The Writing Disorder



New Fiction


by Tegan Elizabeth Webb

       Her soul was quaint, arranged like an antique clock, but the hands had fallen off, rendering it completely useless. She thought perhaps it was a sign of the times, that the progression of technology had caused such a flimsy and fragile thing to become completely obsolete in the mechanism of this new way of living, without strength of spirit or any flourish of emotion. Yet it was most likely a sign that it was not the world, but her own self that had changed; she was certain she had not always felt so desolate as a child. She knew that she was once made from that crude mould, her innocence protected by wrought iron bones under layers of alabaster plaster skin, yet the burdens she had had to carry then were fewer and further between, burdens of a completely different nature, abrasions caused by nature and the weather. Now she felt herself crumbling inwardly, like the pages of ancient books, thin, almost transparent; the slightest quiver of a warm Argentine breeze would blow her to pieces. It is hard to live as an anachronism, when you feel as if human nature itself is revolting against you. Yet she still clutched at her zeitgeist so tightly it was beginning to snap and splinter like the bones of a baby bird.

      She was born on the date that Oscar Wilde died, and thought that perhaps this had some sort of significance in regard to her displacement in society; from what she could decipher from the pages she had read over and over until the words had tattooed themselves across her brain, he had not taken it seriously in the slightest. Now, 88 years later, she was experiencing the same feelings towards this thing that appeared to have changed so much but had just stayed the same; she could not comprehend the importance of something that seemed so serious yet had not point to it; it was merely a useless illusion of superiority constructed by those who wished for nothing more than to feel superior to their fellow man. To her, it did not make any sense, and so her attempts to navigate it were like wandering into a labyrinth bound and blindfolded.

      This was the first step towards dissociation; the day she realised that all that was left of her childhood was a golden residue settling on her graying adult skin.

      Another theory she had unearthed from the depths of her history, as she lay alone and naked in her bed from the falling of the bruise coloured night until the breaking of the silver grey dawn, was that perhaps it had something to do with the disappearance of her father. She rolled the theory around on her tongue like a sour berry, wrapped in her sheets and this precarious game of psychologist she was so fond of playing with her self.
      His was not a textbook type of vanishing; he had not been abducted, or detained for divulging top secret government intelligence, or conscripted to join the army, he did not have cancer. He was not even a magician. Sometimes she imagined his face on the side of the milk cartons, the police coming over to tell them in their kindest calmest voices that they had a lead on his whereabouts, and they were following it up as they spoke; she would clutch her mothers hand tightly as she sat at the kitchen table in her pink dressing gown, stifling sobs against hopeful eyes, her father’s smiling face staring back at her from the black and white cardboard photo; it would have been a much less complicated kind of pain, a shallow cut, a clean break.
      In their situation, however, there was nothing that the police could have done; he was carried away by something else, something that draws the pain out slower, away from them like drawing blood in a fit of almost parasitic desire. It was an overpowering need for a greater love, a need so great in fact it lay open like a gaping canyon, swallowing her, her mother, her brother and her sister whole. She was not a young girl when this happened, so she understood that it was not her that caused his leaving, but it still hurt her, a deep wound in her chest that she tried to cover up with the black shirt and a silver deer’s head necklace. The centre of the wound was heavy, yet it filled her with a numbness so overpowering that it scared her, a fear of the inability to feel anything except that fear. But soon, as the time passed and the knowledge began to sink deep into this well of emptiness, the ragged edges of the wound began to sting, and then the muscles that surrounded it began to ache, recoiling at the touch of anyone who tried to get close to her, even if it was just to offer comfort. It was at this moment that her ideals of love transformed from something clean and pure and beautiful into something darker, something poisonous, a destructive force that made her mother cry in the bruise coloured night. She recoiled from words such as ‘forever’ and ‘eternal’ as if they were eliciting a viper’s sting, while others such as “separation” and “divorce” evoked that same, choking numbness, released into her system like a neurotoxin.

      This was the next step towards dissociation; the day she stopped believing in true love.

      This of course had a devastating affect on her ability to form relationships with any man, regardless of their either romantic or platonic intentions. To them, she was a tantalizing enigma, an exotic bird unable to be caught or tamed, and the faster she ran away from them, the faster they seemed to chase her. It was not that she had anything against men at all; she greatly admired their physical forms, the strength of their arms, how their Adam’s Apples would quiver when they laughed, and the warmth that was emitted from their smiles, which she would often secretly absorb. She just did not understand how anyone could place the weight of their eternal happiness on such a small, thin collection of fancies; they had no foundations, no solidarity on which she felt she could depend for the sustainment of a happy life. Nor did she feel that she had anything on which they too could depend on for their own happiness; the qualities they found attractive in her she thought were fleeting at best, and she knew, deep in the root of her heart, that if she let them catch up with her, they would soon find her as dull and grey as a common pigeon, and leave her. It was the chase that tantalized them, the idea of the enigma, not the flesh and bones of her heart and soul, which she felt would only serve as a tasteless, unsatisfying meal to her emotional hunters. But she knew that she could not run forever; she was getting tired, and her body that already seemed to be decaying with time, would not be able to carry her at this speed forever. So in a dream she threw her heart down a rabbit hole and covered it with the fallen rotting leaves to ferment, knowing that it would be safe from them and the dangerous nature of herself, whom she felt now was the person that she could depend upon least of all.
      This was the third and final step towards dissociation; the day she stopped believing in herself, and without the presence of a heart or a working soul, she dissolved into the realm of inanimate objects, where she had always felt that she belonged.

                                                                                                      * * *

      “Wow, this place is incredible. Babe!” I cried out to Hannah, dropping my heavy suitcase of the floor with a loud thud of leather against hardwood, sending up a large cloud of dust. I heard Hannah’s heavy, irritated footfalls coming up the stairs, an irritation that I could also see in the new lines of her face, lines the seemed to get deeper and more permanent with every mile out of the city. She was obviously less than impressed, but I couldn’t understand why.
      “Yeah, maybe if you were born in the 21st century,” she scowled, waving the dust out of her eyes and expelling a violent sneeze. “Urgh. What a dump! I can’t believe this was all she left you.” she exclaimed, and my heart dropped a little from where it had risen to at the sight of the attic. It was a perpetual treasure chest of jewels from different eras, ranging right back to the early nineteen nineties.
      But I guess Hannah had a different opinion; she wandered around the attic, gingerly lifting up the piles of rugs and moving things around with one foot, her face a mixture of mild despair and genuine discomfort. “If we find even so much as a rat pellet, I’m hightailing it right back to the city, Jesse.” The narrow angle of her smoldering blue eyes told me instantly that she was no joking.
      I had met Hannah two years ago at UCLA. I had never had a girlfriend before, and she was the prettiest girl I had ever seen in my entire life. At first, she wouldn’t even give me the time of day; she was an L.A. girl, and only surrounded herself with L.A. people, if you know what I mean, so a humble, slightly awkward outer suburbs boy like me would barely register on her radar. I used to watch her cross the square at lunchtime, surrounded by a throng of friends and suitors, and wish that I too was an effortlessly cool L.A. boy, with my square Ray Bans always on, good hair, patent leather jacket, a cigarette suspended in my mouth like a 22nd century James Dean maybe, so that I could just catch her attention. Then one day, just like that, she crossed to my side of the square.
      But right now, I was kind of annoyed at her, actually. Well, not at her specifically, just her attitude. She was acting like a dead grandmother leaving you her house was a common occurrence, so much so that she had the right to be picky about the real estate. Sure, the fact that Grams had been filthy rich was common knowledge, even to Hannah, but it didn’t mean that she had to leave me anything, let alone the house she had been raised in, the house she had raised my father in. It wasn’t her grandmother that had died, so I thought Han would have at least shown a little more sympathy.
      I started scavenging my way through the collections of retro paraphernalia my grandmother had collected over the years she had been alive; an old Kindle, still in working condition if you overlooked a cracked screen, stuck on page eighty six of Wuthering Heights (“I cannot live without my life, I cannot live without my soul!”) a box full of 8GB flash drives (“8 GB!” Hannah scoffed, “What could be small enough to fit on an 8GB USB?!”), all labeled with different dates starting from the year 2013, a Canon 1000D Digital SLR, missing its panoramic zoom lens, and a vast collection of band posters ranging from Tame Impala and the Strokes to Radiohead and a framed Smashing Pumpkins painted poster from 2006, under which the title of their album “Zeitgeist” was emblazoned in big black letters. This particularly caught my attention; you could tell that it was an original by the young, waif like girl with lank blonde hair and a face like a wounded animal standing in the back of the line up. Her presence rendered the painting inaccurate, as even I, ninety years on, recognised that she had never been a part of the band. It must have been a rejected mock up, I thought, because otherwise the detail was incredible; I could see the individual brush marks around the shadow of Billy Corgan’s bald head. Yet even something as monumental to its time as this was dwarfed by the towers of ancient bound paperback books that had decayed with time to the point of borderline disintegration. “I had no idea Grams was so into reading” I said aloud, pouring delicately through a mouldy copy of Oliver Twist that would have been at least three hundred years old. “These are incredible.” Hannah stared at me, her expression incredulous “They smell! Everything here smells! I want to go back to the city Jesse!” she pouted, flopping onto the moth eaten velvet sofa like a stroppy child, and squealed. “What is that!” she cried, throwing something soft and ragged in my direction, hitting me square in the face with what looked the remnants of a ragdoll. “It’s just a kids toy, Han, calm the fuck down!” I said, laughing. Hannah glared at me, and stomped towards the door and down the attic stairs, “I’m outta here, Jesse,” she called to me over her shoulder, and I could do nothing but sigh, and chase after her, like I knew that she wanted me to.

                                                                                                      * * *

      Being thrust through the veil of inanimation and into the twenty second century was not exactly how she had imagined to be resurrected into society; upon arrival she instantly felt that she would find it even more difficult to grasp the essence of this time period, and this left her chest feeling as vast and hollow as a bass drum. Yet she could feel the brush of the naked threads of a lingering connection against her skin, waving their broken heads around like the tentacles of a sea anemone; it is incredible how being inanimate can make you extremely sensitive to the surrounding particles. People take touching for granted, that’s why they are numb to everything outside their seemingly all important personal sphere, including the feelings of others.
      She had seen this play out before her, just seconds ago, between the boy and his girlfriend. She had taken much notice of the girl other than to assess her as an insufferably obnoxious Los Angeles brat, but the boy, he was something different altogether; the invisible connection fibers pumped with electricity at the thought of him, threatening to lay roots in a more tangible plane of existence. He was clearly suffering, wrestling with a grief that seemed to glow within him like an ugly orange street light, and absorb all other colors from his countenance. It was something deeper than the death of a grandmother, but Brat-girls force field of self importance was so great, it simply could not penetrate in her awareness. She was immediately alarmed by how much emotional effect this had on her; she knew this couple no better than any other, yet for the first time in one hundred and sixty seven years, she felt frustrated by her inability to physically influence a situation, rather than languish in her usual state of Zen. She held out her pale arms and examined her hands, hands that still bordered on the realm of transparency; he really was quite beautiful she thought. The threads of connection quivered with excitement, turning her hands to the pallor of new milk.

                                                                                                      * * *

      I climbed back up the stairs, head slung low over a heart that stung with fresh bruises, and let my body fall heavily onto the green velvet couch; Hannah and I had fought terribly, about us moving here, how it would smother her, and ruin her film career, and finally about our relationship. That was the kicker; making us work seemed to be requiring more energy than she wanted to expend. This I didn’t argue, but it didn’t mean I wanted her to leave. But she took the keys of my car from my shirt pocket, and said, “You’re just not cool anymore, Jesse. I mean, c’mon, your car still has keys!” As I watched her speed away towards the city, I thought “What the fuck does that even mean?”
      My mind returned to this question as I flicked through the still memories freshly developing in my brain. Cool. I thought cool had just been a social commodity resigned to the dynamics of high school that often overflowed into University, but not into real life. If being cool was still an important aspect of social wealth, then I was defiantly standing in the welfare line. I just hadn’t been aware of it until now; I had never been cool, and Hannah had always been. I guess that was the invisible barrier that had always kept us just inches apart, the fact that she cared so much about continually possessing this lucrative social secret, and I obviously did not.
      My eyes crossed the Smashing Pumpkins painted poster for the second time; the air seemed thick with electricity. I remembered reading in an ancient Rolling Stone Magazine from the mid 1990’s an article about how incredibly cool this band had been. Dirtily ground-breaking, ear splittingly, heart wrenchingly cool. Yet at the time when this was painted, this essence of superiority that we still prescribe to people like Billy, one that is almost godlike and often coupled with a seemingly innate ability to just ooze cool, was only suspended in their earlier music; the world had moved on without them, leaving the popularity of their current music bereft. Their only options were to move on too, or to languish in the golden light of their own zeitgeist, and only two decades had passed. Surely, there had to be more to life than chasing after this creature that evolves to be out of reach as soon as you think you’ve grasped it, that is as fleeting as the smoke from a cigarette, and is as impossible to define as the reason why you are now feeling so hopeless. And what becomes of the ones like me, the ones that never really had it to begin with?
      I have this feeling, creeping up over me like little fingers of a sea anemone, this feeling that I don’t belong in this time we are upon.
      Wait. Someone was missing from the painting.

                                                                                                      * * *

      When the boy returned, she had hid herself behind the velvet green sofa; she was looking solid now, but when the sun beams shone through high attic window, you could see the speckles of dust passing right through her. She knew that her very existence was not a common occurrence, and she didn’t want to frighten him; she could see from the look on his face that he was fragile enough to shatter before her eyes.
      But he had noticed her absence from the painting, just as he had noticed her unusual presence before. He bent down to examine the space where she had stood, his face completely perplexed; she could see the gentle arch of his spine through his thin grey t shirt. Her hands began to tingle, she could feel the green velvet against her fingertips. She pulled her hand away in fright, as if the fabric had burnt her, and then leant them into it, indulging in the texture of fresh green meadows she had not felt for over a hundred years. She wondered what the skin under that grey t shirt would feel like.
      She felt herself being pulled towards him, thrust out by foaming waves of new desire and emotion that she recognised but was not yet used to; it felt like learning to walk again, and she almost stumbled under the weight of it. The sun shone its beams on the brown sugar honey of his hair, and she wanted so badly to touch it, to remember what the fibers felt like. Her heart had returned, she could feel that it was beating loudly, throwing itself against the wall of her now solid chest cavity; she was sure that he must be able to hear it, and would turn around at any moment. Instead, she laid a hand on his shoulder; flesh connected with fabric in a tiny spark of static electricity.

                                                                                                      * * *

      “What the fuck?” was all that I could think to say. It sounded vulgar and harsh in her presence, sharp words falling out of my mouth with a dull thud against her loveliness. She flinched, and I could feel it because the tiny instinctual movement of her muscles changed the composition of the air; it was as if she were a part of the atmosphere, integrated with the surrounding particles that we ignore with our heavy human arrogance. Now that she was out of the painting, I could see that she was dressed plainly, in seafoam green chiffon dress top and black skinny jeans, neither of which belonged to any particular time period, but I could also see the shine of grease in her unwashed hair, the dark circles underneath her eyes, and the little half moon indents on her left wrist that had been made by digging fingernails. She was so real, but then she couldn’t be.
      “I’m Jesse,” I offered, approaching her like some wild animal you see in the forest, worried that I would scare her and she would just dissipate in a flurry of green chiffon and particles. She smiled a little; everything about her was pale, even her black jeans seemed faded to a dull grey, but her mouth was bright red, red like young cherries, red like a fresh wound. “Who are you?”
      She moved towards the old couch, with not quite a stroll, not quite a glide; she just moved, and folded her legs up underneath her. She ran her hand along the arm of green velvet, her eyes clouded with faint ecstasy. “Claudia!” she cried out suddenly, as if she had only just remembered her own name. “My name is Claudia.” Her voice sparkled with the quiet joy of young child, which did not match the melancholy of her countenance. I considered that maybe I was still tripping from the night before. It seemed unlikely, but so did girls from paintings materializing in your grandmother’s attic.
      “Where are you from, Claudia?” I asked, sitting down next her on the couch; she didn’t flinch this time.
      “I’m from 2006,” she said, speaking as if time was actually a place you could go back to. Her blue eyes were weighed down by the gravity of those words, so much so that I knew that she was serious. I nodded, trying not to give away how confused I felt. “You sure are a long way from home then,” I said. She nodded, with a little smile that quickly vanished back into the atmosphere. “I didn’t belong there,” she replied gravely. I nodded back at her, I understood how that felt. There was something in the background of my consciousness, like a pinhole of dull orange light that kept telling me that something wasn’t right here, but I had spent so long feeling like this that I barely even noticed it shining right in my eye. I did notice, however, that she was incredibly beautiful. “I’m not sure that you belong here either,” I said, “Don’t worry, neither do I really.” Claudia smiled, even laughed a little, which was as quiet and breakable as the sound of a glass bell. The Californian sun was melting in thick pools across our faces and the dusty floorboards, flooding the attic with the pink and gold of country twilight. It painted bright colors on Claudia’s waxen face more beautiful than any make up, bringing her young dull features to life and intensifying the impact of her ethereal beauty to the point that it rendered me speechless. She just sat there watching the dying sunset, unaware of my dumb expression, and gave a small, contended sigh; I felt my head becoming clearer, my anxiety faded into the atmosphere and was obliterated.
      “Maybe we could not belong, together?”

Tegan Elizabeth Webb has been living in the suburbs of Melbourne, Australia, for her entire life, and for most of that time she has been writing. Her clearest memory of this beginning is when her dad gave her her first notebook. She was five years old, and to this day she doesn't think he knows what he started. Apart from a few school magazines and newsletters, this is her first official publication, which is very exciting for her, and hopefully the first of many.

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