Latest Issue

17 May 2024  •  Creative Writing

I Am Fine

Each morning is religious: a cappuccino on almond – a teaspoon of honey, a pinch of cinnamon and a drop of the thermometer.

By Ruby Aquilina (she/her)
I Am Fine

Artwork by Ruby Aquilina.

I am disgusted by most things. I have a small circle of people, smells, condiments, weather, and mannerisms that I tolerate. I get along with many, but I can never stay in their world for too long. My vantage point is a spectacular high-rise building I call home, and the last time I left it was 16 days ago. It's no wonder I stay inside for days on end; large panes of glass separate my warm and patchouli-scented space from the ever-breeding bustle of bacteria below. Mother Earth blessed me with a castle in the clouds which I meticulously control the climate of. 

God, I'm lucky. Each morning the floor is flooded with sunlight, and golden rays serenade the room with an organic sanitization. Each morning is religious: a cappuccino on almond – a teaspoon of honey, a pinch of cinnamon and a drop of the thermometer. I wait for my coffee to cool to a perfect 55 degrees Celsius and schlurp. I stretch my body and practise my breathing, the hot mug pressed between my hands – Añjali Mudrā. “Namaste cappuccino.”

Below me runs a neat line of boutique cafes, florists, and bakeries. This morning, I sit and sip, watching people pass by. They go into the stores with empty tote bags and out with hands full of flowers, bread and coffee. The crowd is mundane, with nothing notable or exciting to be seen until a red Maserati purrs to a stop. A stocky man steps out, exuding confidence. His appearance ticks all the boxes: shiny and clean, wise and financially secure. His stride synchronises with the rhythm of his presumably impressive job. His ex-wife and discarded daughter are well taken care of – of course! Emotionally neglected, but taken care of, nonetheless.

You can tell a lot about a person from watching them when they don't think anyone is. I'd argue it's the best way to get to know someone. People move differently when they feel unwatched, only then do their real motives come to light. I'm sure the gentleman is a devoted father and husband, a good man! Had it been my first time seeing that car I may have thought it beautiful, seductive even. However, its image is tainted by memories of its driver, the disappearing act I call my father.

Life was peachy when I was 15. Until that unsuspecting Tuesday in June when my father pulled me aside onto the patio.

My mother was sitting on the floor with her face buried in her hands. She moved mechanically, up and down. Every breath of air was desperate. My father just stood there, towering over her, his eyes dim and glued to his shoes. He sighed and pressed his glasses tight into his face – we used to jokingly call this gesture ‘sport mode’. Perfect for running, right Dad? 

“Mother, are you okay?” I whispered. 

Swollen eyes answered for her.

“Dad, what’s going on?”

He put his hand on my shoulder. To comfort me? Then he pulled a knife from his jacket and stabbed me. He took a step back and looked me dead in the eyes as my organs spilled and spasmed from the hole in my chest. My hearing went, my head spun, and my face felt hot. My breathing mimicked my mother's. I wondered if he had stabbed her too. All I could see was bright red humiliation in that mortifying moment when I realised I had been left by my flesh and blood. 

Mother and I collected our disarray with purpose, we walked back inside the house before Dad had time to pack his last suitcase into that ugly red car.

We sat in the kitchen, the morning sun tauntingly cheery. Mother sat there blank-faced, eyes glazed over, a cigarette draping from her shaking hand.

My sobs were bellowing, my breathing erratic. We watched and listened as he walked back and forth past us five times with his already-packed bags. I counted. 

We waited like statues for the rumble of the Maserati, signalling he had left.

Mother let out a big sigh and stood up hastily – dusting her perfectly clean nightgown, over and over again. She paused, smiling through me and sending shivers down my scrawny arms as she whispered, 

“Lana, be a darling and put the kettle on.” She spun on her heel and walked out of the kitchen, leaving a trail of smoke behind her.

So, I put the kettle on.

I snap out of the memory as I watch the car drive off. I refocus on how clean and sun-drenched my apartment is. I stride back and forth, soaking in the Vitamin D and reminding myself how lucky I am.

I catch myself in the reflection of the glass as I pass by, which I humbly admit is always a pleasant surprise. I am ethereal in the mornings, with my silk robe and curly golden hair – god, I can't look away. The morning yellow casts a perfect silhouette of my body as if the sun shone just for me. The light accentuates the curves from my waist to my breasts and I trace my collarbone with a loose finger, watching my reflection as if that girl in the window was a tantalising stranger, a siren.

It is necessary to eat breakfast each morning when you have an extravagant and meticulous pill routine. I pick up my litre of water and begin: I take two capsules of Olanzapine (25mg), bite down on a tablet of valium (5mg) and swallow half, putting the other half on a small gold dish on the kitchen bench. I’ll save that half for tonight, it'll go nicely with a glass of Riesling. My tongue is pasty with residue and in a matter of seconds, the warm haze envelops me. I take Fluoxetine (20mg), two benzos for fun, and one tiny pill to keep me barren.

I pick out a pear from the fruit bowl. The last one. I make a mental note to place an order for groceries to be delivered later. I hold the pear in my palm, rolling my fingers up and down its skin. I turn it over and feel that hot rush creep up from my toes to my ears. My stomach clenches and the air is thick in my lungs. A filthy animal has crawled into my pear, causing it to rot from the inside out. I press my nails hard into my palms and try to focus on the pain rather than the scent of rot. It’s a stark reminder of mortality – microbes thriving in a decaying ecosystem.

“Disgusting!” I scream at the pear as I throw it in the bin.

The pending need to line my stomach hits me, and so I find myself in the grocery store. I do my best to breathe normally but being in public feels like tip-toeing through the wilderness. My eyes land on the woman ahead of me. She's browsing baked goods, brioche and cakes. Her jacket looks soft like it might bleat if I stroked it. “Shit,” I say under my breath – she caught me staring. I dart my eyes to the fridge behind her. I can feel her gaze on me, and my cheeks go hot. I have managed to make this a godawful interaction for her, the limp sheep, and as usual, myself. 

As I hurry past her, I take a breath and inhale notes of sweet rotting fruit – body odour. The skin on my neck crawls and itches, the emphysema that is her sweetness sticks on me. I breathe out heavily, flaring my nose and scrunching my face. I turn back and give the woman a darling smile. Shower, deodorant, perfume. Shower for god's sake, I think.

I take one last glance at the dead animal slouched over her shoulders, bent in ways it’s not meant to bend, before making my way to the fridge. I reach for a carton of almond milk. Next is the fruit aisle, where I pick up four green pears. I inspect them and put two back, picking another two, then putting one back, and picking another. All four are unmarked and unbruised. Perfect! That concludes my shop, the rest I will order for delivery. “Let’s go,” I whisper to my bag of treasures.

I walk hurriedly, my vision tunnelled and each step matching my quickening pulse. By the time I make it to my apartment door, I am swinging myself inside with all my might, huffing and puffing. Once inside, I steady myself against the door and barely swallow my breath. I jerk my head to the left and back. Snap out of it now! I think to myself, and I do. I stare straight ahead, my eyes wide and I push it all down. I smile down into the plastic bag and whisper,

“I am fine.”


© 2024 UTS Vertigo. Built by