a long distance relationship like a Dali painting

The phone glows blue in the middle of the night. Glows through my closed eyelids and prises them open.

What now?

Why must you wake me?

‘I miss you.’

The text leaves no question. No emoticons. It ends simply with a full-stop.

I curl my hands around it and fall asleep.

*

The self-help book from the library insists to re-live a favourite memory.

This will help you realign with your goals!

The book likes exclamation marks. I don’t know whether to assume the book is being dramatic or just really excited about helping people.

Close your eyes and live in that moment!

What do you see! What do you smell!

I feel sand stuck to the bottom of my feet, gritty between my toes. A mask is tight over my face. Vision blurred with droplets of the sea and the glare of the bastard sun. My breath escapes in deep heaves, through the tubing in my mouth. It tastes like plastic. Darth Vader sounds vibrate around my head. The water stretches across like a blanket. My nose burns; I can feel the skin blistering.

‘Have another go,’ he says. ‘Try to breathe slowly.’

I plunge back in and the fish dash around my eyes. They are not scared of me.

*

At work I can spin 72 times in my office chair in one minute.  The experience is nothing short of living in a surrealist art piece. The neutral walls dissolve into white desks and merge with the pale blues of vases holding crayon green plants. In a spin everything is one. The world tastes slightly metallic and sweet and as I push myself off the desk I can feel sweat trickle down my new top. The clocks melt into the piles of manila folders.

If I increase my ergonomic chair speed to 84 spins per minute, I can break the world record currently held down by a J Carmen in Brazil.  J’s occupation I wonder? Office temp, no doubt. If only my pay increased with my speed.

When I answer the phone people never ask why I’m out of breath. They are polite people here. Their haircuts are simple, most likely selected from a chart of twenty choices compiled by the HR team. Their clothes never have shiny iron melt marks, and they drive Sedans and small Mazdas that may not have street cred but have fuel consumption that makes them proud.

Maybe the staff here assume I have asthma, or, a breathing condition like a pug who genetically can’t breathe properly due to its flat nose.

I appreciate that commenting on someone’s pug-breathing may be rude, but it sure makes for more enlightening conversation than just discussing the weather.

At lunch-time I take my tuna salad and sit outside on the scratchy grass. And pull out the self-help book.

*

Every day we are growing! We don’t realise it, but cells inside you are constantly doing things!

You are a living being!

Recall a time you felt superhuman!

Mum slides  the ruler flat above my head. Her tongue sticks out in concentration as she draws the pencil across the wall. Chloe is watching closely. I need to beat her by two millimetres. I can feel the mini-pizzas we had for dinner heavy in my stomach. If I had my new school shoes on I could do it. They are thick and chunky and give me the confidence to stomp around like Godzilla.

Chloe is leaning in, breathing in my ear. She smells like fresh linen and pizza. I elbow her away.

Mum is frowning, but not because she’s mad.

‘Five centimetres. You’ve shot up like a bean stalk!’

My cheeks hurt from smiling.

*

‘HEY.’

I text him.

This takes me five minutes to think of, and it articulates everything I’m thinking. I click send and my phone makes that bleep noise. I remember that it’s 5am in his world. It’s 2pm here, and I have tuna breath.

‘WAKE UP.’

He sleeps.

‘REMEMBER WHEN WE WENT SNORKELLING AND I COULDN’T BREATHE PROPERLY?’

He is dreaming of me, maybe.

I text Chloe: ‘DO YOU STILL EAT MINI PIZZAS? ARE THEY STILL A THING?’

She texts back instantly, living in my 2pm world: ‘I’m paleo remember love?’

‘EWW!!!!!!’

I go back to work.

*

I don’t have any friends here.

Everyone smiles at me nicely and says nice things, but they don’t ask me along after work to the trendy bar across the road, drinking craft beers to get shit-faced and complaining about the boss. I quite like getting shit-faced.

The boss is a small-faced lady who wears thick purple lipstick. She remembers my name and says I’m doing a stellar job. I appreciate her ability to read my work nametag, embossed in gold letters. She has good eyes, but not good enough to see the lipstick on her teeth.

I’m sure she’s referring to my ability to spin. I could get started on the strategy proposal but I’m only here for another two weeks. The office is a blur.

There is a guy called Matt (I read name tags too) who sits near me. He never says much, just types away on a spreadsheet. But this afternoon he turns to me and says, ‘Do you like music?’

His voice is deep and husky. His thick eyebrows are raised, and he doesn’t wait for me to answer.

‘I’ve got a spare ticket to this show tonight, if you’re keen.’

My face is hot and I blurt out that I have a boyfriend but he’s saving polar bears in Antarctica.

Half true.

He laughs, ‘Me too. I mean, my boyfriend lives away. Exploring Mars though.’

*

Sometimes we are so trapped in our heads that we miss out on the world around us!

When was a time when something surprised you!

When you felt a weight lift off your chest!

The band is awful. Matt’s friends are new to their instruments, to playing as a band. The sound twangs and squeals and I squash my palms into my ears.

We drink cheap vodka and orange juice and we try to dance to the beat in a twisted jump step. My eardrums hurt but my mouth falls open and my teeth all crooked and smiley are exposed.

‘Horrible, so bad,’ Matt says.

I shrug and grab his hand and pull him further into the crowd of armpits and spilt beer. My feet stick to the floor.

*

I’m half asleep when my phone glows blue.

It doesn’t stop. It flashes blue, blue, blue.

I check the screen: he’s ringing.

I press the phone to my ear, my hair greasy from dancing, my tongue sticky with booze.

‘Hey, how are the polar bears?’

He laughs, ‘What are you on about?’

I tell him, and tell him about my chair spinning, the self-help book that wasn’t helping, the band that of pubescent boys, my new friend Matt.

I’m speaking quickly and then saying: I miss you and I feel like one of those corny romantic films where I can’t live without you.

I’m still drunk.

‘Hey, good news,’ he says. ‘I’m coming back.’

Image: Creative Commons

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FeminartsyShannon McKeogh is a freelance writer based in Melbourne @shannylm

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