Girija Tropp


The jumper pulls on my knees as I sit on the footpath observing the milky light blocked onto the asphalt. A soldier ant lifts off my big toe and put feelers in the air. It bit me but I did not move. Most of this year, I've been unable to sense what keeps me alive. The couple who walked past earlier reach the entry to the park. They kiss under the banksia trees. The girl salutes and walks back the way she came. Odd, that salute, a little fake. Suddenly, I want to touch myself so I get up to return to the house. When I look up, the curtains twitch in the bedroom above the garage. The girl comes abreast. She smiles at me. I want to reach out and stroke her; then the girl and her smile are gone and I think that I can go my whole life being Jane Thi Doe who has three lovely children under three, a loving husband, and two cats, but when I say hi it turns out flaky. I decide that after I've touched myself, I shall make it through the afternoon baking chocolate brownies. As I walk to the front door, everything shimmers, as if the life has gone out of my body to animate the entire world. I try to suck myself back.


Mother's complexion looks odd, as if powdered by brick dust—Asian skin petrified by the Australian winter. In the kitchen of the main house, we cut up old Gourmet magazines, looking for exotic recipes. As if we had not been drowning the kittens only moments before. When I left my husband to return home, Mother asked that I give my cats away; asked me bluntly even though I was coming to terms with the kids being gone. The courts gave my husband custody—he had a strong case because bisexuals are not supposed to be good mothers. John Howard says so.
       On the TV, there is an earthquake in Japan. My mother says, "Why do people live in areas that are unsafe?"
       A stupid thing to say, I am thinking. A good daughter would engage in meaningful conversation about her opinions. There is a blur of movement and in the space of a blink something hits my foot—the scissors that wobbled off the table edge. Blood wells in the gouged skin over my ankle. "Ma!" I am enraged as if my mother has deliberately injured me.
       Band-Aids are in the cupboard over the laundry sink but the cut is way too big and requires wadded up cotton wool. I put on socks and shoes to hold everything down. When I get back, my mother has stopped with her hands in the air and is looking at the television. There is a horror movie showing, the kind involving Satan and foetuses. "If you leave that on," I tell her, "I'm leaving."
       Mother goes to turn the knob, flicking through channels, gray static buzz mostly, till she finds a cooking show.
       "Been feeling depressed lately." I lay on the floor to adjust my back.
       Mother turns the telly off then. "Life isn't meant to be easy." Her statement seems to bring some hurtful memory to mind. "Remember..." But she stops and brings the magazine close up to her face, her mouth moving silently. Whenever there is something important to talk about, Mother leaves sentences unfinished and I am caught by an internal pause.
       We live rent-free in the converted garages of businessmen, in return for a bit of housework, looking after children who come on weekends. It has been six months since I left my own husband.
       The cats come in through small gaps in the plasterboard to piss on the pillows. There is an especially ugly Tom that hisses when chased, as if the business of being male needs defending. Lately, the landlord has been looking at me as if considering something and now I look at my mother's large hands, feeling a rush of tiredness. "I'm going to a party tonight." The words come from nowhere.


A friend, a singer with a moderate voice, owns a beach house on the hundred-mile beach. On the shore opposite the inlet, is a place where aboriginals used to be isolated. When she finishes telling me, my friend also informs me in great detail about assaults by her brother when she was young; how she used to come here to stare into space.
       After the party finishes in the wee morning hours, we decide to go to the beach, despite stories of feral cats as big as lions. The husband of the singer comes with us. At every third step, my breath escapes in a wheeze but I have always been this way so none of them pay any attention. They adopted me, an Asian student in their dorm... oh about twenty years ago. They feel like strangers yet they end their emails with the word Love. I have always been hellbent on being Australian but I have used the word Love only with my husband, my ex now, and then only on our wedding night.
       The five of us pick our way over sand that feels like cheesecake. I am the only one clothed. The woman on my right scratches her hairy legs while talking to the flat-chested business woman about sucking off some guy who stayed over the previous Christmas. It sounds like an accomplishment. The flat-chested woman has large scaly nipples but all other mammaries fall towards the centre of the earth, emptied. One of the women waves her hands like a bird learning to fly. Everyone has pubic hair in varying degrees of brown except for me; I have none at all. When we get to the violently frothing sea, the women dance in the receding tide as if in a ballroom.
       I am afraid of the water but the idea of being lonely makes me follow their actions. A supper of cold lasagna keeps rising and the sea tastes like tears. Maybe I will die. My asthma has already been too bad. Later, we will talk about scary experiences and drink mulled wine. They will listen to me say the things that are feared differs in each culture and can be passed on in the DNA. I will speak of hiding in the forest and watching my parents die and make a chopping motion in the air.
       Everyone jumps in time to the incoming waves. I can see the singer's husband on the beach scratching the underside of his balls. In a half-year, he will be my lover, saying that he is looking for a strong love. But right then, he seems to be staring without desire into the blue crepe of sea. Look! says his wife, the original caveman, and laughs at his rude sign. We disco-rock in the sea while she sings and he begins to look interested as checking out a harem for the over-forties.


He is a big guy, the CEO at a credit card company, and makes sounds like a rapidly fermenting object. He stops for a minute. "I got an idea," he says and heaves off. There is some movement that I cannot recognize, but then I do. Bitch titties. He wants me to suck on them. I consider it for a minute, make some body language that says no and we stop in an awkward position and I do not want to stir in case that means something; at some point, realize that he is snoozing. I wish to be good at this sort of thing. The fish tank is loud and my thoughts dim in comparison and everything becomes fine as if an alarm has switched off inside me. I go to the bathroom, fill my mouth with Listerine, feel my way to the toilet because the light globes never get fixed. By mistake, I lift the toilet seat and sit on the cold rim. My thighs get wet. In spite of the diet, my belly is out there like a pumpkin. At least, he says he loves me. You couldn't ask for more.


He drinks the merlot by himself and I wonder if he will turn out like all those guys that I have been warned about. His face is turned like a train carriage come to an unauthorized stop. I go into the next room and cross myself because Mother has predicted that he could be an energy parasite and I am upset already about having to go out in the heat to drop his children off and pick mine up. His love for me does not seem enough in these temperatures. I begin to make up my face in the reflection of the window because all the mirrors in the house have shattered. No one can explain why. It is spooky.
       The record player gets caught in a loop but my fingers are stuck in this stupid wisp of wool in the wardrobe and I don't want to pull too hard and ruin the dress.
       I write the word harmony on a scrap of paper and feel something move in my head and it reminds me of the time my mother slapped my face for stealing tablespoons of Horlicks from the cupboard. Why did she then complain so loudly about how skinny I was? I could never understand. She would run after me with a tree branch, around the dining table, until I crouched underneath like a dog. When I was nine I tried to commit suicide by drinking an entire bottle of aspirin.
       I write headache tablets and then turn it into a list of supermarket items. Then I see a book that I purchased and have not had a chance to read so I curl up against the window and start, bringing it close to my face because my eyesight is not what it used to be. When I go to the kitchen, he is asleep over the spill of drool on the laminated table top. I want to scream but realize that it will do me no good and since I can feel God watching, I stand straight and lift my arms till they are tired. Then I take a bowl out of the cupboard and break six eggs into it for frittata. The repeat of take me down take me down take me down seems to fade and turn whiny so I go into the lounge and switch the player off.


I remember an outing with a boy with whom I had fallen in love. We had gone walking from one bar to the other asking for the Australian who might help my mother with her English. Mine was pretty good from talking to soldiers at the bar where I worked. Our interview with the immigration people was coming up soon. My boy held out his hands as we walked as if they were bulbs lighting the future. He asked if I was ready to memorize the code. I think he was kidding. People joke when they are nervous. At the last minute, I was reluctant. We were going to exchange family secrets—I did not want to tell him that my so-called mother was not really mine, that Mother was really the teacher from my school who had been visiting. I wanted to keep my story straight for the immigration interview. I focused on his polar jacket, the metal zip ends that flipped from side to side, and imagined a handheld video. I was walking backwards trying to think like a socket—his suggestion. There was grit in my eyes. I did not want anyone to believe I was bad. But there was no one around so I began to let go, cautiously. As if he could read my thoughts, he said, "Maybe this is not a good idea." And his hands returned to normal. We went back, holding onto each other like any other couple wanting to have a good time.
        Another guy I used to go out with, an American who was there for the fighting, used to read from a self-help book and tell me that all choices were equal. I am always trying to work out if I had the right decision.
       After I said goodbye to my boy, I saw the guy they called Cosmos. It was one of those nights when I had to get up early to the bakery. He was obviously on his way home from a drinking session with friends. I could not imagine him teaching adverbs to my mother. Sometimes I rehearsed a conversation in front of the mirror. "Hello," I said.




I was interested in the story of someone who was living inside themselves as if imprisoned by their life. My parents travelled a lot between Africa and India when I was young, till I was about 16, and then we came to Australia. Often, my narrators are seeing their world as if they landed here in a spacesuit and cannot quite 'feel' the world around them.