Alma

The plastic jacket I wear is heavy with dust.  My straps are on their final threads, clinging to my body as someone dangling from the edge of a cliff would cling with their finger nails; it would take but a nudge for them to release their grip and for me to fall in a heap on the floor of the wardrobe.  My zip remains half shut, unable to move for the rust and for the part of my body that has been caught in my teeth for so long; an endless pinch in my back.  I want to bask in the light that teases me through the crack in the wardrobe door.  I miss being left with the lingering scent of the previous night’s perfume.  I long to hear the whoosh of my skirt as someone twists and turns in me. 

I met Alma in a worker’s cottage that had been reborn as a charity shop.  I was not hanging with the other clothes; I had been thrown over the back of a chair in the kitchenware room, in need of repair after my previous owner had split the stitches under my arms.  Alma picked me up and held me out in front of her.  She tilted her head to one side and smiled. 

            “Is this one for sale?”

An old lady sitting on the floor unpacking cups from a box looked up at Alma.

            “Hmm? Oh, hang on.”

The old lady grunted as she went from sitting, to kneeling and to standing.  She shuffled over to me and Alma, adjusting her glasses.  She leaned towards me with squinted eyes.

“Well, if you don’t mind that it needs some work, you can have it for five dollars.”

“I’ll take it.  Thank you.”

Alma draped me over her arm and carried me home.  On our first night together, she sat with a blanket over her lap and mended the stitches under my arms.  Before bed, she hung me on a padded coat hanger with sachets of lavender sewn inside.  She didn’t put me in the wardrobe with the others but instead hooked the hanger over the curtain rod in her room.  That night, I was able to take in the view while I hoped she would choose me the following morning.

I’d never fit anyone quite as well as I fit Alma.  I hugged her curves and my new zip glided shut when she pulled me on; it was almost as if we were made for each other.  Her perfume smelled of flowers and I drank the scent up.

*

It was a special occasion tonight.  I knew it was going to be because Alma paired me with her best shoes, jewellery and purse.  As she sat in front of her mirror blotting her lipstick onto a tissue, there was a knock at the door.  She took a deep breath and exhaled loudly before we went to the door.  A man stood before us with a bouquet of bright, yellow flowers. 

            “Hello.”

            “Hello, Alma.  I’m a little early, I know.

            “That’s fine, I’m just about ready.”

            “These are for you.”

The man extended his arm that held the flowers. 

“Thank you, Grady.  They’re lovely.”

We leaned towards the man, Grady, and I was drawn closer to his handsome, grey suit.  Alma planted a soft kiss on the man’s cheek.

            “You look beautiful, Alma.”

Alma smiled.  She brought the bouquet to her nose and hid her face in the flowers.  Her skin felt hot.

            “Come in, won’t you?  I just need to get my purse and we can get going.”

We arrived at a restaurant called Cecil’s.

“This is the best restaurant in the city!”

“Is it?  I hadn’t heard.”

Grady winked at us and Alma linked her arm with his.  After dinner, Grady took Alma’s hand and lead us to the dance floor.  I loved to hear the whoosh of my skirt as he twisted and turned us around.  At the end of the night, Alma planted another soft kiss on Grady’s cheek.

            “See you tomorrow.”

I watched from the curtain rod as Alma went to sleep with a smile on her face.

*

We went to Cecil’s’s again tonight.  The last time we had dinner there was the first time that I met Grady.

            “Six months ago today.  Can you believe it?”

Before dinner, Grady put a small box in front of Alma on the table.  Instead of opening it, Alma stared at the box.  She put her hands on her chest and breathed heavily.  Grady got out of his chair and knelt on one knee beside us.  Alma watched as he picked up the box, opened it and pulled from it a beautiful ring.  Alma placed a hand on either side of her face.

            “Will you?”

Alma nodded, her hands still planted on her face.  Grady gently pulled at her left arm and slipped the ring on one of her fingers.  He hugged us when Alma began to cry.  They ate dinner and Alma invited Grady inside at the end of the night. 

The next morning, Grady stood on me as I lay in a heap on the floor.  Alma left me that way after he stayed over.  When I heard her stir in bed, I waited to be reunited with my hanger.  As she went to walk away after hanging me on my rod, her new ring snagged on my skirt and a stitch was pulled.

“Ah!”

Alma surveyed the damage and made a tisk noise with her tongue and her teeth.  I waited that night for her to take me down, drape me over her lap and mend me.  Instead, when she arrived home I watched as she climbed into bed, Grady following

*

I am covered in plastic and I hang on wire with the others in the wardrobe.  Today, I watched as Alma and two of her friends sat on her bed and opened a large box.  From it, Alma pulled out a flowing, white dress.  They all screamed with happiness as she tried it on and Alma looked at it in the same way she looked at me on the day she found me.  Later, when her friends had left, Alma lifted me from my rod and took me off my hanger.  She laid me out on the bed and I watched in horror as she took the white dress, looped its straps over my hanger and hung it from my curtain rod.  From the wardrobe, she pulled a wire hanger.  The weight of my skirt tugged on my straps as she let me drop on the hard wire.  She pulled a piece of plastic over my body and I struggled to breathe.  The last thing I saw as the door was closing was the flowing white dress dancing in the wind.   

*

Grady opened the wardrobe door and began taking clothes out.  He was wearing the same handsome suit that he wore on the night we met.  I can see the white dress is gone and the room is bare.  He took the others out, one by one.  As he got closer, I thought I could smell her perfume again.  When he finally reached me, he grabbed at my hanger and stared.  Something caught in his throat and he closed his eyes.  He let go of my hanger and closed the door.  I hung in the darkest corner, alone.

*

I counted the passing days by the light that came and went through the crack in the wardrobe door.  Every time the light reappeared I hoped the day had come when the door would open again but I remained hanging in my dark corner.

*

The plastic jacket I wear is heavy with dust.  My straps are on their final threads, clinging to my body as someone dangling from the edge of a cliff would cling with their finger nails; it would take but a nudge for them to release their grip and for I to fall in a heap on the floor of the wardrobe.  My zip remains half shut, unable to move for the rust and for the part of my body that has been caught in my teeth for so long; an endless pinch in my back.  I want to bask in the light that teases me through the crack in the wardrobe door.  I miss being left with the lingering scent of the previous night’s perfume.  I long to hear the whoosh of my skirt as someone twists and turns in me.  But what’s this?  The wardrobe door creaks as it is swiftly opened.  The dust from my jacket dances in the beams of light pouring from the window.  She pulls my hanger from the rod and removes my jacket. She gasps as her eyes fall upon my struggling straps.  She takes the weight of my skirt and my straps are able to lift themselves from the edge of the cliff.

            “Ma!  Look at this dress!”  

She gently lays me on a bed.  Her touch is as delicate as Alma’s once was.  A woman joins the girl in the room.

            “Oh, look at that.  It’s beautiful. ”

The woman runs her fingers over my straps, gently turns me over, and does the same to my zip.

“It needs to be repaired.  The straps need to be restitched, and it will need a new zip.  It looks about your size though.”

“Can we take it to Grandma’s?  She’ll be able to fix it.  That’s the dress.  That’s my prom dress.”

*

I’d never fit anyone quite as well as I fit Alma until I met Eve.   I hug Eve’s curves and my brand new zip glides shut when she pulls me on; we were made for each other.  She stands in front of the mirror and fiddles with the small cluster of lilacs that adorns one of my straps.  She runs her hands over me before her arms fall to her sides.  She begins to swivel her hips and I hear it.  Whoosh.   

This story was inspired by one of my favourite suburbs in Brisbane, Paddington, and one of my favourite pieces of clothing. Paddington has some of my favourite charity shops. One day, I found a vintage, blue dress in the kitchenware room of a shop. It is one of my favourite dresses. I still have it today.

First

A long time ago, I promised my partner that I would start writing again. As much as I would have loved to have kept that promise, I have very much struggled to find the inspiration to write anything. Now, I find myself unable to leave the house save for household essentials or a swift jog. I have nothing but time on my hands.

This morning, I found a personal essay and some short stories that I wrote in my final year of university. I thought that the best place to start here, would be to revisit these. The thing they all have in common is that they were all inspired by my family and where I grew up in Australia. I have always found that personal writing is what comes most naturally to me. If you know me or follow me on social media you will know that I love to write about the people I love. So I want to use these pieces as a jumping off point and my hope is that they will get a ball rolling. In the time in between writing these and now, so much has happened. I live in a different country, I have different interests and I fell in love. I haven’t written anything about it!

So here is a short story that I wrote in 2014. I was living with my dad in Brisbane. It also strangely references time standing still which I thought was apt for the current situation we find ourselves in.

Grady arrived early, like always. He curled his top lip and checked his teeth in the rear view mirror. He hesitated as he went to walk into the restaurant and instead loitered outside. After a good ten minutes of rocking from the heels to the balls of his feet, rubbing spots off his windscreen and sprinkling the lint from his pockets onto the pavement, he walked inside. He shooed away an eager waiter and peered into the dining room from behind a potted palm. She was early, too. She sat with her knees leaning against each other and pigeon toes. She surveyed their rocky table and bent down to stuff a folded napkin under one of the table legs. She bounced the end of her bobbed hair on two open palms either side of her head. Grady checked his breath into a cupped hand and smoothed his hair. He closed his eyes softly and took a deep breath. 

*

He opened his eyes. There was an immediate pang in his stomach. He rolled onto his back and closed his eyes hard. His hand slid over to the other half of the bed. The sheets were undisturbed. He lay that way for some time before he sat up and threw his legs off the side of the bed. His feet felt for his slippers as his hands slipped a silver chain around his neck, with a small, silver vial hanging off it. He pulled on his joggers and an old, green jumper that sat in a basket at the end of his bed. The dog began to scratch at the bedroom door as soon as it had heard Grady’s feet hit the floor. He splashed his face with cold water. His chain hung down and alternated between tapping against the sink and being immersed by the rush of water pouring from the tap. The tap continued to run as he placed his hands either side of the sink and hung his head. Droplets of water gathered at the tip of his nose and the tip of his chin before free-falling into the sink below. He turned off the tap and wiped his nose between his thumb and four curled fingers.

He drenched his Shredded Wheat in honey and milk. With the bowl in the microwave, he punched 1:30 on the panel. While he waited for the countdown, he turned on the computer. Hunched over his bowl and spooning the soggy breakfast into his mouth, he checked the news. He placed the bowl on the ground for the dog to clean. Minutes later, crumbs from his fruit toast dropped into the keyboard as he clicked onto his guilty pleasure. The thylacine was a large, carnivorous marsupial long believed to be extinct. Every morning of late, Grady had been carried away reading about reported sightings of the animal. Researchers believed that expanding civilisation had pushed the species back into the bush where humans were unable to reach them. What was once a means of distraction had grown into a belief in the thylacine’s existence and Grady enjoyed the mythological proportions that the animal had taken on. This particular morning, he grasped at the air as he reached out for his cup of tea, unable to tear his eyes away from the computer screen where one ‘Wild’ Bill Flowers was recreating sightings with a cardboard thylacine. With the last grasp, he knocked the cup over. He watched as the tea glided over the desk. He let it drip down onto his lap and waited for it to seep through his pyjama pants and onto his skin.

He matched a polo shirt with a pair of cargo shorts and laid them out on his bed. The dog scratched at the carpet in his den under the bed. He pulled on the shorts before turning to his dressing table and grabbing his can of deodorant. After he sprayed, he looked down at his bare torso and then at his reflection in the mirror. He turned side on and watched himself pat his belly. He stuck out his bottom lip and shrugged. As he lifted the shirt over his head, the chain was caught on his arm as he reached for the sleeve. With head and arms through their respective shirt holes, he watched as the chain slinked down to the carpet. He picked it up and found the clasp bent out of shape. He carried it gingerly and hung it over the bed head on the side that wasn’t his.

An assortment of scents and colours filtered through the botanic gardens. He held a cup of coffee in his hands and let the heat penetrate his skin. The pastry from an apple danish melted in his mouth.  He ran his fingers through the different bushes in the herb garden. The herbs were turned to dust between his thumb and index finger. Lifting his hand to his nose, the scents travelled down his nasal passage and lingered at the back of his throat. He picked a pome from a cockspur thorn plant and enjoyed the contrast of its vivid orange against his white palm. He popped the pome inside of his mouth and waited for his taste buds to react to the sweetness and the tang. With mouth agape and nose screwed up, he tried to peek inside of a stingless bee hive. He turned his ear towards the hive, and let the hum from the bees vibrate in his head.

He wandered into the Planetarium and looked at the shows that were on offer. He began to read a poster about a show that would discuss black holes, the breakdown of universal order and imagining a place where time stands still. 

“Can you imagine it?” Grady turned around to put a face to the voice.

“Sorry?”

“A place where time stands still, imagine that,” the man at the information desk said. Grady feigned a smile and nodded.

At the show’s end, he began to climb path after path until he had reached, what he believed to be, the highest point of the gardens. He sat on a bench, crossed one leg over the other and extended one arm along the back of the bench. The moment of quiet and solitude saw the pang in his stomach return. He placed his feet firmly on the ground and leaned over as his palms took on the weight of his head. He closed his eyes and listened hard for the sound of her voice. He turned his head and looked at the space beside him on the bench. He put his hand on the empty space. It was the kind of warm that someone leaves behind after sitting for a long time. It was that kind of warm, or the warm from the sun. He stood up and made his way back down the garden paths.

The dog ambushed him at the door and Grady allowed himself to be scratched at and licked. He stood at the bathroom mirror, towel around his shoulders, and gave himself a haircut. There was still enough to cut from around his ears and down to his neck. He shaved before running himself a hot bath which he soaked in for twenty minutes. His daughter had hung an outfit for him to wear on the back of his wardrobe door. He laid it out on his bed and rubbed his chin. He picked up a flat cap and hung it gently on the bedpost, confirming that he would lie when his daughter asked if he had worn it. He went down to the garden and picked some purple orchids. He attempted to wrap them in some burlap and red string which his daughter had shown him how to do the day before. Tying the stems together with the red string sufficed when the burlap wouldn’t cooperate. 

Before he left, he went and sat on the side of the bed that wasn’t is. He slid his hand over the sheets and cocked his head. With one ear pointing towards the ceiling, he listened hard. He picked up the chain and vial hanging on the bed head and went to the kitchen. He pulled a pair of pliers from an old Milo tin that sat on top of the fridge and used them to bend the clasp on the chain back into shape. He hung the chain around his neck and tucked it into his shirt where the vial hung next to his heart. The orchids sat on the passenger seat as he drove away from the house.

*

Grady arrived early, like always.

I will share the other story, or something else, soon.

Ally.