Creep

By Vita Forest


I’ve been thinking about Harvey Weinstein.

I’ve been thinking about Donald Trump.

And Noa Jansma from Holland who snaps a selfie with every man that wolf whistles, or cat calls, or propositions her with, “I know what I would do with you baby” “wehee horny girl” “hmmm you wanna kiss?” (She asks permission for the photo, they don’t ask permission to appraise her).  See Dear Catcallers It’s not a compliment (on Instagram)

And thinking about Jane Gilmore “fixing” media reports of male violence against women on #FixedIt  (“A woman is dead.  A man is accused of killing her.  Police allege domestic violence” – not – “Man accused of running over woman at strip club parking lot”.  He’s not a “thwarted lover” he’s a “violent man”).

And this week, in the next suburb, a woman lay dead outside a high-rise building.  Another victim of domestic violence.  Her attacker was known to police.

And I think about my own children and the kids in my class and hope that we’re raising a generation that will not accept the entitlement of bullies, that know they do not always have to keep a secret, that know the right way to treat women – to treat everyone.  That know what consensual means, that don’t abuse their power, that stand up for themselves and others, that treat everyone with respect.

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New and Old

By Vita Forest

 

The old ones arrive

dragging feet and

bags full of books and

clothes and shoes and

heavy hearts and

guilt for the heaviness

which makes them lean

even further

into themselves.

 

Up the new stairs

to the new room

the worst room

the room left over when

the other ones were taken

by the new ones

new and shiny

and pretty

and docile

and compliant.

Everything the old are not.

 

You will do this, he says

hands them a broom, a brush, a spade

always some job to fill in the time

while he lies back in his chair in the sun

scratching the dog

under her chin.

 

The new, the pretty watch

offer to help

No, he thunders

Do you know how much I pay?

How much they cost?

They will work.

The new stare

while the old slog away

and wish away the time

and wish they were not wishing it away.

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.

 

Justify

By Vita Forest

IMG_0737[1]

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?

 

L is for… Love

By Vita Forest

IMG_4079[1]

Stella wants to scream.  She just cannot believe it.  Yet it is absolutely no surprise.  It could have been predicted.  Anyone else could have predicted it.  But she was in love.  She would always give him the benefit of the doubt.

She felt ashamed.  And blindingly angry.  Enraged.  Absolutely.  Brimming.  With.  RAGE.

She stalks up and down the room.  This used to be her sanctuary.  This used to be her home.  She had made it their home.  She had put her work aside, her ambition, to make this their home.  Doing all the mundane things that needed to be done so he could concentrate.  What a fool she had been!

She had let her in.  Stella had let her in.  Stella grabs a cushion from the sofa and screams into it, pressing her face into it, smothering herself.

But not enough.  She feels a small hand on her leg.

“Mummy?”

Stella breathes into the cushion one more time, then puts on her happy face.

Must not frighten the children.  Must calm down.

“Sweetheart.”

She picks up the small soft creature and hugs him to her.

“Can I have a drink?”

“Of course.”

She dances him over to the fridge and pulls out the bottle of milk.  She swings over to the shelf and finds his favourite blue cup with the kitten on it.  She pours him some milk.  He kicks her gently and slides down to the floor, reaching up for the milk and trotting away with it.  She leans on the counter and remembers.

“I need to focus, can you take the children out?”

Of course.

“I have to go to this silly show, publicity you know.  You don’t need to come.  It will be late.”

Of course.

What a fool she was.  What an idiot!  She had enabled him to pursue this new, shiny thing.  This unattached, adoring person who was never tired, never drab, never anything but alluring.

And he had gone out again now.  Right after he had told her.  He would give her some space, he said.  She rushes to the sofa and beats and beats and beats it.  And now it was the witching hour.  Bath time, dinner time.  Time for tears.  But not hers.

Stella grabs her phone and rings him.

“Come home, I need to go out.”

She hangs up.

Marlena… no Sophie.  No they would be busy too.  No, she needs to be alone.  She needs to think.  He better get here soon, he at least ought to show her that courtesy.  What was he doing?  Untangling himself from her grip?  Toasting his bravery?

Stella wants to scream, but instead she marches to the bedroom.  Under the bed, her pencils, her sketchbook.  She pulls them out.  She will draw it all out like she used to.  She will exorcise all these emotions through her fingers.  She will drive away and find a table somewhere, anywhere and draw.

Stella wants to scream but instead she will scribble.  Instead she will do something she had given up.  Something there was no time for anymore.

He loves me, he loves me not…

By Vita Forest

This week I am trying something new.  I’m participating in a blogging event for The Creativity Carnival.  Shafali provides one of her artworks as a cue and bloggers respond however they like.  Here is this week’s artwork and here is a short piece of fiction in response.  Hope you enjoy…

Creativity Carnival: Handcuffs

Handcuffs - A pen and ink drawing for the Creativity Carnival Edition 6.

See, he does love her.  He brought her roses.  Who needs words when the florist is happy, he is happy, her friends are happy?

“Oh!” they coo, “You two are so sweet!”

He brandishes them in front of her like a dare.  A dozen red roses wrapped in the softest blue tissue paper.  Her friends perch on bar stools and sip cold dry wine that fogs the glasses that cradle it.  And praise him.

While she can only think, “Now I have to find a vase…”

He knew they would be there.  He knew they would forgive him for her.  But perhaps forgive is too strong a word.

Adjust.

Adjust to the new normal.  Because, come on, – what does she really have to complain about?

Beautiful home.  The best restaurants.  The best holidays.  Trips to the snow, the reef, the opera.  Who wouldn’t want it?

She folds herself into ever more complicated shapes.  She twists her head around so that she can look the other way.  She makes herself smaller and smaller, breaking the bones in her toes so she can fit inside this tiny jeweled box.  She stops breathing to take up less room.  She lets go of her own hand and casts herself adrift.  What if?  She forgives.  She cries alone.  She does not tell anyone.

A shriek of raucous laughter brings her back.  He leans over casually and refills the glasses, adding just the right anecdote, just the right amount of fizz.

She slides a stalk from the bunch and peers into the severed end, into the tiny circle of its inner core.  It’s edged with green, golden inside.  Golden.

“What?!”

Her friends turn in astonishment.  Shock on their faces.  His face is impassive but deadly.  She knows that look.  They watch as she clenches the stalk tighter and tighter.  White knuckle grip.  Her own blood dripping onto the floor.

Why the Wild Things Are

By Vita Forest

Wild Thing

Wild Thing

My class has just finished examining Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.  Although it’s a short book of not many words, it is a book of big ideas which took us many sessions to explore.  The plot could be described as being about a mischievous boy called Max, who after being sent to his room in disgrace by his mother, has an adventure, then decides to return home.  But of course, there is much more to it than that.

We started by doing a class brainstorm on a few key words.  Before the children even knew which book they were going to read, they thought about “Wolves” (nocturnal, wild, predators, teeth), “Mothers” (loving, kind, cuddles, but also bossy, mean, strict) and “Night” (dark, moon, scary, sleep, dreams).  You can see how interesting this is already.

We noticed how the Wild Things were made up of parts of many creatures.  Max himself is part human, part wolf.  We made our own Wild Things by folding paper into three sections and having a different person draw the head, the body and the legs.  These were given interesting names like Hipp-octo-snake or Echid-fish-bug.

We thought about how our eyes moved across the pages, noticing the “vectors” (six year olds are experts at this).  They traced their fingers across the pictures and drew invisible lines from the Wild Things eyes across to Max (there was only one of him, but he had their attention!)

We examined each picture and each word and noticed many strange and unusual things.

  • The pictures went from being small neatly contained images, to ones that devoured entire pages or two, with no white space left and no words at all…
  • A crowd of large monstrous Wild Things were frightened by a small solitary child and made him their king…
  • It became important to notice if Max’s eyes were open or shut.  What was happening when his eyes were closed?
  • There were no pictures of the mother…
  • Some of the small snippets of dialogue were repeated by different characters…

Books like this one fill a primal need.  In the real world, children are small helpless beings, forever at the mercy of giant grown-ups who make the rules and control every aspect of their lives.  There is something thrilling about a story in which the child protagonist is somehow able to subvert the normal way of the world, and become an all-powerful being, exerting absolute control over all the other characters and the environment.  Perhaps this is why this story remains so potent and so loved despite being over sixty years old.  (In a similar vein, my class has enjoyed Roald Dahl’s Matilda).

Perhaps there is also something really compelling about an angry young boy finding a means within himself to let go of some of his rage.  When we looked at the last image of Max returning to his room and finding his supper, I asked why they thought he was shown with his wolf hood pushed away from his face.  One of my own complex little people put up his hand.

“It’s because he isn’t angry anymore,” he informed the class.

Books are important.