Fiction

Two stories

Good luck

A delivery van has dropped some of its cargo, and hunks of a carcass are strewn down the street. It must be beef, I think. Or lamb? The smell is so pungent – well, I don’t know, I’ve been a vegetarian for 15 years.

Beef, I decide. Each piece is rock-sized. Like a rock that would feel good in the hand.

Today I am going to the hospital for a cystoscopy, a procedure where a small camera enters the bladder through the urethra. The young doctor tells me it will feel less invasive than a Pap smear. He guides the camera in and I watch on screen, the bladder looks like a veiny eye with no iris.

When I return to the waiting room a man asks me nervously if he should remove his underwear. Just the gown? Just the gown.

Good luck.

Hours later and the rocks of beef are no longer bright with blood but flattened to the tar, the raw odour still hanging in the air.

 

I tell my friend I walk alone at night sometimes, crisscrossing the suburb. If I’ve been out some place and need to get back. I actually find it very peaceful, I say.

“If you are striving to disentangle yourself from bad habits or a suffocating routine, walk at night.” This isn’t what I tell her in the moment, but a fanciful thought that arrives later. Last time I did this was about 11 on a Friday. It was a half-hour walk, and I passed two houses where people were still at their computers, visible under the harsh light of their home offices.

 

My friend finds this comment of mine mildly interesting and drops it into conversation. We’re at a bar, after an art opening – the first opening most of us have been to since, you know.

Who here is a nightwalker, my friend says. Emily sometimes walks at night.

I tell the group what I told my friend, then I offer a new disclosure, buoyed by the sudden attention. About how when I am in the country, and the moon is bright enough, I like to go jogging on a long stretch of tar. It feels effortless, the body releases a chemical at night that makes running easier and less taxing, you run forever and it’s like running into a void – all that’s out in front is a rich and complete darkness.

 

I can see from the window of my apartment some men examining the flattened pieces of meat with obvious disgust. I start thinking about my own messes, the ones I know about, and the ones that surely must exist without my realising. I remember that this method of reflection can quickly lead to paranoia and therefore should be avoided.

Then I counter myself. Because isn’t the greater aim to develop a clear mind that can look at everything?

 

Without arguing with me directly, everyone at the table finds a different way to make the point that walking at night is a wishful prospect, it’s simply not a safe activity.

Imagine…

Imagine if there was a curfew for men, and women could go out walking whenever and however they liked, one person says.

It would be really great to dress like a slut and not worry about getting sunburned, someone else adds.

 

Discovering the remains of the former animal, two children rile each other up. They scamper about the whole revolting scene, egging each other on, searching for maggots, pinching their noses.

Laughing and laughing as they round the corner.

 

My dearest wish

A few things went terribly wrong when I upgraded my phone and now I can’t tell who is calling me. Whenever I think it’s my girlfriend it’s my father. I must remember to say Hello Emily Speaking. No matter what.

I am expecting a phone call regarding my application to attend a 10-day Vipassanā retreat. The phone has rung once already, the energy company chasing an overdue sum.

I lose my phone inside my apartment at least once a week. Sometimes this is my dearest wish and I make a determined effort not to see it anywhere. Don’t look near your pillow, I say. Do not check your pockets. But sometimes I lose it just at the moment I have embarked on a chore, and on those occasions I must suffer without my Jungian podcasts, with zilch Lana Del Rey…

To recover my missing phone I apply the following trick: I sit in a chair and pretend to be in a casual mood. Retracing my steps never seems to work, but letting my eyes haze over, softly scanning the apartment’s surfaces, can coax my phone into revealing its place. I have chosen to live here without any internet, my phone aside, therefore there’s no recourse in a technology-based solution.

So I must have put my phone in the oven when I was reheating lunch, I start to think, when things turn desperate. My superego has hidden it? Check the plants.

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Wherever it is, it has been there all along

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Apr 24, 2021 as "Two stories".

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Emily Stewart is a freelance editor and writer. She lives and works on Wangal country.