Authors: Brooke Davis
: Wakes without an alarm. Doesn’t open her eyes until she’s wearing her brown glasses. Notes the time on the clock on the wall in front of her. Nods approvingly. Walks to the bathroom to the beat of the ticking clock. Is careful not to trip over her husband’s slippers, which have not been moved since the last time he wore them.
6:05 to 6:45: Sits in the Chair of Disbelief and measures Cheek Elasticity, Distance From Nipples To Waist, Foreign Hair Growth, Wrinkle Count, Projected Wrinkle Trajectory, and Arm Wobblage. Notes the data in an exercise book titled
. Narrates the entire event while looking at herself in the
I’m measuring Arm Wobblage now!
she yells at herself while she bats a hand at the underside of her upper arm.
It’s up from yesterday!
she yells after checking the data.
It’s always up from yesterday!
6:46: Allows herself one deep, dark sigh.
I’m washing myself now!
she yells. She never yells anything too specific in the shower.
7:06: Dresses in one of her four brown skirt suits.
she yells as she pulls them over her belly button.
Skirt! Blouse! Shoes!
7:13: Cooks a breakfast of two fried eggs, one rasher of bacon, and a piece of whole-wheat toast.
7:21: Sits in the Chair of Degustation, cuts her breakfast into small squares, and eats it, one square at a time.
I’m eating bacon now!
she yells in between mouthfuls.
7:43: Sits on the Chair of Discernment. She watches the street through the hole in the ivy, her body leaning forward, her hands gripping her knees.
she might shriek at a passerby, jumping out of her chair and pointing her finger in the air, as if playing bingo.
Too Asian! Too bald! Pull your pants up! Stupid shoes! Too many hairclips! Thin lips! Suit too purple! Pointy nose! Asymmetrical face! Knobbly knees!
Sometimes the insults extend to the neighbors’ yards.
Cut your hedges! Too many flowers! Letter box is slanty!
Or even the birds.
Too chirpy! Not enough legs!
The words rebound off the walls of the room, and her voice becomes louder and louder, culminating in one
final, all-encompassing insult that never seems to have the effect she wants.
Humanity is doomed!
12:15: Collapses in a heaving lump on her chair.
12:16: Allows herself to be sweaty and relieved.
12:18: Lunch. A whole-wheat Vegemite sandwich. Does not cut it into squares like her breakfast; instead cuts it into long, thin strips.
Variety is important! If you want to keep your wits about you!
she yells as she dangles a sandwich strip above her mouth.
12:47: Afternoon tea. A pot of tea and an Anzac biscuit. Sits in the hallway on the Chair of Resentment. Looks at the brown wall and yells things like,
Sometimes she can’t think of anything, and just says,
Being resentful makes her face feel more pointed than usual, and, for reasons she can’t quite put into words, she gleans satisfaction from this feeling.
I like this feeling!
she confirms to the wall.
1:32: Cleans the house, yelling,
I’m scrubbing the coat hangers!
I’m polishing the light globes!
3:27: Sits in the Chair of Disagreement in the sitting room and writes complaint letters, keeping them in a box marked
FOR DISTRIBUTION AFTER ALL OF THIS
. She underlines
but is not specific about what
4:29: One of two things happens. Sits in the Chair of Disappearing, closes her eyes, and listens to the
sound from the television. Or, very, very occasionally, sits in the Chair of Disappointment and stares at her husband’s slippers.
5:03: Dinner. A roast, usually. Covers the meat, potatoes, and broccoli with gravy.
6:16: Sits in the Chair of Disengagement. Drinks a mug of Bonox and watches television static.
8:00: Removes all her clothes—
Shoes! Blouse! Stockings!—
and hangs them up.
8:06: Sits in the Chair of Disbelief and stares at herself in the mirror.
8:12: Puts on her nightgown and turns off the light. It is only in the dark of night that Agatha removes her brown sunglasses. But even then it’s only in her bed, when she pulls the blanket up over her face, squeezing her eyes tightly closed. And even then the world feels too close, hovering above her, only centimeters away. And in the soft seconds between asleep and awake—that tiny gap in consciousness where you are just awake enough to know and just asleep enough to not know, at around 9:23
—Agatha Pantha allows herself to be lonely.
: Wakes. Fumbles for her brown glasses.
6:05 to 6:45: Sits in the Chair of Disbelief and yells,
I’m counting wrinkles now! I don’t think I’ve seen this one on my knee before!
I’m turning on the water now!
she yells, standing in the shower.
Stockings! Skirt! Blouse! Shoes!
I’m eating eggs now!
7:56: Sits in the Chair of Discernment.
Parking too far away from the gutter!
Flowers aren’t growing!
Footpath is dirty!
Helmets aren’t fashion accessories!
10:36: A police car drives slowly past.
This is different!
10:42: The same police car drives down the street from the other direction.
10:47: A small girl with curly red hair runs down the street, opens Agatha’s front gate, runs into Agatha’s front yard, and hides behind Agatha’s fence.
10:48: The police car drives past again. The girl sinks into the weeds, her back against the fence. She looks at Agatha.
10:49: The little girl peeks over the fence. Looks up and down the street. Looks back at Agatha. Stands, walks out of Agatha’s front yard, across the street, and up the pathway of the opposite house. She tries the door, finds a key under the mat, turns back to look up and down the street. And disappears inside the house.
Agatha has been watching this house. Three months ago, she saw the ambulance arrive with the lights off. She saw the white sheet over the stretcher, the vague lines of a body. She saw the street rally around them, carrying their thank-God-it-was-you-and-not-me food. She saw the florist vans parked down the street in a long line. She saw the mother shrinking down to bones.
You should eat some of the food they keep bringing you!
she yelled at her once, tapping on the window. She saw the child. She was just a child.
I’ll leave you alone!
she had yelled.
It’ll be the best thing for you!
She leaned back in her chair and folded her arms.
So when Agatha sees the little girl disappear into the house on the other side of the road, she knows that the little girl’s father is dead and that her mother isn’t home. The mother had looked at Agatha two days ago. Right through the hole in the ivy, right through the glass of the window, right in the eyes. She’d put a suitcase in the boot of her car and her eyes said something to Agatha, something like an apology, something like screaming, something like pleading, something like this:
How do you get old without letting sadness become everything?
And Agatha’s body had vibrated a little.
Agatha hadn’t understood what was happening, but she could tell something was happening.
Something’s happening here! Something’s awry!
she yelled, standing up and pressing the side of her face against the glass, watching the mum and the
little girl drive off down the street. Agatha could feel it. There was something happening.
11:37: Agatha tries to forget all about the little girl’s return. She tries to forget the mother’s face and the fact that there is no car in the driveway. She tries to focus on all the houses that she can see except for the one opposite.
Lawn is patchy!
I can see a weed just there! Your dog’s ugly! Too many kids! They’re ugly too!
But then the door across the road opens. The little girl appears. Agatha watches her cross the road, open Agatha’s gate, and walk up her driveway.
Agatha yells. The little girl knocks on Agatha’s front door. She’s holding a piece of paper.
Agatha yells through the window.
I’ve got enough!
The little girl disappears and then returns brandishing a plastic crate. She maneuvers it in front of Agatha’s window and stands on it so she is face-to-face with Agatha through the glass.
The little girl holds up the piece of paper.
Agatha squints at it.
If I tell you, will you go away?
The little girl nods.
It’s a travel itinerary.
It’s a piece of paper that says where someone’s going. Is that your mother’s name?
The little girl nods again.
She went to Melbourne. Two days ago.
she’s going to the United States in six days.
They stare at each other through the glass.
Now, go away.
:43: The little girl stands at the window of the house across the road, watching Agatha. They stare at each other. The little girl’s eyes say something like:
How do you get old?
8:07: Agatha hangs a pillowcase over the window so she can’t see through the hole in the ivy.
9:13: There’s a knock on the window. Agatha jumps.
, a small voice says. Agatha turns the volume up full bore on the television.
12:15: Agatha removes the pillowcase. The little girl is still watching her from the window across the road, but now she sits in a chair.
3:27: Agatha tries to write complaint letters, but all she can think of to write is,
Dear Little Girl’s Mum, Who do you think you are?
4:16: The child is still looking at her through the window. Agatha can’t concentrate. All she can think about is the mother’s face, the carless driveway. Before she knows what she’s doing, she has waded through the letters and opened the door. She’s holding some Anzacs and a cup of tea. The air is so fresh on her face, on her whole body. She hasn’t felt fresh air on her
whole body like this, since . . . since. She can feel it blowing on her legs, feel it through her stockings. Her skin prickles. Her breath catches.
This is different!
The weeds around her front door are at head height, and they greet her like a group of malnourished people.
You’re not getting anything from me!
she yells, swinging her elbows at them as she storms past. She stands at her front gate and faces the street.
Too many cracks in the footpath!
I’m crossing the road now! Hedge is too fancy! Look out, car, I’m not stopping for you! This is not that hard at all! It’s just walking, after all! I’ve done it a million times! As long as I have legs that can walk, I should probably use them!
Agatha walks up the pathway to the little girl’s house and knocks on the door. The little girl answers it.
, the little girl says.
Agatha hands her the plate of biscuits and the cup of tea. The little girl stares at the offerings.
Agatha says. The little girl takes the plate but ignores the tea.
Have you rung your mother?
The little girl places the plate on a nearby table and starts eating a biscuit. She won’t meet Agatha’s eyes.
Her phone’s off.
. Agatha looks at the cup of tea, then sips it.
Any of those?
My aunty lives out east
, the little girl says.
. Agatha feels like a giant looming over her. Was she ever this small?
But Mum says we don’t need anyone else.
Oh, she did, did she! Tried your aunty?
I don’t know her number.
Don’t you have an address book?
Mum had it in her phone.
Look it up in the White Pages!
What are White Pages?
What’s her name?
Aunty Judy! From Melbourne!
Agatha turns and walks back down the pathway.
What am I supposed to do with that!
She throws one arm up in the air, the tea splashing over the edges of the cup.
The little girl runs after her.
My dad died.
Agatha turns around to face the girl.
So did mine!
She sips her tea forcefully.
When did he die?
Sixty years ago!
Mine died three months ago.
This isn’t a competition! But if it was! I’ve lived without mine for longer than you! So!
What happened at his funeral?
What kind of question is that!
Mum didn’t let me go to Dad’s funeral.
Well, that was probably the best thing for you!
Why are you yelling?
Why are you whispering!
Neither am I!
Agatha turns to cross the street but stops short. She stares at the house across from them. She takes another forceful sip of tea.
I live there?