On Route

I want to get laid for the first time.

I mean, I’m sixteen and the only thing I’ve poked is the odd pimple on my chin.

Yeah, I’m frustrated.

“What are you thinking about, honey?”

“Nothing, Ma.”

There’s no way I’ll tell her. There’s a mother-son line you just don’t cross. Like talking about sex, hugging or any affection, period. Oh, and no more dropping me off at school either. I catch the bus.

“You sure, honey?” she says. Her hands are white on the steering wheel.

We’re going to visit a woman called Grandma. I don’t know her. But I remember her house.

“Yeah, Ma.”

“Because you know you can talk to me, right?” She looks at me. Her eyes are open, worried.

“Yep.”

“Good, good. Everyone needs someone to talk to.” She nods her head at the road and mumbles something to herself. She does that.

 

Ma

According to the boys at school my ma’s a MILF. A ma they’d like to fuck. She’s more like a PITA. Pain in the arse. Well, she can be. When she’s on my back about doing things together. Like movies. I mean, doesn’t she get that it’s dorky? She has issues. And no friends.

“How’s therapy going?” I say.

It shits me. Like, maybe if I’d inherited her genes, and not my anonymous father’s, I would have been laid by now. My father must come from an ugly gene pool and his sperm killed my chance at good looks. Maybe if I wasn’t a result of a one night stand and they’d taken their time, it would have been different. It doesn’t bother me. It really doesn’t.

“It’s going good, honey. Doc’s been a great help.”

What? Oh, yeah her sessions. She’ll need two next week after today’s visit. She did last time. That’s what she said. I was younger, then.

“We don’t have to go, Ma. If she makes you feel worse.”

“That was in the past.” Sweat’s stuck her blond hair to her forehead. “We can’t run away from our fears. And this, this visit’s goodbye.”

Ah…yeah, okay.

“It’s goodbye.” She bites her lip. “I have a few things to say to her face. Before she goes.”

“Hmm…”

“They’re for me, not her. I have to say them for me. Hon,” she says worry spilling out of her eyes, “you know not to listen to her, right? Don’t listen to a word she says—”

“I know,” I say, chewing a nail. “They’re only words.”

But whatever they are, these words, they mean something to Ma. Otherwise we wouldn’t be going and the next time she’d see Grandma would be in a hole. She said that once. “I mean, she’s your ma. How bad can she be?”

Her lips move like she’s gonna be sick. “Thanks for coming with me, hon.”

“Like I’d leave you alone.” A real man knows when he’s needed.

And my ma needs me.

 

Cobwebs

Grandma’s house is like something on the front cover of an R.L Stine book. Minus the ghosts. That’s on the outside. Inside it smells…old. Like my room when the windows are locked and I’ve been farting.

I don’t remember her.

I remember…cobwebs.

And emptiness.

It’s still…empty.

Except for the couches and the dead pot plant.

And the cobwebs. They’ve changed. There’s more since last time, hanging off the ceiling, sticky, complicated. Bit like how it would be when I get laid. If I ever do.

 

 

The Man in the Room

A man is sitting in Grandma’s room, near her bed. The room stinks of breath, when it’s sick.

“Hey ya kid,” he says to me.

“Hey.” I don’t touch him. He’s all shabby. Hairy, matted.

“You’ve grown up.”

“That’s your uncle Barry,” says Ma. She smiles, but it looks like someone’s pinched her face.

“Yeah.” I’m related to that? I could’ve been worse. I could’ve looked like him.

Ma walks to the bed. I go with her, standing close. Hear her breathing. Quick. There’s a big cross above the bed, hanging, heavy.

I see Ma’s hand tremble. I hold it. Breaking the rules, crossing the line, but they’re my rules to break. My hands hurt, fingers sting where I’ve chewed them.

I ignore my heart. Why is it tap, tap, tapping so hard?

I reckon this is how it would beat when I’m naked, stiff, about to lose it.

 

Venom Vomit

Choking sounds.

Coming from the bed that looks empty.

Almost.

There’s a bump in the middle. We get closer. It looks like bones, piled up, in the shape of a human.

“She’s nearly gone,” says Barry. He mouths bitch.

“I’m still alive, you prick.” The bones talk, click together, sharp. “Who you talking to? One of your thief friends?”

He looks miserable, like sadness has curled the hair on his face.

We reach the bed. Bones hide in skin, grey, wrinkly.

“It’s me,” Ma says. She squeezes my hand, hard.

“Huh, look who it is, Barry. It’s the slut I spat out.”

Black eyes look at me. Squint. I’m not scared.

“And her skinny bastard.”

Ma squeezes. Harder.

“Say whatever you want, they don’t affect me. Not anymore.” Ma’s stiff. Head high. “They are nothing. Just words.”

And harder.

“See this, Barry?” The bones nod at me. “That’s what happens if you let every cock come between your legs!”

Words Will Never Hurt Me

I’m hot…I’m hot and words are exploding in my head.

Bastard. Cock. Slut.

Her words are all dead, broken in my brain. Nothing’s survived, no words are coming.

Ma’s trembling. I squeeze her hand. My hand slips. Hot, burning.

“I’ve forgiven you, Mum.” Ma’s shaky voice. Forgiving bones.

A laugh. Shrill.

Bones scrape against bones.

Still there’s no words, but I’m sweating and sweating, down my back.

The minutes tick, tick, tick and I still drown, trapped. My clothes stick to me like I stick to Ma.

Scared.

Of words.

Bastard. Slut. Cock.

I’m not scared. Say it. Can’t say it!

I’m not scared!

“I’m here, Ma. She’s not gonna hurt you. I’m here.”

Earthquake in my head.

Say it, say it!

“Ma’s not a slut! You are!”

Waves and waves swallow me.

One for the Road

I hear nothing.

But Ma’s crying in the front.

Tears stick her hair to her mouth. “I’m sorry, hon, I’m sorry.” She rocks, hitting her head on the steering wheel. “I shouldn’t have brought you.”

I touch her forehead, make her stop. Wipe her face; it’s wet with tears and spit. My hands no longer trembling.

“You did fine, Ma,” I say, “real fine.”

She nods, mumbles, nods again. She starts the car. “Thanks, hon.”

We drive away from the house.

The house with cobwebs and ghosts.

The End

This story placed 73rd in the 2011 Writers Digest Short Story Competition’s Young Adult category

In 2014

I worked hard for my sanity.

I rescued words from deep ends.

I travelled, got unravelled, travelled again.

Chased my roots, roots chased me.

My plans made their own plans.

Universe conspired with life on lessons.

Loved life. Death loved life too.

Love thrived, tears nourished, hope breathed.

Happiness wrestled past for the present.

Writer, thirty four, came of age.

 

2015, be good to us all.

Here’s to love, laughter, kindness, compassion.

xxx

Her lips are fat, crooked, as if they’re stuck on. They shine like a red light. She looks too big in our lounge; her hands long and thin, her boobs like the melons my dad loved.

He’d bring one home every day, small and green, as shiny as a bald skull. He’d cut halfway with a knife; rip the rest open with his hands, feed Mum with wet fingers until red juice dripped down her chin. She’d grab his face then, wipe her chin on his beard, kiss his lips.

Maybe that’s why he left. Maybe this woman’s melons are sweeter.

Mum’s sitting next to me, kneading her hands that have wrinkled from cleaning. She smells of white king and scrubbing. Her breathing is slow, mouth open, filling her insides with air as if to keep words in. She stares at her lap while the thief on the opposite couch surveys the room, eyes darting past the pink carnations on the coffee table where the family photo used to be.

I pat Mum’s knee, and she rests her hand on mine. The smell of chlorine clouds the room.

“I’m sorry,” says the thief, her fat lips barely moving. “So sorry.” Her head hangs low, eyes rest on Mum’s green slippers.

I want to grab her words, throw them at her like arrows. “Sorry isn’t good enough. Isn’t that what you people say? Too little, too late?”

Mum’s hand stiffens, her palm wet on top of mine. She talks in Turkish, her voice haunted by him and his promises that died on this woman’s fat lips.

“What did you say? Please,” says the thief, her ghostlike face finding Mum’s. Her voice is small, each word light, without meaning.

Mum’s voice still heavy in the air, like an angry song. I hope it shatters this foreigner’s ears, curls around her throat. In here she makes no sense, her hair too yellow, skin too white, her language without passion. She belongs outside where everything is bland, without spice.

“Tell me why you’re here or leave.”

Her face is pale like I’ve sucked out her oxygen. “I promise,” she wheezes, taking a breath. “I didn’t know he was married.”

“This isn’t church. We’re not interested in your confessions. What do you want? You haven’t taken enough?”

Mum elbows me, shakes her head, tries to keep her features still but I see her chin tremble, know how it must hurt her to see this woman in the lounge that once sheltered her marriage, kept it safe from the unknown.

The thief doesn’t know where to look; her hands massage her chest, her painted fingers dig into her skin. I imagine them wiping my father’s brow, erasing Mum’s fingerprints.

“Please…just listen,” she says, breathing heavy as if our air is suddenly thick. She opens her bag, fingers fluttering like Mum’s on the dance floor, when her hips used to shimmy with life before my father left her and the heart attack slowed down her legs.

The woman sucks on an asthma pump, taking deep breaths. “He lied to me too.” She looks at Mum’s walking cane near the couch. “I left him as soon as I found out. I swear it.”

“Huh.” Mum’s sigh is throaty, like gurgling spit. Her finger circles the air slowly the way it did when she made Dad’s favourite köfte. She used to fry the meatballs for him, making music in her kitchen with crackling oil, clinking plates. She’d cry dicing the onions and Dad would joke that he could taste the tears in the meatballs, that they made it so much better. I wonder what he tastes now at this woman’s table where there is no flavour.

“I…I…” she sniffles, wipes at tears with the tip of a tissue. Is that how she touches him, with the tips of her fingers, poking the dark hairy man with an accent? No doubt she expects him to shower before he touches her so the sweat that sticks to him at the end of each day does not blemish her skin. She’d never breathe him in like Mum used to. “He kept coming back, said you were getting a divorce,” she says.

Her words fill me with hate—it bubbles in my arms, my stomach. I want to poke her eyes out with her pointy shoes, break the woman that stole my mother’s smile.

“I just want to explain.”

I stand, walk to the coffee table. The crystal vase separates us. It is empty like this house full of halves. I see her reflection change shape around the glass, and my fingers twitch. “We are not interested. Do you understand? Two years have passed; we’ve had enough. Leave.” I wipe that vase every day; know how it feels against my palm; smooth, cool like the crisp shell of a watermelon.

She looks small with her wet eyes dripping. “No please, I’m sorry. I have to tell you—”

“I said leave. Or I will make you.” The vase twinkles like the diamonds on her ears.

“No, kizim…” Mum’s words heavy behind me.

The woman shakes her head, chest heaving, her mouth chasing breath. She reaches for her pump, sucks until her cheeks cave in. “I lost…too. I came here,” she chokes, “to…tell you…I’ve been punished. I…he, I lost my baby. I can never have children.”

Her sobs anger me more. I have heard them on actors in old Turkish movies, faking grief. I see my father’s face in this lounge, laughing at the bad acting, his strong arms around me and Mum. There is nothing where his arm used to be. “I hope you both never find happiness,” I say, watching my father dissolve into this woman, watching a part of me go with him.

She’s sweating now, eyeing me in shock. She gets up and her bag scatters to the floor. Her perfume, lipstick, tampons vomit out of her handbag onto our carpet. She crouches down to clean her dirt, her head bent.

I see the grey glint of her pump a foot away.

I pick it up; feel its pulse in my palm, her secondary heart.

She’s on her knees, surveying the floor, the couch. “Where is it?” Her hand on her chest. “My pump,” she says, trying to steady her breathing. She looks up, eyes glazed. “I’ve lost—”

“This?”

 

The End

We called the cake The Mistake.

It rose like a golden belly and jiggled every time I opened the oven door. The inside was the consistency of a milkshake. “It’s not going to set!” I mumbled crouching in front of my mother-in-law’s oven. “I stuffed it.”

Our baking marathon started at 9pm when we attempted to make almond crescent biscuits similar to kurabiye, Turkish shortbreads.

“Beat three egg whites till it’s fluffy,” Jenny said, squinting at the handwriting that curved on a white bit of paper.

I beat the eggs until it foamed with my pride. For once I was following a recipe and not detouring like I usually did in my kitchen.

“Some vanilla essence…” Two capfuls turned the egg whites orange. “Shit, is that too much?”

I laughed. Even the smell was potent. “Who cares, we can adjust it later—”

“Why are you baking anyway?” my husband said.

“Leave it till the weekend, Jen,” said my father-in-law.

They scratched their heads like commentators at a footy match after a dodgy call.

“Why not? It’s a simple recipe, it will take fifteen minutes.”

“Don’t worry about them, Jenny. What’s next?”

She poured three cups of caster sugar into the orange foam turning it into white silk.

“This is going to be delicious!” I said. “Just look at it—”

“Oh shit! It was supposed to be one cup of sugar!” Her mouth dropped open and she doubled over on the bench top among the eggshells and trays. “I was meant to put three cups of almond meal!”

My heart sank.

The commentators shook their heads.

“It’s okay,” I said. “The sweeter the better—”

“Throw it out, Dem. We’ll start again.”

“Tsk, it tastes too good to throw out.” I was seduced by its creamy smooth texture, the sweet smell of vanilla. “I’ll make a cake with it.”

It was 9.30pm and all we had was botched up white batter and a biscuit recipe scribbled on a bit of paper. We launched into phase two of our baking experience: saving our pride. I googled recipes and borrowed ingredients from butter and sponge cakes while Jenny beat a new lot of egg whites for the biscuits.

“Too many cooks spoil the broth,” my father-in-law said laughing. He retired from his post at the commentary corner and went to bed. My husband followed, crashing on the couch.

“We can only try,” Jenny said. “That’s the whole point of experimenting.”

“True!” I was in my element, making things up, feeling my way through like I did in a story. I added two more eggs to my white batter, three cups of plain flour, more vanilla essence, a few hundred grams of lumpy butter, coconut, lemon juice and rind and beat the crap out of it in an electric mixer. We worked bumping into each other, taste testing the batter, adjusting the flavour.

Once the batter had a creamy consistency, I put it in the oven next to the almond crescent biscuits and kept a vigil in front of the oven door.

Within half an hour, the cake turned into a milkshake. Its insides shook like my nerves. “It’s a bloody cake shake!” I sank closer to the floor. It had to set!

“It will work out,” Jenny said. “If it doesn’t at least we had fun trying.”

The biscuits were out and cooling and still the cake refused to gel.

“You’re the only person that can turn a cake into a milkshake!” my husband said, scoffing down an almond biscuit.

“Ha ha.” My legs cramped and I moved to the lounge. “Oh well, if it’s meant to be it will be.”

Twenty minutes later, the cake bounced when I touched the top. We poked it with a wooden BBQ skewer to make sure there were no liquid pockets. It was clean. We laughed with relief while my husband circled The Mistake, eyes gleaming.

In 2010, I chased a love story on the streets of Melbourne and found the courage to search for my own 🙂

Demet Divaroren's Blog

I found a heart in Melbourne city. It was red and shiny, painted on a black door on a grimy wall. “Everything for Love” was etched at the bottom near a keyhole. I ignored the man fiddling with his camera, inched closer, felt around for a key. Nothing budged. I moved away, fascinated. I’d left home that morning wanting to be inspired by our city’s street culture. What I found was the heart of Melbourne beating in a little gothic lane called Centre Place. Tucked between the labyrinth of congested streets, this lane is home to cosy cafes, inspiring street art, and the Sacred Heart.

The rusted metallic sign at the entrance of Centre Place offers an eerie welcome to a gloomy lane full of contrasts. Once you walk down the narrow path, past the cafes reeking of coffee, the pretty boutique stores, the metallic apartment balconies, it’s hard not…

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My fingers crawl along the keys

Eleven words per minute.

My eyes chase letters

My fingers words

My heart stories

An alchemy

Time cannot measure.

Blog picBroadmeadows Shopping Centre was packed with bargain hunters the day Barbie moved in. Prams and trolleys dodged human traffic and people rushed past oblivious to the twisting in my guts. In the left hand corner of a brightly lit shop, plastic limbs cluttered the space where Angus and Robertson’s top 100 books used to be. Barbie and friends now lived where Jean M Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear series had lured me into a fictional world and inspired me to write. A sense of loss tailgated me for the rest of the day like a shadow.

Things were changing.

Younger cousins were balancing alternate realities, their bodies firmly planted in the lounge room, their eyes and ears immersed in IPads. “Hi Demi,” they’d yell when the colourful devices were miraculously absent. “We’ve missed you!” Hugs lasted till IPads beeped. “The pie’s ready!” they’d say, flying out of my arms and into artificial restaurants. Just like smartphones have changed the way we communicate, printed books are facing a similar challenge. While Ebooks are portable, light, cheap and accessible, some things are irreplaceable. Curling up with a printed book, coffee in hand, staining it in your haste to get to the next page. That surge of excitement upon entering a bookshop or library where worlds and possibilities surround your physical space.

Reading is an intimate act that requires physical, emotional and mental connection. I choose to have no technological barriers in my experience and I’m not the only one. There’s a big digital readership but that doesn’t necessarily mean that printed books will be forced into retirement. E-books offer readers wider access to books. As a writer, I couldn’t ask for a better agreement. As a reader I choose stained pages and curled ends.

 

 A version of this post first appeared in Verity La.

 

Every city has an identity. On our recent trip to Europe, we travelled by boat, plane, train, bike, car and on foot, taking in the sights that stamped the past to the present. But the human eye offered a limited view. Once our vision became accustomed to the visual highlights, our senses kicked in. We found that each city had a voice, a pulse, a smell and many layers that unfolded once we looked and listened with our hearts.

 

paris blog

Paris, France

 

Tuscany, Italy

Tuscany, Italy: Antonio (pictured) and his 13 year old son Giuseppe live in a small village outside of Pienza. They work at the Pietramonti Estate & Country House as gardeners. Giuseppe’s eyes shone with the Tuscan sun and a youthful innocence. When I spoke to him one morning, we used limited English and mostly waved our hands, scrunched up our faces in concentration and smiled to convey meaning. That night, Giuseppe asked our hosts, “the guests, they spoke to me. Do they know I’m not a paying guest?” It broke my heart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

annecy

Annecy, France

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adana, Turkey: “Come in, come in! Please, this is my home. Welcome! I built it myself in my brother’s garden, after I lost my husband.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nice

Nice, France

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

rome 1

Rome, Italy: “Come, come, follow me. You know, I am single, brother, at the end of the year I will go to Bangladesh for marriage. My family look for good girl for me.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

cappadocia

Cappadocia, Turkey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

istanbul

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey: the past is a mosaic that defines the present where two faiths entwine like roots.

 

 

ImageWhite is a pulse

 

it makes the stars quiver

 

tomorrow nude

 

today open

 

the soul

 

alight

 

 

Photo: Demet Divaroren,  Marmara Sea, Istanbul, Turkey  

Demet Divaroren's Blog

The hospital room reeked of urine and steamed vegetables. Blue curtains separated the sick. An old woman sat up in bed, her curtain wide open like her eyes. A brown knitted vest hugged her white cotton nightie, a head scarf tied loosely around her plaited hair. She reminded me of my grandma, her features weathered by faraway places. I walked to the opposite bed where my friend Teena was connected to tubes that were flushing fluid out of her lungs. I sat next to her, tried not to stare at the pink liquid dripping into a sealed container, at her hunched shoulders sagging with frustration and fatigue.

“Um…a woman’s staring at you,” Teena whispered, her face sullen. The only thing that sparkled was the Orthodox cross around her neck.

I looked over. A smile creased the old woman’s face. “Maybe she’s lonely,” I said, waving.

“Maybe,” said Teena, lying back.

The old woman…

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