Seeking softness

She stretches her limbs before she opens her eyes, her dream starting to melt and flicker around the edges. Her foot catches in the sheet scrunched at the bottom of the bed and she blinks, registering the faint tickle of sunshine on her face. She yawns big, gulping for air and scratches at the collection of sleep in the corner of her eye. Next to her, a back lays still, freckles littered along the left of the spine. He is pale against the navy sheets and his own dark hair that laps messily at his neck.  She rolls and takes in the unfamiliar bedside table with its strange lamp and gold-framed photo of a woman with dark hair and a yellow dress. She doesn’t know where she is, but the dream she can no longer quite remember keeps her calm. She throws her legs out of the bed and looks for her clothes on the crowded floor. They aren’t there. The freckled back makes a noise so she grabs the closest, softest piece of clothing and darts out the door. In the hallway, she throws a large jumper with an odd smell over her head and pulls on a pair of grey track pants.

Later, she sits at her desk and wonders about the boy with the freckled back. He didn’t seem dangerous, if you can tell such a thing from the softness of someone’s skin and the plainness of their bedroom. She doesn’t feel hung-over either, instead more awake and rested than she has for months, though that doesn’t seem to be doing much to motivate her through the rest of the files to the left of her keyboard. She looks up and notices Caroline frowning at her. She sips her tea and pretends to read the file on the top of the pile.

The next morning she wakes up beside a tiny woman with short red hair. The morning after that, next to a pile of wrinkled limbs and grey hairs. After that, next to a chubby, middle-aged man still wearing his shirt, unbuttoned just enough to reveal an off-white singlet. Every morning that week she wakes up someplace strange and every night she has the same dream – that she is someplace warm and full and soft. The redhead’s bedroom is clean and white and completely unremarkable. The old woman’s bedroom is dark and the walls are crowded with wooden photo frames, a million children watching her as she wakes. The middle-aged man’s bedroom looks like a page from an IKEA catalogue. Each morning she wakes without clothes and out of necessity she steals – a blue dress from the redhead, flowers embroidered in white thread; a man’s coat from the old woman, its hem coming undone at the back; a university jumper and a pair of running shorts from the chubby, middle-aged man.

On Sunday she wakes up on a couch, a blanket tangled up at her feet and embers glowing in the green tiled fireplace beside her. She is alone in the room, so she lies still for a while, rests her eyes a little longer than usual. The light in the room is orange and splayed through blinds, casting dots of sun on the opposite wall. She’s naked again but there are no clothes on the floor or hanging on the back of the door or put away in a closet at the end of the bed. At the end of the hallway, she finds a sleeping body with tattooed arms. She slips in quietly, picks a robe off the floor and wraps it around herself. The sleeping man opens his eyes and looks at her, confused, before he rolls over and falls back to sleep. She opens a drawer and pulls on a pair of green, fluffy socks.

Anna is putting away the laundry when she notices her dress is missing. Ethel sees as soon as she opens her eyes that the coat is gone. It usually hangs on the back of the bedroom door, keeping guard, but now it has disappeared and she is convinced that Harvey has found a way to reclaim it from the grave. She decides to spend the day in bed, getting up only to refill her hot water bottle. Dave wakes up strangely happy. He eats a piece of toast for breakfast, rubs the scar under his knee and wonders if he might finally go for a run today.

She spends Sunday afternoon sprawled across her own couch, watching daytime television and scrolling through Instagram. Two hours in she sees a fireplace with green tiles. The man in the picture has tattooed arms and is holding a small cat. She stalks him awhile, he has a kind face and smiling eyes but is otherwise unremarkable. She is wondering where she will wake up tomorrow when an ad pops up on her feed.

CAN’T FIGURE OUT WHO DRANK ALL THE MILK?

WHO LEFT THE FRONT DOOR OPEN?

WHO KNOCKED ALL THE BOOKS OFF YOUR BOOKSHELF?

MAYBE IT WAS A GHOST! OR MAYBE YOU’RE SLEEPWALKING! 

The download doesn’t take long and the instructions explain that once switched on, the app will pick up and record any sound she makes during the night. She cannot sleep, too anxious to hear what happens before her twilight adventures. Before long though, she is opening her eyes and shooting out of a strange bed, searching for clothes in the dirty laundry basket. She runs out of the house in a band t-shirt and a pair of jeans, barely noticing who she is leaving behind.

At first, the recording just captures the rumble of her snoring. A cracking noise joins the rumble, then a popping, then quiet fuzz. The rumble changes, gets gentler and shifts into a sound she recognises from childhood but can’t quite name. Something is happening to her inside the small phone, she is sure that her bones are splitting open and releasing the inside of her guts. Eventually the recording is silent. She reaches for the phone to switch it off and as her finger brushes against the screen, a tiny meow escapes.

She returns to her body sometimes, squeezing in through the always-ajar window in the laundry. She shifts back into her skin just to wear her favourite jumper with the soup stain on the left sleeve. She takes a long, hot shower and washes her hair – twice – and then spends the evening rereading her favourite novel. She opens her wardrobe and touches the clothes, each stolen in exchange for the pleasure and softness of an evening of her company. She adds a pair of high-waisted navy pants and a grey button-up to the collection and closes the door. She always goes back into the dark though, wearing her thick coat and looking to cure a little loneliness.

Image: Kitsanoo

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IMG_8437_1Gemma Killen is a PhD Candidate in Gender Studies at the Australian National University. Her current work focuses on the ways in which queer women’s identities become embodied and are made meaningful in online spaces. In 2015, Gemma moved to Canberra from Adelaide where she wrote for the Adelaide University magazine OnDit. She was also published in Wet Ink, an Australian magazine for emergent creative writing. As a writer, Gemma wants to produce gender-focused work that is accessible and creative.

This piece has been published with the support of the ACT Government.

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