Go left



























left curve


















































It was time to get our stories straight. Soon everybody would want to know us and we had a duty, as responsible citizens, to give them what they wanted, to put the pieces together, make a pattern, explain it away. It was a strange moment for us. For the first time, we realised that we weren’t alone. We were so used to being just the two of us, we’d never had to think about anybody else. From now on, nothing would ever be the same. Still, it was a small price to pay. We were making history and compared to that, everything else paled into insignificance.

This is how it goes:

– Answer the questions as honestly as you can. Did you ever wear girls’ clothing as a child?

– Of course. Didn't everyone?

– Very good. Now tell us about shopping with Mother when you get taken to Benson’s on Main Street because she wants to buy a new dress for the church picnic. While she’s in the changing room, you hide among the racks of clothing. You are too small for anybody to notice. You are buried beneath synthetic folds that cling to your skin and crackle softly. You are drowning in a sharp new perfume that isolates and magnifies your own hot smell. You sit there for a long time. You want Mother to think that you are lost. You want her to look for you. There are muffled voices far away.

– When I emerge from my polyester cocoon, Mother is standing in front of a full-length mirror. She is wearing a turquoise dress, smoothing it down over her hips as she gazes at her reflection. She turns from side to side, trying to gauge the effect she is creating. Her mind is focused on another time, a different place, as she tries to see herself as others might see her. Later on I learn to look at her in the same way.

– OK. Now, did your father beat you as a child?

– Only when I let him.

– Excellent. Remember the ginger beer he used to make? Cloudy, brooding liquid that shocked your tongue and invaded your nostrils. Nobody could withstand its volatility. He kept it in old beer bottles on a shelf in the shed and, on hot summer days, you would lie on the warm concrete in the backyard and watch the bottles explode.

– Keep clear you kids, he would say, before handing me the rifle to finish off the last few bottles. Like killing a mad dog, he’d say. Not that I’ve ever done that, of course. There weren’t too many mad dogs in our town. Not then anyway. The polished rifle butt felt smooth against my cheek and when I held my breath, I caught the thin, metallic smell of the oil used to clean the barrel. I squeezed the trigger and the rifle jumped in my hands. I saw the glass shatter, the tension released, draining away...

I guess that’s when I discovered the beauty of cause and effect.

– Hmmmm. Stay with me now. I’m thinking of a man I saw once at a function, a wedding perhaps, lurking next to the buffet table. Nobody else is watching him and he is oblivious to my presence. As I watch, he quickly picks up a sausage roll and stuffs it into his mouth, pushing it in whole. His cheeks swell out and he almost gags on the mouthful. My stomach churns in sympathy. Eventually he forces the roll down, pulling a face at the same time as if swallowing a cup of puke. He breathes out hard, then picks up another sausage roll and repeats the process. He does it again – and again and again, cramming the sausage rolls in as fast as he can. It’s not a pretty sight but for some reason, I feel an overwhelming and unexpected surge of pity for the man. It is almost too much to bear. I snap out of it by reminding myself that I know nothing about this man, what he does, where he goes, how he feels. For all I know, he could be the happiest man on earth. He doesn’t need my compassion.

– You turn away and force yourself not to look at him again. Altogether, you probably watched him for no more than two minutes and yet barely a month goes by when you don’t think of him and see him standing there, cheeks bulging, eyes watering, looking as if he might explode...

– Yeah, that bastard is still in there somewhere, taking up space inside my head, your head. I tell you, feeling sorry for strangers is a very dangerous habit...