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Andromeda Comes to Earth

When Andromeda arrives, crown of green copper melded into her helmet of hair, surrounded by a visible perfume of purple wisps of fog which leak from her pores, her glance at once piercing and obscured (she sees all, or as much as she wants to see- we see nothing of her, or nothing important) time stops for a second.

In the beginning- we backtrack, look for a start to the story, but we were no longer able to find it. No, we didn’t look for the start, to be honest, we looked for the fairytale. We looked back, towards the time when we could still believe in order and happy endings. The start stared at us all the time, inscrutiable. It was, it just was. But that wasn’t an answer.

I only saw her that one time. I don’t know what I cared about before that, I don’t know what I felt. Distantly I remember langour, the smell of leaves under my foot, the caress of afternoon sun on my skin. I remember feeling pleasure in small moments. I remember trying, I remember caring when I failed at some insignificant goal I had set for myself. All that is a faint memory.

Andromeda tore my world apart. I tried so hard to protect myself, my identity, to be accepted by those I feared, to be true to those I loved, to be fair to those I trusted. Keeping the galaxies from colliding, and trying still to be- believing I still was- essentially honest and good. On whose side do you fight? I asked myself the question I had already prefaced with the ready answer, fully believing. I fight on the side of right, for the ultimate triumph of good over evil in the universe. I lie to prevent a bigger lie from realising itself, I hide to avoid being consumed by the shadows and keep the light safe somewhere even deep inside, I hurt to prevent greater unjust pain from occurring. No, we are not made of flesh and blood, we are not exhaustible. We do not merely go through a cycle. My armour is brilliant and unspoilt, and it is my true skin. It is the form that I choose to go through life in.

I was a knight. I was also a boy. Identity is more than circumstance. Who was I, who hid my incontinent mother disabled from an accident years ago? Who pointed to the house on the corner when the manager dropped me off, not my own, down the lane dilapidated and if you were to step inside, steeped with the stench of urine? Who felt justified when I was promoted a week later? Who burned that same house down when everyone was out two years later, because the insurance money would, and did, get us a better house and life? Who treasured the pride of his grandparents, and found my protection from their public connection to myself to be just as important? Who watched my skinny brother those years ago, awkward and hurt from rejection that the smell of neglect and poverty brought, and vowed both to give him a better life one day, and also to never be like him? And yes I stabbed people in the back to get ahead, and I pushed them out of the way, and I betrayed them. Always in the right way, so that they wouldn’t know, and never could do anything about it, so that I would escape blameless. Accepted, then praised. Competent, then successful. Time passed, a great deal of time. And then, there I was. Twenty-five years of my life had gone by. Fifteen as myself, ten as somebody else, anybody else who I had wanted to be.

Did I feel a lie? Never, I felt lazy and peaceful when I was alone. I felt recognized, seen when I was around others, recognized for who I really was and should have been. Conflict was solved with distance. Everybody knew part of the story. Nobody knew the whole thing.

And then there was Andromeda. How coldly she cut through me. On what was prepared to be one of the greatest nights of my life. As I rose to accept the award, there she swept up on her feet in front of me. I say I only saw her once, and this is true. I never noticed her before. And I stood stunned as the words tumbled out of her mouth, accusing me of taking her work, of dismissing her team’s ideas from my position then sweeping in and taking credit for their research and work. My feet would not move, as three names came up that belonged to three people who should never hear of each other and put together their story, three all fired because of me, two of whom I directly took over the position. Gravity was heavier, nothing would move, everything was frozen. Andromeda did that, there was only her voice in the room, only her presence filling it up. There had been a little rustle as she had first interrupted the ceremony, as if the instinct had been to remove her, but that moment was already far, far in the past. She held the room spellbound. Her mouth moved slowly. Jaws seemed to drop. My ears could not believe what they were hearing. I begged them to reconsider, to listen again to what they had just heard. My fake qualifications. She had done that much research.

My life became a lie that day. To me, every moment of my life, my first kiss with Amelia who believed I was in a regularly performing band when I wasn’t, my teen friendship with Ben who I traded stories about girls who didn’t exist, my badminton friends who I hadn’t told a single lie to I could remember but who I’d never told enough about myself either, all changed from experiences or moments or things I had done, but just different lies. All these things Andromeda didn’t and couldn’t have known about. But at the same time, she knew everything.

Andromeda tore apart my world. I could have, and did, easily get another job that was almost as good, that I could easily work my way up from and achieve as much as or more than I would have otherwise. I could make new friends, and many that I already had never heard of that incident. But Andromeda is out there somewhere, and I believe she is waiting for me. In whatever form she next appears, no matter how much time passes, I know that she is always watching and will come back any time she pleases.

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In place of a child, I had a puppy.

We sat in the afternoon sun, me and him, nestled in my arms head in my hand, my nose in his soft hair. A quiet afternoon in a quiet suburb, the sound of children outside, loitering on the way home from school. A timeless afternoon.

He grew bigger. Stronger than me, more energetic, and I could hardly keep up with him, wondered how I did keep up, but he gave me energy too, that I didn’t have without him.

I would take him to coffee, to the restaurant, we would perch on iron chairs in manicured neighbourhoods. Adult, refined places where I had to check his unruly behaviour, see to it that he reflected the kind of etiquette that made pride blossom in my maternal bosom.

We watched the world go by, me reflective and him engrossed in his plate of meat patty. He was the part of me that enmeshed itself fully in life, so that I could relieve myself of that role.

My child. I had never had the experience of carrying him to term. Yet, as I stored him in an oversize bag to carry him onto the bus, cradling him close against my body, as he fell asleep on my lap on the couch and I woke up with his heartbeat against mine, I had this experience in reverse, the process of him becoming a part of my body. Had we ever been apart? He was a voice within me.

Gently, caringly, I might nurture him from a place outside me, from a fully formed being, into the core of me. I may cease to see him as separate, and see us as one entity.

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For example, the floor might open up and swallow me up and that might, finally, be enough. Would that be what it takes to really be a part of something?

He is disappointed. It takes me a long time to guess at why, and even then I am tentative at the conclusion. Could it have been me that caused it? I don’t assign to myself the role of this power, I don’t assume it. And so, I almost disregard this possibility, but not quite. He reminds me an awful lot of someone. Sweet-natured, something gentle that could be hurt, that made me too remember to feel.

It hurts to see him disappointed. Is he disappointed in me?

There are others surrounding me, I was snatched up when he left the room and I was happy to be, I was relieved to be, so that when he came back he would remember that I was worth the attention. Their attention is over the top, and he couldn’t approach me. Then I saw him talking to a girl by the mirror, and then he was there five minutes later too, and it seemed 10 minutes after also.

He catches my eye. I can’t think of a way to break from these guys, or to interrupt him. It seems too awkward. In a moment, I sense, the conversation with the girl will get interesting enough that he will completely forget about me.

But I don’t care because I want him, or because I want to be attractive or because I want to win. I care to care, because I care about little in the world, shamefully, painfully little. Because of the miracle of life, the theoretical, less, hypothetical miracle of life, a skeleton of an idea, the flesh of which decayed long ago, that aches for the proof for this unproven theory, and rings out instead with the absence of miracle, the absence of life.

Life overflows with all the farces in the world. Achievement, reward, status, position, power. Employment, education, economy, politics, history. Skill, intelligence. But beyond that. Love, sacrifice, honour, honesty, kindness, morality, and the hypocrisies that call on them and use them as weapons against ourselves. The bigger it is, the bigger the lie.

And what is there to live for but for these moments when I feel something instead of nothing?

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A Visit (2012-04-27)

I aimed my camera at the spider and she promptly scurried up her web, turning her back on me. “Don’t,” she said, “I look terrible today”. She was a beautiful spider almost the size of my palm, with spindly legs which had a healthy shine. Her web stretched across most of the suburban garden in which she lived, spanning the space between the two trees planted on either side.

“I’ve been so busy today”, she says, emerging from the bedroom into which she had retreated as soon as she had let me in. Now she set a teapot onto the heavy table, the polished, heavy, authoritative table. The room is impossibly neat and quietly judgemental. I feel smaller and somewhat dirtier here, as if I have gone back in time to some childhood afternoon spent listening to some great-aunt prattle while chewing slowly on a dry biscuit, conscious of the crumbs on leather.

Two years ago, I had helped her drag her suitcase with the broken wheels and two plastic boxes up the street and around the corner, from one overcrowded city apartment to yet another overpriced mouldy room in another. There we had extracted two dresses from the known total of her personal belongings, and gone out for the night in them without stopping to shower, her in scratched heels and me in the flats I had been wearing all day. One of those heels were broken by the end of the night, still attached to the shoe and dragging behind it like a dead mouse as she stumbled up the stairs. She had snapped it while hysterically confronting some guy she had broken up with the week before, who we had run into by accident. I had gazed calmly at her as she essentially threw a tantrum, so used to her that I just dismissed this all as “Myra”.

Myra, who approached life as if she was drowning, clung obsessively from one false hope to another, fought and clawed desperately, who was tired of treading water, who didn’t know which way to go. Myra was a mess.

Her very name seemed inadequate, clumsy, confused- I could hear the contempt in the voice of those who addressed her sometimes. It was tangible and I wanted to grab hold of it and dissect it and name it, so that I could separate myself from it forever. “You’re not really her friend”, I wanted to say more than once, and more often, to Myra, “she’s not really your friend.” But I didn’t say these things anymore, had stopped when I realised people no longer understood what I meant. Myra remained oblivious. She approached all relationships with the same softness as she did with men. That softness was not a tenderness or vulnerability, but rather a spongy wetness, soaked with need. It made people judge her for being weak.

Now I realised that the name “Myra” had suddenly changed, into a staid, traditional name from another generation, like Maude or Maureen. There was a blank, clear, thoughtless comfort in how she recited recent events to me, in how she scanned her home and belongings, in how her hand gently rested on the side of her cup.

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Snail (2012-04-21)

I was walking home and I saw some snails, it was still raining softly and I was under my umbrella. I heard a soft crunch under my shoe and I realised I had stepped on one, and I felt bad, I would have avoided it if I’d seen it. Sometimes I move them off the footpath if I feel like they’re in a dangerous location. I felt like I shouldn’t feel bad if I didn’t even know it was there and didn’t step on it on purpose. I wondered why when it was the same thing, and thought that if I really thought they should be allowed to live and not be stepped on then I should do something to stop them being needlessly slaughtered, like removing them all from all of the footpaths. Actually there is a children’s story kind of like that which I remember now, about the kid who tried to throw all of the beached starfish into the ocean one by one before they all dried out. And then again if I was going to decide it was impossible to do that then I should do something else, like lobby the council to create a safe place for snails where they could all live happily away from the threat of boots and shoes, or insist that we as a society should go barefoot to reduce the chance that we would crush them before the sensitive soles of our feet sensed them and avoided them.

But then after a few minutes I also remembered something else, that I had been eating snails just a couple of days before. I don’t know how this part didn’t immediately come to mind, but I’d had a bit of a debate with myself about whether I could eat them or not, since I eat “seafood but no meat”. And then I’d concluded that snails fall into the same category as seafood because they are sort of like clams and shellfish and I would eat sea snails.

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Fairytale Ball (2012-04-13)

When I danced in the arms of a big happy elephant, I became a nimble mouse that leapt at its heavy feet. The rotund creature with his merry energy limited in his movement on the crowded floor, and I could make graceful what he made look awkward, the centre of gravity was him and I spun out from it, around it, and always back to it.

There was a tree too, and in his stable subtle presence, I was a bird that flittered with no need to feel the ground beneath my feet or a care in the world. Free to feel the wind in my hair, the sturdy hands the branches I would rest on for a moment or two, cradled by their gentle movement.

And again, as a bouncy bunny around a growly bear, and a feline that danced with a wolf. Drenched shirts sticky with sweat, all types of bad odour, b.o and stinky breath, all became bearable and amusing when coming from a fairytale toad.

I always made myself the cute creatures, and sometimes a princess at a ball.

My friends were usually just my friends, it was the strangers who could make the transformations. And later on the train, I would look for the magic in the other, faceless strangers who now stood just as close. I never can find it. All ancient people knew that we had animal spirits, and ours must still be out there somewhere. Running free, having adventures, while we wait empty until the day when we realise we must chase them and join them.

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