Hardly aware of what he was doing other than a slight feeling of shame, he hurried under the couch. It pressed down on his back a little, and he was no longer able to lift his head, but he nonetheless felt immediately at ease and his only regret was that his body was too broad to get it all underneath.
Last month when I found out that I could download a lot of the classic books for free on Apple Books, I came upon Franz Kafka’s ‘Metamorphosis’. I had heard his name before, but never read anything and mainly out of curiosity did I start to read the first page. I didn’t think I would finish the novel so quickly.
Although the story itself is quite odd; the main character Gregory Samsa wakes up as a ‘monstrous vermin’, which details give the reader the occasional nauseousness, talking about his little, jerky legs or in general his slimy body; the writing itself and the tension building is extraordinary.
The book starts with Greg waking up and finding himself turned into an insect for reasons that are not explained in the book. Kafka writes about this moment so detailed: Greg waking up and perceiving his body, trying to get out of bed, attempting to communicate with his sister Grete and parents outside the locked door, but they only hear squeaks.
It’s interesting here that Greg doesn’t seem the panic about his new body so much as that he worries about the welfare of his family. He is the main provider for the family and can’t lose his job. But when they finally find out that he’s turned into an insect, despicable, hideously looking, and unable to work, he’s locked up in his room where he resides mostly under the couch or hangs from the ceiling.
As the story unfolds, the family lose interest in him. He’s neglected, injured by his father and finally perishes from starvation when he realises that he’s a burden to the family.
It’s a tragic story in its own right and, to me, a metaphor that I interpreted as Greg being ‘vermin’ in the eyes of his family after he was unable to provide for the family (and lost his function). Although the family first experiences great distress from finding their son turned, they later seem happy that he’s gone.
Often Metamorphosis is seen as influenced by Kafka’s father problems, but he denies this. According to him, the sister Grete that’s his downfall. I agree that Grete makes his life harder, although Greg at first interprets this as good intentions. It also shows to me a certain ignorance from Greg’s perspective. He’s never truly angry or upset by his change; he’s worried about his family and he even accepts his death in order to ‘relieve them of him’.
The story seems simple, but it’s very layered. I read through it because I wanted to find out to what insect specifically he’d turned (I suspect a cockroach), whether he was going to turn back to a human, what changed him; but as I progressed through the story, the intricate social interactions kept me going.
What I also liked about Metamorphosis is how Kafka manages to write seemingly unimportant scenes and turn them into interesting parts. The time spent by Greg in his room without doing much didn’t bore me at all; Kafka described the room, talked about things Greg does and thinks, goes back to previous occurrences and so keeps the reader interested in what a man-turned-into-a-cockroach might do with his spare time. That’s good writing.
This story will stay with me for those reasons. It shows how people’s feelings and opinions change after a significant event that affects their life. In the end, they didn’t see Greg as their son, but as a burden. It’s a story about the selfishness of people, the rusted habits in which people tend to fall back again and again and it’s a story about a kind-hearted man who turned into an insect.
Rosemary’s hands rest on the ivory keys for just a second and then she starts playing nocturne No. 20 in C-sharp Minor by Chopin. Fingers with nails dark red tap the keys delicately, the small living room zings with a melody that reminds me of zesty oranges, toasted almonds and the slight perfume of lilac. Her curly, thick hair that almost looks dark grey in the twilight sun waves as she moves her head up and forward and sideways to scan the paper, her right foot methodically tapping the pedal. As I sit next to her, I regard her slender body, her long legs, a body that always come when children are spurred into adolescence and I am envious. Although I’m still slender, the skin has started to crease, sink, as if gravity tried to untangle it and stretched it irreversibly in the process.
“I like your nail polish today,” I say after she finishes.
Her smile is shy, a little childlike, endearing, with teeth freshly shaped after braces.
I tell her that she’s improving and that we can try something different next week, a piece of Beethoven perhaps, and she pouts. I don’t understand why. Jane says that Rosemary has trouble at home. Maybe she doesn’t want to go home now.
“Or if you like you can stay and —,”
“No, it’s okay Myrtle, I need to go home for homework anyway.”
Those blue eyes look daring; perhaps she’s smarter than I give her.
She tucks her hair behind her ear and swings the schoolbag over her shoulder and leaves through the backdoor, a flurry of warm air rushing through the room. It reminds me of someone who used to be her age. Her hair was curly too, but not as thick as Rosemary’s.
I start to clean up and I strike my index finger over the top of the piano. I wipe the dust on my navy blue skirt that I bought a week ago. David said that it looked nice, a rare compliment, and I wear it now so he’ll notice when he comes back from work.
Upstairs, I absorb the mess of our laundry; has he ever folded his clothes? I pick up a shirt, dark pink with pinstripes and there is a long, curled hair on the right sleeve. I have it short and straight, and I have let my hair become silvery. The hair feels thick between my fingers. It probably fell off my shoulder after playing with Rosemary.
He always comes home after 6 pm and I like to make sure that he has his beer cold, his slippers warmed near the heater that stands in the hearth, and that diner is ready. I find that it’s the best way to shake him out of his work slumber and it gives me a certain satisfaction that I can influence his mood. Sometimes, I get a kiss on my cheek and the warmth always flushes my face like a teenager.
To amplify the dark, beamed living room, I light long candles and short ones too and place them on the mango-wood side table, the glass desk and the dining table with the chequered table cloth. I pause when I hear the front door open. He often enters the house with certain respectability that changes the atmosphere, a decorum that stems from a dignified charm and a modest vanity that allows him to enchant almost everyone.
I watch him eat his sausage uncut, straight from the fork, and I look at mine, neatly cut in slices and then again halved so that it mixes better with the mashed potatoes. Has he always eaten so quickly, hurriedly, almost barbaric? What’s his rush? He pats his stomach. He’s in good shape still for is age. Although his hair is receding slightly and his beard has turned grey 10 years ago, I find he’s aged well.
I am about to get up to clean the dishes and turn on the TV for him so he can watch the news when he says that he has to go out.
“Why?” I ask.
He slides the chair backwards over our creme carpet. It makes a hushed sound, like when stroking a hand over a woollen jumper.
“Meeting with people from work.”
I want to ask him what meeting could be so late, but I bite my tongue and see him leave through the front door without knowing when he’ll be back.
No kiss on the cheek.
In the damp morning, the sun has fled behind a veil of milky clouds, I notice Sandra, bowing over her daffodils and I consider talking to her. She’s always friendly, but more often I sense she’s just being polite. Jane from two doors down told me a few days ago that she’d seen a man go into her house, pretty late in the evening, and he didn’t come out until at least 1:30 am. Jane has trouble sleeping and sometimes she lets out her dog, just for a quick round, across the street.
“Sandra is seeing someone we know,” Jane says, “and she doesn’t want us to know who.” Listening to Jane’s gossip is so exciting.
As I pluck at the weeds underneath the young willow, I ponder over this mysterious man who goes into Sandra’s house and leaves late. It must be exciting to have a visitor in the night, a secret, that only you and this man share. The thrill when he touches you and whispers into space between you, laying in hot bedsheets where the night air puffs up the blankets; your hands cupping his clean jaw and cheeks, and you listen to his calm breathing that forms a melody -silk violin and ecstatic contrabass. Just him and I.
It’s a thrill I haven’t had for a long time.
A lot changed after she left and it never became quite right again.
Tonight it will be different though. I bought steak from the butcher where I used to go when Lawrence still owned the shop. Steak with garlic butter and peas, I know he’ll like that. Maybe we can watch a movie after. As I season the meat with pepper, salt and rosemary, I try to formulate how I can ask him about last night. The lock of the door clicks and I pop out of the kitchen to greet him.
As we eat, he seems pleased. He’s in an unusually cheery mood, joking, his hands dancing up and down, talking, and he has a boyish smile on him. I smile too. When I stand up, I strike my hands over my new skirt, not the navy blue one, but the one with ombre and dark red autumn flowers, and I pause for a few seconds. I have read that men find women more attractive when they wear red; or was it the other way around? Confidence overflows me and I start to share with him the gossip about Sandra.
“She’s an attractive woman,” he says, gulping his beer, “so what if she has a lover? She’s been alone for a long time, right?”
I agree, my voice not as strong as I intended, and I jerk my hands apart when I notice that I’m pulling the lace of the table cover.
I think about the hair on his shirt. The thickness in my fingers, the soft bends in which it curled, and the dark colour. Sandra has dark curls. They’re about the same age. They know each other. My gaze scrutinises David’s expression, his pale eyes, his grey, round eyebrows, and in my mind’s eye, I see him, his quiet footsteps disturbing the grass, slipping into her house.
I startle when I see David walk across the living room towards the coat rack and he picks his dark leather jacket with lined fur.
“Where are you going?” I ask, trying to hide the panic in my voice.
“I have to get back to work,” I hear him say, “they’re at the bar and we have to go over some papers. Not very important.”
He waves his hand, disappearing into the hallway, and then he strides back and leaves a fleeting kiss resting on my cheek.
My hands shake when I order the sheets and place them in front of Rosemary.
“Let’s start with where we were last week.”
She’s wearing a new perfume, some kind of thick, flowery fragrance that doesn’t suit her age. Her back is straight and she plays.
My mind drifts. I wonder where David goes every night, the bar but a poor excuse. Does he see Sandra? Our marriage indeed changed after our daughter left but it doesn’t justify cheating. It’s greedy, conceited; but I see the appeal. As he said, Sandra is an attractive woman. I search my memory if I’ve missed something, if I’ve ever seen them together; a fleeting touch of the hands, a daring glance that conveyed that they knew and nobody else. The thought buzzes through my head.
The telephone rings. Rosemary’s eyes shoot up, the last tunes muffled by the high pitched ringing. For a moment I hope it’s our daughter, Lisa.
“Is this Mrs Greywater?” A weathered, female voice on the other side. Lisa has a different voice, or could it have changed over the years?
“Your husband has been in an accident,” she says and I hear a gasp leave my throat. “He crashed his bike and has broken his leg.”
I’m nauseous. My gaze wanders around the living room and I think about all the things that I have to adjust so David can be comfortable, laying on the couch and watch TV while he recovers. It’ll be good for us, him being home more.
“I have to go to the hospital”, I say and turn around to face Rosemary.
She looks aghast by the news. It’s kind of her to be so emphatic to my feelings.
“What for? Is David hurt?”
It strikes me that I never knew that David and Rosemary might know each other. Rosemary always comes during the day when David is at work, and I don’t recall talking about him to her. Maybe she’s seen his name on the mail. Now I come to think of it, they may have seen each other that time when Rosemary had left her jumper and David found it. He drove over to her to give it back. That she still remembers his name.
She wants to come with me even though I tell her that it’s not necessary, it’s only his leg that got injured, but she insists and it’s probably because she doesn’t want to go back to her house where her parents always fight.
The drive to the hospital is quiet and I try to think of things to say to Rosemary. Her hands are folded tensely on her lap and I wonder about her age. She’s probably about 17, maybe a bit younger. I should’ve asked her, but now I don’t know how to start that conversation. There is a lot of things I don’t know about her, although I’ve been teaching her for almost a year.
The doors of the hospital are heavy and as we enter, the pungent smell of cleaning detergent and sweat wave through my nostrils. Rosemary looks more nervous than I do – maybe she hasn’t been to a hospital before.
It crosses my mind that, if David is having an affair with Sandra, I could let it happen and pretend it doesn’t exist. It will probably end by itself. He won’t be able to visit her for at least 6 weeks and in that time I could try harder. I could buy a new skirt that would reveal a bit more leg, or buy new underwear. He might like that.
He sits on the bed and smiles apologetically when I come in. Rosemary follows me shyly. It’s a small room with one window; curtains, bed and side table all in that despicable off-white that hospital furniture keeps.
“My poor David, how could this have happened?” I reach down to kiss him, but his eyes are fixed on something behind me. It’s a curious gaze, and for I moment it strikes me that he might be in some sort of shock. It must’ve been frightening to have been in an accident. Softly I stroke his shoulder.
“I hope you’re not in too much pain,” Rosemary says.
Something in her voice, the easiness with which she speaks those words, the familiarity and warmth with which she addresses him, reveals a level of intimacy that makes me swerve around. In that split second, I see her blushing, her demeanour giving away an infatuation for the man sitting on that hospital bed, and then she recoils, her features mystify into a fabricated concern and I know. It’s not Sandra.
I shiver. My heart is bruising my ribcage, my head is a whirl of which I cannot make sense. I resist the urge to collapse, right there on the off-white floor. Instead, I regard the husband that I’ve had for 22 years, that has influenced my life so greatly that I cannot begin to fathom who I would’ve been without him.
He averts my gaze, denying that something significant just happened. I need him to look at me. I find my voice; my feet finding the ground.
“Don’t you dare to look away from me,” I hear my voice say with such imminent malice it frightens me.
He tries to stand up and grab my arm, but his plaster leg prevents him to do so.
“SHUT UP YOUR CRYING”, he screams at Rosemary and she scampers.
How could he treat her like this? Poor girl.
“Myrtle, please —,” he begs. Are those tears on his cheek?
Their affair wasn’t as great as mine. I did love him; he doesn’t love Rosemary.
“It was nothing. She was just passing time.” He sobs, quietly, his hands cupping his face like a child, his shoulders jerking up and down. It strikes me that he’s not who I thought he was. He is not a price husband to be placed on a pedestal. Our bond was lost long ago. The love I had felt had become unquestioning loyalty, for I felt guilt. Guilt for what I had done. I had made a decision then, to stick with him at all costs.
Look what it has resulted into.
The fury changes into something powerful, an encouraging strength, resignation, and I hear the coldness in my voice.
“That’s a shame.”
David’s eyes look pitiful, his body is pitiful, and I can taste the disgust in my mouth like bitter, cold coffee.
“A shame? Is that what you think this is?”
As if he wants me to acknowledge that it was a worthy affair. I feel my lips curl.
“Yes, a shame. You’re a pitiful man, sleeping with a girl that’s almost 35 years younger than you. It’s a shame that it was not worth your while.”
The words reverberate through the room. The tears seem to evaporate from his eyes the moment he looks up at me, his posture changing, enlarging as if ready for a brawl.
“Don’t you think I knew about you and Lawerence?” The words slither through his clenched teeth.
To hear him say his name is as if he grasps my neck and tightens his fingers. He’ll never take the memories I have of Lawerence, sweet Lawrence.
“I let you stay with me and tried to accept what you had done, for the sake of Lisa. And then, when he left, I had to endure your sulking. Don’t you think I fought, for us?”
“And then you sleep with my teenage piano pupil?”
He looks away, his fingers pressing against his closed eyelids.
“She’s still so young!” I say.
“She’s almost 18.”
I pause for a moment. Suddenly, I want to sit on the bed next to him and be hugged.
“She’s Lisa’s age.” The tremor in my voice surprises me.
I thought it would have made everything worse, but instead, he starts to cry again, long, heaving wails and I look around to see if anyone is seeing us. Two ridiculous adults, who are incapable of continuing to live and finally crumble under the unforgiving weight love carries.
“She was Lisa’s age.”
I sit down on the bed next to him.
“It’s my fault she left, stormed out the house that evening. She found out about me and Lawrence, and I always knew she already hated me but stayed for your sake. She found this little note, Lawrence and I used to write on, little things that made our days a bit better. I suppose I’d become careless, the note fell on the floor from my pocket and, I can’t quite remember what it said, but next thing, I see her eyes filling with so much anger and then she left. I couldn’t say anything and it would not have mattered.”
“Our little girl,” David says in one breath as if the words disappear from him as she had done.
Once there were three daughters, equal in birth, blood and colour. In the morning they went to get water from the well, at midday they ate bread and cheese, and in the afternoon they listened to music. They were equal in interests, plays and smiles, though the youngest was unequal in beauty. As the days grew shorter, Ariana’s cheekbones sharpened, her deep ocean-blue eyes became deeper and her roselike mouth became softer. The two other sisters watched her grow more beautiful by the day and envied her, though their strong sisterly bond withheld them from jealousy. When they were old enough, their father accepted the hands of two men who married the oldest sister and the middle sister, while Ariana watched them with envy.
“Don’t worry,” the two sisters said, “there will be someone for you as well.” But no one came, for all the men thought Ariana too beautiful to be within their reach. She spent her days going to the well, eating bread and cheese, and listening to music in profound loneliness she had not known before. Her father watched it quietly and sought to find her a husband. A rugged man came to him and said: “I see Ariana is lonely and yearning to share her life with someone. If tomorrow morning, when the peaked hill is still hidden in mist and the heather is still damp from the night’s tears, she goes up that mountain and stands on the cliff, she will meet an ivory dragon to take her to her fate.”
It was dusk when Ariana climbed up the mountain alone, her body chilled and her hands muddy. As she reached the peak, she watched the bleak morning sun rise over the rugged hills and waited, weeping from fear. A strong western wind came and a monstrous ivory dragon with crimson eyes landed before her. “Don’t fret. Climb on my back if you want to meet your fate, but beware of my scales. They are made from the pearls of the Red Sea and sharp to the flesh,” the dragon said. Ariana stepped back in fright, but then climbed in between his wings. As he took flight, she saw the magnificent pearly scales of the dragon and stroked them gently.
The dragon landed in a valley so lush and prosperous, the pine trees and white ashes had grown twice its size. “This is the valley of Zedoaria,” the dragon said. “To meet your fate you must walk towards the forest between those two hills and then follow the stream until you come to a palace of coral marble. You may drink from the stream and eat from the pear tree, but you must not pick the yellow flowers or touch the red leaves.” Ariana promised she wouldn’t and the dragon flew away. She felt tired and slept in the dense grass. Then, she walked towards the forest between the hills. Just before the treeline she became thirsty and bent down to cup her hands into the clear stream, but she heard a cry from the shrubs.
“Help me, please,” a bee said, “I’m so thirsty, but I cannot reach the yellow flowers for my wing is torn.” Ariana took pity but hesitated to pick the yellow flowers that bloomed around her ankles since the dragon had warned her not to do so. “Please, beautiful stranger, I’m so thirsty. I only need one yellow flower.” And so Ariana picked one yellow flower and gave it to the thirsty bee, who thanked her and drank.
She entered the forest and saw glorious, deep green ivy and moss falling down the high trees like curtains. Ariana walked until she came upon a sunlit grass field surrounded by trees. A lone pear tree stood in the middle and she reached to pick a pear so juicy that the sweet sap dripped down the round belly of the fruit. Then she heard a cry.
“Help me, please,” a deer said, “I’m so hungry, but I cannot reach the red leaves for I’m with child and my belly is too heavy.” Ariana reached towards the red leaves that grew from shrubs around the pear tree, but she thought about what the ivory dragon had said. “Please, beautiful stranger, I’m so hungry. I only need one red leaf.” And so Ariana picked one red leaf and gave it to the hungry deer, who thanked her and ate.
Ariana walked until she saw the magnificent towers and walls made from coral marble and she entered through the large, hard oaken door. A servant came to her and gave her bread and cheese, and another servant gave her a bath. Then, Ariana laid down in a plush bed with golden curtains and fell asleep. In the night she was awoken by a rustle beside her. Frightened, she reached to the candle on the bedside table to illuminate the stranger that had crept into her bed, but a friendly hand touching her shoulder stopped her. “I am your fate,” the voice whispered. “I will love you, but you may never see me.” Ariana reached once more for the candle but the voice said: “Because you picked the yellow flowers to quench the bee, you cannot see me. If you do, the ivory dragon will come and will devour you.” There was a kindness in his voice that Ariana had yearned for in her loneliness. She let go of the candle and allowed the stranger to kiss her and to stay the night.
When she woke the bed was empty. Ariana searched the palace and asked the servants about the stranger, but they only said that he was a handsome and wealthy master. The following nights she was again awoken by the stranger and, although she found it hard to accept in the beginning, started to enjoy his company more every day. With her hands and lips, she felt His face and she found that she could see him now in her mind’s eye. The desire to see Him faded as the years past and Ariana was happy. She spent her mornings walking through the tall grass, her middays eating bread with honey, and in the afternoon she bathed.
It was a crisp night and the cool wind sighed through the bedroom and caressed the silken curtains. Ariana let her hands follow the outline of His chest and asked why she had not become pregnant yet. “You cannot conceive a child,” the voice whispered. “I love you, but because you picked the red leaves to feed the deer, we cannot have a child.” This saddened Ariana so that she asked how she could make this right. “For building a castle in this sacred valley I was cursed by the ivory dragon for he is its protector. I am never to leave this valley and my life is always under his influence.” Ariana asked if he could destroy the ivory dragon and his voice became so soft she could hardly hear his words. “I cannot destroy the ivory dragon for his scales are made from the pearls of the Red Sea. His skin is impervious.”
When He had fallen asleep and Ariana listened to his regular, deep breaths, she thought of what he had said. Would the ivory dragon truly come if she now let the candle unveil his face? Hesitantly she stretched her arm and felt for the candle. The heavy metal of the candle holder felt cold in her hand as she allowed the flickering flame to pour light over His face. In his sleep, he looked calm. He had handsome features, a strong jaw, a brown mole above his dark eyebrows and his hair had the colour of freshly polished copper. Ariana admired His face, but then the candle dripped hot wax and it fell on his shoulder. His eyes shot open. “What have you done! Now the dragon will come.”
As he uttered the words, a strong western wind came and the ivory dragon landed on the balcony of the bedroom. His enormous body crushed the coral marble columns as he approached followed by the morning sun. “You have seen his face,” the dragon’s voice bellowed. “You have broken the promise and now you will die.” He lurched forward, his knife-like teeth aiming for Ariana. “Hide!” He said and he pulled a glimmering sword from underneath the bed. He puffed, then took one deep breath and moved forward, sword pointing at the neck of the dragon. He jumped over the tail, his body glided to the left and then to the right and then he sprang forward, allowing the sword to come to the dragon’s neck with fantastic force. But the sword did not pierce the shiny scales; it fell in fragments on the marble floor and He was swept sideways against the strong wall by the dragon’s sharp paw.
The ivory dragon smiled an uncanny smile and came closer to Ariana and he swallowed her whole. Her dress was torn by his teeth, her hair and body wet from his saliva. She felt the dragon move and she feared for Him. In the belly, she could hardly move. But in her hand, she held a pearly scale she had taken when the ivory dragon had flown her to the valley, and now she pierced his flesh and cut so fiercely that the dragon halted and screeched in agony. Ariana let her hands guide her through the flesh and she then stepped out of the belly of the ivory dragon, who wobbled and screamed and finally fell on the floor. The blood she was covered in was thick and sticky.
Ariana sprung to Him and took his hand. “You’ve set us free,” the voice whispered. “We’re free.”
No one had ever died in this room. I had seen it coming and the doctor had seen it too, but the shock came anyway. My aunt Mary had known it as well and now I saw her crying in the corner as if she hadn’t known. Her shrieks echoed through the white-panelled house we lived in and I walked to the window that overlooked the road with the baker on the corner that sold those cinnamon rolls that made the house smell like brandy. My father had liked brandy. I looked at the creases in my hands and at my fingernails that had mud underneath them from the hole I had dug earlier this morning. It was not a big hole, just a small one. The silver sun had drawn lines around the apple tree in the backyard as I had felt the sweat glide in between my shoulder-blades. I had known my aunt was watching me, so close I could feel the heat of her body on my back. I had told her we needed to dig a hole because he was old and she had said that it was too early and that the sun was still young and I had said that no one else would dig a hole and she had swallowed her weak tea and had cast her pale eyes onto the hard-oaken side-table where we kept the medicines in a box. I had wondered how big a hole should be to fit a grown man. He wasn’t a grown man really, not any more. His skin had become loose and yellow and his back had been bent from crawling through those tunnels. I reckoned I could fold him in half so that the hole need not be as big as it would have been for a grown man. Like paper.
I had thought those things as I had watched his dull face and had listened to the rasping sounds of his breathing. The sun had not warmed the porch yet and the currawongs had been asleep still. I had touched his deep-creased hands, eternally stained from the red dirt he had felt and handled in the tunnels. His straw hair still smelled of coal. I had placed my hands over his face and after, his ragged breathing had stopped. After that, there had only been the waving roar of cicadas and the rapid beatings in my throat.
I had walked downstairs and had told my aunt that I had killed him. She had been sitting in the scarlet armchair that faced the hearth and the mirror with the broken corner and the terra cotta vase with the dried wildflowers. Her dog had been sleeping near her feet. I had said that I had killed him and she had said that I hadn’t because the tunnels had given him the poison and I had told her that I had been the one to take his breath and she had said that it was time for tea. She had been expecting the doctor to come round any moment now.
I watched the doctor when he told her that her brother had died. He licked the saliva of his yellow teeth and wrinkled his nose when he said that we all had seen it coming and that his departure had not been painful. I saw my aunt drop on the floor as I held her dog’s mouth closed so he would not bark. He was a fragile little thing. I felt I could crush his tiny bones with one determined push but I didn’t. I watched the doctor leave through the backdoor into the backyard with the small hole and the silver-lined apple tree and I said that we should wash him and dress him in his dark grey suit with the pinstripe lines. I already had chosen a tie.
My aunt sobbed when we laid him in the bathtub and I scrubbed his shrivelled skin and red-stained hands and she washed his straw hair that smelled of lavender. The vapour veiled the white tiles as the water vanished into the drain. We laid him on the bed and we dressed him in a crimson shirt and a black tie and the dark-grey suit and his eyes were closed as if he denied he had died this morning and my aunt kept wailing, along with the currawongs. He wore his good leather shoes. When we carried him down the stairs, my aunt held his head and his shoulders and I held his feet. She tripped and my fathers’ head smacked on the jarrah stairs and he laid there for a few moments with his eyes closed and his red hands and skinny arms laying alongside his body and I felt my belly turn.
Then he was on the grass next to the hole. The hard sun shone on our hot bodies as it rose above the arid land that surrounded us. The eucalyptus trees casted distorted shadows over us and the dead body that lay in-between. My aunt said that we ought to say some words and I said that he had been a good man and we both knew that I was lying. She kneeled beside him and stroked his cold cheek. She said that he had loved me, always loved me and I said that I knew and I said that I had loved him too, but we both knew that wasn’t true. He hadn’t loved anybody.
The hole was not big enough when we tried to lower him in and I had to dig a bit more. I went to the shed that stood in the corner of the garden and got the spade and walked back to the hole and started to dig. My aunt wept and howled and the jasmine flowers jam-packed the air with a pregnant fragrance that clouded my brain. The cicadas roared. The spade cut deep into the crimson dirt and as I the pierced the earth I felt the rush of blood through my chest and I heard the high-pitched noise my aunt created and I felt the unrelenting violence of the spade carving and wounding the ground where I was going to fold my father into. I turned and I saw the ugly gash gaping in my aunt’s throat and the fright in her pale eyes and I heard the shrill squeaks of her failed attempts to breathe. I watched her shudder in the grass.
The fierce scent of blood fused with the jasmine and the eucalyptus and the golden rays of the sun glimmered the garnet puddle where my aunt lay in. I held my breath. I spat in my hand and erased the stains from my father’s suit with the pinstriped lines and held his red-stained hands and folded him in two and dropped him down the hole. In the silence of the garden, I heard the soft thump that felt like a sigh. I whispered that I had been a good boy. I picked up the spade and shovelled the dirt and the grass and the blood into the hole until the sun had reached its highest point in the sky and then I sat down on the grass and drank his brandy that smelled of cinnamon.
There’s this bird in our garden that picks berries from the tree. The tree is not big and has large leaves and bony stems and shudders when the wind travels through it. Not always are there berries in this tree, that looks more like an outgrown shrub, but when there are berries, the bird will find them. Magnetised by the scent, the bird appears. It could be a purple-crowned lorikeet or a musk lorikeet, a sulphur-crested cockatoo or a glossy black-cockatoo, but a gang-gang cockatoo or a western corella it can not be. Nor can it be a cox’s sandpiper. Now that I come to think of it, it is most likely a little lorikeet. The lorikeet sits on the bony branch of the shrub, its belly empty. The cicadas thrum and the newt that rests in the shade of the ornamental rock licks its lips. The grass has turned into hay. There’s a husky eucalyptus scent that lingers like a mist above it. [Skilfully], the bird picks one magenta berry from the twigs, but then it drops on the floor, rolling besides the rock and the empty spot where the newt had slept. The lorikeet cocks its head.
His talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly’s wing. At one time he understood it no more than the butterfly did and he did not know when it was brushed or marred – Ernest Hemingway
It felt like an overwhelmed young butterfly in a field of ripe, fragrant and sweet flowers. Uncertain where to fly to first, where to land first and where to dip in my innocent butterfly mouth into.
Small talk is not a craft I have a natural talent for. I am all talk with friends and family, though when I find myself in a new environment with new people, I jam. Lacking confidence, I tend to carry myself awkwardly, clumsily through social events and conversations, where I often remain quiet or mumble something incomprehensible that’s completely off topic. I am sure everyone has their moments of self-doubt and what I’m describing here is anything but new. It, however, was a recent issue I had to overcome, which I thought I had conquered years back.
Hospitality is an area where you constantly work and interact with people. There’s no escaping it unless you opt to dedicate yourself to a life of repetitive napkin folding (which I reckon isn’t too bad; it’s quite relaxing). Yet, either as a waitress, food runner or bartender, I had no choice but to engage in conversation once every 5 minutes; it completely unbalanced me. Even though I’ve been working in hospitality for almost 9 years now, this job required me to socialize more than I ever had to.
With a queer fondness, I think back on when I was just a small, hyperactive kid who one day got struck by the realisation of self-consciousness. I similarly remember the day and the actual situation when I felt shame for the first time, and I’m sure most people do. Anyway, I went from a constantly talking child to a nervously shy one, where I would turn purple any time someone talked to me. On many occasions, I even fled the site of confrontation. After a few years of social anxiety and loneliness, I decided this was not a living and I planned to throw myself into it all in order to gain friends. It worked, despite the occasional failure. I taught myself how to talk, even though it didn’t come naturally. Eventually, it was easy.
Coming into a new environment like I did last year with no one around me I knew well (besides my partner), made me recall those shy days and how I went through a lot of effort to conquer it. And even though it’s not great still, I did put myself out there. The most amazing thing I realised later, is that people generally don’t really care if you act in a reserved way or sometimes laugh awkwardly or remain quiet when you ought to have said something. Besides the fact that most people roughly remember 90% of what they said themselves in the social interaction, they also recognize their own social insecurities and look past them. In the end, everyone’s self-conscious in one way or another.
In addition, it’s beautiful when people do open up to you. I find it impressive and exciting when someone tells you their story. On how they travelled to Australia from Ireland after meeting her Dutch husband. How they’re happy to finally have the weekend so they can celebrate their 2 year anniversary with some champagne. In the end, it’s worth the effort to try to make small talk, for it can be so rewarding getting to know random strangers and making new friends.
Just now I watched the winner of short films, Rat Race by Steve Cutts. The rats, who are obviously symbolizing humans, go through a stressful city life where they’re looking for happiness, whilst continuously being crushed by masses of bodies and intrusive advertisements. It is clear from the moment you start watching the film, it is going to be about how every individual in the current society searches for happiness. The rat that is being followed in particular is trying to find happiness in all sorts of ways, such as purchasing expensive cars, drinking and taking medication. All fails, when he’s being trapped trying to catch a 100 dollar bill; doomed to an unhappy nine-to-five job.
A few days before, I watched a program on television where several famous folk gave their unsalted opinion on social media and its current ‘negative effects’. “Social media is disconnecting us from our true friends; we feel lonelier than ever,” said one artistic looking man who’s a singer-songwriter. “Depression and negative self-views are more common than before,” said another one. “Society is failing to make us happy,” is what they were trying to say.
Both examples are a way of criticizing society. Social media is dividing us. Education is not preparing us for ‘the real world’. How often do we hear similar phrases. It’s not something new, yet it keeps being said without any noticeable changes or probable solutions to the issue at hand.
If I’ve learned anything from art in high school is that everything needs an opposing view. Picasso, who in his younger years painted very naturalistically, later in life opposed to the realistic style of the Renaissance by creating the cubism movement. In addition, realism was a reaction to the extravagant style of romanticism. Similarly, it is necessary that there are people speaking against the current society, social media and education as a form of counter-balance.
However, the arguments are starting the become repetitive and hollow. Spreading negativity about the way we’re living is not going to increase our happiness (if there’s unhappiness at all). As a psychology graduate, I am aware of the large numbers of depression in the world, and although I am very much encouraging the increased awareness of this illness, I feel there can be too much of an emphasis on unhappiness.
There is a need for positivity, contentedness and gratefulness. The world is not all sorrow, hostility and conflict. You’d be surprised how happy you can be (or already are) by having the right mindset. By being content with your day to day activities and accomplishments. If I’ve had a tough day, I always try to make a list in my head where I write down at least 10 things that happened that day I feel happy or grateful for. After a while, it becomes a habit and helps you perceive the world in a much sunnier light.
Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions – Dalai Lama
When you stop thinking about yourself as an uninfluential gear in a massive factory, but instead believe you have control over your own life and when you try new, exciting things to look forward to and enjoy, you can make yourself find happiness quite easily. Go out into the world, explore, wonder, learn. Emerge yourself into a new culture, lose yourself into a book or a delicious dish. Allow yourself to fail sometimes, though let it not bring you down. Try again. In the end, you will find that there’s so much more to offer in the world that you won’t find any time for negativity and unhappiness.
In a world, bursting with chaos, noisiness, glamour and lights; a world saturated with bubbles, sparkles, flashes, shrieks and popcorn, there was, in the middle of it all, a pear.
A pear, a pear, a happy pear, a blushing pear, a yellow pear, a green pear. A pear dripping with crimson sauce, delightfully fragrant with orange and spices. A beautiful pear, a wonderful pear, a pear lavishly delicious to bite into.
A sad pear, wrinkled, mouldy, lonesome in a bowl, sweating in hot daylight, vibrating on heavy footsteps of ignorant passengers. Left uneaten, unpeeled, a pear untouched, unloved and forgotten. In a bowl where all the other fruit had been chosen.
The pear used to be a handsome pear, sparkling green with lovely light green patches as enticing as a spring morning. Fresh with dew, and with one leaf remembering its heritage of being a newly created pear from a lovely pink pear flower from a pink pear tree.
When caressed, the pear used to have a soft, silky skin with hardly any imperfections, with juicy flesh but not too unripe; just the perfect ratio of ripeness and crunchiness.
A pear, the pear, the lonesome, mouldy, wrinkled and sweaty pear left alone in the bowl. Bubbliness, sparkliness have left the pear, evaporated, like a bygone husky summer evening. Who will touch the pear now.
As usual, my timing is bizarelly good – Jamie Oliver
That was not the case this sun-drowned afternoon when I hurriedly tried to assemble a carrot cake auspiciously called ‘incredibly moist and easy’. While three obnoxious fat flies neurotically circled around in the kitchen and bumped against the window and while flushed breezes entered through the opened doors, I ran around panicking, trying to find the spatula. I had to ride off on my trusty bike to work at 3:30 and the cake needed to be in the oven at least at 2:30. I crushed walnuts, peeled carrots and suffocated batter in cinnamon, rasped too much nutmeg and cursed loudly in Dutch when I dropped the wet whisk on the floor. Still, despite the chaos, I absolutely adore cooking.
Baking always seems the easiest way for me to find quick relaxation in the kitchen, though I do enjoy hosting dinners at home where I’ll go utterly crazy on at least 3 courses. Searching through Jamie Oliver’s or Donna Hay’s cookbooks, I’ll try to find the best matching dishes where I’d be able to learn something new. My last exploration involved cooking two different kinds of stew for a homemade chicken and beef pie (they were two separate dishes, I did not defy the universal rules of pie making). It took me at least half a day, but the results were received with applause and compliments.
However, baking offers the best possibility to create something beautiful from scratch in less time. I recently discovered a quick recipe for insanely fluffy chocolate muffins, that simply do not need any frosting, for their fluffiness is orgasmic (recipe is included). Carrot cake, however, has always had a special place in my heart. I’ve always felt there’s never enough cinnamon, silky walnuts add extra crunchiness to a sponge cake and carrots are just awesome veggies.
After a fight with the oven, the loaf emerged from the grey steam and although I would’ve liked it to be slightly less burned, the taste was absolutely breathtaking.
I present to you, the Carrot Cake Loaf.
Super moist Chocolate Cupcakes: https://sallysbakingaddiction.com/2017/06/22/super-moist-chocolate-cupcakes/ (applause to Sally!)
The Islanders are renown for their unconditional friendliness and genuine warmth, and I can vouch for that. Throughout my stay in Australia, I feel like their constant hospitality utterly astonished me. Besides the odd grumpy one, they have such a developed sense of empathy and an understanding of how the human mind likes to be treated.
Hospitality is the immediate environment where it can be noticed. ‘Instant gratification’ -the need for humans to feel acknowledged and praised- is common sense in the world of beer pouring and cocktail making. An instant smile appears when I tell them that Hendriks Gin is also my favourite gin for a GT. I am still amazed by the laid-back way a bartender can ask ‘how their day’s going’ and how the lazily leaning-on-the-counter Australian would reply with a genuine report on their day’s activities. “Oh you know, I just finished a tough workday, got some bad news from my auntie in New Zealand, she might need to be hospitalized, – yes, the Panhead XPA would be great, thanks- but yeah, everything’s fine, just having an easy afternoon with my family-in-law. How’s your day going?”
In my head, I keep comparing to what I’ve been used to in my almost 9 years of experience in hospitality in the Netherlands. Hardly any words are exchanged in the transaction of a Dutch individual requesting a Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier at any bar and if I even have the nerves to ask them how their day’s been, I’d receive the bluntest reply possible. Not that I’m here to rain down on Dutch mannerisms, though there is something to learn from this massive difference in culture. Although I have to admit it was rather hard for me to get to understand their small talk, it now feels as if I’m building an emotional bond with every customer who lands at my bar for an Afternoon Delight. I absolutely love it.
There’s something to say for both parties. Sometimes you’re just not in the mood to discuss your reason to decide to drink a double bourbon-coke at 11am. Nevertheless, these brief conversations offer someone a brief peek into their personal life, which gives the general Australian a feel of vulnerability and neighbourliness. Even if I tried really hard, I couldn’t find a way to not love this country and its inhabitants.