Authors: Brooke Davis
The little girl nods.
But it’s . . .
Agatha can’t finish the sentence. It’s the house in the street that children would be frightened of, that adults would have scorn or pity for. She turns back to the girl.
You’re sure I live there?
The girl nods again.
Can you help me find my mum?
Of course not!
I have things to do! I’m very busy! Go to the police!
I can’t. They want to give me a new mum and a new dad.
Go back inside!
Agatha yells, striding toward her house.
Keep trying your mother!
6:16: Sits in the Chair of Disengagement. Drinks a mug of Bonox and watches television static.
6:24: The television static begins to look like the little girl’s face.
6:25: Pours the remainder of her Bonox down the sink.
6:26: Removes all her clothes.
Shoes. Blouse. Stockings.
And hangs them up.
6:31: Sits in the Chair of Disbelief and stares at herself in the mirror.
6:33: Her face becomes the little girl’s face. She accidentally
knocks the portable clock off the bathroom bench and it smashes on the tiles.
6:33 to 6:45: Stares at the smashed clock.
6:46: Puts on her nightgown and turns off the light.
: Agatha knocks on the little girl’s front door and hands her a plate piled with roast meat, potatoes, broccoli, and gravy.
, the little girl says, and begins to eat from the plate with her fingers while standing.
What are you doing!
What do you mean?
the little girl says, face already covered in gravy.
You should be outside! Playing! You’re just a child! Don’t sit at the window!
You do that.
But I’m old! I’m allowed to do that! I’m allowed to do whatever I want! That’s what happens when you get old! Write that down! It’s important!
Helen. Stan. My new mum and dad. The police.
Agatha stares at her.
What did you do?
I don’t know,
the little girl says, and starts to cry.
8:12: Agatha puts on her nightgown and turns off the light. As she’s climbing into bed, she trips over something soft. She turns on the light.
8:13: She has kicked her husband’s slippers across the room.
8:14: Agatha turns on the bathroom light and looks at herself in the mirror. She starts feeling it again. That thing rising up her throat.
She’s talking me into it!
: Agatha has had enough.
7:43: She packs her large handbag with everything she needs. Her Age Book. Two watches and a small battery-run clock from the cupboard. Spare underwear. Two blouses. Some Anzac biscuits. Her jar of Bonox. Her notepad for writing complaint letters.
8:12: Agatha knocks on the little girl’s front door. She grips her handbag tightly and has her suit jacket buttoned up.
Have you tried your mother again?
Agatha says when the little girl opens the door.
The little girl looks at her feet.
Her phone’s still off.
The first sign of one of those telephone machines, you’re ringing her!
The little girl notices Agatha’s handbag.
Where are you going?
And you’ll be ringing her the entire way! She can’t get away with it that easily!
Are you taking me somewhere?
If you think I’m getting on one of those jet planes, you can think again!
And I can’t take you to the police! I know what they do to women like me! Who live in places like that!
She gestures toward her house.
They’ll lock me up! Put me in some home with all the dribbling people!
The little girl looks unsure and doesn’t move.
Don’t just stand there! Pack your bags! We’re going to Melbourne!
The little girl disappears for a moment and returns with a backpack.
Is that it?
She picks up a long plastic object that lies on the ground beside the door and nods.
What on Earth is that?
The little girl hugs it to her chest.
It’s a leg.
arl did not own a computer, typewriter, or even a keyboard. He touch-typed on garbage-bin lids, on air, on the heads of small children, on his legs. He typed questions out with his fingertips before he asked them, just to make sure he wanted to. In the privacy of his own home, before he moved in with his son, Karl drew keyboards on coffee tables, on walls, on his shower curtains. He loved the way typing made hands move, the way fingers square-danced around one another, doing the do-si-do. He had watched his mother’s fingers, then eventually Evie’s, bouncing off the keys like drops of water on hot asphalt, and found the crooked typing finger of a woman to be as elegant and arousing as the arch of her foot or the nape of her neck.
When Karl’s son said good-bye in the nursing home, he said,
We’ll see you soon, Dad
, and kissed him on the cheek. Karl felt
his son’s scratchy face against his, and it was suddenly unfathomable to him that his own son had to shave. Life had been one blink and one breath and one piss, and now he was here, sitting on a bed in a room full of old men who couldn’t keep their shit to themselves. He stood at the window and watched his son cross the parking lot. He walked so deliberately, that boy, from heel to toe always, and Karl thought,
When did he decide to walk like that?
Evie’s footsteps had been so light and unpredictable, like salt falling from a saltshaker. His son seemed conscious that each step was bringing him closer to something of which he was unsure. Heel to toe, heel to toe.
It was his daughter-in-law Amy’s idea.
I walk into my own house and brace myself to see a dead man in the recliner
, he heard her say one night through the papery walls that separated their bedrooms. She was a pointy little woman, one whose perfume always arrived before she did.
He’s my father
, his son, Scott, replied.
I’m your wife!
You know what the doctor said about my blood pressure.
There was a long silence, and Karl lay in his bed with his arms straight at his sides, as though he were waiting to be shot out of a cannon.
, his son said finally. Karl squeezed his fingers together.
I’ll talk to him
Karl turned his head to one side and felt the pillow on his cheek. He squinted into the darkness.
, he whispered, and held out his hand like a peace offering. He traced her body in the air with an open palm. He tried to feel her nose on his, her breath on his face, her hand across his back.
, he said again, because it was the only word that came to mind. He put his palm on the pillow by his head and closed his eyes.
When Scott and Amy rose for work the next morning, Karl was already sitting at the dining table with his bag packed at his feet. He wore his hat and the gloves he’d once used for driving.
, Scott said, stopping in the kitchen doorway.
Karl cleared his throat.
I think I’m ready to move on
, he said, fingers tapping on the table.
Scott pulled out the chair beside him and sat down. Karl laced his fingers together. Scott placed a careful hand on top of Karl’s. As he ran a gloved thumb over his son’s knuckle, Karl thought,
I made this hand
Karl sat on the edge of his bed. He was in a room with four other men. The pallid color of their skin seemed to match the pallid color of the walls. They all lay in their beds with a kind of stunned boredom, their mouths open, their eyes blinking as if they had to remind themselves to do it.
, Karl said out loud.
This is it.
A nurse stopped in the doorway and eyed him.
You gonna unpack, love?
, he replied.
Just getting my sea legs.
The nurse smiled. She had a pretty smile.
Take your time
, she said, leaning into the doorframe.
But we’re serving dinner in an hour.
She winked at him and turned on her heel, her ponytail flicking at the air. Her bum jiggled beneath her uniform as she walked away.
It was still light outside when Karl walked down the hallway to the dining hall for dinner. The clock on the wall said 4:30, and as a plateful of unidentifiable foodstuffs was pushed in front of him, Karl thought,
So this is it
. He sat at a long table, like the sort he’d seen in movies about prison. He still wore his driving gloves and hat.
The jiggly bummed nurse pulled up a chair beside him. She grabbed his hand and looked into his eyes.
He couldn’t remember the last time someone had looked at him like they meant it. He closed his eyes and allowed himself this moment. She had dark hair, dark eyes, pale skin. She was so clean. He thought,
Another time, another place, I would kiss her.
Being able to rest his nose in her cleavage would make this place bearable.
Instead, he just looked back at her with his old-man eyes. He said, typing into her palm,
Yes, thank you.
His body felt pathetic in comparison to hers, so old and shrunken, but she looked at him with a type of kindness that made him forget that. And then she stood up and jiggled away, and he sat there, looking at what might have been mashed peas, thinking about how much he wanted her to jiggle on top of him, right in this chair, in front of everybody. No one would even notice. And as he surrendered to the peas, spooning them into his mouth, feeling them sink down his throat, he thought,
I never do what I want to do.
When Karl was a tiny boy thinking enormous thoughts, he would sometimes pretend he was sick so he could accompany his mother to work. She worked in a big room full of typing women, and Karl would sit underneath her, the top of his head touching the bottom of her chair, the perfect line of her legs in front of him, pushed together with such tenacity you would need a crowbar to pry them open. But there was still a sweetness about them, somewhere in the roundness of her calves. He only remembers his mother in bits and pieces now. In legs, and fingers, and reflections in mirrors.
The women had seemed otherworldly to him, like
something that might be kept in a glass case or on a wall. He closed his eyes underneath his mother’s chair and listened. The typing was loud and unforgiving. All these pretty women, their bodies perfectly still, their fingers warring against typewriters.
Things began to advance for Karl when he learned the term
. He realized that the women didn’t have to look at their fingers to make them move in such dramatic ways. This made him feel something he didn’t understand. He didn’t know it was all about his own skin until he met Evie.
Years later, after his first day at typing school, Karl sat at the kitchen table and plunged the tips of his fingers into a bowl of ice. They were red and throbbing. But it was nice to see pain on his fingertips, and feel it running up his forearms, like something trying to get inside him. It felt nice to have something trying to get inside him.
For the first time in his life he felt in a position of power, in the decisive way he was forced to use his fingers. The keys flew at the page—
thwap, thwap, thwap—
like he was throwing punches. He loved the potential of those white pages. That they would start off as nothing and become something. It made him feel as if he, too, could become something.
By day he filled pages with meaningless sentences about cats and dogs, and Jack and Jill and Jane. He typed them as though they were the most important things anyone ever had to say. By night he dreamed in typing exercises. In the morning, he sang the exercises into the showerhead, closing his eyes and
letting the water run down his face. His mind lit up in letters as he spoke.
He loved watching his fingers skidding across the keys. He could see that perhaps he was beautiful, because he was creating something. It wasn’t music they played in concert halls or art they hung on walls, but to Karl it was both of those things, and more.
Karl had met Evie at typing school. Eventually he would come to like the way she clutched at her chest when she talked, as if she were trying to stop her heart from falling out. When they first met, however, he simply thought her name would be good to say during sex. There was something excitingly sacrilegious in the way he could tie Original Sin and sex together. He had, of course, known her as Eve back then; Evie would come later, when he knew her knees and elbows and belly button better than he knew his own. Her name had, from the very beginning, felt incomplete without the
, kind of hanging there with a drama that seemed unnecessary.
After two months, there had been three conversations, the eyes, the touches, that walk she did with those hips he couldn’t blink out of his mind. If she was in the room, he couldn’t think of anything else but her presence. Her heat and energy were so
noticeable to him. It wasn’t just his mind, running through the various things that would happen once she gave him permission to know her, it was also his body; he felt it needing to be near her, as though his skin was going to burst into flames if they didn’t touch.
One night, she pirouetted out the door after class, her eyes resting on him. Karl sat in front of his typewriter thinking,
. When the last straggler had filed out, he removed, with great difficulty, the letters
from his typewriter. He calmly walked to Eve’s desk and removed the
from hers. He glued the letters to the tips of his fingers, MARRY on his right hand, ME on his left, and appeared on her doorstep in the fading light. He held his hands up on either side of his face, wiggling his fingers a little. She put her hands on his forearm and typed,
Yes, thank you.
Their wedding day was simple. Nothing too grand, nothing too quiet. Nothing went wrong, really, unless you count the organist fainting at his post, mid–“Here Comes the Bride.” But even that was okay, because when his head fell onto the keys, and that terrible sound of discordant notes crunched together, echoing throughout the church like a moment of suspense in a film, it made Karl feel as though his life was worthy of suspense, and worthy of film.
Karl stood at the front of the church, feeling the sweat gather in the lines on his palms, feeling the eyes of the typing women seated across two pews, looking like birds on a wire.
Their legs were all crossed identically, and everything about them seemed so conscious of the angle of their tilted heads, and he thought,
Have these women always been like this?
There was something about them that made him uneasy.
And then Evie stood opposite him, looking at him so warmly from her plain, unremarkable face. He loved that plain, unremarkable face. The smattering of freckles, the uninteresting nose, the thin lips, the ordinary eyes. When quizzed about Evie’s appearance, Karl had trouble describing it. He knew the derogatory implications of the word
, so instead he lied and said she was pretty.