Fiction

Eyes and teeth (Part 1)

Just when I hit my stride it happened. When I became a name, a go-to for content, my wit and knack for tweet-sized slap-downs sought after. Just when I had a platform – 493.5K followers to be exact – it happened. Just when I’d decided to keep it in my pants, too damn risky to take it out of my pants, put my sex drive into neutral and lay down in that marital bed like it was a fucking tomb – nothing to see here but my scintillating way with characters. Just when we had a house, no 25-year-old-still-lives-at-home-with-his-parents real estate agent snooping round looking for cracks. Damn it, just when I had my own cracks. Just when the kids were old enough to not be so idiotic – I can say that now – you know, sentences back and forth, and we talked – okay, at them – about colonialism, climate change, gender. 

I can say these things too, but tell me who the fuck is listening? 

Just when I was getting the hang of Hangouts. 

Just when Lou and I were getting on again, that bedroom tomb kicking into life and in the evenings, we’d crank up the fire – sustainable logs peeeeople – everything starting to look like it ought to. Lou would mouth “I love you” over the children’s heads as she read to them and that time she read them Mary Poppins, surprised at the note at the end. “Did you know P. L. Travers was Australian?” she said, and I replied, no I didn’t, and she penned a paper on yet another forgotten Australian female author of a literary classic, railing against the canon, and we slept well at night. We were changing the course and depth of Australian history and culture. Like I said. Just when we hit our stride, it happened. 

It happened quickly and slowly depending on how a film director might want to portray it in a hundred years from now – slowing the fast sections and speeding up the slow sections for effect. Maybe they’ll get future versions of ourselves to play us, which by then would be kind of them and thrilling for us. 

Perhaps the film would even touch the truth of things. 

Lou doesn’t think so. Lou thinks no future document will ever be able to capture the truth as we see it – “because”, and Lou gets a tone when she says this, an impertinence that I can barely stand, “how we see the world will never be of any importance again. Besides,” she always adds, “from the moment truth exists, it begins to spoil.” She is quoting me, a cruel look in her eyes, which obviously I can barely stand. We used to do this, tear strips off each other’s work, particularly the most acclaimed. It was a necessary humility. A way of ensuring that yes, we were mere dumb animals even if the world outside our door was fawning. 

Or trolling. Such a quaint word now, so elfin. Middle-earth. Middle class. Lou would get the bulk of all that stuff, but I have to say –

“Do you have to say?” Lou used to interrupt whenever I said that and now, well no, I don’t have to say but let’s be clear, I’m thinking here. I am not saying anything – but she did seem to put herself in the firing line. And that’s how we used to talk – firing line – as if we were brave. Fingers thin, arses fat. But it was all just bunting. Our contribution to the history of literature. Possibly the most illuminating and humiliating leaf in the whole damn book. 

Never-the-fucking-less. 

I drive a taxi now. I am a scintillating driver. People hail me for my wit. Wipe dog shit off the soles of their shoes onto my clean floor. And let me tell you – smelling shit can really drive it home. Seriously – inhale it. The earthy stink and you get an exact reminder of what you, we, are. Over the latrine, you see everyone’s white arses if you’ve been deprived of enough pride to look; magistrates, academics, teachers, journalists, all of us smartypants, shitting in a ditch we’d dug out ourselves. And it’s funny, if you think this kind of thing has a funny side, how many of us needed to be re-educated. And I know these streets – except I don’t know their names – and I’m wasting time, precious globules of it, and they hit, you know that? Just whack us with whatever they have on hand – phones, bags, umbrellas, jabbing at the GPS. That’s the hardest part to accept. Being treated like an idiot. 

No, Lou corrects me. It is being an idiot that is hard to accept. Lou is, I admit, better at this than me. I glimpsed her old self when I asked why, why she was so much better at retreating down the ladder, and she said her self-esteem was never intact in the first place. I am a woman after all, she’d declared. Playing that card, she revolted me. Tell me, Lou, tell me one time in your life where you felt discriminated against? 

Felt? 

Okay – were.

Many times, Ter.

When?

I don’t want to go into it. Besides that’s not the point.

What is the point?

Terry, I can’t be bothered with this.

Tell me Lou.

You know this stuff, Terry.

I want to hear it again. Pleasure me. Pretend it still exists.

We never saw ourselves in the system, don’t interrupt, yes, it was changing, but it didn’t, did it? Men made decisions for us and about us – 

And I did?

What?

See myself in the system?

Um yes, Terry. Of course, you did. Everywhere you looked a man was running the show. Still is.

And that’s all I am?

What?

A man.

Ter-ry.

“The female ego was already vastly impoverished,” says Lou – and she’s the old Lou and I want to hold her – “for 50 years we were briefly buoyed on a sea of confidence before springing a leak. It was all rather unsurprising,” she adds. 

And the male ego? Lou says that is up to me to surmise. 

Well, let’s just say getting whacked over the head with an umbrella takes some getting used to. But not as long as I’d have thought – and it sure is lucky we never had a God because the speed with which we’d have abandoned him would have reflected poorly on us.

Next week: Eyes and teeth (part 2) 

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on September 17, 2022 as "Eyes and teeth (Part 1)".

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