In Which It Calls For A Different Type Of Drink

A House I Would Like To Live In

by NATHAN JOLLY

Past the long, dipped driveway, proud hedges block the neighbours out, while a bent basketball hoop guards those big, barn-style doors you pressed me against the night I knew I loved you in a different, more permanent way than I had loved before. The inside of that garage is still as messy as it was that night, but at least now it’s an ordered mess – we know which box the CDs are in, and that the remote control boat we’ve only used once is in the clear blue plastic box under the piles of blankets we push against the inside of the barn doors when the rain begins sprinting down our driveway.

We know exactly how sharply that driveway slopes because we adjust for this with our bounce passes, and you sprained your ankle that night after the drunken RSL raffle where we won the meat-tray and hosted a second raffle to offload, buying twelve dollars worth of chocolate with the proceedings. Our daughters know how the driveway goes too, because they sit on skateboards with their laces tucked into the sides of their shoes, and slide down those same slopes until they crash into the barn doors.

You’re on a computer near the front of the house, annoyed and late for some deadline your boss secretly set two days early to allow for your hopeless internal clock, and the girls pretend they can’t hear you yelling at them to go out into the cul-de-sac and stop hurting the poor barn door. The girls laughed the first time you ever said that to them, because you showed them how it looks like a sad face with droopy eyes and a mopey handle-mouth and now every basketball dint is either a cute dimple or a gross pimple depending on which daughter describes it first – Barney is now a character that the girls wave goodbye to when we drive 90 minutes up the coast to stay at your uncle’s beach house, which is in a nice enough area to deal with the handful of self-congratulatory references he makes to his own generosity each Christmas when we see him: “It’s a good life down there, isn’t it mate?”

It is making him money just by standing there, he tells us. It is his reminder of where he’d rather be. He bought it with the life that won’t allow him to visit. You started sending him postcards each time we were down there, because you realised he just wanted reassurance that it was a good idea to buy a fibro-cement house on the beach a little too late for a little too much, and that it is waiting for him to return, yet keeping busy entertaining visitors. “Anyway”, you asked him one afternoon with the straightest of faces, “why exactly is a 58-year-old guy holding onto money anyway?” You were right, and that was when I realised that maybe you and I were just getting started instead of settling in somewhere. Life is long.

This afternoon I am arguing that the dents in the barn door add to the charm of our entire house, our entire life. You made our grumbling babies stand against the doorway, skimmed a school ruler through their hair and tracked their growth with permanent markers every few minutes. The barn door is another permanent marker: of our giddy girls smashing trikes, of our doctor hitting a cricket ball from the cul-de-sac into our door – in surf-shorts. We don’t need the girls breathing in paint fumes either, and neither of our next-door neighbours know us well enough for us to breathe easy dropping them off there for a few hours – it’s too cold this time of year to bundle them into the car and drive aimlessly, too.

You laugh at my flimsy excuses not to paint the door and then push me up against up it, softly this time.

When we moved up the coast to breathe salt instead of smoke, to wake early by choice, and curse bindis again, we couldn’t believe we could afford this house; we were fresh from the trap of city prices and sizes and stoops sold as verandahs. We couldn’t believe the takeaway store down the road with its ancient arcade machines, and fish plucked that same morning from an ocean you could see. We couldn’t believe there was one local policeman, and that we knew his first name, that he lived in a four-room plywood extension carelessly nailed and glued to a store-front federation-era cop-shop, and that we bought stamps and parcel packs from his wife, and didn’t inherently tense up when walking past him – unlike those policemen in the city that could own you just to own you. We’ve seen him eat coleslaw at a backyard barbecue in faded surf-brand shorts, and now we know a policeman by name, and a fireman and a shopkeeper, and a doctor – and we’ve seen them all in surf-brand shorts.

We stopped talking to our old friends, then we stopped talking about our old friends; pubs and doorways and bus-routes faded like the Darling parents and the idea of inhaling breakfast while buttoning a shirt and rushing around looking for ear-rings and squashy heels started to seem faint and comical. One Sunday newspaper came with free carrot seeds as part of some misguided promotion; now have a veggie patch, which gives us a new, more natural gauge on how time passes.

There are secret, future plans for that veggie patch but for now it sits sagging over the path as a grown-over reminder of two months last summer where days stretched into each other and we drank coconut rum because a new season in a new town called for a new more postcard-friendly drink.Tomorrow I have to go back to the city. I know that it will try to coax me back, and I know that I will let it. Tonight, I watch my daughters sleep, and watch you watch TV, and eat potatoes grown just down the road.

Nathan Jolly is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in Sydney. He last wrote in these pages about communal living. He tumbls here and twitters here.

Paintings by Alex Colville.

“The Prettiest” – Adna (mp3)

“Rain” – Adna (mp3)

In Which Communal Anything Is A Nice Idea

The Host

by NATHAN JOLLY

We are at a house party, walking from room to room, while Charlotte points out the tiny signs that the host is a functional junkie. Things that only someone who had been a drug addict before would ever notice: slightly bent paperclips, odd items in rooms they should have no occasion to visit, snowflakes of ash on bookcases, slight burn marks on pillowcases, the ‘Lost In Translation’ soundtrack perched on the stereo.

Charlotte was once a drug addict and is now a drug user because even bread has habit-forming qualities and is probably killing us just as quickly. She was right about soy snacks, about plastic and fake sugar and Susan’s old boss, and she swears she is right about this, too – so I believe everything she says. Charlotte fell asleep on her arm two nights in a row, and it scared her enough to slide slightly straighter. We split up weeks after that, and neither of us argued hard that this wasn’t the real reason. This kitchen is immaculate, which Charlotte notices and now I notice, and she assures me this also means something, and I nod, and she smiles, and we wonder how firmly we need to ingratiate ourselves with the host before we can change the CD. I like when house parties have CDs rather than iPods, and I like when they have punch, too, because we all learned early from the same ten TV shows that punch equals party and therefore this is a common bond we share with every single host who serves punch – even if she is a closet junkie who spends hours manically cleaning and organising her fridge by food group. Charlotte tells me you can instantly tell a house party will be filled with terrible people if there isn’t a bookcase and a stereo in a common room. We argue for a bit about how books are often kept in bedrooms, especially in share houses, before Charlotte points out there should be more books than bedroom storage, especially in a share house. This presents another wrinkle: does the overflow mean the books in the common room are an accurate representation of tastes – three people’s least precious reads – or a greatest hits collection, a boast which vastly overstates each individual’s true tastes, making the more-interesting seem less, and the less more? We can’t decide. I helpfully point to a cracked tile, but it doesn’t mean anything apparently – sometimes tiles crack.

The living room is filled with people I will never know. The stereo is loud and muffled, like it has been ordered to shout but is embarrassed by what it has to say. I take this music as a personal attack on me, but Charlotte sees it as a shortcut, the way she has seen most human behaviour ever since she changed majors from economics to sociology then back again. Charlotte never finished her degree and her mother still doesn’t know. She has never needed it, and come to think of it, neither have I. “I need a T-shirt with a photo of Yoko on” she says lazily, before collapsing into a cane chair. Charlotte once told me the best time to interact with society while being on drugs was before 9am, because everyone looks like a shaken mess that early in the morning anyway. It made me skip back over every morning spent with Charlotte to try to remember signs: to remember her eyes, her reaction time, her pale, speckled face. But Charlotte was always quicker and much smarter than me (than I?) and now her eyes are dancing because she caught me looking at them for too long; I realised I didn’t know what color they were – or thought I didn’t – until I knew of course I did. She kisses me on the lips sharply, then slowly for a few seconds longer. I realise I’m now sitting in her lap, on a cane chair in a lounge room swimming with strangers, so I get up and walk with purpose towards the stereo, but am too scared to stop the music.

There are piles of blankets near the door leading out to the back porch; the evening is stupidly cool for an October and our host is kind in that pure-hearted way where she steps out future scenarios and makes sure she is prepared. I want to tell her that I’d noticed this but since she doesn’t know me, it can’t have anything resembling a positive effect, so I don’t. The punch looks a different, more troubling color than it was when we first arrived, so I decide not to risk another dip in the bowl; communal anything is a nice idea but it runs a short race. Charlotte’s friend Lucy is already asleep, her neck craned uncomfortably, and because the three of us had walked to the party together, we’d signed on to bring each other’s bodies home – especially because this house is across from the dark corner of the dog park where the floodlights die and no taxi dare roam. I grab a bunch of blankets and cover her, and try to find a cup clean enough to fill with water and sit near her. She flinches and grabs my face and whispers to “Charlotte” to “try to bang [me] tonight”, because “he is being so obvious” – I stay and stroke her hair until she either falls asleep or stops moving. I slide under her limp, coathanger arm, and head out into the yard to find Charlotte. Past the fire and the five-stringed acoustic guitar, she is scrunched against the fence, her phone shining a light on her face. “I was trying to find you” she smiles, and puts her arms out, as if she needs me to drag her to her feet.

Nathan Jolly is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in Sydney. He last wrote in these pages about cataloging. He tumbls here and twitters here.

Paintings by Julian Opie.

In Which We Attempt To Remove Ourselves From The Situation

pearlsrtrkt

When We Finished

by TRACY WAN

The caveat is that the feeding hand gets bitten, but no one warns against the bitten hand that keeps on feeding. It’s a process I was largely unfamiliar with, having never been the type to linger, having built up immunity against the very idea. Most of what we think of as virtuous — patience, tolerance, forgiveness — depends on stasis. To forgive, you have to stay. And I’ve always despised still life: a shark’s death.

But it’s almost June and the air is intimate, pressing tightly to skin. When your body temperature approximates that of the breeze, there are few movements that feel necessary. Of those that do, few are sharp; everything is covered in a sleepy gauze. If we close our eyes, it’ll be morning again.

In summer mistakes don’t feel real. Everything is equal parts possible and impossible; attainable without consequence, and forgettable in the same way. One day I returned home from the lake with a mild sunstroke, and found out he was sleeping with a girl — much in the same way he had been sleeping with me for the past two years. Intimate, pressing tightly to skin. She was the one who told me.

I laughed to myself, and wondered why I was laughing. Was it because I did not expect this life? Was it that I knew this would happen? Nothing made sense except the fact that I had to leave, be in a space that was not decorated by his clothes, a space in which I could degenerate and reconstitute as someone who would survive this. I grabbed a bottle of whiskey, put on lipstick.

Around midnight I came home and told him to come over. I wanted to throw everything he owned out of my window but couldn’t; I wanted to slap him, but held his face in my hands. He cried while picking up his things, but it was then three a.m. and I wasn’t feeling cruel, just devastated. It is almost impossible to retain anger in its purest form; it takes years to be able to speak the body language we covet. The hand that was bitten keeps on feeding.

When he asked me why I let him stay, I replied: to remember that we once gave to each other. He cried more. I kissed him – salty. In the tar dark he whispered I’m sorry and I said treat my body like it’s yours for the last time. He misheard: Like the girl I was with last time? I don’t want that. But he did. This was the proof. This was the fruit.

I cried when we finished, without moving, the tears falling ripe onto his face. It pooled with his into a dark puddle across my pillowcase. We slept with his knees folded into the small of my own: a first. I shifted away upon wakening.

+

It takes a rare degree of mastery to untie knots with the same grace and speed at which you secure them. This is because the knot is usually what we desire, far more than its dissolution: in shoelaces, ties, most boating situations. It’s a skill, something to learn as a child and practice frequently. Knotted, things stay together, and they do not part lest we want them to. The sheer numbers of this life dictate that we are more often apart than we are together; only endeavour, and will, bring people to each other. They separate effortlessly.

In life we “tie the knot” happily, willingly, but when the relationship nears its end, these bonds “dissolve” and “fall apart” — responding to a force that is bigger than us, or so it would seem. We rope ourselves in when it’s good, but are cast away by circumstance when it’s not. I watch this happen weekly. “Things just didn’t work out.” “I don’t know where it went wrong.” “We did all we could.” This was not a narrative that I was going to accept for myself.

+

As my relationship ended, the most common advice I received was to make a clean cut of it. In other words, violently pull yourself away and tend to the wound later — at home, in the company of friends, sad music, dairy products. This did not appeal to me for several reasons. For one, sad music played the role of any music in my life, which was going to be unremarkable. Lactose intolerant, I also found french fries to be a far inferior wallowing food than ice cream. As for friends — I didn’t believe in breaking up in their company, since I didn’t really fall in love in their company. Intimacy where intimacy was due.

When you make a clean cut, the sacrifice is always a part of yourself. I did not want to emerge from this with a phantom limb — after all, one with a proclivity for devastating music should not be expected to recuperate quickly. The alternative, I reasoned, would be a gradual, self-dictated breakup; so that by slowly slipping out, I could loosen the grasp in time to make it out unblemished. This’ll be like kicking a caffeine habit, I thought,  the dynamics of which I was painfully familiar with. If a relationship is formed through an accretion of time with one another, then it can be taken apart in the same way.

not to be pouoeof

+

Hours before the discovery that led to our dissolution, I had booked tickets for us to Montreal — where he lived, and where I was from. We were going to spend two weeks together before I began my internship in Toronto. Those two weeks were allocated to moments we were going to share — brunch at a favourite restaurant where the owner knew us by name, trips to the mountain at sunset, lying awake in a bed that I left him when I moved. When all that became no longer viable, I stared at the tickets until my eyes lost focus. Time seems to fall to half its rhythm in solitary. What was I going to do?

And, true to the constitution of anyone struggling to kick an established habit, I said ‘fuck it’ and went anyway. If choosing the structure of this breakup was something I wanted for myself, I wasn’t going to give up two weeks in my favorite place in the world — even though it had shifted during my own earthquake.

+

When the métro slowed to a halt at my best friend’s subway stop, he reached over to grab me, and kissed me on the cheek. We had spent the previous six hours fluctuating between touching and not touching each other, unsure of its degree of consequence and regret. In many ways, the end of a relationship (should you opt for the one I did) mirrors its beginning: every decision seems more crucial and paralysing than the last, every gesture ripe, almost fermented, with meaning. The first night we met, at the same subway station, I leaned over to kiss his cheek, and his mouth had met mine. He was nervous, the same way I am nervous at this point in time, two years later. This time, I wasn’t going to kiss him. This time, I didn’t want to get closer.

“I’ll call you every day,” he said — in the way that boys do, revealing, without a doubt, that they did not believe the rules of the universe applied to them — “You can pick up whenever you’re ready. I want to know what your days are like and how you are. Every day. I love you.” It seems hypocritical, but isn’t, in the same way that hurting yourself does not imply a death wish. Advocates of clean cuts hate this. They want to throttle him, pull him from sight. I just wanted to touch his face, the very instinct that I’ve felt since the day we met.

I took a step back.

“I’m going to go. Before this gets complicated, you know?”

Tracy Wan is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Montreal. She twitters here. You can find her website here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

legion crime

“Song on the Radio”  – Amelia Curran (mp3)

“I Am The Night” – Amelia Curran (mp3)

In Which We Make A Convincing French Woman

Blame the Mob

by ELIZABETH BARBEE

The Hundred-Foot Journey
dir. Lasse Hallstrom
122 minutes

I ate a microwavable chicken fried steak, several under baked cookies, and a couple handfuls of reduced fat Cheez-Its while watching The Hundred-Foot Journey. My meal felt ironic and a little perverse, because this movie is a two hour ode to good food.

It opens in Mumbai, where Hassan’s family has owned a popular restaurant for generations. His mother, the head of the kitchen, is superstitious and takes a mystical approach to cooking. She says obnoxious, new-agey things like, “To cook you must kill. You cook to make ghosts.” While this sentiment leaves me squeamish, it only whets Hassan’s appetite. He learns to prepare dishes using curry, cardamom, and sea urchin. He develops a fetishistic relationship with the last ingredient, one that haunts him throughout the film.

When he is in his early-twenties and terribly handsome, the restaurant, and the sea urchins contained within it, is destroyed by an angry, fire-wielding mob. The source of the rabble’s wrath is unclear even to the protagonist. “There was an election of some kind,” Hassan offers in way of explanation. “And there was a winner, and there was a loser.” He leaves it at that. Everyone escapes the flames but his mother, and even she lives on in spirit. When Hassan’s father later mutters to himself in Hindi, it doesn’t mean we need to turn up the volume (I tried that) it means he’s communing with his dead wife.

Her influence leads the family to make a series of terrible decisions. They move to England and then France, where they purchase an abandoned building just a hundred feet away from Helen Mirren. She plays Madame Mallory, a raging bitch and the proprietor of a Michelin starred restaurant that operates more like a boarding school. All the chefs seem to live on site, and their artistic impulses are frequently stifled by their rigidly traditional boss.

Mirren makes a convincing French woman. Her accent slips at times, but she has the stereotypes down. She walks with her nose stuck in the air, wears lots of scarves, and believes no other culture is worthy of existing.

When Hassan’s father decides to convert the abandoned building into an Indian restaurant, she is at equal turns disgusted and threatened. Why she thinks people craving quiche will suddenly decide they’re in the mood for Tikka Masala is beyond me, but I don’t have a fickle palate.

Her fear of losing business turns out to be baseless (obviously). Maison Mumbai is empty the night of its opening, and Hassan’s family essentially pimps themselves out to get customers. The father changes into his most elaborate turban and instructs his daughter to stand on the side of the road so passing cars can see how pretty she looks in her sari. You can hear Edward Said groan in the background. This isn’t the only instance of Orientalism in the film, not by a long shot. Though the French characters usually walk in silence, sitars follow Hassan’s family everywhere they go.

The movie is rated PG, but it is highly sensual. Every bite (and there are lots of bites) is accompanied by an orgasmic sigh. Women’s mouths are a camera favorite. Hassan falls in love with one of Madame Mallory’s employees, a French girl named Marguerite, presumably because she picks her own mushrooms and chews with her eyes closed. Marguerite is frustratingly coquettish. She rejects Hassan’s advances, but gifts him suggestive recipes. “Mix until silky to the touch,” one instructs. “Pour into a pan. Spread your cherries over the top and bake until the skewer inserted into the batter comes out clean.”

Though this is clearly a metaphor for sex, she doesn’t let Hassan touch her until he starts wearing blazers and working at a Parisian restaurant that is more science lab than brasserie. The blazers are hot, as is the new gig, but Hassan was a babe from day one. I suspect Marguerite has some deep seeded childhood issues that prevent her from accepting love. What she lacks in openness she makes up for in Anthropologie dresses. Practically every scene features a new one: some plaid, some lace – all ethereal, gorgeous, and much more expensive than they appear.

It’s no surprise this movie was produced by Oprah Winfrey. Her aesthetic is everywhere. I’m familiar with Oprah’s taste, because my mom subscribes to her magazine, which I flip through every time I visit. The pages are always filled with brightly colored images and stories that are inspiring without being controversial. The Hundred-Foot Journey is similarly luminous and nonthreatening.

I had an ex-boyfriend who refused to watch movies unless they were rated PG-13 or higher. He said sex and violence contributed significantly to his enjoyment of a film. I was initially horrified by this reveal. “What kind of freak am I dating,” I thought. But when I ran through the list of the movies I love most, they were all a little scandalous, a little gritty. There is something unsettling about a movie for adults that ignores, or in this case talks around, some of the most important facets of adulthood. The Hundred-Foot Journey wasn’t bad, but I might have enjoyed it more if an F bomb had been dropped or Marguerite and Hassan had consummated their love. That’s just the kind of depraved individual I am.

Elizabeth Barbee is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Dallas. She last wrote in these pages about an apartment. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

“The Damned Atlantic” – David Ford (mp3)

“The Way The Heart Breaks” – David Ford (mp3)


In Which They Recently Met Through Mutual Friends

Hard to Say is This Recording’s weekly advice column. It will appear every Wednesday until the Earth perishes in a fiery blaze, or until North West turns 40. Get no-nonsense answers to all of your most pressing questions by writing to justhardtosay@gmail.com or by dropping us a note at our tumblr.

Hi,

I recently met a woman through some mutual friends. Dee is a social worker who is very devoted to the people she helps get on their feet. She is great at her job.

Frequently, our dates or hangouts are postponed because things come up unexpectedly. Dee doesn’t have a lot of faith in the people with which she works, so she feels like she has to handle these things herself. I try to accept that I am not always going to be her number one priority, but I am starting to worry it might be this way forever. She is apologetic and feels really guilty when she cancels the plans, and I try not to make things worse. I don’t feel comfortable bringing it up to her since we have only been dating for four months. Should I give up now, or is it possible things will change in the future?

Henry P.

Dear Henri,

Dee probably is balancing a lot of things on her plate at one time, and since she deals with people who are used to letting her down and feeling bad about it, she is reflexively adopting their behavior. A good psychologist could probably fix her in a month or two.

We don’t have that kind of time. It seems like she likes you because you are the one person she can disappoint, which means you may be very special to Dee. The irony seems to be lost on you.

Your instinct to wait until further in the relationship to make this an issue seems sound. By six months she will have bonded to you further, and you can influence her decision-making without her openly wondering where you got the nerve to tell her what to do. Four months in, you’re just another aspect of the patriarchy holding her back.

Hi,

Last year for Christmas our friend Jaina gave all of us very expensive presents, including jewelry and clothing. It was something of a surprise, but she now can afford to give more lavish gifts. Since it was unexpected last year, it wasn’t really reasonable that we would have such expensive gifts for her.

This year she seems to be planning on making a big deal out of the Christmas gifts again. None of us either want or in some cases are not able to give gifts of commensurate value. Speaking for myself, I feel uncomfortable accepting them as well. Is there a way to bring this up to Jaina without sounding ungrateful? She has never demanded equal value, although she does bring up what she got us last year quite often.

Allison O.

Dear Allison,

Inform Jaina that you “can’t wait” to give her what you got her, and pass along your present earlier. It is an abstract expressionist drawing of her that makes her look substantially larger and more annoying that she actually is, which from the sounds of it is a whole lot.

What has this Jaina done for you lately, except been an expensive pain-in-the-ass? Find friends who do not celebrate Christmas, and if they give you something for Hannukah, burn it with the flame of a menorah to make your point.

But seriously, proposing a gift system where one person in your group has to give only one gift to another person in your group will likely alleviate this problem. Jaina will probably know this is about her, so when she asks, tell her, “We were on a break!” You deserve better.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen. Access This Recording’s mobile site at thisrecording.wordpress.com.

 

In Which We Wake Up Each Day Knowing We Are Tom Cruise

Sleepyhead

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Before I Go To Sleep
dir. Rowan Joffe
89 minutes

“I don’t think I’m the kind of person who would cheat,” Christine (Nicole Kidman)  says in Before I Go To Sleep. “Do you?” Her therapist, Dr. Michael Nasch (Mark Strong) eyes her suspiciously, sort of like the way a reindeer eyes a sleigh.

Things are already out of sorts. Before I Go To Sleep is set near Greenwich, England, but Nicole Kidman does a weird approximation of a half-American accent for some reason. Christine wakes up every day remembering very little. “You think you’re in your twenties,” her husband (Colin Firth) tells her. “But you’re forty. You’re forty.” He tells her this like eight more times as he mansplains who she is, and again when she’s sitting on the toilet.

Christine’s daily amnesia is supplemented by a video camera she keeps in her drawer, where an earlier version of herself does not want her to trust the husband man sleeping next to her – if he indeed is who he says.


In this new film from director Rowan Joffe, Kidman looks pretty good all things considered. (Marriage to Tom Cruise is the only thing I considered.) They shoot a lot of the movie in a car so as not to emphasize how much taller she is than the men around her. She has always seemed like the kind of person who needed be given lines to say anything.

When Christine starts having feelings for her therapist, she becomes worried that he may be the man who attacked her and caused the memory loss in the first place. He explains that transference is natural, but counter-transference means that he must recuse himself from her case. He does not mouth the words ‘I love you’ but it is implied that for some men, a woman who can easily forget their flaws is something of a virtue.

Strong is a fun performer to watch: no one seems as natural vacillating between various facial expressions. He doesn’t fit a more reserved role of a psychologist falling in love with his patient because his Achilles heel is showing two things: vulnerability and erudition. On the plus side he is as subtle as a mace, which perfectly suits the events of Before I Go To Sleep.

Meanwhile, Christine’s husband Ben (Firth) is perpetually rotating his head so we don’t see the bad side of his face. He plays his part a bit upside down, since when he turns on Christine because she can’t enjoy their relationship, it’s way overdue. No one could stand being forgotten on a daily basis except Adam Sandler, and Christine is far from nice about the difficulties Firth faces in caring for an invalid. She has driven everyone in her life away, to the point where we wonder why she can’t just pretend to remember for a little while.

It turns out that Christine is the kind of person who would cheat. The fact that she in any way caused her own amnesia is basically a gussied-up version of blaming the victim. Whatever life she idealizes instead of the one she has probably seems better because she lost it. (Tom Cruise wakes up each day not knowing who he is, get it?)

The concept that you should never allow yourself to be betrayed twice by the same person is an important principle of self-respect. The repeated shattering of her trust that Christine suffers almost renders her inert, but it is great fun to watch her survive by feeding off her own frenzy. Kidman’s constant glancing everywhere is meant to portray her shaky emotional state, but at times she resembles a spectator at a ping-pong tourney. Her too-short hair, suggesting a recent cut, is always the first betrayal in her life. She does not look the way she feels.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

“You and Me” – The Veronicas (mp3)

“Mad Love” – The Veronicas (mp3)

In Which We Find It Difficult To Write About Him Not To Him

Eight Percent

by CEILIDH BARLOW CASH

My office is on the first floor, fourth window in from the left. I have an aloe plant in the window that I watered for the first time in weeks today. I wasn’t intentionally neglecting it, I think it’s more accurate to say that I was waiting to see if it would eventually wilt and beg for water. It never seemed to change, although I think it’s fair to say that changes of that variety are often imperceptible. That is, it’s not hard to overlook the things start hurting around you if you go fast enough. And as I breeze in and out of this office, riding highs and lows (think weather fronts, pressure systems, wind and rain) I know I sometimes miss the things that aren’t moving as forcefully as I am.

The last few months have been a balancing act between “I have adequate skills and real goals” and “I would like to throw it all out the window to find an apartment in Montreal.” I’m thinking the Mile End, something with enough windows to hold a few more aloe plants, and maybe a cactus. Sometimes I’m not sure I want to be responsible for myself, but I think I could handle watering a few plants through the winter  especially the cactus, which I’m told is a lazy person’s plant. I don’t care. I would arrange them on the sill to admire as a testament to my adult self.

He lived in Montreal for a while too  graduated from the same school my best friend is now attending. I think they would approve of one another, and I would smile coyly knowing each had seen me naked, and approved of that too. That’s the trouble with me these days: I’m not sure how to reconcile the part of me that wants to curl my lip and say I win when someone lusts after me. It’s not a game, but I will play you. I’ve boiled it down (because rationalize would be too strong a word) to animal instinct. I figure I’m about eight percent animal. The kind with docile eyes and fangs that I’ll flash if you look at me the wrong way. Watch out, I bite. That’s usually the way I approach these matters  I’ll smile pretty just so long as you know that I could have your head if I wanted it. I’ve thought about sharpening my nails into claws more than once.

Things didn’t unfold in that way with him though. It all unraveled in the most dangerous and subtle way: with immediate trust. I emerged from a drunken stupor when he first padded towards me, offering a hug and calm eyes. If I was an animal in that moment, I was wounded and sulking on my way home. There was a distinct moment of clarity when I first saw his face, then wrapped my heavy limbs around his and collapsed. He didn’t catch me (that would be too poetic) but I remember looking up to his lips as he said “I would very much like to kiss you.” Yes. Yes, I want to kiss you too. I bit my lip and nodded my head so furiously I’m not sure how he slowed me down enough to catch my mouth.

Mid-kiss, a new character swooped in, screeching and crowing about our matching hair colour, which was either a spectacle or an insult, I couldn’t tell. In those moments, as he lashed out at her and I reined him back in, I decided we were a team. A friend once told me the best way to make friends is to declare that the friendship already exists. I’m not sure it works the same way with lovers, or if I could have just told him: You’re mine. He might have believed me. I wanted him to.

I learned he was an actor. A talented one. One whose act I couldn’t outperform, and so I abandoned mine  the Bio-Medical sciences major who was too sophisticated for medical school, or the poet with a dangerous mouth. These things are all true, but they’re embellished, shiny. Not the things that really matter about me. That’s the thing with actors  they know when you’re acting, too. So I sat in the vulnerability of my particular self, thinking about the definition of serendipity. I decided it wasn’t a pretty enough word for what this felt like.

He was carefully handsome. I remember clearly the pale geography of his shoulders, dappled in the same freckles that dance across my cheeks in July. I think there’s a direct correlation between sunshine and my happiness which you can measure by counting the freckles on my face at any given time. I’m good at math it’s called a linear relationship. But it was October and my freckles, like most other things, felt like they were fading from me.

I slipped on his plaid shirt after I’d taken mine off. It was soft and rolled carefully to the elbows. It fit me well. He began picking up my things as I tossed them on the floor one by one  my scarf, my bra, my watch. I was recklessly losing all important belongings that night  including my phone, a single sock and maybe the idea that I had to protect myself with claws and teeth. Maybe I could sit still and not have to rely on them anymore. Trust, like serendipity, just isn’t a pretty enough word for it.

The rest of the night was still and warm. We slept under hotel sheets that were insincerely soft for how much we paid for the room. He told me the names of his parents, which I was dead-set on knowing, and I told him that I was very particular about my coffee. I admitted that I wasn’t sure if I could survive in Montreal without country roads and large animals. I also admitted that I wanted to go right now because there was no right time to do something that scared the shit out of you. Go now, shoot it all.

The next morning was loud as we tumbled into breakfast alongside ten other hungover twenty-somethings. They’d picked the venue: a classic diner with linoleum tables and ketchup on the table, even at breakfast. I sat between him and a boy with a ponytail who looked startlingly similar to my best friend. It felt like a family affair: ten siblings arguing, negotiating and outlining the merits and pitfalls of eggs benny versus breakfast poutine for a hangover. I ordered French toast. When I discovered he was left-handed I nearly dropped my fork on the table. It was a strange quirk, that every boy I categorically decided I loved was left-handed. If the prevalence of left-handedness is high, I don’t want to know  I like to consider it a rare trait associated with boys who can handle me.

So far I’ve left out that he was in a band. The lead singer of a band who was in town for one night on their tour  which was for charity, I might add. So yes, I may have been a groupie that morning, but I definitely wasn’t the only one. And even so, I didn’t feel like an addendum to his trip. I didn’t feel as though he had sat beside a new girl at breakfast all week.  I felt like I had walked on stage right on cue, as if he and I were expecting each other.

The reality that it was late-October and I was only wearing a thin (albeit fabulously stylish) leather jacket crept up as we left the diner. I’m Canadian, but I am not designed for the cold. The rest of the band wanted to examine the massive church on top of the hill, which they thought was the only interesting thing in this town (they’re wrong, but that’s beside the point). So I left. I could have lingered, but I wanted to leave just as elegantly as I had entered. Lingering is never elegant. He kissed me goodbye, looked at me earnestly and I walked away.

I scampered back to my bed, hazy from the hangover and hoping more sleep would ease his storyline into mine. I wanted to stay very still, not risk another move that would rearrange the potential we’d pushed together in the past twelve hours. I wasn’t sure what it would be, but I didn’t want it to disappear. I’m not very good at staying still though, and I found myself smiling as I washed my hands that night  his phone number on one palm and his email address on the other. He wrote in purple ink. I don’t know if I was smiling because his handwriting was there, or because it wouldn’t be tomorrow. Some things can go away so easily, so unnoticeably. I doubted he would be one of those things.

He hasn’t reappeared in my life since. I bite at my fingertips occasionally to see if I can taste him anymore. I can’t. It hurt for a while, the silence between us that felt void, unexplained and inflating. Not all silences are like that. It still feels absurd that he could waltz into and out of my life so effortlessly, when everything else I do is so deliberate. I’m the kind of girl who intentionally doesn’t water my aloe plant for three weeks to see what happens. Maybe he’s that kind of guy  maybe he’s doing the same thing to me. Maybe he doesn’t even notice that I’m wilting, I’m such a small a plant sitting in the windowsill of his office. Except I doubt he has an office, or that he spends his afternoons staring out the window  first floor, fourth one in from the left  lusting after the sunshine. But I swear I’m not a plant  I’m eight percent animal. And all eight percent of my animal self is still thinking about his flesh between my teeth.

Ceilidh Barlow Cash is a contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Guelph, Ontario. This is her first appearance in these pages. She tumbls here

Photographs by Amardeep S

“Uncatena” – Sylvan Esso (mp3)

“Coffee” – Sylvan Esso (mp3)