Eye Contact

By Vita Forest


Sean trundles along with the herd, following the signs to the Sistine Chapel.  He has lost the others.  He glanced away for a moment and when he turned back, they were gone.  They must have been pitched away from him on the tide of tourists they are travelling in.  Too late to even throw him a life line.  He supposes they will meet again at the exit, when they are all spat out some squalid hole in the wall like the rest of the waste products.  Why didn’t they make a plan?  They should always make a plan.  There are so many people here.  He feels giddy.  If he really needs to stop, he will have to fight his way to the side, cling onto some statue and get out of the pull of the current. 

Every surface seems to be busy.  The clashing colours of the clothes of the tourists pressing onwards, the paintings smothering the walls.  The noise too!  It ricochets off every surface.  He is being pelted with syllables from all sides.  He can’t understand most of it.  He would just like to rest.  They swing out of a gallery and into another corridor, but even in this between-space there is no relief.  The walls of the corridor are decorated too.  Can’t even rest his eyes before the next room!  There are fat babies balancing on towers made of fruit and veg – not how Phoebe would describe it, but it about sums it up for him.  Pattern crawling over everything like a disturbed ant nest.

The floors in these places were so hard.  He should have worn his hiking boots.  Tomorrow he will wear them.  He can feel each step jolting all the way up his spine.  Hiking boots…  Not for walking over peaceful, green fields, but to cushion the blow his heels make when they slam down on hard, city surfaces.  Both inside and out.  If it wasn’t marble floors, it was cobblestones.  What were they thinking?  All very impressive, as long as you didn’t have to walk on it.

Green fields…  He liked what they did in Austria.  Climbing up from the lake, walking through the arch of the trees, balancing on boulders to cross the streams, the smell of crushed pine needles prickling their nostrils.  There was still snow on the peaks of the mountains and the water stung their feet with its iciness.  He and Phoebe had paddled barefoot into the stream, shrieking.  Later, they sat looking down over the valley.  He cut thin slivers of apple, passing them over to Phoebe as she leaned back against a tree.

That had been a good day.

He sighs and treads water in the bottleneck at the narrow doorway at the end of the corridor.  If he loses his footing he will probably drown.  He glances out the window and sees the Papal gardens.  He would prefer to be out there in that soft greenness.  He could snooze under a tree and wait for Phoebe.  They should have arranged a time to meet.  They could be waiting all day now.  The others wouldn’t mind arranging a time, setting a limit.  He knows their interest in museums is minimal.  The Vatican is just one of those things you have to see.  When in Rome… ha ha.  He wonders if they were as bored by his suggestion of bush walking? (or hiking or whatever it was called over here.)  Possibly.  They are all being so polite.  It wouldn’t last.  This gentility.  They should set times to meet up.  If they had done this earlier, say in Austria, he could have climbed just that little bit higher and seen what was making that sound they were hearing.  Bells?  Was it goats?  Bells hanging from their necks as they strolled through the long, wet grass? 

He’ll never know.

He supposes he could just get out of here, have a quick coffee and sit on the steps in the sun to wait.  Close his eyes.  Shake his ankles out.  They would all have to come out the same exit surely?

The crowd spills out into a huge open room.

And suddenly he is there. 

This is it.  He thinks flatly as he glances up.  The Sistine Chapel.  Woo Hoo.

First things first.  He looks about at ground level and spots some bare wood – a space has opened up on one of the benches that line the walls.  He makes a dive for it and sinks blissfully down, leaning back on the cool, hard wall.  So there is the ceiling.  There is the altar painting thingy.  Yes it’s good.  He can see why it’s on the list of things to do in Rome.  His feet hurt.  He can feel the blood descending to his toes, pooling there as if his feet were made of stone, like Jesus and his mates out on of top of St Peters.  He will have to rest there for a while.  He can’t move.  He looks at the ceiling and then folds his arms and looks at his watch.  He wonders where the others are.  Maybe they aren’t too far behind him.  Mike and Louise anyway, he can’t imagine that Phoebe would get here this quick.  He leans his head back against the wall and closes his eyes.  He can’t block out the noise.  The whispering.  The oohing and ahhing.

All these people from all over the world.  He is one of them.  One of the multitudes.  These all-devouring tourists.  It is making him queasy.  Going to a place where they can’t speak the language and trying to have the right experience.  Sucking it all in during their three or four days.  What he would really like to do, if he is honest, would be to go on a three or four day bushwalk, by himself.  Take a tent and camp beneath the stars.  Alone.  He needs some space.  He needs some time. 

He is still not sure what was happening with Louise.  That time on the train to Sorrento…

They were sitting two across, facing each other.  Louise and Mike on one side and he and Phoebe on the other.  Phoebe was asleep, her head leaning on his shoulder, her jacket worn backwards over her chest like a blanket.  She felt the cold, that girl. He had the window seat, looking out at the scenery.  Mike sat across from him, reading some book or other and Louise was there beside him.  Sean had glanced away from the view and back into the carriage.  His eyes had flicked over Mike and were on their way past Louise, when he realised she was staring at him.  She was sitting right next to her boyfriend, studying him.  If Mike had glanced up, he would have thought she was just looking out the window.  But he didn’t.  He was engrossed in his book.  Sean had let his eyes pass over Louise and down the train, as if he was counting the passengers, as if he was looking for an old friend, as if the blood wasn’t rushing to his face.  His eyes drifted back and there she was, still staring at him.

What?   He wanted to snap.  What are you looking at?

But he didn’t of course.  He looked out the window again and stared grimly outside, as if he was being dared.  Which he was.  She was sitting over there, staring at him, laughing at his discomfort.  He rubbed his hand over his chin and willed his vision to stay outside the train.  He was intensely aware of Phoebe’s head on his shoulder, of the gentle little puffs of her sleeping breath that only he could hear, of her hand resting in his.  He must have moved.  Phoebe stirred and opened her eyes.  He had pulled her close and kissed her rather passionately on the lips. 

And that was that. 

He had tried not to think about it too much.  What was the point?  There was enough friction on this trip without thinking about that, without reading anything into that.

But here he is, momentarily alone and thinking about it again.  He is sitting in the Sistine Chapel with very, very heavy feet.  He opens his eyes and runs them over the crowd.  The place is packed.  There are people standing in the centre of the room, craning their necks back, mouths open.  There are people walking to and fro, trying not to collide with those who have stopped.  There are others sitting on the benches that line the walls. 

And there she is.

He catches his breath sharply.  In a sudden break in the crowd, he had seen through to the benches on the opposite wall.  To Louise sitting on a bench on the opposite wall.  Staring at him again.  Is he simply being paranoid?  His vision is blocked again as a tour group leans into the tide of people and forces their way toward the exit.  The leader holds a yellow flag above her head as if going into battle.  They move on and he can see her again.  No, he is not being paranoid.  She is leaning back on the wall, not looking at the ceiling.  Ignoring the ceiling, staring over at him.  He has the solitude to test her this time, to really make sure.  He holds her gaze.  He holds it as it is crossed by gaping teenagers, retirees, parents dragging kids, people of all nations.  The whole world.  The whole world rushing past.  He looks through them and finds her staring still.

They sit across from each other, their gaze stretched tautly from wall to wall.  They sit and look as they have not looked at the ceiling, or the altar, or the statues, or anything else in this museum. 

Then all at once, Louise slowly leans forward away from the wall and rests her elbows on her knees and clasps her hands.  Moving in closer. 

Closer to him.

 

This week

By Vita Forest

Indigo Slam, Chippendale


This week I have been

WRITING

READING Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow (it is a ripper!)

WATCHING Viceroy’s House (recommended).

VISITING Chippendale Green for some sketching.  (I sketched Indigo Slam designed by William Smart.  An architecture student came over and chatted as I sketched and told me that all the furniture inside was specially designed too – including a table that seats 100 people!  This is a house that is designed to last one hundred years – fantastic!)

At Central Park, Chippendale


MEETING up with Vastra and Saskia at a favourite local restaurant where my favourite dessert was back on the menu (Flan Catalan – mmm!)

ENJOYING the autumn sunshine in Sydney.

 

Mobile Tales 7: in which the ship undertakes an unexpected journey

By Vita Forest

Another dispatch from the myopic mouse aboard the good ship Possession.


The ship lurched and keeled heavily to starboard.  Christabel’s eyes flew open.  She was glad she had continued her precaution of strapping herself into her cosy bunk, otherwise she would surely have been thrown to the floor.  There was a reason for putting such safeguards into her routine, even though at times it made her feel overly cautious.

There were sudden storms, sudden disturbances in the atmosphere, that meant the ship departed from its usual circular route as dictated by the length of chain and the anchor lodged in the ceiling.  Sometimes the world turned topsy-turvy.  Sometimes it was best to be prepared.

Christabel opened her coral and white polka dotted curtains and pressed her eyes to the porthole.

What was happening?  Had they unwittingly floated into a maelstrom?  Had a giant squid from the trembling, inky blackness of The Deep erupted to the surface of the sea and taken The Possession hostage in the rippling embrace of its eight arms?  Had the anchor chain broken?  Were they now adrift on the perilous sea?

Christabel’s eyes darted about but she could make out nothing.  Her eyesight really was dreadful.  She would have to go aloft with her eyeglass.  She reached for her life jacket (conveniently located on a hook above her bed) and strapped it on over her cotton night gown.  She slung her eyeglass in its case over her shoulder and grabbed the length of rope coiled and hanging neatly by the stairs, ready for such an emergency.

Christabel took one end of the rope and expertly secured it to the hook from which it had hung until mere seconds ago.  The other end she tied to a convenient ring on her life jacket.

She was ready.  It was time to leave the safety of her cabin and go Up There.  Taking a deep breath, Christabel mounted the stairs even as she felt the ship settle.

What had happened?

She emerged onto the deck and looked around.  There was not the white expanses of ocean and sky she was used to, they had moved.  Raising the eyeglass to her eye, it all became clear.  The ship was no longer anchored to the ceiling above The Table, it had sailed through The Kitchen Doorway and come to rest in The Kitchen.


Christabel was startled.  She was now in The Kitchen, a room she had only glimpsed from the ceiling before!  She could not have been more surprised if she had found herself in the Antarctic!  And rather than being supported by the anchor and floating in an upright manner, the ship was keeling sharply to port and seemed to be suspended in a kind of frozen whirlpool.

Whatever was going on?

Suddenly there was an ear-splitting whirr which seemed to pierce into Christabel’s very brain.  It sent her scurrying below deck again and huddling beneath her goose-feather quilt.  The quilt did little to muffle to noise and Christabel shivered in terror.

Then all at once the noise stopped and she felt the ship sailing once more.  The vessel swung as if cresting a huge wave, then it righted itself and took on a more familiar swinging motion.  Had they returned to The Ceiling?  Christabel crept up the stairs once more and peered up.  The world looked white again.  She tiptoed up on deck and raised the eyeglass.

She was back!  Back on the ceiling!  How relieved she felt as she spotted the sturdy anchor above her and felt the familiar gentle weaving motion of the ship!

Then she stopped.  Not all was as it had been before.  For there above them floated a new moon.


Christabel stared up at it, her hand on her heart.

A new moon…

She tried to stay positive despite her fright.  Perhaps it would aid in her calculations.  Perhaps it would aid her navigation.  It certainly seemed large enough to make a difference.  And it was a full moon, not the strange rectangular being that had been there before.

Christabel felt her heart fluttering beneath her hand.  It was all most perplexing.  Perhaps she would ponder this strange series of events over a cup of peppermint tea.  And after snapping her eyeglass back into its case, Christabel went below to do just that.

Mobile Tales Despatch 3 – in which we learn of Christabel’s clandestine pleasure

By Vita Forest

In which we learn of Christabel’s clandestine pleasure.

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Do not imagine that the fact that the Good Ship Possession is firmly anchored to the ceiling, limits in any way the interest that Christabel La Mouse finds in her surrounds.  Not at all.  For the sea is full of life.  A great percentage of all living things live there, so Christabel has read somewhere or other (and if something is written down, it is generally true).

There are of course, the comforting creatures of The Deep who reside on the Tablecloth, the school of flying fish who live near the Distant Doorway and The People who swim about freely as far as the spyglass can see.  But most intriguing of all (as well as most terrifying), are the elegant, the graceful, the beautiful, the monstrous – those leviathans of the deep; the whales.

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The whales fill Christabel’s heart with fear.  Their size!  Their strength!  Their razor-sharp teeth!  The hooked talons of their claws!  But as well as making her tremble, the whales fill her with fascination.  (How often is it thus?)  And so Christabel is careful to maintain control, to not lean too far over the edge of the ship, to avoid succumbing to the siren call of the whales, to the hypnotic glamour they exude.

She knows all about these creatures, of course.  You can find a plethora of information about them in any handbook on ocean voyaging, in countless tales told to children (to entertain, but also to warn youngsters about surrendering to the temptation of diving down and curling up in soft white scales, or along an ink-black tail).  Christabel must constantly remind herself that if she lets go, if she gives in, these creatures would indeed EAT her, would not see her as a kindred spirit (as she feels she is), but as a tasty and unexpected supplement to their diet.

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There is The Elegant White One who chirps and hums – perhaps as a means of detecting distance, or maybe she is composing a tune (it is so hard to tell), or it could be she is calling to those other pods of whales that must migrate past their little corner of the world at some point.  (Floating on the warm currents of the Tabletop or perhaps breaching the surface of the sea with a young calf.  Just imagine!  And yet, she really mustn’t…)

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And there is The Masked One who chews pieces of cardboard and paper to keep her teeth in good working order (and perhaps to terrify any quaking prey who witness such violent crunching of her jaws).  This one likes to curl up in the depths of the Tabletop, perhaps atop a sewing basket, or any whale-sized white rectangle left about.

Christabel knows the danger, and yet, these dragons of the water with their white whiskers and their sinuous bodies, curling up in spirals among the rocky floor of the Cushions, are nothing short of mesmerizing.  It is shameful to admit, and she would never report it in any official despatch, but a good part of her day is spent observing the goings-on of these enthralling creatures.

 

Justify

By Vita Forest

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I am right and they are wrong.  Yes her, and them, and those others too.  Wrong.  With the letters after their names.  Wrong.  With their heaving bank accounts.  Wrong. Just plain wrong.

I ignore.  I obstruct.  I cast red herrings into the air like confetti.  If I do it long enough, they will bury and obscure.  Eating up time.

I let her lead it.  The investigations.  The options.  I am at best lukewarm, at worst, indignant.

I bring out my arsenal.  The alternative so ridiculous, so offensive, it will be rejected.

I wait.

I am good at this.  I learned this as a child.  Do something so badly, so wastefully that others throw up their hands and give up on me.  They finish the irritating chores that should have been mine to complete.  I smile smugly as they exhaust themselves.  If I leave it long enough, someone else will step in, someone else will pick up the pieces, someone else will pay.

Works for me.

Bad workmanship brings its own rewards.

I’m worth it.  I deserve it.  I have my own rules.  I am important. I need more.  That is just how it is.

She needs so little.  She has got used to not having much.  It would not hurt.  It would hurt me.  I am worth it.  I deserve it.

I will use the language of a debate and the structure of an argument.  I will get my way. There are reasons and I will list them in righteous indignation.  I will puff myself up until I am red in the face, blood juddering through my temples.  I will thrust my finger back and forth.  Dotting the “i”s, punctuating my points, underlining the main ideas with a thick black texta.  I am right, that is all there is to it.  If I shout loud enough, you can’t hear anyone else.

The reasons are these…

After careful consideration…

I am being fair and reasonable…

It would be petty to suggest otherwise…

I didn’t have it and it never did me any harm.

Look at me!  How well I turned out!

I will catastrophize.  I will weave a story of my own making from out of the air.  One that serves my purpose.  I am completely within my rights…  She is completely unreasonable.  I will pontificate with my friends, discuss it over a beer or three.  Spittle flying from my mouth as my finger swings through the air.  Stabbing.  Righteous.

I am right and that is all there is to it.  It is unreasonable to expect more.  It would not be convenient for me.

If it’s so important, someone else will step in.

What could it possibly cost me?

 

Z is for… Zone

By Vita Forest

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The shoes!  The shoes!  What was she thinking? How did people stand up in them?  Let alone walk.  Let alone dance.  They had to come off!  Pip pushed her way through the people, and the thudding music, which seemed almost a physical presence, and left the lounge room.  She blinked in the brightness of the hallway and bent down to wrench off those high heels.  Those stupid sexy shoes she had been talked into buying in a moment of weakness.

“Sitting down shoes,” her sister called them.

Indeed.

Pip found her jacket and hid her fabulous sitting-down shoes beneath it.  She wriggled her toes and arched her feet.  Much better.  She would simply go barefoot.

Pausing just beyond the doorway, Pip let her eyes adjust to the dark again.  The room was full of dark shadows, dark figures lounging around the perimeter against walls and windows, the centre full of bouncing, flailing dancers.  Her hips starting moving again.  Then her shoulders.  Then Pip’s arms flew above her head, and in the next instance she was dancing in amongst them again.  Who knew where her friends were?  At this point it didn’t matter.  If you were dancing, if you were in the zone, you could dance anywhere, with anyone.  So she did.  She did her hip hop moves.  Some salsa.  Joined a conga line.  She was up for anything.  Any song that came on was her favourite.  Was the cause of whooping and cheering.  She was in “the zone”.  She found her friends again, held Sophie’s hand, mirrored her moves.  Led Sophie through her own.

A searing pain in foot.  Burning.  Pip’s eyes widened and she fell to the floor in a heap.  Jonny lifted her up and carried her out of the dark into that blinding light again.  Through to the kitchen.

They all groaned as they looked down at her foot.  A red welt slashed into the skin above her toes.  A hole.  Purple around the red.  Pip stared at her foot and felt the pounding of her blood through her whole body.  Her vision began to blur and whiten, she stared and stared, as if falling back into a tunnel.

“Let me through!” someone shouted vaguely from a distance.

She felt someone lift up her foot, her poor fragile foot and slap something cold over the top of it.  Pip breathed out through her teeth and felt the whiteness retreat.  Felt her mind return from that tunnel.  Come back to her.  The hot burning was fighting against the cold burning.  It was spluttering.  The fire was going out.

“What is that?”

“Just peas,” someone said.  “Mint peas actually.  Shelled and snap frozen.”

“Do you want to go home?” Sarah brushed Pip’s hair out of her face with gentle fingers.

“No.  I’ll just sit with the peas.”

They carried her back into the darkness (Make way!  Make way!)  and found her a place on a couch.  Sarah piled up the cushions behind her back.  Jonny nursed her legs.  Mira held her feet and draped the peas over Pip’s foot, now only dully thudding.  Sophie brought her a cold glass.

“Just water,” but who knew “Just water” cold from the fridge could taste so good.  Pip leaned back and peered out into the dance.  From the friend zone.

 

 

Y is for…Yearning

By Vita Forest

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Derek and Billie, Billie 4 Derek.

Billie eyes widened as she stared at the words she had written on the page.  Her pencil hovered in the air, then she scribbled through the words until she tore the paper.

Sometimes when they talked, she looked at his lips.  At his lips forming the sounds that she was hearing.  Except sometimes she wasn’t really listening to the sounds.  They were secondary because what she was thinking of was – what would it be like to kiss those lips?

Sometimes when they met, she thought how easy it would be to reach out and hold him.  To just reach out and wrap him in her arms.  They were standing so close!  It would hardly be any effort at all.  She was standing right in front of him, not across the city, or across the uni, or across the classroom, or across a table.  They had covered all that distance that had separated them their whole lives, but this is where she had to stop.  Her arms could not breach that gap.  Billie had to content herself with hugging her books to her chest.  As if they could give her any comfort, as if they could warm her, as if they could make her feel.  (Actually they could comfort her and make her feel, and actually they did.  Jane Austen did provide comfort.  So did Shakespeare.)

Billie watched Derek.  Often she would deliberately sneak into the lecture hall late so she could sit behind him, away from him.  For the sole purpose of watching him.  At times that was better than sitting right beside his physical presence.  Which she sometimes found unbearable.  The yearning could be too much.

He would usually text her.

U here?

Yup

He would turn at that and scan the hall.  His face would break into a smile when he found her crouched behind her laptop.  She would remain deadpan but would raise a hand in greeting.  Then he would wink at her.  She would wink back.  And then he would turn away.  Which was lucky, because by then, she was probably blushing.  She could only do deadpan for so long.  And the blushing was getting worse.

Billie hoped he hadn’t noticed.

So Billie walked up to Derek and always stopped that arm’s length from him.  Though her heart pulled her closer towards his heart, but she would resist it.  Grip her books and resist it.  This terrible, delicious yearning.  This torture.

Billie supposed she should do something.  Throw caution to the wind.  Take his hand.  Kiss him.  Tell him how she felt.  She almost laughed.  What a ridiculous idea!  No, much better to stay in this state of friendship, good friendship, close friendship.  She didn’t want to lose that and if she said anything and he laughed…  It would be beyond awkward.  Beyond excruciating.  It would be devastating.

So she watched him from across the room and waved at him and winked at him and texted him and talked to him and laughed with him and was with him, in a way.  She was with him.  And that was what really mattered, wasn’t it?