Girija Tropp ~ I Have Almost Forgotten the Taste of Fruit Loops

Pull the weeds, I hear my land­la­dy say. She likes to give strict instruc­tions to her man, so much so that I’ve been inspect­ing him from my kitchen win­dow to see if I can fig­ure out if he is a sub­mis­sive. He is no hunk but there seems to be some­thing about their rela­tion­ship that implies this. To explain, I live below the pair of them, and they have a habit of swarm­ing all over the vast gar­den that drops away to the street in front of my apart­ment. Little did I know when I signed the lease which said the grounds would be looked after, that I would have to do a lot of look­ing at the look­ing-after. The own­er will not be in res­i­dence for half the week, the estate agent told me, a rare oppor­tu­ni­ty like soli­tude over the tree line.

There was that book about spot­ting a fake paint­ing, but how do I know that the joy of liv­ing with the birds will turn rather sour? One of the ben­e­fits of going back to study—Melbourne is get­ting too expen­sive to live on Social Security at my advanced age, is that I don’t real­ly have the time to indulge my feel­ings, except when I stop for a moment. Then again, I hear church bells reg­u­lar­ly from two streets up, so it depends on what I choose to tune out.

I know when the land­la­dy returns from wher­ev­er they go to when they are not here, her boots on the tim­ber floor­ing above my head. Palladiums most like­ly, with strong lan­guage strikes on the floor in an I-am-back-now crescen­do that turn dul­cet after a few hours.

I’ve been mean­ing to weed the few large pots I own, where the basil is frost-singed by the oncom­ing win­ter, but my enthu­si­asm remained anoth­er note in an astro­log­i­cal diary bought this year, with its side­bar hints to me about when I ought to do this and that, days when to wash hair, clean floors, days when pro­tein intake is best absorbed. I find it com­fort­ing to accom­plish these minor mat­ters even though I miss the day for scrub­bing tiles. Right now, I am eat­ing the pome­gran­ate choco­lates I ded­i­cat­ed to the full moon.

Recently, I said to some of my friends that I was being over­whelmed by a whole list of cycli­cal events, includ­ing the way fuel prices fall sharply on a par­tic­u­lar day of the month. I say that to my sis­ter as well when she picks up half a bag of cof­fee, one that is mixed with a super mush­room that I ordered from the Bulletproof crew. I find her delight strange, at the sav­ing on a price of a full bag of funky cof­fee, her going to so much trou­ble, the numer­ous texts of when she could pick this or that up–and would I like the blan­ket that she bought for my niece that had not been just the right thing. She cer­tain­ly earns enough to stand still. What’s that, she says point­ing to a spot near the basil, ignor­ing my con­ver­sa­tion about human cycles ver­sus civ­i­liza­tion imposed cycles. She does not much like this kind of talk.

It could be bur­dock. I threw some out-of-date seeds into that pot when I was on one of those mis­sions to reduce the things I own, and it gave me great plea­sure to toss the seeds in there instead of the bin where so many oth­er items have been dis­card­ed.

After the landlady’s stor­age was flood­ed in the tor­ren­tial rains last month, and I heard the sounds of repair, the saw and ham­mer and shov­ing and the drag­ging, I saw two American roach­es near the stove­top, smooth beige con­vert­ible ovals streaked with dark ochre that were some­what lift­ed off their insect feet. I sprayed them with envi­ron­men­tal dis­in­fec­tant and they keeled over in total dis­re­gard of the data on google that implied they would sur­vive any nuclear war. The nation­al­i­ty was point­ed out to me by a pest con­troller at the home I owned not so long ago, with added infor­ma­tion that this vari­ety was not the pesti­len­tial type, and con­sid­ered some­what dec­o­ra­tive in com­par­i­son to our local roach­es. In any case, my clean­ing skills have been lift­ed to new lev­els since I saw the American vis­i­tors and I have been throw­ing all sorts of pos­ses­sions in the garbage bins that I share with my land­la­dy. I won­der if that is why I got the notice to vacate, some­thing that the agent said I had a right to protest, but which I am not going to do, even though the date is so close to the trimester exams.

After my sis­ter leaves, I open the fridge and stare into it, try­ing to decide on some­thing and even­tu­al­ly, I take out the can­is­ter I am look­ing for, and the milk as well–it seems to have devel­oped a man­go-like hue over the weeks that I have been hav­ing men­tal anguish over giv­ing up dairy. I don’t want to even emp­ty the thing down my sink but what will the land­la­dy think when she sees the full bot­tle in the recy­cling rub­bish bin? She seems to be the sort of per­son who will see these things.

I have a tus­sle with the lid of the can­is­ter, and I am ashamed by my irri­ta­tion at the inan­i­mate thing. Perhaps if it weren’t plas­tic I would be less annoyed by its tem­po­rary recal­ci­trance.

I stand next to the sink and pon­der on dinner–and if I will both­er, and if it is safe to leave my car in that par­tic­u­lar posi­tion on the street below. I reach into the can­is­ter for anoth­er of my full moon treats. The pome­gran­ate bursts crim­son onto my tongue and mix­es with the choco­late. Above us, a water­col­or sky is being absorbed by the oncom­ing dusk that sidles crab­like onto its ephemer­al seren­i­ty.

**

The door­bell sounds twice. It will be the plumber want­i­ng to turn off the gas but I stay in bed. He will fig­ure it out or decide that I have gone shop­ping after all. My exams are over but this is the first vaca­tion where I’ve had as much to do as dur­ing the trimester, rein­stalling jour­nal entries of clin­ic obser­va­tions that I will need for my upcom­ing practicum. They had van­ished at the begin­ning of the year when the col­lege revamped their web­site. I have been exper­i­ment­ing with doing just what I like dur­ing study week, propped up in bed and read­ing nov­els and lis­ten­ing for the birds past the con­struc­tion noise on the oth­er side of our tree-lined street, and while I have passed, I believe I am more stressed than not. What hap­pens if we don’t respond as we are sup­posed to?

The men­tal health team once called to ask some ques­tions. I thought it was going to be about my broth­er who had bran­dished a knife at the insta­mat­ic-car­ry­ing mon­ster of the top­most unit, for tak­ing pic­tures of him. The ama­teur pho­tog­ra­ph­er had been try­ing to prove that my broth­er was prun­ing off those lush red ros­es from the com­mu­nal lawn.

So what do you think of your mom, the men­tal health team asked.

I thought they want­ed to offer me help to give her one of the career oppor­tu­ni­ties that Centrelink pro­vides. We could nev­er be sure whether he was tak­ing his med­ica­tion. Once I got the gist of their con­ver­sa­tion, I said, she’s been like that all her life and has man­aged to teach at high school, bring up chil­dren, pay her tax­es, as well as doing weird things like walk­ing at night to the house of a fam­i­ly near­by to tutor their daughter–who end­ed up scor­ing metic­u­lous results… and my mom even sur­vived the truck that ran her over on her way back to her flat. Really, she is pret­ty sane, con­sid­er­ing.

The knock­ing does not con­tin­ue but there is no relief from a deep weighed down sen­sa­tion. Eventually, I feel my tongue where it is a bit raw as if from being lashed and think about what I might have eat­en. This is what I do, try to fig­ure out what I might have done wrong. Last night’s arugu­la was amaz­ing with the beet­root risot­to that my friend from col­lege brought around, espe­cial­ly with the quar­ter of goat cheese rem­nant lan­guish­ing in the fridge. I begin mus­ing about my finances, a habit of mine, wor­ry­ing if it is going up or down, or get­ting away.

The plumber leaves a note say­ing that there is a gas leak and that the gas com­pa­ny will come to fix it pron­to. I won­der if that caused my headaches, or if it is all that study, or even if there is a con­nec­tion between the gas and my raw tongue via the headaches.

I fall asleep and dream about being in a hos­pi­tal ward that has a very pleas­ant aro­ma, like cut straw­ber­ries. A gang­ster-look­ing man in a Stetson is vis­it­ing the old lady in the bed next to mine. He might as well be wear­ing a hol­ster and a good-look­ing gun. We exchange hot lusty sur­rep­ti­tious glances. Before he leaves, he whis­pers in my ear that he will res­cue me, and it does hap­pen short­ly, in the blink of an eye.

In my new abode, the white tiles of the bath­room com­ple­ment water­fall sounds from the pipes as they gur­gle into the sunken bath. I spend time in the tub, in bed, or wan­der­ing naked through the sur­round­ing for­est. A friend of mine told me about a friend of hers who used to frol­ic with a famous painter from Eltham, and how the said friend used to com­port in her birth­day wear. We decid­ed that it was total­ly nor­mal to be naked in the sev­en­ties.

What are you wor­ried about, mon amour asks.

It’s so nice… that noth­ing seems real!

He laughs and pinch­es me, and pinch­es me some more.

I explain that I did not mean that kind of pain. I mean the sort that one can’t quite put a fin­ger on, like hav­ing an old friend­ship that is not quite right but one can count on.

As time pass­es, I notice how wide my man is around his girth. He is as big as the uni­verse.

~

Girija Tropp’s fic­tion has appeared in sev­er­al Best Australian Short Stories edi­tions, and recent­ly in New World Writing and Cherry Tree. She has pub­lished in The Boston Review, Agni, and has also won or been short-list­ed for major awards. Her work has been anthol­o­gized in Café Irreal and Smokelong QuarterlyThe Best of the First Ten Years. She lives in Australia where she stud­ies Traditional Chinese Medicine.