Faye Fornasier is editor of Nutshell magazine.
Looking past her notebook and down at the table, fountain pen out, extended like the paw of a pointer in front of a quail, Anna sits examining the grain of the wood, following its lines absentmindedly. Her present thoughts, an article on the Tsunami she was assigned last minute, slip away quietly as she allows her mind to focus – relieved – on the grooves that mark the wooden table. Some deeper than others, some thicker, recording by season the years of the plant.
To keep a record of her life in her teenage years, Anna had been using a secret diary that developed over several notebooks filled with stories as detailed and intricate as the lacework the nuns used to break their backs on at her school, and similarly packed with frustration. At times of self-doubt and confusion over what her true calling might be, she had often caught herself thinking of getting them published. Thoughts of book launches and tours, of a cinematic adaptation resulting in a spectacular acting debut, had entertained her in the bath, on the way home, or in other solitary moments. In her fantasy she would never, of this she was sure, let her parents know of her success, or else they’d want to read her books, which would be just too private. For this reason she figured she’d publish under a pseudonym, or perhaps only in very far foreign countries. She would release them and be big in Japan. This thought made her feel close to Alphaville, and sympathetic towards what must have been their motivations.
In terms of self-recording, as a university student she had relied on the much more fashionable Moleskine, pretending it was really much more handy than a normal diary and that it had nothing to do with fashion. At this point she would mark only her appointments and deadlines, leaving narrative behind in favour of brevity and secret coding. Later she found the minimally written and intensely doodled pages had their use. When she needed to know what she had done on a particular day, when she had been ill and why, what drugs she had taken and with whom, and who she had taken back to her place in which drunken night, she knew exactly where to look. Plain entries like, ‘Monday: yoga,’ however, alternated to more obscure ones which she could no longer decipher. Now, as a young adult, she syncs her email calendar with her phone, an action of no romance. She notices how each transition has left her with a slightly less personal way to record her life, as if each minute of it, once unquestionably compelling and worth reporting word by word, had slowly but steadily lost importance.
Nuns have their special ways of making you feel inappropriate. She had often wondered how they came up with new ideas each day, the one who would wear the white habit rather than the normal grey once told her, passing her by in the yard during a break, that whistling was something only boys could do and however natural and fun it seemed now, it would result in permanent facial paralysis in girls. Mother Superior didn’t have much of a problem with whistling, as none of the girls dared doing it in front of her; what she did have a problem with was Anna’s posture, she insisted she would be good for nothing but a career as study case for scoliosis, that nobody would marry her and she would therefore be put in a home for unfortunate people. This way of slouching, with her left arm stretched out on the table and her head resting on it, her spine zigzagging behind her, had been perfected over the years and come to signify depth of thought. With her nose almost touching the table, and her breath forming and drying a pool of condensation by her notepad, she notices some finely dotted areas between the lines, like the porous inner part of bamboo, or the core of Maltesers. They must be weaker points: a rough winter, a dry spell, a sudden change of season. A sudden change of mood. What about her own dotted lines, her weaker spots?
She tries to breathe deeply and get hold of her mind while she still can. Tries to push all her thoughts away from herself and onto the task at hand, then remembers Murakami’s tsunami story on the New Yorker a couple of weeks before. Did he write it there and then or long before the disaster? Could it have been waiting for this moment for years, like a curse? Is she an empty salmon skin too? Empty like Plath’s applicant?
Things like this can happen suddenly and be unstoppable. Sometimes, one can just watch. And they’re off! booms the Grand National commentator of her life, high up in her brain’s royal box. Her breath is short already and her heart is galloping, she worries she might well be the first horse out, dead at the first fence. A nightmare of a mare. Sweat creeps up behind her neck. She’s had attacks like this before. Hot flushes want in just to confuse things a little. Experience never helped her, holding a driving licence won’t help you if the speeding car you’re in has no brakes, and you’re not at the wheel. Tears stream over her crumpled, twitching face and her heart knocks on her sternum demanding attention. Thump! Thump! Thump! The chances are that if she ignores it any longer it’ll rip through her ribcage and land on the wooden table, startling everyone like a resumed Sinatra. Hello dolly!
Someone is standing over her, someone inexplicably unaware of her tachycardia and hyperventilation. Just like in video games, she is able to pause her private meltdown for a second and reemerge into the office, her ears return to the hum of the printers and the distant chitchat. She looks up to find her teary eyes have made a Munch out of her colleague, Tess. Her reaction is to scream but nothing comes out. She runs off out of the office and into the streets, leaving Tess confused. It’s not long, however, before the image fades from Tess’ mind, too many years in the office have tampered with her ability to care about anything but tea. She moves on to someone else’s desk and jingles ‘Vending macheeeen?’
In the street, Anna wails. This part of the city is populated only with office workers, many of them her colleagues, so she moves away from the main entrance and up the street. A jogger passes her by, then another and then, slower, an old woman with a Dachshund, they’re all Munch bar the dog who is an Italian modernist. All her life she had wanted to be a Schiele, a touch that is decisive, true colours. Catching a glimpse of a Munch she might know and who might work three desks away from hers, she stops on her tracks. A cinematic shriek, thud, and crash follow, and then all the Munch people are running towards her.
The driver of the car that stopped abruptly to avoid running Anne over looks at her confused, rubbing the nape of his neck with his hand, then walks slowly to the back of the car. A cyclist lies unconscious with his head by the pavement. A trickle of blood finds its way through the cracks of the coarse tarmac, meeting the dirt and pollens, forming a rivulet and carrying the pink petals showering from the cherry trees by the road. Suddenly calm, Anne feels the sun on her skin, looks up at the blue sky filled with petals in the breeze and extends her hand to touch them. A man, the driver perhaps, shakes her by her arm as if to wake her up and screams something at her. She looks down at the blood and the petals and thinks that bones too have a porous part within them, and that it isn’t necessarily a weak point. Slipping out of the man’s grip, peaceful now and shielded by a private soundtrack playing in her mind, she walks back to the office, looking up all the way at the waves of petals, the flowers disintegrating quietly in the wind, just for her.
Fifteen minutes later, alone now and peaceful, she ties her hair into a bun, releases it, then reties it again, and re-releases it. She sits back at her desk and writes her article in less than one hour. She hands it in, then googles ‘pink flowers trees London’ and chooses a pretty image for her desktop’s background. Tess walks to Anna’s desk with a big sigh. ‘I’m sick of this Tsunami thing.’ she throws her empty disposable coffee cup into a bin almost entirely filled with them. A drop of coffee lands on Anne’s wooden desk, on the dotted areas, quickly followed by a pink petal fallen from her head.
‘Vending macheeen?’ asks Tess. Tea sounds like a good idea.
This story appears in issue 2 of RE, which is available to download here.