The Neighbours

So I am holding up her hair while she throws up.

“Need more salt water”, she croaks, and I walk to the kitchen to fill up the glass.

“My diet starts tomorrow, I swear,” she knocks back another gulp of warm brine. I rush to bunch up her curly hair, streaks of Germanic blonde in that dark Kurdish gloriousness I have gently curled up in my fingers. She hates her hair. And her nose. And her skin. I know how she feels. But I love everything about her. I think she’s lovely, çök guzel.

We get drunk and smoke cigarettes while we dance around the house like strippers, in underwear and stilettos, except she always trips when she’s in stilettos, and we laugh our nineteen year old asses off.

It is summer in Western Australia, and the flies are abundant, when our living room is broken into and the dickheads have left the sliding glass door open. No common courtesy. Two laptops, a cellphone and they even took our favourite 50 Cent LP.

“Fuckin’ hell,” we say as the police showed up, two of them. They crack Perth boy smiles, take down our statements and dust the doors for fingerprints.

“Ninth one in a week, bloody wankers hey,” one of them, Alistair, the one writing things down and eyeing my skirt, especially the way Kader and I are stroking each other’s backs. We’re like cats overdosing on endorphins.

“I know hey,” I concur in that distinct West Coast Aussie drawl and light a cigarette, while Kader saunters indoors to chase out more flies. And of course Alistair and Jeremy take my number and say they would love to join us at Metros or the Church this weekend. Jeremy, the one like sunshine, recognizes my car, they say it’s always parked right in front of the Church, aren’t I afraid of the Vietnamese gangs?

Oh no, I tell them, they’re all friends of mine. I’m not Vietnamese but you know one Aussie Viet and they all stick up for you. We laugh when I tell them that it is Australia who has taught me how to drink beer, and then as a touch of patriotism, I bust out singing Advance Australia Fair. They almost piss themselves laughing. I am in love with Perth police officers.

Kader knows the entire Turkish community in Northbridge, the city centre for us young wandering fools. Everyone is from Istanbul. We go to late night doner kebab joints where I entertain everyone with my Turkish swear words and Kader throws everything up the moment we get home. But she isn’t losing weight, in fact, I am. I have simply stopped eating.

I never do drugs but the biggest drug dealer in Perth, Johnny owes me some money and his wife is in love with me, that’s why my car never gets roughed up and no one dares look me in the eye. Johnny is Vietnamese, and he escaped from California for something I never bothered to pry into. Everyone has a history. Angel, his wife, is from mainland China and her visa’s expired. But I don’t ever tell anyone.

They also have full access to my car and house when I am away. It has never occured to me to be careful of them, my mother raised me not to judge anyone or view people with contempt. So all my friends range from ambassadors’ kids with diplomatic immunity to Perth’s hoodrats. Even the homeless aboriginal down the street is my friend.

Kader and I, one rainy night when she tells me of the years of being her father’s plaything, whenever her mother was at the market, she was made to “suck on the candy”, or at least that’s the name of the game he played with her. But she’s still a virgin, she says, because he knew she still needed to get married one day, so the games never got that far. No Turkish guy would marry her if she weren’t a virgin. I tell her a too many men have the Madonna/Whore complex. The woman is either the virgin Mary or a complete utter slut. There’s no gray area. I don’t think we ever knew a day when we didn’t obsess about our hatred for our bodies, heartbroken over some guy, or fantasizing about killing ourselves. There’s nothing more beautiful than two broken girls being honest and angry, united in their suffering, yet desperately wanting to rescue their captors. I have never known a day I didn’t want to die. Americans call it depression, there’s a pill you can take for it. I call it being fucking honest about the state of the human condition. We are at war and no one gives a damn.

I tell Kader about the months I was kept locked up in a cell, humiliated, kicked senseless by my dad, and there was a vacuum cleaner and a couple of knives involved. After two months of being locked up I had resolved there was no God. And here we are, trying to die in a socially accepted way but so much fucking life in our youth.

Like the other night I went drifting at 120 km/hr drunk. Of course my car flew and landed in the roundabout and a foreign minister’s son took the rap for me. Indonesian royalty. While the whole time I was cheating on him. One day Kader touches my nipple out of the blue and I freeze her out. She moves back to Morley while I stay at my house in Karawarra, two more break-ins after that. I see a lot of Alistair and Jeremy, needless to say. They also helped me get my car out of that damn Kent Ridge roundabout.

I was the talk of the neighbours, so to speak.

Then I move to East Perth, partying way too hard, getting my heart broken all the time and fucking up my uni degree. I will never understand statistics. Kader doesn’t finish her molecular genetics research and goes back to Fethiye. We have a tearless goodbye at Perth International. We are used to sorrow and abandonment anyway. Is there anymore to cry about?

Johnny borrows more money from me and I will never end up seeing it back. It isn’t mine anyway, it’s Atonement Money, my aunt makes sure my parents wire me a shitload of money every few weeks for what they did to me. It is also uni money, but my mother makes it clear that I don’t deserve it. It depends on the day. Monday she alternates between crying with remorse and Tuesday she steely says she should have had that abortion back when she was 16, she wouldn’t have had to marry my dad, the neighbours had been gossiping. It was so embarrassing, she said, five months pregnant and showing in her shitty wedding dress, pretending to smile and be merry, when she knew what everyone was thinking and saying about her. Then she tells me methods she has thought of to end her life. I tell her I never asked to be born, if there were a fairy godmother to swap my life with hers, I would give anything. Then she starts crying again and asks me if I would ever forgive her. A few days later she will call me a dirty little whore, and asks me which strip club I am working at. I have learnt to be very tolerant at a young age. I tell her I should kill myself and that would solve the problem, she could be happy again. She says what would the neighbours think of her?

Then she asks me what the meaning of life was, as usual, in hysterics. I say that’s what I’ve been trying to find out. I have stopped eating during these years. One day I devour a whole box of oranges and have to go to the ER. My mother tells people I must have had an abortion. She doesn’t have to worry, I think Dad kicked the ovaries out of me. I am so skinny and so high, “high like a bird in the sky,” as Johnny says in his funny pidgin English, the adrenalin of starvation is making me the envy of my peers. I keep being asked if I have a portfolio, that I should be a catalogue model. I hate modeling, I refuse to watch commercials or read fashion magazines, to me they are the product of a patriarchal society trying to distract women, women who haveno idea they’re being subliminally manipulated into submission. But it is nice being skinny, everybody likes me, they like it when they see bones. Angel is skinny too. She only eats an apple a day and supplements the rest with alcohol. One night at the Church she slips half an ecstasy pill into my mouth and I pretend to down it with beer, but I spit all of it out on the floor when she isn’t looking, then I wash out my mouth in the restroom. I eat slightly more than apples but still no one asks me to eat more. I think my mom hates me even more for being skinny. She says the neighbours say I’m an immoral whore, that in Perth I sleep with a different guy every night, except whores are smarter, at least they get paid.

Every day I hate my skin, my eyes, my shoulders, my feet, nothing is good about me. I don’t deserve to live. I look like a freak in the mirror. I spend every cent of Atonement Money in my account, and charge up all my supplemental cards. The neighbours in East Perth either call me one of them or that spoilt brat princess with the sweet car. Weeks go by on a steady diet of booze and dancing, and going to lectures hungover.

My mother is a romance writer. Or erotica, whatever you wanna call it. Personally, I can’t stand romance, and anyone can write erotica. Anyone. Same goes for children’s books. It’s like if you wanted to make a shitload of money you’d write children’s fiction. Doesn’t make you a writer, just a good nose for the market. I’m way too obstinate though, I refuse to read something I can write. It’s like going to a restaurant and eating something you could have made for yourself at home, only you could have made it better. I have disdain for her romance novels and she thinks my poetry is bourgeois and pretentious.

When I was thirteen Mother bought me my first beer, or three. At some bar. I got so drunk this old man, a friend of hers, put his hand on my left breast and I didn’t know what to do. The whole time he was smiling and laughing, he looked like a weasel. Mother just ushered him away back into his chair and that was the end of it. Then I got home and threw up five times outside the front door. I think she was amused. She said she would rather have me drink with her and build up a resistance than to be naive and sheltered and then get date raped. Well Mum, I did get date raped.

That would probably amuse you too.

© 2012 Alicia Khoo

New York City

**Disclaimer for the real “neighbours”:

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

An Epic of Nails

epic of nails

on a drum a painter sits//

smearing ochre pollen onto cobalt

blue//

fingertips rusting with

electric violence.

He burns canvas in mercury//

his liberty was born of Goa/

nails scrape fluid onto the form of

papyrus//

with it he creates a

poetess/

whose ink spills

magenta.

goddess, heiress, martyr;

madonna, whore?!

they are found distilled

from

generations of

slaughtered intellectuals/

she writes in a temple with

tibetan nuns//

sonnets, haikus, ideologies of

dangerous artists/

she pens a letter to him in ancient

hebrew/

A truce of Gilgamesh//

In it, there is

no us against

them/

© Alicia Khoo

September 2012

Written on a boat between Phuket and Phi Phi Island

A dedication to Finger Painting Artist Alex Rodrigues