Out on the balcony, Sara lifts her arms and rests them on the railing, feeling the air touch her underarms. “There should be something more to life,” she whispers, feeling light-headed. Exhausted, she remembers the day she walked into the kitchen to be confronted by her mother’s dead body lying across the floor. Her bloodshot eyes half-open, her mouth agape. Shocked and unable to make a noise, Sara had remained there for a long still moment, until her father came into the kitchen, the cherries and peaches falling from his hands. The tiniest details of the scene pass through her mind: the dusty brown sheen of her father’s hair, the upward quirk of her mother’s left eyebrow, the red scar below her right eye, and the pink lipstick smeared around her lips.
Sara goes to her laptop in the living room and makes flicking movements with her fingers on the keyboard: There will always be a part of us, our emotions, past, existence, left in the places we breathe, no matter how short-lived.
Bing bing! Her lips crinkle in a half smile upon reading Georgia’s message on her phone: Hi hon! What are you up to? Sara replies: I’m about to pop a pizza in the oven; would you like to come over and help me eat it?
Sara stretches out on the couch before the TV. “Is this life? End of the beginning, beginning of the end?” Sara murmurs, staring fixedly at a gecko walking across the ceiling. “Why are you trembling, you little creature?” She is distracted by noises, the kitchen tap’s vicious dripping, the clock’s restless ticking, and the neighbour’s spoiled kid laughing loudly. She flips through the latest novel she is reading. Goldfinch. She reads loudly:
“Caring too much for objects can destroy you. Only—if you care for a thing enough, it takes on a life of its own, doesn't it? And isn’t the whole point of things, beautiful things, that they connect you to some larger beauty?”
“Some larger beauty,” she whispers several times, staring at the picture of an eagle above the piano. She sits down at her laptop and begins to type, her left breast tense and painful: Death seems like a tunnel. It is either light on the other side or dark.
Twenty minutes later, Georgia is there. “Hi honey,” Georgia whispers against her lips, and pulls Sara deep into her mouth, nuzzling her neck. They fall sleep pretty quickly.
Trying desperately to figure out why everybody is encouraging her to marry a man with two children, Sara gazes at a mirror, delighted by the different shapes on her face: triangles, squares, circles, trees, flowers, all in very small sizes. She looks wonderfully beautiful, with a blue scarf tied above her head, featuring a small sunflower. A large number of people are accompanying her to a man’s room. The next moment, it is just her and him, a total stranger. Everybody else is behind the door. “I have no idea why I should marry you; what will happen to your wife if you leave her?” Sara asks, looking anywhere other than him. Catching her by surprise, he licks her thumb, and then wraps his arms around her. “You look like an angel,” he murmurs, embracing her tightly. Staring at his unreadable eyes. “I’ve never been in love with my wife.” Sara feels a sudden surge of anxiety and her breathing becomes shallow and rushed. “I’m not in love with you either!” she says, striking his chest with her cold fingers. He smirks, stroking her breasts with his rough hands through her white dress. “Eat me,” he says. “Leave me alone!” she cries out. He drops passionate kisses on her lips, rolling his tongue in circles inside her mouth. Circling. Flicking. Sending a rush of blood into her heart. She groans, pushing her face down on the floor. Her subconscious is screaming at her to stop but she cannot help her body writhing erratically against him as her breathing quickens. Within seconds, his soft submissive smile turns into an overbearing voice. He thrusts inside her. He reaches to grab her breasts while she moans helplessly. Suddenly, pushing her away, he asks, “What’s happened to them?” She stares down at her breasts. There’s nothing there. Only two big holes.
Sara wakes up on a tear-soaked pillow. She waits for her breath to slow. Georgia is fast asleep. “This isn’t real,” she cries. Her eyes open wide, staring at the dark blue stars of the ceiling with a cry of utter horror, her nightgown covered in a thin layer of sweat, her muscles freezing. Slipping out of bed, she glances at the clock. 1:00 am.
She reaches for her mobile phone that is resting on the ground. One notification from Baran on Twitter: If things did not happen as they did, we would never celebrate the existing moments.
“I’m not celebrating the existing moments exactly because things happened as they did,” Sara whispers. Now fully awake, she walks into the living room. “You have no idea what it’s like to be raped,” Baran once told her while watching a movie in which a man was breaking into a young girl’s room. “Do you?” Sara laughed. Baran forced a weak smile to her lips and changed the subject.
It was eight years ago when her Dad insisted on her marriage. “He’s educated, rich, intellectual, and comes from a very good family,” he had said. “What else do you want? What’s wrong with you?”
“I have no intention of marrying.”
Her Dad had drunk a full bottle of water. “Don’t do this to me.” He had not come home that night nor had he answered her phone calls.
Sara has a message from Julie.
September 3rd, 1:10 am
Hi Sara, just a reminder of our meeting tomorrow J
Sara scrolls up to read previous chats:
August 17th, 5:33 pm
Hi Sara, was charmed to meet you properly last night. Send me some of your work!!!!!!!!! And then let's meet up and chat about art and words.
Hi Julie, Nice to meet you too. I finally pressed send.
September 1st, 10:51 pm
Hey Julie, I’d love to hear about them.
September 1st, 10:55 pm
That sounds great. Let’s meet up at nine.
September 2nd, 10:20 pm
See you, JulieJ
7:30 am. Georgia has already been gone for a couple of hours. Lying face down under the weight of a heavy blanket and listening to Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit, Sara can lose herself for hours, dreaming of her characters. Not possible today though. Glancing up at the blue and pink ceiling and then her watch, Sara throws the blanket halfway down the bed and lurches upright. She puts on a red bra, slips into white shoes, and climbs into jeans and a shirt, all in seven minutes.
Sara crosses the street to catch the bus without looking for cars. A taxi driver slams on his brakes and the car skids. The pile of books Sara is carrying flies out of her hands as she glances down at the right side of the street, where the sounds of breaking glass and the crunching of metal hit her ear. She glimpses blood streaming down the face of the woman who has gone right through the windshield. She feels as if it was her own body slammed against the seatbelt of the Mercedes.
Sara hears the sirens off in the distance as she boards the bus, fixing the bra strap that is dropping down over her right shoulder.
Julie might not have enjoyed my story, Sara thinks as she heads off to the St Lucia university campus where they are supposed to meet. She walks up the stairs into Lakeside café. “How did you like the story?” Sara asks Julie when she finally arrives, fifteen minutes late. They both order mochas. There is a water-serving station with a choice of orange or lime-infused ice water in the middle of the patio. They both choose the lime.
Julie believes Sara should be more creative and avoid self-doubt in her writing: “Turn all the rules upside down and write as recklessly as you want.”
The café has a view to a lake where several pelicans, grebes, and ibises fly in and out, either feeding on the surface, or resting and bathing. Sara looks at a pelican that is resting on a pillar. She says, “Ha ha, that sounds very professional, I might not be able to get away with it.”
“You will if your heart’s in it. By the way, why does your main character keep silent most of the time?”
Sara spears her fingers through her hair, feeling foolish as she realizes that Julie has not read the whole story.
“She doesn’t want to lie, but she talks in the end.”
“Oh, OK. Sometimes silence can justify lying.”
“I’d rather she offers no excuse than lie.”
A little drop of coffee clinging to Julie’s lips reminds Sara of the message she had sent to her mother at a family gathering. Mum, there’s a little drop of strawberry juice on your moustache, clean it. By the way, I’m so bored, they’re all talking nonsense, let’s go.
The host’s eight-year-old son had rudely read the message, running around the table before her mother had managed to grab the phone from him. Everybody turned back to look at Sara who had just come out of the toilet. “There really was a drop of strawberry juice on her lips,” the naughty boy said. Tugging at the end of her scarf, which had become hopelessly tangled, and shaking all over in embarrassment, she tried to straighten it out: “I was just joking.”
“This café’s very crowded; let’s go somewhere else to discuss our thoughts,” Julie suggests.
They sit in the far left corner of the library where there are two comfortable red and orange sofas. Sara sits on the red one opposite a Chinese girl and an Australian girl playing a game on a big flat screen TV. Tilting her head back and forth in a hyper-focused way, and sticking her tongue out every thirty seconds, the girl seems to have embarked on a goal to beat her friend. There are two young men a bit further down. One of them, slumped in the straight-backed chair, is talking on the phone and laughing loudly. The other is holding his laptop tightly and typing so fast, as if he is competing in a typing championship.
“Ha ha, are you sure this is a library?” Julie laughs.
“He would not leave his laptop even in case of a zombie invasion.”
“Excuse me, I’ll be right back,” Julie goes towards the boy, gently leans over the desk, and disappears behind the screen. “Just wanted to make sure he’s not studying,” Julie whispers as she returns, sitting next to Sara.
There is a big scar on Julie’s right hand. Buried memories of existence through the deepest wounds. “This happened when I was eighteen,” Julie says, following Sara’s eyes. “I’m getting old. Ah, did you have an argument with your jacket? You’ve thrown it miles away.”
Sara diligently stretches out her left arm to grab her purple, double-breasted jacket. “Hmmm, yes, I did. It considers itself very inferior to the other jackets and thinks accordingly at every single laugh at it.”
“Wow, you have the potential to be an aspiring comedian. You’re very creative, Sara. Usually when I ask my friends these kinds of questions, they say: “Me? No, we haven’t had an argument, why?”
“Ha ha, thanks.”
“What’s happened to your knee?”
A tall, thin girl bounds up the stairs to the quiet room.
Ten years ago Sara and her friends had reached the summit of Mount Tochal and were making their way down when she slipped on hard snow, felt herself losing her grip, and crashed against rocks. She tried to hold on to anything she could see as she tumbled down. She drifted in and out of consciousness, so she does not exactly remember what happened in that tight spot before she saw two friends standing above her head and trying to reassure Sara that everything was under control. She had no pain and it was in the hospital that Sara discovered the full extent of the injuries. As well as a severely broken leg, she had dislocated her left elbow.
“I fell down a mountain in Iran.”
“Oh. That’s terrible; how did you get to hospital?”
“I was airlifted.”
The same girl comes down the stairs, spinning, and somehow managing not to fall. Sara stares at the anchor on her dark pink T-shirt that goes well with her light pink hair.
“How incredibly awful it must have been for you.”
“Yes, I was very lucky though.”
They hear an announcement that the library will be closing in five minutes and so they need to leave. Julie slings her backpack over one shoulder and holds the purple jacket out for Sara while she puts the books into her bag.
Sara turns right to the toilet to put on some lipstick and perfume her neck before they head to the sports stadium. Opposite the library, they sit in the fourth row of the blue stadium seats, where Julie has suggested.
“It’s quite disappointing that so many people don’t know of this place.”
“I didn’t know either. It’s the first time I’ve come here.”
“Write about this stadium.”
“People, running, jumping, racing.”
Sara wants to ask a question like ‘who defines the importance of things?’ but she just looks at people running and jumping. “I wish I could,” Sara says, smiling.
“When I look at these athletes, I remember myself running home from school with my shoes which were always worn thin on the inside,” Julie says, looking at the fit young girls running back and forth. “Well. They’re just eighteen or nineteen, and they’ll grow stout and round at my age too. Julie tucks her hands into her curly black hair, which is moving in all directions.
“You know the reason why they invented double doors?”
“Because of people like me.”
“You’re not fat,” Sara says, laughing. “If I were to eat every time I feel hungry, I would be eating 24/7.”
“I’m really hungry; let’s have a breakfast somewhere nearby.”
“Just to let you know, I have a doctor’s appointment at 10:45.”
“Hope everything’s okay?
“Yes, just a regular checkup.”
The woman and her son in the front row split a big chocolate cookie. “Thanks, Mum,” the boy says.
They leave the stadium where young boys and girls are still living their lives, breaking each other’s records.
Julie rushes towards her navy-blue car to move the books, binders, and papers to the backseat. “I can do that,” Sara says. “No way,” Julie laughs.
Good these things do not fly around when she is driving, Sara thinks.
“I could buy a new car, but why should I? I don’t need it,” Julie says.
“Ha ha, I don’t know.”
“Consumerism, the invisible pressure to make its people dissatisfied with the things they already have.”
It is the process of buying something that makes us happy because we live to believe we are worth life. If we don’t thoroughly consume life, we’ll think there’s something wrong with us, Sara thinks. “Tell me a secret,” she says.
“A secret? OK. We spend half of our lives impressing people we don’t like and the other half justifying ourselves to the ones we love.”
“It’s your turn.”
“We consume people to get the things we love.”
“Interesting. If I knew I would never meet you again, I would tell you my biggest, personal secrets.”
“Like the number of people who are living within me.”