She called it a robot leg.
I mean, I wished it was. That it would fizz and whirr into motion, then propel me across that primary school hall to that the other side so far away, so I could look back to her, and look around, and Did you see that?
I think I nodded along. Yeah, it’s a robot leg. What else is it? What else could it be?
Did they have a word to describe them? Barely padded plastic brackets that I had to be fitted into whenever I grew (they had a Rubik’s cube there in the clinic in Sydney), that the specialist (also in Sydney) would always ask about, that made me need to shop for two shoe sizes, that got so hot in summer, that got discoloured around my toes where I would press in, that stuck to my skin and kept my ankle from moving because if you let it then it would move and tippy toes – tippy toes were bad.
A splint, I think. But that was a word from another world. I didn’t know what the doctors meant when they said it.
So I nodded along to robot leg.
Cool! She smiled a bit, then walked off to somewhere else.
Was that- was that me? Hey – I was the robot leg kid. Robot leg. Robot leg. The robot leg was cool.
Optimus Prime had a robot leg. He had two robot legs, and they had wheels on the side, and would fold backwards when he turned into a truck. And he was cool.
And it would go clunk, clunk, clunk when I walked but that was the sound of the robot leg, and it was cool.
Yeah, robot leg!
But then I noticed that all the other kids didn’t have robot legs. They didn’t seem to need them. And they could run, and play handball, and walk through the bushes without getting twigs stuck inside their legs.
Faster, easier, more balanced. Perhaps I wondered if I would be able to move as fast, as easy, as balanced if I didn’t have a robot leg.
And the robot leg was cool, but wasn’t it also cool to do all that other stuff, go out there, and tumble, and roll, and play? Soccer was a foreign word. There was no point trying in the cross country because I knew I’d be at the end. I threw up a barrier at even the notion of speed. It wasn’t for me. Couldn’t be for me. But wasn’t it cool when they did it?
I wasn’t the only one with a robot leg.
His had camo on it. It was gaudy because the brown looked like skin, and the robot leg wasn’t made of skin. His was worse than mine. He had more of a limp, needed to wear glasses. I saw him at events, sometimes at the Governor-General’s house with the party pies, sometimes in the Exhibition Park with the fire truck and everything – but I never talked to him. It was like-
It was like a funhouse mirror. Things blurred and distorted – blown and exaggerated. Things ballooned, bloated; they were ugly, unnatural masses, and they didn’t work properly, and nothing fit. He didn’t run, he didn’t play handball, he didn’t go walking around in the bushes.
And if he’s reading this right now, I’m sorry. Because it was them, or him, and I chose them.
I hated that robot leg. I wish I could have just said ‘oh, cool’ and walked away from it, like she did.
Comments Off on WHEN YOU CALL ME EMPTY/STOP MY STORM
I know that you don’t see
My brokenness inside
The way I cry at night
How I cower and I hide
You’ve never understood
How my weakness is within
That I am followed by my fear
And it prickles at my skin
But when you call me empty
Something in me starts to crack
I become the hunted
And you, the animal on attack
If you knew emptiness
The way I only do
Trust me, you’d hate it
If I called you empty, too
– jnf, “WHEN YOU CALL ME EMPTY”
I am told to take control
Of the weather in my head
To ignore those dark clouds
Dream a pleasant day instead
Apparently it’s that simple
Just push all the bad away
But that only stops the rain
My day is still as grey
I can’t adjust my mind
Just like I can’t control the sky
Outside my classroom window
That rages while I cry
There’s a storm inside my head
The grey and gloomy backdrop
To all these pointless words
Want to actually help it stop?
‘We need to have an argument.’
‘An argument.’ She does that thing where she sighs at herself, blinks a few times towards the distance, searches, decides, yes, those are the words that she will say: ‘A fundamental disagreement. A difference of opinion. I say something, you say something else, we raise our voices, and then there’s a difference of opinion and then maybe we agree to disagree.’
‘Oh. Okay.’ He chews on nothing.
‘I’m serious. Before tomorrow. Before midnight, hopefully. That is tomorrow. Okay, well the sun’s already set. How about before ten? No, that’s too close. Eleven. We’ll aim for before eleven.’
‘Oh, I agree.’
‘Before eleven. That’s good. Then we can get eight hours of sleep if we sleep at eleven-thirty.’
‘Yes, but at the same time I need you to stop doing that.’
‘Doing what? Eight hours is recommended by the majority of medical professionals. Maybe seven, now that we’re getting older-‘
‘Can you call me that yet?’
‘I like calling you that. Makes me feel prepared. So it’s not too strange when I have to formally start doing it tomorrow. Take it as practice.’ She runs her hand along his arm. Her fingers feel brittle, delicate, like shards of melting ice. He feels strong.
‘But I need you to stop agreeing. Just, before eleven. We need to have an argument.’
‘But what are we going to argue about?’
‘I don’t know. I was hoping you’d think of something.’
‘What about, what about…’ He isn’t going to think of something, and she knows it. Maybe this is what they should argue about. She settles for something else.
‘Politics. People always disagree about politics.’
‘Okay, okay. Well um, I voted yes. Yes, that’s what I did. Of course. How did you vote?’
‘I said yes too.’
‘What do you think of the current Prime Minister?’
‘Well, he kind of looks like butter, but you know it’s not when you taste it.’
‘Oh. That makes sense. Did you know that margarine is actually black without colouring?’ He used to work in a margarine factory.
‘Yes. You’ve told me, dear.’ She called him dear again. Practice, that was what it was, he reminded himself.
‘But so is the other one. The opposition leader.’
‘Oh, of course. I guess there’s nothing worth disagreeing about. It’s all the same whichever way you take it.’
‘Okay, okay. What if we – like a debate.’ He had done debating in high school. They had lost the regional semi-finals. He remembers the feeling of wanting to intensely squeeze something in his hand that he got when the adjudicator told his team they’d lost, and the acrylic smell of the table. ‘Like, I take one side, you take another.’
‘This could work. So I can be Weet-Bix. And you can be muesli.’
‘Do you want to start?’
‘No, after you.’
‘Okay. I am far, far more varied. You’re a brick of wheat and your most interesting flavour is the milk you’re paired with. Sometimes people pour Milo over you because they’ve realised how bland you are and they’ve had enough. Sometimes honey. They poured milk and honey over people as torture in Ancient Egypt until their victims drowned in their own vomit and faeces and they do the same to you, this is because you are so bland that they should do the same as you. Now you go.’ She had studied Archaeology in university, which he thought was very attractive.
‘Wow. Okay well let me first communicate my respect and congratulations to you. There was a formal way of doing this in high school, but I’ve forgotten so I’ll move on. You are muesli. I am Weet-Bix. Now, you have said many things that I am. Let me continue. I am utilitarian. I am simple. Above all I am Australian, and I am the breakfast of champions. There are many types of muesli and many ways of eating those many types. But I am simply Weet-Bix. Milo, honey, yes, but underneath, I am the same. I am singular, I am unified, I have direction and I am purposeful. Everyone knows who I am. Those who do not subscribe to me only reinforce my dominance as they confirm that they are the exceptions to the rule. I am the rule. Now, to you. You are many, you are multiplicity, you are legion. Barley connected. Your diversity will tear you apart. Soon there will be in-fighting from your multi-polarity. Nuts, no nuts. Sultanas, no sultanas. Bran, no bran. Each one of your components is merely waiting, biding their time to establish their superiority. But I am one. I am, and always have been. This is why you are inferior. Thank you.’
‘Okay. Do you want to have a rebuttal round?’
‘No. Formally, I think we’re a bit messy. It’s okay.’
‘I don’t think that was an argument.’
‘It’s almost ten thirty.’
‘We’re running out of time.’
‘Tomorrow we’ll be married.’
‘Yes, but we need to argue first, dear.’
‘See, it’s good practice, isn’t it? Soon it will feel normal. If we let it seep into our vocabulary now it will only make the transition easier.’
‘Yes, but you’re still right. We need to argue first. We’ve never done it before.’ He drums his fingers against his thigh. They are like the rapid presses of a stamping machine. It is no longer almost ten thirty because it is now ten thirty.
‘I am worried though.’
‘You suggested it.’
‘And I hold by it. But now that I’ve thought about it for a bit – what if we start something? Something that sits away, but then boils, grows, comes up again in a few months, something we can’t just share, and it puts itself there, every day, in, and out, whenever I see you, I see it, there walking on its own two legs, forming a mind of its own, babbling and speaking, this disagreement, placing itself in the middle of the house and marking it like it’s all its own and, oh… maybe it wasn’t a good idea. Maybe we should wait until afterwards. Until it comes organically. I was talking to Linda before, and couples are having disagreements later and later in their lives. Maybe it’s just best for it to happen, maybe when we’re not even trying.’
‘It’s okay. We still have more than twenty minutes. We can do it now. I won’t let that happen.’ He looks at her, expecting her eyes.
‘I know. I think I know. I guess what I’m trying to say is… did you bring protection?’
He sees the clock flash as it changes to ten thirty-three.
I sit at my desk, naked.
No, I sit on my bed, naked, but clothed.
Veins busy treating a poison.
Shrouded by the shadow of a daemon.
Cast with a light of my own making.
Adding shadows to the wall of the Cave.
I am naked, but clothed.
Maybe Plato was right.
My head locked, a fire burning.
Opened. Split. Torn.
My shadow wears no clothes.
She dances to a controlled rhythm.
Mused by Him.
All of Him and all of the Hims.
The base lines my waist line, the beat my shudder, the melody His groan.
My head locked.
The Cave cold.
I am naked, but clothed.
My bed is warm.
My daemon lays next to me.
My daemon lays on top of me.
Clothed in a custom-made dress
My shadow dancing whilst I march.
A heart in atrophy
I am naked, but clothed.
A ladder used as kindling.
For the flames.
An arsonist’s lullaby.
No one can climb of the Cave.
Self-destruction. A skeleton sedated.
After weeks of circling between sober and hungover, trying to figure out what went wrong between Trevor and him, Jared finally threw the idea of “Karma” into the dustbin. He cleared away all the mess of the apartment, as well as the mess of himself, and spent nearly half of the credits he had earned in this town. He used them to buy a ticket to the Temple of Sacrifice, to put an end mark on his 23 years of virginity and isolation.
‘It’s about time,’ he said and confirmed the payment on his smartwatch.
Just like those two singing sisters in “Frozen”, the gates of fate were opened by guardians. For him. “For the first time in forever.” And contrary to what he had originally thought, this place looked more like the castle from Beauty and the Beast, run-down on the outside, but still spectacular and elegant on the inside, rather than like a random underground kinky SM Hotel. He walked through a place called the Gallery of Sex, where dozens of oil paintings bloomed in their own unique form. They showed cavemen having intercourse with cavewomen beneath a multitude of shining stars, a muscular teenage boy “shooting off the plane”(meaning “boy masturbation” in Chinese slang) in front of the MacBook 2077, male turtles enjoying the eternal bachelor days at the seashore, and TV industry workers shooting their orgy in Sense 8 for the eighth time. Every piece suggested the grand harmony of life itself.
‘Please select your preference, Sir,’ said the Al Butler.
He had waited for him at the terminal of the gallery for a long time. Jared looked around and saw four exquisite doors. They were sapphire, gold, crystal, and white jade to mean straight, gay, bisexual and lesbian.
‘What if I were asexual, Mr Carson?’
He had asked a smart question, or so he thought.
‘Then I guess you wouldn’t have to be here, Sir,’ the butler replied gently. ‘Besides, everybody has a desire for something – truth, love, fame, anything you can imagine.’
Then the butler opened the golden door for him without knowing his so-called “choice.” Four doors and four colours. The gold one was decorated with the sword of Gryffindor from Harry Potter, the skyscrapers from The Great Gatsby, the battle scenes of the Greek god Apollo and the roses of Highgarden from Game of Thrones. He wondered what kind of surprise was behind these cheesy symbols of male reproductive organs. Seconds later, a mixed feeling of satisfaction and loneliness arose within him. The Hall behind it was neither a boring pub nor a hideous wedding banquet. Instead, it was a library without the archmaester. Billions of books were quietly stored on shelves that reached the top of the sky. Young footmen were quietly sweeping the dust, stone plus the kindle, fire dancing with blood. This image had gone beyond all of the trashy VR games Jared had ever played.
‘This is brilliant,’ he said.
There’s a golden rule from Asian Yaoi Culture:
Since the dawn of time, a blonde boy and a black-haired boy have always been the perfect match.
Through thousands of readers, he finally found that perfect guy: short blonde hair, green eyes, barely taller than him, fit and cute. The lad was reading Jared’s favourite book at the corner of the tables: A Song of Ice and Fire: A Clash with Kings.
‘Valar Morghulis.’ Jared greeted him in the old-fashioned way that the characters in the book did.
‘Valar Dohaeris,’ the boy replied with a gorgeous grin. He continued to read the chapter of his one true king: Renly Baratheon with his Knights of the Rainbow.
‘Why do you like Renly?’ Jared said.
‘For his equality, my lord. Nothing comes without a cost.’
That was absolutely true. A straight friend had once asked Jared a similar question. He had replied to Jared, ‘equality and freedom had never been given by the majority who already owned them. They require courage, struggles or even blood. Sometimes, it’s not a bad thing to be too progressive.’
He followed the green light. The boy grabbed his hand and went into an inner room with a lonely sofa. Guided by the green eyes, at last, he was able to kiss this Mr. Right.
While there was only a short distance between their lips, the image was now suddenly frozen, all the lights up. The boy vanished into steam. The room it turned out not to be a bedroom at all. There were dozens of real humans sitting individually, reading something. One guy looked at Jared with a little sympathy.
‘Quite shocking, right? They’re all robots. And we are all the servants now, from this day, until our last day. Do I like you? No. Do I wanna sleep with you? That’s beside the point. Even if you’re as extremely fabulous as Milo Yiannopoulos, super-Republican, freaking intelligent, no one will lift a finger. We are all trapped in this lounge permanently unless someone who truly likes us saves us from this goddamn chaos. After all, “these violent delights have violent ends.”’ And then, this jock returned to read his alt-right newspapers.
Jared thought he was about to spend the rest of his life and die alone in this temple. However, he had always believed that there was a silver lining behind the oncoming storm. He walked to the windows and closed his eyes. He imagined what it felt like to be free, to dance with a better guy; not with the perfect fabricated guy, but with the ones who could dream.
Wait a second, he thought, who is that dowdy man out there standing across the street staring at me beneath the rain?
And there he was. That guy who was taller than him by 30 centimetres, the sole love of his bright, short life. Trevor.
Both boys smiled.
The surface of the Earth is tumbling over itself, fighting to make itself alive
Atoms, not long ago, within rocks kill and consume each other
The Universe is in free fall, stars and planets huddle together in galaxies
But even these huddles fall through empty space
Hurtling to who knows where
My mind is also hurtling, torrents of information pour in
Ideas absorb them and jostle for pre-eminence and control of this temporary form
To what end?
I’ve framed this all quite horrifically, but it only seems horrible while I hope to control it
A sickening lurch as I reach for something firm as stars and galaxies and minds spiral and crash violently into one another
But if I let go, it becomes a dance
To what end?
Rather, why not?
Two organic drops collide
your face results
Flesh and skin drawn tight
across the contours of your bones
that make me fluster at their sight
A pleasurable rush and a fluttering heart
A billion years of evolution tell me
Your symmetry is worth my time
You see, the fairy tale barely mentions that
Ariel second guessed herself,
Tried everything in her arsenal,
But still wasn’t good enough.
The fairy tale barely mentions
How long Belle took to open up,
Protected by walls and fortresses
She didn’t know how to bring down.
The fairy tale doesn’t mention that
Sleeping Beauty got cold feet on her wedding day.
The prospect of forever was just too daunting.
She had no time to find herself.
The fairy tale doesn’t mention that
For every Cinderella enchanting their own Charming,
There are ten girls dancing at the ball
Who didn’t get their chance, who won’t find their prince.
And you see, I’m just a girl.
I’m not a firework that dazzles,
Leaving an imprint on the back of your eyelids.
You won’t get caught in my short, tangled eyelashes.
There’s not much to see
In my edged smile and sharp words.
In my ribcage, there’s just lungs and ruby red blood –
I’m not made out of starlight.
I’m not fearless,
I’m the girl who spends every moment afraid.
I’m not the lioness –
I’m the deer that’s ready to bolt.
I’m not a daydream Disney princess,
I’m not always sure that everything will work out
And I’m beginning to worry
That ‘happily ever afters’ aren’t for everyone.