Based on an original concept by Sean Crawley.
Dinner, Despair and Debbie (Six Months Later)
By Lydia Trethewey
There’s something about an empty fridge that always causes a spiral of despair. Maybe it’s the taunting hunger that lies heavily in my abdomen, or maybe it’s the recurring realisation that I’m all alone, that if I don’t drag myself down to the supermarket I’ll simply starve to death.
It always used to be full. Six months ago I’d be defrosting mince and breaking pasta into a boiling pot of water. Now I’m pushing aside cans of beer and slightly oozing tomatoes to find a hard block of cheese and a bottle of sweet chili sauce I don’t remember purchasing.
Looks like two-minute noodles on toast for dinner again.
I wonder if I’ll dream about Debbie tonight. Last night she appeared clad in a black business jacket, her bare legs dangling over my old office desk. Or maybe it was Paula, the dole officer from Centrelink. The two blend together, the autocrat and the bureaucrat, always in settings of bland off-white desks and old computers, rooms with the vague ammonium smell of antiseptic or sperm. I wake up stiff and too tired to be disgusted with myself.
Six months of unemployment and my head is unravelling.
The water boils and I watch synthetic yellow noodles billow to the top. I wonder if this really counts as food. Maybe I should just have a beer instead, for all the caloric intake I’ll get. Who cares if my body falls apart.
Gino came round last night and we ordered pizza, greasy slices of pepperoni and sweet BBQ sauce. I revelled in the sheer unhealthiness of it, the small freedom in choosing something that isn’t ‘good for me’. No more persimmons and kidneys, no more striving to be a productive and positive member of society.
Gino spent the entire evening glancing nervously around the flat, as if he believed himself to be partly responsible for my new found squalor. He spoke little of his new job, though it was obvious that life was much better for him in the vast tarmac carparks beyond the corporate cage. I offered him beer after beer and hoped he understood that I didn’t resent his happiness.
“You’ll find something mate,” he’d said on the way out, patting my back with eyes averted.
The noodles cross the threshold from a hard dense pack into a lump of mush and I fish them out onto a piece of semi-frozen white bread. A can of beer from the fridge finds its way automatically into my hand.
I sit with the laptop on my knees clicking through endless pages of crap. Another email from Centrelink, saying that I’d failed to attend a meeting I didn’t know I had. If I didn’t come in tomorrow they would cease my payments.
Life continues to surprise me with its fresh humiliations.
I take a bite out of the sandwich and hot water dribbles over my chin.
I used to suffer from too little time. Every waking hour was geared towards those eight or nine spent at work. Now the future stretches out hideously before me. I work at being unemployed 24 hours a day, overwhelmed by the sheer amount of time that slides away. I’ve spent a lifetime internalising the lesson that productivity is everything and that relaxing or taking a break is the utmost sin. So I waste time, trying to enjoy my freedom from polyester shirts and psychotic bosses, crushed beneath a continuous pressure to do something. To accomplish. The Centrelink people speak in the same language, of goals, plans, self-management.
I’ve entered a new servitude, owned not by a sadist in a business suit but by every smug citizen who whinges about their tax-payer dollars. Worse, I’m a slave to my own sense of obligation and guilt.
I dump the empty plate by the sink, lacking the motivation to wash up.
Fall into bed, feeling the dead weight of my body. Set my new alarm, though I have nothing to get up for. Sense of habit, of duty. It’ll go of in the darkness of daylight-savings time, a cheery tune of digitally rendered glockenspiels and triangles. I hate it more than anything. The old alarm was at least definitively awful, it’s shrieking, disorienting beeps shredding my sleep into tiny pieces. This new alarm pretends that waking up is something happy, as if the day ahead will be productive and full of positive thinking.
I’ll go into Centrelink tomorrow and see Paula. She’ll smile with the wearied eyes of someone forced to be compassionate.
Feel noodles swirl around in my gut, going rotten.
Shut my eyes. Maybe Debbie will make another appearance, or Paula. Some deeply ill part of me hopes she does.