“Fear View Mirror” was an event hosted by the Emerging Writers Festival at 1000 £ Bend in the Melbourne CBD. Click to read the short story by set in Melbourne…
I’m sitting in a room with young hopefuls and a guy I met on eHarmony. He’s lovely, surprisingly lovely. He’s tall, his hands are a good size and he hasn’t said anything that would make me excuse myself with an emergency case of food poisoning.
He writes too, everyone here writes. We’re sitting in rows of shabby-chic metal chairs listening to other writers telling their tales. They are all young of course; when I say hopefuls you know instantly that they are young. You wouldn’t expect an older person to take the stage amongst them, too self-indulgent they would say. Perhaps they’ve lived long enough to know that their stories are the same as mine and as yours. They don’t believe their voice is unique and encapsulates their generation, or a generation. They know better.
I work with older people sometimes, in a job where you’re encouraged to talk, and they do talk. They’ll talk to you about their kids, about their husbands and wives, they might mention their job or their friend Colleen, but they don’t mention feelings, they’re too old for that. Feelings are a young person’s pleasure, when you’re older feelings are more like crowds on a football field, they might influence the game a little with their cheers and woes but they stay on the sidelines and they don’t play the game. But for us, in these shabby chic chairs, feelings are streakers who run across the field disrupting the game. They haven’t learnt yet to keep their clothes on and stay put in their seats.
The theme for tonight is fear, a particular horrid little feeling which tends to pop up at the most unexpected of times. Tonight fear is everywhere in the room, sure it is mixed with laugher, wine and endearing anecdotes but it’s resting below the surface. You can see it; see it in the quivering hands and the quickly stumbled over words, which sway from triviality to substance and back again. There is even a wall, ingenious idea, with post-it notes; post-it notes of our collective fears. You take a note and write down your fear, anonymous and public.
I’m sitting in my chair listening to someone tell a story about death. There are recorded heartbeats playing in the background for extra affect, so we in the audience know: this is serious. The woman telling the story shows less fear than many of the others. The boy I am with is enwrapped in her tale. He is listening, eagerly awaiting the next sentence. I, on the other hand am having difficulty paying attention. I know it’s death and she mentioned stabbing but my attention keeps wandering to the two girls standing right of the stage. I first noticed them at the very start of the story, before there was any reference to stabbing. They shared a ring. From where I’m sitting I can’t see what the ring looks like, I just know it was shared between them. First one girl had it on her finger; I picture it to be big and emerald, a costume piece. Then she handed it to the other girl. The other girl put it on her finger, the same finger. She looked at it quickly and then placed her other hand over it and held it, held it tightly.
The woman on stage said she was now in hospital so I suppose not dead, the recorded heartbeats are getting louder and her blood is thumping faster. I will myself to listen for she is so composed. She speaks with clarity and certainty. This isn’t a narrative; it’s a statement, written with the un-floweriness of Hemingway. I want to listen but the movement of the girls keep drawing me in. The first girl, the original ring holder now takes the other girls hand, the hand with the ring. She takes back the ring, gently swivelling it off the other girl’s finger. She places it back onto her own. They smile and hold hands.
I miss the ending of the story. The boy asks me what I thought of it for he says he is speechless. I tell him I cannot give him any describing words either. The next person who takes to the stage holds a diary. She begins to read from the pages. Next-door people are screaming; it’s a Thursday night in Melbourne after all so the sounds of happy drunkards spill into most places. We’re sitting in silence listening to the girl’s life, listening to each word, each sentence picking apart the meaning. We’re dressed in our best hopeful writer attires, there are bowties and hats, there are naked backs and transparent camisoles although it is the dead of winter outside. We listen with our naked backs against the shabby chic metal chairs, cold but deep, drunk but not drunkards.
The charming host takes to the stage after the girl has finished her entry. In his hands he holds multi-coloured post-it notes. He reads out our fears, “enclosed spaces,” “someone else telling my joke and getting more laughs,” intense eye contact,” and “that I’m falling in love with her.”
“One of those is mine,” I say to the boy. He is amused and tries to guess but he fails.
I look back to find the girls but they have disappeared. I wonder about the ring. At first I thought it was a good luck charm; one of them would take to the stage and read her story. The ring, resting on her finger, would cause her hand to tremble less. The ring, weighing down her fears, would give her poise and composure. But neither girl stepped upon the stage. So what does the ring mean?
“Do you want more wine?” the boy asks securing the attention of my eyes still searching for the girls. I tell him about the girls, I tell him about the ring.
“That’s lovely,” he says. But it’s more than lovely, I think. Lovely is when someone takes you outside when you need fresh air, lovely is when someone laughs at your original joke, lovely is when someone averts their eyes after too long a gaze. Lovely is not two girls sharing a ring.
I tell the boy I’d like more wine and we both wander over to the bar. He goes to stand in line to order us another round. I stand at a table near the bar. On the table sits a little pink book and a pen. I look inside the pages: journal entries from tonight. I gaze over people’s worries letting theirs become mine. I take the pen in my hand and write…
I’m on a date with a guy I met online and all I can think about is two girls sharing a ring and my greatest fear.
I look around the room, making sure that the boy is still standing by the bar and not behind my shoulder. He is very tall after all and could easily read my anonymous entry.
I continue to write because it’s still not clear. I would like them to get it; I’d like these bowtie wearing, camisole loving hopefuls to get it. I write and it’s the scariest of all things, my hands are shaking and my words are fumbled. The words are not coming from my character’s mouth, they are coming from mine. I can’t hide behind quirky dialogue or colourful soliloquies, it’s just me on the page.
I stare at the streaks I’ve made across the page and laugh. As if anyone gives a damn.