Life on a Timetable
I am thirty-two and living the life of a child. The only two keys on my chain are the ones to my parent’s house. In my bedroom I write stories, and look out at the same dirty sky and aerial spines now bent with age and stained with pigeon shit.
My brother works for a famous auction house and lives in New York City. He’s three years younger than me. His long-term partner is getting her PhD in Chinese literature. Soon she will be a published academic. She’s five years younger. When they fly over to London for a visit, I come down the stairs and greet them in my pyjamas.
To earn a living as I write, The Next Great Novel Of Our Generation, I use Ctrl C and V on a keyboard to copy and paste numbers into a database. I’ve worked in the same basement office for seven years. Sometimes girls my age come and work there for year. As my new manager, they’re always interested to know where I worked before.
According to the schedule I created at eleven, my daughter should be on grade two guitar by now. My husband and I would’ve moved out of our cosy flat in Brixton and into our home in Shepherd’s Bush. ‘Brixton’ would be a heady blur of impromptu sex on kitchen surfaces, legendary dinner parties with other brilliant Creatives and cucumber gimlets at various gallery openings, book launches and screenings. In our house now, the walls would be covered in all the photos I’d taken of the places we’d travelled. Kind, open faces of the young and the old, blessing the Peruvian rugs, Ethiopian coffee pots, and books – a few of my own – filling the space.
I don’t have a daughter that plays guitar, I don’t have a husband, a book deal, an Ethiopian coffee pot, and I don’t really like travelling. When you’re heart-broken at the life you’ve allowed, it’s easier to stay close to it, to never get the distance to face the full picture of it. To never have to come back to it.
Last night I went to a wedding to see Katy, one of the last in my circle of friends, marry. I spilt red wine down my cream dress. Someone wanted to tell a man that I liked him. I did like him, but I didn’t want to speak to him. Yanking her back, her wine landed on my face and dress. I just left it there, brushed it out my eyes with the back of a wet, purple hand, enjoying the new scar across my chest.
I prefer a man to admire from afar. That way I can make up stories about him. I can imagine he sees something special in me, a light that doesn’t usually shine quite so bright. From the opposite side of the room, he should read a penetrating intellect and witness a generous heart as I allow a mousy girl to bloom under the nourishment of my attention. If he keeps his distance, I can imagine he’s very special too, and imagine the very special relationship we’d have – the two big dogs on the block.
The man’s name was Jack. As Jack walked toward me, tipped off all the same, I noticed again his height, his soft curls, and lively blue eyes. I also noted a weak chin. He might have wanted to get to know me, but I asked all the questions, paddling furiously to make sure we kept afloat. After covering his childhood, his career change, his feelings on happiness, I thought I saw him get tired. I drained my glass, an excuse to let him back into the pool, but he slipped it up through my clasped fingers and offered me another. This, however, was enough for me. This, it felt, would be a good time to stop. Grabbing the arm of a passing friend, I swam back to shore, my pride still intact. His answers left in a pile on the floor.
Over the night I had found ways to brush past Jack, smiling but never stopping. I didn’t want to ruin what we had.
I had a boyfriend once. We dated for three years. A month before we broke up, we took out first holiday. I have no pictures of it.
Far from the bill of cultural and social activities I’d imagined with a boyfriend, these were rare. After a week of copy and paste, I wanted to make up for the wasted time, writing – or at least moving existing sentences around the page, in the hopes a new formula might produce the magic.
We tried a few times. He paid twenty-two pounds for us to walk past pictures painted by celebrated people; people much better than he or I. I felt nothing, doing rooms in fifty seconds flat, in protest at all the ambling, silent awe. I hoped my pace might make all those bespectacled couples with their skinny jeans, gamine crops and conviction in something greater than themselves, rethink the tremendous fuss they were creating over an old oil painting.
Eventually I’d find a painting to over-identify with, just to claw back some feeling of connection. But it was never the one they sold on a postcard in the gift shop.
He took me to the theatre once too, to see his favourite play. The actors spat and paused for emphasis between sentences, sometimes even words. As the knife went in and the King finally died his long, slow and truly painful death, I thanked nature for the soft lock of hair I got to twirl and loop between my fingers. I decided then that there was no room in my heart for other people’s creativity – perhaps if I grow up one day, perhaps, if I become someone’s Mother.
Once outside, his face bright under the crisp moonlight, he asked me what I thought. As I answered as honestly as I could, I enjoyed watching his features drop from a smile. I enjoyed setting him straight, enjoyed passing on a piece of my own disappointment.
I broke up with him in my local pub. On the way, I listened to love songs, feeling myself a warrior for my True Love, doing the necessary to get to Him. A week later I was in a departure lounge, waiting to board a plane. I was to get away and go find myself – I had always known I was someone better.
As I lay on the beach, I waited for her to come. When she didn’t, I searched for her in rum bars, at a fish fry, in the arms of another man – a man who would draw her out, the one for which there would be no doubt. I stayed out later than needed, drank more than needed and fell again and again into the arms of the wrong man.
Watching as the island’s curves of pink sand and whisked palms faded again to nothing, I was brought back to down to earth, the same. At home, the girl staring back in the mirror was me, save for a few extra pounds, the cream cocktails reconstituting around my thighs.
Five years on and I’m still here.
I make some effort to meet men now. I plan nights out with other single friends, but we always end up in a corner of the bar, dipping our fingers into hot wax and talking about the men we’d like to meet, rather than meeting the flesh and blood already there.
Insecurities smothering a chance at the life we want are prodded, and we make stirring speeches about each other’s talents and beauty. Each time I leave intoxicated with wine and fresh hope, every song on the iPod magnificent. Tomorrow I’ll do it. Tomorrow, I’ll seize my day. However, tomorrow comes, and the brain wilted and shrivelled, there are still too many things to get right, pounds to lose, stronger words to find, a better end before I’ll allow myself a starting chance. Maybe in a few months, or in six, or a year… The beautiful thing about potential is nobody can take it away. Only death.
On the nights when my life feels too small to contain me, when I hit against its corners, I hurl myself around the familiar little streets, a firework, popped and sputtering, with no place to go.
As I continue to turn down the invitation to live life, so I can write about it from a warm duvet, I wonder about the future I am creating. Perhaps in ten years time I will finish my novel. Perhaps I will become a published author. ‘This is all you ever wanted’, my friends might say as they congratulate me, and something about that statement won’t quite resonate.
Some people will read my novel, some won’t. Some will start it, but abandon it halfway through for important things in their own lives – falling in love, a pregnancy, a new job, a divorce, a miscarriage, redundancy. In the ten years of writing it, perhaps none of these things will have happened to me. At times, I’ll question whether I even have the right to write. Still, I’ll be working hard on my next novel.
In the Spring I will wake up in my parent’s house, thirty-three years old – their spring baby. My friends will throw me a party. As I walk to the station, I’ll pass the same fast food chains and pharmacies, where twenty-two years ago I bought fried chicken and pink nail varnish, wasting time before my real life started.
The bride, Katy, will be there. I’ll ask her about the wedding, the honeymoon, the baby on the way and she’ll tell me that Jack asked after me. I’ll smile at this and ask after him too. ‘He’s getting married in the summer’, she’ll say, ‘they actually met at the wedding.’ I’ll remember her, a little bridesmaid, her hair twisted into plaits and threaded with Baby’s Breath. From the opposite side of the room, I watched as she threw herself in front of Jack, a happy drunk, laughing all over his shoulder. As she danced, awkward and jerky, like a skeleton on a string, I worked my own hips into a trance, hoping to steal him back. I danced and I danced and I danced, and he never came.
As my birthday draws to a close, my friends will leave to get back to their babies, their houses, their careers the next day.
Before they go, clasping my hands, they’ll each tell me again, just to keep doing what I’m doing and ‘it’, as they say, will happen. And again, just like the spring before, I’ll continue to wonder what it is I actually am doing.
Emma Rasmussen is a writer of short stories and creative nonfiction, as well as comedy sketches for the screen. She regularly updates her blog, Living in the Over-Analyzed Moment, and is 33.3% of the award-winning, female comedy sketch trio Don’t Shoot The Mermaid. She lives in London and when she isn’t writing, she’s editing music videos or eating too much Greek yoghurt.
Tristan Louth-Robins is an artist based in Adelaide, South Australia, working principally in the medium of sound art. He graduated from the Elder Conservatorium of Music (University of Adelaide) in 2010 with Masters degree in Music, specializing in sound art. Ideas of sound and its signification are key elements in Louth-Robins’ work, traversing the space between the visual and aural his sound art is realized through the mediums of recordings, installation and performance. He is interested in sound and its associative implications – including its relationship to objects, technology, urban space, memory and the natural world. Since 2005 Louth-Robins has performed and exhibited work in Australia and internationally as a solo artist, whilst occasionally collaborating with visual artists, musicians and performers.
His work has been featured in a variety of Australian festivals including the Adelaide Festival of Arts (2006), The National Regional Arts Festival (2012), Midlura-Wentworth Arts Festival (2013), Adhocracy 2013, Fairfax Festival (2013), Adelaide Fringe Festival (2014), Going Nowhere (2014), Near & Far (2015); and galleries including The Australian Experimental Art Foundation (2008, 2009), ARI Space (2009), SASA Gallery (2012), Light Square Gallery (2012), Liverpool Street Gallery (2015) and Felt Space (2015).
From 2006 to 2007 he directed the Tyndall Assembly, an experimental music concert series held at the Gallery De La Catessen in Adelaide.
Since 2011, he has facilitated the Fleurieu Sound Map, an interactive web-based mapping project which features site specific field recordings made across the Fleurieu Peninsula, South Australia.
In 2013 he released an album of field recordings on the Hungarian label, 3Leaves. The album (The Path Described) was critically well received and drew its material from Fleurieu Sound Map field recordings.
During 2013 and 2014 he was engaged as sound designer and composer for the Adelaide-based theatre company, five.point.one, contributing to three productions including the critically acclaimed work, Notoriously Yours (2014).