Issue 22: Stephanie Bishop
On the Manifold of Logic of Female Invisibility
One morning when I was on my way to buy groceries, I was delayed by two workmen changing the front door of the apartment building: access to the front doors had been prohibited, and the area marked off with fluorescent tape – because of this I had to go through to the rear of the building and take the fire exit then walk an extra half block back up the side before turning left onto the street where the shop stood. I took my time, for I had many errands to make, and although I had taken a string bag in my pocket for the fruits and vegetables, I had to collect a large package from the post office and other mail I didn’t foresee. So by the time I made it back to the apartment I was carrying quite a pile, and saw, over the top of this, that the workmen had finished, the bright orange tape had been removed, and where there was once a swing door – the kind on hinges that you either push or pull to open by way of a handle – now stood an automatic glass door that slid apart with the aid of a motion detector. Gaffa taped to the glass was a large black X, to indicate that there was glass there, and not nothing, so as to prevent human visitors or day-tripping birds from knocking themselves out by dashing straight into the very clean very unfamiliar glass that was otherwise completely invisible: I walked right up to it: I could see my reflection – wide and lumbering – with the dark cross superimposed on top of it. Meanwhile, on the other side, in the dim foyer, a man approached with his head down and hat tipped forwards, nearing the door at a similar speed, then slowing down to allow it time to open. But it did not open. We each stopped abruptly: I took a few steps back, then took a few steps forwards again. My partner on the other side of the glass did the same, but alas, this new routine was to no avail. We repeated the action, several times, walking a little further back and faster forwards with each repetition and then – one wants to say “miraculously” here, but it was not – the doors slowly opened, the cross parted, I watched my reflection split in two, the middle of me vanishing, and then I stepped through this gap and into the building. I did not greet the man who passed the other way, I did not see where he went, and with this came some flash of old sensation deep inside me; a revived sense of the missed chance – an unfamiliar feeling at my age when it seemed that I had long stopped missing all my missed chances, indeed, it felt there were no more missed chances to be had. But here it was yet again, that old feeling – because for years the heavy doors that one had to tug open, and, if windy, push closed, had existed, I realised, as a site of random kindness otherwise forgotten: one person holding the door open for another because, like me, they were carrying too many things. As a result of such acts two people would greet one another or one might thank the other and the thanked person might reply. Then the door would close, and the two people would go on their way, often alone, but sometimes together. All this is rendered now as mere nostalgia: such acts having been marked superfluous – the heavy awkward door a cause for delay, a hazard, an object requiring an unnecessary expenditure of effort, one that halts the swift delivery and consumption of goods. I have come to believe that the automatic door knows I think this, knows I resent it, for since I suffered this first feeling of regret it has routinely refused to open for me, and continues to object to my presence: no matter how many times I reverse and walk forwards and reverse again, I often resort to the green emergency button on the wall inside the foyer that forces the door open, and then voila! The doors give a slight gasp of exasperation at my recurrent retrograde presence, my short, wide, unmodern figure that is not adequality registered by the motion detectors attuned only to the lithe bodies of haste and money and so I find myself, on cold winter evenings shut out like a dog, with no kind sir to tend to me, pacing back and forth outside the glass while I wait for a fellow resident – tall, swift, well groomed, to stride through, hardly pausing for the doors – as if they sense his commanding presence, the small blue eye of the machine in the corner endorsing his particular style of movement, and, from afar they open for him, then stay open, and do not dare close until he is down the steps and marching along the pavement – of course he does not see me, he does not say hello as we once used to – and in this gap, while the doors are not paying attention to me, I slip inside and scurry back up to my apartment, but it is only a matter of time, I realise, before the blue eye, or whatever it is, becomes increasingly sophisticated and all such unprepossessing people like myself are eventually forbidden entry altogether.
On the Navigation of Marital Obfuscations
A long time ago my husband and I decided to go away on holidays, to a cold, stone covered beach where people sunbathed in wetsuits. This was before GPS navigation became routine, and as we sped along the freeway I turned the map around and around in an effort to get my bearings and we got stuck circling a giant round-about, corralled in the inside lane. ‘Where do I turn!’ my husband yelled, ‘How do we get off this fucking thing!’ He was steering with one hand and clicking at me with the other – clicking the way a man might keep time to a brilliant song, clicking like he was about to dance, only this clicking was more dire, a symptom even, a tick getting faster and faster and faster like a bomb in a film just before it explodes. He needed the answer fast: ‘I don’t know!’ I yelled back. Then, ‘Here, here!’ I screamed. He veered into the outside lane. Although, it turned out, this was not the exit we were actually meant to take, and so ended up following a long empty road to the very end of the country where the tarmac petered out to sand and stopped at a cliff. ‘I’m sorry’, I said. I couldn’t read the signs – the explanation we give for all the failures of life – and in an attempt to ward off divorce I booked an appointment at the optometry clinic by the sea. Before the novelty of the new glasses wore off, I could appreciate what I had been missing: leaves on the trees so finely drawn, wings in motion, the time on the clock, listings on the departure board, numbers on buses. The detail of the world suddenly overwhelmed me. I looked and looked and looked. The glasses served their purpose and I got us home quite safely, seeing all the signs for what they were: the billboard that read Curate Your Season, no longer misinterpreted as Rate Your Poison. There was no haze, no blurred edges to flowering bushes, no soft bleeding of colour or radiant halos around strangers that caused me to want nothing more than to reach out and let my hands disappear into this very brightest of light. Who goes asking for such a form of disenchantment? Who actually pays for it? I wore the glasses religiously as a form of self-improvement, until I could no longer tolerate so much clarity, as others cannot stand the glare of the sun. So keenly did I miss my former state of uncertainty, and the accompanying fallacy that I was as blurry as the world – assuming, like a young child, that if I could not see you clearly, then nor could you see me, the external world matching quite perfectly my inner sense of things – that I found myself taking the glasses on and off, and on and off, and off and off and off, testing myself so as to gauge whether, in their absence, one could survive in the midst of such a disorienting fiction. Who cares so much for things as they really are, as opposed to how they might otherwise appear? I at last lost the glasses on one journey or another and now happily watch the blurred landscape blurring further, seeing only the wood for the trees vanishing at pace as we drive, while the computerised voice of a woman navigates the way. Occasionally my husband accosts the woman when she leads us into error, down multipath propagations due to obstructed lines of sight, as happens sometimes when the bright road on the screen, the road which we are meant to following but suddenly are not, vanishes from the countryside, the screen and the landscape failing to coincide, so that we are instead directed to float swiftly over the surface of what is
Stephanie Bishop teaches in the Creative Writing Program at the University of New South Wales. Her latest novel is Man Out of Time.
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