First appeared in Seizure Online – Flashers, July 2015
I am lying in bed, a mountain of pillows propping up the top half of my body, a noble lady holding court in her own bedroom. Carl moved my bed so I can see straight out into the backyard when I wake up.
It’s a windy day and I can see the crisscrossed power lines and undulating layers of houses, which give way to rolling hills covered in brush. Carl will be here soon. I could get up, but this morning I want to luxuriate in the pillows a little longer.
I can see the clothesline from my position on the bed. It doesn’t move in the wind because the base is rusted, but the large mulberry tree behind it does. The branches sway to a syncopated rhythm, the trees further back serve as its crazed back-up dancers. They are out of time with the mulberry tree and each other, but it’s dancing nonetheless.
I am thinking of a day – it would have to be more than three years ago – that was a lot like this one. That day the wind whipped the same trees into frenzied collections of limbs as I battled to hang washing on the line. There was no particular reason, but that day I felt so happy. The sort of joy that longs to manifest itself in movement, in dancing circles around the backyard. I was wearing a blue dress with small white flowers and a yellow sweater.
The wind tugged at me, throwing long blades of grass against my legs and whipping my red hair into my mouth. My short dress rose and fell at dangerous and erratic intervals. I smiled at the thought of our neighbours from the towering concrete mansion that overlooked our yard. You could almost feel them, judging our crooked fence and unweeded veggie patch. I imagined one of them wondering if they really had just seen a flash of auburn pubic hair. Of course the crazy girl next door wouldn’t wear underwear.
A sound in the hall. Carl knocks twice on the bedroom door before entering. He is balding and flabby, but strong. I like Carl because he’s not timid. He strides across the room and throws his bag at the end of the bed. His teal polo shirt is emblazoned with a large logo of two hands clasping each other, the same uniform he wears every day.
‘Want a hand, lazy?’
He smiles as he says it. I can get into my wheelchair by myself, but sometimes it’s nice to have Carl’s help. I catch one last look of the backyard. We are getting rid of the old Hills Hoist and putting in something I can reach from my chair. It’s the kind of thing that would have made me cry once, but today I am happy. Carl smells like eucalyptus laundry detergent as he lowers me into my chair, and the mulberry tree is still dancing.
First appeared in Everyday Ghosts zine, June 2015
The First, Last and Only Person Alive.
By Hayley Scrivenor
Today I realised I am the only true ‘person’ (that is, the only true soul comprised of and comprising every soul in the history of the world). I was jogging slowly near Corrimal Beach. It was early morning. Crisp. The realisation came quickly and all at once. Like dunking myself underwater. As you know, we can never recall, never understand water until we are submersed in it. By then it is all around us, so what’s the point of trying to remember? There is no memory, only certainty, only the irrepressible now. It was like that.
The best part of figuring out that I am the current incarnation of the sole conscious spark in an otherwise empty universe (and, more importantly, the only experiencer of life on this and all planets) is I can now confidently lay claim to humanity’s every major achievement. The first to run the four minute mile? That was me. The first people on the moon? All me. Doesn’t that make you feel better for Edwin Eugene Aldrin? To realise that we are all in it together? That he’s not second best? The Dutch woman who will be the first woman to walk on the moon, that’ll be me as well. Telling the future gets a bit hazy when I am in human form, but I think her name will be Aaltje.
Obviously, being the sole sentient form of life, and performing that function for every person who ever was or ever will be takes time. It takes Forever actually. It also means I was Hitler, and Pol Pot, and that really mean lady from the newsagents who would always give you less lollies than you paid for and would then roll out a stink eye so potent that you wouldn’t even think of saying anything. I am every rapist and high school massacrer as well. I am Cheri McQuilton (not that the name would mean anything to you yet). I’m also every victim and every mourning loved one, so I don’t hold it against myself.
I am not everyone in the world at once, of course. What I am is the only true experience that can be happening at any one time. As a person you have not truly been alive until I—the only thing in the universe capable of consciousness—has been inside you. You can really only be said to exist when I am you (or, you are me—whatever you prefer). Until I am you, everything that is happening externally to you is just all the people I (we) have been and could be populating (y)our world. So you and I serve as a kind of backdrop for ‘our’ life. That is, the only life that is truly being lived at any one time.
Consciousness is tricky. It’s important that I go through and continue on as this young woman (me) was meant to. I can’t change her actions because doing that would upset a balance I have maintained for millennia. After the jog I walked to the new café on the corner near my/our house. The man who smiled at me as he took my order there didn’t give any hint that he was/is simply an automaton, simply going through the motions until I leave this body and get around to inhabiting his/mine.
I thought about telling him. Of course, I didn’t. I only bother to mention it here because throughout the history of time I have figured out what I am while actually inside a physical form only a handful of times. One of those times I was Napoleone di Buonaparte. Another time I was a woman who sold buttons at a stand at a market in Burkina Faso. And now I am a twenty something writer from Wollongong, Australia. I am also you. The you currently experiencing the world’s only consciousness. The you reading this right now.
Writing this story is not as damaging as you may think. Remember, I am inside a writer at the moment. She is doing nothing radically different with her morning.
But the question remains: what’s the use in telling you this? You and I both know that it’s really only me who will eventually read it. And it’s never particularly nice to reread your own work. But I wanted to. It’s the kind of info you just want to share, you know? (Of course you do.) It feels less lonely somehow.
Like this story? Download the whole zine here
First appeared in prowlings, issue four, February 2015
Work, Rest, Play, Shapeshift
By Hayley Scrivenor
It’s closing time and I just want to leave, but there is a shabby old man in the aisles who keeps changing shape. First he’s a tree, then an eagle, and now a matching set of Arthur Conan Doyle bookends. It’s closing time and I want to go home. “Piss off old man,” I tell him. He turns into a fairy wren and flies out the automatic doors. The fluorescent light buzzes. I help myself to a Mars Bar from the display next to the till.
By Hayley Scrivenor
I hop off my bike, unstrap my helmet and clumsily push my bike through the garage door. I let it topple and fall on top of the others, there’s no room to position it more carefully. I stand in the doorway of the garage, overflowing with the detritus of more than half a dozen housemates. Stars Wars memorabilia and our “costume wardrobe” and power tools all lay in a big jumble with, at last count, about 7 bikes. There are only four of us in the house now, but it looks like enough stuff for ten people. I stand, drinking in the moment. It’s a beautiful afternoon, the sun is beginning to redden and is being pulled slowly behind Mount Keira, streaking the clouds orange and purple. I sigh with contentment to think that I am just a few minutes away from dinner and a cold beer. It’s a warm afternoon, one of the first truly warm afternoons we’ve had in a while and we’re having burritos. Daniel promised they’d be ready when I got home, which is great because I am starving.
I walk towards the kitchen, traversing the long, thin sunroom which is always cold in winter and too hot in summer. Standing at the threshold, it suddenly feels as though an icy wind has swept though. I smell nothing frying, see nothing on the counter top. I dash for the oven but there is not a single tortilla to be seen. With one last panicked gesture, I fling open the microwave. The enormity of the nightmarish situation I have just found myself in seems to have escaped Daniel, who I can hear is busy in the other room. I made a distinct promise to my stomach that there would be burritos when I arrived home. My stomach is easily angered when it doesn’t get what it’s been promised. I imagine my stomach like one of those mob bosses who sends their goons out to collect on outstanding debts. My stomach doesn’t care that you can get the money “next week”. I imagine my stomach holding a baseball bat, but my brain can’t really figure how the organ would cling to a bat so in my mental image it’s kind of just leaning next to what I think a stomach looks like. In my imagination, my stomach looks like a big pink water balloon shaped liked an apostrophe and has a thick moustache.
Now that he hears I am home, Dan (my so-called “boyfriend”) pops into the kitchen. He is smiling, as though he hasn’t just betrayed me in the worse way possible. He seems to feel like now it is an appropriate time to start cooking and after giving me a quick peck on the cheek (which I am too shell-shocked to respond to appropriately) starts making the bean mix. My distress quickly turns into anger. How could he do this to me? Why does he feel the need to destroy everything that makes me happy? I suddenly realise that I have aligned my life with a human being who is totally incapable of compassion. Then, as though to add insult to injury, the bastard actually starts tickling me. “Are you hangry my dear?” he asks, his eyes glinting malevolently in the fluorescent light of the kitchen. My stomach starts hunting around in a drawer for its brass knuckles.
This is undoubtedly the worst thing that has ever happened. Ever. Dan leaves the room to do something; he seems slightly miffed by my understandable distress for some reason and cruelly decides that not cooking me dinner is an even more efficient way of making my life terrible. He says he’s just “got to make a call”, but I know it really means that he has abandoned me. I heroically take over the cooking process, realising that any salvation is going to have to come from myself. Despite my new-found strength (drawn from the knowledge that I am woman, and I will roar etc) I nearly drop the fresh salsa. The thought of the fresh coriander, tomato, onion and lime on the floor makes me swear loudly.
We have no pre-dinner snacks. My sense of urgency rises, we don’t have anything that could even remotely qualify as a pre-dinner snack. “Keep breathing Hayley. The important thing is to remain calm”. A beer will be just the thing to keep me going, I think. Thank goodness I manage to keep my head in a crisis. It’s then that I realise that I live not only in relationship built on lies and betrayal, but a veritable vipers nest of deceit of lax morality. Whoever took the last beer hasn’t put more in the fridge. I curse again to myself. What the hell is wrong with people? Don’t they understand that if they take the last beer without putting a new one in they are condemning that person, their so-called “friend” and sharer of their living space to warm, tepid beer? Beer the temperature of pool water that has just been pissed in. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye I spot a bottle in the door. I’m still shaky from the close call of almost having no beer, and I allow myself a nice long, bracing sip.
I bang around the kitchen, trying to make him hear my preparations and hoping that some guilt might finally penetrate the cold, hard exterior of my nefarious lover. I slam things down on the table, stuffing some of the grated cheese rebelliously in my mouth. I chop the lettuce roughly, letting it take some of the abuse I feel like doling out to the world. I nearly cut my finger and I am reminded of how dangerous it is for me to be doing things in my current state. It would serve him right if I severed my hand off. Of course, even in my distress I can see the obvious disadvantage to myself, but it doesn’t stop the thought from villainously skipping across my mind, obnoxiously popping gum as it goes.
I stick my head into the bedroom, unable to make eye contact with the man who has ruined my evening, I manage to curtly tell him that dinner is ready, which is more than he deserves, the bastard. Without waiting for him, I sit down and pull the first burrito from the foil. I load beans, lettuce, salsa, cheese and natural yoghurt. The yoghurt is just a whisper and a warm afternoon from going off, which is when it is best on burritos. The first bite is what I imagine it must be like to see a loved one you care about for the first time after you thought they had perished in a textile fire. I practically insert the burrito directly into my face. Stopping occasionally to gulp down sweet, icy-cold beer. About 3 minutes in, when I am about halfway through the burrito, (who am I kidding, 30 seconds only have passed at this point) Daniel’s breathing sounds seem a lot less annoying. I feel the joy trickling back into life again: the same, almost painful, surge as when you get a check up and they take of the blood pressure cuff and your blood starts pumping to the lower half of your arm again.
And it’s then, with the beans and cheese and the beer making their journey to meet the big mob boss in my solar plexus and all debts are paid off, that I am left with the consequences of what I have done. Across from me sits my boyfriend, looking very handsome all of a sudden. Handsome and a little pissed. With the mob boss doing whatever mob bosses like to do in their downtime, it’s just me, Dan and my appalling behaviour in the room now. Then comes the remorse. I smile what I hope is a winning smile. “Sorry babe”. He raises one eyebrow sardonically. “I guess I was hungry”. The other eyebrow joins in now, and together they seem to suggest that perhaps I am understating it a bit.
All the “facts” which moments ago seemed set in stone (Daniel had deeply wronged me, I am a noble figure to be pitied by anyone with any sense) have melted away like novelty foam left in the sun. Perhaps it’s just a tad unfair to expect dinner at 5:30 on a spring afternoon. The days are getting longer and I can understand how he may have lost track of time. I am really starting to think I have a blood sugar problem or something. It can’t be normal not to feel hunger without accompanying murderous desires. I apologise again to Dan, who looks weary but soon makes a joke. Lucky he still has some sense of humour about the whole thing. Not that he truly understands. When I am hungry it feels like I will never be full again. No matter how many times I see the miracle, no matter how many times I over-order, I can never get my stomach to believe that this, this isn’t the time that we won’t be able to satiate my hunger.
When dinner is done, I sit back into my chair, finally able to relax. I smooth my shirt over my belly.
“Did you grab dessert like you said you would?” I ask.
“Nah, I forgot”.
My stomach starts twirling its mob boss moustache. I must try to remain calm.
By Hayley Scrivenor
First Appeared in The Environment Issue of Tertangala Magazine
When Steve walks into the house I am in the kitchen. I have been pacing between the kitchen and dining room for the last twenty minutes. Picking things up. Putting them down again. Organising our collection of dried fruit into jars. Sorting our tuna stash into little columns in order of flavour, so that their red and yellow and light blue rings line up in an orderly fashion at the back of the cupboard. I am looking down at the jaunty mermaid on the lid of one of the tins when I hear the door slam.
Anxiety spreads like hot oil through my viscera. In that moment, I would have traded anything to rid myself of the hot guilt pooling in my pelvis. I hear the shower start up. I am relieved to delay our inevitable standoff, but worried that Steve seems to want to avoid it as well.
I remember when I first read the headlines about the discovery of an exciting new species. “Sirens discovered in Australia!” said one. Another just said “MERMAIDS!!!” They had found a pod of seven of them. Although genetically closer to the orca family, you had to admit the top half did look strikingly human. The first photos showed a distinct torso with arms, a neck and a head. The lower half looked similar to a dolphin. They were the same black as the tail of a killer whale, a matte black that didn’t reflect light. Large yellow-green eyes took up most of their slightly-smaller-than-human heads. They had a bony ridge roughly where the nose would be on a human face. It was quickly ascertained that they didn’t have anything close to human intelligence.
Despite the recurring reports on Sunrise and some very real interest from the international community of marine biologists, in a surprisingly short amount of time they went the way of any other news item. I guess there’s only so many times Mel Doyle could ask the same vapid questions of a local who had never actually seen one in the flesh, and most of the marine biologists didn’t interview well. Only one specimen stayed in Australia, the rest were shipped to laboratories overseas. I hear the one they have at San Francisco Zoo draws a huge crowd.
The one that stayed in Australia ended up at the University where my friend Sophie worked. Sophie told me about the first female researcher who discovered what happened when you were left alone with the specimen (they jokingly called it “Finn”). Finn circled the girl as she took water samples. It was a shallow tank so she was only wearing cut-off shorts and a singlet, the water just brushing the top of her thighs. Sophie’s colleague didn’t worry when Finn started swimming closer to her. There had never been any noted aggressive activity and she had a waterproof personal alarm on her, which was the lab’s policy. Suddenly, Finn reached out his webbed hand, cupping her vagina. An indescribable sensation flowed like a liquid through her body. She told Sophie that she saw herself floating far above her own body as wave after wave of pleasure crashed against her until Finn withdrew his hand and swam away, completely unfazed.
Since then, it had been whispered among all the females in her team that 10 minutes alone with Finn in the lab would be an experience you would never forget. You had to be alone or he wouldn’t start to circle. Sophie had tried it. When I asked her to describe it she just rolled her eyes back into her head and fluttered her eyelashes theatrically. She said “you have to try it. I can get you in; no one would ever have to know.”
A lot of people would say I shouldn’t have told Steve. That what I was doing wasn’t betrayal. But I told him, because I always tell him everything. I told him the mermaid (merman?) would touch the outside of my clothing and the feeling would be orgasmic. I told him lots of women Sophie knew had done it and all of them swore it was just a little harmless fun. We had talked about the ethical implications. We figured seeing as the creature didn’t feel anything, it was kind of akin to letting those fish nibble on your foot skin. We agreed it would be harmless fun.
After Steve’s shower I hear movement in the bedroom. I put the last jar of freshly re-homed dates into the cupboard. I walk into the room in time to see Steve towelling off, drying his crotch vigorously.
“So…” he says, drawing out the ‘o’ sound. “What was it like?”
I am relieved to see him smile. I smile back. “Just like Sophie said it would be.”
Later, we get pizza and watch TV. Steve wants to bitch about something that happened at work and I am happy to let him. It’s a normal night and we climb into bed around 11, spooning for a while before Steve nods off to sleep.
I lay there wondering if I can really leave it at that. Because I lied. It wasn’t just like Sophie said it would be. Something unexpected happened. The merman had cupped me in his hand, like he had done to all the other women. But then, as the waves were spreading over my body, it brought its face out of the water and kissed me. His kiss was wet and salty and his tongue was surprisingly human. Pleasure flowed like heat from everywhere he touched me. I felt him pull clumsily at my belt. And in that moment, with his skin touching mine, I wanted him to undo it. Arms that were surprisingly strong wrapped around me and lifted me on to him. I have no idea what entered me, all I could feel was even more intense waves of pleasure. I lost all sight of who or where I was as well as all concept of time. It was like starting from a close up of a speck of foam on the ocean, and then zooming out until you are looking at Earth from space.
It makes my breath catch just to think about it. I open my eyes and stare at the celling. I can hear Steve start to snore gently as he lies beside me. I close my eyes and think back to the tank. I have crossed a line, a line between myself and… what? Is Finn an animal? Am I? How am I going to explain it to my gynaecologist? I make a mental note never to eat any of the carefully colour-coded tuna in our pantry. My mind jumps erratically from how I should tell Steve, to the freakish STI I might have contracted.
After I peaked, Finn set me afloat in the water and waited for me to stand unsteadily on my feet again. For a moment there was only the sound of my ragged breathing and the splashing of the water as I struggled to do up my shorts. He was looking right at me. His yellow eyes intent and unblinking. The powerful muscles in his tail shone wetly and it was then, just as he was turning away, that I swear I saw him wink at me. The thought keeps racing through my mind. The damn thing winked at me.