My ex came for three weeks and his leaving is overdue so I am going to move but I plan to look out for him and maybe keep my name on this lease if our boys cannot find a ground floor with lots of light and walker accessible. His folks do hospital visits, and call, and he is grateful for that but they do not have space for much else.
My ex can no longer eat granola. His teeth have fallen out. I am bemused by the disappearance of our one-day lists. He had planned, in his old age, to go to India and have them pulled out. My father in law, a liberal rabbi, a Vietnam vet and a chemist, had done exactly that and claimed that the early intervention made him happy and healthy. He was a centenarian.
My ex vomited on the carpet last week and I asked him to get onto council services since I know there is one available. I do not wish to be a carer even though my sister believes it will be good for my finances; I already get a student allowance from centrelink. When I finish school I will be a pensioner and will have to do repayments from my flourishing clinical practice!
My ex tries to be charming after he vomits. I do not think yesterday’s brioche was the right thing. I believe in discipline. I have had to. Like my sister, he has had a charmed life until the cancer. She was also golden human until her head on collision. But she rose from the ashes and this I believe must be on our DNA.
The sun falls on my Acupuncture texts and makes my study joyous. I got this rental for the amount of sky it lets in through all the glass. I am not sure how things will go once I finish since I am not keen on needles. At my last placement, I was with a man who used to be an orthopaedic surgeon in China and my stomach churned when he stuck foot long needles into her groin. The client did not feel a thing, she said, but she cried a lot during the treatment and this, said the one-time surgeon, was the trauma of her marriage coming out.
The phone is ringing and my ex says, The phone is ringing.
I know, I say, reluctant to break the flow of my study.
Its Soph, a classmate. She is a conversationalist. I tell to relax since I am doing such a good job of it. We’ve got exams in two. As I talk to her I look at the kitchen around me. I used have flow from the living to dining with color and texture and the plum-red expensive juicer my sister gave me as centrepiece of metal on white–You must keep your nutrition up–but now pots and pans and other everyday items pack onto every flat surface. Oh, those empty pill packets in my direct line of sight! I am hearing my ex snore. I used to be fond of that sofa he is sprawled upon but it no longer feels like mine. The high tech walker is parked next to feet that are luminescent from oedema.
I have not been buying flowers either, or stealing them from neighbours gardens, and that is good for my pocket, though I have taken to hunting the inner north east for treats; awesome croissants at La Lune but I usually get there there to a SOLD OUT BABES sign; pretty camisoles from Milly Sleeping, yoga weekends in Anglesea.
I want to be like you, Soph says, I want to deal with life just like you… you are so good.
I am not sure I get that, I say.
So the reason I rang, she says, is that I do not understand why we would get more 2‑butene than 1‑butene.
I know which bit of our homework she is referring to. I tell her that it is because dehydration of the alcohol preferences symmetry just like in any attractive relationship. I meant it as a joke but it could be true.
On the other side of the dining table are plastic bags of medications. I am thinking of finding a beautiful box to place them in and during the holidays I will go to an op shop in St Kilda.
I listen to Soph about stockings and hangnails. She is Italian.
One thing I would never have seen had I not had to endure this shift in perspective is that I married into a venerable East European Jewish family and that had I been able to truly see that before I would have been a lot more generous about my attitudes. My awakening plays my memories over sets styled with heavy furniture, solid drapes with a nod to the modern, sober conversations with a mimicry of levity. Now that the veil of married life is gone all I see is a stranger on my peach colored sofa.
MY FATHER USED TO HIT ME IF I GOT MULTIPLICATION TABLES WRONG BUT WAS OTHERWISE A VERY KIND MAN
There is a lot not to like about magic, and I go to my qigong class even though every muscle aches, and knowing it will be good for me. The gale winds from the day before are trapped in my body. I wake after midnight thinking about the days before.
Knowing that I was on the hunt for new place, my ex’s brother in law dropped off a gadget. It was to help me check the prevalence of electromagnetic radiation. He said, You are too kind to help him.
I wondered if I was too kind and if that was a bad thing.
Our teacher has had a stroke that disfigured half his face but he is very strong from his internal arts. One of the movements has a twist reaching high and turning from the waist before dropping into a deep stretch. Since trouble came looking for me, I have felt the winter and I am practicing with a woolen long sleeve top. Everyone else is in black cotton tees.
I feel a volcanic heat rising through my legs and think, There it is, there’s my qi, what a gratifying surprise.
After my exam tomorrow, there is only an online quizz to complete. I will have to learn up on acids and bases, about the blood, and notations. I only realised the other day that arousal comes out of the parasympathetic system. If only I had known I could have been a different person.
The winds come up again. Emergency vehicles turn into my street and one parks outside my house and red and green spray my room through the slats. I am so hungry since I had to rush all day, even though I sat for most of it. I refuse to get out of bed. I have this impression of liking tortillas and even though I enjoy them, I expect a different taste. I keep falling into a light sleep, into millions of dreams.
HERDS OF ELEPHANTS
A wedding photo of a friend is propped on a cute blue box that now stores keys that do not open anything. Our families used to swim in the ocean with dolphins, in the days before this was popular with holiday makers and on the wall are reminders, our babies in specially designed wetsuits, professional shots taken when we went on voyages with Greenpeace.
When my ex is more functional and able to leave palliative care, and people come to help or inquire after him, the chaplain from the City Mission, social workers, and then my boys bringing take out, close friends offering whatever, herds of elephants through my home, and when he lands in hospital again for more radiotherapy, and since it was the first week after my exams, I clean and tidy, even if I’m not a Princess of housework, before surrendering to a collapsing on the couch, to stare out the wide glass window where my underwear dries in a strong northerly wind like so much confetti.
I feel as I am recovering from a flu, and gathering resources. On Monday I went to the clinic of an acupuncturist who used to be an orthopaedic surgeon, specializing in Chinese Medicine, an attending physician at many Olympic Games. His mentor was a Taoist who had a photograph taken with Hitler.
My local sister texts to say that she has had a migraine during her vacation. The one in the UK looks radiant ever since the two of them began speaking to each other after a four-year hiatus. It was a piece of cake, she says.
I hope you don’t ignore me now that you have her, I say.
As if we could!
Then she asks after my ex and I tell her that the mastering of his song has been finished and that he had done most of vocals, something he had not expected when rehearsing with one of his students, and we have discovered that he has an amazing voice. One of his friends is building a website for him and he joked that he will become famous after his death.
He does not look like you remember, I say.
We are both silent after this.
Postal workers are on strike, she says finally. And I have not received any of my supplements.
Our conversation seems to be done so we hug and kiss over the ether.
Girija Tropp’s fiction has appeared in several Best Australian Short Stories editions. She has been published in The Boston Review, Agni, and various other journals. She has also won or been short-listed for major awards. Most recently, her flash fiction has appeared in New World Writing, and anthologised in Café Irreal and Smokelong Quarterly: The Best of the First Ten Years. She lives in Australia.