The cricket clubrooms swelled with chatter. At the heart of the room, Leigh sat with several other mothers in a circle around their infants. Their babies rolled and kicked on pink or blue bunny rugs, while their mothers discussed trying to open paracetamol safety caps in the middle of the night. Leigh glanced at her twin daughters, Ruby and Eloise, chewing their rubbery teething rattles. Seated beside her, Fiona produced a glossy pamphlet out of her nappy bag and tentatively handed it to Leigh. Leigh recognised the coloured blocks of the Playschool logo but the words swirled like water dancing down a drain.
I had forgotten about this story, until recently when a funny thing happened. It was written as a POV exercise, during a creative writing certificate. Afterwards I posted it on a self-publishing website. Then, a while later, I took it down because I’d started this site and was happy to post my stories here as a hobby. However, I didn’t realise the cover had remained online on various other sites. Now the funny thing is, some people took the title as fact and I’d been oblivious to this for years.
The story is actually loosely based on the tales a young woman told me when we were working for a sports company in the 1990s. She had been a stripper and would have us all in stitches over her fabulous adventures as an exotic dancer. She was a brilliant storyteller and I’m sure my story does not do hers any justice.
So, I generally prefer not to annotate my stories but I wanted to clear this up. Although, I still wonder if it’s possible for any of us to never judge a writer by their covers…
I was an Uncoordinated Stripper
Seriously, can’t believe I was ever a stripper. I was a decent enough softball player as a kid, and could’ve played for Victoria if I’d had someone to drive me to practice. Dancing wasn’t my thing. Didn’t even score a red-nosed-reindeer role in the grade six calisthenics concert. Anyway, I left high school and got a job at Safeway, night packing. That’s where I met my boyfriend, Chuck. I was twenty and old enough to know better. But I’d never had a boyfriend before, so …
There once was a magician who spent a year dreaming her nightmares and waking to another. Then in a series of fever dreams she discovered the answers to the universe and carefully catalogued them until needed. She was the last human and was tired of sleeping alone in the crumbling, sunken shopping centre. One day she had the impulse to paint, and in a dusty arts supply shop she found the necessary equipment. By dim torchlight she painted a pink rose on the concrete floor of her makeshift alcove. With a few spoken words, recalled from a dream, she conjured the rose to life and cradled its perfumed petals in her dirt-cracked palm. In the following months she conjured a rose garden amongst modernity’s ruins, then slept for another year.
If you had to pick a country to grieve in, Ireland was it.
My up-for-anything comrade, Kennedy, was twenty-three when he died. He didn’t mean to, but it was like he knew. In his last weeks he’d even coloured silver streaks in his hair, to see what it was like to have grey hair.
Then on his last day, he phoned me at five am and said in his been-up-all-night voice: Anna, I need to reach out to someone. I’d only seen him a few hours earlier and told him in my crabby let-me-sleep voice: I’m too tired to talk. Thankfully, Kennedy called back at ten pm. He’d wanted me to drive him to a friend’s place, but my rusty Datsun was playing up. So instead we talked for two hours about life, friends and love.
The next day Kennedy’s flatmate found him in their living room, slumped in a beanbag with a trickle of vomit across his shoulder.
Five weeks later, and in numb shock, I left Australia.
The world swayed sideways. Cake stumbled towards the bin near the classroom door and coughed up the hamburger she’d had for breakfast. Sweat soaked out her skin and her mouth tasted like river slime.
‘Jesus,’ Skeg boy said, perched on his chair, as far away from her as possible.
Cake wiped her lips across her school blazer sleeve. ‘Bloody Maccas.’
In her bedroom, Cake switched on the telly and tilted her head sideways. Her lazy eye made her look as if she’d been in a fight. A rush of warm air from the central heating vent flowed from the ceiling. Cake flopped onto a beanbag and dragged out a tray from beneath her bed. She’d been seasick all day. On the tray was a thumb size roll of foil and a clay pipe. She lit up and waited for the world to straighten out.
Her phone chimed. It was a text from Skeg boy. You coming, slut.
Kate kept her soul in a box at the bottom of her wardrobe. There was a bronze key too, she recalled, leaning on the wardrobe door to unbuckle her waitressing shoes. The intricately scrolled key had hung from a gold necklace around her neck. The chain had snapped the day Kate got her wings, and the key disappeared. Kate sighed. She tried to flex her swollen feet and slammed the door.
In the diffused morning light a boy darted through the forest. Barefoot, Dar leapt over rocks and logs, his feet dipping in and out of the swirling mist blanketing the forest floor. A talisman pouch bounced around his neck, almost as if it were alive. The twisted banyan trees obstructed most of the sunlight, while scorched air wafted around him, hinting at a heat yet to penetrate the world. In Dar’s hands was an enclosed wicker basket filled with millet bread and coal.
At the base of a jagged cliff face, Dar stopped and tucked the talisman into his homespun tunic, pressing it to his chest for luck. The cliff was higher than the tallest tree and the cave halfway up. Dar rubbed rock dust over his palms and fastened the basket to his hip with rope. With a shaky breath he gripped the rock and climbed, with practiced agility, toward the blackened cave. As he neared the cave’s entrance the familiar smell of sulphur ripped into his lungs. Dar inhaled the pungent fumes in bursts and white stars drifted across his eyes.