, content with being a nothing, a next to nothing. My reality equals breathing alone in the ocean’s deep wet mouth. My bare feet spiral a tiny island. I am indebted at the expense of integrity, an internal fight. I don’t want to harm. I tell you this, in my centre a festering conundrum: Who is safer to betray?

I will, I will only allow myself to live a little life like this tiny Last Will and Testament in front of me alone on the laminated desk. I struggle to look through a smudged magnifying glass. I grip the plastic handle enlarged print quivers, gags me. The statement states: Remains are not to be housed but fed to birds, birds that eat ash that is mashed with mince. Twenty-thirteen at the solicitor’s, Osborn & Osborn, I hear my voice, how my words bounce in her tiny veneer office piled with pale papers, where sticky notes yell sign here. Everything stacked at odd angles, including our seating. Ms Osborn re-crosses her expensive legs, blinking. Fear’s shadow is part of this room. My wishes, I suspect, shall be overridden: someone will throw the ash of my body into a wind’s tail, as a wake of particles.

As in sleep, I wish to rest nowhere. The magnetic force of Fear pushes into me. The thematic vibration of the train maddens, the clatter, percussive, now lulls me. I live holding my life, holding him out, how I hold, hold myself out. I hold out pleasure. I hold out choice. I hold out my history. If I were to accept… if I were to make a way to wish. To choose. To live a life that I want, let myself have physical desires. Maybe a roof on a tropical street, maybe a symmetrical house on stilts. Maybe a restful room with a verandah, no asbestos, floorboards instead of an animal-stained carpet. A flowerpot garden, with the scent of jasmine or rose or both.

Leaning heavily to the right, I freeze. I have entered madness. My head shrieks, deny him access! But, he is not the abuser. He is my fear, my memory, my reality. I loath to make eye contact with Fear. The capacity to inflict destruction: it’s in my genes, in my family, my friends, in my culture, this capacity. I don’t want to think I might trip. Finally facing Fear, his terror hooks my stomach. I stop.
,,Was ist mit dir?‘‘
‘What about you?’ I say.

His restless eyes resist for a millisecond. Er sagt: ,,Auch ich wünsche leben. Wünschte, hier zu leben.‘‘
He says, ‘I wish to live. Wish to live here.’ Tapping the garden of his heart.

I feel his callous finger thud my chest, as if I am also he, caught by the Minotaur. He stares. The magnificent magnetic force within us attracts and repels. Fear wants… I’ve made him into a monster, but am I the monster? Am I, as I don’t want to name the true monsters? The places where trust shatters identity. I become compliant in the net of taboos the ones imposed by the dominant Sex, Class, and Culture.* What holds me in this spiral of running from a giant who wants me to consume him? This is the centre of the heart’s garden, the Minotaur in a Gyre of Taboos.

Sweat squirms in my underarms, my vision blurs as I look down on my full plate. A long fidgeting pause…

Winged song loops elbow me. I wipe my eyes and sigh.

* Calvino, Italo. If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller (1979)

Leone Gabrielle writes in company of ravens, dogs and flowers, from Seymour, a snaking town on Taungurung country. Published: Cordite Poetry Review, Australian Poetry Journal, Pure Slush, Plumwood Mountain, Mona Magazine, MASKS Literary Magazine, XR Global, Meanjin Quarterly, Minds Shine Bright, Spineless Wonders.