She doesn't feel like she is . . she moves, she sees, she hears . .
"No, not yet . . "
Who answers, she can't tell but it's a clear and determined voice - comforting but distant.
"I'm dead aren't I?"
She examines her own body, which for some inexplicable reason looks and feels different.
"You're not going out like that!" Her mother protests.
"Like what? . . . Mum this is what people wear these days, we're not in the dark ages you know!"
The matriarch's face changes from disparaging to sympathetic. She remembers being young, making a skirt from blackout curtains during the blitz, accepting the gift of stockings from American GI's. Being repremanded for dancing at the Odeon on Saturday night and being caught kissing a soldier she barely knew. True, it's no longer the Dark Ages but she has difficulty watching her baby girl leave the house dressed so provocatively.
Her daughter however, had a reason for tarting up. She'd met someone. Someone way outside her comfort zone. Someone alluring, sexy, older, more worldly. Someone who had finally pushed her buttons, lit that spark. Someone she couldn't bring home for fear her father would have a major outburst and her mother would ground her from seeing.
Mick Raleigh wasn't a 'nice' boy from a good neighbourhood. He lived alone with his Grandma since his junkie parents had him taken from them by Department of Community Services. He'd been found in the corner of their living room at 4 years of age, playing with a filthy bong while his smacked out parents kissed the face of God in a psychedelic world created by the junk they allowed to flood their veins.
He was tattooed, pierced and had even spent a short stint in jail for shoplifting as a teenager. Now, in his 20's, he's stronger, educated, street wise. He's a self-made man with that aura of danger that women either love or hate. She loved it.
She'd met him at a friend's party. He'd been one of 10 who arrived uninvited, late, inebriated and unannounced. Then trouble broke out. Fists were thrown and blood drawn and he'd grabbed her and pulled her from the frey. He wasn't like the others. He'd just got caught up in an unfortunate mistake by tagging along with the wrong company. He'd walked her home and apologised profusely for the melee, introduced himself and kissed her on the cheek before she went inside.
She remembers the flutter. The flush of lust and an overwhelming desire to see him again. Damaged and dangerous as he was, he was gorgeous.
Tonight was the first real date. After a plethora of texts and calls, he'd asked her out and she was dressed to seduce. She's only living at home because college is so close and it allows her to save. It's really high time she was on her own and she resented being treated like a child. Still, it's 'their house - their rules' and she'd agreed to abide by them. She thought she'd manage to slip by unnoticed but nothing gets past her father. She should have known better.
"Young lady, sit!" Her father had come into the room and meant business. He bellows above her protestations.
"Kate you know it's a mad world out there, you didn't come down with the last shower so why do you do this?"
"Dad . . . I'm 22 for fuck's sake."
He ignores her profanity, points and demands, "Sit."
There's no arguing when he gets this way, serious and domineering. He's a good man and a fair one. She's learned how to 'handle' him but she's also learned that when he gets one of his moods on, she'll have to listen to his diatribe before he'll let her go. But she's his baby, he'll let her go.
"Katie honey . . " She lifts her eyes but retains the pout.
"You look like a hooker. There's nothing wrong with a sexy little black dress and a splash of make-up but . . . you're a beautiful young woman and you look like you're asking for it. Life's not a rehearsal you know, you only get one go at it. One chance to get it right, make the right impression and dressing like a whore doesn't give the right impression."
His voice is calming and she knows. She knows she's overdone it. She's deliberately done it. She just wanted to look 'dangerous' for him.
"Yeh I get it," the reluctance in her voice obvious. She wants to argue the women's view that dressing as she likes isn't an invitation for trouble and that a woman should have the freedom to dress as she likes, but bites her tongue knowing it will fall on deaf ears, "I'll change but I'm not going out looking like one of those Hillsong bitches . . I'm not a frump you know!"
Her demonstration of objection complete she sheds some of the makeup, packs the tiny tight skirt into her bag and walks out wearing a pair of jeans. Adolescent as it seems, the skirt and the seductive pout will be restored, the minute she can hit the ladies room.
It's a beautiful November night, balmy and star-ridden as they take the long route back to the car via Hyde Park, surrounded by trees sparkling with fairy lights and the sweet smell of Frangipani. Their hand-holding and intimate conversation interrupted only by the resident drunk who abuses them for not giving him money, then happily settles for a cigarette. It's late, theirs is the only car left in the dimly lit street and he unlocks it remotely but walks to her side to open the passenger door. A gesture she finds charming and old fashioned from one so rough. He wraps an arm around her waist and plants a kiss, short and sweet but with a tenderness that makes her draw breath and cup his face in her hands. Everything's going to work out. She'll introduce him to her parents tomorrow, they'll understand.
It's then she hears the ear-splitting crack of metal upon metal. Something hard and menacing on the bonnet of the car. Three men, shrouded in shadow but clearly known to him emerge from the darkness. One holding a tyre iron and bearing an evil grin. The others flanking him, huge, menacing and waiting for instruction.
"Hey! What the fuck, Jimbo . . why'd you hit my car!"
"Shut it, you know why!"
A thug wearing little more than a wife basher and a pair of faded jeans emerges from the triad. Belting the tyre iron against an open palm and a sly smile across his ugly face. She scared, terrified but Mick stands in front of her and tells her to be quiet.
"It'll be OK Kate, let me handle this . . "
"You owe me Rals . . You owe me big time. I've come to collect."
Who owed what and to whom, she never found out. The tyre jack came crashing across Mick's head and she remembers seeing him slump to his knees, blood gushing from the side of his cheek and ear as she arched forward to steady his fall. His silent trembling and slip into unconsciousness freezing her to the spot, legs reluctant to run, a heart fit to burst.
"He'll live baby, you might not be so lucky." He's staring at her and eyes her from breast to knees, her shapely legs now feeling naked in the tiny mini skirt as she tries to stretch the fabric lower towards her knees.
"Be a good girl and you might get lucky . . ." The three snigger and tyre iron man's finger traces along her neck and down to the cleavage visible beneath her blouse.
She spins in an attempt to run, but is blocked by the other two, each grabbing an arm and pinning her to the now dented bonnet of the car. Face down, she's pushed hard and sideways. She's spread crucifix across the hood, immobilised. Screams silenced by a huge hand across her mouth, another between her legs, another tearing at her clothes - and it begins. They don't speak the only noise, her muffled expression of pain and their animalistic grunts as each forces themselves onto her, into her. One lifting her head by the hair and thrusting her so hard into the duco that it loosens a tooth and the ferrous taste of blood oozes across her tongue mirroring the stream of red warmth she feels gliding down her thighs. Darting pain beyond anything she can imagine in a place where only pleasure should reside. She fears as she's never feared before. As she's violated and beaten she wishes she'd kept the jeans on, she wishes she'd listened to her father, she wishes she were dead.
She's left, half naked, battered and broken. A bleeding, terrified rag doll with no dignity, no pride, until the cool of early morning renders her unconscious.
Something's wrong, yet strangely right.
She floats. Light and ethereal above the unrecognisable scene below. She sees a body, bloodied and broken being tended by desperate hands and surrounded by endless chatter, in a language she doesn't understand, among noises she's never heard before. She can't feel her fingers but she sees them floating in front of her when she raises her arms, suspended as is her body, pale and clean - weightless.
She's confused but not frightened. She's strangely calm as she watches the body below being defibrillated. It's chest heaving under the shock, breasts that look like hers, exposed to strangers. The marks of a severe assault visible as they rush to revive, intubate, electrocute.
It's like gliding above a dolls house with the roof removed. She can 'swim' between rooms and corridors. She sees her parents below, anxious and embracing. Her mother's crying. Her father's face expressionless as if numbed by some apocalyptic event that he can't believe has taken place. She sweeps white hands across his face but he doesn't see her or feel her.
"Dad, Dad! It's me, I'm OK. I'm here . . . "
Where is she? This floating Queen of in-between places who can see and hear, but not feel or touch.
There's a jolt and she fancies she feels pain but it isn't pain, it's recoil, as if someone's pushed her in the thorax. It feels like being shoved backwards by an invisible antagonist but there's no thought of animosity in her head. Does she even have a head? She can see no reflection but she can feel her hair on her shoulders as iridescent hands run through it.
"Am I dead?"
"Not yet" the apparition speaks, "It's not your time."
"So what's this?"
"It's the in-between. The time between coming and going; the time between the lightning and the cracking sky. The time to dwell in doorways, crossroads and strange places. Time to see rather than look. Time to listen, not just hear. Time to learn, not just repeat what you know by rote. Time for the real deal. You're one of the lucky ones. You get a second bite at the cherry, just don't spit out the stone."
Another shove in her chest and he becomes a fading angel, god or ghost - could be the one Himself for all she knows. She doesn't know what he is, but she wants to follow. With each pressure punch she remembers snippets of her life and they aren't pleasant. No sweet childhood memories or parental embrace. No laughter, dancing, warm rain on her face just the brutality of the night before. Life's not supposed to be a rehearsal, she doesn't want to go back on stage. She wants this to be her curtain call but she's falling and in the wrong direction. She's spiralling out of control. Listing in that place between wakefulness and sleep where the unfamiliar noises become louder and more real. Where the people in the room now tower over her rather than milling beneath.
"She's back!" One utters,
"Lucky girl that one," says another. "Damn lucky to be alive."
As consciousness returns, she begins to feel. It hurts, everything hurts and she remembers in vivid detail. She sees their faces, feels their hands, the violence of their sex. The monitor beside her evidence that her heart is beating. Proof perfect that she has a second chance. A second chance she doesn't want. Remembering is a lingering death and she wants to go with the voice. A broken heart beating, a body once again warm, she remembers. Alive in body but within she knows this time - she's dead.
Published for "The Tenth Daughter of Memory" Rehearsal with Gods