The invention of enough
1. THE ARCHES
Her sly, burning orbits through the club were no match for his total mystery, total sharp wonderment of his widow’s peak. In the thick of music lights glasses filled and emptied in the atmosphere of the beat he turned and turned, some call it dancing. The peak again, the peak again. Pale face (hey) like the shock of the screen of a phone up against the eyes, in a dark room, at eighteen, a call like this, like one she’d been waiting on. In the widest pants, in ridiculous silver, fat blue stones against the collarbones of her hello side, goodbye side, hello side, goodbye side. Hey, hello. Her fine and compact shoulders, her cleared skin, she’d sourced her own brand of brightness, brightness of the small pill. But something soft about her too. Hey. Total mystery of his coming from somewhere, who knew what he liked, who knew. In the sweat and yell, and pupils like television. And her friends wondered about him too. Her friends danced and chewed on drinking straws, sat on the filthy floor and couldn’t stay sitting, couldn't stop talking or moving or chewing or drinking, minutes and minutes and minutes. She would watch him, her jaw working, pink yell a bleary joy and wondering, something in her pulling on. And then he had left. And then time returned and they would all have left as well, they would all be buzzing into the seven eleven and standing in the cold of the open fridges, the air a drug on their pepperminted skin, smoke tamping down the necessary lungs on someone’s gritted couch, someone keeping the beat going. The days of CDs. Sleep through the days, roll awake again, go to work, the day getting dusk again, minor thump of the night. One night he just turned to her and stopped turning. Minutes and minutes. She couldn’t remember what they’d said. Just that something gave. Something caught on something, a catch, a latch, a rock, but something soft about it, stopped in its orbit.
2. THE GARDEN OF THE GODS
So now they were a thing. Summer just over, the heat over, relief of the evenings, all the colours starting up, and it was Johnny’s idea, or it was Kate’s idea. So they all went and ate mushrooms in the national park. Rusty boulder canyon-lands, like you’d never see. Sage scrub and the big-weather sky watching. Kate and her up high on a clambered place, praising the fact that gravity works for all of us, Thank you gravity! Thank you time!—time slow as a book getting dust on its jacket mote by mote, love—love me—I do—Watch me climb this cliff thing—watch me fall in—you look like the movies—you look like shining, like glass. But early days, so nothing certain, nothing sure, just buzzing. Kate and Johnny climbed past the sky and left them humming on the picnic check, all taste, they couldn’t swallow any food or eat the colours either, by now gone ecstatic with their own logic of pulse. He travelled off somewhere in his mind, she watched the motion of it in his eyes and got scared a moment, like, hey, come back, but what she said was, hey, I have to tell you something—about my mother my little brother the way I felt when I was sixteen, like everyone was telling telling telling at me, but no questions, til I didn’t have a middle anymore, or what there was was a fruit core, the seeds there, their edges sharp somehow. I slept with anybody, guys who didn't look at my face. I was needing something and no one could tell me what it was, but something about today feels like a culmination, don't you think? He pulled her into his chest and cradled her head there so surely, for such a time, she got worried, thinking, this is it, this is it, worry of the best kind. Then Katie came back over the rise wearing vegetation on her head, arms raised to the sky like calling it down, bug-eye sunglasses all glint in the late sun. I have seen the gods of the canyon! she cried, they command us to drink Coca-Cola! And Johnny smoking along behind her, both men calm as a page. And both men gently laying their limbs down on the stretch of sandstone in all the four directions, the stretch by now their stage and home and kitchen and protector. I want some of what you’ve got, that peaciness, that peacefulness, she said, as the rocks kept up their heaving, slow-fast, slow-fast, all in the mind.
Because we are at the centre of this story we don't even need names, she said. He reeled her in, in the middle of the sagging couch. Their apartment was the size of a first apartment, their television was the size of a first television, they forgot to turn it on, they forgot all of their other firsts. The neighbours had stolen their rubbish bin. They were out of tinfoil. He left for work. He was very fast now, that’s what the tips said. He always brought home soup. She forgot about the first contract, wrote another: I am addicted to—. I will give up—. They had stopped smoking (mostly). They had really tried. Let’s really try, she said. Their friends came by. The neighbours tried to steal their mattress, a canvas, a box of shoes. People here are the worst kind of hungry, he said. She said, Not everyone knows about contracts. He came home from work and she was all fast–fast and grinning, she had covered a canvas in dirty pastels and bees. I’m wondering, he said, what kind of a cleaner life is going on for us in a place that’s not here? Soup again, cold and welcome. They sat in the sag that no one tried to steal. And they loved each other and they loved each other, and they microwaved each other’s meal.
4. NEW MAP
Dressed in a shirt and jacket and new–shaven he went to his new job at the firm, and her hair was lighter than it used to be, but she had always been fair, he had always been good with numbers, some things just seem to go down the river and get a bit dirty, but you can always fish them out again: if your moving trailer doesn’t get blown off the highway, if you can stay with family awhile when you first arrive, and it was hard in some ways but mostly it was good, ‘a good change,’ something hard and nutty and real about the whole arrangement, class times, daylight hours, lunchbreak phone calls, the civic–minded city with its juice bars, herb boxes growing greener on the balcony, utensils living in drawers. A childhood song came on the radio and she started up from where she had been stitching coils of herself to a shoebox, and caught a thought of her gone brother, and suddenly the flimse of coriander seemed like a useful heartbreak, something to be gently expended, like the daylight, like all this making she was doing, and liking, and never having to be fast. He came home tired and praised her in hyperboles and his hands were flags and the wind didn’t get them. I want my life to be a musical, she said. And from then on he spent the weekends singing, almost dancing, almost folding all the clothes and almost putting them away.
5. NEW MARGINS
On the way home from art school she stopped to shave off a piece of her hair. The skin was new under there, soft as soft bristle, a new field of thought. She started meeting with a living room of women. They invented hand gestures so everyone could talk at once. This means, I hear you. They talked about all the things they had and did, which others didn’t and couldn’t, like social unevenness was a cause they caused by never thinking about it. I think it looks fine, he said when she came home. Whatever you want. He started to never mind. His never-never mind never minded. He drifted off someplace and left his head behind. The centre of their story lost its centre. It bloomed like a cauliflower. All the florets were edible, dense with nutrition in blank colour. She stitched sorry text on a charcoal face and signed her name. She questioned all the structures. She read dense text for doorways. The fine things she was born with became a weight, she rubbed at her white skin. She tied a set of wrists and tamped gold leaf at their sawn point, penance and gleam. Sorry is an art. Marriage is an art. Art is an art. She stitched for hours, and he was her rock. A rock on the couch. A rock in the kitchen, washing the dishes. He washed a dish every twenty minutes. What do you want? I don’t mind. He went to work where he talked about assets. Losses and gains. Gold and string. Every stitch is held in place by another stitch, is held down. They stayed up nights with furred questions. Could you love me, plus some other? What kind of enough is enough? The questions had the smell of old pets. They cared for no creatures in the day, in the day light. Then one more question. What about a baby? The thought of it floated, it glistered, they could almost hear it, it had no smell.
They made love once she’d taken her temperature. The familiar held the familiar, the familiar became strange again, returned to want, in the pleasure fever. Then it was over, the overhead lights were on, were stark as a contract on the two spent bodies, spent in trying to fill up, to make each other make something. His knees seemed lazy to her, though he was only breathing. Her tongue was soft, then it got sharp. She thought of all the sticky things she might have said. Then she said them. They stuck. Not–enoughness buzzed like a trapped fly. Her bleeds were few and far between, and when they came, they wracked. What if we can’t, she said. Enough might not be enough. But he still full of tributes, still singing in the musical of her mind, loyal as a dog, his praises pure as a fight in the daylight. What do you need, my love? My love, my familiar. Love, or a fridge. A fridge, or strain at table. Love, or strain. Lettuce, or love. Lettuce too long in the packet, or rot. Love, or a plastic packet. A white door, or love. Love, or a handle. A handle or a heat pump. Love, or left on. Warming, or leaving.
The baby came early and a world fell into a world, into the contrapted birth-room bed with its white sheets coarse as weed cloth, made to withstand the hot mouths of the wash machines, the hot mouths of the driers. Things moved quickly-quickly, and then in a moment, time slowed down. He believed he was seeing the life leave his life, he gripped her hand, all the hands in gloves except the hands of his wife. He watched two full bottles of shiraz pool beneath her on the bed, then spill onto the floor, a terrible waterfall. All the specialists jumped. He had nothing, nothing to do. That baby’s singing. Too new to cry—a girl-creature all blink-eyed and mewling and made of rubber, and he, a father, reached out to receive it in a terror of heartache and tenderness, while the room tore around to give her, a mother, back what she’d lost, was still fast losing. He held the child first, too early in the world to touch almost. But it was she who had carried her, the sonic pulse and gurgle of her inside dark the girl’s first home. And so. Love and exhaustion became the two halves of her blue-fruit heart, which fell apart, and was eaten.
Joan Fleming completed an MA in Creative Writing at Victoria University and won the Biggs Family Poetry Prize in 2007. A chapbook, Two Dreams in Which Things Are Taken, was published as part of the duets series in 2010, and her first poetry collection, The Same as Yes, was published in 2011.
Joan Fleming's Victoria University Press page